10 Feb GS 2004 art 86
GS 2004 Article 86 – Appeals against Art. 45 of Synod Neerlandia re: the OPC
Committee 1 again presented its proposal on various appeals against Art. 45 of Synod Neerlandia 2001 re: the OPC. The following was adopted:
- 1.1. An appeal from the church at Attercliffe re: Article 45 of the Acts of Synod Neerlandia 2001
- 1.2. An appeal from the church at Abbotsford re: the same
- 1.3. An appeal from the church at Grand Rapids re: the same
- 1.4. An appeal from the church at Owen Sound re: the same
- 1.5. An appeal from the church at Blue Bell re: the same
- 1.6. An appeal from br. W. de Haan re: the same
The appeals of the churches are admissible (Art. 31 C.O.). The appeal of br. W. de Haan is inadmissible (see Article 20 in these Acts).
- 3.1. The church at Attercliffe requests Synod:
- 3.1.1.To decide that Synod Neerlandia erred in the decision to come to Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the OPC by deleting the words agreed upon by Synod Fergus and doing so without scriptural grounds.
- 3.1.2. To charge the Committee for Contact with the OPC (CCOPC) to as yet fulfill Synod Fergus’ mandate, namely, “To adopt the proposed agreement as amended… as the basis for Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the OPC, and to instruct the CCOPC to pass it on to the CEIR for adoption by the General Assembly.”
- 3.2. The church at Abbotsford requests further consideration of Art. 45 of the Acts of Synod Neerlandia 2001 on the basis that it failed to consider decisions of previous General Synods and that it conflicts with the Word of God and the Church Order. Abbotsford asks that Synod:
- 3.2.1. Judge that Synod 2001 should have interacted with (a) the reasons provided by Synod 1998 for amending the Proposed Agreement, and (b) the reasons provided by the CCCA to maintain the amendments to the Proposed Agreement.
- 3.2.2. Propose to the OPC that we return to the Proposed Agreement as amended by Synod 1998, consistent with the guidelines established by Synod 1992 and maintained by Synod 1995, as the basis for ecclesiastical fellowship with the OPC.
- 3.2.3. Maintain the present relationship of Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the OPC, pending a response by the OPC to the above proposal and documentation, and pending consideration of this response by the next General Synod.
- 3.3. The church at Grand Rapids requests Synod Chatham to:
- 3.3.1. Judge that Synod Neerlandia 2001 erred in undoing the decision of Synod Fergus 1998 regarding the OPC and the outstanding divergences on the fencing of the table, and confessional membership, since no new grounds were brought forward to overturn that decision.
- 3.3.2. Rescind the decision to establish Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the OPC.
- 3.3.3. Instruct the CCOPC to as yet fulfill Synod Fergus’ Article 130, Recommendations F, G, H, I, J.
- 3.3.4. Judge that Synod Neerlandia erred in creating a false dilemma between practice and theory in the OPC as that pertains to guests at the table.
- 3.3.5. Judge that Synod Neerlandia erred in its decision to reject unambiguously a general disqualification of office bearers in the OPC as ‘ false shepherds’ on the grounds that
- 22.214.171.124. The Canadian Reformed Churches have never made such a general disqualification;
- 126.96.36.199. Elders who knowingly grant access to the table to those who are not permitted are in that particular aspect of their office guilty of false shepherding.
- 3.4. The church at Owen Sound requests Synod to decide:
- 3.4.1. That Synod Neerlandia 2001 erred in the manner in which it entered into Ecclesiastical Fellowship by simply deleting from the proposed agreement the phrase, “This means that a general verbal warning by the officiating minister alone is not sufficient, and that a profession of the Reformed faith and a confirmation of a godly life is required” without indicating why these words cannot be maintained.
- 3.4.2. That Synod Neerlandia 2001 erred because it did not show why the arguments used by Synod Fergus for changing the proposed agreement were a violation of any scriptural principle, or were making any unreasonable demands upon the OPC.
- 3.4.3. To reaffirm unambiguously that our churches as yet maintain what was stated by Synod Lincoln 1992, “This is not to say that an identical practice is required with respect to the supervision of the Lord’s table to come to ecclesiastical fellowship. It should be noted, however, that a general verbal warning alone is insufficient and that a profession of the Reformed faith is required in the presence of the supervising elders from the guests wishing to attend the Lord’s Supper.”
- 3.4.4. To declare that the present formulation of the agreement sidesteps what has been the main issue, which is not that the Lord’s Supper must be supervised, but how this must be done.
- 3.5. In their overture, the church at Blue Bell states that Synod Neerlandia 2001 overlooked the failure of the CCOPC to fulfill its mandate and instead decided to revert back to the weaker and incomplete proposal that Synod 1998 had amended, without giving explicit grounds or rationale. In the remaining part of its overture Bluebell submits to General Synod a review of many matters pertaining to our contact with the OPC as they have served at Synods since 1977. The church at Blue Bell requests that Synod submit the review and the appended documents to the CCOPC for renewed evaluation of all these matters.
- 4.1. These appeals bring forward common arguments:
- 4.1.1. All letters express opposition to the fact that Synod Neerlandia 2001 did not give scriptural grounds or adequate reasons for deleting the amendments inserted into the agreement by Synod Fergus 1998.
- 4.1.2. All letters request Synod to return to the proposed agreement as amended by Synod 1998, and as yet to charge the CCCOPC to fulfill the mandate of Synod Fergus 1998, i.e. “To adopt the proposed agreement as amended… as the basis for Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the OPC, and to instruct the CCOPC to pass it on to the CEIR for adoption by the General Assembly.”
- 4.2. Re: The lack of reasons given by Synod Neerlandia 2001. The appellants are correct that Synod Neerlandia did not give sufficient explanation as to why it undid the amended agreement of Synod Fergus and returned to the original agreement concerning supervision of the Lord’s Table and confessional membership. The only explicit reason Synod Neerlandia gave was that “Synod Fergus failed to recognize sufficiently the progress made by the CCOPC and the CEIR.” Moreover, Synod Neerlandia did not specifically interact with the grounds that Synod Fergus gave for amending the proposed agreement. Especially considering the importance of the decision, Synod Neerlandia should have done that.
- 4.3. At the same time, this present Synod takes note of the report that Synod Neerlandia had received from the CCOPC. In that report the CCOPC recommended a return to the original agreement because that agreement was “based on the Reformed Confessions.” At the same time the report considered that “the amendment inserted by Synod Fergus goes beyond the wording found in the Reformed Confessions.” Therefore, the concern of Synod Neerlandia was that our agreement with the OPC on the fencing of the Lord’s Supper ought to be based on the Reformed confessions, both the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity. It is noteworthy that Synod Fergus also referred to the Westminster Standards as part of its reason for amending the proposed agreement. Therefore, on this point Synod Fergus and Synod Neerlandia were in agreement, namely, that our discussion with the OPC on the Lord’s Supper must be based, in the first place, on the confessions.
- 4.4. Concerning the Reformed confessions, Synod Neerlandia brought an important point to light, namely, that both the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity state that the Lord’s Table must be guarded with two keys of the kingdom: the preaching of God’s Word and church discipline exercised by the elders (Westminster Confession, Chapter 29, Section 8; Larger Catechism Q & A 173; Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 82).
- 4.4.1. Re: the first key. Although not identical in practice, both the OPC and the CanRC use the first key to supervise the Lord’s Table. Within the CanRC this is done with the Form for the Lord’s Supper, which summarizes God’s Word, in particular the sections on “Self-Examination” and “Invitation/Admonition.” Also, in the OPC this is generally done with a Form for the Lord’s Supper, as well as a more extemporaneous general verbal warning. Thus, regarding the use of the first key there is no concern.
- 4.4.2. Re: the second key. Synod thankfully notes that in both federations, church discipline is exercised by the elders over the members of the local congregation. The pertinent question, though, is: how is the second key exercised in connection with guests at the Lord’s Table? In the CanRC this is done via a travel attestation from the elders of the guest’s home congregation. In many OPC congregations the elders will interview the guests beforehand (cf. the speech of Rev. J.J. Peterson in the Acts of Synod Fergus 1998, p. 207, as well as the speech of Rev. G.I. Williamson in the Acts of Synod Neerlandia 2001, p. 122). However, in some OPC congregations there is only a general verbal warning. Therefore, concerning those guests, the second key is not being exercised consistently. That was the concern of Synod Neerlandia and this Synod shares that concern.
- 4.5. The church at Abbotsford alleges that, “Synod 2001 maintains a double standard by requiring less from the OPC than it does from ourselves under Article 61 of the Church Order” (Consideration 3). In this statement the church at Abbotsford does not give enough attention to the character of the Church Order, especially vis-à-vis the confessions. Based on scriptural and confessional principles, a federation of churches agrees to a certain church order so everything can be done decently and in order. The OPC and the CanRC are not one federation, and therefore, they do not have one and the same church order. This is not a double standard. Rather, this simply indicates the reality of the present situation: we are in Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the OPC; we have not merged into one federation.
- 4.6. Yet this present Synod agrees that the OPC should become more consistent in how it supervises the Lord’s Table. In light of what we mutually confess concerning the two keys of the kingdom, it is to be hoped that the OPC and the CanRC can as yet come to not only greater understanding in principle, but also more consistency in practice concerning how the Lord’s Table is – or should be – supervised, especially concerning guests. The remaining question is: how can we best do this at this point in time?
- 4.7. Re: Returning to the Amended Agreement of Synod Fergus 1998. Synod Lincoln 1992 decided that before entering into Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the OPC, the two federations should agree that “a general verbal warning alone is insufficient and that a profession of the Reformed faith is required in the presence of the supervising elders from the guests wishing to attend the Lord’s Supper” (Acts, Art. 72 IV.A.1.e). Synod Abbotsford 1995 continued this line when it mandated the CCOPC to work towards establishing Ecclesiastical Fellowship “using the statement of Synod Lincoln… as a guideline” (Acts, Art. 106 VI.D.1). At the same time, however, Synod Abbotsford 1995 also considered that how the OPC supervises guests at the Lord’s Table “cannot in the end be made a condition for Ecclesiastical Fellowship” (Acts, Art. 106 V.B.3). Synod Fergus 1998 brought the statement of Synod Lincoln 1992 into the agreement. However, following up on the consideration of Synod Abbotsford 1995, Synod Neerlandia 2001 did not make the matter of the general verbal warning a condition for entering Ecclesiastical Fellowship. This present Synod considers that it is not helpful at this point in time to engage in a protracted discussion about the developments from one synod to the next. The important point is that we continue to engage in a brotherly and forthright discussion with the OPC concerning how the Lord’s Table ought to be supervised, along with the matter of confessional membership.
- 4.8. It is to be regretted that Synod Fergus 1998 did not send its proposed amendments back to the CCOPC so that the CCOPC could work together with the CEIR and come to a mutually agreed upon and improved agreement. Although Synod Fergus had the prerogative to change the agreement, changing it unilaterally did not help to foster a spirit of brotherly harmony between our two federations. It is also regrettable that Synod Neerlandia itself did not send the matter back to the CCOPC even though it considered it “advisable” that Synod Fergus should have done so (Acts, Art. 45, Consideration 4.6).
- 4.9. Nevertheless, especially in light of the fact that Synod Abbotsford 1995 stated that the practices within the OPC cannot in the end be made a condition for Ecclesiastical Fellowship, Synod Neerlandia did not err when it decided to establish a sister church relationship with the OPC. Therefore, this Synod also considers that there are no valid grounds for rescinding the decision of Synod Neerlandia 2001. Rather, now that we have Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the OPC, there ought to be ample opportunity to continue discussing the matters of the supervision of the Lord’s Supper and confessional membership. In fact, a letter from the CEIR indicates that there was an understanding between the CCOPC and the CEIR that these matters could be discussed further in the context of Ecclesiastical Fellowship (cf. Acts of Synod Neerlandia 2001, p. 169). Based on the Reformed confessions concerning the two keys of the kingdom, it remains crucial that the OPC and the CanRC can indeed agree that a general verbal warning alone is not sufficient. The speech of Rev. G.I. Williamson to Synod Neerlandia 2001 also indicates that the OPC is striving to improve the manner in which it supervises the Lord’s Table (Acts, p. 122).
- 4.10. The church at Grand Rapids also brings up the matter of Rev. Hofford’s use of the term “false shepherds” in connection with office bearers in the OPC. The church at Grand Rapids interprets Rev. Hofford’s statement to mean that, “elders who knowingly grant access to the table to those who are not permitted are in that particular aspect of their office guilty of false shepherding.” However, this is not what Rev. Hofford himself said, and Grand Rapids’ interpretation is open to question. The issue for the OPC is the fact that Rev. Hofford was received into our federation without retracting his statement. Therefore, Synod Neerlandia made it abundantly clear that our churches do not take any responsibility for such allegations. Furthermore, the church at Grand Rapids does not bring forward any new grounds on this subject which have not been considered already by Synod Neerlandia 2001 (cf. Art. 33 C.O.).
- 4.11.Although the church at Blue Bell presents an extensive review of many matters pertaining to our contact with the OPC since 1977, they do not bring forward any new material (cf. Art. 33 C.O.). Nevertheless, this review should be given to the CCCA to use at its own discretion in preparing a synopsis of the discussion with OPC thus far.
- 5.1. That Synod Neerlandia 2001 did not err when it took the decision to establish Ecclesiastical Fellowship with the OPC; however, it should have interacted more specifically with the grounds that Synod Fergus gave for amending the agreement.
- 5.2. Not to accede to the appeals of the churches at Attercliffe, Abbotsford, Grand Rapids, Owen Sound and Blue Bell.
- 5.3. To state that the Considerations 4.1-4.10 serve as an answer to the appeals of these churches.