GS 2010 art 63

GS 2010 Article 63 – CCU: Main report

1.         Material

  • 1.1       Main report of the Coordinators for Church Unity (8.2.a.i).
  • 1.2       Supplementary Letter of the Coordinators for Church Unity (8.2.a.ii).
  • 1.3       Overture from Regional Synod East (8.4.a).
  • 1.4        Letters from the following churches: Hamilton-Providence (8.3.A.1), Toronto-Bethel (8.3.A.2), Burlington-Ebenezer (8.3.A.3), Edmonton- Immanuel (8.3.A.4), Fergus-Maranatha (8.3.A.5), Flamborough (8.3.A.6), Neerlandia (8.3.A.7), Willoughby Heights (8.3.A.8), Attercliffe (8.3.A.9), Glanbrook (8.3.A.10), Ancaster (8.3.A.11), Abbotsford (8.3.A.12), Lincoln-Vineyard(8.3.A.13), WinnipegRedeemer (8.3.A.14 and 15), Cloverdale (8.3.A.16), and Barrhead (8.3.A.17).

2.         Observations

  • 2.1       The coordinators recommend that Synod Burlington-Ebenezer 2010 decide:
    • [7.1]      To continue EF with the URCNA under the adopted rules.
    • [7.2]      To request the URCNA return to the agreement both federations accepted in  2001.
    • [7.3]     To implement the proposal of Lincoln.
    • [7.4]     To acknowledge that we should have consulted the URCNA before entering in relationship with third parties.
    • [7.5]     To address Synod London 2010 in writing, pledging our commitment to seek federative unity; asking whether the URCNA in word and deed is committed to do the same; that if the URCNA has hesitations to seeking federative unity they indicate what these are.
    • [7.6]     To appoint deputies for Ecclesiastical Unity and give them a clear mandate.
  • 2.2 The coordinators provide, by means of a supplementary letter, answers to questions that came from Classis Southwest United States of the URCNA. Dr. J.P. Van Vliet and Dr. G.H. Visscher visited this Classis and presented to them prepared answers. These questions and answers were published in both Clarion and Christian Renewal. Further in their main report the coordinators noted that CERCU promised a written statement of the position of URC ministers on the Framework Hypothesis. They discussed this with CERCU at their meeting on October 29, 2009. CERCU had no written statement but promised to look into this further. They, however, stated that is unlikely that they will give anything more than what was stated at Synod Escondido 2001 regarding creation.
  • Before Synod Burlington-Ebenezer met, the Coordinators received an official letter from the Committee for Ecumenical Relations and Church Unity of the URCNA. This letter was passed on to Synod. It quotes Article 43 of the Acts of Synod 2001 Escondido as its official answer.
  • 2.3 It is noted that the URCNA delegates who were present at General Synod Burlington-Ebenezer 2010 expressed their great thankfulness for the face to face meeting that took place at Classis South West US, Jan. 19-20, 2010, in Escondido, relating to a number of old outstanding questions. The meeting that was held did much to clear up misunderstandings, confusion and suspicion that was present until then. The presence of Dr. G.H. Visscher and Dr. J.P. Van Vliet on behalf of the CanRC was greatly appreciated. In his address to Synod Burlington-Ebenezer, Rev. J.A. Bouwers also made mention of the great benefit of this face to face meeting.
  •  2.4      Regional Synod East Nov. 11, 2009, overtures General Synod Burlington-Ebenezer 2010 to ask that the upcoming synod of the United Reformed churches in North America (London, 2010) declare that the so-called “Nine Points of Schererville” do not have confessionally binding authority on office bearers in the federation. Regional Synod East provides considerations, grounds, and background to this overture. Neerlandia endorses this overture.
  • 2.5       The following churches express their agreement with all the recommendations of the coordinators report: Hamilton-Providence, Toronto-Bethel , Fergus-Maranatha, Flamborough, Neerlandia, and Ancaster.
  • 2.6       Edmonton-Immanuel proposes to revise Recommendation 7.5 of the coordinators’ report to include “expressing deep concern on the need for and the role of the 9 points of Schererville and seeking clarity on their weight and Scriptural basis.” Glanbrook proposes to accept the explanation of CERCU with respect to point 6 of the 9 statements adopted by Schererville, “that it should be read in the context of point 5,” and to give URCNA Synod London opportunities to clarify or possibly even retract the statements adopted by Schererville. At a minimum Synod should direct our deputies to confirm that the nine points do not have confessional binding status as outlined in the overture of RSE. Abbotsford feels that Synod should address the issue of the decisions taken by Synod Schererville 2007 in regards to the covenant and justification. They are concerned about the status of these decisions and cannot agree to the substance of decision 6 as it is phrased. Lincoln recommends that some steps be taken to clarify doctrinal issues that comes to the fore in working towards unity (covenant, baptism) and that we review our commitment to work together in this light. They also recommend that clarification be sought on the place of the nine points. Redeemer Winnipeg requests that the overture from Regional Synod East Nov 11, 2009, be part of the mandate of this committee: that Synod Burlington-Ebenezer ask the Synod of the URCNA, London 2010, to declare that the so-called Nine Points of Schererville do not have confessionally binding authority on office bearers in the federation. Cloverdale requests that Synod mandate the deputies for Ecclesiastical Unity to request the URCNA to retract or rescind the nine points of Schererville. Attercliffe observes that “the Nine points of Schererville contend against the main points of covenant theology which had become binding and caused the Liberation of 1944.” They consider them to be a binding pastoral advice as per their context and thus both a supra-scriptural and supra-confessional binding. Thus they see Point 6 as an impediment to further unity.
  • 2.7       Attercliffe questions whether the adopted Rules for EF of 1992 are still in force, as neither the CanRC nor the URCNA fully adhere to them. For example Rule 3. Both federations have entered into relationships with other churches without consulting each other. Attercliffe also feels that the adoption of the nine points of Schererville goes against Rule 6 of the EF rules. The CanRC were not informed of this document at all prior to the URCNA Synod of Schererville adopting it. They recommend that now we have also come to understand that there are very different positions and views in regard to the meaning of confessional membership in a proposed new united federation that these also need to be addressed to ensure that our position is faithful to God’s Word and the three Forms of Unity, and in harmony with previous Synodical commitments made. They fully endorse asking the question “IF the URCNA has hesitations to seeking federative unity that they indicate what these are.”
  • 2.8       Neerlandia requests that General Synod Burlington-Ebenezer adjourn to await the response of Synod London to our Synod’s written questions and concerns about working towards greater unity. Once Synod London has responded, they request that Synod BurlingtonEbenezer reconvene and then decide on the mandates to be given to the various unity committees.
  • 2.9       Willoughby Heights expresses disappointment that the ecclesiastical unity coordinators still have not had any substantial discussions with the URC regarding Framework Hypothesis. They already voiced concern to Synod 2001 that the various committees for contact with other churches were not dealing with this issue. Synod 2001 assured that these committees would deal with this matter. In 2004 the committee reported nothing on this matter. Consequently Synod 2004 instructed the committee “to commence discussion concerning the Framework Hypothesis and the support this theory has with the URCNA and serve the next synod with information on this matter.” Three years later the CPEU reported to Synod 2007 only that their URCNA counterparts referred them to a statement of Synod 2001 which allegedly affirmed creation in six days and agreed to send a written reply. However in 2007 the CPEU had not yet received this written reply from the CERCU. Willoughby Heights notes that the URC Synod 2001 statement is misleading: the original statement referred to “creation in six historical days.” This was defeated. This proposal was passed only after the word “historical” was removed, thereby leaving room for the Framework Hypothesis. And yet another three years later all that CPEU reports to Synod 2010 is that it is awaiting a written reply. Thus after nine years, the CPEU has still initiated no substantial discussion on this issue. Willoughby Heights concludes that since the CPEU shows little inclination to actively pursue this matter, they urge Synod 2010 to appoint men to this committee that are able and willing to address this issue which Synods 2001 and 2004 have deemed important for unity. Attercliffe asks the question: to date we have not received any answer to the questions that were presented to the URCNA on the Framework Hypothesis. Should we have any concerns in regard to the working out of this theory?
  • 2.10     Attercliffe has observed the following over the past six years: a number of concessions have been made “on the matter of retaining the 150 Psalms in their entirety in the common song book,” “the principle of the theological college having to be controlled by the churches… with teaching by ordained ministers of the federation of the churches which we believe is biblically mandated,” “the practice of guests being granted admission to the Lord’s Supper on the basis of self testimony, which is deemed sufficient, contrary to principles clearly enunciated in Scripture on the need for witnesses.” Also the PJCO “allows so many exceptions that there is, in some cases, no rule left.”
  • They recognize that our concessions, implicitly on allowing women’s voting (URCNA) and explicitly on the above mentioned items were incorrect and so now “request and urge Synod to reverse these concessions.” They also recognize that they “are thereby suggesting that the agreements on 2001 were premature and that we should rewrite the agreement.”
  • 2.11     Ancaster expresses concern that the new guideline with respect to Phase 2 from URCNA for ecumenicity does not appear to be as strongly worded as e.g. the ninth foundational statement of the PJCO, which states that “there is a …spiritual obligation (emphasis ours) to seek and maintain the federative unity of the churches by formal bonds of fellowship and cooperation.”
  • Attercliffe observes that in the URCNA, changes to the phases in reaching full unity with our federation truly reflects only the desirability of unity. The goal of unity seems to be more elusive than it ever has been. They also ask how is it possible to request the URCNA to return to the agreement both federations made in 2001 without taking back the concessions made by Synod Smithers 2007. They question if it is sufficient to request a return to the agreements accepted in 2001. They would like to strengthen the request into a demand to return to these agreements.
  • 2.12     The coordinators suggest under Consideration 6.4 that the churches formulate questions they have concerning the doctrine and life of the URCNA. The following churches submit short lists of questions: Ancaster (three questions.) Abbotsford (three questions) Winnipeg (two questions).
  • 2.13     Winnipeg-Redeemer requests that in further dialogue with the URCNA the apparent imbalance between the autonomy of the local church and the federation of churches be addressed. They cite two examples: Article 36 of the Church Order of the URCNA, and theological education in the URCNA. They request the CCU to discuss with their counterparts the role and function of ecclesiastical assemblies, specifically with respect to their desire to defend the authority of the consistory against the encroachment upon that authority by a classis or a synod; whether or not the URCNA as a matter of principle is willing to adopt the principle contained in Article 21E of the PJCO, or whether they still feel the need for local consistories to ratify the decisions of major assemblies; why theological education is deemed to be only a consistory responsibility; and why the churches in common cannot or should not cooperate together in providing theological education for men desiring to enter into the ministry.

3.         Considerations

  • 3.1       We note that Synod Schererville of the URCNA in Article 72 adopted a nine-point statement and presented it to the churches as “pastoral advice.” Seeing that the expression “pastoral advice” is not explained, questions have arisen in our churches as well as at Regional Synod East of the CanRC about the character of this advice. There is a need to ask General Synod London of the URCNA to clarify the nature of this decision. Is it confessionally binding or not? It would be beneficial if Synod London at the same time would clarify Point 6. Several of our churches view this point as being directed at the CanRC. As a result they have requested Synod Burlington-Ebenezer to approach Synod London to retract or rescind the nine statements.
  • Further information indicates that Synod Schererville was responding to the RCUS report on justification by faith alone.
  • 3.2       Attercliffe contends that Rule 3 of EF dealing with consulting each other before entering into relations with other churches, was not maintained. From the coordinators report it becomes clear that there is substance to Attercliffe’s complaint. Therefore Synod BurlingtonEbenezer needs to pay close attention to this matter and give clear reminders to its committees.
  • 3.3       Attercliffe also raises the matter of confessional membership with respect to the URCNA. In this regard it should be noted that the URCNA has the same approach to the confessions as the CanRC and that its forms of baptism and profession of faith are substantially the same.
  • 3.4       Willoughby Heights expresses disappointment that the questions surrounding Framework Hypothesis have not been answered. Meanwhile Synod Burlington-Ebenezer has received an answer from the URCNA which gives Article 43 of the Acts of Synod Escondido 2001 as its official answer. Among other things this decision includes the following statement: “God created all things good in 6 days defined as evenings and mornings (Genesis 1 and 2, Exodus 20:11). This means we reject any evolutionary teaching, including theistic evolution, concerning the origin of the earth and of all creatures. (HC, LD IX).” This response reveals that the URCNA has made a decision on the matter of creation and evolution, which does not mention the Framework Hypothesis as such, but does accurately reflect what Scripture and the confessions teach on the matter of creation and fall.
  • 3.5       Attercliffe states that over the last six years we have made far too many concessions in the areas of Psalms, Theological College, the admission of guests at the Lord’s table, and so forth. These items are still under discussion and thus have not been decided upon.
  • 3.6       While Ancaster notes that there are differences in various statements on federative unity made by the URCNA, it also points out that the PJCO addresses and clarifies the URCNA commitment and obligation to church unity, thereby answering its own question.
  • 3.7       The matters raised by Winnipeg-Redeemer concerning the local church and the federation are so extensive that they should be referred to the Coordinators for Ecclesiastical Unity for their consideration and possible discussion with the URCNA.

4.         Recommendation

That Synod decide:

  • 4.1       To reappoint Coordinators for Ecclesiastical Unity.
  • 4.2       To continue EF with the URCNA under the adopted rules.
  • 4.3       To declare that as Canadian Reformed Churches we are still committed to the goal of federative unity between our churches and to ask the URCNA whether they are still committed to this goal (see attached letter).
  • 4.4       To request Synod London of the URCNA to clarify the status of the Nine Points of Schererville as a whole and to give a further explanation of Point 6 in particular.
  • 4.5       To be more diligent in maintaining Rule 3 of EF dealing with relations with third parties.
  • 4.6       To declare that Considerations 3.3 and 3.5 answer the concerns of the church at Attercliffe, that Consideration 3.6 answers the concerns of the church at Ancaster and that Consideration 3.7 addresses the concerns of the church at Winnipeg-Redeemer.
  • 4.7 To receive the answer of the URCNA to our questions about the Framework Hypothesis, and to include it among the appendices of these Acts.[1]


[1] The document is APPENDIX 12 – URCNA Statement regarding the Framework Hypothesis..