GS 2013 art 165

GS 2013 Article 165 – Letter from Synod Carman 2013 to General Synod 2014 of the RCN

Committee 5 presented a second draft of its letter. With a few minor changes this is the result:

The General Synod

of the

Canadian Reformed Churches

Meeting in Carman, Manitoba, Canada

May, 2013

To the General Synod 2014 of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands:

Esteemed Brothers in Christ:

Synod Carman 2013 greets the Synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN). We praise our faithful God for his continuing work of grace in the midst of your churches. As observers from afar, we are thankful for the confession, worship and witness of the RCN. We recognize in your midst the faithful preaching of the gospel of salvation and that fills us with joy. Between you in The Netherlands and us in North America, there is a bond of some 60 years. Many of our members trace their ancestry to your country. With you, we find our roots in the Reformation of the 16th century and we are united to you in our common confession of faith. Even though the present generation of Canadian Reformed believers is much less connected to Europe than in previous times, there remains among our churches, in general, a keen interest in the RCN. Ministers and other members of our churches continue to benefit from the scholarly labours of members of our sister churches in the Netherlands. We think, for example, of the Commentaar op het Nieuwe Testament (Derde Serie) which has been well received in Canada among those who can still read the Dutch language.

Even as we notice much faithfulness among the RCN, the apostolic exhortation to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) compels us to also express a number of serious concerns. We present them in humility and yet with the heartfelt desire that you would take heed to the matters we bring before you. Our rules for ecclesiastical fellowship state that “the churches shall assist each other in the maintenance, defence and promotion of the Reformed faith in doctrine, church polity, discipline and liturgy,” and shall be “watchful for deviations.” It is in this context of ecclesiastical accountability that we direct our exhortations to you.

To a great extent, our concerns revolve around the Theological University in Kampen (TUK). For some time, we have noticed the influence of critical scholarship upon the methodology and conclusions of some publications associated with the TUK. These concerns have been communicated on various occasions to the BBK Deputies and have also been expressed by our delegates at Synod Harderwijk 2011. An “Interim Report” of our Committee for Relations with the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands” was received by Synod Harderwijk which conveyed to you many of the details of our concern. In a recent letter to our Synod Carman 2013, the Deputies BBK assure us that the TUK is maintaining its character as an orthodox Reformed institution. However, there was no interaction in this letter with our specific concerns. Since we have not seen any indication that our concerns have been recognized and given a serious response, we feel the need at this time to intensify our exhortation to you. Indeed, we are appealing to you as our sister churches to return to the right path of faith in regard to the interpretation of Holy Scripture.

Specifically, we ask you as sister churches to indicate clearly that the views of Dr. Stefan Paas expressed in his dissertation, Creation and Judgment, are not in harmony with the Word of God and the Three Forms of Unity to which we subscribe as Reformed Churches. When Paas puts forward the notion that the people of Israel arose from migrant and Canaanite populations and when he calls into question the historicity of the exodus, this constitutes an attack on the trustworthiness of the Word of God. To us, it is inconceivable that a person holding such views could be appointed as a professor at the TUK. That Paas does not teach in the area of Old Testament studies is no reassurance for us. Introducing doubt about the historical veracity of the Word of God cannot be contained; eventually, it will permeate all the disciplines of theological study. It is our view that the Directors of the TUK ought to have dealt with this matter by not allowing Paas to teach at the TUK so long as he held to the views expressed in his dissertation. Failure to do so means that a foothold has been established at the TUK for the methods and conclusions of scholarship which does not take seriously the special nature of Scripture as the inspired and therefore infallible Word of God.

Similarly, we are deeply concerned about the methodology and conclusions expressed in the dissertation of Dr. Koert van Bekkum, From Conquest to Coexistence: Ideology and Antiquarian Intent in the Historiography of Israel’s Settlement in Canaan (2001). Methodologically, van Bekkum believes that the factuality of historical events in the Bible cannot be accepted without question. In evaluating the truth of statements in the Bible about historical events, says van Bekkum, scholarship must consider the evidence of archaeology and the findings of literary criticism. Only in this way can a scholar arrive at the “truth value” of a text. The end result of his methodology is that certain biblical data are not accepted at face value. For example, according to van Bekkum, the Biblical data in Joshua 10:12-14 cannot mean that the sun and moon actually stood still. Similarly, the straightforward historical statement of 1 Kings 6:1 is set aside by van Bekkum. What we observe in such scholarship is a diminished appreciation for the authority and accuracy of the Word of God. The fact that this was a dissertation promoted under the auspices of the TUK. and was awarded a cum laude designation augments our concerns. That van Bekkum was subsequently appointed to the faculty of the TUK creates grave concern among us for the future training of ministers of the RCN. Allowing such views to be presented and promoted undermines the orthodox Reformed character of the TUK and jeopardizes the training of future ministers of the Word. For the safeguarding of the RCN, we urge you as yet to deal with this matter in a way that honours the Holy Spirit who has breathed out for us the living and abiding Word of God.

In short, we believe that we are witnessing the acceptance of higher-critical scholarship in the Theological University of Kampen which is under the governance of the RCN. In our own North American context, we have observed the disastrous spiritual and numerical decline of various church federations due to the inroads of historical criticism of the Bible. Out of our love for you, we beseech you to take our concerns seriously and to be resolute in refuting opinion and scholarship which does not honour the infallibility, clarity and sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures (Article 7, Belgic Confession).

We would also like to communicate our dismay about developments in your federation of churches in regard to the matter of women in office. While your Synods have thankfully not made a decision allowing for women office-bearers, we are concerned about the process that has been set in motion. When a Committee appointed by Synod Amersfoort-Centrum 2005 developed a manual to facilitate reflection on the role of women in the church, it failed to direct the membership of your churches to what Holy Scripture says on this matter. Instead, what Scripture clearly reveals in regard to this matter became merely one option to be considered among others. Synod Harderwijk 2011 appointed deputies with a mandate to answer the question of whether Scripture permits the appointment of women to the offices of deacon, elder or minister. In our opinion, this gave evidence of a diminished regard for the plain teaching of the Bible that these offices are to be filled by faithful men who are chosen in agreement with the instructions provided through the Holy Spirit by the apostle Paul (1 Timothy 2:11-14, 1 Corinthians 14:33-35). In the RCN, as in any faithful church of the Lord Jesus Christ, the matter of women in office should not be framed as an open question. When the unambiguous teaching of the Word of God about male leadership in the church becomes a matter of debate, then we fear that a new and dangerous hermeneutical approach is showing its influence. We urge you in the Lord to defend the Biblical truth that God calls men to give leadership in the churches and we ask you to encourage your churches to resist the inroads of egalitarian thinking in regard to offices in the church.

Finally, we express our concerns about the ongoing relationship between your churches and the Netherlands Reformed Churches (NRC). As you know, the NRC allows women to be ordained to the offices of minister, elder and deacon and has recently mandated a study into whether practising homosexuals may fill the office of elder or deacon. A further reason for alarm is that full subscription to the confessions is not required of office-bearers in the NRC. When there is such deviation in the NRC from Scripture and the Reformed confession, it seems impossible to us that churches in your federation could amalgamate even with NRC churches which do not have women in office since each NRC church is part of a federation of churches and thus co-responsible for the direction of the whole. We urge you in the Lord to turn back from ecumenical relationships which are not built squarely on the truth of God’s Word as confessed in the Three Forms of Unity.

Brothers, in addressing you as we have, we do not imagine for a moment that we are above reproach or that our churches do not also face many challenges. Both your churches and ours are involved in a deep spiritual battle for the preservation of the truth of God’s Word. In this battle we need each other. We appreciate and thank the Lord for all the help you can give us to stay true to the Word of God as confessed by all of us in the ecumenical creeds and the Three Forms of Unity. In the same way, we hope and pray that you will hear our concerns and consider our admonitions and turn back from the wrong path on which you have set out in recent years. Should you stay on your present course in regard to the matters we have raised in this letter, we fear that the relationship of ecclesiastical fellowship which we have with you will be jeopardized. We urge your Synod and your churches to stand firm in confessing the whole truth of the Word of God and to defend this truth boldly and vigorously even when it is denounced and hated by the world. We hope and pray that our concerns may one day be put to rest and that our churches and yours may remain faithful until the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in glory, majesty and power.

We look forward to your response to our next General Synod via our Subcommittee for Contact with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands Liberated. With Christian greetings, on behalf of General Synod Carman 2013,

(Signed by the chairman and second clerk of Synod Carman 2013)