Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

Toward a Discussion With Other Reformed Churches

Written by Rev. P. VanderMeyden
It appears that ever since our interest in the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC) we as a denomination have had more opportunities for contact with members of other Reformed churches (for example: Canadian/American Reformed, Independent Reformed, Orthodox Presbyterian, and others). Such contacts have been in a variety of forms: personal contact with colleagues in the ministry, meeting as fellow delegates at the ICRC or Alliance of Reformed Churches (ARC), or meeting as consistories for discussion. Yet very little has been said beyond the church reports at our synod regarding the issues which we value as important in such discussions. Besides, these meetings have involved our office-bearers in some localities, while the membership of our denomination has been generally left outside of the discussion. It would be helpful for our membership to be acquainted with the issues involved in such discussions. To gain an awareness of the root issues in such discussions we do well to take note of the discussions which have been taking place between our corresponding denomination in the Netherlands (Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken in The Netherlands-CGKN) and other Reformed denominations. A very helpful report was published by Synod 1992 of the CGKN.

In the general conclusion of their report the delegates of the CGKN Committee for Unity and Correspondence were able to report that, though the unity of Reformed believers was still far away, they also reported with joy that there were occasions in which they could confirm their spiritual recognition of brothers in other Reformed denominations (cf.Acta van de Generale Synode der Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland, 1992, p.294).

We certainly rejoice with them that God has His people in more than one church federation. Yet, it ought also to be our desire to seek and visibly manifest as much as possible that unity of the church of Christ, in accordance with Christ's prayer (John 17:21,22). To be a Christ-honouring expression of unity it must be sought with a zeal for that Truth by which His church is gathered and sanctified (John 17:17,19).

Issues of conscience regarding the truth of the Gospel can divide Bible-believing churches from each other. Consistorial discussions, just like individual communication, is very helpful to nurture a better understanding of each other. It is very important in the process of seeking unity. Misunderstanding is such a tragic element in broken relationships--tragic, because it could have been resolved by better communication.

History shows that disagreement produces a "party spirit" which exaggerates the other party's statements. We form a caricature of their position. So, instead of facts, we end up motivating division by means of distortions. Or, because of inadvertent misunderstandings, the division is perpetuated on the basis of wrong perceptions about each other's beliefs or policies.

What is needed is communication. It is possible that misunderstandings exist which need to be removed. It may also be found that the perceptions are backed by sufficient facts to justify the conscientious disagreement. Whatever the case may prove to be--whether to resolve the misunderstanding or sharpen our mutual conscientious (but differing) convictions (or both)--communication of our mutual conscientious convictions will serve our churches.

The report of the delegates in the Netherlands contains a study report which actually deals with only one (but indeed a central) issue which has been a long-standing barrier to further unity: the issue of the appropriation of salvation. The study provides material which will serve well in discussion with other fellowships of Reformed churches. However, it appears to have been composed with a view specifically to contacts between the CGKN delegates and those of the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland - Vrijgemaakt (known by us as Liberated or Canadian/American Reformed Churches). The report (a translation of which follows), addresses this matter almost exclusively by drawing from the creeds. The purpose of this method is to demonstrate that this issue is a conscientious confessional matter.

The study paper we are referring to was originally written by Rev. A. Baars of Middelharnis, who served the Free Reformed Churches in Dundas from 1981 to 1988; he has just been designated by the CGKN synod 1995 to be a professor at the Seminary in Apeldoorn). This study was submitted by the Dutch committee and approved by Synod 1992 as a discussion paper for use by the Dutch churches. Since few of our office-bearers and members are conversant in Dutch, it will be helpful to us as churches to have it available in English. It is published with the permission of the original author and with the consent of the officers of the CGKN Synod 1995. The responsibility for any weaknesses in the translation rests with the undersigned.

Admittedly, this paper deals with only one area of our differences. We have not even touched the implications of these differences in the area of covenant theology. But a high view of the importance of experiential and discriminating application in preaching relating to the appropriation of salvation has for many years been held among us to be at the heart of our distinctiveness in the Reformed community.

It will profit us mutually to address these matters in our discussion, not only on the consistorial level, but also in our writings, so that our membership can also be involved in the process. If there will be unity down the road it must not be a top-down unity, but one which has developed because the grass-roots members of our two denominations have truly come to experience that we are one.

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