Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

Installation of Pastor Herfst Cowichan Valley Immanuel Reformed Church

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MILL BAY, BC - On any given LordÕs Day, about 25 to 30 people gather to worship at the 105-year old Sylvan United Church building in this small community on scenic Vancouver Island off CanadaÕs West Coast. And in the summertime, there are almost always visitors. Word has spread about this small church, and Reformed Christians from all over North America who come to Òthe IslandÓ for the scenery make a point of finding this church if theyÕre here on a weekend.With any more than 30 people, the sanctuary is almost half-full.

But on July 3rd, a Wednesday night, the sanctuary was too small. Close to 200 people, some from as far away as Ontario, gathered in another local church for a service to celebrate the installation of the first pastor for this small flock.

With roots in a secession from the local Christian Reformed Church about 8 years ago, the congregation affiliated with the Free Reformed Churches of North America in 1998, when a few members transferred their membership into the Abbotsford Free Reformed Church. Since then, with ongoing support from Abbotsford and the other western churches of the Free Reformed Church (FRC), including regular pulpit supply and pastoral work, the membership has expanded to take in people from the community, including former Anglicans, Lutherans, and Presbyterians. FRC Synod 2000 approved a congregationally-initiated proposal to fund the calling of a Home Missionary to the work, and last fall, the prayers of the congregation were answered.

After several calls to other pastors were declined, Rev. Ken Herfst, the former FRC Missionary to Cubulco, Guatemala, accepted a call from Abbotsford to serve as Home Missionary for the fledgling Cowichan Valley Immanuel Reformed Church. He and his family came back to Canada from Guatemala in mid-May, and after spending about a month with family in Ontario, re-acclimatizing to the North American way of life, they arrived at the airport in Victoria on June 18th. Almost the entire congregation was on hand to welcome them.

The installation service was moderated by Rev. Henry VanEssen, who served the congregation on an interim basis for two eight-week assignments over the past two years. The installation itself was performed by Rev. Laurens Bilkes, of the congregationÕs overseeing church in Abbotsford, and Rev. Kuldip Gangar of the Bellevue FRC delivered the ÒchargeÓ to the new minister. Using a musical analogy, Rev. Gangar reminded the new minister and the assembled worshippers that, much as a violin is only an instrument in the hands of a musician, so a pastor also is only an instrument in the hands of a sovereign God who Òconducts the affairs of the church, and has given us the scoreÓ in the form of His Word, the Bible.

In his inaugural sermon, Rev. Herfst used the theme, ÒThe Urgency of Preaching GodÕs Word Today,Ó with a familiar text from Isaiah 40, and its parallel passage from the last few verses of 1 Peter 1: ÒThe voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth É but the word of our God shall stand forever.Ó GodÕs Word, said Herfst, has to be presented as Òeternal, authoritative, and transforming.Ó

Beginning with the familiar declaration from the 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietsche about the madmanÕs rant that ÒGod is dead,Ó Pastor Herfst painted a picture of a society that has lost its moorings. The religion of relativism, of ÒwhatÕs true for me may not be true for youÓ, has become the order of the day. In a sense, Herfst said, Nietsche was right, in that society today has killed the God of the Bible. ÒWe have,Ó Herfst preached, Òinvented a god we can use, a god of mercy who will endorse our schemes and dreams. We have,Ó Herfst said, Òinvented a new gospel,Ó and reversed the scheme of things from what Jonathon Edwards preached. ÒToday, we have a Ôgod in the hands of angry sinners.ÕÓ This, Herfst said, marks Òthe preliminary symptom of the death of our culture, and a radically new order of things.Ó And it is into that culture that the church is ordered to Òcry ,Ó to speak Òa radical message of absolutes, norms, and standards based exclusively on the Word of God, the Word that Ôshall stand forever.ÕÓ

The church today, said Herfst, is wallowing in a Òcrisis of authorityÓ when it comes to preaching and the handling of the Word. ÒThere is a denial of the historicity of creation. Churches are moving to blessing same-sex unions, when those are clearly condemned in Scripture. But in their quest to be ÔrelevantÕ to the culture around them, they have let the culture dictate how they conduct themselves as churches. The wishes of the consumer, the Ôseeker,Õ have become sovereign in the churches, and there is no longer any preaching of sin. Sin starts to look normal, and holiness looks strange. Without the Word, the Church has no meaning; no reason for being.Ó A proper understanding of preaching, Herfst said, has to include the idea that Òwhere sin has no meaning, grace has no point. But because the Word is authoritative, it is to be obeyed.Ó

As for the transforming nature of the Word, (the third point of the sermon), Herfst immediately allowed that heÕd been ÒwarnedÓ about the culture of Vancouver Island. To a few muted chuckles from the congregation, he alluded to the reputation of CanadaÕs west coast as the ÒCanadian California,Ó where New Age religions, mysticism, native spirituality, and other fringe belief systems greatly abound. In fact, Herfst said, heÕd noticed a real shift in all of North American culture during the 10 years he was away in Guatemala. Taking an excursion into downtown Hamilton in support of a Òstreet-preachingÓ mission there during his brief stay in Ontario, he said, was a real Òeye-openerÓ. ÒYou can preach Buddha. You can preach Hinduism. You can preach Native American spirituality. You can preach Allah. There is toleration for all these things. But people immediately become hostile when you mention the name of Christ.Ó To counter that, Herfst said, the gospel has to be brought in the absolute conviction that Òit is only God who saves, and that He by His Word and Spirit can create new life.Ó

In an interview after the installation, Rev. Herfst said his perceptions of the cultural environment into which heÕs been placed are still being shaped by daily encounters. ÒThis is ÔLotusland.Õ Definitely. The more I talk to people, the more I see theyÕre very spiritually minded. TheyÕre interested in ÔreligionÕ.Ó But not necessarily the Christian religion. ÒThatÕs an overwhelming challenge. To present Christ to them. But we have a good core group in this church. This group isnÕt Ôchurchy.Õ TheyÕre not interested in putting up walls. They want to base themselves squarely on the Word of God. ItÕs not so much ÔecclesiologyÕ with these people as it is a commitment to the Word. And for the first little while, weÕre going to be working with that group, and do some serious thinking about how we do outreach.Ó

Pastor Herfst also concedes that, humanly speaking, this work doesnÕt look like much yet. Close to half of the regular congregation is over 50 years of age. Demographically speaking, thatÕs not an ideal base upon which to build a church, and Herfst admits Òthat weighed heavily on us when we first looked at the call. But GodÕs Word transforms. If this was a human effort, itÕs not likely this group would still be together after 8 years. We were also impressed with the sense of commitment of the existing group. For people to come together for 8 years without a pastor, without the assurance that they would eventually have a pastor, demonstrates a genuine commitment to the future. And letÕs face it, IÕm not a terribly charismatic personality, not some kind of ÔP-R guyÕ up at the front there. In that sense, I donÕt have any solutions up my sleeve, but what we do have is GodÕs Word, and the fact that He has brought us here. IÕm totally convinced of that. Elderly people also have a lot to offer. They have the time, and the life experience. In our day and age itÕs probably good to use that too. Obviously, we hope thereÕs going to be an influx of families. Ultimately, we have to believe that God has His people, and weÕre called to be faithful.Ó

The church is looking forward to holding itÕs first election for office-bearers this fall, probably operating as an ÒadjunctÓ to the Abbotsford consistory for the short term. For the past four years, administrative matters have been handled by a local ÒSteering CommitteeÓ under the guidance and direction of the Abbotsford FRC. This model has worked well, with Abbotsford handling spiritual oversight, and the local Committee taking responsibility for administrative matters, pulpit supply schedules, and budgetary matters. There is also already some discussion about the future; about leasing or purchasing a larger sanctuary for worship, so that Òif the Lord does see fit to further bless this work, weÕll be ready.Ó

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