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May 27, 2014 1 3 comments

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Hi Kieth,

I appreciate your forthright posting on a possible problem with our preaching in the CRC.  Since I graduated Calvin Seminary in 1969, I have had some preaching exposure on both sides of the pulpit.  One Sunday a married couple said I was the worst preacher they had ever heard.  Another couple said I was the best.  My present pastor graduated Calvin seminary in 2006 and is a remarkable preacher. I'm rather certain that he is not the only one. 

A suggestion.  Would it be possible to gather a few of the persons who have observed this flaw in us and commented to you about it to meet with a few of the professors at Calvin Seminary to discuss this issue?  Since these comments come from a rather wide swathe of the Canadian side of the CRC at least, we should not permit the discussion to die.  Perhaps a couple of poor sermons or audio/video examples could be provided the professors and whatever weaknesses that would be found could be shared with the pastors in a confidential manner.  Maybe relatively minor adjustments could be made by these pastors that would make their sermons much better.  Further teaching in preaching could be provided.  Nothing should stop us from addressing this issue with significant resources. No ones job need be at stake unless of course after considerable efforts there is no improvement.

Keith, I hope you are right about this.  Preaching is very important to the church and where it is lacking, it should be corrected.  This is something we can get our minds, hearts, and resources around relatively easily.

Larry Van Essen

 

To clarify, I mentioned 'dozens of conversations' with folks in CRCs across Canada. No, there isn't a mass exodus of Christian Reformed members leaving the denomination.

Granted, we have many excellent preachers across the denomination and those churches are thriving.

As a life-long member of the CRC who was privileged to have had a few leadership positions, my heart aches for the church ... especially for those congregations that have struggled with pastors who simply don't preach well. And it is proverbial slap in the face to suggest that things would change if the congregation simply prayed more. I have seen church leaders agonize over this issue.

I also recognize that Calvin Seminary has a stellar reputation for its theological and scholarly work.

This wasn't mean to be a finger-pointing exercise but to simply raise the issue and the concern. To put it crassly, some of our pastors preach poorly. Then again, I am sure that no pastor intentionally plans and preaches a poor sermon. There's the rub: is a sermon's quality in the ears of the beholder? I don't think so. One can quickly spot a sermon that has been thrown together without little exegetical thought: a few anecdotes here, a quote from Tim Kellar there.

It makes me wonder -- speaking broadly -- if we have pastors who don't spend enough time exegeting a text, digging into scriptures, spending hours chewing on the text during the course of the week. Is it possible that we have pastors who would rather do a lot of the usual pastoral/administrative work instead of searching scriptures for next Sunday's sermon.

The church today needs excellent preaching. That is how we grow, numerically and spiritually.

Mr. Knight's criticism of CRC ministers is couched in absolute terms. All across the CR world in Canada preaching is so bad, he implies, that members leave in alarming numbers.

Criticism in sweeping terms always makes me cringe, the more so, since it concerns pastors who, for a great part, I know as able people of vision who love the congregations they serve. They know themselves sent by Christ. Their tasks are heavy, their responsibilities always more than their congregations surmise. But they work without complaining.

The Form for the Installation of Ministers of the Word recognizes that. It asks the membership, "Do you promise to pray for him ... and to respond to his work with ...love and respect?" And again, "Do you promise to encourage him in the discharge of his duties...?"  And also, "Sustain him with your fervent prayers?"  I recognize nothing of these godly sentiments in Mr. Knight's lines.

Mr. Knight also draws Calvin Theological Seminary into his scathing criticism. That, too, is seriously mistaken. In the North American world of theological education our seminary enjoys an outstanding reputation. The professors of preaching, John M. Rottman and Scott E. Hoezee, are nationally known for their outstanding teaching gifts. The Center for Excellence in Preaching, connected with the seminary, receives international recognition, Faculty members of the seminary travel regularly  around the continent to remain in contact with the members

These columns remain available for our membership to express their views, as did Mr. Knight. It grieves my heart when they are used to belittle our Ministers of the Word. I urge our membership to pray for their pastors as they promised  at the installation of their (new) pastor.

Louis Tamminga

 

Thanks Louis for an interesting article on God’s favoritism.  For the Christian, the Bible does offer a lot of comfort in regard one’s own well being and acceptance by God. Indeed the Christian is favored, but not because of anything within themselves. As you imply, if I scrutinize your comments correctly, the Christian’s favored position is only because of Christ.  That is evidenced by the fact that those apart from Christ are sentenced to eternal damnation.  There is nothing, apparently, that God sees in the person apart from Christ worth saving or of receiving a good commendation, even though by our human standards a person may be a very good person.  Our judgments of a person’s character mean nothing to God.   Does it frustrate you a bit that God has shown his favoritism (election) only to the few while leaving the many to a destination of eternal damnation, as determined by God? “Many are called, but few are chosen.”  I realize your audience is basically those who are Christians, much in the same way as when Bible authors speak of the “we” or “us” or “our” or “my” they are speaking of the Christian community and not of those outside of that community.  And your article is a comfort when one thinks they are God’s favorite child.  But I can’t help but to question, doubt, feel terribly frustrated, even angry at a God who despises the majority of the world’s population when he could have saved "all", or at least the many instead of the few.  As long as you are speaking to (and of) a Christian audience, your article offers comfort indeed.  Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but that's what happens when you are a product of Reformed teachings.  Thanks for your many good articles.

Rev. Tamminga,

Thank you for the reminder to care for the single members of our church and community.  I needed to hear this!

Grace & peace,

Leon H. Johnston

Lacombe, AB

Thanks for this excellent article.  I would be happy to conduct educational sessions for Elders who are interested in learning about ministry to addicted persons and their families.

Tom Kragt

Minister of Congregational Life and Recovery

EverGreen Ministries, Hudsonville, MI

Dear Louis,

Thanks for raising this topic.  I appreciate your call to visit and stay connected to all people, regardless of any kind of struggle they may know in life.  I think we have much to learn from the fellowship of AA in this regard.  It is interesting to observe that they as relatively 'unschooled, ordinary' people are able to address the roots of addictive behaviors while we with our formal ministry training often cannot.  I find it helpful to think of addictions on a continuum ranging from the ones that may be easy to spot because they have a concrete substance, to the ones that are also destructive and more easily hidden, pride, or self-hatred for example.   When we are willing to reach out for the help that we ourselves need, and especially make good use of those time tested 12 steps we may find that we have the personal resources of strength from God, and compassion for people as well as wisdom so that we don't need to send addicts away, but may minister to them and they to us.

Blessings,

John

 

Having been both a griever (in the loss of a wife and daughter) and a grief counselor (chaplain), the lessons learned in CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) training and in CISM (Critical Incident Stress Managment) training have lead me to appreciate the value of several basic things to remember in coming alongside individuals who are impacted by sudden loss or tragic events:  1) Enter this holy space with caution and awareness of your own fears and inadequacies, but with a prayer-full effort to be as non-anxious as possible in order to quietly exhibit the peace and love of God. 2) Ask for (or simply listen for) facts -- what happened to whom and how did they learn of it or observe it. 3) Only after listening to the facts and establishing some rapport ask what did this person(s) do, feel, think when this occurred? 4) Then move to what are they feeling right now? 5) Only then should you suggest -- or better ask -- how you may be helpful (with a focus on resources -- material, emotional, and spiritual -- beyond yourself and the current moment. 6) Never overlook the power of a simple, sincere prayer for God to surround and indwell the crisis with His love and grace -- whether prayed with the person (if appropriate and welcomed) or after leaving them with assurance that you will personally continue to hold them up to God's throne. 

This certainly resonates.  I do get the impression that some people think being reformed means to do what the world does, and then color it christian.   I don't think that's what the reformation was about.

No problem, Todd, that would be fine.  We've found it allows for discussion that's both respectful and honest.  

Jeff, If you don't mind, I would like to use these same three questions on our agenda as part of our mutual censure as well. Would that be ok?

Thanks!
Todd Huizingh
3rd CRC Zeeland 

Great piece, George,

Readable and thought-provoking.

Thomas Niehof

Good article!

Good information and advice. It is also important to 'listen' to facial expressions, voice tone, pitch, words used. Many people have different means of self expression based on their life experience and teachings. Animated conversations often reflect communication styles. It is important to listen to the words spoken more than how they are delivered.

My sincere thanks to the six people -- Ed Gabrielse, Mark Vande Zande, Kathy Smith, George Vink, Pete Vande Beek, and Jeff Brower -- who commented on my article regarding the practice of Mutual Censure.

Kathy Smith  was kind enough to point out that a synod of some five years ago modified the article. She added the revised version . I had not been aware of that and it has bearing on how we now need to see the practice the article is concerned about... Thanks, Kathy!

The key words of the new reading are: "assess and encourage" with reference to the duties of office bearers. Synod will have debated this and will have had good reasons to continue the practice (4 x a year) though in a milder framework. My problem still lies with the practice and its setting. Is it helpful for consistory members, after being together, to (4 x a year) express, at the end of that meeting, how they feel about each other? I thought it would be better for a council to schedule periodically a meeting (with due preparation) and assess the entire ministry program and make the necessary improvements. Program leaders should by all means be invited to participate in such an exploratory meeting.

What think ye, readers?

In our church the way that we do it is through going around the room and answering the following questions:

1. In your opinion are the office bearers of our church carrying out their duties to the best of their abilities?

2. In your opinion, are the various programs and ministries of our church being maintained faithfully and is the church fulfilling the Great Commission through them?

3. Do you have any ideas about how our church ministries or church leadership can be encouraged or developed?

I've found that such a structure allows for a climate of improvement without pointing the finger at any one individual.  It also tends to encourage discussion "in the confessional mode".  We're not accusing each other, we're sharing our shortcomings, our struggles with time and focus, and the need for mutual encouragement.

This article has revealed to me that I have simply carried on accepted or passed-on understanding of Censura Morum rather than paying attention to the original intent of the Church Order. I welcome that! Particularly because I much prefer the original intent as described here to what I had learned and have been experiencing.

I vividly remember the first time I encountered the term as a new Deacon, sitting as the youngest and freshest face in a room of about 23 men, some of whom were smoking. (It was the last meeting burnt offerings were allowed during the meeting. After that, we first went to having two breaks in meetings so smokers could get their fix.)

Oh yes, much to observe for a rookie! Including "Rook break."

Near the end of the meeting, the pastor/chair announced it was time for Censura Morum, words I had not even heard in the semester of Latin I took in High School before dropping out of that class. My limited translational abilities turned it into the "Censorship of Death" and this interpretation sure fit the sudden intensification of the already severe mood in the place. Then, without further explanation, the chair turned to the man on his right, and the man said "No." This started moving around the room as the chair's gaze fell on people. It was fairly easy to appear understanding when his gaze fell on me and add my my own rejection of the Censorship of Death with a "No" of my own.

As time went on, I learned it was associated with upcoming Lord's Supper, and when I finally asked someone for more information I was told it was about whether officebearers thought the other officebearers were ok to share communion with. I fear I may have passed on a version of that belief, even as a pastor, though I used the language of accountability rather than worthiness.

So I am glad to have the original meaning clarified. I will no longer spread falsehoods.

I have one question though. From what you write, Louis, it does seem to have an intent of creating a discussion about job performance as Elders Deacons and Pastors. Is that a correct understanding? In some situations it is an awkward thing if for instance one Elder does not get visits done...

Thanks Kathy for the reminder regarding the update. I certainly agree with LT that the practice's being "tied" to the Lord's Supper four times a year was most regrettable. Changing the frequency of the Lord's Supper helped a little, but I made the decision many years ago to make it a part of every Council meeting.....A proper and honest implementation would help avoid the kind of surprises and unhappiness that now happen, leading to the application of Article 17, at least for some situations. Then a Council could possibly suggest to the pastor that he/she could, if not should, consider another call or calling.... It was a wise group who introduced the concept but again, it requires appropriate implementation. The honesty required, the communication expected, may be the difficult.

I do recall with a smile a humorous response when upon doing the encouraging, one of the elders received considerable accolades and gratitude for the watchfulness and visitation taking place in his "district," the elder responded with a twinkle in his eye, "Cut the ^&*(%^ and put it in the paycheck." A delightful memory of a ministry moment.

Colleagues galore, may I again encourage the perusal of the wisdom of ages as reflected in the Church Order....there's a lot there that'll help avoiding its application when there's no more encouragement and it's hitting the fan.

Thanks for this helpful article, and for clearing up this misunderstanding!    

You might also want to know that Article 36b was updated by Synod 2010 to read a bit more positively and now says:

b. The council, at least four times per year, shall exercise mutual censure, in which officebearers assess and encourage each other in the performance of their official duties. 

At every Elders meeting we always ask the question - How is ministry going?  We go around the room and each Elder has an opportunity to give feedback on the way ministry is handled.  It sometimes becomes a basic evaluation of my work as a Pastor, but there has been some very fruitful things that have come from that.  Also, every 3 months we still do Mutual Censure and it has been a blessing to find out how the Council feels about the Ministry of the Church.

Over the past three years, we have used this item as a time for members to recognize fellow officers for exceptional service within the fellowship. Ending the quarterly meeting with a series of commendations for work well done has contributed to a positive, supportive service environment.

Thanks, Louis, for the encouragement. I've only been at this a short while and already the connections that have been made with those in our broader community are a strong motivator in continuing the work of adding resources and creating posts that inspire others to dialog about Leadership Development. Shalom.

Thanks for highlighting that link, Ken! 

Thanks so much for sharing these observations with your readers, Gwyneth! I had not (yet) taken note of this book. To share this important type of information is exactly what these columns are for.
The best to all our readers and contributors!
Louis Tamminga
 

There is also a page for Elders and Deacons on the ServiceLink site, with job description templates for elders and deacons.  These can be modified to fit the specific needs within any given congregation.  You can find them at:

http://www.crcna.org/servicelink/engage/elders-and-deacons

Hello Louis,
Although the nomination process you mention is a good one, reality in the local church is that often there are not enough people willing to serve, or just enough people to fill vacancies. It would be great to have twice the amount of nominations needed to fill a slate, but that has become a challenge in many churches. ServiceLink, the Volunteer Services Program of the CRCNA, has been meeting with church leaders over the last year discussing various recruiting methods and strategies to engage volunteers. One of the more successful recruiting methods for elders and deacons that we've come across, has now been posted on our website for others to utilize. We've also posted a template for elder and deacon job descriptions which may be of help to churches.

Wow, Jolanda! Gathering all those posts makes it even easier to navigate our way to helpful materials. Thanks. 

prayer

 

O Lord, support us all the day long of this troubled life,

until the shadows lengthen,

and the evening comes,

and the busy world is hushed,

and the fever of life is over

and our work is done.

Then, Lord, in thy mercy,

grant us a safe lodging,

a holy rest,

and peace at last,

through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

                                          == Cardinal Newman

 

posted in: Internet Culture

This is great! Thanks for sharing.

posted in: Youth

Thanks for sharing this Louis. 

posted in: Youth

My sincere thanks to Lubbert van der Laan, Wendy Hammond, Edward Gabrielse, and Todd Zuidema. And to all who read and pondered the challenges of serving God. This is not the place and time for me to evaluate what each of you expressed. But I do want to express my thanks to you for broadening the scope of the subject I broached. One should indeed not too easily decide who is and who is not an "active member".  Christian service, Christian life itself,  is indeed much broader than the program a local church. I appreciated that emphasis.

What also surfaces in the responses is the reality that politically spoken there are severe differences that run right through the Christian Reformed Church. May those differences not keep us from loving each other, esteeming each other, and listening to each other as believers. In the meantime there are challenges on which  we can all agree: promoting sound fiscal policies and public justice, praying for those in authority, standing with the poor and the disadvantaged, and being good stewards of God's earth.

And I think I may add that the local congregation must keep an important place in our lives.  The ministry of Word and Sacraments is basic to maintaining the  spiritual wellbeing of the members and faith-formation of a new generation among us. It remains my prayer that church-memberships remain alive, meaningful and vibrant.

Louis Tamminga

 

 

 

Todd

Thanks for your response and apology.

There is a little mentioned item (Article 75, Page 806) passed by Synod in 2012. It was in response to my rather vigorous objection to the adoption of the stance on Creation Stewardship and my concern for the kind of rift that taking such a position would create. I was concerned then as now about ostracizing a significant portion of our current and future membership.  In response to Lou's query on what keeps members on the sidelines, I believe that any time we strongly advocate for or against a non-salvation issue, we risk driving an unnecessary wedge between members of the body. That triggers a fight or flight syndrome and too often it is flight.

While Global Warming is one obvious example of an issue that can be used as a wedge, many positions claimed by one political faction or another run the same risk.

Members with divergent opinions can work well together in growing God's kingdom so long as there is a demonstrable commitment, in love, not to provoke each other. That would go a long ways in encouraging participation in church activities.

Warm regards,

Ed

 

 

 

Ed,

Thanks for replying.  I guess you sense you struck a nerve with me.  It is encouraging and affirming to hear about your activity in your local church and community.  I apologize by calling that into question.  

As far as your opinions and choices related to global warming, climate change, or whatever term is fashionable these days, I mourn that care for the earth has been so politicized. Personally, I don't spend a lot of time worrying about Al Gore.  I don't know what else to say other than that I will continue to try to be a good steward of the energy I use, recycle, and whatever else I can do to show respect for the gift of God's Creation.  I hope that this is not political.  I am simply trying to live out in my small part the responsibility given by God to Adam and Eve in the Garden.  

As far as submitting to the authority of the church and discipline, I am thankful that you are engaging in the work of the local church.  That was my point when I first responded.  It seemed that this is what Lou was calling us to do, and it was my impression that you "thread-jacked" his post to take a crack at the faults that you perceive with some of the statements given and activity taken by our denomination in relation to the climate.  

I have a lot of sympathy with your final paragraph.  If we focused on our love for Lord we would all be better-individually and as a denomination.  The struggle is that regardless of the position the denomination takes on one issue or another, there will always be a portion of people who call that position a stumbling block.  So, seriously, and not facetiously, I say, "Lord, have mercy.  Lord, come quickly."

Regards, and grace and peace.  

Todd, I really appreciate your concerns about the "bigger issues" in my life. But just to put your mind at ease, as a layman, I average about 30 hours a week in activities in our local church. I also grow about 2000 pounds of food for the local food bank.

That said, I carefully avoid church activities related, for example, to climate change. As far as I can tell, it has enriched Al Gore immensely, it is based on  fictitious data, it will immeasurably harm those in poverty and the temperature has actually been going down for 17 years. I refuse to be part of a lie, even if the denomination has defined climate change as the work of the Lord. Now if that is resisting the authority of the church, and/or refusing to join with the people of God in doing the work of the Lord everywhere, I will humbly endure the discipline process.

My larger point, is that we need, both as a denomination and as individuals to avoid being a stumbling block by taking such stands. We need to focus, especially as a denomination, on our love for our Lord which binds us together and avoid those things that would tear us apart especially now when so many issues have become politicized.

Edward, I don't know how you managed to do it, but you were able to make service and engagement in the local church a political issue.  Congratulations.  That took some skill.  That said, if your personal political POV or the perceived political POV of the greater denomination keeps you from participating in your local church (e.g. serving at a local food pantry, participating in a Bible study, or showing up for a night of fellowship of your church), I think there are bigger issues with which one needs to wrestle.  Turn off the t.v. and radio and serve someone.  One of the forms of the CRC's profession of faith asks, "Do you promise to do all you can, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to strengthen your love and commitment to Christ by sharing faithfully in the life of the church, honoring and submitting to its authority; and do you join with the people of God in doing the work of the Lord everywhere?"  One does not have to claim one political affiliation or another to promise this.  Louis is calling us as individuals within a local congregation to do our part.  If your politics trumps your ability to keep that promise, I would once again say that there are greater issues at hand.  As others have said, we need to look at ways we can engage people when the traditional methods (i.e. day Bible study for women) do not work.  Bottom line.  Join your church at work and serve. 

There is an unspoken and unrecognized reason for some of that inaction. And that is the alignment of our denomination with the issues of the Democratic party. Conservative Republicans find themselves walking on eggshells. Incessant harangues over open borders, use of energy, global warming and diversity dominate our publications, deliberations and ministries. We even have an office to promote socialism under the guise of justice.

Several years ago, I asked my daughter, who had been active in politics before she bought her store, why she had backed away from it. She looked at me and asked, "Why would I alienate half of my customers?"

The CRC is alienating half of our members. We are also cutting the number of potential converts in our evangelism efforts. It seems like before someone joins our church, we have to convert them from Republican to Democrat before they can feel comfortable in our circles. Like many of my friends, I admit to curtailing my participation because I do not want to argue or be made to feel defensive all the time. And the enthusiasm to support Democratic kingdom causes is evident in the lagging ministry shares.

The CRC has lost the ability to minister to Republicans. The church fails to recognize or respect the biblical grounds for Republican positions. So, we toss the Banner as soon as it comes. We show up on Sunday morning, because we feel that obligation, but feel alienated except around a few friends who share our perspectives.

Maybe someday, we can find that our shared commitment to our Lord's work supersedes these differences. Perhaps tolerance for other perspectives (or at least keeping guiet about them) can once again characterize our fellowship. Then we can participate with enthusiasm.

There was an article about this recently in Christianity Today. http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2014/june/3-reasons-people-ar...

The comments were actually more interesting than the article. Some of the people who might be made to feel shamed for appearing inactive are very involved in parachurch organizations or have work schedules that do not allow them to serve traditionally (I'm one of those - my travel schedule makes it impossible to serve well on any committees). Traditionally organized churches need to adapt their expectations and opportunities to adapt to today's realities, especially if young people are going to get involved. A classic example is the women's Bible study group that meets during the day, when many women are working.

I heard of a church in Indianapolis that suspended all committees and activities other than Sunday morning worship. After a month, people were invited to come together and decide what things they felt were important for their church to do. They created and joined teams according to their interests and skills. The church is much more vibrant now and they do not have any trouble with not getting people to volunteer. Some programs no longer exist; some look different; but the church is growing.

Hi Louis...

Those are all good ideas, yet are premised on insiders looking outside the box. The underlying assumption is people outside the box would unreservedly want to join them in the box knowing the benefits.

Yet they are not.

How do we put ourselves in their shoes, see things through their eyes, engage where they are at to understand why the disengagement, disaffiliation, etc. How does scripture speak into this issue?

Jesus.  The Greatest Story ever told.   And we believe the story.  And we believe Jesus.  

It is true that people around the world are more similar than dissimilar! How much greater to share stories that unite believers in Christ-- no matter what their race, gender, or socio-economic background! 

 

I'm reading a book called, "The Skeptical Believer: telling stories to your inner atheist" by Daniel Taylor. He points out that the Lord chose to reveal himself through story. The Bible is filled with stories that reveal who God is;  we understand and believe truths about God, because they are connected to and arise out of the stories. And faith is not believing a list of propositions, but rather living into the story that we choose to believe.

They are good points! However, it is also "the tail wagging the dog."

Excellent points. The quick answer to the last question is no. If the Five Stream are implemented in the local congregation starting with stream 5 followed by 3, 4,2 ( in that order) it would probably result in 1. I think in many churches this is a fact what is happening. The issue that the CRCNA is struggling with is how the corporate part of the church can cost effectively facilitate the Five Streams. The SPACT folks are tackling this issue but care will have to taken to not grow the corporate part to take on too much authority and control.

Thanks so much for your good words, Leon!

You yourself will be the beneficiary of what you propose.

Hurrah for Southern Alberta!

Louis 

(sorry for the delay of my response...)

 

 

 

Louis Tamminga, May 1, 2014

Thanks again, John, for laying out your thoughts in further detail. You burned the mid-night oil.

How shall we proceed from here on? 

These columns are meant to think together through various issues that concern the well-being of our churches. So we seek your input. It would be fine if you would wish to address only parts of John's essay. Should the church in the future wish to deal with these proposals and needs, we realize that the pathway through the ecclesiastical structures is cumbersome and time consuming. But progress will only be made when office bearers and thoughtful members have already discussed them at various levels. So, again, let's talk. We owe it to the church and to John.

A word of caution

This NETWORK is meant to help church leaders in doing their ministerial work. There are so many parts and issues in this work. They all deserve discussion. Share your problems and experiences with us all. This must not become a one-issue platform.

Thanks, Louis for your refreshing openness.    This is a big topic, but I will try to be brief as possible.  I have thought about this issue for some time since about  30 years ago when asked by a non-member visitor whether he could participate.   Many other circumstances and situations have added to this thinking, including those baptized as adults but not members, those baptized as infants but not adult professing members, those with reduced mental capacity, etc.  In addition I had to make decisions on whether to participate in non-reformed churches. Also I noted that in one reformed church only a small part of the membership actually participated in communion, and that I was restricted from participating in another particular reformed church as a visitor because I was from a different denomination.

I think  profession of faith has always been an issue of formal church adult membership primarily.   It sometimes happens years after someone knows they are a Christian.   It is not a gateway to faith in Christ, but a commitment to local and denominational precepts.  There is no reason to think that making such a profession of faith is tied to a recognition of a faith relationship to God or to the body of Christ, since if this was so, for many children, it would be done much earlier, and for some people, it should not be done until much later.

 I see too often that profession of faith is not taken seriously.  The elders who examine do not understand the significance, and the one who professes faith does not renounce sin in any reasonable fashion.   It should be noted that simply saying you renounce sin does not prove that you really do.   In the same way, professing that scripture is your guide and rule for life and for worship, is not the same as actually doing so.   Members who do not renounce sin, who refuse to put on the robe of righteousness/obedience, and who think scripture is out of date, cause problems when they influence others to do the same under the presumed authority of their membership.  

We generally consider those who make profession of faith as full members and able to participate in congregational meetings, voting, and eligibility for office.   Then we have also in the past added in the ability to participate in communion, and baptism of their children. 

I think we should separate these two items.  In order to participate in communion, faith ought to be evident, but in general this should be left up to the participant with the general warning that if you do not believe and trust in Christ, that you should refrain from participating.  If you believe and trust and follow, then you are considered part of the body of Christ, and thus communion is fitting, since it is participation in the body and blood of our Lord and Saviour.

If someone is participating when it is obvious that there is no repentance, no renewal, no reflection of Christ, then that is opportunity for the elders to talk and visit and witness.   This opportunity is a gift from God, not to be neglected.

Membership as an adult is somewhat different, because now distinctions are being made between various confessions of faith, various assumptions about renouncing sin, and various governance assumptions.   If we have a significant number of people making profession of faith who do not agree with some of the confessions, then they can easily vote in favor of not promoting infant baptism, or inviting various speakers from any denomination to preach, denying the authority of the elders, or denying the power of scripture over their lives.   Membership ought to be clearer.  It is not a form of acceptance by the congregation, but a form of commitment to a set of standards by the believer/member. 

We ask elders to sign the form or covenant of officebearers, in order to establish what their commitment is.  However, by making membership conditions relatively insignificant, there is a side effect on signing of this elder’s form such that it is also not taken so seriously, and thus we have officebearers directly contradicting their agreement both in their understanding of the confessions and scripture and in their daily walk of life.   We have seen this in council rooms, congregational meetings and in the banner.   If this is not taken seriously, then how can we have the temerity to suggest that it is necessary to make a formal membership profession in order to partake of communion?

A contrast was made for me in the difference between two churches (not crc) in my region, and how they handled church membership.   One church had 10,000 members on their books and had seating for only 2000 people in their building and the church usually half empty.   Rarely 10% of their membership would attend on a weekly basis.   Another church had seating for 1500, with only 250 adult members, where attendance was usually four times the membership, and 80% full.   The second includes a statement of faith, as well as a statement of conduct relevant to today’s temptations to which a member must sign agreement.   One treated membership as a mystical panacea that covered their sins, while the other treated membership as a commitment with high standards.  So the question for me is, which does the crc prefer to be?

We should also make clear that if membership is not contingent on following all of the proscribed confessions, articles, synodical statements, forms for baptism, installation, ordination, etc., then in which instances is there room for divergent perspectives and beliefs?  For example, if there is room in the crc for members who wish to be rebaptized, or for those who prefer believer baptism, or for those who speak in tongues, then we should make this clear.  If there is room for members who deny that God created man good, then perhaps we should make that clear.  If there is room for members who advocate sexual immorality, then we should make that clear.   The lack of clarity in a simple document on some of these high profile issues causes problems for members, for those considering membership, for elders, and for any understanding of membership, acceptance and discipline.

In my view, the potential complexities of a membership decision should not be the condition for approving or denying communion in the form of the Lord’s supper.

April 29, 2014

Louis Tamminga

 

​Thanks, John, for your contribution of April 22, today just one week ago. I have pondered on your remarks many hours. Many readers of NETWORK will have too. The fact that I did not read any responses probably demonstrates that others too could not come up with answers. Unable to formulate a helpful response I took comfort in the fact that NETWORK was designed to draw many readers into discussing the observations and questions of fellow-readers.  So, dear participants, what would you say to John and us all? 

And I may add: John, what would you say yourself in response to your questions? As you struggled with your thoughts, you will have envisioned some  answers. 

 

Thanks for your reply/comment.  First I would respond that in my experience it is indeed realistic that some children would examine the confessions and practices of the church, and begin to make statements about which they agree with, and which they do not.   These are usually children who are very committed and who examine scripture and love the Lord.  These children can range in age from 14 to 30.   They came to the faith from the time they could speak and read, and as we confess in our creeds, they belonged to God from before birth, as evidenced in their daily talk and walk.

Whether we agree with their confessional or practical disagreements or not, on what basis do we deny them communion?  They believe in Jesus as their divine Lord and Saviour, and follow Him in their daily lives.   What if the clause in profession of faith " “to confess the faith of the church as taught in the creeds and confessions of this church.”" causes them objections?  Or from the 1976 form, "Do you believe....that the confessions of this church faithfully reflect this revelation?"  What do we do then with temporary or permanent visitors from other places, or from other churches(with different doctrines)?   Should communion be tied to membership?

I have participated, as have my children, in communion in non-crc churches.  These include Alliance, Baptist, Church of God, Brethern, Luthern, and various community churches.  I do not believe that communion belongs to a denomination.    Only that communion ought to be practiced in a way to treat each other as the body of Christ, mostly by not being selfish (I Cor.14), since Christ was not selfish.  I have also seen some non-members exhibit more christian leadership and committment than some "professing" members.   Would we then deny the one and admit the other?

This is different than I thought when I was a child, but it is a real struggle.  When we see people making profession of faith who are not renouncing sin, how honest are we being?   The 2013 form and the 1989 form seem to place less emphasis on the confessions, but is there no expectation of membership with the profession of faith any longer?  Yet it seems to be a gateway to membership, voting, and eligibility for teaching and leadership, yes?  Which would at a minimum imply some level of agreement with confessions and practices?   And would imply some agreement on christian living?   Some other denominations separate this entirely, by making faith and communion separate from membership.  Membership then implies a whole 'nother level of committment.  Perhaps we could learn from this?

I appreciate the attempt to accommodate various less significant differences, within the ability to participate in communion.  I agree with that.  But what that leads to then is a problem with membership and committment.  I have seen difficulties with members not renouncing sin, or with members saying the Bible is out of date, or with making huge scriptural inaccuracies such as Mary  being raped when conceived with Jesus,  or Paul being homosexual.  Not to speak of those who question whether God really created us good.   I have difficulty in communion with people who do that, but even more importantly, such people are deemed qualified for leadership simply because they are members by virtue of their profession of faith?  How do we practice the Lord's Supper as the Lord himself did and the epistles instruct us, while at the same time making membership and leadership truly accountable?  In the past these two things have been so closely tied together, but are they still?

Sorry for my questions, and perhaps they are not easily answered.  The baggage of our history lingers on.

My thanks to John Zylstra for his thoughtful comment about “older children” participating in the Lord's Supper without having made Public Profession of Faith. John argues that many such children/young people may have problems with the three Confessions of Faith (the “Creeds”). John, in passing, refers to Christ's approval which is a bit tenuous, since Christ did not spell out participation in detail.

Thinking about John’s proposal brings up immediately one implication: churches following this path will then have another – a third - class of members: regular participants in the Lord's Supper, but not “Professed Members”.

The problem John introduces is real and it is not new. Let me suggest a solution which I think is more profitable.

It is hardly realistic to think that "older children,” who consider profession of faith,  will turn to the Creeds and then check whether they agree with the contents. By far the majority of church members came to the faith through Bible reading, the Christian life at home, the ministry of  the church, and a variety of Christian contacts. The Holy Spirit used these and other means to instill faith in the hearts of the members (mostly) from young age on. Thus they became members of a church-fellowship that confessed the Word of God as the source and basis of faith.

But the denomination also confessed that the thrust of God's Word was summed up in the Creeds.  As a community of believers we believe those to be true (though not at the same level as the Scriptures). They form splendid study materials,  keep us connected with previous generations, form a helpful defense of the faith, and Pastors preach sermons that do not contradict the creeds.

Does that mean that I must agree with each phrase in the Creeds? Not really.

What can I do in case of disagreement? We realize, of course, that many strategic doctrines of salvation are spelled out clearly in the Bible. But there is plenty left for believers to disagree about.  For instance “infant baptism”. But would that seriously hamper me from joining a church in which I have been nurtured spiritually from my youth on?  I think not. Here, I think, is the way young people may follow. They will speak with their minister, or elder, or trusted guide and together consider the matter.  Should this not lead to clarity, the young member should be assured that his/her (confessed) membership remains fully assured in spite of the confessional wrinkle.  I may stand next to him/her in the Lord's Supper circle, both assured in Christ's salvation, but with a different view of one implication  of holy baptism. The 'solution' I propose is pastoral, it is the assurance that we look in a glass darkly but our hope is in Christ in whom we are one in spite of our differences.

Synod itself at one time gave a  bit of pastoral advice in reply to a question of a local church, how to deal with a charismatic member who had accepted adult baptism in another fellowship. Synod's reply: ask that member whether she still  values her membership in your congregations and whether she is prepared to continue to accept the responsibilities going with regular membership.  (Synod 1973, Acts page 73)

Although it is true that participating in communion ought to be a sign of faith, and not a sign of peer approval, the direct connection to making a formal membership profession of faith in a particular denomination is not required by scripture.  Of course we would ask and expect only believers to participate.  On the other hand, if someone says that they have not read the belgic confession and thus cannot yet make profession of faith in any reformed church, or they agree with most of the confessions, but not with the mandatory requirement for infant baptism and thus cannot in good conscience say that they agree entirely with what is taught on that point, should they therefore be denied participation in the body of Christ?  Did Jesus do such?  Would we deny christians from ORC, or from NRC, or from Baptist or Pentacostal, or Alliance churches to participate in this remembrance of the body of Christ?  even though they have not entered the hallowed "gateway"?  If the crc finds a way to distinguish between profession of faith, and a membership committment, then perhaps you might have a point.  The two are not the same.  

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