Q&A

A number of years ago, church order made provisions for a local congregation to request Classis to approve a lay leader the license to exhort for a varitey of reasons.  The one I was familiar with was a congregation remotely located and this person licensed to exhort could assist the pastor with...

February 5, 2013 0 15 comments
Q&A

We have assigned roles for out elders and deacons (E.G. Worship Elder; Youth Elder; Compassion Deacon; Finance Deacon). We currently have five elders and five deacons. We believe that one of our positions that is currently filled by a deacon would better be filled by an elder. Is it acceptable...

February 5, 2013 0 3 comments
Q&A

New to this list--pardon if the topic has been addressed before. Our church has an offer from a cell phone company to lease a part of our building for placement of a booster antenna. Assuming that all our questions and concerns are answered to council's satisfaction, must the measure still come...

October 7, 2012 0 4 comments
Q&A

 I was ordained as an elder and served my 3 year term. Now that I am done with that term, am I still considered to be an elder? If I happen to be at a service where there is a call for elders to participate in Communion or laying on of hands for an ordination service, may I participate as en...

August 22, 2012 0 13 comments
Discussion Topic
by Henry De Moor

Sep 9, 2011 — Martin Luther was excommunicated by Pope Leo X three years after he posted his 95 theses on a church door and subsequently showed no remorse for doing so. When he received the papal bull, Luther burned it in a huge bonfire ritual. But few people are aware...

October 14, 2011 0 8 comments
Q&A

According to church order, is it permissible for a lay person i.e. not an elected elder or deacon to bring God's greeting at the start of a worship service?

September 27, 2011 0 8 comments
Discussion Topic

We have an elder in our church who has stated that he "represents" a certain number of people that he feels are negected, although they are long time members, some with a lot of influence.  I though that our form of church government was not to be representative.  Any thoughts?

August 26, 2011 0 4 comments
Q&A

Okay, I just heard something about article 7.   What happened there, and how many people knew about it, and how did that slip through the radar? 

June 21, 2011 0 21 comments
Discussion Topic

Synod 2011 made some very wise decisions.  It also made one huge mistake to prove that, unlike the pope, our broadest assembly is not infallible.

An amendment from the floor was quickly discussed and then carried.  And just like that, a provision that has always been a hallmark of the...

June 20, 2011 0 6 comments
Q&A

Synod just sent the revision to the Form of Subscription back for further review.  So, we are still using the current form.

I have been reading and re-reading the form recently in an attempt to understand one part:

 

"We are prepared moreover to submit to the judgment of the...
June 17, 2011 0 4 comments
Discussion Topic

In our Classis, and I am sure this is not a unique problem, it is becoming rather difficult to get "sitting" Elders to volunteer as a delegate to Synod; and the problem is getting down right pesky!

It seems every time we come around to soliciting Elders for the upcoming Synod, it is like"...

March 26, 2011 0 5 comments
Q&A

In the CRC Church Order, Article 4 seems to make clear that the calling of Elders and Deacons is entirely the responsibility of the Council and clearly spells the process out. Article 35a seems to give a little wiggle room where the Consistory can say it determines the qualities of who is...

March 15, 2011 0 7 comments
Discussion Topic

Henry,

I see your name floating around here, so I am going to address you on behalf of myself and the church.  Thanks for your wonderful work on the church order commentary.  It is of great service to me and to the church as a whole.

I do admit you have gotten me in trouble though....

February 15, 2011 0 1 comments
Q&A

This perhaps is a question for Henry DeMoor, but I would assume there are others who might like to give an opinion. 

Prior to the Church Order revision in '65, there was an article that required "mutual censure" at Classis meetings- Art. 43: At the close of the Classical, and other major...

February 8, 2011 0 12 comments
Discussion Topic

The book features a treatment of each article of our Church Order—half of it exposition, being theological, historical or practical in nature, the other half of it real life questions and answers. 

December 18, 2010 0 7 comments
Resource, Policy or Guidelines

Classis Grandville's Mission Task Force prepared a useful summary of what the CRC Church Order and Manual of Church Government states about the purpose, authority, delegation, and business of classis.

December 13, 2010 0 1 comments
Q&A

In the "Current Issues" thread, Kathy Smith asked me to say a few things about serving communion at weddings, for all, or just for bride and groom.

I'm happy to start a conversation and am therefore starting this new thread for this topic.

I'm even more eager to hear from many others...

October 1, 2010 0 8 comments
Discussion Topic

At the end of each month, I hope to list some of the things in CRC life that cause people to ask me for advice.  I do not list them all.  That would bore you to tears.  But these "some" are ones that you may have thought about as well.

Here's the September, 2010 list:

Casting of Lots...

September 30, 2010 0 4 comments
Discussion Topic

I had a link on my computer to an online PDF file of the Church Order, but recently it is not available. What happened? Can we get it back?

 

September 15, 2010 0 2 comments
Q&A

Is there any consensus or agreement among the readers/church leaders concerning the casting of lots in the election of church officers. Scripture certainly notes the casting of lots many times in the life of Christ and in the early church. Some commenters to a post in the "Church Administration...

July 28, 2010 0 5 comments
Q&A

In some readings and conversations I've come across concerning modalities in counseling in Christian circles, I've noted at least two positions; the integrationists and the non integrationists with a few variations along a continuum. Is there an official position or guiding principle on the...

July 20, 2010 0 1 comments
Q&A

WARNING TO ALL CRC MINISTERS: I have received word that ministers serving USA churches are officiating at weddings in Canadian provinces without first obtaining a licence to do so. Please note that all Canadian provinces, unlike some states in the USA, require advance licensing. Not arranging...

June 24, 2010 0 1 comments
Q&A

The church order sets out a structure of governance for CRC churches however, it doesn't help when there is a need to change the structure. Many churches, mine included, are struggling with the need to change how the church is governed but there is little help from the church order and...

March 22, 2010 0 15 comments
Discussion Topic
Would anybody care to discuss why we *don't* include children at Communion?
March 17, 2010 0 26 comments

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"OUCH" Keith...this is suppose to be a diagogue...I'm not arguing for "one size fits all" and acknowledge that different pastors have different gifts. If you look at many of the ads in the Banner seeking a Senior Pastor, they use words like energetic...dynamic...enthusiastic. Most often they are seeking someone who will motivate and lead them from where they are to where they want to go (and most of the time that is from an "inward" oriented church to an "outreach" oriented church.

I will tell you that it would be a pastors answer to prayer to go to a church which is as you described, with goals and vision statements already articulated, but in 9 out of 10 churches that is not how it is.

Thanks for the discussion.

I sense a bit of unintentional arrogance in James VanderSlik's comments. "(The pastor) is in tune with God's will regarding the church and works with the leadership..."

Whose task is it to develop a vision for a local congregation: the pastor or the council/elders? Pastors come and go, and probably take their 'vision' with them as they make the church rounds. The local congregation is presumably there for several generations.

It is indeed somewhat arrogant that only the pastor is 'in tune with God's will for the church'. I would hope that the elders (and some churches have specific visionary elders) are equally in prayer and equally in tune with God's will.

I fondly recall a church that was vacant for four years. During that time the congregation decided that their church building was too small so they sold it, they held a fundraising drive, they collectively build a new church, they established a vision for the church as it related to the community, and then they called a pastor.

Vision, wisdom, strategic planning ... and prayer ... are not the sole pervue of pastors.

And as to Lubbert's comments, yes it is Canadian law that a minister who receives remuneration may not serve as a voting member on a church board/council. The Canadian Council of Christian Charities, which advises Christian non-profits, including churches, is diligent in regularly pointing that out.

Hi James...

My comment is not specifically directed at pastors, but the underlying theory of political governance imbedded in Church Order which comes from the 15th and 16th century. Throughout the 17th to 20th century this theory of governance was gradually abandoned. Also, over time, administrative and governance functions have become more clearly demarcated. 

Though pastors are "called" to the ministry, they are nonetheless also "staff" who are employed by churches.

Over the last 20 - 25 years federal and provincial governments, and oversight agencies like the Canadian Council for Christian Charities have put legislation and guidelines in place to regulate NGO's and charities to ensure transparency and accountability to deal with matters like conflict of interest, due diligence, fiduicary obligations, etc.

You're probably right in that churches are looking to pastors to take a lead in shepherding their communities as quasi CEO/executive directors, but these are paid staff [administrative/management positions] and not governance positions.

Governance ought to rest with the elected elders and deacons who are called by the congregation to serve in their respective areas. 

You are also right, in that the administrative and governance arms need to work in concert as shepherds of the flock.

Where this becomes problematic is at the classis and synodnical level where employees [pastors] are making decisions on behalf of local congregations that should rest with elected elders and deacons, especially in areas where there are obvoius conflicts of interest. This is not to say that the employees are not motivated by the best of intentions.

 

Lubbert, I'm on vacation in Montana and don't have my books (like CO), however is thd ruld you cited for Canadian churches? For my 22 years I was the President of the council and also the elders. I certainly did not have a kingly role.

Consider new church development, the pastor functions as the visionary leader and as the body matures, he teaches and trains the office bearers to assume more and more responsibility. I won't make a sweeping generalization however many of the GROWING and MISSIONAL CRC churches are "pastor & vision" driven, not lay leader driven.

Now just to clarify, when I say "pastor & vision" driven I don't mean that the pastor is a lone ranger doin his own thing, but rather that he is in tune with God's will regarding the church and works with his leadership team and is affirmed by them.

Blessings!

Though I can appreciate the matter of individuals being gifted in the area of administration and leadership, and that some pastors may possess these gifts.

Nonetheless, church polity is out of step with contemporary political governance being more in line with 15th / 16th century divine right of kings political theory.

Having an employee as an elected/voting member of the governing board/Council, and possibly as Board Chair, places the church as an institution at jeopardy legally, quite apart from issues of conflict of interest.

That doesn't preclude the pastor, as an elder, being an ex-officio non-voting officer. 

Even the Canadian Council of Christian Charities requiries the following standards of charities, i.e. churches:

Standards of Acccountability: http://www.cccc.org/standards_2 "No member of the governing board shall be entitled to receive, either directly or indirectly, any salary, wages, fees, commissions or other amount for services rendered to the organization."

 

 

I strongly believe in individual spiritual gifts and think that it applies to this discussion.  There are many ministers who possess the gifts of administration and leadership and when a church calls him/her to give leadership to the body, it is most appropriate that he "lead" the Council.  There are other ministers who do not possess such gifts and would prefer to devote their time and energy to other essential areas of ministry, who would be most relieved to have such leadership of the Council handled by an elder.

It must also be kept in mind that it is the minister of the church that eats, sleeps and lives for and with the church, whereas the elders and deacons have other areas of life as their higher priority.  Praise God that while the minister is no longer the most educated person in the church, he is the only one who has had the spiritual, Biblical, theological and church organizational training at Seminary qualifing him/her for such leadership.

I believe there is some history pertaining to the handshake of elder and minister.  After the 'reformational times' not all churhces had full time ministers.  There were a good number of itinerant ministers desiring to preach the Word from location to location.  Prior to having an ambulatory minister lead a community in worship,  elders would meet with the minister and thereby clarify to each other the worship purpose and sermon content.  Following a prayer, the leading elder would usher the minister to the front of the church and they would publically shake hands.  The handshake would publically indicate that the present nomadic minister was approved by the elders and deacons.

To this day, I have accepted the handshake to remain a confirmation of the leadership about to occur in worship.

First things first: Synod 1934 considered the possibility, but rejected it as “impractical” and not in keeping with Reformed polity. Previous cases in the Reformed tradition, it said, were not good precedent because they were events that occurred under “abnormal conditions” (Acts of Synod, 1934, pp. 64-65). In other words, this would be an illegitimate excursion into an episcopal form of church government.

Synod 1976 apparently had no such reservations. A report of the Ministerial Information Service indicated that many had requested the possibility and proposed a procedure that kept any inquiries in confidence. It envisioned two “single nomination calls” to be approved at congregational meetings of two churches held at approximately the same time, and suggested that if one such vote were to fail, the other church’s call would be “nullified.” The consideration that this might be an “episcopal detour” was pushed aside by the committee’s insistence that these were legitimate calls, not “placements” such as those a bishop would make. Synod agreed. So did Synods 1978 and 1980, when called upon to “review the arrangements.” Apparently, there had been only one attempt at an exchange that did not materialize and was “canceled by partial resolution of conditions” (Acts of Synod, 1980, p. 363).

The Ministerial Information Service reported to Synod 1983 that it had “worked with the concept” on three different occasions since 1976, but had “not been able to complete any of them.” The “concept has many built-in problems,” it observed, “and does not seem to have much chance of success at the present time.” Synod agreed that no further extension was in order (Acts of Synod, 1983, pp. 192, 620). The current Pastor-Church Relations Office that later absorbed the Ministerial Information Service into its operations has never requested a formal renewal of the experiment. What’s fascinating is that the episode did not end with the 1934 objection on the basis of principle, but with the pragmatic judgment that it simply wasn’t workable. So the answer to your question, I suppose, is that there is currently no synodically authorized way to do what you suggest, but also no inherent reason why you couldn’t ask the denomination to revisit the matter with yet another experiment. Are you intrigued enough to draft an overture?

Again, thank you for your reply. The practice of shaking hands was explained to me many years ago by my now deceased father. Your explanations refreshed my memory and I plan to pass it along in a "Did you know?" Piece in our church's monthly newwsletter.

Regardless whether parents or grandparents originate baptism, a baptized infant's salvation in unaffected by the baptismal ritual. In the case of older chilren and adults the water of baptism is an outward sign of their born again experience. That is, a tangible demonstration of what had already occured through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  In the case of an infants we don't know who the elect of God are nevertheless, when children of unbelievers are embraced within  the covenant community of believers on the strength of their grandparents' faith, such children receive the same nurturing benefits as do "all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call." (Acts 2:39).

 

That is correct. The principle remains in place but the practice is optional.

To both Daniel and Henry, thank you for your replies. So, in essence, this practice is done out of custom and traditon and is not a required element of the worship service. Is that correct?

I agree with you, Daniel, but would nuance the second handshake after the service.  It is to thank the person for preaching, indeed, but it is more than that.  It is taking back the authority given so as to have the whole council accountable for what occurred during the service.  To put it differently, elders are not to make an individual decision as to whether the sermon was faithful to Scripture, etc., but only to "take back the authority" and make that judgment together with all other elders and deacons.  For a story about misinterpretation, you might want to check my Christian Reformed Church Order Commentary, page 290-291.

 

Henry,

I'm sorry that I can't share "chapter and verse" about where you might find information about the handshake thing, but this is how it was explained to me: The Elders (of whom the Pastor is a specialized member) have been given authority by God, as testified by Jesus when he tells the disciples that what they bind on earth, will be bound in heaven, etc.. Therefore, when the Pastor and the Elder shake hands as they come to the front of the church, the Elder is saying on behalf of God (in his authority as Christ's representative), and on the people's behalf, "You have the authority and blessing to give God's Word to us this day. May you be blessed as you do so."

After the service (though not all churches do this anymore) the Elder would again shake hands with the Pastor saying, in effect, "Thank you for the blessing that God has given us through you. And we submit to His will and His Word as revealed through you today."

It's (to me) a very meaningful practice, and I'm glad you want to share it with people.

By the way, I did look it up a bit. The book "Guiding God's People in a Changing World: A Handbook for Elders" by Louis Tamminga, cites the church order, art. 52a "The consistory shall regulate the worship services." That's the closest I could find...

Henry,

I think this is a far more interesting topic than perhaps some people realize. I myself would lean towards agreeing with Karl Barth that, in reality, there is no science, or even knowledge, that is not in reality "theology" Our talk about physics, chemistry, biology, etc. is all really, in Barth's estimation, talk about God. In Church Dogmatics he deals with this and argues the following, I believe:

1) That theology is not and cannot be a science in that it cannot be submitted entirely to the same "scientific" principles that the other "sciences" claim.

2) That theology is, properly speaking, the only true science and that all the other disciplines are, in reality, subsets of theology.

3) That, practically speaking, theology must (in spite of poitn two above) remain somewhat separate from the other "scientific disciplines" so that it is not tempted to fall into the mistake of thinking of itself as "just another science"

These three beliefs (he says more, of course) are important, I believe in considering your comments regarding Kuyper and the earlier secessionists. It seems to me that the tension between "independence" and "accountability", while at the same time trying to wrestle appropriately with issues brought forth by other academic/cultural/scientific disciplines is a critical one for us to maintain. If we attempt to shut down dialogue on issues brought forth by the scientific community, for example, because they don't fit with our "doctrine", and we want to keep our preachers "pure" of harmful influences, then we will be aiming a gun at ourselves, in effect--playing russian roulette with our seminarians: When will this scientific stuff blow up in our faces?

If, on the other hand, we extend "independance" so far that students/staff/faculty are no longer required to adhere in any way to doctrinal standards then we play a different kind of russian roulette with ourselves such that we wonder when all this "independence" will lead us down a similar theological road to that which other mainline churches in Canada seem to have taken...

In short, I'm not at all sure that this is a tension that ought to be resolved. I think rather that the tension ought to be maintained as a healthy and important one.

There have been some serious debates or controversies about this matter in the early stages of our denomination’s life. Followers of Abraham Kuyper argued that his approach of teaching theology as one discipline among many at a Christian university should be our guiding principle. But those who traced their heritage to the earlier Secession of 1834 in the Netherlands, Professor Foppe ten Hoor, for example, argued that the church must itself train its future ministers and that professors of theology are nothing other than ministers of the Word with a special task. Proponents of this position even sought to base their arguments on biblical texts such as 2 Timothy 2:1-2, where Paul was said to be giving that charge to his “son” in the faith. I must say I have considerable difficulty interpreting the text that way.

Personally, I believe that even if it were preferable, the Ameri- can environment makes the realization of Kuyper’s vision a terribly difficult one to implement. I also believe that the CRCNA is com- mitted to both “principles” or concerns: a seminary that is under no other control than that of its own synod and, at the same time, a seminary that does not teach theology in seclusion from what its students have already absorbed in other subjects such as the natural sciences and psychology.

Henry, help us understand why the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is open to believers from other denominations but not the sacrament of baptism.  I know of believing parents who were former members of the CRC but because of location attended a church that did not baptize children.  They were refused baptism in a CRC by the church council after confering with you I believe.  Your insight on this would be appreciated.

I get this question a lot, so I suppose this phenomenon is fairly widespread. I can certainly understand the desire to have this grandson baptized. I can also fully understand the thought that covenantal theology ought to allow for this sort of thing, especially if one believes that the covenant line runs through the church as well as the (biological) family. The fact is that among those who uphold covenantal theology, this has been a long-debated issue that has surfaced on many occasions and is often described as the issue of the “halfway covenant.” The debate goes all the way back through previous centuries. The theological problem is made more complex when the mother or father opposes the baptism or at least does not consent to it. In that case, the issue of legal custody arises. Historically the church has always respected the rules of civil society with respect to custody of children. In line with churches of the Reformation throughout history, the CRCNA holds that children of believers ought to be baptized. Next, we hope, expect, and pray for a profession of faith of the baptized at an age of understanding so that the covenant line or believers’ line is then visibly extended throughout the generations. We wrestle with why children fall away and always keep praying on their behalf that they will return. Nonetheless, and in tune with our expectations, we do not give non-confessing parents the right to present children for baptism. Fallibly, to be sure, we draw boundaries for the sake of the purity of the church. Grandparents do not have the right to present grandchildren for baptism unless the child’s parents are out of the picture entirely and they have actually received legal custody or, as sometimes happens, actually adopted the child. That’s the current position of the CRCNA. I have seen some exceptions made to that position with which I do sympathize. In one case that comes to mind, the grandparents had unofficial yet very strong control so that they, in fact, were providing the chief nurturing influence. But going down the road of exceptions to our policy is nonetheless fraught with some difficulty, and I believe that exceptions should be made only for very compelling reasons. Here we need a great deal of wisdom and discernment. After all, our historic policy is also wrapped in much wisdom. At the same time, we rejoice in a situation like yours where the parents have no objections and the grandparents are allowed, perhaps even encouraged, to bring the child into the life and ministry of the church. We must not forget, though, in our rejoicing, that as he gets older it will become more and more difficult for him because of the obvious contradiction in modeling between one generation and another. How do we help? Here’s one reason why it was so necessary for our churches to move toward the scenario where children ages seven to twelve are encouraged to make an “early” profession of faith—where, at their level of understanding, they express their love for the Lord and their desire to be nurtured within the Christian community. I hope that your congregation does this as a routine practice. This, I think, is the direction to go, namely, that the grandchild is enfolded in every possible way (with a presentation in worship short of baptism and then in church school) and steadily encouraged to make such an ageappropriate profession, whereupon baptism can take place. It would have to be the case, to be sure, that the parents of a minor in their custody do not object and provide that permission in writing. But it would be a powerful witness to the child’s parents and would speak eloquently of a God whose covenantal promises are being fulfilled in our eyes even if, right now, a generation is seemingly skipped. The community continues to pray and support. When he is fourteen, his parents’ lifestyle—if still the same—will look very tempting. Hopefully he’ll resist and make an additional adult profession some four years down the road. What a thrilling thing that would be for you! I realize I probably haven’t convinced you at an emotional level. I’ve given you the long-held stance of the churches of the Reformation. I could reach back into theology textbooks of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. I could give you stories of children being baptized by the church just because three generations back their ancestors were members, and what happened to churches like that in the long run. But I’ll leave it at this for now. Feel free to fire back.

There is an interesting difference between Christian Reformed pastors and, say, Presbyterian pastors. CRC pastors are members of the local congregation and as members they can vote at congregational meetings. Presbyterian pastors are members of the presbytery (ie classis) and they are appointed by presbytery to chair a local congregation's session (council). They chair and they 'run' the local church. Presbyterian pastors are accountable to presbytery (classis), not the local session (council).

Is there any merit in changing our polity, Henry, so that our pastors are members of classis and accountable to classis, rather than being members of the local congregation?

I am happy to do so. In a document we prepare for students at Calvin Theological Seminary, we enumerate seven items from tradition and Church Order that we deem to be “official acts of the ministry” (Article 53): the greeting or salutation, the blessing or benediction, the assurance of pardon, the reception or dismissal of members, the ordination of officebearers, the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments. The preaching of the Word is a recent addition by Synod 2001, and students, of course, are licensed to proclaim it, to “exhort.” The other six items do not all carry the same weight. Our advice about them follows. Do not raise your arms and pronounce the salutation and the benediction. You will undoubtedly upset someone if you do. Instead, change these pronouncements into prayers: “The Lord bless us and keep us . . .” The assurance of pardon is undoubtedly a word of Scripture, and the student pastor is perfectly free to read it. Say, “The Lord says in Isaiah 1: ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.’” Reception or dismissal of members is really the act of the consistory as a whole. I see no reason why you couldn’t welcome people into adult confessing membership on behalf of the elders who have met with them. This makes good sense, especially if you were the one who, as an intern, led a number of young people to make public profession of their faith. It makes less sense for you to announce dismissal if you have not been involved in discipling the person(s) involved. Ordaining elders and deacons is also the act of the local council. If you are involved in that, the council must give its permission, and it must be clear to the congregation that it’s really the council doing the installing. Involve the chair of the elders and the chair of the deacons to make the point visibly. Have them—not you—do the laying on of hands, for example, since they are ordained and you are not. The sacraments, given our theology, are clearly to be administered by ordained persons, either a minister of the Word, a ministry associate, or—as a legitimate exception—an elder identified by the classis as having the authority to do so if no minister or ministry associate is available. We advise you as a student not to administer baptism or the Lord’s Supper. Finally, remember that you are not licensed to solemnize a marriage. Conducting funerals is another matter and, if it makes good sense, feel free to do so if requested by the family.

Dear “Karen”: I’m so sorry to hear this story from you. You are not alone. Unfortunately, there are many others with a similar story. Like you, those people do not know what to do either or where to turn. I’ll do my best to describe the “ins and outs” as you requested. First of all, my response depends on your age. I cannot tell from your letter whether you are an adult, so I am going to describe a response to a minor and then a response to an adult. If you are a minor (under age eighteen in most states and provinces), you should know that sexual abuse of a minor by an adult is a crime whether or not the abuser is a pastor. If the abuser is a pastor, the abuse is also a serious form of church leader misconduct, a violation of professional ethics, a betrayal of your trust, and a sin. Although it might be very difficult for you, you should tell a parent or a stepparent what has happened. If you cannot tell your parent or stepparent or if they do not believe you, then tell your story to an adult—perhaps an elder of your church, a youth leader, or a school teacher—it doesn’t really matter who, as long as it is an adult that you trust. If you live in Canada, all adults are legally responsible to report the allegation. If you live in the United States, some adults must report an allegation of abuse because of their professional responsibilities while other adults do not have to report. Then two things should happen to prevent the sexual abuse from happening again. First, the adult you confide in should report your allegation to the local police. By law, the adult should report the allegation within twenty-four hours of hearing about it. Second, that same adult or the police should inform the church’s executive or leadership group of your allegation. You didn’t say whether he’s your pastor or the pastor of another church. But that doesn’t matter. The church needs to be told. The police will interview you and the pastor separately, and they will interview others as well. It takes some time to conduct a thorough investigation. After all the interviews are done, it is possible that criminal charges will be filed. There could be a trial, especially if the pastor claims he is innocent. If he is found guilty of abusing you or if he pleads guilty to abusing you, he will likely be punished. I can’t say what the punishment might be, but you should understand that any punishment is the result of his abuse and not because you reported the abuse. The church’s leaders should take action too. The church should at least suspend him for a period of time, or they should remove him from the pulpit and prevent him from being a minister again in that church or another church. Throughout this experience, you will find it helpful to have a counselor to talk to. Your friends will be very supportive to you, but you may not want to share all the details with them. Besides being a good listener, a counselor can also help sort through all the feelings you’ll have through the investigation and trial. All this may sound scary and overwhelming to you. I am not trying to frighten you. There really isn’t another way to prevent you from being hurt again by the pastor, or to prevent him from hurting someone else. I hope you find the courage to tell someone, and that the abuse stops. This is my advice if you are a minor. If you are an adult, I am just as saddened and disturbed by your story as if you were a child. My advice, however, is a bit different. First of all, I hope you’ll make an appointment with a counselor or therapist as soon as possible. Please don’t delay. Depression is a very natural reaction to the sexual violation and the betrayal you have experienced. But depression, anger, and sadness can also be overwhelming at times, so you should not face these emotions alone. As an adult, you have different choices than does a child. One of your choices is to go to the police with your story. If the events took place a long time ago, the police may or may not be able to investigate your story. The laws in your community may also affect whether or not charges can be filed. Another choice is to approach the Christian Reformed Church. The churches in the denomination have been challenged to understand the gravity of your situation, and the classes in the denomination are providing Safe Church Teams so that you have a safe place to go with your story. The conduct you describe might be sexual misconduct. Sexual misconduct occurs when a minister does not observe appropriate relationship or physical boundaries. Sexual misconduct usually includes exploiting a person for the power and control that it gives the other person. While it may look as if the relationship between the two people is “consensual,” in fact it is not because the minister is in a position of power and authority over a parishioner and has violated the sacred trust of his office by his conduct. The minister is always responsible to safeguard the relationship with the parishioner. When boundary violations occur, the minister should be held accountable. This is a very serious matter. And I hope my indication of the road to take now, even if it is a difficult one for you, is the right one for you and for the church. If this person is guilty of sexual misconduct, he must not be allowed to continue in office. Despite your own pain, we hope you will help us prevent further hurt and humiliation to even one more person. Unfortunately, once ministers cross these boundaries, more incidents usually follow. The Christian Reformed Church has a network of Safe Church Teams that are convened to hear stories like yours. If a team is not located near you, your expenses to travel to that team’s location will be provided for you. In addition, Safe Church Teams offer claimant advocates to assist those who have allegations of sexual misconduct committed by a minister. To get started and bring your story forward, you may contact a claimant advocate, a Safe Church Team chairperson, or the chairman of the church council to whom this pastor is accountable. If the offender is your minister, you may feel more comfortable calling a claimant advocate or team chairperson, but you certainly may approach someone on your council that you can trust. If the offender is a minister of another congregation, you can call either the claimant advocate, team chairperson, or a person on that church’s council. Usually the claimant advocate makes the call, but you could choose to make the call. If all of this begins to sound too difficult or impossible in some way, please know that the claimant advocates and Safe Church Teams are made up of professionals who are knowledgeable in sexual misconduct dynamics. You do not have to worry about confronting the minister alone or at all. The Safe Church Team will form a panel that will meet with you, accompanied by the claimant advocate, and then they will meet separately with the accused minister. When both parties have been fully heard, the panel will consider whether your allegations are more probable than not. You and the minister will be notified of the panel’s findings; the panel also notifies the executive committee of council. The council will then meet to decide on what should be done. Once again, the claimant and the minister do not meet face to face, but they will both be notified of the council’s decision. If the council judges that the allegations are more likely than not to have occurred, the council should initiate steps of discipline. It is likely that the minister will then first be suspended. If he claims to be innocent, a formal hearing will be held. If he pleads guilty or it is determined that he is, in fact, guilty of an offense, it is likely that he will then be deposed. If, on the other hand, the council judges that the charges you have brought are not likely to have occurred, then the matter could end. However, the chairperson of the advisory panel and the claimant advocate might challenge the decision of council. They could submit a copy of the panel’s report and of the council’s action to the Interim Committee of the classis. This committee presents a report to the next meeting of that classis. This is done to make sure that there is no partiality in the way that your allegations have been responded to in a “more local” setting. When this difficult road of appeal has been followed, and still no action is being taken against the minister for whatever reason, you and your claimant advocate still have the right of appeal from what the classis has decided in the matter. That appeal may be addressed to the synod of the Christian Reformed Church. It meets once a year and has a special committee that can hear the case in confidence. It will then provide the following synod with well-formulated recommendations. So you have representatives from the entire denomination at your disposal to address this serious matter. “Karen,” I’ve just given you a lot of stuff to digest. If you have any further questions, please know that you may contact me at the telephone number listed below my signature. I will keep our conversations confidential and not reveal them to anyone. Or you may write back. Either way is fine. I also encourage you to contact the denominational Safe Church Ministry at 616-224-0735. The ministry has a website with information on how to contact a claimant advocate or a Safe Church Team chairperson. I wish you much strength in all of this. I understand that this minister has hurt you. I hope you will experience a church that wants to end that hurt. The church does not want to bury its head in the sand. It wants and needs the opportunity to help you now. Just getting the word out to others will be difficult but, in the end, I am confident it will lighten your load and lead you on new roads to joy. Grace and peace to you.

As a former senior administrator, who has been involved with municipal governance boards, I would tend to agree with what John Kralt has to say. In terms of Board Governance and conflict of interest matters, the matter is a bit more than amusing, notwithstanding the fact that the individuals are working for the welfare of the Body of Christ.

A question that begs to be answered is whether the current practice undermines the role of elders and deacons, and by extension the local church as set out in Church Order by creating a parallel universe. Inherently, is this not one of the key issues the the Structure and Culture Report is trying to grapple with, and indirectly the Diaconia Remixed Report?

A minister is an elected officebearer, set aside by the congregation as Christ’s representative to exercise spiritual oversight and to equip members of the congregation to fulfill their calling in the church and in the world. As our Belgic Confession makes clear in Article 30, ministers of the Word together with the elders and deacons “make up the council of the Church.” This confessional basis must translate into organizational/administrative reality. I am not fussy about ministers having to chair council meetings. That requirement is more common in Presbyterian polity and in the RCA. For the CRCNA, there is a selection process in Article 36, recognizing that certain elders or deacons may be more gifted for that position. Broadly speaking, churches may never exclude ministers from membership in the council. I fully understand that certain tax regulations or other government regulations applying to nonprofit corporations or charitable institutions may suggest or state outright that this amounts to a clear instance of conflict of interest: a “paid employee” on the board. This, however, should not lead us to the extreme of forbidding ministers from being seated on the council in clear violation of the confessional basis and the text of our Church Order. In most cases, it is possible to exclude the minister from all decision-making that involves ministerial salary and benefits and other agenda items that such government regulations clearly envision. In fact, this has been our traditional practice at both council and congregational meetings. Local articles of incorporation could even spell out that the church has a council (all officebearers) and also a board (all officebearers minus employees, including ministers). The latter would be responsible for all matters relating to the remuneration or employment of staff, if not the entire budget.

I think it is imperative that newly elected elders and deacons undergo orientation and training.  Seasoned veterans should attend continuing education classes.

In addition, all church meetings should follow parliamentary procedure. I think consistory work would be less frustrating if meetings had clear goals and objectives. Otherwise meetings dissolve into soap box complaints, bickering, and hurt feelings.

 

 

First, you should take careful note that these four possible declarations were not invented by Synod 1998. This assembly was the first to apply them to ministers resigning in order to serve in another denominational context or in an independent congregation. But the declarations actually functioned in practice much before that year. All along, there have been those, for example, who resigned by reason of a growing conviction that they could no longer assent to the church’s confessions (“honorably released”) or those who resigned under the pressure of special discipline instead of following the process through and looking toward repentance and restoration. In the case of the latter, it is better to declare such persons to be “in the status of one deposed” than to depose them after a resignation has been submitted (something the courts would not judge to be appropriate). Next, as you suggest, we need to acknowledge that vindictiveness has no place in making these declarations. In fact, it is not so much a declaration to and about the person involved as it is a signal to the church at large. Congregations need to know whether they should ever invite such a person to mount a Christian Reformed pulpit again. If the assemblies have said that a person is “dismissed” or “in the status of one deposed,” congregations would normally not extend such an invitation. If it was an “honorable release” or just a “release,” the broader assemblies might allow for a preaching visit or even a possible reentry into the denomination. We should also observe that it is primarily the classis that makes the determination with respect to the kind of declaration that is appropriate. The reason for this is that the classis is in a far better position to make these judgments than the synod would be. Even if, for example, a resigning minister has made some problematic statements in the news media that perturbs synodical delegates, the classis would still have a much clearer and more balanced view of that minister’s past service. Synod 1998 acknowledged that fact in an action with respect to one such resigning minister by attaching the following note: “In the broader context of denominational life a declaration of ‘released’ might have been more appropriate than that of ‘honorably released’” (Acts of Synod, 1998, p. 431). Still, it approved the work of synodical deputies who concurred in the judgment of the classis that, on balance, the person should be given an “honorable release.”

My sense is that you are not the only one yearning for greater continuity. There’s a great deal to be said for longevity in office when gifted people are making ministry happen. The chairperson of a nearby diaconate complained to me recently that her deacons never seem to grow out of apprenticeship status. No business corporation, she said, would  ever tolerate such inefficiency. What’s the use of casting visions for true diaconal outreach in the community only to have your hopes for it dashed in the Christian Reformed council room version of musical chairs? Elders tell me discipline just doesn’t work when there’s always a “stranger” attempting the outreach.

As I pondered your question for a while, I began to appreciate your honesty about the one whose exit gave you joy. At the very least it is a glimmer of appreciation for limited tenure. A slated retirement is certainly less traumatic than a resignation or dismissal for lack of performance. The truth is that the practice of limited tenure has certain advantages. The more frequent the rotation, the more people we can use to serve in office. The gifted should have that opportunity. And if terms are reasonably short, more will be willing. Fresh insights and approaches sometimes enliven the council room as well as our congregational life. We avoid all semblance of hierarchy or domination by a particular group and lay no particularly heavy burdens on relatively few. You will counter immediately, of course, with the disadvantages you point to. Practice makes perfect, and the earlier we release from office, the less perfection we attain. Pastoral bonds are important and take time to be developed. Gaining a vision for particular ministries doesn’t happen overnight. Growing in confidence doesn’t either. This phenomenon is especially noticeable at our broader assemblies where ministers generally rule the roost simply because they have the experience. Practical considerations alone cannot settle this issue among us. But the fact that Scriptures do not address the issue directly and that fear of hierarchy is at the root of our choice has made us somewhat cautious about binding the church’s practice in the extreme, about becoming “ultra-Reformed” in the matter. This caution, I suppose, is what I would like especially to bring to your attention as you ponder what’s to be done in your congregation. The fact is that Article 25a does not bind us half as much as our established customs do. And we must never equate those two. Please note carefully that Article 25a does not spell out exactly how long the “limited time” must be. Such a time must be “designated by the council.” It could be two years, three years, four years, or even five years. It could be half of council, a quarter of council, or even an eighth. Thus, in a twenty-member council, you could have two elders and two deacons retiring every year, while the other sixteen members continue on their five-year terms. The article indicates that “the retiring officebearers shall be succeeded by others,” but goes on to say that exceptions are possible if “the circumstances and the profit of the church make immediate eligibility for reelection advisable.” Those reelected must then “be reinstalled.” But as you can see, one person could serve for ten years straight. At the heart of our limited tenure provision is not the detail but the principle that the congregation must remain meaningfully empowered to choose its officebearers. This, it seems to me, is what we must hang on to at all cost because it appears to be the lesson of Scripture, Reformed history, and Reformed polity. At the same time, the Church Order provides far more room in these matters than the local rules most of us have adopted as our own. What’s to be done? We should review them.

I don’t know how good they’ll be, but this is what I’ve heard and seen. What I do not recommend is that the second service be almost exactly like the morning service. In some cases, the difference has involved no more than substituting the call to confession and assurance of pardon with a recitation of the Apostles’ or Nicene Creeds. Our increasingly diverse denomination needs to consider variety.

Consider the teaching service. Early Reformed “second services” were educationally focused. That’s one reason why our Catechism is divided into 52 Lord’s Days and why ministers are asked “each Lord’s Day . . . ordinarily [to] preach the Word as summarized in the creeds and confessions of the church, especially the Heidelberg Catechism” (Article 54b). In the past, synod has even encouraged the use of the contemporary testimony (“Our World Belongs to God”) for this purpose. I sometimes think that members in our churches are confessionally illiterate. Teaching services, creatively planned and well executed, might be just the ticket.

Consider other possibilities as well. A contemporary music service once a month that truly appeals to the young and the youngminded. Perhaps a service in the style of Taizé with its contemplative stillness. A service focused on healing. An “end of the year” service on the Sunday evening before the 31st to remember those who passed on, those who were born or adopted or brought into the church membership, and/or the cardinal moments in nation and world. An intergenerational worship service of one kind or another. For great ideas check with the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship or consult back issues of Reformed Worship magazine (both with a rich online presence). Or arrange for smaller gatherings in homes where people either form a community and tackle each other’s challenges with biblical insights and shared prayer or deliberately disciple new members into our fellowship—or both of these together. In that case, be sure that “such alternatives are part of a strategic ministry plan with full accountability to [your] classis” (Supplement, Article 51a).

All this is not radically new territory. Synod 2005, for example, decided to “remind the churches that the second worship service may be a teaching service, employing models such as small groups, house churches, and various congregational gatherings characterized by learning together, dialogue, and interaction” (Acts of Synod, 2005, p. 720).

Thanks, Prof. De Moor, for bringing the original question back into focus, and restating what is the conviccion, posture, and practice of our reformed churches. I trust that will satisfy many.

I wish I know of a process that would adqequately "air" these related questions for the Hispanic dimensions of our ministries.  I was just in the Netherlands, and a middle-aged couple raised in the reformed faith gave us their story of how two years ago they were re-baptized and now fellowship in a Baptist church.  His bottom line: "It has to say it in the Bible."  For that mindset, seemingly unable to get head and heart around covenant biblical theology, that will always be the outcome.  For John Z., I frequently drive past a Reformed Baptist church and have read about them online.  In my ministry in Argentina I sent more than one person to the local baptist church when these discussions were inconclusive. 

I want to ask my Hispanic ministry colleagues to consciously put the cultural and sentimental questions on one side of a sheet of paper, and on the other the teaching of Scripture, the reformed confessions, and the available material about reformed practice since very old times, and do your best to 1) become totally convinced of the validity of our church's stance, and 2) start to teach and work pastorally with both current members and new converts to educate and shape them into reformed believers.

A PS for John Z.  Yes, we are an evangelical denomination; that is totally consonant with being reformed.  But it is the latter dimension that sets us apart from so many "non-denominational" churches that I consider to be ""generic."  There are still a lot of people who insist on getting the original patent medicine; I like that for our church as well.  And sorry for any offense.

 

Well, Alejandro, I'm not sure I can quickly save you from all confusion.  This is an important discussion.  Its focus should be on who is eligible to hold office in the CRC, on whether a rebaptism in and of itself makes one ineligible, on whether views on rebaptism must be in agreement with the doctrine and practice of the CRC in order to serve in office.

I understand that people often "broaden the focus" of a thread like this by also dwelling on related issues.  One of such related issues is the validity of infant baptism that, in the view of the person baptized, has been administered in a wrongful manner or in the wrong spirit (such as a belief that the baptism will "magically" save a person).  On this score we follow Augustine's view, not that of the Donatists, as you can read in my Commentary under Article 58.  The other related issue is whether the sacrament of baptism finds its meaning and significance in our feelings and emotions or in God's action toward us.  The CRC has never said the former but always said the latter.  Baptism is only a sign and seal of the promises found in the Word of God.  It is called for because God wants us to lay those promises on infants as soon as possible after their birth.  This is true regardless of whether we feel that we were "wrongly" baptized or now feel that our faith has taken a huge turn for the better, etc. 

We should ask of all officebearers that they speak and act according to our confessions -- what they say about baptism, about our regeneration and about our sacraments.  And since I was asked whether someone rebaptized is then "automatically excluded" from officebearing, I focused on that and said: No, that fact should not in and of itself prevent it.  But we do all need to subscribe to our church's confessions.  That's our covenant together.

 

Yea, verily, it is played frequently and with much gusto. For what I take to be mysterious, yet, upon reflection, excellent or even ingenious reasons, the emotional level of CRCNA members that attends the issues involved tends to wane as the study takes its time and toll. This in direct contrast to the way you raucous Maple Leaf fans increasingly explode as the season on ice progresses. Why do you approach it so fanatically anyhow? Here in the U.S. we just have hockey teams for commercial reasons. Fodder for a new study committee? Wait, no, Article 28, “ecclesiastical matters only”!

Dear brother Caicedo, I did not understand your second paragraph; it was unclear, at least to me.

Perhaps it is time to summon the help of the experts, because our conversations are in different frequencies, and my intuition tells me that we are not going to get out of this language issue.

Therefore, I offer a non-Reformed prayer:

Care frater DeMoor, salva nos ab nostris confusio

 

Brother Alejandro, thank you for your commentary. My only purpose as a Hispanic pastor is to simply add to the discussion that affects us directly in our daily walk.

Before anything, I would like to say that according to Dr. DeMoor’s response, the first phrase that he utilizes is doctrinal, not simply a normal declaration without theological effects: “The Christian reformed Church has always held that rebaptism constitutes a denial of the doctrine of infant baptism”.

The topic of the discussion is the question: Does rebaptism automatically disqualify that person from holding office in the Christian Reformed Church? This leads us directly to talk about the first baptism and its theological implications as well as how it was first received by those baptized and the families involved.

When we come to the conclusion that this practice is an “error” that needs to be corrected, we need to recognize where this “error” originates and the consequences it has on the practical life of the church as well as the doctrinal implication, keeping in mind the diversity of the denomination and its growing desire to hear the voices of those who take part of the ethnic minority in CRC.

It’s a very simple argument and it’s almost disrespectful to assume that what we feel is simply anti-Catholic sentiments, that our reasons are more emotional than theological. It is precisely because of these irrational arguments that we blind ourselves from a reality that is as evident as a doctrinal contradiction that we have when we accept it as a valid sacrament done with a different purpose.

I find that we both hold a common ground. We both want to defend what we believe so that at the end we could all benefit and our denomination can grow in acceptance, tolerance and in a doctrine that follows the word of God.

However, precisely to evade the double standard of which you speak of, it is necessary to know in depth what the denomination receives as acceptable which then transforms into a norm for all the groups they represent. If all Hispanic churches constantly received petitions from adults to be re-baptized, it is not simply because they have anti-Catholic sentiments or because they want to disobey the denomination. It is much more than that, but only those who experiment it can truly know. In reality it is a symbol of rebirth and all of those who are born again also desire to be baptized so that God’s will can be completed and new life can be manifested, so that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ can be glorified within those who choose to grow closer to Him. 

Alejandro, let me say I appreciate your earnestness and your "contending for the faith"  In regards to your point 3:  I have said before that during the reformation, the RomCatholics persecuted the protestants, and the protestants persecuted other protestants, in particular the dissenters and anabaptists.  I pray that this has ended several centuries ago.   I agree that some anabaptists have a shallow theology and a lack of understanding of covenant.  But I am also familiar with baptists who believe in and promote covenant theology, ie. "Reformed Baptists"(a seeming anachronism).   I also believe that much theology originates from a gut feeling about what is right and wrong.   It is difficult to promote covenant theology when it is misused by churches in the sense of, as it says in Jude "they have turned the grace of our God into a license for immorality..."   In the same way they have turned covenant, which is all about the grace of God, into a license for immorality.   By their works you shall know their faith.   True, we know that baptism does not save, and that not all who are baptized will be saved, but when it is done in deceit and falsehood, or in disobedience, and when this becomes an obvious tolerated trend, then it is understandable why some would have an aversion to such a practice. 

As to your point 4:  I  would not agree to rebaptism for anyone baptized in a reformed christian church as an infant.   But I am becoming sympathetic to a discussion on it, putting the onus on anyone who requests it to prove that the original infant baptism was done in deliberate disobedience.   Some might call this a "disputable matter."  I agree with your emphasis on unity, even on as much unity as possible with other believers in other denominations.   But our great unity must have its basis in honesty and obedience to Christ and His Word.   A superficial unity of forms and procedures will carry us just as far as it carried the Israelites when they offered sacrifices to God as they travelled to the high places to also offer sacrifices to Baal.   And a desire for unity such as the desire of Annanias and Sapphira to be like their neighboring Christ followers, will achieve nothing and will mean nothing if it is done in deceit or pride or envy. 

Alejandro, the form for baptism on Hymnal  page 958 in the address to the parents, first paragraph, clearly says this:  "We must therefore, use the sacrament for the purpose that God intended and not out of custom or superstition..."  In the third point there it also says, "Do you promise to do all you can to teach these children, and to have them taught, this doctrine of salvation?"  

Second, I agree that the significance of baptism does not depend on the character of the elder who baptizes, nor on the personal purity of the parents.  But its significance does depend on obedience of believers, since it is supposed to be an act of obedience by believers in God's  covenant .  God said a number of times in the old testament that he did not want the sacrifices of Israel, even though He himself had commanded these sacrifices.   God denied the significance of these sacrifices because they were done in disobedience, they had become superstitious rituals rather than acts of worship.   Baptism is a form of worship and obedience.   If it is done in disobedience, what should we attribute to it?   If it is done by unbelievers, or done in the form similar to believing in four leaf clovers or superstitiously not walking under a ladder, what should we attribute to it?   

As far as differences between North American and South American romCatholicism, or that in Indonesia, or southern europe vs northern europe, that is a much more complicated topic, which I will not address now.  Other than to say that to some degree I agree with you, but yet I leave that judgement to those who have more experience.  I myself have had many conversations with a former romcath converted to reformed faith here in north america, and she is more insistent that the Rom Cath church is idolatrous than I would tend to be.  I have been in a Rom Cath church in Cuernevaca, and seen a couple in Mexico City, and talked to converts there, as well as having spent an hour talking to a retired RomCath priest from Ontario who enlightened me about a number of attitudes with their hierarchy.   And I know a number of RomCath in our town, finding them generally pleasant, and some of them very committed and likeable and sincere. 

I believe that we should not condemn missionaries nor preachers who pastorally understand why former RCs would want to break all ties with any baptism performed in such a church environment.   This might apply not only to RCs but also potentially to some episcopalian situations or united church situations.   As I mentioned before, I once attended a service in the Netherlands in a reformed church where the pastor baptized a child whose parents never attend church.  Now if that child grows up as a pagan, which he is likely to do (although God can work marvelous exceptions), and then the child when he is 35 years old, becomes converted and a Christian, then it is possible that his former baptism by non-practising christians may leave him quite cold and disillusioned.   We can make absolutes about baptism being once for all and only once, but it will be undeniable that his baptism had not been done in obedience, but rather merely as a peace offering to grandparents or a purchase into "respectability".   God does not delight in such disobedience. 

I will address your other points in a second post. 

 

Salve Ioannes Exclusa! (Howdy John Zylstra!), originally I thought this topic is of such a low interest for readers, that it is no surprise that it has about 250 views. Nevertheless, as Lou has pointed out, it should be an important topic for it involves commitment to the Reformed tradition.

Now, I am still patiently awaiting an answer from pastor Caicedo, since I directed some questions to him. But, now I am also obliged to reply to some of your answers.

First of all, let me tell you with a humble spirit that some of your statements could be easily read as generalizations, stereotypes or even prejudicial; proofreading is something that we all need.

Let me point out some of these issues I found in your answer, acknowledging that we all make mistakes when talking or writing or typing with a computer keyboard, and we do not necessarily mean what the end result may be saying to the reader.

1. "Our forms and theology indicates that it is wrong to baptize your children out of custom or superstition."

I would love to see which forms and where in our theology such statement finds support, because I could not find it.

2. " We have a problem when children are baptized superstitiously by those who do not truly believe, and who do not teach or bring up their children in the instruction of the Lord."

You are not suggesting (like pastor Caicedo's argument) that "we" have a problem with the validity of children baptized by ministers or priests whose faith or life is questionable or by parents who end up not fulfilling their Christian duties? Because, if you are suggesting that, then it should be pointed that it is "you" not "we." This is an issue that was virtually solved in the 5th century, when the Church decided to recognize the sacraments performed by questionable ministers (the Donatist controversy), and 10 centuries later, the very same John Calvin decided to ratify this practice. The answer is simple, it is God who gives us and guarantees all his promises of his covenant, to children and to adults, in the sacraments. He is always in control, in spite of our human failures. He is not dependent upon our worthiness to perform his covenant promises.

Also, you do not imply (like pastor Caicedo) that baptisms performed in Latin America by Roman Catholic priests are considered "superstitious," and  "pagan"? How about baptisms performed by Roman Catholic priests in the U.S.A. and Canada? Are they not superstitious and pagan? Because, let me tell you, there is an ugly and common misconception among many North Americans that the Catholicism of Latin America is different from the Catholicism of North America. It is argued, in a subtle racist way, that the one Catholicism is "superstitious" and full of pagan elements; while the other Catholicism is more civilized and appropriate. Ironically, people who think this way are not Roman Catholics themselves, they are Protestants with a prejudice, a racial one (among other prejudices). I have taken the time to verify this issue with authoritative Roman Catholic officials, and the answer has always been the same: there are no differences in official dogma and practices. Now, if you are thinking that there is a difference because of cultural expressions and minor differences in rites, that would be a mistake. It would be like the differences in worship styles and order of worship, and sanctuary shape and size, and wording in the sacraments, etc. in CRC churches. Let me mention one example to support what I've said. Why in the world the Roman Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids invites every year priests from Mexico or even all the way down from South America, to perform mass and baptisms and weddings and funerals, etc. if they would consider them "superstitious" or "pagan" or a "magical endowment"?

3. You also mentioned that the Anabaptist's aversion to infant baptism "is not relevant to our perspective on this." I strongly disagree with you. It has a lot to do with our perspective on this. In fact, it was one of the hottest issues during the Reformation, besides the papacy. You also mentioned that this aversion of the Anabaptists "is based on the hypocrisy and meaninglessness and paganism imbedded in the application of baptism in cases where true faith and repentance is non-existence." This is also a wrong generalization and I disagree with it. I think that the Anabaptists aversion to infant baptism, in tune with their Radical Reformation approach, is that they did not understand the covenant and the continuity of God's sovereign kingdom on earth. The Anabaptists were seditious because they wanted to erase 15 centuries of Christian history and start afresh with a new church fashioned out of their own extreme views. This is what I learned at Calvin, and if I learned wrong, then someone else is also wrong. I am tempted to mention concepts like "ex opere operato" or "in persona Christi" to explain what is behind the Reformed concept of the sacrament of baptism, but I am sure there are others who are more qualified to explain these things in plain English without the use of Latin.

4. There are other serious connotations to the practice of rebaptism in the CRC, besides this one related to the Church Order. I am only mentioning them lightly because they deserve a post of their own. One of them is that we believe we are one church. If we are one church, we must constantly strive for visible unity. Conflicting practices when it comes to baptism do not help our unity and witness. It creates parallel churches within our church, churches who in name are CRC but in practice are Anabaptists or Baptists or Pentecostal or, worse yet, generic Evangelical Churches, who are blown back and forth by winds of theological fashions, and the personal tastes of benevolent dictator-pastors… we called them in Spanish, "caudillos," which comes from the Latin "capitellum" (= little heads).

Lou, in some way, I am finding your comment somewhat offensive.  Just so you know.   I am curious as to what is a generic evangelical church compared to non-generic?   I have also always placed the crc within the evangelical camp in terms of its emphasis on missions and the significance of repentance and faith.   I know that you are probably using different nomenclature or categories, but I find it offensive to think that the crc is not evangelical in its attitude towards unbelievers.  I also find it offensive that we would put more energy into accomodating erroneous catholic beliefs about baptism than we do for  evangelical beliefs about baptism.    In spite of the fact they deny  infant baptism (which I also find sad), I often find a closer synergy of theology with some of them than with the romcatholic theology and romcath practice.   You also ought to be aware of what is called the "Reformed Baptist" camp, in terms of understanding so-called "generic evangelicalism". 

Second, you are taking for granted that anti-catholic attitudes should be overcome, yet seem to be displaying an anti-evangelical attitude yourself.   Please correct me if I am wrong, but this is the impression you are leaving with me.  

 

This is ironic in the sense that during the reformation in Europe, the RomCatholics would persecute the protestants, and then the protestant state churches would persecute the anabaptists.   Pray that that attitude has died several centuries ago. 

 

After 40 years of dealing with the question of this matter as relates to Latin American ministry, I pray that all our Hispanic pastors will firmly committ to the biblical-theological teaching of our Reformed faith, and be able to teach and practice in such a pastoral way that the cultural and anti-Catholic reactions will be overcome.  If not, our Hispanic congregations will end up being just more "generic evangelical churches."  It takes patience and willingness, but it will be worth it.

Alejandro, first, let me say that I think that denying the validity of infant baptism for covenant children of believers is wrong.  

However, the other side of the coin is this.  Our forms and theology indicates that it is wrong to baptize your children out of custom or superstition.   We also believe that baptism does not save, nor is some magic key to salvation, but rather a symbol and recognition of God's grace and our repentance. 

We  have a problem when children are baptized superstitiously by those who do not truly believe, and who do not teach or bring up their children in the instruction of the Lord.  We also have a problem when infants who were baptized are clearly living and thinking as pagans and non-believers when they become adults.   I've been in a reformed PKN church in Netherlands where a child was baptized, whose parents never or rarely attended church.  The pastor said he was hoping by this practice to encourage the parents to attend.   This is a scandal, in spite of any "good" motives the pastor may have had.  So we even have the problem in reformed churches sometimes. 

The Bible is clear that not all Israel is Israel, meaning that not all who were circumcised as Israelites were truly Israel because they did not worship God, and were not obedient to God but rebelled against Him and worshipped idols.  Their circumcision was of no-effect and no significance, and in fact counted against them. 

If baptism is understood as an expression of covenant and God's faithfulness, then it might be useful to have an expression of that in the sacrament, joining it to committment and repentance.  When an unbeliever comes to Christ, why is his previous infant baptism more significant than the lack of infant baptism of another unbeliever coming to Christ?    If the Rom Cath church in latin america generally or often treats baptism as custom and superstition and magical endowment, then we might say that it is not a true baptism in any sense of the sacrament.   While it may be difficult to judge every instance, we can say for certain that this often happens.  Whether anabaptists have additional aversions to infant baptism is not relevant to our perspective on this.  However, it is significant that part of their aversion to infant baptism is based on the hypocrisy and meaninglessness and paganism imbedded in the application of baptism in cases where true faith and repentance is non-existent.   In other words, the large numbers of non-christians who have been baptized as children do not add weight to the validity of infant baptism.  We do not do ecumenism any favors by falling into the same trap as the Rom Catholic church in terms of applying this sacrament.  If we respect the one denomination in spite of theologic differences, we do not have grounds for not respecting other denominations in spite of theology differences. 

This is a discussion worth having, because I believe it is an indicator of how we live christian lives in obedience to Christ.   It is also a form of witness to those who are considering attending or joining a church community. 

 

I am still trying to figure out how is it that pastor Caicedo's posted comments make sense? And, there is a statement (see quote below) on his part that needs to be clarified:

"But theologically speaking, the denomination contradicts itself by accepting something that is not according to our theology, regardless of who administer it or not."

This Forum post has to do with church governance, namely, people who aspire to hold office in the CRC but who still believe and approve of rebaptism. The topic of discussion is not the Roman Catholic Church and the legitimacy of her baptisms, although this indeed is the crux of the matter for Hispanic Evangelicals, whom tend to view the RCC as a false religion (as plain and simple as that), due in part to their Fundamentalist ties to modern American Evangelicals and its missionary efforts in Latin America.

Dr. DeMoor's answer is pretty clear, at least for me. Based on Articles 57 and 58 of the Church Order and a long history that goes back to Calvin and even further, to the first centuries of the Church: the belief and practice of rebaptism "constitutes a denial of the doctrine of infant baptism." And this "error" needs to be corrected before appropriate participation in any office of the church.

It is of common knowledge (perhaps not so common for CRC members) that the overwhelming majority of Latin American Evangelicals have Anabaptist views when it comes to the sacraments; not only they regard the RCC as false, they tend to rebaptize even people who come from within other Evangelical denominations; so it is not rare to find people who have been rebaptized two or three or more times when joining or switching denominations. And as far as infant baptism is concerned, the most common explanation I've heard as to why Latin American Evangelicals do not baptize infants is "because the Roman Catholics do it."

So, my humble attempt to find an explanation at all this is that I suspect the reasons behind these anti-Roman Catholic sentiments and anti-paedobaptist views are more emotional than theological or even rational.

The original question is still valid: What do we do with church officials who are hesitant to align with the CRC's views on other Christian denominations and on rebaptism? Do we apply a double (or even multiple) theological standard: a strict one for Anglo churches, another one more flexible (and perhaps condescending) for the so-called ethnic churches?

If we restrict office bearers to those who send their children to (private) Christian schools, we are slicing out a lot of people who could be great office bearers and who may have great gifts to offer. As part of that, it creates a further division of those who can or can't afford to send their children to a Christian school. Sending one's children to a Christian school alone does NOT make them a stronger Christian or a better household. Children can get a good education in the public sysem (in Ontario, we have publicly funded Catholic schools even), while the Word is taught at home and in church. No particular school system or upbringing can guarantee the faith of a child. It is ultimately their own decision.

Appreciating John Caicedo's comments from my perspective of having spent two weeks in Mexico at a non-CRC mission there (Cuernevaca), his comments make sense.   The mystic power of a sacrament by itself to save or convert or sanctify should never be promoted.   So while infant baptism of a child by believing parents should be respected in the covenant sense, it should probably not be able to prevent the new believer's response in terms of "believe and be baptized", especially when the infant sacrament is applied in a fashion that approaches a magical and pagan fashion.  

I've felt for some time now that the baptists' denial of baptism for infants is what is non-scriptural, and a problem for disputable matters.  But perhaps the reformed's unwillingness to discern inappropriately-applied infant baptism is also non-scriptural.  

This relates also to the pure administration of sacraments with regard to lord's supper communion.   While I have little or no difficulty celebrating lord's supper with christians in other denominations, in spite of not agreeing with them on every single item of theology or practice, I have great difficulty with celebrating lord's supper with those who ascribe mystical and magical properties to the elements of bread and wine which Jesus never intended to do.  

 

First of all, thank you for taking the opportunity to enter a constructive dialogue with respects to the sensible topics for believers. As a reformed Hispanic pastor, I am confronted with a practical situation that deals with the change of spiritual lifestyle of those who grow closer to the reformed church due to their eyes having been opened and the guidance of the Holy Spirit in their search for the truth.

It is without a doubt that a fundamental part of this transition is the ability to immerse themselves completely in their new family of faith and declare publicly their new condition. Having done this precisely through the acceptance of Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and being baptized with their new reformed faith.

All of them have been baptized in the Roman Catholic Church and it is exactly there where we find a serious inconsistency.

Just as I have written in a previous blog, I would like to once again reiterate these concepts:

Baptism is an external sign of an internal condition (faith in Christ Jesus). From the Reformed point of view, it is the gateway to the Covenants (which replaces the Old Testament circumcision); however the Catholic Church considers baptism in a different way, because it is done for salvation. The administration of this sacrament in the Catholic Church has a strong theological impact on who receives it, because from there the person is considered saved for having this sacrament and he then supplements it with good works. But theologically speaking, the denomination contradicts itself by accepting something that is not according to our theology, regardless of who administer it or not.

Our Hispanic churches are filled everyday with people who leave Catholicism to get closer to the reality of a relationship with Jesus Christ which fills them and transforms their lives. But it is in reality the greatest changes, that of leaving behind traditions of men and erroneous teachings and become participants of a new walk which represents that of knowing the word of God and living according to his teachings. That is precisely the great contribution that the Reformed achieved in the life of human beings who have been able to understand the times of God and his moving through these men whom He used to open the eyes of those that were blind to understand divine revelation.

Therefore, as a Hispanic pastor, would I not be failing my conscience if I were to tell you that it is okay to accept what corresponds to the faith they professed?

If, to many of them, Catholicism represents the great whore of Babylon, would I be able to calmly tell them the sacrament which that institution carried out on them is okay?

Unfortunately our beloved denomination did not take into account our humble concept, but rather that of the Catholic Church and its practices and rites, and they are far from being accepted by those who sit in the pews of our churches every Sunday to be instructed according to the truth of God's Word.

I am not Donatist or Anabaptist. I am simply a Reformed pastor who views with concern the stagnation of our denomination, unable to open its eyes to our reality.

Let’s choose whom we will serve: the gods which our fathers served that were on the other side of the River (traditions, rites, sacraments for salvation, papal infallibility, etc., etc., etc.) As for me and my house, we will serve Jehovah.

No, not automatically. The Christian Reformed Church has always held that rebaptism constitutes a denial of the doctrine of infant baptism. Thus, on the level of membership status, the denomination regards those who have themselves rebaptized as being “in error”; they violate our confession. The council must ask such a person if he or she still wishes to be a member of our denomination. If so, it must “faithfully and persistently admonish such an erring member” (Acts of Synod, 1973, p. 78). If the unity and wellbeing of the congregation requires it, council may even bar such a member from the Lord’s table. Indeed, it must exercise further discipline if he or she “actively disturbs the unity and peace of the congregation.” But the clear implication is that the person may well “repent of the error” after such admonition. Then, while rebaptism cannot be undone, full-fledged membership must be gladly given.

This is especially important with respect to those who come to the Christian Reformed Church from a church that routinely rebaptizes its members. Their current views, their desires for their own newborn children, and their ability to celebrate infant baptism with the rest of the congregation must all be considered by council in evaluating their membership status.

With respect to holding office, it seems to me that something similar applies. A person who “errs” on this important matter should under no circumstances be allowed to hold office in the church (Acts of Synod, 1973, p. 78). But a person who has “repented of the error” and no longer teaches the necessity of rebaptism should be eligible for office, even if he or she has in fact been rebaptized at an earlier stage in life. If elected, such a person must be expected faithfully to uphold, teach, and defend the church’s official doctrine.

Jerry,

I'll gladly forward to you the section of my book on Article 56 which includes this question and answer.

I'll use the e-mail in the Yearbook.  If that's no longer valid, please e-mail me and give me an updated address.

My book is readily available from Faith Alive Resources or even Amazon.com.  Perhaps you can convince your council to have at least one copy in the church library.

 

 

Jerry - FYI, the church order commentary is on sale right now through Faith Alive (about 30% off). Here's the link to it. A great resource, and proceeds go to a good cause (i.e. our denomination's publishing efforts).

Dear Henry, I have been absent for several weeks because of illness, not lack of interest. Thank you for directing me to your book. I do not know any one who owns that book so I have not been able to consult those pages. Please give me your take on this subject. Jerry

My simple answer is, 'no' for many, many reasons. Many churches are in places where there are not good Christian schools. In addittion Christian school costs are not minimal; the advantages and the costs need to be carefully weighed - it becomes a stewardship issue for each family and for the church.

I remember when our first child became "school age" and we debated this question (my husband having grown up in Christian schools and myself coming to faith later in life - growing up in public schools). We looked at the nearest and only Christian school nearby and decided that we would not send our child there - we felt that we would have to re-teach much of what was being taught, especially in the sciences. It just wasn't a good school academically. In addition, I saw advantages to my faith being challenged by living in the context of the public school environment. It made me think about how to respond to people and to situations and prepared me well for later ministry. I also discovered wonderful fellowship for myself in "Moms-in-Touch", connecting with ohter moms who prayed each week for our children and for our children's schools. There were many testimonies of answered prayer, and it was a great opportunity to be a light for the gospel in that environment (Becky Pippert would say, get out of the saltshaker and into the world where we can make a difference). Isn't that a reformed idea?

As our church becomes more diverse and as we seek to grow and be relevant in an ever changing world, I think this is not something that should be a "must" issue for church leaders. I'm glad it's not that way in my church; we have church leaders with kids in Christian school as well as those with children in public school. There are too many factors involved in each family situation to make a hard and fast rule.

 "Good Christian schools" is the sort of phrase that helps lawyers make their boat payments. "Good" is half way between "terrible" and "better." Would not a parent want the best academic education he could afford? Then there is "Christian." A Catholic parochial school might be the best compromise.

Our congregation founded the local "Christian" school decades ago. Today it is a generic "Christian" school. None of our church children attend but it saps time and money from the congregation. In the last 20 years, one family has joined our congregation because of the school.

Most all the young adults in our congregation attended the elementary school and many attended "Christian" high schools in neighboring towns. Their academic level seems to be directly related to the academic interest of their parents.

If we were starting to raise children in this year and knew what we know, we would home teach and/or send the kids to a superior academic private school. My main complaint with public and, I suppose, "Christian" grade schools is they are a big waste of time. When our twins were to enter 6th grade in another town we did not want them in the middle school so we home taught them. They spent much less than an hour a day studying. The Wife and/or I took them to variouys interesting placed and they had to write paper on each trip. The next year we moved and asked the kids what they wanted to do about school. They wanted to attend public school. The school tested them and both were placed in advanced 7th grade classes. They both now have college degrees.

 

 

 

This is a question that keeps nagging at many a local council in our denomination. It often rises to the surface when new elders and deacons are to be nominated and elected. So many have wonderful gifts to bring, it is said, but they’re ruled out of the process without any deliberation simply because of the fact that their children attend a public school.

Article 71 of the Church Order insists that the council must “diligently encourage the members of the congregation to establish and maintain good Christian schools in which the biblical, Reformed vision of Christ’s lordship over all creation is clearly taught,” and “urge parents to have their children educated in harmony with this vision.” It is hard to know how ministers, ministry associates, elders, and deacons who do not support Christian day school education can persuasively and with integrity “encourage” and “urge” members to do these things. So they must certainly embrace the vision. Its specific application is another matter.

A council on which I had the privilege to serve once nominated a person to be an elder who sent his son to public school. We could do this because the child had special needs that Christian schools could not supply. The elder shared the vision of Christ’s lordship, but its application was for him no simple matter. He was even willing to bow to legalism, had we chosen to go down that road, but we insisted he could “encourage” and “urge” in good conscience.

What councils cannot do is to nominate people who simply don’t share the vision and actually oppose all Christian day school education. That would lead to intolerable tensions. But so, in my experience, did the constant and insistent demand of a “prophetic preacher” I became acquainted with years ago. His sermons frequently insisted that his parishioners establish and maintain a separate Christian school when, in fact, that was totally and demonstrably beyond the resources of the community. When the pressures mounted, the lid finally blew off: an exasperated council went to the classis and requested release from his call. It would have been so much better, I believe, had this preacher focused instead on enriching his congregation’s educational programs until such time as resources were sufficient. A significantly enhanced church education curriculum is exactly how the institutional church can still uphold the vision of Christ’s lordship over all creation in such a situation.

My recommendation to councils is that they straightforwardly embrace the vision, do what they can in their context to see to its implementation, and studiously avoid the kind of legalism in application, one way or another, that can stifle our fellowship in Christ. As for those who don’t share that vision, avoid nominating them as officebearers; instead, seek to disciple them into owning what we hold dear.

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