Skip to main content

My thoughts on this are as follows,

You are talking about the difference between Doctrine and Dogma in a certain sense. Academicians will fault me on this doggerel distinction, but Doctrine is generally accepted as what the Bible teaches and by its very nature cannot be vague and Dogma is what the Church believes and/or requires. This is an oversimplification, but for the purposes of argumentation I hope you'll allow it. Historically, where to draw the line in the sand between the two has always been fuzzy. Each denomination was born of some historical necessity for separation (no judgment here on if it was a good or bad reason) which became a deeply ingrained raison d'etre and it's hard to change that for one main reason. People NEED to believe that what they believe right now is the truth. This is the only way people can be comfortable in their thoughts. The corrollary to this, however, is that we need to be aware of the fact that what we believe right now is not the whole truth and some of it will likely be changed as we live, learn more or experience different things. The truth is, though, that it's hard to go back and say (as an organization expecially) at worst, "we were wrong," and at best, "we aren't the only ones with truth."

This should be mitigated in Protestantism in the fact that we (read, Luther) tried reforming inside the church and was not so nicely asked to leave, so we were forced to create identity outside of the, then, Church. We have a big, biblical, raison d'etre, but those churches who have split and formed new churches over the color of the carpet or some other sort of trivial issues are confusing dogma and doctrine, but this just goes to prove, albeit in an extreme manner, the difficulty of identifying just where that line between the two is. The church exists as an authority for a reason, so how do we decide what exactly is an essential and what exactly is important but non-essential, and what is not important at all?

You may or may not be familiar with the guidance attributed to Augustine on these matters, but he apparently said, "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity." When we're talking about truth like we do in the church, it's difficult to know where to draw the line between essentials and non-essentials, but like you implied, if we can at least love each other enough to see past these differences we'd be better off.

One caveat, though; when it comes to the issue of leadership. I have definite reservations about allowing people in leadership who don't "tote the party line" (to be real crass), because they are not there to push their own ideas, but to support the denomination that put them there. Why would we elect someone who doesn't agree with what we say we believe as a denomination? Certainly it is true that not everyone, even in leadership, monolithically agrees with everything, that's why we have the debates we have at Synod and elsewhere. The lesson learned, I think, is that there is a proper time and place for disagreement in leadership, that is distinct from disagreement in the pews.

In a very real, practical sense, I think what you asked in your post is actually going on. The pews are filling up with people now (at least the trend in the US, I don't know about Canada) who are seeking more stability and legacy than just the Mom & Pop church in the old Grocery store building that just started last week "for Jesus." There is a lot of liberty in the Church for disagreement, but if we are going to have purposefully vague theology, we muct be purposeful about it.

I would disagree with Vandonk and Rohr (as quoted above) about membership due to the historical importance in the rise of "membership." Even at the time of Paul and the Apostles, there was arising a need to distinguish the holy from the profane; the believer from the non-believer or heretic. It truly became necessary to determine who was in and who was out, not for the purpose of excluding people, but including them. We had to know what the Gospel was and what constituted correct belief and life in order to properly minister and evangelize. Paul spends most of his epistles doing just that. Perhaps the nuance has been lost, in that the Church has, at times, gotten too interested in cloning Christians, rather than growing disciples. True discipleship will help avoid some of this unwarranted focus on membership, but it can't and shouldn't be thrown out entirely.

I don't know how much theology you have read, but I am drawn to much of existentialism's dealing with these types of issues, mostly as represented by Paul Tillich. I will caveat this by saying that the Existentialists begin everything with man, and are very human-centric throughout, almost to the exclusion of God in some respects, so they are not to be read without caution, but, in dealing with man-centered problems I find their thought helpful and enlightening. They developed a sense of being able to hold two seemingly contradictory positions at the same time in counterbalance of each other. For example, Rudolf Otto (another dead existentialist) wrote an excellent book on holiness in which he described the wonder and terror of being in God's presence. On the one hand, we are accepted and can stand before God's throne, but on the other hand, and at the same time, we are terrified at the very prospect of standing before Ultimate purity and truth because of our fallenness (see Isaiah 6 for that prophet's reaction to this exact situation). We need to be able to hold the standards of membership, without excluding people who are not yet members.

We are in an interesting time demographically. If you read the studies of the Millennial generation (born 1980-200) they are taking longer to marry and longer to join because they are looking for authenticity and genuineness. In this sense, we need to be more about what is real, than what is true, but they should be the same. It's all in how it's presented. It's like the Church a couple generations ago had a problem stating what they believed, instead, they focused on what they didn't believe in (smoking, drinking, dancing, etc). The Church is now so focused on right doctrine that it is missing a generation that cares about that, but isn't interested in it until they have tried out the church first to see if the people are genuine. They can cope with brokenness, because they recognize their own brokenness. They want their's healed through relationships with other broken people who can point them to the Healer. In this sense, I think the Millennials are seeking an excellent part of what the church is supposed to be about, community, and isn't that a hallmark of reformed theology? Perhaps that is also why there is a new influx of people into Reformed churches and some of the more popular church thinkers being published today are Reformed (Challies, DeYoung, etc).

Zylstra, I know I avoided answering your question about the sin of nailing down the non-essentials, but I'm not sure I understand the direction you were heading with it. (PS: sorry it took me so long to respond. I have a very tight and busy schedule. God bless you for thinking through things like this).


     luimes, it is a comman fallacy to view the angels on the head of a pin debate as useless, but you have to remember that during the first few centuries of the Church, they were still trying to figure out what we now take for granted. There was a HUGE debate over whether Jesus was the EXACT SAME substance as the Father or only SIMILAR substance. The debate over angels was in the same vein. Do they occupy space? If so, then how much? If not, then what are they? It was not a waste of time, it was vital, at the time, to understand that thought experiment.

Now, to the main question. I once read A Case of Conscience by James Blish, which dealt with this same issue from the perspective of a Jesuit Priest encountering a new alien race that seemingly exists without original sin. It provokes the same questions.

At the risk of sounding unthoughtful about the issue, I'll quote the Godfather of Christian Rock, Larry Norman's song, UFO:

and if there's life on other planets
then I'm sure that He must know
and He's been there once already
and has died to save their souls

That is, if they needed it in the first place. 2 Peter 3.9 characterizes God in this light, He is "not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance."This is the starting point.


Richard A. Hill on August 11, 2012

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I was a Ministry Associate and now, of course, a CP. I watched Synod over the web and was extremely surprised by the switch. I had not been alerted that there was even a debate about the name. I think MA was better than CP, but it got me thinking about what would be better. So here goes.

My suggestion is "Minister in Service." My main reasons for this title have to do with its similarity to "MInister of the Word and Sacrament," so it moves closer to equal honor, I think. In addition, when thinking about this category of ministers, we are all identified by the specific service we perform. I'm a Military Chaplain, others are Hospital Chaplains, others Evangelists or Missionaries, etc... We are all ministers within a more specific mission than the Ministers of the Word and Sacrament are identified by their general service. They do it all (in some sense).

To be honest, as much of an emotional response as it provoked, it doesn't matter much practically, because I am a Chaplain to anybody who asks, not a CP or MA. The title is a denominational identity that allows me to have my Army identity. On a practical level, the CRC could decide to call us all Jello Molds. I would still be known as Chaplain. No disrespect intended at all. I wouldn't be ordained through the CRC if I didn't respect it, but very few people have any idea who my endorser is. The largest Protestant supplier of Military Chaplains doesn't even have a separate ordination. If you're ordained, you're ordained. I'm not necessarily saying we should go this route, especially because of the categorical difference between mandatory education or possible education.

I have a friend, also a CRC Army Chaplain who is a MWS, while I am a CP. One day, when I have more time, I would like to go through the examination to earn the MWS because after retiring from the MIlitary, I'd like to pastor a CRC church, but I have at least 16 more years to go before I'm eligible. A lot can happen in that timeframe.


Posted in: Trauma Healing

I recently discovered this resource, 4 Truths Church Leaders Should Know about PTSD. I am not personally acquainted with Reboot Combat Recovery (so this is not an endorsement), but the linked article is great! It lays out many of the same principles discussed above and can help church leaders begin thinking in terms of helping heal the spiritual wounds of trauma. Although Reboot is a resource geared toward combat trauma, it is not exclusive to that population. The article points out that their principles can apply to any trauma. offers a free online survey, ala C. Peter Wagner. I don't know of any video curriculum though. Godspeed.

Is there a transcript available to read? I'm in a place where bandwidth is an issue so downloading even an mp3 can be a problem. Thanks.

Along the lines of valuing the heritage of the Dutch Reformed community, I find Kuyper's "Lectures on Calvinism" to be standard. It helped me see past the 5 point TULIP to see the real point of Calvinism, as well as John Bolt's "Christian and Reformed Today." Both older works, but their value is not tied to their age. As a guy who came to the Reformation honestly (I grew up spiritually in a Calvin-hostile environment before breaking free) these and many other works have encouraged me.

I am a Ministry Associate working as an Active Duty Army Chaplain. I am currently deployed to Iraq, but will be coming home in the next few months. I will have been here 12 months.

I attended College and Seminary with my wife. We both earned a BA in Biblical Studies and she completed an MA in Old Testament and I, an M.Div. I've been ordained through other denominations (or non-denoms) for quite a while. The more I studied and seriously reflected on Scripture and truth, the less Arminian I became. I came into the Reformed movement after a couple of years of cognitive dissonance until I found a CRCNA church and discovered the doctrine was much more like what I had come to believe than any other church. It was a much longer, winding process than that, but suffice it to say, God worked on me. I have had no formal Reformed training, but I hope in the future to earn my Th.M. from Calvin, Westminster or Princeton, in service to the Army Chaplain Corps. Then hopefully a Ph.D.

I'm happy to be a missionary from my local congregation. I've pastored before, but never missionaried. I appreciate the status of MA because it helps me keep in touch with my local congregation more than if I wasn't attached as an associate.

I look forward to discussion of issues facing MAs in general and specifics.

We want to hear from you.

Connect to The Network and add your own question, blog, resource, or job.

Add Your Post