CRC and RCA: No Reason to Remain Separate?

That’s what Amway titan Rich DeVos said recently to the Grand Rapids newspaper. So he has plans to reunite the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America (HT: Presbyterians Weekly News). The columnist comments that no one remembers why the CRC separated from the RCA in 1857. Is that really true? Not really. The article itself lists at least one of the reasons the separation happened in the first place:

…the issues that caused the CRC to break away are irrelevant now. For instance, one was whether to sing hymns or Psalms.

So it’s not that that no one remembers. It may be, however, that no one cares any longer, but that’s a different matter. The article comes closer to the truth when it says:

Virtually no theological or worship differences remain. Now that the CRC ordains women, that’s no issue either. The only significant difference is the CRC’s greater emphasis on Christian schools.

According to the story, merger discussions began in earnest in 2002, seven years after the the “progressives” told confessionalists and conservatives to take a hike. Both RCA and CRC synods approved closer cooperation last year. Pressure will continue to build within the CRC to merge with the RCA. The case for the proposed merger appears in the article. 1. A merger will produce a stronger “witness for Christ.” 2. A larger church will get more done. The article lists a couple of possible obstacles (including a potential exodus of pastors and scholars—but we’ve already seen that was no obstacle in 1995) and it really comes down, as Jerry Dykstra notes in the article, to property.

Is it true that a merger between the CRC and RCA will produce a “more efficient” church and a “stronger witness for Christ”? It depends on some definitions. Mergers may be good business but in the history of American Christianity, the sorts of mergers proposed above have produced little efficiency and there is no evidence that such mergers have advanced the Christian witness. Consider the seven sisters of the mainline Protestant family. What is the “witness for Christ” in the PCUSA, the UCC, the UMC, the Episcopal Church, the Churches of Christ and the rest? In other words, in the rush to join the mainline, perhaps the powers that be in the CRC should ask Mr DeVos whether he will really get what he says he wants? Has Mr DeVos ever worked with the bureaucracy of a mainline Protestant church? Efficiency is not the first word that comes to mind.

It’s probably true that there are no substantial, principled reasons to remain separate, but who has moved since 1857, the CRC or the RCA? To ask that question is to answer it. The RCA “Americanized” very quickly in the 19th century and the CRC resisted for about a century. By the middle of the 20th century, however, the push to make the CRC a truly “American” (what some of the old Dutchmen in the CRC used to call “Methodist” or revivalist) was underway and has continued in the decades since.

The prospect of a merger with the RCA should make the remaining “conservatives” and “confessionalists” sit up, pay attention, and ask some difficult questions. What are you conserving and what are you confessing? I understand that, for many, the CRC is “holy mother church.” That loyalty to the institutional church is laudable and, in important ways, counter-cultural but you must ask yourself whether you are being loyal to the Christian Reformed Church? Is it really the CRC or has it become something else? Is there an essence to the CRC or is the CRC whatever Synod says it is? If I take the core out of a golf ball but leave the cover, is it really a golf ball any longer? If you hit it with a driver will it make that sweet “ping” sound or will it simply say, “thawp” and lay there on the ground?

The article gets right at the heart of things. The CRC came into existence to preserve the Reformed faith (theology, piety, and practice) as confessed in the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort. Is that what the CRC is about now? No, not really. Take the example raised in the article and dismissed as inconsequential: psalms versus hymns. I realize that it’s not fashionable to criticize hymns but there was a principle at stake in 1857. It wasn’t just preference. It was about the second commandment as understood and confessed by the Reformed Churches since the early part of the 16th century. As the Heidelberg Catechism summarizes that teaching we confess:

96. What does God require in the second Commandment?

That we in no wise make any image of God, nor worship Him in any other way than He has commanded us in His Word.

When this language was adopted by the Dutch Reformed Churches in the 1560s and at the great Synod of Dort (1618–19) this language, the second commandment of the law of God was understood to mean that we may do only that in worship which God has commanded. We understood that God’s Word requires us to respond to his grace by singing to him in his Word. Whatever the virtues of hymns they are not God’s Word. The corollary to this understanding is the doctrine of sola scriptura. The church may not impose upon her members anything as obligatory that is not required by God’s Word. There is no requirement in Scripture that God’s people pray or sing using anything other than the inspired Word of God. “Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” cannot be assumed to equal “How Great Thou Art.”  These principles, as applied to worship, have become known as the Regulative Principle or sometimes the Reformed Principle of Worship (RPW). You can read more about this in Recovering the Reformed Confession. It wasn’t that long ago that Christian Reformed congregations could be heard singing the psalms (without musical accompaniment). There are still folk in the CRC today who remember singing out of the 1912 Psalter.

According to the article, the last line in the sand is Christian schools. We’ve gone round and round about Christian schools in this space. Let me suggest that, as important as Christian education is, it is, as I suggested recently about the Church of Scotland, only the end of a very long train. Questions like Christian schools are matters of the application of God’s Word to specific circumstances and faithful believers may differ on the matter of exactly how to educate one’s children. Strictly considered, we don’t confess “Christian schools,” as such. We do confess a specific understanding of the 2nd commandment, however. Long before one gets to Christian schools one must consider the authority, truthfulness, and reliability of God’s Word. One must consider how that Word is to be read and understood, what we confess about God, man, Christ, salvation, the church, and last things. Ethics flow out of our theology. When our theology has been pushed to the side in favor of other interests, then we have “dead orthodoxy.” Orthodoxy, of course, is never really dead, but it is possible to continue mouthing the words while denying the substance of the faith.

Gradually over the last 60 years, the CRC has gradually abandoned her confession (theology, piety, and practice). She isn’t even mouthing the words any more. The very thing feared by Foppe ten Hoor and Louis Berkhof and others, in the early part of the 20th century, has come to pass. The CRC has become a broadly evangelical denomination.  On its present path the future of the CRC is clear: the RCA; the home of those paragons of Reformed theology, piety, and practice: Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuller. Is that the witness for Christ for which Mr DeVos hopes and if not, how will he or anyone else prevent it when the CRC and the RCA merge?

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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35 comments

  1. Excellent post, Dr.C!

    Trueman’s recent post re. the CoS shows that there has been success in taking back denominations and institutions from wolves in granny’s clothing. The problem in the CRC and EPC (the two displaying similar trends) is not a lack of conservatism, but a lack of confessional fidelity and will-power. Machen summed up this mentality with one word: indifferentism. As the CRC takes the scalpel to the Heidelberg and the EPC reduces the WCF to its “essentials,” both are demonstrating a progressive philosophical posture that will inevitably get immersed in the cultural progressivism that has borne the mainlines into oblivion. I grieve over this trend (knowing its historical correlates), but hope that in the day when that remnant of theological titans in these denominations move to NAPARC demoninations, both the Machenized exiles and their new homeland will be mutually blessed.

  2. Nice post Dr. Clark. Any merger between these two denominations would be really interesting. There is so much history for each and you know how the Dutch are about leaving their traditions! As you mentioned in the post, I wonder how the final holdouts of Confessional orthodoxy in these churches will be able to keep going when the number of congregations and classes “against” them is doubled.

  3. For some reason, my comment isn’t showing up. Dr. Clark, you can delete this and my earlier post unless the comment from gigharborreformed actually shows up someplace.

  4. “Now that the CRC ordains women, that’s no issue either. The only significant difference is the CRC’s greater emphasis on Christian schools.”

    Ordaining women??!

    Loss of the Authority of Scripture. Any conservative, confessionalists might want to look to the 7 mainline LibProt churches and how all of them have ordained women… and all of them are in serious decline, both numerically and theologically.

    Ordaining women is just the visible symptom of a greater internal cancer.

  5. The CRC merging with the denomination that houses Robert Schuller and John Armstrong and a host of other ‘progressive’ types ? Wonder what that will start to look like a few years down the road.

  6. Thank you. Dr. Clark, for this article!

    Although I won’t be a hyprocrite and say that I agree or practice all the RPW or other things that the CRC might have taught in its early years, I think that whatever lingering such Reformed “salt” that there is in the CRC should be preserved in the CRC and not diluted by a merger with the RCA. My hope and plea is that the CRC at least turn around and take a few steps toward that early Reformed confession and practice of the CRC rather than jump into the arms of the RCA. I also think a merger will hurt CRC Christian schools and Calvin College and Seminary.

    In conclusion, although we are tempted to think, it already is to late for the CRC, and we already may have given up hope for the CRC, 1 Corinthians 13:6-7 reminds us: Love “does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” We can continue to pray and urge the CRC to return to the sound Reformed confessions and practices of its early years, at least to “turn around and take a few steps back”, rather than shrug and passively watch the CRC take a few steps forward toward merger with the RCA. Thank you again

  7. One of the sad realities of the last 100 years is that almost all church mergers represent the union of declining denominations. I can’t think of a single example (but perhaps Dr. Clark can!) where the merged denomination became a more vital and orthodox witness to Jesus Christ. Some might argue that this has been the case in the PCA (with the RPCES merger of 1982) – but I’m not sure that this is true. Hopefully the current merger of the more conservative “continuing” Anglican churches in America will be more fruitful.

    Regretfully, we can draw the wrong conclusion from the above. We are called to unite with those of like faith and practice. Those of us in NAPARC churches should be striving for as much unity as we possible – and to not exaggerate the importance of the distinctives between, say, the OPC and the URC.

  8. I would agree with both Scott’s article and many of the comments that church mergers do not always result in what David nicely phrased as “a more vital and orthodox witness to Jesus Christ.” The following is a brief history of some mergers that occurred among Lutheran synods over the past century or so, taken from the WELS web site:

    “… Some of the church bodies and synods that make up today’s ELCA at one time were confessional, but slowly drifted from the truth. This occurred though mergers of synods without first establishing full agreement in doctrine and practice.

    The ELCA was formed by a merger of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA), the American Lutheran Church (ALC), and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC) in 1988.

    The LCA was formed in 1962 by the merger of the ULCA with the Augustana Synod, the American Ev. Lutheran Church (Danish), and Suomi Ev. Lutheran Synod (Finnish) to form the Lutheran Church in America (LCA). The Augustana Synod at one time was fairly conservative but had drifted in liberalism. The LCA was the most liberal Lutheran synod of its day.

    The United Lutheran Church in America (ULCA) was formed in 1918 by the merger of three federations: the General Synod, the General Council, and the United Synod, South.

    Both the General Council and the United Synod, South had their roots in the General Synod (founded in 1820). The United Synod South was formed during the Civil War. Although somewhat more conservative than the General Synod, neither group would be classified as confessional Lutheran. The synods of the General Council broke away from the General Synod in 1867 because of the liberalism of the General Synod. The General Council was committed to the entire Book of Concord of 1580 (the book which contains the Lutheran Confessions), however, it was not able to put its confession into practice and tolerated differences in doctrine and practice in its midst.

    When these three groups came together to form the ULCA, the liberalism of the General Synod soon dominated the church body. Within a couple of years the various negative critical approaches to Scripture were being taught at many of the ULCA’s seminaries. The “Washington Declaration” of 1920 made the ULCA the leading spirit of Lutheran ecumenism (the spirit that seeks outward unity or fellowship in spite of differences in doctrine and practice). The ULCA’s “Baltimore Declaration” of 1938 denied the inerrancy of the Bible. The ULCA was the most liberal Lutheran synod in America during the years of its existence.

    The ALC was founded in 1960 by the merger of the America Lutheran Church (founded in 1930 by the merger of the Ohio, Iowa, and Buffalo Synods, all of which at one time had been confessional, – the Ohio Synod was even in fellowship with the Missouri and Wisconsin synods for a time) with the Evangelical Lutheran Church (Norwegian Synod) and the United Ev. Lutheran Church. A portion of the Norwegian Synod had at one time been in fellowship with the Wisconsin and Missouri synods. The ALC (1960) doctrinally stood between the LCA (liberal) and the Missouri Synod (conservative).

    The AELC was a liberal breakoff from the Missouri Synod. The impetus for founding the ELCA came from the AELC.

    The ELCA is the most liberal Lutheran group in America today…”

    I was baptized and spent the first decade or so of my life in an LCMS congregation in the Fort Wayne area (known among some Lutherans as the “holy city” because of the numerous LCMS congregations there). Then we moved to a part of Indiana where there were no LCMS congregations and attended United and ALC congregations instead. As the snippet from WELS correctly points out, the United congregation was radically liberal (and this was already so in the early 60’s!) and the ALC proved to be a bit more faithful to Scripture. But even they looked the other way concerning issues like lodge membership, something that was strictly forbidden in the LCMS then (and still is within WELS and ELS today).

    As the decades passed, and these various tiny synods began to merge, it seemed like every merger loosened ties to historical confessions. The final major event, though, was when the AELC merged with the remaining LCA and ALC synods in the late 80’s to form the ELCA. The AELC was created by a group of renegade professors and sympathetic pastors who followed John Tietjen when he was kicked out of the LCMS seminary in St. Louis during the mid-70’s for teaching against the inerrancy of Scripture. What remains is a very liberal, social-ministry driven collective that has watered down the Lutheran confessions, accepts just about any kind of belief imaginable from its pastors and lay people, ordains women, and looks the other way concerning issues like same-sex marriage and abortion, not to mention the ordination of homosexual pastors (a dangerous topic to bring up on this blog, I know, but there you have it).

    Struggling to keep up with its financial commitments, LCMS synodical leadership seems to have bought into the “church growth” paradigm and is now undergoing its own internal restructuring in a manner that many in that synod feel will undermine confessional Lutheranism. Of course, many LCMS pastors have old friends and former associates in the ELCA, so underlying motives exist, as well.

    Can any merger have positive results? I’m not sure, but I did hear a comment from “Issues, etc.” host Todd Wilken during a conference this past February that convinced me that the answer is probably “not.” He stated that over the centuries the Word of God (Gospel message) has moved in “small ways,” never a in big, massive, headline-making manner. Then he cited numerous examples of this down through the centuries. And it’s true! The Gospels, themselves, are replete of examples of how Jesus worked best in small ways with small groups of people. Perhaps things are best left … small.

  9. George,

    Thank you for your comments and insights into mergers within Lutheranism in North America.

    I would add that there is a very practical problem with the proliferation of micro-denominations: We are living with virtual anarchy in terms of Christian ethics in general and church discipline in particular. I’m not saying that greater organic unity of denominations would solve this problem (it certainly hasn’t in most of the merged denominations that I’m aware of) – but we shouldn’t deny that this is a very real problem.

    David

    • Yes, David, I agree with you. In fact, there is a good chance that some of these “micro-denominations,” as you put it, will be pared down even more due to the influence of the Emerging (Emergent?) Church Movement, small group ministry, and house churches. Then it will be much more difficult to tie them together in any kind of unity.

      This is the reason why there are movements afoot within some Reformed and Lutheran circles to return to the Reformation Confessions (you’re aware of them within Reformed and with the Lutherans it’s those contained in “The Lutheran Confessions,” published by Concordia and containing the major creeds, Luther’s large and small catechisms, the Augsburg Confession and the Formula of Concord, both Full and Epitome). But it’s a struggle for both groups, because there are statements contained with those documents that many people just will not agree with nowadays.

      As has been said repeatedly in the past couple of decades, Christianity in the North America doesn’t need yet another revival; it is in need of another Reformation!

  10. You wrote that “Gradually over the last 60 years, the CRC has gradually abandoned her confession (theology, piety, and practice). She isn’t even mouthing the words any more. The very thing feared by Foppe ten Hoor and Louis Berkhof and others, in the early part of the 20th century, has come to pass. The CRC has become a broadly evangelical denomination.”

    I almost never post on these forums but I can’t let this one pass. Those who recognize my name will know my role as a reporter for Christian Renewal who for a decade chronicled the homosexual issue and much worse stuff in the decline of the CRC. If the CRC were a broadly evangelical denomination it would be far better off.

    I will never forget attending the ordination service for Rev. Ruth Hofman, watching people wearing T-shirts for the CRC’s gay rights organization coming to the communion table at First Toronto CRC, and realizing that even in the openly and unashamedly liberal Congregational church (NACCC, not UCC) in which I was once a member, open advocacy of homosexuality would have been kept “in the closet” because it would offend too many people.

    No, the Christian Reformed Church has NOT “become a broadly evangelical denomination.” It has become a mainline denomination with a strong ethnic and culturally conservative heritage, more like the ELCA than like the UCC, but going down the same evil path.

    And let’s not act like the CRC was once a wonderful denomination of good people. I grew up in Grand Rapids and I saw all of the evil and ugliness of people who are more conservative than Christian, and more Dutch than Reformed. And as a Calvin College graduate I think I have some knowledge of what I’m talking about when it comes to the way “uitlanders” get treated and “onze schoole.”

    Obviously there were good Christians and good pastors in the CRC of many years ago, just as there are still today. But I do not believe it is too strong to say that the CRC went from hypercalvinistic and ethnically bigoted pharisaism to outright liberalism and libertinism without ever meeting the gospel on the way.

    • Darrell,

      This analysis is one of the reasons people in the URCs and in the CRC continue to misidentify the problems being faced. No one, least of all I, has denied that there were or are liberals in the CRC. There have been liberals in the CRC for a long time but the predominant problem in the CRC has not been liberalism. Broad evangelicalism is the bridge to liberalism and by ignoring the bridge this analysis ignores what is actually happening in the CRC and the issues faced by the URCs. Focusing on liberal bogeymen allows “conservatives” in the CRC to become frogs in the kettle gradually boiled to death telling themselves, “We still believe in 6/24 creation and we oppose women’s/ gay ordination, so we’re not liberal ergo we’re okay. Meanwhile they’re singing “Shine! Jesus Shine” and playing tambourines, canceling the 2nd service, turning the gospel into a mess of moralism and otherwise ignoring the confession and catechism and thinking all the while that all is well. All is not well! Read another Darryl, i.e. Darryl Hart, Lost Soul of American Protestantism for a more profound analysis of what happened to the mainline presbyterians and what is happening to the CRC (and from which more the URCs probably) need to recover. The decline of a denomination (whether it is the CRC or the C of S) doesn’t happen like a binary switch: conservative/ liberal. There is always a transition and historically that transition has been the move to broad evangelicalism.

    • Darrell,

      Reared a spotty mainliner at best, converting into broad evangelicalism and then into the Dutch Reformed tradition for the last 13 years (where I currently still abide), I would say that the analysis of RSC and DGH are uncanny. In a word, they have the CRC’s number.

      The problem is indeed broad evangelicalism, not liberalism. I watch “conservatives” here in Grand Rapids time and again completely miss what is happening. (Even if female ordination was overturned tomorrow, the CRC would simply be on a male trajectory toward broad evangelicalism.) Analysis like yours only seems to make the world safe for fundamentalism.

      Scott (and Darryl), you go, boy.

  11. Okay, fair enough. As a Westminster professor, you are being consistent with the “old school/old side/old light” historical position of your institution, all the way back to Old Princeton. I will never criticize a person for being faithful to the established doctrinal position of the institution for which he is employed.

    I personally prefer the theology of Princeton’s first president, Jonathan Edwards. And if that makes me tolerant of fundamentalism and certain wings of evangelicalism, so be it.

    I may very well have more in common with Jerry Falwell than with Old Princeton. But I personally think that puts me in the same camp as J. Gresham Machen, who wrote that he had very little time to fight fellow defenders of the fundamentals of the faith and preferred to spend his time fighting with those who attacked the fundamentals. And if it makes me sound more like Francis Schaeffer than like Machen, I’m not sure I mind the comparison to either man.

    I think we need to clearly understand that just as not everybody who claims to be a Calvinist is a Calvinist, not everybody who claims to be an evangelical can make that claim with a straight face. There is a form of neo-evangelicalism that focuses on personal experience to the exclusion of doctrinal content, rather than a personal experience of deep-rooted conviction of sin and salvation by the sovereign grace of God. That form of pietism, which at one point was tempting to Machen himself, is not evangelicalism at all even though it mouths the words of evangelical piety. There’s a lot of that in the seeker-sensitive and emergent church movement and similar stuff which, as far as I’m concerned, is nothing but liberalism in disguise.

    Historically, liberals used different techniques to subvert pietism than they used to subvert confessionally orthodox Calvinists, Lutherans and Anglicans. I believe we are seeing some of those same ugly trends coming back in the modern American church, and passionately oppose them.

    But to say evangelicalism is the root of the Christian Reformed Church’s problems fails — IMHO — to take into account how deep-seated the connection is between the influence of Neo-Orthodoxy and classical liberalism in the Gereformeerde Kerken and how that got carried into the CRC through professors studying at the Free University and laymen bringing it over through relatives, through ICS, and through immigration.

    The CRC is emphatically not an evangelical denomination. It might still become one, but it’s clearly lost the battle to remain confessional, and if it merges with the RCA, it’s clearly headed down the mainline path.

  12. Just to avoid any misunderstandings …

    I drive almost 90 miles every Sunday to a URC, bypassing a PCA 10 minutes away with women deacons and seeker-sensitive worship whose lay leaders don’t know what the word “Reformed” means and which has women leading worship and preaching, though they wouldn’t call it that. (No, I am not exaggerating.) I could drive 20 minutes to a Southern Baptist church which has a Reformed pastor who is a student of the Puritans, though the church as a whole is not Reformed and its worship is typical southern fundamentalist, and there are several de-facto Reformed Baptist churches within a one-hour drive. And as for psalmody or second-service issues, you’ll get zero disagreement with me on either; I’m not convinced of the legitimacy of man-made hymns or organs in worship, though I don’t make a big deal about them and am comfortable with predominant psalmody.

    I live in the middle of the Ozarks. I know southern fundamentalism pretty well. It’s not were I choose to worship, but I think we’re shooting at the wrong enemy if we blame evangelicalism for the CRC’s problems. Frankly, I wish the CRC had the problems of the fundamentalists and evangelicals I see around me in the Ozarks — it would be much better off at least in the short run, though I certainly concur about the shallowness of a non-confessional evangelical church.

    • I believe Machen also said that he didn’t like the term “Fundamentalist” because it sounded too much like a new religion. And ex-Liberal Thomas Oden said in “After Modernity…What?” that Fundamentalists and Liberals have more in common than either would be willing to admit.

      Regardless of who get aligned with whom, the key taxonomy here is confessionalism versus evangelicalism. This is not to miss any of the influences of neo-orthodoxy or classical liberalism at all. In fact, it is to take them into account, along with pietism and revivalism, all of which comport under “evangelicalism.”

      It is better to say that the CRC is moving away from confessionalism toward evangelicalism. This is why the fundamentalists and liberals are content to stay and bicker. Confessionalists really don’t have a seat at the table and contemplate a quiet exit when the opportunity presents itself.

      • Guys, this really isn’t my battle and I probably need to bow out of it. If you want to argue that evangelicalism is “liberalism-lite,” that’s your prerogative, and it’s a stance with which Westminister and Old Princeton have been identified for a long time.

        I emphatically and strongly disagree, though I agree that neo-evangelicalism is cut from a cloth which is just as unbiblical as neo-orthodoxy. If you want to go shoot at seeker-sensitive services that downplay the reality of sin and entertainment-oriented music that strives for a purely emotional response, we agree. I’d argue that’s not authentic evangelicalism.

        As far as I’m concerned, my brothers in Christ include people who have a deep personal experience of their total depravity and need for the sovereign grace of Christ, even if their understanding of Scripture hasn’t led them to an intellectual agreement with the full-orbed Reformed faith. I know there are Reformed Christians who disagree, especially those of an “old school” Presbyterian persuasion. The Dutch Reformed generally have had a better understanding of the legitimate Reformed character of groups like the Gereformeerde Gemeenten/Netherlands Reformed, or the Christelijke Gereformeerden/Free Reformed, and recognized the Dutch Second Reformation or the Anglo-American Puritan tradition as legitimate expressions of the Reformed faith, even if they didn’t agree.

        And by the way, I’m not advocating tamborines at all, but I think there’s more biblical warrant for them than for organs and pianos. I’d prefer the unaccompanied human voice singing the psalms based on the regulative principle, but if we believe the Bible allows instruments I’m not sure how we can logically ban tamborines while allowing organs.

    • Darrell,

      I drive 20 minutes every Sunday to a (flagship) CRC here at ground zero. I can even still do so twice a Sunday. Frankly, I don’t wish the CRC had the funda-evangelical problems I left behind years ago. I am not a liberal but I do like some forms of progress instead of regression. Call me greedy, but the only way “forward” is confessionalism, not settling for the problems that afflict the Ozarks.

      By the way, how in blazes can a Reformed pastor abide a SBC pulpit and vice versa? I take it you mean he’s predestinarian-five-pointer. But five points aren’t enough to be Reformed.

      http://kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com/how-many-points/

  13. Darrell,

    Thank you for your comments.

    May I suggest that in today’s world that it is helpful to distinguish fundamentalists from evangelicals? The former, whatever their shortcomings, actually stand for far more than the latter.

    I have recently graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. If Gordon-Conwell doesn’t represent “broad evangelicalism”, I don’t know which seminary does. It advertises itself as a “Leading Evangelical Institution” and it has become one of the largest protestant seminaries in America. Yet other than a formal claim to the authority of Scripture it would be difficult to find any controversial issue where the entire faculty was in agreement. Please don’t misunderstand – there are MANY outstanding faculty members who teach at the school to whom I will be indebted for the rest of my life. Yet, it wouldn’t at all surprise me to see many of the graduates of Gordon-Conwell being quite willing to administer communion to people wearing Gay-activist shirts. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me to discover that individuals wearing such shirts received communion in the seminary chapel. Broadly speaking, the faculty and student body has no meaningful ecclesiology (excepting the growing presence of conservative Anglicans on campus). For example, even though the school is a para-church organization, the school does occasionally administer the Lord’s Supper in chapel. No need to submit to the authority of those pesky Elders – let your conscience be your guide. BTW – I had a visiting professor in my pastoral theology class who suggested that church membership and discipline are simply outmoded ideas.

    Now we could call Gordon-Conwell, Wheaton, and Christianity Today “Neo-Evangelical” while insisting that Evangelical means what it meant to Luther and Calvin (or in modern times to J.I. Packer). But that is like insisting that Republicans believe in a limited federal government because Calvin Coolidge did. Furthermore, it is difficult to see any way to restore the term Evangelical to its original meaning that does not include restoring our confessional commitments.

    In short, I fear that “broad evangelicalism” is in much worse shape than you think.

  14. I apologize the the previous posting (from the former Gordon-Conwell student) appeared to be anonymous. I didn’t realize that WordPress had automatically logged me in under a different name.

    It is important that we not make such comments anonymously.

    David A Booth

  15. Mr. Booth, I agree about the importance of not posting anonymously.

    ZRim, in light of your last post, am I talking to Dr. Richard Muller when I’m speaking to ZRim? I have very specific problems with Muller’s view of being Reformed, some of which I discussed with him personally when I was still at Calvin Seminary and in subsequent years, but I don’t want to take him to task on this blog if you aren’t him. Muller is a friend of the Reformed faith in a very difficult place and he doesn’t need me shooting at him without him being able to respond.

    In response to Mr. Booth, I think I agree with you — we do need to distinguish between fundamentalists and evangelicals.

    I was at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals meeting more than a decade ago when this debate was happening about whether to try to reclaim the word “evangelical” or abandon it for something else.

    What is the “something else?”

    I’m not comfortable calling myself a “fundamentalist” because it carries baggage today that some of the originators of that term clearly did not intend, but have now become dominant — premillenialism, tribulation/rapture issues, and a certain view of secondary separation that I don’t especally oppose but don’t find to be biblically required.

    So what is the workable alternative? I don’t know. Personally I think I agree with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals approach of trying to brand the “liberal evangelicals” as “neo-evangelicals,” but I don’t have a good solution. I do know that far too often in ecclesiastical as well as secular politics, the proverb is true that “he who defines, wins.”

    Interesting that I’m talking to a Gordon-Conwell graduate. I was interested in attending that seminary twenty years ago, but there was no way I could have afforded it. For whatever it’s worth, I am still a member of the same denomination as longtime Gordon-Conwell professor Dr. David Wells and once served on a denominational committee with him, though I have applied for membership transfer to the URC at the request of my home church since I don’t live anywhere near a 4C congregation and my home church elders became uncomfortable about a year ago with my long-term status as a nonattending member. The main effect of that was to force me to stop attending a PCA in the city where I live that I could never join and start driving more than an hour to a URC congregation which is the closest paedobaptist church that is in any serious sense Reformed.

    • ZRim, in light of your last post, am I talking to Dr. Richard Muller when I’m speaking to ZRim?…I don’t want to take him to task on this blog if you aren’t him.

      No, I’m me. Richard Muller is Richard Muller. When I had him at CTS it wasn’t evident that he was even remotely cyber-savvy. (My hunch is that he thinks a mouse is something that may or may not burrow in the slobberies that are his office, hopefully not.)

      • Okay. I feel more comfortable criticizing an anonymous CRC member who is a Calvin Seminary graduate than I feel criticizing Dr. Muller.

        Forgive me if I’m wrong, but if you’re a CTS graduate you’re probably also an ordained minister. If you studied under Dr. Muller, you’re probably too young to have gone to seminary with me, or perhaps were an older second-career student who went to seminary at a much older age than I did. You certainly don’t sound like very many of the people with whom I studied at Calvin Seminary or Calvin College.

        Please explain how you could possibly be sitting here advocating the concept that five points of Calvinism aren’t enough while still sitting at classis and possibly synod with some of the wild-eyed radicals who today run the Christian Reformed Church?

        Unless you’re in LaGrave Avenue or Sunshine — each of which have their own problems — I can’t think of any other “flagship” Christian Reformed congregation in Grand Rapids that is remotely tolerant of conservative Christianity or the historic Reformed faith, though there are certainly a lot of outlying suburban and rural churches whose pastors try to keep their head down to avoid it getting lopped off. The Christian Reformed Church today is certainly not a “safe place” (to borrow the term of the “As We ARE” gay support group) for people who advocate the views I’ve been seeing you posting here.

        Consistency counts. The views I’m seeing you advocate here are not compatible with continued membership in the Christian Reformed Church — or, for that matter, the RCA, the PC(USA), the EPC, or most congregations of the PCA. And while a certain level of toleration is entirely appropriate or even required for laypeople in the church who may sometimes have no choice but to sit under the authority of elders with whom they disagree, an ordained minister is required by the vows of the Form of Subscription to take some pretty severe action against the sorts of views that are being advocated in the Christian Reformed Church.

        Muller advocates synodical church government as one of the definitions of being Reformed. I happen to disagree, but that’s irrelevant here. If you hold to classical Dutch Reformed ecclesiology, you can’t be a minister in good conscience in today’s Christian Reformed church without taking actions that will get you thrown out very quickly. Being silent is not an option for those who take the Form of Subscription seriously.

        • Darrell,

          I didn’t realize it would get this personal. But I did not graduate from CTS, I am not an ordained minister. I’m just an ordinary member of the CRC.

          You are correct that the views I express here zig when the CRC zags, and nobody has to tell me to be frustrated an dput-out, but I am unclear as to why this means my membership has no integrity. I thought staying loyal to a bad spouse was a good thing. Isn’t there a difference between a wayward denomination and a false church, bad judgment and actual adultery? The FOS hasn’t been entirely emasculated yet, and I haven’t been silent at all concerning how my church is flirting with this particular disaster.

          And believe it or not, one can clearly hear the gospel in the local CRC still (I do). One also doesn’t get very far accusing his brethren of being “wild-eyed radicals,” not if he really wants to be heard. And try harder to think of another flagship church still cognizant of the historic tradition (yet veering off course). If Sunshine is your idea of good thing, I suppose that makes sense. And Stan Mast at LaGrave openly admits his is the Willow Creek model for the upper crust with a taste for lotsa wood, stained glass and processionals.

          • Well said. Though the question I struggle with is when does the wayward denomination become a false church, or a collection of basically false churches? As the frog, when do I decide to hop out of the kettle?

  16. OK, if you’re not an ordained minister or elder, my comments don’t apply. Private members are under no obligation to take the steps that ordained officebearers can and must take to rid the church of false doctrine.

    I’m not unaware of the problems you mention at LaGrave and Sunshine. I grew up in Grand Rapids, I’ve occasionally attended both churches, I once knew many members and elders of both churches — though I suspect many of them are no longer attending, and those who are still members are very unhappy — and I would not be a member of either church if I still lived in Grand Rapids. Full disclosure: I would probably be in the Free Reformed Church, Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation, or possibly Seventh Reformed or the Grand Rapids RPCNA congregation if I returned to Grand Rapids today, though I suppose I’d spend some time visiting URC congregations.

    But of the better known CRC congregations in Grand Rapids, I can’t think of any that would be in better condition, theologically speaking, than Lagrave or Sunshine — certainly not among the “flagship” churches like Eastern Avenue CRC, First CRC, or similar congregations.

    If this goes much farther we’ll be playing “Dutch bingo” trying to identify the church to which you belong. That’s not fair for you as a private member. God has different standards for sheep than he has for shepherds.

    • Darrell,

      I have a much better idea than trying to figure out what church some yahoo is a member of: read Recovering the Reformed Confession after The Lost Soul of American Protestantism. Then come back. It’s a much more stimulating conversation.

      • I have no objection to reading these books and will likely put them on my list, but only after I get done with a stack of books on church history and theology I purchased last fall but have not yet finished reading.

        I am well aware at the end of each spring that this is, as one person paraphrased Scripture, “the time of year when synods go to war.” Much of my life once revolved around the ecclesiastical assemblies of the CRC, OPC, PCA, and to a lesser extent, the RCA and Protestant Reformed, and I had to read books like those you recommend constantly to keep up with the lastest diagnoses of church-related problems.

        Now that I don’t have to attend denominational assemblies anymore, my Reformed reading preferences rarely veer outside classic Puritan theology and history. There is not much point in keeping up with things that I can’t do anything about anyway since I am not an officebearer and do not cover Reformed churches as a reporter. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be reading books like that for some of the time, even though they have virtually no relevance to church life in the Ozarks, where my main concern is and must be how to interact with the Baptists and Pentecostals who completely dominate church life around here.

      • Just to make sure we’re on the same page — I have no desire to find out what local church you belong to if you are a private member and don’t want to make public which church you belong to.

        Officebearers are a whole different ball game. Klaas Schilder refused to attend private meetings with Gereformeerde Kerken leaders in an attempt to work out problems. Why? He was concerned that neither he nor others present at those meetings could be held accountable to their vows under the Form of Subscription. A lot of damage has been done to the church by ministers meeting in secret to advocate opinions that they didn’t want to take the risk of advocating in the hearing of their church members or ministerial colleagues. We need to always be ready to give an answer as to what we believe, not only to unbelievers but perhaps especially to fellow believers.

  17. Mboss,

    You could start with the marks of the church in Belgic 29. If they are present in your local congregation, that’s essential. Then ask yourself to what degree the marks are being upheld in the denomination. That’s a little more difficult. That’s where I would start.

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