For Conservatives In The CRC: This Is Your Future

…The denomination had decided to allow the ordination of women as elders (1966) and as ministers (1968). The verbatim record of these assemblies show that this was declared to be merely permissive legislation and evangelicals were assured it would never be forced on congregations or ministers. However, some 25 years later the denomination, unhappy with the obstructionism of some evangelical churches which still did not have women elders, sought to clarify its position. Despite previous promises it was proposed that it be declared that the legislation was not permissive and, in very strong language, that those who actively opposed the ordination of women, who taught and preached that this was not biblical and who sought to influence congregations were “in violation of their ordination vows.”

Robert Walker (HT: Carl Trueman)

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  1. As a more-or-less conservative in the CRC, could I ask whether there’s any evidence that this is actually happening in the CRC? I don’t mean, are there various egalitatarian individuals saying that everybody should agree with them. I mean, official (or at least coordinated) actions or pronouncements directed toward prohibiting complementarianism.

  2. Perhaps. But even recent attempts to do so have been rebuffed by Synod. But clearly the CRC moved to the left with the departure of the URC. I have much more sympathy with church splits caused by people being pushed out than those caused by people walking out by themselves.

  3. I’m thinking that we’ll see some kind of merger/realignment based on a different controversial issue. The CRC progressives will become RCA; the conservatives in the CRC and RCA will join the URC. 😉

  4. Dear Dr. Clarke: Since you are for recovering the Reformed Confession, do you think that given the liberals’ promise to respect diversity as a cloak for enforcing conformity may one day require us to dust off the old monarchcomach right of rebellion? I’m thinking of the political writings of Theodore de Beze, Francois Hotman, Junius Brutus, John Ponet, Christopher Goodman, John Knox, and Samuel Rutherford.

    • Kepha,

      I respect the history and tradition of the protestant resistance theory, which began with the Lutherans in the 1540s and which the Reformed developed in the writers you mention. Personally, I am ambivalent. When I read the New Testament and the earliest Christian writers I see no theory of resistance. What I see our martyrs. On the other hand, if we distinguish a twofold kingdom, with sacred and common spheres, then I think we can borrow from the old resistance theory. I have done a few posts on Johannes Althusius’ Politica, to that end.

      Before we get to resistance we do better to develop a coherent, viable social theory. That is where Althusius helps us. On resistance, I think I am with Calvin. I think it is the place of lesser magistrates to keep tyrants in check. We should also be aware that Beza and others regularly treated several magistrates as if they were the King David of their age. That was a significant mistake as it tended to blur the line between national Israel and post canonical states.

  5. Perhaps, but also perhaps not. To me this assumption is itself a caving in to progressivism. It is common for conservatism to hold to this form of progressivism while also holding to the position that embracing LGBTQ inclusion is the death of the church, testified to by the cratering of the mainline. At some point the two narratives run into conflict. We are seeing some of this dynamic in the RCA at this time.

    1. The churches that are fighting for inclusion are generally small and declining. There are whole RCA classes that are the size of individual RCA congregations in the West.
    2. The side of the RCA that is growing through evangelism and planting churches are resistant to LGBTQ inclusion.

    What this means is that time is not necessarily on the side of “Room for All”. While the RCA East may hold some institutional advantages because of their long tenure and their willingness to participate in RCA hierarchy in time the growing more conservative side of the RCA continues to gain power by virtue of numerical strength.

    In other words to assume that LGBTQ inclusion is simply a function of time doesn’t take into account the visible dynamic of mainline decline. So there are actually two moving targets to track, not just marking liberal progression.

    Many in the CRC are also watching the RCA. So we will see.

    To assume that history only goes one way in my opinion cedes too much to progressivism. History and reality are far more complicated than that.

    • Paul,

      Thank you for this. One my hope but history is not encouraging in this regard. There are few denominational examples of such an about face. The LCMS comes to mind but that involved great conflict. Are there any equivalents to Robert Preus et al in the RCA?

      What about the elimination of the conscience clause? Does that not rig the game in favor of the liberals?

      As to denominational decline, the seven sisters have been hemorrhaging members (to mix metaphors) for decades and yet there has been no serious conservative or confessional (see below) resurgence.

      There is another category by which to analyze these problems, beyond the traditional “liberal versus conservative” paradigm. See D. G. Hart, The Lost Soul of American Protestantism. That category is “confessionalist.” Are there any confessionalists in the RCA?

    • The RCA removing the conscience clause in my opinion was a step in the wrong direction.

      I think denominations are going to have to re-discover what confessions are for and how to use them, otherwise the conflicts simply devolve into politics when both sides claim the Bible is on their side. A confession forces them to articulate HOW they read the Bible, what threads they emphasize, what they read in the light of others. Here’s a longer treatment of my idea.

      • Paul,

        If dissent is now impossible, where do confessionalists and conservatives get a foothold from which to resist?

        As I indicated above, I don’t see the basis for optimism. Is there a Preus or a confessional insurgence in the RCA?

    • I think in the case of the RCA unless they can quickly re-discover confessionality they will either continue to 1. follow the UMC path of long, entrenched conflict or 2. conduct a conservative purge or 3. have a conservative departure leaving the rump to slowly wither. My thesis is that using confessions to illuminate the divide which in the end might facilitate some sort of split or departure by one side or another can help groups at least process the division and perhaps amiably split. In their recent “Wise council” report they talk about “gracefilled” exits.

      The RCA is made up of evangelicals with little confessional identity, mainliners and some folks with some Reformed confessional identity left. I don’t think the non-affirming know the potential political strength they have. They are, rightly so, investing their time and energy into local ministry, evangelism and church planting. They are in some ways acting like non-denoms do not realizing the other theater they should invest their time into. If they would devote more of their energy into denominational matters and address some of the structural procedures they could probably win this, but will they?

      The CRC is a different animal with different political tribes. The CRC is less American evangelical and conservative confessionalists are used to working denominational machinery. Their growing edge is to stop fighting this like evangelicals or old confessionalists and do some fresh work, to figure out the nature of Biblical progressivism and Biblical liberationism to counter the secular versions. This too is challenging but I think can be done. The CRC has its own, older version of Dreher’s “Benedict Option” but it has to be revitalized to make sense over and against its secular rivals. It needs to make sense evangelistically and become more appealing for those looking in from the outside. This is a tall order but it seems to me the only way forward. The “Pastoral Care” report coming to Synod 2016 showed that the left wing of the CRC isn’t up to the challenge. The report makes no one happy. The left keep pining for a more inclusive path while the right becomes the party of “no”. If there will be an alternative to the broader secular “gospel” of progressive liberationism we’re doing to need to start living it joyfully lest all we are left with to defend us is obstinacy.

      • Paul,

        Don’t confessions do much more than illumine differences? Isn’t it the function of confessions to unite and to establish boundaries? In both the CRC (since the early 60s when they wouldn’t discipline pastors/teachers for denying Dort) and the RCA (in the estimation of the CRC, since the mid-19th century) the confessions no longer serve those basic functions.

        I agree with Darryl Hart that, in churches on this trajectory, “evangelical” = a transitional phase to liberalism. It was the “evangelicals” (as distinct from the fundamentalists, e.g., McIntyre, and the confessionalists e.g., Machen) who sold out the confessionalists at Princeton. I agree that there is an evangelical party in the RCA (as there is a growing “evangelical” party in the CRC, but history says that they will not be able to resist. They will ultimately cave to the progressives/liberals, with whom they increasingly share pietistic convictions. What finally matters is the existential/mystical experience of the risen Christ, not assertions about the history of redemption and doctrine. Brad Longfield chronicled the weakness of the evangelicals at Old Princeton.

        The CRC was perhaps a different animal but I see little evidence that any of the remaining confessionalists and conservatives have much influence in denominational offices. They have formed a conservative classis but as far as I can tell, the clock is ticking for the conservatives until they must, finally, choose whom they will serve.

        As for “grace filled” exits, ask the folks in East Lansing. Grace = a large check to the RCA for the privilege of leaving to the PCA. I don’t mean to sound cynical but history is what it is.

  6. Dr. Clark,

    Thanks for the link. Quotable quote:

    “The issues of support for homosexuality and the enforcement of women’s ordination were, I believed, symptomatic of a deeper issue – the rejection of the authority of Scripture. ”

    As went the Church of Scotland, so goes the CRC. We can talk all we want about tribes, right and left, progressives and conservatives, unity, dueling confessions, etc., but in the end we won’t have unity unless we can agree on the authority of Scripture in ways that are more than skin deep. If you give lip service to the authority of Scripture while twisting its words to mean the opposite of their plain language, all the while appealing more to (big “S”) Science, emotion, experience, and psychology as authoritative, then Scripture is rendered moot and God becomes nothing more than an accoutrement to self-styled spirituality. The Banner is replete with examples of this. Machen’s conclusion that this leads to (or rather is) a different religion is entirely true. It’s not always easy to know when that threshold has been crossed, but it’s real.

    • Hi Eric,

      I agree with almost all you say. There is no question in my mind that the unique authority of the perspicuous, sufficient (sola scriptura) Scripture is essential to the churches. A biblical approach (hermeneutic) is also essential.

      I do not understand what it means to speak of “dueling confessions,” however. The Three Forms of Unity are not at odds with each other. The Belhar is problematic, but the classical confessions are essentially unified.

      In the Three Forms we confess both our view of Scripture and our interpretation of it. Without them we descend into chaos (e.g., Anabaptism, fundamentalism, liberalism, subjectivism, Pietism etc).

  7. Dr. Clark,

    Forgive me for my vagueness with “dueling confessions”. I was making reference to Paul VanderKlay’s call for the respective sides to go to their corners and produce confessions for comparison (I’m not giving it fair representation with that short summary). While I appreciate Paul’s idea to an extent, I think the “progressive” apologetic for homosexuality is not at all an unknown. It’s roots are in the social sciences and hermeneutical methodology that, when applied consistently, serves to render Scripture nothing more than a tool to justify our own longings. Thanks for the interaction.

    • Hi Eric,

      This is helpful. I agree that, in that sense, dueling confessions would not help the church. The function of confession is to unify the church around a shared confession. It seems to me that in the CRC and RCA there is fundamental disagreement (hence the tribes). Disparate confessions would ratify that disagreement but it would not really edify the churches. [comment corrected]

  8. Dr. Clark,

    I assume you meant *wouldn’t* in that last sentence?

    It seems to me that our current confessions (when taken seriously), in particular the Belgic, speak to the nature and authority of Scripture quite clearly. *In theory* this should unify us, but it doesn’t because confessional integrity seems to be a thing of the past. To that extent, I don’t think Paul’s idea would move the conversation forward, because if we can’t agree on Scripture we have no way forward to unity. Was Paul (the apostle) a bigot and misogynist, or what he speaking God’s Word? Which brings me back the original pull quote. Thanks again for the interaction.

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