The Burning Of The Wooden Shoes (Update)

The most disturbing part is that many seem completely oblivious to the shifts. Among a new generation of Reformed pastors and churchgoers, there seems to be little awareness that the project they are pursuing, and the shifts they are pushing, have already been tried and have ended with catastrophic consequences in the life of a major Reformed denomination.

I write this out of sincere love and concern for my brothers and sisters in NAPARC churches. Don’t do this. I’ve witnessed families, friends, and churches ripped apart by the direction the CRC chose. I know the pressures are great. I too want success in the church. I too want our Reformed churches to be heard. But that desire has to be controlled by what Christ has commanded us to do. I don’t want to see other faithful churches make the same mistakes that led to the confessional demise of the CRC. We need you! As I attempt to be my brother’s keeper, may the Lord use this as a call to renew all of us together in our commitment to our Biblical and confessional identity as Reformed churches. Read More»

Chris Gordon,”The Burning of the Wooden Shoes.”

Presbycast with Chris Gordon on “Wooden Shoes and Bowties—The CRC As Warning for NAPARC?

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27 comments

  1. I do not believe there is just one PCA. For quite a while, it has seemed as though there are multiple PCAs operating under the same umbrella, much in the same way that the Republican Party is doing it. The PCA has let the wound fester for far too long. It is inevitable that a split will occur or that the more confessional churches will leave. And I know that the PCA is not the only one in this situation. What is preventing these denominations from exercising church discipline on ministers or congregations who are not abiding by the confessions?

  2. So sad but true. Academics and leaders in these denominations are the very ones that are pushing the downgrade. It is now the responsibility of the average member who will stand up and be counted, instead of complacently ignoring the demise of their church. There are still avenues, through the church order, for the average member to resist this movement, based on the confessional standards and how this movement deviates from them. But once the confessions are jettisoned, we have lost a vital avenue of resistance to the downgrade. Sadly we cannot unquestionably trust our leaders to defend the faith anymore, the average Christian needs to stand up and defend the faith, using the confessions as their authority.

    • I am a member of a PCA church. When a regular member raises an issue touching on theology or church order, he is too often seen as divisive, insubordinate, or a “problem”. Often they come under the threat of church discipline. I have never seen a denomination correct its slide toward liberalism. Denominations never ever seem to get more conservative or more faithful on their own. A church split seems the only way to correct the problems. Then the cycle begins again.

    • It has been my past experience, in a CRC church, in the months and years that preceded a devastating split, that those who wanted to introduce Liberalism, started by questioning the second service, which is incidentally where the creeds and confessions were read, recited and explained, and once they got rid of the second service, they worked on getting a type of “good will” subscription to the confessions. What that meant was that everyone was allowed to subjectively pick and choose which articles they felt were important to them. Then other broadly evangelical changes were promoted, such as the ordination of women, and the inerrancy of Scripture denied, and the role of Christ in our salvation and his resurrection were questioned. It is a subtle and gradual downgrade, much like the frog who gets cooked because the temperature is increased so slowly. Those who oppose Liberalism will be ridiculed and persecuted, but as Christians we need to defend the faith as long as we are able and our confessions are vital to our defence, faithfulness to our Savior demands it.

      Isn’t it interesting that similar things are happening in other Reformed denominations such as the PCA. The second service, where the confessions are supposed to be read and explained is becoming optional. Is it part of a deliberate design to diminish the importance of the confessions? Add to that so called “good faith” subscription that allows you to accept or reject which parts you like? What authority does that leave the confessions? If you appeal to the confessions, it will just be rejected as your opinion, whereas others think differently. Once the authority of the confessions has been destroyed, the way for Liberalism will have been paved. Liberalism’s advocates are relentless. If the GA rejects their proposals, they will keep appealing until they secure approval. In the meantime, getting rid of the second service is a good way to erode the influence and importance of those annoying confessions that stand in their way.

  3. Sounds like another confessional subscription issue on the Westminster Standards, how strict is too strict or too loose, what exactly is good faith subscription (which varies by each presbytery)? Is it too strict, in regards to the Standards, to discipline officers and laity for playing Scrabble on the Sabbath (as the whole time is not being devoted to worship and duties of necessity and mercy)? Or should we allow non-cessationalists, F.V., and paedocommunionists, perhaps even egalitarians to be officers in the church, as we believe it to be in accordance to a good faith subscription? That would be closer to “system subscription”, all the while there are many presbyteries in the PCA that would not consider these to be in accordance with good faith subscription. Thankfully I am licensed in a presbytery in the PCA that I find has a good balance. However, I still feel it has a certain subjectivity to it because many are sympathetic to or hold to strict subscription, but would probably not have an issue with playing Scrabble on the Sabbath (which I don’t have an issue with, but I think the Standards prohibit).

    • Is “good faith” subscription not just a good excuse for compromise on vital doctrinal issues? If we look the other way when some plays Scrabble on the Sabbarh, then we can look the other way when the FV want to introduce temporary election through baptism and two stage justification? Is your good faith subscription the same as mine? Who gets to decide what “good faith subscription” actually means? The confessional standards, on the other hand are quite clear.

    • Angela, you raise some good points. Personally, I think that if a presbytery is going to allow for exceptions then those exceptions should be explicitly written out. In general, I believe that ministers should periodically have to undergo questioning regarding where they stand in terms of the confession of faith. People change their theology overtime and it’s not wise to ordain a man and assume his views have not changed with the passing of time. Quite often people change views but they do not want to be as open with their denomination as they should because they know doing so will cost them their job. Which is something that both the minister and the church often do not want to happen. And some people have such loyalty to being part of their denomination that they refuse to do the right thing and leave when they know they no longer Believe what their denomination requires of them. Good faith subscription also sounds like people in that Presbytery are not willing to do the hard work of deciding whether or not a candidates understanding is allowable by there confession of faith. I’m not in a confessional denomination but we do follow the Westminster standards but allow for exceptions. But any and every exception we make has to be in writing and explained. We do not allow for anyone to make any kind of exception unless it is in writing and explicitly explained in detail. I’m very thankful my denomination amended our Westminster standards to include in the section on marriage that marriage is exclusively between one man and one woman. There are a lot of confessional Reformed denominations that would be opposed to such a measure (amending the WCF), but I think in our cultural context not doing so will in the long run prove to be a mistake

    • It is my understanding that the confessions allow for amendments based on clear arguments from Scripture, that the confessions need to be changed, and when this can be proven and accepted by the Church, the confessions are to be changed. Your example on marriage is just such a case. When the confessions were written, marriage was unquestionably between a man and a woman, but in this morally corrupt time, it needs to be made clear what the Scripture says on this matter, so the amendment you describe should be clearly in line with the case for an amendment that is proven to be needed from Scripture. The problem is with allowing everyone’s subjective opinion to decide what is to be allowed as a deviation from the Standards, rather than the authority of Scripture, proven and accepted by the Church. In the case of a minister who can no longer profess full subscription, you might think that it would be possible for him to separate his personal opinions from the doctrine he has sworn to teach? But that would seem to involve him in a hypocritical compromise in his conscience. To continue to stay, just to keep his job or because of other considerations just seems like dishonesty, and unworthy of someone in the position of a pastor. I think you are right, churches need to keep their pastors accountable for teaching the doctrines the church holds to. That may involve hard decisions, but what we hold as the true faith should always be our most important consideration.

    • I think that marriage question is already covered:

      WCF 24.1: Marriage is to be between one man and one woman; neither is it lawful for any man to have more than one wife, nor for any woman to have more than one husband, at the same time.

      And for good measure,

      WCF 24.4: Marriage ought not to be within the degrees of consanguinity or affinity forbidden by the Word. Nor can such incestuous marriages ever be made lawful by any law of man or consent of parties, so as those persons may live together as man and wife.

      seems to establish the principle that laws of men cannot make lawful any marriages that are fundamentally unlawful (here incestuous, but also by extension same-sex)

  4. Thank you for posting “The Burning of The Wooden Shoes”.

    Though confessional Reformed Theology is not, for many, a familiar or even friendly environment, it is beneficial and useful. The challenges in His Church require devoted application of the two Great Commandments, Love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength and my neighbor and my enemy, as He loves me. For these I need instruction and guidance by the Spirit in His Word and confessional Reformed Theology.

    First, the Church that holds fast to confessional Reformed Theology provides the regular hearing of not only the Word, but the historical creeds, catechisms, and confessions. For instance, hearing the Heidelberg Catechism read each Lord’s Day and presented each Wednesday increases my understanding of ‘whose I am’ historically and eternally according to God’s inerrant Word, Scripture. Because I need to understand important questions, such as, “What is my only hope in life and death?”, and to answer such a question with confidence and assurance, I need instruction in confessional Reformed Theology. ONLY this climate of instruction and guidance in the Church is beneficial, though not easily understood because it presents ‘The Authority of God’s Word’ and standards in the doctrines.

    As cultures race to oblivion on the desolate highways of ‘selfism’, e.g., relativism, scientism, socialism, evangelicalism, islamism, mormonism, atheism, etc., the Church must hold fast to God’s Word and the doctrines for us who believe Him and His Plan. It is beneficial for us who believe in the Triune God to hold fast to His Word and confessional Reformed Theology so that we, His exiles in our generation, are effective witnesses of His Great Salvation and Sanctification by Grace alone through Faith alone. His is The only Way we can mature and be useful as witnesses in our generation.

    The second point involves ‘being a witness’. This unfamiliar, essential sacrifice involves applying the Great Commandment to His family in Christ on Sunday and throughout the week. These are the actions of not only being friendly with friends, but being friendly to visitors. Helping them understand the order of worship, getting them a bulletin, etc. Next, am I involved in reaching and inviting visitors to participate in other functions, inviting them to coffee? Though reaching out, making time, listening, hearing, asking questions are not familiar actions these are the actions of Jesus in the Gospels. He laid down His Life. Am I willing to lay down my life for His Gospel, as His true witness?

    The call of the Great Commission requires me to examine and evaluate my cultural patterns, prides, practices, preferences and the most painful, my biases, because these are not the Gospel. Perhaps these are the ‘wooden shoes’ that I must burn. But I must never, never, never let go of the order of worship, the context and content of confessional Reformed Theology, and the ardent study and application of God’s inerrant Word. These are my witness to a world that is lost. I am faced again with the same question: Am I willing to lay down my life for His Gospel, as a true witness?

    Finally, The Church, God’s Family on earth, is always a challenging environment because we are sinners His Spirit is sanctifying. But The Church is our home while we are away from Him, a community in which we remember and worship Him. He gathers us in the Church so that we can hear His Gospel proclaimed, confess our sins, pray for one another, and see the Work of His Hands in our lives as He has worked throughout His Story of His Church and His Creation from Genesis to Revelation. Prayerfully Pastors are faithful to His Call. However, even when pastors are not faithful, His sheep hear His Voice and we know He is Faithful in our suffering, even in His Church. He promises to hold on to us and to teach us we are not our own but belong body and soul, in life and death, to our Lord and Savior who purchased us with His Precious Blood.

    Now, am I willing to lay down my life for His Gospel, as His true witness?

  5. Part of this is the ethnic question. The Dutch in the CRC – it was claimed – were too Dutch and not therefore “open” enough? Does this mean they weren’t sharing the gospel with their neighbors?

    From Joel Kim’s recent articles, I’ve learned that the tiny homogenous Korean church has no problems evangelizing. In fact, despite its small size, Korea is a runner-up to the huge United States in sending evangelists.

  6. I am a member of the PCA and have been to PCA churches across the country – literally coast to coast. I don’t agree with much of what he says about the 6 steps to apostasy with regard to the PCA specifically (can’t comment on other NAPARC denominations), though I do agree that the Lord’s Day is significantly undervalued across the board in the PCA, and has been for decades. I don’t believe a second service is necessary, but I do believe very, very few PCA congregants honor the Lord’s Day on even a cursory level. To me this is the clearest example of where broad evangelicalism has crept in.

    On the other hand, in my experience the PCA is nowhere near approaching the problems of the CRC in the other ways he lists. I disagree with his assertion that the PCA is beginning a debate with regard to ordaining women – the study report last year on the role of women in the church emphatically rejected the idea of ordaining women, and this report was overwhelmingly approved by the GA.

    His concerns are valid though, and Reformed churches must be vigilant in focusing on the Gospel of Christ saving sinners through His death and resurrection. We should always be watchful, but I don’t see the NAPARC denominations – at least the PCA – on the road to apostasy.

    • Do you see any connection between the undervaluing of the Lord’s Day and the abandonment of the second service? In my URC church the second service is just as faithfully attended as the first service. We hear preaching on an article from one of the three forms of unity and recite one of the ecumenical creeds. I think it keeps us focused on the Lord’s Day and the faith that our confessions and creeds accurately and concisely present. After all, how could we spend the rest of the Lord’s day more profitably for our faith?

    • Angela – the second service is optional and is a matter of conscience. Individuals and families can decide if the second service is right for their observance of the Lord’s Day.
      In my experience there isn’t a link between second service and erosion of the Lord’s Day as much as there is influence from Baptists and other evangelical groups.

      • Mason,

        Not quite. It’s not entirely an individual/family/private decision. I understand that it can be difficult for families with small children and that there other challenges. I really do understand how hard it can be. We commuted to church twice a Sunday for 10 years, spending 2 hours every Lord’s Day on the freeway. There are things that can be done to ameliorate the problems but taking an individualist approach shouldn’t be one of them.

        Please see the reply to Steph and the chapter in RRC.

    • The second service is optional? Are we to honor the whole Lord’s day or just or just the morning? What is the thing that is more important, that you must do, when you choose to go neglect an opportunity to worship and hear the gospel, on the Lord’s Day.

      Wouldn’t attending the second service be just the right witness to your Reformed faith, and for resisting the influence of Baptists and others evangelical groups who are providing a bad example?

  7. Angela – a few questions occur to me based on your last post. Are you implying the second service is a divine command? Why do you consider spending 2 hours in worship, rather than 1, to suffice to honor the whole Lord’s day? The Lord’s Day consists of approximately 24 hours. We can generally assume that 8 hours of the day would be dedicated to sleeping and another 4 hours to grooming, dressing, and eating. That leaves 10 hours of the Lord’s Day not spent worshiping based on your church’s schedule. It would seem that additional services are needed prior to, in between, and after your church’s AM and PM services to honor the whole day.

    • Hi Steph,

      The most ancient Christian practice, indeed the biblical practice, was to hold two services on the Sabbath. Under the types and shadows (the Old Testament broadly), there were two sacrifices, morning and evening. The day was marked by them. In the inter-testamental period, the synagogue held two services, which continued into the 1st century. The earliest Christian practice, which continued in most places until very recently (i.e., in the last 20 years), was to hold two services. When I became a Christian in a broadly evangelical setting (not Reformed) in the 1970s, it was commonplace to hold not only two services on the Lord’s Day but a Wednesday evening service as well. We live in a time of genuine decline in the Reformed and Presbyterian churches, when

      The questions are these: is there a Christian Sabbath? How ought the visible, institutional church to observe it? How ought Christians to observe the Christian Sabbath? Are the preaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments (and prayer) “means of grace” used by the Lord to bring people to faith and to sanctify believers? Does the church have the divine authority to call members to a second service? The historic Christian and Reformed understanding of Scripture has been that God instituted the Christian Sabbath, two services, and that the preaching of the Word and the sacraments and public prayer and means of grace (in a way that a small-group Bible study is not). We understand Matthew 16 to teach that Christ gave the keys of the kingdom to the visible church and the highest exercise of those keys is in public worship. So, in short, the churches have said yes. We can quibble about how to define the Lord’s Day (there are debates over that) but two services is not unreasonable.

      I understand that these might be new or unfamiliar ways of thinking so I’ve tried to lay out the history and discuss some of the practical problems of observing the Lord’s Day and holding two services in a highly mobile, late-modern, commuter-church culture/setting in a chapter in Recovering the Reformed Confession. Perhaps it will help?

  8. Steph, please see my reply to Bob, above.

    As Dr. Clark says, two hours out of an entire Lord’s day seems a reasonable time devote to keeping it holy by worshiping and hearing the word. It should be of particular importance to Reformed Christians because it is at the second service that the creeds and confessions, that define our faith, are read and explained.

  9. One, there is nothing new under the sun. Before the CRC, there was the PCUSA which went down the same road of apostasy – even if anybody in the URC today knows it. (As for the PCA, ‘ that was the Northern Presbyterian church’, the progressives will tell us as they do what progressives always do, go backwards.)

    Two, the PCA came out of the Southern Presbyterian Church on fundamentalist issues. IOW Chapt. 3 of the WCF was already toast. I am still kicking myself for misplacing a denominational pamphlet I picked up on the way out of the PCA, that talked about how the “conservatives” in part decided it was time to leave and start the PCA because their candidate – Ruth Bell Graham – was not elected to the Committee of Committees or something like that IIRC.

    Three, as regards the the first two of Gordon’s criteria, the Authority of Scripture and the Regulative Principle of Scripture, the confessions got left out of the first. If perspicuity is one of the defining traits of Scripture, then it must be possible to read the same and come to some kind of agreement as to what the Word of God actually teaches rather than some broad vague general evangelical consensus. IOW there is a reason the 3 Forms of Unity are called exactly that. The so called “good faith” subscription now de jure in the PCA is a step backwards to assuage broad, vague, general evangelicalism, not reformed consciences.

    As far the RPW goes, only the RPCNA in NAPARC generally has an idea of what the doctrine means IMO. The URCs, PCA et al are generally content to be conservative and refrain from overhead choruses and rock bands for the most part and so consider their reformed credentials and adherence to the confessional doctrine rock solid and air tight. As to what the P&Rd churches originally believed and practiced, they have not a clue nor – worse – are they particularly interested in finding out (though for the Reformed, Van Dellen and Monsma’s commentary on the Church Order is pretty clear where they stood on uninspired songs, musical instruments and feastdays. And why and how they were brought back into the churches.) Which is to say, broad evangelicalism might not be just a problem for the PCA. It could be coming to a closer venue, if it is not already there now.

  10. If two services on the Sabbath were required as our Christian duty then we should see abundant commands to do so in the New Testament. We don’t. We also would see specific confessions backed up by scripture. We don’t. The second service is a tradition of man and shouldn’t be used to bind the concience. If a church commands it then it has moved from liberty to legalism. I’m not arguing against the benefits of a second service. I am arguing against chiseling it into the tables of the Law.

    • The point is that it is the second service is very beneficial, and that is why it has a long history among God’s people, as a way of observing the fourth commandment to keep holy the Sabbath, which is widely published in the Scripture, and which is a command from God. It is also a time when the confessions and creeds that summarize our Reformed faith are expounded and recited, so it is an important practice for retaining them and the doctrines they support. If we are serious about keeping our Reformed identity and resisting the downgrade into broad evangelicalism and Liberalism, the benefits of the second service, as a practice of the church should be obvious.

  11. Hi Angela: If only the problems in the PCA were confined to the lack of a second service. At this point I fear we may be tacking shingles on a burning building. I believe that our biggest problem is our seminary, Covenant, and the quality of graduates they are producing.

  12. Bob, I am sorry to read about the problems in the PCA. It is like déjà vu to me. I went through it in the CRC many years ago. It started with the removal of the second service, and with that the confessions were out of sight and out of mind, then subscription to the confessions was considered optional, so our confessions lost their authority. That was a huge victory for the Liberal academics, because their ideas now filled the authoritative vacuum that was left by the jettisoning of the confessions. Their agenda was to introduce Liberalism and they succeeded. It starts like the gradual raising of the temperature of the water in which the hapless frog is sitting. Getting rid of the confessions starts with getting rid of the second service where the confessions and creeds are read and expounded. That is why it is so important to maintain the second service if we are serious about retaining our Reformed identity and the Reformed faith which the confessions so accurately and concisely express. To do so would seem to also be a worthy endeavour in the interest of keeping with the command to keep the Sabbath holy. It should be s joy for Christians to enjoy another opportunity to be blessed by the means of grace God graciously provides through the Church.

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