Interaction with URCNA Report on FV (1): Introduction

The URCNA FV Study Committee Report has just been published. It's a thorough and substantial report which, as to be expected, has some excellent statements. There are, however, several features of the report which concern me and these I would like to enumerate and address on my blog.

Why do I care about this report? For several reasons. I am good friends and colleagues with many of the leading FV personalities. I've known John Barach, for example, for about 15 years. He and I were classmates at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in the mid-90s. John is among the brightest fellows I know, with a memory nearly photographic. While at M-ARS, where he aced all of his courses, John learned to read Dutch --- which enabled him eventually to translate Dr. Van Houwelingen's fine commentary on 1 Peter and important exegetical and theological material by Benne Holwerda. He also underwent some paradigm shifts at seminary in the trajectory of Klaas Schilder's theology. I remember him walking into class some mornings, with a Thomas Kuhn twinkle in his eye.

John and I were also huge fans of Norman Shepherd, whom we had met a number of times at the seminary. We had listened with great enthusiasm to the taped lectures on the covenant Shepherd gave at Mid-America in the mid-80s. We were delighted to see Shepherd at the seminary on occasion to deliver a chapel address or a lecture. Back then the seminary community, including faculty, was quite fond of Shepherd. I understand that today he's a persona non grata.

Aside from my friendships with FV personalities, I served on the advisory committee at Synod Schererville which recommended the appointment of this study committee. The advisory committee was tasked with making recommendations to synod regarding an overture from Classis Michigan to adopt the RCUS report on Justification. That sentiment was quickly discarded. The URCNA is not the RCUS, it was said, and Norman Shepherd, the subject of the RCUS report, was a minister in the CRCNA and not the URCNA.

On the other hand, the members of the advisory committee thought something should be done. FV theology was threatening the URCNA church. No one could cite an instance in the URCNA. No one could name a name. But sometimes a war is just even when you can't find Weapons of Mass Destruction.

So the advisory committee recommended two things (a) adopt nine points dealing with covenant theology (which, though unhelpful and at points confusing, are generally innocuous). The original nine points had been penned by Scott Clark, an instructor at Westminster Seminary in California, and passed to a delegate to take to this advisory committee meeting. They were tweaked (significantly in places) and then submitted to synod for adoption. Not exactly pristine Reformed church polity, but it happened; (b) appoint a study committee to investigate the FV position on justification in particular. Though this wasn't what any church or classis had requested, this is what we did.

On a personal note, I and others argued from the floor of synod for the adoption of the nine points (the lesser of two evils) in lieu of the appointment of this committee. It didn't happen. The nine points were adopted and the study committee was appointed. Van Dellen and Monsma rolled in their graves.

Moreover, I served as a minister in the URCNA for some 12 years. In that time period I developed lasting friendships with both parishioners in the churches I served and colleagues throughout the federation. I am concerned about the direction of the URCNA, should it adopt this report and its recommendations.

Today I'm a pastor in the Canadian Reformed Churches which has close ecumenical ties with the URCNA, so much so that there's a merger being planned. Folk in the Canadian Reformed Churches are rightly very sensitive to what's sometimes called "extra-confessional binding," the extra-confessional theological statements of synods which demand allegiance. Moreover, they are generally fond of the theologies of Schilder and Holwerda which, it seems, are now under attack in the URCNA. For some it brings back sad memories of an event they call 44.

I yearn for closer relations between Can Ref and URCNA. These relations are now in jeopardy. I want to do what I can to encourage the uniting of what is being fractured.

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