On the first afternoon of CRC Synod 1993, the delegates were involved in an exercise which has the potential of effecting the process of thought and decision making in the church for generations to come.
The exercise involved a piece of modern art which consisted of rusty pipes on a stand. The delegates sat all around it in the Calvin College chapel. They were given the document printed on page 14 of this issue of The Outlook. Rev. Derrick Vander Meulen, ministerial delegate from Classis Zeeland, was there and tells us what he experienced. A subtle shift in paradigm was presented.
The biblical, historical perspective of truth is that there is objective truth which resides in what the object is, regardless what people may say it is.
This exercise with the rusty pipes taught that one cannot be at all sure what the object is. The truth is not in the object. The troth is in tile eyes of the beholder. In this context, nobody is right and nobody is wrong. Whatever someone perceives is a valid perception. The composite opinion of the group is always greater than that of a single member. In fact, different perceptions often lead to conflicts which in turn undermine community. The terms “right” and “wrong” are not appropriate to deliberative exercises.
The note on the bottom of the document (see p. 14) says that the “pipes” may be replaced with “topic, issue, subject, problem, etc.”
Put the Bible in the center. Everybody has his/her own perspective. This is nothing but relativism. Truth is not in the object, but in the eyes of the beholder.
This is what the Synodical Interim Committee arranged for the first afternoon of synod.
One person commented: “This is ‘subliminal seduction.’ Were the delegates to the 1993 synod programmed for disaster? You be the judge.”
This kind of exercise is used to teach public health nurses how to deal with problems of medical ethics. Everyone has his/her perspective. No one is right and no one is wrong, except the person who holds to the absolutes of the Scripture.
When we sat in synod and heard the debate regarding women in office, some delegates stood lip to quote Scripture, but did it make any difference? No.
The issue of women in office is like the rusty pipes. Everyone has his/her own opinion. There is no right or wrong.
This kind of relativism in the church is what the late Francis Schaeffer called “the great evangelical disaster.” The Bible is no longer absolute truth. There is no final objective authority.
Author Allan Bloom in his very important book, The Closing of the American Mind, sees the same thing on the campuses of America today. Every position is tolerated except the view that there are absolutes. A person holding absolutes is considered to be opinionated, biased, bigoted. In religious circles, to hold absolutes is to be considered the worst thing of all, a fundmentaIist.
Now this blatant relativism has surfaced in the Christian Reformed Church. It has been there for quite some time, but this summer it was blatantly laid upon the delegates of synod on the first day. Tile message which came through is, “Don’t break community by insisting on something being right or wrong.”
What is so tragic is that the Synodical Interim Committee arranged to spend time at the very beginning of synod to put the delegates through this exercise. One person called it “brainwashing.” The relativism of the 20th century has invaded the church, aided and abetted by the leadership.
This new perspective (paradigm) will have tragic effects for years to come. The people who have left the CRC have been charged with having the “lcabod” syndrome. “The glory has departed.” Here is the most glaring example of the departed glory. We need to learn anew the truth of the words of the hymn, “O Jesus, Joy of Loving Hearts”:
Thy truth unchanged has ever stood,
Thou savest those that on Thee call;
To them that seek Thee,
Thou art good,
To them that find Thee, all in all.
We invite you now to read the comments of Rev. Vander Meulen. It would be most meaningful if you would read the document printed on p. 14 before, during and after reading the article. In a later issue of The Outlook, the document will be printed again—this time with an accompanying line by line analysis and critique of the fatally flawed philosophy and theology presented in it.
Certainly by now you have heard all about Synod 1993. You have no doubt read articles of information, reporting objectively on the proceedings and decisions, and you have probably read various evaluations of these decisions. Little however, has been said about the first day of Synod 1993. I am not referring to the election of officers—I know you’ve heard about that—but rather about what is being called the “warm-up exercises.”
Most synods begin the first day with devotions first thing in the morning, then proceed to the election of officers, after which the delegates are excused to their committee rooms to begin their advisory committee work. The delegates of Synod 1993 however, after electing officers, went first to view the video “Freedom to Serve,” an 15-minute presentation on the various outreach ministries of the Christian Reformed denomination. After this, they had a two-and-a-half hour discussion in the Calvin College chapel centered around a sculpture made of rusty pipes. The delegates then were led in a “visionary” exercise which focused on what the CRC should be in the year 2000, and finally concluded the day with a service of celebration.
My purpose for writing this article is to inform you about the “warm-up exercise” with the sculpture. Little has been reported about this, and as a delegate who witnessed the proceedings of that exercise, I feel compelled to inform you of what took place. Although there were several decisions made by Synod 1993 with which I disagree, the worst thing that happened took place in this exercise! The Banner, in its June 28, 1993 issue which reported exclusively on Synod 1993, gave only a terse, general account of this exercise, but offered no specifics (see page 5). Nor will you read about it in the upcoming Acts of Synod since it wasn’t an “act” of synod.
Each delegate received a copy of “The UNDERSTANDING OPINIONS Metaphor” information sheet (see p.14) which set the course for discussion. Then, with this as back-ground, the delegates were asked to look at a sculpture made of pipes and talk about what we saw and felt. This lasted two and a half hours. By calculation, 184 men x 2 1/2 hours equals 460 man hours—obviously the Synodical Interim Committee which set up this discussion, believed this to be very important.
Here is a summary of what the handout teaches: we all view a certain object (or topic, issue, subject problem, etc.—see note at the bottom of the metaphor sheet) from our own “inescapable” vantage point. Someone else may view the same object from a different, but no less valid, vantage point. Since no vantage point offers a more correct perception, we must learn to listen to and trust others who communicate a different vision or perception. In fact, the object is most dearly understood when we listen to all perceptions and accept them as valid.
If all this is true, then when we discuss the object (topic, issue, subject, problem, etc.), it would not be appropriate to use terms such as “right” and “wrong.” For example, if I’m looking at a piece of abstract art (like a pipe sculpture) and “see” a horse, who am I to say that you are wrong if you “see” a rhino? IfI insist that it’s a horse and refuse to accept your vision of a rhino, I put barriers between myself and you which block dialogue and destroy community.
This exercise was called a “warm-up” exercise. It was preliminary to the upcoming debates on the floor of synod and was intended to prepare the delegates properly. We didn’t spend all that time so that we could try to figure out what that sculpture of pipes really was; we were being prepared for deliberation. This “warm-up exercise” did not take place on the last day of synod, or sometime in the middle, but on the first day!
One cannot deny that if the object in question is abstract art, the observations presented in the hand-out are true. The question however, that we must ask is: can these observations be extended to include matters relating to the church of JesusChrist? I humbly, yet emphatically answer, “God forbid!”
The first reason is that this kind of thinking is frightfully man-centered. It ignores God! We are discussing issues of the church; these observations deal only with human perceptions. They are so preoccupied with the questions “what do you see” and “what do you think,” that they never ask what should always be the church’s first question: “What does God think?” And thank God that we are not left to ourselves to wonder what He thinks, but He has told us clearly in His Word which we confess to be our “infallible rule” (Belgic Confession, Article Vll). This handout given to all the delegates says nothing about an infallible rule. It doesn’t say that since only God can view all vantage points at once, then our discussions should always begin and end with what God says about the object (topic, issue, subject, problem, etc.). These observations in the handout ignore God.
A second reason why these observations are wholly inappropriate for matters of the church is closely related to the first, namely, that the truth of an issue, according to the handout, can best be “found” via: the collective vision of a community. “The collective vision of a community is always greater than that of a single member.” Is this true?
The Pharisees and Sadducees certainly thought so when Jesus came teaching on their turf. The Roman Catholic Church thought so when Martin Luther raised his reforming head in Wittenberg. The Netherlands Reformed Church (NHK) of the 19th century thought so when de Cock, Scholte, Van Raalte and a few other young ministers challenged this state church, thus beginning the Afsclteiding of 1834. The Dutch Reformed Church of America (now the RCA) thought so when in 1857 a small group left this large denomination and began the CRC. You see, our very history refutes this statement. It simply is untrue. The collective vision of a community is sometimes wrong.
What this handout argues for is relational truth. Truth is relational, dependent upon the relationships of people. “Truth” becomes defined according to the amount of people (the “community”) who hold to it. But this thinking is entirely unreformed, not to mention unchristian. This is a shift away from what we have always believed. Truth is truth whether we agree with it or not. Truth is truth whether it is approved by a majority or not. Truth is objective because its source is the almighty, immutable God. That is why we confess: Neither may we consider any writings of men, however holy these men may have been, of equal value with those divine Scriptures, nor ought we to consider custom, or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God, since the truth is above all:
for all men are of themselves liars, and more vain than vanity itself. Therefore we reject with all our hearts whatsoever does not agree with this infallible rule (Belgic Confession, Article VII –emphasis added).
Every professing member has stated that he or she agrees with this. More importantly, every office-bearer has Signed the Form of Subscription which states not only that he believes this, but has promised “to teach these doctrines diligently, to defend them faithfully and…not only to reject all errors that conflict with these doctrines, but also to refute them, and to do everything we can to keep the church free from them.” If we confess Article VII of the Belgic Confession to be true, how is it possible to say to the delegates of Synod 1993: “the terms ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are not appropriate to deliberative exercises”? I beg to differ. Council meetings, congregational meetings, classes, and synods are all deliberative exercises. The terms “right” and “wrong” are absolutely necessary in the deliberative exercises of the church which holds to the “infallible rule” of God’s Word!
There are many other disturbing questions which must be raised. Why did the Synodical Interim Committee plan this “warm-up” (indoctrination) exercise? Do the office-bearers that make up this committee actually believe this? If so, then what? This is a telling question indeed. Was this committee appointed to offer the delegates this rubbish? Will the committee be asked to give an account for this nonsense? Will there be charges brought against them? Will these questions or charges be heard?
What about the other delegates who received. this handout and sat through the exercise? Is this the first that you, who were not at synod, have heard of the specifics of this “warm-up”? Why? Why the silence? There were 184 office-bearers including 92 ministers present. Certainly I’m not the only one disturbed by this. Something so very basic to our belief is being attacked here, namely the objective character of truth. What happened to the sound of alarm? This is not a matter of indifference, but it tears at our confessed beliefs. This teaching is a sword, attacking the very foundation of truth itself. God says: “But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand” (Ezekiel 33:6). Ministers and elders, we are watchmen whether you like it or not. Not only are we to promote the gospel of Christ and sound doctrine, we are also to defend it and warn our people when it is attacked. Sadly, I have only heard a deadly silence.
It is not coincidental that this is taking place while we are debating other important biblical and confessional issues. The truth is being attacked and eroded on several fronts in the Christian Reformed denomination, and in this case it originated from the “top.”
It is time, indeed past time, for the people of God to WAKE UP. Heed this sound of alarm. Do not be deceived. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, encouraged the church in Thessalonica when the deceivers came along, and I pray that these inspired words may be an encouragement to you: “Stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter” (II Thess. 2:15). Do not ignore this warning call. Beware of these new and improved teachings; their inspiration is not from God! Hold on brothers and sisters, hold on to the unchanging truth that we have received from our loving, unchanging God.
Rev. Vander Meulen attended Synod ’93 as a delegate from Classis Zeeland. His congregation, Eastmanville (MI) CRC has recently voted to withdraw from the CR denomination.