No Room on the Denominational Plane – Revisited

Several years ago I wrote an article for the Mid-America Messenger entitled, “No Room on the Denominational Plane” (7/9, August, 1989). The article commented on the decision of Synod 1989 of the Christian Reformed Church not to include Mid· America Reformed Seminary on the denominational list of approved causes for offerings in the churches. Since I was unable to take the denominational plane for return flight home after the meetings of the synod, I used this incident as a kind of metaphor for synod’s decision not to approve Mid-America’s request for inclusion on the list of approved causes.

The Banner, the denominational magazine of the Christian Reformed Church. In this letter the editor informed us that he had “decided to discontinue running advertisements for your institution” because he was “concerned that running them will not serve to promote the unity of the Christian Reformed Church, or advance the church’s mission in the world.”

Though we ordinarily refrain from commenting on denominational developments in the Mid-America Messenger, we believe it is necessary to report this, if for no other reason than to provide our supporters the reason why there may be no further advertising on our part in The Banner. Since we often are asked why we do not use The Banner more often to run advertisements, our friends should be aware that it may now be because the pages of The Banner have been closed to us.

However, there is a more important reason for commenting on this action of the editor. It permits the opportunity to make several observations about the way the work of Mid-America Reformed Seminary is often improperly criticized or seriously misunderstood.



Fair play and proper procedure

One of the odd features of The Banner editor’s letter, refusing to place Mid-America advertisements, is the way it inappropriately charges the faculty, staff and students of Mid-America with unspecified offenses that allegedly are detrimental to the unity of the CRC and harmful to the church’s mission in the world.

These charges are inappropriate for a number of reasons. No attempt, of which I am aware, has been made by the editor to speak to any member of the faculty, staff or student body to ascertain the truth regarding our work or to communicate his concerns. Even were the truth of his charges against us conceded (and I do not concede them for a moment!), the editor, who claims to be a brother in the Lord and a colleague in the ordained ministry, has ignored the clear requirements of Matthew 18 and the obligations of the ninth commandment (see Lord’s Day 43 of the Heidelberg Catechism).

It is ironic that the editor, out of professed interest in the unity of the CRC, would ignore the admonition of Synod 1971 (reaffirmed by Synod 1991): “Consistories and individuals [are reminded] to refrain from acting on rumor or circulated reports in an official way without first inquiring whether the persons circulating such reports have themselves directly presented their grievances to the allegedly offending persons or institutions and sought redress through proper ecclesiastical channels.”

In short, the decision of the editor of The Banner exhibits little regard for fair play or proper procedure. The refusal to run advertisements for Mid-America seems strangely at odds with his professed interest in the unity of the CRC or the advancement of the mission of Christ’s church in the world today.

(Incidentally, I find it rather striking that the same publication that reports without editorial comment a Cree Indian praying to “Mother Earth” in public worship [Jan. 24, 1994] and a church’s holding a “Super Bowl event” in lieu of public worship on the Lord’s Day [Feb. 28, 1994], will not run a paid advertisement for Mid-America Reformed Seminary. Particularly when this kind of reporting is defended by noting that The Banner is not necessarily endorsing the news it reports [Mar. 7, 1994], the refusal to place our advertisement is perplexing!)

Promoting unity in the CRC

However, far more serious than the lack of fair play exhibited in the editor’s letter is his strange view of the unity of the CRC.

In the history of the Reformed churches in general, and the Christian Reformed church in particular, the unity of the church has always been understood to be a unity of confession. That which binds our churches together is their common confession of the truth of God’s Word, summarized in the “Three Forms of Unity.” For this reason, all office-bearers solemnly promise before God and His church to preserve the unity of the churches by maintaining the Confessions and defending the truth against error. Their single most important contribution to the church’s unity is precisely such promotion and defense of the church’s common confession. By contrast, the single greatest hindrance to the church’s unity is the failure of office-bearers to promote and defend the Confessions.

Now, no one who has observed the recent history of the CRC would deny that it is a badly divided and increasingly polarized denomination. But why is that the case? Is it because, as some would suggest, that is some sinister conspiracy on the part of denominational critics to disrupt the unity of an otherwise united denomination?

I think not. The cause is not difficult to pinpoint: we are no longer agreed about our confession of the truth of God’s Word or, to express it in the terms some prefer, our common understanding of the truth of God’s Word.

Because I know firsthand that Mid-America Reformed Seminary vigorously maintains and defends the historic Confessions of the CRC, I plead innocent on its behalf to the charge of causing division in the denomination. I can say without reservation that the faculty, staff and student body, whether Christian Reformed in denominational affiliation or not, are wholeheartedly committed to the preservation of this unity.

Thus, the only unity worth maintaining and defending is a unity of confession out of loyalty to Christ and His Word. That’s what the Belgic Confession, to which all office-bearers in the CRC subscribe, means when it says that the “truth is above all…therefore we reject with all our hearts whatsoever does not agree with this infallible rule” (Article 7).

The mission of the church

Perhaps the most distressing feature of the editor’s letter is his closing comment regarding the mission of Christ’s church in the world.

This comment is most distressing not only because it is obviously false but also because it destructively impugns the training provided by Mid-America Reformed Seminary and the commitment of all her staff and students to serve the Lord Jesus Christ and His church. No more insensitive and unkind allegation could possibly be made against all who labor at this school to prepare and be prepared for the ministry of the gospel of the kingdom in the church of Jesus Christ today.

Though it is difficult to answer this kind of idle and destructive comment, I would only ask the editor and others who would echo his charge that they take the trouble to acquaint themselves with the ministry of Mid-America and her students. Visit our campus. Attend classes with the students. Join them in our seasons of public assembly, meditation upon the Word of God and prayer in our chapels. Speak with our students, representing Christian Reformed, Presbyterian Church of America, Reformed Baptist and Independent Reformed churches. Then, if there is any evidence of a lack of love for our Savior, a flagging of zeal for His precious Word, and indifference to our glorious heritage in the Reformed Confessions, or an unwillingness to serve the church of Christ—show us specifically where we have fallen short and how we can make amends.

Meanwhile, we will continue to go on with the work to which the Lord has called us, trusting in His provision and waiting upon His mercy. I am reminded in this connection of some lovely words of John Calvin in a letter to Monsieur de Falais, a member of the Reformed church in Strasbourg: “[L]et us employ ourselves in his service, laboring without growing weary or losing courage, until he call us away into that blessed rest where we have contentment in himself, delighting ourselves in the labors we shall have undergone, receiving then the recompense of reward which shall be there revealed to us.” So be it!

Reprinted from the Mid-America Messenger, March, 1994.