Pressure Points in the CRC Agenda

The winds of change are blowing.

Also in the CRC.

Because in the CRC also one innovation follows upon another. By this time even the most dyed-in-the-wool conservative must have become at least somewhat shockproof. Because finally one becomes at least a bit numbed by repeated efforts to update and to restructure the church, to get the staid CRC also to join the swinging seventies and to do her own thing.

Now a confession.

At least to me, it came as a shocker. The change on Divorce being recommended for adoption at the CRC 1973 Synod caught me, for one, completely off guard. No, I don’t want to be an alarmist. But there comes a time when we do need to be aroused, and there is reason to believe that such a time is now. Let me try to explain.

Historic Position – The historic position of the CRC, adopted officially in 1890, is that adultery is the only Biblical ground for divorce. Actually, as early as 1858, almost immediately after the organization of the CRC, that position was adopted as advice in case of persons divorced on unscriptural grounds and later remarried. It was advised that such persons be urged to separate and also to deprive them of membership if they refused. For two years, 1894–96, wilful desertion by an unbeliever was also regarded as a ground for divorce according to I Corinthians 7:15 – but for two years only. In 1956 it was decided that those guilty of unbiblical divorce, or who are divorced as the res lilt of their own adultery and remarried, may be received into membership if they show sorrow and genuine repentance during an adequate period of probation.

So, throughout all of her wrestling and agonizing with the difficult and delicate matters of marriage and divorce, the CRC has remained adamant in her recognition of “biblical” and “unbiblical” divorce. And, except for a brief two year period, adultery has been recognized as the one and only ground for a “biblical divorce.”

New Deal Proposed – Recommendations now coming to the CRC 1973 Synod include what might be called a new deal on the part of the church for those divorced on unscriptural grounds and remarried, and also for homosexuals. Elsewhere in this issue, Rev. John H. Piersma writes what makes very good sense about the later, so that, as an aside, little more than a reference to the recommendations about them is here in order.

A. That patient understanding compassion, and pastoral concern for the homosexual are recommend is, to be sure, good counsel. But, when the study committee proceeds to recommend that homosexual members should also be given the opportunity to serve in church offices as others are, good judgment, it seems to me, should demand that we call a halt. Kleptomaniacs, alcoholics, and drug addicts need the same patient understanding, compassion, and pastoral concern as the homosexual; but common sense should tell us that it is no kindness either to them or to the congregation to have them serve as ministers, elders, or deacons. The following excerpt from the study committee’s report with this almost unbelievable proposal is one of which especially the delegates to Synod should take careful note:

“Christians who are homosexual in their orientation are like all Christians called to discipleship and to the employment of their gifts in the cause of the kingdom. They should recognize that their sexuality is subordinate to their obligation to live in wholehearted surrender to Christ.

“By the same token, churches should recognize that their homosexual members are fellow-servants of Christ who are to be given opportunity to render within the offices and structures of the congregation the same service that is expected from heterosexuals [emphasis added]. The homosexual member must not be supposed to have less the gift of self-control in the face of sexual temptation than does the heterosexual. The relationship of love and trust within the congregation should be such that in instances where a members’ sexual propensity docs create a problem, the problem can be dealt with in the same way as are problems caused by the limitations and disorders of any other member” (Agenda, p. 498).

Does that make good sense? Is such a proposal realistic, good judgment, real kindness? The only conclusion to which I can come is that it would be irresponsible and inexcusable to follow such a recommendation as this. So much then about the homosexual.

B. The report of the study committee on Marriage Guidelines is found on pages 461-‘73 in the Agenda. The excerpts quoted from this report will indicate the change being recommended in the stand of the CRC on divorce and remarriage. To limit our quotes in this way does not mean, of course, that there are no other elements in the report that are commendable. Due appreciation for them is in order as we call attention to far less commendable aspects of the report.

1. First, note should be taken of certain items in the report under the heading: “Conclusions Especially Pertaining to Consistories.” Attention is called to the following recommendations:

a. “Consistories ought to recognize that there are neither ‘innocent’ parties in marital breakdown nor ‘biblical’ grounds for such breakdown.” Comment: This wholesale condemnation of all parties to divorce is open to question as is this sweeping assertion about no ‘biblical’ grounds.

b. “The consistories ought to recognize that in some cases of total prolonged marriage breakdown the proper approach may include legal acknowledgment of the death of the marriage by means of a writ of divorce.” Comment: Where does one find Biblical sanction for this except in the case of adultery?

c. “Consistories should understand that marital breakdown and divorce must not necessarily entail loss of church membership but ought to be pastorally dealt with in the same way as any other serious shortcoming.” Comment: Of course, excommunication is not required in all cases but that this is required in some cases should be beyond any doubt.

d. “Consistories ought to remember that divorced persons require 6rst of all help rather than condemnation and are urged to support divorced persons pastorally in a way similar to the manner they support members involved in other personal difficulties.” Comment: Does the help required of Consistories not include first of all a call to repentance which must necessarily go hand in hand with condemnation as prescribed by Scripture?

e. “Consistories should feel free to extend the blessing of the church to a second marriage if the persons concerned respond positively to pastoral guidance and care.” Comment: This is vague and general language that could very well lead to an open-door policy spelling the end of church discipline when such is required.

2. Next, careful attention should be given also to the following recommendations of the study committee:

a. “A clean distinction be made between ‘internal marital breakdown’ which is always wrong and ‘legal divorce’ which can be a last resort way out.” Comment: Apart from adultery no divorce may be justified in the light of Scripture even though it may be declared to be ‘legal’ by an edict of the State. Since “with God all things are possible,” Christians may and must believe that it is not impossible to repair and restore their marriage suffering from ‘internal breakdown.’

b. “Adultery be viewed in its broad meaning as marital infidelity.” Comment: In the body of its report, the study committee affirms that it “reemphasizes that adultery must be viewed in its broad meaning as marital infidelity—the breaking of fidelity which can happen in many ways. In that case it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to declare that one marriage partner is guilty and the other innocent in marital breakdown.” Comment: If adultery is now to be understood as having this “broad meaning,” then we may well expect the divorce rate among us to be accelerated rather than curbed.

c. “Talk of ‘biblical’ and ‘unbiblical’ divorce be discontinued as at best confusing.” Comment: If the teaching of Scripture is no longer to determine when a divorce is warranted and when it is not, whose judgment or standard is then to be substituted for that of the Bible?

d. “The practice of necessarily excluding a person guilty of so-called ‘unbiblical divorce’ from church membership be dropped.” Comment: The breakdown in church discipline, far too prevalent already, can be expected to become only worse if any statement as vague and broad as this would be adopted.

e. “More attention be given to developing Christian counseling centers to which pastors can both refer parishioners and from where they can enlist various resource personnel (Psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, ethicists, etc.) as consultants.” Comments: Due to their specialized training in the knowledge of Scripture, pastors with good judgment should be uniquely qualified as marriage counselors to members of the congregation for whose care they have been specifically charged by the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ. When pastors readily step aside from their calling and special responsibility in this and abdicate the position that is rightfully theirs in favor of “specialists” who do not have the same thorough and professional training in Bible knowledge, one need not be surprised if, in the case of marital problems and divorce, matters will go from bad to worse.

To be sure, the “specialists” mentioned do have their role and place in these matters, provided they are persons of Christian convictions. However, even these (and especially those who are non-Christians!) should not be allowed to usurp the place that rightfully belongs to the well-trained and judicious pastor of those in need of marriage counsel.

With all due regard for Christian psychologists or psychiatrists wholly committed to the teachings of Scripture as their norm, there is reason to believe that the warning sounded by Jay E. Adams of Westminster Theological Seminary should be given serious consideration. In his book, Competent to Counsel, Adams writes:

Mowrer [The Crisis in Psychiatry and Religion, p. 60] asks, ‘Has Evangelical religion sold its birthright for a mess of psychological pottage?’ The question is a penetrating one. Every conservative counselor must consider Mowrer’s question an implied challenge. Nearly all recent counseling books for ministers, even conservative ones, are written from the Freudian perspective in the sense that they rest largely upon the presuppositions of the Freudian ethic of non-responsibility. Where these are followed, the use of Freudian principles by ministers has served to perpetuate existing hostilities and resentment and has tended to broaden communication gaps by encouraging counselees to place blame upon others. Mental health institutes are conducted in order to persuade ministers that they cannot (more often the wording is ‘dare not’) help the ‘mentally ill.’ The big words at such conferences are ‘defer’ and ‘refer’ . . . This book strikes an entirely new note, a note which is long overdue. Rather than defer and refer to psychiatrists steeped in their humanistic dogma, ministers of the gospel and other Christian workers who have been called by God to help His people out of their distress, will be encouraged to reassume their privileges and responsibilities. Shall they defer and refer? Only as an exception, never as the rule, and then only to other more competent Christian workers. Their task is to confer. The thesis of this boo”k is that qualified Christian counselors properly trained in the Scriptures are competent to counsel—more competent than psychiatrists or anyone else.

“Leo Steiner in November 1958, speaking at Harvard, made this statement:

“The ministry makes a tremendous mistake when it swaps what it has for psychoanalytic dressing . . . . Where wil1 psychoanalysis be even 25 years from now? . . . . I predict it will take its place along with phrenology and mesmerism” (pp. 18, 19).

All of which should not be taken to mean, of course, that we are now ready to throw the child away with the bath water. But, we would indeed be well advised if we are careful and responsible enough to distinguish clearly between the one and the other.

Teaching of our Lord – Bedrock for the historic position of the CRC on divorce and remarriage is found to no small extent in the following teaching of our Lord as found in Matthew 19:9: “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery; and he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery.”

In making its recommendation that the CRC now adopt a new stand on divorce and remarriage, the study committee makes its comments also on this and other passages. Delegates to Synod, as well as the rest of us, would be well-advised to take careful note of what Calvin says on the Matthew 19:9 passage as follows:

“For it lies not in a man’s will to dissolve the bond of marriage, which the Lord wishes to remain settled; and thus she who occupies the bed of a lawful wife is a concubine.

“But an exception is added. A woman who commits adultery sets her husband free, for she cuts herself off from him as a rotten member. Those who think out other reasons for divorce, and want to be wiser than the heavenly Master, are rightly to be rejected. They want leprosy to be a just cause for divorce because not only the husband but also the children may be infected. But for my part, while advising a godly man not to come in contact with his wife if she is a leper, I do not permit him to divorce her. If anyone objects that those who cannot live a celibate life need a remedy so that they may not burn, I say that the remedy is not to be sought outside God’s Word. I also add that they will never lack the gift of continency if they give themselves to be ruled by the Lord and follow what He commands” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, A Harmony of the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Vol. II, a new Translation, 1972; Eerdmans Publishing Co., p. 246).

Paul K. Jewett of Fuller Theological Seminary has said: “As Luther was the prince of translators so Calvin was the prince of commentators. In fact, as an exegete—though by no means infallible—Calvin must be called a genius.” As this new position on divorce is now being dangled before us, it would be a tragic blunder indeed if we did not listen carefully to what Calvin and other giants in the Reformed faith have to say!