On December 8, 1993 in Chino, California, I attended the 15th in a series of 22 “Listening Conferences” put on by the Office of the Executive Director of Ministries of the Christian Reformed Church. This is the event that includes the controversial “understanding opinions” exercise. The understanding opinion portion of the conference has drawn charges of relativism which have clearly struck a nerve with conference organizers. Reinder Klein, who with his wife Diane act as facilitators for the evening, expressed what could only be described as outrage at the charge leveled in The Outlook magazine and elsewhere, of moral relativism. Holding up a Bible, he contended that moral relativists do not believe in the existence of moral absolutes. He on the other hand, proclaimed his belief in the absolute truth of Scripture, thereby rendering untrue the charge that he is promoting moral relativism.
The fact of the matter is that the whole purpose of the “understanding opinions” exercise is to impress upon conference participants that absolute truth is really the collective opinion of the “community.” As one conference participant pointedly observed, one may profess that the Bible is absolute truth, but of the truth amounts to no more than community opinion, what you have is practical relativism. No satisfactory answer was forthcoming from Mr. Klein on this observation.
The stated purpose of the conference was to answer two questions: “What characteristics should mark the Christian Reformed Church by the turn of the century?” and “What needs do you now see which the Christian Reformed Church should be addressing by the turn of the century?” The conference reached consensus on the basic outline of what it takes to have a successful denomination. A sound foundation built on the truth of Scripture, the group decided, was absolutely essential for carrying out the responsibilities of the church both for evangelism. and training and equipping our members for service.
The outline was not the problem; the problem lay in how one defines the the truth of Scripture. Here there was a clear difference of opinion. Dr. Borgdorff, in an answer to a question, observed that the Christian Reformed Church and Reformed theology has never claimed that the Bible is inerrant. He said the whole concept of the inerrancy of Scripture is a fundamentalist idea and fundamentalism, he felt, could really be more of a threat to the Christian Reformed Church than liberalism.
Being one who believes that the Bible is the very word of God in written form, and believing as I do that God cannot lie, and therefore believing that the Bible is inerrant, apparently makes me unreformed and a danger to the Christian Reformed Church.
I find it strange that the Christian Reformed Church leadership condemns moral relativism and then engages in at least practical relativism. They condemn fundamentalism and yet tolerate the undeniable trend in the Christian Reformed Church toward more progressive, man focused worship. The synod in 1993 (Acts of Synod ‘93, p. 613) warns the churches against secular feminism but approves women’s ordination thereby giving in to feminist demands. All the while the leadership calls this behavior Reformed and labels those who believe in the inerrancy of Scripture as unreformed. How come I feel that my denomination has been hi-jacked?
While the denominational leadership obviously considers these conferences important, I doubt that they will accomplish very much. The “understanding opinions” exercise, while smacking of at least practical relativism, resulted more in justifying the facilitators’ position, rather than persuading the participants to change their minds. I did appreciate the opportunity to talk directly to some of the denomination’s top people, and while I found myself in agreement with them on the mission of the church, on the essential nature of the Biblical foundation of the church, I discovered major disagreement. One of us is definitely wrong.
The trail the Christian Reformed Church appears to be heading down is not a new one; it has been blazed by the mainline liberal denominations to their peril. May God give the Christian Reformed Church the wisdom and courage to get off this road to destruction before it is too late.
Geoffrey Vanden Heuvel is a dairyman from Chino, California. He serves on the Board of Directors of a variety of industry, civic and governmental organizations. He also writes a monthly column about the California dairy industry for a national dairy publication. He serves as a deacon at the First Christian Reformed Church of Chino, California, and is the son of The Outlook editors. He and his wife, Darlene (Verhoeven) have four children.