Is the RCA becoming CRC?

Perhaps you read the recent announcement of a new Coordinator of Multi-Racial Initiatives and Social Justice. This appointment was announced by the Director of Congregational Mission. I haven’t mentioned names because the persons aren’t directly involved in my comment. I expect that Earl James is a terrific person and Ken Eriks is a faithful servant. At issue is a profound shift in Reformed practice.

This position was once the Office of Social Witness. That was a position within the GSC, but was an expression of the General Synod. The announcement of the new office was by the Director of Congregational Mission. Social Justice has now come under “congregational mission.” We’ve lost Article 36 of the Belgic! And we’re becoming Christian Reformed (they changed Article 36 if you recall).

The Reformed vision we lived under understood God working through both the church and the magistrates. The “government” was/is God’s servant, whether it recognizes it or not. The church witnesses to the state to God’s witness in scripture. The church does this as part of its prophetic witness. A more “Christian Reformed” approach would have individual members of the church witness as part of their vocation. The church itself would not directly involve itself, as an institution, in the matters of government or culture.

By subsuming Social Justice under “congregational missions,” the General Synod has backed away from one of its tasks and placed it in the hands of local congregations. Part of what it means to be the church is “proclaiming God’s promise and commands to all the world.” We still have Article 36!

This is where the Carver model begins to break down seriously. This shift is a profound shift in policy, one not approved by the General Synod, and hence violates the church order. The order requires that “the General Synod alone shall determine denominational policy.”

I don’t gainsay the CRC in their approach. It is their approach and they work within it. My issue is that is seems that very few people in the RCA know that this shift is taking place. Does anyone know that this shift is taking place? Does anyone care? It makes for a sad day in a tradition that has understood its practice as “historic and faithful.”

Al Janssen

4 thoughts on “Is the RCA becoming CRC?

  1. To answer your questions:I think that folks such as those from the CI have helped many to notice. I also think that there are many who do care. But I also think there are many who hold a kind of defeated apathy–“I’m not gonna make any difference. Its gonna happen anyway. Why bother fighting.”Just my impressions.Blessings, RogueMonk

  2. Right on, Al. Soon we will get a new version of the Standards, in which Article 36 will be footnoted, and then deleted all together. After all, that is what happened to Q&A # 80 of the Heidelberg Catechism version the RCA now distributes….IThe reasons of the latter was not theological, but a desire to ‘be nice’ and get rid of calling the Mass as codified by Trent a ‘condemnable idolatry’ Right. That will work. Can you imagine Paul Benedict saying, Oops, the anathemas of Trent were not very nice after all. So let’s stop referring to them!! After all, it was the Council’s specific anathema (see minutes of the Trent Council’s session 22) against the Reformer’s view of the Lord’s Supper that demanded a reply. There is indeed more than just a ‘difference in form’ between the sacrifice on Calvary and at the Mass! The second German edition of the HC retorts in almost the same coinage as Trent (and the third edition, which the RCA formally adopted, actually makes a more balanced case.To some, that sort of language of fact is not ‘helpful.’It was clear to the Reformers (we have correspondence by Olivianus about this), that this Q&A was necessary to make clear that the argumentation of Trent was not based on Scripture (even though Malachi1 and I Cor 10 get quoted), but on a general argument from mystery religions! (Eliade would have sided with them)! The reformers based their understanding of ‘sacrifice’ not on ‘sin’ offerings, but on the biblical ‘thanksgiving’ ritual offerings. Hence the language of ‘sacrifice of thanksgiving’ is NOT the same as the sacrifice on the cross.Their reply was clear testimony, I.e. is was missional!!!. To first disarm and than delete Q&A 80 is an action that confuses mission and missile.So what about Article 36?By (inadvertently, no less) editing the Belgic Confession we defang and defame our witness.A Confessing stance is at least an equally worthy Gestalt of Testimony as is a Missional Stance, given Scriptural and historical witness. As for history, should Luther have said ‘I’ll go away’, instead of ‘Here I stand’? Should Jesus not have said ‘You say that I AM,’ but ‘Let me share with you….?’ The irony that a revisioning of Social Witness (i.e. testimony) would lead to a DE-testimonization of a confessional standard boggles the mind and heart. Entering the cloud of unknowing is a spiritual discipline that requires great caution. Here too, Calvin and Luther had more to say over against those who abandoned tradition than against the Christian tradition as promulgated by Rome.As a child, I would bicycle twice-a-day past an ‘Article 36’ church, a thriving congregation (yes, part of our multiplying Reformed heritage…!). Was that a sign of relevance or irrelevance? I know I am getting older; –but wiser?Okke

  3. Al, I find your general point intriguing. I agree that there are regrettable consequences, or presuppositions, to understanding social justice as a function of congregational mission.But you lost me with your references to the Belgic and the CRC. In looking up article 36, I find that the CRCs changed one paragraph (in 1958, making it a little hard for me to “recall” [wink]):”And the government’s task is not limited to caring for and watching over the public domain but extends also to upholding the sacred ministry, with a view to removing and destroying all idolatry and false worship of the Antichrist; to promoting the kingdom of Jesus Christ; and to furthering the preaching of the gospel everywhere; to the end that God may be honored and served by everyone,as he requires in his Word.”And replaced it with this:”They [viz., “the civil rulers”] should do it in order that the Word of God may have free course; the kingdom of Jesus Christ may make progress; and every anti-Christian power may be resisted.”I am not seeing how what was replaced, or the replacement itself, go to support your main point, given that the rest of article 36 remains in the CRC version (except for some stuff on Anabaptists and anarchists).Actually, I am not all that eager to affirm the supplanted paragraph.I could use some guidance here.Peace,Dan

  4. Dan,Article 36, unchanged, worked from a notion that the sovereign God works through both the government and the church. The “magistrates” are servants of God, whether they know it or acknowledge it (Rom 13). The church does not do the work of civil leaders, that’s their vocation. The church’s task, in part, is to remind the government of what God requires. The church has a prophetic role, if you will.The “CRC” view (I use the quotes because I admit that I’m charicaturing a bit) holds to a more neutral view of the state (more modern, if you will). The church influences the government through individual Christians. The Christian legislator would do her/his work as Christian. But the state itself does not have to answer to God, per se. The “social witness” of the church is now turned inward. Our job is to bring God’s word to bear to the individual believer. That, of course, is true. But the old Reformed idea was and is much broader than that. The shift of a staff position from a more outward witness to the “powers” to a more inward witness to our own members (as they are to pursue their public vocation) is in fact, I argue, a shift away from the Belgic’s view and so represents a profound policy move. One that, I suspect, few people even notice.Al

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