Prof. Decker is professor of Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.

ICHABOD!

Such is the strange name which the wife of Phinehas, the son of Eli, gave to her newborn son. Times were bad in Israel. It was the time of transition from the period of the judges to that of the kings. Eli, who judged Israel for forty years and who was succeeded by Samuel, was weak at best. His two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were completely profane. The worship of the tabernacle was corrupted. On account of all this the Lord announced a terrible word of judgment upon Eli and his family (I Samuel 2:27-36). Shortly after this, Israel was soundly defeated by the Philistines. In the battle Hophni and Phinehas were killed. What was much worse, the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant (I Samuel 4). Upon hearing that the Ark had been taken, Eli fell backward from his chair and broke his neck and died. When the wife of Phinehas heard of the deaths of Eli and her husband, and was told that the Ark was taken by the Philistines, she went into labor and gave birth to a son. With her dying breath she named him Ichabod, saying, “. . . the glory is departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken” (I Sam. 4:21-22).

I thought of this sad bit of Bible history as I read about the current condition of the church in Geneva, Switzerland. The name Ichabod could aptly be placed on the city limits signs of Geneva.

Geneva is where John Calvin labored and preached for many years. It was one of the leading centers of the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. For many years after Calvin’s death it continued in that role. Many Reformed pastors, also those in the lowlands, received their training in Geneva. Calvin’s influence is unmistakable in the Belgic Confession.

What is the current condition of the church in Geneva? It’s losing members rapidly, according to a recent survey. In Geneva and Zurich the Reformed churches are losing 2,500 members every year. Half of those leaving are young people between twenty and thirty-five years old. In Basal, the church is only half the size it was thirty years ago. In Switzerland, citizenship and church membership used to be nearly the same. Today, we are told, only 2.75 million of the 6.8 million Swiss are enrolled as church members.

The survey also showed that, even among church members, many have beliefs rooted in nature religions or occult practices. Almost three out of four members say they rarely attend church. One of every four says he is considering leaving. And 62% say they do no think their religion (that of the Reformed church) is the only true faith.

Ichabod! Indeed, the glory has departed from Geneva! What is so sad and tragic about all this is that the name Ichabod could aptly be placed over the doors of many Reformed and Presbyterian churches throughout the world, churches that not very long ago still confessed the Reformed faith as staunchly as the church of Calvin’s Geneva once did.

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GKN Admits Children to the Lord’s Supper

The Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN) decided that local congregations may admit children to the Lord’s Supper. In 1977 the RCN said churches should not hinder a person from coming to the Lord’s Supper, if four conditions are met. In practice, about a third of the RCN congregations now have children participating. The synod’s decision in November was a decision to change the church order to conform to current practice in the congregations. The church order now says that, as a rule, the Lord’s Supper is given to those who have publicly professed their faith, but churches may make exceptions when the conditions of 1977 are followed. This change in the church order will need approval from the following synod.

Whether the following synod approves or disapproves, it is not likely that the congregations will alter their current practice.

How is it possible for a young child to examine himself, eat and drink worthily, and properly discern the Lord’s body?

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Resistance to “TOGETHER ON THE WAY”

Over ten years ago a unification process, know as Together on the Way (Samen op Weg), was initiated among three Dutch denominations. These three churches are the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (which seceded from the State church in 1834 and merged with Dr. A. Kuyper’s “grieving” in 1892), the Netherlands Reformed Church (the state church), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Netherlands. The Netherlands Reformed Church (NRC) is the largest of the three denominations.

The Reformed Alliance (Gereformeerde Bond) is offering strong objections to the union process of the three churches. The Alliance is a large group of ministers, consistories, and congregations within the NRC. In fact it represents approximately one-third of all members in the NRC. The Alliance is a more strictly orthodox wing of the NRC.

In November of last year some 1600 members of the Alliance gathered to hear objections to the new church order which the three uniting churches had adopted at a combined synod meeting in October. Some of their objections have to do with the confessions. They objected that two documents were included in the church order which are contradictory, namely theCanons of Dordt and the Concord of Leuenberg. They also objected that the confessions were now said to be “in community with the confessions of the forefathers.” Alliance members view this phrase as a downgrading of the status of the confessions.

The Alliance further noted that the church order allows baptized members to partake of the Lord’s Supper and to hold church office. These church regulations, as well as the omission of any mention of marriage, will bring problems, according to the Alliance.

For all of their strong and weighty objections to these matters, as well as to other departures over the years in the NRC, the Alliance members are strongly attached to the NRC. They describe it as planted by God in their land. In an account of these events, Prof. Klass Runia commented that the Alliance cannot leave their denomination. They sit between two equally hot fires, he said. J. van der Graaf, the Secretary of the Alliance, commented on their predicament, “We cannot go, and we cannot go along.” Runia says this means the Alliance cannot leave the NRC, but they cannot accept the union either.

There are many good preachers within the Alliance. Undersigned knows one of them personally, the Reverence Dr. C. Tucker, who was a guest lecturer at our seminary a few years ago. The members of the Alliance can be characterized as sincere, devout, Reformed Christians. For years now they have been valiantly trying to stem the tide of liberalism in the NRC. But has the Alliance changed the course of the NRC? Not one bit!

Our question to the brothers and sisters of the Alliance is, why do you not leave the NRC? We could put it another way, how can you in good conscience remain in the NRC? It certainly cannot be said of the NRC that she is Reformed according to the Confessions. The Belgic Confession says, “that everyone is bound to join himself to the true church” (Article 28). The Belgic Confession insists that the marks of the true church are these: “if the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if she maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin: in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church” (Article 29). The Article continues, “Hereby the true church may certainly be known, from which no man has a right separate himself.” The Alliance by its very existence admits that the above cannot be said of the NRC. How can they remain?

Let this be a lesson to all of us in these days. How does one determine in which church he or she belongs? Look for the three marks. Nothing less, nothing more!

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