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

The Reformed Church of Japan

The General Assembly of this denomination (9,000 members) is working on statements on evangelism and the doctrine of election. They hope to have these statements completed by their 50th anniversary in 1996. The RCJ is also working on contemporary supplements to its main confessional statement, the Westminster Confession. 

The Assembly also named a study committee to review a report on women in church office which had been adopted by the 1992 General Assembly. We have no idea what is stated in the 1992 document. We hope and pray that the RCJ will maintain the biblical teaching on this matter and not allow women to serve in church office. 

The Assembly established formal ecclesiastical relations with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in North America. In another action the Assembly addressed a letter to the government in which they expressed opposition to a government plan to construct a Shinto monument for Japanese soldiers who died in World War II. Shintoism is a native Japanese religion, which offered a rationale for earlier Japanese imperialism. 

According to the Rev. Richard Sytsma, a missionary of the Christian Reformed Church in North America and a fraternal delegate to the RCJ assembly, the denomination has a vigorous home mission program and is working in five outlying areas in Japan or its territories. 

REC News Exchange

A Significant Withdrawal

In January the Reformed Churches in South Africa (RCSA) terminated their membership in the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC). These churches suspended their membership in 1988, but postponed a final decision until their synod of this year. This withdrawal of the South African churches is significant when one considers the fact that this denomination was one of the founding members of the REC (formerly called Reformed Ecumenical Synod). The other founding members of the REC are the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN) and the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRC). Several smaller denominations have recently withdrawn from the REC, but this is the first of the larger, founding member churches to withdraw. 

The reason given for the withdrawal was the membership of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands in the REC. The RCN, the South African churches charged, no longer shared the same fundamental beliefs. The RCSA also expressed their dissatisfaction with the REC’s toleration of membership in both the REC and the World Council of Churches. The Dutch churches are members of the WCC. 

The RCSA did not accept a proposal to unite with two black daughter denominations. They instead requested further conversations. The advisory committee of the synod remarked that deep-seated differences existed, and that forcing union would have serious consequences for the churches. The proposal for unity called for the three national synods to become one. The three national synods are presently defined by race and language. The synod decided that such a union was not essential to the nature of the church. This matter will be reviewed at the next synod which meets in three years. 

The RCSA reported a stalemate in their relationship with the CRC. The CRC has suspended bi-lateral relations with the South African churches, and the latter said that they had made no progress in the discussions since 1991. The synod instructed its ecumenical delegates to seek new relationships with other denominations. 

REC News Exchange

An Explanation is in Order

So it is with the merging churches in the Netherlands. The two Reformed denominations and the Lutheran who are involved in “together on the way,” have produced a booklet called Church Conversations, which deals with issues that have surfaced during the union process. It covers three basic areas, namely, the confessions, birth membership, and the idea of the church of the fatherland. In the January issue of Kerkinformatie, B. Wallet, the secretary of the union process, outlined the basic ideas. 

Wallet admitted that the Reformed confessions were a dead letter for many church members. For a minority they have remained the basic summaries of the faith and have current relevance. The booklet suggests that the members look at the church from the center. That is, they should recognize that through the preaching of the Word and celebration of the sacraments the church confesses salvation in Christ. From there members could recognize the dated character of the confessions, whether they fully agree or not. Furthermore, Wallet argues, the church says more in its praise and worship, in its prophetic witness, in its priestly prayer and diaconal deeds than ever can be put in words in a confession. 

In the Netherlands Reformed Church (NRC) there is a category of members called birth members. These are people who have loosely associated with the church, but have never been baptized. The NRC created this category to make people eligible for the church’s nursing homes. Wallet suggests that the nature of the church should be God’s electing action through the Word and sacrament (Whatever this means?! RDD). Grace is the watchword of the church. When thinking from this center, Wallet says, one understands that the church is not a closed community. Wallet may write and say as he pleases, but the fact is that the church is closed to all who refuse to repent of their sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ! 

The question of the church of the fatherland is one of history. History is the terrain where God works and makes His salvation real. There is a firm belief among some NRC members that the Reformation in the lowlands was a place where the hand of God was present. The church that arose there ought to be seen as something God planted. 

As we commented previously, this union of the three Dutch churches does not bode well for the future of Reformed faith in the land of our fathers.

REC News Exchange

Noted American Cleric Dies

Norman Vincent Peale, a prolific writer and considered by many to be the patriarch of the twentieth-century self-help movement, died the day before Christmas at his farm north of New York City. Peale had suffered a stroke a few weeks earlier. He was 95 years old. 

Ordained a Methodist, he transferred to the Reformed Church in America (RCA) when he became pastor of the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. Peale served there from 1932 until he retired in 1984. 

Dr. Peale is probably best known for his book, The Power of Positive Thinking. This book, published in 1952, remained on the best-seller list for more than three years. 

Peale was a member of the RCA. But was he Reformed in his thinking? Hardly. His biographer, Carol V. R. George, wrote, “He knew that to talk about sin, suffering, and guilt was not going to produce the numbers he wanted.” American religious historian, Randall Balmer, is quoted as saying, “His genius was in the simplicity of his message . . . that message fit the tenor of the times in the middle decades of this century. It was a message of hope, optimism, and American middle-class values.” 

Would to God it had been the message of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ! 

Christianity Today