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South African Church Breaks from R.E.S.

The Christian News, Feb. 18, 1985, (and other publications) reports the break of the largest Reformed Church in South Africa from the R.E.S.:

The largest white Dutch Reformed body in South Africa recently suspended its membership in the Reformed Ecumenical Synod (RES), a conservative international alliance with headquarters in Grand Rapids, Mich. 

But a smaller South African church has decided to stay in the world Reformed group, by an 80-50 vote of its national synod. 

The decision of the small but influential Reformed Church in South Africa (known in Afrikaans as the Gereformeerde Kerk, or GK) to retain its membership is an indication of the sharp divisions among pro-government Afrikaans-speaking churches on whether to break ties with international ecumenical bodies. 

Most major leaders in the South African government’s ruling Nationalist Party are Afrikaners—descendants of Dutch settlers—and members of the most powerful church in the country, the 1.5 million-member Dutch Reformed Church, (in Afrikaans, the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk, or NGK). 

In December, the big denomination temporarily suspended its membership in the Reformed Ecumenical Synod. The action was taken by the NGK’s 12-member plenary executive, a top decision-making group. 

The NGK’s suspension of its membership was widely regarded as a reaction to a resolution passed last August by the Reformed Ecumenical Synod. Meeting in Chicago, the international alliance declared theological justification of apartheid (the South African doctrine of racial separatism) to be a heresy. 

The theologically conservative RBS gave the two white South African churches until 1986 to reassess their failure to oppose South Africa’s racial policies. 

In explaining the decision to suspend membership in the international group, the NGK gave four reasons:

—It objects to the organization’s failure to make “nonmembership in the Word Council of Churches” a condition of membership in the Reformed Ecumenical Synod. 

—The NGK objects to the fact that the Reformed Church in the Netherlands continues to hold membership in RES. Conflict has arisen in the RBS over the Netherlands church because it belongs to the World Council of Churches and allows the ordination of homosexual persons. 

—The NGK claims that the sums assessed member churches for support of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod are too high. The NGK, as the largest member, pays $30,000 a year, or 2 cents per member, accounting for 21 percent of the organization’s budget. 

—The NGK charges that when the RES rejected a proposal for launching a four-year study rather than immediately issuing a condemnation of theological support for apartheid, the organization violated its own constitution . . . . 

. . . To withdraw completely from membership in the international group, the NGK’s general synod of 600-700 representatives would have to approve the move by a two-thirds majority. “It’s questionable if they can get that. I think there is hope,” said Mr. Schrotenboer. 

The Reformed Ecumenical Synod has 35 member churches of Reformed and Presbyterian traditions, representing 5.5 million Christians. It represents a more conservative, evangelical strain of Calvinism than the larger World Alliance of Reformed Churches. However, two-thirds of its member churches are also members of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. 

Sixty percent of RES member bodies are based in four southern African countries—South Africa, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

So the struggle against the apartheid “heresy” continues. While the Reformed Church in the Netherlands continues a member in good standing in the R.E.S., with its membership in the World Council of Churches, with its professing homosexual members, with its women ministers (at least one unmarried though having a child and living with her boyfriend), the apartheid “heresy” has been firmly dealt with by the R.E.S.—now with the above-mentioned consequences. Doubtlessly, we’ve not heard the last of all of this.

Some Reformed Leaders on Abortion

The Christian Renewal, January 7, 1985, presents a box of short quotes from leaders within the Reformed churches concerning the issue of abortion. If these short quotes are representative of their views on abortion, surely there is reason for deep concern—for there is no interest expressed in what Scripture teaches, except to advocate a position which is also a violation of the sixth command.

It is ironic that choosing against the “cruel consequences of absolutism” in reality means choosing death for the unborn—specially those children who are not perfectly formed. But is this view advocated by reformed leaders expressive of the love and justice practiced by Mother Teresa? Is it not the cold and calculating “love and justice” of a faceless humanism? 

Lewis B. Smedes—in his book, Mere Morality: “If we pass laws on the premise that a fetus is a person from conception, will we be led to cruel and crazy positions that few responsible people would wish to defend?” (p. 142). 

“We must . . . prevent the anti-abortion crusade from carrying society to the cruel consequences of its own absolutism” (p. 142.) 

Smedes’ Solution: (1) Abortion should be legally permitted during the first six weeks of pregnancy. (2) Abortion should be severely restricted after the first six weeks and through the twelfth week. (3) Abortion at the third month should be a crime, “a crime for which extenuating circumstances might recommend suspension of judgment.”

Andrew Kuyvenhoven—in The Banner: Kuyvenhoven summarizes Smedes’ position as outlined in the July 18, 1983 issue of The Banner and writes, “I recommend thoughtful analysis of Smedes’ argument.” 

Kuyvenhoven’s Solution: “We can help the people of our countries with a proposal (abortion up to three months) that can win wide support.” 

James Olthuis—in Catalyst: “I don’t like the idea of absolute principles because it suggests that there can be more than one absolute . . . .” (Nov. 1983). 

Olthuis’ Solution: “Indeed, the mother does have the right to exercise her call by choosing not to bear a child . . . the question of making abortion legal or illegal depends largely on your view of the state and on what is flexible in a pluralistic society.” 

“If we know that what is developing in the womb will probably (emphasis added) lead to a human vegetable, we are called to alleviate suffering and living death” (Catalyst, Nov. 1983). 

H.M. Kuitert—in Gezond Gezin, Oct. 1969, “If a woman absolutely does not want any more children, then she has the absolute right to have an abortion.” 

“During the first months after conception life is discernible to the biologists only. As long as it is no more, it is ‘value-indifferent’ or ‘value-free.'” 

Kuitert’s Solution: Kuitert does not have to justify the need for abortion since abortion is not an ethical problem for him. It is the woman who must decide. Not God’s Word but the individual is the norm for human activity.

If these positions are held in Reformed circles, there is no more any basis for opposition to the crime of abortion today. One expects support for abortion from a wicked world (though also there, there are many who denounce it for other than Scriptural reasons); but one is appalled when some of the thinking of the abortionists enters into the thought and writings of those called “Reformed”!

And…Euthanasia…

The Calvinist Contact, Jan. 18, 1985, presents an Euthanasia report submitted to GKN:

A decision to terminate life in situations where recovery is no longer possible can be justified from a Christian perspective. This is the conclusion reached in “Euthanasie en Pastoraat,” a report submitted to the Synod of the Gereformeerde Kerken of the Netherlands (GKN). The report concerns itself with the question of whether under certain circumstances Christians may allow life to come to an end, and whether such a decision can be biblically defended. 

The report makes no distinction between passive and active euthanasia. The former involves the terminating of life through the discontinuation of life support systems. The latter involves terminating life by means of lethal drugs, injections, etc. Though it recognizes a vast difference between the two types, the report concerns itself only with the responsibility involved in accelerating the process of death. 

In coming to its conclusions, the report dealt with the following considerations: 

1. People have increasing and far-reaching control over many aspects of their lives. Couples determine, for the most part, whether or not they wish to have children and when. Choices are made regarding education and occupation, marriage and divorce. 

2. “Life” is more than a biological term. Discussions considering whether humans may have control over their lives are often negatively judged in many Christian circles. Life is considered to be a creation of God, and humans may not willfully put an end to it. However, the report states that God is the One who grants life in a manner different than our mothers who also on a certain day grant us life. Nonetheless, our life is a gift of God. This is brought to expression in the belief that we are dependent on God for life. In spite of everything that happens, the believer affirms that life is a gift, and a task. It is also something to be thankful for. 

3. A situation can arise when death is more preferable than life; a situation in which the confession that life is a gift sounds like an absurdity. 

4. The commandment “Thou shalt not kill” is for humans, and not the other way around. The commandments mark the parameters in which human existence is possible. If they are used to maintain an inhuman situation, they cease to mark the parameters defining the possibility for human life. cf.

Mark 2:23-28.

5. This leads to the belief that the commandments, particularly the sixth commandment, do not concern themselves with an abstract notion of life. Instead, they are concerned with the protection of living persons. A deplorable and hopeless situation is not, according to the biblical promise, the meaning of life: 

6. It is precisely from the gospel of the resurrection that death becomes relativized. Through it we become liberated from a convulsive idolization of life. 

7. In light of the Bible, it is impossible in the natural course of things to view a disease process, for example, simply as the will of God.

Though the above is not yet adopted (it might be after two years’ wait), it does indicate the trend in the churches—approving a form of abortion all the way to finding “good” reasons for euthanasia.