Robert D. Decker is professor of New Testament and Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
The Reformed Ecumenical Synod News Exchange(December 9, 1986) reports:
Despite numerous objections, which belied the actual outcome of the voting, the combi-synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN) and the Netherlands Reformed Church (NHK, State Church, R.D.) approved a document which declares that the two denominations are now in a “state of reunion.” Objections were raised especially by representatives from the Reformed Alliance (GB) in the NHK. Ten members of the Reformed Alliance declared in an open letter that the GKN should confess guilt for their breakaway from the national church in the late 19th century. (Afscheiding, 1834 and Doleantie, 1886. These two secession movements merged to form the GKN in 1892. R.D.) The decision, which was taken with an overwhelming majority, does not obligate local congregations that do not feel comfortable with each other to pursue union on the local level.
In 1990 the two denominations will be asked to decide on the structural form of the future church. The combi-synod also admitted the Evangelical-Lutheran Church as participant in “Together on the Way.”
The actions of the combi-synod need ratification by the synods of the two denominations. At the time this goes to press the GKN synod has given the ratification, but the synod of the NHK, not yet. When ratification is made by both synods, “Together on the Way” will become an irrevocable fact.
This action was a long time in coming and inevitable. Now that it has happened, however, it makes one sad. In effect the GKN wherein are the spiritual roots of most of us has repudiated the courageous stand our Reformed fathers, H. DeCock, A. Kuyper Sr., et. al., took in 1834 and 1886 and 1892.
One wonders whether the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church will follow suit.
At its General Assembly last June the Orthodox Presbyterian Church voted against the “Joining and Receiving” (J & R) of the Presbyterian Church in America. Now the Presbyterian Journal (December 3, 1986) reports:
Another invitation by the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) to become part of the PCA is apparently doomed.
The invitation, approved by the PCA’s general assembly in Philadelphia last June, needs the approval of three-fourths of the denomination’s presbyteries before being forwarded to the OPC. But by late November, with half the presbyteries having acted on the measure, 10 had already voted no. One more negative vote would kill the issue.
Many have seen the invitation as merely symbolic in any case, since a virtually identical proposal was rejected by the OPC earlier this year. And that point has been raised repeatedly in debate on the floors of the more than 20 PCA presbyteries which have acted on the matter.
In some cases, even those who favor some kind of union of the PCA and the OPC have argued against renewal of the invitation. Two prevalent themes have been that (1) it’s too soon to get back into the issue, and (2) the OPC should be spared the divisive influence such a renewed invitation would bring to that church . . . .
The Editor of the Presbyterian Journal, William S. Barker, urges the PCA to “keep the vision alive.” In the same issue of the Journal, Barker comments:
. . . Whatever the outcome of the PCA presbyteries’ vote on J & R, perhaps more can be accomplished towards a spirit of unity through fellowship at the concurrent General Assemblies to be held in Grand Rapids, Michigan this coming June. There will be one joint worship service of the five NAPARC denominations present at Calvin College (NAPARC stands for North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council. The Chr. Ref. Church is a member, R.D.) . . . . Probably of greater significance, however, will be the opportunity for PCA elders to visit the OPC Assembly, and vice versa. Perhaps the stereotypes will merely be confirmed, but you owe it to our own profession of the Lord’s desire for loving unity to pursue such fellowship.
Let’s keep the vision for a strong, continent-wide, sound Presbyterian church alive. Those of us in the PCA should keep the door open to the fellowship and unity professed just 13 years ago.
Observing all this from the outside, we have two observations: (1) while there are some differences between these two denominations, they are not significant enough to keep them apart and (2) these two churches, we think, will eventually unite. It just will not be as soon or as easily accomplished as first thought by those who promote union in both denominations.
There are those, even in Reformed circles, who would have us believe that the church of Rome has made significant changes in recent years. These argue that there should be more “dialogue” between Protestants and Catholics. Some in Reformed churches want to delete from the Heidelberg Catechism Q. & A. 80 which calls the “popish mass . . . a denial of the one sacrifice and sufferings of Jesus Christ, and an accursed idolatry.” Kenneth S. Kantzer writes:
In Protestant eyes, the Catholic church fosters a Marian piety that can only be called idolatrous—despite disclaimers such as that made by Pope John XXIII. Consider the following explicit declarations:
*Pope Pius IX (pope from 1846 to 1878): “God has committed to Mary the treasury of all good things, in order that everyone may know that through her are obtained every hope, every grace, and all salvation. For this is his will, that we obtain everything through Mary.”
*Pope Leo XIII, writing near the turn of the century: “As no man goes to the father but by the son, so no one goes to Christ except through his mother.”
*Cardinal Saint Alfonsus de Liguori, in The Glories of Mary, reproduced by the Redemptorist Fathers in 1931: Mary is called “the gate of heaven because no one can enter that blessed kingdom without passing through her.” In prayer Mary is addressed: “All power is given to thee in heaven and on earth.” Hence, “at the command of Mary all obey—even God.”
*Pope Pius XII, writing in 1953: “It is the will of God that we should have nothing which is not passed through the hands of Mary.”
*Contemporary Roman Catholic scholar Edward Schillebeeckx: “. . . Christ is the Mediator between God, the Father, and men; and . . . Mary is the Mediatrix between Christ and us.”
Of course, it would not be fair to hold the Catholic church responsible for extravagant claims made for Mary by her devoted but untaught worshippers. But none of the persons cited above was untaught [three were popes]. Also, as the more recent statements indicate, the official Catholic appreciation of Mary remains inappropriately high to this day . . . .” (Christianity Today, Dec. 12, 1986)
Kantzer continues in the article to remind us that the Roman Catholic Church still maintains as official doctrine several other heresies concerning Mary, viz.: The Immaculate Conception of Mary, The Perpetual Virginity of Mary, and the Bodily Assumption of the Virgin Mary. These heresies, Kantzer points out, are not based on Scripture, but on the Catholic error which teaches that Christ promised, “. . . infallibility to his church, to Peter and all his successors (the popes, R.D.) at Rome.”
Kantzer is correct. Let us not be duped! Rome has not changed. The Church, according to Rome, and not Scripture is the final and ultimate authority. Mary is worshipped. The mass remains an accursed idolatry.
Thank God for Martin Luther and his fellow reformers! Above all let us thank God for His only begotten Son, Jesus Our Lord and Savior: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)