Rev. VanBaren is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Loveland, Colorado.

Suffering for Christ’s Sake

0ne often hears of the persecution of Christians. Seldom, however, does it seem very close to us. Always persecution is of Christians far away and unknown to us personally. Recently Rev. J. Kortering, from Singapore, sent a letter to our ministers informing them of the difficult situation confronting Rev. Titus, with whom he has had close contact. I quote part of that information to give our readers an idea of the pressure and even persecution some face for maintaining what they believe to be the truths of God’s Word.

I have been keeping you posted on (a) situation in the life of Rev. Titus of Myanmar (Burma). I do this mostly so you can pray for this brother, who is so energetic for the Reformed faith and has to pay such a high cost. 

Titus returned to Singapore with the urging of his uncle, who is leader of the Evangelical Presbyterian Churches of Myanmar and also head-master of Far Eastern Fundamental School of Theology, that he ought to read other books than by PRC authors and decide where his theological position ought to be. He questioned whether he could be pastor in the EPC or teach in FEFST if he held to the A-mil and 5 points of Calvinism. Titus returned January 2 and felt so guilty for not coming “clean” with his uncle that he decided he had to telephone his uncle and tell him: no more reading, no more study; I am convicted in my conscience of these truths (and) I will bear the consequences.

There follows a report of telephone conversations between Rev. Titus and his uncle and father. The result was that his uncle has now refused to talk further by phone, and his father relayed the displeasure of his uncle. Rev. J. Kortering reports:

In the Burmese culture, to have a man as important as (Titus’) uncle tell his father that he had an unruly and rebellious son was most humiliating. Only yesterday, his father called Titus to tell him the latest. His uncle refuses to talk anymore with him; no more phone calls. Also that Titus will be excommunicated from his church and that he will not be allowed to each or teach again. His wife has to be out of the apartment at the college by (the) end of February or, as he said, “We will throw her out in the street.” 

So Titus has some big decisions to make. 

1. Should he talk to . . . where he is attending school to learn if his scholarship is canceled? More than likely it is. 

2. Should he return to Myanmar to defend himself before the churches or let it go?

3. Should he stay in Singapore and we help him financially so he can finish his study (he is three months away from completing his MDiv)? Then again, would . . . ever give him his degree even if he finishes?

4. Should he go to be with his wife and family, who must be suffering plenty of personal shame in this situation? 

Titus’ father told him that the family tie was too tight to leave .his uncle and join with Titus at this time. He is also dependent on . . . for money to run his orphanage. 

What Titus has learned is that the only Reformed system of government is that of the local church autonomy and. no men in the church should be “leaders” or executive officers. This always leads to hierarchy. Add to that the dependence on foreign money and the situation becomes almost impossible. 

Even then, if we take Titus under our wing and lead him into the URC (United Reformed Church) of Myanmar, he will need support, for he doesn’t have one penny to feed his family or meet their needs. If we don’t give him some money, he would return to Myanmar and eke out a starvation diet from other family members and more than likely become so physically weak that he would die young. It seems God has greater things for him than that. This the ERCS has to sort out now. 

The pastors will be meeting with Titus after the Chinese New Year . . . next Tuesday. 

Pray for the guidance of the Spirit that this young man can find some way to be used for the cause of the Reformed faith in Myanmar. 

I asked him how he was taking all of this. 

He said, “I have such sweet peace in my heart.”

Who of us have had to face such adversity because of that which we confess and believe? And who would respond as that young man did?

A “Solution” for a Divided Denomination?

The troubles in the Christian Reformed Church continue to grow. Now there is the proposal presented by Classis California South to stem the “trickle” of churches and individuals from leaving the CRC. Will it work? It appears to be more of a “band-aid” approach to a situation which requires major surgery.

(February 5, 1997) URNS -When Escondido CRC tried last year to get Classis California South to endorse the concept of a classis organized by theological affinity, the classis rejected the overture by a voice vote. This year, a similar overture from Escondido calling for four such classes rather than a single classis passed by a three- to- one margin at Classis California South’s January 15 meeting.

Since November 1995, the concept of a classis composed of churches organized on the basis of theology rather than geographical proximity has been a key part of the stated strategy of conservative Christian Reformed leaders who want to remain members of the denomination despite its 1995 decision to allow the ordination of women. Endorsed by the 1995 Interclassical Conference of CRC conservatives meeting in South Holland, Illinois, the concept was endorsed again by the November 1996 Interclassical Conference as an alternative to secession. 

Elder Keith VanderPol of Escondido CRC, who also serves as vice-president for development of Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido and has been charged by the Interclassical Conference with implementing the theological classis proposal, said he thought-the change in the classical vote reflected a recognition that something needed to be done to keep conservatives in the Christian Reformed denomination. 

“The positive vote at this point in my opinion merely points out that people are becoming sensitive to that fact that many churches would leave and or split if they are not provided a haven of rest within the denomination,” said VanderPol. “I think that was definitely on the minds of many people at the time of the vote.” 

The overture draws a close parallel between the proposed theological classes and the already-existing synodical decision allowing each of the CRC’s 47 classes to declare itself in favor of women’s ordination by declaring the relevant article of the CRC church order barring women’s ordination to be inoperative. If the overture is adopted by synod this June, the CRC General Secretary will be directed to “maintain a list of theologically identified classes as well as those which have declared ‘that the word male in Article 3-a of the Church Order is inoperative for their constituent churches and will publish that list annually, along with the presentation of candidates for the ministry in The Banner.’ (Acts of Synod 1996, p. 735, item ‘e’).” 

VanderPol said that, based on preliminary estimates, nearly a tenth of the CRC’s 841 organized churches could eventually end up requesting to join a classis composed of conservative churches opposed to the ordination of women. “I have 90 churches that have indicated a desire to carefully consider a theological classis,” said VanderPol. “With that number, we obviously hope we can have a pool of many more so we can in the end have a significant number of churches and existing classes.” 

According to VanderPol, the theological classes could-take two forms. Just as any of the CRC’s existing 47 classes can now declare itself to be in favor of women’s ordination, the overture would allow existing classes to declare themselves opposed to the ordination :of women and endorse the “United Reformed Affirmations, ” a series of statements drafted by the Interclassical Conference addressing current issues in the CRC. In addition, the overture provides for Synod 1997 to appoint a committee to implement the creation of new classes when necessary by September 1. If new classes are formed, they would “initially be geographically de

fined by and consist of those churches which have indicated their desire to join a theologically identified classis as noted in an addendum to be .added to this overture prior to Synod 1997″ and would “receive until January 1, 1998, without further need for classical or synodical action, any CRCNA church within its geographical boundaries agreeing with the above requirement and wishing to join.” 

The United Reformed Affirmations, an extended document adopted by the 1996 Interclassical Conference, addresses a number of other issues in addition to women in office. “It sets forth the historical position of the Christian Reformed denomination on issues such as the foundation of our faith and practice, inerrancy of Scripture, the church and its worship, its unity, matters of evangelism, homosexuality, feminine language for God, and women in the offices of the church, ” said VanderPol. 

De Moor warned that the effect of conservative churches joining theologically identified classes would be that the existing classes would lose theological accountability on the right and risk drifting into positions diametrically opposed to those of the conservatives. 

“What you’re doing by having a classis of theological affinity is to defeat the very purpose of a classis. It is to be a governing body where the leading of the spirit is discerned in matters that are not clearly taught by Scripture or the creed,” said De Moor. “We are saying it is a lovely airplane we have here, and we’re going to take the left wing and separate it from the right wing, and we’re going to make it fly. It can’t fly that way. In the life of the church you need theological accountability.” 

De Moor proposed the biblical model of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 as an example of how the church should settle disagreements. “I don’t think it would have helped the cause of Christ for Antioch to say if Jerusalem insists on circumcision, let’s just let them go their own way, we will be in our own classis and they will be in theirs,” said De Moor. “To me it’s a biblical model of mutual accountability and mutual deliberation we’re dealing with.” 

The Escondido overture would lead to further fragmentation rather than unity, said De Moor. “What is to prevent the starting of a classis based on the form of worship?” asked De Moor. “There is no stopping at that point. Where do you draw the line? I draw the line at the creeds. If a church goes outside the bounds of the creeds we’ve got a disciplinary case on our hands, but we never let each other go and we retain accountability to each other.”

One wonders: “What about corporate responsibility?” Are those who would become part of “conservative” classes really solving their problems? Their Synod has taken action for which the whole of the denomination is responsible. Do the “conservative” churches really believe that their proposal allows them to escape this responsibility?