Rev. Ibe is the pastor of the Berean PRC in the Philippines
On July 3, 2022, a conference was held at Berean PRC in Antipolo City, Philippines. The theme of the conference was in line with the controversy that has taken place within the Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRCA)—“Conference on Reformed Theology: Doctrinal Development Since Schism.” From the time that the controversy erupted, a series of events (especially the schism in 2021) and doctrinal issues developed as well. This is one of the reasons the Protestant Reformed Churches in the Philippines (PRCP) asked her sister-church, the PRCA through her Contact Committee, to co-host a conference that would shed light on the controversy, including its ongoing development, focusing on the doctrinal charges hurled by the schismatics and their continuous impact within the PRCA.
We, the PRCP, a sister-church of the PRCA, are aware of the controversy and have been following its development. Thus, we wanted to hear a presentation of the controversy, which brought so much pain and troubles in the PRCA, and in ours as well, to help us understand it better. Through the cooperation and correspondence of the PRCA and PRCP’s Contact Committees, the said conference was realized in our midst. God be praised!
Committee 1, the Contact Committee of PRCP, facilitated the conference with the help of the Councils of Berean and Provident PRC. The committee asked the help of the Men and Women Society of Berean to take the oversight of the physical preparations for this conference, such as the venue/facilities, food, and refreshments, among other things. The program was well organized and the flow of the conference was smooth throughout.
The conference was divided into three speeches—two by the guest speakers coming from the PRCA: Revs. James Laning (Hull PRC, IA) and William Langerak (Trinity PRC, Hudsonville), and another by Rev. Daniel Kleyn (PRCA missionary to the Philippines).
As far as the speeches were concerned, the speakers did a very good job in presenting each of the topics assigned to them. The content was detailed and factual. All issues were dealt with and clearly explained and justified. All three speakers’ approach to each topic was biblical, confessional, and thus truly Reformed, for which we are grateful to the Lord.
Rev. Laning delivered his speech on the place, distinction, and relation of “Repentance and Good Works” in the life of the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. Rev. Laning emphasized the fact that both “repentance and good works” are neither a condition to God’s continued blessings upon the children of Jehovah, nor a prerequisite to God’s activity of continued care, guidance, and preservation of the saints in this life unto the world without end, but are rather God’s gift and thus gracious fruit of Christ’s accomplished salvation on the cross at Calvary.
Rev. Langerak delivered his speech on “The Covenant, Fellowship, and Good Works.” Rev. Langerak carefully and faithfully laid down that good works are “the believer’s fellowship with God and not the way unto fellowship of God” (emphasis: WL). This means that “the obedience we gratefully give in a life of good works according to the power of His Spirit working in us is never a prerequisite of, or a condition unto, or the basis for, or an instrument unto, or the way unto… the covenant relationship” with Jehovah God. To state this positively, “obedience is the life of the covenant as God’s justified and sanctified friend-servants delight in walking in obedient friendship with their Friend-Sovereign to whom they are beholden for all the good works they do, and not He to them….”
Rev. Langerak also explained that the use of the phrase “in the way of” in connection with God’s fellowship in His blessed, gracious covenant established with His elect in Christ is biblical, confessional, and thus, Reformed. Proverbs 12:28 and 16:31 were cited and Canons of Dordt, 1.8 “He hath chosen us from eternity… to salvation and the way of salvation, which He hath ordained that we should walk therein.” John Calvin on the same subject stated thus, “There will be no impropriety in considering holiness of life as the way, not indeed the way which gives access to the glory of the heavenly kingdom, but a way by which God conducts his elect to the manifestation of that kingdom, since his good pleasure is to glorify those whom he has sanctified” (Institutes, 3.18.4). Rev. Langerak went on to show that Herman Hoeksema wrote the same thing: “Reformed it is to say that God gives His salvation to His people in the way of repentance, a grace which He by His Holy Spirit implants into our hearts, and, which again He brings into conscious activity through the preaching of the gospel” (“Faith a Condition According to Scripture?” SB, Vol. 26, #12; March 15, 1950).
In summary, Rev. Langerak pointed out that the PRCA has stood and continues to stand on the scriptural and Reformed truth that “God-worked blessings that follow God-worked activities are neither conditions nor a prerequisite!” He likewise asserted from Scripture, the confessions, and the Reformed fathers the fact that faith is always powerful and active in the believer: “For in Jesus Christ…faith…worketh by love” (Gal. 5:6); “All in whose heart God works in this marvelous manner are certainly, infallibly, and effectually regenerated and do actually believe. Whereupon the will thus renewed… in consequence of this influence becomes itself active. Wherefore also, man is himself rightly said to believe and repent by virtue of that grace received…. Believers in this life…rest satisfied with knowing and experiencing that by this grace of God they are enabled to believe with the heart and love their Savior…. Faith is, therefore, to be considered as the gift of God…because it is in reality conferred, breathed, and infused into him… [and] because God…works in man both to will and to do, and produces both the will to believe and the act of believing also” (III/IV.12-14). “Faith is a profound spiritual gift, and also a profound spiritual activity of the entire soul” (H. Hoeksema, “Saving Faith,” SB, Vol. 38, #12, 1962).
Finally, Rev. Langerak explained again, from Scripture, the confessions, and the historical doctrine of the PRCA, the importance and the rightful place of repentance in the life of every child of God: “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:30, 31). “When they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 11:18). “…[T]hat they should repent and turn to God and do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:20). “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance” (Matt. 3:8). “That others who are called by the gospel obey the call and are converted…must be wholly ascribed to God, who as He has chosen His own from eternity in Christ, so He confers upon them faith and repentance…” (Canons III/IV,10). “…He preserves in them the incorruptible seed of regeneration…and again, by His Word and Spirit, certainly and effectually renews them to repentance, to a sincere godly sorrow for their sins…” (Canons, V.7). “He that is filled with the sorrow of true repentance cannot rest until he has received the assurance of forgiveness and knows that he is once more the object of God’s favor and lovingkindness” (H. Hoeksema, “Abundance of Rain,” SB, Vol. 19, #18, June 1943). “God promises to you salvation, provided He works in you faith and repentance, the fruit of which you may discern in yourselves by believing and repenting” (H. Hoeksema, “Reply to the Rev. Kok (2),” SB, Vol. 29, #5; December 1, 1952). “Such will find that in the way of repentance blessings will come like a pouring rain however ill-deserved they may be apart from Christ.… To preach repentance in the true sense is to preach Christ…. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith Jehovah of Hosts (Mal. 3:7)” (G.M. Ophoff, “The Prophecy of Malachi,” SB, Vol. 31, #15; May 1, 1955). “The central thought of the text is to emphasize that it is impossible for God to bless anyone unless he comes to repentance. As long as he does not come to repentance, and as long as he despises and does not know the goodness of God, he cannot taste the blessing of God…. What shall we say then? The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance. If you have not come to repentance, you have never known the goodness of God. If in the midst of those men who despise the goodness of God, you become a penitent sinner, what then? I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For in it is revealed the righteousness of God, which is by faith in Christ Jesus…” (H. Hoeksema, “Despising God’s Goodness,” SB, Vol. 73, #14; April 15, 1997).
Rev. Kleyn delivered his speech on “Church Political Matters and the Role of Elders and the Calling of Members.” In his speech, Rev. Kleyn stated what can be considered as “church political issues”: explanation and application of Article 31 of the Church Order; church orderly way of addressing errors, heresies, concerns, etc.; elders ruling over the pastor, and pastors submitting to elders; terminology such as “error,” “heresy,” “heretical statement,” “heretic”; Formula of Subscription examination for an officebearer; the discipline of officebearers, that is, suspension and deposition; the difference between “schism” and “church reformation”; the office of believer with its responsibilities, proper behavior, etc.; attitudes toward officebearers, assemblies, the church; the identity and use of the marks of a true church, and the question of when is the right time to leave a church.
Then, he went on to make it clear how Article 31 of the CO should be explained and its significance for all in the church. With this before us, he explained the content of Article 31 of the CO with respect to the right and obligation to protest and appeal; the wrong and right interpretation of the same article and the corresponding warnings against its wrong explanation and the grievous consequences that often follow. Positively, he set forth the long-standing explanation of the PRCA with regard to Article 31 and therefore its official position by citing the “Explanation of the Rules for Protests, Appeals, and Overtures” of the PRCA in 2004.
He also discussed its significance to the officebearers in the church as it relates to the following political matters: the specific vows to submit to and obey the CO; elders ruling over their pastors; the judgments of Christ through the broader assemblies, among others. Then, its significance for the members in the churches, especially on the important issue of when to leave a denomination.
Following the three speeches, the audience was given the chance to ask questions, and the three speakers graciously answered them. Good questions related to the topics were asked, and were answered carefully and clearly based on the Word of God and on the confessions.
Those who were present at the conference, including those who joined us via Zoom video call (the saints in CERC, Singapore; several men and women from our churches, and outreaches and contacts in the southern part of our country) have had nothing but good to say concerning it.
We are all so thankful to the Lord! This brief account of the conference is one way also of extending our deep gratitude to the PRCA (through her Contact Committee) for helping us understand better the controversy. Though it caused many griefs and great pain to all of us, yet God used them all and turned them to our profit and for His glory!
Through this conference God has once again renewed His faithful witness of the unity that we share and enjoy in the truth of His sovereign, unconditional, particular, efficacious, and gracious salvation, which is through God’s gift of faith in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ alone! Soli Deo Gloria.