In the spirit of “iron sharpening iron,” there is a statement in Prof. Gritters’ October 1, 2015 editorial that I would like you to clarify.
Near the end of the editorial you wrote, “We will commit ourselves to living among the people of God who are members of the church”—first of our own congregation; then of our denomination; and “so too the church members who are closest to our denomination in confession and walk” (emphasis added, AJC). It is this last phrase that I would like you to clarify.
At present, the PRC, as represented by her Contact Committee with the yearly approval of synods, have no ecumenical relations with any Reformed or Presbyterian churches in North America because of significant doctrinal differences. Regarding the URC who, some may argue, are closest to us doctrinally, the official position of the PRC is:
1) As regards the creeds, the PRC are convinced that the creeds address such matters as common grace, the well-meant offer, and a conditional covenant, and in fact that the creeds condemn these errors. The CERCU [of the URC] insists that these matters are not confessional, and thus one may maintain or condemn them and still be within the bounds of the Reformed confessions. For the PRC to accept that position would not only be a compromising of all that we stand for, but would also deny the work of the Spirit of truth who has continued to guide Christ’s church into the truth. This we are emphatically unwilling to do (2002 Acts of Synod, 21, 22).
I am left with the impression that you are calling us to put into practice (living among) as individuals and families that which we will not do, for significant reasons, as a denomination. The church members you are calling us to live among are sincere members of denominations with which we have serious doctrinal differences—at least this is our official position.
Living among carries the idea of friendship, fellowship, and walking together in agreement (Amos 3:3). Am I to understand your exhortation to live among those “who confess like precious faith” in the same sense that I am to live among “the church members who are closest to our denomination in confession and walk”? Do you have any particular denominations in mind?
Aaron J. Cleveland
Grand Rapids, Michigan
The people of God must be able to see the significant difference between how a denomination may act in its official sister relationships and how individuals may act in their personal friendships. Although a denominational stance certainly sends a message to the membership in that denomination (there are differences!), it does not mandate what these members may do in their personal friendships. It is a mistake to argue this way: Because the PRC may not engage in official relationships with another denomination, PRC members may have no friendship with members of this other denomination.
To be clear: the editorial calls the membership of the PRC to live in the church. That is the main point of the article. Then, the three concentric circles of friendships, beginning with the inner circle, and with an order of priority suggested, was deliberate: First, Christians fellowship with members of their own congregation. We give priority to this. This is the body to which we belong and to which we give our energy. Second, as we have time and opportunity, we fellowship with other members of our denomination. This is sensible because we live in complete agreement with them. It is also natural when many PRCs are found in a certain locale. What with shared church functions, shared school functions, and friendships established in those schools, this is reasonable and healthy. But it does not have the same priority as our own congregational life. The third circle—and this will obviously have a lower, a “third-level” priority—refers to fellowship with other non-PRC Christians, beginning with those who are closest to us.
To have this as my “third level” is a recognition that they are not those whom I want closest to me, because there are differences that I do not want to influence my children. Scripture calls believers to fellowship with “the faithful in the land” (). To the extent that a Chris tian is less faithful to God according to my judgments, to that extent my fellowship will be less close. Thus, Mr. Cleveland’s question is easily answered: No, not “in the same sense,” as he asked.
But to put other Christians in a circle of friendship is also important. They are Christians. Even though we may believe that they are mistaken in some areas of doctrine or life, we do not judge them to be non-Christians. To refuse fellowship with them would be to say, I will have no fellowship with a brother.
To underline this point, I call the readers’ attention to an official decision of the PRC (Classis East, 1946) to allow, under certain circumstances, members of non-Protestant Reformed Churches (and, it is to be understood, non-sister-churches) even to partake of communion in a PRC. “…Members of other churches, not in all respects agreeing with our Protestant Reformed faith, may be admitted to our communion table….” Given that, it would be wrong to say, I will have no friendship, at any level, with them.
To conclude: to answer Mr. Cleveland differently would be leading the PRC into sectarianism, would not be following in the footsteps of the PRC “fathers,” and would be radicalizing the PRC to our ruin. Read the Belgic Confession, Articles 27 and 29 and remember the circumstances in which this was written.