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Five RCA Churches Join the PCA, A Sixth May Soon Follow

Below is a December 26, 2014 article posted on The Aquila Report (theaquilareport.com).

Five Illinois Churches in the Reformed Church RCA) in America have voted to affiliate with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). The PCA’s Chicago Metro Presbytery met with, examined, and approved the pastors and elders of these churches during 2014.

On October 15, 2014, the churches were officially approved and received by the Chicago Metro Presbytery. The Presbytery will have a special service of celebration and welcome on February 1, 2015 at 3:00 p.m.; during this service the pastors and elders will be installed. The service will be held at the First Reformed Church in Lansing, IL. Dr. Ligon Duncan, Chancellor of Reformed Seminary, will be the guest preacher.

The five churches in Illinois are:

Crete Reformed Church, Rev. David Smith, pastor

Grace Reformed Church, Lansing, without a pastor

First Reformed Church, Lansing, Rev. Ben Kappers, pastor

Peace Community Church, Frankfort, Rev. Kurt Kruger, pastor

Missio Dei Church, New Lenox, Rev. Paul Vroom, pastor

These churches had submitted to the process for withdrawing set up by the RCA Classis of Illiana Florida. A number of conditions were included in the agreement. For example, each of the churches was allowed to withdraw with their respective properties and assets. However, if a church should withdraw from the PCA within five years of the approval of the agreement, then the property is to revert to the Classis of Illiana Florida.

Also, each church will have to pay its annual assessments for five years (2015-2019) to the RCA Synod, the Regional Synod of Mid America, and the Classis of Illiana Florida. These payments may be made annually or in one lump sum.

Further, the churches must take action to notify the general public that they are no longer affiliated with the RCA. The agreement stated, “A name change may be the best way to communicate this new reality.”

Chicago Metro Presbytery extends an invitation to all to attend the welcoming and installation service on February 1.

University RCA of Lansing, MI., pastored by Kevin De Young, is on its way to becoming the sixth congregation to leave the RCA for the PCA. What follows is De Young’s November 24, 2014 report posted on The Gospel Coalition (thegospelcoalition.org).

At a special congregational meeting last night University Reformed Church voted 366-18 (95.3%) in favor of leaving the Reformed Church in America (RCA) and affiliating with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).

Of the 384 votes, 335 (320-15) were cast at the meeting and 49 (46-3) by absentee ballot.

The 384 votes represent 91% of our communicant membership. University Reformed Church currently has 422 members and a Sunday morning attendance of around 650.

It may seem like you’ve heard this news before, so let me try to explain the process.

  • Our congregation also voted in April to leave the RCA. This was only an advisory vote and not required by the Book of Church Order (BCO). In our polity, the consistory is the body that files the petition for withdrawal. The meeting we had in April was the consistory’s attempt to discern the mind of the congregation before making our final decision. We filed our petition with the Classis of South Grand Rapids in May.
  • After the classis received our petition they established a four person committee to investigate the reasons for withdrawal. As a part of their investigative work, the committee, as per the BCO, met separately with each of the installed pastors and then with the consistory (without the pastors present).
  • The classis committee called a special congregational meeting for last night. I was given 10 minutes to present our reasons for withdrawal. The committee then spoke for 10 minutes against the motion to withdraw. Following the two brief presentations, the congregation was given about 30 minutes to ask questions of either side. We then voted by secret ballot. The results of our vote in April do not matter to the classis. Last night’s vote is the one that counts.

What happens now?

In the next month, the classis committee will meet with representatives of the PCA to ascertain whether we would be received into our new denominational home with open arms. The committee will then write a report, with recommendations, that will go before the whole classis. This report is due in January. The classis will vote on the committee’s recommendations in March.

If our church is given permission to withdraw from the RCA we can officially join the PCA once (1) any classis stipulated obligations are met and (2) the elders and pastors are examined and received into membership by the Presbytery of the Great Lakes.

Please continue to pray for a fair process and an outcome that will best serve the interest of Christ’s kingdom.

I have not found any explanation of the reasons why the five Illinois congregations left the RCA. In May of 2014 De Young revealed that University RCA’s council submitted a 39-page petition to withdraw from the denomination. That petition is not public yet, nor has De Young offered his own detailed explanation for the withdrawal from the RCA. But he did provide a brief explanation, writing, “Let me simply say at this point that our reason for seeking to leave the RCA is not one thing, but many things. From the adoption of the Belhar Confession, to the removal of the conscience clauses related to women’s ordination, to the growing acceptance of homosexual practice in the denomination, we believe the RCA has changed significantly in the last several years. The denomination has moved away from churches like ours. Our request is that we may be able to move too.”

It will be enlightening to read and evaluate the reasons why these congregations left the RCA, if and when they are made available to the public. The RCA has been on the road of apostasy for decades, and “conservative” congregations refused to leave. Six congregations determining to leave at virtually the same time indicates that something very serious has happened. It is likely that every one of the congregations objected to the three developments De Young notes, the adoption of the Belhar Confession, the removal of the conscience clause regarding women’s ordination, and steps toward approving of homosexuality.

The last two especially are the straws “that broke the camel’s back.” Clergymen in the RCA are required (in certain circumstances) to participate in the ordination of women (clauses that allowed them to abstain have been removed). It is not possible anymore to remain in the RCA and have the attitude, “as long we don’t have women in office on our congregation, it doesn’t bother us.” At the same time that the RCA is attempting to force the acceptance of women’s ordination, it has made appalling synodical decisions about homosexuality—two acts that these six congregations apparently find intolerable.

Is it right for these six congregations to leave the RCA because of a disagreement over the acceptance of women’s ordination and homosexuality? Of course. We rejoice to see churches take a stand for what the Scriptures teach about these issues. But that doesn’t mean that this move from the RCA to the PCA is above criticism. But before we get to that criticism….

Defining the Church

What follows is an excerpt from an article by Mark Johnston entitled, “21st Century Challenges: Not Allowing Ourselves to be Defined by Sexuality” (info.alliance. org/placefortruth, Jan. 22, 2015).

It may seem more than a little strange to include this issue as one of the major challenges facing the church in the 21st Century, but the sad reality is that it is. The glaring evidence for this can be seen in the way the church in many parts of the world has allowed itself to be backed into a corner over this aspect of its teaching. In doing so has [sic] allowed not only its own credibility to be called into question, but that of the gospel as well.

This situation has not arisen suddenly. For four decades and longer the Bible and the role of women—especially when it comes to holding office in the church—has been hotly debated among those within the church as much as with those on the outside. In many denominations this has led to a deliberate shift away from the belief that the offices of elder (both those who teach and those who lead) and of deacon are intended only for males in the church.

Although this shift in church practice was welcomed by many it was not the end of the discussion—even for those churches that had embraced it. The focus of debate moved on to the church’s attitude to homosexuality. Again, even though the church in light of the Bible’s teaching has long debated this issue, the issue now being brought to the fore was the desire of some to approve homosexuals for ordination to the Christian ministry.

It came to the fore in both the United States and in Britain with a number of high profile cases that were highly publicized in the media and inevitably intensified the pressure on those who opposed such appointments. The net effect of this for those who refused to support such a move was not only for them to be portrayed as ‘anti-gay’ in the liberal press, but for the gospel to be cast in that light as well.

We are not suggesting for a moment that these battles over what the church believes and practices should not have been fought—scripture demands that they must. We are, however, suggesting that the church has given them a profile that has led to confusion over what ultimately defines the church. Especially because in a number of instances the issue of so-called ‘gay ordination’ has become the catalyst for secession from wider church bodies.

Those who support the ordination of homosexual clergy (along with homosexual behavior and same-sex marriage) have raised a valid question over making this particular issue the Rubicon from which there is no going back. They rightly point to other major debates that have divided the church over the past half-century—the authority of the Bible, the deity of Christ and the nature of the resurrection to name but a few—and ask why these more fundamental issues have not provoked the same reaction from evangelicals. And therein lies the problem: evangelicals, perhaps unwittingly, have allowed the secular world to set the agenda for the church and give the impression that it is our human sexuality that defines us as individuals and as communities.

Let me reiterate, this doesn’t imply that this debate should not be taking place. These are hugely important issues and the church needs to be clear on them. But to elevate them to a status above that of the authority of Scripture or the bodily nature of the resurrection is to send wrong signals.

The article is not written with the RCA or the six congregations mentioned above in mind. Nevertheless, Johnston’s comments about where the church’s priorities should be apply. There are reasons to criticize the priorities of the six congregations leaving the RCA. The criticism is not that these six congregations have elevated the issues of women’s ordination and homosexuality too highly. The criticism is that they have failed to recognize other hugely important issues. This does not mean that the congregations or their pastors have ignored these other issues. Throughout the years they have perhaps voiced objections concerning issues other than women and office and homosexuality. The 39-page petition from the University RCA probably explains that the congregation was not in agreement with other RCA positions. But by not leaving because of those issues and by leaving now over women in office and homosexuality, these congregations are, to use Johnson’s words, sending “wrong signals.”

For decades the RCA has denied important Reformed doctrines, such as reprobation. And for decades the RCA has rejected important Reformed practices, such as the preaching of the Heidelberg Catechism. These are “hugely important issues,” but apparently not for these six congregations that were willing to tolerate such changes by not leaving the denomination over them.

But it is especially in joining the PCA that these congregations are giving the signal that women’s ordination and homosexuality are more important issues to them than the gospel of Jesus Christ. The PCA does not currently approve of women officebearers (although some renegade congregations have women deacons). Nor does the PCA give evidence of accepting homosexuality. But the PCA has officially approved of the heresy of the Federal Vision, which denies the very heart of the gospel—justification by faith alone! And some years ago the PCA changed its requirements for subscription to its confessional standards, which has resulted in the PCA allowing people to hold numerous positions (even publicly) that are contrary to historic Reformed and Presbyterian doctrines.

Is it hugely important to stand in opposition to the ordination of women and the acceptance of homosexuality? Yes, and it is worth stating once again that we are happy that the six congregations that left the RCA took a stand on these issues. But it is also important to define ourselves by and stand up for everything the Bible teaches as summarized in our Reformed Confessions.