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Prof. Decker is professor of Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.

Irenic Debate

Several months ago (May 15, 1994 issue) we commented on a document drafted by Richard John Newhaus (a Roman Catholic priest) and Charles Colson. The title of the document is “Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium.” It was signed by a good number of prominent Evangelicals (Richard Mouw, James I. Packer, et. al.). This document calls upon Roman Catholics and evangelicals to accept each other as Christians and to stop “aggressive proselytizing of each others flocks.” The document recognizes the groups’ common faith. “We together, evangelicals and Catholics, confess our sins against the unity that Christ intends for all his disciples,” the statement says. 

Recently a group of evangelicals have composed a document called “Resolutions for Roman Catholic & Evangelical Dialogue.” This document lists seven resolutions or statements of evangelical belief which are, “… offered as material for dialogue between Roman Catholics and Evangelicals, following from the recent document, Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium,’

. . . . We the undersigned offer this response in a spirit of irenic debate (emphasis mine, R.D.D.) on issues arising from that important joint statement . . . the following statements seek to identify issues of concern to evangelical Protestants that the thrust of the document raises. What follows is intended to encourage further discussion of the possibilities and problems of acting together.” 

What concerns us is not the statements or resolutions as such. As a matter of fact they are on the whole very strong statements of the major differences between Rome and Protestants, differences which made the 16th century Reformation necessary. What concerns us a great deal is the stated purpose of the group in issuing these resolutions. Is it our calling to dialogue (converse) with Rome? And is it our calling to dialogue “in a spirit of irenic (peaceful) debate?” While “… the souls of them that were slain for the Word of God, and for the testimony which they held are crying with a loud voice, saying, How long O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:9-11), must we have peaceful discussions and debate with Rome on the issues that divide us? Many of those saints (including Guido de Bres, the author of The Belgic Confession of Faith) were slain by Rome in the 16th century! 

The answer is never! We must call Rome to repentance for her apostasy and the terrible atrocities she committed against those whose only “crime” was the desire to be faithful to the Word of God.

Modern Reformation 

Woman Serving As Pastor

On Sunday, August 28, 1994, Mary-Lee Bouma was “commissioned” to serve as unordained pastor of the Trinity Christian Reformed Church in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. As reported earlier in these columns the CRC’s 1994 Synod refused to ratify its 1993 decision to open the offices of minister and elder to women. In 1989, however, the CRC synod allowed women to serve as “adjunct elders,” and in 1992 the synod allowed women to “teach, expound the Word of God, and provide pastoral care under the supervision of the elders” of a local church. While a number of CR congregations have used the 1992 provision to have women seminarians lead worship services, and a few have hired female interns, Trinity CRC in Mount Pleasant is only the second CR congregation to hire a woman as its full-time pastor. The other woman serving as an unordained pastor is Ruth Hofman, who in 1992 began serving First CRC in Toronto, a congregation which has had women elders for years. 

Rev. Keith Tanis, coordinator of field education at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, conducted the commissioning service at Mount Pleasant.” It’s a good fit for her. She really is an outstanding leader because of her campus ministry background in Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship,” Tanis said. Central Michigan University is located in Mount Pleasant. 

Tanis said the commissioning service included laying on of hands but carefully avoided language of an ordination service. Other ministers participating in the service included Mary-Lee’s father, Rev. Henry Bouma, and a Lutheran pastor from the area. 

The service was attended by a number of female seminarians from Calvin. “It was very encouraging for the women students to see that they could do ministry in the Christian Reformed Church,” Tanis said, noting that the 1994 synodical decision not to allow the ordination of women ministers or elders had discouraged a number of women seminarians. 

We have just one question in the light of this, “What is the difference between teaching/expounding the Word of God under the, supervision of the elders and preaching the Word of God under the supervision of the elders?” 

Reformed Believers Press Service 

The Synod of the Reformed Churches in Australia

This denomination, consisting mostly of post World War II immigrants from the Netherlands, is divided over three major issues. The first of these issues came by way of an overture asking the RCA to terminate its membership in the Reformed Ecumenical Council. One of the two men who represented the RCA at the last meeting of the Reformed Ecumenical Council in Athens, Greece urged the synod to adopt the overture and thus terminate its membership in the Council. Several denominations (some of whom sent fraternal delegates to the RCA synod) have recently withdrawn from the Reformed Ecumenical Council because of the latter’s inability or unwillingness to exercise discipline over one of the member denominations, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. The Dutch church, among other things, openly tolerates homosexuals even among its officebearers. The synod, however, after an impassioned plea for continued involvement in the Council by Professor Henk deWaard, decided by a substantial majority to continue membership in the Reformed Ecumenical Council. 

The Australian Church is also divided over the issue of women in office. The synod affirmed the male headship principle as recommended to Synod of 1991 and established a study committee to examine the exegetical basis for women to serve in the office of deacon. 

There were several appeals against the 1991 synod’s decision on the “Word and Spirit” issue. In 1991 the synod took a decision which in effect left the door open to new revelations/prophecies. The appeals urged the synod to affirm the clear testimony of the Westminster Confession of Faithviz., “those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people have now ceased” (Chapter 1, Section 1). The synod did not adopt the appeals. These issues are likely to continue to trouble the RCA.

Christian Observer 
Reformed Ecumenical Council 
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