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

A Major Embarrassment for the CRC

What clearly proved to be a major embarrassment to the Christian Reformed Church took place on November 19, 1997 at NAPARC (North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council). This organization, co-founded by the CRC 23 years ago, voted 6-1 to suspend the CRC from this fellowship of conservative denominations. The one vote against suspension was cast by the CRC. This means that if the vote is ratified by 2/3 of the denominations within three years, the CRC will lose its voting rights.

The United Reformed News Service presented an extended report on the debate which preceded the vote.

The Rev. Ric Perrin, interchurch relations committee chairman for the Presbyterian Church in America, said the 1995 CRC vote to ordain women forced his denomination to propose suspension. “In our opinion they are saying that Scripture no longer governs the CRC on that issue,” said Perrin. “We think that is a fundamental shift away from the historic position.”

Perrin—who was originally ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and previously urged admission of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church to NAPARC despite its decision to allow the ordination of women—emphasized that women’s ordination wasn’t the only problem in the Christian Reformed Church.

“We have been greatly disturbed by the actions which the CRC has taken and which are a matter of public record,” said Perrin. “We feel this has set a precedent that they can suspend their own constitution on any issue in the future in response to social pressure.”

“We are not suggesting that the Christian Reformed Church has suddenly ceased to be an evangelical body, nor are we saying its people are second-rate Christians,” continued Perrin, who noted that denominations which were moving toward aberrant views do so slowly and with subtle rather than dramatic changes. “Those of you who deal with the insidious nature of a creeping away from the Reformed faith will know exactly what I’m talking about.”

The debate did not go over well with the CRC delegates. First, the delegates presented a strong repudiation of the proposal, followed later by an attempt to derail the motion. First, Rev. Leonard Hofman, interchurch relations administrative secretary of the CRC and former CRC General Secretary stated:

“This is not a court. What are you hoping to achieve in a vote to suspend us? Are you trying to discipline us? Do you have that right? We do not want to be accused or even described as giving in to a subtle cancer of an insidious nature that is pulling us away from the Word of God.

…Do we differ? Of course we do. I go back to the days when we had some real questions about the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and its view on the lodge. Tables have been shifted in these days.”

Then followed an attempt to derail the process. Rev. Ed Van Baak, CRC delegate proposed:

“I don’t know if we’re prepared in this forum, at this date, to discuss these details, but these details are essential to coming to an understanding of the issues,” said Van Baak. In response, Van Baak moved that NAPARC “establish an ad hoc committee of member churches of NAPARC to examine the PCA statements concerning the CRC for its position on the ordination of women in the offices of minister, elder, and evangelist, and develop a position regarding the consistency of varying positions with NAPARC’s criteria for membership, to report to NAPARC 1999.”

The proposed delay was defeated by voice vote. A tactic that had worked successfully at many CRC synods failed on this assembly. NAPARC vice-president Rev. Ron Potter told the CRC that :

“NAPARC had no choice because NAPARC membership is limited to denominations affirming the Westminster Standards of Presbyterianism or the Three Forms of Unity of the Dutch Reformed tradition, and the CRC had changed its position on a matter addressed in the confessions.” Potter read Article 30 of the Belgic Confession and noted that the confession specified that “men” are to be elected to office.

That brought an extended debate on the meaning of the confession. CRC General Secretary Dr. David Engelhard said the RCUS delegate was quoting a bad translation of the Belgic Confession and that the underlying word in the original language didn’t refer to “men” but rather “people.” Orthodox Presbyterian delegate Elder Mark Bube noted that another confessional reference with a different underlying word in the original languages also referred to male officebearers, quoted CRC synodical decisions on the matter, and asked the current status of Christian Reformed confessional language.

The Christian Reformed Church has had a very close working relationship with most of those six denominations over the years. These denominations have, in years past, set forth what is to be considered Reformed and Presbyterian. They have agreed on the confessions which give expression to their “Calvinism.” To have six of the denominations tell the seventh, “You no longer belong in the camp of those who are ‘Reformed,’ must not only prove to be an embarrassment, but represents especially a very strong testimony. The CRC has, in the past years, seen many thousands of its members leaving. Now six of its closest friends are saying, “You are not Reformed according to our confessions.” All this should send a strong message. Will it change the course of the CRC? I doubt it. There are none so blind as those who will not see. One can expect that the CRC will now be making overtures for closer union with the Reformed Church in America and those who are cooperating with them.

“UnVriendly precedent”

Such was the title of an article appearing in World magazine, November 15, 1997. Its sub-title emphasizes: “High Court homosexuality case threatens religious freedom.”

The magazine presents a brief summary of the case:

In 1991 Delwin Vriend wore a pink triangle lapel pin to work, a proud badge of his homosexuality. But the triangle was too much for the long-suffering administration at The King’s University College, the small Christian Reformed liberal arts college in Edmonton, Alberta, where Mr. Vriend worked as a laboratory coordinator. When Mr. Vriend “came out,” school administrators, who had known about his homosexuality for more than a year, felt they had to fire him. Mr. Vriend went to court, and on Nov. 4 and 5, his case was finally heard by Canada’s Supreme Court.

Instead of attacking the college for treating him unfairly, Mr. Vriend sued the Alberta provincial government. Alberta is one of only four jurisdictions in Canada (Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, and the Northwest Territories are the other three) that do not include homosexuals as a protected category in their human-rights code. Mr. Vriend wants the courts to force the Alberta Human Rights Commission to accept his complaint that he has been discriminated against because of his sexual preference.

The importance of Mr. Vriend’s case goes far beyond the immediate issue of religious freedom. “We think this is a watershed case,” says Gerry Chipeur, the Calgary constitutional lawyer who represents intervenors Focus on the Family—Canada and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. “If [Mr. Vriend] wins it will mean that judges have completely taken over the mantle of legislators in Canada. They will have begun to write entire phrases into the laws passed by our legislators.”

Mr. Vriend won the first round of the court case in April of 1994 when the judge ruled that “sexual orientation” should be read into Alberta’s Individual Rights Protection Act (IRPA) as a protected category. This judge, Ms. Russell, was subsequently promoted to the Alberta Court of Appeal—the court to which her own decision was appealed. This three-person court unexpectedly overturned her decision.

Now it has been appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada. A decision is expected in the fall of next year. Many fear that this court will side with Vriend.

There are at least two basic issues at stake. The article emphasizes that the courts appear to be ready not only to interpret the law, but to make it. But the serious issue of religious freedom also arises. Is a church or a Christian educational institution required to hire or to retain those whose “life-style” is in violation of Scripture’s teaching? If the court’s decision ultimately means that, the state will be in a position to shut down every faithful church and school.

“Diversity Diversion”

In another issue of World magazine, December 6, 1997, the syndicated columnist Cal Thomas has an article which reminds again of the inroads of government into the educational system.

First there was phys-ed. Then came driver’s-ed. Next it was sex-ed and then drug-ed, followed by environment-ed. Now, President Clinton was to add “diversity education” to the long list of nonacademic subjects, even though surveys show the government schools are failing to achieve minimal standards in such critical areas as reading, science, and geography.

At a White House conference on “hate crimes” held at George Washington University, the president and several Cabinet officers endorsed a K-12 plan to teach children to be tolerant of racial minorities, homosexuals, and the disabled. What makes anyone think the government will be more successful at directing young people’s behavior in this area than it has been with drugs, sexual activity, and driving?

Thomas continues:

Yes, it takes a village, doesn’t it? You parents are a bunch of bigoted imbeciles who probably tell racist jokes and make fun of gays and the disabled. Your kids pick this up and that’s why they grow up to be just like you. Only the government, through its re-education camps…uh…schools, can straighten out this mess. Give them your poor, tired children and they will set them free from their homophobia, racism, sexism, and disability-ism.

To the Clinton Administration, diversity means there is no right or wrong and that no lifestyle, nation, belief, economic, or political system is to be preferred over any other. If that is true, why do so many want to immigrate to America?

This latest, but probably not last, effort by the government to reprogram the minds of our children must be resisted. Concerned parents are wasting their time trying to reform a corrupt system….

Thomas concludes, and we would wholeheartedly agree:

The education monopoly should be ended. Parents are not the enemies of education. Most do not promote hate. We’d be better off if we stopped trying to change the system and, instead, withdrew the raw material the government schools need in order to impose a left-wing, pagan agenda on a new generation.

So we have sought, by God’s grace, to instill into our children within our own schools those scriptural principles which are essential for God’s people to know in order to live on this earth to His glory. And though our schools and pupils are hardly perfect, we have seen the good fruits of this sort of education in godly living. These pupils are not only better prepared academically (at far, far lower cost) than the public school students, they are above all taught proper morals and scriptural requirements for the godly life. Christian parents ought, thankfully, to continue their sacrifices to provide an education that no government can or will.