I am having a hard time understanding the connection between the following example given in your editorial (“Highlights of Synod 2019” in July SB, p. 419) and the following decision of Synod 2019.
Example in article:
“Of particular importance is the 2019 Synod’s decision not to reject the phrase ‘in the way of.’ …Years ago, this was pointed out to me (a young minister) as the proper way to express the relationship between obedience and blessing….Parents see the salvation of their children in the way of faithfulness to God’s commands. Not, he said, a little louder for emphasis, because of their faithfulness.”
Synod 2019’s decision (Article 85, B. 3. c.):
“c. The statement ‘we experience covenant fellowship with God through faith (instrument), on the basis of what Christ has done (ground), and in the way of our obedience (way of conduct or manner of living)’ is clear and distinctive. 1) This statement makes clear that obedience is not the instrument for or ground of our experience of covenant fellowship with God. If obedience is not the instrument for or ground of, then it must be the necessary life of gratitude for one who is enjoying covenant fellowship with God by faith.”
As I see it, the question before Synod 2019 was not, “Is ‘in the way of’ Reformed, and can it be used clearly and distinctively to express the relationship between anything in Reformed theology?” but rather was, “Does the specific phrase ‘we experience covenant fellowship with God in the way of obedience’ clearly and distinctively express that obedience is only the fruit of experiencing covenant fellowship by faith?” As I see it, Synod 2019 answered this question with a “yes,” saying that ‘we experience covenant fellowship with God. in the way of obedience’ is clear and distinctive, and that the clear and distinctive truth that it expresses is that obedience is “the necessary life of gratitude for one who is enjoying covenant fellowship with God by faith.” In the example provided, the sense of ‘in the way of’ seems to be that parents’ faithful instruction of their children in the truth of Scripture is the ordinary instrument that God uses to bring His covenant children to a mature faith in Christ, which truth I would heartily agree with. However, I notice that synod not only emphasized that we do not experience covenant fellowship because of our life of obedience, but they also emphasized that our life of obedience is not the instrument through which God gives us the experience of covenant fellowship either.
My question, then, is: “Does ‘in the way of’ carry the same meaning in the example provided as it does in synod’s decision? How does this example help in understanding the proper relationship between obedience and the particular blessing of the experience of covenant fellowship? How is this example to be properly applied to synod’s decision?”
I appreciate your help in understanding this decision.
Sincerely in Christ,
Sara Doezema, member of Hope PRC (Walker, MI)
I appreciate the fact that you took the time to write, seeking clarification.
The crux of the matter has to do with whether the phrase “in the way of” indicates a means, an instrument. It does not. My example of the parents raising their children in the fear of the Lord did not speak of means or instrument, nor was it implied. One can speak of God using godly instruction for the salvation of covenant children, of course. And the Bible makes it abundantly plain that God does use instruction by godly parents as a means in the salvation of their children. But the phrase “in the way of” is not a discussion of means or instrument. It connects a certain kind of behavior with a God-announced blessing on the elect children of believers. That behavior is commanded, and therefore, required. If the parents do not raise their children in the ways of the Lord, they cannot expect their children to walk in those ways. The blessings are gracious, unmerited, and undeserved, but they are promised. In the way of raising their children in the fear of the Lord, believing parents will be blessed, will see their covenant children “not depart from” the ways of God.
Similarly, the synodical decisions in 2018 and 2019. Both synods emphasized that obedience was necessary. God commands His people to walk in obedience. If they do not, they will not enjoy fellowship with God. Obedience is required of God’s people in the covenant. And in the way of obedience, not because of, they enjoy fellowship with God.
I hope this is helpful.
Cordially in Christ,