Rev. VanBaren is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
June is the time of year in which many of the denominations meet in Assembly or Synod. With understandable interest, one reads reports of decisions taken which will affect the denominations involved. It is not only with interest, but also with a great degree of dismay and disappointment, that one reads some of the decisions taken. Surely one can find many of the decisions made to be proper. Yet we are most concerned about those decisions that point to rapid apostasy within the churches and denominations. It is, however, foretold in Scripture that these things must come to pass before the end of this age comes (Matt. 24:11-13).
The Episcopal Church in America is itself wracked by dissension on the issue of ordination of bishops who are gay and living in a “committed” relationship with one of the same sex. At the same time, the Anglican churches are also divided on this issue within the U.S. branch. It may well be that the U.S. branch will either leave the broader union or be put out of it. Commentator Cal Thomas, of the Tribune Media Services, quoted in the Grand Rapids Press, writes:
The new leader of the Episcopal Church in America, Bishop Katharine Schori, says she does not believe homosexuality is a sin and that homosexuals were created by God to love people of the same gender.
As the Episcopal leadership continues to huff and puff to catch up with the world, it would be helpful if it could tell its members what it regards as sinful behavior, or will the very concept of sin soon be up for negotiation in order to avoid giving offense to anyone?
Truly what Paul, the Apostle, warned would happen in the “end times” is coming true in our day: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine, instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (II Timothy NIV).
Meeting in convention in Columbus, Ohio, the denomination passed a resolution expressing “regret” for consecrating a homosexual bishop three years ago, but it declined to repent of its action. On Tuesday, they voted to continue consecrating homosexual bishops and to permit same-sex unions. But reversed themselves 24 hours later and adopted a resolution to avoid consecrating additional gay bishops.
Bishop Schori says, “The Bible tells us about how to treat other human beings and that’s certainly the great message of Jesus—to include the unincluded.”
…Maybe the question for Bishop Schori and her fellow heretics should be: if homosexual practice is not sin, what is? And how do we know? Or is it a matter of “thus saith the opinion polls” and lobbying groups, rather than “thus saith the Lord”? With the bishop’s “doctrine” of inclusion, why exclude anyone? How about applying the religious equivalent of “open borders” and let everyone into the church, including unrepentant prostitutes, murderers, liars, thieves and atheists. If the Episcopal Church denies what is clearly taught in scripture about important matters like sexual behavior, why expect its leaders to have any convictions about anything, including directions to Heaven?
The national Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) de desires to adopt, among many other decisions, more “gender-inclusive” names of the Trinity. Richard N. Ostling, of Associated Press, writes:
The divine Trinity—”Father, Son and Holy Spirit”—also could be known as “Mother, Child and Womb” or “Rock, Redeemer, Friend” at some Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) services under an action Monday by the church’s national assembly.
Delegates voted to “receive” a policy paper on gender-inclusive language for the Trinity, a step short of approving it. That means church officials can propose experimental liturgies with alternative phrasings for the Trinity, but congregations won’t be required to use them….
It seems that there are many in the denominations who would foist on the churches the most outrageous and irreligious changes, as though they seek to outdo others. At bottom, it is an attempt to undermine the Word of God by promoting these changes and by denying to be sin that which the Word condemns.
The matter of homosexuality arose again at the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America at its meeting in Pella, Iowa. From a report appearing in the Grand Rapids Press, June 10, 2006, we read:
In previous decades the RCA labeled homosexuality a sin, and a proposal from the church’s Zeeland Classis calls for a reaffirmation of those statements. Also up for debate is a request to cut ties with the United Church of Christ, which endorses same-sex marriage.
Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, RCA general-secretary, said “it’s always possible to get nuances and new perspectives” through discussion, but changing the church’s position on gays is not the intent of the dialogue. The purpose is to help each other understand different interpretations of Scripture and minister better to gays, he said.
“The dialogue is set within a clear framework,” he said. “We’re not going to keep fighting.” Delegates must decide what to do with Kansfield, who lost his job as head of an RCA seminary in New Jersey and had his ministerial credentials suspended because, in 2004, he performed the marriage of his daughter, Ann, to another woman.
A controversial proposal would shift his supervision from the General Synod—which disciplined him last year—to his local classis, or group of churches, which may be more sympathetic to homosexuality.
Kansfield earlier this year asked for a new trial, but agreed to drop the request in exchange for the transfer.
I understand that this shift of the case to the local classis was approved. This seems to be very strange—to treat such a serious matter at a classis that might rescind a synodical decision of last year. As the report states, this classis is “more sympathetic to homosexuality.” Some affirm that this classis will likely vindicate the man and remove his suspension.
The Christian Reformed Church also has taken several decisions that ought to concern us as well.
1) It designated the Today’s New International Version (TNIV) of the Bible as acceptable for use in the CRC churches. In addition to objections raised against the NIV, this revised edition is designed to use “gender inclusive language.” It goes another step further in eroding the inerrant, verbal inspiration of Scripture.
2) Synod affirmed that First CRC of Toronto, Ont. has resolved the issue of homosexuality (it had earlier approved placing practicing homosexuals in the offices in the church) and brought it into accord with the CRC’s position. (However, an examination of First Toronto CRC’s Web address,http://www.firsttorontocrc.org, shows clear violation of the teachings of the Canons of Dordt in proposing a universal and unconditional love of God for all peoples. It also appears to embrace those of differing “sexual orientation” and affirms that all those who confess Jesus Christ as their Savior have rights of “full participation of membership, sacraments, and leadership in this congregation.”) It remains to be seen how the CRC will reconcile this with their synodical decision.
3) Synod also voted to remove the word “male” from the qualifications for ecclesiastical office listed in their Church Order. (An earlier synodical decision allowed each Classis, if it wished, to set aside the limitation of the Church Order restricting the offices to the “male.”) If this change is adopted by Synod of 2007, it will take immediate effect in the churches. As something of a “sop” offered to the conservatives, synod also decided that women ministers or elders would not be permitted to serve as delegates to synod or as synodical deputies. The supporters of “women in office” deplored that whereas synod took two steps forward in removing the word “male” in the relevant article, it took one step backward in restricting synodical delegates and synodical committees to male members.
4) Synod decided to retain Question and Answer 80 of the Heidelberg Catechism, but to put brackets around the part that denounces the Roman Catholic mass as a “condemnable idolatry” and to explain that these paragraphs do not reflect the official teaching or practice of today’s Roman Catholic Church and are not confessionally binding on members of the CRC.
This last seems to be a most appalling distortion of the facts, and indeed, as Charles Honey of the Grand Rapids Press headlined this decision, “Synod Makes Up With Catholics.” I have not had the opportunity to read the study and report upon which this decision has been based, but several concerns come to mind.
First, is it possible that for the past 450 years the churches have misunderstood Rome? Or has Rome in fact changed its stance on the mass? Was it in fact an “accursed idolatry” in the days of Martin Luther and John Calvin, but now no longer so because the view has changed? Martin Luther said, “The Mass in the Papacy must be the greatest and most horrible abomination, as it directly and powerfully conflicts with this chief article, and yet above and before all other popish idolatries it has been the chief and most specious….” Was Luther wrong? Or has the Roman Catholic Church now changed its position?
John Calvin writes in his Institutes (Vol. 2, p. 721, Eerdmans 1949), “Now, let the Romanists deny, if they can, that they are guilty of idolatry in exhibiting bread in their masses, to be worshipped instead of Christ….” Was Calvin judging them wrongly—or has Rome changed today?
The well-known dogmatician Louis Berkhof also emphasizes essentially the same thing and writes of the Romish view as “the elevation and adoration of the host….” Would that not be “accursed idolatry”?
It seems very clear that the Reformers and those who followed after them for the past 450 or more years all basically agreed: Rome’s position is idolatry. Were these all wrong—or has Rome indeed changed?
We must listen to Rome as it speaks through its official and binding documents. At the Council of Trent, A.D. 1563, Rome expresses its position over against Luther and subsequent Reformers and Protestants. As far as I know, the Decrees of the Council of Trent have never been amended, altered, or rescinded. I quote only a small portion of that creed:
(On the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist) Canon I.—If anyone denies that, in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist there are truly, really, and substantially contained the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore the whole Christ; but shall say that He is in it as by a sign or figure, or force, let him be anathema.
Canon II.—If anyone says that in the sacred and holy sacrament of the Eucharist there remains the substance of bread and wine together with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, and denies that wonderful and singular conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the body, and of the entire substance of the wine into the blood, the species of the bread and wine only remaining, a change which the Catholic Church most fittingly calls transubstantiation: let him be anathema….
Canon V.—If any one says that the special fruit of the most Holy Eucharist is the remission of sins, or that from it no other fruits are produced: let him be anathema.
Canon VI.—If anyone says that in the holy sacrament of the Eucharist, the only-begotten Son of God is not to be adored even outwardly with the worship of latria (the act of adoration), and therefore not to be venerated with a special festive celebration, nor to be borne about in procession according to the praiseworthy and universal rite and custom of the holy Church, or is not to be set before the people publicly to be adored, and that the adorers of it are idolators: let him be anathema.
(The Sources of Catholic Dogma,
B. Hender Book Co., 1957)
“Anathema” is to be accursed. The teaching of the Roman Catholics, so it clearly appears in their creed, is that the Protestant and Reformed condemnation of transubstantiation and the worship of the elements of the bread and wine is accursed. They have not put any of this in brackets with a footnote that this is no longer the view of the Roman Catholic Church and that its members are no longer obliged to believe it.
I ask: what is incorrect in the answer of the Heidelberg Catechism, question 80, in light of their official dogma as quoted above? And if this answer offends good Roman Catholics, ought not Protestants be as much or more offended at the “anathemas” hurled at them by the Roman Catholics?