In our previous article, written to bring the reader up to date on our work as Contact Committee (CC), we focused on our contacts with churches with whom we stand in formal ecclesiastical relationships, sister churches or in a corresponding relationship.
In this article we report on contacts we have with churches and groups with whom we have no formal relationship as yet, some of recent vintage, a couple of others of longer duration, but groups of believers that have reached out to us either to explore the possibility of establishing formal relations someday or for assistance in development in doctrinal truth.
And we repeat, we make this report not simply so you can be informed about those with whom our churches are in contact, but to remind ourselves of two things. First, of the importance of remembering that, as Protestant Reformed Churches, we are a part of Christ’s church universal (though we and our contacts are ever so small), a church universal to which and for which we have a calling. We have not been given God’s truth and our institutions and resources simply to keep to ourselves. And second, we write to remind ourselves of our calling to pray for those with whom the Lord has put us into contact. The Holy Spirit Himself through the apostolic Word makes this incumbent upon us, as pointed out last article, especially as apostasy engulfs the whole of Christendom in these last days.
A contact of highest interest to the PRC CC has been the BERG of Giessen, Germany (Bekennende Evangelisch-Reformierte Gemeinde—Confessing Protestant Reformed Congregation). We have been in contact with this small Reformed group for some 15 years now. Reference to contact with a group in Giessen, Germany first appears in the 2006 Acts of Synod. At that time, they were a small fellowship. They are now a congregation of some 50 members, a group of believers that owes a great deal to the faithful Reformed, confessional instruction of Dr. Jurgen Klautke.
Who they are, what their origin is, what they have had to endure for the Reformed faith, as well as their distinctives in doctrine and practice can be found in past Acts of Synod. Of significance is the rejection the BERG (with its little seminary) had to endure from financial supporters once the BERG informed these supporters that they were having contact with the PRCA and finding themselves in agreement with our stand for an unconditional covenant, theology in line with Bavinck and H. Hoeksema. These supporters were affiliated with the Liberated Churches in the Netherlands. For their contact with us and their stand on this covenantal view they paid a heavy price. Their little seminary was nearly destroyed. With assistance by men from the PRC and the help of our Faith congregation (Jenison, MI), that little seminary survived and continues its good, confessionally sound work today.
Suffice it to say at this point, that, despite some positions of a practical nature that have needed to be thoroughly discussed and assessed before we could talk about establishing formal relations, the BERG is committed to the doctrines of faith and life as set forth by the Heidelberg Catechism. It is their primary creed, and as our church visitors’ “question manual” indicates, when that confession is faithfully maintained and explained, there is “no doctrine [biblical, Reformed, and necessary for faith and life] left untreated” (Q. 2). Though the BERG has not formally subscribed to the Canons of Dordt nor the Belgic Confession, the officebearers inform us that they are in fundamental agreement with the Calvinism (doctrines of sovereign grace) set forth in the Canons as well as what is confessed in the Belgic Confession.
This past year two of our ministers, Revs. C. Griess and C. Spronk traveled to Germany. Elder Peter VanDerSchaaf, with his excellent command of German, accompanied them. The men of the BERG strongly desire some kind of formal relationship with the PRCA. Their smallness, their isolation, and their finding fundamental agreement only with the PRCA in areas of the doctrines of grace and the antithetical life point them in our direction. As they put it, they really would not feel at home with anyone else in the whole ecclesiastical world at this point. Discussion with our delegation centered on the possibility of a formal relationship in the future, and what more needed or could be done.
Our delegates preached for the BERG (via a translator) and gave some speeches. They also traveled some 175 miles north to Osnabruck to meet with members and officebearers of another small, developing Reformed congregation, called the BEG (Bekennende Evangelisch Gemeinde—The Confessing Protestant Congregation). The BERG and the BEG, with its young pastor who studied under Dr. Klautke, have been working towards a formal relationship. The BERG introduced the PRC to the BEG about two years ago, with a delegation visiting them at that time. For both delegations interesting discussions and wonderful fellowship took place during their few days in Osnabruck.
Following the recent visit, one of their elders wrote a Christmas letter to a number of us in the States, in which he stated:
As I also mentioned during your stay [as representatives of the PRCA], it was so encouraging to talk with you, to learn about your congregations, to see how the Lord has blessed the way you and your [denomination] is following HIM. There were a lot of good conversations and advice; you are on an exemplary way. Together with my fellow elders, Reinhard and Stefan, and also with [Pastor] Ludwig, we came to this same assessment.
In this respect we are also blessed in our congregation that we as elders lead by agreement [with each other]. However, as you may have realized, we are still on a journey towards a clear Reformed church in terms that all members share this view 100%. Each of our members has a different background and none of them comes from a Reformed tradition. There are a lot of new [teachings] for each of them. Nevertheless, I think, we are getting there, but it takes time.
Take note of the brother’s sincere appreciation and joy for contact with knowledgeable men of like-minded faith.
And how important the brother’s points are for our contact with such officebearers and the congregations. Take note! They see where we are at as churches, whose Reformed maturity they covet and desire to emulate. But they do not have the advantage of centuries of Reformed pedigree and background. They are laboring with members being newly introduced to the Reformed distinctives, so much new to digest. Patience must be practiced. They, as wise-hearted elders, know that. These believers have been entrusted to their care to bring along the way. The brother’s comments come as a plea for us to understand that and not to dismiss them. The question is, do we understand that? Do we? The CC is convinced the Lord of His church has put these congregations and saints in Germany in our path for a reason. And woe unto us if we do not put at their disposal every resource with which the Lord has so abundantly blessed us. I say again, what has been entrusted to us has been given not simply for ourselves, but for the benefit of Christ’s church universal.
For some reason the history and incident of 2 Kings 7:8–9 comes to mind. Read it for profit at your convenience.
We also remain in contact with a small denomination in Namibia that recently approved the addition of a congregation in South Africa. It was a contact initiated some eight years ago. Since then a number of visits have been made by our delegations to explore what we have in common and what differences there are. The original band of five small churches in Namibia broke with the Reformed Church of South Africa (GKSA), a denomination that has sister relations with the CRC and reflects the apostasy of the CRC in many ways.
It has been three years since a delegation from our churches has visited southwest Africa to explore the feasibility of some formal relationship with those churches. Now that the careful work of adding a new congregation to their denomination has been completed, those churches have extended an invitation to send a delegation to discuss further the possibility of closer, formal relations. Synod 2019 was so informed and approved our sending a delegation. Plans are for the delegation to visit in late August, early September of this year.
Of growing interest has been recent contact taking place in South Korea. It is a contact that was initiated by three ministers of Presbyterian Churches in South Korea who enrolled in Calvin Seminary to obtain doctorates, but who with their families worshiped in our churches while pursuing their studies, one in First (GR), the others, who followed, in Southeast. One of the men, Dr. Sungho Lee, is a professor in the Kosin Presbyterian Theological Seminary of South Korea. The result of these men coming to know our preaching, doctrine, and the life of our members was an invitation to send a delegation of the PRC to South Korea. This occurred in 2017. Prof. R. Cammenga and Rev. W. Langerak gave addresses at a conference marking the 400th anniversary of the Canons of Dordt, and then spent a week presenting to various groups who the PRCA is and what we maintain theologically.
The result of that visit is another invitation by these ministers (this time under the auspices of the seminary where Dr. Lee teaches) for our men to return, requesting that Prof. Cammenga give his lectures on John Calvin and his Institutes (in essence, the Interim course the professor has taught at our seminary). They also have an invitation to speak at the Hapdong Theological Seminary of Korea (also Presbyterian). Opportunities will be given (insisted upon!) to address other church groups associated with these ministers as well.
Let no one imagine the delegates will simply be on a sight-seeing tour, though sites will be visited. They will return to the States spent, but convinced, as they were last visit, that it was time and energy well spent.
Because these are invitations prompted by individual ministers and not from a denomination, this work is not the official work of the CC, though we stay informed. It involves Councils (first Southeast and now Trinity PRC) expressing a willingness to authorize their minister to visit South Korea to pursue these contacts. The Theological School Committee gave its permission to Prof. Cammenga to participate in the contact and visit South Korea along with Rev. W. Langerak in mid-July.
Another contact that has recently appeared on our radar is contact with Presbyterian churches in Mexico. Again, this is not a contact with which the CC is directly involved. But it is a significant contact, about which we stay informed and should be of greatest interest to our members. It is a contact being supervised and nurtured by First Church (GR), initiated by a member who recently joined their congregation, a man who grew up in a Presbyterian congregation in Mexico City, Doner Bartolon, and who is currently enrolled in our seminary.
Visits by Revs. C. Griess, R. Kleyn, and Prof. Cammenga have already taken place the past two years, and another is scheduled for sometime this summer. The invitations have come from ministers and their elders who were informed about us by brother Bartolon, and who desired to learn more about us. At the center of the visits has been a seminary named John Calvin Theological Seminary, located in Mexico City. It is a seminary supported by the Independent Presbyterian Church. The ministers with whom our men are having contact have concerns about errors that threaten its long-standing Calvinist heritage. An error looming large is “Reformationalism.” It is something we would label as “neo-Calvinism,” putting more and more emphasis on Christ’s church addressing social concerns and focusing on social improvements at the expense of the purity of the gospel and the centrality of preaching. The ministers who initiated contact with us do not want their congregations and denominations to be infected with the leaven of such an error.
Along with other topics, our men have been given opportunity to address the error. Adherents of the error have been present at the presentations, as was expected, resulting in much discussion. But, as well, our men have had opportunities to address various congregations, to introduce ourselves as PRC, and also to preach in various locations, in some instances quite a distance from Mexico City. One such contact has been with men within the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico. The reception has been for the most part favorable, and the desire of many, especially of the ministers with whom the contact began, has been to hear from our men again. Hence, the repeated invitations. And reason for remembrance and prayer.
We would be remiss not to mention on-going contact with Rev. Titus and his congregation in Myanmar, under the auspices of Hope PRC, Walker, or the contact that continues with pastor Paul Raj and his congregation in Vellore, India, under the auspices of Georgetown PRC.
Contact of our churches with Rev. Titus and the congregation in Myanmar has been long standing. The stalwart faithfulness of Rev. Titus to Reformed truth and gospel is well known to many of us. Our Hope congregation continues to send delegations to Myanmar on a regular basis in the interests of doctrinal and church political instruction. The small congregation continues to make a faithful witness and stay in contact with many pastors scattered throughout Myanmar.
Georgetown continues to minister as it can to the needs of Paul Raj and his congregation in south India, with its orphanage. Regular visits have been made over the years by various of our preachers and members to teach and encourage. Rev. Haak, along with others, have just returned from a visit to Vellore, bringing the gospel and traveling with Pastor Paul Raj to the various contacts he has in the Vellore area. Rev. W. Bruinsma, with some accompanying him, is also just completing a visit. A faithful witness continues to be made in that part of India and the church of Christ continues to be gathered.
The CC stays informed about these labors and approves financial assistance from funds designated by our synod for these labors. So, though we as a committee representing our denomination do not in every instance have a formal contact with some of these ‘contacts,’ congregations do keep us informed of their work, and they do receive some denominational assistance. It can be said these are groups and churches in contact with our churches, one and all.
So many contacts across the face of the globe laid across our path. And laid by whom? Churches and groups newer to the Reformed, biblical faith than our own churches, churches filled with believers. Who do you suppose is speaking to us through them? And what do you think He expects from us with our rich heritage, which is nothing else than His heritage entrusted to our care? For use for whom? Those bought with the same precious blood that we and ours have been, and indwelt by the same Spirit. All one has to do is talk with these saints to come to the conclusion that this is who and whose they are.
“Lord give us the wisdom to know how to proceed and to be of benefit to Thy body, manifested worldwide,” is our prayer. A church universal upon whom the end of the age has come. Only One has the power and wisdom to direct us in the way we should go.
Have you read 2 Kings 7:8–9ff. yet? Please do so.