In The Outlook, April, 1978, the Rev. John Vander Ploeg writes again about a “United Reformed Church.” What I had begun to think was a long forgotten “dream,” has now taken on the garb of “an ongoing challenge.”
Frankly, I find it difficult to believe that the Reformed Fellowship is sincere about this matter. And I have my reasons for this. In the first place, it is four years ago, May of 1974, that this “dream” was fast proposed inThe Outlook. What has been done since then? There was to be a Congress of Conservatives in 1976. There was to be a preliminary meeting of interested parties prior to this congress. It was hoped that this congress might give birth to a permanent union of some kind, and that this in turn might give birth to a United Reformed Church. It is fine to write: “To. pray for, to pursue, and’ to propagate the realization of the ‘United Reformed Church’ should be the aim which we still cherish as a part of our Lord’s building program and regard as our ongoing challenge.” But concretely, now, who is “pursuing” this thing, and how? It appears to me that this “ongoing challenge” remains at the challenge stage, that no one takes up this occasionally renewed (hardly “ongoing”) challenge, that no one appears todare take it up, and that the concerned and conservative dissenters in the Christian Reformed Church somehow keep a little interest stirred up and at the same time soothe their consciences by continuing to speak of this dream as an ongoing challenge. Pardon my bluntness, brethren, but that is the impression you are leaving on me and others. In the second place, I remind Rev. Vander Ploeg and the Reformed Fellowship that they had a golden opportunity to sit down and talk in an unofficial conference with Protestant Reformed brethren, and they refused our well-meant invitation. In fact, they refused to sit down at a no-strings-attached preliminary committee meeting and even talk about talking. This I reported to our readers in 1974-75. In fact, The Outlook, after publishing one of my editorial replies to Rev. Vander Ploeg’s “dream,” would not even continue to publish the further editorial exchange on the matter. This, too, does not have the ring of sincerity to me.
However, what I wish to emphasize especially in connection with this “challenge” of a “United Reformed Church” is that for our Protestant Reformed Churches this whole idea holds neither challenge nor urgency nor attraction. In fact, for us it would be totally unnecessary.
Why do I write this?
The reason is simple: there already is a “United Reformed Church.” Because there is, there is no need of forming one and urging people to form one. In fact, to multiply churches would be wrong.
We are the “United Reformed Church.” No, that is not our formal name. We are the Protestant Reformed Churches in America. Nevertheless, we are, in the first place, Reformed. We are Reformed according to the confessions, pure and simple. And as Reformed, we are United, united on the basis of Scripture and the Reformed creeds. This is exactly what distinguishes us from other denominations of Reformed descent. They are Reformed in name; we are Reformed in fact. Moreover, history proves it! Is it not a striking fact that our denomination is not assailed by the troubles which other Reformed denominations are experiencing today? We do not have conservative and liberal wings. We have no need of organizations of laymen in which dissenters find a shelter. I do not write this to boast, but to testify. For it is indeed a testimony that we are united, and that we are united on the basis of the pure Reformed faith.
From our Protestant Reformed point of view, therefore, to join forces with groups of dissenters from here and there in an effort to form a “United Reformed Church” such as Rev. Vander Ploeg proposes would not only be unnecessary, but it would be wrong. Must I forsake the true church in order to form another supposedly true church? That would be an act of schism on my part.
But I also wish to point out that from the point of view of those groups of dissenters, such as Reformed Fellowship, the ACRL, and the League of Christian Laymen, this is wrong. Rev. Vander Ploeg likes to characterize it as true ecumenism. But this is not correct. One can hardly speak of ecumenism among those who do not constitute the church, but are only non-ecclesiastical organizations of dissenters in their respective denominations. Ecumenism in the true sense involves churches, denominations, of like faith.
Moreover, the entire procedure outlined by Rev. Vander Ploeg in this connection is wrong. He is saying in effect: 1) In our present denominations we cannot be satisfied because of their errors of doctrine and life. 2) Nowhere else can we find a faithful Reformed denomination which measures up to the marks of the church mentioned in Article 29 of the Belgic Confession, and nowhere else can we fulfill our calling to seek the true church. 3) Hence, let us institute the church anew and cooperate to form a United Reformed Church.
The above reasoning might be correct, except for the fact that Premise Number Two is false. It totally ignores the objective fact that the Protestant Reformed Churches in America are, according to the marks, the manifestation of the true church.
That is the situation.
The underlying reason is that Rev. Vander Ploeg simply does not want to face up to the wrong-doings of the Christian Reformed Church in 1924, wrongs for which he and others remain corporately responsible. This is plain, too, from the fact that he and the Reformed Fellowship want by all means to avoid a discussion of these matters and will not face up to them, and will not even confer about a conference.
But if this is the case, then remember this too: God will not bless any efforts to form a United Reformed Church which ignore the path of truth and righteousness. For He is the Holy One!
It may have a fine sound to prate about the “challenge” of forming a dream-church. I prefer to speak of thesacred calling to seek and to join ourselves to the true church, according to the marks.
Meanwhile, I am happy to notice, as I visit in our churches, that increasingly there are those brethren and sisters from the Christian Reformed Church who at last are beginning to recognize the fact that they can fulfill this sacred calling by affiliating with us, and who do so especially because, according to their testimony, they find with us the pure preaching of the Word, preaching with the old, familiar, distinctively Reformed ring!