Thursday, September 22, 2016

Unity, the Reformed churches, and "Reformed" tribalism

God has given our churches the body of truth. He has given us the precious truth of the gospel of His sovereign grace in Jesus Christ. He has revealed that truth to us in His Word. He has given it to us as it is summarized and set forth in our Reformed confessions. God has also given us in our own congregation(s) unity in that truth. That truth should be precious to us. We must guard and protect it. We must stand for the truth of God without compromise. This means we may not unite with those who oppose it, but only with those who are one with us in the truth.

The question now is, how do we carry this out? In answer to that question, it must be clear from the outset that the way in which this is carried out with those who are not one with us varies from church to church, and from situation to situation.

If there are churches who have made it clear that they are determined to oppose and reject the truth, certainly we cannot be close to them nor continue to seek unity with them. By their conscious and deliberate rejection of God’s Word, they give evidence of departure from the faith. Instead of being a church that is reforming and coming to a clearer understanding and confession of the truth, they are moving further away from the truth. This does not mean that they have immediately become a false church. But the fact is that they have shown by their wilful [sic] rejection of the truth that they are headed in that direction. [Daniel Kleyn, "Loving Churches who Seek the Truth," Salt Shakers 39 (Sept 2016): 6]

Thus wrote Pastor Daniel Kleyn, a PRCA (Protestant Reformed Churches of America) missionary in the Philippines, in this article of relating to other churches that are not in the same denomination as them. Now, I think it is a good idea to consider how we should perceive and interact with other churches, which surprisingly few people write about. So I would applaud Kleyn for daring to write on this issue openly, and taking a position that is most certainly at odds with Evangelicalism of any stripe (including the Martin Lloyd-Jones style Old Evangelicalism)

While I applaud his daring, and he certainly has it right that unity is found in truth, yet I do have serious problems with his article, not less is because of his denomination the PRCA. In full disclosure, I was formerly a member of Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church (CERC), joining it before it developed sister church relations with the PRCA. I joined the church then because it was Reformed, not because it was PRCA. When the church decided to pursue a closer relation with the PRCA, and as I began to see what the PRCA stood for, I was in total disagreement with the direction the church was going. When I left for seminary, I took the opportunity to get out and join the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), of which I am still a member.

The PRCA have certain hobby horses they love to harangue others over, and while I do not know how explicitly they express it, they are certain that almost every other Reformed church in the US are deeply compromised in doctrine, with their favorite whipping boy being the CRC (Christian Reformed Church), and those that came out of either her and the PRCA: the URCNA (United Reformed Churches of North America) and the CanRC (Canadian Reformed Church). Basically, they alone are the true Reformed church body, if you believe their polemic. Now there is nothing wrong with criticizing these church bodies IF they are in fact apostate, but where is the evidence for that?

When you start to examine the issues and the critiques by PRCA pastors and theologians, and measure it according to Scripture, the Reformed tradition, and Reformed theological sources objectively, you will start to realize that the PRCA do not trade in truth. The PRCA has a tradition which is regarded as axiomatic as being truly "Reformed," but that tradition is not open to criticism or reconsideration. What is "Reformed" is what they believe as taught especially by their founder Herman Hoeksema; everything else has to fit into that system. By "truth," they mean "the Reformed tradition as interpreted by Herman Hoeksema, and their two other theologians Herman Hanko and David Engelsma." Everything they read must be re-interpreted according to this lens, as we have seen in Engelsma's absolutely horrendous review of the book Sacred Bond, co-authored by my pastor Zach Keele and Pastor Michael Brown of Christ URC at Santee (here, here, here and here).

The only and true reason why I am Reformed, and why anyone should be Reformed, is because the Reformed faith is the truth. I other words, the Reformed faith is the truest and purest form of biblical Christianity. If that were not so, there is no reason for anyone to be Reformed, and I would be the first to throw out that label. Therefore, to stand on the truth and to be always seeking after truth is a Reformed imperative. When Kleyn says that "we must stand for the truth of God without compromise," he speaks truly in form. But do the PRCA actually stand on and trade in truth? NO! If they were actually standing on the truth, then why are they so resistant to actually represent their opponents accurately? Why does Engelsma have to misrepresent Keele and Brown in his review of Sacred Bond? If they are really interested in the truth, why don't they interact with their critiques? I am sure I am not the only one who has pointed out the errors in their theology and practice, so why not interact with us? After all, since they clearly believe they are right and we are wrong, shouldn't they be interested to show us how wrong we are?

The problem with the PRCA is they are "Reformed" tribalists. "Reformed" to them is a tribe in which certain shibboleths must be honored. The truth is not that important as much as following the standards and traditions of the group. I don't think it needs to be proven why tribalism, or sectarianism, is wrong. Therefore, when the PRCA and ministers like Kleyn talk about how churches that that by "their conscious and deliberate rejection of God’s Word, they give evidence of departure from the faith," and that "they are moving further away from the truth," he is rejecting other Christians just because they do not hold to PRCA tribal doctrines. That of course is a sin against the catholicity of the Church, and is utterly reprehensible.

Now, saying this, I do not wish to imply that sectarianism is a problem merely for the PRCA. There are other groups that are just as sectarian (e.g. those attacking EFS as "anti-Nicene heresy"). The common denominator is a willingness to misrepresent their opponents, ignore critics, and spin the truth. But as Jesus is the truth, such should never be the way true Christians and true Reformed Christians conduct ourselves. And for those who fall into sectarianism, they are to repent of their sins and turn to God, seeking true ecumeneity in the truth of Christ.

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