Is The Christian Reformed Church a Liberal Church?

 Before you comment please read the entire post. When this post was written, I had a very small audience of people mostly from my own congregation.  At that time I had recently dealt with family and friends who left my congregation for the CRC. many of  whom continue to slander my church and the school. As well there were others in my church who were considering leaving for un-biblical reasons.  This post does point out weaknesses and issues which the CRC is dealing with and may come across as slanderous, however this post was not intended to slander or defame the CRC, rather it was intended to merely caution those discontent people in my church to “Stop looking over the fence, the grass is not always greener.”  I often point out the weaknesses in myself and my own denomination as well.

“Is the Christian Reformed Church (CRCNA) a liberal church?”

“Can the CRCNA really claim to be reformed?”

“Is the CRCNA a biblical Church?”

I have been asked these and similar questions on a number of occasions.  For a number of reasons  I have been hesitant to address these questions, for one I have family who attend the CRCNA.  Two, I have a number of readers from various CRCNA congregations, and three I am not sure I am really qualified to answer the question. Usually I deflect the questioners to the CRCNA website where they post a lot of position statements.   However, I have received a lot of questions about the CRCNA and the difference between the CRCNA and the Canadian Reformed Churches (which I am a member of).  Now recently I have heard of some people in my own congregation who are contemplating the “greener grass” of the CRCNA. So I have done a fair bit of research to see what the issues really are.  This evening I will initially deviate from my usual style of blogging to include links and references to the statements regarding the CRCNA. Second I will then address my own church in light of the questions asked of me, returning to my usual blogging style.  So please bear with me.

Some History: The CRCNA is linked to the “mother church,”  the Gereformeerde Kerken Nederland (GKN) in Holland ,which is very liberal.  While the two churches officially separated ties in the 1990’s, the CRCNA has followed a very similar trajectory as the GKN with regard to liberalism and Political Correctness.  The CanRC was founded by the “liberated” people from the “mother church” GKN who also formed the GKV. The liberation happened in 1944 in Holland.  Read more about it Here.

I will now present some hot button issues and I will attempt to sound as non-partisan as I can…

The CRCNA permits women in all ecclesiastical offices, which can be easily found on their website. 

The CRCNA has an official stance on creation issues, which you will find here.  While this all may sound biblical – please note that no position is officially taken as to creation issues. What is disheartening to me is that theistic evolution, and a non-literal Genesis is being taught at Calvin College – one of the CRCNA’s official training center for ministers.  In 1988 the general synod of the CRCNA declared that theistic evolution fell within the bounds of the confessions.  “Warning–Darwinese is spoken here,” declared the Christian Renewal – a CRCNA publication, which had these words placed across a photo of the Calvin College catalog. [John Van Dyk, “Calvin Professor Exonerated,” Christian Renewal, Feb. 29, 1988, 1, 14; De Koster, “Warning: Darwinese is Spoken Here,” ibid, Mar. 21, 1988]

The CRCNA’s position is that it has separated “homosexuality” from the practice of homosexuality as expressed in a term they describe as “homosexualism.” It seems that by adopting such a view, the CRCNA has forgotten that the gospel calls us to repent and turn to God, not to simply accept our sinfulness.

The CRCNA has stated that Question and Answer # 80 of the Heidelberg Catechism are no longer valid.

Theodore Plantinga, a professor at Redeemer College declared in 1983: “I believe there is doctrinal erosion underway in the Christian Reformed Church…. The health and vitality of the Church is at stake.” He cited as examples CRCNA pastor Neal Punt’s book, Unconditional Good News: Toward an Understanding of Biblical Universalism (1980); Synod’s decision to “redeem” dancing by “transforming” it; and Synod’s writing of a new creed, The Contemporary Testimony, with its ambiguous use of the word “world.” The next year John Bolt, religion professor in Redeemer College, noted that Punt’s book elicited little debate because “for the most part serious doctrinal discussion is dead in the CRC.” The result, Bolt lamented, is that the conservatives and progressives no longer talk together, and the church has succumbed to “extremism” and “polarization.” The following year, Nathan Hatch, an elder in the South Bend CRCNA and professor of history in the University of Notre Dame, noted the “toppling” of the “stable theological system” within the CRCNA over the past 25 years. [Bratt, “War of Words,”]

We can see that the CRCNA has become “P.C.” just like the society in which we live.  The CRCNA has taken stands on gender roles, homosexuality, cultural diversity, and individual rights, stands which are analogous to society at large. The left over conservatives, and there are still conservatives left, stand on Scripture alone, while the progressive/liberal majority of the CRCNA insist on living in the “world.” [Theodore Plantinga’s three-part opinion column, “Doctrinal Erosion?” Christian Renewal, May 9, 2, May 23, 2, June 6, 1983,  2; John Bolt, “The Problem of Polarization,” ibid, Oct. 22, 1984, 1; Nathan O. Hatch, “Evangelical Colleges and the Challenge of Christian Thinking,” Reformed Journal, Sept. 1985, 10-18. ]

All these things are, in my mind, simply symptoms of a much deeper problem.  The problem is the same reason the Orthodox Christian Reformed Church and United Reformed Church left the CRCNA – it largely centers around the growing denial of the authority and divine inspiration of the scriptures as summarized in our confessions  Belgic Confession Articles 5 & 7

The CRC may not yet be liberal as the GKN is or as broader evangelicalism is… but it is undeniably on that route. Even though the CRCNA may not be liberal as whole denomination, many congregations and classes parade under the guise of political correctness or of “diversity.” These things are celebrated by the majority within the CRCNA and could be easily classified as broadly evangelical in their experiential theology and worship. Let’s pray that the largest Reformed denomination in Canada will return to the Bible and that God would not permit this denomination to slide completely into liberal ecumenicalism.  There is still hope, I still have hope I mean, as there are still pockets of orthodoxy left in the CRCNA…but they are few and far between as these conservative people slowly crumble under the pressure of liberal views and leave for the URC, OPC, CanRC, and other conservative reformed churches.

Now I would like to address my fellow “Canreffers.”

Instead of worrying about what other churches are doing or not doing: whether it is more appealing to you or less appealing to you, be it more biblical or less biblical, “better” or “worse” we should focus on our own churches and especially our own congregations.  I am not saying that we should only be inward looking, or sectarian, far from it!  We certainly should look outward to the community and the society we live in and shine with the light of Jesus.  And we certainly should be aware of the trends in other churches, so that we can keep watch when liberalism and unscriptural doctrine threatens to seep in. What I am saying is that we need not waste our energy focusing on other churches, what they are doing wrong or right, or whether we are “keeping up with the Joneses.”  We should focus on God, and the local Christian body in which God in his sovereignty has placed us.

I find it disheartening when people within our churches badmouth my church.  Do you badmouth your own church?  Do you realize that you are badmouthing the body of Christ, of which you are a part of when you do that? Or do you live a life of thankful service to God and the church for the many blessings you have received from His hand?  I used to badmouth my church…I would say things like – we don’t evangelize, too many people smoke, too many people drink, people in our church are lukewarm and complacent, we are religiously arrogant, our songs are too old fashioned and somber, our worship services are too structured and lifeless, we are sectarian…maybe we should leave. Yet I was simply part of the problem, I saw some issues that were valid but I did nothing about it. And the other issues were not really issues at all, they were just my own preconceived notions which were fueled by my own discontent. And my discontent was not with the church but was really my own sinful unbelief.  I was not living the Christian life so I blamed the church for my feelings of discontent. Ironic isn’t it?

Now I am serving out of thankfulness and trying to make a difference in service and to the glory of God and the up building of the church.  Do I want people to evangelize?  Yes!  But if I don’t evangelize then why would I complain that you don’t?  The same can be said about almost everything you or I complain about within the church. Do you complain about how things are run, or the songs we sing or the lifestyles we live?  Then read the Bible and pray and see if the discontent is rooted in you first. If it is you, then stop and repent and serve God and the church with your talents and abilities. When you change your priorities the little issues will not bother you as you are permeated with the truths of God and the Love of Christ and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. But if it is the church, if it is a real issue, or if it is teaching heresy, or being sectarian, or scripturally lacking in a particular area, then stop and repent and serve God and the Church with your talents and abilities. Pray fervently for a return to the truth.  I do not expect you all to stand up to fight to the bitter end, but the only way I would ever leave my church is if it was embracing heresy or liberalism.  But even then I would have to be dragged out kicking and screaming, all the while begging them to repent and return to the truth.  So, if it comes to it then we must leave (but the reasons to leave a church are for another post) 🙂

If the church is biblical, if it is a true church of Jesus Christ then before you start gossiping and complaining, before you  just up and leave, please take to the Bible, dive into it, read it, meditate on it and pray fervently, meet with an elder or a trusted friend in Christ and talk these things through.   Stop asking what your church can do for you, what God can do for you, God has already given his son for you, instead ask what you can do for God and the Church out of thankfulness for this precious gift of salvation.  Stop looking over the fence, the grass is not always greener.

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  1. Henry says:

    Thank you for a great read, one with a great deal of “food” to munch on and discuss. Soli Deo Gloria. We have a role to play, and a part to fill. We have the “play book”. We need to know it, and our place, well so that we can be the light we need to be in this dark world.
    I only wish I could do, and be, more.

    • Thank you Henry, for the kind words. We have the play book and we all play a part – and that stage we are on is not simply for our own people – but for all people. Let’s play our parts as the Lord directs. And don’t just wish you could be more…pray. Pray that God would use you, we are all tools in His hands and there is a lot of kingdom work to do. Be fervent in prayer.

  2. Jared says:

    Your comments on my church are correct and I hate that. I hate that you wrote about it. Liberal theology is seeping in and becoming the norm, predicated on the worldview of our leftist society. I hold out hope for the future, but must admit that my moving on may be in my not too distant future. I am one of the `crumbling conservatives`and I am losing. I hate this post. But thank you for this post.

    • I hate that you hate that 🙂 Again, I would say, stay put for now. But only if you are not backsliding. Stay and be the light, pray fervently, nail your 95 thesis on Wittenberg’s door. Stand unafraid before the assembly and stand on the truth and in the strength that God provides. I will pray for you, that the peace and comfort and strength only He can provide would be upon you.

  3. Rob Schouten says:

    Hi Ryan,

    I appreciate what you’ve written here. Imagine that you are married but your marriage partner is reserving the option to leave the marriage if things don’t go the way he or she hoped. A marriage with that kind of opt-out clause is not likely to survive any serious challenges. Similarly, when church members reserve the right to leave their local church should they become unhappy with one or the other aspect of congregational life, they are not likely to be actively engaged for the ongoing reformation and improvement of the church to which they belong. Much, much more could be said but you’ve made some really good points. Thanks!

    • Thanks Rev. Schouten,

      I appreciate your comment, it means a lot. Those are both very good points you make and I can certainly attest to the point about reserving the right to leave – since I had taken that frame of mind (even if I never verbalized it) and not surprisingly I was not really a contributing member of the church.

  4. Hi Ryan. I just discovered your blog and enjoyed what I have, so far, read — also this post. Just in the pursuit of accuracy, your second main paragraph above contains an error: The CRCNA did not have ties with the GKV. The GKV was formed when, in 1944, the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland kicked Schilder, etc., out of the church and the CanRC are the product of immigrant GKV-ers. (“Vrijgemaakt” means “liberated.”) The group with which the CRCNA historically had ties is sometimes called “GKN (Synodical)” whereas the CanRC have a sister church relationship with the GKV.

  5. eloleddie says:

    The CRC may not yet be liberal as the GKV is or as broader evangelicalism is… but it is undeniably on that route. I suppose, also here you mean the GKN (Synodical) – actually now part of the PKN – a union of the GKn (Synodical), Reformed Church (the State church) and some Lutherans.

    I very much enjoyed the last part of your blog.

    Thanks for writing it

  6. Bill DeVries says:

    I am glad people are discussing this. Unfortanately, there aren’t always alot of Reformed churches within driving distance for all of us. As a former Baptist (closet reformed), it was one awkward moment after another. The second they find out you don’t believe in the rapture or something they want to argue about it. So now I switched to a CRC thinking I would find the theology found in the 3 forms of unity. It is disturbing to hear these things. People like me are called “church hoppers.” The fact is, it is HARD to find a good church. Do the 3 forms of unity still mean anything in this denomination? I’m still figuring all this out.

  7. Bill DeVries says:

    Come to think of it, I remember not too long ago that I mentioned the word “arminianism” in a class and no one seemed to know what I was talking about. Then when I explained it, it seemed like someone wanted to correct me for holding a Calvinist view. Then it was the other way around when the views they expressed sounded totally charasmatic. I don’t know if this was just that particular class or what. (Maybe I should stop reading church history and play dumb.) Is this what I have to look forward to in this denomination?

    • Hi Bill, thanks for your comments. There is a wide spectrum in the CRC from the very liberal, like the Frist CRC in Toronto that is attempting to permit homosexual officebearers, then there is the CRC in Sumas, Washington who recently just permitted women to vote in congregational meetings. If you are looking for a denomination that is ‘orthodox’ reformed both in doctrine and practice, try looking up the URC or CanRC. I will pray for you in your search for a good congregation to worship and serve with. If you let me know where you are from, I may be able to forward you to someone in that area who could help you out.

  8. Bill DeVries says:

    Thank you for responding and especially for your prayers. I live in the Belding / Greenville area. I just can’t drive much further that I am right now. (That’s life….) Maybe this is the best I can do. The one I found is not outragious. I have an abiding interest in church history and stuff like this is very intriguing to me. To contact me:

  9. rabkca says:

    I know everyone’s agreeing with you here but I’d like to put a different spin on it. I’m someone who’s been well educated in the URC and in the past few years I’ve been attending an Evangelical Missionary church (while still attending a second service in the URC). We didn’t want to make any drastic decisions without being diligent to test what is being done at both places. We’ve taken all things Reformed and tested them through Scripture and have found some extremely troubling results. It is too much to get into now but feel free to email me for more if you’re willing to test it for yourself. It is for this reason that I balk at statements you make such as “broadly evangelical” as if this is something we should all stay well away from. We have tried to bring our findings to our local council and they have shut the door emphatically. I’m not in a marriage to the church. I’m searching for truth as the Bible reveals it and found it in the last place I thought I’d find it: an evangelical church. I am certainly not speaking for all evangelical churches but I know in this one, there is absolutely solid, doctrinally correct, sound preaching. To be honest, when I’m sitting in the reformed church, I feel like I’m starving compared to the nourishment I’m finding there. And I’ve never been studying the Word as I have been these past few years. So am I going to leave the reformed church? Yes. It’s not for a feeling or for the music or for anything else along those lines. It’s for Biblical truth that I now know I’m missing at my local URC.