Still Passionate …but a Little Less frustrated.
I wrote an article on the issue of the inward focus of the Canadian Reformed Church (CanRC), and how this was reinforced with the removal of a particular phrase from the mandate of elders. You can view that article Here.
I have to admit that I am a little less frustrated today than I was when I wrote that article. Why? Well I have done some research and received some info from ministers in the CanRC. In so doing I have seen a reformation in process with regard to this issue.
The following is Article 51 of the Church Order(CO) of the CanRC. This is the only article dealing specifically with evangelism in the current CO.
Article 51 current Church Order:
The churches shall endeavour to fulfil their missionary task.
When churches cooperate in this matter, they shall, as much as possible, observe the division into classes and regional synods.
While this article is vague, at least it is addressed. There is also improvement in this area in our federation. That can be seen in the unity talks with the United Reformed Church (URC). Not only do we see the inward focus dissipating in and through the unity discussion itself, but in the paperwork being generated because of these talks. These two federations have separate and slightly different CO’s, so to remedy this situation a Proposed Joint Church Order (PJCO) has been created. There are two articles specifically dealing with evangelism.
Articles 44 & 45 of the PJCO
The Church’s Mission Calling
Each church shall fulfill its mission calling, which is to preach the Word of God to the unconverted at home and abroad with the goal of establishing churches. This shall be carried out by missionaries who are ministers of the Word set apart for this labor by being called, supported, and supervised by their respective consistories for this task. Such missionaries shall proclaim the Word of God, and administer the sacraments to those who have been converted to the faith. They shall also institute church offices according to the provisions of the Church Order. The consistory shall promote the involvement of church members in service that assists in fulfilling this mission calling. If necessary, a calling church shall invite churches within its classis or regional synod to cooperate by agreement regarding the field, support, and oversight of the mission work.
The Church’s Evangelism Calling
Each church shall fulfill its evangelistic calling in faithfulness to the Word of God. Relying on the Holy Spirit it shall make known the good news of Jesus Christ to those in its area who do not know God or are estranged from Him and His service. It shall seek to persuade them to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, which includes joining His church through profession of faith.
Do you see a difference?
Now, if you are like me, you blurted out a hearty “Praise the Lord”, and your wife shushed you because the kids were asleep. Then you went straight to the mandate of elders in the PJCO to see what it says about evangelism. But most of you are probably not like me, so I will tell you what it said. Remember that in 1984 the General Synod Cloverdale voted to remove from the mandate of elders the phrase, “…exhort others to the Christian faith”.
Here is the current Mandate given to elders in the CanRC:
Article 22, The Office of Elder
The specific duties of the office of elder are, together with the ministers of the Word, to have supervision over Christ’s church, that every member may conduct himself properly in doctrine and life according to the gospel; and faithfully to visit the members of the congregation in their homes to comfort, instruct, and admonish them with the Word of God, reproving those who behave improperly. They shall exercise Christian discipline according to the command of Christ against those who show themselves unbelieving and ungodly and refuse to repent and shall watch that the sacraments are not profaned. Being stewards of the house of God, they are further to take care that in the congregation all things are done decently and in good order, and to tend the flock of Christ which is in their charge. Finally, it is the duty of elders to assist the ministers of the Word with good counsel and advice and to supervise their doctrine and conduct.
Notice that in the current CO there is no mention of missions, evangelism sharing the gospel, or anything of that sort in the mandate for an Elder. So my question here is this… who’s job is it to ensure that evangelism happens? Is it the flock? Or the minister? Or the Shepherds? Here is what the PJCO says regarding elders:
The Duties of Elders
The duties belonging to the office of elder consist of shepherding and ruling the church of Christ according to the principles taught in Scripture, in order that purity of doctrine and holiness of life may be practiced. The elders, together with the minister, shall watch over their fellow office-bearers, and ensure that they faithfully discharge their offices. They are to maintain the purity of the Word and Sacraments, persist in praying for the congregation, assist in catechizing the youth in the congregation, and promote schooling at all levels that is in harmony with the Word of God as summarized the Three Forms of Unity. Moreover, they shall visit the members of the congregation according to need, engage in annual home visits, preserve and promote concord and unity among the members and between the congregation and its office-bearers, exercise discipline in the congregation, promote the work of evangelism and missions, and ensure that everything is done decently and in good order.
This time I whispered, “Hallelujah!” (to avoid upsetting my wife) The PJCO was drafted by participants from both the CanRC and the URC. And since men from the CanRC were involved with this draft, this tells me that the inward focus that has been so prevalent in the CanRC for so long has begun to dissipate. This is a very good thing. This a reformation in process. This is God being faithful to His children, even when we were not.
I am hopeful for the merger, (for reasons other than a new church order) however, I also do not think that we should wait for the merger to include these in to the existing CanRC CO. If these are really the thoughts of the majority of the delegates of Synod, then why wait? If the CanRC really experienced an unintended deformation in 1984 with the removal of the phrase in the mandate for elders, then it should be addressed and reformed. The merger may never happen, and if it does it could take years. Why wait? We are called to be continually reforming.
I am too late to send a letter a my consistory to request synod look into the 1984 decision (we have to have our requests in 6 months prior to synod) So, I am waiting to see what happens with this years Synod…then I will address the issue with my consistory. Hopefully someone else addressed the issue.
So tell me what you think. I would love to hear your thoughts!