Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ

June 26, 2013 — Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Two recent articles in The Banner have caused concern because they argue for a modification of present Christian Reformed doctrinal and ethical understandings: notably of doctrinal formulations related to human origins and of our ethical position regarding sexuality and marriage. We allowed these articles first of all because we believe that the authors represent more than just a few voices within our denomination and so, rather than ignoring these voices, we believe that they should be heard and responded to in truth and love (Eph. 4:15). We also allowed them because in both instances they address serious challenges that many of us face, such as pastorally dealing with those who attend secular universities and those who live in common-law relationships. We were convinced that, whether we agreed or disagreed with them, the authors genuinely seek to apply their Reformed understanding to difficult issues.

In both articles we sought to alert you, the reader, to the fact that they do not represent an official position of the denomination. We did so by adding a synodical pronouncement to the first article and by running two articles back to back with respect to the second—the lead article in this second instance addressing the issue from our more commonly-held perspective.

In coming months we will publish articles by those among us who can respond meaningfully to the concerns and challenges raised. In September we hope to publish an article by a biologist who cautions us against too readily adopting an evolutionist perspective. In that same issue I hope to offer an editorial that will argue for the strength of our currently prevailing understanding of sexuality and marriage--these in the hope of continuing a respectful and fruitful dialog.

However, your frank responses, as well as a good heart-to-heart conversation with our executive director, who expressed serious concerns, have made me realize, perhaps too late, that the manner and timing of publishing these articles has led to significant doubt about the magazine’s direction. For this I sincerely apologize. While we should allow many voices to speak around our denominational “kitchen table,” we ought not to do so in ways that calls into question our common commitment. I continue to affirm my love for the Christian Reformed Church, its creeds and confessions, and its commitment to the infallibility of Scripture. As we continue in our communal task of “speaking the truth in love,” I ask you for your forgiveness, patience, understanding, and goodwill as we continue these painful but necessary conversations.

Yours in Christ
Bob De Moor
Editor

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It's one thing to address serious pastoral challenges - a commendable goal - and it may warrant controversial articles as these are, at times, vexed questions to say the least.

It's quite another to address these challenges in any which way.  These challenges should be confronted from a particular position - the Reformed confessions and Scripture.  The issue in the response to the article regarding human origins (and the current one by Van Belle) is not an unwillingness to confront the issue, but an assumption that the official publication of the CRCNA ought, at least in some fashion, confront the issues from a more decisively orthodox starting point rather than give the appearance of endorsing views already determined to be contrary to the Church's teaching (when a professor at the Church's college is reprimanded for views very similar to those expressed in the article on human origins, we may say it has been determined to be contrary to the Church's teaching).

Editorial independence is a fine thing, but this magazine is a denominational magazine, paid for by the generous offerings of members (among other sources of revenue).  It cannot then avoid responsibility for defending and promoting Church teaching in its pages - particularly when that teaching is contained in those documents to which office bearers are required to subscribe: the Bible, the ecumenical creeds, and the Reformed Confessions.

Allow me again, however, to commend The Banner (and you) for your willingness to take lumps in this endeavor.  You put it out there and you let folks have their say.  The discussion around this kitchen table may get heated, but you don't squelch it even when the heat is intense and directed at you.

"Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith. Grace be with you." 1 Timothy 6:20,21

While I can appreciate the "kitchen table" analogy, it seems rather difficult to achieve if not even naive. I suspect a significant portion of the CRC membership is not inclined to go online and discuss these matters on a website. Instead they find their denominational magazine continues to print articles that are diametrically opposed to everything they have believed in their entire lives and they are left with the choices of throwing out the magazine and/or writing a letter to the editor that will probably have little to no impact (in their eyes). Meanwhile they are regularly solicited to contribute to a magazine that seemingly speaks against the faith they hold dear. My heart breaks for them.

Although I grew up in Michigan, I am a relative newcomer to the CRC. One of the primary reasons my husband and I chose a CRC church was due to the fact that it seemed to be one of the last denominations that was willing to grapple biblically with the difficult cultural questions, valued the role of women in the church, and stayed firmly committed to the Scriptures. Over the past year or so that confidence has been steadily eroded by some of the articles published in The Banner.

When I shared the "Tomorrow's Theology" article with my blog readers, I simply posted the link and asked, "What would you think if your denominational magazine published this article?" The responses were dismay, disgust, and the recommendation to consider looking for another church if this is the view of my own pastor as well as the denomination. Not one person considered that the denomination would be printing such an article to "encourage conversation".

While those publishing The Banner might think they are encouraging conversation amongst the CRC membership, putting out articles like this online where anyone can find them by surfing onto the page really undermines the credibility of the CRC as a denomination. If I surfed onto these articles and didn't know anything about the CRC, I would quickly surf on after a long sigh for finding yet another group of churches that had lost its way.

 

 

Sallie Borrink says it pretty well.  I really, really hope Bob De Moor and the powers that be (as to the Banner) are listening and listening well.  Her account mirrors that of some newcomers to our church.  For our church, the denominational structures are increasingly undermining our local church by "exploring" perspectives that contradict denominational perspective.  

This doesn't make sense, unless of course there are individuals withing the denominational structure that simply don't agree with the a number of denominational perspectives and want to change the denominational perspectives via methods that shouldn't be used.

We bemoan the bleeding of membership that is occuring but then do that which causes membership bleed.  Again, doesn't make sense unless ..., which is what I suspect is the case.

Doug,

Thank you for your comment. I think those of us who came into the CRC from other denominations (especially those not Reformed) are probably even more troubled in some ways by the "pronouncements" of the denomination.

I'm from a Baptist background so being in a denomination with a definite hierarchy is very different for me. The idea that a small group of people meets each year to make pronouncements about what the CRC believes and makes it binding on members frankly makes me uncomfortable at times. When the denominational magazine starts pushing certain viewpoints that are contrary to the long-held beliefs of the denomination that I made a studied decision to affiliate with, the Baptist in me starts seeing all sorts of red flags.

I understand what you are saying about the denominational structures undermining your local church. I have no authority to speak for my own church, but I can say without a doubt as a newcomer to the CRC that this is not what I thought I was signing up for when I made the decision to join a church in the CRC denomination.

Sallie: I want to encourage you by suggesting, as I very much believe and have said more than once in public posts to Banner articles, that a very few who happen to be in control of denominational structures are badly out of sync with denominational membership.  By its history and by the text of its church order (still), the CRC is much more a bottom up ecclesiastical structure than top down.  I know some of the Baptist traditions pretty well and the CRC structure is not really all that different although the labels are completely different.  The Baptists "associate" but their association isn't really all that different from the CRCNA structure -- again as prescribed by the CRCNA church order.

Here's one of the problems: those who most want top-down governance tend to migrate to those positions, and so have the power to create those structures as they want to see them, at least to some extent.  Folks who want bottom up don't want to become denominational powers.

But do take heart.  The church you joined is much, much more representative of the CRC than the Banner is, or some other "denominational things" I won't mention here. 

I can relate to Sallie. I have been follower of Christ my entire life, but I had never formally joined a church. Then at the age of 33, on July 8, 2012 I made Profession of Faith and became part of the fellowship of the CRC. I joyously joined a body of believers that (unlike so many "Christian" denominations today) is unashamed of the Gospel of Christ and professes to hold to Biblical standards of righteousness.

Then I started reading The Banner every month. At times I wondered if Bob De Moor and the other writers actually ascribe to these clearly non-Biblical views, or they were just pretending to in an attempt to increase readership by being "edgy" and "controversial." The more I read, the more I became convinced that the staff of The Banner is trying to duplicate the same shift to embrace secular values that has occurred in nearly every mainstream denomination in America. De Moor says his intent was simply to allow these secular opinions to be heard so they could be responded to in truth and love (he references Ephesians 4:15). Forgive me if I don't buy that. If that was truly the intent, where is the powerful and reasoned presentation of Biblical truth and denominational teachings in response to these secular opinions? (In fact, we need only go a few verses further in Ephesians 4 to get our answer: that those who embrace worldly values are ignorant and hard-hearted, and "have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more." Hmmm...sounds like some recent articles I've read in The Banner.)

We as a denomination have compelling arguments in favor of Biblical righteousness, so why are these voices being silenced by The Banner in favor of the same old deceptions that have led believers astray for centuries? My guess is these articles have been published not to merely "present the other side" but rather as an attempt to shift opinion and convince the rank-and-file CRC member that the church must inevitably accept ideas such as sex outside of marriage, Darwinian evolution, and homosexual behavior in order to become "modern" and "relevant," especially to today's young people. Well, I'm one of today's young people and I can tell you that denominations that embrace those secular opinions are a dime a dozen, and any appeal they have is shallow and debased. Wide is the gate that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13).

Before anyone accuses me of wanting to wrap a closed-minded bubble around The Banner and only publish viewpoints that line up with my way of thinking, let me say that is NOT my desire at all (in fact, that seems to be what is going on right now, only from the other side). I welcome the discussion of controversial topics such as homosexual behavior, global warming, social justice, illegal immigration, and origins. The Banner absolutely SHOULD publish articles that present the very best arguments the world has to offer. Then it should expose these dim and shadowy secular opinions in all their pathetic frailty, by overpowering them with the teachings that are a Lamp to my feet and a Light to my path (Psalm 119:105). Those of us who hold traditional viewpoints are not afraid to face the "reason" of the world head on with the righteousness of Christ (2 Timothy 1:7).

The bottom line is that the current leadership at The Banner has proven itself to be too willing to play favorites (as admitted in November 2011), too enamored of popular secular opinions, and too weak to offer meaningful counter-arguments from a Biblical and doctrinal perspective. After what has been presumably an overwhelming response to these affronts against our beliefs, Bob De Moor's delicate promise of a few conciliatory articles from people on the "other side" is too little, too late. Considering all the people that call the CRC their church home, there must be someone who can oversee The Banner in a way that presents the best and brightest viewpoints written from a traditional Biblical perspective, that reinforces doctrinal teachings, and shines brilliantly as the City on a hill (Matthew 5:14) calling out to a world lost in depraved darkness. Are we going to continue down the road that so many of our fellow denominations have already stumbled down, in order to gain the favor of the world? Or will we allow Christ to embrace and sustain us in His righteousness, holding fast to His truth, knowing that the world will hate us for it, just as it hated Him.

First let me state that I am a former CRC member who still reads the Banner, and I must apologize to Mr DeMoor for the very first letter to him regarding the articles aforementioned.

 My family and I left  the CRC after 42 years a little over a year ago to join a non denominational community church. We left for the sake of diversity and greater community and demographic outreach. Our new church however, does not embrace the kind of diversity the Banner has been serving up.

Diversity does not mean abondoning clear Biblical pricnipals, like the prohibition of sex outside of marriage, or the prohibition of homosexual activity. We believe we are to love people who engage in these behaviors, be tolerant of their equal rights, and befriend them, but we do not believe it is possible to change scripture or contradict scripture in order to be "more relevant to society"

We will not be reading the Banner anymore, because I am afraid my teenage kids will encounter an article in the Banner by a respected church leader which appears to condone sex outside of marriage, and thereby feel the church is endorsing this stand. Social justice issues, immigration, taxes, etc are all things we can agree to disagree on, but not this subject.

 

I apprecaite the apology yet am still trying to understand the substance of it. The "I am sorry" is a bit blurred by an ongoing defense of past editorial decisions. Why were these articles published? To paraphrase: because they represented a minority voice that we should listen to, addressed a challenging issue many of us face and were deemed genuine attempts to be Reformed in thier approach. Does this letter suggest the editor no longer believes the two recent articles meet these guidelines? I think everyone who has raised issues about these articles disagrees with their being Reformed in their approach and therefore, have lost some confidence in the Banner's editorial discernment about what meets the criteria of being "Reformed" and what does not. The Banner should not be a platform for teachings by those who are trying to be Reformed but are "calling into question our common commitment," as DeMoore states. So, what is the substance of his apology? He is sorry that "the manner and timing of publishing these articles has led to significant doubt about the magazine’s direction." He says that dialogue about these issues should not question the faith we hold dear in the Scriptures and summarized by the creeds and confessions. Is there an admission that these did that and therefore should not have been included? If so, why continue to call them "necessary conversations"? I wish this was more clearly stated so it could not be read as avoiding the heart of people's concerns.

I have the same impression of Mr. De Moor's letter as Phillip Westra.  It is one of those non-apology "apologies."  It is saying "I'm sorry all you rank-and-file CRCers have not yet caught up to MY way of thinking," rather than saying "I'm sorry I published articles that so clearly go against the teachings of the Bible and the denomination."

WOW...this discussion warms my heart...I can't believe Doug and Sally and all the rest of your comments...CHANGE may be finally coming..I was even kicked off and not allowed to write anymore after I commented about some bad articles about homosexuality...Keep up the good work you fellow writers that want change for the better for the Banner...I seriouly question if Bob should be in the position he is in when he allows and endorsed all the garbage that has been written...Keep praying!

As individual christians or as a denomination, when interacting with the culture, we can do one of three things, 1) Opt out of it, 2) Become part of it, or 3) Engage it.  If we engage our culture we should do so from the perspective our our tried and tested doctrines and a theology that is rooted in Biblical truth.  Accordingly, voices in our denomination, secular universities, those living in whatever relationship are irrelevant if they serve only to push us to step in line with the culture.  Similiarly, to deny the discusson about difficult but pressing cultural issues in our public forums will only put us in danger of opting out of the culture and the irrelevance that results.  Rather, lets engage the culture by examining issues in light of Biblical truth and historic confessions.  The answers will certainly not come easily but God will not desert a church that honors Him. 

Having worked within the denominational offices of the CRC for over 20 years, I have seen first-hand the liberal bent towards "soft-peddeling" the Bible and her issues. I saw a split from the denomination which formed the URC (United Reformed Church) due to the slow-slide of biblical truth convictions that were in play those many years ago. When trying to discuss these views with the "top leaders" of this denomination...I am met with the same kind of response one sees when you read their "aplologies" you have wittnessed from the editor of this Banner article...

The church (The CRC) is not holding (and has not for many years) to a pattern of absolue standards of Scripture in addressing a changing culture. It is what the late Francis Schaeffer described as a group of leaders (religious) accpepting what he called "arbritary absolutes" This is where we are presently in this denomination. Not wanting to change things that are wrong, or even calling them wrong, but get you to feel that they want a "broader group" for discussion of the basics. Look...what people need is truth. Period. Give them the Bible in a clear and consise way so that their lives can be changed. Don't offer a sour substitute, or sophistcated babble that has no place in the discussion of what will truely change culture for Christ. Truth doesn't change...only people can through the power of the gospel. The real gospel. Not the gospel of love wins, do what feels right, etc. Give them the Bible and the encouragment that it through the Spirit's work can penetrate the delema people find themselves in...no soft substitudes dressed up like you care and that we can discuss and bring to the table this or that.  CRCNA, you need to allow the Bible to be more dirrective in a slipping culture like ours...don't try to "overthink" its relevance. Let's get serious CRC, you need a spiritual revival that begins with its leaders from the top getting on their face before God and expriencing true contricion...not excuses. 

I love what Dan had to say in an erlier comment...he has it right...

"De Moor says his intent was simply to allow these secular opinions to be heard so they could be responded to in truth and love (he references Ephesians 4:15). Forgive me if I don't buy that. If that was truly the intent, where is the powerful and reasoned presentation of Biblical truth and denominational teachings in response to these secular opinions? (In fact, we need only go a few verses further in Ephesians 4 to get our answer: that those who embrace worldly values are ignorant and hard-hearted, and "have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more." Hmmm...sounds like some recent articles I've read in The Banner.)

"We as a denomination have compelling arguments in favor of Biblical righteousness, so why are these voices being silenced by The Banner in favor of the same old deceptions that have led believers astray for centuries? My guess is these articles have been published not to merely "present the other side" but rather as an attempt to shift opinion and convince the rank-and-file CRC member that the church must inevitably accept ideas such as sex outside of marriage, Darwinian evolution, and homosexual behavior in order to become "modern" and "relevant," especially to today's young people. Well, I'm one of today's young people and I can tell you that denominations that embrace those secular opinions are a dime a dozen, and any appeal they have is shallow and debased. Wide is the gate that leads to destruction" (Matthew 7:13)."

That's right Dan...well stated! it is very wide indeed. This denomination needs to stop playing fast and loose with the Bible and start asking the real questions of why they are declining as a denomination as a whole and ask of God, "Are we perhaps out of Your will..are we doing something that is displeasing to You...? When we get past the comittees and borads, and organizational structures...then perhaps we will listen to the still soft voice of His Spirit.