The reference to Hezekiah 3:16-20 on page 21 of the April Banner (FAQs) is as bad as quoting Hezekiah 4:6, “He who sitteth on a tack shall rise again.” It’s all a big lie, even for April Fools’ Day.
—Rev. John MeppelinkGrand Rapids, Mich.
Yep, you caught us. Look for a real answer to the question of ministers’ salaries in the June “Frequently Asked Questions” column. And watch out next April! —Editor
Thank you for your April editorial and its call to environmental responsibility (“How Easter Can Reduce Our Fuel Bills”). No doubt you will receive many complaints from global-warming deniers, but in an age in which too many Christians (CRC members among them) equate righteousness with the “right” politics and blindly support their party and its leaders regardless of their policies or behavior, your call to sacrificial discipleship is refreshing. As Christians, we should follow the Spirit’s leading wherever it goes—left, middle, or right—without consideration of the next election cycle.
—James Vander MolenGrand Rapids, Mich.
I was very upset when I received The Banner yesterday. The articles on global warming are very slanted. Many in the scientific community do not agree with the conclusions that Al Gore has made.
I’m very disappointed that the Banner staff did not included dissenting voices about this issue. Why not use a more balanced approach? You are doing a disservice to your readers. I was also disappointed to see the “Just for Kids” pages. Those included additional misinformation. Our children are being brainwashed enough by the liberal media. They don’t need to hear it from their denominational magazine too.
—Nancy WestrateHudsonville, Mich.
We thank God for the article “The Certainty of Love” and artwork by Randy Beumer in the April issue. But where is the joy of the Risen Lord that we celebrate at Easter seen on the cover of The Banner? A creative cover would have spread the Good News around the world.
—Paul and Anne TamelingHudsonville, Mich.
A Modest Proposal?
Sam Hamstra’s observations about a healthy future for the Christian Reformed Church (“A Modest Proposal,” March 2007) fit the strategic priority of healthy local churches that the CRC has already adopted. That priority will create a CRC with a different future, but will it lead to a post-denominational future as only an association? Church associations seem less consistent in theological frame; and while the mega-churches within them have ministry clout, smaller congregations need the global links that denominations provide. As management gurus Peters and Waterman noted years ago, every organization balances a simultaneous mix of “loose and tight properties.” Yes, the CRC needs to rebalance these characteristics. Yet, I hope doing so will not make us a loosely coupled association, but only a more responsive denomination.
—Shirley RoelsProfessor of ManagementCalvin CollegeGrand Rapids, Mich.
Rev. Hamstra’s proposal is hardly modest by any measure. It’s revolutionary and visionary, recommending the overthrow of the CRC organizational structure as we know it and presenting a more worldly, responsive, and forward-thinking way of meeting the needs of its member churches. His proposal of the Association of Christian Reformed Congregations reflects a model that exists and flourishes among trade associations worldwide. Such a model would serve our denomination well and propel it forward as individual churches confront the challenges of declining membership, dwindling financial support, and relevancy. Just as the organizational structure of the CRC must face these market forces, so too our churches must find a way to make an impact amid an ever-changing marketplace that is increasingly shaped by secular values of entertainment and sensory stimulation.
Let’s clothe the CRC in appropriate attire for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities.
— Carolynn Van NamenOak Brook, Ill.
Hamstra’s article strikes a deep chord (of one sort or another!) with many. I wonder, however, why he stops the deconstruction at the denominational level. At the local level, why should the parents of preschoolers contribute congregational ministry shares toward the salary of a youth pastor? Or seniors give generously to the Christian Education Fund? Or, more fundamentally, what response would Rev. Hamstra give to a parishioner who sees no need to be part of a minimally responsive, institutional congregational model of church? Why not simply worship, study, seek, and serve in the context of a deeply committed and connected small group?
—Rev. Everett Vander HorstGrand Rapids, Mich.
After reading this very poignant article, a question came to mind: will the overwhelming response be to defend the CRC and her “attainments,” or will it cause some healthy self-examination?
—John SpanChristian Reformed World Missions Guinea
As a relative newcomer to the CRC, I concur strongly with much of Hamstra’s diagnosis: the denomination must change and adapt dramatically to survive contemporary trends—as must almost every long-lived church and organization based on voluntary membership. However, whether sincere or satirical, Hamstra’s “Proposal” revolves around a faulty assumption, one that is all too common in politics. Political change is not movement along a single spectrum from central command-and-control to local autonomy; some organizations have little of either, and some have much of both. The CRCNA can achieve both increased power and freedom of action for local congregations and a stronger central organization. “Minimize, not maximize” is a formula that may discard the proverbial baby along with the bathwater. “Optimize” is a better and even simpler principle, though with more complex implications.
—Neil CarlsonAssistant Director Center for Social Research, Calvin College
See Carlson’s further explanation of “optimize” under May Letters at www.thebanner.org.
Genocide or Healing?
Reading “Genocide or Healing?” (March 2007) reminded me of my student days and the rush of excitement that accompanied the best of the new discoveries I made. It has happened since, but all too infrequently. But Sylvia Keesmaat and Grant LeMarquand stimulated me again with this article. Thanks. Now I’m thinking I’d like a regular diet of this sort of thing.
—Rev. Duane NieuwsmaByron Center, Mich.
Thank you for the guts to broach one of the most difficult questions Christians face in reading the Bible. Although the article still leaves questions unanswered, it provides wonderful, credible insight into the ministry of Jesus and the purposes of God in history. The Banner is to be commended simply for its pluck in addressing the issue!
—Rev. Walt BrouwerEdmonton, Alberta
Gambling Profits None
I am very concerned about the answer to the question concerning a church accepting money from a donor who acquired it through gambling (FAQs, March 2007). This appears to be the top of a very slippery slope, just the foothold Satan needs. When does recreational gambling become an addiction?
We live in a state that has legalized casino gambling along with lottery tickets. Since these laws have been enacted, there has been a significant increase in people losing their homes because they put everything in jeopardy to buy volumes of lottery tickets or play the slots at the casino.
I pray The Banner will reconsider this answer. It appears the church is saying that gambling is OK now because it is so commonplace in society.
—Nancy RondeauSouth Windsor, Conn.
I enjoyed the article “Healed to Lead” (March 2007). It was inspiring to read about the journey that brought Iona Stewart-Buisman to the Christian Reformed Church.
May I clarify something? In the story, Living Mosaic Church is identified as a new church plant supported by three Burlington, Ontario, Christian Reformed congregations and Classis Hamilton. While that is true, the article fails to mention the important role that Christian Reformed Home Missions played.
Working through its Eastern Canada regional team, Home Missions formed a partnership with the three Burlington churches and Classis Hamilton to start Living Mosaic. As part of this arrangement, Home Missions offered grant support and worked alongside the other partners to offer consulting and other assistance to help get Living Mosaic off the ground. In fact, Home Missions partners with the congregations and classes of the CRC to start around 20 new churches each year. And so far in 2006-07, Home Missions has initiated grants for 37 new ministry partnerships for mission-focused congregations, new churches, and a campus ministry.
—Rev. John RozeboomDirectorChristian Reformed Home Missions Grand Rapids, Mich.
Don’t Just Minimize, Optimize
I am a relative newcomer to the Christian Reformed Church in North America, a member for just two years. Given that Rev. Sam Hamstra’s “Modest Proposal” shares its title with Jonathan Swift’s famous work of satire, perhaps his article includes some subtle cues more experienced readers will detect (March 2007). But the article certainly seems sincere, and I concur strongly with much of Hamstra’s diagnosis: the denomination must change and adapt dramatically to survive contemporary trends—as must almost every long-lived church and organization based on voluntary membership.
However, whether sincere or satirical, Hamstra’s “Proposal” revolves around a faulty assumption, one that is all too common in politics. Political change is not movement along a single spectrum from central command-and-control to local autonomy; some organizations have little of either, and some have much of both. The CRCNA can achieve both increased power and freedom of action for local congregations and a stronger central organization. “Minimize, not maximize” is a formula that may discard the proverbial baby along with the bathwater. “Optimize” is a better and even simpler principle, though with more complex implications. There is no law of politics, economics, or theology that makes greater local congregational autonomy incompatible with growth in denominational offices and classes. I write from abstract principles and past experience and not from significant knowledge of the denomination. But like many large, geographically dispersed organizations, the CRCNA’s center may be too weak, not too strong; if it overburdens congregations, it may do so out of sheer disorganization—duplication of effort and miscommunication. If that is the case, downsizing the denomination may actually make things worse, increasing burdens on congregations as the denomination’s internal organization breaks down.
The crucial distinction is between a limited notion of political power as a tug-of-war, in which I cannot have more power without taking some from you, and an expansive vision of political power as a leapfrog game, in which I can vault forward only when you are there ahead of me to give me a boost. We should aim to maximize the power of all of us together—the denomination, classes, congregations, families, and individuals. Through increased efficiency and open negotiation, it should be possible both to reduce the footprint of the denomination where it is unwanted and increase it where it would be most valued. As Hamstra recognizes, the “well-oiled” political capacity found in synod gives the CRCNA a rare and precious channel through which to pursue such ongoing reallocation of authority.
An illustrative example is information systems. Computers are both contributing to the environment that demands organizational change and offering the means to adapt more quickly. CRC congregations, especially smaller churches with little or no staff, are hampered by the lack of centrally supported databases [for] membership and attendance management, accounting, human resources, and worship planning. Hamstra predicts that the hypothetical Association of Christian Reformed Churches (ACRC) will “minimize its requests for information, collaboration, committees, compliance, and more.” That objective is critical, but it should be achieved by granting congregations control over their records in centrally stored databases, not by curtailing efforts to collate and analyze information on a large scale.
CRCNA staff should not have to duplicate and reorganize information that congregations are already managing locally—congregations and classes should be able to “report” on attendance, membership, ministry participation, finances, and more just by doing their ordinary business. Reporting a new member to the denomination, The Banner mailing list, and so forth, should be integrated with the same task that adds them to the congregation’s mailing list. Members and attendees should be able to maintain parts of their own records.
Central storage of information certainly offers the possibility of abuses of power, which is why information systems are a major impetus for new, healthy political discussions of who may do what with which information when. We need to have those discussions, no matter whether the future is the CRNCA version 2.0 or the ACRC version 0.9. Massive denominational databases may seem to be a power grab to those with a zero-sum notion of power. But such services are essential to any vision of the survival both of the denomination and of most of its congregations. If the CRCNA evolves—or devolves—into a looser-knit association, current CRC congregations will be attracted to other associations that provide Internet-based congregational management tools. Finally, an organization that does not collect a lot of data will not have much basis for judging whether it has in fact minimized its own footprint.
Choosing a Church
The article “Choosing a Church” (February 2007) never mentions to look for the marks of a true church, which include the following: 1. Is the preaching pure and faithful in interpreting the Bible? Does it add to or subtract from the Bible's teachings? Is Jesus presented as the only way of salvation, and is he the focus, rather than our emotions, issues, and concerns? 2. Sacraments should be limited to communion and baptism and practiced regularly. They should not be portrayed as a means to receive God's grace. 3. Discipline showing itself in members who care about each other, good education programs, and help for members who wander. 4. Evangelism to neighbors near and far. Those, of course, are in addition to the attributes of oneness and holiness.
Including Single Parents
When I read the February Banner, I was immediately drawn to the FAQ section in which a single mother posed the question about her feeling a lack of inclusion within her congregation. I was keen to read the answer, as I too am a single parent who has felt "outside the lines" within my church. You encourage this mother to use her various gifts to become involved, which as a single parent is difficult due to time—but can be rewarding. However, I was struck by the lack of responsibility you placed on her congregation. Congregations need to work at being fully inclusive. Also, you did not encourage her to talk about her feelings with her pastor, elder, or care worker. This church may not know they are not meeting her needs.
One of the things churches need to recognize is that sometimes by targeting the whole single parent family, they can make strides in meeting the needs of the parent as well. I also find that as my kids get older—they are now 16 and 13—it does get easier to become involved. This mother might like to hear that as well.
Rev. Eppinga's "Cabbages and Kings" have been a joy for me to read for many years. I thank him for that! I was also glad to see the Reverend point out in the February Banner "that we must exercise care in what we sing" (“Church Music”). I am concerned that we are more and more neglecting the singing of hymns and psalms in our churches. The result will be that these beautiful songs will no longer be impressed upon the hearts and minds of future generations, as they were on ours. When they are older and need them the most, these generations will not be able to draw comfort and strength from them.
Though I join Rev. Eppinga in the hope that this is a passing phase, not hearing much on the subject anymore saddens me and makes me doubtful. Are we not on the verge of losing the legacy of our forefathers, the valuable ministry of our hymns?
Rev. Jacob Eppinga’s articles are usually very enjoyable to read. I found “Church Music” quite thought provoking. As Eppinga states, "In seeking to accommodate our services to the cultures surrounding our churches today, let's not jettison our own rich tradition with its Calvinistic focus." And, "Today many Christian Reformed churches, as some others, have grown more careless. Choruses are sung—some good, but some repetitive, with sloppy theology and lacking in ministerial integrity. I hope it is a passing phase. In many of our churches the selection of music—the responsibility of the elders—is unsupervised. Some of us need to get back on track."
My husband and I have concerns that the CRC seems to be losing focus when it comes to putting God and God's glory and holiness first. Worship services are first of all about meeting with God in his holy place, then about fellowship with other believers. We feel that is often seen the other way around. Then in order to accommodate newcomers, we accept standards of behavior, dress, etc., that would not even be tolerated in the business and secular world. We need to remind ourselves that we are standing on holy ground.
Our View of Israel
As a Messianic Jewish believer in Jesus, I read with great interest your article titled “Our View of Israel” (Reformed Matters, February 2007). Please forgive me, as I must disagree with you on several points in your article.
I was pleased to see that the Reformed view does not espouse “replacement theology.” As you well know, however, many do believe that the unique position God gave the Jews was taken from them and given to the church because of the sins of the Jewish people. This is nothing short of heresy and should cause Christians who believe this to tremble about what might happen in response to their sins. You suggest that Jew and Gentile have been reconciled in Jesus. This is certainly true for Jews who have received Jesus as Lord, but of course, not all Jews have done so, and not all are therefore part of the “one new man” of Ephesians 2:15. In these last days, there are three distinct groups on the earth: the church, the Jews, and the nations (also known as Gentiles or heathens in certain versions of the Bible). As decisions are made, people are able to move from one group to another. God has a plan for each group.
When you state that the new covenant has made the old obsolete, you seem to be referring to the Mosaic and Davidic covenants, which definitely have conditions associated with them. There is, however, a unique covenant mentioned in Genesis 15. In response to a question from Abraham in verse 8, God makes a blood covenant with himself (Abraham is asleep), then tells Abraham the results (vv. 9-21). In verse 18 God states, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates” (NRSV). Notice that this covenant is unconditional toward Abraham. God has in effect promised himself that this will come to pass! I have no doubt in the veracity of God’s word. As for the pragmatic problem of which you speak, may I suggest that any time that God’s agenda is being fulfilled, there will be pragmatic problems. As any missionary if he or she has ever encountered opposition to sharing the gospel. Ask any church planter if there were obstacles that had to be overcome. Ask yourself if anyone challenged the creation of the modern state of Israel in 1948. Despite the challenges, it happened because God promised (Ezek. 37:22).
Finally, you are correct when you state that we cannot force God to act. “God is not a human being, that he should lie, or a mortal, that he should change his mind. Has he promised, and will he not do it? Has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Num. 23:19, NRSV).
Why would God repeatedly refer to the covenant he made with Israel as everlasting if God meant it to be temporary (see Gen. 17:7 8; 1Chron. 16:17; Ps. 105:7 12; Jer. 31:35 37, 32:40 41, and 33:25 26)? We cannot stop God from acting on what God has spoken (Num. 23:10; Ezek. 36:36). The Bible tells us that God will restore Israel for the same reason God saves us: for his glory (Ezek. 36:22)! Like us, Israel has been irrevocably elected in order that God might show his mercy (Rom. 11:28 32). Your view of Israel raises the question, What guarantee do we have that God will keep his promises to us if God has not kept the everlasting promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the nation of Israel?
Kudos to Rev. Ardean Brock. One month she is elegantly articulating her God given call to ordained ministry (“Women in Office: Continuing the Conversation,” January 2007), and the next month she is relating a beautiful, tear inducing narrative concerning her work in the house of the Lord (“A Glimpse Behind the Veil,” February 2007). “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
What is a proper and respectful way to dispose of old Bibles? (FAQs, February 2007). The Bible League has a program called Recycle Your Bible, which accepts used Bibles in good condition to send to English speakers in countries overseas. The Bible League displays at your synod each year, so I just wanted you to be aware that this is an ongoing opportunity for individuals, groups, and congregations. We respond to individuals with a letter giving forwarding information and to a group or church with a kit including posters, bulletin announcements, bulletin inserts, return labels, and instructions. Information is available at www.bibleleague.org/getinvolved/recycle.php. Our current worldwide cost to print, ship, and place a Bible with someone who has completed a Bible study is $4.00. With Recycle Your Bible that cost is reduced to $.75.
Under “More CRC News Online” (April 2007, p. 15), the Chicago-area churches support the prison school. The online story is correct. And in “Deadly Beauty,” p. 22, the Task Force on World Hunger was a synodical task force, not a CRWRC task force. It mandated CRWM and CRWRC to work together in a joint ministry in Sierra Leone. Though Paul Kortenhoven directed that program, he was employed by Christian Reformed World Missions. A video about the Sierra Leone conflict and blood-diamond issues (Crossing Troubled Waters) is available from CRWM and can be ordered through www.crcna.org.
Regarding the FAQ about churches accepting money gained through gambling (March 2007, p. 21), The Banner would like to thank Isaac Groenendyk, along with Helen Sterk, for his significant contribution to that answer.The Banner apologizes for the errors.