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Separation a Sin?

Rev. Timothy Palmer’s misleading question “Is Separation Always a Sin?” (IMHO, September 2010) is derived from a longer statement in the Belhar Confession that unity in Christ “must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin.” Of course, congregations are free to form and function as distinctive language groups. However, as the Belhar states so aptly, even our “various languages and cultures are, by virtue of the reconciliation in Christ, opportunities for mutual service and enrichment within the one people of God.” Further, Palmer’s concluding observation that “it is risky to import a confession from a different political and cultural context” is equally misleading. The last I heard, the Belgic, Canons of Dort, and Heidelberg Catechism all originated in Europe.

—Alfred E. Mulder Grand Rapids, Mich.

I have to strongly disagree with this article. Cornelius Plantinga Jr., in his award-winning book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, defines sin as “culpable disturbance of shalom.” Ethnic separation, even willing, unforced separation, is a disturbance of God’s shalom—of God’s designed flourishing of human life. If the visions of Revelation 7:9 and 21:24 are signs of God’s shalom for human cultural diversity, then to intentionally go against that, whether willingly or forcefully, is still sin.

Both dominant and marginal ethnic groups must consider our intention: is it to strive after and reflect God’s shalom of integrating cultural diversity under the lordship of Christ by whatever means possible and reasonable (though perhaps inconvenient), or is it to appease our cultural comfort zones or our own ethnic preferences by the easiest sociological justifications?

—Shiao Chong and Martha Schreiber Toronto

Editor’s note: A longer version of this letter, with a helpful example, is available online.

Christian Education

We were disappointed by the tone of the recent FAQ question about homeschooling (September 2010). The writers should not pretend to be OK with their grandchildren’s homeschooling; they should actively support it. As Christian educators themselves, they should appreciate that their son and his wife are committing so much of themselves to their children’s education.

We support the CRC’s long tradition of establishing Christian schools as an extension of congregations’ baptismal vow to instruct children in the faith, but we are troubled by the writers’ assumption that Christian day school institutions are the only way to fulfill that commitment. Homeschooling can fully provide both a Christian worldview and rigorous academics, and in many cases, homeschooling better meets the needs of a particular family or child.

—Karen and Alan DeVriesGrand Rapids, Mich.

I appreciated James K.A. Smith’s analysis of the tradition, vision, and changing landscape of Christian education in North America (“The Case for Christian Education,” August 2010). His article was thought provoking for those of us on the fence.

While embracing the meaningful reasons for Christian education, I would ask our churches and denomination to validate those families who make the tough choice not to send their kids to Christian schools. It seems obvious to me that some of us are called to send our children to Christian schools. But others of us are called to engage our world differently. As agents of renewal, many of us desire to train our children in the ways of Kingdom building and missional living, specifically through engagement in the public school system. Neither choice is right or wrong.

—Matt Watrous Seattle, Wash.

A resounding thank you for “The Case for Christian Education.” Smith’s assertion that “each generation needs to re-own the rationale for Christian education, to ask ourselves Why did we do this? and Should we keep doing this?” is true; and it is my experience in Ontario, Canada, that we have a vibrant group of Christian school supporters who are seeking to do just that. His clarification of the history and purpose of Christian schooling is a great reminder of why we invest so heavily as Reformed Christians in this cause.

—Ray Hendriks Director of Advancement Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools

Hearing God in Unlikely Places

I was thrilled to read “Hearing God in Unlikely Places” about John Van Sloten’s message in The Day Metallica Came to Church (August 2010). It was one of the best Banner articles I’ve ever read. I’m a writer and try to carry out the vision communicated in that article. I’ve also been inspired by William Zinsser’s chapter “Writing as a Ministry” in his book Writing About Your Life. Truly, I believe in the Reformed worldview of trying to help God redeem every square inch of the world.

Thanks for helping me keep on my path.

—Jonathan De Young Associate Professor of Creative Writing Harrisburg Area Community College New Cumberland, Pa.

We may want Metallica (or some other rock band, movie star, politician, or whoever) to show up in church, but what we need and truly long for is God himself—his gospel, his promises and his Word—to show up! I can’t figure out why the kind of preaching Van Sloten advocates is being promoted in our denomination. (And if we are going to use John Calvin to justify this kind of preaching, we should also follow his method: expository—book by book, verse by verse.) Is this the direction of preaching in the CRC? If so, we should fear our future. Is this one of the reasons the CRC currently feels so flaccid?

—Rev. Jo Schouten Burnaby, British Columbia

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