Justice and Mercy
The two features “Illegal” and “Lopsided Mercy” (February 2011) really hit home, since they are so appropriate with what’s going on here in the state of Arizona. I am ashamed of the politicians in power who show little or no compassion and love for certain individuals and the poor and sick. Crazy laws are being passed that discriminate and tend to play God with people’s lives. Two citizens have died since the state has denied funding for transplants for the poor. Recently 280,000 poor people have been taken off health care. This is not pro-life but passing death sentences on the poor and sick, which is not in accordance with God’s will. And now they are moving to deny citizenship to babies born here if at least one parent cannot prove citizenship. This goes against the 14th amendment. I am also disturbed by the silence of the religious community on these issues. By contrast, the people of Arizona have shown much love and compassion to the victims. If only our politicians could do the same. Other than that, Arizona is a great place to live.
Congratulations on the February issue. Lots of food for thought. “Illegal” by Kurt Rietema is probably one of the best articles I have read on this topic.
The ultimate purpose of Jesus and, I believe, Mr. Reitema, is to introduce Salvation and Love to immigrants (both legal and illegal). But is not that purpose clouded when we justify illegal behavior and use Christ himself as our justification? Would it not be better for Rietema, and all Christians, to instruct and expect prospective immigrants to follow the legitimate laws of our nation, while we the people of the United States work, through legitimate means, to change the laws we deem unfair? Anyone who does otherwise places himself above our laws, appoints himself judge of which laws deserve to be obeyed and which do not, and usurps the role that God has given to our civil authorities. Far be it for any Christian to do such a thing.
Grand Rapids, Mich.
The article titled "Lopsided Mercy" (February 2010) encourages us to ask for help from those who "see more clearly than the rest" on how best to speak up “for those who cannot speak for themselves.” I can relate to Donald Oppewal that human resources people are telling me that our unemployment policies contribute to unemployment. People choose not to work when they can stay home and receive extended benefits. Also, higher taxes will lead to fewer jobs, not more, as Oppewal seems to think. And increasing the minimum wage results in fewer people being employed. So Oppewal’s prescription for justice will actually cause greater poverty and lead to declining hope for the poor. If he really wants to pursue mercy and justice, he would spend his time promoting life for the unborn.
—Harlan Vander Griend
In response to “Seminarians go to Prison” (January 2011), I think it was a great educational opportunity for the seminary-sponsored group to go to Louisiana State prison. I do hope the students and their professors do much reflection on why the U.S. is a world leader in locking people up.
The prison population largely comprises young African American males and females, as well as an overrepresentation of human beings from other ethnic minorities. Incarceration not only costs billions of dollars annually, but obviously does not creating a safer country. Prisons are not healthy places to give quality spiritual direction; research has shown that programs for reform and transformation of individuals in conflict with the law are most effective when done in the normalized setting of the community.
Restorative justice offers a holistic vision based on a paradigm that seeks healing and transformation of all those involved in the harm done by crime—as well as a transformation of unhealthy and prejudicial social forces that act as contributing factors. As the social justice story goes, "we must look upstream."
Surrey, British Columbia
Science and Faith
After reading “Calvin Profs Say Evolution Evidence Conflicts with Reformed Creeds” (News, February 2011), I consider professors Daniel Harlow and John Schneider to be heroes of the Reformed faith for taking “ecclesia reformata semper reformatum” (“the Reformed church is always reforming”) seriously. This has regularly meant asking uncomfortable questions, and the age of modern evolutionary science is no different. The Reformation was born out of uncomfortable but intellectually honest questions, and I’m sure our favorite theologian would recognize the importance of this principle, even if his namesake college does not.
—Steve Roels and Sarah Bodbyl Roels
University of Kansas
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
I want to applaud and endorse what these Calvin profs have stated and written re certain issues of understanding the Bible and matters connected to our historical Reformed confessions. All our church members, Calvin professors included, are expected to teach and write in accordance with our Reformed confessions, and I for one agree that this is what these professors have done and are doing rather than appearing to be in conflict with our confessions—as they themselves even suggest.
Since when have we stated in our Reformed confessions that we must subscribe to a literal understanding of the Bible and its teachings? Even though we all agree that the question “How did all this happen?” is crucial (most often resulting in a literal understanding of Scripture), the matter does not rest with that question alone, which developed in large part since the scientific age. We must always ask the all-important question of the Hebrew/Old Testament mind: “What does this story or event mean?”
The point of the opening chapters of Genesis is not just to try and find out how many actual years it took to come to the beginning of the creation story, again important as that question is, but the larger issue remains as to what is the intent of these opening chapters of the book. What does it mean that the Creator God began with shaping the universe in light of the later development of Genesis where we discover the amazing wonder of the Creator God being as well the saving and covenant-Redeeming God of Abraham and descendants? It is not just the question of a literal Adam and Eve or a conflict with evolution but much rather a question of what it actually means that God made humans to respond to him and yet human beings fell away from God’s amazing grace and love.
For the reason of a full understanding of Scripture, I can very much appreciate what these professors are attempting to say. Rather than somehow accusing them of not listening to Scripture and of not teaching in accordance with our Reformed confessions, I want to state that in our academic settings we need to encourage the asking of such questions in order to harmonize Scripture with science and vice versa. For that reason I cannot accept their own assertions in this case that evidence from both biblical studies and science creates conflicts with parts of our historic creeds. Our Reformed confessions are in full harmony when we go beyond the mere literal approach to understanding the Bible and ask beyond “How did it happen?” to the significance of “What does it actually mean?”
—Rev. Henry Numan
Vancouver, British Columbia
It is supercilious to place human thinking above the Word of God. No science is infallible. It continues to change. Science at best is speculative on many levels.
—Peter. J. Sluys Sr.
Grand Rapids, Mich.
The recent scholarly articles on human origins published by Calvin professors Harlow and Schneider challenge some core doctrines of the college and church. The articles join the current larger international conversation about faith-science issues. Although the college did not approve or endorse the ideas in the published articles, it does endorse the importance of asking questions and prayerfully and humbly seeking answers. Much like new ideas or diagrams on a whiteboard, these articles are attempts to engage new scientific, historical, and hermeneutical understandings and their connection to core doctrines.
In retrospect, it would have been advisable for Drs. Harlow and Schneider to more strongly emphasize the provisional nature of their work and to raise the direct confessional issues differently. (The Form of Subscription describes a process for raising confessional issues.) In retrospect, the internal review processes used by the authors and the college should have been tighter. Professors Harlow and Schneider have expressed regret and think the articles read more definitively than they intended.
All Calvin faculty members, including Drs. Harlow and Schneider, are committed to upholding the Reformed creeds and confessions in the classroom even while new discoveries bring difficult questions.
We appreciate your support, prayers, and patience. More information can be found at www.calvin.edu/provost/origins-discussion/.
—Gaylen Byker, President
Grand Rapids, Mich.
I don’t know which is more disturbing: a Christian college that spills out this kind of poison or a denominational magazine that gives credence to these views by providing a soapbox upon which to deliver them. This ill wind has been in the air for some time. At least now the barn door is open far enough for us to glimpse what is really going on inside.
I would urge Calvin College to immediately remove all professors who believe and teach what is contrary to Scripture and the confessions of the Christian Reformed Church. Enrollment and financial support will continue to decline unless the college returns to the Reformational standard of "Sola Scriptura." Scripture must set the bounds for science, not vice versa. Please consider the warning of Romans 1:21-22: "They became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools."
New Sharon, Iowa
For the Unborn
I have worked at a crisis pregnancy center for 15 years and have seen firsthand the devastating effects of abortion on women. Also, I am one of those “hard cases.” I became pregnant with my third child 10 years after the birth of our other children and was very reluctant to start over with the “baby stage.” My doctor offered me several opportunities during my pregnancy for an amniocentesis test. I decided against it since I wouldn’t abort regardless of what it showed. Several months later our third daughter was born. She has a rare genetic condition that has required serious surgeries, therapies, and specialists. Now almost 16 years old, she is nonverbal, severely autistic, functions at the cognitive level of a 2 year old, and needs 24/7 supervision and care. And she is the love of our life!
Our daughter has brought so much joy to those around her. She teaches us much more about grace than we could ever have learned any other way. How does one rationalize the right to end a pregnancy because of “hard circumstances”? Isn’t that up to God to decide? Who are we to say she doesn’t have a purpose to fill in this world? God created her. Do you think it came as a surprise to him that she has a genetic disorder? Should I have been granted the moral right to abort her to promote sensitivity and Christian grace?
In my work at the pregnancy care center, I have counseled many women who regret abortions to their very core. See www.silentnomoreawareness.org. As far as cases of rape or incest, why would we seek to rationalize the “right” of abortion in such circumstances? Rape or incest makes women the victim, not the perpetrator. We are to walk alongside the victim with sensitivity, grace, and love. Why would we not discourage her from becoming the perpetrator of her baby’s death? That would make her not only a victim, but a victimizer. An abortion in these cases does not erase the terrible emotional, spiritual, or physical effect of the criminal offense against them. It only adds to devastating effects of abortion on women who choose it. These women are already dealing with enough. I abhor abortion because abortion hurts women.
Spiritual growth comes wrapped in a struggle. Since when are we allowed to decide when a circumstance is too hard to do the right thing? I don’t see any biblical support for that type of thinking. I’m just a mom of a special-needs child and an advocate for women in tough pregnancy situations, but, in my humble opinion, if God allows conception, who are we to second-guess him?
Regarding "Our Real Position on Abortion" (IMHO, February 2011), I do think we should support and comfort members dealing with "hard cases." However, the positions of the CRC should be based on God's Word and not on what is currently considered sensitive or what will alleviate some pain. There are hard cases and pain in all aspects of our life on earth. That is real. Life can be very difficult, but the church's official position and her members' real position must be true to God and not to what some consider "morally defensible" in order to try to make life less painful.
Grand Rapids, Mich.
Rev. Vander Weit’s article “Our Real Position on Abortion” was, to say the least, startling. I have at least two questions: (1) What is the biblical support for your position? (2) For what kinds of genetic disorders would abortion be morally defensible—blindness, deafness, Down syndrome?
—Rev. Johannes (Jo) Schouten
Burnaby, British Columbia
Psalm 139 reminds us that God creates, knows, and loves every life. We cannot always understand God’s plan and God’s purpose for our lives and the lives of our children, whether born or unborn, but that does not change the biblical fact that every life is created for a purpose, and every breath is given by God. . . How can we be a light to a broken and hurting world if our official position on abortion offers the same destructive options the world provides? Far better to offer God’s sufficient grace, mercy, and strength as we walk beside people during the hard times.
—Anneke de Jong
Praise God that our son’s birthmother did not consider her unborn baby a “hard case.”
January’s editorial, “Security for Whom?” greatly encouraged all of us who are engaged in the pro-life movement. It was extremely upsetting to see that followed up by “Our Real Position on Abortion.” What type of compassion is George Vander Weit promoting? Do two wrongs make a right? Would the trauma of an abortion take away the trauma of rape, incest, or any other hard case?
We are thankful that our own congregation, First CRC, in Cutlerville, Mich., fully supports the unborn in word and deed. In our foyer is a dresser members are filling with baby items for a young woman who decided, after talking with sidewalk counselors, to keep her baby. This is one of 30 babies in our area kept out of the hands of abortionists in 2010.
—Bert and Marianne Vandentop
Grand Rapids, Mich.
Your January editorial “Security for Whom?” spoke directly to my heart, especially as Canada marked the 23rd anniversary of the day (Jan. 28, 1988) the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the abortion laws in our country, leaving the lives of our youngest citizens defenseless in the eyes of the law. It is with deep thanks to our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters that my city has a strong and active pro-life group that strives to educate the public as well as confront our local members of parliament. But it is with regret that not more of our evangelical, including my Christian Reformed, brothers and sisters feel called to become more actively involved. Thank you for your encouraging editorial!
It was with sadness that I read Rev. Vander Weit’s article on abortion. He laments synod’s position on abortion because synod does not allow for the killing of unborn children in cases of rape, incest, severe genetic disorders, and other “hard cases.” Either we believe that people are created in the image of God and have the spirit of God in them from conception, or we don’t. John the Baptist knew that he was in the presence of Jesus before either one of them were born. Yes, life can be hard and unfair at times, but those are the times the church needs to step up and be God’s gracious love to the hurting, not escort them to an abortion clinic because it is “easier.” Jesus never excused sin or made an easy way out, and neither should we.
Rev. Vander Weit uses unnecessarily inflammatory and misleading wording in his opening stories of couples whose children had severe genetic disorders, alleging that our denomination would tell the couple who aborted their child that they “violated the sixth commandment and [are] guilty of murder.” If a pastor were to use such language with any congregant, the outrage would make sense. Here is where pastoral (and congregational) sensitivity rightly applies. We need to be loving, enfolding, and supportive in our language and actions, allowing the judgment of this couple's action to rightly belong to God, not to their pastor or fellow church members.
However, to take this idea of pastoral sensitivity toward someone who has had an abortion and transpose it to become an acceptance of abortion for reasons other than the survival of the mother is moral relativism at best. As a mother of two children with special needs who have a genetic disorder that, while not fatal, some would consider enough reason to terminate a pregnancy, I find it repugnant that a minister would suggest that an abortion on genetic grounds is defensible. . . .
So many in our congregations have been swayed by the sympathetic sounding idea that abortion for pregnancies in cases of rape, incest, and severe genetic disorders is something we should condone. In fact, Rev. Vander Weit goes on to infer that the denomination's position that abortion only when the life of the mother is threatened is “lacking in Christian grace.” I counter that we are lacking in Christian grace when we leave our biblically-based moral certitude and start down the slippery slope of “compassionate grounds” in such areas of abortion, disability, and euthanasia. . . .
Testimonies of faith from those touched by the loss of a child due to genetic abnormality show again and again how God is close to the brokenhearted. In a believer's life, loss and grief bring us closer to the God of all comfort and, in turn, allow us to comfort others.
Victoria, British Columbia
Loving the Broken
Thank you so much for the article “Loving the Broken” (February 2011). My husband and I lost our 16-year-old son, Derrick, unexpectedly on March 30, 2010, to cardiac channelopathie. We experienced an immediate outpouring of love and support from our family, church, and community. About a month after the cards, calls, and casseroles dwindled off, we began receiving beautiful cards and calls from organizations expressing sympathy. They were looking for monetary donations so they could send us a confirmation note that our son had an eternal home! If we did not have the support of our church and family, we may have been easy prey for these con games.
Our devastating loss was on the safe side of the broken and hurting people you portrayed, yet so many of the same emotions are universal to all hurting people. Though it has been nearly a year since our loss, I still wake up with nightmares and feel the tears run down my face to soak my pillow. Those who have not traveled this lonely road do not and cannot understand. But as your article so fluently points out, they do not need to understand but just to be there. I love the word picture of the community standing with linked arms around a hurting person and lamenting with him or her. Our family, friends, and pastor at Goshen (Ind.) CRC truly modeled that. Their shared tears have been a cleansing release for us and helped in our grieving process.
I would like to add to your list of things not to do in an attempt to help a hurting person: Please do not make a promise and then forget about it. Do not try to answer the unanswerable questions with gossip and/or lies. Do not be offended when your attempts at socializing are shunned—the grieving person often cannot handle the idle chit-chat of a drop-in visit or call. Finally, do not say, “You have to be strong.” Just give a hug and listen!
I so enjoyed the January 2011 Banner, especially "Buried Treasures?" by James K.A. Smith. I have wondered for a long time, "How Important is it to most of us to be Christian Reformed?” or “How important is our Christian Reformed background?” An excellent book on the latter question is Our Family Album by James C. Schaap (see Faith Alive Christian Resources: faithaliveresources.org; 1.800.333.8300).
Rev. Ryan Faber too quickly dismisses a great abundance of Reformation-era exegesis and reflection on the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) and its preface (“Ten Words, Nine Commandments,” January 2011). John Calvin, fully aware of late rabbinic exegesis, dedicated an entire section in his commentaries to the preface to the law, while arguing persuasively for our current enumeration of the commandments; and the Puritan Hebraist Henry Ainsworth rightly emphasized its importance as the covenantal ground for all the commandments, so it was never treated as a “mere” preface. Reformed interpreters, such as Heidelberg Catechism author Zacharius Ursinus, also perceived that there is a substantive distinction between the command to worship the one true God and the imperative that he is to be worshiped in a radically different way than Israel’s Canaanite neighbors worshiped their fertility idols. Catechism teachers need not fret about this challenge to the Heidelberg Catechism’s handling of the Decalogue, which has stood the test of time and still serves us well.
—Rev. Raymond (Randy) Blacketer
Generally I enjoy Punch Lines, but I did not laugh at the joke about the teenager returning a dress her parents liked (December 2010). I have no doubt The Banner would not publish a racist or sexist joke. Yet, like those jokes, this one makes fun of a particular group of people (teens) based on a stereotype about them (teens are disrespectful and rebellious). We are rightly concerned about the increasing number of young people who leave our churches. I wonder what role the attitude behind such jokes plays in their feeling out of place in the church.
—Rev. Ryan Faber
I think the Banner editor’s proposal to keep our three historic Reformed confessions as is but elevate our Contemporary Testimony a good idea (“A Modest Proposal,” December 2010). After all, it's not as though we were throwing every safeguard out the window at once or anything. Many people have a sentimental attachment to the old ways of doing things that I don't share. I'm all for anchors to keep us firmly rooted, but I'm unsentimental about the past. For me it only means bad news.
The creeds are statements of beliefs about God, while faith is a trust in God. The former pertain primarily to the intellect, while faith is a matter of the heart. In Faith Seeking Understanding, Daniel Migliore explains the need for creeds, but also writes: “Knowledge of Jesus Christ is not simply academic or historical knowledge; it is faith knowledge. Faith in Christ is not just knowing about him but trusting in him and being ready to follow him.”
—John G. Cook
The end result of our discussion of this matter should leave the confessions alone. But signing our Form of Subscription should be changed to a process of discussion with potential church leaders about points in our confessions that a leader cannot enthusiastically embrace. If a consistory can walk through those points with potential leaders, it can judge whether a doctrine that troubles someone is critical to the Christian faith or minor and can be tolerated.
If we are to be obedient to our Lord’s desire for “perfect unity,” then we need to lay aside those things that hinder such unity. John R. Stott indicates that the core of true Christian faith is found in John 17:3—“This is eternal life, that we know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he sent.” Anything we do to define the Christian faith more narrowly is divisive. To require leaders to sign a document that defines Christianity more narrowly, divides the body.
Being Reformed means that we are committed to the purposes of a sovereign God, who calls us to make every effort to seek the unity of the body first, and doctrinal maturity will follow (see Eph. 4:11-16).
Should we drop the sign on procedure to the Form of Subscription entirely? John Luth in “Confessions: Cautions and Concerns” (December 2010) alludes that it promotes allegiance and uniformity. I believe we are kidding ourselves.
I haven’t seen anyone raise the question, What have we accomplished in the past or what are we still trying to accomplish with this procedure? In our breathless efforts to try to hang on to the word Reformed in our identification, we have turned our backs on each other. It’s time to recognize that our documents have failed us in achieving unity and adherence. We are wrongly engaged—the process is by nature a humanistic endeavor and as such the Form of Subscription must go. We place our officebearers in positions of trust. Requiring their signatures strikes me as unethical and unbiblical.
We are in danger of placing ourselves above the Word of God, which does not depend on us to defend it.
Regarding the three articles on our confessions in the December Banner:
1. Are not the Canons of Dordt and Belgic Confession historical documents written to a populace that did not own Bibles, to explain to them what was really in the Bible as opposed to some church teachings of that time?
2. Most people in the world today have access to the Bible, the living Word of God. Trying to know and understand God from our confessions is like trying to know a person from his or her resume.
3. We do not need the confessions to understand the Bible; for that we need an open heart for truth and the Holy Spirit.
4. In order to agree and sign that the confessions are a true interpretation of the Bible, one must first have studied both Scripture and the confessions extensively.
5. We belong to the body of Jesus and are a part of his Church. The purpose of a part is to work with the many other parts to serve the Body, not to promote itself.
Discomfort with the Belhar
I have mixed feelings about adopting or not adopting the Belhar Confession (“Our Discomfort with the Belhar,” December 2010). I believe strongly in taking stands for justice. I served in the military, vote, and speak out for justice as best I can. But the world is so full of injustice that no one can pretend to know how to bring greater justice at all times and in all contexts. For example, the CRC’s Office of Social Justice considers the U.S. embargo of Cuba unjust, while I believe that Cuba needs to be liberated from Communism.
But the Belhar was written in response to Apartheid. What differentiates Apartheid from the many other great evils that have beset humanity is that it was developed and perpetuated by Dutch Reformed Calvinists, responding (to some extent) to their poverty and the injustices of British Imperialism. Whether or not we adopt the Belhar, we must never forget that the language of our faith and philosophies was used to build and justify a violent, racist, and unjust state. We must allow God to use that reality to teach us hard, difficult, and subtle lessons about ourselves, humility, justice, and our responses to the world we live in.
—Raymond Paul Opeka
Grand Rapids, Mich.