Boldly Proclaim and Profess

Editorial
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The institutional church may allow the light of Scripture to illumine every issue. But it must do so only within its area of expertise.

What societal issues ought we to address as a denomination? Synod 2012 wrestled with this question with respect to the Belhar Confession, the report on Creation Stewardship, and the work of the denomination’s Office of Social Justice.

In these debates, delegates often invoked the Reformed distinction between church as organism and church as institute.

The church as organism is Christ’s church in its widest dimension: the body of Christ, made up of all true believers, wherever they are and in all of their living. They are church, called out to be God’s people at home, school, work, in the marketplace, in government—wherever. Following the Lord of all, they live and grow God’s kingdom. Most biblical references address the church as organism.

But Scripture also speaks of “church” in a narrower sense: a specific, organized gathering of believers. We call it the church as institute—local manifestations of Christ’s body, gathering for worship, shepherding members, and reaching out with Word and deed to serve the community. These congregations often form wider structures for mutual accountability and engage in work better done together than alone (world missions, church planting, diaconate).

Synod delegates agreed that the church as organism should address all societal issues, since Jesus is Lord of all. Believers, individually and communally, should speak God’s truth into family, politics, economics, and culture. But delegates were divided on whether the church as institute should also address contentious issues that arise in those spheres. Many believe that the institutional church should stick to its knitting, leaving it to individual believers and organizations to tackle issues that lie outside of the church’s expertise (climate change, economic injustice).

I believe that the task of the institutional church is to proclaim the gospel in all its fullness. That proclamation is received first by its members—who then confess (say together) their faith in song, word, and deed. But it should also be addressed to those living beyond those solid oak doors. The gospel is for everyone. So the institutional church may allow the light of Scripture to illumine every issue. But it must do so only within its area of expertise: proclaiming and professing the Scriptures. It should speak out prophetically against those who promote or perpetuate racism, injustice, or poverty, or who despoil God’s good creation.

The institutional church should not pretend to know or advocate for specific policies by which these concerns should be addressed. It should articulate the principles and leave their concretization and implementation to those who bear that responsibility (governments, educational institutions, businesses). Where the Christian Reformed Church can speak with one voice, let’s let it speak. By clearly articulating what our Lord requires, we make our own unique contribution to those with the task of working out ways and means.

Let’s not cease debate on this crucial question just because Synod 2012 is a wrap. And let’s not focus on what issues the institutional church (congregation, denomination) should address, but how it should address them.

About the Author

Bob De Moor is a retired Christian Reformed pastor living in Edmonton, Alta.

See comments (5)

Comments

Amen to the statement "Where the Christian Reformed Church can speak with one voice, let’s let it speak."  Now if that's true, then the following is also true: 'Where the CRCNA can not speak with one voice, it should not speak.'  There are multiple reasons for the CRCNA to embrace both statements (eg., principle of sphere jurisdiction, CO Article 28, CO Article 85, having simple respect for CRC members, competency and incompetency, etc.), but right here and now, I would emphasize this reason: if the denomination does not excercise appropriate humility/restraint, it will tear this church apart into so many needless pieces, based on political theory perspective, econonomic theory perspective, scientific theory perspective, etc.  So many CRCers already complain that we have too many forms of unity, that they bind us where they shouldn't.  Ironically, many of those same complainers then want to add certain political and economic perspectives to the list of what "CRC means."

There are plenty, plenty, PLENTY of ecclesiatiscal matters that have the potential to divide the denomination without our having to add to those synodical proclamations about what percentage of the scientific community believe how much climate change occurs and how much that change is attributable to human activity and what effect that has in the real-world; or agency recommendations that we all thank Secretary Clinton for defying a house committee chair's order to hold federal funds from Palistinian authorities.  (And the list could go on and on and on and on.)  Should CRC members be discussing and dealing with these questions?  Absolutely.  Should the denomination pick which of these views are the right ones, or even decide which ones to politically advocate for and which not?  Absolutely not.  This is sphere sovereignty theory 101.

For decades, I have accepted and embraced the fact that I can confess the Apostles' and other Creeds, and hold to the Belgic and other Confessions, together with my brothers and sisters in Christ, and still someitmes be greatly at odds with those same brothers and sisters about whether and how much the federal government should deficit spend, or the particulars of federal and state welfare systems -- plus ten thousand (literally) other questions that are so distant, subject matter and expertise speaking, from our creeds and confessions.  In fact, in past decades, I have been particularly proud and grateful that my denomination avoided the temptation of becoming a right-wing political voice (even though my political views are better characterized as right than left) when that was happening in many other "less mature" church traditions in the US.  My denomination avoiding that helped teach me that answers to political, economic and many other questions are not strictly correlated to fundamental faith professions or to church creeds and confessions, and that Christians do best (are most faithful) when they both agree and disagree in love, and don't demand unity from each other as to matters where they shouldn't.  And whether neither attempts to 'lord it over' by using the denomination as their political megaphone.

Given what I've learned in this regard, it should come as no surprise that I would oppose the CRCNA becoming a left-wing political voice as much as I have opposed it becoming a right-wing political voice. It is no more more "mature" to give into the temptation of become a left-wing political megaphone than it is to become a right-wing political megaphone.

So I think I see progress in this Editorial.  Notwithstanding, I am mindful of the adage, "the devil is in the details."  I am convinced that the denomination needs to do much more than throw out a single Editorial on this subject.  It needs to take Overture 3 very seriously.  It needs to commit to opposing the apparently natural urge to use the denomination as a megaphone for this or that group's political/economic perspective.  It needs to get down to details, using real life examples, to develop well thought through principles that help us decide how to make the CRCNA a good and faithful institutional church, but yet one that is not constantly at serious odds with at least half (more or less) of its members on non-ecclesiastical matters.  It's time to work out the practical meaning of CO Article 28, as well as 85.  It's time to figure out how to be an institutional church that is 'bottom up' rather than 'top down'.  It's time to commit to proposition that the denomination serves the local churches, not the other way around, and then figure out how that is done.  It's time to commit to simple humility instead of constantly making faux declarations about how the denomination must declare this and that non-ecclesiastic 'truth' -- in behalf of all CRCers everywhere -- in order to lead and be prophetic.  It is time to bring a measure of unity (reconciliation if you will) to the CRC.

Thanks Bob and Doug for your thoughts. I like this editorial much more than the one previous to Synod. I too was impressed by how many issues connected to this question of when and how the church speaks to various issues. See my take on Synod at http://grayt2.wordpress.com/2012/06/20/thoughts-on-synod-2012/

"So the institutional church may allow the light of Scripture to illumine every issue. But it must do so only within its area of expertise: proclaiming and professing the Scriptures."

Better late than never.  Would that Rev. De Moor had followed this path consistently over the last several years.  I pray he does in the future.

I would also add my "AMEN" to Doug's comment.

I also heartily agree with Doug's comments, as well as Rev. De Moor's editorial.  I was on the advisory committee at Synod 2012 dealing with the creation stewardship report.  Over 2 days of deliberations I heard several discussions on "sphere sovereignty" (mostly by John Cooper) and gained some nuanced insight in to this concept.  We returned to this several times for a total of over an hour. In the end we did our best to downplay the scientific proclamations but still be able to reaffirm our biblical stewardship to God's creation. 

I agee totally with Doug that Overture 3 needs appropriate attention as we move forward in being Church to our world.

I have many opinions that others would consider "conservative" and some that are considered "liberal". I respectfully disagree with brothers and sisters on various matters. There are very few that I can understand our denomination taking a stand on unless there is a clear biblical imperative- sanctity of life comes to mind- but even there I do not think that the institutional church should actively engage in political organizing. I am glad to see these issues being discussed again in the CRCNA and hope that our next generation of leaders hold a renewed respect for Sphere Sovereignty. 

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