Why We Dare Not Play It Safe

Editorial
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Banner editors don’t just get to say, do, or publish what they want. True, they don’t answer directly to denominational leadership for editorial content. They answer to our widest assembly, the synod of the Christian Reformed Church. That way the magazine stays free from undue influence and is free to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).

Banner policy has been spelled out by synods past. The mechanisms used to keep the editor accountable on that score are

  • an editorial council of Board of Trustees and Faith Alive board members,
  • the Faith Alive board (now dissolved; temporarily the Board of Trustees),
  • synod itself.

The highest level of scrutiny at synod comes in my meeting with the advisory committee, where synodical delegates ask questions, raise concerns, and give counsel. I enjoy those sessions. They include voices and perspectives from across the continent.

This year, as they do most years, some delegates asked why The Banner had published some very controversial articles. Why not play it safe and avoid stirring up trouble in our denomination? The committee was satisfied with my answer, but they wisely encouraged me to share it with you, our readers, as well.

The Banner is mandated by synod to do four things: inform, inspire, educate, and challenge its readers. The first three usually don’t raise many eyebrows. However, articles that challenge sometimes do. That’s because readers may mistakenly believe that such articles represent the official views of the magazine, the editor, or the denomination. But that’s not necessarily so.

Since The Banner became an every-household magazine in 2005, the metaphor for its editorial policy remains a kitchen table—the place where family and friends freely converse about significant matters and where all reasonable voices are heard. This means that The Banner publishes articles (submitted or solicited) that represent different points of view. Those voices must contribute to the conversation by providing new information, perspective, argument, or insight (in a respectful, concise manner). The aim is not to push editorial agendas or positions, but to provide a place where important issues facing our denomination can be openly and honestly discussed. So we provide lots of avenues for reader response—especially at thebanner.org, where readers are free to comment and have their say.

The place where the editor shares his personal perspective is here on the editorial page. And there’s also one place where readers get to be provocative and “pop off” soap-box style. That’s in the IMHO column. Beyond that, our editorial policy allows for articles from a diversity of views and opinions—provided they are within the bounds of Scripture, don’t directly advocate against the doctrines taught in the creeds and confessions, and remain reasonable and respectful.

So reader beware: do not take every article in The Banner for gospel truth. Use your discretion. Always. Especially around our kitchen table.

Scary? Perhaps. But isn’t that what we’re called to do together: test the spirits even as we maintain the unity of the body in the bonds of love? How else will we “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:15)?

About the Author

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

See comments (14)

Comments

Bob DeMoor states, "Our editorial policy allows for articles from a diversity of views and opinions—provided they are within the bounds of Scripture [and] don’t directly advocate against the doctrines taught in the creeds and confessions." That is precisely the problem: Walhout's and Van Belle's articles are not within the bounds of Scripture and directly advocate against the doctrines taught in the creeds and confessions. In light of Bob DeMoor's own stated understanding of The Banner's editorial policy, he apparently thinks those articles do not conflict with Scripture or the Reformed confessions. In that case, we need a more discerning Banner editor.

I believe David Feddes is correct.  When The Banner publishes articles that are not within the bounds of Scripture and the Reformed confessions we look like we don't know what we believe. Members of other Reformed Denominations read these articles and question if we practice what we believe.  We teach our children that the Holy Scriptures and the Reformed confessions are the rule for our faith and life, and then we turn around and publish articles that conflict with them. I realize the intent is to start an open dialogue - but that is best left to an on-line blog.  We need to keep our teachings and writings within the bounds of Holy Scripture and the Reformed doctrines, for the  building up of the Church, that Christ may be glorified, and His Kingdom may be advanced.

 

I too, many times, have read articles in the Banner that I find hard to line up with either the clear voice of Scripture or, more importantly, in conformity with the teaching of our confessions and creeds. I have many members in my local church say that they refuse to read the Banner at all because of some of these more “controversial” articles.  Some church members have asked me why they are being forced to financially support a publication they often find offensive to their understanding of Scripture and confessional faith? I hate to say this, but it may take an overture asking for an act of Synod to address what exactly the purpose of a denominational financed publication is supposed to be? One member actually told me she doesn’t even dare put the Banner out in the open in her home. She told me that she doesn’t want to be associated with what the publication seems to be teaching. This is troubling and I hope the editorial staff of the Banner might consider carefully some of these very serious questions that I know are coming their way.

Bob DeMoor says "The Banner is mandated by synod to do four things: inform, inspire, educate, and challenge its readers."

Ok, let's take that as a premise.  Exactly which of these four does Harry Van Belle's article, arguing the CRCNA should bless living as husband and wife without benefit of marriage, come under?

Inform?  Well no, we all know lots of unmarried people do shack and we all know the variety of reasons given.  We also all know that the church thinks differently about this than society outside the church because it takes seriously what the Scriptures say, even in a "modern world."

Inspire?  I really don't think I need to say anything here.

Educate?  Again, we all know this is happening and the reasons given.

Challenge?  This one isn't close either.  What might we be being challenged to do by the Van Belle article?: to simply ignore anything the Scriptures say?  I could possibly see the Van Belle's article as a "challenge" to Banner readers to spot the article that is claimed to present a Reformed perspective about an important topic but in fact doesn't at all.  But I'm not sure that's the challenge the givers of this mandate had in mind.

What seems to be utterly missing from the Banner's analysis is the effect articles like this have on local churches who have to explain these articles away to old CRC members, but more importantly, new CRC members and those who are considering making the area's local CRC church their family's church but are wondering just what they would be getting into after reading an article like this.  Why is this not part of the Banner's analysis?  Were it, the Van Belle article wouldn't have been even considered for publication. 

And why is the effect that articles like this have on 13 and 14 and 15 and 16 year old CRC kids not taken into account?  In a few years, when they have to start making decisions for themselves, I doubt they will forget the Banner article, written by someone who was stated by the Banner editor to be presenting a Reformed perspective on this, that said the church should stop being so oppressive and bless shacking up before getting married because young people really shouldn't be expected to put a bridle on their sexual inclinations.   Why is this not part of the Banner's analysis?

The four previous comments have stated very well a good response to bob de moor's defence of editorial policy.  It's one thing to bring up certain issues and discussions.   It's another thing entirely to leave the impression that the church is blessing the unbiblical and wrong side of these dicsussions.  Furthermore, from a simple common sense editorial policy perspective, at a minimum, these articles ought to have a disclaimer such as: " This article does not express the viewpoint of the crc, and in fact expresses thoughts and ideas which are directly contrary to the crc confessions and contrary to scripture."  Not that I think even such a disclaimer makes it okay or wise to insert these articles into the banner.   Doug VandeGriend's comment is especially to the point, that we ought to recognize the impact on younger teenagers, and the conflicting messages that we as a church family seem to be presenting.  "Scary" has nothing to do with it;  truth and honesty and scripture has everything to do with it. 

In a note preceding the articles on sexuality, Bob DeMoor writes: "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." Thus the editor acknowledges that he published articles that contradict and challenge CRC doctrine and ethics. This is a violation of the editor's stated commitment to publish only articles that "are within the bounds of Scripture [and] don’t directly advocate against the doctrines taught in the creeds and confessions."

Edwin Walhout's Banner article states, "But if Adam and Eve are not understood as real historical people, then there can hardly be an inheritance of sinfulness from parent to child all the way back to Adam—in which case the entire doctrine of original sin falls by the wayside." Compare this to catechism and Scripture:
Q&A 7 Then where does this corrupt human nature come from? A. The fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise. This fall has so poisoned our nature that we are all conceived and born in a sinful condition.
Romans 5:19 For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.

Walhout's contradiction of Scripture and confession is blatant and undeniable.

Before Walhout's views were published in The Banner, he stated in an ebook that the Heidelberg Catechism "should no longer be accepted as definitive of Christian theology." (p. 2) "It is impossible any longer to think that Adam and Eve were real historical persons… There is no contamination of human nature to be passed on by heredity from one generation to the next." (p. 13) Thus there is no doubt whatsoever that Walhout openly and knowingly contradicts the confessions, and there is no doubt that The Banner published his obvious contradiction of the confessions. How does that square with the editor's claim that he must publish only articles that "are within the bounds of Scripture [and] don’t directly advocate against the doctrines taught in the creeds and confessions"?

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. - Colossians 2:8

I wonder if the goals of the Banner have been misplaced.  I understand the banner has won some literary or magazine awards lately from Associated Church Press and Evangelical Press.  I would suggest that these awards might be a sad commentary on priorities.   I'm reminded that Morgentaler was awarded the Order of Canada award in 2008, which to me at least, was a denigration of the award itself.   Some people who had previously won this "Order" award returned it.  The Van Belle article and the Walhout article and a few others are tarnishing the value of the awards won by other articles and columns.  What a shame. 

I cannot believe that the editor would allow the article by Mr. Van Belle to be published in the Banner. I cannot adequately express my disappointment in this decision.  It seems to me that the suggestion made in the article is that we are to adapt the teaching of the bible to affirm behavior in "modern society."  I had always thought that we should adapt our behaviour to the teaching of the bible.

I agree with David Feddes' comment. In the Walhout article from June 2013 it states "the doctrines that form the essential strucutre of our creeds and confessions miss the mark". This statement and the arguments that it is based upon clearly fail De Moor's self-stated litmus test ("Our editorial policy allows for articles from a diversity of views and opinions—provided they are within the bounds of Scripture [and] don’t directly advocate against the doctrines taught in the creeds and confessions."). When I made profession of faith I declared publicly that I believe the doctrines of the CRC faithfully reflect Gods Word and will. I expect a publication that is funded by my offerings given to that church to hold to the same standard. If Walhout and Van Belle want to argue against some of our basic beliefs I ask that they do it on their own tab.

When reading "Where do we draw the line",initially I was stunned, then confused, then concerned and then outraged.  "The Official Magazine of the Christian Reformed Church" is providing a platform promoting reevaluating the propriety of sexual activity outside of marriage.  What has changed in scripture or the creeds that I am unaware of?  Or is it that we are to accomodate culturally driven changes and alter what we understand Scripture to teach.  Is the Word that fluid that we are to adjust it to whatever abomination contemporary culture considers acceptable? My God does not change He is the same today as He was yesterday.  What was identified as sin in scritpture is still sin today.  I am not comfortable with the denominational magazine being the vehicle for promoting this sort of sin and am not at all impressed with the "Emeritus Professor"s opinions.  He is entitled to them but I would be very suspicious of anything that he might have been teaching at this "Christian College".

I recently spent the day with a man who just joined our church.  He is a new Christian and because his Spanish is better than his English, he struggles at times to understand the English he reads.  He said to me, "Pastor, I read something recently in the Banner that has me very confused. He says I know I am a new to following Jesus, but the article I read, that was written by some man in Canada, really has bothered me.  His views on sexuality and relationships do not seem according to the Bible.  Why would your denominations magazine print something like this?  I think it would confuse many people".

 I couldn't agree more with my friend.  Why would something so blatantly unbiblical be printed?  If it is to "challenge" as De Moor has stated in his editorial, God's people to be more like Jesus and understand the truths of scripture better, I would agree.  If it's to "challenge" the truths of scripture, than I think the good professor’s article has no place being there.

To add to John Kostelyk's post, someone who had been visiting my church for a few months now approached me yesterday during "coffee" after the AM service.  He and his wife had read this Banner article (and some others over the months) and were beginning to wonder just what kind of church they had been visiting and considering making their home.  These are not "Dutch people," that is, these are the kind that the denomination says they want more of in the church.  (As an aside, our local church wants people in the church -- we don't profile so much).

This gentlemen approached me because he was told that I could possibly explain why the Banner published stuff like this.  We talked for about 25-30 minutes.  I can't recall it all here but I assured him that what the Banner writes or what the others holding denominational offices say is often at great odds with the CRCNA membership and local CRCNA churches, including our local church but also most others across the country.

I'm increasingly having to have these conversations with people who are new to our church, or those who are new to finding out what the CRCNA is doing at the "denominational level."

These are Exhibits A, B, C, D, ... for "Why We Dare Not Play it As If We Are Something Other Than What Our Creeds and Confessions Say We Are."

I think there are a number of John Suks in denominational positions of power and influence.  They no longer believe what the CRCNA believes but they can't, unlike John Suk could and did (but only eventually), find whatever it takes for them to be honest and respectful enough to say they shouldn't be in the position they are in.  In law, officers and directors have a fiduciary duty of loyalty to the organization.  Makes sense.  Either be loyal to the organization or don't be someone who holds power in the organization.  That principle should be stressed, including by the ED and the BOT.  If you are so at odds with the CRCNA, then do the honorable thing and find an institutional church (there are lots of them) where you are not so much at odds (like John Suk).  Being culturally Dutch and historically CRC, even if from birth, gives one neither the right nor the duty to make the CRCNA change as you have if/when you come to the conclusion that what the CRCNA has historically believed is bologna.  There will be plenty left who think otherwise and who, frankly, will be blessed by the departure of those who think the historic CRC faith is bologna. 

Playing it safe.... what does that mean?   First of all, what do we mean by safety?   Is safety equivalent to comfort?   To wearing a helmet?   To using seatbelts?   In the church situation, is safety protecting what we have?  protecting traditions?  or protecting ourselves from persecution?  from ridicule?   from irrelevance?   or remaining in the arms of Jesus?  

Safety is sometimes equated with not rocking the boat.   Yes, that would be an aspect of it.   But the larger problem is that if the boat is headed for a large waterfall, then not rocking the boat might be a relatively minor concern.  In the church we ought to be concerned more about the influence of the outside waterfall on our walk of faith.   When we merely protect traditions and eventually find ourselves a small church with only white-haired people sitting in a largely empty church, then we have not played it safe, since we have created a huge disaster by our unfaithfulness and our lack of true witness.  On the other hand, when we are concerned about safety from worldly ridicule, we also will create the disaster of living by worldly approval.   That has two possible results;  one is an empty church because of the lack of spiritual relevance, where it is the world and not God nor scripture that guides us.   The second possible result is a full church of people who are gloriously worshipping something other than God, a situation that is just as "unsafe". 

If it is necessary for us not to play it safe, then we should live dangerously when we challenge the unscriptural and ungodly beliefs and practices of the world around us.   In that context, challenging evolution is unsafe, but a good idea.   Challenging abortion rights, free choice,  poverty, and immorality would all be unsafe ventures in our present world.   Inserting our faith into our workplace, into the courts, into the schools, into missions, and into Christian World Renew, would be unsafe.   If the editor truly believes that we are called to be unsafe, then this is where we should begin.  And end. 

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