In Praise of the Covenant of Ordination for Office-Bearers

It seems nearly every quarter of Christendom anymore has its conventiclers and mini-movements. In the CRC we have something called “the Returning Church.” It was formed three years ago by six pastors. The goal of the RC is to “advocate restoration of scriptural adherence in the CRC.” Beyond its slightly Biblicist tone and tenor, this is code for a small group within the CRC who don’t like the way things are going. Appealing to the very evangelicalism it might hope to counter by citing a scriptural adherence instead of a confessional commitment, I have always had an ill sense of their presence. To be sure, one cannot fault the instinct that the CRC is not well nor the efforts at correction. But one has to wonder just what it is this group has in mind will actually happen when the larger community is clearly uninterested.

What this group always seems to miss, by my lights anyway, is that the problem isn’t any appeal to scripture but to the confessional tradition on which the denomination was originally built. What is lost simply cannot be made up for with the sentimentality “…to be a Christ-adoring, lost-seeking, truth-loving, grace-extending, Word-centered, Bible-saturated church.” Like the “I was only following orders” cliché, Christendom is littered with bare appeals to scripture (and the leading of the Holy Spirit, I might add). Some think the Returning Church to be commended for its efforts. Perhaps. But, if their stated goal is any measure, I can only find more timidity made up for with a lot of sloganeering.

Now it seems the Covenant of Ordination for Office-Bearers is next up in the cross-hairs. There may be some fidgeting. There is good reason for that. Previously, I had blogged as an office-bearer my own discontent with the proposed revision to the Form of Subscription. My views were largely those of Randy Blacketer’s. In substance those are still my views, of course. With views like Blacketer’s that get branded as “harsh and resting on fears,” how could I have anything against the Returning Church’s howls? Well, beyond its activist nature, its smacking of evangelical conventiclizing and its ironic appeals to the very broad-evangelicalism it seems to want to counter, it may also demonstrate in this most recent effort what happens when good, Reformed parochialism goes bad. It seems to be issues-oriented, batting down one after another without seeming able to recognize the cause. In a word, the Returning Church shows us what an undying loyalty to a denomination looks like more than a Reformed and catholic commitment to the church.

And if history is any measure, the Returning Church will miss this one. And missing this one will be to flirt more heavily with disaster. Why? Because it will be to unwittingly and ironically fulfill the warnings resident within broad Evangelicalism, namely dead orthodoxy.

Insofar as the spirit in the CRC is broadly evangelical it should adopt a form that faithfully reflects the theology, piety and practice of those in the ranks at large. In this way, it seems to me that the COO makes perfect sense. I appreciate that it is a hard pill to swallow, but to do something otherwise would be inconsistent. If we understand dead orthodoxy to be when we make our confession a formality which we operationally ignore in our theology, piety and practice, then to hang on to a letter that does not faithfully reflect the spirit would be to foist a dead orthodoxy. When the COO came to our Council and was met with mostly a collective yawn or cheers it was, I think, a fairly good indicator that the masses want very little to do with the FOS as-is.

Body and soul must be unified. Do we imagine that Guido DeBres really had Anabaptist and Radical theology, piety and practice when he penned the Belgic Confession? Was there for those who adopted a form like that, and died for it, a disconnect between that which formally articulated their beliefs and what they really held dear? No, the form and content and the letter and spirit were, in good and historical Christian form, united. The high-opinion/low-views the rank and file within the CRC has of the forms of unity should be consistent in their formal articulation. This may beg the question of schism for those unable to endure environs like this and irritate misplaced loyalties to a mere denomination on the part of some. But conflating “church” with “denomination” is never a good thing. And whatever else the Reformation brought us it was the ability to shown discernment and know when to shake the dust from one’s sandals.

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20 Responses to In Praise of the Covenant of Ordination for Office-Bearers

  1. Zrim –

    As an office-bearer in the CRC do you see that body as no longer being a confessional church, as seen in the FoS being replaced with the CoO? Is this, then, proper grounds (along with the many other issues in the CRC) for leaving that denomination?

    I appreciate your thoughts that the CoO should actually be adopted because it more accurately reflects the actual piety and practice of the office-bearers of the CRC. Even though I am not officially in that denomination anymore, I did grow up in her, have many ties to her, and really wish there was a way for her to be reformed.

    Mark

  2. Zrim says:

    Hi Mark,

    (You’ll be pleased to know, I hope, that your piece in the upcoming Outlook is what got me to finally take the plunge and subscribe! I look forward to reading it.)

    Yes, I see the CRC as no longer confessional. But keep in mind that the COO has not yet replaced anything. Talk at the moment is to stave off any decisions until church’s can take closer looks, etc. I think that is prudent, of course. But given that our church is something of a “flagship church” within the denom (Calvin CRC in GR), and given that as each goes so goes the other, and given how it was handled there, I think it is only a matter of time before something like the COO is adopted.

    I don’t know if this is “proper grounds for leaving,” but for my part, for a few years now I have sensed a “quiet and dignified divorce” looming for me and my family. We came seeking refuge from broad Evangelicalism and it seems they are embracing more and more that which I have deliberately rejected. It’s an odd experience.

    It is very hard, as you probably know having been raised in her, to leave a place you have been so attached to. But I had a helpful conversation with Hart recently. He likened it to being part of a dysfunctional family where everyone knows things are bad but keeps smiling and living in denial. At some point, wisdom and discernment demand one takes care of his own health, painful as it can be. In this way, I hope to never lose a sense of charity as we move our way out.

  3. Zrim –

    I hope you aren’t disappointed by The Outlook article! I would love to hear any feedback you might have once that article comes out – positive or negative! My e-mail is mark at mvpol dot com.

    The CRC still has a lot of great minsters and elders within her, and there are guys like classmates of mine who are graduating WSC and going into the CRC because they know she still needs good ministers in the face of her many pressures from within and without. But as you will seen in my article, there are those within the CRC that seem to force their agenda and the CRC as a whole has not been able to resist. So even if the CoO and other “unconfessional” things do not go through in this upcoming Synod, it is only a matter of time when they will. I applaud those that remain in the CRC to be a voice, but hope they know they have their work cut out for them!

    I will keep you and others in my prayers as you wrestle with these important matters and how to deal with them in a Christ-like and God-honoring manner.

  4. Zrim says:

    Mark,

    I’ll try to remember to shoot you a response.

    I quite agree with you on it being as matter of time. For me, it is a difficult tension to maintain, to endure “presbyterianly.” I fear more than not have taken their cues not from a presbyterian endurance from an American activism, which I find as problematic as the ills at large in the CRC.

    Thanks for your encouragement.

  5. Andrew Compton says:

    Nice post, Zrim. How great it would be to plant a conservative church in the GR area that would spend it’s time *loving* the 3FU, rather than griping about how liberal every one else is getting! There is just so much wonderful theology to comfort the soul found in the confessions. It’s a shame that so many of our “confessional” churches (especially in your neck of the woods) have so much in common with the fundamentalist churches that spend their time decrying movies and alcohol and lobbying for a particular Baptist minister’s run at the oval office. Sigh. I’d encourage you to move to CA, but even though there are some wonderful confessional homes out here, there is the whole “living in the concrete-Gehena that is Los Angeles” to deal with! Keep up the good work, brother. Next time I make it out to GR, I’d love to get together and buy you a beer.

  6. Zrim says:

    Hey, it’s Andrew! Look everyone, Andrew.

    Thanks for the props, Andrew. In case you didn’t see me say it somewhere around cyber-space, big congrats on your ordination.

    Re a move out to CA, I have yet to convince both my wife (who, as a sun freak, hates Michigan) and my inner two-kingdomite who keeps telling me that I can’t do that until the KoM calls me out there–rules is rules, you know. And at the moment, it may be that said kingdom might call to Durham, which would please my wife.

    Re the brew, you’re on.

  7. Linda says:

    Hi Zrim,
    I have been reading postings on the Outhouse.
    I found your site through Kim R’s site who happens to be the pastor at the church my son in law and daughter go to. (Andrew Compton)We hail from Kalamazoo, where my husband is a CRC pastor, currently on sabbatical.
    Have really liked reading your stuff where I see you and others dealing with the reformed faith/teaching or the lack thereof in the churches you attend.
    We have been out in CA since the 30th of May attending Christ Reformed. Have really appreciated Kim and the group that makes up this body of believers. Our URC churches back in Gr/Kalamazoo are nothing like this diverse body of believers!!! How refreshing to see people hungry for reformed teaching in a healthy way and not by the rules of men.
    Blessings in your blogging.
    Linda

  8. Zrim says:

    Hi Linda,

    Thanks for the note. I very much enjoy Andrew’s place.

    Ever since we visited Christ Reformed (back in ’97, in another galaxy when I was in seminary and they were still CRC and inhabiting a little abandoned Lutheran church) I have puzzled over why it is so hard to see realized here. I think it has a lot to do with “the burned over district” of GRusalem. Seems you have to go at least 144 miles oustide the circumference of the greater GR/Kalamazoo area to see the best of our tradition appreciated: If you are ever in TC (my hometown), check this little plant out.

  9. Rick Sr. says:

    Ahem, Linda
    I know of at least one URC in GR that satisfies many-a hunger for reformed teaching. Zrim’s sentimentality is clouding his judgment a wee bit.

    Rick Sr.

  10. Zrim says:

    After this past Lord’s Day at Trinity URC, it must be conceded that Rick Sr. is entirely correct. Seeing how it is hard to come by, solid Reformed preaching and proper worship must be given its due recognition.

    That said, I still maintain that Redeemer TC is the model expression for the best of Presbyterian worship, one toward which Trinity ought to strive.

    I hope that wasn’t too sentimental.

  11. Rick says:

    Zrim,
    I agree. Redeemer has the model liturgy we must strive for. This will not be a quick and easy thing at TURC (nor at any long established URC), undoubtedly some will protest that moves in that direction will “feel to Roman Catholic” as a few have already remarked when we changed the “text assuring pardon” to “declaration of pardon.” Sheesh, I guess “declaration of absolution” is a long-time off yet. Not to mention robes or weekly communion.

    Can anyone name one Church that has the Redeemer (Christ Reformed, Oceanside, Exile PCA, Christ URC Santee) liturgy after years of not doing things that way? Undoing years of watered-down, evangelicalism influenced ligurgy is long and grueling work.

    BTW, I’ve spent a good part of this morning fixing your messy code on the blog. I can’t complain though, at least you’re posting.

  12. Zrim says:

    Rick,

    I know I may have said it before but Millward has conveyed to me how the local evangies render Redeemer “way too Catholic.” I can never decide if there is lament in his voice or not. But I try to assure him that such a diagnosis from such folk is a good thing.

    I can’t think of one, which reinforces your standing point that, well, it’s complicated, folks. Which is good to remember given how we can be prone to idealism ourselves. But patience and endurance ought to characterize those who would seek a Presbyterian piety.

  13. Mark VPol says:

    In response to Rick’s question about a church being able to change their liturgy, I am wondering about Grace Evangelical (URC) in Torrance, CA. I don’t know a lot about their history, but I believe they were broadly Evangelical and became Reformed. Now they have a pretty good Reformed liturgy, at least what I saw when I was up there a couple of weeks ago. Maybe one of the other SoCal URCers who fequent here can help out with this. This situation might be special because more than just the liturgy changed, their whole theology changed as well.

  14. Rana says:

    Hi Guys!
    Sorry I haven’t read much in a LONG time, but after 2.5 years of GRusalem we are on our way out! We are moving to sunny Southern California, where we hope to be a part of a confessional church. I should clarify that we are hoping to move once we sell/ lease/ rent our home. Rick, you live close by are you looking? Or know anyone who is?

    We would LOVE any information on churches near where the 91/15 meet in Corona/ Riverside areas. We will definitely check out Christ Reformed (though we prefer something closer to the 91/15 since it is on our way to my parents house and my dear husband already knows many days will be spent visiting family or on the beach in Laguna 🙂
    Peace,
    rana

  15. Zrim says:

    R’na,

    Well, I’d say sorry to see you go, but I never saw you in the first place. Seems the KoM and the KoG are two great tastes coming together for you all.

    I have no idea the lay out of SC, but look into Mike Brown’s (Horton’s) CURC and Hyde’s (and Clark’s) OURC. They are listed under thr Outhouse Saints up top. Don’t let your geographical locale keep you from dropping by from time to time.

  16. Rana says:

    oops! grammatical errors made that previous post confusing. we will be living just east of the 91/15 freeways we think and hope to find a church closer to that area. we don’t mind visiting churches in oc since we have family in oc.

    thanks!

  17. Rana says:

    Hi Zrim,
    we would have loved to be a part of a confessional church plant here (if Calvin would even have let us) but a great opportunity was offered to us and after negotiation we are taking it. i will probably be here for some time i imagine sans husband. i may embrace my new civil liberties and attend whatever church i please not just a CRC! FREEDOM!!! i like the taste of it. i may even enroll my kids in the public school’s preschool (if we are still here that long) for an even deeper dive into freedom, lol.

  18. Zrim says:

    R’na,

    My wife is hoping for the KoM to call us to the southeast soon. That would be something all right, but who knows. I can’t say that I’d be all that opposed–believers “every square inch” can make Jack a dull boy. Congratulations on your “great opportunity,” that’s wonderful.

    Re freedom, there’s nothing like jumping in with both feet, I say. If it weren’t for such freedom we never would have had such great Xian pre-school experiences for our two. You go, girl.

  19. Rana says:

    we just drove back to GR from Atlanta, the SE is a great part of the USA.

  20. Zrim says:

    Yeah, you probably wouldn’t think about it this time of year and why it would be relevant, but very little snow and ice in those parts and plenty of sunshine.

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