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.