The confession of the church and CHP: contradiction or harmony?
By Rev. E. Kampen, Reformed Perspective Feb. 1988
The letters "CHP" have become rather familiar to readers of the Reformed press. Both Reformed Perspective and Clarion have given extensive coverage to the "Christian Heritage Party. " Since the first articles appeared from the pen of Rev. Geertsema on the pages of Clarion, one cannot help but get the impression that participation in this political party is considered a foregone conclusion for all the members of the Canadian Reformed Churches. Rev. Geertsema's initial reaction was one of extreme caution. Many questions were raised about this way of doing political kingdom work. However, since those initial questions and concerns, the general drift in the various articles which appeared has been quite favorable. Yes, so favorable that the readers may have received the impression that it has become the editorial policy of Reformed Perspective to officially endorse this new party. Articles in support are in plentiful supply. Anyone who dares to raise some questions and concerns receive a severe tongue lashing (see Reformed Perspective, Nov. 87, pp. 16-19).
There are, however, some serious questions that need to be raised. It is hoped that those who feel addressed by these questions will not reply with unChristian polemics. Polemics are fine, but let us not fall down to the level of ridicule and sarcasm in order to silence the opposition.
Now in the November 1987 issue of Reformed Perspective we heard the leader of the CHP describe himself as the captain of a ship. He wrote, "We have need of sailors to come aboard and of support staff to help us. The recruitment sign is out; torpedoes and mines we don't need" (Reformed Perspective, November 1987, p. 9). In this article the aim will not be to fire torpedoes or lay mines. The aim is to discuss and expose the torpedoes and mines which have been placed in the hold of the ship by the captain and other leaders of the party themselves. There is a basic, a major flaw. This flaw lies in the relationship between the Christian Heritage Party and the church of Christ. Despite the claim to be nondenominational, there is much evidence which points to interdenominationalism, to a political ecumenism. It does indeed appear that this party is not founded upon the sound, Reformed confessions, which are a safe and reliable guide for all of our life since they faithfully echo God's Word. This party appears to be built on the dangerous substance of modern ecumenism and the accompanying concept of the invisible church. It can even be said that Christ's headship over the world is separated from His headship over the church, as if these are two separate matters.
Quite an accusation is laid at the feet of the CHP. But, let the readers judge for themselves whether these accusations are justified.
a. When the party was in its initial stages of organization and promotion in 1986, a "Dear Pastor" letter was circulated. There appeared to be no discrimination as to what church body the "Dear Pastor" might belong to. In this letter it was said that "As pastor, you have the difficult task to feed the flock with the Word of God, and to equip the saints for the task of kingdom work under Jesus Christ in all areas of life." The fact that this type of letter was not specifically addressed to pastors of the churches as we confess that Christ gathers them, but was a circular, a general letter, which could fall on the desk also of the Baptist, United Church, or Roman Catholic pastor, shows an implicit acceptance of the legitimacy of the office-bearers in various socalled denominations. Do not say that this is being judgmental on other groups. We must be honest with our confessions. We must not forget history. Not all that claims to be church is church, and not all "pastors" are legitimate pastors.
b. In the same "Dear Pastor" letter it was remarked that the CHP "was formed because Christians were united from all walks of life, from various denominations, but with a common concern over the direction Canada is taking and a common zeal to proclaim the kingship of Jesus Christ over all areas of life." Also here one can notice an implicit acceptance of various denominations. What denomination one belongs to is treated as being of secondary importance. What is stressed is the common concern in politics. Here is forgotten that the Father rules all things through Christ as Head of His church! (Lord's Day 19:50). What we have here is thus evidence of insufficient attention being given to the place of the church. As head of His church Christ rules all things. We cannot just push church membership aside as a secondary issue.
c. One can sense the spirit of ecumenism in the actual meetings of the party. The Word of God is read. The LORD is addressed in prayer. Thus the impression is given that despite all the doctrinal differences which separate us on Sunday, there is at least a basic, underlying unity in faith, a basic unity which allows us to do kingdom work together. But what kind of unity is this? At best one can say that all those present claim to have faith. Thus, there is a unity in the act of faith. But, this is no basis for unity. Critical for unity is that there must be agreement on the contents of faith. It is not enough to say THAT you believe. It is of utmost importance WHAT you believe. Before we can speak of unity of faith we must know not only of the ACT of faith but also the FACTS of faith one believes (cf. Lord's Day 7). This is lacking while there still is an implicit recognition of each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord.
Sometimes it is countered that this is not true, that members of the CHP do not call each other brothers and sisters like in church. One can only say this: stop confusing the people. Those present at the meetings certainly think that here they can express their unity, which might be lacking on Sunday.
d. We hear talk of "Christians of all stripes" (Reformed Perspective, July/August 1987, p. 20). Again the matter of church membership is downplayed to being a matter of "Christians of all stripes." Is this all that membership in one denomination or another comes down to, being "Christians of various stripes"? Is church membership just a matter of various preferences, various backgrounds? Here is a belittling of God's command to worship Him according to His Word and not according to man's fancies and whims (compare Lord's Day 35).
Again it must be said, "Stop confusing us." Just think what such talk is going to do to the youth. They have a hard enough time understanding a proper church concept. And then they get to hear that those in different groups are merely "Christians of various stripes." If that is so, well, then, why are we separate? Why not date that nice boy or girl met at a CHP convention? Are we not all Christians, merely of various stripes? Dangerous and confusing.
e. The leader of the CHP said that, "We will need the input of the Reformed Community" (Reformed Perspective, July/August 1987, p. 26). Is the church of Jesus Christ as we confess it merely a "Reformed Community," in the midst of the other communities, like the Baptist, the Roman Catholic, the Evangelical? Is the Reformed Community just one of the many communities, all equally legitimate, although perhaps a bit more pure than the rest? When we consider what we confess in Belgic Confession 27-29, especially about the true and false church, such words are not acceptable.
f. It is suggested that ARPAs are excellent "within the confines of denominational walls," and a little later, "CHP is not a single denomination party (Reformed Perspective, November 1987, p. 8). Again the impression is given that as Canadian Reformed Churches we are just one of the many fish in the ecclesiastical pond, all having an equal right to existence. When one reads the first part of that same article just referred to, one even gets the impression that, after some forty years, the Reformed churches have finally emerged from the immigrant stage and entered the establishment of the many churches, and are ready to become a major player. It can be gratefully noted that elsewhere there is a great dissatisfaction with this idea of denominationalism (Reformed Perspective, November 1987, p. 19). Still, there is no clear direction about the legitimacy or illegitimacy of all the groups that go by the name "church."
g. We are informed that "an appeal was made nation-wide to churches to pray for the CHP during the days of its founding convention" (Reformed Perspective, November 1987, p. 9). Again we see reason for confusion. We always teach peole that we should be at the address where God has caused His Name to dwell in the faithful preaching of the gospel. In our confession we say that we easily can tell the true from the false church. But now, all of a sudden, those places where we tell people they do not belong are addressed as equals, as if the prayers from all the different denominations are equally acceptable before God's throne.
From all the evidence presented, is it any surprise that there are great questions? Do we not see a view of the church which can be summarized under the term "denominationalism"? Denominationalism actually could be called the North American doctrine of the church. Denominationalism is based on the idea of the invisible church.
We should be clear on what is meant by this term. For a comparison we can think of money. Money comes in various denominations. That means, it comes in different values. You can have a one, two, five, ten or twenty dollar bill. Yet, even though all these are called different denominations of money, they have a common denominator: they are all money!
Now the same idea is applied to the church. You can have different groups, stressing different values and doctrines. Still, they are all church. That is the common denominator. Perhaps one might be better, purer than
the other. Still, no judgment is made about the other. This view is typical of North America. Everyone is supposed to tolerate the other. All are basically equal. Thus, actual church membership in various denominations is simply a matter of man's choice, based on his preferences and perhaps on ethnic background. This is so typically expressed in the familiar heading in the newspaper above all the names of the churches in town, "Worship in the church of your choice."
It is this same idea of denominationalism which we detect in the CHP. Indeed, it wants to be nondenominational. That is nice to say, but the evidence shows that such words are only confusing. Everything points to a sort of political ecumenism. One author admits there is some truth in this (Reformed Perspective, November 1987, p. 19). Typically in the style of denominationalism we see how those who are separate in doctrine and organization, maintain their ecclesiastical identity while at the same time recognize others as churches of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the same spirit of denominationalism, which sees various groups easily cooperate in communal projects, we now see cooperation on the political front. In the tradition of John Wesley, the stress falls on the inward disposition of the heart and not the outward institution. John Wesley is reported to have said, "Dost thou love and fear God? It is enough, I give thee the right hand of fellowship." (For an informative series of articles on Denominationalism by Rev. C. Stam, see Clarion, Vol. 27, pp. 392, 420 and Vol. 28, p. 101.)
When you read through the material from CHP or dealing with CHP, that term denomination appears more and more frequently. References are made uncritically to the various denominations. This is a term, however, which should not find a ready usage among Reformed confessors. It betrays an unScriptural view of the church, as if there is some supratemporal unity which transcends all the denominational walls. The confessions, especially Articles 27-29 of the Belgic Confession, teach us to speak in a much more concrete way about the church gathering work of Christ. the way the CHP speaks about the church and goes about its activities, which are claimed to be kingdom activities, displays a practical outworking of a view of the church which Synod Burlington 1986 considered unScriptural!
Let us thus tread with extreme care. It always sounds so nice to be involved in all sorts of endeavors with various Christians. It sounds so appealing when there is spoken of that underlying unity. It is, however, so often forgotten that North American Christianity is basically Arminian. The Arminian errors were soundly rejected by our forefathers, and we have the fruit of their labors in the Canons of Dort. Over 300 years ago the Reformed churches said that the Arminian error had to be rejected, that it was not in accord with the Word of God. Can we now suddenly accept on equal footing those who belong to organizations which are declared un-Scriptural in their theology by our very confessions?
The term denominationalism is thus to be used with great care. It should only be used in a critical way, because it betrays an un-Scriptural view of the church, a view which ignores the need for doctrinal faithfulness and unity. Denominationalism works with the Scripturally untenable idea of some invisible church. And it is this denominationalism which is the giant torpedo which lies in the hold of the ship CHP. Despite claims it is nondenominational, everything suggests it is interdenominational, some sort of political ecumenical movement. Note well. No one is firing a torpedo. It is in the ship already, placed there by those in charge of the ship.
At this point a misconception might arise and a false accusation be made. It might be said that there is a taste of sectarianism, of narrow-mindedness. Let us be perfectly clear on this point. Just because talk of denominationalism and the invisible church is criticized, that does not mean we should say that only Canadian Reformed people will be saved. What the LORD in His mercy and wisdom may do we cannot know. We do not have to judge others outside the church. Only the Lord knows the heart.
However, let us not become lost in the sea of subjectivism, which is so rampant and which also plays a role in the set up of the CHP We cannot judge the hearts of others. Only the Lord can do that. We may, however, judge organizations. We do so in our confessions when we speak about the marks of the true and false church. What we can notice, however, is a judgment by the members of the CHP. Some may call it a suspended judgment. We could perhaps call it a new form of presumptive regeneration. We see the tacit acceptance of others as Christians when they make that claim for themselves. There is no question as to what they believe and subscribe to. As party members they only have to subscribe to some very superficial and general statements. Still, there is supposed to be mutual acceptance, a mutual assumption that the other belongs to Christ. This is pure subjectivism. This is approaching the matter of faith from the point of God's election, rather than taking the covenantal approach. Subjectivism is so dangerous, for it cuts us loose from the Word of God and the norms found therein.
We can thus not say that there are no believers outside the church. But, we are not called to make judgments on that. When we do meet what appear to be believers, our first obligation is to call them to unite with other believers. Until they join with the brotherhood, we should indeed suspend all judgment. Thus, we should not say that they are unbelievers, but let us also watch out for bold statements that say they are. That is safest. And, that prevents us from promoting any false impressions of unity. It is that readiness to call everyone a believer regardless of what he confesses that makes for false ecumenism, for superficial unity.
This matter of unity needs some further elaboration. Sometimes the argument is brought forward that in the CHP there is not the unity in faith, not a fellowship, but simply a practical working together for a common goal. We can repeat the call made earlier: Do not confuse the issue with statements like that. Think back to the examples given earlier. In the "Dear Pastor" letter there was spoken of doing political kingdom work, of a common zeal to proclaim the kingship of Jesus Christ. Noble ideals. But, that is clearly a matter of fellowship. Doing political kingdom work is quite something different from having to work with an unbeliever as you hammer a house together. It is claimed, is it not, that CHP is serving Jesus Christ as King? But, there is not the unity that we are called to pursue, the unity of the truth (John 17:17, 21).
For, how can the CHP speak of unity in the truth? Even if we limit that unity to what is expressed in the party's basic principles and lay aside for a minute that the King they claim to serve is first of all Head of His church, how can the party speak of internal unity? Should not the Roman Catholic party member say to the Reformed member, "Sir, you are condemned, because you believe that you are justified by faith apart from works"? And, should not the Reformed party member say in return, "But sir, you with your Mass have an accursed idolatry at the center of your life. You with your adoration of Mary deny the honor which belongs to Christ and God alone," And, should the Reformed member not say to the member of Arminian persuasion that he holds a totally un-Scriptural doctrine concerning God's sovereignty, election and the perseverance of the saints?
Further, how can there ever be talk of unity when a Reformed world view is contrasted to the Roman world view, when especially the latter holds that the pope is the supreme temporal ruler? And, what sort of unity is maintained by that superficial statement that the party believes in "the inerrancy of the Holy Bible as the inspired Word of God, " when to the one that Bible consists of 66 canonical books while to the other it may include several apocryphal books, along with the equal authority of church tradition, and while to yet another the Old Testament may be nothing more than an interesting historical document recording the history of Israel.
Even then, within the confines of the party there can be no unity, except each member completely puts aside what he confesses on Sunday. If each member lives in a consistent and consequent way with his confession, then there would be no room for cohabitation even in the political arena. Such cohabitation and cooperation is only possible when one lays aside his confession. That is not honest. Actually, that is hypocritical.
If such is the type of unity we are going to pursue, then we are going far off the track. That is not the unity we confess in Lord's Day 21, yes, as explained in all the Three Forms of Unity. Is it so, then, that in the name of political kingdom work we are to suspend judgment over other people's beliefs? Are we to let them hold their wrong doctrines? Would that be charitable, yes, would that be showing true love for them?
And this is not all. In the name of doing political kingdom work, are we to ignore and forget what some people have done to the church of Christ. It is easy to say that we should suspend judgment over those who belong to other "denominations." We can leave the judgment to Christ. But what about those who have been excommunicated or who have withdrawn from the church because of disobedience, of unwillingness to listen to Christ their King? What do we do when suddenly they show up as ardent supporters of CHP? Are we then to work together as if nothing happened? Are we to say, "Too bad what happened on Sunday, too bad when you slammed the door in the face of the office-bearers of Christ, but we'll just forget about that right now and join in prayer before the LORD asking Him to bless our political kingdom work, and then we'll join hands to bring this land back to Christian values"?
How in the world can we talk about serving the Lord Jesus Christ as King in politics with those who do not serve and obey the King when it comes to His calling to join the church? We would be missing our primary calling, which is to call others to serve the LORD as He commands, by acquiescing to the "denominational" differences, pretending that that should not prevent us from working for Christ the King.
There is another element which gives grave cause for concern. That is the matter of a prayer chain. Now who can deny that prayer is important. Who can deny the power of prayer? After all, as we confess in Lord's Day 45, the Lord will only grant His grace and Holy Spirit to those who constantly and with heartfelt longing ask Him and thank Him. What do we see in the CHP, however? We see a prayer chain and regional prayer coordinators, as well as a national prayer coordinator. Let us ask ourselves: Is this the Reformed way of going about things? Do we have to use prayer as a lobbying tool to persuade God to do what we want Him to do? You have heard of lobbying groups in Ottawa. Is this tactic now transformed to the courts of heaven, so that when the LORD hears the flood of prayers, He will answer? That is not the way we have learned to pray.
It is clear that there are many areas of concern. These questions and remarks will not be new to those who promote CHP. Yet, these questions and concerns have never been clearly and Scripturally answered. Actually, it is noteworthy that even some of the proponents realize that the CHP position is "admittedly not a very strong position." Then it is added, "But it is the only one I know that would make it possible to field candidates for parliament" (Reformed Perspective, November 1987, p. 19).
The CHP position is indeed a weak position. In many ways it can even be seen as a reactionary movement. Great dissatisfaction with the present parties and a concern for moral decay have resulted in an effort to bring about a change. But, at the bottom of all this
we see pragmatism. It is asked, "What is the situation? What do we have to do to bring change? What will bring results?" Then it is thought that the only way results can be obtained is through strength in numbers. Here the party misses the mark. For, we are not to be guided in our actions by possible results, but by what God has revealed to us in His Word. We are to be led by Scriptural principles.
As Reformed people we have been tremendously blessed. The LORD has led us to understand much of the truth. We know that in all things we have to let ourselves be guided by God's Word. We are to act in obedience and leave the fruits to the LORD. We can only sow, cultivate, and water.
It is unfortunate that we are placed before a dilemma. It has come to the point where the contrast is made between CHP and doing nothing. That is a false dilemma. There is another way, as can be seen, for example, in ARPA. That way is even called the Ideal. It is stated that the ideal is that "those who work to the furtherance of God's kingdom, also in matters political, form a community, distinct within society, identified by their desire to partake of the same bread and wine offered by the exalted Christ" (Reformed Perspective, July/August 1987, p. 20).
If such is the ideal, then why compromise? It certainly would not be a hiding behind high Scriptural principles to work out that ideal. On the contrary, it would be acting confessionally honestly and Scripturally faithfully. The way of ARPA is indeed an avenue that needs to be explored much more. Let us keep in mind that the church's strength does not lie in numbers. It does not lie in having a member of parliament. That won't change much anyway. No, the church's strength lies in her being faithful. A famous statement says that "in isolation lies our strength." That does not mean that we withdraw from life, but that we remain a distinct society within society at large; we don't water down the wine in the hope of getting further.
Our strength lies in the LORD. Every Sunday morning we confess, "Our help is in the Name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth" (Psalm 124:8). The LORD does not need a mighty army. In the Old Testament He did not need horses and chariots to defeat the enemies. He could crush them with hailstones or drown them in rushing rivers. He needed only 300 men with Gideon to defeat the Midianites. It is not a matter of power or might, but a matter of the Spirit. Actually the Old Testament warns against forming unholy alliances, as if the LORD needs great armies to defend His heritage and win His battles.
When we accept the dilemma of CHP or nothing, there is a defeatism, a lying down in face of the status quo. Let us remember our high principles. Being obedient to those principles led our forefathers to institute Reformed churches, to establish Reformed schools. The question should never be, "What will bring results," but, "What does the LORD require of us." Let us thus work out those high ideals, in faith.
No new torpedoes have been fired. No new mines have been laid. What was there has only been exposed. It can only be concluded that insufficient attention has been paid to Christ as Head of the church. You cannot serve Christ as King of the world if you do not first of all recognize Him as Head and King of the church and rightly see how He gathers His church.
We may hear pleas of the captain to become sailors. However, the captain does best to examine the ship he has helped to construct, to see what dangerous weaknesses he has built into the structure. There are Scriptural and confessional conflicts and inconsistencies. The farther the captain sails with his ship, the more he and his sailors will get lost in the sea of interdenominationalism. To continue the ship image, "Captain, you're on the wrong ship! "
It is unfortunate that we have to take issue with projects of brothers in the household of faith. But, just because a Reformed person does something, that does not make it the right thing to do. Time and again the thought comes up that if the two pictures on the promotional literature, the one of the party leader and the other of the party president, were reversed, the CHP would not be any issue of concern among the church members. There is so much confusion about our attitude toward the CHP because its leader is from our midst.
It is indeed time to wake up. We have a political calling. We have a task to bear witness to the truth, not only for the benefit of our neighbor, but above all to the glory of our King, Jesus Christ. Let us wake up and see the spirit of this age. That spirit of denominationalism is so hard at work to swallow us up also. By getting involved in what is basically an interdenominational activity, we are succumbing to the spirit of the age. Then we are in danger of no longer being salt. We can be salt only when we remain isolated. Remember that the LORD has placed us in that isolation when He declared us His holy possession in Christ.
Let's put an end to confusion. Let us be simply Reformed; that means, doing what the LORD has said in His Word. Let us hold to the ideals and be ruled by our high principles. Yes, and let these ideals and high principles not be a wall behind which to hide and remain inactive, but a platform on which to become active in every sphere of life in the service of our King. And let us keep a proper perspective on the place of the church. The church is not some independent sphere. We could call it the basis, the beginning. After all, is the church not the beginning of the new creation? Only when we see Christ rightly as the Head of His church, when we see the church as the beginning of the new creation, can we go out and serve our King in other spheres. Let's not compromise our testimony nor confuse the issue. Only when our actions in life are in harmony with the confession we have as church can we expect a real blessing from the LORD.
Political action? Most certainly. But let us then be politically active in accordance with the ideals and high principles as taught in the church. Reformed believers never put aside the church, nor their confession. Reformed confessors will never be ashamed of the church nor grow irate when the church is mentioned. How can we when the King of the world is first of all Head of the church?