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Pro-life - Fostering

7 ways to help a foster family

So you’re not able or ready to plunge into foster care? That doesn’t mean you can’t still be involved! Here are some practice ideas for how to help out a current foster family. Educate yourself Educate yourself on the local foster care system. Educate yourself on trauma and how it affects children. Educate yourself on what “reunification” means, and why we need to have a heart of forgiveness and compassion. Educate others The Church can play a big role in supporting the foster care system in your community. Find your local (Christian) foster care and adoption agencies and give freely, both financially and with your time. In our local church we did a special service offering at Christmas for a local foster care agency. Locally we also have a volunteer-run short-term “House” that is a place where children entering into foster care can spend their first few days before being placed…instead of in a hotel or social worker’s office. Get involved there! Search in your community for worthy organizations that are striving to repair the foster care system, and are Christian-based. Share with others, and pull together as a church to support them! Meals If you know a family that is fostering, chances are they have a houseful of children already, and have a lot of mouths to feed. Whether they’ve taken in a new placement or not, showing support by bringing a meal (or even some snacks to stock up the cupboards) goes a long way. They are likely spending a lot of time communicating with the team of people involved with their child, or helping the child work through trauma, or something along those lines. That’s why food is so appreciated! Items Foster parents in Washington State receive a monthly stipend from the state to cover costs but as you can imagine, the costs involved with becoming licensed, as well as ongoing costs incurred can, at times, exceed the stipend. Sometimes a child comes with nothing but the clothes on their back and suddenly the foster parent is making a trip to the store to get formula, diapers, PJs, toothbrush, shoes, underwear – you name it! In our case, we are licensed for ages 0-10, boys and girls. As you can imagine, it’s impossible to store clothes and items for each age group and gender. Also, as we were becoming licensed, we were required to have certain items available in our home (medicine cabinets that could lock, fire escape ladders, emergency food supplies for 8 people for a full week, as well as a bed available for each age of child, etc. etc.). This did become quite costly, so every little bit we got donated to us really helped. If you know of someone going through the licensing process, ask them what they are in need of, maybe you happen to have it lying around! Childcare Whether it’s offering to take their biological children for a time, or the foster child, it might just be exactly what they need. A date night? Groceries kid-free? Or maybe their foster child has yet another appointment (here in Washington State they’ve required what seems to be an overabundance of doctor and dentist appointments) and they’d love to not take along their other children. Whatever it may be, offer! Sometimes it’s hard to ask for help, but if it’s offered it might just be what they need right at that moment. House, yard, and transportation help This can be so helpful, especially around the time of a new placement entering a home. That’s when all the house and yard work gets moved to the bottom of the importance pile. The family needs time to bond, organize, and have a lot of communication with the new team of people that are now in their life. They need to spend that first critical week loving on that child, attaching and adjusting. Offer to come fold a load of laundry, or weed their gardens, or clean a toilet. Or, maybe they’d love you to run an errand or two for them, or pick their kids up from school, or bring a child to their lessons or practice. Just ask! Prayer Please lift these families, as well as the children they are fostering, up in prayer! Ask them if there are specifics to pray for.

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. – Eph. 6:18

Assorted

Love is...

Love is a mostly misunderstood word – it’s mistaken for sex, for sentimentality, for some sort of chemical thing that just happens, or doesn’t, and either lasts forever, or doesn’t. Some think it’s effortless. Some even think it can be bought for money. Christians too, are confused. We know love is more than sex, more than sentimentality, and more than chemistry, but most of us are still trying to figure out whether love is a feeling or an action! So what is love then? God tells us that love is… sacrificial “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). Some misunderstand love as a math formula, where things are supposed to work out even on both sides of the equation: if you give a friend a thoughtful present, you should be able to count on getting one in return; if you give your spouse a backrub, they should get up and make you coffee; tit for tat, back and forth, even-steven. But Christ demonstrated the complete inequity of real love – He loved us, so He gave himself up for us, even though, in return, we can offer him nothing. Loving is giving with no thought of getting. something you do “Let us not love in word or in tongue but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). Love is more than a feeling, more than an attraction, more than arousal or sentimentality. Love is expressed in what we do for one another. We can say we love our brother, but if we won’t visit him when he’s lonely or help him when he is troubled, there is no love. Love is an action. not a duty to be performed “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3). Doing is not enough – it’s not enough to give to the poor, go to church twice each Sunday and read the Bible regularly if we are not doing this out of our love for God. A daughter can take her aging father to medical appointments, help him with his shopping and pop by regularly for a cup of coffee, but this, by itself, isn’t love – the very same tasks could be done by hired staff. Love is more than just a verb. A husband can play the part of a loving spouse – he can do all the right things, but love is more than just action, more than just duty. It is an attitude... Love is a feeling. not God “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8). The Beatles got it backwards when they sang, “All you need is love.” All we need is God, and while God is indeed love, that doesn’t make the reverse true – love isn’t God. The Beatles aren’t the only ones to get it backwards though. Our society is in love with love – they insist it's the only way to bring meaning to our lives so it must be pursued no matter what the cost. Affairs, naturally, have become commonplace; if love is god, nothing should stand in the way of it, not vows, not spouses, not family. Instead of pursuing the God who is love, our society pursues love itself had has made an idol of it. But love is not God. from God “In this is love, not that we loved God, but the He loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). God commands us to love our neighbor, and it’s a command most of us find easy to do. Or at least easy to do with old Mrs. Todd, our next-door neighbor who bakes cookies for us every Thanksgiving. But this command isn’t as easy to obey with that neighbor two doors down, who always steals our parking spot. Or the guy right next door who leaves beer cans on our lawn. Love these guys? Maybe we would if they were only a bit more lovable. But of course, the love God is commanding here is of a more godly sort – the love that comes from Him. We need to humbly remember that we love, only because God loved us first. He, after all, didn’t love us because we had first in some way earned or prompted his love. No, He loved us first, sending his Son to die for us even while we were his enemies. And it is because He loved us first, that we can now love Him, and our neighbor. Love comes from God.

News

Dawkins on eugenics: evil uncloaked

Richard Dawkins has been called one of the “Four horsemen of atheism” and is famed, as well, for being one of Charles Darwin’s most ardent defenders. In February he got himself into trouble for this tweet:

“It’s one thing to deplore eugenics on ideological, political, moral grounds. It’s quite another to conclude that it wouldn’t work in practice. Of course it would. It works for cows, horses, pigs, dogs & roses. Why on earth wouldn’t it work for humans? Facts ignore ideology."

While eugenics – controlled human breeding – has been popular in the past, its best-known proponents were the Nazis, and that’s an association no one wants. That’s why Dawkins’ atheist and evolutionist cohorts didn’t like his endorsement of eugenics’ practical possibilities – it made them all look bad. And they jumped on him. But on what grounds could they attack him? As Dawkins made clear in follow up tweets, he thinks eugenics immoral.

“For those determined to miss the point, I deplore the idea of a eugenic policy. I simply said deploring it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work. Just as we breed cows to yield more milk, we could breed humans to run faster or jump higher. But heaven forbid that we should do it.”

“A eugenic policy would be bad. I’m combating the illogical step from ‘X would be bad’ to ‘So X is impossible’. It would work in the same sense as it works for cows. Let’s fight it on moral grounds….”

But there is a problem with an atheist evolutionist taking a moral stand against eugenics. As Dawkins highlighted in his 1994 book, River out of Eden: A Darwinian view of life, his worldview doesn’t allow for a wrong and right.

"The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference."

If there really were no good, no evil, and nothing but pitiless indifference, then on what moral basis can we stand against eugenics? One fellow scientist, Dave Curtis, took a different tack, making the case that eugenics wouldn’t practically work, what with human being’s “long generational times and small numbers of offspring.” But this practical objection to eugenics doesn’t make atheist evolutionists look any better. Since when do we object to evil on the basis of how difficult it is to successfully pull off? What would we say of a man who objects to murder on the basis of how hard it is to dispose of the body? While his fellow atheists and evolutionists might not appreciate how Dawkins is sidling up to der Fuhrer, we can be grateful for the illumination he provided. As Discrn.com’s Peter Heck noted:

"It's one thing for Christians like myself to offer hypothetical illustrations to the world showing what happens to human ethics apart from God's moral authority. It is another for Richard Dawkins to actually demonstrate them personally."

Science - Creation/Evolution

What you need to know to survive and thrive in your secular science class

If you're heading into a secular university or high school science course, and you're a little intimidated, here's something to remember. It is not just the Bible-believing Christians who base their interpretations of nature on their worldview. So do secular scientists. However, these two groups' worldviews, and their assumptions used in interpreting nature, couldn't be more different. Two different starting assumptions The Christian scientist's most obvious assumption is that God’s work and character are evident in nature. Meanwhile, mainstream scientists assume that God will never be revealed in nature, but only matter and processes. One thing that cannot be overemphasized is how important it is to identify the assumptions used to draw conclusions from a given set of observations. The thing about assumptions is that they are based on the worldview of the expert. On this topic, philosopher of science, David Berlinski remarks in his book, The Devil's Delusion:

“Arguments follow from assumptions, and assumptions follow from beliefs…”

The whole point is that there are no objective scientists. Everyone has starting assumptions. The Christian starting point The Christian naturally confesses that God exists, that He is omnipotent and omniscient and has communicated with us. Nature is God’s handiwork. Thus the Christian confesses that we see testimony to God’s work and character when we look at nature. For example, we read in Psalms 19:1-3:

“The heavens declare the glory of God, the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.”

The apostle Paul points out the importance of this revelation from nature when he quotes the above passage. Thus he writes in Romans 10:17-18:

“So faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ. But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”

We see God’s works revealed in nature. The secular foundation The secular position contrasts sharply with the Christian view. Mainstream scientists maintain that natural explanations can be found for everything. It isn't just that they don't see evidence of the supernatural, but rather that, from the start, they presume no supernatural input will ever be evident. Different questions lead to different answers With different expectations on the part of secular individuals and some Christians, there is a big difference in the questions asked of natural systems and the answers obtained. For example, suppose that somebody showed you a photograph of an unfamiliar object (for example an alga). If you were to ask that person “How did you make that?” the only possible response would be some sort of process. However, if you were instead to ask “Did you make that?” then the person has the opportunity to reply that he did not make the object, that it is in fact an alga floating in lakes in the summer. Similarly, in our study of nature, it matters what questions we ask. If a scientist asks “How did life come about spontaneously?” Then the only possible answer is a process. They have assumed it must have happened spontaneously, and aren't open to any other explanation. However, if the same scientists were to ask “Could life come about spontaneously?” he now has opened up an opportunity to examine what cells are like and what biochemical processes in cells are like. And then the evidence will show him that life could not have come about spontaneously. He will be able to reach a conclusion he could not have seen if he didn't ask the right sort of question. The answers obtained from the study of nature depend upon what questions are asked. Mainstream science has blinded itself The mainstream scientist approaches the study of nature with a specific agenda. Nature is to be interpreted only in terms of matter, energy, and natural processes, even if the results look ridiculous. A prominent geneticist, Richard Lewontin actually stated this very clearly. In a famous review of a book by Carl Sagan, Dr. Lewontin wrote:

“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science…. because we have an a priori commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door” (New York Review of Books January 9, 1997).

What Dr. Lewontin said, was that scientists bias their studies so that only natural explanations will ever be obtained. Secular scientists may restrict what explanations about nature qualify for the term "science" but they cannot at the same time claim that what they are dealing with is truth. For example philosopher of science Del Ratzsch from Calvin College pointed out in 1996 that:

“If nature is not a closed, naturalistic system – that is, if reality does not respect the naturalists’ edict – then the science built around that edict cannot be credited a priori with getting at truth, being self-corrective or anything of the sort.” (The Battle of Beginnings: Why Neither Side is Winning the Creation-Evolution Debate. InterVarsity Press. p. 167).

Thus secular scientists, with their expectations of never seeing God in nature, have confined themselves to mechanistic explanations and interpretations. As Dr. Ratzsch remarks: “… materialists have no viable choice but to view the world through evolutionary spectacles of some sort” (p. 197). And concerning the creationists, Dr. Ratzsch remarks:

“… creationists who accept the authority of Scripture and take it to be relevant to issues also will have unique input into their view of the cosmos, its origin and its workings. And there is nothing inherently irrational merely in the holding of such views — at least not on any definition of rational that can plausibly claim to be normative. Some critics will, of course, refuse to grant the honorific title science to the results of such views, but that is at best a mere semantic nicety. If the aim is genuine truth, the mere fact that a system purporting to display that truth does not meet the conditions of some stipulative worldview-laden definition of the term science can hardly carry serious weight” (p. 197).

What better statement could there be to the effect that no one should be intimidated by the pronouncements of mainstream science? Any scientist who claims that science proves that man has descended from chimps has based his conclusion on a biased study of the issues in that it presumes a materialistic worldview. Conservative Christians do not need to be intimidated by such conclusions. Conclusion The nature of the materialistic assumptions and objectives of mainstream science must not discourage Christians from studying science. It is very important to understand how the information content and irreducible complexity of the living cell (among other issues), can really only be understood in terms of creation by a supernatural mind. There are many who want their children to appreciate this and to be able to resist the appeal of mainstream science.

Dr. Margaret Helder is the author of “No Christian Silence on Science.” This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the June 2015 issue of "Creation Science Dialogue," (Create.ab.ca) where it appeared under the title "Surviving advanced courses in Science." It is reprinted here with permission.

Assorted

What should we think of withdrawals?

Revisiting church membership and excommunication

Dealing with withdrawals is one of those difficult issues that eventually every consistory faces. All the more vexing is the fact that our church order appears not to address it at all. How do we account for this and what procedure should be followed? I hope to give some guidance on these matters in what follows.

A brief historical overview

Reformed history in cases of withdrawal shows that two points are of importance. It comes down to:

  • How we understand the character of church membership – is it something that a member may take up and put down, or is it the responsibility of the consistory to bestow and take away?
  • How we understand the function of the church order’s procedure for excommunication – is the procedure of excommunication intended to be used in cases where a member wants to leave?

In the 16th and 17th centuries the procedure for excommunication in the church order was applied to those who withdrew for no good reason – it was even applied to those who declared that they were joining another church. It was understood that a church member did not have the right to terminate his membership.1

This same excommunication procedure was also followed by the churches of the secession (1834), except when members left for another Reformed church. For those members the consistory instead made a declaration that their membership in their original church was terminated.

It wasn’t until the 1860s that synods received proposals to acquiesce in a withdrawal. The idea was that the consistory, rather than exercise discipline on a member who withdrew, would instead simply let him withdraw. After heated debate, spread out over three synods, it was decided that in cases where a member withdrew consistories would be allowed to choose between the procedure of excommunication or to read off a simple declaration of withdrawal.

The entire faculty of the Theological School at Kampen sharply objected to the introduction of this second option – they didn’t believe a member should be allowed to withdraw.

The churches of the Doleantie (1886) gave in to withdrawals from the beginning. This had to do with Abraham Kuyper’s view of church membership, which, as he taught, begins and ends by an act of the free will of the individual. This contrasted with the historical position that the responsibility for church membership rests with the consistory, not the individual. But Kuyper’s view prevailed, and church discipline after withdrawal was therefore considered incorrect. This issue was raised again at several synods rather soon after the union of 1892 and the decisions favored Kuyper’s ideas – especially because of the strong influence of his colleague Prof. F. L. Rutgers.

After the Liberation (1944), not a single general synod has dealt with the issue of withdrawal. It would appear that in practice the customs existing before the war were generally followed, with the exception of inferring withdrawals from circumstantial evidence. Previously this had been forbidden, but the practice has become widespread within the Liberated churches. Some in the Liberated churches even defended Kuyper’s view that it is a church member’s self-determination which ends his membership.

It looked as though the triumph of Kuyper over traditional Reformed polity on the character of church membership was complete. However, the 1990’s saw a reversal of this trend. In this respect, advice given by Professor M. Te Velde on June 14, 1997 to the Reformed Churches of New Zealand is very interesting. Te Velde defends the premise…

…that to belong to the church is not a matter of man’s absolute free will and free choice. He who withdraws himself from the church ought to receive a response from that church. And (unlike with various other societal relationships) not a response that is neatly neutral and bureaucratic or perhaps with regret and in impotence concludes and records what the departing individual is doing, but appends to it an authoritative judgment and explicitly declares that, for that person, entitlement to the privileges and promises, bound up with church membership, has ended. Brother “N” cuts the bond with the congregation. The church affirms this (after admonition and appeal) by declaring from its perspective that Brother “N” no longer belongs to the congregation.

We are not used to referring to this declaration by the church as “censure” or “discipline.” But it is related. After all, it pronounces judgment, it has a judicial character.2

Here the perspective is no longer that of Kuyper and his colleague Rutgers, but that of the Reformed Churches from the time of the Reformation. Only the practical implementation is different. Te Velde believes that church membership

The one area where Te Velde and Kuyper’s colleague Rutgers both agree is that the disciplinary procedure we find in our church order is intended for those who must be evicted from the church despite the fact that they themselves are determined to remain – it is not meant for those who want to leave.

The form for excommunication in the liturgical forms is derived entirely from the discipline procedure prescribed in the church order. Where that procedure is not followed – where the steps of church discipline have not occurred – the form for excommunication clearly cannot be used. However, in cases of voluntary withdrawals – cases where the formal steps of discipline are not involved – Te Velde does make the suggestion that, several weeks prior to the final declaration, the congregation can be notified of the brother’s desire to withdraw and asked to admonish and pray for him.

The character of church membership

A key question to understanding how we should treat withdrawals concerns where the ultimate responsibility for entering into and being removed from membership in the church of Christ belongs. Can a church member of his own free will terminate his membership? In what follows I mention a number of considerations which show, in my opinion, that the responsibility for church membership rests with the consistory. There is, of course, a correlative. A consistory cannot use force to compel someone to remain a member of Christ’s church.

We begin with the much quoted text of 1 Corinthians 5:12.

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?

Paul has admonished the congregation of Corinth to excommunicate a particular sinner. He then tries to clear up a misunderstanding. In verses 9-13 he writes that he had told them “not to keep company with sexually immoral people,” but he did not mean immoral people in the world. It was never the intention that church members would not be allowed to associate with notorious sinners among the general public – for then they would have to go and live on another planet. No, he says, only brothers who remain in their sins (and for that reason are placed outside the fellowship of the church) must be avoided. The distinction Paul makes between “the people of this world” and a so-called “brother” is not between actual members of the Christian congregation and non-members, but between those who once were part of the fellowship in Christ and those who never had any connection with that fellowship. In our form for excommunication we also continue to call someone who has been expelled a brother. And this is appropriate, for the evicted person remains a brother – although a brother who is excluded from the benefits in Christ because of hardening in a certain sin. In this regard we can see that it is impossible to break the bonds of fellowship once joined – even though membership in the church is terminated. However, this text gives no answer to the question as to whether a church member can terminate his own membership.

Lord’s Day 31 of the catechism can provide some clarification. Someone who has left the church remains a brother, but he is a brother of whom it is publicly stated that he is no longer admitted to the sacraments and that he has so hardened himself in sin that the consistory can no longer bear official responsibility for him. This is the second key of church discipline.

In the highest sense, the final responsibility for the taking up and laying down of membership in the church of Christ rests, of course, with Christ himself. That perspective leads directly to the premise that here on earth the shepherds of the church, appointed by Christ, would bear that responsibility in his name. According to Hebrews 13:17 they will be held to account on judgment day for their rule. The keys of the kingdom of heaven are given to the office bearers to bind and loosen from sins (cf. Matt.16:19 with John 20:23). For that reason this binding and loosening is restated after the procedure for church discipline in Matthew 18:15-18.

The responsibility for making a pronouncement regarding this does not belong to the church member, but to the office bearers who have charge over his soul.

There is a direct parallel between defection from the church and admission to church membership. As we confess in Lord’s Day 21, Christ gathers his church throughout the ages. He establishes faith in people’s hearts by his Holy Spirit. Because of that faith there is a desire to follow Christ and join his church. People who have come to faith are admitted to Christ’s church by means of profession of faith and baptism (cf. Acts 2:41). This baptism is administered by office bearers of the church, ruling in the name of Christ. Someone who joins the Christ’s church does this voluntarily and may never be coerced. For its part the church has that liberty as well and can never be forced into baptizing people indiscriminately. The final responsibility for baptism rests with the consistory.

A person who by faith and the administration of baptism is admitted to Christ’s church also shares in his promises, including the promise that God includes his children in his covenant. Hence infant baptism. If having reached adulthood, these children do not want to accept this baptism and rebel against the church of God, they are to be admonished and (if unrepentant) must be excommunicated. As the form puts it, adult children, who obstinately deny communion with Christ, are excluded from his fellowship. They are declared to have no share in his benefits as long as they do not repent.

In summary, Scripture continues to view those, who have been put out of the church in some sense, as “brothers” who are not to be equated with those who have never been a member. A different ethic applies to excommunicants than applies to those outside the church. Furthermore, Scripture makes clear that determination of membership is a matter for those whom Christ has placed as shepherds over his flock. If a sheep strays, this does not automatically release the shepherds from their duty to go after that sheep!

The use of the steps for excommunication

Although the Reformed churches originally intended that the procedure of church discipline (based on Matthew 18) be used in all cases of church defection (i.e., for those who wished to remain a member as well as those who wanted to leave the church) there are sufficient reasons for holding to Rutgers’ premise, that the steps for excommunication in the church order are more suited to people who must against their will be placed outside the church.

In such cases the safety valve provided by the scrutiny of a classis make sense. Indiscriminate expulsion of people from the church, against their own intentions, must be guarded against.

We must also ask whether it is appropriate to undertake a lengthy disciplinary procedure against someone who no longer wishes to remain a member. Although we do not concede to him the right, nor the authority, to discontinue his own membership, his case is in its nature different from that of someone who despite hardening in sin, desires to retain membership. Paul says in Titus 3:10-11 “Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition.” It would therefore be a mistake to apply Matthew 18 to all cases of church discipline. The church order rightly states that public sins are not intended here. When our Lord gave his disciples guidelines on how to deal with sin within their circle, He did not give them a detailed church order. The object of Matthew 18 is a private sinner from within the circle of the disciples. Essentially this case has little in common with someone who openly declares that he no longer wants to belong to that circle (i.e., the church). Therefore to propose an approach other than the one prescribed here does not have to be unbiblical.

There is much in favor of a consistory acquiescing to the wish of someone who no longer wants to be a member. The desire must not be a sudden urge but a well considered position to which someone is clearly committed. In that case the consistory can proceed with making an appropriate announcement about the membership of that brother. The nature of the announcement will depend upon the circumstances of the withdrawal.

Differentiation in withdrawals

It is obvious that withdrawals differ in nature. At least three different circumstances can be considered:

A) Withdrawal for reasons that do not warrant discipline

Someone may withdraw because he is moving to a country where we have no sister churches. This person, however, fully intends to join the church of Christ there. Under those circumstances we would wish that person God’s blessing. We never say that our sister churches are the only true churches of Christ in this world!

The consistory in its announcement will say only that brother “X” is no longer a member of the church. Depending on circumstances something could be added regarding his/her destination.

B) Withdrawal for unclear reasons

There will always be cases which are difficult to assess. For instance, someone moves suddenly without notification and sends a letter of withdrawal. If further contact is impossible, the consistory should not resort to guessing his motivation. No one may have motivations imputed to him. Before a withdrawal is deemed deserving of discipline there must be certainty. The withdrawing member must be given the benefit of the doubt.

In a statement about such cases the consistory must be careful. The statement cannot go beyond an announcement that the brother involved is no longer a member of the church. Any expression of “regret” should not support the suspicion that that person was necessarily deserving of discipline.

C) Withdrawal for reasons which warrant discipline

By far most cases in this category are of people who withdraw themselves during disciplinary procedure. The brother may already have been suspended from the Lord’s Supper. In that case the consistory has already informed the brother that, without repentance, he will end up outside the kingdom of heaven. That message is clearly explained in the form for the Lord’s Supper, which warns members to withhold themselves if they become hardened in certain sins. It states: “we declare to them that they have no part in the Kingdom of Christ.” That pronouncement remains in effect “while they persist in their sins.” The pronouncement is provisional. If the disciplinary procedure does not end in withdrawal then the declaration in the form is simply a public confirmation of this provisional judgment. It was conveyed to the person long ago when he was first suspended. The public declaration that this person stands outside the kingdom of Christ is of significance to both him and the congregation. He must repent and the congregation is exhorted to act in such a manner that this message reaches him.3

What must be done then when someone, while under discipline, withdraws? Such a person says that he does not intend to repent. His act of withdrawal is in this instance a public sin.

In an announcement to the congregation his name and his desire to withdraw can be made public, and the congregation exhorted to admonish the brother. Because of his declared desire to leave the church, the approval of the classis is no longer required before his name can be made public. If, after some weeks, the conclusion must be drawn that he has hardened himself in this desire, the consistory will have to announce that the efforts of the congregation did not turn this brother from his sinful way and a declaration is made that he is no longer a member of the congregation.

The congregation may already know the standing of this brother from the announcement of his name in the second step. The congregation is then exhorted to exert itself on his behalf so that he may come to repentance. In the implementation of the excommunication mention is made of the fact that the elders and congregation have tried everything to bring him to repentance and that their responsibilities – in the ecclesiastical sense – have come to an end. The judgment, however, remains conditional. A person who has been excommunicated can always return if he shows remorse. But until he does, he remains excluded from the office bearers’ care for the church.

For this reason there can be no objection to making an announcement in the final declaration of the consistory by which his membership is terminated and the sinner’s standing with regard to the kingdom of heaven is stated. On the contrary, there is every reason to make clear to the sinner, as well as the congregation, the seriousness of the matter.

Proposed resolutions

In conjunction with the preceding I propose that the following decisions be taken: 

  1. The consistory decides that in all cases of withdrawal a judicial declaration be made by which the membership of the person concerned is terminated and in which the consistory shall give a clear explanation of its responsibility for this.
  2. The consistory decides in cases of withdrawal for reasons which warrant church discipline to:
    • make an announcement to the congregation several weeks before the judicial declaration. In this announcement the desire of the person involved to withdraw shall be made known and the congregation shall be exhorted to pray for him and to admonish him in a brotherly manner.
    • announce in the judicial declaration that, if the person involved does not come to repentance, he will remain outside the kingdom of Christ, according to the form for the Lord’s Supper celebration.4

Endnotes

1 For detailed case studies and relevant decisions see my paper “Reformed Church Polity concerning Withdrawal of Church Membership
2 Professor M. Te Velde’s Advice to The Reformed Churches of New Zealand, June 14, 1997., Par. 8.
3 See my article, “The Sinews Of The Church, Biblical Principles Concerning Church Discipline”
4 p.593 Book of Praise “we declare to them that they have no part in the kingdom of Christ”

 Rev. Dr. R. D. Anderson is pastor of the Free Reformed Church of Rockingham, Western Australia. This article is an abbreviated version of a much longer article on his website: “Reformed Church Polity concerning Withdrawal of Church Membership.”

 


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