The Christmas Controversy, Canceling Worship, & Merry Christmas

I'm always nervous about what new controversy will present itself as Christmas rolls around. In Texas, there remains a controversy over the placing of a nativity scene on the courthouse lawn. In South Jersey, a controversy brews over a sign that reads, "Keep Christ in Christmas." Then comes the raging national debate over whether we should say "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas" as we greet one another during this season. As Christians, we have made this our fight, and who dares to stand in our way for the freedom to say "Merry Christmas?"



The Lynden Church Paradigm (3):  Reformed Clubbers See Part 1 & Part 2

In the Western corner of Washington State, just a stone’s throw from the Canadian border, is the small town of Lynden.  Lynden is a good old American town of hard-working, honest people, predominantly of Dutch decent, who place great value on family and community.  But there is something else about Lynden that makes it worth considering.  At one time, Lynden held the world’s record for the most churches per capita and per square mile. Within city limits there are dozens of churches.  This is a remarkable phenomenon when considering that the population is only around fifteen thousand people.   As a pastor in Lynden, I have often thought that Lynden provides a unique study in American suburban Christianity.  What happens in a church environment where dozens of churches merely blocks from each church are each searching for identity?  What becomes of the message and witness of the church in this environment?  And what dangers occur among the churches? 
If you were to survey the church landscape in Lynden, certain kinds of religious extremism have occurred.  In this post, I want to outline the particular problem of legalism.  I have been spent considerable time reflecting on the problems of the mega-church model (see links above), but I also recognize that there is a problem in the opposite direction with Reformed churches who are failing to properly minister the gospel.


Of MOHAWKS & MINISTERS: What is a Pastor Anymore?

A while back, I attended a gathering of “pastors” from a variety of different churches in a local community. As I surveyed the crowd of pastors, I was deeply disturbed by the sad way the office of Pastor was represented. I saw everything under the sun: ripped jeans, flip flops, untucked shirts, tattoos, and even a pastor with a mohawk. My colleague reached over and whispered, “what does it even mean to be a pastor anymore?” It was very disturbing. An office that should be held in high esteem by those who are privileged to serve in this capacity is being thrown to the dogs. The whole experience inspired me to do a brief write-up on the warning signs of a pastor who has not been truly called by God to the office.

1. No Formal Theological Training: We have a whole generation of churchgoers not asking or caring as to whether their pastors have been properly trained. Anyone who “feels” called to do ministry, does it. We wouldn’t, of course, just do this in any other occupation. I would be negligent at best if I sent my sick loved one to a self-proclaimed medical doctor who just “felt” called, effectively bypassing medical school and the MCAT. But this hasn’t stopped us today in Christ’s church. As long as the pastor feels lead, has a big heart, and can motivate the people, he is given the title of pastor.
Here are a series of questions you should ask your pastor: 1) From which reputable seminary did you receive your Masters of Divinity Degree? 2) Which faithful church body confirmed your internal calling? 3) When were you ordained to the office and hands laid upon you? 4) Did you learn the Word of God in the original languages? If the pastor took some classes from some Bible college, or other religious university, and skirted the hard work of obtaining a Divinitatis Magistrvm (Masters of Divinity), why would you expect him to labor faithfully every week in the Word to rightly divide the truth to the glory of God and the profit of your soul?

2. No Creed: What your pastor believes is crucial to the well-being of your soul. I Tim. 4:16 commands a pastor to take heed to himself and to the doctrine, for in doing this he will save both himself and those who hear him. So what is your pastor’s doctrine? Since no prophecy of Scripture is of private interpretation, to which historical and collective expression of what Scripture teaches has he promised to honor? This is why Protestants produced creeds and confessions. The Holy Spirit has worked powerfully in Christians who have gone before us. If a pastor has no desire to formally commit himself to some expression of the historic Christian faith, he is making a strong statement that the truth is irrelevant to what he is doing. In that case, run.

3. No Preaching: Is your pastor committed to preach the Word as it is in truth, the Word of God. How central is the Word to what he is doing? Does he confront sin? Is there a proper balance of the law and the gospel in his preaching? Or, are you getting sermon series like the following: Living on Empty? Going Off-Roading With God, Church Is a Verb, Like is a Marathon, etc. If the Word is being used like a giant fortune cookie from which the pastor pulls a few verses to support his topic, that is exactly the kind of ear-tickling the apostle warned against (see 2 Tim. 4:1-5). The assumption is being made today that the most Spirit-filled churches are led by pastors who can best determine for the people what they need. In this way the pastor thinks he is being relevant to a post-modern culture, when in reality he is only pandering to the wants of assumed seekers. If your pastor is refusing to preach through the Word of God, he is a false shepherd. God gave us books and stories for a reason.

4. No Holiness: Pastors are called to set an example of godliness in all aspects of their lives. How does your pastor look and act? Does his life demonstrate that he is concerned about your soul? Does he strive to push you heavenward as a pilgrim here on earth? Or is he virtually indistinguishable from the world? I am wearied of seeing forty to fifty year old pastors’ dress and act like teenagers. This strange, what I call incarnational hipsterism, has overrun the church with worldliness. Age denial is one thing, but it’s quite another to live out that denial in an artificial and insincere manner as a pretext of doing ministry in a relevant way. Our love as pastors should be without hypocrisy, that is, without masks.

5. No Ecclesiology: How important are the three marks of a faithful church to your pastor: 1) the pure preaching of the gospel, 2) the right administration of the sacraments, 3) and church discipline? The greatest evidence of whether your pastor is called by God will be witnessed in his convictions about the doctrine of the church. Does he care enough to discipline wayward members? Is he more concerned about what the church looks like than its holiness and catholicity? Is he more concerned about being relational rather than theological, subjective rather than objective? Does he avoid all polemics and defense of the truth? Does the fruit of his work show that he has been successful is creating a niche event for a particular age group? What do the demographics of his ministry really demonstrate? And finally, does he care more about making the worship service a program, a show, rather than feeding the sheep with the Word, and nurturing them in their struggles against sin?
Being assured that your pastor is called by God is crucial to the well-being of your soul. Hopefully, some of the above questions will help you determine if indeed you are sitting under a faithful minister of the Lord Jesus Christ.


Wolfgangus Musculus (1497-1563) on The Difference Between Old & New Covenant

Just found a rare English copy (1578) of Musculus's Loci Communes and here are some interesting comments on the Old & New Covenant:

Of the word testament, I have spoken before.  It agrees indeed with the new covenant, because of the death of Christ, the Testator.  But it does not agree well with the old covenant, and that of the law.
Secondly, when we speak of the old testament or covenant, we must not look to the covenant of Abraham, but to the giving of Moses's law.  The same apostle calls the old bargain or the old constitution, to which belongs those things which he disputes of in the same chapter of the Old Testament.  And it is called Old, not because it is the first and most ancient, which the covenant of Abraham doth not bear withall, but in respect of the new.  For in respect of that of Abraham, both the old and new are called new, because they succeeded after them.  And these two dispensations of that perpetual and eternal covenant, have this relation between them, that the one began to be called Old in respect of this new; and the other was to be called New in respect of the old and abolished one.  For whatsoever is abolished, is there utterly ended and brought to nothing, so that nothing of it remains any more; or else it is changed into another thing, as if it were renewed.  And nothing is renewed except by the succession of that which is new.  And yet the same is not called New considered in itself, but in respect to that which was before.  If the covenant of Moses had been utterly made nothing, it could not have admitted the succession of any new.  Wherefore, that Apostle says to the Hebrews: In that he says a new testament, he has worn out the old. For that which is worn out and waxes ancient and old, is ready to vanish away, it must not be be understood that the the points of the substance of Moses covenant are utterly brought to nothing, God forbid.  But rather that the accessory points of it are abrogated by the success in of a new dispensation.  And that abrogation of which we spoke before, the Apostle calls and abolishment and decay.  



MY PREDICTION: I am going to be so bold and make a prediction about what Harold Camping will say in response. Camping Prediction: "My views have not changed, May 21, 2011 began the 153 day period of judgment ending with the rapture on October 21, 2011--the BIBLE guarantees it!"

I am making this prediction before any public response from Camping, note the date and time, it's Sunday May 22--9:00 AM. 




Here is a Abounding Grace Radio Address I recently gave critiquing the mega-church movement.

 Click Here: Mega Church Movement


MISSION & MANDATE--What About the Great Commission? (Updated)

What is the church's mission and mandate? Is a church determined to be faithful by what it is doing "out there" as opposed to what happens on the Lord's Day? Just what is the Great Commission? And what did Jesus mean when he commissioned his church to preach and baptize? Is that commission for everyone? I ask this because the minute concerns are raised today about worship practices contrary to the Word of God, responses follow of people trying to discredit the ordinary means that God commisioned his church to honor until Christ returns. So the suggestion today is that a faithful church is marked by how many ministries or social programs it offers to the broader society. Is this correct?

Let's play a little game of church golf. This is from D.G Hart,

How would you rate the work of your church? A ministry scorecard might include the following categories: if your church has a children's ministry give it 2 points; a welcome team ministry, 1 point; a tapeministry, 1 point (but if a tape and book ministry, 2 points). A couples' ministry should be worth 2 points as should an international student ministry, a mothers' ministry, and a newlywed ministry; but subtract a point if it is a newlywed mothers' ministry. Women's ministry should also receive 2 points and-in the spirit of equity-a men's ministry should receive the same, but if your men's group is an adjunct of Promise Keepers don't give any points-you have to start it on your own. AIDS ministries, homeless ministries, and low-income housing ministries all receive 3 points, a score befitting a big church with many resources and talented members. Throw in 1 point each for a weekly Bible study, foreign missions, and the Sacraments (2 points for the latter if your church allows the laity to set up the Lord's Supper). Finally, add 1 point for a Sunday morning service, 2 points if you have both a contemporary and a traditional service.

Now tally up your score. How did your church do? Be careful, though. Before you delight in a double-digit number you should know that this game is like golf-the higher the score, the worse the performance. The reason, of course, for this inverse method of scoring comes from our Lord himself. When he sent his disciples out into the world he prescribed the means that they would use to disciple the nations. In the Great Commission Christ tells the apostles to teach and baptize. In other words, he defined the ministry of the church as encompassing two tasks only-Word and Sacrament.

Such a narrow view of the ministry means that par for the church is 4: 1 point for preaching, 2 points for the Sacraments, and 1 for prayer. Any activity beyond these results in a bogey church.

Hart makes an excellent point with this example. The mandate that Christ gave to his church in the Great Commission is to preach and to baptize. Historically, the Great Commission has been understood to be fulfilled by ordained servants in Christ's church. Not everyone is ordained to preach and baptize. Today, however, all distinctions have been broken down so that there is no difference between what the ordained pastor does and what the layman does. For instance, I saw a church marque the other day, and under the minister section it read, "everyone".

What happens in this scenario? The mandate and mission of the church becomes marginalized as it is assumed that "real" ministry happens "out there". Social programs take a higher seat than what Christ commissioned his church to do in Matthew 28. It's no wonder church services are dying in attendance and the second service dropped. People have been taught to devalue what happens when we "come together" as Christ's body. There is no confidence that anything powerful is happening when the gospel is preached. We have been programmed to lose confidence in the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

In fact, I would argue that the more people are taught to value the specific ministry of Word and Sacrament, the other social agendas that the church is obsessed with today, will be actively pursued by those who have already been transformed by this specific means of grace that Christ has chosen to make himself known. As the saints are given the food and drink of eternal life, they are then equipped to "go out" as pilgrims to be salt and light in the world--a very different thing than what Jesus specifically commissioned his ordained servants to do in Matthew 28. The more this occurs, the greater our light becomes in the world.

So let us learn to distinguish what needs to be distinguished and realize that a church is being faithful to its mandate when due attention and place is given to the preaching of the gospel and administration of the sacraments. Return confidence to these "foolish" means, and watch our witness spring forth to the ends of the earth in a real life-changing way.




What is legalism?  The charge of legalism is so carelessly flung around today that people have no idea what the term means.  It’s become a catch phrase to write off any church that is doctrinal—a word also much of an embarrassment to people today. 

There are three ways this term is being misapplied and abused to attack churches that have remained confessionally Protestant. 



ABOUNDING GRACE RADIO airs Monday-Friday on KARI at 8:30 AM & 2:45 PM
Monday, May 2: Isaiah 6 Forgotten Holiness
Tuesday May 3: Isaiah 6 Forgotten Holiness
Wednesday May 4: Isaiah 6 Forgotten Holiness
Thursday, May 5: Isaiah 6 Forgotten Holiness


This was a fun class, thanks for a very enjoyable time in our study through John!  Visit the Reformed Bible College. http://www.rbcollege.com/



I think it's safe to say we now know where the marketing strategy "I Love My Church" came from.  Notice the last question of the commercial, "Do you love your bank?  Be sure to read my Part One on the Marketing Strategy, and Part Two on the Big Business Model. 


The LYNDEN CHURCH PARADIGM: A Signs & Wonders Movement (2)

Is a critique of Ncctk’s actions in our community really necessary (See Part One)?  That depends upon whether we believe it's permissible for Christ's church to be built with secular means, because that is exactly what is done in adopting a big business model.  Does God care whether a church uses a consumer model of outreach? Are the means for building his kingdom irrelevant?  Should the church operate as a business?  Is it permissible to market God as just another guy we can text messageIf we agree that God has chosen foolish means to save those who believe, then what does God really think about pastors who turn his church into a shopping mall giving the appearance that buying God is a product we can stamp "satisfaction guaranteed"? 

Some will not agree with what I write here, but I ask the reader to take the time to thoughtfully reflect on what is presented.  What I write is out of sincere concern for my brothers and sisters in this community.  I want nothing more than for us all to walk in the truth.

A Marketed God

Do you have a problem?  Are you divorced and need acceptance?  Are you tired of playing church? Has legalism beat you down? Do you want real life giving worship?  Do you need a mentor, a life coach? Recovery step program? Addiction release?  Need a prayer partner? What about a connection for your teenager? You name it we have a program for you.  If any of this sounds familiar it is because thousands of churches in this land have learned how best to build their churches based upon the wants of the people.  The church is offered as a product and the people as consumers.  But for this to work, you have to give the consumer what he wants, and to do that properly, nothing can look or feel churchy since those things run up against a God who is a lot more difficult to market.


The LYNDEN CHURCH PARADIGM: A "Signs" & Wonders Movement (Updated)

It must have been an awful scene when Christ walked into the temple of Jerusalem, made a whip of cords, and drove out the money changers. Why did Christ do this? Zeal for the Lord’s house had eaten him up! Radical? You better believe it; his father’s house of worship and prayer had been overrun with false shepherds who had turned the worship of Christ into a business.  It was mockery. It was chicanery, and souls were at stake. They were profaning God’s holiness in worship.  The message of gospel had been trampled underfoot, and no one cared enough to speak out.  The Lord himself had to come as the messenger of the covenant to cleanse his temple from such debauchery and raise it anew.   
My local church phenomenon is a microcosm of what is happening and is being practiced in communities all throughout this nation. Proper evaluation of movements requires a certain measure of exposure. As with any kind of confrontation, sincere love sometimes hurts, especially when it’s honest and direct. Inevitably, I will be charged with being envious, or a traditionalist, or even legalistic for the things that I write here.  But what I write is out of sincere concern for Christ's church and my brothers and sisters in the community. It is time for Christians to stop being passive and care enough to warn those who are being carried away by church leaders who are profaning God’s holiness and turning the church into a den of thieves. I don't have a perfect church, nor do I think I am better than anyone else. I am a sinner saved by grace who now desires to honor and reverence the risen Christ.


Abounding Grace Radio Interview w/ Former PENTECOSTAL MINISTER--MUST LISTEN

Abounding Grace Radio airs Monday-Friday on KARI 550 Am at 8:30 AM & 2:30 PM. Here is an interview with Rev. Mark Stromberg, pastor of the Belgrade, MT United Reformed Church on his transition from being an Assembly of God pastor to becoming Reformed.  Mark actually was asked to be on the power team and was known for tearing a phone book in half.  These are a must listen as there will be more to come.  Let us know what you think.

Interview with Pastor Mark Stromberg


Sabbath Meditation: PERKINS on HEARING & PREACHING

Q. How must we hear God’s word, that it may be effectual to salvation?
A. We must come unto it with hunger-bitten hearts, having an appetite to the word; we must mark it with attention, receive it by faith, submit ourselves unto it with fear and trembling, even then when our faults are reproved; lastly we must hide it in the corners of our hearts, that we may frame our lives and conversations by it.

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” – Jam. 1:19;
“And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.” – Acts 16:14;
“For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” – Heb. 4:2;
“For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the Lord: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.” – Isa. 66:2;
“And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.” – Luke 2:51;
“Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” – Psa. 119:11.


Mrs. Dr. CHARLES WOODBRIDGE (1923-2011)

Today I had the privilege of preaching the funeral service for Doreen Woodbridge, the widow of the late Dr. Charles Woodbridge. Charles Woodbridge was mentored by J.Gresham Machen and later became a church history professor at Fuller Theological Seminary.  Woodbridge defended Machen at his trial before the New Brunswick Presbytery and would later write “The New Evangelicalism”, a work devoted to the defense of the doctrinal purity of the church.  He left Fuller in 1958 out of conviction that the seminary was becoming apostate.  Woodbridge was also one of the few who confronted Billy Graham for his conduct at his preaching campaigns (Woodbridge, The New Evangelicalism, 1970, p. 44).

I met Doreen Woodbridge some time ago at a Sunday lunch.  There was an immediate connection as I found myself being engaged by an 88-year old woman about the modernist fundamentalist controversy of the twentieth century.  She was sharp, teaching me things I didn’t know. It was at this lunch that I learned that Doreen’s pastor in the UK was Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones and that her late husband was the well-known Charles Woodbridge.  During the course of the conversation, she mentioned that she still had many letters from Machen to her late husband—letters never seen before!  I’m trying to get my hands on those letters.  

I write about Doreen for two reasons.  First, she was a woman who at 88 years old still cared about the truth.  She lamented how far the church has defected from a Biblical and confessional view of worship and Christ-centered preaching.   Her convictions about what worship should be, who Christ is, how he should be honored, deeply mattered to her. All I could think about was, no matter how much we try to make Christianity relevant and hip to the next generation, the wisdom and conviction of Doreen Woodbridge is timeless.  Her convictions defy everything that is temporary and fleshly.  The gospel is the most “authentic” and relevant truth communicated to sinners, why line pure gold with gilded tin?

Second, she was godly.  I’m convinced that behind a man who makes a difference in Christ’s church like Charles Woodbridge is a woman like this.  I have done over twenty funerals now as a pastor.  As I see many of these aged saints die, the more I feel the cry of David, “Help, for the godly man ceases.” Doreen was a godly woman who diffused the fragrance of Christ.  As people like this come and go, we should be perceptive enough to see that no matter how bad things get, Christ will continue to preserve his seed in the earth.  This should be an encouragement to Christians to remember why they are here.



See Part II: The Critique
by Christopher J Gordon- Lynden, WA
It was December, 999 AD, and a great panic was spreading throughout Europe that the end of the world was less than a month away. Predictions of the end had surfaced throughout the first millennium, but as the sun went down New Year’s Eve, the millennial frenzy reached new heights. Possessions were given to the churches, debts were forgiven, prisoners freed, merchants refused payments for goods, and the churches swarmed with people confessing their sins. Many of the sick begged to be placed outdoors to see Christ’s descent from heaven. Pope Sylvester II held a mid-night mass at St. Peter’s in Rome, the supposed last one ever to occur on earth, and in the moments before midnight, as the church bells sounded, enemies embraced each other with the kiss of peace. As the moments into the new millennium transpired, nothing happened.  The aftermath left behind a wake of disillusionment, especially when churches refused to return people’s possessions.
Wild eschatological interpretations and predictions of Christ’s return have always been a problem since Christ’s first coming—this is nothing new. But we seem to be living in a time when the consciousness of the end of the world not only grips the community of faith, but also the world at large. Political and economic chaos characterizes news reports. In the last ten years, a powerful earthquake has struck each year killing thousands, the most recent in Japan leaving us in horror as we watch the footage. On people’s minds is the question as to whether these things mark the end of the world. We are told the Mayan Calendar itself predicts a 2012 apocalypse; and Hollywood, capitalizing on this fear, recently debuted “2012”, a movie depicting the awful destruction to be unleashed at the end of the world.  
I live in the town of Lynden, WA. On many of the major roadways, even into Vancouver, B.C., are signs and billboards warning that Judgment Day will happen on May 21, 2011. This prediction is made by Harold Camping, the co-founder of Family Radio, Inc. My initial response was to laugh off the prediction in astonishment, not only because the Bible condemns such predictions, but because Camping already did this, and got it wrong. Who would possibly believe him? But after receiving mailings in support of Camping’s prediction that went out to every home in Lynden, and knowing the fearful response of many Christians, a response is warranted. 


In the first column, we considered the sad history of Harold Camping that led to his departure from the church.  When the elders of the Alameda CRC censured Camping for his wild end time predictions, he refused to submit to their discipline. This facilitated a split in the Alameda CRC in which over forty percent of the congregation followed Camping and departed from the church. As we considered, pride and bitterness had so overcome Camping that he was able to declare that upon the year of his censure and departure from the church, God was done with the entire church, and from that time forward, God would only work in the “true believers” who were willing to take the stand with Camping and come out of the church.

In this column, we evaluate the fruits of Camping’s teaching.  We also address why predictions of the end world dangerous, and how Christians are to live in preparation for Christ’s return.


Earthquakes, Economic Chaos, May 21, 2011-- What Did Jesus Really Say?

Saturday morning, I threw out my planned sermon and wrote a sermon on Matthew 24 to address what appears to be a world spinning into chaos.  If you have some time, you might enjoy the following sermon on the Olivet Discourse that specifically addresses these issues.
Do Not Be Troubled
Download MP3



Perkins was the father of Elizabethan Puritanism, and his works outsold Calvin's three to one. Now no one has ever called Perkins an Ariminian (have you seen his supralapsarian chart on the order of causes?) and here he clearly believed in common grace.  Perkins writes,

Grace must be distinguished; it is twofold, restraining grace, or renewing grace.  Restraining grace, I term certain common gifts of God, serving only to order and frame the outward conversation of men to the law of God, or serving to bereve men of excuse in the day of judgment.  By this kind of grace, heathen men have been liberal, just, sober, valiant, merciful.  By it, men living in the Church of God, have been enlightened, and having tasted of the good word of God, have rejoiced therein, and for a time ourwardly conformed themselves thereto. 

Renewing grace is not common to all men,  but proper to the elect, and it is a gift of God's spirit, wherby the corruption of sin is not only restrained, but also motified, and the decayed image of God, restored in righteousness and true holiness. 

...When our savior Christ heard the young man make a confession of a practice but of outward and civil righteousness, "He looked upon him, and loved him" (Mark 10:34).  Therefore no doubt, he will love with a more special love, and accept as the good subjects of his kingdom, those that have received a further mercy of God, to be born anew of water and of the spirit." William Perkins, The Workes: A Graine of Mustard Seed, Vol. I (John Legatt: London, 1616) 638.




Here is a ten minute challenge I recently gave on ABOUNDING GRACE Radio challenging those who who attend church to evaluate their worship as I address things like children's church, sentimentality, stylistic preference, theater-driven approaches, etc.  It received quite a bit of response, so please give it a listen and let me know what you think.

Click Here to Listen: The Church Motivation Challenge

You can get this is written form HERE



In his preliminary history of the United Reformed Churches of North America, Cornelis Venema states, “the URCNA must find a way to ‘burn the wooden shoes’ of a parochial ethnic and cultural identity while preserving all that is biblical and confessionally Reformed in the rich inheritances of the past.”  It’s a great statement.  There is something about it that makes those who have come into the Dutch Reformed tradition without the cultural and “parochial” identity smirk a bit. There always has been something really irritating with the “if you ain’t dutch, you ain’t much” mentality.  It always made outsiders who lacked a name or family connection feel as if they could never really be part of the club. “Dutch bingo” has always been intimidating for those who have no cards to play with.

But those of the tradition itself, who understand the history behind the wooden shoes metaphor, know that such an attempt at this needed separation, recognized by Venema above, was a catastrophic one in the Christian Reformed Church of North America, doctrinally speaking.  Most in the CRC were very conscious that cultural exclusivisim was wrong.  In fact, it was this very concern that motivated the editors of the Banner, a publication of the CRC, to issue one of its most controversial issues on November 3, 1980 which had a picture of wooden clogs burning; a clear promotion for the CRCNA to abandon its parochial, ethnic and cultural identity.  Unless one understands the particular ethos of the CRC, it’s difficult to communicate how momentous, and offensive, this picture was for CRC. Conscious that such a change was Biblically mandated, the CRC over the next thirty years would make a serious overhaul of her identity to be a more “embracing” church. The problem is what the CRC would also burn in the process—the whole denomination.  The project was a failure, and the CRC has followed in the trajectory of other liberal denominations that have chipped away all their particulars until nothing remains. In other words, the CRC failed to preserve those things that made her distinctively Reformed, and stuffed within the burning shoes were the very confessions that defined her, resulting in the complete loss of any Biblical and confessional identity. 

Understanding this history is crucial for anyone who has taken up membership in URCNA. The URC was birthed out of this struggle, and the majority of her members still have deep wounds over the long, protracted fight that occurred in the CRC. You can only imagine how difficult Venema’s statement is today for those who have already attempted the project, a project some thirty years in the making, only to see the particulars of the what they never dreamed could be compromised, go right down the drain.  It should be of no surprise, therefore, if many in the URC struggle to let go of the cultural identities that, alongside of biblical and confessional Reformed distinctives, also belong to the “rich inheritances of the past.”  Right or wrong, new comers who arrogantly attack these cultural distinctives are ignorant of just how willing many of their brothers and sisters were to burn their wooden shoes, only to see, once done, everything else so easily ripped away from them.  New ideas, new theological terms, along with attacks on Dutch dishes, and Dutch bingo, made by those who have no idea of the long history that lies behind the particular ethos, just isn’t going to fair well in the URC until some real time passes. 

Over the past few years, we have witnessed some real polarization in the URC.  There have been divides over issues such as two-kingdoms theology, Christian day school, how the covenant on Sinai relates to the covenant made with Abraham, covenant of works, law and gospel, and more.  These discussions are important to have and no one questions that serious doctrinal errors may result if these distinctions aren’t correctly understood and applied. It’s my contention, however, that these discussions are often driven by a greater problem, one primarily motivated by anger and fear.

In other words, I believe we could have many of these discussions in a much more unified and civil manner if they were not motivated by the deeper fear of what was outlined above. I can’t stress this point enough; there is a particular historical struggle that is not being appreciated in current theological exchange.  For instance, in his recent critique of David Van Drunen’s Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms, Nelson Kloosterman writes the following:

Stated simply, given the history and identity of these URCs emerging from controversy within the CRCNA, with which I have been intimately involved, I judge the NL2K project to be an alien intruder that will eventually erode historic commitments and challenge significant sacrificial programs among us, especially in the areas of Christian day school education and Christian socio-political activity in the public square.

This, it seems to me, is the root issue for those of the tradition itself. Agree with Kloosterman’s assessment or not, these are for many--notice the language--"eroding historic committments".  Don't you hear in that statement an echo of fear and frustration in the face of another long protracted battle, correctly perceived or not, ready to start all over again? It's déjà vu. We have to be cognizant of this sentiment. Yes, it's obviously doctrinal and confessional committments that concern Kloosterman, but I wonder how our current theological discussion, which spans a broader period of Reformed development, might play out if that particular ethos and theological identity that many are fighting for now in the URC had not been so recently ransaked in the CRC? It's worth considering. New comers will have to be aware of this dynamic.

In the next part, we will look the particular dynamics in the URC that have led to the present struggle.  
My history: I was born, baptized, and raised in one of the oldest and largest of California’s CRC churches.  My father was of the German Reformed heritage, my mother of Church of Christ background. I was a product of both the CSI and public school systems as a youth, and attended a secular university in California for my undergrad. Upon graduating, I taught in the CA public school system, later to become the high school Bible teacher in a CSI Christian school. I attended Westminster Seminary in CA, and I now pastor the United Reformed Church of Lynden, WA. 



I will be teaching a twelve week course on John's gospel at the Reformed Bible College in Canada starting this week.  Here is the info.  Would love to have you!

When: Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 7:30 PM
Where: Aldergrove Canadian Reformed Church, 2469 267 St., Aldergrove
Duration: Twelve weeks
Subject: The Gospel of John
Cost: $ 150 for the whole series; students $ 100.
Registration and more information: www.rbcollege.com or contact H. Schouten
Speaker: Rev. Chris Gordon

About the Speaker

Rev. Christopher Gordon was ordained to the Ministry of the Word in October, 2004.   Rev. Gordon is a native of Central California, and prior to answering God's call into the ministry; he was a high school Bible teacher in the Central Valley of California.  Rev. Gordon, having a love for Reformed theology, pursued further theological studies and received his Master of Divinity degree from Westminster Seminary in Escondido, CA, where he studied under such scholars as Drs. Michael Horton, and W. Robert Godfrey. He has been the pastor of the Lynden United Reformed Church since 2004 and is the host of Abounding Grace Radio, a daily Christian radio program airing throughout the Western WA and Vancouver B.C. 

Course Description

The course will consist of an exegetical study of the Fourth Gospel, focusing on John's important thematic and theological issues. Lectures will cover a wide range of issues including the structure, syntax, and cultural background in relation to the major theme of belief in Jesus Christ.  There will be careful analysis of individual texts and how they function in the narrative development of the whole gospel.  Special emphasis will be given to the contrasted themes of light and darkness, life and death, truth and falsehood, love and hate as they relate to the revelation of the person and the work of Jesus Christ.