Inerrancy — Lessons from History (10)
At one time, the CRC had held to inerrancy. But through the 1960s and 1970s, this position was eclipsed by the import of higher critical views from the Netherlands. After Report 44 and Synod 1972, the direction of the CRC became increasingly latitudinarian. Before long, the CRC had adopted a heterodox position on women in office – a position which conservatives linked to the drift away from inerrancy and Report 44.
All along the way there were protests, overtures, and appeals. The CRC didn’t deteriorate without a fight. Men who loved the CRC fought valiantly for her. Louis Praamsma, Peter Y. De Jong, Jelle Tuininga, Henry Van der Kam, and many others did everything they could to turn the tide. But ultimately they were not able to.
The debates over the authority of Scripture and the inevitable consequences led to the formation of the first Orthodox Christian Reformed Church (OCRC) in 1979. Others would soon follow. Eventually, as CRC conservatives realized that the hegemony of Calvin Seminary played a crucial role in the deterioration of the church, Mid-America Reformed Seminary (MARS) was established as an alternative. Conservative CRC members aspiring to the ministry would study at MARS for three years, but then would still have to do the “year of penance” at Calvin. Throughout the 1990s, many of these concerned CRC members and ministers would leave the CRC and form independent Reformed churches. Eventually, many of these independent churches would federate into the United Reformed Churches of North America (URCNA). In 2008, the OCRC merged with the URCNA.
It is fair to say that the URCNA owes its existence to the fact that the CRC turned its back on biblical inerrancy and adopted higher critical views in its stead. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the website of Mid-America states that the seminary is committed to the “Holy Scriptures as the infallible and inerrant Word of God.” Westminster Seminary California is another institution that supplies many of the candidates for the URCNA and it also boldly affirms biblical inerrancy. Given the history of the CRC, it should also not be surprising that the existing URC Church Order also states, “We as a federation of churches declare complete subjection and obedience to the Word of God delivered to us in the inspired, infallible and inerrant book of Holy Scripture.”
Thus it should be expected that the introduction to the Proposed Joint Church Order (PJCO) going to the URC and CanRC synods in 2010 would use similar language: “We Reformed believers maintain that the standard for personal, public, and ecclesiastical life is God’s Word, the inspired, infallible, and inerrant book of Holy Scripture.” Because of their history, inerrancy is naturally a point of concern for our brothers and sisters in the URCNA.
Now there are those who say that this introduction brings in a kind of “extra-confessional binding” to the CanRC. However, as I argue in a forthcoming article in Clarion, the notion of “no extra-confessional binding” in the CanRC is a convenient myth. The reality is that we do have extra-confessional binding. As an example, there is nothing explicit in the Three Forms of Unity to prevent me from saying from the pulpit tomorrow that committed homosexual relationships are within the will of God. However, both our liturgical forms and our Church Order (after revision at Synod 2007) state that marriage is a relationship between one woman and one man. That is extra-confessional binding and there is nothing inappropriate about that. More examples could be given. In fact, as my colleague R.C. Janssen argues in his recent dissertation, we have layers of confessing in our churches and that includes things like the Church Order and our liturgical forms. Moreover, we are bound first of all to Scripture – “no extra-confessional binding” can easily become a sort of confessionalism where the authority of Scripture itself is undermined.
In the nature of the case, the Canadian Reformed Churches have already committed themselves to inerrancy by applying for and being received into membership in the North American and Presbyterian Reformed Council (NAPARC). NAPARC’s constitution includes a commitment on the part of all its members to Scripture being “without error in all its parts,” which is another way of saying “inerrant.” I would argue that this is simply the contemporary and necessary outworking of the incipient inerrancy found in the Belgic Confession. Since we have already affirmed inerrancy at NAPARC, why should we balk at affirming inerrancy in the PJCO introduction?
In conclusion, the history of the CRC instructs us on what happens when inerrancy is questioned and then abandoned. The URCNA exists because of this struggle. As I’ve indicated before, I have my questions about the possibility of a merger anywhere in the near future. But if we Canadian Reformed Churches want to make ourselves more attractive to the URCNA, drawing inerrancy into question is certainly not a way to do it. Moreover, if the CanRCs do not stand for inerrancy, NAPARC will eventually say the same to us as it said to the CRC: out!
I have read your posts on the debate in the CRC and the drift away from Biblical inerrancy, and it has brought back many memories of those years, until I too was finally moved to leave the CRC in the early nineties.
Keep up the good work!