Unscriptural Pluriformity in Practice

by John Van Laar
January 27, 2007

In the Fraser Valley Church News of the Canadian and American Reformed Churches, Vol. 49, No. 24, 12/31/06, we read the following:

"We bid farewell to communicant members. They have moved to… they plan to join a Christian Reformed Church there, where a number of other families known to many of us are also members. Perhaps you recall a number of years ago efforts were made to form a house congregation or church plant of the Canadian Reformed Churches there, but this did not succeed. We wish this young family God's care and blessing in their new adventure, and hope to see them again!"

Dr. K. Schilder once wrote: "Pluriformity is a nice name for a horrible thing." In the above Church News item we see nothing less than the manifestation of unscriptural pluriformity being put directly into practice in the Canadian Reformed Church Federation. How is it possible that those who withdraw from our churches to join the Christian Reformed Church (whether temporarily or not) are given God's blessing? The action of withdrawing from the church of Christ is sinful (cf. BC Art. 28)! Does God bless sin?

To understand this situation, we must look more fully at what pluriformity is. Pluriformity is the idea that the world is full of more-or-less pure churches, and that while these churches all have some differences, they are all true churches of Christ. Closely related to this doctrine is the concept of the invisible church manifested in various local churches and which all together form the true church.

Dr. Abraham Kuyper helped to secure these notions in our Dutch Reformed history, but we as Liberated and Canadian Reformed Churches have always opposed them. And rightly so, for this doctrine is not founded in Scripture. We believe the church is visible and as such manifests the marks of the true church found in Art. 29. of the B.C.

Schilder clearly opposed pluriformity and went to great effort to explain that the differences between churches exist because of sin. It must be understood that the divisions between churches are not merely the result of small squabbles or minor differences of opinion but because of sin.

With this background in mind, we can more clearly evaluate the current situation. What is the cause of division? Why does this church meet separately from that church? Is it because the pews are softer in the one than the other? Or is it because of more appropriate times of service? Not so! Rather, it is because at some point there is doctrinal disagreement, and that is where the focus should be.

If the church members mentioned earlier can receive God's blessing in joining the Christian Reformed Church, then we the Canadian and American Reformed Churches need to go to our knees and repent of our schismatic actions in separating from that church. If the Christian Reformed Church is still obedient and still maintains the marks of the true church then we have no right to worship separately from them. Sadly this is not the case.

It should be remembered that despite various appeals by the Canadian Reformed Churches, the Christian Reformed Church has refused to recognize the legitimacy of the liberation of 1944 and has persisted in its relationship with the synodical churches of the Netherlands. Because of this, it was necessary for the Canadian Reformed Churches to seek and maintain a separate existence. Since then, the Christian Reformed Church has followed a path of continuing deformation that increasingly disqualifies it as a proper church address (see article re Report 44).

With these things in mind we must pay attention to events that have recently occurred within our federation. Brothers from the Church at Lynden have issued a declaration of secession and called for reformation in the Canadian and American Reformed Churches. If we were to be consistent with the excerpt quoted at the beginning, these brothers should also receive the Lord's blessing. In conformity with pluriformity, should they not also be included as a petal in the flower of the invisible church? After all, this newly liberated church also maintains the Three Forms of Unity.

Apparently the Liberated Reformed Church is not viewed so positively in the eyes of many churches in the Canadian and American Reformed federation. Members of this church are accused of being disorderly. But here there is an implicit hypocrisy- -"The Church Order is only the law of man and not necessary to be followed always." Yet these same people argue that the liberated brothers must follow the Church Order! In fact, the seceders in Lynden did fully follow the Church Order in every way to the very end (see, Why We Did Not Appeal).

Regrettably, many have deemed the material presented by the liberated church to the churches of our federation inadmissible. These brothers are labeled as separatists and called to repent of their actions. It should be pointed out that the same church that wrote the blessing on the couple going to the CRC also deemed the material from the Liberated Reformed Church as inadmissible.

This is a glaring inconsistency. On both occasions this church refers to individuals that left the Canadian and American Reformed Churches. In one instance certain individuals that withdrew (contrary to Art. 28 B.C.) were blessed. In the other instance those who seceded were accused of schism and called to repent.

Why the difference? The only clear difference is that the seceders called the American Reformed Church at Lynden to repent from disobedience in implementing the unscriptural synodical decisions establishing ecclesiastical fellowship with the OPC, FCS, PCK, URC, and RCUS. On the other hand a withdrawal to join the Christian Reformed Church is not considered to be all that serious. In addition, those that withdrew to join the Christian Reformed Church still regard the Canadian and American Reformed Churches as true churches.

So why no blessing for the individuals who seceded from Lynden? It is obvious; they called Lynden to repent from disobedience. As a result, they are attacked as schismatics, separatists, disorderly… etc.

Strikingly, in the same publication (Church News), No. 23, 12/17/06, a church gave the following commendation and thankful report:

"Recently we've had a Korean Presbyterian pastor… attending worship. …He has a deep appreciation for the Reformed confessions, to the point that he has made a booklet with the Three Forms of Unity (in Korean) which he hands out to his fellow countrymen… …He is also busy in teaching his family from the Canons of Dort… The Lord does work in marvelous ways!"

For this we can be thankful indeed! Yet it also raises questions. Were the Westminster Standards not good enough? If not, why not? Could it be that the divergencies that exist between the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards are more serious than we thought?

The Canadian and American Reformed Churches may indeed rejoice at seeing the Lord working in individuals who show great interest in our confessions. However, it is alarming to see individuals from a similar Presbyterian background now being ostracized for doing exactly the same thing: embracing our confessions!

The very same church that rejoices in the interest of this Korean Presbyterian pastor also deemed inadmissible the letter from the liberated individuals with a similar background. Is this not ironic? These individuals in the Liberated Reformed Church, after finding unscriptural elements in the Westminster Standards, embraced the Three Forms of Unity. Yet now, they are regarded as separatists for defending these very same confessions amidst deformation within our Canadian and American Reformed Federation!

**We can also read about another interesting development in Clarion, Volume 56, No. 1 in a column called "What's New???" Here we read that the Presbyterian Church of Sudan (PCOS) experiences recent troubles that have led 12 churches to break away and form a new Reformed federation that adhere to the same doctrines and confessions that we have adopted. Again we see a clear example of individuals who had accepted the Westminster Standards finding that they were not sufficient and adopting the Three Forms of Unity.

We realize that the Lord does indeed work in marvelous ways. Despite human efforts to thwart the work of reformation, the Lord brings about reformation anyway. We must seriously consider that the Lord may bring about this reformation through individuals who are not rooted in the same "Dutch Reformed" heritage that most of us have come from.

**"Since initial publication of this editorial, information has come to light which shows there really wasn't any breakaway group of churches from the PCOS."