Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Edwin Chr. van Driel: God’s covenant

February 13th, 2007 posted by kendall at 5:26 pm

Some will say that this approach to church and covenant sacrifices truth for unity. I would suggest that we take a lesson from the history of the Netherlands Reformed Church. In the 19th century, some of its ministers denied the resurrection or the divinity of Christ; another minister famously claimed to be a follower of Buddha. The leadership of the church refused to uphold the church’s confessional standards. As a result, the majority of the church seemed to have lost its theological identity.

In this situation the orthodox minority found itself divided into two camps on how to respond. One camp thought the church’s theological character should be restored by its members appealing to the church’s courts and synod. If this did not help, the members would leave the church. This became known as the juridical way. For several decades the juridical camp made its appeals, and when these were unsuccessful, members of the dissenting group left and formed the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN). Meanwhile, the other minority group in the NRC followed the medical way: its members believed that as long as one is not prevented from preaching the gospel, one should never leave the church. They believed that the medicine of the gospel itself can heal a sick church, and although they were weakened by the loss of orthodox allies, members of this group continued to focus on preaching the gospel.

The result seemed predictable. The RCN would become a conservative bulwark, its identity firmly protected by its juridical structure. The NRC would grow more and more liberal, with a slim and powerless conservative minority. But things turned out differently. One hundred years later the RCN found itself at the far left of the theological spectrum, and its international daughter churches, including the Christian Reformed Church in the U.S.A., declared themselves in impaired communion with their mother church. Meanwhile, in the 1930s and 1940s a spirit of renewal began to stir in the NRC. Liberals, middle-of-the-roaders and conservatives became discontented with the perceived theological wishy-washiness of the church.

None of these groups gave up its particular approach to the gospel, but all realized that a church which does not firmly confesses its obedience to the gospel of Christ is null and void. In 1950 an overwhelming majority in the synod accepted a new, Christ-centered church order and restored the church’s ties to its confessional documents. The preaching of the gospel–and only the preaching–had healed the church.

If this is what it means to be church, being church will never be easy. We find ourselves joined together with people we disagree with, people we do not necessarily like. But that is exactly what God’s covenant is all about: God reaches out to people who are not likable–people who are sinners. It is only because God graciously embraces these imperfect human beings that any of us have a chance to be included in God’s covenant.

If this is what it means to be church, then being church is also profoundly countercultural. One reason why the Episcopalian left and right so easily embrace Archbishop Williams’s ideas may be that those ideas perfectly match the American emphasis on freedom and choice. If there is any place for the church to be countercultural, however, it is in situations in which we are called to remember our original covenant.

“You did not choose me but I chose you” (John 15:16). As a church we are called, formed, judged and renewed not by our own choices, but only by God.

Read it all.


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