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The final (published) version of the Acts of Synod 2009 is available as a single PDF file here.
The Acts available in HTML format are an "Approved Draft", and contain spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and typos.
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Synod Legana 2009
Address by Reverend P Archbald
on behalf of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand
Wednesday 17th June 2009, Synod Legana, Tasmania, 2009 (Acts Article 35)

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Moderamen, Delegates & Visitors,

I would like to thank you for the privilege of addressing you at this synod. I am also grateful for the welcome we have received. This is the second time I have been present at one of your synods, though the first as an official delegate of the RCNZ. I was present for part of your previous synod as an unofficial observer. I was made to feel welcome then as well. My wife and I also holidayed in Perth last year, and had opportunity then to worship in the Rockingham congregation. We felt right at home with the approach to worship in the several FRCA churches we visited on these two previous occasions. It is not that different from what we are used to, being also derived from historical Reformational liturgy.

I also bring greetings from our churches in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. As you are aware, our synod of Hastings, 2008, decided to continue our offer of sister-church relations with you. Synod also decided to send a delegate this time. We were pleased to receive your delegates at Hastings. We appreciated the helpful comments they made on the floor of synod, as well as the many informal interactions between sessions. It is in those interactions that we gain a sense of how close we are in our understanding of Scripture and Confessions. Our respective Church Orders are also quite similar, since we, too, depend on the historical Reformed understanding of church polity. I note with interest how many of our ministers now own and use Van Oene's With Common Consent. Our Session is currently studying a small section of it at the start of our meetings. And here at your synod I am pleased to note that I have recognized the tunes of about 3/4 of the psalms we have sung.

We now have the privilege of sister-church relations with two of your sisters: The Canadian Reformed Churches and the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands. The input of their delegates was also greatly appreciated. As you know, in the case of the Canadian Reformed Churches we have the added privilege of working together in PNG. Your churches, too, are involved with the College there. This year, as the Doumas begin work in PNG, our churches are sending 4 teams of well over 20 men to help build facilities there. Some have already been and returned, others are currently at work. These are positive ways that we can work together for the Lord's church and kingdom, as your own synods have encouraged.

Over the last few years, there has been an increase in contact between our churches. More and more of your members worship with us while on holidays. I believe they generally feel quite at home with what they hear in the pulpits and the manner in which we worship. Some of our people have become members in your churches. Teachers have gone from our Christian schools to yours, and vice versa. These are practical outworkings of your in-principle declaration that you recognize us as true and faithful churches, along with our offer of sister-church relations.

And yet this impediment to sister-church relations remains for you: the "triangular" problem of our sister-church relation with the CRCA - a federation which operates on your door-step, but which you believe you cannot, on principle, recognize as true. An impasse seems to have been reached: the impediment remains for you, while our churches continue to say that "we cannot accept that our sister-church relationship with the CRCA should be an impediment to the FRCA accepting our offer." In context, this means that the RCNZ cannot accept that our relationship with the CRCA should be an impediment as things stand at the moment - not that there could never be a situation where our churches would agree with your evaluation.

Perhaps some of you wonder why our churches have stated that we "cannot accept" this impediment? You have made efforts to explain it to us. Is this an indication that we are really on different paths, after all? Now I trust you will realize that it is difficult for me to give any authoritative explanation, because synod has not given any reasoning, simply stated the non-acceptance. Nevertheless, I would like to make some suggestions. I base my comments on the assumption that for you, the impediment involves principle as well as practical difficulties - though many of our people appear to be confused even about that. Many believe it is only the latter.

First, as you are no doubt aware, our churches were started by folk from a variety of backgrounds, representing most of the Reformed federations in the Netherlands. That fact alone inclines many to think in terms of pluriformity. We do not have the same unified background or experiences of liberation that have helped you to forge the view of the uniformity of the church that you have. Of course, like you we confess the catholicity of the church. But our churches have not engaged to the same extent in discussing the issues that flow from that confession, especially concerning the uniformity versus the pluriformity of the church. The debate about uniformity/pluriformity is not well-known to our members. As you have probably already noticed, our churches are more diverse on issues like the admission of visitors to the Lord's Table - though we recognize that the unity we have around the Table is a unity in the truth we confess. That did not stop you from acknowledging us as true churches. But our lack of familiarity with these issues does make it harder for our people to follow your thinking on the "triangular" problem.

Second, there are precedents behind our decisions. In the past we broke ties with the GKN and the CRCNA over matters of doctrine and practice. However, reaching that decision was a lengthy process involving a number of serious concerns over a number of major issues - doctrines of Scripture, Creation, women in office, and so on. Although we have had a number of issues with the CRCA over the years, the disagreement has not been on quite the same order as with the GKN or the CRCNA. The Word & Spirit issue was removed at the synodical level by the CRCA reaching a better conclusion. There was also a more satisfactory conclusion to the debate about paedocommunion. It proved difficult to continue debate about worship practices because concerns were based on local practice not synodical endorsement. That left us with the issue of women in the office of deacon, but even there the CRCA has officially stated that where churches have deaconesses, neither they nor the male deacons will serve on the full council of the church. At the recent CRCA synod there were also concerns about the application of Lord's Day 35, as well as the "four-fold purpose of the church." But for the majority of our churches, there has been a reluctance to conclude that the disagreements are yet at the same level as they were with the GKN and the CRCNA. This would explain why a significant minority (though not the majority) of our churches at the last synod wanted to end the strain in the relationship with the CRCA - because the only alternative seemed to be to suspend or sever the relationship, based on the above issues. This minority felt that we have said our piece, the CRCA is clearly not going to listen, so there is no point in continuing to labour the point. A slim majority decided instead to keep the relationship under strain.

Finally, it is difficult for many of our people to understand the logic of the "triangular problem." They can understand that you believe we should end the sister-church relationship with the CRCA - some within the RCNZ have argued for that, too. They can understand the practical problems that could arise if you were sisters with the RCNZ and we remained sisters with the CRCA - our IRC has offered to take steps to minimize that. What they struggle to see is why you would see yourselves as endorsing the pluriformity idea if you became sisters with us.

Of course, when a federation enters a sister-relationship despite certain weaknesses in the other party, there is an implication that they do not consider the error so serious that it bars such a relationship entirely. Many in our churches fail to understand why this one issue is so important to you that you cannot simply state your objections, maintain your own principles in declining to enter sister-church relations with the CRCA, but enter the sister-church relationship with the RCNZ. Would not such a course of action protect you from condoning the pluriformity idea? Granted, it would imply that you do not see the issue as sufficiently weighty to constitute a barrier to sister-relations by definition. But that is different than endorsing the pluriformity idea. If anyone were endorsing that idea, it would be our churches, but not yours. Your churches would simply be deciding that our weakness in this area was not of such a nature that it should prevent you from becoming sisters with us.

That is, of course, not the only option open to you. You could maintain the status quo and wait to see if our relationship with the CRCA changes. However, I would recommend that if you do so, it would be worth explaining further to us about the principles behind your view of the impediment - for the reasons I have mentioned.

The other possibility is to re-evaluate the question about our nature as a true church, as I believe some of your churches are suggesting. If you do so, we would encourage you to keep in mind Calvin's approach to recognizing the true church. Calvin argued that one must look at the overall picture, not just one failure here or there. Does the RCNZ overall continue to show the "three marks"? Do we generally uphold the mark of discipline? You have acknowledged that we do, and that we have admonished the CRCA over a number of issues. You have acknowledged us as a true church even though you were already aware that we have diversity on issues related to the uniformity/pluriformity question - such as the admission of visitors to the Lord's table. To us that seemed to say that you do not, after all, wish to make the uniformity/pluriformity issue a barrier by definition. In regard of our relationship with the CRCA you obviously you do not think we have gone far enough. But note that that is only one issue. It is an issue of how far we have gone, not that we have failed to address the CRCA on matters of concern at all. If you continue to think that we do possess the three marks, yet will not become sister churches with us because of this one issue - our failure to go as far as you would with the CRCA - I suspect that many of our members will conclude that a fourth "mark" is in operation: that a true church must exercise true preaching, pure administration of the sacraments, proper church discipline and consistently uphold the uniformity of the church.

Let me assure you, I raise these matters as an aid to mutual understanding. I have learned that it is ever so easy to misunderstand each other when backgrounds are so different. So these words I have spoken are aimed at pin-pointing the area where our churches find it hard to understand your position. I would hope that you can then focus your explanation in such a way that we can come to know you better, and you us. We have recognized each other as true and faithful churches. You have said you desire to be sister-churches with us (though there is an impediment). We have said that we desire to become sisters with you and there is no impediment. Mutual recognition and the desire to become sisters are the common factors in these 2 positions. It would be a shame if we continued to express such views and desires, and yet somehow passed each other like the proverbial ships in the night.

Brothers, we continue to pray for you that the Lord will bless your deliberations at this synod and beyond; and that you will remain faithful to His Word and the calling He has given you.

last updated 22 Jun 2009
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