Tuesday, September 25, 2007

CREC and Membership

CREC is an abbreviation for Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches, though one members church uses the abbreviation to mean Christ Reformed Evangelical Church. The denomination was co-founded along with two others ( Dave Hatch of Trinity Church in Woodinville, WA, and
Gene Helsel at Trinity Church in Wenatchee, WA) by Douglas Wilson pastor of Christ Church in Moscow Idaho, who at this point is the current moderator of one of two presbyteries under the general assembly. Doug Wilson is one of the four that spoke at the Auburn Avenue conference which was key to the development of Federal Vision theology and the theology plays a prominent role in the denomination's thinking. Thus during our discussion of Federal Vision and Catholicism, the topic of membership in CREC came up. Additionally, the denomination puts out Credenda/Agenda, is associated with the New Saint Andrews College.

Mike Lawyer is an administrator and an instructor in Greyfriars' Hall Ministerial Training School, as well a ministering elder in Christ Church (Moscow, ID) and Pastor Doug Wilson's executive assistant. He has graciously agreed to answer the questions below. These questions as they were given to him in green and his answers in black, any additional information will be provided in blue. Mike was aware this question and answer was intended for publication and this blog gives permission for redistribution with attribution to this material. This discussion assumes preexisting familiarity with the CREC constitution. Before simply quoting I would like to thank Mike Lawyer for his time and energy in answering these questions. Everything below this line is from our discussion

___________________________


1) What is the reason behind household voting rather than individual voting? Is it an idea of Federal Representation (the father represents his family to the church) as per Abshire Federal Representation, or something else?

Mr. Abshire represented why we have household voting very well in his article. Our households are represented by the husbands and fathers of the homes. In cases where there is no father or no husband the mother or single woman acts as the head of her household and votes on behalf of the family.

I wouldn't sigh off on every little jot and tittle that Mr. Abshire said in his article, but over all it was very good. We wouldn't dissuade a woman from getting a graduate degree, for example. We would discourage going to debt to get it, but we do that with the men as well. A woman can be a great asset to her husband, children, church and community no matter how highly educated she is. We have women in our church who have law degrees, who are doctors, and who have other advanced degrees. They serve the Lord Jesus very effectively because of their degrees and training. They also reach people for Christ that they could not if they weren't so highly educated.

2a) If he is a representative then how far the headship of the husband extend? Is there a formal hierarchy involving family members?
Lets take a father A and his 18 year old living at home son B.
Does A's moral status effect B's salvation / election?
Does A's moral status effect B's effectiveness of prayer?
There is definitely a hierarchy involving family members. The Father is the head of the wife. The children honor the parents. The parents are to bring up the children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

A's moral status does not effect B's election. That is something only God knows about. But A's moral status does affect B's salvation because the sins of the fathers run down hill to the sons. B may be elect, but A's lifestyle may have taught him to follow in his path and thus influence his eventual salvation. B might grow up and need to run into someone from Campus Crusade in college to be saved as opposed to being raised in a godly home with a godly father who has taught him from the womb.

A's moral status effects B's effectiveness in prayer as well. His influence and modeling teach B how to pray and when to pray and whom to pray to. So B's prayer is definitely affected by A's lifestyle.

If you mean does A's moral status cause B's relationship with God to be negated simply because of A's existence, then I'd say no to both questions. A does not cause B to lose or gain his relationship with God simply by his immoral existence.

2b) I'm assuming the answer to both of these no. If so:
Does A's moral status effect B's membership?
Assuming A is a member can A cause B to be disciplined?
Assume A can, can A prevent B from being disciplined?

If A is a member of a covenantal church, then B will be a member of the church. This is an effect.

If B is disciplined by the church it will be because of B's sin, not A's sin. A might be involved in the process. He might be the first contact, confronting B with his sin (see below), or he might be the one the sin is against and he may be the one who brought to the elders in the first place. In this sense he would be causing B's discipline.

A can prevent B from being disciplined by helping to bring B to repentance before church discipline become a reality. For example suppose A finds out B is sleeping with the neighbor's daughter. A can gently bring B to repentance and thus avert any further discipline by the church. He might be the first step in the Matthew 18 process.

Discipline is not for the censure of the one being disciplined, it is for the restoration of the one being disciplined. It is never to be seen as a punitive action, it is always a cleansing and purifying action. It is meant to protect and purify the church and to bring the sinner to his senses and back to Christ.

2c) Assume that A isn't a member.
It seems that B can independently be a member of the CREC church? What if A objects?
What if A is a member and B wants independent membership?
If in both cases B's wishes are respected in what sense is their a hierarchy?
B could become an independent member if A is not. If his father, who is not a member objects, it would depend. We don't have a rule for this. We would take it on a case by case basis.

If A were a member and B wanted independent membership, our loose rule is that B can't do that, but it would depend on the situation. I could see allowing B to have his own household membership in the right situation.

The main point here would be that B would have to be his own household. For example if, for some reason, B were to get married at 18 he would be his own household, or if he were in town as a soldier stationed here for some reason, we might let him join as his own household. And life is funny, I'm sure there would be other situations where it would make sense to recognize B as his own household.

3) When you have representatives the representatives are supposed to have advantages: more knowledge, more time to dedicate, more experience.... What is the husband bring here to church matters? Moreover, does picking middle age men as the primary voting population not create severe bias.

I'm not sure what your question is here.

Being the husband or father does not imply any of the advantages you list. In fact, my wife thinks it is an advantage to not have to be the one who votes and who attends these boring meetings. Being the head of my house does not imply any advantage at all it implies that I am under authority. I am responsible to lead my family under the authority of God almighty.

I said earlier that the family has a hierarchy, and while the world sees any hierarchy as one of who gets to be in charge, the Bible says the hierarchy is who get to serve whom? The Lord Jesus came as a servant, the fathers serve their families, the husbands serve their wives, the mothers serve their children, the children serve and honor their parents. Whenever you hear that someone is supposed to submit themselves to you, your immediate response should be fear and trembling and a diligent search to see who you should be submitting to.

it is not at all uncommon for a wife to be more educated, more biblically savvy, more wise, more intelligent, etc. But the man is still the head of the home. It is still his responsibility to lead his family to the throne of grace. It has nothing to do with skills, smarts, gifts, abilities. It has to do with the Word of God and what God says about how things are.


4) Sarah [reference to "Sarah" here is to Sarah Hodges, a participant in the prior discussion who knows Pastor Wilson to whom the questions were originally directed] was fairly sure they would not forbid membership in all cases, "And I am pretty darn sure that it is a case by case basis. I bet you a sum of money that if a woman came to CREC wanting to join alone, and her husband was a member of the local Catholic church, she would not be told to go worship with her husband... she'd be welcomed with wide open arms. "

I don't know who Sarah is, but again, it depends. We wouldn't automatically let a woman in this situation join our church. We might very well send her back to worship with her husband in the Catholic church. We would strongly advise her not to sin while doing so, but to do it in a very unobtrusive way. Don't cause a scene, don't cause a ruckus. The goal being to win her husband through quiet and chaste behavior (1 Peter 3).

4con) I then gave some scenarios:
a) The local Mormon church
b) The local Lutheran Church (liberal)
c) The local Lutheran Church (conservative)
d) Local PCUSA church
e) Local OPC church
f) Local CREC church which the woman absolutely refuses to attend and the husband does not have the session's permission to abandon (recently married)

It would be the same in all of these situations. I don't understand (f). Each one of these would differ a little bit from the others. For example, the Mormon church is not, in any sense, a Christian church. So, how long the woman stayed there to worship (2 Kings 5:18) would vary from situation to situation. The best thing would be that she would win her husband to Christ or to a higher calling in Christ by how she lives in front of him.

But there might be situations where we would let her join immediately.

5) Sarah asserted that "They just think that is the more biblical way of doing things."
However she couldn't identify where Wilson saw the doctrine that the bible does talk about the church as a collection of families rather than a collection of believers?

There doesn't appear to be a question here.

The Bible clearly talks about 3 areas of government (church, family, civil). It also talks about individuals. It is our contention that when the Bible talks about individuals that it always assumes that they are in some sort of relationship to other people. And when those other people are related in one of the particular governmental relationships they are to treat one another in particular ways related to those governments. And these are always loving and submissive.

Here are a few passages that talk about households. Notice how important they are to the functioning of the churches around them: Jn. 4:53; Acts 16:31, 34; 18:8; Rom. 16:10; 1 Co. 1:11, 16; 16:15; 2 Tim. 1:16; 3:6; 4:19; Tit. 1:11; Heb. 11:7. And this doesn't even begin to point out how central the family is to the Old Testament or to the teaching on how to live in the family. To say that the family has nothing to do with the church is sort of funny. It seems to me, I could be wrong, that everywhere the Bible tells us how to live as individuals it also, somewhere close by, tells us how to live as families. And we do it all as members of Christ's body the church.

Notice that I have no problem with talking about individuals, here I am simply pointing out that the household, because we live in covenant with our family members, is central to our lives as Christians and this is done in the church.

6) Finally on issues on discipline do all CREC churches have to respect each other's discipline absolutely or do they have appellate rights?

They can discuss what is going on and either respect the other's discipline or reject it. There is nothing written anywhere that decrees how we work together in these situations. We would be very careful before overturning another church's discipline. But this would be with any other church, not just CREC churches.

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This interview continues here.

12 comments:

Cindy said...

I understand that the purpose of posing the questions to CREC pertained to matters of church discipline and membership; however, I am amazed at how the importance of the covenant community communicated in the responses. I'm impressed that a representative from the CREC responded to them and honor them for their efforts.

I am disappointed but not surprised however in the overtone of the responses listed here, as the virtue and capabilities of the subordinates discussed herein hinge upon a human superior as a type of mediator. Especially concerning the question regarding the respective moral attributes of a father and son, this paradigm does not appear to acknowledge that a subordinate can transcend his progenitor in virtue or gift by God's providence, as these factors seem predetermined. Likewise, it is implied that a "better" home and upbringing produces a "better" product. This may be an oversight or deemed as obvious, odd occurance that should go without mentioning.

These seem as discouraging limits upon expectation of individuals and esteem of God's providence that gifts many with the ability to transcend their origins and circumstances, as it prefers the esteem, intervention and planning of man. It reminds me of "what good can come from Nazareth?"

The Apostle Paul wrote that God uses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. As a Reformed ministry, I would have expected an overriding message of God's ways as higher than our own rather than a limited, somewhat programmed worldview based on human understanding. The great blessing that I enjoyed as a result of the message of God's true providence was the freedom in knowing that He has ordered the steps of all in such a way to require that which He desires of us: faith. The unfolding of the future is something marvelously and unpredictably beyond us so that faith might continue to grow in us as we follow after the Lord.

Again, it might be an oversight given the subject matter, but there seems to be a dimension of appreciation for the unseen hand of God missing in what's written here. It leaves me with a lingering melacholy as it seems so scripted, formulated and ordinary. (Although those terms aren't nearly perspicacious enough, but are in the ball park.) Something "etherial" is missing for me and does not seem holistic enough for my preference. But I don't attend a CREC church.

I'm very grateful, CD Host, that you pursued these questions to obtain more satisfying answers. Again, I am grateful to the CREC for responding to them.

Cindy said...

And, obviously, in matters of discipline, one does act as a superior and mediator, called upon to discern matters. So the question of the father and son give me more pause than the issue of admitting a wife without her husband for membership. The membership issue gives me more pause than the matters of discipline. This does, of course, presume that the investigation into the matters preceding the discipline were conducted properly and without deceit. It also presumes that those in leadership qualify morally and Scripturally for their station, demonstrating excellent character. (Often in "problematic" church discipline actions, the investigation and leadership's character poses as much or more of a difficult dilemma than the actual matter requiring intervention.)

Jen said...

Fascinating! I love the question and answer format, and I am truly impressed with Mike Lawyer’s willingness to engage in conversation with you.

One question I had here was whether the voting issue pertained only to church issues or whether the women of the CREC were permitted to vote in civil elections. If the former, I personally have no problems with head-of-household voting as one vote per household. Churches should still function as households, not individuals, although if there are individuals, for whatever reason, it appears that their vote as a household still counts.

I do have another question about this household voting then. Do the men discuss any of these decisions with their “household” before they vote? If this is considered representative voting, are the household members themselves allowed to share their opinions with the head of the household before he votes, or are the men’s business meetings secret and the issues secret? IOW, are the issues known ahead of time?

Mike Lawyer: “Discipline is not for the censure of the one being disciplined, it is for the restoration of the one being disciplined. It is never to be seen as a punitive action, it is always a cleansing and purifying action. It is meant to protect and purify the church and to bring the sinner to his senses and back to Christ.”

I wonder what this looks like in real life. How is it walked out? There have been discipline issues in this church, so this should be reality, not just “vision.” This is certainly the correct biblical response, but I would be interested to know HOW it works.

Lawyer: “Whenever you hear that someone is supposed to submit themselves to you, your immediate response should be fear and trembling and a diligent search to see who you should be submitting to.”

Accountability. Maybe some of his friends should read this interview. :-)

Great article, CD. Thanks.

Fat Souls said...

I thought I'd post a short comment to Cindy's and to Jen's posts. First, the context of my answers does not in any way abrogate the working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of family members. Of course God can create gems out of sand stone if he wants to. My comments were addressed to the ordinary, normal family situations in the church. The Bible makes promises for families that are run in certain ways and we live our lives trusting that God will do what he says. If he chooses to work miraculously as we work in the mundane, that's wonderful and we praise the Lord for that.

With regard to transcending origins and circumstances, I made no comments about this at all. We believe that everyone should strive with everything in them to walk with God in a way that honors God as God. This means that we do everything in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and for his glory. When this happens, God is blessed and people transcend their parents in every way conceivable. This is why we've started Christian schools and colleges. We believe each generation, brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, can and should far surpass the previous generation in terms of service to God and man.

God does what God wants and there are many areas of life where we have no idea what that is or where it came from (Deut. 29:29). But God has given us his word so that we know what the mind of God is in many situations and principially in every situation. It may take some maturity and wisdom, but generally we know how to live godly lives because God has revealed it to us in his word (cf. 2 Pet. 1:3-4). So, my answers do not ignore or pretend that God is not sovereign; they establish that he is lord over all.

Now for the practical questions: In a godly home the head of the home will love his wife and children. This means that when the church has an upcoming meeting he (if it is the he) will discuss the issues with his family and gather every shred of insight and wisdom from his wife and children that he can. This will be the case with most of the decisions he makes on behalf his family, so there’s nothing new here.

One other point is that in Christ Church the only things the heads of households vote on are elders and deacons. The Elders gather input from the heads of households at monthly meetings and then they make other decisions on behalf of the church.

Finally, a few years ago one of the wives in the church left her husband and moved back east where she engaged in a very immoral lifestyle. The church, in the end, excommunicated her for her sin. A few months later the woman was convicted of her sin and repented. She wrote us a letter confessing her sin and making her desires known to be restored to fellowship. We invited her to move back to Moscow and to restore her relationship with her husband and family, which she did. When she came back, just as we had read a notice of her excommunication to the congregation, we read a letter of reacceptance to the congregation when she returned. There was great rejoicing and cheering and it took a while to restore the order of the worship service. She was restored to full fellowship and membership in good standing. This kind of thing has happened several times in the life of our church.

Oh, one more thing: Which friends are you referring to?

Fat Souls said...

I should also add to this that I am not a representative of the CREC. Part of what this means is that the CREC is not one of those lock step denominations that have a really fat book of order to lug around. Each church has its own fat book and each church does things a little bit differently. The safest thing to know in my answers is that this is how Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho does things.

CD-Host said...

Mike --

Glad you decided to join in! Welcome. OK I've been discussing this with Dave and Sarah on the FV and Catholicism. The thing that surprised me about your answer was the part about sending the woman back. If you don't think it unreasonable of me to press the issue....

It seems to me from my reading of
* Jesus with his emphasis on duty to God / hom over duty to society and family
* to Thelca which urges woman to leave their fathers to join virginity cults and eventually became the convent system
* to virginity cults of the 4th century
* middle ages where there are many female saints that abandon their families (including husbands) to join convents or become chaste servants of god
* church's advocacy of spiritual marriage

and on and on Christianity has always preached that duty to church and God comes before duty to family. It seemed like the doctrine, of a wife remaining in a church to support family unity over obedience goes against this tradition and their reading. Given how strongly CREC supports tradition how would you respond?

Jen said...

Mr. Lawyer, I did not expect you to answer my questions here. Thank you so much. Your willingness to engage us tells me a lot about you.

Thank you for sharing how the men speak with their families before voting at a business meeting. I came from a church where the men's business meetings were secretive and the rest of the family did not know what was happening.

If you'd like to know why I was so interested in your discipline procedures, you can click on my name and look at the upper right-hand corner of my blog.

Can you explain one more thing, then? When you treat someone like a "heathen and a publican," what does that look like? And are the children shunned as well?

CD-Host said...

My next question is regarding attendance vs. membership. Given the fairly strong rules regarding membership for non-HOH are they allowed to attend if their HOH does not accompany them or would there be restrictions there as well. That is I'm asking about the status of woman or young adults that wish to regularly attend and participate even though they cannot join.

Lawrence said...

It seemed like the doctrine, of a wife remaining in a church to support family unity over obedience goes against this tradition and their reading.
If I may, these are not mutually exclusive this unity and obedience, at least in this case. Assuming a church adheres to (as in lives out) the ecumenical creeds (Apostles, Nicene, & Athanasian) they are Christian and orthodox. Granted there is some denominational bickering that occurs with all fallen men, but the essentials of the faith - the incarnational trinitarianism is intact and I would not see a conflict between obeying God and attending with her husband. Now, if you are throwing in the Mormons, Moonies, or Jehovah's Witness then you are getting into all new territory. But most Protestants, the Romans or the Easterns can pretty easily be seen as orthodox Christian churches.

As per church discipline: all church discipline is (or "is to be") restorative in nature. We are to treat the excommunicant as a publican and heathen, not a leper. Jesus evangelized the publicans and heathens and called them to repentance. So should we, and that kinda requires talking to them.

Just an Anglican passing through...

CD-Host said...

Lawrence --

I'm not sure you are addressing the issue. The argument being made is that a woman can't have a separate calling from her husband. To quote Mike from part 2, "So if Mr. Smith tells his wife that he wants her to stay at home and teach their children how to love God and serve him forever but she wants to go and be a muckety muck at the local hardware store, she will be in sin if she leaves the home to muck about; even if she claims that it is God's will. It is not God's will to go against what God has clearly laid out in his word. It is God's will to do what God specifically says, which in this case is to do what her husband has said." Basically he is categorically ruling out the possibility that a wife could have a calling that the husband is: unaware of, unsupportive of. There are a host of Christian traditions that hold to the opposite opinion and what I was saying was I wanted to verify that Mike was in fact making the claim that appeared in part 2. The trinitarian stuff doesn't really address the key issue.

Lawrence said...

I was addressing #4 which specifically mentions church membership and attendance of a wife with or apart from her husband and in no way (at least in this entry) mentions situations of employment.

Here is the section:
4) Sarah [reference to "Sarah" here is to Sarah Hodges, a participant in the prior discussion who knows Pastor Wilson to whom the questions were originally directed] was fairly sure they would not forbid membership in all cases, "And I am pretty darn sure that it is a case by case basis. I bet you a sum of money that if a woman came to CREC wanting to join alone, and her husband was a member of the local Catholic church, she would not be told to go worship with her husband... she'd be welcomed with wide open arms. "

I don't know who Sarah is, but again, it depends. We wouldn't automatically let a woman in this situation join our church. We might very well send her back to worship with her husband in the Catholic church. We would strongly advise her not to sin while doing so, but to do it in a very unobtrusive way. Don't cause a scene, don't cause a ruckus. The goal being to win her husband through quiet and chaste behavior (1 Peter 3).

4con) I then gave some scenarios:

a) The local Mormon church
b) The local Lutheran Church (liberal)
c) The local Lutheran Church (conservative)
d) Local PCUSA church
e) Local OPC church
f) Local CREC church which the woman absolutely refuses to attend and the husband does not have the session's permission to abandon (recently married)


It would be the same in all of these situations. I don't understand (f). Each one of these would differ a little bit from the others. For example, the Mormon church is not, in any sense, a Christian church. So, how long the woman stayed there to worship (2 Kings 5:18) would vary from situation to situation. The best thing would be that she would win her husband to Christ or to a higher calling in Christ by how she lives in front of him.

But there might be situations where we would let her join immediately.

CD-Host said...

I understood the section being addressed. What I wasn't sure of was how the creedal stuff fit in. Calling here is being used for religious calling. Its entirely possible that people have different callings within the same religious organization with no difference in theology at all. For example a person called to a secular life and another to a be a missionary.