- Acts 20:28-31
In our Christmas letter to family and friends last month I explained briefly that the year 2012 had brought some major changes in the life of Lighthouse Community Church. I shared that Lighthouse left the Reformed Church in America and became a non-denominational congregation. One person who received our letter asked me to explain why we left the RCA, because being part of an RCA congregation that I served previously for seven years, they had not heard anything from their leadership about what was going on in the denomination. I have been struggling since receiving her question with what I should share. Knowing that some will imagine my motives for writing what I am about to write, I hesitated doing so, but after reading the latest of what is happening at Western Seminary in Holland, Michigan, I feel compelled to answer the questions that have been raised as to why we left, for the reason described in the verses quoted above.
Paul was speaking to the Elders from the church in Ephesus, and he was warning them about false teachers and reminding them of their responsibility as shepherds to protect the flock that God had entrusted to their care. To do otherwise would be to dishonor Christ and to fail in the task of guarding the flock from serious danger in doctrinal error. Doctrine is not something only for seminary students, it is the foundational teaching of truth upon which the true Church of Jesus Christ is built (I Timothy 3:15). If the Elders of a congregation allow false teaching to occur they are ultimately responsible for the souls of those who are led astray and deceived! There is no greater responsibility than guarding the sheep and protecting them from false teachers.
The ultimate reasons for our decision to leave the Reformed Church in America were, 1) our growing conviction that denominationalism separates the body of Christ by placing "labels" upon truth, rather than just proclaiming, "Thus says the Lord!", and 2) the acceptance of false teaching within the denomination, shown by the refusal to discipline those who were teaching contrary to Scripture. Ultimately, it came down to the authority of the Word of God - "Does God really say ... ?" The latest example (but not the only one) was/is the discussion concerning homosexuality. Since before 2006 the leadership of Lighthouse attempted to call the denomination to affirm its position (something that the General Synod in 2012 did by a narrow margin), and to discipline those who taught anything contrary to God's revealed will. The existence of "Room for All," a group within the RCA openly advocating for the acceptance of those openly and without repentance practicing the sin of homosexuality, and their support from pastors, elders and congregations, without any form of discipline in any Classis (a regional group of congregations), including the one we were members of, made it clear that while the "official position" of the denomination said one thing, in practice, other things were and are being tolerated.... the flock was not being protected!
Believing that God calls us to protect the body under our care, those who are confessing members of Lighthouse Community Church, we proposed an overture from our Classis to General Synod again in 2010. This overture proposed a change in the Book of Church Order that would require those who taught false doctrine to be disciplined. This should not have been necessary if the denomination stood firmly on the authority of God's Word, for the Bible already requires the elders to do so, but since that was not happening, this was an attempt to put it in writing in the Book of Church Order. The overture barely passed our Classis (51-48) and the response of General Synod in 2010 was to defeat the overture by a 4 to 1 margin. The reason given was that the Book of Church Order was not the place to make such a statement, even though the previous General Synod had stated that there should not be any changes made in the Book of Church Order until there had been more "dialogue" on the subject - a dialogue that began in 2006 and had been going on for four years.
In the fall of 2010 the leadership of Lighthouse again attempted to bring the subject up and encouraged the leadership of every congregation in our Classis to withhold payments to the various levels of the denominational structure until the stated biblical position of the church was upheld through biblical discipline. We did our best to attempt to inform the leadership of other congregations of what we had become aware of, but we were met with anger, frustration and accusations (though no one disputed the facts we presented), and following several meetings with the leadership of Classis, congregational meetings, much prayer and discussion, the leadership and congregation voted overwhelmingly to leave the denomination and to follow God's leading to become a nondenominational congregation, believing that we could serve and glorify God more completely, without the hindrance of having to explain to people why we were part of a denomination that was not standing on God's Word in all matters.
Since that time (we left our building in June, 2012, after the Classis claimed ownership of it), God has blessed in amazing ways ... but the purpose of this blog is to explain our position and to call the Elders and others in leadership in other congregations and other denominations to take seriously their responsibility to protect the flock from error. This is not about declaring that we were right and that others were wrong. God knows our hearts. Our concern, MY concern, is for the sheep under our care, for brothers and sisters in Christ who are not hearing what is going on from their leaders, and for those who are seeking Christ, who are being led astray by false teaching. There is so much that has happened in denominations like the RCA in the past fifteen to twenty years that people do not realize. In 1996 a paper was presented and passed by General Synod of the Reformed Church in America that stated that Jesus is the only way to eternal life ... BUT, because God is sovereign, we can't say for sure that He will not save those who have not confessed Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Following that, an overture was presented and passed that would have required every pastor to affirm that faith in Jesus Christ is the ONLY way to receive eternal life. After much discussion, it did pass at General Synod, but it was not ratified by half of the Classes in the denomination! Fast forward to the present, after seven years of dialogue and no conclusions regarding what the Bible says about homosexuality ... General Synod 2012 barely passed a statement affirming that the practice of homosexuality is sin ... BUT now a seminary professor at Western Seminary in Holland, Michigan, who is also an appointed General Synod professor, has written a book that turns upside down the teaching of Scripture that practicing homosexuality is sin, in the same way that lust and adultery and other heterosexual sins are sin. The author re-interprets Scripture in such a way that monogamous homosexual relationships are acceptable and he is teaching these things to students for ministry. Another professor, at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, has been teaching the same for many years, without any serious repercussions or discipline. The wife of the Director of Social Witness for the RCA is the executive director of Room for All. And where is the outcry? Instead, the leadership of Lighthouse Community Church was charged with failure to obey the Book of Church Order in leading our congregation to vote to leave the denomination, and I was charged with disobedience to my ordination vows in failing to be loyal to the RCA. My response, then and now, was "We must obey God rather than men!" (Acts 5:29).
Elders are called to protect the flock! The only place we have to stand is the authority of God's Word. In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus spoke in His Sermon on the Mount about those who hear His Word and put it into practice. These build their house upon the rock. As the song says, "All other ground is sinking sand." Too many in leadership in congregations are not protecting the flock. In defense of some Elders, too many pastors have far too much control in their congregations and they are not informing their leadership of what is going on in the "structures" of their denominations. Leaders and people need to be aware of these things, but it seems that many have been deceived by the "love everybody" mentality within the visible church. True love means confronting error and sin, it means holding one another accountable, it means warning those who stray from God's truth and loving people enough to confront sin. It is not often pleasant to do so, but it is necessary. Not one of us is perfect and we need each other to show grace and forgiveness. But again, grace is not a license to sin. Leaving people who claim to be brothers and sisters in Christ in bondage to sin is not love.
Paul writes to the Galatians, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. ... You were called to be free. BUT do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love" (Galatians 5:1,13). We don't "hate" those who are living a sinful lifestyle, rather, in love we call them to repentance, to experience the freedom only Jesus can bring. We, too, are sinners, saved by grace. We are all in need of God's love, grace and forgiveness; but allowing people to live in known sin brings condemnation and it leads others in the body astray. Jesus Christ came to pay the penalty for our sins, and also to redeem us, to conform us to His image (Romans 8:29, 12:1-2).
There is much more that could and perhaps should be said. If you or anyone has any questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to answer your questions or to help you find the information necessary to inform others. We know that many believers (including many in congregations in the RCA) stand with us and are committed to sound biblical teaching, but are not being informed and are not being protected by the false teaching that has infiltrated the highest levels of education and church government within their denominations.
Elders are called and appointed and empowered by the very Spirit of God and have the most serious responsibility of any people on the face of the earth, so let me end this entry with the same words with which I began ... to my brothers who are overseers in CHRIST's Church ...
"Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!"
- Acts 20:28-31