I think often of the presbyters who disagree with me. I love them and pray for them regularly. Actually, this is true of many more outside my presbytery. I am thinking of ministers and elders from other denominations whom I have grown to love and respect who have taken a different approach to government regulations and lockdowns. Some of them agree with me in principle, but for the sake of the unity of the Church they have decided to submit to their brethren. Others disagree with me in principle. Though I am deeply disappointed by the actions of these men, my esteem (for many of them) has not diminished. I believe they love the Saviour, and I am hopeful that even now despite our differences that these men remain committed to His renown.
Still, I believe they are guilty of sinful compromise. Whether they know it or not their actions have brought the name of Jesus Christ into disrepute. And though I love them, there comes a time when schism becomes necessary.
Schism is an ugly word. In some Christian circles it is the most ugly word of all. Anything to avoid division! Anything to keep the church together in some semblance of Christian unity. But at what cost?
My great concern at the moment is for those church leaders who are - in the words of Hermanus Knoop - bartering "away the liberty with which Christ had made them free."
They were bought with the blood of Christ but live no no longer as freemen. Though in some cases they are ordained ministers of the gospel, they have allowed themselves to be muzzled and even become derelict in their duties as Christ's ambassadors.
What justifies their silence, particularly when so few will speak for Christ and His kingdom? What justifies this dreadful dereliction of duties for which they must one day give an account?
One word: unity.
Everything must give way for this. Everything must be sacrificed to maintain the unity of the Church. Caesar may be allowed to intrude into the courts of King Jesus, the sheep scattered, ministers silenced, the mouths of prophets shut, and the doors of the Church of Christ literally closed, all to preserve unity.
These men clearly love the Church, but their silence and their complicity in evil is itself a betrayal of the Church they love.
They are not in danger of being called "troublers of Israel." They have made absolutely sure of that. But doesn't that just mean that they are in danger of adding their names to the list of false prophets who have healed the wounds of the people lightly, who prophesy smooth things and who, like dumb dogs, refuse to bark?
Like Hermanus Knoop in 1940 these ministers and elders are confronted with many possibilities. As he put it, "There was the possibility to yield and to capitulate to this spiritual enemy and to let rest the struggle and the warnings against this anti-Christian life and worldview under the present circumstances. That would mean desiring to save one's life. Would that be permissible to me? Even though there was plenty of truth to preach besides these things? Would it be permissible, driven by the foolish urge of self preservation - which of course is only an illusion - to permit bounds to be set to our prophetic witness?"
Similarly today, ministers are being told there is plenty of truth to preach besides these things. Surely for the sake of the unity of the Church and out of deference to a plurality of leaders it would be permissible - even wise - to "permit bounds to be set" upon their "prophetic witness."
But this is just where they are gravely mistaken. They are seeking to preserve the bond of peace, but at a terrible price. I speak not merely of the damage done to the Lord's own people but of the dishonour to Jesus Christ.
No one likes schism, but we all admit it is sometimes needed. Most of our denominations were formed through schism and schism which we now admit was sorely needed. Men did not relish such things, but for the cause of Christ and His kingdom they knew it could not be helped.
Truth must never be sacrificed for the sake of pretended unity. The crown rights of King of Jesus must never be set aside in the interests of peace. As Samuel Miller put it, "There is peace among the dead; but it is the peace of darkness, of rottenness and of desolation. From such a peace, may God of his infinite mercy preserve us."
I write here to appeal to such men. Men who share my love for the reformed confessions. I think particularly of my brethren in the NAPARC congregations. We read the same books. We have sat under the same men. Above all we cherish the same Bible. Some of you have been given eyes to see what is happening. You have watched with sorrow as the government has been allowed to meddle in the affairs of the Church. You have watched as your elders have agreed to 'bow' to Caesar, though you know such 'bowing' is wrong. You no longer gather as a congregation in person to pray, to worship, or to administer the sacraments. Preaching is now something that takes place on a screen rather than in person. And you are so committed to the unity of the Church that you neither visit Jesus in prison, in the hospital or in the home (Matthew 25).
How long? When will this end?
Most of you have justified your position in one of two ways.
You have either quoted Romans 13 (though the inspired author of that text was killed for the very kind of civil disobedience you now refuse) or you have spoken of submission to elders and the priority of Church unity. In fact, this latter argument is becoming increasingly common, particularly in our circles. I have heard it personally from men that I love and esteem... and I am sympathetic with them.
But again, I ask you, how long? Will you live-stream for another six months? A year? Five years? A decade? When - if ever - do you say "enough"? If your Romans 13 principle holds, than you have put yourself in a bit of a corner haven't you? You and your congregations are stuck just as long as the government tells you.
But what about the argument for unity and your own obligations to your consistory/session? I chose the picture (above) deliberately because I see in it an obvious paradox. No one likes to see the image of a church split in two, but the sight of the rainbow in the background changes the story doesn't it? Here is a church split over homosexuality. Sad that it came to that, but clearly unavoidable. If anyone is guilty of sinful schism in such a case it is the man who betrays the Bible's teaching regarding homosexuality, not those who leave a compromised church.
Perhaps already your defenses are up. I am comparing apples to oranges... or am I? I beg you to think.
I am not saying the two issues are the same. But I would ask you to carefully consider just how much the Church is giving up. She isn't giving up her teaching on sexuality. That is good. But isn't it possible that is what happening now is a more subtle encroachment into the rights and prerogatives of the Head of the Church and therefore that much more dangerous? Is it not true that the wolf in sheep's clothing is more dangerous than the wolf?
Consider what you have given up for the government and for the sake of the unity of the Church:
- When you meet some of you don't sing. Praise no longer awaits God in Zion.
- The house of prayer is no longer a house prayer. Your people do not meet to pray. You admit this is God's judgment and yet you can't even follow the example of your forefathers who responded to God's judgment by calling solemn assemblies to fast and pray.
- Sacraments are on hold - indefinitely.
- Pastoral visits are on hold - indefinitely. Though some of you will break the law to visit family.
- The possibility of outsiders coming into our assemblies and realizing God is among us is also on hold (1 Corinthians 14:25) - indefinitely.
- People are being turned away from church, which is to say that they are being turned away from Jesus. Though He bids them come, the elders will not let them come.
- Preaching is no longer in person. What we warned against since the onset of the internet has now been realized with the sanction of the elders.
- Sabbaths are no longer sanctified. The day is not honoured as God meant it to be honoured. At best it is a time for extended family worship.
- God's people no longer come together for Christian fellowship.
- Church decisions are no longer made simply with Bibles open. Now the instinct is to ask the government. Instead of turning to the Word of God and consulting the Head of the Church, we consult health units and godless civil leaders.