Celebrating God’s Goodness in Our History
Immanuel Orthodox Reformed Church, Jordan
With the celebration of God’s goodness to us as a congregation over the years of our existence together, it is appropriate for posterity’s sake also to reflect on the reasons for our being established as a congregation.
Leaving a congregation and a denomination of churches, in which many of us were brought to faith, is certainly not something that could ever be taken lightly. However, in the Christian Reformed denomination, it was becoming obvious for some time already that the once robust commitment to our biblical reformed heritage was no longer what it once was. Recognizing this, in the fall of 1991, the leadership of Maranatha CRC of St. Catharines committed to a process of presenting to the congregation, a series of discussion papers in an effort to educate the congregation and equip the brothers and sisters for a biblical response to the errors of the day. When this procedure met with opposition in the Maranatha CRC congregation, it became apparent that it would not be possible for the Council to reach a consensus concerning the need for reformation within the denomination. As a result, on Dec. 26, 1991, a group of men, members of Maranatha CRC, met to discuss their concerns with the Christian Reformed Church as a denomination and the lack of decisive leadership in their own Church Council. These brothers appointed a steering committee to convey their concerns to the Maranatha Council, making clear their intent to leave (secede from) the CRC.
What brought these men to come to such a drastic conclusion?
The struggle in the CRC, in the 1970’s and ‘80’s, was not limited to the local area, but was denomination wide. It could be characterized as between liberal and conservative elements with a large body of undecided or perhaps unconcerned church members in between. Simply put, the controversy was, how do the scriptures apply to the issues that arise in modern society?
Three main areas of discussion arose. First, how are we to understand the creation account in Genesis 1-11? Second, what is the role of women in the church; and thirdly, how does a numbers oriented approach to missions and church growth fit in with the doctrines of grace? At issue was the authority of Scripture. The heart of the matter was one of accepting the foundational nature of the Word of God for the life and faith of every believer.
The men who met on Dec. 26, 1991 recognized that staying in the Christian Reformed Church would be impossible. The denomination you belong to has a powerful influence on your faith and that of your children. To continue, as conservative members of a denomination that was drifting towards unfaithfulness and refusing to heed the warning cries, was no longer an option. Being re-established with a return to the faith of our fathers was necessary for the sake of the children entrusted to us, and for the sake of a faithful witness to the world.
The group of concerned members appointed a Steering Committee of four to address the Maranatha Council on their behalf. The four were Andy Langendoen, Bill Luchies, Herb W. Sinke and John Veldhuizen. Council was asked to take positive action in dealing with the concerns raised, to continue their announced plan to keeping the congregation informed of developments within the denomination, and to make a decision to lead the congregation out of the CRC. Council responded that they intended to continue their studies, but were not prepared to leave the denomination. On Jan. 21, 1992, the group met to discuss how to proceed and they decided to begin working towards the establishment of a new independent congregation. A letter of intent was drafted and sent to the Council of Maranatha CRC. It conveyed disappointment with their decision and made a declaration as follows:
“We disagree with these decisions and herewith declare that for ourselves and our families, we have decided to secede. The decision of Synod 1990, regarding women in office, is not of itself the reason for leaving, but it is indicative of the underlying problems. That is, the acceptance of the new hermeneutic, a low view of scripture, together with a spirit of compromise that seeks to hold together a growing plurality of direction in the CRC. We look toward a church and eventually a denominational setting where the authority of God’s Word is recognized and obeyed; a place where our children can grow in the faith of our fathers and trust in God’s Word. History has taught us that a conservative church in a liberal denomination will eventually become liberal too. We have promised in the baptism of our children to do our utmost to instruct them and cause them to be instructed in the Old and New testaments and the Articles of the Christian Faith. This will be increasingly difficult in the years ahead. Our grievances are with the CRC denomination and with the decision of Maranatha Council, not with the Maranatha Congregation. We hope and pray that the CRC will see their error and repent.”
A meeting between the Maranatha Council and the Steering Committee, on Feb. 5, 1992 helped to clarify their respective positions, but did not result in any changes. A letter similar to the one sent to the Maranatha Council was sent to all members of the Maranatha Congregation, inviting them to an information meeting to be held Feb. 13th. Both letters were signed by men representing 20 families of Maranatha. The meeting was well attended. The purpose was not to debate the issues in the CRC, but to be open with information and future options. It was clear that the intent of those in attendance was to form an independent congregation in the short term, with the long-term goal of joining an existing or forming a new reformed federation. On Feb. 27th, another meeting was held. The purpose was to officially begin the process of forming a new congregation. A “Statement of Intent’ was discussed and signed by 69 professing members of Maranatha CRC.
Those who signed the statement were invited to submit names for the new congregation. After voting, we became the Immanuel ORC. The steering committee was appointed to act on behalf of the new congregation until a Church Council could be elected. A congregational meeting was held to prepare nominations for the elections of elders and deacons, to explore options for a place of worship and to prepare a letter of intent to call John A. Bouwers. On March 16th, the Maranatha Council was informed that thirty families and ten singles planned to leave on April 5th and were asked to inform their congregation, which they did. March 26th was an important day for the new congregation. Under the supervision of the Council of Trinity ORC, elections were held for elders and deacons. Elected to the office of Elder were Stan Antonides, Al Dykema, Ed Korevaar and Joe Vuyk and elected as Deacons were Andre Langendoen and Fred Vreken. An agreement had been reached with the Seventh Day Adventist church for the use of their building for Sunday services and Tuesday night catechism classes. At the end of March, the Steering Committee met with the new Council, the initial church budget was set and the Steering Committee was then dismissed.
April 5th was the day that many had been waiting for. Rev. Tuininga of Trinity ORC took part in both services. New office bearers were installed and after the service, a brief congregational meeting was held in which the congregation extended a call to John A. Bouwers.
We include this history in humility, since we are aware that it was our God who led us in the many decisions that were required. We are also aware of the pain that resulted in the necessity of leaving a denomination and church family that was part of us for so many years. At the same time, we know those who fail to appreciate their history are bound to repeat the same mistakes. We go forward, trusting in our heavenly Father to guide and direct us in years to come.