Differences in Reformed Churches
Where I grew up, there was an NRC, CRC, FRC, Canadian Reformed, Reformed Church of North America, etc. A LOT (not all)of people from the NRC would not step foot inside any of those other reformed churches because they believed they were all easy-believers. Each of those reformed churches uses the exact same catechism and essentially believes the same things. However, there is a different emphasis in each church. It is true that the CRC, for example, believes it is ‘easier' to be saved than the NRC; however, they do NOT believe that they are going to heaven because they are good people. They believe that they need to be converted (although that word is not commonly used in the other churches). They believe that they need to accept that they are sinners, that they need a saviour, and that Jesus died for their sin if they will accept that. The difference comes that they are more willing to accept it than the NRC people are - the NRC sees this as easy-believism and that is what is extremely confusing to non-NRCers. Non-NRCers believe that we have a responsibility and the ability to make a choice (just like Adam & Eve did). The NRC also will say that we have a responsibility, but that is where I get confused because I not sure what the responsibility is if we don't have a choice? As I read through the new Testament, I don't know of any stories where Jesus left somebody confused about whether or not they were saved and yet I know many NRC folk who are just that. Or they just decide they aren't but they're going to keep going to church because maybe God will speak to them one day? Maybe you could clear up some of my confusion.
Dear confused friend,
It is easy to get confused about the many different churches which in theory all hold to the same doctrinal statements (such as the Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession and Canons of Dort). Still there are subtle or great differences between the churches’ emphasis or application of those doctrines; too many to discuss in the scope of this article. As you indicated in your question, we do easily stereotype certain churches and put labels on them that aren’t always accurate. When you then confront or discuss those finer points of doctrine with the members of those particular churches, you will discover what you have discovered, i.e. that the differences aren’t quite that easy to pinpoint in some of the denominations that are standing quite close to us.
My intention isn’t to answer the statements you made about the extent of the differences between the churches but focus on the heart of your question: what is our responsibility with regard to salvation? I agree that many are very confused and your analysis of “that they just decided to keep going to church with the hope that God will speak to them one day” is to the point.
Our responsibility is to repent from the sins God identifies through His Word and believe in His message that He will abundantly pardon us when we return to Him. (Is. 55:7; Mark 1:15; Acts 13:21) (Did you look up those verses? If not, do that first!)
There are thousands of sins in our life we don’t even see or feel but God declares His utter displeasure and anger about them in His Word. Also in your life He sees day and even at night sins and sins. Sin is transgression of His holy standards and He is “angry with the sinner every day” (Ps. 7:11) As God points these sins out in His Word (and I assume you are reading His Word every day not just for information; conscience soothing but for listening to what He is saying about you and to you!). When we see those sins what does God require from us to do? He expects us to get on our knees and to confess those sins to Him. If we don’t feel our sins, He expects us to be on our knees begging Him to show us our sins, “that which I see not teach thou me; if I have done iniquity, I will do no more.” (Job 34:32) Simply because we are dead in sin, blind for sin, deaf to His voice, doesn’t mean we are “off the hook.” It condemns us that we are like that: insensitive to this great and holy God!
The moment I see sin to be sin, I need to get back to God in confession and seeking for His pardon on all those sins. Do you ever come out of church condemned by the Word you heard? How foolish to ignore such a summon by the Judge! You would declare those people a fool who ignore the flashing lights behind them as they have broken the traffic laws! They won’t escape by ignoring it. Or those people who refuse to come to court when they are summoned to do so. They only make things worse. Yet that’s how we are all the time when it comes to God. Yes, some people say, I haven’t felt it deep enough and therefore I don’t think I need to respond. How foolish is such a response!
Our “respond-ibility” is to respond to God’s call as Judge and turn ourselves in before His throne as the guilty one. Each time we feel our conscience speak; each time the Word condemns us … each time! Even if it a hundred times a day! (Luke 17:1-4) Delaying returning will only make it worse. When the prodigal son came to himself, would it have helped him to delay to return to his father? No, he resolved to return and did return in confession (he even rehearsed it all the way). That’s exactly what David did in Ps. 32:5. When God brought home his sin (which he trying hard to ignore for a while) he resolved “I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the LORD.” (Ps. 32:5) He didn’t only resolve it; he did do it. In Ps. 51 he has recorded how he did it. I have used that Psalm countless times to confess my sins to God again and again.
But God doesn’t only bring the message of the Law to us! He also extends a personal golden scepter to us that He is “a gracious God, ready to pardon.” (Ps. 86:5) It is impossible to believe without God’s divine aid that this is true. To think that God is “ready to pardon” me, after I have sinned so enormously over and over! Yet He is and He declares it over and over to us in His holy Scriptures. He has written it personally on your forehead when you were baptized: I am the GRACE-GOD and I promise you that if you will return in the way of repentance and faith I will abundantly pardon you. Multitudes of people struggle to believe this; they conclude that God is only willing to pardon “good people or His people.” For sure, God speaks about His people in the Scripture but in the general call of the Gospel He extends to every hearer of the Gospel in this world His golden scepter of pardoning love.
Many people think they have somehow to overcome God’s unwillingness to save them so they work hard, try to do better, be humbler and holier etc. But isn’t grace sovereign? Sovereign means that He didn’t take either merit or demerit in consideration when He declared I will be merciful to whom I will be merciful. (Rom. 9) Friend, God is speaking to us in His Word and through the preaching of the Word every time when you read it or hear it. And He is saying, “Return, oh children of men, return!” Deep down many people think that God is somehow “hostile” to them and therefore they have to win Him over. The thought is blasphemous! It our unwillingness and hostility that is the problem. As He calls us and assures us in Is. 55 that when we return to Him and will abundantly pardon, do you think He means it?
The prodigal son didn’t know his father when he thought that he could never be son again and therefore begged to be “servant.” In that parable the Lord Jesus exposes exactly our darkness of understanding about God! We don’t know God either and can’t believe that He would pardon and reinstate us into the very position as sons and daughters we once enjoyed before that dreaded Fall in Paradise.
Our responsibility is therefore not only to repent but to “believe the Gospel message.” And what is that message: that He will abundantly and instantly pardon all my sins when I may exercise trust in Him. John wrote, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) God requires us to act as He acts. When someone comes to us in repentance, we are to forgive him, even if he comes seven times a day. (Luke 17:3-4). So He will also forgive even if we come seven times a day. The disciples couldn’t believe that and therefore asked, “Lord increase our faith.” (Luke 17:5)
Too many people who struggle under the burden of their sin; under the sense of the separation from God’s favor; under the condemning sentence of His holy law linger and linger before they respond to God’s call of grace. Why? Ultimately it because of unbelief in the message that He is really ready to pardon them!
You mentioned that “many people come to church hoping that God would speak to them one day.” I hope you are not one of those but let me assure you, the Lord is speaking to you each time you are in the house of God. He speaks through His servants and we are called to “hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.” Never walk out of church again thinking that God didn’t speak to you. Instead ask “Now what did He speak to me about this morning?” Never close your Bible saying, “It wasn’t for me; there is nothing in there for me.” You may not have heard it but He spoke and spoke to you!
Our responsibility in no way implies your ability; neither does your inability to respond favorably to God’s law and Gospel in any sense diminish you responsibility. Instead, focus on your responsibility while you confess and bemoan your inability. A church is erring when they teach that we have the ability to respond to God. But a church is as much in error when it diminishes our responsibility! God grant that the sharp edge of His Word is never blunted in your church by a vain appeal to God’s sovereignty. The Lord is holy and just and righteously maintain His demands.
Warmly, Pastor Vergunst