Thursday, March 12, 2015

Canadian Reformed Classis Rejects Human Evolution

Yesterday, on March 11, 2015, Classis Ontario-West of the Canadian Reformed Churches held in Kerwood, Ontario adopted an important overture regarding theistic evolution.

The official press release relates:
Classis then discussed an overture from the church of Hamilton-Providence, which proposed an amendment to Article 14 of the Belgic Confession. This addition would make explicit that Adam and Eve were created as the biological parents of all human beings, and that there were no socalled pre-Adamites or hominids. Providence’s overture contended that this change is necessary in order to counter contemporary views that attempt to harmonize Genesis 1-2 with the theories of theistic evolution. After some discussion, it was decided to adopt the overture and to submit it to the next Regional Synod East.  
The adopted proposal can be found at the church of Hamilton-Providence website; the church's pastor, Rev. Wes Bredenhof has further comments on his blog. The next Regional Synod East is currently scheduled for Nov.11, 2015. The next General Synod of the Canadian Reformed Churches is scheduled for May, 2016.

I believe that this overture is very timely. It is vital that the Canadian Reformed Churches take a clear stand against theistic evolution.

[For more on this topic, see my follow up post The Myth of the Merely Hypothetical]

The Adopted Proposal 
We propose that Synod adopt the following text for Belgic Confession article 14 to clarify our confessional and biblical stance on human origins (new wording underlined): We believe that God created the human race by making and forming Adam from dust (Gen. 2:7) and Eve from Adam’s side (Gen.2:21-22). They were created as the first two humans and the biological ancestors of all other humans. There were no pre-Adamites, whether human or hominid. God made and formed Adam after his own image…[the rest of the text remains as currently adopted.]
1. Theistic evolution is being publically taught or promoted by some members within the Canadian Reformed Churches. We will supply two separate examples of individuals doing so.  [Detailed references are cited regarding Drs. Jitse Van Der Meer and Arnold Sikkema, both members of the Reformed Academic blog].
 2. Theistic evolution is one of the most serious doctrinal challenges facing the church of Christ in our current day. It contradicts the teaching of Scripture in several places.[Gen.2:7, Gen.2:8, Gen.2:16-17, and Matt.19:4 are discussed]
3. It is also a dangerous error which threatens the gospel of Jesus Christ. The following examples will illustrate this point: [Rom.5 and 1 Cor.15, comparing the first Adam and the second Adam, Jesus Christ, are discussed. It is noted that Paul takes Gen.2:7 at face value]
4. This error did not exist in the time when the original Belgic Confession was written and could not be foreseen as being a challenge for the church today. While the statement “God created man of dust from the ground” was originally understood to mean a special and direct creation, today the possibility remains that these words can be interpreted differently. In fact, it already has been proposed that these words can be understood in a variety of ways, including some that can be reconciled with theistic evolution. In our situation, we must take what was originally implicit and make it obvious and explicit. We may also note that the error of evolution is not of recent vintage. It and versions of theistic evolution have now existed for over 150 years. Its longevity suggests that the churches have come to the point where a clear refutation is advisable. 
5. In the history leading up to the Liberation of 1944, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands adopted binding formulas regarding baptism and the covenant of grace. These formulas clearly went beyond what is required in Scripture and their binding nature contributed to the Liberation. Because of this history with unscriptural binding, we in the Canadian Reformed Churches have been averse to adopting position papers or making other doctrinally binding statements. However, in our proposal, the position being set forward is most clearly established by the express words of Scripture (see Ground 2 above) and required as a ground for several other express teachings of Scripture (see Ground 3 above). Therefore, this proposal does not impose any unscriptural binding. It simply makes clear that we stand with the express teaching of Scripture. 
6. In the Canadian Reformed Churches, doctrinal breaches have typically been dealt with on a case-by-case basis. However, because these issues are often dealt with as discipline matters at assemblies in closed session, the judgments rendered have no public standing for the churches – they are decisions typically known only to the parties involved. Even if they did have a public standing, it might be argued that the judgment only pertains to that one case. The nature of this error requires an official public response that applies across the board. 
7. Appointing a study committee on this question allows time for this false teaching to continue being propagated in our churches. This error has already been given too much time and space to grow. Official ecclesiastical action is urgently needed. 
8. There is historical precedent for this type of proposal in our heritage. We can mention three examples. [The most pertinent of these is the decision, in 1905, to modify Art.36]
9. In 2001, our closest sister-church in North America officially decided that theistic evolution is contrary to Scripture. The United Reformed Churches decided at Synod Escondido that they “reject any evolutionary teaching, including theistic evolution, concerning the origin of the earth and of all creatures.” Over the years, the Canadian Reformed Churches have expressed concerns about the tolerance of the Framework Hypothesis in the United Reformed Churches. Deputies have repeatedly been mandated by our synods to indicate our concern that the United Reformed Churches allow for interpretations of Genesis (like the Framework Hypothesis) which make room for an old earth. We share that concern. Meanwhile, our federation is facing the teaching of theistic evolution, something not permitted in the United Reformed Churches. It is incongruous for us to have our concerns about the Framework Hypothesis in the URC whilst we tolerate the teaching of theistic evolution in our own churches. 
10. Biologos is a major force promoting theistic evolution in North America. Biologos recently received nearly nine million dollars in grant money from the Templeton Foundation. Well-funded, Biologos will continue to attempt to influence Reformed and Presbyterian churches throughout our continent. We need to anticipate the effects of this, also in our own churches.

1. This proposal was adopted unanimously by the Council of Providence Canadian Reformed Church on January 26, 2015.
2. It is hereby forwarded to Classis Ontario West March 11, 2015 for consideration, per Church Order article 30.
3. If this Classis Ontario West is agreeable, it is then forwarded to the next Regional Synod East.
 4. If the next Regional Synod East is agreeable, it is then forwarded to Synod 2016 for consideration and, if agreeable, adoption.
5. According to the Rules for Ecclesiastical Fellowship, major changes in our confessions require discussion and consultation with our sister churches. We believe that this proposed change is a clarification, rather than a major change. However, if Synod 2016 believes that this is a major change, the adoption can only be provisional. In such case, Synod 2016 would mandate our ecumenical relations committees to communicate our proposed change to our sister churches and solicit feedback for Synod 2019. With that feedback in hand, a final decision could be rendered at Synod 2019. 
We fully recognize that this proposal is extraordinary, at least in our own immediate history as Canadian Reformed Churches. However, we are firmly convinced that the challenge before us is a threat so dire that it calls for action of this momentous nature. As office bearers in Christ’s church we have sincerely committed ourselves to opposing, refuting, and preventing doctrinal errors. Our prayer is that the Canadian Reformed Churches will officially recognize that theistic evolution is a false teaching which threatens the gospel of Jesus Christ. 


JohnV said...

Dr. Byl:
Thank you for posting this news release. I'm sure this will receive much study in the time leading up to the upcoming synods.

On first reading it seems to me that nothing is added that does not come from Scripture. The only reference outside of the Bible is that of forebears to Adam; and that is simply refuting an error, not saying anything new. The error has hung around long enough to warrant the refutation.

In regard to these two examples of men teaching or promoting theistic evolution, and also Dr. VanBekkum's teaching on Joshua, do I as a member have any obligation to them while they do so? Even if they're office-bearers? Am I not subscribed to Sola Scriptura as a member of the church, and not to men's conclusions and opinions however scholarly they might be? I mean, all they have done it take their respective favourite texts out of the Bible by equating them with their opinions. They have the Bible less three chapters (the RA teachers), or the Bible less one book (Dr. VanBekkum). That's not the whole Bible, so they're disqualified from representing the Bible on behalf of Christ, are they not?

Those who wish to introduce theistic evolution while in office, they're really just abrogating their responsibilities to one part of the Bible, and therefore the whole Bible, and thereby disqualifying themselves from their offices. Since we have already in arts. v and vii, it seems to me they are already disqualified. The offices aren't for blazing new trails.

But I'm not asking, "Do we really need to amend art. xiv?" It still refutes an error; and my initial response is that I am in agreement with that. I just maintain that the error is that of arbitrarily imposing upon God's Word, and asserting that the plain reading is equally an imposition by men instead of a safety default, instead of a determined refusal to subject God's Word to arbitrary interpretation.

Just my initial thoughts.

Arnold Sikkema said...

The overture contains a number of false allegations about me. See for the details. In addition, one can read the reflections of Rev. Bill De Jong, a delegate at that classis, at

john byl said...

Hi Arnold
Thanks for your comment. I have read your defense, but I doubt whether it will alleviate concerns regarding your stance on human evolution.

Yes, you affirm “the special and direct creation of Adam by God”. But you also you affirm evolution: “I do explain the undeniable fact that the biological theory of evolution is the scientific community’s current prevailing theory which has not yet been falsified, and which has significant descriptive [what] and explanatory [how] power within its proper (biological, scientific) limits, and as a scientific theory it makes no comment on the way in which God’s activity is perceived in the processes.”

Put together, this seems to imply that, although God was directly involved in a special way in creating Adam, God also used evolution, at least for Adam’s biological body.

To clarify your position, please address the questions:

1. Was Adam directly created from inanimate dust, and Eve from his side, as per Gen.2?
2. Did Adam have any animal ancestry?
3. Did all other humans, past and present, descend from Adam and Eve?
4. Were there human-like (i.e., biologically similar) creatures before Adam? Co-existent with Adam?
5. Since evolutionary theory holds that humans evolved from animal ancestors, and that there never was a human population of less than several thousand people, and since this clearly contradicts Scripture, does this not falsify evolutionary theory?