It’s been almost 4 weeks since the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa has made a significant change in its position regarding homosexuality, though it seems this was only a rubber stamping of a popular view in the denomination
Not Learning From History
The Dutch Reformed Church had a hard time in South Africa. As the Boer’s decided to move north in search of British free areas, they did not receive any commendation from the Synod in the Netherlands. In fact no DRC (Dutch Reformed Church) ministers went with them, and this group was left with no real theologically trained men, but they tried to make due. Eventually however things settled. After the NP (National Party) took power, and at times before, a sinister form of racism against black South African’s took root. Fuelled by nationalism and prejudice, the culture of Afrikaans South Africa accepted the system of Apartheid, essentially enforcing a system of exclusion and racial segregation pioneered years earlier by the British. The DRC in South Africa had to make a decision on how it was going to respond to the culture, and sadly the DRC sided with the culture and stood firmly against the Scripture.
Ironically the DRC who taught the Heidelberg Catechism to their children chose to ignore it, it beautifully says,
“Q. What is God’s will for you in the sixth commandment? A. I am not to belittle, hate, insult, or kill my neighbor— not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture, and certainly not by actual deeds— and I am not to be party to this in others; rather, I am to put away all desire for revenge. I am not to harm or recklessly endanger myself either.[i]”
The church was sharply criticized at the time by the international Dutch Reformed Community, since they felt it was taking an unbiblical stance. At its core the issue was that the DRC was more concerned with the smiles of the particular culture that filled its seats and sat in government. Subsequent to 1994 the church has lost much credibility, and has been at large a denomination in decline.
It would seem that in an attempt to rescue itself from irrelevancy and once again grow their numbers, they have once more allowed culture to dictate their stance. Contemporary western culture has had no problems with a great number of issues related to sexuality, although they still kind of hold off on adultery, bestiality and paedophilia. In South Africa this is felt rather significantly, especially since much of the baggage of having discriminated wrongly in the past, creates a corporate type of guilt that makes this issue emotionally charged.
Having not learned from the mistakes of a previous generation who bowed to the cultural sway, the DRC is yet again allowing the dominant culture to effect its decisions on this issue. How long will it be before they are yet again caught with egg on their face as culture continues to vacillate; let our prayer be that it is before the return of our Lord, for those who teach His Word will be given a stricter judgement[ii].
Betraying the Creed
As a Christian who loves God’s Word I find great help and joy from the three standards of unity (Heidelberg catechism, Canons of Dort and Belgic Confession). These form an explanation of what the DRC believes the Bible teaches. The issue we are discussing is not one of orthopraxy (correct practise), it is Orthodoxy (correct belief). The Belgic Confession purposefully proclaims regarding Scripture:
We believe that this Holy Scripture contains the will of God completely… no one— even an apostle or an angel from heaven, as Paul says—ought to teach other than what the Holy Scriptures have already taught us. For since it is forbidden to add to the Word of God, or take anything away from it… Therefore we must not consider human writings— no matter how holy their authors may have been— equal to the divine writings; nor may we put custom, nor the majority, nor age, nor the passage of times or persons, nor councils, decrees, or official decisions above the truth of God, for truth is above everything else. For all human beings are liars by nature and more vain than vanity itself. Therefore we reject with all our hearts everything that does not agree with this infallible rule, as we are taught to do by the apostles when they say, “Test the spirits to see whether they are from God,” and also, “Do not receive into the house or welcome anyone who comes to you and does not bring this teaching.[iii]”
The Scriptures stance regarding homosexuality is quite clear, despite clergy in the DRC attempting the same type of exegetical gymnastics as men in their place did in the Old South Africa regarding race.
The word Reformed in their name should mean that they hold to ‘Sola Scriptura’ (Scripture alone is our authority), however they have demonstrated that they actually hold to “Scriptura et Humanitas” (Culture and Scripture are our authority). At least the Roman church has church tradition and scripture on par, where the tradition may be more Biblically informed, but here we have a new system, where Scripture and culture inform our practice, and where they disagree the Synod will decide.
Dutch Reformed Church moderator Nelis Janse van Rensburg has explained that the move is important because, “We are a movement for all people. We are reaching out to every person and we believe in the dignity of every human being.[iv]”. This is a curious statement… does the DRC reach out to and appoint adulterers to positions in the church? Surely they are marginalised, rejected by families and looked down on. Furthermore the passages regarding bestiality could just as swiftly be gotten around using the same hermeneutic the DRC used to get around passages regarding homosexuality. Do people who engage in these things not have dignity?
The Scripture teaches every human being has dignity, and this dignity is not based on how holy or unholy they are. This dignity is due to the fact that people are made in the Imago Dei (Image of God), not because they hold to a particular sexual practise. We may say the female genital mutilation is wrong, and people who are perpetrators of this are wrong, but they have dignity as humans. Furthermore the Belgic Confession referenced earlier clearly says, “For all human beings are liars by nature and more vain than vanity itself.” Saying that people are born sinners is very consistent with the Canons of Dort, however it also teaches that these people can be justified by faith in Jesus Christ; it does not teach we can continue in sin and be justified at the same time.
What of the Denomination
Readers must make up their own mind regarding the DRC. However this denomination has been making the same errors for just short of 100 years now. From where I sit they are twofold:
1) The DRC no longer holds the Scriptures as its final authority in practise.
2) The DRC is no longer able to teach the nations to observe all that Jesus commanded, or bring about obedience of the faith among the gentiles, since it now regards the cultures view of morality as the correct one, and thus cannot call for repentance.
If you are wrestling with the issue of homosexuality and Scripture there are lots of well written scholarly articles. I have included the following debate which happened the same week as the announcement by the DRC, as well as two articles that clearly outline a defence of the historic Christian interpretation of the relevant texts
- Homosexuality: A Biblical Perspective by Gil Rugh
- Is the Bible Ambiguous ABout Homosexuality by D. Patrick Ramsey
[i] Question 105
[ii] James 3:1
[iii] Article 7