The Anglican Communion and World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), to which my EPC belongs, issued a joint report last week on “koinonia”, which comes from the Greek word κοινωνός (koinonos), meaning fellowship, communion, or participation. The report was initiated as part of the effort to renew global Anglican-Reformed dialogue, which had lapsed after a 1984 report discussing ecumenical cooperation. To that end, the report is generally weak and innocuous, and its strongest moments were when it quoted the 1984 report on baptism and Christian communion (e.g. §20-22, 40, 64).
The report refers to κοινωνός as “koinonia” throughout, rather than translate the term, which initially struck me as odd. The reaon became clear after rereading the report. Rather than treating koinonia as a definitional communion with God and his people, koinonia is a pseudo-substance that, as a gift or challenge (§7), served as an invitation into communion with God, and is a gift of God to creation, whether or not people are joined with him in redemption. If κοινωνός was translated, rather than transliterated as a distinct term, the weakness would have been made clear. For instance, 2 Peter 1:4 describes those with faith in Christ as κοινωνοὶ, (koinonoi, “participating” or “communing”) in the divine nature. Peter’s meaning is simple: salvation is union with God, which can be describe as partaking, fellowship, or communion (koinonia) with him. “Koinonia” is not a gift independent from God, albeit one that comes from him, but a way of describing the character of what it means to be united to him. This is what the Apostles’ Creed means when it references the “communion of saints” (cf. Heidelberg Catechism 55)…
From Christianity Today, “Last November, when the General Assembly of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) took Sunday off for worship and relaxation near Jakarta, Indonesia, a group of top leaders did something different. We got in a van and traveled to the offices of an Indonesian Muslim youth organization.” That about says it all, doesn’t it?
I recently was teaching through the 10 Commandments using the Westminster Catechisms, and discovered something interesting in relation to the 6th commandment (“You shall not murder”). This commandment requires us to endeavor to preserve the lives of other people (WLC 155, WSC 68). What I found intriguing was a text, Deuteronomy 22:8, cited to support this claim, “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it.” Jewish roofs were flat so people could walk on them, and a parapet around the edges would prevent people from falling off and becoming injured.
What was interesting was the connection by the Westminster Assembly of this zoning regulation to the 6th commandment, an exegetical connection that Calvin also makes in his commentary on the verse. Building a safeguard on the roof was an expression of loving your neighbor by preserving their life.
What would it take for someone to fall off without a parapet and die? They would have to be on the roof (not necessarily a regular occurrence, especially not your own house), would have to be either careless (their fault!) or slip (rare in a dessert), and then fall from a one-story roof in the just the wrong way to be fatally injured (unlikely from that height). Parapets were protection against an unlikely scenario that could just as easily be the fault of the person falling. And yet, God commanded that parapets be added to preserve human life. This is what keeping the 6th commandment looks like: protecting human life from what might appear an unlikely or dubious threat.
Now do masks with COVID-19.
The Christian Reformed Church of North America (CRC) and my Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) are fraternal, ecumenical partners and are both denominational members of the World Communion of Reformed Churches as well as the World Reformed Fellowship. The CRC in 2016 appointed a study committee to address questions of human sexuality, with that committee publishing its report this past weekend. The report can be found here and its executive summary here. The committee is soliciting feedback from CRC congregations and classes, and its 2021 synod may yet edit their report in light of that response. The EPC similarly dealt with these subjects through a revised position paper (2016) and extensive pastoral letter (2018). There is much to commend in the CRC’s report, and several areas that the EPC could stand to emulate or consider imitating in modifying our own position and pastoral papers on this subject. My areas of concern focus in particular on the report’s therapeutic approach, minimizing the necessity of repentance, sidestepping important confessional questions on transgenderism and preferred pronouns, and the intrinsic evil of pornography.
Areas of Appreciation
I want to begin my comments with the report’s strong conclusion, which addresses the CRC’s confessional position regarding human sexuality: It observes that Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 108’s teaching that the 7th commandment (“You shall not commit adultery”) condemns all “unchastity”, which includes premarital sex, extramarital sex, adultery, polyamory, pornography, and homosexual sex (pg. 146, 148). Citing Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 81-82 and Belgic Confession 29, the report affirms that the CRC’s confessions already teach that the church may never ignore or affirm these expressions of unchaste sexual immorality, and instead must warn that those who practice such sins and refuse to repent will not inherit the kingdom of heaven (pg. 146). The report concludes that the CRC’s confessional teaching is biblically warranted “because these sins threaten a person’s salvation. The Scriptures call the church to warn people to flee sexual immorality for the sake of their souls and to encourage them with God’s presence and power to equip them for holy living. A church that fails to call people to repentance and offer them the hope of God’s loving deliverance is acting like a false church (pg. 148).”
This is sober and hard language, but loving…