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?
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…
A friend asked me the other day what I thought were the key 4-5 distinctives of Reformed theology. I gave my answer, but have found myself pondering that question. I think I would rephrase it to “the distinctives of Reformed faith and practice.” Reformed theology is not just about reforming doctrine, but practice. It’s an embodied, lived tradition of the church. So what separates Reformed faith and practice from other Christian traditions, particularly the (Ana)Baptist, Lutheran (though there is a lot of overlap here), Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, and Wesleyan traditions? I think the best resources for a quick overview are John Calvin’s The Necessity of Reforming the Church (1544), William Perkin’s A Reformed Catholic (1597), and R. Scott Clark’s Recovering the Reformed Confessions (2008). So Reformed churches are,
Catholic and Creedal. The Reformed are Reformed Catholics (in distinction to Roman or Eastern Orthodox Catholics) and fully embrace the Catholic tradition expressed in the Apostles’, Nicene, Chalcedonian, and Athanasian creeds. To be Catholic is to affirm and submit to Nicene Christianity as biblical Christianity. Nicene Christianity in particular defines the biblical and Catholic doctrines of the Trinity and Christ’s divinity and humanity. The Reformed also affirm and look to the church fathers for guidance.
Sola Scriptura. All Christians affirm the authority of scripture, and the Reformed are no different. Where differences lie is in the uniqueness…