Clarifying what we’ve always confessed

14On March 11, Classis Ontario West adopted an unusual proposal from Hamilton’s Providence Canadian Reformed Church: Providence wants an addition made to the Belgic Confession.

As they explain in their proposal, our confessions differ from Scripture in that they aren’t perfect or sacred…so they can be amended or edited. That has happened in the past: for instance, at the 1905 General Synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands a number of words were deleted from Belgic Confession Article 36 “in an effort to better conform to biblical teachings on the role of civil government.”

But why would a change need to be made now? Because “the Canadian Reformed Churches presently face a significant doctrinal challenge in the area of origins.”

What change does Providence propose? They want to replace the first line of the Belgic Confession’s Article 14 with the following to clarify “our confessional and biblical stance on human origins” (new wording is italicized):

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 are 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 and likeness, good, righteous, and holy.

As the proposal notes, many believe that our confessions are already quite clear on this topic. However, the fact is some Canadian Reformed academics have joined together to argue that the confessions leave room for a great diversity of views on how mankind came to be. This group, Reformed Academic, includes some very prominent figures: Dr. Arnold Sikkema, Dr. Jitse Van der Meer and Dr. F.G. Oosterhoff. They have a diversity of views amongst themselves, and it can be hard to figure out just what they each believe about Man’s origins. On the group’s blog they have allowed their most outspoken (and clearest) member, Dr. Jitse Van der Meer, to outline what he considered strong evidence for the possibility that man and chimpanzees have a common ancestor.

Does that mean Dr. Van der Meer is affirming the evolution of man from some relation of chimps? Well, there is a nit that can be picked here: relating strong evidence for evolution is not necessarily the same thing as affirming evolution. As Dr. Sikkema noted in a response to the proposal, even a creationist like Dr. Todd Wood has acknowledged that there are strong evidences for evolution.

But, of course, there is acknowledging and there is acknowledging. While both Reformed Academic and Dr. Wood acknowledge the evidence for evolution only Dr. Wood acknowledges that God created Man over six literal days and not via a process that involved pre-Adamites and millennia upon millennia of death, disease, and disaster, which He thereafter declared “good.” Context is key.

In his response to the proposal Dr. Sikkema argued that Providence Church had misrepresented him in supporting materials by labeling him a “theistic evolutionist”:

I don’t “believe in evolution.” It’s not about belief. I don’t believe in Einstein’s theory of gravity either, but I do believe in a good, loving, and covenantally faithful Triune God…

Dr. Sikkema uses the term “belief” here in the sense of “place my hope in.” In that sense he believes in God, but not evolution or Einstein’s theory of gravity. However, no Christian anywhere “places their hope” in evolution, so if that is what it means to “believe in evolution” it is not surprising Dr. Sikkema rejects the label “theistic evolutionist.” As he has redefined the term it can’t be applied to anyone at all.

But what if we give the term a more reasonable definition? What if we say a theistic evolutionist is “someone who argues that God-directed evolution is a legitimate possibility”? Then the term applies. In a joint blog post (responding to the charge that, “evolution falls outside the tent of the Reformed confessions” Dr. Sikkema and the other members of Reformed Academic wrote:

…God-directed evolution does not exclude the direct creation of Adam, because everything that happens is under God’s direct control. Therefore, theistic evolution is not outside the boundaries of the Three Forms of Unity [i.e. the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dort, and the Belgic Confession].

Other objections have already been raised, some of note (an edit will be needed to acknowledge that Eve, too, was made in God’s image), but very few of which wrestle with what is at stake here. To paraphrase Douglas Wilson, did Adam bring death into the world (Romans 5:12) or did millions of years of death and dying bring Adam into the world? Providence’s proposal specifically and clearly rejects the latter and calls upon our churches to do the same.

The proposal’s critics are going to fall into one of two camps. There will be:

  1. Those who argue it isn’t necessary because they believe the Confession already rules out pre-Adamites.
  2. Those who argue it isn’t necessary but who won’t rule out pre-Adamites.

If the critics all fall into the first camp, Providence’s proposed addition isn’t needed. Conversely, if there are any who fall into the second camp, that will highlight why we need to clarify our Confession.

There will also be some who make a show of being in the first camp with carefully parsed statements such as, “it could be argued that the Confession already rules out evolution.” While that sounds very first camp-ish, it can be a clever way of saying, “some people – not necessarily me, mind you – could argue…” We should view such critics who won’t be clear as strengthening the case for Providence’s clarifying proposal.

Lots of work, research, and thought has gone into Providence’s proposal, and you should read it for yourself. Along with the supporting appendices, you can find it here.

A version of this post originally appeared in the March 2015 issue of Reformed Perspective.

Created in the Beginning

WAS ADAM CREATED AT THE END OF THE WORLD?

By Paulin Bédard

Was Adam created at the beginning of the world or at the end? This question may seem awkward, since the church has always considered Adam as the father of the human race. But in a context where secular theories on the origin of the world are being pushed into the church, this question must seriously be raised and answered by the clear teaching of Scripture.

Created in the beginning or at the end?

Both progressive creation and theistic evolution teach that the origin of man is much older than what the church has traditionally believed. According to these modern doctrines, man appeared on earth a very long time ago. So if man is so old, why ask such an awkward question about man’s possible appearance near the end of the world?

Both progressive creation and theistic evolution are “old earth” views, which means they believe that the earth is extremely old and that the world has existed for billions of years. On this gigantic scale, man either slowly evolved (according to theistic evolution) or was instantaneously created (according to progressive creation) after an extremely long history of the earth. Thus, man would have appeared on earth a very long time after the beginning of the world — not in the beginning.

As for the traditional literal interpretation of the days of creation, it maintains that Adam and Eve were created on the sixth day of the history of the world, approximately 4000 years before Christ. On this scale, the creation of man corresponds to the beginning of the world, after only 0.0004 % of the 4000 year period.

Progressive creation, on the contrary, claims that God created the world and the living creatures by successive stages spaced out over billions of years. The days of creation are said to be very long periods of time. According to this view, the universe is 13.8 billion years old, the earth 4.5 billion years old, and man was created approximately 50,000 years ago.

To help us understand the meaning of these gigantic numbers, let us imagine that we compact into one single year the whole history of the earth until the first coming of Christ. If we reduce the alleged 4.5 billion years into one year, the earth began to be formed on January 1st, and the end of the earthly ministry of our Saviour corresponds to December 31st at midnight. On this reduced scale, man would have appeared on December 31st at 11:54 PM, and the extra-biblical recorded history (less than 3000 years before Christ) would cover only the last 20 seconds of the year. In other words, Adam was supposedly created after 99.999 % of the 4.5 billion years of the earth.

As for the theory of evolution (both atheistic and theistic), it alleges that God created the living creatures by means of a very slow biological evolution from the first cell to man. According to this view, the first hominids (or pre-humans not yet in the image of God) appeared about 5 million years ago. On the scale reduced to one year, it would correspond to around 2:00PM on December 31st, after 99.9 % of the 4.5 billion years. It even took another 4 million years or more before they became real men. We are told, for example, that archaic Homo sapiens, the forerunner of anatomically modern humans, evolved between 400,000 and 250,000 years ago, or between 40 to 25 minutes before midnight on the last day of the year, according to the compacted model.

This means that, for both progressive creation and theistic evolution, man was created close to the end of the history of the earth — not in the beginning.

In the beginning, according to Christ and the apostles

What did Christ and his apostles teach about this subject? They taught, on the contrary, that man was created in the beginning and that the human beings have existed ever since the beginning of the world.

read the rest of this article here: Created in the Beginning