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Essay

The NAR and the RCA

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Writing for The Twelve and Perspectives is often a bit like dropping a pebble down a well. You stand there, waiting, waiting, listening, and hoping to hear some little thud, a faint splash, to know your writing was received. Then a couple months back, I had quite the opposite experience. It felt like I lit a match, not fully realizing how filled with explosive vapors the atmosphere was.

I’m talking about an “As We See It” piece I wrote in the August/September issue of Perspectives, titled “The NAR and the RCA” (The New Apostolic Reformation and the Reformed Church in America). My essay questioned and criticized the influence of the neo-Pentecostal “New Apostolic Reformation” movement within the Reformed Church new church multiplication efforts under the leadership of the Rev. Tim Vink.

I write now to share an update on how things have unfolded and where things now stand. I also write to offer my apology to Tim Vink, openly and sincerely, while still believing that the concerns that essay raised are real and important.

The pushback after the article appeared was immediate. It was called slanderous, irresponsible, unfair, unkind, and unchristian. I had contacted Tim Vink a few days before the essay appeared, to give him a “heads up” that it was forthcoming. He responded with an “Ouch!” Still, his reply was among the most measured the essay received. I have to say that through this whole thing, Tim has been gracious, communicative, and decent.

The criticism that stuck with me the most was that I had personally attacked or impugned Tim. That certainly was not my intention. Was I trying to express serious concern and criticism about the role of NAR in the RCA? Absolutely. Go after Tim? No.

As a Christian, I try hard not to be apology-averse. Theologian James Alison wryly suggests that a hallmark of Christians, as people who have received mercy and forgiveness, is the “joy of being wrong.” Since my objective had not been to attack Tim personally, and many had construed that I had, I was glad to apologize to him personally. “If I anything I wrote could be taken to impugn your character or Christian faith, Tim, I am sorry.” These words were among the first out of my mouth in a phone call to Tim after my essay appeared. Quickly and graciously, Tim accepted my apology. We talked about how to move forward. I suggested the possibility of an interview in an upcoming issue of Perspectives, a reply of sorts. We’re hopeful that such an interview, with the Rev. Scot Sherman of City Church San Francisco serving as the interviewer, will appear in soon.

While the negative feedback was swift, in the weeks that followed I began to receive many, many words of appreciation, commendation and gratitude for the article. My point isn’t to get into counting compliments versus criticisms. Many of the people who talked to me after publication used phrases like “swept under the rug,” “hush-hush,” and “about time.” In other words, there is a perception at least of avoiding or suppressing a discussion of the topic. This avoidance is not due to some grand conspiracy, but probably because of the same issues faced by my essay. How do we disagree and challenge each other as Christians? We don’t want criticism to feel personal, yet inevitably it does. We realize there are vastly different views and we’re afraid no harmony can finally be found.

All of this has caused me to do a lot of pondering about how we as Christians are to disagree, and have difficult conversations. I look at our culture which is so polarized and where so much discourse has devolved into shouting matches. I consider Jesus’ words “Not so among you.” To the extent that my essay did not pass the “not so among you” test, I am sorry. We know we need places, like Perspectives, where Christians can express disagreement, but the difficult thing is expressing disagreement without becoming disagreeable. We will keep trying our best to do that, and we ask you, our readers, to help us in that task.

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell and his wife, Sophie, are the pastors at the Second Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa. Steve has served on numerous Reformed Church commissions and task forces, and also edited the journal Perspectives for many years. Before coming to Iowa, he lived and served as a pastor in upstate New York. Sophie and he have two adult children. He holds a Ph.D. from Boston College in theological ethics.

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