On Tuesday, April 24, I was examined by the Illiana Classis of the Reformed Church in America (RCA) in order to have my ordination, which was originally granted in August of 1970 by the Frist Baptist Church of Lebanon, Tennessee, transfered into the RCA. I was examined in history, sacraments and polity, government and liturgy and theology. This process really began several years ago when I became convinced that the match between my theological beliefs, and the specific way I expressed those beliefs, lined up very well with the RCA. Several people had a major influence upon my direction. The most notable influence has been hat of Dr. I. John Hesselink, professor of theology emeritus at Western Theological Seminary (RCA) in Holland, Michigan. Besides John, two elders, Roger Hommes and Robert Asmus, members of the consistory at First Reformed Church in South Holland played a major role. These two excellent men, who have attended our public ministry events in Chicago for more than a decade, asked me nearly two years ago: "John, why don’t you join the RCA? You really do belong in this fellowship." At the time they had no earthly idea I had conversed about this very process with John Hesselink. By July of last summer Anita and I joined First Reformed Church in South Holland, a church that we call home but one that is of such distance from our home that we cannot be active there week-in and week-out. First Reformed serves, under the leadership of interim pastor Dr. Albert Vander Meer and the consistory, as a "missionary sending home church" for us.
Perhaps this brief explanation will allow some who have asked me about these recent decisions to better understand my direection in this matter. I have not become an anti-Baptist at all, quite the opposite. But I did come to sincerely believe in the doctrine of the covenant in such a wsay that I can now gladly embrace the full sacramental theology of the RCA. I will always give thanks for my childhood influence, which was Southern Baptist. I will always give thanks for the two churches of my adult ministry, both in the Baptist General Conference. But I have longed for a more confessional church communion, one in which I submitted myself and my ministry to fellow elders and ministers, thus the RCA was a good place for me to "land" as a minister of Word and sacrament. (I love that expression of the minister as used in the RCA.)
Having told this story I do not wish to enter into disagreement with my many Baptist friends. My change in confession is not one that further divides the church, so long as I do not turn it into a means for personal attack, which I will not do. For me it is a means to expressing the faith I now believe and the polity I now embrace. It is not a statement about what I oppose or evidence of my turning my back on something previous.
After three different oral examinations last Tuesday, and a wwritten paper previously submitted, the classis voted to accept me as a minister. I was then called back into the room Tuesday evening and stood before the ministers to make a public declaration. These are the words I read before I signed a book of declaration before God and public witnesses:
I, John H. Armstrong, in becoming a minister of the Word of God in the Reformed Church in America with the Classis of Illiana, sincerely and gladly declare before God and with you that I believe the gospel of the grace of God in Jesus Christ as revealed in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and as expressed in the Standards of the Reformed Church in America. I accept the Scriptures as the only rule of faith and life. I accept the Standards as historic and faithful witnesses to the Word of God.
I purpose to walk in the Spirit of Christ, in love and fellowship within the church seeking the things that make for unity, purity and peace. I will submit msyelf to the counsel and admonition of the classis, always ready, with gentleness and reverence, to give an qaccount of my understanding of the Christian faith. I will conduct the work of the church in an orderly way according to the Liturgy and the Book of Church Order.
Trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ for strength, I pledge my life to preach and teach the good news of salvation in Christ, to build up and equip the church for its mission in the world, to free the enslaved, to relieve the oppressed, to comfort the afflicted, and to walk humbly with God.
I ask God and you His servants, to help me so to live until that glorious day when, with joy and gratitude, we stand before our great God and King.
I think you can see why I was deeply moved by this declaration Tuesday night. I meant these words with all my heart. I have freely and gladly submitted myself to the oversight and care of my classis. I happily preach the gospel and declare myself in agreement with the confessional witness of the ancient church and the Protestant Reformation from the Reformed side of the renewal. I also affirm the ecumenical spirit that has marked the RCA for many decades. I am happy, therefore, to have a church home that seems good for me and right as the Holy Spirit has led me. This decision rejects no one else who confesses the true faith but it openly expresses where I stand publicly as a minister of the gospel. My ministry now takes me into churches and settings that reflect the entire Christian Church. During these nine days (April 22-30) I will have ministered in the following contexts: PCA, RCA, Anglican, American Baptist and Roman Catholic. This is my calling and will remain so, God willing.
By God’s grace I will continue to pursue an orthodox ecumenical vision and sedek to follow the Spirit wherever he leads me. In my Southern Baptist background we used to sing an old invitation hymn at the end of many services that said: "Wherever He Leads I’ll Go." I will. I will follow my Christ who loves me so, wherever he leads I will always seek to go. I have not pleased some in my journey but I do not need to please people. I do know that I am not the avowed enemy of any Christian. How could I be an enemy of another Christian when God loves me and has told me to love all of those who call upon his name in Christian faith? And I must, like you, finally seek to please God alone. I pray that you will do the same if you read this blog and appreciate at all what I am attempting to give to the church both near and far. Thanks for your prayers if you love me and pray for me. I stand in debt to you for your love and support. Pray for me as I submit my ministerial care to the RCA.
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Congratulations John and welcome! I am honoured to have you as a colleague in ministry… May the Lord bless and guide you as you continue your service!