“Pastoral Guidance or Misguided Advice?”

In the February 2016 issue of The Banner, the official magazine of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), there is a preview of an extensive report coming to their Synod this summer. The report addresses the issue of so-called “same-sex marriages” in light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling (Gayla Postma, “Pastoral Guidance for Churches Regarding Same-Sex Marriage,” pp. 14-15).

This report is not a change in the official CRC position on homosexuality. That position, adopted in 1973, states that “same-sex orientation is not sinful, but homosexual activity is.” This position remains yet unchanged.

The study committee reporting to Synod 2016 was mandated to provide “pastoral guidance” to the denomination with regard to certain practical situations that might arise in connection with same-sex marriages. Some of the issues addressed in the report are:

  • Whether or not it is proper to attend a same-sex wedding or provide a commercial service for such a wedding (e.g. making a cake, taking pictures).
  • Whether or not it is proper for a CRC pastor to solemnize a religious same-sex wedding.
  • Whether or not it is proper for a CRC pastor to solemnize a civil same-sex wedding.
  • Whether or not it is proper for a member to play a part in a same-sex wedding (e.g. being an attendant).
  • Whether or not it is proper to allow same-sex couples and their families to take part in the life of the church (e.g. being an usher, teaching Sunday school).
  • Whether or not it is proper to allow same-sex couples to be members of a local congregation.

The report is weak.

For one thing, in many instances it gives no guidance whatsoever. Is it proper to attend a same-sex wedding? Leave it to the discretion of the individual. Is it proper to play a part in such a wedding? Again, that should be left to the discretion of each member. Is it proper to allow same-sex couples to take part in the life of the church? Let each congregation decide for herself. This gives no guidance to the churches.

More disconcerting is the underlying weakness that the report reveals on the issue of same-sex marriage as a whole. The report distinguishes between religious and civil marriages, and then says that although it is wrong for a pastor to perform the former, in some circumstances it is proper to solemnize the latter. This “guidance” seems to grant a certain legitimacy to same-sex marriages.

The committee goes on to recommend that same-sex couples be received as members in good standing, so long as they are not sexually active. “However,” Postma summarizes, “if a person or couple agree to accept the CRC’s teaching on same-sex sexual relationships and bring their lives into conformity, no obstacle prevents their acceptance as members.” The report says, “The current position does not require dissolution of a civil marriage; nor should the church be heard to require or encourage the dissolution of functioning families.”

This means that a homosexual couple can be members in good standing, so long as they assure the church that they are not engaging in homosexual activity (as if that were possible). The church may not require them to dissolve their “marriage” or their “functioning family.” Nor may the church prevent them from having their adopted child baptized and from partaking of the Lord’s Supper.

And what is more, the report indicates that there is growing dissatisfaction with the official position of the denomination. “A number of CRC churches are already navigating the challenges of integrating same-sex couples into the life of the church, and for them the logic of being denied membership is experienced as damaging rather than life-giving.” There is even an expressed desire on the part of the committee to revisit and revise the 1973 position.

This report is worth noticing because it reveals again the fatal weakness in the position of the CRC. If one’s position is that homosexual activity is the only thing that is sinful, then allowances have to be made for same-sex marriage, so long as the couples assure those around them that, though they are attracted to one another and are legally married, they are not engaging in any sexual activity whatsoever. The weakness of the CRC position has been pointed out by others before. This simply shows the bad fruit it is producing.

It will be interesting to see what the Synod of the CRC does with this report.

Stay tuned.

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This post was written by Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, Iowa.

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The Bob De Moor Plan for the CRC’s Acceptance of Homosexuality

Editor of the Banner, Bob De Moor expresses concern in this Banner article about the likelihood of conflict in the CRC over the denomination’s official position that “homosexual practice is always sinful.” He reports that the discussion about “whether or not to make declarations related to same sex relationships” revealed that “many no longer agree with the position of the Christian Reformed Church that homosexual practice is always wrong or that such practice always requires church discipline.” De Moor is concerned that this may lead to years of contentious debate in the CRC writing,

If we are unwise, we face years of conflict in which, as with the women’s ordination dispute, we oscillate between two extremes from year to year, based on who has more votes at synod. That will restart the hemorrhage of membership on both “sides.”

De Moor has a plan that he speaks of as a “local option.” This plan calls for giving each council the authority to determine what is sinful and then determine the best pastoral approach for each situation.

This plan is actually quite clever if the goal is to keep people in the CRC even though they have different beliefs (De Moor’s specious idea of unity). By its experience with the women-in-office issue, in which it allows local congregations to choose whether or not to ordain women, the CRC has learned that a “local option” plan effectively placates those who are on both sides of the issue. Many who are opposed to women’s ordination have stayed in the denomination for two decades (the CRC approved women’s ordination in 1995) and in many cases have even willingly served with women “officebearers” from other congregations at classical and synodical assemblies. If the CRC decides to allow each council to determine whether homosexual practice is sinful, which will undoubtedly lead to some councils approving of homosexual practice, some members will likely leave the denomination. But it is possible many who believe homosexual practice is sinful will stay as long as their own council’s do not approve of it.

The De Moor plan is also devilishly clever because it will settle the issue that is now in dispute immediately. De Moor wants homosexual practice to be accepted. He knows that it may take years for synod to approve of homosexual practice. But if synod takes the route of leaving it up to local councils De Moor knows that synod will have actually approved homosexuality without an explicit declaration. By approving the local option synod would declare, “homosexuality is ok, but we will let you decide as councils when you are ready to recognize this for yourselves.”

But of course the De Moor plan is foolish. It is the plan of a man who is opposed to the wisdom of God revealed in scripture. The result of De Moor’s plan, and he knows it, will be further fragmentation in the CRC where unity is in name only.

There is a wise way to deal with potential strife over homosexuality in the denomination. That way is to affirm the biblical teaching that homosexuality is a sin and discipline those who contradict the Bible’s teaching. De Moor himself ought to be disciplined. His proposal is contrary to Scripture. It also happens to be contrary to the settled and binding position of the CRC. His article promotes schism in the CRC.

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The Reason(s) for Preaching the Gospel to All

This post is a response to Dr. R. Scott Clark’s recent essay entitled The Gospel is not Common. This is a provocative title since Clark is devoted to the doctrines of common grace and the well-meant offer of the gospel. Clark knows and explains in the article that the Christian Reformed Church affirmed the well-meant offer of the gospel in connection with the first of the three points of common grace adopted and declared by the CRC Synod of 1924. Clark believes and ardently defends the notion that in the preaching of the gospel God bestows common grace on every listener (elect and reprobate). But the gospel, he writes, is “not common.”

Clark explains the uncommonness of the gospel this way:

However many things that believers have in common with unbelievers the gospel is not one of them. The gospel declares that God loves sinners so much that he gave his only and eternally begotten Son (John 3:16) but the way to God is narrow. “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt 7:13–14; ESV). Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The gospel is that there is a Savior, that he has come, that he has accomplished redemption for his people and that he is efficaciously applying that salvation to every one of his people. The gospel, however, is particular. Believers and unbelievers do not have the gospel in common. It separates us. It distinguishes between belief and unbelief. In that way the gospel is not like the falling rain or the shining sun. Those are general blessings and mercies. The gospel is not a general blessing. The gospel does not say, “I have done my part, now you do yours.” The law says: “you do.” The gospel says, “Christ has done. It is finished.”

Although Clark’s identification of “the falling rain” and “the shining sun” as “general blessings or mercies” is wrong, he seems to be on the right track in this paragraph in one respect. Clark seems to recognize that, if there is a common grace in distinction from saving grace, the gospel falls into the category of saving grace. Clark’s language could be sharper but is clear nonetheless. He does not speak of the gospel as grace to the elect as opposed to the reprobate, but this is his meaning when he writes that the gospel is “particular” and declares that Jesus came to redeem and apply salvation to “his people.”

This ought to lead Clark to conclude that the 1924 CRC Synod of Kalamazoo erred when it spoke of a “general offer of the gospel” as proof of a non-saving, common grace of God in the 1st point of common grace. After the paragraph above one could reasonably expect Clark to criticize this act of the CRC Synod proclaiming—‘the gospel is particular, saving grace for the elect! Therefore, the saving grace of the gospel is not proof of a common grace of God.’

However, Clark does not continue with such clarity of thought. Instead he continues by writing,

Because the gospel is not general, because it is not common, it must be proclaimed to all universally, seriously, and freely. The first of Synod Kalamazoo’s Three Points was the free or well-meant offer of the gospel. God reveals himself as willing that none should perish. So, despite the protestations of a noisy minority, the Reformed have widely taught the doctrine of the free or well-meant offer of the good news. We offer Christ and his grace to all because we do not presume to know whom God, from all eternity, in Christ, has elected. Just as we who believe are the unworthy recipients of favor earned for us by Christ, we offer that grace to all.

In his explanation of why the gospel should be preached promiscuously Clark combines an uncommon gospel of saving grace with the common (non-saving) grace of the well-meant offer of the gospel. It would be logical to conclude, having established that the gospel is not common, that the grace of God in both the gospel itself and the preaching of the gospel is particular. But Clark’s position is that God’s grace in the gospel is not common while it is common in the preaching of the gospel.  In fact he seems to argue that a gospel of uncommon grace necessitates the bestowal of a common grace of God in the preaching of the gospel.

I have to admit that I am not exactly sure what Clark means when he says that the gospel must be preached to all because it is not common. My best guess is that he means that the gospel must be preached because there are unsaved people in the world, and the gospel is the means by which they can be saved, so the gospel must be preached to them. If this is what Clark means here, his thinking is not wrong but incomplete. The presence of unsaved people in the world does not necessarily mean that God wants the gospel to be preached to them. God could have commanded the church to keep the gospel to itself. So to say that the gospel must be preached to all just because not all are saved is insufficient.

But this may be why Clark brings up the well-meant offer as a reason why the gospel must be preached to all. The well-meant offer supposes that God loves and desires the salvation of all men. Thus the thinking is that because God desires all men to be saved the church must preach the gospel to all who are unsaved as she has opportunity. Seems logical.

However, things are not as simple as they may seem on the surface. Clark’s argument is based on a premise that is both unstated and unproven. That premise is that the only reason God would want the church to preach the gospel to unsaved people is that he desires the salvation of all people. Clark has not stated that this is his belief in so many words in anything I have read of him. But he has written in another place that the doctrine of the well-meant offer that he learned from John Murray and Bob Strimple “provided a clear biblical, exegetical, and theological rationale for the proclamation of the gospel[1].” Clark’s position is that the well-meant gospel offer provides the “rationale” for preaching the gospel to all. If God does not desire to save all in the preaching of the gospel, what rationale would there be for preaching to the lost? Clark’s answer seems to be that there would be none. Thus it is not a misrepresentation of Clark’s position to state that he believes the only reason for preaching the gospel to everyone is that God loves everyone (presumably with a common, non-saving love).

But the premise that the only rationale for preaching the gospel to lost sinners is that God desires the salvation of all who hear the preaching is false. God does not have to love every lost sinner to desire that the gospel be preached universally, seriously, and freely. It is enough that God loves His elect who are lost. Surely the church has ample reason to preach the gospel to everyone she can because she knows God has determined to use the preaching as the means to gather his eternally beloved elect from among the unconverted in the world.

Clark gives a good reason for why the church does not limit the preaching only to the elect when he writes, “we do not presume to know whom God, from all eternity, in Christ, has elected.” Hopefully Clark understands that this is the position of those who reject the well-meant offer. We do not presume to know who the elect are because we don’t know who they are! The logic of our position is very clear and consistent. The elect have not all been converted and brought to the knowledge of salvation. God desires their salvation. The means that God has instituted to convert the elect is the preaching of the gospel by the church. God has not revealed to the church who among the unconverted are elect. Therefore, for the sake of the salvation of the elect, who are known to God but unknown to the church, the church must preach the gospel to all. This is both logical and more importantly in complete harmony with scripture and the Reformed creeds.

And yes, the members of the church do know they are unworthy recipients of God’s sovereign particular grace. Humble gratitude for the amazing grace of God impels the church to preach the gospel to lost sinners wherever she has opportunity—confident that this amazing grace will shine to the glory of God in the salvation of all his elect.

 

[1] This is from Clark’s essay entitled Janus, the Well-Meant Offer of the Gospel, and Westminster Theology found in The Pattern of Sound Doctrine. Edited by David VanDrunen (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2004), 149. 

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The RCA and CRC Synod’s Working Together

It is the season of Synods and General Assemblies. With this post I call attention to the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America and the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. I write about the assemblies of these two denominations in one post because they not only held their assemblies at the same time in the same city (Pella, Iowa) but also because they met together in a joint-session.

At the joint-session the representatives adopted this resolution: “the principle that guides us, and the intention that motivates us, is to ‘act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel [us] to act separately.’” This resolution was adopted after another important and revealing statement was read at the joint session that explained how much the two denominations are already acting together: “Affirming our relationship of full communion, the exchangeability of ministers of the Word and sacraments between our congregations, and examples of new congregations belonging jointly to both our denominations.” Although the two denominations have not merged yet, they are clearly moving on a path that will likely end with a merger.

This is a movement of great historical significance. The split between the RCA and the CRC was necessary when it occurred in 1857. The issues that divided the two denominations were vitally important. Those who started the CRC rightly found it intolerable that the RCA approved of lodge membership, practiced open communion, and contradicted the Church Order by neglecting the practices of family visitation and regular preaching on the Heidelberg Catechism and by introducing hymns that were not approved by the Church Order. There were some other serious issues that divided the two denominations at the time of the split, but these are sufficient to demonstrate that the church fathers who started the CRC had solid grounds for leaving the RCA.

It is important to understand why the CRC split from the RCA because these reasons are not being discussed in 2014 as the two denominations draw closer to each other. The adopted resolution speaks of “deep differences.” But what are these deep differences? I don’t recall them being mentioned during the joint session that lasted over two hours. Some petty differences were mentioned, such as when a Korean participant explained that he thought the division was mainly due to infighting between Dutch people. If the other delegates disagreed with this analysis they did not voice it, but it was evident that a good number of them found this analysis amusing.

If the split was over trivial matters (such as infighting between stubborn Dutchmen) then it was sinful, which is how the split was characterized during the joint session. Dr. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, representing the RCA, favorably used a quote from Pope Francis (!) to characterize the division between the two denominations as from the devil. In their comments many of the delegates indicated they agreed the division was unfortunate and sinful.

But the division was NOT sinful, at least not on the part of the CRC in 1857. The CRC of 1857 is to be commended for breaking away from an apostatizing church to begin a soundly Reformed denomination.

The movement of the CRC of 2014 to seek unity with the RCA indicates that it has fallen into the errors of the RCA. The deep differences that divided the CRC and RCA in 1857 don’t exist anymore because the CRC has fallen into the same errors as the RCA. The CRC approves of lodge membership, tolerates the practice of open communion, and neglects regular Heidelberg Catechism Preaching and the practice of family visitation.

If the CRC and RCA were seeking to join together on the basis of the Reformed Confessions, and if their joining together indicated a firm conviction of the truths of the Confessions, it would be worth celebrating. But the closer unity between the RCA and CRC in 2014 is the act of two denominations joining hands as they slide down together into further apostasy.

That the RCA has fallen more deeply into error since 1857 is the reason one of its conservative congregations is seeking to leave the denomination. That congregation is the University Reformed Church, located in Lansing, Michigan and pastored by Rev. Kevin De Young. The congregation voted 282-9 to leave the RCA and join the Presbyterian Church in America. Rev. De Young reports that the congregation still belongs to the RCA and the process of leaving could take 6-8 months. The full explanation for why the congregation wants to leave the denomination is not available. But Rev. De Young provides a brief explanation: “From the adoption of the Belhar Confession, to the removal of the conscience clauses related to women’s ordination, to the growing acceptance of homosexual practice in the denomination, we believe the RCA has changed significantly in the last several years. The denomination has moved away from churches like ours. Our request is that we may be able to move too.”

That the CRC is willing to join hands with the RCA indicates then that it has not only fallen into the errors it repudiated in 1857, but it has also walked almost in lockstep with the RCA in adopting or tolerating its more recent errors. Thus, there is unity between the RCA and the CRC. But it is not unity in the historic doctrines and practices of the Protestant Reformation, which means it is not unity in the truth of Scripture, which means it is not true unity in Christ Jesus.

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Synods and General Assemblies: Christian Reformed Church (part 2)

Homosexuality to be Studied Again

The Decision

The 2013 Synod of the CRC approved the creation of a committee to study the issue of homosexuality and report to Synod 2016. The grounds for the creation of this study committee are two:

  1. The reports from 1973 and 2002 have served the denomination very well by laying out the biblical principles and foundations clearly, where read and applied. Nevertheless, they could not take into consideration later political, legal, and social developments. Such developments include legalized same-sex marriage and the significant shifting of public opinion, which also makes an impact on the membership of the denomination.

  2. In light of these developments, it is prudent for the denomination to expand the applications of the teachings and conclusions of 1973 and 2002 in order to give guidance and clarification on how members, clergy, and churches can speak prophetically in a loving fashion within North America.

The Reports

The 1973 report, referred to above, explains the CRC’s official stance regarding homosexuality and provides pastoral advice for how the churches should deal with homosexuals. The report distinguishes between homosexuality and homosexualism. Homosexuality is defined (in the report) as “a condition of personal identity in which the person is sexually oriented toward persons of the same sex.” Homosexualism is defined as “explicit homosexual practice.” The report repeatedly condemns homosexualism (homosexual acts) as sin. Its stance on homosexuality is not as forthright. Although the report speaks negatively about homosexuality as a “sexual disorder” and a “result of sin,” it deliberately avoids saying that homosexuality is a sin. And although the report encourages the “reorientation” of homosexuals, it nowhere calls for the discipline of those who remain “oriented toward persons of the same sex.” The report speaks about non-practicing homosexuals as “Christians” and “fellow servants of Christ.” Preferably homosexuals will change their orientation, but if they don’t, even “in their orientation [they] are like all Christians called to discipleship and to employment of their gifts in the cause of the kingdom.” Thus, in 1973 the CRC approved of homosexuality in the sense that non-practicing homosexuals who never change their orientation are not considered impenitent sinners and are able to remain members in good standing in the church.

When the synod of the CRC adopted another report in 2002, it did nothing to change the official view of homosexuality adopted in 1973. The 2002 report evaluated the implementation of the 1973 report’s pastoral advice by the congregations in the CRC, and it gave further direction to the churches about caring for homosexuals pastorally.

Now in 2013 the CRC Synod has appointed a third committee to study the issue of homosexuality. As in 2002 it does not appear that the purpose of the study committee is to evaluate and possibly recommend changes to the CRC’s official position regarding homosexuality. Because many things have changed since 2002 the synod believed there is a need to give more direction to the churches on how to handle homosexuality.


More to the Story

The CRC’s publication of the Acts of Synod does not give the full story of what happened at synod when the formation of this study committee was discussed. A more complete report is given in this Banner article. The article mentions that several people spoke of their dissatisfaction with the decision to condemn practicing homosexuality in 1973. They wanted the committee to restudy the CRC’s position and recommend accepting not only those who have homosexual desires but also those who practice homosexuality. “But,” according to the article, “delegates decisively rejected proposals to re-examine the CRC’s 40-year-old stance. The new committee’s mandate does not include new biblical or sociological studies.”

The article also mentions, and no report of the 2013 CRC synod should overlook, the antics of Joseph Bouwman, an elder in a Toronto CRC congregation. Bouwman declared on the floor of synod, “I stand before you as a 40-year-old, single, celibate and chaste yet openly gay man, no longer willing to be silent.” He thanked the “denomination for being affirming of somebody like me.” What was the reaction to this outburst? “Delegates gave him a standing ovation.”


Even More to the Story

Even though the 2013 Synod refused to revisit the 1973 decision, I do not hesitate to state that in 2013 the CRC is moving in the direction of officially approving of “homosexualism” as well as “homosexuality.”

In 2011 the CRC Synod rejected an overture to revisit the 1973 condemnation of homosexualism. In response to that decision members of the CRC formed a group called All One Body. The mission statement of this revolutionary group reads: “All One Body . . . promotes the unrestricted membership and full participation in all dimensions of chruch (sic) life by all persons who confess Christ as their Savior and Lord, whether they are single or faithful partners in a committed, monogamous union, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender ( emphasis mine - CS).” This group is aggressively seeking to spread its rebellion against the CRC’s official position on homosexuality. It has a website, a Facebook page, and gives presentations wherever and whenever possible in CRC congregations to promote its agenda.

As far as I can tell no effort has been made to stop the All One Body’s rebellion against the CRC’s 1973 “settle and binding” synodical decision. Those who want the total acceptance of homosexuality are allowed to promote their views in the CRC. Allowed to stay and promote their views, these people will work tirelessly until they get their way and overturn the 1973 decision.

And it just may be that the study committee appointed by this year’s synod will lead the way to the acceptance of practicing homosexuality, according to this report by Rev. Aaron Vriesman. Vriesman makes some interesting comments about two of the members of the study committee.

The selection of names included some notable left-leaning leaders. Rev. (sic!) Wendy Gritter is the Executive Director of New Direction Ministries of Canada, an organization dedicated to reach out to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people who have been disenfranchised from Christianity by “nurturing generous spaciousness in the church.” In explaining this concept she says, “Generous spaciousness costs us our security in our exegesis, our hermeneutics, our interpretations (especially when such exegesis and hermeneutics result in prohibitions for others that do not personally affect ourselves).”

Gritter was also the main speaker at a seminar for ministers and seminarians put on by All One Body (A1B), a group that is more or less the gay lobby within the CRC. Gritter chimed in on A1B page the next day: “My prayer is that through the shepherding model the study committee will be able to open dialogue rather than narrowly seek to answer such closed ended questions.”

Also on the study committee is Joseph Bowman, the delegate who stood up during the June 12 synod debate and admitted to being a celibate but openly gay man. His June 13 comment on the group page also suggested a slant: “I made a specific point to say that both sides of this issue (i.e, “full inclusion/welcoming” and “celibacy only”) need to talk to each other. ALL OUR STORIES need to be told.

Vriesman also reports that some of the synodical delegates interpreted the mandate synod gave to the study committee to be broad enough to restudy the whole issue of homosexuality. He writes:

Young Adult Representative, Cedric Parsels, noticed an agenda at work. “When I was at Synod a couple of weeks ago, a number of the more ‘liberal’ delegates at Synod came up to my table to re-assure some of us young adult representatives that the mandate for the new study committee on same-sex marriage was broad enough to permit a wholesale re-evaluation of the denomination’s position on homosexual behavior.

Conclusion

The CRC should revisit the 1973 decision. It should overturn that decision. It should repent of its sin . . . of approving homosexual desires. The Bible condemns the sinful thoughts, intents, and purposes of man’s heart and mind as well as his sinful acts. It is true that homosexuality exists only because of the fall into sin. If mankind remained in a state of perfect righteousness there would be no homosexuality. But that does not mean that homosexual orientation is merely the “result” of sin. Homosexual orientation is itself sinful.

In its pastoral advice concerning the care of people who are of a homosexual orientation the CRC has encouraged its congregations to be “tolerant” and “loving” in an unbiblical way toward homosexual people. Rather than calling people with sinful desires to repent the CRC has accepted them “as they are” for 40 years. That toleration has given way to celebration. Now standing ovations are given to those who don’t want to be silent about the fact that they are homosexual and do not want to change! This has led to a very logical question, if we can except and celebrate people who hold onto their homosexual desires, why can’t we accept and celebrate people if they put their homosexuality into practice? Today that question is being logically answered by a faction within the CRC that says, “Let’s love and give generous space in the church to everyone who confesses faith in Jesus, even if they are practicing homosexuals.”

It is possible that the current study committee will not propose approving of practicing homosexuality in 2016. But there will probably be another study committee in the near future. Like the Synod of 1973, I cannot predict the future. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the next study committee is mandated to restudy the CRC position on homosexuality. And I would not be surprised if the report recommended approving of homosexual acts as well as desires. Would the CRC synod approve that recommendation? We will probably find out . . . in the next decade?

[Note: When I left the CRC in 1998 I was aggrieved by the 1995 decision of synod to allow women to hold church office, but I did not know about the 1973 decision to approve of homosexuality. My ignorance of the 1973 decision may in part be due the fact that I was born 5 years after the decision was made. Yet, I remain surprised by the lack of vocal opposition to the 1973 decision by “conservatives” in the CRC. I sometimes wonder why they were even still in the CRC when women in office became an issue. If they took the Bible’s teaching seriously why didn’t they leave when the denomination twisted Scripture to approve of homosexuality.]

 

Click here to read Part 1 on the CRC Synod 2013.

 

Other blog series by Rev. Clayton Spronk:
Click here to read about the RCA Synod 2013.
Click here to read a chapter-by-chapter study of The Fruit of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

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This article was written by guest blogger Rev. Clayton Spronk, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, IL. Rev. Spronk will be blogging for us several times a month, taking us first through a brief study of Richard Smit's newly released book, The Fruit of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. If there is a topic you'd like to Rev. Spronk to address, please contact us.

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Synods and General Assemblies: Christian Reformed Church (part 1)

Women-in-Office Issue Continues to Cause Division in the CRC

The 2013 Synod of the CRC received an overture from two congregations requesting permission to form a new classis. The congregations desired to form a classis made up of congregations that share the conviction that the ordination and installation of women into church office are unbiblical. In response to this overture the synod made three decisions. These decisions demonstrate that the CRC continues to be troubled by deep divisions over women’s ordination. What follows are the three decisions with their grounds and my response.

Decision 1:

That synod not accede to Overtures 3 and 4, requesting an affinity classis [a classis where the congregations share the conviction that women’s ordination is unbiblical].

Grounds:

  1. The creation of a separate classis based upon and restricted to a single theological conviction will create a fixed uniformity that runs contrary to biblical principles and practices of unity in the CRC (1 Cor. 12:12-31).

  2. This is consistent with the past decision of synod not to accede to the “formation of a classis based on theological affinity” (Acts of Synod 1996, Article 76, C, 4, p. 561).

  3. The creation of such a classis may address the issues of conscience and the discomfort of protesting the presence of women officebearers at the classical level, but this does not resolve those same issues at the synodical level.

Response

The key to understanding this decision and its grounds is the CRC's understanding of the women-in- office issue as an issue "of conscience." The CRC refuses to view the women-in-office issue as an “either or” issue – either the Bible forbids women in office or it doesn't. Rather, the CRC maintains women-in-office is a “both and”issue – scripture can legitimately be interpreted both against and in favor of women's ordination. The CRC refuses to grant, therefore, that opposition to women in office is grounded on the correct interpretation of scripture. The opposition to women in office cannot claim that the issue is a matter of faithfulness to the Bible. Both sides are faithful to scripture. Both sides ought to be able to accept that the other side is holding to a correct interpretation of scripture. If an opponent to women's ordination cannot accept the other view, his objection cannot be based on scripture but is merely a matter of an overly sensitive conscience.

The CRC is committed to the idea that people who fall on both sides of the issue should be able to live together in harmony in the same congregation, classis, and denomination. Does that mean that those who are in favor of women's ordination should be silent and happily accept a situation in which their congregation won't ordain women, that they should be silent and happily accept that classis and synod won't allow women delegates? No, it means that those who are opposed to women in office should be silent and happily remain members when their congregation installs women office bearers, and be silent and happy when women delegates show up at classis and synod. Even if you are convinced that it is contrary to scripture, the conservatives are told, you shouldn't have a problem if it is a woman who hands you the collection plate, administers to you the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, or stands before you in the pulpit.

This thinking is the basis of the CRC's refusal to allow the formation of a classis that is made up of churches opposed to women in office. Those churches should not have any problem enjoying unity with churches that practice women's ordination.

It is noteworthy that the CRC admits in this decision that it does not believe unity requires uniformity of "theological conviction." This is an admission that the CRC believes that unity can be enjoyed without agreement on the truth. There is a difference between unity and uniformity. Absolute uniformity means sameness in all things. Absolute uniformity is not necessary for unity. For example unity does not require the same ethnicity, gender, etc. But in one area there is a need for uniformity – that is in the area of the truth. Of course it is true there is freedom to interpret scripture in different ways where the meaning is not clear to us (although our interpretation must always be in harmony with our Reformed confessions). But where scripture's teaching is clear there must be uniformity of conviction. And scripture's clear condemnation of women in office means that there is only unity when there is a uniformity of conviction that women's ordination is unbiblical.

The CRC's contention that unity is possible when there is disagreement on the issue of women's ordination is wrong. The congregations that want uniformity of conviction in the classis that women’s ordination is unbiblical are correct.

However, in ground "c" above, the CRC synod demonstrates a grave and embarrassing error in the thinking of the two congregations that requested the formation of a new classis. Synod made a very keen insight when it said, "The creation of such a classis may address the issues of conscience and the discomfort of protesting the presence of women officebearers at the classical level, but this does not resolve those same issues at the synodical level." This ground rightly argues that the formation of an "affinity classis" will not change the fact that these congregations will have to live in a denomination that does not share its theological convictions. Thus the synod exposes the shortsighted thinking of those who are opposed to women's ordination yet remain in the CRC. For years they have wanted theological agreement (read unity) in their own congregations with regard to women’s ordination – perhaps we can call them “affinity congregations.” Now they want theological agreement on this issue in the classis – an “affinity classis.” From a classis where they do not have this affinity they are ready to withdraw! But what about an “affinity denomination?” Obviously they are not so concerned about denominational unity. From a denomination that promotes the unbiblical practice of women’s ordination, in which they do not have unity with many congregations and classes, they will not withdraw! The CRC's decision implies, and rightly so, that any congregation that is willing to live in a denomination that accepts women in office ought also to be willing to live in a classis that accepts women in office. Indeed these congregations should even be willing to live with women office bearers in their own church.

The synod's thinking in ground c is correct. The only way to escape the wicked practice of women's ordination is to withdraw from the Christian Reformed denomination. And anyone who is willing to stay in the CRC (thereby accepting women in office on a denominational level) should drop the issue and allow women's ordination everywhere, including in their own congregations. There is no unity or peace available in the CRC for those who oppose women’s ordination.

Decision 2

That synod grant Trinity CRC in Sparta, Michigan, and Second CRC in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the option to move to the classis in closest proximity that is willing to receive them and which they are willing to join.

Grounds:

  1. After Synod 2010 did not accede to the overture to allow the move to Classis Minnkota, these churches exhaustively explored geographically closer options. They have satisfied Synod 2010’s concern that they explore classes of closer proximity.

  2. In view of the diligent efforts of these two churches, the desire of their classes to help them move forward, and the desire of these churches to end the hurt and tension within their classes, this decision offers grace into this reality.

  3. This is consistent with the synodical precedent that allows the transfer of churches to another classis (see Acts of Synod 1995, 2000, 2006, 2007).

Response

In this decision the synod admits that there is “hurt and tension” in the classes because of the disagreement over the issue of women in office. There is no unity and peace between the congregations who are on opposite sides of the issue. Yet the synod refuses to acknowledge that the issue needs to be decisively decided one way or the other. So the synod has made a pragmatic decision. Since these two recalcitrant congregations find it difficult to live in a classis where women’s ordination is accepted, synod will let them join other classes, even if they won’t allow them to form a new one.

The obvious irony is that although the CRC won’t allow the creation of a so-called “affinity classis” such classes already exist in the CRC. There is added irony when one considers that it was the 1995 synod that encouraged the creation of “affinity classes.” That synod gave to each classis the right to declare the word male “inoperative” in the church order article that speaks of the qualifications for officebearers. That decision made every classis in the CRC an “affinity classis.” After each classis made a decision to drop or keep the word male, the CRC was made up of what we could call A and B classes. The congregations in the A classes agree (affinity) that women may not be ordained. The congregations in the B classes agree (affinity) to allow and practice women’s ordination. Having created a situation in which there are A and B classes, the CRC has decided it won’t allow the creation of a new A classis, but it will begrudgingly allow two congregations in B classes to move to A classes.

Synod’s admission that there are A and B classes in the CRC is proof that there is deep division in the CRC over the women-in-office issue.   Its decision to allow churches to withdraw from their classes and join a different one only encourages that division to continue.

Decision 3

That synod communicate the following to Trinity CRC, Sparta; Second CRC, Kalamazoo; and their respective classes:

  1. We commend these two churches for their faithful perseverance in these matters and for their desire to remain in the CRC.
  2. We encourage these churches to seek ways to continue in their current classes.
  3. We encourage these churches and classes to engage in some process of reconciliation, healing, and blessing.
  4. We also encourage these churches to seek ways to continue to work together with local CRC churches to communicate and live out the gospel of Jesus Christ in their regions.

Response

This decision is a futile attempt by the synod to maintain and to foster unity despite sharp disagreement over the women-in-office issue. At the same time it demonstrates that synod is not really interested in defending and promoting unity. This decision is an implied charge of schism against the two congregations that want to depart from their classes. If synod wanted unity it would charge the two congregations with sin and call them to repent. But instead of bringing charges of sin, the synod commends the congregations for remaining in the denomination. This commendation for staying in the denomination comes even though synod views the two congregations as the cause of a situation where there is need for “reconciliation, healing, and blessing” on a classical level.

By commending the congregations for staying in the denomination even though they are causing division on the classical level, synod’s decision promotes unity in name only. Unity in name only exists when there are congregations that are deeply divided but decide to stay together in one denomination anyway. That means unity in name only is actually schism. Synod 2013 followed the lead of Synod 1995 that promoted unity in name only when it allowed the classes to disagree with each other over the issue of women’s ordination.

It is sin on the part of the CRC synod to promote unity apart from the theological conviction that only men may be ordained as office bearers. It is also sin to stay in the CRC on the part of those who are convicted that women’s ordination is unbiblical. It is good that they know that unity is impossible for them in a congregation or classis that allows women’s ordination. But when they stay in the CRC despite their theological disagreement with the denomination’s allowance of women’s ordination, they show themselves willing to accept the sham unity of unity in name only. The result is continued tension and disharmony in the CRC.

 

Resources:

The Acts of the 2013 CRC Synod are available here.

The Executive Director of the CRC’s summary of the Acts is available here.

A report by John Van Dyk can be found in Christian Renewal (July 21/August 21) 18-19.

 

Click here to read Part 2 on the CRC Synod 2013.

 

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This article was written by guest blogger Rev. Clayton Spronk, pastor of Peace Protestant Reformed Church in Lansing, IL. Rev. Spronk will be blogging for us several times a month, taking us first through a brief study of Richard Smit's newly released book, The Fruit of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. If there is a topic you'd like to Rev. Spronk to address, please contact us.

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