What do confessing members and officebearers who have previously signed the Covenant for Officebearers do when the Christian Reformed Church changes its confessions, and they no longer agree with the beliefs in the confessions?
This question represents many CRC members and officebearers who are struggling with the decision of Synod 2022 regarding human sexuality, either because they disagree that same-sex sexual activity within marriage is sinful or because they disagree with giving the CRC position on sexuality confessional status. What should these people do?
Officebearers can submit a gravamen—either expressing difficulty with a confessional matter or asking for revision of synod’s decision. A confessional-difficulty gravamen can be accepted by their council, allowing officebearers to continue serving, or not be accepted, which could lead to discipline and eventual deposition. A confessional-revision gravamen would be forwarded to classis and to synod because it would affect all CRCNA officebearers. (See guidelines for gravamina in Church Order Supplement, Art. 5.)
Confessing members do not file gravamina, but they can write communications or overtures to their councils that councils can submit to classis and then classis to synod. These communications and overtures could protest synod’s decision or ask for it to be changed. Meanwhile, any members who disagree with synod’s decision can certainly explain their quandary to their elders and ask for grace as they and the CRCNA sort out what Synod 2022’s decision means. Elders always practice discernment in their pastoral care and discipling of members, even if discipline may be needed. But these are matters for the local consistory to engage personally in each individual situation. Because these are difficult and complex issues that affect many people and their families in deeply personal ways, elders need to be exceedingly careful and prayerful.
The human sexuality report itself acknowledged the complexity of the topic and the care needed in approaching these matters when it noted that “even if a teaching has confessional status, that does not mean there is no room for disagreement within the bounds of that teaching. In addition, the church sometimes allows for pastoral accommodations. For example, our confessions say that the children of believers should be baptized. Yet some congregations are willing to allow members not to baptize their children” (Agenda for Synod 2022, 457). While Synod 2022 made no declaration regarding this statement in the human sexuality report, the report does provide a helpful reference to past decisions of synod and to the nature of discipleship, which is the responsibility of the local church.