Slowing Down the Church

Vantage Point

Synod 2005 approved a proposal for the orderly exchange of ministers between the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America. It did that so councils may call ministers from the other denomination without going through the rather involved procedures currently in place.

“We’re going to examine an RCA minister for entrance into the CRC at our September meeting,” a delegate said.

“May we use this process instead?” The answer? “No. The denomination must wait a year before anyone does so” (Banner, July 2005, p. 40).

Synod also voted to update our Contemporary Testimony. A committee will solicit suggestions for improvement and provide an updated Testimony for the Agenda for Synod 2007. Once Synod 2007 approves it, churches must wait a year to use it until Synod 2008 adopts it.

Why must we wait an entire year to implement changes that assist the church?

We find part of the answer to that question in Church Order Article 47: “No substantial alterations shall be effected by synod in these matters [the creeds, Church Order, liturgical forms, etc.] unless the churches have had prior opportunity to consider the advisability of the proposed changes” (2004 Church Order, pp.14-15).

The Church Order of the CRC is rooted in the Church Order of Dort (1618-19), but Article 47 was added in a 1965 revision. Our Acts of Synod give no reason why, after 346 years, this provision was necessary.

One of the revision committee members says in his commentary, “This provision helps to safeguard the churches against hasty and undesirable changes” (The New Revised Church Order Commentary, p. 188), but he cites no examples of hasty changes or damage caused.

The bigger part of the answer for the year delay is found by examining our interpretation of Article 47. Thirty years after its adoption, an extensive study of this article indicated, “Gradually, Article 47 was read less and less in terms of the requirement of ‘prior opportunity,’ which is the language of the Church Order, and more and more in terms of ‘ratification’—a word and a concept that do not appear in the Church Order” (Agenda for Synod 1995, p. 332-346).

Especially during our discussions on the use of women’s gifts, Article 47 was used to make changes as slowly as possible. Many asserted that a subsequent synod needed to “ratify” a particular set of words describing those changes. Our Church Order has suffered in that debate.

Synod should appoint a committee to recommend how Church Order Article 47 can be revised so it facilitates, rather than hinders, the ministry of Christ’s church.

About the Author

George Vander Weit is a retired pastor in the Christian Reformed Church.
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