Like traffic in a construction zone, Synod 2011 moved forward carefully and cautiously—making slow progress on some issues, but drawing to a stop on others.
Delegates were deliberative, taking their time for thorough debate, an accomplishment all the more impressive considering their heavy agenda and limited time.
Their debates remained healthy, at times heated but never angry. No one pointed fingers; no one raised his or her voice.
Close votes on several issues showed a Christian Reformed Church not so much divided as in healthy tension. The same delegates urging synod ahead on some issues rode the brakes on others.
Synod 2011 saw green lights, stop signs, detours, and rough pavement, but also the promise of a smoother road ahead.
Though it took a long time for the light to change, Synod 2011 gave a green light to revised translations of the Belgic Confession, Canons of Dort, and Heidelberg Catechism—translations we now hold in common with the Reformed Church in America and the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Rev. John Witvliet: Age- and ability-appropriate faith is what all congregations should be fostering.
Photo: Karen Huttenga
Not all delegates were happy with the reduced use of male pronouns referring to God or the use of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, but eventually the revisions received approval.
Allowing baptized covenant children to take part in communion before making a public profession of faith was also given the go-ahead, subject to the practice of local churches.
Delegates stressed the importance of faith formation that includes a public profession of faith, but said children may participate in the Lord’s Supper as a step in that faith formation.
Synod 2011 also affirmed the importance of infant baptism in the Christian Reformed Church, calling it an “indispensible gift.”
It noted that baptism needs to happen only once in a person’s life, even if it happens in another denomination. To that end, Synod 2011 affirmed that members from the Roman Catholic Church do not have to be rebaptized, a statement that caused dismay for some delegates.
Proceed with Caution
Synod 2011 did not move as fast through diversity issues as some would have liked, but it did travel ahead. In a very close vote, delegates agreed to set a goal that 25 percent of the top administrative positions in the denomination would be filled by persons of ethnic-minority backgrounds.
Some expressed fears of “token hiring,” while others said that the Korean community, the largest ethnic minority group in the CRC, did not have much participation in the final report. So an expanded task group will work on some of the recommendations synod did not adopt.
The proposed Covenant for Officebearers failed to reach its desired destination, instead getting sent back to its study committee for more work. After six years and two study committees, the detour was met with great frustration by those eager to have a new document replace the CRC’s current Form of Subscription.
Fears that the new document requires less defense of the Reformed confessions and less accountability from signers caused delegates to ask that it be worked on for one more year.
Synod 2011 put up several stop signs this year. A request for a new study on the biblical teachings regarding homosexuality met one of those stops signs after a spirited debate and a close vote.
Infant dedication met another stop sign, when Synod 2011 declared the practice inconsistent with the Reformed confessions.
And Synod 2011 also put up a stop sign to a request to raise Our World Belongs to God: A Contemporary Testimony to confessional status.
Rev. Stephen M. Hasper: “It’s not that we have no position [on evolution.] We have the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dort, and they speak quite eloquently to it.”
Photo: Karen Huttenga
Delegates also discussed at length the writings by two Calvin College professors regarding human origins, but declined to make any official declarations on the matter, deciding instead to wait for a Calvin College committee on academic freedom to report its findings.
Synod 2011 hit stretches of rough pavement as delegates dealt with painful issues surrounding the Board of Trustees’ request for the resignation of the CRC’s executive director after an independent performance review.
Synod lamented the hurt experienced by all parties involved and gave thanks for the gifts used in service to the church by those same people.
Synod approved changes to the ministers’ pension plan that will raise the normal retirement age for pastors from 65 to 66, change the cost of spousal benefits, and increase the contributions churches must make to the plan.
Though we look forward with excitement to next year’s youth summit, asked for and planned by young adults of the Christian Reformed Church, it may come with its own share of bumps in the road.
Some of this year’s youth representatives were not afraid to challenge synod—some disagreeing with the decision regarding a new study on homosexuality, and another commenting on what he perceived as a lot of fear.
Smoother Road Ahead
Every construction zone eventually ends with the promise of a smoother road, and Synod 2011 saw promises of that as well.
Synod celebrated with joy the appointment of Rev. Moses Chung as the new director of Christian Reformed Home Missions, surrounding him and his family in prayer.
Delegates approved the appointment of Rev. Joel Boot as interim executive director of the CRC and heard his testimony that the state of the Christian Reformed Church is good. And synod established a new task force to find ways to improve the administrative structure of the denomination.
Delegates from the CRC and the Reformed Church in America celebrated together the great amount of ministry being done in partnership with the promise of more to come.
No doubt we will continue to experience detours, stop signs and bumpy pavement, but much of the work done by Synod 2011 bodes well for our continued travel on the road of building God’s kingdom.