In a quiet, short meeting Nov. 10, Classis Toronto told First Christian Reformed Church of Toronto that First’s stance on allowing homosexual people in committed same-sex relationships to serve as officebearers is contrary to Scripture and violates the ethical guidelines set by the Christian Reformed Church. Classis told the church it must bring its practice and teachings in line with the denominational position.
Classis (a regional body of churches) stopped short of telling First CRC that if it did not do that, the classis would begin the process of disaffiliating the church. Classis chose instead to wait for a response from First.
The guidelines referred to are those adopted by the CRC in 1973 and affirmed in 2002. They state that “explicit homosexual practice must be condemned as incompatible with obedience to the will of God as revealed in Holy Scripture.”
In a letter to Classis Toronto, First said the church is unable to meet all of the requirements of the denomination’s position on homosexuality. “We have taken seriously . . . the more pastoral guidelines of the 1973 report to recognize our gay members as ‘fellow servants of Christ.’ We have embraced them as such, and it has become increasingly difficult, if not pastorally impossible, to bring to bear on our brothers and sisters in Christ the full impact of some of the other guidelines of report ‘73,” the letter said. “We found ourselves in uncharted pastoral waters. The guidelines themselves seem very difficult to implement, because ministry often does not happen at all if churches are serious about some of the guidelines.”
Rev. Henry Wildeboer, speaking at the meeting, affirmed that churches and members ought to be ministering to people with same-gender attraction. Elder Mary Vandervennen from Grace CRC in Scarborough, Ontario, said Classis Toronto hasn’t always lived up to that call. “First did hold meetings 10 years ago and even offered to come to other churches, and that was a brave thing to do,” she said. “I think we all need to confess as brothers and sisters that we have avoided the subject [of homosexuality] and let them carry the ball.”
Classis urged First CRC to bring an overture (appeal) to classis, challenging the guidelines with which it disagrees and providing biblical grounds for the appeal. But at the same time, classis said that until such an overture could be processed, First CRC must provide a “clear and unambiguous answer . . . stating that it is prepared to bring its practice, pastoral care, and teaching ministry within the guidelines of Synod 1973.” It was not made clear at the meeting what form that compliance would take.
The Nov. 10 meeting was the latest in a series that began in 2002, when First CRC announced its intention to allow its gay and lesbian members to serve as elders and deacons. That move ignited a firestorm of protest, and First CRC subsequently announced it would refrain from acting on that decision.
But by then other churches and classes in the denomination expressed concern about whether First’s approach was within denominational guidelines. Synod 2004 maintained that Classis Toronto would be the appropriate body to hold First CRC accountable.
However, by 2005 delegates to the CRC’s annual synod decided Classis Toronto was not doing so, and it appointed a special committee to look into the matter. That synodical committee made its report to Classis Toronto in September. The action taken by classis at the Nov. 10 meeting was in large part what was recommended by that synodical committee.
If First CRC does not provide a statement indicating its compliance with the denomination’s position on homosexuality, it is possible that at its January meeting Classis Toronto will take up a recommendation that First CRC be deemed to have disaffiliated itself from the denomination, a recommendation on which the classis withheld action in November.