Synod 2008 was a momentous occasion, historic no matter how you feel about women being delegated to synod for the first time. The air was electric with excitement, anticipation, perhaps even dread, as synod convened Saturday morning, June 14.
But after that, the rest of Synod 2008 wasn’t particularly momentous or exciting. That was no fault of the delegates. Rather, the material for the major agenda items came to the churches so late that much of it had to be sent back, either to committees for further refinement or to the churches for more time to study it.
Without a doubt, the high point of this synod was the way delegates worked together. From the first day to the last, women were warmly welcomed and graciously received, even by those whose consciences were strained by their presence. (See pp. 10 and 30.)
We owe respect and gratitude to the 187 delegates of Synod 2008 who went out of their comfort zones to create a shining example of Christian unity and charity.
What was less impressive was how major reports were presented to synod. Synod’s agenda this year included three important items: the revision of the Contemporary Testimony, the revision of the Form of Subscription, and a report outlining our response when members have been abused by church leaders—all crucial topics at the heart of our identity, both confessionally and pastorally.
However, not one of the final reports on these issues made it to the churches soon enough to be studied properly and for possible responses to be drafted.
The abuse-response report is a hefty document that came from the denomination’s Board of Trustees. It is a complex, multifaceted report, and kudos go to the authors in dealing with one of the most sensitive issues of our generation. But the report was not available until May.
Delegates, knowing that simply was not enough time for churches to respond to something with emotional, spiritual, legal, and financial ramifications for the church, wisely sent it back to be dealt with by Synod 2010. (See p. 33.)
The revision of the Form of Subscription was also late in reaching the churches, with the final report published just three months before synod convened. Even though previous drafts were sent to the churches, the final product is what counts, since that’s what synod discusses and what gets adopted—or not. In this case, synod chose not to adopt. (See p. 35.)
Adoption of Testimony Tainted
Synod 2008 did adopt the revised Contemporary Testimony (see p. 32), but not before several delegates attempted to delay adoption to a future synod so local churches would have adequate time to respond to the latest committee draft. The version presented to synod had been published about the same time as the revised Form of Subscription.
Two members of the revision committee ebulliently informed synod of all the responses received to the earlier drafts of the testimony. Other churches would give their eyeteeth to have such interest in confessions, Rev. Clayton Libolt told synod. Rev. Morris Greidanus, chair of the revision committee, evaded the issue of the late final draft by pointing to the many responses the committee received to earlier drafts.
Yet respected church leaders should know better. They have been around long enough to know that church councils have many things on their plates already. It can take months for a council to study and digest a major report, draft a response if necessary, then forward the response through the necessary channels of classis (a regional group of churches).
“We haven’t had time to pore over it heart and soul,” said Elder Tobias Lewis, Classis Atlantic Northeast.
Indeed, intense local-church interest in the testimony should have led the committee to give churches a meaningful opportunity to comment on the committee’s latest draft, rather than rushing that draft off to synod for approval.
Foisting a committee’s product on synod at the last minute does an injustice to hard-working delegates, who can’t be expected to come up with the varied, thoughtful responses that might come if the churches had adequate time to study it.
Rev. Dan Brown, Classis Eastern Canada, has been in the ministry for only three years, but he hit the nail on the head. “This is supposed to be a confession of our church, not of a committee or of a synod,” he said. “It’s been in the agenda for three months. That is hardly enough time for churches to embrace this as a confession. What’s the rush?”
Our seasoned leaders would do well to listen to the wisdom of this young pastor. Churches must have lots of time to reflect on and give input on important issues. Otherwise there will be no buy-in on the local level. Local congregations won’t own what synod has done.
If local churches and classes don’t own what is done on the denominational level, what is the point in holding synod every year?