Synod 2006 made some wonderful decisions, some surprising decisions, and some confusing decisions on behalf of the Christian Reformed Church.
There was much talk of elephants in the room. Some of them were named, such as the problems some have with the denomination’s ministry structure. Others, such as the continuing angst over women in church office, just kept appearing in one discussion after another.
Synod 2006 maintained an overt sense of unity. Delegates seemed to heed the admonition of Rev. David Kromminga, who in synod’s opening worship service urged them not to think too highly of themselves. “Trust God to do great things with our little,” he said. “It speaks well of a church when people are recognized for humility.” He urged delegates to bow to each other in gratitude, something they literally did during one discussion.
And so delegates went to great lengths to avoid splitting into majority and minority positions. Unity seemed to be the new core value of advisory committees, and much was said about getting past disagreements and walking together. Synod made great effort to keep the peace. But at what price?
Synod 2006 wholeheartedly supported the peacemaking initiatives recommended by the study committee on war and peace. Frankly, I didn’t expect that report to receive the good reception that it did, especially since more than a quarter of the overtures and communications to synod requested changes to it.
There were dissenting voices, to be sure, from those who didn’t agree with the report, and from those who don’t think the church has any business talking to the government on any policy. Debate was vigorous and long. But in the end synod called on the churches, agencies, and members of the CRC to be agents of peace and shalom. There was no split along American-Canadian lines that I had expected.
Perhaps the highlight was when ethnic adviser Yatta Foryoh, who escaped from Sierra Leone before coming to Canada, defined shalom for synod. “When you bring food to our people, the food by itself is not shalom,” she said. “Shalom is a whole pie, with nothing broken, nothing missing. The giver is shalom too. Shalom is fullness.”
Also wonderful was the interview and appointment of Rev. Gerard (Jerry) Dykstra as the denomination’s new executive director. No element of surprise there. Delegates seemed thrilled with his passion for the Christian Reformed Church, approving him unanimously, giving him a standing ovation, and then surrounding him and his wife, Linda, with prayer.
And the CRC has finally backed away from its condemnation of the Roman Catholic Mass, a triumph in ecumenicity spearheaded by the denomination’s little-known but hardworking Interchurch Relations Committee. Kudos especially go to George Vandervelde, who has worked tirelessly on this issue for most of the past decade.
Yet that same generosity of spirit was not also extended to the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, with whom our fellowship remains restricted.
Surprising, but still wonderful, was synod’s decision regarding First CRC of Toronto and its ministry to gay and lesbian members. After a lot of rancor and talking about First CRC at Synod 2005, the synodical committee appointed to talk to First CRC reported that the congregation had agreed to bring its ministry in line with the denomination’s guidelines on homosexuality. As one delegate said, “It was a picture of grace and forgiveness.”
Also surprising and wonderful was synod’s response to a situation involving a man who had been sexually abused by his Cadet counselor many years ago. While synod couldn’t deal with him directly, it did instruct the CRC’s Board of Trustees to find a mechanism by which to address the ongoing fallout in the lives of those who have been abused by church leaders. While many denominations have blindly denied abuse by their leaders, the CRC continues to try to face the issue head on.
On the last day of synod, I think delegates surprised even themselves when they declared that all baptized members, including children, are a part of God’s family and should be included in the Lord’s Supper. Opening communion to all baptized members is not a denial of the need for a profession of faith, synod said, but an affirmation of the CRC’s covenant theology. It will take a few years for the church to implement that decision, but its time has come.
By the admission of both the advisory committee and many delegates, the decision to take the word male out of the Church Order of the CRC yet still prohibit women from being delegates to synod or synodical deputies was both illogical and confusing. Especially when the very next day synod declared an exception to allow Rev. Thea Leunk to be a synodical deputy.
It remains to be seen whether future synods will agree with the recommendation of this synod that the church take a seven-year Sabbath rest from further discussion on the issue.
From the opening discussion of whether to approve candidates for the ministry as a group or individually—to separate men from women—the gender issue was an elephant very much present at this synod.
When synod talked long and hard over whether to approve the gender-inclusive Today’s New International Version of the Bible, some delegates questioned whether the version was theologically sound or simply driven by a feminist agenda.
Even synod’s service of prayer and praise cast a shadow—while last year’s service had no women serving communion, this year’s service saw every communion station “manned” by at least one woman, causing some delegates to refrain from participating.
Another lingering elephant is the worry that synods have given too much authority to the denomination’s Board of Trustees. Delegates expressed gratitude for all the work the BOT does, but some questioned if the BOT does work that synod should do itself. Some delegates were reluctant to give the board the power to appoint a new director of denominational ministries before next year’s synod, though in the end that’s what they did.
You could almost smell an elephant when synod approved a program called Sustaining Congregational Excellence, which will be funded by a $10 supplemental ministry share already approved by Synod 2005. Synod 2006 gave the new executive director instructions to recommend the most effective way to structure the denomination’s ministries to achieve healthy congregations.
One delegate asked, “Is this a sneaky way of doing away with agency boards?” Executive director-elect Dykstra responded, “I hope it’s not seen as a sneaky way to do anything. It’s out in the open. It’s time we had a good look at structure.”
AT WHAT PRICE?
In his editorial, Bob De Moor talks about new, younger conservatives who do not seek to foist their views on others but simply look for room to hold their own views.
Several delegates, often passionately in favor of opening all church offices to women, walked up to the microphones at this synod and agreed to keep women out of synodical roles for the foreseeable future.
There is indeed far more determination to walk together than there was 10 or 15 years ago. Delegates worked hard at keeping the peace. But at what price?
The elephants have not left the building.