Synod 2010: Michigan Churches Not Allowed to Join Distant Classis

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Synod 2010 decided not to allow two West Michigan churches to transfer to another classis hundreds of miles away.

The two churches—Trinity CRC of Sparta, Mich., and Second CRC of Kalamazoo, Mich.—want to join Classis Minnkota, because its churches share their opposition to the ordination of women. The two churches do not wish to attend classis meetings when female elders or pastors are present.

Classes are clusters of regional churches that usually meet twice a year. Classis Minnkota covers churches in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

For two hours, delegates engaged in the most passionate debate of this year’s synod.

Some delegates urged the two churches to stay and continue their struggle with people whose views differ. “It is more powerful to experience grace where there is difference than to hide and escape in uniformity,” said elder Wendy Gritter, Classis Toronto. Gritter spoke from her own experience as a woman in ministry, she said.

“One of the great gifts of the CRC is that we have covenanted to live together in heart and truth in very diverse ways,” said Rev. Mark Vermaire, Classis California South. “This [request] seems to say ‘We’d be together in name but not in reality.’”

Rev. Kevin DeRaaf, Classis Hamilton, who chaired the committee that addressed the two churches’ request, said the request could further divide the CRC. “What’s clear in the overtures brought . . . is the desire to form a theologically aligned classis. To move away from our calling to be present in a place is a matter of deep concern.”

But nearly half of the delegates disagreed, preferring to let the churches join Classis Minnkota in spite of its geographic distance.

“I agree that we are called to be where we are and work through our differences, but this is the will of [these churches],” said Rev. Tim Raakman, Classis Kalamazoo. “We can give them all the sound arguments we want, but at the end of the day what can we do—force them?”

“This feels like we are saying, ‘We will make room for you, but we will tell you where to stand,’” said Rev. Tom Niehof, Classis Northcentral Iowa.

Elder Sharon Broersma DeVries, Classis Chatham, was overwhelmed by emotion as she said that it hurt to be at synod where some disagreed with her presence there. “I hurt also for the young girls at Trinity CRC and Second Kalamazoo CRC who may silently question and believe differently from the positions of their congregations,” she said. “I was one of those girls.”

Once the decision was made, with a very close vote, a few delegates shared their opinions of its consequences.

“While neither of these churches has breathed a hint of leaving [the denomination], the reality is, if they cannot go to their classis meeting, they will leave,” said Rev. Bill Vis, Classis Grand Rapids North.

Rev. David Snapper, Classis Pacific North-West, urged CRC leaders to reconcile with those who oppose the full inclusion of women in ministry.

“We’ve lost a lot of members over [the issue of women in office],” he said. “We are not innocent in what happened. I can’t think of anything that would be more encouraging than if leaders found out their brothers and asked for forgiveness.”

Synod in fact made a statement of repentance for past hurts caused (see p. 30).

Synod also instructed the CRC’s Board of Trustees to have executive director Rev. Jerry Dykstra and others work with the two churches in order to try to “seek ways forward.”

Later that same day, Rev. Henry DeMoor, synod’s adviser on church polity, reminded delegates of something he heard from the late Rev. John Kromminga, former president of Calvin Theological Seminary: “An airplane needs both its right wing and its left wing to fly. The same applies to the church.”

About the Author

Roxanne Van Farowe is a freelance writer.

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