No matter what is on the agenda for Synod 2008 (the annual leadership meeting of the Christian Reformed Church), it will be a historic occasion. For the first time in the church’s 151-year history, women will be among the delegates who gather at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., in June.
When 47 classes (regional groups of churches) each send four delegates to synod, 25 of those 188 representatives will be women. The inclusion of women comes after Synod 2007 removed the requirement that delegates to synod be male.
Once the delegates get down to business, it won’t be the flashiest of agendas, not compared to the high profile discussions of women in ecclesiastical office that drew wide attention in previous years. However, some of the topics on the agenda hold long-term significance for the confessional foundations of the denomination.
Form of Subscription
Perhaps top on the list is the proposed revision of the Form of Subscription. The form is a statement that all officebearers in the CRC must sign, signaling their commitment to upholding and defending the creeds and confessions of the church, most significantly the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort. The form is intended to keep us all, confessionally speaking, on the same page.
But in recent years church leaders have complained that the form, written originally in the 1600s, is outdated and that its difficult text weakens its potential as a meaningful testimony for new church leaders. In some cases congregations are not even requiring new officebearers to sign the Form of Subscription.
So synod appointed a committee, which revised the form and sent it to the churches for feedback. Using that feedback, the committee drafted a new version, called the Covenant of Ordination. It is up to Synod 2008 to decide what to do with it. Some are happy with the revision, others are not, and still others think the whole document should be sent back to the churches for further study, after which Synod 2009 should deal with it.
Also in the confessional vein, Our World Belongs to God underwent a revision, and that, too, is coming to Synod 2008. Commonly known as the Contemporary Testimony, it was written in 1986 as a modern expression of what we believe. While it is not considered on par with the Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, and Canons of Dort, it is widely used by CRC churches.
But much has changed since 1986, so to remain contemporary the testimony needed an update. As with the revision to the Form of Subscription, some are in favor of the rewrite, others are not, and some say the whole thing should be sent back to the churches for a year.
Protestant Church of the Netherlands
Another item on this year’s agenda is the relationship between the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the newly formed Protestant Church of the Netherlands (PCN). When the PCN was formed, it enfolded the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, also known as the GKN (Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland), the church that has often been called the mother or sister of the CRC in North America.
In recent decades the CRC has had a strained relationship with the GKN. The two denominations were distanced by differences about biblical interpretation and acceptance of homosexual practice.
However, with the formation of the PCN, that mother church no longer exists, and the Interchurch Relations Committee of our denomination would like synod to establish ecclesiastical fellowship with the new denomination, in line with the openness of our new ecumenical charter.
That new charter, adopted by Synod 2006, takes a more open approach to interchurch relations. It marked a shift from stressing shared confessionality and an implicit goal of mutual discipline to a greater openness to working together in cooperation with various denominations despite certain differences.
Will delegates be open to a new, closer relationship with this new denomination, or will differences with the former GKN continue to cause separation?
Those are just a few of the major issues on Synod 2008’s agenda. There is the usual plethora of overtures (requests) to synod, on topics ranging from the second Sunday worship service to environmental policy to the new bi-denominational hymnal in development with the Reformed Church in America.
Synod convenes at Calvin College on Saturday, June 14, 2008. You can follow the proceedings by calling the synod hotline at 1-888-CR-SYNOD (1-888-277-9663). In Grand Rapids, the local number is 616-224-0841.
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