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Covenant for Officebearers Proposed

A proposed “Covenant for Officebearers” will give elders, deacons, ministers, and ministry associates a new way to affirm their agreement with the doctrines officially held by the Christian Reformed Church and to promise to use proper procedures to engage in discussion when they don’t agree with them.

The denomination already has a document called the Form of Subscription that officebearers sign to affirm their agreement with the official teachings of the church. It was originally adopted by the Synod of Dort in 1618-19. The English translation used by the CRC was approved by Synod 1912 and modified by Synod 1988. (Synod is the annual leadership meeting of the CRC.)

But in recent years, that document has fallen into disuse in some churches because some officebearers have reservations about signing it.  

So Synod 2005 assigned a committee the task of coming up with a new version of the Form of Subscription, and this proposed Covenant for Officebearers is the second attempt to fulfill that mandate. The first revision, presented to Synod 2008, was not accepted.

In its report, the committee noted that “throughout history the [Form of Subscription] has been perceived as unduly intimidating.” The committee sought instead to come up with a covenant that “both encourages discussion and respects the honest confessional questions raised by those who might otherwise have been discouraged by the thought of facing a council, classis, or synod in a long process.”

Mutually entering into a covenant promises respect as well as subscription to the document, the committee said, whereas merely signing a “form” of subscription appears to be affixing a signature to a static document and leaving little recourse for discussion.

The committee is in agreement that the purpose of any revision should be unity with a secondary concern for purity. Though the concern for unity was primary, it was not to be achieved at the expense of purity.

It also sought to come up with a document in language that “sings” rather than “plods along.”

“The revisions needed to be clear, compelling, and easily transportable across cultural and linguistic barriers,” the report stated. “Any document that calls people to covenant together should be stated in simple yet profound language so that it might be widely understood and embraced.”

The committee chose language for the proposed covenant that would “encourage open, honest, respectful dialogue over questions that arise.”

It also noted that the language of covenant is communal rather than individualistic. “The document is not just an affirmation of one’s personal beliefs but an agreement on how we are called to live together as sisters and brothers in Jesus Christ,” the committee wrote. “[It] conveys a promise to work through disagreements and openly and honestly deal with questions that arise, rather than to have the first reaction be to stifle dissent.”

The order of the proposed covenant is intended to make clear the flow of authority, from Scripture to ecumenical creeds to Reformed confessions and finally to Our World Belongs to God: A Contemporary Testimony.

While some have argued that the Contemporary Testimony should not be included in the proposed covenant because it doesn’t have the weight of a doctrinal standard, the committee said that the document has “made a fitting contribution to our denomination’s conviction to be a Reformed church that is always reforming.”

Synod 2011 will decide whether to adopt the Covenant for Officebearers when it meets in June.

Proposed Covenant for Officebearers in the Christian Reformed Church

We, the undersigned, believe the inspired Word of God as received in the Old and New Testaments of Holy Scripture, which proclaims the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ and the reconciliation of all things in him. Acknowledging the authority of God’s Word, we submit to it in all matters of life and faith.

We affirm three creeds—the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed—as ecumenical expressions of the Christian faith. In doing so, we confess our faith in unity with followers of Jesus Christ throughout all ages and among all nations.

We also affirm three confessions—the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort—as historic Reformed expressions of the Christian faith. These confessions continue to define the way we understand Scripture, direct the way we live in response to the gospel, and locate us within the larger body of Christ.

Grateful for these expressions of faith, we promise to be formed and governed by them, conforming our preaching, teaching, writing, serving, and living to them.

Along with these historic creeds and confessions, we also affirm the witness of Our World Belongs to God: A Contemporary Testimony as a current Reformed expression of the Christian faith that forms and guides us in our present context.

We also promise to present or receive confessional difficulties in a spirit of love and fellowship with our brothers and sisters as together we seek a fuller understanding of the gospel. Should we at any time come to believe that a teaching in the confessional documents is irreconcilable with God’s Word, we will communicate our views to the church, according to the procedures prescribed by the Church Order and its supplements. Further, we promise to submit to the church’s judgment and authority.

We honor this covenant for the well-being of the church to the glory of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

From the report to Synod 2011 from the Form of Subscription Revision Committee II.

About the Author

Gayla Postma is news editor for The Banner.

See comments (7)

Comments

What is the difference between a Confession and Testimony? I see they are presented in different paragraphs, but, given the language of them, I'm not sure what the substantive difference is.

Must a signer affirm all aspects of Our World Belongs to God in the same way as the Confessions? If so, then what's the difference between them in authority, if not, then does Our World Belongs to God belong in the Form of Subscription.

-James

I find it interesting that the supposed answer to office-bearers ignoring the covenant we already have is to re-word the covenant.

The problem isn't the wording of the Form of Subscription. The problem is some of those who lead in the CRC do not believe the historic Reformed creeds and others are unwilling to hold them accountable.

James - the substantive difference is in the description afterwards. The three forms of unity "define the way we understand Scripture." OWBtG is merely "a current Reformed expression".

What troubles me concerning the OWBtG language is the claim that it "forms and guides" us today. I cannot in conscience or honesty say that it does and, to the extent that it forms and guides the denomination, it forms and guides it into error.

It is a highly flawed document, wholly given over to leftist politics in articles 44-54 and flatly heretical in article 38 ("In the Lord’s Supper, Christ offers his own crucified body and shed blood to his people..." is a transubstantiationist statement at odds with the Catechism and Confession. Christ does not offer his own crucified body and shed blood in the sacrament. Rather, the sacrament symbolizes and memorializes that finished sacrifice on the cross.)

In my congregation, I have banned the use of these articles in the liturgy. I will never subscribe to them.

PNR -- You make some good points about the proposed covenant, and about OWBTG. However, when you address the article about communion, you seem to be pushing for a Zwinglian understanding of the sacrament -- that the Lord's supper is merely a symbol of a past event. That would be at odds with our Reformed Confessions; the sacraments are more than signs, but are also seals, guarantees. I'm not sure that you would disagree, but your response seems to lean towards purely symbolic language.

And, I'm not sure that you quoted OWBTG correctly; article 40 says that we are offered "the bread and cup to believers." (However, this is from the Old version; I don't know if that article has been changed in the newer version?)

Having read the Report, I am a little perplexed why the Committee thought that now is the appropriate time for the CRC to adopt a new Form of Subscription (FOS). It seems to me that the Committee has made it clear in their Report that there is no consensus in the CRC regarding the nature of confessional subscription. Yet, the Committee thinks - in spite of this lack of consensus - that the CRC is still in a legitimate position to revise the FOS. But this seems backwards. Shouldn't the CRC develop a consensus regarding the nature of confessional subscription BEFORE it revises the FOS? Surely we should know what purpose the FOS is supposed to serve BEFORE we start revising it. If we do not know what purpose the FOS is suppose to serve, then how will we know whether the revised FOS achieves that purpose?

Furthermore, it should be noted that if there is no consensus in the CRC on the nature of confessional subscription, then the CRC is not prepared to adopt the Belhar as a confession. This is so for the following reason: If the CRC is to adopt the Belhar as a confession, then the CRC must be able to explain to its officebearers what it would mean for them to subscribe to the Belhar. But, according to the Report, the CRC cannot explain to its officebearers what it means to subscribe even to its current confessional standards! Therefore, the CRC is not prepared to adopt the Belhar as a confession.

Rob -
The quote is from the updated Article 38, which you can find here: http://www.crcna.org/pages/our_world_gods_people.cfm

The sacraments are signs and seals of the finished work of Christ. In saying that Jesus offers us his crucified body and shed blood, OWBtG errs on two levels. First, the sacrament is not an offering of Christ's body and blood but a memorial of it that seals to us the promises of God entailed in the new covenant in Jesus' blood. Second, his body and blood were never offered *to* us. They were offered to God *for* us, to atone for our sin. The first error is a transubstantiationist error, denying that the work of Christ is finished and essentially stating that in the sacrament Christ continues to be sacrificed. The second error is idolatrous in that it asserts we are the ones to whom the sacrifice is made, as if it were our wrath that needed to be satisfied. The article seems to pull back just a smidgen from this in the following sentence, returning to more biblical language, but the most charitable reading of it would conclude it is confused and inarticulate. Given the history of OWBtG, I'm not inclined to be so charitable.

Cedric - Amen.

PNR/Rob/Cedric:

Very much appreciate your comments. Very interesting.

Having just noticed the news article in the May Banner, I read the FOS online, and found to not to be lacking or confusing in clarity and purpose. I found it sad that instead of looking at those who have reservations of signing, we are concerned with the "plodding" language of the FOS. Maybe we should be more concerned with letting those who have reservations lead and guide our church.

I have experienced one elder who prefaced nearly every statement with "This is what the CRC feels", while conveying he felt different. Taking the office means taking the responsibility that goes with it, believing and claiming "what the CRC feels" as your own thoughts.

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