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.