Synod 2011: What to Watch For

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It is never easy to predict what topics will prompt vigorous debate during the Christian Reformed Church’s annual synod (leadership meeting).

There are plenty of choices this year:

  • Proposed revisions to the translations of the Reformed confessions
  • Allowing baptized children to take communion without making profession of faith
  • The revised Form of Subscription
  • Writings of Calvin College professors
  • Homosexuality
  • Resignations of denominational senior staff
  • The plan to achieve ethnic diversity in the denomination’s senior management
  • Changes to our ministers’ pension plans.

Synod 2011 will convene in Grand Rapids, Mich., from June 10-16. Each of the CRC’s 47 classes (regional groups of churches) will send two ministers and two elders as representatives.

As synod agendas go, you wouldn’t want to drop this one on your toes. The Agenda for Synod 2011 is 695 pages, almost as thick as last year’s. That’s because both agendas contain all three of the CRC’s Reformed standards (the Belgic Confession, Canons of Dort, and the Heidelberg Catechism) in their proposed revised translations.

While it is often lamented that our Reformed confessions don’t get enough attention, at Synod 2011 they will be getting plenty.

First there are the proposed revisions to the standards, intended to align them with the translations used by the Reformed Church in America, originally destined for a hymnal being produced for both denominations.

The proposed revisions have a sizable number of detractors, as evidenced by eight overtures (requests) asking synod not to adopt the revisions, primarily because of the reduced number of masculine pronouns referring to God.

Then there is our revised Form of Subscription, now called our Covenant for Officebearers, which is the document officebearers sign to signal their agreement with doctrines officially held by the CRC, keeping us on the same confessional page, so to speak.

And there’s the question of whether writings by two professors at Calvin College, which is owned by the CRC, have stayed within the bounds of those Reformed confessions.

There is also an overture asking that Our World Belongs to God: A Contemporary Testimony be elevated to confessional status—and other overtures that it not be included in the Covenant for Officebearers.

Finally, even though adoption of the Belhar Confession as a fourth confessional standard is not up for decision until 2012, that is sure to get mentioned as well.

Even without those 100-plus pages of confessional documents, it’s a heavy agenda.

This is the year synod will decide if baptized members, including children, can take communion before making a formal public profession of faith. First proposed at Synod 2006, it will be up to Synod 2011 whether to adopt the changes in our Church Order that would allow it.

The work of the denomination’s Board of Trustees will likely receive plenty of attention, as well, in light of the recent resignations of Executive Director Rev. Jerry Dykstra, Director of Denominational Ministries Sandy Johnson, and Safe Church Ministry Director Beth Swagman.

And the Board of Trustees is asking Synod 2011 to endorse its Diversity in Leadership plan. Adopted in February and based on previous denominationally-approved goals along with the report God’s Diverse and Unified Family adopted by Synod 1996, the plan seeks to increase the racial and ethnic diversity in the denomination’s senior management, including setting a goal for future hires to be in line with a goal of 25 percent diversity in senior management.

However, Back to God Ministries International, the CRC’s broadcast media agency, is asking synod to refer the report to the churches, rather than endorse it.

In other matters, Synod 2011 has been asked to appoint a synodical study committee to review the biblical teachings regarding homosexual orientation and practice, always a hot-button issue.

It has also been asked to consider a proposal for convening a young adult summit to be held in conjunction with Synod 2012, at which young adult delegates will function as an advisory group to synod, considering the same agenda items as Synod 2012.

And the church’s Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations committee is proposing that Synod 2011 adopt an agreement with the Roman Catholic Church to recognize each other’s baptisms as valid.

Despite this heavy agenda, synod’s deliberative time will be shortened by half a day, due to a scheduled joint session with the Reformed Church in America’s synod, which begins its meetings at the same location the day after the CRC’s synod ends.

This year’s synod will also be the first (nearly) paperless synod, with all delegates issued laptop computers and accessing the plethora of advisory committee reports on screen instead of on paper.

The Banner and the denomination’s communications staff will be there to cover it all. The Banner will post updated articles on its website throughout synod. You can also follow synod by via webcast, synod news office press releases, Twitter, and Facebook, all of which can be accessed via the Synod 2011 website.

The July print Banner will deliver news from Synod 2011 as well. The July issue will arrive in your mailbox a little later than usual so we can cover synod right up to the closing doxology.

About the Author

Gayla Postma retired as news editor for The Banner in 2020.

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