Synod 2011: What to Watch For

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 is news editor for The Banner.

See comments (23)

Comments

I don't understand why we are wasting time discussing whether or not the Reformed and the Roman Catholic Churches recognize each other's baptisms as valid. The Reformed have always accepted baptism in the Roman Catholic Church. It's been years since the Roman Catholic accepted Reformed Church baptism valid (though with the caveat that they are baptisms by laity as the Roman Church allows in unusual circumstances).

We absolutely should not go back to Romanism or ecumenicalism of any sort when it comes to The Roman Catholic Church. The reformation took place for a reason, to overcome the heresies of the Catholic church. Catholic baptism is one of them.

"truthmatters" writes of "Catholic baptism" as one of the "heresies of the Catholic church" that were the occasion for the Reformation.

What evidence is offered for this sweeping and combative statement?

Surveying a variety of Reformation confessional and doctrinal statements on baptism (Belgic Confession Article 34, Heidelberg Catechism QQ 69-74, Calvin's Institutes) I do not find any declaration that the Roman Catholic practice of baptism was/is heretical as such.

Rejecting another's legitimately performed baptism as "heretical" is precisely the kind of Anabaptism that the Belgic Confession is concerned to avoid. (Calvin explicitly points out the error of the "Catabaptists" who insisted on rebaptism of those who had been baptized by "impious and idolatrous men under the papal government," Inst. 4.xv.16.)

"Baptism is not of [a human being] but of God, no matter who administers it. Ignorant or even contemptuous as those who baptized us were of God and all piety, they did not baptize us into the fellowship of either their ignorance or sacrilege, but into faith in Jesus Christ, because it was not their own name but God's that they invoked, and they baptized us into no other name" (Calvin, Inst., 4.xv.16).

Im sure it is a source of inspiration to the young people in our denomination that the number of masculine pronouns in the confessions is such a high priority. The old story about medieval disputes as to the number of angels that could dance on the head of a pin has been getting tiresome.

I believe this quote from John MacArthur should be the position every person of synod should be taking in regard to the two professors, and the biology departments of our christian colleges.

"The evolutionary lie is so pointedly antithetical to Christian truth that it would seem unthinkable for evangelical Christians to compromise with evolutionary science to any degree. But during the past century and a half of evolutionary propaganda, evolutionists have had remarkable success in getting evangelicals to meet them halfway. Remarkably, many modern evangelicals . . . have already been convinced that the Genesis account of creation is not a true historical record. Thus they have not only capitulated to evolutionary doctrine at its starting point, but they have also embraced a view that undermines the authority of Scripture at its starting point."

It never occured to me that referring to God in masculine terms would ever be an issue, I am curious to hear the reasons why this is even mentioned. This issue and many of the other items to be debated at synod seem so obvious, I hope we have some clear minded men there.

Isn't it about time that the CRC engage in a serious discussion about the types of language used in the Bible? Metaphor is acceptable in many instances, by all who take Scripture seriously -- even the most ardent "literalists." The CRC knows what to do with parables, even if there is some disagreement on interpretation. Why can't Genesis 1-3 also be considered metaphor? In so doing, We don't have to give up the essential role of God as Creator -- just the specifics of how God, whose ways are not our ways, whose mind is not our mind, did the creating. My definition of being human, with human limitations, includes being Not-God. Apparently some would prefer to play God and insist that others join them in doing so.

Who wants to be in a church, that re-writes the Bible on creation, homosexuality, spiritual headship, gender, baptism, communion and salvation? Ahhh... makes one wonder if we are just apart of a social club that writes their own bylaws to fit their own interest.

@truthmatters:

You could always start a new church. It's been done before -- many, many times -- even within the Reformed tradition, trying to out-orthodox each other. Interestingly, the same thing has happened in the tradition that insists on use of the King James version. Many denominations and independent churches, all reading the same Bible (not "re-writing it," as you write), but quarrel about what the KJV tells us, and what is normative. Some say that the Bible is "simply to be believed, not interpreted." If you can believe the written word without interpreting it, please let us know how. You will find others who believe the same Bible but disagree with your understanding of it.

It's sad to see that most of the synod agenda is filled with issues that stem from putting others down. Denominational leaders shoved out the door, children kept from communion, gay people being studied to death, college professors prevented from thinking independently, young people left out of the decision-making process of the church. I do not think that this is the kind of church Jesus had envisioned. What Jesus left us with was two wonderful things - his teaching of unconditional love and the transforming power of his holy spirit. For many centuries our reformed churches promoted hatred of Catholics; now we're finally going to accept each other’s baptisms. For just as many years women were downgraded as second class members; today its women's involvement and leadership that are renewing the church. Children were kept from expressing their love for Jesus through communion, although Jesus never spoke anything that restricted their participation. And once again we are going to study the gay issue, even thought the gospel message is all about accepting others that are different than us. Synod's time would be better spent on one grand prayer meeting that leads to a mighty impartation of the Holy Spirit. When we open ourselves up to the Spirit's power all of these issues will melt away and we will be able to love others like Jesus - unconditionally. Instead of spending time on put down trivialities and confessions, synods should focus on how to renew and revitalize the CRC before it totally fades away.

@ Truthmatters
Understanding Genesis 1-3 as metaphor does not "undermine the authority of Scripture" unless we reject metaphor as one of the means of communication provided by the Spirit. I, for one, do not limit the power of the Spirit. Your god may be limited in such power; mine has that power -- yesterday, today, and forever.

@ GLD & pdr

I know, it's rather radical for me to believe that creation happened how God said it did, and that the Bible declares homosexuality to be a sin. It's hard to believe that being born again through repentance and faith should come before participation in communion, or to say Catholic baptism is unequal to our belief. This doesn't seem loving, does it? I'm sure it seems odd, given our pluralistic society, not to believe in interfaithism, to believe in heaven and hell, and that repentance and faith in Jesus is the only way to heaven. I'm probably out of touch to believe the Bible teaches spiritual headship in the home and church.
Well... I may be out of my mind, but this is what the CRC once taught and what I believe the Scriptures still teach. Pretty crazy stuff...huh?

The agenda is 695 pages?!? You must be joking. Ugh. Makes me want to grab my bible & run. Perhaps the Universalist's have it right. More like a one page, one word agenda: LOVE. Come on folks, I have one foot out the door. Thought I got away from this stuff when I left the Catholic church years ago. Absolutely depressing to me, sorry

@truthmatters
And Harold Camping was so certain, so absolutely certain, that the Judgment Day and Rapture were going to take place on May 21, Why? Because the Bible, God's Word, told him so. That's what it teaches him, he says. And some Christians still believe that the earth revolves around the sun, and that the earth is flat, because that is how they read and understand the Bible - "literally," word for word, no room for poetry. Do we really want to make God conform to how WE understand his word? What kind of god is that?

I choose to have these items remain as they were originally published by the Back to God Hour. The Israelites got into trouble when they wanted a king like the other nations had. I feel the same about our Back to God beliefs.

@ GLD,

With 66 books, and 40 different authors in the Bible, you're going to have various styles and forms of writings, but all are communicating a truth to be taken literally. Had Camping taken God's word literally, he would not have been so foolish. "No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." (Matthew 24 :36)

No literal Bible, no literal creation
No literal Bible, no literal you
No literal Bible, no literal sin
No literal Bible, no literal commands
No literal Bible, no literal Jesus
No literal Bible, no literal cross
No literal Bible, no literal forgiveness
No literal Bible, no literal resurrection
No literal Bible, no literal heaven
No literal Bible, no literal hell
No literal Bible, no literal salvation.

If God didn't mean what he said, How come he did't say what he meant?

After leaving the Roman Catholic Church when I was 20, I knew I should never again submit myself to an institution of faith that dictates my beliefs and practices- just the Bible alone. I have recently started attending a CRC offshoot in Wingham, Ontario Canada. Now before I leap I check my footing for the strong foundation of Jesus Christ.

After reviewing the CRC website, and the creeds that it affirms, to know what I was getting into, I am now seeing that the CRC, like the Catholic Church, has turned its back on the teachings of Jesus for those of man: "But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." (Matthew 15:9).
This is clearly evident when one reads Article 7 of the Belgic Confession (which I will post here in a separate comment)-a confession of man. This confession of Guido de Bres was suitable for him and other Bible believers in their time and place. They asserted that we must not put human writings above the truth of God, no matter how holy they may seem.

When the CRC asserts that a member of its Church must believe this confession, it is at the same time denying what this confession and those who first lived it initially stood for: that they would NOT bow to the teachings of man, but those of God alone.

Dear Christians, remind yourselves of the teachings of 2 Timothy. It is scripture that is inspired, and it alone is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works- not the dictates of men who came before us.

The CRC is walking into the same pit that Roman Church now finds itself; like the Israelites of Jeremiah 35, they choose to listen to their fathers, and not to God, therefore evil will be brought upon them.

(Please see my previous comment as background to this one, below).

Article 7 (of the Belgic Confession):

The Sufficiency of Scripture
We believe
that this Holy Scripture contains
the will of God completely
and that everything one must believe
to be saved
is sufficiently taught in it.
For since the entire manner of service
which God requires of us
is described in it at great length,
no one—
even an apostle
or an angel from heaven,
as Paul says—^2
ought to teach other than
what the Holy Scriptures have
already taught us.
For since it is forbidden
to add to or subtract from the Word of God,^3
this plainly demonstrates
that the teaching is perfect
and complete in all respects.

Therefore we must not consider human writings—
no matter how holy their authors may have been—
equal to the divine writings;
nor may we put custom,
nor the majority,
nor age,
nor the passage of time or persons,
nor councils, decrees, or official decisions
above the truth of God,
for truth is above everything else.

For all human beings are liars by nature
and more vain than vanity itself.

Therefore we reject with all our hearts
everything that does not agree
with this infallible rule,
as we are taught to do by the apostles
when they say,
"Test the spirits
to see if they are of God,"^4
and also,
"If anyone comes to you
and does not bring this teaching,
do not receive him
into your house."^5
^2 Gal. 1:8
^3 Deut. 12:32; Rev. 22:18-19
^4 1 John 4:1
^5 2 John 10

*For more on the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church compared to the Bible, some of the same errors that the CRC now finds itself, please visit my blog:
http://www.andisawabeast.blogspot.com/

@truthmatters
Ah, yes, "you're going to have various styles and forms of writing." So there is room in the Bible for poetry after all! Harold Camping believes that, too, and simply skipped over Matthew 24:36. A common practice, among readers and scholars of the Bible. Camping either BELIEVED - despite the evidence -- that he was "taking God's word literally," more literally than his critics -- or he is a charlatan of the highest order.

If we read "a day is like a thousand years in God's sight," and then still insist that the days in Genesis must be taken "literally" 24-hour periods, where does that leave us? Is God intentionally confusing us, by not having the author of Genesis simply say 24-hour days? Why would God do that?

According to literalists,the truth lies in the letters, not the intent (since that involves human interpretation). I think we need to take a closer look at the concept of bibliolatry, as well as how TRUTH is communicated in human terms -- whether written or oral -- Scripture or confessions. --

Your litany of "literals" makes no sense to me whatsoever. I believe that sin, the cross, salvation etc do not depend on my understanding of the Genesis "day" as a 24-hour period of time. It seems that my God is bigger than your God.

"For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by..." -- Psalm 90:4 (NIV)

"But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." -- 2 Peter 3:8 (KJV)

Enjoyed this update. Notice from the homepage web site there are two churches in Atlanta and another in Tennessee. Are you planting a church/mission in Alabama or Mississippi?

Regards,

Bill Bryant

@ GLD

The word, ""lLIKE" in Ps. 90:4 does not mean, a day IS a thousand years. Same with 2 Peter 3:8 the word "as" is not IS a thousand years. All these verses are doing is comparing, helping us wrap our minds around the fact that God is Sovereign, eternal and boundless. These verses are kind of like saying, I worked only for an hour, but it felt like all day.

The Bible is composed of history, poetry, symbols, metaphors, parables, laws, commands and promises. If we read a verse in context of the chapter, we can pretty much discern what is poetry or a promise and what is not. When the Psalmist says, "God is my rock", we know that God is not a literal rock. But we can understand the literal truth of what a rock represents. That God is secure, unshakable, strong, solid, immovable and steadfast.

In Genesis God is the one who literally told us how the world was made. He is the one who literally defined what a day is. He is the one who told us on the fourth day that the sun, moon and stars were made to mark the days, months, years and seasons. He is the one that told us that each creature was to produce after its own kind. This is hard evidence that Genesis must be taken literally. We can observe and experience all this happening, Just as God said.

Evolutionists, like the professors at Calvin, do not have a shred of observable, verifiable evidence to substantiate their claims. To me, they are just like Harold Camping, a false teacher who did not take God at his word, but compromised the truth and became foolish and darken in his own mind, to unbelief in the teaching of Scripture.

"If we read "a day is like a thousand years in God's sight," and then still insist that the days in Genesis must be taken "literally" 24-hour periods, where does that leave us?"

The first question in the Bible is: Did God really say...? The devil is obviously still asking it today. Identical words are used in Exodus 20 verses 9 and 11: "SIX DAYS you may work . . . FOR in SIX DAYS God made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them." "Did God really say "six days"? Whether those words were written in stone by the Father or in ink by the Holy Spirit using Moses' pen, makes no difference. Used that way (assuming God is intending to communicate with humans) He is using a language symbol referring to ONE concept. After separating light from darkness, He was the one who gave the name "DAY" to the light period with the boundaries "evening and morning". Jesus called the time, when male and female were made, "the beginning." Matt. 19.
The devil inspires "Did God really say...? questions. If I have to assign my own meanings to the words, I am writing my own bible and there is no god.

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