Synod 2011 Approves Revised Translations of Confessions

| |

Synod 2011 passed revised translations of the Belgic Confession, Canons of Dort, and Heidelberg Catechism on Tuesday night.

The changes focused on reducing male pronouns for God and eliminating masculine references to humankind.

Rev. Kenneth Baker: “I think it is a profoundly significant thing when three Reformed denominations who have some significant differences were willing to . . . engage in a process like this.”

Photo: Karen Huttenga

“I think it is a profoundly significant thing when three Reformed denominations who have some significant differences were willing to . . . engage in a process like this,” said Rev. Kenneth Baker, Classis Kalamazoo.

Synod 2011 also instructed Faith Alive Christian Resources to continue publishing the former versions of the confessions as long as economically feasible.

A multidenominational committee composed of the Christian Reformed Church, Reformed Church in America, and Presbyterian Church (USA) referred to the original language of the confessions when there were disagreements among the various denominations.

Supporters said the translations were a step toward unity with the RCA. “I appreciate the effort to promote unity by revising our creeds and confessions,” added Rev. Henry Vander Beek, Classis Lake Superior.

However some delegates thought that common translations would not have much effect. “[Unity with the RCA] has never been an issue on asking for a new translation. I don’t think we need to have a new translation--not for the purpose of unity,” said Rev. Merlin Buwalda, Classis Thornapple Valley.

Rev. Henry Vander Beek warned against the trend to change language of Scripture in our desire to be current or more acceptable as a denomination.”

Photo: Karen Huttenga

The committee originally drafted the joint translations for use in a new hymnal, but this year’s synod decided the new hymnal will not include the confessions.

“It is ironic that we began looking at a common translation primarily so that we would be able to economically publish the new songbook,” explained Rev. Joseph Vanden Akker, Classis Minnkota. “We have already decided that we are not going to have the Reformed Confessions in the back of the hymnal.”

Several delegates questioned the use of the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible in the new translations.

“We should not attempt to put words in [God’s] mouth as it comes to his self-revelation,” reasoned Rev. Aaron Vriesman, Classis Zeeland. “Ecumenical relations are great, but it is not worth biblical compromises.”

The committee reminded synod that the NRSV is a synod-approved version of the Bible. “There are cautions raised about every translation that we approve as a CRC,” said Dr. Lyle Bierma from Calvin Theological Seminary. “The NRSV is actually a more literal translation . . . and gives the reader a better sense of the original text.”

“We are not approving a new translation of Scripture,” explained Rev. Scott Hoezee, seminary faculty advisor. “Let’s not mix apples with oranges. We need to keep the lines clear here.”

Other delegates focused on how the translations portray the gender of God. “We all understand and know that God is neither male nor female, but God reveals himself in a masculine way,” said Rev. Henry Vander Beek, Classis Lake Superior.

He later warned against “the trend to change language of Scripture to our desire to be current or more acceptable as a denomination.”

“The Bible liberally uses masculine pronouns for God. So if we’re not going to follow the example of God, it seems we should have good reasons not to,” said Rev. Joseph Vanden Akker, Classis Minnkota.

Christine Vanderberg:, “I’m not sure that everyone here is ready to [approve the translations] yet.”

Photo: Karen Huttenga

Several classes (regional groups of churches) had made requests that synod not pass the new translations. “While I commend the committee for all the work they have done, [many] churches are represented in the overtures against this,” said elder Christine Vanderberg, Classis Alberta South/Saskatchewan. “I’m not sure that everyone here is ready to [approve the translations] yet.”

After a long debate, Synod 2011 passed the proposed versions of three confessions. The RCA is expected to pass identical versions on Thursday afternoon when the two synods meet in a joint session.

For more coverage while synod is in session, including webcasts, photos, a discussion forum, reports, and more, see the Synod 2011 website.

About the Author

Ryan Struyk was a former Banner news correspondent for classes Grand Rapids South and Thornapple Valley. 

See comments (22)


Christine says that "188 churches are represented in the overtures against this." I'm not sure how she arrives at her numbers The Agenda and the Supplement, updated 2 days before synod began, indicate that five classes sent overtures opposing these translations. Even if one counts all the churches, not merely the organized churches, in these classes the total is 115.

But even if 188 is the correct number, this apparently assumes that all the classes who sent overtures opposing this passed those overtures unanimously. I doubt it.

Not much unity on display here... maybe on an institutional, bureaucratic level, but not much unity on the organic, ministry level.

What is wrong with masculine pronouns for God? Are we ashamed of that? Have the feminists taken over? I do not understand where the CRC is headed. I would appreciate a better explaination as to why time is being spent debating the use of male pronouns for God in our confessions.r9

Did synod ask any questions about artical 18 of the Belgic confession which claims that Anabaptists deny the full incarnation of Christ?

George - Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

After I did the math, I got neither 188 nor 115 as my answer, so I have made a change that I think addresses any discrepancies in addition. It also addresses the implied idea that all the churches in these classes agreed with the overtures.

Despite this change, I also believe that the statement retains the original purpose of the speaker.

" I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will wii take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book." Revelation 22:18,19

These are not translations. They are paraphrases.

So many of the news items coming out of this Synod are just so discouraging. Instead of focusing on God, his truth, and his mission, the church is getting caught up in how many times we use "he" in the confessions. How sad that this part of the body of Christ has in some ways forgotten its first love. And sometimes following Christ will means saying "no" to that which is heading in the wrong direction. May we all humbly submit before our Savior and surrender our human agendas to Him.

George, the number I quoted was based on the comment of the delegate who spoke to the motion and who is a member of that classis and quoted the number 188. My original comment was "If the the number of overtures presented represents 188 churches it would seem to indicate that almost 20% of the denomination has questions about these translations." I concluded by saying that because this seemed to be a very emotional issue, discretion related to time to allow more churches to have an opportunity to discuss the translations might be the better part of wisdom. Unfortunately, the pastoral and cautionary tone of the comment did not come across in the article.

Based on the number of 1000 congregations as reported to us at Synod, just to clarify how I arrived at almost 20% in my calculations (which were also in my comments to the floor).

Christine, thanks for your response. I notice that the article has been revised to drop the number. I'm grateful for that.

Sorry, too, that you were misled by a delegate, apparently from a classis that sent an overture opposing the new translations. Sometimes people attempt to prop up their position by quoting inaccurate numbers. That seems to be the case here.

CRC German translators:

Gott = God
glaube = believe
seines = the?????

Thus begins the neutering of God. Way to go, Synod. What our forefathers have live and died for over the centuries has been erased in minutes by the need for a cost-effective, joint translation. Why didn't the RCA and Presbyterian translations accept ours? That would have been even more cost-effective. Consequently, in reality, that makes this a LOUSY translation.

George, I was not trying to say that I felt that I had been misled in any way. My main point was that there seemed to be enough concern expressed by way of the overtures and comments from the floor that perhaps there needed to be some more time given to adequate and thoughtful discernment regarding these translations before approving them. This is a sensitive and deeply personal matter for many members and I felt it important to respect those passions as well. Devoted members of the church stretch across our two nations. That was evident at synod and it was wonderful and at the same time humbly gratifying to be a part of that process with fellow members and believers. God remains at work.

Yup - anything and everything to be culturally relevant. We just HAVE to be tolerant of all those who cannot stand the fact that God has revealed Himself in the male gender. "Our Father" is just so obscure. Did God really mean.............???? "Abba- Father" also leaves so much room for interpretation! NOT! Jesus as the SON of God? Surely he meant "person"? I get so angry that the church continues to fall away from the truth. Listening to too many Rob Bell videos or what??:???

@ Pete

You said, "I get so angry that the church continues to fall away from the truth."

If synod represents the state of the church, and I think it does, we are in trouble.

There is now a larger force working to change the church, its called the World Communion of Reformed Churches. The WCRC along with other ecumenical bodies have developed a curriculum that matches the United Nations initiatives for globe governance, and one world religion. It is being implemented through The Office of Social Justice, in the CRC.

The WCRC views certain passages of Scripture and some doctrines of the church as oppressive and intolerable. Their objective is to bring all the churches into conformity. Gender neutrality, homosexuality, evolution, sustainability, green, interfaithism, or rather ecumenicalism, which has manifested itself this time around in the Catholic baptism issue, no faith required to participate in the Lord's Table and the emasculation of the churches confessions.

Good reason to be angry? I think so.

Thank you for that. I was not familiar with WCRC. The church used to be attacked from the outside - now the attacks are coming from the inside. What has been amazing is how quiet the CRC theologians are about all this - meaning either they condone it or are pushed to the side if they do. (one cannot help but wonder if this is what happened to Dykstra) For those of us who are speaking out in our local churches, we are being vilified as being "divisive" and "intolerant". Seems we must be tolerant of everything except those who speak the truth - that cannot be tolerated. The scripture warns over and over and over about false prophets and yet they are taking over our pulpits more and more and God's people are being led astray. What part of Gal.1:8 ..if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you another gospel contrary to that which you have received, let him be accursed. And God's people are sadly lacking in discernment and being led like sheep to the slaughter.

People make such sweeping statements that are not exactly accurate. God is genderless. God is not neutered, emmasculated or anything else. God does not possess gender. However, the first person of the triune God has chosen to reveal himself most often in masculine language--Father. If you look at the new translations, when this is spoken of masculine pronouns are retained. God the second person is also obviously male and that too has been retained. I think the confessions more accurately reflect scriptural truth about the triune God.

Your position doesn't answer the question of how you move from recognizing the masculinity of God to "God being genderless". Even if God is genderless, doesn't language represent how we relate to Him. There is a significance to the fact that English is the only major language that does not have masculine and feminine nouns. Linguistically, we don't appreciate the push and pull, the attraction, the ying/yang that takes place in the cosmos. The ancients and other modern languages do. You can't simply dismiss that because we don't recognize God as being male or female.

The Christian Observer describes this action as, "Christian Reformed Church in North America Neuters Three Forms of Unity."

Are we more concerned with the views of Non-Christian voices in our society, what J.I. Packer calls, Social Accommodation, or with the views of the larger Christian family?

Here we go again. I withdrew from the PC(USA) 16 years ago because of these Scriptural collapses, that were continually leading to Spiritual and moral collapses. This year the PC(USA)finally removed its fidelity and chastity requirement for ministers, elders, and deacons. YEAH, it's true! Go ahead, ministers, elders, and deacons - - have affairs, you'll still be a "minister in good standing!" Are you kidding me!!!!???
And now that denomination is witnessing a massive exodus of churches because of it! Dah. Any surprises here? More would have left a long time ago except for the real property rights trust clause which said the denomination owns the real estate and if a church leaves the denomination, the property remains with the denomination. However, more and more civil courts are finding such a "trust" claim to be in violation of their State laws and of legal requirements for establishing a trust. Consequently, I expect we'll see an increase of exodus from that collapsing denomination. CAN WE (CRCNA) LEARN ANYTHING FROM THE MISTAKES OF OTHERS OR ARE WE GOING TO FOLLOW THEIR SAME FOOLISH, AND WHAT IS NOW PROVING TO BE, A FAILED PATH? I look forward to your replies.

Hi Simon, I agree wholeheartedly with your argument. Thirty three years ago I immigrated from The Netherlands where I was a member of the Gereformeerde Kerk. It was a breath of ' freh air ' joining the CRC. I always thought and said that the CRC would/will never become a GKN! Sad to say, I fear the worst. ( after some of the decisions made by this Synod, especially the revised translation of the confessions.) God forbid that the CRC will stand for 'Confused' Reformed Church. Will there be a Christian Reformed Church twenty years from now?

Hi Klaas. Nice to hear from you. Thanks for adding some additional clarity and history to this discussion. You posed the question, "Will there be a Christian Reformed Church twenty years form now?" Let's move ourselves with all seriousness to prayer concerning this question.
Years ago I read a statement from a Harvard law Professor (don't remember his name) who said, (as best as I remember the quote), "over time,liberalism gets more liberal and conservativism gets less conservative."

I think I have observed the truth of that statement many times, and, unless the Lord intervenes, I could be watching it at work again in the CRC. May God intervene and return our denomination to a firm and unwavering conviction for obedience to the Scriptures with concern only for how the Lord himself judges our views and actions. May our denomination loose its concern for how a secular world views us. Why should the judgment of a secular mind be so important to us? But let the divinely converted soul give his opinion, and I am all ears.