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.
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