Instead of disaffiliating from the Christian Reformed Church, the council of Maranatha CRC in Belleville, Ontario, decided in July to appeal decisions by Classis Quinte (a regional group of churches) to Synod 2012, the annual leadership meeting of the Christian Reformed Church.
The appeal regards requests by Classis Quinte that
- the Maranatha council “apply special discipline to [Rev.] John Visser,” deposing him from the office of minister of the Word and sacraments in the CRCNA.
- in the event that not all officebearers comply, classis, through its classical ministry committee, suspend those members of council and be empowered to help form a new council in the Maranatha congregation.
- the Maranatha council provide honorary suspension to staff members engaged in healing ministry at the church and allow classis to appoint an accredited team to evaluate the healing ministry.
Those requests resulted from a May 2011 meeting of classis. At a subsequent meeting in June, during which the Maranatha council was given further opportunity to present its case, the classis upheld its requests.
The leadership of Maranatha initially indicated that it intended to disaffiliate from the denomination rather than comply with the requests of classis. (See Ontario Church Signals Intent to Disaffiliate From Decnomination.)
Classis Quinte’s requests came after an independent team assessed that Visser was guilty of breaking confidentiality and abuse of office, which are grounds for deposition in the CRC. Classis made the requests of the Maranatha council, since only a local council can apply discipline to its pastor.
In its report, which was presented to classis, the assessment team noted that the issues raised all related to Maranatha’s healing ministry. Members who have been concerned about the healing ministry had raised several issues, among them: excessive power imbalance between counselors and counselees; labeling and diagnosing, a practice in which staff members diagnose a counselee's condition; and confidentiality—staff sharing a counselee's personal information with council.
A former member filed a million-dollar lawsuit against the church, charging that the pastor had abused his position of influence in a counseling relationship for his own gain, but the lawsuit was subsequently dropped.
Dave Botting, assistant pastor of Maranatha, told The Banner that the church’s council is appealing the decisions because “classis is asking council to do something that it can’t do in good conscience before God.”
Botting said that the council does not believe that the assessment was fair, nor that the grounds to the motions have merit. “This goes to the heart of the ministry of this church, and council stands behind the integrity of its senior pastor, its staff, and our ministry,” Botting said. “We do not believe we received a fair hearing or an opportunity to fully present our case. We are looking forward to a judicial code hearing.” (The judicial code is part of the Church Order of the CRC to ensure just treatment of those involved in judgments and decisions of the church.)
Since The Banner published the initial story, hundreds of comments on its website have illustrated just how divided the congregation is, with a group calling themselves “concerned members” stating that they have waited years to have their side of this story heard, while many others vigorously defend the church and its healing ministry.
Classis Quinte plans to hold another meeting about this matter on Sept. 13 in Brighton, Ontario.