Belleville Church Granted Stay on Suspending Pastor

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On Sept. 13, Classis Quinte (a regional group of churches) voted to suspend Rev. John Visser, pastor of Maranatha Christian Reformed Church in Belleville, Ontario. But the church applied to the denomination’s Board of Trustees for a stay of that action while it appeals that decision, and on Oct. 1 a stay was granted. (The board acts on behalf of synod, the church’s annual leadership meeting, when it is not in session.)

The classis also decided on Sept. 13 that an accredited independent assessment team would evaluate the policies and practices of Maranatha’s healing ministry. That assessment will go ahead. 

Maranatha’s healing ministry is at the heart of the dispute. Members concerned about the healing ministry raised several issues, including 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 the Maranatha church council.

Classis Quinte appointed an independent team of church members primarily from outside the classis to assess the healing ministry. That team’s assessment was that Visser was guilty of breaking confidentiality and abuse of office, which are grounds for deposition in the CRC.

The classis voted in May and again in June to request that the Maranatha council depose Visser. The Sept. 13 decision to suspend rather than depose stems from the fact that the church has appealed the earlier decisions to Synod 2012.

Potentially the classis and the denomination could be named in any future lawsuits filed against Maranatha.

One former member already filed a $1 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.

Legal counsel for the classis advised that the classis should take whatever steps it can to manage potential future liability.

Following the Sept. 13 classis meeting, Rev. John Suk, pastor of Cobourg (Ont.) CRC, said, “This is hard. It was done prayerfully.”

Of the classis decision, Visser said, “Obviously I’m disappointed, but I have confidence in the appeal process that the issues at stake will be clarified.”

The appeal will go through the denomination’s Judicial Code process. 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.

About the Author

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

See comments (4)


This is certainly a complicated issue and decidedly more complicated than even reported here. The issue of confidentiality and the healing ministry is of concern but actions since the findings of the assessment team in May have proven further that there is something very wrong going on at Maranatha. The position of counsellor has been held by John Visser and "healing" staff that answers to him. The staff really run the Church as only members willing to bow to their leadership are elected to Council. The counselling sessions are used to further indoctrinate and sway those in counselling to support the status quo. People in councelling are cautioned about who to associate with including their own family members for fear that they will be swayed from supporting staff. These people are in counselling because they are in need of healing but the sessions are often used to extract information and to create division. Even recent elections to replace Council members who left (many with concerns) show the manipulation of members. Although nominations were held in June, membership was told there would be no elections "to maintain continuity" and there were no nominees. One month later after a exodus of Council members there just happened to be some nominees and elections were held. Non members and young people were seen voting in a sham election that put only more supporters in power. The only opportunity to speak out in normal circumstances would be in a congregational meeting. The regular fall meeting was replaced by a series of three meeings calling "congregational information nights". Membership was divided alphabetically so only one third of the members attended any one meeting. This division was enforced by Council and staff. The meetings were all opened by a council member but completely run by counselling staff, the people who will lose their paid positions if Classis is successful. This is just the tip of the iceberg. We have witnessed a trespass order and legal threats imposed upon members, lies from the pulpit and half truths to subdue membership, sermons with double meanings to support the position of Staff and division in the body caused by staff to protect salaried positions. The biggest concern now is that Classis and Synod have allowed Staff to delay enforcement of decisions long enough for the accused to build defenses that may protect them for years to come. As well, membership with concerns are leaving in droves so all that will remain once Synod acts in June may be supporters of Mr. Visser.
You can see more at a site developed by concerned members at where documentation, evidence and a timeline of events are provided. This is a travasty of justice and a blight on our community. Those who have struggled so hard to create protection for postions instead of humble repentance and real service to the community will answer for their wickedness. I feel sorry for them.

Again we have a tangeable demonstration of the frustration associated with this organization. A credible comment was posted below this one and it immediatly was flagged for review. This is how things go at Marantha. Speak your concerns and you will be silenced. Please for history and facts.

"Truthful words stand the test of time, but lies are soon exposed."
Proverbs 12:19
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Because this matter is being appealed to synod, we will not be allowing commenting on this article at this time.