News

Synod 2012 Deals with Maranatha CRC and Classis Quinte

Synod 2012 ruled today that Rev. John Visser, senior pastor of Maranatha Christian Reformed Church, be suspended from ministry for at least 90 days. It issued reprimands to Classis Quinte, the regional group of churches. (Synod is the annual leadership meeting of the CRC.)

Synod spent several hours behind closed doors deliberating on a conflict between Maranatha CRC, located in Belleville, Ontario, and Classis Quinte.

At issue originally were concerns about the healing ministry at Maranatha. A committee appointed by the classis assessed the situation and issued a report, citing breach of confidentiality by Visser. Classis Quinte voted to depose, and, later, to suspend Visser from the ministry.

Maranatha appealed that decision to the denomination’s Judicial Code Committee, which conducts hearings and issues its recommendations to synod. Only synod can ultimately decide on judicial code matters.

Synod 2012 ruled that Visser had not breached confidentiality when he released material because the recipient, Classis Quinte, was also subject to the same rules of confidentiality.

However, Synod did rule that special discipline be applied to Visser, suspending him for 90 days. It authorized the denomination’s Board of Trustees to oversee a process, paid for by the denomination, to evaluate Visser’s “readiness for ministry that focuses on professional competence and personal/emotional status.” It noted in particular that “Visser abused his office for inappropriate ends and/or self-interest by soliciting and/or allowing a counselee and her husband, both of whom were parishioners, to invest in companies that he and his family owned.” After 90 days, if the board is satisfied that those conditions are met, it may lift the suspension.

Synod also directed the council of Maranatha CRC to contract immediately for ongoing oversight of the healing ministry at the church by an independent, accredited agency, because, it said, “Council, comprised of laypersons, is not capable of such oversight.”

Synod said that oversight should begin during Visser’s suspension so that there is adequate time for the assessment of the ministry and implementation of necessary changes while Visser is not present. Visser may not be reinstated before this condition is met.

Synod noted it did not have the authority to apply special discipline to the counselors at Maranatha because they are not ordained officebearers of the church.

Regarding Classis Quinte, Synod 2012 reprimanded Classis Quinte for violating the right of Maranatha to a fair and impartial hearing and opportunity to respond to accusations. It also reprimanded the classis for not directing the dissenting members of the congregation to refrain from publicly circulating their grievances, and for giving them documents to distribute. Synod also noted its disapproval regarding members who do not directly present grievances to the allegedly offending person or assembly, thereby seeking redress through proper ecclesiastical or legal channels.

Synod received a recommendation that it consider establishing a committee to look into whether church-based counseling ministries should be regulated at the denominational level, since such ministries are proliferating within the denomination. Synod did not act on that recommendation.

 

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About the Author

Gayla Postma is news editor for The Banner.

See comments (8)

Comments

Praying for everyone involved.

It will be interesting to see if Maranatha's Council decides to follow Synod's ruling or not.

In the past their Council has signalled its intent to disaffiliate due to a similar ruling from Classis Quinte. I think that if Maranatha's Council is true to form, then Maranatha might be leaving the denomination. 

If Maranatha's Council decides not to disaffiliate, then in essence they are agreeing that Synod is correct in their assessment of John Visser, that he did indeed abuse his position in the church and his office, etc. It would also signal that they did indeed use disaffiliation as a tactic in the past to pressure the Classis.

However, from a previous interview with Dave Botting, assistant pastor of Maranatha, he 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.

If Maranatha decides to go ahead with disaffiliation, then they are throwing their support behind their pastor, over Synod's ruling (breaking their contract with the denomination), but saving face over their stances of the past.

Synod has clearly ruled that Maranatha was abused by Classis Quinte and therefore Maranatha's threat to leave the denomination was perfectly valid if that abuse had not been recognized. While the Classis' abuse was reprimanded, the consequences seem ridiculously light (there aren't any!).

It is essential to understand that Classis had condemed the Healing Ministry at Maranatha - that was the issue all along. Pastor Visser would never have supported the congregation going through this wretching appeal process if the issue was only about him or his job. He clearly stated from the very beginning that it was a fight for God's calling and vision on Maranatha - it was never about him.

If the denomination demands that Maranatha reject the call placed on our congregation, then it will be time to choose God's will over the denomination. If the CRC makes it possible for the church and Pastor Visser to stay true to their respective callings, then this suspension can be a time of rest, self-reflection and renewing of passion and vision for Pastor Visser and for Maranatha.

As for healing the relationships between Maranatha and Classis, the Synod ruling is unfortunately and irresponsibly lacking in that regard. I urge the Classis to appropriately repent to our congregation so that a slow healing might begin.

I would challenge the leadership of Marantha to have open and free elections immediatly. The existing council was elected under a cloud of suspicion and have decided to stay in authority for the sake of continuity. The decision of Synod has been reached. They have assured the congregation they would abide by the decisions of the Denomination. Now is the time to elect from the broader congregation a council that represents all. That would set us on a path of restoring the trust that Pastor Visser and Council have broken. That would be a step toward real and lasting reconcilliation. There is a good reason why the CRC model of a large and diverse council has worked for so many years. Maranatha is proof of the dangers of putting control and power in so few hands. Pastor Visser may be gone in body but everyone there knows that as long as his staff and his council remain in complete control there will be no change.

Read how staff and council at Maranatha view the decision at http://www.intelligencer.ca/2012/06/13/pastor-suspended-for-misconduct. It reads to me like they have just become bolder. Not much hope for repentance and restoration here. Thank you Synod.

 

The article indicates that both pastor Visser and council chairman Marten Vanderlaan gloss over the real impact of the CRC Synod's ruling and make the assumption that the healing ministry at Maranatha is intact. It is, in fact, very clear that Synod has come down hard on its present operation and leadership, indicating that immediate action is required to contract for proper accredited oversight. Pastor Visser is tied directly to this ministry and Synod indicated that he would not be re-instated until this condition is met. Synod did not elaborate on the accreditation standards that it would deem appropriate, but obviously Synod will make the final decision on the acceptability of any oversight agency selected by the Maranatha Council. It is also obvious that while this selection process is on-going, the activities of the healing ministry are severely restricted or suspended altogether since they are not permitted to operate without oversight.

The "healing" ministry has been very polarizing over the years and has been the cause of much dissent and has resulted in quite a number of long-time member leaving the community. The new oversight agency will, no doubt, result in significant additional financial expenses. Perhaps now is a good time for consideration to be given to applying talents and resources to more constructive and unifying Kingdom Work that can be shared by all members. 

This morning I asked one of the elders at Maranatha why Pastor Visser is being paid while on suspensionand the answer I was told was that it was a council decision . When I mentioned that it would be more of a paid vacation than a punishment I was told that part of the time he would be taking his holidays . The other reason he would be paid was because council is of the opinion that he has done nothing wrong and the suspension is only a political move by Synod because everyone is against the healing ministry . There is also no intent to call a general meeting for us to air our concerns or no intent to call for a new election of council . This nulifies any changes will be made at the church level because their intent is to ride this out and continue on as before once the suspension is lifted . It makes it hard for us as members to sit back and listen to services on forgiveness and submiting to authority when council doesn't follow what they preach . It also makes it hard to repent for something when you feel you have done nothing wrong and it is all someone else's fault .

I will continue to pray for the church and hope that God has other plans for his people there .

Your elder should have advised you that this is a requirement under the Acts of Synod 1998. In the Guidelines for the Suspension and/or Deposition of Pastors, Section 5, a, 4, b it is stipulated that the congregation must continue financial support during a time of suspension.

However, for your elder to maintain that pastor Visser has done nothing wrong is disingenuous, to say the least. Marantha council appealed their case to Synod and Synod clearly ruled against pastor Visser for abusing his office as a minister of the Word and against the church council, of which pastor Visser is a member, for operating a healing ministry without appropriate, accredited oversight.

Pastor Visser and the council chairman have publicly expressed their satisfaction with Synod's rulings against Classis but accept the rulings against themselves only with obvious reluctance or dismiss them outright. 

The time has come for them to fully accept the findings of the peer review done by Synod - they were weighed and clearly found wanting.  Pastor Visser and members of council should review the vows they made when they were installed as office-bearers and spend some time reflecting on the requirements of their respective offices and determine whether they have, in fact, fully lived up to their obligations, especially the part of willingly submitting themselves to church authority.

With respect to the church council, they aided and abetted pastor Visser's fundraising efforts, on behalf of his family business, by permitting the use of pulpit for that purpose. Council, therefore, also had a fiduciary obligation to ensure that potential investors from the congregation were apprised of the associated risks - the likelihood of a total loss of all monies invested. At the time, the business was known to be unable to meet its obligations towards its creditors and apparently not considered creditworthy by regular lending institutions. Council has, therefore, some culpability, that should be addressed and resolved by making restitution where losses have severely impacted the welfare of elderly or needy participating church members. Repentance and healing, where possible, must also be accompanied by restitution. 

By the way, the CRCNA website indicates, that the suspension is for at least 90 days, in other words it could last longer and does not end automatically. According to the Synod ruling, the Board of Trustees is mandated to oversee a process to evaluate pastor Visser's "readiness for ministry that focuses on professional competence nd personal/emotional stratus." The suspension will only be lifted if and when the Board is satisfied with the results of the evaluation. The source of the quote "readiness for ministry that focuses on professional competence and personal/emotional status" is Article 17-a of the 2011 CRC CHURCH ORDER, which deals with "provisions regulating the release from ministerial service in a congregation". Therefore, the conditions attached to the Synod ruling, are perhaps much serious and involve wider isssues than the church council appears to recognize.

When reading the document "Timeline of Concerns" posted on the Concerned Members web-site, I came across the particularly disturbing incident relating to the denial of the transfer of membership of Rev. Henry Getkate, by the council of Maranatha. Henry Getkate was a former pastor at Maranatha, who upon ritirement from the ministry in 2004, had returned to Belleville where he tried to register his CRC membership with the local congregation.  By letter he was advised by the church council that his request was not accepted - it was felt he was unable to submit to the authority of the (local) church. Unfortunately the document does not provide any details as to how the council arrived at their decision, but we can safely assume that a personal interview with the church council took place prior to the issuance of the letter.

Be that as it may, the action by council, was clearly contrary to CRC CHURCH ORDER:

Article 59-c which, in part, stipulates that a "confesing member shall receive all the privileges and responsibilities of membership"

and

Article 59-d which stipulates that "confessing members coming from other Christian Reformed congregations shall be admitted to confessing membership in the congregation upon presentation of certificates of membership attesting to their soundness in doctrine and life" 

In this instance, the word "shall" has the same directive as the word "must" and, therefore, does not even allow for any kind of pre-screening/qualifying action but actually implies an instruction to unconditionally welcome the applicant into the community with open arms.

I'm sure that Rev. Getkate, after his long-time service in the CRC, arrived with all the required bona fides and impeccable credentials but nevertheless the Maranatha leadership denied him his rights of membership. In other words they committed a blatant, outrageous abuse of power and were totally derelict in their duties towards a Confessing Member.

But, where was the outrage from the concerned members, the surrounding CRC communities, Classis Quinte, The CRC Board of Trustees and the rest of the CRC hierarchy??? If there was any it is not recorded in "Timeline of Concerns" document. One wonders if action had been taken then, perhaps the currrent situation would have prevented.

Here are a few lines from Section 4 of the Guidelines for the Suspension and/or Deposition of Pastors:

Responsibility of the pastor:

- promptly inform the regional pastor and church visitors when signs of conflict arise, and maintain regular    communication

- conduct himself/herself so as not to disrupt further the peace and unity of the congregation

- be amenable to career counselling

Responsibility of the council/congregation:

- seek assistance from the classical church visitors and regional pastor when signs of conflict begin

-be willing to work with designated persons toward reconciliation

-along with the pastor, determine the reasons for conflict - this requires accountability from council and pastor

It wonderful that we have this great CRC superstructure in place, held up by foundational rules and regulations and it will of course survive, undeterred by the attempts of the leadership of a minute segment to become a law unto themselves.

The Maranatha congregation will soon have their answer. It can rest assured that the Board of Trustees understands the gravity of their situation and that they will act in a just manner, giving consideration to the rights and needs of the whole community, not just a select few. The Maranatha council has presented the Board with a dilemma. Council, of which pastor Visser is an influential member, publicly issued a declaration of disaffiliation from the CRCNA and subsequently publicly admitted that this was a ploy to force a favourable outcome of a Classis dispute deliberation.  These actions will no doubt be considered by the Board as well. After all, absolute integrity and honesty are core requirements of the respective offices held by members of council. By their public statements members of council compromised the vows voiced when they were installed in office and therefore, have disqualified themselves from office. 

Fervent prayers are required in support of deliberations of the Board of Trustees.  

 

 

 

 

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