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.