Classis Toronto States Deposed Pastor May Not Serve as Elder

Can a pastor deposed for sexual misconduct subsequently serve as an elder in a congregation?

After a local council in Classis Toronto decided that a deposed pastor in the congregation could serve as an elder, Classis Toronto became involved and said it was inappropriate.

In early 2013, a woman abused by the deposed minister many years ago wrote to the council in protest of its actions. The reply she received from the church council stated that his nomination to be an elder took into account his sins but also his repentance. “It isn’t fair to his victims or [the pastor] to be reconvicted of the same offence,” the letter to the abused person read. “Both he and you suffer from the same life sentence already.”

The woman took her case to Bonnie Nicholas, director of the Christian Reformed Church’s Safe Church Ministry. “Safe Church Ministry works only in an advisory capacity,” Nicholas said. “I sent a letter to the church council about the importance of holding church leaders to a higher standard and asked them to reconsider allowing this person to hold his current position.”

Nicholas said she was assured by the council that they were aware of the past infraction, and that the one who perpetrated the abuse was repentant and had been forgiven by God and the church. There were strict limitations placed on him. For example, he could not do visitation alone. “So the council believed that they were handling the situation appropriately,” Nicholas said.

The person who was abused was not satisfied with that and, with Nicholas’ encouragement, took her case to classis.

After investigating the facts, Classis Toronto took action, asking that the local council ask the deposed pastor to resign his term as an elder, which he then did.

At its most recent meeting, Classis Toronto stated that an officebearer (which includes pastors) who is deposed under Church Order Article 82 and 83 may not be reinstated as an officebearer without the approval of classis.

Classis also noted in its minutes that some senior persons in the classis who knew the perpetrator’s history and knew he was being ordained as an elder and should have known the rules either didn’t know or understand the rules, or felt the rules were not relevant, or ignored those rules.

The classis is sending a letter of regret to the person who was abused.

According to Rev. Henry DeMoor, an authority on the Church Order and author of Christian Reformed Church Order Commentary, a local church council is free to nominate any qualified person for the offices of elder or deacon. However, he said, in the case of a deposed pastor, the reasons why a pastor can or cannot be reinstated as a Minister of the Word according to the Church Order should also inform the council’s decision on appointing that person to any role as a spiritual leader in the congregation.

“While technically the Church Order does not forbid it,” he said, “it would seem to me a violation of the spirit of that process.” DeMoor also noted that the language in the supplement to Church Order Article 84 does not talk specifically about ministers but uses language that refers in broader terms to officebearers being reinstated to office. “This wording was intentionally chosen by Synod 2004 and, in my opinion, should be respected by local councils as informing them in all local matters.”

The person who was abused said she is satisfied with the result in Classis Toronto but wonders why it took a year to get there. And, she asked, what policies are in place that something like this can't happen again?

Nicholas also said the situation brings up a need for a system of accountability for pastors who have been deposed. “Confidentiality must be weighed against the value of preventing future harm in these kinds of situations,” she said. “Given the horrific effects of clergy abuse, I believe it is best to err on the side of safety and prevention.”

She added, “I’m so thankful for people who have the courage to come forward with their experience of abuse, even in the face of pain, shame, and opposition. My prayer is that the Lord will give us ears to hear.”

About the Author

Gayla Postma is news editor for The Banner.

See comments (14)


" ...some senior persons in the classis who knew the perpetarator's history and knew he was ordained as an elder & should have know the rules either didn't know or understand the rules, or felt the rules were not relevant, or ignored the rules".  Would this incident(s) not have been discovered when he would have been obliged to complete the numerous safe church documents required for any volunteer or officebearer and staff?    Or is this a another case of 'the brothers covering for the brothers'?  It would seem that there needs to be a follow-up on this story on this - especially as it pertains to  what  new policies are now in place that will prevent this from happening again.    Also, what is Classis Toronto doing to ensure that the victim(s) and family(ies) have been cared for during these past many years?   Has she been able to take her place again in the CRC?


Decisions about screening for church leaders, employees, and volunteers rest with individual church councils. Many CRCs require criminal background checks for church leaders and volunteers who work with children and youth. Many other CRCs have no such policies in place. (Only about half of our churches have safe church/abuse prevention policies.)  In addition, a criminal background check only reveals criminal behavior. If no criminal charges were filed, which is often the case with adults, the criminal background check comes back clean. A separate question to consider is whether or not a minister's record "follows" that person, including information about why a minister was deposed. What is shared or known when ministers move to a new place? (We could learn a lesson from the Roman Catholic church in this regard)

Regarding care for the one victimized, I can only say that Classis Toronto has acknowleded that wrong has been done and efforts are being made now to offer support. It's also true that there is most likely nothing that can be done at this point to make up for all that has been suffered. Sadly, it's often the case that those victimized by clergy sexual abuse choose to no longer be involved in the CRC, or sometimes in any church.

Unless there are ecclesiatiscal rules saying otherwise -- and I don't think there is --, it would certainly be the prerogative of the local church council to make decisions about whether a pastor who has been determined to have abused when serving as pastor to subsequently serve as elder.  On the other hand, I think it is agreed that such local prerogative can be "appealled," because of ecclesiatiscal rules (to which local churches necessarily agree), to classis and synod.

But beyond that, I would think that a local council would see it as well to bring their classis into the discussion before making the final decision to allow such a pastor to be elder.  Why?  Some distance and objectivity is needed to make the decision, or even to analyze and evaluate clearly.  I have a hard time seeing a pastor who has truly abused as a pastor then subsequently be permitted to hold the office of elder.  At the same time, I doubt that (ex-)pastor's offenses will be fully seen for what they are by his personal friends, who often times are others on the church council.  Caveat: all of this turns on the particular facts of what happened.  There is abuse and then there is abuse.  One-size-fits-all rules are inevitably unjust and inappropriate.

But beyond all of this, I wonder how much the CRCNA's purported perspective regarding "restorative justice" is practically applied to these situations.  My limited involvement with such situations suggests "not much."  But it should.  The CRCNA pitches (see, e.g., the Banner FAQ answer to "Do harsh penalties reduce crime" at: that "Restorative justice ... [is the] approach endorsed by the Christian Reformed Church."  That's pretty high sounding, but if the CRCNA doesn't somehow apply that endorsed concept to its own internal affairs, one can and should conclude that the CRCNA doesn't really endorse it.

I actually favor so-called "restorative justice" but find can rarely be accomplished -- especially outside the church, but also inside the church -- because of the attitude/perspective of the offender, or of the victim, or both.  But if the CRCNA pitches the concept as carrying their endorsement, the concept would be applied where internally needed (and a local CRC church is internal).

Bonnie: Can you tell us whether "restorative justice" principles endorsed by the CRCNA are indeed regularly applied in these situations, and if so, whether "restoration" is sometime or often achieved, and if so, what that means in this (abuse) situations?


The whole thing strikes me as tragic.

Yes, what he did was horrible, but is there no room for grace and forgiveness?  Are some sins such that we are not allowed to accept repentance?

Yet does grace and forgiveness mean we must restore such to positions of leadership?  I asked a man (not ever a pastor) who had been convicted - because he confessed - of sexual misconduct.  He said, from his perspective, he realized he had been forgiven even as David was forgiven for his sins with Bethsheba and Uriah, but he noted that David was dethroned for a while and was prevented from building the temple.  He would not accept a nomination to council.  He would serve God in other ways.

I think the man you met had great insight and humility Eric, understanding what he had done, that he was forgiven, and that he could serve God in other ways than leadership in a church.  That insight  (the last part) seems hard to find for so many who insist that "they have a right to ... (this or that)."


Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Arial","sans-serif"; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} I agree with what has been expressed about making a distinction between serving in a recognized leadership role at church, and being forgiven. Those are two very different things. Church leaders, especially those ordained, possess great trust and power that are inherent to their position. It’s in the best interest of the church to maintain high standards to protect these positions of honor. It also protects the church, as well as those who could be victimized by any re-offense. Many of us hold a professional license of some kind. We are held to an agreed upon code of ethical behavior in that role and will lose our license for violating those standards. Should we hold church leaders to a lower standard?


I too am strongly in favor of using restorative justice principles whenever possible. One big advantage is that restorative principles give more voice to those who have been victimized than other more traditional approaches. However, the imbalance of power in abuse situations must also be considered, as well as the often severe trauma experienced by the one who has been harmed.

The issue is how to gain traction for use of restorative principles in the denomination and in our churches. The denomination has focused on restorative justice in the criminal justice system, which has been good. Information and resources are available on the Office of Social Justice website. There has been less attention given to restorative principles that can be used in day-to-day church life, conflict situations, and yes, even abuse-related situations. Safe Church has often presented workshops about restorative practices at our training events. We have also sponsored safe church team members to attend training events to equip them to be facilitators through Shalem Mental Health Network ( I am aware of a handfull of situations involving safe church where restorative principles have been used; I'm sure there are others of which I'm not aware. I've seen powerful positive experiences using restorative techniques. I've also heard of situations that did not have a positive outcome. If we are serious about moving forward in using restorative practices, more effort will need to be given to developing a network of well-trained facilitators who can be called on in these situations. And there will need to be more openness and a better understanding about restorative principles in general. I look forward to that day.

It's astounding to me that less than half of the crc churches have safechurch/abuse prevention policies and that the pastors "record" does not follow him, especially the reasons for why he was deposed in the first place. It also seems very sad to me that the victims/survivors no longer feel safe in the crc and very little is being done to change that.  What support is now being offered to the survivor of this abuse?

Bonnie: Thanks for the answer.  I have tried in the past (mostly as a criminal defense lawyer) and still try (but don't do so much criminal law anymore) to implement restorative justice principles in a criminal context (started decades ago with the Friends pushed it out here), but it was and is nearly impossible to do because doing it requires the cooperation of other parties (e.g., DA, maybe probation officer, maybe criminal defense counsel, all aside from victim and offender of course) and those "parts" don't often get on the same page.

But much of that "same page problem" is absent (or should be) when dealing with an offense within the CRCNA and both offender and victim (not to mention the "judge," which could be council or classis) are of the same general perspective, and even inside the same institutional church.  It seems to me that before we try implementing restorative jusitice outside the institutional church, we might first become good at actually doing it inside the institutional church, where forces opposing the effort should be many fewer and much less.

I've reviewed OSJ's web content and have even asked questions about it in the past (no answers given), but I've found no evidence at all that OSJ (including its Restorative Justice department) actually implements restorative justice in any practical way in the criminal law arena, except to pull the phrase out every now and then (e.g., the Banner FAQ I cited above, in OSJ web pages, etc).  In other words, it seems more like the CRCNA pitches restorative justice as a political position but doesn't actually do it in any way, or even teach about how to do it.  (The OSJ website simply links to a government (DOJ) website that is quite useless and uninformative -- and also to publications, which link leads to the same government website that says 'page not found').

You are correct that if the CRCNA were to juse restorative justice principles for "internal problems," it should have trained facilitators.  But I have seen nothing that suggests that OSJ or any other CRCNA agency does or has committed to doing anything more than say they "endorse restorative justice."

My two cents, for what it is worth, is that the CRCNA, OSJ in particular, should either stop saying the CRCNA "endorses" restorative justice or start providing something that helps to do it, starting with providing concrete assistance (maybe cooperation) with the Safe Church department.  There is no need or call tell the outside world what it should do if we can't/won't first practice what we preach inside the (institutional) church.

Doug, I will add my 2 cents to your 2 cents for what that's worth ;)  I've had the exact same thoughts re other simular type situations within the crc...  BOQ...My two cents, for what it is worth, is that the CRCNA, OSJ in particular, should either stop saying the CRCNA "endorses" restorative justice or start providing something that helps to do it, starting with providing concrete assistance (maybe cooperation) with the Safe Church department.  There is no need or call tell the outside world what it should do if we can't/won't first practice what we preach inside the (institutional) church.EOQ.

it seems like we/crc like to preach justice to the world, but yet if you are a member in the crc coming against leadership, exposing deeds of darkness within the church, I'm not so sure how likely you will see justice then, and unfortunately, from my perspective I'm aware of more injustice from the resistance by leadership to it being brought to light (think John 3:19-21)...  the catholic church was mentioned by Bonnie, and I think Rachel mentioned it on the network blog she posted re this article as well...  there is much we can learn from what they did wrong - ie coverup/secrecy/protecting leaders at expense of victims/bystanders unwilling to speak out due to being threatened (ie lose their job), shunned, discredited, etc, that all contributed to the horrific level of decades long abuse.  There is a reason God tells us in Scripture to expose the deeds of darkness (Eph 5:11) and yes, we can expect resistance (again John 3:20), but thank God He gives us the strength we need, so we can do all things through His strength.

Bless your heart Bonnie, for challenging the church to a higher level of accountability, transparency.  I'm encouraged to see this article and am always blessed by your willingness to be bold and speak out on behalf of the victims - I have sometimes wondered if you are getting pushback/resistance when you post truth and I hope not but wouldn't be surprised, so know this...some of the things you have shared have been powerful confirmations for me...

may the LORD continue to use you to bring these things to light, and to challenge the Church to live up to the higher standard that God has called us to...


Yes what he did was horrible and since he had "multiple infractions" I am not sure if there is room for grace-

Thank you for this post--I agree-if you go up against the leadership, and try exposing the deeds of darkness, you will not see justice-  You will be told you are too angry, you need to learn to forgive, you should work on your relationship to God, just to name a few-

I am astounded that when things are discussed in executive committee in Classis they can not be reported on.  It saddens me that Safe Church can only offer advice-and really has no "teeth" and therefore cannot guarantee that the predators will not serve in the crc in the future and therefore will have the oppurtunity to re-offend.  I am not sure who the church is "Safe" for-certainly not the victim/survivor.

The CRCNA Church Order contains a "Judicial Code" but no particular "Code" or protocol that in any way would be considered an implementation of "restorative justice."

I would suggest, having been involved in a number of CRC matters in the past (I won't describe further than that), that Safe Church (and CRC members in general) simply lack some of the tools they would require and probably would like to have -- both in terms of the Church Order and otherwise -- to provide or even allow for restorative justice (and sometimes even mere justice).  It's not that restorative justice principles absolutely couldn't be followed, but that the "system is not set up for it" (again, much of that "system" being the current state of the Church Order).  And the Judical Code makes getting mere justice a much too difficult process.

I could be wrong, but to my knowledge, neither Synod nor the BOT nor the ED (etc) have looked much at the Church Order (the Judicial Code part of it otherwise), or other operating protocols to see how progress could be made on handling internal disputes and offenses.  Most of our preaching about restorative justice relates to the outside the institutional church world, in particular the criminal system, which amounts to, as I suggested, more of a political speech than a serious committment to changing things in house (practicing what we preach).

As an aside but related, I have often used Peacemakers (from Billings Montana, see at: for "help" in church disputes (CRC and otherwise).  Other than the fact that they were born out of an effort by OPC people (and decades ago, long before "restorative justice" was even coined as a phrase), I'm not sure why the OSJ/Restorative Justice website doesn't list them as a resource.

here's the link to the safe church's network post on this article if you are interested and haven't read it...