Half a decade of conflict between Maranatha Christian Reformed Church and Classis Quinte (the regional group of churches) may be drawing to a close after representatives of Classis Quinte brought a formal letter of apology to the Maranatha congregation on Sunday, March 22.
During the morning worship service, Hans Vink, a member of the classis leadership team, read the letter, which had been approved by classis at its January meeting. In the letter, classis acknowledged that “the journey of Christian reconciliation is sometimes a long and difficult road, especially when hurts go deep. We want to commend you for staying on this journey of reconciliation with classis.”
The conflict initially stemmed from complaints from a group of Maranatha members regarding the healing ministry conducted by the church, including complaints that Rev. John Visser was abusing his position of authority in counseling relationships for his own personal gain. As a result, in 2010 Classis Quinte appointed a team of seven people to assess the healing ministry.
In May 2011, Quinte received the assessment and took note of concerns about the healing ministry, including excessive power imbalance between counselors and counselees, breach of confidentiality by counselors, and questionable application of Matthew 18. As a result it voted to request the council of the Maranatha church to apply special discipline by deposing Visser. (Only a local council can apply discipline to its leaders.) It upheld that decision at another meeting a few weeks later.
Maranatha appealed the decision to Synod 2012 (the annual leadership meeting of the CRC). In June 2012, synod decided the case. It said Visser did not breach confidentiality, but it did find Visser “abused his office for inappropriate ends” for allowing a counselee and her husband to invest in companies that he and his family owned, and ordered that he be suspended for at least 90 days and that the healing ministry be immediately placed under outside oversight. The ministry was placed under the oversight of Phillip Hamberg of Grand Rapids, Mich. Visser was reinstated in January 2013.
Synod 2012 also reprimanded Classis Quinte for “violating the rights of Maranatha to due process” and “not directing [Maranatha’s] dissenting members to refrain from publicly circulating their grievances.”
It was for those actions that Quinte apologized in the worship service. “Classis is sincerely sorry for its actions and decisions which have caused you so much harm. We accept the reprimands of Synod 2012,” Vink read.
Visser accepted the apology and noted how painful it was to have his colleagues in classis voting to have him removed from office. “That the process was flawed as ruled by synod made it even more painful,” he said. He also acknowledged his part in the conflict.“Almost 10 years ago this month, I stood before our congregation and shared, with council's permission, a financial need that a company owned by my sons and I was facing. That this would eventually lead to a trail of confusion, heartache, and broken relationships grieves me to this day,” he said. “I take full responsibility for my part and my family's part in this . . . I extend heartfelt forgiveness to Classis Quinte and hope that it extends forgiveness to me also for my mistakes."
Maranatha elder Bryan Schaafsma formally accepted the apology on behalf of the church. “Thank you for your acknowledgment of harm caused,” he said. “We accept the apology. With the Spirit’s leading we can continue this journey.”
Rev. Len Riemersma, the pastor assigned by classis as a church visitor, preached a sermon about reconciliation in relationships, and Rev. Bernie Bakker, stated clerk of the classis, led the congregation in prayer.
“It was good to attend the service to witness the apology from Classis Quinte,” said Bill Doef, an ex-council member of Maranatha. “But the apology was not about the many complaints of abuse brought to [the classis]. There are still many hurt and broken relationships between John Visser, the council, and present and past members ... Only if there is true repentance and forgiveness from both sides can these issues be put to rest.”