The synod (the general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church) decided not to accept a request to “instruct and admonish” the consistories of two Grand Rapids churches to discipline their members who are are part of All One Body, an organization advocating change in the stance of the denomination in regard to same sex couples in committed and monogamous relationships.
The request was brought by Classis Minnkota (a regional body of churches). In a lengthy communication to the synod, Minnkota cited a 1973 decision of the Christian Reformed Church, reiterated by several other synods, that condemned homosexual practice as sinful. Since All One Body advocates full inclusion in the church of people who are practicing homosexuals in committed, monogamous relationships, Minnkota claimed its members should be subject to church discipline and urged synod to instruct the churches to whom the members of All One Body belong to bring such discipline.
This synod refused to do so for two reasons: first, because the Church Order does not permit synods to instruct local congregations in matters of discipline and, second, because Classis Minnkota had failed to consult with the churches in question before bringing their request to synod.
Far more controversial was a proposal to synod from one of its advisory committees to add to their decision language partially borrowed from the Minnkota communication condemning the “public advocacy . . . of sinful behavior.”
In a long debate, synod deliberated whether this language was harmful or helpful.
Several delegates argued that once synod had decided not to accept Minnkota’s request, any other action of synod on the matter was out of order. Rev. Meg Jenista, Classis Hackensack, compared the decision of synod not to accept the Minnkota request to a quarreling couple deciding not to pursue an argument for a certain time. She asked, “Didn’t we decide not to have this argument right now?” Rev. Wilhelmina Zwart, Classis Chatham, added, “What I keep scratching my head about is that we didn’t [accept Minnkota’s request]. I don't know why this is in here.”
Others argued that the statement was simply a general statement, applicable to any sin. Rev. Paul de Vries, Classis Thornapple Valley, said that it was simply a statement of the gospel. Rev. C. James den Dulk, Classis Minnkota, after citing several Bible texts, said that the Scriptures say no to ungodliness. They do “not allow us to live in unrepentant sin."
But Rev. Neil De Koning, Classis Alberta North/Saskatchewan, challenged the claim that the statement was only a general principle, applicable to any sin: “Something we can all assent to is that there is a context. The context suggests that this statement is directed against [the churches] hospitable to All One Body.” He added, “You can’t stop this conversation. This [proposal] wants to silence this conversation. We need this conversation. By trying to put a fence around the conversation we are not helping the CRC.”
Elder Gerrit DenHartog, Classis Grandville, said, “It is superfluous. We already have a doctrine of sin. Given our Reformed doctrine, is this statement necessary?”
Elder Judy Jongsma, Classis Grand Rapids East, argued that advocacy in itself is not sin. She mentioned prominent evangelical and Reformed theologians “who do not read Paul’s passages as applicable to gay Christian couples who seek to serve the Lord.” She mentioned, among others, Lewis Smedes, Amy Plantinga Pauw, and Tony Campolo. She added, “This is a matter of a synodical decision. Synod [has] declared that such decisions do not demand unswerving subscription by office holders. Everyone is free to speak against them without fear of recrimination.”
Rev. James Petersen, Northern Illinois, lamented that although the synodical advisory committee that considered this matter did want to get into the issue of homosexuality itself, “now we are having a conversation about that.” The issue having been joined, he pushed to get into the biblical texts.
In a dramatic conclusion to the debate, the proposed statement about “public advocacy . . . of sinful behavior” was withdrawn by the advisory committee The only action of synod was not to accept Minnkota’s request for discipline.
Several delegates expressed concern for Synod 2016, when the committee charged with providing pastoral guidance for same sex marriage will report. Rev. Tim Hoekstra, Classis Chicago South, prayed for that synod, and for all those in the churches who feel isolated and estranged.
Synod 2015 is meeting at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, from June 12-18. For continuous Banner coverage, please follow The Banner Magazine on Facebook or @crcbanner on Twitter. You can find more tweeting by following hashtag #crcsynod. News stories will be posted at thebanner.org several times daily. For CRC Communications releases, webcast, and live blogging, please visit crcna.org. Unless noted otherwise, all photographs are by Karen Huttenga.