What to Watch for at Synod 2017

When Synod 2017, the annual general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church, meets in Palos Heights, Ill., in June, the agenda will have something for just about everyone. For policy wonks, there is much material about policy, governance, bylaws. For confessional wonks, Synod 2017 will revisit the discussion on the Belhar Confession and receive a lengthy report about the doctrine of justification.

Synod is made up of 192 delegates from regions across the U.S. and Canada. It meets for one week every June to discuss ministries and policies of the denomination.

Two years ago, Synod 2015 approved a governance change from a 30-member Board of Trustees to a 52-member Council of Delegates. This is the group of people who act for synod in the interim between its annual meetings. The transition was originally expected to happen in 2018, but the board will ask synod to move that deadline up to July 1, 2017. It comes with plenty of paperwork, starting with the new Council of Delegates handbook, which, with appendices, fills 85 pages in the synod Agenda. An interim executive committee has already been elected to act until October, pending approval by synod.

Synod 2017 will also receive, by way of the supplementary agenda, documentation that combines eight sets of bylaws—the Canadian and U.S. bylaws for Back to God Ministries International, Christian Reformed World Missions, Christian Reformed Home Missions, and the Board of Trustees—into four, the Canadian and U.S. bylaws each for both Back to God Ministries International and the CRCNA.

Synod 2017 will also mark the launch of the new mission agency that combines the work of Christian Reformed World Missions and Christian Reformed Home Missions—the culmination of two years of work after the unification was approved by Synod 2015. Synod will be asked to approve the new agency’s name, Resonate Global Mission. Delegates will meet Rev. Zachary King, and be asked to ratify his appointment by the Board of Trustees as the director of the combined agency.

The Agenda for Synod 2017 also contains more than 40 pages that include graphs and charts as a response to Synod 2016’s request to provide an overview of the history and funding of each ministry of the CRC after delegates last year said they wanted to prioritize and reduce the denominational footprint. That synod refused a request to increase ministry shares (the money contributed by congregations to fund shared denominational ministries). This year, no increase is being requested. At synod, delegates will be asked to give their own personal impression of each ministry’s value; time will be set aside for group discussions.

On the confessional front, Synod 2017 will once again deal with the Belhar Confession. Synod 2012 declined to adopt it as a confession but instead designated it as an ecumenical faith declaration. The problem is that the CRC’s ecumenical partners did not recognize or know what to do with that designation. So Synod 2016 recommended that Synod 2017 recategorize the Belhar Confession as the same status as that of a contemporary testimony. In response, CRC’s Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee (EIRC) is bringing recommended steps this year that include eliminating the ecumenical faith declaration category and providing a definition for a contemporary testimony category so Synod 2017 can act upon Synod 2016's recommendation. Our World Belongs to Godhas always been known as a contemporary testimony, but the category has never been defined. If approved, the Belhar Confession will also be declared a contemporary testimony alongside Our World Belongs to God.

Also included in the EIRC’s report is a document about the doctrine of justification and the story of how 40 years of CRC mission work in Sierra Leone has resulted in the Christian Reformed Church of Sierra Leone asking to be an ecumenical partner with the CRC in North America.

Much attention will be paid to Church Order Article 23, which deals with matters pertaining to commissioned pastors. Commissioned pastors are ordained only within their own classis for a very specific role. Synod 2017 will be asked to allow commissioned pastors to retire as commissioned pastors, emeritus, allowing them the authority to continue to perform official acts of ministry. Synod will also be asked to add resources and protections for commissioned pastors being released from a congregation, analogous to the way that ministers of the Word receive resources when released from a congregation. The role of commissioned pastor will also receive consideration as a bridge to ordination as a minister of the Word.

Synods always receive overtures (requests) from the various classes (regional groups of churches) and this year is no exception. There are 18 overtures that range from asking that all study reports longer than 10 pages include an executive summary, to translating significant confessional documents into several languages, to asking synod to cease using water bottles.

Delegates will convene for Synod 2017 at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill., from June 9-15. The Banner will post articles on its website throughout the week and keep readers updated via Twitter and Facebook and The Banner app. There will also be a live webcast and press releases from CRC Communications. The July/August 2017 issue of The Banner will contain a round-up of news from Synod 2017.

About the Author

Gayla Postma is news editor for The Banner.

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