Perusal of the Agenda for Synod 2018 indicates that Synod 2018 may pick up where Synod 2017 left off, when fault lines appeared over how the Christian Reformed church carries out its mission to “do justice, show mercy, and walk humbly with God.”
Nearly 200 delegates and advisors will gather from June 7-14 at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. (Synod is the annual general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church.)
Church members agree that the denomination must promote mercy and justice, but there is disagreement about how that should happen. Two classes (regional groups of churches) are asking synod to tell CRC staff to stop lobbying on behalf of the denomination (Agenda, pp. 319-330). Another overture wants better discussion and education focused on biblical principles for public discipleship (pp. 317-319).
A report with input by staff of several denominational agencies, at the request of the executive director, commenting on the overtures noted that synod has a long history of providing the instructions for the activities found inappropriate in these overtures. It also noted that “our denomination has a history of leaning into an ecclesiology that embraces justice and reconciliation work. When synod provides an instruction relative to social justice action to its ministries, for example, the church assumes that such matters have moved into the ecclesiastical realm given their doctrinal and/or ethical gravitas.”
The Council of Delegates endorsed the report and is forwarding it to the synod advisory committee dealing with the overtures. It will not be distributed to all delegates or published in the supplementary synod agenda materials.
This year, the annual synod of the Reformed Church in America, the CRC’s closest sister denomination, is meeting at the same time on the same campus. Delegates from both synods will spend a lot of time together in worship, workshops, plenary sessions, and advisory committee sessions. The joint nature of the two synods is one of ongoing results of the so-called Pella Accord struck in 2014. That year, both denominations agreed that the two denominations are to “act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel [us] to act separately.”
The two denominations already have several joint church plants, combined ministries such as Disability Concerns, and joint grants for various projects. At this synod, delegates from both synods will gather in groups of 20 to address topics of interest in both churches. Last year, both synods viewed a video about options of further collaboration or the creation of a new denomination. Some delegates will see the same video and hear the feedback given then.
Classis and Commissioned Pastors
Of course, synod spends much time on internal issues. This year, delegates will take a closer look at the role of classis, including a request to change the definition of classis in the Church Order. (Agenda, pp. 44-50.)
There is now a denominational classis renewal group in place and it wants each classis to submit a ministry plan to be reported to synod. A few churches want to move to different classes based on whether the classis does or doesn’t allow women to be classis delegates. One classis wants synod to allow one classis to appeal directly to another rather than going through synod (Agenda, pp. 312-314).
Also related to classis are extensive changes to Church Order Article 23 being recommended by the CRC’s Candidacy Office. Article 23 deals with the position of commissioned pastors, people who are ordained to serve in a specific role within a specific classis (Agenda, pp. 203 -228).
Synod 2018 is receiving a request that it address patterns of abuse of power in the churches (Agenda, pp. 282-307). In a related matter, the CRC’s Council of Delegates heard that the Safe Church office is getting increasing numbers of calls regarding incidents of abuse in the #MeToo culture creating heightened awareness of abuse in North America.
The Council of Delegates is sending a report to synod that points to the Abuse Victims Task Force report approved by Synod 2010. Among the recommendations in that report was one to allocate resources to provide support for pastoral care and healing (Acts of Synod 2010, pp. 862-866).
Classis Huron wants Synod 2018 to approve funding for new curriculum development. The Council of Delegates previously approved curriculum proposals but said there was no money to fund it. Faith Formation Ministries has since then raised some money outside of ministry shares and hopes to receive money from a proposed ministry shares increase.
Classis Huron also wants synod to clarify the mandate of Faith Formation Ministries. When the Faith Alive board was disbanded in 2013, synod said that critical functions, such as Sunday school curricula, would be continued. But it never specified who would make that happen. This overture wants that specified.
The Council of Delegates is recommending a ministry shares increase of $7 (2 percent). Ministry shares are the monies collected from churches for shared ministries. That would bring the per adult ministry shares amount to $346.48. There has been no increase since 2016.
Allocations of ministry shares to the major ministry agencies and educational institutions remain the same. The recommended increase would go entirely to Congregational Services, a collection of several ministries that includes Faith Formation Ministries and Safe Church. As noted, more than one of those ministries needs more resources to fulfill their mandates. The allocation within Congregational Services will be at the discretion of executive leadership.
Listen More, Speak Less
It will be a full week with some tough discussions. The question is whether delegates will heed the urging of Cor Pool, president Synod 2017. In his closing address, he urged delegates to “keep moving forward with humble hearts. Listen more. Speak less. Build oneness and unity.”
This story was changed on May 11, 2018 to correct the authorship of the report commenting on the overtures.