Synod 2019 (the annual leadership meeting of the Christian Reformed Church) convenes on June 14; more than 200 delegates and advisers will gather at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. The Agenda for Synod 2019 is a lengthy one, with much for delegates to consider before they adjourn on June 20. Here’s what to expect. (See also our first-ever, user-friendly “Guide to the Agenda for Synod.”)
Changing the Church Order
The Church Order is the rulebook that all the churches covenant together to uphold. Some revisions proposed by Synod 2018 are up for adoption this year. Other changes are being proposed this year for adoption next year. It takes two synods to approve a change in the Church Order.
There’s a proposed change to Article 42, adding a mandate for regional pastors. Article 39 contains the definition of a classis, with expansion to that definition being proposed. (For more details, see the Agenda, p. 64.)
The denomination’s Candidacy Committee has expanded and reformatted the Commissioned Pastor Handbook for approval by Synod 2019. Another suggested change is to the supplement of Article 8, regarding ministers coming to the CRC from other denominations. If adopted, that material will be also be applied to ministers coming from independent congregations. (See Agenda, p. 266.)
The Candidacy Committee is also proposing that the Church Order Supplement, Articles 82-84, be changed. Those articles contain the protocol for suspension and deposition of ministers. The Candidacy Committee proposes that a statement be added to that section requiring that a classis be involved in the suspension or deposition of a commissioned pastor. The committee notes that this change would provide a parallel to the process for ministers of the Word.
The church’s Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee (EIRC) plays a role in reminding us that we are part of a worldwide Christian church, not just a small denomination in two countries. It currently classifies the CRC’s relationships with other churches in four categories, from the closest (ecclesiastical fellowship) to the most distant. The EIRC wants to simplify the categories of affiliation, proposing that all but the first one be grouped into a new category called churches in cooperation. (See Agenda, p. 321.) That new category would then encompass all the various relationships undertaken by various mission agencies and churches.
The Judicial Code Committee (JCC) hears appeals of decisions made by a local church council, a classis, or an agency of the Christian Reformed Church if the decision is alleged to contravene the Church Order. After hearing a complicated case that involved Guidelines for Handling Abuse Allegations Against a Church Leader in 2018, it is now calling for a task force to be assigned by synod to study the committee’s work. Acknowledging that it could raise eyebrows, the JCC said it observed “a significant ‘mismatch’” between the complexity of the JCC case taken up at Synod 2018 and “the capabilities (or lack thereof) of that body to adequately process it.” You can find the JCC proposal starting on p. 69 of the Agenda. (See also “Judicial Code Committee Asks Synod 2019 For Review.”)
Abuse of Power
Synod 2018 spent many hours on the topic of abuse and instructed the Council of Delegates to bring recommendations to Synod 2019 about how the CRCNA can best address patterns of abuse of power at all levels of the denomination. See “Synod 2018 Confronts Abuse.” A large report, “Addressing Abuse of Power in the CRC,” is coming to Synod 2019. Its recommendations include taking much stronger actions than have been enacted by synods past, actions that some delegates might see as infringing on the authority of the local church council. Will delegates to this synod, most not having sat through last year’s discussions, be willing to adopt such actions? The report will be contained in the “2019 Agenda for Synod Supplement” since it was not completed in time for the Agenda deadline. See also “Recommendations to Prevent Abuse of Power Coming to Synod 2019 .”
U.S. Committee to Guide and Support the Office of Social Justice (OSJ)
Some actions taken by OSJ bring kudos from many people in the pews but raise consternation from others. The divide was discussed at Synod 2018, with synod instructing the Council to put together a committee to support and guide the ministry. Synod 2019 will see the Council-approved mandate, process, and composition of the committee. (See also “Synod 2018 Creates New Justice Committee.”)
Synod 2019 will ponder some major changes in how ministry shares amounts are set and how the budgets involving ministry shares are created. Ministry shares are the money churches agree to pay to support the ministries they have agreed to do together, rather than individually. The “Reimagining Ministry Shares” report, found in the Agenda on p. 111, recommends asking churches to work within each classis to pledge the amount they will send for shared ministries, so budgets can be created with that information rather than with a best guess. (See also “Council of Delegates Discusses Reimagining Ministry Shares.”) The Council is recommending that Synod 2019 hold the per member rate at $346.48.
Study Committee to Articulate a Foundation-laying Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality
This committee was appointed in 2016 with the task of providing “guidance for what constitutes a holy and healthy Christian sexual life” and to serve the church “with pastoral, ecclesial, and missional guidance . . .” Within that broad outline, the committee was specifically instructed to include (1) discussion outlining how a Reformed hermeneutic does or does not comport with readings of Scripture being employed to endorse what are, for the historic church, ground-breaking conclusions regarding human sexual behavior and identification; and (2) discuss, and potentially critique, untraditional conclusions arising from arguments about a new movement of the Spirit (e.g., Acts 15), as well as conclusions arising from scientific and social scientific studies.
This interim report lays out the committee’s biblical theology of human sexuality, starting on page 415 of the Agenda. The committee intends to add two additional sections. The first will explore numerous issues of human sexuality facing the church today, with an analysis of the cultural context, the scriptural teaching that must shape the church’s approach to each issue, and proposals for pastoral care.
The second will explore the confessional status of church teaching on sexuality and whether the church should consider adopting a new statement of faith on sexuality. The committee has included in this interim report a copy of the Great Lakes Catechism on Marriage and Sexuality (see p. 437).
Because it is an interim report, there are no formal recommendations made. The final report will go to Synod 2021.
This report recommends some fine-tuning to the process of synod. Some of the recommended changes include limiting the length of speeches by delegates; providing better training prior to synod to help delegates acclimate to the large agenda and fast pace of the meeting; having classis send one or two delegates for two years in row. For a brief summary, see “Task Force Recommends Refinements for Annual Synods.” The full list of 32 recommendations is found on p. 454 of the Agenda.
Recommendations of charging a registration fee for delegates, imposing requirements for female and ethnic minority representation in delegations from the classes, and calling for power and privilege training for delegates are getting some resistance by way of overtures. Read more here: No Synod Delegate Fees, No Delegation Requirements.
Overtures & Appeals
Overtures are requests that synod take an action (or not). (Page numbers refer to the Agenda for Synod 2019)
- Overture 6 asks synod to increase awareness of the conflict between Israel and Palestine (p. 482).
- Overture 7 asks synod to declare teachings of kinism a heresy, in particular the teaching that interracial marriage is sinful and the teaching that God has ordained separation in a religio-ethnostate that necessitates racial separation in all areas of life (p. 489).
- Overture 8 asks that synod withdraw the Synod 2012 assertions about climate change, in particular the assertions that climate change is occurring and is very likely due to human activity, and that human-induced climate change poses a significant threat (p. 505).
- Overture 11 (p. 514) asks that funds for Resonate Global Mission missionaries come from a specific classis, rather than asking missionaries to fundraise across the denomination. It asserts that missionaries are not called to fundraise first and provide ministry second. The Council of Delegates is sending a comment to the appropriate synod advisory committee, saying that while well-intended, the proposal is not flexible enough.
- In the spirit of reconciliation, Classis Lake Superior wants Synod 2019 to declare some ministers who left the CRC for the United Reformed Church due to convictions of their faith as “honorably released” (Overture 12, p. 515).
Synod 2019 is meeting at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., from June 14-20. For continuous coverage while synod is in session, download the Banner app on your mobile device or 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. Unless noted otherwise, all photographs are by Karen Huttenga.