Synod 2019 (the general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church) has proposed dropping two long-standing and fiercely defended worship requirements from the Church Order. One is the requirement that churches host two distinct worship services on Sunday; the second is that churches on an annual basis preach through the Heidelberg Catechism. The two are related. The Church Order are the rules that govern denominational life.
The second service, as it was typically called, was not a repetition of the first service at a different time, but totally different service, typically focused on the catechism. The second service often took place Sunday evenings. The services were not optional; the congregation was expected to show up twice.
The requirements have been hard to sustain for years. In 1995, synod, facing the fact that many churches no longer held two services, decided to enter the word “ordinarily” into the Church Order: “The congregation shall assemble for worship, ordinarily twice on the Lord’s Day . . .” As fewer congregations worshiped twice on Sunday, opportunities to preach through the catechism also disappeared.
The reporter for the committee recommending the change, Laryn Zoerhof, Classis Illiana, spoke of the attempt at balance: “Out of pastoral consideration for churches that already have only one service, the time has come to remove the ‘ordinarily twice’ from the Church Order. And, at the same time, out of pastoral consideration for churches that still maintain a meaningful evening service, it is important to include affirmation of this rich tradition in the Church Order.”
For several delegates, dropping the requirement to host a second service in this year is ironic. The requirements to hold a second service and to preach through the catechism go back to the Synod of Dort, 400 years ago.
Cary Gephart, Classis Illiana, noted that the difficulty faced by churches today was already faced by Dort. People were not showing up for the second service. Despite that, so insistent was Dort on maintaining the practice of two services that, according to Gephart, they said to the churches, “You should do the evening service even if your pastor and his family are the only ones there.”
Brian Kornelis, Classis Minnkota, said, “We should worship more, not less.”
Others pointed out that not having a second service permitted congregations to gather on Sunday or other evenings for other purposes. Sidney Couperus, Classis Niagara, for example, said his 700-member church used Sunday evenings for small group meetings. Others spoke of Wednesday night classes. Tyler Wagenmaker, Classis Zeeland, spoke of the power of the preached Word of God as opposed to those alternatives. “Preaching is something unique,” he said. “I lament that [this proposal] undermines confidence in the Word.” He registered his negative vote.
The question before synod turned on whether to recognize what churches and members have already done—leave behind the old practice of holding a second service—or to continue to insist on requiring a second service and the preaching of the catechism because the requirement lies at the heart of the Reformed faith.
For others, it simply acknowledges what has already happened. Dwayne Nienhuis, Classis Holland, spoke for the majority when he said, “This train has left the station.”
Changes to the Church Order require two synods so this synod proposes the changes to Synod 2020, where they can be adopted.
Synod 2019 is meeting at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., from June 14-20. For continuous coverage from our award-winning news team, 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 on The Banner’s dedicated Synod web page several times daily. Unless noted otherwise, all photographs are by Karen Huttenga.