Welcome to The Banner’s first-ever guide to the Acts of Synod.
This is a companion to the Guide to the Agenda for Synod 2019, published prior to Synod 2019.
If you followed Synod 2019 via The Banner’s online coverage or if you perused the July/August print issue of The Banner, you probably have a good sense of what Synod 2019 discussed. The executive director’s office provided a summary of decisions created for church councils. You can also read “Times Have Changed,” The Banner’s overview.
Note that this is not an exhaustive guide to everything in the Acts and it is not published by the synodical services office of the Christian Reformed Church. If you want to know everything Synod 2019 did, you will need to read the Acts, all 50,000 words of it. It’s a pretty dense read. This Guide contains fewer than 3,300 words.
We hope this summary will tell you what you want or need to know. And we hope it deepens your gratitude for what God is doing in the Christian Reformed Church and spur you to continued prayer on its behalf.
Gayla R. Postma, Banner news editor.
Table of Contents
Synod 2019 met June 14-20 in Grand Rapids, Mich., at Calvin College.
As you read this guide, you will find several references to the Church Order. That is the rule book, so to speak, that governs the denomination, its classes, and its congregations. We have all covenanted together to follow these rules. The current version was published in 2018. It will be updated in due course to reflect decisions made in 2019.
You’ll also find references to the Agenda for Synod 2019.
Please note that page numbering of the Acts of Synod picks up where the Agenda left off. The references in this guide will be to the page numbers of the printed Acts, and the links will take you to the correct page in the digital version.
At synod, discussions get started on a topic, and then synod pauses the discussion to accommodate other agenda items, resuming the discussion later. For that reason, the summary here does not follow the linear order of the Acts.
Let’s Get Started!
The first section (pp. 543-684) covers all the items that were published in the Agenda for Synod’s Supplement. We covered those in our Guide to the Agenda for Synod 2019. Starting on p. 685 you will find the Financial Reports that were supplied to synod delegates at the beginning of synod. Those give a snapshot of the financial position of each of the CRC’s mission agencies and educational institutions, as well as the ministers’ pension funds and employee retirement funds.
Page 701 is where we’re going to dive in. It’s an order of service for the worship service held on the Sunday during synod, known as the Synodical Service of Prayer and Praise. Many delegates consider it a highlight of the week. Synod also worships together every morning of the week. This year, the focus commemorated the 400th anniversary of the Synod of Dort, highlighting the letters of the word FAITH (Fallen nature, Adopted by God, Intentional atonement, Transformed by the Holy Spirit, Held by the Spirit). See also “Celebrating God’s Grace Through the Generations.”
Page 703-708 is a listing of the delegates from all 48 classes (regional groups of churches). If you know any of these folks, thank them for taking a week out of their schedule to do the work of the church at synod!
Ten delegations did not include a deacon (20%). For an analysis of how the presence of deacons has (or hasn’t) changed synod four years in, read Alissa Vernon’s article, Incremental Change with Deacons at Synod.
Synod 2019 elected officers William Koopmans (president), Thea Leunk (vice president), José Rayas (first clerk), and Melissa Van Dyk (second clerk). You can read about their reflections on Synod 2019 here. Jumping ahead to page 713, you’ll see that some delegates and alternates registered their protest to the seating of women delegates, as is their right since the CRC recognizes there are two different perspectives and convictions on this issue, both of which honor the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God. (See the CRC’s position on Women in Ecclesiastical Office.)
The Council of Delegates
Throughout the Acts there were discussions and decisions about the work of the Council of Delegates, which acts on behalf of synod between its annual meetings. Synods also assign many tasks for the Council to complete in the coming year. On p. 714 you’ll see that Paul DeVries, currently the president of the Council, addressed delegates on the work of the Council. And p. 715 notes executive director Steven Timmermans also gave a report. See “We Need to Deal with the Numbers.”
Synod delegates spend most of their first couple of days of synod meeting in committees and dealing in-depth with a specific section of the Agenda. It is usually on Monday morning that the plenary sessions get rolling.
This year, delegates launched right in with the interim report of the Committee to Articulate a Foundations-laying Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality. See also Let’s Talk About Sex. Synod accepted the report, calling attention to section IV of the report, which lays out the committee’s future plans (Acts, p. 716). Delegates spent an hour discussing the interim report at their tables (Acts, p. 753). Results were summarized and given to the committee as feedback. In the spirit of the committee’s search for feedback, Paul De Vries, president of the Council of Delegates, also went into the audience to gather feedback from people who had come to synod for this discussion. See “Council Chair Gives Spectators a Voice,” by Roxanne Van Farowe. You also may give your feedback by sending an email to the committee: firstname.lastname@example.org
P. 718 notes the adoption of proposed changes to Church Order Supplement (Art. 30-c), “Rules for Synodical Procedure, and Guidelines for Handling Abuse Allegations Against a Church Leader,” improving clarity of the Judicial Code. Those proposed changes were included as Appendix D of the Council of Delegates report to Synod 2019 (p. 65-69 in the Agenda).
The Judicial Code Committee members also had asked for a review of the Judicial Code itself, but Synod 2019 declined to do that (Acts, p. 766). For background, see “Judicial Code Committee Asks Synod 2019 for Review,” and Clayton Libolt’s “A Dispute about How to Resolve Disputes.”.
Leadership changes take place throughout the year, with the guidance and approval of synodical deputies appointed by synod for that purpose. Synod approves those actions by approving the work of the synodical deputies.
See “A List of Stories” for Banner writer Clayton Libolt’s take on what could otherwise be viewed as just so much bureaucratic work by synod.
Regarding Ministers of the Word, Synod 2019 approved:
- entrance into CRC ministry of 16 pastors from other denominations (Church Order Article 8);
- entrance into CRC ministry of 43 ministerial candidates who had been declared eligible for call by previous synods (Church Order Article 10);
- 16 specialized ministry positions as consistent with the ministry of the Word, which will be filled by CRC pastors (Church Order Article 12-c);
- loaning five pastors to other denominations and extended the loan of five more pastors (Church Order Article 13);
- departure of 23 people from ministry in the CRC to pursue ministry elsewhere (Church Order Article 14-b) — seven were honorably released, 15 were released, and one was dismissed;
- release or dismissal of four pastors pursuing non-ministerial vocations (Church Order Article 14-c and d);
- return of three pastors who previously left the ministry returned and are now eligible for call (Church Order Article 14-e);
- separation of 12 pastors from their congregations (Church Order Article 17-a) and one release from the ministry after a separation (Church Order Article 17-c).
Synod 2019 declined to allow that ministers who left the CRC for the United Reformed Church be declared “honorably” released, noting that such a decision might only be overturned by an appeal to the classis (Acts, p. 753).
This year, synod approved 42 candidates for the ministry who are now eligible for call (Acts, p. 781). For the first time, four candidates were identified only by their initials as they will be working in sensitive geographical areas where they could be endangered if their ministerial status were made public. See “Candidates 2019: Anonymous?” by David Koll, CRC director of the Candidacy Committee. See also “CRC Pastors Being Trained in Other Seminaries,” by Clayton Libolt.
Synod 2019 approved:
- 48 positions deemed suitable commissioned pastors (Church Order Article 23-a);
- seven commissioned pastors to be the solo pastor of a congregation (Church Order Article 23 b, c, d) (Acts, pp. 751).
Synod also took note that 19 Commissioned Pastors concluded their work in their classis.
Synod 2019 also adopted a number of changes to the Church Order regarding Commissioned Pastors, as found in the Candidacy Committee’s report (Agenda, pp. 252-315). See also “The Evolving Office of Commissioned Pastor,” by Clayton Libolt.
For more analysis, see “A Slow Train to the Future of CRC Leadership,” by Clayton Libolt.
Of much larger consequence for the future is the adoption of the Reimagining Ministry Shares report (Agenda, pp. 110-118). After some initial procedural wrangling and confusion, delegates agreed to change the whole ministry share system. Currently, denominational budgets are created and churches are asked to contribute an amount per-member to meet that budget. Starting in 2021, churches will be asked to work within each classis to pledge a specific amount, and denominational budgets will be prepared based on those pledges. Synod built in a year for this system to get up and running. For the next year, councils and classes will be encouraged to discuss the new system. Final approval for proceeding with the new system will come from Synod 2020. See also “Synod 2019 Upends Ministry Share System” and “Not Our Grandparents’ Ministry Shares,” by Clayton Libolt.
Synod 2019 approved creating a new classis, to be named Classis North Cascades, comprised primarily of churches in Bellingham and Lynden, Wash. (Acts, p. 758). See also “Synod Births a New Classis,” by Clayton Libolt.
Synod 2019 adopted changes to Church Order Articles 42 and 39 that were proposed by Synod 2018. Article 42 adds text about the role of regional pastors in a classis. Article 39 expands the definition of classis (Acts, p. 757).
A disagreement between the CRC’s Historical Committee and the boards of Calvin University and Calvin Theological Seminary about who has oversight of Heritage Hall was settled by Synod 2019. Heritage Hall houses the archives of the Christian Reformed Church. Synod 2019 decided the governance of Heritage Hall will go to the university and seminary as those boards had proposed (Acts, p. 759). See also “Synod Changes Management of Heritage Hall,” by Alissa Vernon.
Second Worship Service
Synod 2019 proposed that Synod 2020 change Church Order Articles 51-a and b, dropping the requirement that congregations gather twice on Sundays, but also affirm the rich tradition of assembling a second time (Acts, p. 767). See also “Synod Proposed Dropping the Second Service Requirement,” by Clayton Libolt.
Synod also proposed that Synod 2020 delete Church Order Article 54-b, noting that Article 54-a already requires that preaching be guided by the creeds and confessions. It noted that a specific obligation for catechetical preaching is an unrealistic expectation when the majority of our churches do not have a second service (Acts, p. 770).
Synod 2019 heard from several ecumenical guests:
- General Secretary Rev. Eddy Alemán and Ms. Monica Schaap Pierce, ecumenical officer, from the Reformed Church in America
- Dr. Gustav Claasen from the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa
- William Julius, scribe for the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa
- Peter Noteboom, general secretary of the Canadian Council of Churches
- Rev. Chan Thleng, general secretary of the Christian Reformed Church of Myanmar
- Rev. Hirotsugu Mochida, stated clerk of the General Assembly of the Reformed Church in Japan (Acts, pp. 778)
Synod 2019 also proposed to Synod 2020 changes to the Church Order regarding the Ecumenical Charter and the categories of affiliation. Those with the closest ties to the CRC will be noted as churches in communion, and others will be considered churches in cooperation. Further explanation of the categories can be found in the Agenda for Synod 2019, pp. 323-343. Synod recommended the condensed version of the Ecumenical Charter as a guide to local churches and classes for their engagement with other churches and denominations (Acts, p. 774).
See also “Ecumenical Delegates Bring Greetings, Reports, Thanks,” by Banner staff, “RCA Ecumenical Visit Highlights Uncertain Future,” by Roxanne Van Farowe, and “CRC Has New Categories for Ecumenical Relationships,” by Alissa Vernon.
Synod 2019 declined to provide care and funding for missionaries from individual classes, but it did encourage classes to take a larger, more proactive role supporting missionaries who do not have significant long-term connections to specific congregations (Acts, p. 779). See also “Synod 2019 Considers Missionary Support by Region,” by Roxanne Van Farowe.
After an ad hoc committee did some initial exploration of challenges and opportunities for bivocational pastors (pastors who support themselves with additional paid employment apart from their ministry), Synod 2019 appointed a task force to create a definition of bivocationality, address financial and oversight implications, and Church Order implications, among other things (Acts p. 780). See also “Synod Appoints a Task Force to Explore Bivocational Ministry,” by Clayton Libolt.
Abuse of Power
The committee that studied how to prevent abuse of power in the past year came to Synod 2019 with a long list of recommendations. See Council of Delegates Supplement, Acts, starting on page 601. See also “Coming to Synod 2019: Recommendations to Prevent Abuse of Power.”
The committee introduced its work with a facilitated conversation with Rev. Carel Geleynse. He told delegates of the long-term impact of a pastor who had abused a minor in a past congregation (Acts, p. 782). See also “Story Clarifies Importance of Abuse Policies,” by Roxanne Van Farowe.
The following are included in the recommendations Synod 2019 adopted:
- Creation of a mandatory training program for all persons entering vocational ministry in the CRC
- Creation of a drafted code of conduct for all employed ministry staff in the CRC, to be presented to Synod 2020
- Review by the Council of Delegates of the adequacy of the training provided to CRCNA staff
- Encouragement for classes to develop a strategy to train office-bearers to be alert to power dynamics within churches, including training resources, time allocated for training, and monitoring of completed training
- Creation of a toolkit for training office-bearers and other ministry leaders
- Developing a policy for limiting use of nondisclosure agreements to cases when it is in the best interests of the victim
- Reviewing safe-church policies for follow-up in cases involving church leaders, to ensure due diligence to prevent transfer of abusive leaders to other churches. For a complete list of recommendations, see Acts, pp. 794-799.
For more information, see “Synod Takes Steps to See, End, and Prevent Abuse of Power,” by Alissa Vernon.
Delegates concluded their discussion with a time of lament through liturgy and song. Read “Synod 2019 Laments Abuse of Power,” by Alissa Vernon.
Synod 2019 appointed a task force to study the advisability, legality, and morality of ecclesiastical (non-civil) marriage because churches are confronted with questions and situations including, but not limited to, people married in a non-civil ceremony in their home country, implications for senior citizens including pensions, and end-of-life care issues (Acts, pp. 791-792). See “Church Marriage and/or State Marriage: CRC Will Study,” by Alissa Vernon.
Synod Review Task Force
Synod 2019 adopted some of the changes recommended by the task force that studied how synod operates, but mostly it maintained the status quo. Delegates and advisers will get assistance from an on-site mentor and more training in advance as well as on-site orientation for all delegates. The synod agenda will include no more than two major study reports in a given year. The office of Synodical Services will offer an easy-to-read guide to the synod Agenda and send out a summary of the Acts after synod. Synod 2019 encouraged classes to send the same delegates for more than one year to enhance continuity, but it declined to require classes to include a woman or someone from an ethnic minority in each delegation. It also declined to elect the following year’s officers at the end of each synod and to charge a registration fee for delegates (Acts, pp 801-817). The full report of the task force is here. See also “Synod Tries to Get More User-friendly,” by Roxanne Van Farowe, and “Future Synods: What’s Actually Changing?”
Synod 2019 declared the teachings of Kinism a heresy. Kinism teaches, among other things, that interracial marriage is sinful and that God has ordained separation of a religio-ethnostate that necessitates racial separation in all areas of life (Acts, p. 818). Synod also instructed the Council of Delegates to appoint a committee to research, determine, and define heresy and its application (Acts, p. 820).
Tasks Assigned to the Executive Director or to the Council of Delegates
Between meetings of synod, the Council of Delegates carries out the work of the church. Here are some things Synod 2019 passed on to the COD (or the executive director) throughout the Acts of Synod 2019:
- Work with the Historical Committee to review its mandate and clarify the relationships between the committee and all the Heritage Hall stakeholders.
- Review the Judicial Code every five years.
- Identify and communicate appropriate legal and financial resources to assist churches with immigration of pastors and their families.
- Circulate the Reimagining Ministry Shares report along with suggested guidance.
- Appoint a committee to develop a training program on abuse of power, and draft a code of conduct for all employed ministry staff regarding prevention of abuse of power, among many other instructions regarding abuse of power.
- Periodically recommend a plan for a themed synod.
- Research historical decisions and the rationale for those decisions dealing with political and/or justice matters.
- Assign a committee to provide a precise and clear definition of heresy and its appropriate use.
- Refer the New City Catechism to Faith Formation Ministries for review.
- Invite the leaders of the denominationally related institutions of higher education to meet with advisory committees of synod.
- Work with the RCA to bring the text of the orderly exchange of ministers into consistency in both denominations.
Starting on p. 824, you’ll find lists that contain almost 150 names. These are all the people who volunteer their time to serve on denominational boards, service committees, study committees, and task forces. That’s a lot of service given to the church! We thank them!