Governance Restructure Causing Confusion, Angst

Governance Restructure Causing Confusion, Angst
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CRT, COD, ESL, SALT, CRA. The myriad of acronyms in play is only the beginning of the confusion that has marked the Christian Reformed Church’s governance restructure conversations of the past year. Progress is being made, albeit slowly.

The CRC’s Council of Delegates heard an update on that progress at its meeting Feb. 17-19. The 53-member Council meets three times a year to work on behalf of the CRC’s synod. 

A year of meetings, some behind closed doors, have shown tensions between some U.S. and Canadian staff and some mistrust and hurt between the U.S. and Canadian portions of the Council of Delegates. Two Canadian classes (regional groups of churches) have asked the denomination’s synod to put the whole proceedings on hold, with one citing a violation of the Church Order. (Church Order is the record of rules the congregations of the CRC have covenanted together to follow, which governs the functioning of the denomination.)

Further complications include the receipt of differing legal opinions on restructuring; the sudden resignation of the CRC’s executive director a year ago, which required emergency interim appointments; the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic preventing church councils and classes from meeting in person; and two consecutive synods being canceled

The discussion of restructuring the governance of the CRC along Canada/U.S. lines came to the fore a year ago when the Council of Delegates was informed that the Canadian delegates (known as CRCNA Canada Corporation) had received legal advice that their board was not in compliance with Canadian tax laws regarding charitable organizations. The legal advice was sought not because of a specific ruling of non-compliance but because of a letter received from a congregation in Ontario questioning whether there was compliance.

About 70% of the Council delegates are from the U.S. and 30% from Canada, representative of the percentages of church members on either side of the border. 

Delegate John Lee, Classis Iakota, noted that while the presenting issue was tax compliance, there is a lot more history involved in the discussion of binationality. “There is a history of not living into decisions we’ve made. There’s a historic wound and frustrations surrounding that,” he said. “There is also a contemporary desire for contextualized ministry.”

To help find a way through the process, in February 2020, the Council created the Ecclesiastical, Structural, and Legal Team (ESL). That team came back recommending that each country have its own executive director and that an ecclesiastical officer could provide the bridge between the two and oversee ministries that are not specific to each country, such as candidacy and the denomination’s seminary. Having received the ESL's initial work, the Council disbanded that group and appointed people in both countries to take on the task of writing job descriptions for the three proposed positions. In October 2020, the Structure and Leadership Task Force (SALT) was created to take the three proposed job descriptions and find a way to align them in an appropriate way. That report was due in February 2021, but the mandate was extended to May 2021 to work with the new legal advice. (See “Extra Meeting of the CRC’s Council of Delegates Intended as ‘Special Listening Session.’”)

Working concurrently to all this is the Canadian Restructure Team (CRT) that is proposing substantial changes to Canadian ministry. That is creating some friction over whether the changes being made for CRA compliance are expanding in order to make Canadian ministry much more independent from the American ministry of the CRC. Classis Toronto, in asking for a halt to restructuring, referred to a letter it received from CRCNA Canada Corp that said, “As we thought about restructuring to achieve compliance, we realized there was a larger opportunity here. That is, since we are in need of restructuring moving into 2021, it is best to consider how so that a number of considerations are kept in mind: ongoing effectiveness, a desire to ‘reduce the footprint’ of the denomination, connecting whole-heartedly to the local church, all the while not simply becoming a mirror to the CRCNA in the U.S. but rather be built for the most effective contextual approach to ministry in Canada.”

CRCNA Canada Corp received the CRT report Feb. 13. It declined to endorse that report even in principle until the joint work of SALT was done. Delegate Melissa Van Dyk, Canadian at-large delegate, wondered if creating separate documents like the CRT report is “creating more anxiety in the system than actually needs to be.”

At the meeting of the full Council on Feb. 19, 2021, the Council received an oral update from the SALT group, which has several more meetings scheduled. A final report should come to the Council in May.

About the Author

Gayla Postma retired as news editor for The Banner in 2020.

See comments (6)


I must apologize for my comment, but to say that the "Governance Restructure Causing Confusion, Angst" could be construed as a form of spin doctoring. That it has raised the "concerns" of various classes, congregational members, including resignation of the denominational executive director is disconcerting to say the least.

That the denomination needs to be compliant chartiable tax law goes without saying. However, Canadian Ministries enagement with local congregations earlier this fall intimated a secondary desire, i.e. separation from the larger denomination.

There are more important issues for the church to grapple with - other than a re-emergent nationalism. Separation will only lead to more centralized governance, and eventual running aground of the denomination as funding for Canadian MInistries shifts more and more to local congregational needs.

I am a member of the Council of Delegates and also a Director of the CRCNA Canada Corporation.  As Canadian Directors, we have done everything in our power to ensure that there is no separation between countries. 

At every me of the Directors it is stressed:  we are ecclesiastically one denomination in two countries.  This must not change.  All we want to do is ensure we do not lose our charitable status by not complying with CRA regulations:  money donated by Canadians must be controlled by Canadians.

And, as far as the restructuring committee is concerned, they are working very closely with Our Journey 25 and have spent many hours communicating with local churches and classes to see how our Journey 25 can be furthered in the Canadian context.  Lubbert, there was never an intimidation of a secondary desire.  The desire, as far as the Canadian delegates of the Council of Delegates, is to ensure or rich eccumenical denomination remains - one denomination in two countries.

Correction:  At every meeting of the Directors it is stressed that we are ecclesiastically one denomination in two countries.

Question to whomever: what does it exactly mean that "we are ecclesiastically one denomination in two countries." 

Specifically, if  we are one denomination "ecclesiastically," in what ways exactly are we two.  Of course, this brings to my mind the constraint of CO Article 28 which quite clearly directs that the CRC is to be "ecclesiastical only."  If that is the case, and if we follow our own rules, there should be no problem because we aren't trying to be "ecclesiastically two, right?  But yet there is a problem it would seem.  So in what way(s) are we other-than-eccesiastical such that we need to restructure into "two parts."


Though one can appreciate that by intention and direction the COD is not pursuing the separation of the CRCNA as a denomination into two national entities, one may accomplish the same by accident. In particular, I can appreciate your comment in Communication #5 in the Supplement to the 2020 Agenda For Synod that “separation was never mentioned as possibility and the Board has done everything within its power to ensure that it will not be a result of the required changes.” Nonetheless, from a reformed polity perspective I would suggest that may be the end result.

At the time of your comment above, you also indicated that “Synod has no authority to overturn decisions made by the CRCNA Canada Corporation” yet the directors of the COD under reformed polity are creatures of Synod – being appointed by the said body; and have no life except through the recommending classes and the constituent local churches of the denomination. If one follows your logic, one might come to the conclusion that CRCNA Canada Corporation contains the seeds for becoming a rogue entity in the body politic; or, at best places the Canadian COD directors in an unenviable position of an ongoing “conflict of interest” should they act in a manner contrary to the direction of Synod.

See also

We should all be concerned. 

The process engaged by Canada Corporation has been most unfortunate.  Its representatives have stated publicly that it is a matter of following their way ("separate operations" along the 49th parallel with "shared ecclesiastical functions", whatever that means - and they have admitted they don't yet know) or "acting illegally".  They have also repeatedly raised the possibility of the reassessment of individual tax returns if we do not follow their wishes.  This is completely unjustified fearmongering.

For this remarkable assertion, Canada Corporation continues to rely on a legal opinion which they refuse to release.  Their lawyer has since confirmed that Canadian tax authorities have voiced precisely no issues, that only theoretical concerns were raised by a classis (Toronto) as to what might be offside and that should any steps be taken by Ottawa, there would be lots of time for negotiations. 

It would have been far more prudent to have a reasoned discussion where all such legal and other issues are discussed at the forum of synod and elsewhere.  But no, Canada Corporation chose to move precipitously.  

I am a graduate of Calvin College and also Calvin Seminary and have deep affection for the denomination.  Some (not all) appear to be using the pre-text of a theoretical tax issue to drive for a de facto national separation of churches.  If people want to have that debate, fair enough.  But let's not pretend for a moment that someone in Ottawa is effectively mandating such a split.

With Synod cancelled two years in a row now, I fear that by the time Synod 2022 rolls around, there will be too many facts on the ground to reverse the reorgnization already made by then.

Two completely separate sets of national operations for a denomination which is already shrinking?  Good grief.    This will only diminish our voice and collective efforts to be a significant reformed movement in North America.


John A. Tamming 

Owen Sound, Ontario (Delegate and Alternate Delegate to the cancelled synods of 2020 and 2021, respectively)