Classis Watch: Spring 2021

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Two or three times each year, Christian Reformed churches send representatives to their classis, a regional group of churches.

Many of the actions taken by classes are governed by the CRC’s Church Order, the rules that member churches agree together to follow. Here are some of the actions by classes in the past several months:

Those welcomed into ministry in the Christian Reformed Church include candidates Jeremy Oosterhouse, Jaebok Choi, Mike Slofstra, and Erik DeLange (Church Order Articles 6 and 10).

Those welcomed into ministry in the CRC from other denominations, following a satisfactory colloquium doctum (doctrinal conversation) establishing soundness of doctrine, sanctity of life, and knowledge and appreciation of Christian Reformed practice: Rev. Kwang Bae Lee (Church Order Art. 8).

Ministers loaned: Rev. Ferenc “Frank” Varga to serve the American Hungarian Reformed Church of Allen Park, Mich. (Church Order Art. 13b).

Ministers released from a congregation: Revs. Leonard Kuyvenhoven, from Ridgewood CRC (Jenison, Mich.); Ken Vander Horst, from Smithers (B.C.) CRC (Church Order Art. 17a).

Classis Watch Winter 2020 noted that Josh Schatzle had been welcomed into ministry in the CRC from another denomination. He was not ultimately ordained into ministry and has separated from the calling congregation, Charlottetown (PEI) CRC.

Leaving Ministry in the CRC

Classes may end a pastor’s ordained ministry status, guided by Church Order articles 14 and 17. Designations of release (reflecting the manner and spirit in which the minister acted during the time leading up to and including resignation from office) are honorably released, released, dismissed, or in the status of one deposed (Art. 14).

Luke Wynja, David Kroon and Mark Langenbach were honorably released.

Simon Kim and Ben Katt were released.

Ministers retiring (granted emeritus status): Revs. Marjorie Kooy, Jantina Cornelison, Calvin Aardsma (effective June 6), Robert Cummings (effective July 1), Henry Steenbergen (effective July 31), and John Gorter (effective July 31) (Church Order Art. 18).

Classis Central California revised its October 2018 decision and restored the title of minister of the Word emeritus to Larry Van Essen (Church Order Art. 31).

Commissioned Pastors

Approved as commissioned pastors, called to specific roles within their classis were Chava Vang (Lake Erie), Rosario Orosco Callebero (California South), Dan Wierenga (Muskegon), and Mike Mun (Hackensack) (Church Order Art. 23).

Yuanita Gitamara (North Cascades) and Catherine Evans-Smith (Central California) were honorably released from ministry as commissioned pastors. Leo Clemente (South California) was released.

Bob Moore (California South) and Phil Du Bois (California South) were granted commissioned pastor emeritus status. Don Jabaay (Classis Illiana), previously granted that status, was noted to be retiring at the end of April.

New Ministries and Ministry Changes

An emerging (unorganized) church does not have its own council and is under the care of a council of a neighboring CRC. An organized church has its own council (Church Order Art. 38).

The Story Church was recognized as emerging.

Classis California South and Classis Pacific Northwest took note of the decisions of  the International Church of Praise and Awake Church, both emerging churches, to disaffiliate from the CRCNA. (The withdrawal of an emerging church does not require an action of classis.)

Name change: Reclaim in Anchorage, Alaska (formerly Crosspoint Community Church).

Other Matters

Drayton (Ont.) CRC, communicated to Classis Huron “that they like to go on record affirming the tone and analysis of the human sexuality report to synod.”

Sully (Iowa) CRC communicated to Classis Central Plains support for synod’s human sexuality report, report on ecclesiastical marriage, and study of bivocationality.

Classis Toronto sent a note to the CRC’s Council of Delegates and three senior denominational leaders, expressing “support and solidarity” with staff and “grave disappointment with the threatening communication received against our CRC Office of Social Justice, the Centre for Public Dialogue, and against the interim executive director Colin Watson (Sr.).” The Banner requested clarification from Watson as reports of received threats were not understood to have been directed towards him. Watson said, “Unlike the communications received by Mark Stephenson (interim director of the Office of Social Justice), I have not seen communication directed at me personally that I would characterize as ‘threatening.’ The words used where my name is mentioned I would characterize as uncharitable.”

Sherman St. CRC communicated to Classis Grand Rapids East a motion adopted by its council: “That LGBTQ+ people of Sherman Street, whether single, in a dating relationship, or married, who confess Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, enjoy full participation in the life and leadership of the church, including ordination to the roles of elder and deacon, preaching, being married, having their children baptized, and filling leadership roles as their gifts allow.” The communication said the decision was made in light of a 15-month process of congregation-wide engagement and discernment.

Synod

These actions connect to synod, the broadest assembly of the Christian Reformed Church. While Synod 2021 has been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, classes may still direct requests or communications to synod, awaiting its next convening.

Several classes sent requests or communications to synod related to Neland Avenue CRC and its action in 2020 to appoint as deacon a person who is involved in a same-sex marriage. Central Plains, Rocky Mountain, and B.C. North-West have similar requests, asking for “godly admonishment, and appropriate disciplinary action if necessary,” to restore Neland Avenue CRC “to live within the bounds of Scripture, our CRC confessions and CRC Church Order adopted by common consent” (Rocky Mountain). Classis Central Plains’ request lists as grounds that Neland’s action is “contradictory to the current positions and decisions of CRCNA Synods of 1973, 2003, and 2016 (Church Order Supplement 69-c).”

A communication from Northcentral Iowa expresses similar “deep concerns” with Neland’s action. It reads, in part, “We can and must do better. As individuals, churches, and a denomination, we must rededicate ourselves to doing better in our interactions, we must do better in submitting ourselves to the clear teaching of Scripture, and we must do better with our disagreements.”

A request from Classis Columbia calls for Neland Avenue to remove the deacon in question from office and “to publicly acknowledge that their actions were a violation of our covenant and a violation of God’s Word.”

Classis Grand Rapids East is asking synod “to rescind the action of the Council of Delegates in sending a letter to the Council of Neland Ave. CRC expressing disappointment and grieving Neland Ave. CRC’s decision to ordain a person who is in a same-sex marriage to the office of deacon.” The Council decided to send the letter at its October 2020 meeting. Grand Rapids East writes, “The Council of Delegates usurped the authority of the local council and local classis” and “could have reported the concerns it received in correspondence from other Classes and churches to Synod 2021, but overstepped its authority by communicating directly to a church council” and that there was no urgency to act on behalf of synod in this way.

Classis Minnkota is requesting that Neland Avenue CRC and Classis Grand Rapids East be held accountable to Church Order, specifically Articles 82 to 84 requiring the admonishment of special discipline for officebearers. Minnkota addressed its communication to the Council of Delegates, meeting in lieu of Synod. “Ignoring these decisions and actions,” Minnkota writes, “erodes both the commitment that the Christian Reformed Church in North America has to Scripture as being the absolute normative authority for both ecclesiastical and individual life, as well as our confidence that our Confessions plainly and accurately summarize what Scripture says.”

Classis Iakota requests, “that Synod 2022 give Neland Avenue CRC and all like-minded churches who desire to read, think, and live outside of the confessional nature and bounds of authoritative Scripture the option to be allowed a one-time six-month window to resign their membership from the denomination with their assets including church property at the vote of their individual bodies.”

More classes are sending requests to synod related to the human sexuality report. (Classis Watch: Winter 2021 also included such requests.)

Classis Huron requests synod “delay decisions regarding the recommendations of the report ... until Synod 2022.” That action was effectively made by the Council of Delegates at its February meeting.

Classis Toronto, which considered three different overtures (written requests with grounds) related to the report, chose to submit the three requests, but not in their entirety, as classis voted on recommendations in the three overtures separately and did not adopt all of them. Stated Clerk Richard Bodini said with the deadline to submit communications, “They were all sent individually. There was no time to overlap the overtures.” He learned, on submitting the overtures to the synodical office, that an individual church council also chose to send two of the requests, with all of the recommendations. Classis Toronto asks synod to not accede to three of the report’s recommendations (those which recommend the report to the churches; declare the church’s teaching on sexual immorality to already have confessional status; and declare that Church Order article 69-c, on solemnizing marriages, “be interpreted in the light of the biblical evidence laid out in this report”) “as the report includes neither the voices of the LGBTQ+ community who are living in committed monogamous relationships nor those of cisgender members who hold differing biblical views regarding human sexuality. We disagree that the “heart of the gospel is the call to repentance and faith” (report, p. 147) but rather that love and grace are centered as the heart of the gospel.” One of Classis Toronto’s adopted overtures, a 22-page-long document prepared by “a group of post-secondary students,” includes several “personal impact statements written by the students behind this overture.”

Classis Grand Rapids East asks synod to not accede to the report and recommendations, saying “The Study Committee did not fulfill its mandate” in that the report does not “serve the church with pastoral, ecclesial, and missional guidance” (Acts of Synod 2016, p. 920).

Classis Minnkota asks synod to adopt the report, noting, “The findings and conclusions of the report for human sexuality are consistent with the Bible, our confessions, and our Covenant for Officebearers.” Minnkota writes, “Because the report is in agreement with the Bible and our confessions, adopting the report would not unbiblically violate anyone’s conscience and help to ensure that our church leaders are faithfully leading God’s people in his Word and gospel.”

Classis Northern Michigan communicated support for the report.

Classis Niagara, Heartland, Rocky Mountain, Eastern Canada, Lake Erie, Alberta South and Saskatchewan, Hackensack, Iakota, and Alberta North all tabled or delayed overtures related to the human sexuality report, deferring deliberation to later meetings.

Classis Illiana is reiterating a request it sent to Synod 2020 (which did not meet). It had asked synod to declare as heresy denials of penal substitutionary atonement. Penal substitutionary atonement is the belief that Jesus satisfied God’s wrath against our sin at the cross (Agenda for Synod 2020, p. 320). In its new request, Classis Illiana refers to a definition of heresy as included in a report to Synod 2020. That report was created by a committee of the Council of Delegates in response to a request from Synod 2019 (Agenda for Synod 2020, pp. 68-77).

About the Author

Alissa Vernon is the news editor for The Banner.

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Classis Holland may have been late in getting its report in but it passed two overtures - one asking Neland Avenue to rescind its decision to ordain a deacon in a same-sex marriage and another supporting the Human Sexuality Report.  Also, two commissioned pastors were examined and approved.

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