When the Christian Reformed Church’s Council of Delegates meets this week and next, in place of the denomination’s annual synod, formal requests (overtures) and communications relating to Neland Avenue CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich., are part of the agenda. That congregation in 2020 installed as a deacon a woman who is in a same-sex marriage. That action prompted many classes (regional groups of churches) and individual church councils to write letters to various assemblies of the CRC expressing concern over the appointment.
The Council voted narrowly in October to “send a letter to Neland Avenue CRC grieving Neland's decision to break covenant with the CRC and ordain a deacon who is actively involved in a same-sex relationship before Synod 2021 has addressed the report on human sexuality.”
It is the position of the CRC that “homosexual practice” is “incompatible with obedience to the will of God as revealed in Scripture.” That has been the position, reaffirmed by several subsequent synods, since 1973. The Committee to Articulate a Foundation-laying Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality was selected by Synod 2016 to adhere to that position. The committee’s report, released last November, was to have been discussed at Synod 2021. When synod was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Council decided the report would be presented to Synod 2022.
Meanwhile the synodical program committee, made up of the officers of the last synod, decided that eight overtures and two communications about Neland (pp. 352-376 and pp. 475-476 in the Agenda for Synod 2021 and Communication 6 in the supplement to the Agenda) will be considered by the Council.
“The program committee, in evaluating which matters should go to the COD Special Session, considered criteria of urgence and the ongoing well-being of the denomination,” William Koopmans, president of Synod 2019, told The Banner. “Multiple overtures and communications indicated that it is important to deal with this matter in a timely way, and the program committee judged that these materials should not be withheld from consideration by the COD by deferring them to Synod 2022.”
Many of the overtures request that synod intervene because, “Ignoring these decisions and actions 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 Minnkota, Overture 8. (See "Classis Watch: Spring 2021," "Classis Watch: Winter 2021," and "Classis Watch: Fall 2020" for details on each overture.)
Overture 11, from Classis Grand Rapids East, asks that the Council’s action of sending the October letter be rescinded, saying it “usurped the authority of the local council and local classis.”
In Communication 6 the council of Neland Avenue CRC addresses some of the “questions, concerns, and charges” expressed in the overtures.
“Neland sincerely appreciates the concerns that lie behind these communications and believes that every writer of every communication earnestly seeks God’s will in these matters as well as God’s will for Neland Church,” part of the 22-page communication reads.
It further says, “Neland views its relationship with the CRC with appreciation and does not concede that its decision constitutes ‘breaking covenant’ with the CRC. On the contrary, Neland acted out of the hope that our denomination’s understanding of covenant is stronger and deeper than any one issue.”
Neland said it is not asking “for agreement with our actions or a change in the denominational position” but for “trust” from the denomination.
“We at Neland Church are committed to continuing to talk about these things together. We expect and hope that our denomination will do the same,” the communication says. “We don’t know a lot of things, including where this conversation will lead our congregation or the CRC. But a couple of things we do know: First, unity in the church is important enough that Jesus himself prayed for it, because our unity is one way in which the world will come to know the love of God (John 17:20- 23). Second, LGBTQ+ people are in our congregations. And whether we know who they are or not, they have been hurting for a very long time.”
Before the Council meets in plenary session June 15 and 16 its advisory committees will meet and prepare reports about the various parts of the Council’s agenda. Advisory Committee 1 is considering the Neland matter. The committee meetings are not open to news coverage but plenary sessions will be livestreamed. According to the schedule, the report of Advisory Committee 1 will be addressed in the first plenary session, which begins at 11 a.m., Eastern time, June 15.
For other matters that the Council will address, see “No Synod 2021: What to Watch” and for a thorough overview of all the materials prepared for this year’s synod—those deferred to Synod 2022 and otherwise—see The Banner’s “Guide to the Agenda for Synod 2021 and Supplementary Reports.”