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Council Divided Over Host Church of Synod 2023

Council Divided Over Host Church of Synod 2023
Church of the Servant in Grand Rapids, Mich, in April 2021 (from the congregation’s Facebook page).

Accepting invitations from congregations to be the host of a Christian Reformed Church annual  synod is generally a perfunctory action, first accepted by the Council of Delegates and then referred to the upcoming synod for final approval. Often the invitation comes from a church celebrating a significant milestone.

Church of the Servant Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2023. But it’s invitation to be the host church that year generated a passionate discussion at the recent meeting of the Council. 

Delegates didn’t have an objection over the congregation in particular, but rather that it is a member of Classis Grand Rapids East, the regional group of churches that has been in the forefront of discussions about the place of LGBTQ members in the church. 

A church in this classis, Neland Avenue CRC, ordained as a deacon a woman married to a woman. The Council of Delegates sent a letter of admonition to Neland Avenue in 2020, but the congregation took no action to reverse its decision. Classis Grand Rapids East sent an overture to Synod 2021 asking that the action of the Council of Delegates be rescinded. (See “Woman in Same-sex Marriage Installed as Deacon,” Sept. 14, 2020; “Council of Delegates Discusses Neland Avenue CRC,” Oct. 16, 2020; “Neland Avenue CRC: Council Defers Action, Sends Communication to Synod 2022” June 16, 2021.)

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. 

At its most recent meeting, the Council sent a communication urging Synod 2022 to be mindful of the marks of the true church: pure preaching of the gospel; pure administration of the sacraments; and practicing church discipline for correcting faults. “We continue to regret that we as a denomination are at this point of fissure and pray that through the power of the Holy Spirit, the deliberations of Synod 2022 in this matter will bear fruit and begin to restore biblical unity within the body that is the CRCNA,” the communication reads.

Tyler Wagenmaker, Classis Zeeland, wanted the Council to consider seeking another church in West Michigan, not a part of Classis Grand Rapids East, to be the convening church, saying it “would be the path of wisdom” and provide “smoother note to the beginning and tenor of Synod 2023” if the host church came from outside Grand Rapids East. 

Mark Vande Zande, Classis Heartland, noted that in the absence of discipline of Neland by Classis Grand Rapids East, there is no path in CRC polity for the Council to do that. Rejecting the invitation “is a way we can speak,” he said. 

Bruce DeKam, Classis Northern Michigan, agreed. “This is a huge schism that is happening. You’re not going to stop it,” he said. “The only thing we can do is take a stand.”

Paul DeVries, at-large U.S. delegate, disagreed, saying rejecting the invitation would be a mistake. “It will not keep people calm,” he said. “It will simply stir a pot.”

Melissa Van Dyk, at-large Canada delegate, said it was the church doing the inviting, not the classis. Elsa Fennema, at-large U. S. delegate, agreed. “It reminds me of a teacher that punishes the class for one student’s actions,” she said. “We can’t take it out on Church of the Servant because of displeasure with Neland.”

In the end, the Council accepted the invitation of Church of the Servant, subject to the approval by Synod 2022. 

DeKam, Vande Zande, Wagenmaker, Ralph Wigboldus (Huron), Henry Eygenraam (at-large Canada),  Sherry Fakkema (Pacific Northwest), Rob Toornstra (Columbia), Roger Sparks (Minnkota), Nate Van Denend (Ontario Southwest), Tony Lara (Arizona), and Wendell Davelaar (Northcentral Iowa) all registered a negative vote. A registered negative vote gives a delegate permission to publicly speak against a decision of the Council. 

William Koopmans, Classis Hamilton, expressed his confidence that Church of the Servant will be sensitive to the dynamics in serving as host church.

The Christian Reformed Church’s Council of Delegates met Oct. 13-15. The Council is a binational board of the denomination composed of one delegate from each classis (regional group of churches) and a few at-large delegates. It meets three times a year and reports to synod, the broadest assembly of the church.

Editor's note: When this story was first published, Oct. 20, 2021 one of the delegates who had registered a negative vote was left out of the list. The name of Sherry Fakkema (Pacific Northwest) was added Oct. 29, 2021. 

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