Classis Watch: Spring 2022

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Two or three times each year, Christian Reformed churches send representatives to their classes, regional groups of churches. 

Many of the actions taken by classes are governed by the CRC’s Church Order, the rules that govern denominational life. Here are some of the actions by classes in the past several months. (Unless otherwise noted, quotations come from minutes of the classis. Links to the relevant articles of Church Order are included.)

Those welcomed into ministry in the Christian Reformed Church (Arts. 6 and 10) include candidates Kyle James Sandison, Young Kwang Kim, Timothy Joo, and Robert Gruessing.

Those welcomed into ministry in the CRC from other denominations (Art. 8): Revs. Changho Ahn and Gilbert Varela (previously ordained in the CRC, 1995-2013). 

Ministers loaned (Art. 13-c): Revs. Henry Serrano from New Life CRC in Spring, Texas, to CrossWind Church of Aurora, Colo.; Jack DeVries from Bethel CRC in Listowel, Ont. to the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia (extension).

Ministers released from a congregation (Art. 17-a): Revs. Brian Tebben from Life in Christ CRC in Salt Lake City, Utah; Nicholas Baas and Andrea Baas from John Calvin CRC in Truro, N.S; Daniel Joo from Monroe Community CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.; and Charles Van Hoffen from Houston (B.C.) CRC.

Bill Weber (previously ordained in the CRC) and Revs. Norlyn Van Beek, Joel De Boer and Steve Boersma are eligible for call

Leaving Ministry in the CRC

Classes may end a pastor’s ordained ministry status, guided by Church Order articles 14 and 17. In the case of Art. 14, designations of release reflect the manner and spirit in which the minister acted during the time leading up to and including resignation from office.

Seung Jun Lee, Phil Eubank, and Ed Jiang were honorably released.

Bruce Gritter, Andrew Zantingh, and Doug Van Essen were released.

Ramon Orostizaga was released “in good standing.” 

Bruce Anderson and Evert Gritter, previously retired, were released.

Ministers retiring (Art. 18): Revs. Richard Foss, Mark Scheffers, Adrian Eising, Paul Jorden, Thomas Wolthuis (effective June 5), Jim Wolff (effective July 1), Pedro Aviles (effective July 31), Al Breems (effective Aug. 1), Michael Winnowski (effective Aug. 14), Carl J. Leep (effective Sept. 1), David Hornor (effective Oct. 20), and Piet Heerema (effective Oct. 31).

Commissioned Pastors 

Approved as commissioned pastors called to specific roles within their classes (Art. 23): Daniel Unterkoffler and Kaylyn Unterkoffler (Classis California South); Wai Kei Kezia Lai-Leung and Patrick Y. Lin (Classis Central California); Randy Green (Classis B.C. North-West); Jason McNabb (Classis B.C. South-East); George Tan (Classis Northern Illinois); and Melanie Wright (Classis Alberta North). 

Annika Bangma (Classis Atlantic Northeast) was released, and James Simpson (Atlantic Northeast) was honorably released from ministry as a commissioned pastor (Arts. 24-d, 14-b).

Commissioned pastor emeritus status was granted to Laurie Moll (Classis Rocky Mountain) and Rick DeGraaf (Classis Huron). 

New Ministries and Ministry Changes

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

Sembrando Vida Church in Vista, Calif. (Classis California South), and King’s Covenant Church in Bridgewater, N.J. (Classis Hackensack), were recognized as emerging.

Hope For Life Community Church in Waterdown, S.D. (Classis Minnkota), organized in 2015, now has the status of unorganized.

Kenosha (Wisc.) CRC is disbanding. Its final worship service will be April 24, 2022.

Syracuse Grace, an emerging church in Fayetteville, N.Y., disbanded

Hope CRC, a church established in Stony Plain, Alta., in 1908, disbanded. Closing worship service was Dec. 26, 2021.

Milwood Community Church in Kalamazoo, Mich., disbanded and closed.

Hanaro Community CRC in La Puente, Calif., and Eastern Hills Community Church in Aurora, Col., disaffiliated from the CRC (Art. 38-f).

Other Matters

Classis California South, responding to a “request from several Venezuelan churches that are interested in affiliating with the Christian Reformed Church,” voted “to receive them into full membership in the CRC and welcome them into our classis.” The Classis Vision Team will now “work out all the logistical details involved in bringing these churches into the CRC subject to CRCNA procedures.”

Classis HanMi and Classis Central California have agreed to the transfer of San Jose New Hope CRC in Santa Clara, Calif., to Classis Central California. The transfer requires the approval of synod (Art. 39).

Classis Hamilton disbanded its youth ministry team, wrapping the work of its “youth ministry champion” into the overarching Classis Ministry Team.

Classis Minnkota is proceeding with a plan to “develop a job description, initial ministry plan, budget and hiring procedure for a Classis Advancement Pastor.”  

Classis Alberta North adopted the CRC Code of Conduct (requested by Synod 2018 and being presented to the Council of Delegates to Synod 2022) “for its officers, employees and committee leadership.

Synod

Classes may direct requests or communications to synod, the broadest assembly of the Christian Reformed Church, awaiting its next convening. 

The report of the Committee to Articulate a Foundation-laying Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality, mandated by Synod 2016, is coming before Synod 2022. Several classes approved requests or communications connected to the report at recent meetings. (Earlier communications related to the human sexuality report have been noted in Classis Watch: Winter 2021, Classis Watch: Spring 2021, Classis Watch: Late Spring 2021, Classis Watch: Fall 2021, Classis Watch: Late Fall 2021, and Classis Watch: Winter 2022). 

Classis Toronto is sending a communication to synod from a congregation where “from our beginning people of different sexual orientations have belonged,” hoping “this leads to greater understanding of the potential deep impact that decisions flowing out of the human sexuality report might have on a number of churches like First CRC Toronto.”

Classis Hamilton is asking synod to table (or set aside) the human sexuality report, saying the committee did not “listen well” to “couples involved in long-term, monogamous, same-sex marriages/relationships” in preparing its findings. The classis is asking synod to appoint a new committee to interview such couples and report to synod what is found about these couples’ “love for and commitment to each other, to Christ, and to the church, and to serve synod with advice about how the CRCNA should relate to such couples.” The classis suggests both reports should be considered together at a subsequent synod.

The churches of Classis Georgetown affirm that the human sexuality report “accurately reflects the teachings of Scripture and the pastoral care necessary” in the matters of “God’s design for marriage, God’s design for the family, God’s design for gender, and God’s design for human sexuality and sexual behavior. The classis is sending a communication reflecting that affirmation to synod, as well as affirming the confessional status of “the proper teachings on these matters, presented in the Report,” and recognizing “the Scriptural responsibility, Confessional duty, and logistical power under Church Order to enact earnest, truth-filled, and loving discipline related to these matters” for the assemblies of the Christian Reformed Church.

Classis B.C. North-West is asking that a study committee be formed to provide in-depth pastoral guidelines for implementation of the Human Sexuality Report.” In a separate request, the classis asks synod not to accede to recommendation D of the report, “that synod declare that the church’s teaching on premarital sex, extramarital sex, adultery, polyamory, pornography, and homosexual sex already has confessional status” (report, p. 149). A third request from Classis B.C. North-West asks synod “to affirm that the Biblical theology of human sexuality” contained in the report “provides a useful and faithful summary of the biblical teaching concerning human sexuality. Moreover, we affirm that Synod adopt Recommendation E, declaring that Church Order Art. 69-c be interpreted in light of the biblical evidence laid out in the report.(That article reads, “Ministers shall not solemnize marriages which would be in conflict with the Word of God.”)

Classis Central California is requesting that synod correct “the apparent contradiction involving cohabitation” in the human sexuality report. Noting that the authors of the report condemn cohabitation (the practice of living with a significant other prior to marriage) as sinful “because of its association with premarital sex,” the request suggests that an allowance (p. 124 of the report) “for the cohabitation of those who are same-sex attracted with others who are same-sex attracted” is contradictory and asks for it to be stricken.

Classis Grand Rapids East is asking synod to reject the human sexuality report, noting among its reasons that “the report lacks the grace, humility, and pastoral sensitivity of previous synodical study committees” and the “report’s biblical theology gives a specific interpretation of some scriptures but does not pay adequate attention to other scriptures or Reformed theologians who have different interpretations of the scripture passages cited.” The classis is sending a second overture that recommends rejecting the report because its approach to science “is not consistent with a Reformed approach to science and does not sufficiently meet the study committee’s mandate to ‘dialogue with ... conclusions arising from scientific and social scientific research.’” And the classis “proposes a way to frame denominational differences over LGBTQ+ matters that will enable the CRC to persevere in unity and mission,” asking synod to adopt in principle a “local discernment” approach to differences over LGBTQ+ matters and ordination where “every classis shall respect the prerogative of its constituent churches to call and ordain officebearers according to their own biblical convictions.” The classis further requests “a study committee to articulate the best biblical rationale for (the) “traditional” and “affirming” viewpoints regarding LGBTQ+ matters” and to continue and expand the denomination-wide prayer initiative “to include opportunities for listening to one another, in order to deepen our unity in Christ in the process of articulating and implementing this local discernment approach.”

Classis Iakota is asking synod “to maintain the unity of the catholic and apostolic church by acceding to recommendations A through F of the Committee to Articulate a Foundation-laying Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality,” noting among its reasons that the report “is a helpful invitation to Christian discipleship as a covenant community, calling each of us to submit our sexuality to Christ’s call to daily take up our cross (Luke 9:23), die to our sinful nature (Colossians 3:5), and embrace the mutual accountability we share as members of Christ’s body (Hebrews 3:13).”

Classis California South endorsed a position statement by the Consejo Latino, a network of Hispanic ministry leaders, supporting the human sexuality report. The classis will forward the communication, written in Spanish and English, to synod. It reads, in part, “We are conscious that we live in an era of sexual debauchery and the primacy of hedonism and pleasure as the purpose of life. But these fads, the culture, or the opinions of those who desire to live this way, can never eliminate the biblical passages that deal with purity, sexual relations between married heterosexual individuals, and the respect for the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit.”

Classis Eastern Canada is asking synod to receive the report from the Committee to Articulate a Foundation-Laying Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality for information and to “reject any recommendations to elevate any specific prescriptions about any specific sexual behaviours or gender identities to confessional status.” The classis also asks synod to “undertake a broad-based intentional season of listening to understand the real-life experience of persons and families dealing with minority sexual orientations and gender identities within CRC congregations” and “review and update the approved CRC approach to hermeneutics as outlined in the 1972 Synodical report, titled The Nature and Extent of Biblical Authority.”

Classis Lake Superior is sending a communication expressing gratitude for the work of the Committee to Articulate a Foundation-Laying Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality and its support for adopting the final report and recommendations. In part, the communication reads, “We are thankful because the committee’s report appropriately calls all of us to repent of where we haven’t been loving in calling out sin and discipling others, including where heterosexual believers—in singleness, outside of marriage, and within marriage—need to practice and pursue the holiness God has called us to.”

Classis Southeast U.S., says the the Christian Reformed Church’s 1973 definition of homosexuality, repeated in the current human sexuality report, has “imprecise phraseology” that  “has caused profound confusion within the CRC.” The classis asks synod to revise the definition and to state, “Homosexuality, like all conditions of the fallen human nature where human desires and inclinations, tainted by original sin, incline someone to act against God's will, is a condition of the sinful human nature and makes one guilty of sin before God. But, praise be to God, it is also, along with all conditions of the fallen nature, covered by Christ's blood for all who believe in him. As such … homosexual believers, along with all those in Christ, are considered righteous.”

Classis B.C. South-East asks synod to adopt the six recommendations (A-F) in the human sexuality report, finding it “a biblically faithful call to own the goodness of our bodies while resisting idolatry of them, giving much practical advice for Christian disciples of all sexual orientations and gender identities to live together into the struggles and joys of sanctification.”

Classis Rocky Mountain adopted two requests and two communications to send to synod: one asks that synod not accept the report or its recommendations “in light of ministerial needs, diversity in denominational unity, and the nature of denominational confessions;” one asks synod to approve the report with all of its recommendations, saying “while it is not perfect” the report’s demonstration of both compassion and “no compromise on basic Biblical teaching” are “two elements we sorely need today;” one expresses concern that “the study committee did not adequately explore and discuss differing interpretations of Scripture by people who are also highly respected Reformed scholars and theologians;” and one endorses the Consejo Latino’s supportive position statement on the report (also endorsed by Classis California South, see above.) Classis minutes show that the classis declined to create a further communication “explaining why our overtures and communications contradict one another.”

Classis Atlantic Northeast is asking synod to adopt the recommendations of the human sexuality report and further “call on all churches, delegates, and classes to offer the pastoral care of accountability and discipline for anyone persistently living and/or teaching in a way contrary to the Word of God (Church Order Art. 78-84 and supplements).” 

Classis Grand Rapids South is asking synod to establish a task force on unity, “to recall and articulate core matters of agreement (the Key Elements of Biblical Truth) and create and provide suggestions, principles, and approaches to the churches … for how we treat each other despite our differences.” The classis is also forwarding to synod, "without prejudice," a communication from one of its member congregations on which classis declined to vote. The communication expresses appreciation for "the biblical, scientific, and social pursuit of God’s truth" by the Committee to Articulate a Foundation-laying Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality.

Classis Wisconsin is asking synod to adopt the human sexuality report and its recommendations and to “reaffirm our denomination’s continual submission to Scripture, inviting anyone who disagrees with the HSR to submit an overture or gravamen so that we can reconsider our position in light of a reasoned theological discourse.” The classis further asks that synod “admonish and if necessary discipline church officebearers and assemblies that have acted and taught contrary to the official teaching of the CRCNA without going through the process of submitting overtures or gravamina.”

Classis Hamilton is sending communications to synod about denominational restructuring being overseen by the CRC’s Council of Delegates, including the request to instruct the COD, through what is currently the office of the Executive Director, to proceed with restructuring that would include parallel positions of senior ministry directors in the USA and Canada. The structure as adopted by the Council in May 2021 includes an overall office of the general secretary with a general secretary and a chief administrative officer and a Canadian ministry office with an executive director-Canada. (See also, The CRC in Canada: A Field Guide, Oct. 18, 2021.)

Classis B.C. North-West and Classis Alberta South/Saskatchewan similarly ask synod to set aside the structure adopted by the Council in May 2021 “and cease its implementation” in favor of time to “articulate a balanced binational structure.” Council already intends to present a candidate for the position of General Secretary, Zachary King, to Synod 2022.

Classis Grand Rapids East is sending a communication to clarify a previous request to Synod 2020 (which did not meet) about recommended changes to Church Order Article 17 with respect to supervision and transition of ministers.

Classis Hackensack is asking synod “to appoint a task force to develop church order procedure to discipline officebearers, including disaffiliation of a consistory or classis, initiated by a major assembly.” Noting that “the church is enjoined with the responsibility to bring those who wander away, back to the truth of God (James 5:19-20)” and that the CRC lacks “a published mechanism for major assemblies to respond to gross theological error,” the classis describes precedents of “past classical and synodical actions” and asks that “a clear standard for the disaffiliation of a consistory or classis initiated by a major assembly” be developed to “ensure such separations are handled fairly.”

About the Author

Alissa Vernon is the news editor for The Banner.

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