Welcome to The Banner’s guide to Synod 2022. The agenda is massive—so big, in fact, that it is published in two volumes. One volume is the Agenda for Synod 2022. The second volume is the Deferred Agenda for Synods 2020-2021.The need for the deferred agenda is, of course, because Synods 2020 and 2021 were canceled due to the COVID pandemic. In both of those years, the Council of Delegates met in special meetings to handle what couldn’t wait, but most of the material was deferred and now will be dealt with by Synod 2022. And as if two volumes weren’t enough, there is also a supplement to the Agenda for Synod 2022 containing materials that were not available at the time the 2022 agenda was published.
If you are new to the Christian Reformed Church or to synod, or if you’re a veteran who doesn’t feel like wading through more than 1,300 pages, plus supplementary material, you’ve come to the right place. We hope our 4,621-word guide gives you a good overview. If you want an even shorter summary, see “Synod 2022: What to Watch.” Synod 2022 will be daunting for just about anyone, whether you are attending in some capacity or watching from afar on a webcast or just nominally following along via social media.
We offer this guide, produced in collaboration with the CRC’s Office of Synodical Services, as a kind of life jacket to keep you afloat in a sea of words, rules, and practices.
As synod gets underway June 10-16 at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich., The Banner’s award-winning onsite news team will bring you the facts of synod decisions, along with the history and context around synod’s deliberations. Find daily coverage at thebanner.org, download the Banner app on your mobile device, or follow The Banner Magazine on Facebook or @crcbanner on Twitter. You can also subscribe to a daily synod news digest by CRC Communications.
Synod’s proceedings will be webcast live as in previous years. However, the officers of Synod 2022 (Jose Rayas, Derek Buikema, Aaron Vriesman, and Luann Sankey) decided that synod will meet in “closed sessions” when addressing matters related to the human sexuality report and the Neland Avenue CRC matter. While the Covenant Fine Arts Center will not be open to guests or observers, but only synod delegates, advisers, the study committee members, and designated staff, the discussion will be available to be viewed on synod’s video webcast. This year, the feed will be delayed by 20 minutes except for the 5 p.m. worship service Sunday afternoon.
As you read this guide, we hope you will find a new appreciation for this home we call the Christian Reformed Church. Please pray for all those participating in this year’s synod, that they may have traveling mercies, calmness in their hearts, kindness in their words, and openness to the Lord’s leading.
—Gayla R. Postma, retired Banner news editor
Table of Contents
References to specific material will note which document the link is for. Also, any page number listed applies to the printed material, not necessarily the pdf page of the electronic versions.
Because the materials essentially roll three years into one, the guide is organized by topic, with our best efforts at presenting the material in chronological order.
The parts of the agenda that most synod-watchers focus on are:
the reports and recommendations from synod-appointed study committees and task forces;
the overtures (requests) coming from church councils and classes, and sometimes from individuals (see Rules for Synodical Procedure, pp. 9-12);
what the Council of Delegates has done over the past years, particularly in fulfilling the assignments given to it by previous synods.
Let’s talk a minute about some basics. Synod is the annual leadership meeting, or general assembly, of the CRC. It is the broadest authority in the denomination. It is a deliberative body, not a representative body. In other words, delegates are sent by their classes not to represent particular views but rather to walk in the Spirit, pray, and deliberate with others to find the will of the Lord as best they can.
Synod meets annually in June, usually in Grand Rapids, Mich. Each of 49 classes (regions) are invited to send four delegates to synod, where they will learn, celebrate, and make decisions about matters that concern the denomination.
For a few more details about how synods operate, see “Synod: What It Is and How it Works.”
For the first time, Synod 2022 will use a consent agenda to cover many pages of material in one simple motion. When you look at the agenda documents, everything shaded in gray is part of that “consent agenda.” The program committee (made up of the previous synod’s officers, in this case 2019), decided which items could be dealt with in this manner. It includes many reports that are received with gratitude by synod every year, such as reports from the various ministries and standing committees. Any delegate can ask for something in the consent agenda to be removed for separate discussion.
The Rules for Synodical Procedure govern how synod is run. Delegates and leaders are also guided by the Church Order, the rule book, so to speak, that governs the denomination, its classes, and its congregations. Christian Reformed congregations have all covenanted together to follow these rules, making decisions in good and decent order. The rules were made over the years by people with long experience and for good reasons. They get changed only through extensive deliberation and consensus. Changes to the Church Order require two synods to act (with the exception of its supplements, which do not require approval of the subsequent synod). One synod can propose a change, but a subsequent synod must adopt any change judged by synod to be substantial before it is enacted. (The Church Order is also available in Spanish and Korean. You can find these translations in the Synod Resources section of the CRC’s website.)
The agenda lists the delegates to synod from all the various classes. You can see who is coming from your classis! Pray for all of them! You’ll also see many blank lines, noting that classes could not find people willing to be delegated or to be alternates. All the more reason to be thankful for all those participating.
The main event for most people at Synod 2022 will doubtless be the deliberation of the human sexuality report (officially, the report of the Committee to Articulate a Foundation-laying Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality). The report was authored by a committee appointed by Synod 2016 (starting on page 915 of the 2016 agenda, recommendation C,4). It will be the most momentous deliberation in a generation. It was sent to the churches for study and discussion in the fall of 2020.
The report is printed in the 2022 agenda starting on page 313. The recommendations start on p. 460. The report gives a summary of biblical teaching that supports the CRC’s traditional position on homosexuality authored in 1973. Recommendation D (p. 461 of the 2022 agenda), which asks synod to declare that the church’s teaching on these matters have confessional status, is getting much opposition—even from some of those who support the rest of the report.
An executive summary of the report is also available separate from the agenda.
The Council of Delegates report in the 2022 agenda, appendix A (p. 5), includes “a collection of curated stories representing some of the diverse experiences of people within our denomination, trying to live faithfully in light of our church’s teaching on human sexuality.”
(See also Roxanne Van Farowe’s summary in The Banner “Sexuality Report Released to Churches, Suggests Historical Position is Already Confessional.”)
On such an important topic, it is no surprise that the report prompted many overtures from churches and classes in 2021 and 2022.
- Overtures asking synod to adopt the report include overtures 18-19 in the deferred agenda, starting on page 489, and overtures 14-24 in the 2022 agenda, starting on page 523.
- Overtures asking synod to say no to recommendation D (declaring the matter confessional) include overtures 25-36 in the 2022 agenda, starting on page 543.
- Overtures asking synod to delay, table, clarify, continue deliberating, or receive the report for information include overtures 44-47 in the 2022 agenda, starting on p 638, overtures 49-51, starting on page 650, and overture 20 in the deferred agenda, starting on page 491.
- Overtures asking that synod not adopt the report include overtures 38-41 in the 2022 agenda, starting on page 583, and overtures 22-31 in the deferred agenda, starting on page 514.
- Overture 25 in the deferred agenda, from four Alberta churches, also includes appendix 2 (p. 541), a letter signed by 147 members of faculty and staff at Calvin University written to the university’s president and the school’s confessional commitments and academic freedom committee, expressing concern that recommendation D “appears to be at odds with Calvin’s own Confessional Commitment and Academic Freedom document.”
- Overtures asking that synod make the matter a local option include overture 20 and overture 29 in the deferred agenda, starting on page 491 and page 554; and overtures 55-56 in the 2022 agenda, starting on page 663.
- Overtures asking for a new committee include overture 37 and overtures 53-54 in the 2022 agenda, starting on page 578 and again on page 657.
The Council of Delegates is the governance body that conducts the business of synod in between the annual meetings of synod. One delegate from each of the 49 regional groups of churches (known as a classis), plus a few at-large delegates, meet three times each year. The Council’s mandate is described more fully in the 2022 agenda, pp. 27-28.
The Council report includes many pages of information, some of it mundane, that must be reported for the sake of transparency in governance. Agenda readers can get bogged down here. The report communicates to synod delegates what the Council has done since the last synod, notes how it has responded to assignments from previous synods, provides a separate list of recommendations, and includes several appendices to explain the background to much of the above.
This year, the deferred agenda includes the minutes of the special meetings of the Council in 2020 and 2021, showing which matters the Council dealt with instead of deferring. The minutes of 2020 are on pages 13-65 and 2021 pages 67-124.
Let’s take a deeper look—catch your breath and keep your hand on your mouse!
The Council has spent a great deal of time discussing the denomination’s governance structure, especially the relationship between the CRC in the U.S. and the CRC in Canada and legal compliance with Canada Revenue Agency.
The Council now brings to Synod 2022 a report recommending its proposed solution to the questions raised, starting on page 38 of the 2022 agenda, item 11, a-d. It is based primarily on recommendations found in the SALT report (the structure and leadership task force appointed in October 2020). That report starts on page 294 of the deferred agenda. Many of the recommendations coming to Synod 2022 refer back to that SALT report.
A word of explanation about the Council and boards of corporations: The Council is an ecclesiastical body, accountable to synod. The U.S. delegates on the Council make up the U.S. corporation, the legal entity governing the ministry activities in the U.S. The Canadian delegates make up the Canada corporation, the legal entity governing ministry activities in Canada.
Starting with the deferred agenda, p. 285, the recommended leadership model includes the following:
- a general secretary, as chief ecclesiastical officer for the CRCNA, reporting to the Council (deferred agenda, recommendation E, 2)
- a chief administrative officer, responsible for ministry operations within the CRCNA (deferred agenda, recommendation E, 2)
- an Office of General Secretary containing the general secretary and the chief administrative office, as well as other personnel directly involved with synodical matters, accountable to the Council (deferred agenda, recommendation E, 2)
- a director of U.S. operations, reporting to the U.S. corporation to carry out CRCNA ministries in a way that recognizes the U.S. social and cultural context. (2022 supplement, p. 6; appendix B1, p. 22)
- a Canadian office of the CRCNA (deferred agenda, page 287) to carry out CRCNA ministries in a way that recognizes Canada’s social and cultural context (recommendation E, 5, deferred agenda page 294)
- an executive director-Canada reporting to the Canada Corporation (deferred agenda, page15, recommendation H)
- an ecclesiastical mandate letter (2022 supplement, page 19 for final version) that spells out the relationship and responsibilities between the ecclesiastical entities (recommendation M, agenda p. 51)
- joint ministry agreements that identify the legal agreements between the legal entities (deferred agenda, p. 234, item 8a, p. 287; and recommendation E, 4, p. 294 of the deferred agenda)
- A new legal entity (corporation) called Worldwide Christian Reformed Church (item E in the 2022 supplement, p. 6; recommendation F, p. 15; and Appendix B1, p. 22). The purpose for this new corporation is to take the Office of General Secretary out of the legal entity known as the U.S. Corporation. As executive director Colin P. Watson Sr. explained it, nesting the ecclesiastical office within the U.S. corporation conflates the ecclesiastical function of the Office of the General Secretary with the legal functions of the U.S. Corporation.
Judging from the overtures coming to synod on this topic, it appears to be of interest primarily to Canadians, with most Americans not understanding or not very interested in the outcome. Some Canadians want the whole restructuring process paused or tabled. Others want the structure to be more parallel between the U.S. and Canada. See 2022 agenda overtures 1-5 starting on page 491.
Like the Beatles song, it has been a long and winding road. A discussion about tax compliance morphed into a much larger discussion on the relationship between CRC-Canada and CRC-U.S., dredging up disappointments felt by Canadians over more than two decades. At times the conversations were testy. They also led to the resignation of an executive director and the dismissal of the Canadian ministries director.
For Banner reporting about the journey, please visit thebanner.org and use the search term “structure.” For an in-depth history of the relationship between the U.S. and Canadian sides of the CRC, see “The CRC in Canada: A Field Guide.”
In 2020 Neland Avenue CRC installed as a deacon a woman in a same-sex marriage. That action is widely seen as incompatible with the CRC’s position on homosexuality. (See Banner, “Woman in Same-sex Marriage Installed as Deacon.”)
Several overtures coming to Synod 2022 are connected to the matter.
Overture 12 from Classis Zeeland (2022 agenda, starting p. 521) asks that Synod 2022:
1) admonish all officebearers serving churches in Classis Grand Rapids East in 2021 and 2022, because that classis failed to discipline Neland, one of its churches; and
2) that the admonished officebearers delegated by Grand Rapids East be unseated at synod and lose all privileges of the floor.
Others also want Neland disciplined, as seen in overtures 4-10 from the deferred agenda (starting on p. 454).
The Council of Delegates sent a letter of admonishment to Neland in October 2020 (included in the 2022 agenda, p. 73). Classis Grand Rapids East asked Synod 2021 to rescind the letter (overture 11 in the deferred agenda, starting on p. 478). The Council, meeting in special session in lieu of Synod 2021, declined to do that.
Instead, Synod 2022 will receive a formal communication from the Council that reaffirms its letter of admonition and grave concern to Neland Avenue CRC and urges Synod 2022 to be mindful of the three marks of the true and vital church. The letter is in the 2022 agenda appendix B, p. 73. The recommendation that synod consider that letter is recommendation K on p. 51.
Synod 2022 will receive an update on the Council’s actions to address abuse of power in the CRC. Synod 2019 gave a long list of tasks to the Council on the matter. See Acts of Synod 2019, pp. 794-799.
On pages 29-31 of the 2022 agenda, you will find a summary of what the Council accomplished on this file. The Council received the report of the ad hoc committee in February 2021 and it can be found in Appendix A, pp. 44-70. If you jump back to pages 40-43 you’ll find the recommendations (P-Q). You can also check out the Council’s 2021 supplementary report for a more complete list of initiatives starting on the bottom of p. 12 of the supplement for the agenda for synod 2021.
The Council approved allocation of ministry shares to the various agencies and ministries. It reports in the 2022 supplement (p. 10) that pledges have been received from several emerging churches for the first time because ministry shares are no longer based on membership numbers.
You did it! You made it through the Council of Delegates report, which jumps us all the way to the reports of the ministry agencies, synodical committees, and task forces.
The CRC’s shared ministries—the agencies and educational institutions we all support—report on their work in these sections. The reports are grouped around the themes of the denomination’s five callings: faith formation, servant leadership, global mission, mercy and justice, and gospel proclamation and worship. You can find links to the web pages of all the ministries at crcna.org.
Each month the print issue of The Banner contains eight pages that share stories of these ministries (and they’re collected at thebanner.org/our-shared-ministry). CRC Communications shares even more stories here.
Regular synod watchers can be tempted to skip over this in the agenda. Much of it is standard fare, reporting the names of board members and officers and so forth. These reports will be received via the consent agenda this year. But if you flip through the pages without reading them, you’ll miss out on learning what the people in these ministries are doing to further the kingdom of God on our behalf.
Synod advisory committees usually discuss each of these ministries in depth. In the broad assembly the reports are received for information unless there are specific recommendations to be discussed, and then all the delegates pray for those who do the work of those ministries. Many of the reports are included in the consent agenda and have not been assigned to advisory committees.
Synod 2022 will be interviewing two candidates to be appointed to the faculty of Calvin Theological Seminary. Yudha Thianto, Ph.D., is recommended as professor of history of Christianity and Reformed theology. The seminary’s recommendation, C, 3, is on page 73 of the 2022 supplement. His curriculum vitae is on page 75, appendix A.
Besides the report from the Council of Delegates, there are also reports from each of synod’s three standing committees: Candidacy, Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee, and the Historical Committee.
The Candidacy Committee is the gatekeeper of entry into ordained ministry in the Christian Reformed Church. Whether a prospective pastor comes from Calvin Theological Seminary, another seminary, another denomination, or is entering ministry as a commissioned pastor, the requirements and expectations are kept consistent through the work of the committee, with the approval of synod.
The committee prepared a review of the Ecclesiastical Program for Ministerial Candidacy (EMPC), designed for potential candidates who earn their M.Div. at an institution other than Calvin Theological Seminary. That report, on p. 374 Appendix of the deferred agenda, recommended the formation of an Admissions and Standards Team (p. 376, III, A), and recommended greater flexibility in program requirements (p. 378, III, B).
Because Synod 2020 was canceled, the committee deemed it prudent to proceed, rather than wait another year for synod’s approval. The committee reported its progress to Synod 2021, noting that the proposed team is now called the EPMC Facilitation Team (deferred agenda, p. 383).
A further update is now coming to Synod 2022 (2022 agenda, pp. 270-273).
The annual report from this committee reminds us that the CRCNA is just a small part of the church worldwide. While there are no new recommendations other than nominations to the committee, this is the place to go for an update on all the many ecumenical organizations and Reformed denominations with whom we have relationships.
The CRC’s three tiers of relationships are churches in ecclesiastical fellowship, churches in dialogue, and churches in other ecumenical relationships.
The EIRC noted that the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia has been removed from the category of ecclesiastical fellowship.
The Reformed Church in Argentina has split into two groups. The CRC remains in ecclesiastical fellowship with the original denomination in Argentina.
The committee noted in its report that Kingdom Network, USA is one of the groups of churches that split from the Reformed Church in America. One of its churches (Faith Church in Highland, Ind.) is affiliated with both the CRC and the RCA. EIRC is recommending that synod recognize Kingdom Network, USA as a church in dialogue (p. 280 of the 2022 agenda), working toward becoming a church in ecclesiastical fellowship. In the meantime, Faith Church will maintain its dual-affiliation status. The recommendation is F, on p. 281. See also The Banner “Former RCA Churches in Illinois, Indiana Launch ‘Kingdom Network,’” by Callie Feyen.
Synod regularly appoints committees to study a particular issue and then make recommendations to a subsequent synod on actions to be taken. At any given time there could be two or three such committees with specific mandates. The only study committee report this year is the human sexuality report, covered earlier in this guide.
Synods also ask the Council to appoint people to task forces to study specific topics.
Synod 2019 instructed that The New City Catechism be reviewed for potential use by the churches. The task force, appointed by the Council, reviewed the catechism for its ability to equip local lay leaders to facilitate learning and with regard to age- and ability-appropriate faith developmental approaches for students. It is mentioned in deferred agenda, B, 1, on page 126. The review is found in Appendix A, deferred agenda p. 206 and the recommendations are found on deferred agenda p. 205 III H.
The Faith Formation Ministry staff noted in its review that after years of congregations “discarding all kinds of engagements with the historical documents of the church,” there is an apparent resurging interest in catechetical teaching (deferred agenda p. 214, VIII, A).
The review concludes that more than just providing a review of the New City Catechism, the task force hopes that the review will provide churches with insight into the process of conducting a resource review (deferred agenda p. 215, IX).
After Synod 2019 declared Kinism to be a heresy, it asked the Council to address “the proper and ongoing definition and application” of the word heresy. The report is in the deferred agenda p. 161, Appendix E. Deferred agenda page 151 has recommendation O, to accept the report as completion of the Synod 2019 assignment.
(See also Clayton Libolt’s article, “What is Heresy? Synod 2019 Asked, Report Tries to Answer.”)
Synod 2019 requested historical research on past synodical decisions on political statements and rationale for making those decisions (deferred agenda p. 139, item 19). The Council is recommending that synod itself appoint a study committee to address the issues, due to the gravity of the work.
Every agenda for synod includes formal requests (overtures) and communications from the church’s other assemblies—church councils or classes, and sometimes from individuals. Synod 2022 is no exception. By far most of the overtures are related to the human sexuality report and the Neland Avenue CRC’s actions (see earlier sections of this guide).
But there are more. In the deferred agenda, there are three overtures (1-3) about delegations to classis and synod. One wants campus ministers be allowed as delegates to classis; another wants classes to be able to send an at-large delegate (one who isn’t currently a pastor, elder, or deacon); and the third wants the delegations to synod be three people instead of four. You can find these overtures starting on page 429 of the deferred agenda.
Several classes sent overtures looking for amendments or changes to the Church Order articles that govern the ordination of ministers, whether they are coming into ministry in the CRC or going out (overtures 4-7, deferred agenda starting on p. 434).
In overture 8, page 506 of the 2022 agenda, Classis Greater Los Angeles says previous synodical decisions have not been enough to adequately stop racism in the CRC. It is asking synod “to formulate and put into action a plan to inspire and support CRC members to embrace and embody biblical justice in opposition to the belief systems of white supremacy and systemic racism.” Its eight requests start on page 508.
And that brings us to the end of the Agenda(s) for Synod 2022! And yet there’s more!
Even with two volumes and a supplemental agenda there are still things being held over until 2023.
Ecclesiastical Marriage Task Force (Agenda for Synod 2021 pp. 281-314)
Synod 2019 appointed this task force to study the advisability, legality, and morality of ecclesiastical (non-civil) marriage. (See also Roxanne Van Farowe’s summary in The Banner “Don’t Sanction Marriages without the State, Report Urges.”)
Bivocational Task Force (Agenda for Synod 2021 pp. 315-344)
Synod 2019 appointed this task force to explore the challenges and opportunities for pastors who hold more than one job. (See also Clay Libolt’s summary in the Banner “Report Calls the CRC to Catch Up with Trend of Pastors Holding More Than One Job.”)
We hope you have found this guide useful for navigating all the documents related to Synod 2022.
Synod 2022 is meeting June 10-16 at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich. Find daily coverage from The Banner news team at thebanner.org/synod, download the Banner app on your mobile device, follow The Banner Magazine on Facebook, or subscribe to the daily synod news digest. On Twitter follow #crcsynod or twitter.com/crcna. Synod is the annual general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church (it did not gather in 2020 or 2021). Connect to the meeting’s livestream, read advisory committee reports, and find other resources at crcna.org/synod.