What are “ecclesiastical matters” and what does it mean to deal with them in an “ecclesiastical way?”
Since 1619, the year that the Synod of Dort approved the original (Dutch) Reformed church order, on which today’s Christian Reformed Church order is based, the rules have said that assemblies—synods, classes, and councils—“shall transact ecclesiastical matters only, and shall deal with them in an ecclesiastical way.” This provision is now Article 28-a in the Church Order of the CRC.
Synod 2019 asked the Council of Delegates to study the matter, looking in part for a definition of “ecclesiastical.” The discussion was occasioned by certain pronouncements made about ethical and political matters by denominational staff and ministries, especially the Office of Social Justice. Some delegates to Synod 2019 as at other synods believed these pronouncements were not “ecclesiastical.”
The Council passed the matter back, recommending that Synod 2022 appoint its own study committee, saying “this deserves a more complete study than the Council is equipped to make.”
But synod declined to do so, voting 92-77 not to appoint a study committee.
Several delegates said the decisions over what is ecclesiastical and what is not ecclesiastical should be made by synod. Kathy Smith, synod parliamentarian and professor of church history, said synods have made such decisions since 1619.
Josh Van Drunen, Classis Grand Rapids South, noted that what seems not to be ecclesiastical at one time in the history of the church might at a later date be seen as ecclesiastical.
Synod 2022 is meeting at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich., from June 10-16. Find daily coverage from The Banner news team at thebanner.org/synod, download the Banner app on your mobile device, or follow The Banner Magazine on Facebook. 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.