Two or three times each year, Christian Reformed churches send representatives to their classes, regional assemblies 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.)
Ministers welcomed into ministry in the CRC from other denominations (Art. 8): Revs. Jordan Hall, Joshua Lee, and Jason Truell.
Ministers loaned (Art. 13-c): Revs. Mitch Sheahan to the Bridge Church in Portage, Mich. (The Kingdom Network); Paul Park to the Korean Church of North Denver, Colo.; Mark van Stee to the International Protestant Church of Zurich, Switzerland. Loans extended: Revs. KyungRyul Lee to the Grace Valley Presbyterian Church (PCA) in San Jose, Calif.; and Andrew Chun and Daniel Hwang to the Korean Christian Church of Denver, Colo.
Ministers released from a congregation (Art. 17-a): Rev. James Hildebrandt from the now-closed Reformed Church in America congregation of River Rock Church in Sheboygan, Wisc; and Revs. Adam Stout from Faith CRC in New Brighton, Minn.; Peter Oh from the San Jose New Hope CRC in Santa Clara, Calif.; Allan Kirkpatrick from Maranatha CRC in Calgary, Alta.; Katherine Hirschberg from Monroe Community Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.; Phil Leo from Barnabas Foundation, due to job elimination (called by Pullman CRC in Chicago, Ill.); Jeff Kroondyk from Cadillac (Mich.) CRC; Seongjun Kim from Ames (Iowa) Korean CRC; and Lee Khang from Lao CRC in Holland, Mich.
Hildebrandt, Stout, Oh, and Revs. Josh Van Til, Ed Gerber, and Nick Baas are eligible for call.
Eligibility extended for Revs. Tom van Milligan, Joshua Amaezechi, and Tim Raakman.
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 (reflecting the manner and spirit in which the minister acted during the time leading up to and including resignation from office) are “honorably released,” “released,” “dismissed,” or in the “status of one deposed.”
Christopher Lee, Chris Allen, Jonathan Fischer, Mark Hilbelink, and Katrina Olson were honorably released.
Dominic Palacios was released.
Cory Van Sloten was deposed (Art. 82).
Dan Gregory was released (Art. 17-c).
Ministers retiring (Art. 18) (granted emeritus status): Revs. Derek Van Dalen, Matthew Le, Jahng Soo Jeong (effective Dec. 12, 2021), Gary DeVries, Kent Van Til, Calvin Hoogendoorn (effective April 30, 2023) Harry Zantingh (effective June 30), Andrew Vander Leek (effective July 15), Jim Busscher (effective Aug. 16), and Rick Nanninga (effective Sept. 3).
Approved as commissioned pastors called to specific roles within their classes (Art. 23): Edwin Dalupan and Fred Kim (Hudson), Aleke Dekker (Toronto), Steven Perry (Lake Erie), Russell Kent (North Cascades), Emily Hull (Thornapple Valley), Sandi Nemecek (Rocky Mountain), Diana Gaggero (Rocky Mountain), Wilmer Lopez and Helen Lopez (Rocky Mountain), Geronimo Morales (Northern Illinois), Diego Flores (Northern Illinois), Eli Munoz (Southeast U.S.), Cooper Wyatt (Southeast U.S.), and Kyle Beckrich (Art. 24-a, Classis Illiana).
Byran Choyce (Classis Grand Rapids East) was released in the status of one dismissed.
Classis Rocky Mountain approved the separation of Sunrise Community Church and commissioned pastors Sandi Nemecek, Diana Gaggero, Harry Conner, and Richard Villarreal.
Commissioned pastor emeritus status (Art. 24-e) was granted to Anne Vander Hoek (Alberta North), Clay Warren (Pacific Northwest, effective May 31), and Bob Grussing (Grand Rapids South, effective Sept. 1).
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).
Life Church of Yakima, Wash., and Happy Church in Los Angeles, Calif., organized.
The following congregations disbanded or dissolved: Family of Faith Church in Kennewick, Wash.; Cleveland Zion Church in Parma, Ohio.
Living Well CRC in El Monte, Calif.; Lord's Love Mission in Hawaiian Gardens, Calif.; Heaven Bound Ministry in Cerritos, Calif.; Union with Christ Church in Palo Alto, Calif.; New Joy CRC in Fontana, Calif.; and The Journey CRC in Kitchener, Ont., all previously designated as emerging, are no longer meeting or no longer affiliated with the CRCNA. The emerging congregation of Sky City CRC in Rosemead, Calif., merged with established church Chinese CRC in Monterey Park, Calif. The merged congregation, which is called Sky City CRC, is organized.
Hope Community Church in Lowell, Ind., and Sunrise Community Church in Austin, Texas, disaffiliated from the CRC.
Bethany CRC in Holland, Mich., closed.
Name changes: Ministry to Seafarers Vancouver is the new name of what was formerly “Ministry to Seafarers by the Christian Reformed Churches of British Columbia”; Community CRC in Oakdale, Calif., has changed its name to Cornerstone Church of Oakdale.
As of its October 2022 meeting, Classis Toronto is “pausing the practice of requiring delegates (to classis) to demonstrate their agreement (with the Covenant for Office Bearers)” for three classis meetings “to enable individual Church councils to have sufficient time to determine their response to the decisions of Synod 2022.”
Classis Toronto will host a special meeting prior to the May Classis meeting “where the delegates can work to develop pastoral care ideas and best practices for churches to use regarding LGBTQ+ members and guests.”
Classis Grand Rapids East granted $5,000 from its church planting fund to “assist the establishment of a network focused on unity and mission within the CRC.” (See also Unity, Not Unanimity, Say Organizers of ‘A Third Way,’ Feb. 24, 2023.)
Classis Eastern Canada adopted meeting guidelines to “ordinarily” conduct its fall classis meeting in person and the winter meeting online.
Classis Illiana, in response to a formal request, declared that “all delegates, appointments and nominations made by and to Classis Illiana must fully affirm, without reservation or exception, the CRC’s confessional positions on human sexuality and penal substitutionary atonement.”
Synod 2023 is scheduled June 9-15 at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich. Several classes are directing requests or communications to this broadest assembly of the CRCNA.
To encourage churches to include prayers of lament in worship services, Classis Quinte requests a change to Church Order Art. 61: “The public prayers in the worship service shall include adoration, confession, thanksgiving, supplication, lament and intercession.”
Classis Alberta South/Saskatchewan requests a revision to two articles in the Belgic Confession (Arts. 18 and 34), replacing the words “the Anabaptists” with “those.” “While the errors mentioned (in these articles) were specific to the Anabaptists at the time the Confession was written, these errors are no longer specific only to the Anabaptists. The suggested revision broadens our understanding of those who may hold these errors.”
Classis Grand Rapids East, which has been working with a committee of synod related to decisions of Synod 2022, discussed that committee’s report at its January meeting. The classis “receives the work and the report of the committee with gratitude and in particular acknowledges the admonition in the report.” The classis is not acting on a recommendation in the report to “establish an oversight committee to guide the Neland Avenue congregation and leadership into alignment with the Biblical guidelines affirmed by Synod 2022 regarding same sex sexual relationships,” but rather “will wait for the adjudication of Neland (Avenue CRC)’s appeal by Synod 2023 before discerning any further action to take about Neland.”
Classis Georgetown requests that synod require the council of Neland Avenue CRC to comply with the decision of Synod 2022 or come under church discipline.
Grand Rapids East asks synod “to declare that Synod 2022's interpretation of ‘unchastity’ in Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 108 does not have confessional status but that instead this can function as a reasonable interpretation of ‘unchastity’ to provide guidance for the church in dealing with these matters.” The request says that the aim of the creeds and confessions that make up the historical doctrinal standards in the CRCNA “is to unite the church around a common theology. But the confusion surrounding the interpretation of the single word ‘unchastity’ in just one of these documents has seemed to make that one word, its interpretation, and its application stand alone as the primary mark of confessional orthodoxy in all matters regardless of one’s commitment to everything else in the Creeds and Confessions. Such confusion could be cleared up by designating this as a reasonable interpretation to be used as guidance for the churches.” Additionally Grand Rapids East is requesting that synod “prevent and reduce the harming of LGBTQ+ persons by our churches in particular and society in general” by calling “all churches of the CRCNA to love their LGBTQ+ members and neighbors by protecting them from unloving and hateful speech as well as violent actions,” providing churches with a list of resources to equip them for that call, and publicly condemning “all violence in word and deed against LGBTQ+ persons in our families, churches, and communities.” The request draws from Scripture and Question and Answers 105 and 106 from the Heidelberg Catechism: “I am not to belittle, hate, insult, or kill my neighbor—not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture, and certainly not by actual deeds—and I am not to be party to this in others” (Q&A 105). The request also asserts, “The decision of Synod 2022 to elevate the footnote on ‘unchastity’ to confessional status, depending on application, also could cause harm to LGBTQ+ persons.”
Classis Alberta North requests that Synod 2023 declare “that Synod 2022’s definition of unchastity in Q&A 108 of the Heidelberg Catechism as having confessional status was a change to the confessions, and that Synod 2023 withhold implementation of that decision of Synod 2022 to allow time for proper process to be followed.” The classis is requesting that synod “submit any clarification of unchastity and the interpretation of Q&A 108 of the Heidelberg Catechism with appropriate rationale to the churches for consideration, with deliberation and subsequent vote at a future synod.”
Classis Ontario Southwest, Classis Holland, and Classis Rocky Mountain have similar requests about the confessional status of that interpretation, asking it instead be declared to be “in agreement with the confessions” (Ontario Southwest) or “considered ‘settled and binding’ (Church Order Art.29) in its use and function as an ‘interpretation of a confession’ (Acts of Synod 1975, p. 603)” (Holland) or having “the weight of synodical authority but does not have confessional status” (Rocky Mountain).
Classis Huron requests a reaffirmation of “our commitments to manage disagreements within our congregations, and amongst churches, with love, charity, and grace, and ensure that all who seek to follow Christ are afforded a respectful place to honestly share their views and listen to those of others.” The classis also wants the denomination to “develop resources and tools, or endorse existing resources and tools, to equip congregations to minister pastorally with and to LGBTQ+ people.”
Classis Toronto requests that synod “remove the confessional status granted to the interpretation of the word “unchastity” in Heidelberg Catechism Q. and A. 108.”
Classis Niagara requests that synod refrain from reading notes or communications from the credentials of delegates to synod that protest the seating of women delegates. (See Can We Still Live with Differences Regarding Women in Office?, June14, 2022.)
Classis Zeeland requests synod “make a definitive statement on the practice of assisted suicide in all of its forms.”
Zeeland also asks for a study committee “with the goal of clarifying the relationship between the council, classis, and synod,” taking “particular note of the authority of the church and its various assemblies in light of the issue of discipline and excommunication on the local level, and church discipline and disaffiliation at the classical and synodical level.” Even without such a study, Zeeland is asking Synod 2023 to enact discipline on a narrower assembly by requesting a dissolution of Classis Grand Rapids East, which has withheld action on the instructions of Synod 2022, and a redistricting of its member congregations.
Classis Eastern Canada, claiming “the decision of Synod 2022 (on confessional status of the ‘unchastity’ of homosexual sex) harms the unity of local congregations, classis, and the denomination,” requests Synod 2023 “to declare that a Classis of the CRCNA, in response to local needs and circumstances, may declare that Article 65, Item 2 of the Acts of Synod 2022 (p.922) be considered inoperative, thereby allowing office bearers from local congregations who disagree with the decision to continue serving and ministering within their local contexts without being subject to discipline.” The classis further requests that synod “put on hold implementation of the confessional status decision” and revisit the decision in 2028. Eastern Canada wants synod to “use this five-year time period to develop a strategy for intentional, on-going listening to Christ-serving members of the LGBTQ+ community, families, and allies, to inform the way we express belonging, provide pastoral care, and create safe spaces in CRC churches, in keeping with the apology for past wrongs and failures.” More “research, theological study and reflection, and open dialogue on human sexuality, including consideration that there may be other Reformed approaches to interpreting Scripture” are also encouraged during this time.
Classis Lake Erie “dispute(s) the decision of Synod 2022 to adopt Recommendation D of the Human Sexuality Report, declaring that an interpretation of Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 108 defining homosexual sex as unchastity already has confessional status in the CRCNA” and requests that the “interpretation be made advisory and non-binding.” The classis says “Synod’s interpretation of a confession does not have the same authority as a confession itself” and “the claim that an interpretation of Q&A 108 already has confessional status is without precedent.” Lake Erie says the decision of Synod 2022 “failed to heed the pastoral advice of Synod 1991, which says, ‘The church reminds its members of the necessity of distinguishing in the context of the present debate what is essential to the faith from what is not and of the importance of allowing open and vigorous discussion on matters pertaining to the latter. Fellowship within the body of Christ should not be broken over such matters’ (Acts of Synod 1991, p.776).”
Classes Iakota, Lake Superior and Zeeland request that synod not encourage or require the use of the proposed Code of Conduct for ministry throughout the denomination. Iakota says “the vague and extra-biblical terminology in the Code of Conduct … lacks the Scriptural context … (and) is thus open to broad and potentially abusive interpretation” and “mandating the use of the Code of Conduct for unordained ministry leaders and employees in classes and in local churches establishes a new and unhealthy precedent, seeking to enforce orthopraxis in areas where we have refrained from enforcing orthodoxy.” Lake Superior proposes a rewrite with “greater Scriptural support.” Iakota requests that synod “encourage church councils and classes to appropriately respond to the reality of the abuse of power within the church and our denomination” in such ways as examining governance models, making clear the standards of Scripture to which all officebearers and ministry leaders will be held accountable and “reinvigorating the exercise of mutual accountability and church discipline.”
A communication from Classis Northcentral Iowa similarly calls for “the practice of discipline to be revitalized in the church,” rather than implementing the proposed Code of Conduct. “Our common understanding of Scripture that we agree to in the Three Forms of Unity already condemns sin and calls for justice; we do not need additional rules, we need follow through of discipline and reconciliation to become the regular practice of the church.”
Classis Iakota has three requests to synod about delegates to Synod 2023, requiring that all officebearers delegated to Synod 2023 “sign the Covenant for Officebearers without reservation of the clear understanding of the decisions of Synod 2022 in view,” that “any delegate who has not signed the Covenant of Officebearers without exception or reservation in their local church or Classis” not be seated as a delegate, and that “officebearers who have submitted confessional difficulty gravamina to their local councils” be prohibited from being delegated. The request reads,“For the sake of the integrity of the covenant between officebearers at the classical and synodical level, those seated at those delegations need to have full assurance that their fellow delegates do not harbor reservations about the confessions that would threaten their confessional covenant.”
Classis Illiana requests that synod make clarifications about the use of confessional-difficulty gravamen—a tool described in Church Order Art. 5 to allow ordained officebearers to express a concern or question about a point in one of the church’s confessions—and that it not be accepted “when one has settled convictions or objections to our confessions.” The request says, “The personal beliefs of delegates, Council of Delegates members, faculty, and (denominational) staff should remain consistent with their public declaration and teaching on these matters.” Illiana requests that those who “cannot personally agree with our confessional beliefs, including those of penal substitutionary atonement and human sexuality” should request a release from ministry or position “or they are to be suspended and released from their office or position by Dec. 31, 2023.” Those who request release, Illiana says, should “be released under the status of one honorably released.”
Classis Northcentral Iowa similarly requests that gravamina (plural of gravamen) from officebearers “which register exceptions to the beliefs of our denomination” not be allowed to stand.
Classis Georgetown requests synod to “require confessional revision gravamina on the occasion of clear disagreement with the confessions.”
Classis Grandville requests a change to the supplement in Church Order dealing with gravamina that would clarify a confessional-difficulty gravamen “is not a request for an assembly to tolerate a subscriber’s ‘settled conviction’ that a doctrine contained in the confessions is wrong” and would advise “a subscriber who has submitted a confessional-difficulty gravamen may not be delegated to classis or synod, until they can reaffirm without reservation all the doctrines contained in the standards of the church as being doctrines that are taught in the Word of God.”
Classis Central Plains asks synod to take several actions to ensure that members of CRCNA’s agencies, ministries, boards, broader assemblies, and other entities “affirm, without reservation, all the doctrines and beliefs of the CRCNA,” including requests to remove those who will not affirm and to communicate these requirements to all assemblies.
Classis North Cascades requests that synod “establish a one-year timeframe for discipling those office-bearers, faculty, and staff members within our churches, institutions, and agencies who have filed confessional-difficulty gravamen related to Synod 2022’s decisions regarding the confessional nature of the human sexuality pronouncements,” in hopes of “bring(ing) them back to a faithful and consistent confession.” Should difficulty with Synod’s decisions persist at the end of that year, North Cascades suggests the individual must file a request to revise the confessions, which will be heard by synod, or end their service to the church “based on an inability to affirm ‘without reservation all the doctrines contained in the standards of the church as being doctrines that are taught in the Word of God’ (Church Order Art. 5 Supplement A.1).”
Classis Holland appeals to synod with a communication “in pursuit of scriptural and confessional unity” on matters related to human sexuality, asking “how might we try, quite practically, to live together with Scriptural and confessional integrity, along with a healthy realism about some of the challenges of confessional identity today?”