The Christian Reformed Church’s general assembly—synod—will convene June 9-16 on the campus of Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich. The denomination’s 49 classes, or regional assemblies, have elected their delegates—188 of them (eight classes aren’t sending the full delegation of four)—but if you aren’t delegated to synod, one of the seven young adult representatives or four “ethnic advisers,” or one of the many staff who will be present to report on or help synod to run, here’s a brief on what to watch for from afar.
Venue, Personnel Changes
First off, synod is meeting in a new location. When synod has convened on Calvin’s campus in the past—most recently 2018, 2019, and 2022—plenary sessions have been hosted in the 1,011-seat fine arts center auditorium, but this year the sessions will be in the smaller Calvin Chapel. "We began looking at the chapel for financial reasons,” said synodical services director Scott DeVries, “but quickly realized that moving to the chapel might be even more important because it is designed and used as a sanctuary for worship and participation."
This is DeVries’s first synod as the director of synodical services, and he’s not the only leader in a new role for 2023: Zachary King, general secretary, and Shirley De Vries, chief administrative officer, are serving synod for the first time in those positions.
Officers for synod will be elected from the delegates when synod convenes June 9. In 2022, they were elected in an online meeting before synod in an attempt to lighten the number of things synod would address as it had missed two years of meeting.
The plenary sessions of synod will be streamed, on a 20-minute delay, as was the case last year, from the chapel. The schedule, feed, and live blog will be available at crcna.org/synod.
Synod 2023 continues a prayer focus initiated by those preparing for Synod 2022. A 40-day prayer guide (April 30 to June 8) using Philippians 2:1-11 for the theme, “Longing to be like Christ,” has been offered to anyone in the CRC. Jon Hoekema, prayer shepherd, said times of corporate worship and prayer will happen more often at Synod 2023, not just at the start of each session. Volunteers with the prayer team “will also be intentional this year about stopping to pray with the committees while they are meeting, with the officers of synod, with synod staff, CRC staff, and others,” Hoekema said.
A prayer space will be set up in the basement of the chapel, he said.
Two synodical task force reports, released at the same time as the human sexuality report and deferred an extra year to accommodate the heavy agenda in 2022, are finally getting their hearing at Synod 2023. The Ecclesiastical Marriage Task Force recommends “that synod strongly advise pastors of the CRC” not to solemnize marriages “as sanctioned and solemnized solely by the church to the exclusion of the state (civil government).” The Study of Bivocationality Task Force includes a recommendation that synod encourage committees of classis that provide financial aid for seminary students “to treat those who are in or anticipating bivocational or other nontraditional ministry arrangements in the same manner as those who are in or anticipating fulltime arrangements.”
Code of Conduct
The Council of Delegates has revised the Code of Conduct for ministry leaders that was presented to last year’s synod. Synod 2022 requested a pause in implementation of the Code to receive feedback from churches. The Council incorporated feedback and is presenting the new Code with an FAQ, but several requests to synod (Overtures 4 through 10) reject the Code, make it non-mandatory, or request even stronger steps with its implementation. Synod will have to decide how to proceed.
Appeals to synod typically contain very little public detail and might only appear in the agenda as a surname, date, and the body responsible for the decision being appealed. This year an appeal by the council of Neland Avenue CRC was anticipated in public media stories and the full grounds on which it’s appealing the decision of Synod 2022 to instruct Neland “to immediately rescind its decision to ordain a deacon in a same-sex marriage” are printed in the agenda. The appeal asserts that an assembly, such as Neland’s council, has the right to appeal a body’s decision to the assembly next in order—in this case appealing a decision of synod to a subsequent synod.
A council in Classis Holland is also making an appeal, in that case it’s against a decision of Classis Holland “where it found that suspended members do, in fact, have standing to file overtures, even though the local consistory had judged otherwise.”
More of 2022 Revisited
Beside Neland’s appeal, synod also will have to deliberate over requests from other churches to reiterate the instructions to Neland and to Classis Grand Rapids East (Overtures 52, 59, and 72). There are also calls for more discipline (Ov. 56, 59, 61-63, 67) and several requests to clarify confessional alignment in the CRC (Ov. 50, 51, 53-55, 57-58, 60-64). A couple of requests suggest redistricting a whole classis (Ov. 65) or shepherding congregations into more-aligned denominations (Ov. 68) if they can no longer in good conscience remain with the CRC’s confessional position on human sexuality. A few more overtures request deeper listening (Ov. 69), a commitment to grace in disagreement (Ov. 70), and that synod would prevent and reduce harm to LGBTQ+ persons (Ov. 40, 71). There are also many calls to reverse, delay, or revise the decision to recognize the prohibition on homosexual sex as confessional (Ov. 16, 18-32, 34-39, and 41-48). Two overtures request that synod go further to affirm the CRC’s doctrine of marriage as confessional (Ov. 17) and to “reconsider our (1973) stance that homosexuality (as orientation) is not sinful” (Ov. 33).
Requests related to the decisions of Synod 2022 aren’t the only overtures on Synod 2023’s agenda. There are plenty of new things on the table, including to make a statement on assisted suicide (Ov. 2); to declare that a virtual church is not a church (Ov. 13); to address the trend of membership decline (Ov. 12, essentially an updated repeat of a request from 2017); and another repeat request (last looked at in 2017) to adopt the Belhar Confession as a confession of the CRC (Ov. 14).
The Banner’s team of reporters and editors will be in Grand Rapids on June 9-16 to supply coverage of synod as it meets. Other groups of invested Christian Reformed members and their supporters plan to produce their own content. See our story “Four Groups Closely Watching Synod 2023.”
Synod 2023 is meeting June 9-15 at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich. Find daily coverage from The Banner news team at thebanner.org/synod. Visit crcna.org/synod for the synod schedule, webcast, recordings, photos, committee reports, and liveblog. Synod is the annual general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church.