Overshadowed by discussions over and implications of last year’s synodical decision to affirm that “unchastity” includes homosexual sex, and to declare that affirmation “an interpretation of a confession” with confessional status, some actions of Synod 2023 of the Christian Reformed Church in North America went by without much discussion or notice as the assembly met June 9-15 in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Here are some of those things:
Communication on Racism and Biblical Justice
Zachary King, the CRC’s general secretary prepared a Communication on Racism and Biblical Justice in response to Synod 2022’s instructions. It was included in the supplemental agenda for synod, released just nine days before synod’s convening. In the communication King notes the importance of “opposing racism and embracing a biblical vision of ethnic diversity,” referencing the denominational statement. He also expresses a posture of lament and references a resource by Calvin Theological Seminary and a resource by Congregational Ministries.
The communication was included in a list of things presented by the Council of Delegates early in Synod 2023’s proceedings. Young-Kwang Kim, Classis Wisconsin, said, “We shouldn’t receive this as information as if we are done talking about this,” saying that “a three-page report does not (give the topic) justice.”
“I would hate to see that be the message here, that we have done our work and we’re moving on,” Kim said. “We need to keep having conversations about racism and white supremacy and how we could co-exist in our denomination.”
King said, “the length doesn’t equal the weight,” noting “much of the ministry of our denominational institutions and agencies really revolves around the work that was mentioned in that document.” He mentioned several of the ministries by name, including Thrive, the CRC’s new congregational ministry agency that includes work “focused on supporting our church’s calling in encouraging ethnic (diversity) groups in their ministries and enfolding them in the Christian Reformed Church.”
The “short communication does not stand alone,” King said.
Synod affirmed this work.
New Agency: Thrive
Synod recognized Thrive as a ministry agency of the CRCNA to engage and accompany Christian Reformed congregations “as they seek to faithfully and holistically embody the gospel in their respective contexts.” The Agenda for Synod included a guiding document for the new agency, and synod approved its “vision, mission, mandate and core postures” as the synodical framework for Thrive. Concluding the ministry mandates of the former standalone ministries now collected under Thrive—Chaplaincy and Care ministry, Disability Concerns, Faith Formation Ministries, Office of Diversity, Pastor Church Resources, Race Relations and the Office of Social Justice, Safe Church Ministry, and Worship Ministries—synod instructed that Thrive use “these historical guidelines as valuable information for understanding synod’s intent regarding the desired denominational support for congregations.”
‘Exercise Discretion’ When Responding to Social and Other Matters
Synod responded to Overture 3 from Classis Southeast U.S., that requested ecclesiological communications be refocused, away from those “promoting or endorsing any social, economic, or political idea or action.” Synod instructed the Office of General Secretary to make a report to Synod 2024 showing “how the concerns noted in Overture 3 have been addressed.”
Neil Jasperse, reporter for the committee that considered the overture, said this was important “to ensure that the input and guidance of synod (regarding communications that could be seen as political) was heard and appropriately responded to.”
The committee did not recommend forming a “denominational content management committee,” as the overture had requested. However synod did “urge the CRCNA organization to exercise discretion when responding to social, economic, and/or political matters.”
The committee noted that past synods have addressed similar concerns and that, in its opinion, the U.S. committee to provide guidance and support to the Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action, created by Synod 2018, “has not done enough to oversee and guide the communications of these agencies.”
“Further, broader guidance is needed for the entire CRCNA organization on how it ought to communicate on social, economic, or political matters,” the committee said.
Daniel Meyers, Classis Ontario Southwest, asked what was meant by “discretion.” Jasperse responded: “wisdom, being aware of dynamics, of moving cautiously.”
“We as a committee realized that this was a fine line—God’s church is called to be prophetic, and there are clear areas that we can speak boldly to from biblical principles,” Jasperse said. But there are other matters, he continued, that cannot be specifically discerned from Scripture—like how to vote on a farm bill. There, “it would be obvious,” Jasperse said, to “be discreet in the steps you take.”
Delineating Historical Committee Mandate
The Historical Committee, one of synod’s three standing committees, asked Synod 2023 to “endorse the delineation of the respective duties of the general secretary and the Historical Committee regarding oversight of the denominational archives.” There had been some previous confusion, after Synod 2019 changed how the archives would be managed. The new delineation, which lays out five responsibilities for the general secretary and six for the committee, “provides necessary clarification” synod said. Among the general secretary’s responsibilities is to “serve as the final authority with respect to security, confidentiality protocols, and usage.” Among the Historical Committee’s responsibilities is to advise the Archives Advisory Council on “annual budget and major budget expenditures; major strategic policy initiatives; key staff positions.”
Synod recognized John Bolt, retiring from the committee after two terms of service, in which he served as chair.
Synod also took note of additions to the Historical Committee that Synod 2023 president Paul DeVries called “a pretty significant step.”
Noting the committee is adding “members from the Korean church community and Classis Red Mesa, where oral history is being documented,” DeVries said, “We’re grateful for their participation and are aware that sometimes we have passed right over stuff because it didn’t fit into the written documentation.” He thanked the Historical Committee for working to fix that.
Reorganized, Updated Handbooks
The Candidacy Committee included a reorganized edition of the Commissioned Pastor Handbook in the supplement to the agenda for Synod 2023. It proposed moving the sections of historical context to endnotes, renaming certain sections to “titles that will guide readers to the information they need to access,” ordering the sections in a more chronological way, and consolidating topics or issues currently repeated or found in multiple places in the 2019 edition of the handbook. “All of the preceding edition’s important content remains,” the committee said.
Synod approved the reorganized handbook.
Synod also endorsed a draft of a second edition of the Council of Delegates Governance Handbook, which is is the process of being updated to reflect items included in reports, supplements, and agreements adopted in 2021 and 2022, including the Structural and Leadership Taskforce report and the Ecclesial and Organizational Views supplement to that report, both adopted by Synod 2022.
No Change to Belgic Confession
Classis Alberta South/Saskatchewan asked synod to revise a couple of articles in the Belgic Confession regarding the specific naming of Anabaptists. Synod chose not to make this change, referencing the response of Synod 2002 to a similar overture: “Historically, synod has opted for a historical-textual, rather than a ‘too literalistic approach to the Confessions’ in the hope that we would avoid making so many changes to these documents that we end up with confessions that are ‘a barely recognizable polyglot of emendations’ (Acts of Synod 1959, p. 183). Our confessions were born in a certain climate of theological debate and can be best understood in light of that history (Acts of Synod 2002, p. 499).”
Synod also noted “Acceding to this overture would have far-reaching repercussions with our relationships with other Christians (e.g. Reformed Baptists)” and “while the change seems simple (Alberta South/Saskatchewan only wanted to replace “Anabaptists” with “those” in two instances), due to the widespread usage of our version of the Belgic Confession in other Christian denominations, we do not want to create undue complexity” without engaging with them.
No More Annual List of Accredited Organizations
2023 is the last year synod will endorse a list of charities pre-vetted and recommended for offerings—other than offerings recommended for the CRC’s own agencies and institutions. The Council of Delegates proposed discontinuing the practice, saying the review requires a significant amount of staff resources, and information about charitable organizations is readily available online. Synod did endorse this year’s list, adding 222Disciple to the list for suggested offerings in the churches in the United States.
Lee Street CRC Host Church for Synod 2024
Synod accepted the invitation of Lee Street Christian Reformed Church in Wyoming, Mich., to be the host church of Synod 2024, which is scheduled for next June in Grand Rapids, Mich. Lee Street leads worship services in English and Spanish and has partnerships with local schools and community ministries. Serving as host congregation will give synod the opportunity to celebrate diversity and outreach within the CRC.
Synod 2023 met June 9-15 at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich. The Banner news team provided daily coverage 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.