The Christian Reformed Church synods of 2022 and 2023 declared and re-affirmed the church's prohibition on same-sex sexual relationships to be confessional and encouraged classes to "guide into compliance the officebearers of their constituent churches who publicly reject the biblical guidelines affirmed by Synod 2022 regarding same-sex relationships” (Acts of Synod 2023, p. 1029). The fall classis meetings (gatherings of regional groups of churches) show a divergence of practice on those guidelines.
[Editor's note: After this story was published, we received (on Jan 15, 2024) revised minutes of the Classis Alberta North October meeting that included a full church visitor team report rather than a summary. A section of this story, "Following Through on Alignment Requests," has been edited to reflect information in that report.]
Ministering Well With Those Who Identify as LGBTQ+
Some groups in the CRC are emphasizing synod’s admonishment to repent from ways our communities have caused harm to believers who identify as LGBTQ+ and to do better at practicing hospitality. Eight churches from Classis Toronto and one church from Classis Central Plains created an LGBTQ+ Hospitality Cohort in September. Each of the nine churches will work on a project that encourages hospitality with LGBTQ+ people. The cohort has planned monthly video or in-person gatherings from now to May. y. Syd Hielema, a member of Meadowlands CRC in Ancaster, Ont., and part of the cohort’s leadership team, said, “One of our hopes is that the learnings this group achieves will inspire other classes or clusters of classes to do the same.”
The council of Church of the Savior in South Bend, Ind., sent a formal request (overture) to the October meeting of Classis Holland asking that the regional assembly “overture Synod to solicit resources and tools for LGBTQ ministry from Christian Reformed churches who are in agreement with the CRC’s position on homosexuality.” Church of the Savior wants the Office of General Secretary to request “that any church that is both faithful to the CRC’s position on homosexuality and has a thriving and successful ministry to LGBTQ people (or simply has a representational percentage of LGBTQ members who feel a sense of belonging in their congregation) share pertinent information about their ministry (or their strategies for inclusion)” (parentheses original).
The formal request further states, “If no such resources become available within a year, we ask that a report be made to that effect to Synod 2025. In such an eventuality, we further ask that Synod 2025 recommend that the Office of General Secretary explore whether it is feasible to continue to ask CRC congregations to be places of belonging for LGBTQ members in the present context.”
Classis Holland did not adopt the Church of the Savior’s overture. Pastor Christina Brinks Rea said the council of Church of the Savior plans to forward the overture to Synod 2024 on its own.
RELATED: How Can I Communicate My Views to Synod? (Big Questions, Jan. 23, 2023)
Following Through on Alignment Requests
Some classes noted their intent to respond to synod’s request that they guide officebearers into compliance with the biblical guidelines affirmed by Synod 2022 regarding same-sex relationships. Classis Alberta North's church visitor team met in September "expressly to talk together about Synod 2023’s instructions to church visitors." The team's report was included in the October classis minutes. From synod's reminder to “all church visitors throughout the CRCNA of their authority and responsibility to, in a spirit of love and grace, guide officebearers into alignment with the biblical guidelines, including but not limited to all areas of human sexuality” (Acts of Synod 2023, p. 1030)," the Alberta North team noted it chooses "to exemplify synod’s reminder to do our work in a 'spirit of love and grace.' "
Church visitors are teams of pastors and other officebearers appointed by classes, according to Church Order Art. 42, “to ascertain whether the officebearers of the church faithfully perform their duties, adhere to sound doctrine, observe the provisions of the Church Order, and promote the building up of the body of Christ and the extension of God’s kingdom.” The Classis Alberta North church visitor report noted, "As church visitors we can choose what disposition we shall have towards this work. We can be regulators, or supervisors, or disciplinarians. We can come looking for faults. We choose the disposition of walking alongside councils in a way that pursues classis’ vision to 'be a gathering of mutually supportive, healthy churches expressing the good news of God's Kingdom that transforms lives and communities.' "
They anticipate this to require time. "Recognizing that individual and communal sanctification as well as being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ takes time, we feel a desire to take the time that will be required to walk alongside," the report said (emphasis original). "Synod 2024 may or may not add another dimension regarding confessional difficulty gravamina and timelines, and we may need to reconvene for further discussion next year. As for now, we choose to come alongside councils to address present needs identified by councils, assisting where we can to help the church be the best church they can be in their time and place. This is how we wish to interpret 'guidance' at this moment in time."
Waiting for Clarity
Other classes weren’t as certain about how to follow through on the synodical requests. The classis interim committee of Classis Northern Illinois reported to that classis’s September meeting that it intended “to wait on the synodical directive to ‘guide into compliance’ those churches who have published statements contrary to decisions on human sexuality.” Pastor John Hoekwater, a member of the interim committee, told The Banner that synod “did not make clear what ‘guiding into compliance’ would look like when a church or pastor is noncompliant and states their unwillingness to become compliant or to change what is taught by them or their church regarding their understanding of homosexual sex and same-sex marriage—positions that are contrary to the CRCNA’s current position related to human sexuality and the 7th commandment.” Because “Synod 2023 provided no recommendations to classis regarding what to do when whatever guidance they give does not change a church or pastor’s position nor the terms under which a pastor and/or a church both welcome and choose leaders who are part of the LGBTQ+ community,” Hoekwater said, “our classis recognizes that next year's synod will need to decide what to do with churches and pastors who are not in compliance.”
Grand Rapids East, which was given specific direction from Synod 2023 “to guide the Neland Avenue CRC congregation and leadership into alignment with the biblical guidelines affirmed by Synod 2022 regarding same-sex, sexual relationships,” has not yet been public on its follow-through. At its September meeting, the classis empowered its executive committee to “establish a committee to help classis address alignment-related mandates received from Synod 2023.” But a subsequent classis meeting in October, held “with the intention of speaking and listening with the above issues in mind,” was done in executive session.
Some classes within the CRCNA have member churches at odds with each other on these matters. At the October meeting of Classis Alberta South/Saskatchewan, eleven delegates included their names on a protest that read, “In keeping with the decision of Synod 2023, ‘That synod instruct all classes to guide into compliance the office bearers of their constituent churches who publicly reject the biblical guidelines affirmed by Synod 2022 regarding same-sex relationships,’ the council of High River CRC protests the seating of any delegate or delegation to this meeting which has rejected the biblical guidelines affirmed by Synod 2022 regarding same-sex relationships.’”
At the October meeting of Classis Grand Rapids South, one delegation raised on its credentials (forms submitted to the classis clerk ahead of the meeting) concern over an action in process by another member congregation “regarding possible non-compliance with Synod’s ‘HSR decisions.’” The action was a planned congregational vote, as described in the Grand Rapids South minutes, over “whether or not to be more inclusive of same sex marriages, including possible office bearing.”
The congregational vote was later reported (at a November meeting of Classis Grand Rapids South) to not have received the required 2/3 majority to alter the congregation’s articles of incorporation. The minutes of the November meeting of Classis Grand Rapids South noted that the chair led in prayer for guidance for all of classis “as we seek to be obedient to God’s Word.”
At least two other classes have noted holding times for discussion over the impact of synod’s recent guidance.
Classis B.C. North-West formed a listening circle at its October meeting “to get at the still-unanswered question from Christ Community Church in Victoria, B.C.’s March 2023 credentials,” minutes said. At the March meeting, “Christ Community Church requested advice on living in the tension of diverse perspectives from Synod 2022.” Participants in the October listening circle “shared responses to the following questions:
Synods 2022 and 2023 focused on human sexuality. In the terms of the complete definition in (the Heidelberg Catechism) Q &A 108:
1. How has your congregation offered a hospitable welcome?
2. How has your congregation supported visitors, attendees and members who haven't felt welcome because of this definition?”
The B.C. North-West minutes said, “Notes were taken during this session and will be passed on to the church councils.”
The classis interim committee of Classis Eastern Canada invited Pastor Syd Hielema to facilitate a discussion at the October meeting of that classis. Minutes note that Hielema led “the delegates and guests in devotion and conversation on the theme ‘A Gentle Heart to Heart about Human Sexuality and CRCNA’.” It was recognized that, “we are not all on the same page regarding synod’s decision(s) on the human sexuality report. Reflections centered around a long-term conversation rather than a quick fix to our differences. … We were thankful for this time of sharing and listening as the Lord is building His church.”
About the Author
Alissa Vernon is the news editor for The Banner.