Rev. VanBaren is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.

Zero Tolerance for Sex Abuse


The Roman Catholic Church is troubled by the very bad publicity of a number of its priests who are or have been involved with sexual abuse of children, of women, and of men. All of this makes for titillating reading in the press and for constant repetition on television and radio news. There is no doubt but this is a very bad situation—especially because for years the Roman Catholic Church deliberately sought to cover this up and reassign the priests involved to different parishes.

The Roman Catholic Church had almost to be forced to take action—now called “zero-tolerance for sex-abuse.” A number of priests have since been removed from their positions.

Of special interest, however, is the report found in the Grand Rapids Press, June 14, 2002, on action taken by the Christian Reformed synod in June. The headline states, “CRC Synod adopts zero-tolerance sex-abuse policy.” It states:

Prompted in part by the Catholic Church’s sexual-abuse crisis, leaders of the Christian Reformed Church on Thursday took a zero-tolerance stand against abuse in their churches.

On the same day U.S. Catholic bishops were fashioning stronger abuse policies, delegates to the CRC Synod unanimously urged congregations to remove ministers and other church leaders for any instances of sexual abuse.

They also called on the CRC Board of Trustees to push churches to develop abuse policies and response teams.

“God has a zero-tolerance policy with respect to sin,” asserted the Rev. Perry Tinklenberg, a minister from Spokane, Wash.

The head of the CRC’s abuse prevention office called it an important step that puts clergy and church leaders on notice.

“It says ‘You may not do it,'” said Beth Swagman, who has been pushing for stronger policies since her position was created in 1994. “Don’t even think about it. If you do it, steps will be taken.'”

Though stern in tone, the policy leaves it up to local churches to investigate and take action against abusive leaders.

Delegates also issued a statement of sympathy to the Catholic Church and its struggles to stem a crisis that has forced the resignation or suspension of nearly 250 accused priests.

Expressing “empathy to our brothers and sisters in Christ,” the resolution prays for leaders, victims and perpetrators “that the Lord of the Church universal will send the reconciling power of the Holy Spirit in this time of special need.”

On the last day of the weeklong Synod at Calvin College, delegates said the Catholic scandal called for “a decisive response” from the CRC’s top ruling body.

They also noted that despite years of abuse prevention efforts, fewer than 25 percent of the CRC’s 1,000 churches have adopted policies. They urged churches to educate themselves about preventing and reporting abuse.

Swagman said she gets about a dozen abuse allegations against pastors each year, and that two or three have been removed in the past two years. She also deals with emotional and spiritual abuse….

The CRC decision appears somewhat strange. Do they not already have a “zero-tolerance” policy set forth in their Church Order? Why now and at this time take a decision such as this? Their decision is surely no stronger than what their Church Order must state. Or do they want others to see that they are ready and willing to stand side by side with their “brothers and sisters in Christ,” that is, those whom the Heidelberg Catechism labels as idolaters in Lord’s Day 30?

I do not have their revised Church Order before me at this moment. However, the Church Order which we have, and which formerly was held also by the CRC, states:

Art. 79 When Ministers of the Divine Word, Elders or Deacons, have committed any public, gross sin, which is a disgrace to the Church, or worthy of punishment by the Authorities, the Elders and Deacons shall immediately by preceding sentence of the Consistory thereof and of the nearest Church, be suspended or expelled from their office, but the Ministers shall only be suspended. Whether these shall be entirely deposed from office, shall be subject to the judgment of the Classis, with the advice of the Delegates of the (Particular) Synod mentioned in Article 11.

Art. 80 Furthermore among the gross sins, which are worthy of being punished with suspension or deposition from office, these are the principal ones: false doctrine or heresy, public schism, public blasphemy, simony, faithless desertion of office or intrusion upon that of another, perjury, adultery, fornication, theft, acts of violence, habitual drunkenness, brawling, filthy lucre; in short, all sins and gross offenses, as render the perpetrators infamous before the world, and which in any private member of the Church would be considered worthy of excommunication.

First CRC Woman Pastor Ousted

Because it is a matter of interest, I present the following from the Grand Rapids Press, July 11, 2002. I do so without comment.

The split between a local congregation and the first woman ordained as a minister in the Christian Reformed Church is official. Citing a difference in their view of the church’s mission, local church leaders from the Grand Rapids Classis East on Wednesday approved a separation agreement between Grace CRC and its co-pastors, the Revs. Ruth Hofman and her husband, Steven Venhuizen.

The Grace CRC council in May voted to dismiss the co-pastors, citing a persistent refusal to work with church leaders. Elders charged Wednesday that Hofman and Venhuizen failed to compromise with the council on worship style and preaching methods, and said the co-pastors focused time and energy on neighborhood outreach at the expense of church members.

“Our pastors had a very different mission at Grace than much of the congregation,” elder Ron Steenwyk said. “This spring it became clear that our pastors were not interested in any form of meaningful compromise. We were met again and again with total uncooperation.”

…Some neighborhood residents said church members looking to dismiss Hofman and Venhuizen were prejudiced against the people whom the co-pastors invited to church. They were uncomfortable with prostitutes and drug dealers giving testimony at worship, said Melshunn Everette, a nearby resident and churchgoer….

I had intended no comment. I will, however, make a short one nevertheless. When one’s Church Order forbids women serving in the office, and the CRC synod (without changing this rule) arbitrarily authorizes the various Classes to suspend it if they wish, is it any wonder that something such as the above takes place? And when a woman is placed in position of authority and rule, contrary to Scripture, which clearly states that she is to be silent in the church, is it surprising that there is no respect for the Scriptural mandate for elders to rule?

One can only be saddened by these developments.

New Strategies to Rebuild Membership

Churches have sought to build membership by having “contemporary” services, puppets, movies, liturgical dances, and more. Yet membership in the mainline denominations continues to decline. One is tempted to ask, “Is this because of these innovations, which after a time fail to satisfy many in the churches? Is it because the preached Word is often no longer a central part of worship?”

Well, to the rescue comes a commission of members of various denominations. These propose new strategies which will help to establish new congregations and rebuild old ones. The Grand Rapids Press presents this report:

After a steady drop in membership over the years, leaders of seven predominantly white Protestant denominations—including several with a strong West Michigan base—have joined forces to try to reverse the trend.

They commissioned a survey on the kind of leaders they should recruit to start new churches, and found that hiring innovative ministers and reaching out to minorities will be critical to rebuilding.

“We’ve had this Western dominance and this Eurocentric approach,” said the Rev. Allen Likkel, a church development specialist with the Grand Rapids-based Christian Reformed Church. “We are moving away from that, and are looking at some very different styles and models of leadership.”

Both liberal and conservative denominations joined the study: CRC, Reformed Church in America, Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and United Church of Christ.

Together, they represent about 15 million American Protestants. All have seen their memberships decline in the past 20 years. The CRC has dropped from 299,000 to 278,000 members during that time, while the RCA dipped from 352,000 to 291,000 members. Other denominations saw an even more dramatic fall.

“The demographics are shifting,” said the Rev. Robert Scudieri, head of church development in North America for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. “If local churches continue to only see white, English-speaking people as their market, that market is drying up.”

Scudieri said the Missouri Synod has come to recognize that “we are not starting churches for Lutherans anymore.” Instead, his denomination views North America as an “unchurched” culture, where basic structures of Christianity and church life are unfamiliar to many people….

…Successful church developers have been willing to take risks, and tenaciously have pursued their goals, Wood said. They also tend to be charismatic leaders who clearly communicate their vision, delegate tasks and recruit good assistants….

…The CRC runs potential pastors through an assessment center. The RCA contracts with Gallup to conduct telephone interviews of candidates. The research could fine-tune those screening methods to improve the success rate of planting new churches, Likkel said….

…However, not everyone is embracing this new approach.

The innovations have raised some uncomfortable questions about how to maintain the culture of Protestant denominations and, specifically for Lutherans, what the essential elements of worship are, Scudieri said.

Still, the churches believe they must change in order to survive.

“Lutherans in the old days thought it was necessary to teach the Indians German before they evangelized them,” Scudieri said. Now the church has realized “we need to reach people in their own language and culture.”

One can but wonder how the apostle Paul or the apostle Peter would have made out under these new and innovative proposals!!

“God Bless America!”

Patriotism has been running at a fever-pitch since September 11, although it appears to be waning a bit lately. Yet a tremendous outcry arises when a judge declares that “under God” is constitutionally wrong. And one is almost considered unpatriotic when he might not cry with the multitude, “God bless America!”

“God bless America,” where a million and a half abortions are done each year?

“God bless America,” where the states encourage and promote gambling—aware even that a number of bank robberies have occurred by those who sought to pay off their gambling debts?

“God bless America,” where materialism is the god of the citizens?

“God bless America,” whose laws may not be posted in public buildings?

“God bless America,” where entertainment, sports, pornography, and murder are the order of the day?

Perhaps it were better to say, “Pray for America that she may repent of her horrific sins against God and His laws!” Unless there is proper repentance, how dare we ask God’s blessing on America?