The CRC Synod 1995: Significant decisions
On at least four important issues the Christian Reformed Church’s Synod of 1995 took significant decisions. These issues are: women in office, admitting of children to the Lord’s Supper, continuing relations with the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (GKN), and the second worship service on the Lord’s Day. Not only were the decisions taken significant, they were in all four instances wrong.
Concerning women in office the synod was presented a majority report and a minority report by its advisory committee. The minority report retained the 1994 decision, but with altered grounds. It said, “the most evident teaching of Scripture prohibits women from holding the offices.” The decision of 1994 said, “theclear teaching of Scripture prohibits women from holding the offices.”
The synod chose to consider only the majority report, which according to its introduction was in- tended to be a “compromise . . . offered in the hope that it will be positively received by a sizable majority of synod, thus providing a solution to our current dilemma.” The report began with a clear recommendation that synod recognize that on the women’s issue
“there are two different perspectives and convictions, both of which honor the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God.” The grounds for this recommendation are numerous overtures and synodical decisions that have adduced good biblical grounds for both positions, as well as the admonition of Romans 14 to be tolerant on non-confessional issues. “There are these two interpretations in the church, and we must leave room for both,” said Rev. John VanSchepen after reading the recommendation.
By a vote of 112 to 66 the synod adopted this recommendation, which included the following points: 1) A classis may declare the word “male” in Article 3a of the Church Order of the CRC inoperative, and authorize its churches to ordain and install women in the offices of elder, minister, and evangelist. 2) Such a classis may not delegate women to synod or appoint a woman as a synodical deputy. 3) A classis that decides the word “male” remains operative shall permit its churches to take exception to this decision as it applies to the role of elder, as long as this role is restricted to the local church. 4) If qualified women apply for ministerial candidacy, the Board of Trustees of Calvin Theological Seminary and synod may not force trustees and delegates to vote for her against the dictates of their consciences. 5) The general secretary of the CRC will annually publish a list of classes that decide the word “male” is inoperative. 6) Synodical agencies shall not appoint women as ministers of the Word. 7) Synodical deputies shall not be asked to participate against the dictates of their consciences in any matter relating to ministers of the Word. 8) This arrangement will be in effect until the year 2000, at which time it will be reviewed. The synod concluded by urging people in the CRC to recognize that the issue of women in ecclesiastical office is not a matter of salvation and that even in our differences we remain sisters and brothers in Christ.
Banner editor, Rev. John Suk, comments, “The question that faces the CRC now is whether we can live with strong differences of opinion on women in office. The experience of the New Testament church suggests that we can. Take the church in Corinth, for example. Some Corinthian church members followed Peter, some Apollos, and some Paul. Its members debated whether Christians could eat meat sacrificed to idols. They disputed about the nature of the Resurrection. Just like we do, they argued about the relative merits of being single or married. And for the Corinthians, as for us, the shape of the liturgy was a bone of contention. Even though they were one, the Corinthians were almost always at odds with each other. Yet just about the last words Paul wrote to this difficult, fractious church body were, ‘Greet one another with a holy kiss’ (I Cor. 16:20; II Cor. 13:12)…; In our culture a holy kiss might well be a hearty handshake. Or even a sanctified compromise” (the Banner, July 3, 1995, p. 30).
One wonders if Rev. Suk has ever read the Epistles to the Corinthians. The inspired apostle sharply admonished the Corinthians, not for having honest differences of opinion, but for the terrible sins of schism, incest, denial of the resurrection, and other sins and weaknesses. So sharp were the admonitions that the apostle was worried about how they would be received! The fruit of these admonitions was that the Holy Spirit worked in the Corinthians the godly sorrow of repentance so that these evils were removed from the Corinthian church (cf. II Cor. 7:1-10).
The fact is that the 1995 decisions on women in office contain a flat contradiction. There cannot be gqod scriptural grounds for both positions! One is biblical and right, and the other is unbiblical and wrong! Scripture does not clearly teach both positions. Scripture clearly prohibits women from holding church office. So in one sense the decisions are not a compromise. They are contradictory. In another sense they are a compromise. These decisions compromise the clear teaching of the Bible.
The synod also. decided to admit children to the Lord’s Table through a four-step process, ending with the child making “profession of faith in a simple and appropriate manner during a regular worship service.” This too is wrong. A child born into the church, baptized in the name of the triune God, is not able to discern the Lord’s body. He can do this only on arriving at years of discretion.
After intense debate, coming on the heels of a blunt speech by the GKN fraternal delegate Rev. Richard Vissinga, who made no bones about the GKN’s stances on homosexuality and euthanasia, the synod came close to cutting off relations between the CRC and the GKN. The vote was 89 to 80 not to cut off relations. The synod further decided to pursue discussions with the GKN about the “issues and trends in the life and practice of the GKN that are of deep concern to the CRC.”
“The Sunday-evening worship service in the CRC may be on its way out. But synod 1995 battled hard not to hasten its demise,” reports the Banner. A Canadian congregation having difficulty with the second service overtured synod, asking that Articles 51 and 54 of the Church Order of the CRC “be changed to allow churches more flexibility with the second service and with catechism preaching.” After lengthy debate, and returning the matter to its advisory committee for rewording, the synod decided to change Article 51 by adding the word “ordinarily.” The Article now reads, “The congregation shall assemble for worship, ordinarily twice on the Lord’s Day, to hear God’s Word, to receive the sacraments, to engage in praise and prayer, and to present gifts of gratitude.” The synod also decided to add a supplement to the Church Order “affirming the rich tradition of assembling for worship twice on the Lord’s Day and encouraging existing congregations to continue and new congregations to embrace this tradition . . . .”
It may be true that the synod battled hard not to hasten the demise of the second service. It is certain, however, that this decision insures the eventual demise of the second service. If the CRC wanted to retain the second service, why not exhort the churches to insist on faithful attendance to the second worship service and exercise Christian discipline in Christ’s love over those who neglect the means of grace?
The RCA says, “Not yet.”
Classis North Grand Rapids of the Reformed Church in America overtured its General Synod “to effect full programmatic and organizational union with the Christian Reformed Church in North America by June 2000.” The Classis offered three grounds for this overture: “l) The RCA and the CRC share a common tradition, a complementary history, and a collateral mission. 2) There are no present-day insurmountable barriers to complete merger. 3) The time has come and is perhaps long past when the will of God needs to be heeded to heal a rift that never should have happened.” In an attachment to the third ground, the Classis notes that the five reasons given for the 1857 secession by four West Michigan congregations to begin what would become the CRC were the use of hymns, open communion for all but Roman Catholics, neglect of preaching from and instruction in theHeidelberg Catechism, neglect of home visitation by the elders, “and the opinion of some in the RCA that the 1834 secession from the RCA’s mother denomination in the Netherlands was unnecessary.” Said Classis North Grand Rapids, “None of the reasons stated above for secession are doctrinal in nature. All the above reasons have lost their cogency.”
To this the General Synod said in effect, “not yet.” The RCA General Synod voted instead to “encourage the agencies of the General Synod as well as the Commission on Christian Unity to maintain regular correspondence with the respective corresponding agencies with the CRC and its Interchurch Relations Committee; and further, to explore avenues of reconciliation between the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America for additional programmatic cooperation.”
Because the reasons fro the 1857 secession no longer obtain, one wonders why the RCA hesitates to seek full union with the CRC.