Rev. VanBaren is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Sad events in the Reformed church world
During the past number of years much has been made of the “right” of homosexuals to “marry” and receive the legal benefits of such union. One can understand why those who refuse to recognize the law of God presented in Holy Scripture would take the position that marriage can be whatever the majority decides it to be. But it is very difficult to understand how anyone who maintains the infallibility of Scripture can take a similar position. Sadly, this is what is happening. In the Netherlands there are Reformed churches that not only allow practicing homosexuals to be members “in good standing,” but have also allowed practicing homosexuals into the church offices—including the ministry of the Word.
It is troubling that in our country the same trends are evident. The inroads of homosexualism became apparent in the Christian Reformed Church when the First Christian Reformed Church of Toronto decided that it could allow practicing homosexuals to serve in the church offices of elder and deacon. When strenuous objections arose from other Christian Reformed bodies, they apparently backed off from this position. Yet their web site shows that the congregation continues to allow such individuals to be members in good standing within the congregation. Their web site states:
We believe that all people are created in the image of God and are unconditionally loved by God.
We are committed to embrace people of all ages, races, genders, sexual orientation, differing abilities, ethnic origins, and economic circumstances.
We affirm that all who seek to live faithfully, that is, confessing Jesus Christ to be their Lord and Saviour, are full participants in the life, membership, sacraments, and leadership of this congregation.
Our desire is to build community in the midst of differences and strive to honour God’s greatest commandment, to love one another as Christ loves us.
Their confession is hardly Reformed (“…all people are created in the image of God and are unconditionally loved by God”). The statement seems clearly to imply that they receive also practicing homosexuals as “full participants in the life…of this congregation.”
Recent reports indicate that a critical situation has arisen also in the Reformed Church in America (RCA) in regard to homosexualism. The RCA has two seminaries: Western Theological Seminary in Holland, MI, and New Brunswick Theological Seminary (NBTS) in New Jersey. The president of NBTS is Dr. Norman Kansfield. Christian Renewal, February 9, 2005, gives a report written by John VanDyk:
Presiding over a marriage is not so unusual for the president of a Reformed seminary. For that same president to conduct his daughter’s wedding would be considered special indeed. For him to preside over his daughter’s marriage to another woman would be considered an act of sinful disobedience. The Reformed Church in America’s Norman Kansfield, president of New Brunswick Theological Seminary, sees things, however, in a different light.
In June of last year, Dr. Kansfield, a long-standing minister and seminary professor in the RCA, led a marriage service uniting his daughter Ann Kansfield to another woman. Ann also graduated from NBTS in 2004 and recently accepted a call to the Greenpoint Reformed Church in Brooklyn, New York.
Following protests from two classes and a number of individuals to the denomination’s General Synod Council (GSC), the GSC sent a letter in October to each church in the RCA. The letter outlined the situation and then announced the following plan of action in response:
1.To send a delegation from the GSC to visit with Dr. Kansfield in a pastoral manner, sharing with him the concerns discussed by the GSC, listening to him, and expressing a desire to seek the unity of the Church.
2.To send this pastoral letter to all ministers of Word and sacrament.
3.To inform the board of New Brunswick Theological Seminary of the GSC’s action in this matter.
4.To designate the members of the General Synod Commission on Judicial Business to serve as the investigative committee in the event that a charge is filed in this matter.
The letter continues, “The GSC has taken special care both to clarify procedures for any potential exercise of discipline in this matter and to exercise the pastoral concern that should always be a mark of our life together in Christ. In any matters of potential controversy and conflict, our polity is our servant and our friend. We can place confidence in the means by which we hold each other accountable and live in the unity of the Spirit that is God’s gift to the church.”
Signed by four members of the Council, the letter also mentions “the possible ordination of Dr. Kansfield’s daughter” as another concern. But it passes on any possible response in this matter by citing the local classis, which has authority regarding the ordination of candidates to the ministry of Word and sacrament.
With this matter made public by the pastoral letter from the GSC, Dr. Kansfield followed up with his own letter dated November 24, 04. In the two-page letter, Kansfield declares himself to be “saved by Jesus Christ.” He describes himself as a “conservative Christian to whom the doctrines of our Lord’s virgin birth, atoning death, bodily resurrection, and return in glory give shape and meaning to my ministry,” a “social liberal,” “a Reformed Christian” and “an evangelical Christian who cares passionately about the proclamation of the Gospel.”
Kansfield follows with a plea that he and his “daughters” be treated “as your brother and sisters.” And he argues for the use of
‘s requirements to be put into effect: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” The seminary professor concludes with a plea that New Brunswick Theological Seminary not be held responsible for his actions because neither did he consult the Board of Trustees nor his colleagues on the faculty.
The article continues by pointing out that in 1978, 1979, and in 1990 the General Synod of the RCA emphasized that “the practicing homosexual lifestyle is contrary to Scripture.” They also encouraged the church to “love and sensitivity towards such persons as fellow human beings.” The Synod of the Great Lakes of the RCA reaffirmed this position in November 16, 2004.
The article summarized:
At this time, Kansfield remains president of the seminary as well as General Synod Professor of Theology. And his daughter Ann has been ordained and installed and continues to serve an RCA church in Brooklyn, New York.
The Grand Rapids Press, February 12, 2005, also reflects on this in an article by its religion editor, Charles Honey:
The Rev. Norman Kansfield, a Hope College graduate and former librarian at Holland’s Western Theological Seminary, hopes the controversy will prompt renewed discussion about the RCA’s stance toward gays.
“It is very clearly time for the Reformed Church in America and all the rest of the body of Christ to take up a conversation about how we are going to treat homosexual persons,” said Kansfield, 64.
The board of New Brunswick Theological Seminary, an RCA-affiliated school in New Jersey, recently voted not to renew Kansfield’s contract when it expires June 30. Trustees reprimanded Kansfield, president since 1993, for officiating at his daughter’s wedding in Massachusetts last June without consulting them.
In addition, clergy from West Michigan are among two church groups that have filed ecclesiastical charges, which could lead to discipline or even a church trial of Kansfield at this summer’s General Synod.
Further fueling the debate: Kansfield’s daughter, Ann, has been asked to lead an RCA church in Brooklyn where she serves as an unordained pastor.
Resolution of both cases will test an RCA stand against gay marriage and its position that “the practicing homosexual lifestyle is contrary to Scripture.”
To officials’ knowledge, it is the first gay wedding performed by an RCA minister.
The issue likely will surface at the General Synod this June, said a top RCA official.
“We’ve studied and reflected this carefully for 25 years,” said the Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, who serves as general secretary of the 284,000-member RCA from its West Michigan regional offices. “I think it’s important that that dialogue and reflection continue.”
It is interesting, but very disturbing, that the matter of homosexuality and even the “marriage” of homosexuals in this way is a matter of “dialogue” within the churches. It’s happened in the Episcopal Church, in some Presbyterian Churches, and now within the RCA. Scripture is clear on the subject. For 2000 years the church has maintained this clear teaching of Scripture. For the last 25 years the RCA, at its synodical gatherings, has affirmed that position. Now the general secretary of the West Michigan regional offices of the RCA states, “I think it’s important that that dialogue and reflection continue.” It doesn’t matter what the church maintained for 2000 years. It doesn’t matter what the RCA has taught for most of its history. There must be “dialogue and reflection,” no doubt until finally “gay marriage” and the “practicing homosexual lifestyle” have been approved by the church. That is the mode of operation in other denominations. Now the same is taking place in the RCA. The Grand Rapids Press article quotes the general secretary, Granberg-Michaelson, as stating that he hopes the controversy won’t lead to major conflicts other denominations have endured. “Most of those in the church…don’t want to see the denomination torn up in endless and divisive and very painful judicial processes and fights over this,” he said. The implication seems to be that the “conservatives” hopefully will ultimately acquiesce so that the denomination remains intact.
It remains to be seen what will develop. Though Rev. Kansfield will not have his “contract” renewed after it expires on June 30, he has not been deposed from office. His daughter has been ordained and installed in office in a RCA church (according to the report in Christian Renewal). The question is: Is there the spiritual strength to exercise Christian discipline anymore?