Prof. Decker is professor of Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
On April 2, 1992 the Rev. Steve Schlissel, pastor of Messiah’s Congregation Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in Brooklyn, New York, was suspended from the office of the ministry of the Word and Sacraments by Classis Hudson of the CRC.
According to Article 90 of the Church Order (CRC edition), a suspended minister may not engage in any of the “duties of his office,” including preaching or the administering of the sacraments. Schlissel may not preach in any CRC church, including Messiah’s, during his suspension. If he does so, Classis Hudson may have to consider disciplinary action against Messiah’s council.
Schlissel has been given until May 13 to repent. If he chooses not to repent, Classis will meet to consider his deposition, which means losing his ministerial credentials in the CRC.
Classis Hudson based its decision to suspend Schlissel on four grounds. Ground one is Schlissel’s refusal to heed the admonition of classis regarding his written and public statements, “whose tone and approach to correction in the body of the Lord are scripturally unacceptable.” Classis urged Schlissel to temper this approach in September 1991, but said Schlissel “persisted in making statements characterized by abrasive and accusatory language that in sweeping generalizations questions the Christian integrity of fellow officebearers in the CRC.” Schlissel called professors at Calvin Theological Seminary “whores” and “stinking heretics.” He labeled people who disagreed with him “blasphemous bums,” “feminist maniacs,” “schizophrenics,” “worms, vermin, and dogs.”
Further, Schlissel refused to submit to classis’ discipline. According to classis’ minutes, Schlissel’s speech at the January meeting was “marked by refusal to submit to the chairman and by abrasive and disrespectful language.” During discussion about the April 2 meeting, Schlissel announced he would be out of town frequently, “making trouble,” and that it would be difficult to find a good meeting date.
As a matter of fact, Schlissel did not attend the April 2 meeting of classis. When informed on March 3 of the special classis meeting scheduled for April 2, Schlissel told classis that he had a speaking engagement on that date. (Classis noted that Schlissel’s speech, at a noon meeting in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, took about 12 minutes, and it would have taken him less than four hours to drive to the evening meeting of classis in Wyckoff, NJ.)
The second ground for suspension charges Schlissel with conduct unbecoming a minister of the gospel. According to classis Schlissel responded with innuendoes, sarcasm, and attacks on the integrity of people who questioned him regarding accusations he made against them. Schlissel “publicly slanders. Our denomination and its leaders on a number of occasions without first addressing them personally and through their consistory, classis, or synod,” classis stated.
Third, classis suspended Rev. Schlissel for lack of integrity in promoting division in the denomination. Classis noted that Schlissel was urging others to leave the CRC while remaining in it himself.
Fourth, classis charged Rev. Schlissel and his church, Messiah’s Congregation CRC in Brooklyn, with breaking the covenant the church made with the CRC in November 1986 “to be faithful to the gospel as expressed in our common confessions and to work for the upbuilding of the CRC in Brooklyn, in Classis Hudson, and throughout the denomination.” (Schlissel was admitted to the ministry of the CRC under the provisions of Article 7 [Article 8, PRC edition] of the Church Order.) Classis said Schlissel’s public and written statements “give ample evidence that he has not worked for the upbuilding of the CRC, has not followed the procedures for recourse built into our Church Order, and has not been open to the counsel and admonition of fellow ministers and elders.”
Rev. Schlissel, in an interview after the April 2 meeting of classis, refuted the grounds classis used to suspend him. Concerning the quotes classis cited as evidence of his refusal to heed classis’ admonition, Schlissel said, “I stand by every one of them. If that’s what they want to depose me for, I consider it an honor.”
In response to the charge of encouraging divisiveness, Schlissel said, “I am not the enemy; I am not the threat. There are people in the denomination who have introduced new ideas to our church that are contrary to our confessions and divisive. This is a case of shooting the messenger because you don’t like the message.” Schlissel said the charge that he and his church broke their covenant with the CRC is “the most ludicrous charge of all.” He said that he did not sign the document, so it can not possibly be used against him.
Schlissel called the action of classis against him a “lynching” and blamed individuals for its decision to suspend him. “Jim DeJong (Dr. James R. DeJong is president of Calvin Theological Seminary, RDD) pulled the strings, Don Wisse (stated clerk of Classis Hudson) set up the hoops, and classis jumped.”
Classis Hudson has an altogether different view of Schlissel’s suspension. “The action was taken after a long series of events involving Rev. Schlissel,” it says. “These events focused on the manner and approach taken by Schlissel in his relationship to others within the CRC as a whole. Classis took its action reluctantly.”
Rev. Schlissel has appealed his suspension to the Synod of 1992.
Just one comment on all this. Rev. Schlissel may be ever so right on the issues troubling the CRC, but if the charges of Classis Hudson are indeed true, his method of addressing those issues is all wrong.
News of the Dutch Churches
The synod of the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (The Reformed Churches in The Netherlands, hereafter GKN) decided that a new confession of faith was not necessary at this time. They did think that a pastoral handbook on the confessions was necessary.
This was in response to requests from three classes to look into the matter. One wanted a clarification; another observed that candidates for the ministry in the GKN had difficulty signing the formula for preachers. A third classis thought the GKN was losing sight of its confessional character.
The advisory committee suggested to synod that it might be impossible in this time to find formulas which they could oblige one another to accept.
The GKN is also involved in a process of union with two other Dutch denominations: De Herevormde Kerk (the State church) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of The Netherlands. This process is called “Samen op Weg” (“together on the way,” RDD). Following a difficult year in 1991, the three churches appear to be making progress toward union. This is the opinion of the moderator of the GKN, Rev. P. Boomsma. Boomsma said that at a joint synodical gathering in February there was basic agreement about the organization of the church. Therefore the possibility is strong that the basic articles of a church order can soon be formulated.
Meanwhile the GKN suffered the largest decline in membership in its history in 1991. Membership fell by 1.34%. With a net loss of 10,531 members the GKN had a membership of 773,992 at the beginning of 1992. This is the latest in a series of declines going back to 1987. In that year the GKN had 820,268 members. Thus in the last five years the GKN has lost 5.6% of its members. The area with the largest decline was in the province of North Holland, which lost 13.4% over the last five years. Most of this decline occurred in the churches in the city of Amsterdam.
The GKN is shot through with heresies. It tolerates gay preachers, among many other departures from the truth of Scripture and from biblical ethics. We believe there is a connection between liberalism and membership loss.
REC News Exchange
The Reformed Ecumenical Council Meets in May
“Following Christ Today” is the theme for worship and celebration at the May 25-June 5 gathering of the. Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC). After an investigation of the GKN, the REC’s Interim Committee is recommending that the Assembly declare there are insufficient grounds to terminate GKN membership in the REC. Several smaller denominations (Orthodox Presbyterian Church among them) have withdrawn from the REC because of the liberalism rampant in the GKN, especially in the area of hermeneutics (Scripture interpretation). Objections have also been raised against the GKN’s membership in the World Council of Churches.
REC News Exchange