By the time these lines are read, the CRC Synod should be history. At the time of this writing, it is still several weeks away. The issues will have been decided by the time this Standard Bearer is sent out. One wonders what those decisions will be. Likely, on some of the more controversial issues, these will be returned to the hands of a study committee. Some of the issues are reported in the June 1978 issue ofOutlook. Rev. Peter De Jong reports. On dancing:
Among the items that concern the college and seminary, what seems likely to catch the most attention is the follow-up of last year’s announced board decision to actively promote dancing on campus. Last year’s synod turned down a motion to disapprove of that policy but directed that reactions to it be sent to the board. The board now reports that it has received hundreds of reactions, at least 85% of them critical, but is still of a mind to follow the announced course and that it expects the synod to support it.
The opposition against social dancing is evident. Yet the Board of Calvin College and Seminary is correct: the Synod’s decisions in 1966 on movie attendance and 1971 in answer to an overture of Classis Hamilton on dancing give no alternative to Synod but to approve. To deny the request would be to contradict earlier decisions; to approve might stir up a hornets’ nest. We await with curiosity to see how the Synod extricates itself from this problem.
Another controversial subject at the Synod will be that on liturgy. A standing committee has been grinding out a series of new forms for use in the churches. These forms were made optional within the churches. Now, it seems, the committee is concerned that there is too great diversity among the churches. It proposes that Synod try to provide limits on the variations of forms which may be used. This might create problems for those most conservative congregations who still want to use the old and tried forms. The Outlook states:
Now the committee, fearful that this policy (of using various forms) has created “anarchy and sheer congregationalism” determines that this freedom of the churches must be reined in. It “believes that it is time for the synod to begin to set . . . limits”. It proposes to set up an order for the Lord’s Supper in which it indicates what words must be used and at what points and to what degree they may be altered. This order may also be the order for other services than those at which the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. Included as an option in it is what it calls “the Passing of the Peace.” By this the Committee means Paul’s “holy kiss” for which it would substitute a handshake and words such as “The peace of the Lord be always with you”. The Report goes on to indicate how the three current forms for the Lord’s Supper may be divided up and used piecemeal in different parts of the service. The net impression the reader. gains from the whole business is that it is extremely and needlessly complex and arbitrarily cuts up our too many existing forms.
. . .To help guide the churches in the confusion it is creating, the Committee proposes that the Synod approve a loose-leaf Service Book which can be constantly changed!
Churches are asked to bring to the Committee their reactions to the new marriage form which was approved for trial last year, before September 1, 1978. That form in its capitulation to the modern liberation fad in the vows pointedly refused to recognize the God-given distinction between the role of man and woman in marriage and even tastelessly presumed to instruct God in the prayer how He ought to counsel the partners when they would become bored with each other!
One wonders about some of the doctrine expressed in the new forms found in the report. Where does the Bible ever intimate that the Christian “may joyfully bear the cross of Christ”. We have crosses to bear, but never bear Christ’s unique cross! Is this an unintentional slip or a deliberate heresy?
Again, although the Bible instructs us to confess our sins to the Lord and to one another as we sin against him or her, where does it ever instruct us to confess them to “the whole communion of saints in heaven and earth”? We should not say such things if we do not mean them. If we include such material in our liturgy just because it sounds grandiloquent, are we not in danger of turning the whole business into hypocrisy?
The article continues by pointing out that there are various reports which are concerned with the position of the minister within the CRC. There have been increasing problems with ministers who leave the ministry as well as problems related to ministers who begin labors not very related to the ministry of the Word. One wonders if this whole matter has gone much too far already for the Synod ever to correct this as it should. The report says:
The Minister’s Information Service notes “that there is an increasing concern about the question of being released from the office of the ministry and from the ordination vows. Would it therefore be wise to establish a period of probation prior to ordination? Or to remove the implication of permanency attached to the ordination vows”?
. . . Increasingly ministers of our churches are being placed in roles which are quite different from the ordinate pastorate. When questions about how far a minister’s ordination might be stretched to cover such duties arose two years ago, a committee was appointed to study the matter. Its report proposes that the description of the minister’s task as “spiritual in character and directly related to the ministerial calling” be abandoned.
It proposes a series of changes in Church Order articles 11-14 to deal with these matters. Some of these details seem to have some merit. What I find somewhat disturbing is the Committee’s baldly stated assumption “that most stipulations governing the offices . . . are neither sacred nor biblically enjoined. To put it another way, the nature and extent of ecclesiastical office is what the church says it is”. Although we all recognize that the Bible does not give us detailed regulations to cover every area of the churches’ life, doesn’t such a sweeping assumption as this contradict the principle that Christ governs His church by His Word and Spirit? In a variety of matters one senses that we pay less and less attention to anything the Bible says, but isn’t it somewhat startling to see this Committee baldly claim such independence of Scripture as a basic church principle?
Increasingly, too, the CRC is becoming involved in the “social” issues of the day. This hardly conforms to the old Reformed principle that the ecclesiastical gatherings treat only ecclesiastical matters. Many rejoice that finally the church is becoming involved in this world’s problems. However, when reading the report in the Outlook one is struck not only by the extent to which our “mother” church has been doing this, but also by the absolute nonsense in which they have involved themselves. Listen to this:
Last year the Race Committee (SCORR), burdened with an impossibly broad mandate (to “eliminate racism, both causes and effects . . . through the world . . .”) and no assigned job, brought in a somewhat dispirited report. The Synod, however, continued it and raised its quota which had been cut the previous year. . . .
The Committee’s report includes the 6-page “Koinonia Declaration” of a group of white Afrikaners who are objecting to some of their South African government’s policies. The Race Committee wants our Synod to endorse this declaration which condemns both Black as well as White nationalism. “Nor are we convinced that both White and Black nationalist movements ought to be condemned with equal force, as the Declaration seems to do.”
Of its $114,000 budget, $50,000 is for salaries and operating expenses and the rest is given to other agencies (and minority scholarships). How can giving special “minority scholarships,” restricted to certain races eliminate race discrimination? (Or, on “World Hunger”): A Task Force on World Hunger” faces us with 70 pages of lengthy discussion on poverty in the world, some common sense recommendations that we waste and spend too much and ought to be more saving and give more help to the needy. Not content, however, with such practical and generally acceptable advice, it would have us take on the job of restructuring the world! It is confident that it will meet with opposition as it criticizes our “recreational vehicles and Cadillacs” and “Florida vacations”; it proposes that we give one percent of our income to a world hunger program, and vastly expand the work of the CRWRC. Since its aim to restructure the world system, “structural or systematic change both in North America and worldwide,” is a bit ambitious even for that agency, it suggests that the Synod continue the work of this Committee to take on that problem. Without underestimating the competence of our modest “task force” to handle such an undertaking, don’t we have to face the question whether the Lord has assigned this job to our churches?
(Or, on “Social Justice”): A Committee to consider establishing a denominational “standing committee for social justice” first considers objections that this is going beyond the proper province of the church, then finds precedents we have established for a move in this direction and finally recommends establishing such committees on all church levels.
And there comes again a report from a third study committee concerning women in office.
We observe that it, in what may prove to be the most controversial item of the Synod’s business, would lead us to the same conclusion that the Bible tells us nothing clearly and that the church is free to do as it pleases. It may be worth recalling that this is the last of three reports that in one way or another have been dealing with this matter. In 1973 an go-page report went through the Bible citing the many examples of the prominent places given women in order to prove their equality and dismissed anything the Bible taught about their not being put in the same offices as men as the expression of the male-dominated ancient culture.
In 1975 another committee first plainly exposed the fallacious reasoning of the earlier report and called attention to New Testament passages which showed that special offices were not given to women. Then it observed that if these passages were taken literally they would forbid a few things which our churches are already doing. “Therefore” the Committee sought and found excuses which it argued made such Bible teachings no longer applicable. By this curious process the Committee reached the same conclusion that the Bible didn’t oppose the ordination of Women. The Synod of 1975 appointed a new committee which was to study the way in which the Bible should be understood to apply to such matters.
This Committee found itself sharply divided, four of the professors (from Calvin College and Seminary) on one side, three others, two from Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi and one from Reformed Bible College) on the other. In that situation the Committee, instead of presenting two reports in which the positions of each group could be clearly stated and argued, was prevailed upon to stay together and attempt to bring one report which probably satisfies no one. Although the differing conclusions are indicated at the end, the argumentation, as Professor Van Groningen, himself a committee member, pointed out in last month’s Outlook, is confusing and far from satisfactory in many ways.
. . . As one moves through it, however, he notices an emphasis emerging that stresses the way biblical material was culturally conditioned. . . . “Care should be taken not to transfer such applications directly to the different situations obtaining today.”
Again, the question may be considered whether a given word in Scripture, which appears to be the last word the canon speaks on the subject, is possibly open to the future for further development in connection with the coming of God’s kingdom.” Not surprisingly, the majority of the Committee, seeking for reasons or excuses to defend the modern movement to remove all distinctions between men and women in the church, as it refers to some selected Scripture passages, ignoring many others, laboring especially to dispute Paul’s clear injunctions in
arrives at the desired conclusion that “the biblical evidence for allowing or denying women admission to the office of elder and minister as presently understood is not clear”. It would now open the office of deacon to women, but would not yet admit them to become ministers or elders especially since “most of our churches do not seem to be ready at this time for women elders and women pastors.”
Two of the minority, although dissuaded from bringing their own separate report differ from the majority’s conclusion. They find some evidence in the Bible for permitting women deacons.
and would permit their ordination to that office, “provided that their work is distinguished from that of the elders.” They “find no evidence in the Bible for opening the offices of elder and minister to women” and see the Apostle Paul
stating “that a woman is not to have authority over a man”. They would have the Synod declare that “the offices of elder and minister not be opened to women.”
Striking, that though these two reports disagree on the ordination of women into the offices of elder and minister, both agree that they may serve as deacons. In that connection, I recall a lecture given to supporters of “women in office” a few years ago in which the speaker exactly advocated this approach: first get women into the office of deacon—then work for elder, and finally for minister. So, whether the CRC takes committee “A” or committee “B” report, the end result will be the same.
I guess that I’m just happy that I need only serve in our little Synod so that I won’t have to become involved in all of those “momentous decisions” which the CRC Synod faces.