Sizeable Group Secedes From Sanborn CRC
ORANGE CITY, IOWA (October 4, 1994) RBPS – Amid much procedural confusion and charges of a lack of integrity, Classis of the Heartland has voted to affirm the work of its Interim Committee with regard to a secession from the denomination within its fourth-largest church.
A special classis meeting was called September 21, two days after a majority of officebearers in the Sanborn Christian Reformed Church had relinquished their trusteeship in the corporation of the Sanborn CRC. The elders and deacons had initially planned a congregational vote to lead a majority of the congregation out of the denomination, but canceled those plans amid legal concerns surrounding their local Articles of Incorporation, which state that the Sanborn CRC is “irrevocably” tied to the CRCNA.
The classis meeting stopped shorr of deposing the departing officebearers, although the Interim Committee had recommended that classis “acknowledge the resignation ofthose officebearers who voted to ‘cease affiliation with the CRCNA.’”
The new independent church in Sanborn held its organizational meetingon September 22. Of the 145 families on the membership rolls of the former CRC, 68 families and 12 singles and widows have signed on with the new church, which has been tentatively named the “Cornerstone Orthodox Reformed Church of Sanborn.” The congregation has voted to extend a call to Harry Zekveld, a 1993 graduate of Mid-America Reformed Seminary who had served the former CRC as stated supply since the summer of 1993. Dr. Edwin Kreykes, one of the elders spearheading the secession, says they’re excited about the future. “I think we have a group that is unified and committed to rediscovering what church is really all about,” said Kreykes. “Our services have been a real blessing. The people are happy and friendly, and we have great joy in knowing that we are at peace together.”
Excepted from Christian Renewal Al Siebring and Al Bezuyen, reporters
Classis Grand Rapids East of the Christian Reformed denomination expects homosexuality study committee to report to January classis meeting
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (September 20, 1994) RBPS – At the September 15 meeting of Classis Grand Rapids East, an otherwise ordinary request for extension of eligibility for call was granted for an apparently unique situation in the Christian Reformed denomination. Eastern Avenue CRC in Grand Rapids announced that Rev. Jim Lucas, a celibate gay CRC minister who since 1991 has headed the Grand Rapids chapter of the gay and lesbian support group AWARE, “requested that Eastern Avenue call him to a specialized ministry with AWARE.”
In a letter to classis, Elder Karen Helder and Elder Arie Leegwater, president and clerk of the Eastern Avenue consistory, noted that “in anticipation of this request, Eastern Avenue overtured classis in January of 1994 to establish a committee to study the appropriateness of various ministries to homosexual persons.”
“We have informed Jim that we wish to wait until the study committee’s report is received by Classis before requesting classical approval of a call to specialized ministry,” the letter continued. Since ministers without call must receive annual extensions of their eligibility for call, Eastern Avenue requested extension of Lucas’ ministerial credentials until September 1995. Classis Grand Rapids East’s homosexuality report is expected by December, in time for the January meeting.
The extension of eligibility for call was granted by a voice vote with no audible dissent and minimal discussion. Only Rev. Duane Keldermanof Neland Avenue CRC rose to speak on the subject: Kelderman expressed strong support for AWARE and said he wished Eastern Avenue had not waited to submit a request to call Lucas.
The CRC has a longstanding precedent of allowing its ministers to serve as chaplains, directors, professors, Christian school teachers, and in other staff positions. According to the Christian Reformed Church Order, “a minister of the Word may also serve the church in other work which relates directly to his calling, but only after the calling church has demonstrated to the satisfaction of classis, with the concurring advice of the synodical deputies, that said work is consistent with the calling of a minister of the Word.” Synod 1961 strongly urged—but did not require—classes to require applicants for chaplaincy positions to seek the approval of the denominational Chaplain Committee.
If all the required approvals are granted, Lucas could be called by Eastern Avenue to serve as chaplain for the organization as early as January, although Eastern Avenue could wait until next September without requesting another extension of eligibility for call.
AWARE has existed for over a decade but was not widely known until recent years. The initial chapter was organized in Toronto following the decision of the Christian Reformed synod to oppose a vote by the CRC’s mother church, the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland, to allow practicing homosexuals to become church members and officebearers.
According to a May 1994 Classis Toronto report on homosexuality, “AWARE (which stands for As We Are) provides a Christian fellowship for Christian Reformed and other gays and lesbians and their families and other supportive friends. AWARE recognizes that Christians hold a variety of views on questions related to homosexuality, and welcomes the participation of those holding different views and encourages dialogue.”
“Since AWARE includes some participants who live in committed homosexual relationships and others who are celibate, it may feel uncomfortable at fIrst to visit, but acceptance of homosexuals as people and fellow believers is not the same as expressing approval of homosexual behavior,” the report continues. “A Toronto chapter of AWARE meets monthly at First Christian Reformed Church in Toronto. Don’t be surprised if you meet someone you know there.”
Lucas said that AWARE now has three chapters: AWARE Toronto, AWARE London, and AWARE Grand Rapids. A fourth chapter in the western Canadian city of Edmonton closed due to the small number of people involved, and while there are small groups interested in other cities, no other city has a formal chapter.
Lucas’ work in Grand Rapids is somewhat different from that of the other chapters, none of which have paid staff.
“About a year ago we formed a nonprofit corporation; for that corporation we chose the name ‘As We Are, Inc,’” said Lucas. “‘As We Are’ ministry includes AWARE Grand Rapids, but does not include any of the other AWARE groups. I’m not technically serving as the chaplain for any of the other groups.”
One difference is that the “As We Are” corporate board is not exclusively Christian Reformed. “We started out being focused on the Christian Reformed Church, all the people who did the initial planning and brainstorming were Christian Reformed and all the people who initially came were Christian Reformed,” said Lucas. “As time went on we found people coming from various other denominations who were looking for support that was very intentionally Christian. They were saying, ‘We like what we see in AWARE, the emphasis on the Christian faith,’ and they asked, ‘Can we come too?’”
The “As We Are” board currently consists not only of Christian Reformed members, but also members of the Reformed Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), and United Methodist Church. Lucas said the largest contingent of non–CRC members were from Westminster Presbyterian Church in downtown Grand Rapids. “Westminster Presbyterian is an unusually gay-friendly church, so a lot of ex-CRC people have ended up going there,” said Lucas.
Since the “As We Are” organization is not exclusively Christian Reformed, it takes no official position on the 1973 report of the CRC on homosexuality. According to its mission statement, “As We Are, Inc., is a Christian organization whose mission is to provide faith-based support for gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons and to promote a positive response within the Christian community.”
“The church needs to be a safe place where we can have dialogue about this issue, and that’s basically the stance ‘As We Are’ has taken,” said Lucas. “We’re not an ex–gay ministry, we‘re not trying to change people who are gay; we take an accepting, non-judgmental approach to people who are gay and we promote a positive response within the Christian community rather than a condemning judgmental response.”
The “As We Are” ministry has continued to grow over the past year. Lucas was initially hired in January for ten hours per week on a part time basis, began working 15 hours per week in April, and since July has been working twenty hours per week. The Eastern Avenue letter to classis indicates that the organization hopes to move towards full-time employment.
“The kinds of things I do are the kinds of things chaplains typically do,” said Lucas. “My duties are mainly pastoral, individual counseling, pastoral care, providing spiritual leadership to the AWARE group in particular. I speak in adult education classes in churches, and of course some preaching although the preaching is not related to the ministry.”
Although AWARE Grand Rapids meets on the premises of Eastern Avenue CRC, it is not funded by or officially related to Eastern Avenue. “Our funding almost entirely comes from individuals who board members said might be sympathetic to the cause,” Lucas said.
In addition to preaching in area churches, Lucas’ outside work includes serving as a counselor for a homosexual support group meeting under the auspices of the Broene Counseling Center at Calvin College. The counseling work—which is not related to either AWARE or the “As We Are” corporation—is one of several support groups offered by Calvin to its students. During the first year, Lucas worked as a team leader with a regular staff member of the Broene Center. Due to the small size of the group, Lucas has been the solo leader of the group since 1993 and will be the solo leader again this year if enough students express interest for the group to be offered.
Much of Lucas’ future depends on the Classis Grand Rapids East study committee report. Chaired by Calvin College professor Dr. Hessel Bouma III, the committee also includes Calvin College professors Dr. James Bradley and Dr. David Holquist, Calvin Seminary professor Dr. Melvin Hugen, and Gladys VerHulst and Betty Zylstra. All are members of churches in Classis Grand Rapids East.
In its report to the May meeting of Classis Grand Rapids East, the committee indicated that it was reviewing the 1973 CRC synodical report on homosexuality, “concentrating particularly on biomedical and psychosocial developments in our understandings of sexual orientation, practice, and possible therapies, and on the hermeneutical and exegetical applications of Scripture which have arisen in the intervening two decades.” The committee indicated that it has communicated with similar committees in Classis Toronto and Classis Alberta North, as well as gays, family members of gays, and counselors who minister professionally to their needs. The report to the September meeting of classis indicated that most of its efforts are now focused on analyzing six current ministries or organizations in the Grand Rapids area which minister to gays: As We Are, Dignity, Evangelicals Concerned, Exodus, Metanoia, and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
Metanoia is an ex-gay ministry founded by CRC members and endorsed for financial support by the Christian Reformed synod which teaches that gays can and should change their orientation. Exodus is a national umbrella organization of ex-gay evangelical ministries, including Metanoia.
The other organizations are all progay: Dignity is the Roman Catholic pro-gay organization; Evangelicals Concerned was founded by former Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship staff worker Dr. Ralph Blair after his termination for pro-gay views; PFLAG primarily works among family members of gays.
“I felt very supported, affirmed; to me it looks like God is blessing my ministry and the church is affirming it,” Lucas said. “The real test will co me next year; I don’ t know what the committee is going to come up with and I don’t know how classis will respond to that. The best case scenario is that the committee comes up with parameters for ministry that my ministry does fall within.”
Darrell Maurina, Press Officer Reformed Believers Press Service
We call the attention of our readers to the quote from Lucas which states: “We’re not trying to change people who are gay; we take an accepting, non-judgmental approach to people who are gay and promote a positive response within the Christian community rather than a condemning judgmental response.” This position on homosexuality is clearly contrary to the stand taken by the Christian Reformed Church and the specific teaching ofRomans 1:24, I Cor. 6:9 and other related passages! The church of Jesus Christ is called upon to “judge” as well as to show compassion. And the compassion that is to be shown must all be directed to obedience to God’s Word and conformity to His will.
The EditorsIndependent Reformed Church Begins in Orange City, Iowa Orange City, Iowa (October 14, 1994) RPBS – Less than a month after its first experience with a split from the Christian Reformed denomination, Classis of the Heartland has lost part of a second congregation in a similar secession. This time, the separation involves the oldest and largest congregation in the classis. First CRC of Orange City, one of the oldest churches in the denomination, was first organized in 1871 and counted 744 members before the split. On October 5, council members in the church were presented with a motion that they “relinquish [their] position as trustees [in the local church], while not forsaking [their] offices of minister, elder and deacon.” When the motion was defeated, six members of the council, including the pastor resigned their trusteeship and left the meeting. The next morning, the seceding group sent a letter to all members of the congregation, inviting them to join a reorganizing church under the leadership of the departing officebearers. Close to fifty of the church’s 184 families attended the inaugural services on October 9. The seceding council members cited numerous reasons for their decision, grounded primarily in dissatisfaction with doctrinal directions of the denomination. “The denomination is no longer united in its confession of the teachings of the Bible as summarized in the Reformed Confessions… The authority of the Word of God… has been increasingly compromised by synodical decisions and by unbiblical practices in many of our sister churches,” wrote the seceders. The letter then cites numerous examples, including references to women in office, theistic evolution and homosexuality. The split is not exclusively tied to denominational issues, but rather is the culmination of a long and sometimes bitter battle over positions the local church has taken in response to those issues. The conflict has centered on the pastor, Rev. Ralph Pontier, and his sometimes vocal opposition to denominational trends.