Church & World: April 1994

Calvin Bremer Declines Nomination for CRC General Secretary; Calvin Seminary Prof Tapped a Next Choice

GRAND RAPIDS, MI (February 16, 1994) RBPS – In a surprise development, the man selected for presentation to synod as the sole nominee for the Christian Reformed denomination’s top position of General Secretary has declined the nomination. Dr. Calvin Bremer will instead continue to serve as senior pastor of the 1077-member Bethel CRC in Lansing, Illinois, the largest congregation in Classis Illiana and the sixth largest congregation in the 300,320 member denomination.

According to the CRC Board of Trustees report on its December 1–3 meeting, “the chainnan of the Search Committee for General Secretary introduced the following nominees who were interviewed by the BOT: Dr. Calvin Bremer, Dr. David Engelhard, and Dr. John Van Regenmorter. Following discussion of the nominees and their interviews the BOT selected Dr. Calvin Bremer as the candidate for General Secretary. Contingent upon his acceptance of the nomination, his name will be presented as a single nominee to Synod 1994.”

Search committee chainnan Rev. Cal Bolt said the board dismissed the committee after Bremer was nominated, assuming that its work was done. “Of course, when Bremer declined the nomination, they had to select another. They called me back as chairman of the former committee but they made the decision, not the committee,” said Bolt. “We did not recommend one over the other, we just recommended the three names and they made the decision.” Board of Trustees chairman Rev. Allan Jongsma was out of town on business and unavailable for comment. Bolt said the Board of Trustees voted to send Engelhard’s name on to synod as its alternative choice.

Engelhard, currently professor of Old Testament at the denomination’s Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, said he expected to make his decision on Friday, February 18, and would be available for comment the following Tuesday. Bremer was ordained in 1972 and has served since 1978 as pastor of Bethel CRC. Ordained in 1971, Engelhard has never served a congregation as a pastor, instead working for 23 years as a professor at Calvin Seminary. Van Regenmorter was ordained in 1974 and has served three congregations in New Jersey, South Dakota and Colorado. For the last six years Van Regenmorter has pastored the 436-member First CRC in Denver.

Although loyal to the CRC, Bremer is generally regarded as a moderate conservative. His congregation includes Dr. Joel Nederhood, director of ministries at the CRC’s Back to God Hour broadcast ministry—one of the few prominent conservatives in the CRC’s top denominational leadership. “I suspect the description of Classis Illiana being conservative and Bethel being moderately conservative would be accurate in most people’s eyes,” said Bremer. “I suspect I am slightly to the right of center in the CRC.”

Bremer said he never sought nomination to the position ofGeneral Secretary. “I was nominated by someone, I did not initiate the application process,” said Bremer, noting that even he did not know who suggested his name to the search committee. Nevertheless, the decision to decline the nomination was not easy for him. “It was a difficult decision,” said Bremer. “Obviously there’s a lot of turmoil in the denomination and I would like to make a contribution to lessening the conflict, but under the ambiguity in the job description I felt I could not do so.”

According to Bremer, his reasons for declining nomination centered on questions about the job description for the position of General Secretary in relation to the position of Executive Director of Ministries. The General Secretary post is currently filled by Rev. Leonard Hofman, expected to retire this year. The Executive Director of Ministries post was established by Synod 1990 as pan of a general denominational restructuring and first filled in 1992 by Dr. Peter Borgdorff who will remain on after Hofman retires. The General Secretary is primarily responsible for matters relating to the churches and the Executive Director of Ministries is primarily responsible for matters relating to the denominational agencies, but some overlap between the positions still exists. In the same CRC Board of Trustees report announcing the Bremer nomination, the board indicated that “adjustments were made in the position descriptions in keeping with the recommendations of an ad hoc committee appointed to review the positions, particularly with a view to addressing areas of overlap.”

“It appears to me they’ve done a lot of work defining what they wanted the Executive Director of Ministries to do but didn’t spend a commensurate amount of time defining what they wanted the General Secretary to do,” said Bremer. “Given that ambiguity, there were a number of questions I posed at various times to interview committees and did not receive a satisfactory answer.”

“Part of that has to do with whether the General Secretary is proactive or reactive and do you want the General Secretary to represent solely the denomination or the interests of congregations within the denomination,” said Bremer. “Given what I know at this point, I simply felt that was not what the Lord is calling me to do at this point in time.”

While a surprise to many in the denomination, Bremer’s decision to decline the nomination was not entirely unexpected by the search committee. “The search committee asked the same questions that Cal Bremer did, we had the same concerns and raised them with the board,” said Bolt. “He has the right, of course, to decline a nomination, and in his position, seeing that he had these questions and seeing that he is a very effective pastor in the local church, I can understand why he made the decision the way he did.”

Engelhard’s nomination is not strictly in accord with the official position description for the office of General Secretary. Synod 1990 stated and both Synod 1991 and Synod 1993 reiterated that “the General Secretary shall…be an ordained minister who has served as a pastor in at least one of the congregations of the denomination” (Acts of Synod 1993, p. 354; cf. Acts 1991, p. 626; Agenda 1990, p. 359).

Engelhard is one of several professors at Calvin Seminary who, despite never serving in the pastorate, have been very involved in the life of their local congregations. Under Dutch Reformed polity, pastors who are not serving congregations may serve as ruling elders on their church consistories while retaining their ministerial credentials. Engelhard has served a number of terms as an elder and church clerk at Shawnee Park CRC in Grand Rapids; according to Bolt, he has also been to synod “probably more than anyone else” as an advisor from Calvin Seminary.

“That was discussed at length,” said Bolt. “While it probably does not meet the letter of the law, we felt that in light of his many years as an elder and as clerk of his consistory and as attender at synod, it clearly fell within the spirit of the rule.” Bolt also noted that Engelhard had served as interim pastor of a congregation for six months, although not officially called to the pastorate of the church.

Darrell Todd Maurina, Press Officer Reformed Believers Press Service