Church & World June 1996

No Former Synod Officers Delegated to Synod 1996

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (May 6, 1996) URNS – When Synod 1996 of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) convenes on June 10 to deal with the complete issues associated with women in office, homosexuality and other related matters, it won’t have an experienced chairman or set of officers. According to CRC General Secretary Dr. David Engelhard, Synod 1996 will be only the third synod in Christian Reformed history not to have any former officers as synodical delegates.

The last time a similar situation occurred was Synod 1943 during the middle of the Second World War; the only time before that was at the first CRC synod in 1865 (actually called a “general assembly” in the early years), when by definition there could not have been any former synodical officers.

While in theory any delegate is eligible for election to the synodical offices of president, vice-president, first clerk and second clerk, unwritten custom dictates that the president is almost always a former officer of synod and the same is usually true for the other officers as well. Last year, 90 of the 184 synodical delegates were first-time delegates to synod; while figures are incomplete for this year’s set of synodical delegates, somewhere between 79 and 93 delegates will be at synod for the first time. Of those who have returned the synodical questionnaire to date, Engelhard said that only four elders and 31 ministers have been delegated to more than two prior synods.

Darrell Todd Maurina, Press Officer United Reformed News Service

Reformed Church in America, Christian Reformed Top Executives Explore Closer Staff Cooperation

(May 4,1996) URNS – The two largest Dutch Reformed denominations in North America, the 316,000-member Reformed Church in America and the 292,000-member Christian Reformed Church in North America, held a first-ever joint meeting of their top denominational staff members to explore common areas of ministry and mission.

Hosted by the Reformed Church in America at Marble Collegiate Church on March 14 and moving the following day to the RCA offices at the Interchurch Center on Riverside Drive, the meeting brings together staff members from denominations which have been separated since 1857. The RCA is the oldest continuously-established Protestant denomination in North America, dating back to the foundation of the Collegiate Dutch Reformed Church in 1628 in New York City, then the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. Marble Collegiate is one of four congregations operating under the authority of the collegiate corporation. The CRC dates back to an 1857 split among the Dutch immigrant congregations of Holland, Michigan, when four of the nine congregations of Classis Holland seceded from the RCA.

According to a joint news release issued by the two denominations, “this meeting of the two denominations brought together staff who represented many areas of ministry, including world missions, church planting and evangelism, administration and finance, education and spiritual growth, radio and television ministries, ecumenical relations, and Christian stewardship.” “The participants explored the biblical framework for mission as it relates to gospel and culture, then met in ministry groups that focused on practical program strategies,” continued the joint news release. “A number of affirmations of common ministry emerged, including overseas and North American evangelism and church planting, the possibility of joint mission work in Russiaand Eastern Europe, and city ministry in the United States and Canada.”

A total of nine CRC staff and eleven RCA staff met for the two days of discussions, led by RCA General Secretary Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson and CRC Executive Director of Ministries Dr. Peter Borgdorff.

Darrell Todd Maurina Press Officer United Reformed News Service


Total of Christian Reformed Classes Allowing Women’s Ordination Reaches Thirteen

In the fall of 1995, six CRC classes – Grand Rapids East, Hackensack, Holland, Lake Erie, Pacific Northwest, and Toronto – voted to allow the ordination of women. (All but Pacific Northwest had a long history of support for women’s ordination). Tow additional classes – Chicago South and Huron – did the same in January. Five more classes – Alberta North, Florida, Muskegeon, Northern Illinois, and Rocky Mountain – followed suit in March or late February, making a total of 13 CRC classes allowing the ordination of women. When a classis votes to declare the word “male” in article 3a of the denominational Church Order to be “inoperative,” that action places the classis on record favoring the ordination of women ministers and evangelists, and allows the delegation of women elders and ministers to classis meetings.

Darrell Todd Maurina Press Officer United Reformed News Service

Lake Erie Overture Engine Shifts Into Overdrive

When the Christian Reformed synod mets this summer, nearly a sixth of the overtures before it will come from only one of its 46 classes. For the second year in a row, Classis Lake Erie has broken synodical records for submitting the most overtures to come out of any classis in a single year. Classis Lake Erie’s thirteen overtures to Synod 1996 cover a wide variety of topics, including women in office, terminating membership in the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council, reviewing the CRC’s abuse guidelines, creating a process to appeal decisions of denominational boards, and various structural matters affecting the governance and functioning of denominational boards and committees.

Darrell Todd Maurina Press Officer United Reformed News Service

Lake Erie Overtures Synod to Withdraw from North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council

Classis Lake Erie will overture this year’s Christian Reformed synod to withdraw from the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council, the inter-denominational fellowship of conservative Reformed and Presbyterian denominations in North America. The CRC was among the founders of NAPARC and is currently its largest member. “To prevent a bitter debate over expulsion from NAPARC, we believe Synod 1996 ought to terminate our membership in this council,” wrote the classis, citing a number of protests from the Orthodox Presbyterians and the Presbyterian Church in America against the CRC’s decision to allow the ordination of women.

Darrell Todd Maurina Press Officer United Reformed News Service

Christian Reformed Synod Upset by Biblical Justification of Homosexuality in Dutch Mother Church

LUNTEREN, The Netherlands (April 23, 1996) URNS -At the April 23, 1996 session of the general synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland-synodical; hereafter GKN), the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), the North American sister denomination of the GKN, threatened to break ties with the Dutch body because of long-standing differences of opinion regarding Bible interpretation and homosexuality.

The Dutch synod expressed both surprise and anger. In order to deal with the reprimand of its sister denomination, the synod recessed as quickly as possible to committee meetings, which in effect meant going into executive session, without the press, visitors, and other observers.

Last year the CRC,a denomination founded by Reformed immigrants from the Netherlands, decided, despite all kinds of criticism, not to break relations with the GKN. “But you must remember that the continuing and intensifying objections within the CRC concerning our relationship with the GKN do not indicate that the relation between our denominations has improved,” warned Dr. David Engelhard, general secretary of the CRC.

The address to the 1995 CRC synod by Rev. Richard S.E. Vissmga, synod president and representative of the GKN, simply added fuel to the fire. In his remarks, Vissinga explained that homosexual church members are fully accepted in his denomination. The CRC synod was not surprised, Engelhard claimed, “but what upset so many of us was Vissinga’s Biblical justification for accepting homosexual members.”

The GKN report on ecumenicity stated rather enthusiastically that the relationship with the CRC seemed to have improved. After all, the CRC had not broken relations, but merely decided that serious dialogue with the GKN was needed. In his remarks, however, Engelliard made it clear that this decision contained more of a threat than the Dutch leaders had perceived.

The general secretary of the CRC informed the Dutch synod that the 1996 CRC synod would be faced with nine overtures asking the CRC to suspend or break ties with the GKN. “The pressure to go our separate ways and to break ties as sister churches is becoming steadily more intense,” said Engelhard.

In his response to this development, Vissinga stated that he had no regret about his remarks. In his view, some of his predecessors who have addressed eRC synods have been Jess clear than he regarding the stand of the GKN. As a result of this past ambiguity, the idea had taken root in the CRC that the GKN neither condemned nor condoned homosexuality, when in reality the GKN has elevated the acceptance of homosexual church members to a matter of principle.

Vissinga believes that the final decision by the next CRe synod depends significantly on the message Engelhard and the two other delegates from the CRC take back home when they return to Grand Rapids. Engelhard’s address did not make Vissinga very optimistic.

Many GKN synodical delegates were pained by Engelhard’s words, because the sexual orientation of church members threatened once again to become the subject of discussion. Rev. Evert Overeem, chairman of the ecumenical committee, insisted that dialogue with the CRC concerning homosexuality must continue. “We must be prepared to talk about homosexuality in a theological discussion regarding how we must read the Bible,” he argued.

This summer the CRC is hosting the meetings of the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC) in Grand Rapids, of which the GKN is also a member. The membership of the GKN in the REC has also been under discussion for a long time.

During the 1992 meeting of the REC in Athens, the GKN was almost expelled from the ecumenical organization on account of its liberal view of homosexuality and Biblical authority. The Dutch delegation coming to the 1996 meeting has received assurance, however, that no proposal to oust the GKN will be coming to the floor.

The CRC synod will meet in Grand Rapids immediately after the REC meeting.

1996 Friesch Dagblad Distributed by United Reformed News Service [Translation from the Dutch courtesy of Dr. Nelson Kloosterman]