Church & World March 1995

Classis llliana Overtures CRC Synod to Disenfranchise Classis Grand Rapids East for Ecclesiastical Disobedience

MUNSTER, IN (January 17, 1995) RBPS – If the Christian Reformed churches of the southeast Chicago suburbs have their way, an entire classis of the Christian Reformed denomination will see its delegates banned from voting at synod due to its support for at least six congregations which have elected women elders despite continued synodical prohibition of the practice.

“I had to listen last year at synod to the delegates from Classis Grand Rapids East talk ad nauseam on this issue,” said Rev. Gerrit Stoutmeyer, pastor of Bethany Christian Reformed Church of South Holland, Illinois. “They were poor losers, if we can talk about losing on a thing like this.”

Stoutmeyer came out swinging after Classis Grand Rapids East voted “in principle” on July 21 to adopt a resolution that “classis permit its individual churches the freedom to decide whether or not the word ‘male’ in Article 3a of the Church Order is operative in their particular settings.” Following that decision, Stoutmeyer’s church successfully overtured Classis llliana to send a letter to Classis Grand Rapids East urging them to revise their decision.

Classis Illiana’s letter was only one of a number of complaints by churches, classes, and individuals. Responding to a firestorm of criticism, on September 15 Classis Grand Rapids East revised its earlier decision and instead declared that “recognizing synod’s legal right to insist on the retention of the word ‘male’ in Church Order Article 3a, [classis] nevertheless acknowledges its congregations’ moral right of conscientious objection (with any attendant consequences) to that insistence with reo spect to the office of elder.”

This time, Stoutmeyer’s church came to Classis Illiana with a blunt proposal. “In response to the letter from the Stated Clerk of Classis Grand Rapids East…addressed to Classis Illiana as a response to our letter of concern,” Bethany CRC, South Holland “urged Classis Illiana in session January 16, 1995 to overture the synod of the CRC to convene June 13, 1995, to disenfranchise the delegates of Classis Grand Rapids East at this year’s synod.”

In its grounds for the overture, Bethany CRC, South Holland cited both previous decisions of Classis Grand Rapids East, stating that the fIrst decision “is contrary to the decisions ofthe Synod of 1994 and undercuts the authority of Synod” and the second “is again contrary to the settled and binding character of both our Church Order and the decisions of synod.”

Bethany South Holland closed with a strong warning. “This officially approved ‘ecclesiastical disobedience’ threatens our unity as a denomination and our communal life together as a church of Jesus Christ,” the church stated.

Calvin Seminary professor Dr. Henry De Moor came in for special criticism by Stoutmeyer as the chairman of the Classis Grand Rapids East study committee whose report was largely adopted by the September 15 classis. “We spent a lot of time today selecting synodical delegates, and I hope we can have ‘the perfect synodical delegate,’” said Stoutmeyer, alluding to a recent article with that title written by De Moor in The Banner, the Christian Reformed denominational weekly.

“I think the author of that article needs to write his next article on the perfect synodical advisor. That man is the professor of church polity at our seminary and he’s the author of the rebellious character of the Grand Rapids East decision,” said Stoutmeyer. “If we aren’t going to do something, we might as well not send delegates to synod at all and just stay home here in Classis Illiana and do our own thing.”

Stoutmeyer emphasized that he was particularly offended by prominent advocates of denominational unity disobeying synod when one of its decisions went against their wishes. “This has nothing to do with women in office,” said Stoutmeyer. “This has to do with Church Order and obedience to denominational decisions.”

No Classis Illiana delegates came to the defense of Classis Grand Rapids East’s actions. The only concerns raised were whether Stoutmeyer’s overture was premature.

“I endorse the intent of applying discipline to those who are obviously no of a mind to respect the settled and binding decisions of synod,” said Rev. Cal Bremer, pastor of Bethel CRC in Lansing, Illinois. “It seems to me that we maybe should exhort them to a different step before disenfranchising them. This allows them to repent and change their decision before disenfranchising them.” When put to a vote, the overture passed and will be sent on to synod.

De Moor was surprised to learn of the Classis Illiana decision, whose only precedent in Dutch Reformed history was a decision by the 1994 General Synod of the Reformed Church in America not to seat delegates from two classes which refused to force member churches to pay denominational quotas.

“People are entitled to say what they want and classes are entitled to send overtures, and I’m not going to comment on fairly personal matters which were said about me at a classis where I was not present,” said De Moor.

However, De Moor expressed concern that Classis Illiana was acting on the basis of unfair criticism. “To say I am the author of the report is hardly fair; I am the chairman of the committee and there is a difference,” said De Moor. “I don’t apologize for being the chairman of the committee, I don’t apologize for its report, and I don’t apologize for the September 15 decision of class is. I think it was a good decision.”

According to De Moor, the September and July decisions are “radically different.”

“For some reason people are not willing to understand that Classis Grand Rapids East adopted something quite different in September than they adopted in July,” said De Moor. “I don’t believe the decision of Classis Grand Rapids East can be characterized as ecclesiastical disobedience.”

De Moor said churches should pay close attention to what happens at the next meeting of Classis Grand Rapids East. “It would be kind of people, if not required of them, if they are going to say things about other people, to await what they will say at the January meeting.”

Darrell Todd Maurina, Press Officer

Tie Vote Kills One Overture, but Second Overture Passes Urging Immediate Ratification of Women in Office

ORLAND PARK, IL RBPS – Following extensive debate, on January 17 Classis Chicago South rejected an eleven page overture from Hope CRC in Oak Forest asking synod to allow all churches in the denomination to have women ministers and elders beginning immediately, and instead adopted a one page overture from Hessel Park CRC in Champaign which also called for immediate ratification of women in office.

The Christian Reformed denomination has normally understood that changes in the Church Order must be ratified by a subsequent synod, but a number of recent overtures have argued that synod can forego the two year process and ratify the original 1990 proposal which was voted down in 1992, resurrected in 1993, and voted down again in 1994. Each overture cites different and often highly technical grounds, but most argue that since synod has been debating women in office for over 25 years, it has had sufficient time to debate the issue and its Church Order revisions on women in office therefore do not require ratification by a subsequent synod.

Length was by no means the only difference between the Hope and Hessel Park overtures. The grounds for the Hessel Park overture repeated familiar arguments that “Synod 1994 inappropriately imposed on all the churches an official exegesis of several biblical passages as the centerpiece of its decision not to ratify the proposed Church Order change,” advocating local option on the grounds that allowing but not requiring women elders did not bind the conscience of either side of the debate.

The Hope overture, however, supported its ratification request with grounds using much stronger language. When originally submitted to the September meeting of Classis Chicago South, the overture said the principles of Scripture used to oppose women in office were “proof-text” methods arising out of Arminianism and fundamentalism rather than out of the Reformed faith.

According to the original overture, giving in on the women in office issue would involve acquiescing to Arminian proof-texting methods of Scripture interpretation, resisting grace, limiting responsiveness, relying on our own righteousness, suppressing the mind of Christ, and using the same methods of Scripture interpretation used by the Judaizing heretics of (he early church to require circumcision of new converts.

“I have a lot of respect for people who differ with me on this issue, but when someone is willing to split the church over this issue, that in my view is very similar to circumcision,” said Dr. Marvin Hoogland, chairman of a Hope CRC committee on women in office.

“Those churches which separate from the Christian Reformed Church because of women in office, that is circumcision,” said Hoogland. “When we take something limited and finite and turn it into an absolute, that’s what we call idolatry. Those people who are for women in office, and those people who are opposed to women in office, but see the possibility of living together, have more faith in common than those people on either extreme who say we can’t live with each other. The best we do is polluted with sin and only a small beginning of obedience to the Scriptures.”

Much of the strongest language was removed by an advisory committee which was appointed by classis in September and reported back to the January meeting. According to the committee majority, the overture was revised for reasons of clarity and “to eliminate the harsh edge found in some statements, thereby showing a pastoral regard for all members of the CRC regardless of their position on this issue.” The comparison between circumcision and opposition to women in office remained, however—and prompted more than a few protests in later debate.

A minority report submitted by classical stated clerk Rev. Henry Vanden Heuvel advised classis not to accede to the overture at all, arguing that the view of Scripture, grace, righteousness, and mind of Christ cited in the Hope CRC overture were wrong.

“It suggests that an appeal to specific statements and commands in Scripture is mere proof-texting and works righteousness,” said Vanden Heuvel’s minority report. “However, the Bible is full of passages that give us instructions in what we must do, and we should follow those instructions; not, of course, in order to earn God’s favor, but in order to honor and obey our heavenly Father who has already accepted us in grace.”

Hoogland opened the discussion at classis with an extensive summary of the intent behind the overture. “We are convinced out of 25 years of study on women in office that the Word of God compels us to do this; this is what the grace of God means to us,” said Hoogland, who noted that Hope CRC was only one of “fifteen to twenty” CRC congregations which have ordained women elders.

“Is the Christian Reformed Church’s understanding of obedience to God and the gospel of grace big enough for us and all these churches, or is your view too narrow to include us?” asked Hoogland. “We’re not going to convince you, you’re not going to convince us. We want to be part of the covenant union of the Christian Reformed Church. Do you want us?”

Hoogland also said the Hope CRC overture had been misunderstood. According to Hoogland, Hope CRC never meant to say that anyone who opposes women in office is Arminian, that the Bible doesn’t give answers on how to live, or that “somehow Hope Church just wants some vague principles and does not want the very words of Scripture.”

Hoogland’s speech was strongly opposed by Rev. David Feddes, well known to many CRC members through his role as Minister of English Broadcasting and Listener Contact for the CRC’s official radio and TV ministry, the Back to God Hour.

“Maybe the strategy employed is that the best defense is a good offense,” said Feddes.

“If the intent is not to label those who oppose women in office as proof-texters, legalists, members of the circumcision party, what is?” asked Feddes, who reminded delegates that they needed to make their decision based on the words of the overture rather than Hoogland’s oral explanation of the intent behind the words. “J could endorse most of Marv’s comments from this podium, but I think the overture is very bad,” said Feddes.

Feddes was not the only speaker to remind delegates to address the actual words of the overture. On several occasions, Hoogland reminded delegates that some items they were criticizing had been removed from the overture by the advisory committee.

However, the actual words of the overture also came in for criticism. “Because one uses specific texts does not mean one is unreformed,” said Rev. Al Machiela, pastor of Immanuel CRC in Burbank. “Church office and circumcision are not in the same ball park; if you honestly believe it is a central issue; please demand that everyone comply. If not, stop making a big deal about it.”

Rev. Tony Van Zanten, pastor of Roseland Christian Ministries Center in Chicago, responded by emphasizing the importance of the overture’s parallel between circumcision and women in office. Van Zanten said the Christian Reformed synod was in a similar position to that faced by the early church in Acts 15 when deciding whether new Christian converts must be circumcised according to Old Testament mandates. “In spite of those Scripture texts, the church came to see, guided by the Spirit, that circumcision was no longer necessary and would in fact get in the way,” said Van Zanten. “I saw this as a biblically-based study of what burdens we want to place on people.”

While many objections to the overture did not convince the delegates, Vanden Heuvel said one sentence would make the classis “become a laughingstock at synod” and persuaded classis to amend it.

Vanden Reuvel took strong exception to a statement in the overture that “we must remember that what is recorded in Acts 15 is not simply a dictum given by one Christian to another (despite the exalted position of that person) as with Paul to Timothy.”

“What the authors of this statement are saying is that First Timothy is just one Christian writing to another Christian. This is the Word of God. We believe that, I think,” said VandenHeuvel.

“Don’t these people in Chicago South believe in the inspiration of Scripture? I don’t want this going to synod over my signature,” said Vanden Heuvel. “When we’ve come to the point where we are saying Paul writes to Timothy just as one Christian talking to another, then I’m not in the same church as you people.”

The advisory committee majority, while affirming belief in the inspiration of Scripture and insisting that Vanden Heuvel had misunderstood their intent, agreed to allow the deletion of the offending part of the sentence.

After some additional debate, the classical vote on the revised Hope CRC overture resulted in a tie. Vanden Heuvel read classical rules of procedure stating that in the case of a tie the chairman may break the tie by voting, but if he chooses not to vote the motion under discussion fails. As chairman of classis, Rev. Gary Hutt chose not to vote.

Later in the day, Rev. Jack Reiffer presented Hessel Park CRC’s overture that Synod 1995 ratify the women in office decision originally proposed in 1990. “We really make the same effort as the Hope overture; my understanding is that the Hope overture tried to meet the requirement of new grounds by going in a different direction,” said Reiffer.

Following a brief debate, the Hessel Park overture passed by a 19 to 11 vote.

Darrell Todd Maurina, Press Officer Reformed Believers Press Service

Classis Chicago South Still Lists Woman Expounder as Available to Fill Christian Reformed Pulpits

ORLAND PARK, IL RBPS – Classis Chicago South turned down an effort by its stated clerk, Rev. Henry Vanden Heuvel, to remove a woman from a list of persons available to fill pulpits in Classis Chicago South.

At the previous classis meeting in September, Hope CRC in Oak Forest asked class is to “add the name of Betty Vander Laan to the list of people who are authorized to expound in Classis Chicago South.” Classis agreed and added her to an otherwise all-male list, appending the word “expounder” in parentheses. The decision made Vander Laan the only woman outside Classis Lake Erie officially authorized by a classis to bring messages from Christian Reformed pulpits.

Vander Laan is currently a seminary student serving as interim pastor of Loop Christian Ministries in Chicago.

“My point certainly is not against Betty Vander Laan, my point is we may not go contrary to the Church Order,” said Vanden Heuvel. “We have to live by the Church Order; if we don’t, we have nothing to hold us together as to the policies of the church.”

Vanden Heuvel also pointed out that Synod 1995 will be receiving a study committee report which unanimously argues that a disputed 1992 decision on expounding did not allow women to fill Christian Reformed pulpits, noting that two of the study committee members were supportive of women in office but still agreed that under the current Church Order, women cannot fill CRC pulpits.

After confirming that Vanden Heuvel was reading a report which had not yet been adopted, Vander Laan’s pastor, Rev. Bill Lenters, urged class is to delay action until synod acted on the study committee report. Others objected that the request had come on the credentials of Vanden Heuvel’s church and was not printed in the agenda for other churches to see prior to class is. The request never came to a vote on its merits, losing on a procedural motion to permit discussion of an item which was not printed in the agenda.

Darrell Todd Maurina, Press Officer Reformed Believers Press Service

WASHINGTON D.C. – The Media Research Center, based in Alexandria, VA., has released its 1994–95 Parents’ Guide to Prime Time Television. The guide reviews all major program offerings from ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX in the 8:00 to 11:00 p.m. time slot and offers advice to parents in a convenient format. Parents will want to obtain a second opinion, and reviews of past programs are no proof of future trends, but the useful guide ($7.95) is available.

FLORENCE, Ky. (EP) – Creation Science Milestones Will now be known by the name of its seminar and radio program Answers in Genesis “We think Answers m Genesis is a much more deceptive title,” explained founder Ken Ham “Many people were under the false impression that we are simply engaged in a scientific debate with evolutionists, when our primary purpose is really to support the church and equip it to defend the book of Genesis, the most attacked book of the Bible.”

TOKYO, Japan (EP) – The Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, the relief arm of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, reported that at least five churches were destroyed or seriously damaged, with many others reporting damage to contents.

Lake Michigan Regional Fellowship Holds Fifth Meeting; Discusses State of Alliance of Reformed Churches

HUDSONVILLE, MI RBPS – While many classes of the Christian Reformed denomination devoted their time to procedural wrangling and debates over highly divisive issues, the West Michigan congregations of the Alliance of Reformed Churches met for a subdued session with less than three hours of business.

On Saturday, January 21, delegates from fourteen churches convened at Cornerstone Church in the Grand Rapids suburb of Hudsonville to discuss business of the fellowship. Lynwood CRC (Independent) from Illinois and all but one of the fourteen independent Reformed congregations in West Michigan were represented, but the two most distant member churches, Delavan Orthodox Reformed Church in Wisconsin and Messiah’s Congregation of Brooklyn were absent.

The absence of some congregations prompted an overture from Cornerstone Church to “recommend the member churches collect a free-will offering to be deposited in the Regional Fellowship Fund.”

According to the overture, “the main intent of this fund is to defray the cost of sending delegates to Lake Michigan Fellowship meetings” on the grounds that “some smaller churches cannot afford to send delegates. We, as a Fellowship, should endeavor to have 100 percent representation at our meetings.”

Elder Pres Hopkins, who serves both as recording clerk of the Lake Michigan Regional Fellowship and as church clerk of Cornerstone Church, said his church council wanted to avoid even the appearance of creating a quota system. “There was a great deal of discussion about this word ‘recommend,’” said Hopkins. “There is nothing absolute about this, but there is a definite need.”

Rev. Paul Murphy, pastor of Dutton Independent Reformed Church, expressed concern about possible spiraling expense. “We’re looking at an open figure because we don’t know who would want to attend,” said Murphy, noting that Alliance churches in Iowa, Florida, Oregon, and New Jersey had expressed varying degrees of interest in joining the Lake Michigan Regional Fellowship.

Currently, nearly all of the independent congregations in the Alliance are concentrated in southern Ontario, clustered around Lake Michigan, or spread through western Canada. Apart from West Michigan, no other area south of the Canadian border has a high enough concentration of Alliance churches to create a regional fellowship.

Elder Jack Haagsman from Beverly CRC (Independent) in Wyoming answered concerns about expense by saying that the fund was intended only to be used by churches which actually needed help, not by all churches. “This is mostly for those who cannot afford this and which do not have funds in reserve,” said Haagsman.

After further discussion, the Lake Michigan Regional Fellowship adopted the Cornerstone Church overture and appointed Henry Nuiver to serve as treasurer for the regional fellowship.

Most of the meeting, however, focused not on action but on discussion of the 1994 Alliance meeting. Many delegates expressed dissatisfaction with perceived lack of direction in ARC, and the consistory of the Independent Reformed Church of Cutlerville presented a two page critique of the Alliance.

“I felt sometimes like I was on a battleground,” said Hopkins. “One group wanted to do ecumenical work, another group wanted to federate, and because of that I don’t think we accomplished a whole lot.”

Elder Pete Elzinga, chairman of the 1994 Alliance, said the disagreements were more over how to relate than whether the churches should relate to each other. “I believe everyone wants to have fellowship with each other, but people want different levels of fellowship and consequently there was a lot of bickering back and forth one to another,” said Elzinga.

A number of churches expressed a strong desire to put the brakes on a drive toward federation until there has been more time to discuss what it means to federate.

“Now is the time to talk, not to rush to do something,” said Murphy. “We all came out of something and we need to be very cautious about getting into something again.”

Rev. Duane Vedders of Immanuel Fellowship Church in Kalamazoo was even stronger in his criticism of the drive toward federation. “We don’t want to join some kind of federation with you all and then have to take twenty years fixing the problems; let’s get the problems worked out in advance,” said Vedders. “We need to forget about our tradition. We need to go article by article through that church order and ask ourselves, what does Scripture say on this subject, and if Scripture is silent how can we bind the consciences of our brethren?” Since no motions were made, the discussion ended without any formal action by the Fellowship either supporting or opposing trends within the Alliance.

In other business, the fellowship appointed Haagsman to chair a publication board to produce a bimonthly periodical for the United States independent churches. Shortly before adjournment, the fellowship made a decision which may guarantee that nobody ever again leaves meetings before they adjourn. Rev. Wybren Oord of Faith Independent Reformed Church in Borculo was unanimously elected chairman of the next meeting on October 14, despite—or perhaps because of—his decision to leave the meeting early.

Darrell Todd Maurina, Press Officer Reformed Believers Press Service

SALEM, Ore. (EP) – A law permitting physician-assisted suicide has been put on hold in Oregon by a judge who believes the constitutionality of the measure needs to be determined. The law was a voter initiative approved by a 51 percent vote in the November election Under the law, any adult Oregan resident who is believed to be six months or less away from death could ask a physician to prescribe a fatal dosage of drugs. If the doctor agrees, a 15-day waiting period begins. The doctor is expected to determine that the patient understands their condition and medical options, is acting voluntarily, and is capable of making health care decisions. A consulting physician is required to verify the first doctor’s findings.

A death caused by a lethal dose of drugs prescribed in this manner would be recorded as a “drug overdose, legally prescribed” rather than a suicide.

“Surely the first assisted suicide law in this country deserves a considered, thoughtful constitutional analysis,” said US District Judge Michael Hogan, who added that he hoped to resolve the matter as soon as possible.

James Bopp, attorney for the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), was pleased with the judge’s decision. “The court recognized the we have substantial constitutional claims and serious concerns about patients committing suicide because of depression or undue influence,” he explained.

The NRLC has sued to halt Implementation of the lawThe lawsuit claims that the measure gives health care proViders and relatives an incentive to encourage sick relatives to commit suicide. The suit also includes claims by nursing home operators who say the law infringes on their religious rights by requiring them to permit residents to kill themselves.

Similar measures have been defeated in recent years in California and Washington State. The Oregon law is the first in the world to decriminalize physician-assisted suicide. Though the Netherlands has accepted euthanasia for nearly two decades, the nation’s law enforcers merely ignore laws against the practice which remains on the books.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (EP) – The American Medical Association (AMA) reversed a 13 year-old policy in December when it adopted a report calling for “non-judgmental recognition of sexual orientation by physicians.”

In 1981, the AMA supported treatments designed to change the sexual orientation of homosexuals, and said that the notion that homosexuals could not change was a myth. The new report suggests psychotherapy to help homosexuals “become comfortable with their sexual orientation.

The new policy is a “giant step backward into ignorance,” according to Bob Davies executive director of Exodus International, a network of Christian ministries which helps men and women overcome their homosexual desires. “This report is not based on genuine concern for the emotional well-being of homosexuals,” he said. “It’s the product of political pressure by gay doctors and their supporters. It’s a very unwise medical policy.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. (EP) – Sen. Jesse Helmes (R-NC) has introduced a bill to roll back Clinton Administration policy on homosexuality. S. 25 would keep programs such as “Diversity Day 94” (see Washington Watch Oct. 14, 1994) and the US Patent and Trademark Commission’s diversity recruitment support team from promoting homosexuality. The bill would also stop taxpayer money from funding such groups as Gay Lesbian or Bisexual Employees (GLOBE) in federal agencies. Sen. Helms has also introduced S. 23 to protect the free speech rights of federal employees who object to promotion of the homosexual lifestyle.