Do Synodical Committees Determine the Course of the CRC?

Do Synodical Study Committees pose a threat to the well-being of the church? Rev. John De Pater is convinced that this is a matter for serious consideration. Rev. De Pater is pastor of the Christian Reformed Church of Williamsburg, Ontario, Canada.

This question is not as hypothetical as might appear at first sight. For the last number of years, many important issues have come up for discussion and decision. The Christian Reformed Church is trying to be relevant and up to date, and, as a result. is wrestling with many problems unique to our time. One should of course appreciate such an attempt. The church of Christ, if she is alive, will have to speak to the world in which she lives. Yet the manner in which these issues are dealt with deserves some close scrutiny.

It is of course true that certain matters are of such an essential nature and have such a wide scope that they can hardly be dealt with effectively by a single Synod. In answer to this problem, the usual procedure is the appointment of a study committee, which after a certain period comes with a report and recommendations to a future Synod for final adoption. Matters of vital importance to the church are thus entrusted to these svnodical committees. To mention only a few here: The Nature and Extent of Biblical Authority; The Nature of Ecclesiastical Offices·; Women in Ecclesiastical Office; Homosexuality; Lodge and Church Membership; Marriage Guidelines; Revision of Liturgical Forms; Neo-Pentecostalism; New-Confession and other such matters.

These committees often give evidence of diligent work and put forth a considerable effort. What fol. lows is therefore not stated to discredit the members of such committees. There appear to be certain technical difficulties regarding the appointment, functioning, and the place of committees such as these in the Christian Reformed Church. They obviously deal with issues that touch the very life of the church. For this reason the question of how they come into being seems to be in place. They are simply appointed one might say. Yet the matter of appointment is a rather thorny issue. A careful study of the reports that have come out over the last few years might show that often the majority of the committee members reveal a certain bias. In the manner of selecting Committee members there is plenty of opportunity for manipulation. It appears to be an established fact that the various committees cannot be regarded as truly representative of the Christian Reformed Denomination.

How do these committees function in the life of the church? They come out with some very weighty and often wordy reports. On the whole, much work has been done by them. The digested material presented to the Synod is usually quite lengthy and rather sophisticated in style and wording. One gets the feeling that what is presented is the product of experts in their field. Should the Study Committees be looked upon as such? The way in which the Reports are presented to the Synod seems to suggest such an attitude.

I remember, for example, as a delegate to the Synod of 1972, that no changes could be proposed in Report 44, as printed in the Agenda, since this Report was also intended for the coming Reformed Ecumenical Synod. In fact all Synod was allowed to do was to rubberstamp what was presented to that body by a group of experts. Granted that there were special circumstances for such action, this kind of approach could set a precedent and undermine the whole structure of Reformed Church-Government. The very attitude of some of these committees seems to suggest that they consider themselves to be experts as well.

Take the proposed Form for the Public Profession of Faith that appeared in the Agenda of Synod 1972 for the first time without being previously given to the different consistories for study. I still regret that this Form was adopted (“for provisional use for a period of three years”) after a slight alteration. Here the church is confronted by a complete change in her disciplinary policy. No longer is a member of the Christian Reformed Church required at the time of his initial commitment to promise to submit to Christian discipline. Are office-bearers to be relieved of this vow next?

These examples are cited to show that the functioning of these committees is not always as it ought to be. Also due to the technical structure of the reports and the great length of many of them, it is very well possible that Synod adopts them, while many of the delegates are not really aware of what is concealed in them.

Another question that could be asked is, What actually is the place of the Synodical Study Committees in the Christian Reformed Church? Are they simply to function as trend-setters? Since we are living in a time of rapid change do these committees exist to soften up the church and make us more adaptable? Reading some of their reports, one cannot always escape that impression.

Some of the committees have received a rather hroad mandate. They also are in existence for quite a while. The Liturgical Committee can serve as the most glaring example at this point. This committee was appointed by the Synod of 1964 and has continued to function ever since with a change of only one member. In fact, Synod 1973 changed its status to that of a standing Committee and all that such entails. Is this also going to be a precedent? Is it possible that for the years to come the things that really matter in the life of the church will be left in the hands of small groups of experts in the form of study or standing committees who can present their reports and recommendations to Synod for adoption at a favorable time?

Already in 1973, 318 pages of the 608 pages of the Agenda for Synod were devoted to Study-Committee Reports. In the limited time available, it is hardly possible for the delegates to Synod to do justice to this bulk of material Is the Church soon going to accept the reports and recommendations at the say-so of the members of the study committees? Study committees are usually represented by a versatile reporter who has the full privilege of the floor and the rather unfair advantage of being very familiar with his report, having worked with it for a year or longer, in contrast to the members of Synod who saw it for the first time about six weeks before. Can the church afford to let decisive issues that determine her position in the world be settled in this manner?

This article is an expression of concern. It used to be said that there was a danger of “Boardism” in our Denomination. Yet in the synodical boards, with their area representation by election and a healthy turnover, this danger does not appear too great. But having observed committees in operation, the writer feels that there is a real danger of “Committee-ism” in the Christian Reformed Church. May this church never become one run by “experts.” May the Holy Spirit keep our church alive and up-to-date. May the way we travel as church be directed by the precious Word of God rather than by the trend of the times.