SOUTH HOLLAND, IL URNS – Meeting at First Christian Reformed Church in the southeast Chicago suburb of South Holland, an unprecedented 290 delegates, from 110 of the Christian Reformed denomination’s 985 churches, voted to call the Christian Reformed synod to lead the denomination in repentance. The text of the call to repentance will be drafted by the officers of the conference, but conference chairman Rev. Andrew Cammenga confirmed that the call to repentance will respond to Synod 1995’s decisions allowing women to serve as ministers, elders, and evangelists in the 294,000-member denomination and its failure to sever ecclesiastical fellowship with the CRC’s mother church, the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland, despite its earlier decision to admit practicing homosexuals to church membership and ordain them to church office. Both items were cited in the call to convene the conference.
To accomplish these goals, the conference also voted to form a Covenant Union of Christian Reformed Churches (CUCRC seeking “to return the Christian Reformed denomination to its historical biblical positions regarding important denominational issues.” The Covenant Union, to be organized as a non-profit corporation, is to hold an annual conference and may hold regional meetings as well to “encourage its members to form a united front in their participation in classical and synodical sessions.” Other specific objectives for the Covenant Union will be to “assist in the preparation of overtures and communications,” “promote education for officebearers,” “enable its members and member churches to do ministry,” and “promote the restoration of discipline in its member churches.” To organize the Covenant Union, the conference voted to have its officers appoint a group of conference participants to “create the organizational structure, recruit churches and individual members, prepare communications regarding CUCRC, to advise all CRC churches, classes, and denominational functionaries, [and] solicit ideas from its members about what synodical actions would demonstrate an appropriate change in direction for our denomination.”
Responding to the actions of six classes which have exercised an option given them by Synod 1995 to permit the ordination of women by declaring parts of the church order “inoperative,” the conference voted to “endorse the idea of classes based on the idea of theological affinity for churches that in conscience believe they must be part of such classes.”
Adding some “teeth” to the call to repentance, the conference also adopted a resolution to “inform synod that should she not humble her heart in repentance before the Lord, this conference will reconvene next year to consider a proposal to form a new denomination.”
According to Dr. W. Robert Godfrey, president of Westminster Theological Seminary in California and conference delegate, the “Covenant Union” is modeled after an earlier group of conservatives in the mainline Presbyterian Church (USA) at the time of the disruptions which led to the formation of Westminster Theological Seminary and finally of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1936.
“I think its purpose is to try to gather as many individuals and churches together to try to promote those ideas together,” said Godfrey. “I think the aim is to make it as large a group as possible, and in that sense perhaps it will rally more people behind it.”
Godfrey emphasized that neither the Covenant Union of the 1930’s nor the new Covenant Union formed this year were intended to promote secession—although that eventually happened in the PC(USA) when the denominational leadership deposed Dr. J. Gresham Machen, the founder of Westminster Seminary, for organizing an independent board for Presbyterian missionary work rather than supporting the approved denominational boards. “The original Covenant Union was a union designed to try to call the PC(USA) back to Reformed orthodoxy and faithfulness,” said Godfrey. “There obviously are a series of actions that are called for by the conference and we’ll have to look at how the synod and the denominational leadership respond to our call for repentance before we can predict whether there will or won’t be a secession.”
The four motions calling the denomination to repentance, establishing the Covenant Union, endorsing the idea of classes based on theological affinity, and the calling of another conference to consider the forming of a new denomination if synod does not repent were the only formal motions officially passed by the conference. However, the conference also heard reports from a number of committees assigned to consider proposals brought to the meeting, each of which were presented prior to the mid-morning coffee break. According to the conference minutes, the chairman noted “that these materials are for the use of church councils in the drafting of their own overtures” and therefore “final language does not have to be agreed upon at this conference.”
Conference co-chairman, Rev. Tom Vanden Heuvel, resumed the meeting after the midmorning break with the reading of a declaration passed earlier this summer by the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) calling the CRC to repent from allowing women in office, and commending those within the CRC who opposed liberalizing trends. “Rev. Eppinga put his finger on it precisely yesterday,” said Vanden Heuvel, referring to the opening message by Rev. Jake Eppinga, retired pastor of LaGrave Avenue CRC in Grand Rapids. “It is a spiritual issue, a stand that we are prepared to take as a defining moment. We must stand for the truth and call our mother to repentance and a change, which is what repentance means, a change that leads back to the heart of God which is the heart of that item.”
Rev. John Vermeer, pastor of First CRC in Sheldon, Iowa, wondered whether the synodical delegates would ever see the call to repentance issued by the conference. “Will this ever get to the floor or will it be ruled out of order because it was not processed through the assemblies?” asked Vermeer.
Elder Jake Klassen of West Sayville (NY) CRC noted that the repercussions of refusing to include a call to repentance in the synodical agenda could be extreme. “I think most of us who came here today want the synod to say something,” said Klassen. “If synod wants to throw this in the wastebasket, then the blood will be upon their heads, because we have to speak.”
The majority of the conference thought it important to combine a call to repentance with a warning of possible future action—so long as that action was framed as a meeting to consider forming a new denomination. The consensus proposal submitted by the officers passed by a wide voice vote majority.
Darrell Todd Maurina, Press Officer United Reformed News Service