Report on CRC Synod 1975

This report on the highlights of the CRC Synod of 1975, in session from June 10 to 20, was prepared by Rev. Peter De Jong, pastor of the Christian Reformed Church of Dutton, Michigan. His willingness to serve THE OUTLOOK in this capacity is greatly appreciated.

The editor has asked me to review the decisions of the 1975 CRC Synod. A complete survey would be larger than the official Acts which have swelled to the point where few read it. The following is a brief summary together with some personal observations.

The meetings began with the traditional prayer service Monday evening, June 9, at the Calvin College Fine Arts Center where the Synod meetings are held. The service was sponsored by the Kelloggsville church. Its pastor, Rev. Terry J. Lapinsky, preached a fascinating sermon on Jeremiah 32:8, 9, and 38. He dramatically portrayed the contrast between the fearful and exasperated King Zedekiah and the prophet Jeremiah who heard the Word of the Lord and must buy his relative’s field to show and to preach confidence in the eternal covenant faithfulness of God to His people. I thought, however, that the popular preaching of love and hope minimized the less popular characteristic of Jeremiah‘s as well as of every other real prophet’s message, the warning that a faithless Israel or a faithless church will not experience that love and hope. Our churches, which have recently heard so much about a gospel that is exclusively saving, need Jeremiah’s warning as well as his promise in order to bring a truly “prophetic” Word of God in our time.


The next morning, Synod chose as its officers, Rev. Clarence Boomsma, President; Rev. Jacob B. Vos, Vice President; Rev. Oliver Breen, First Clerk; and Rev. Martin Geleynse, Second Clerk. At this point, as in later synod activity, I noticed the prominence of our Canadian church delegates.

An important piece of synodical business was the choice of a new Calvin College President. The nominees, Dr. Anthony J. Diekema of Chicago and Dr. Nicholas Wolterstorff, a Calvin philosophy professor, were interviewed at length. In the interview, Dr. Wolterstorff aptly pointed out the difference between an administrator and an executive who must lead and speak for an institution, feeling that his bent was rather toward the latter than the former. To the surprise of many in the Grand Rapids area, the Synod preferred the administration of Dr. Diekema to the executive leadership envisioned by Dr. Wolterstorff.

Another important choice was that of a new executive secretary for our foreign mission program to replace the retiring veteran, Rev. Henry Evenhouse. The board had nominated Dr. Roger Greenway and Dr. Eugene Rubingh. To this slate the name of Dr. Richard De Ridder was added by the Synod. In a second vote between the last two nominees, Dr. Rubingh was elected.


An agenda item provoking extended discussion was the report on “Ethical Decisions about War.” That report, as I observed in a previous issue of THE OUTLOOK. is a product of the anti-war protest movement in connection with Indochina. Although it gives passing recognition to the responsibilities of government to suppress evil by force, it argues mostly on the board principle of “love” with little reference to Scripture.

The report culminates in a series of “guidelines” including a set of pointed questions. Each citizen is supposed to ask who the aggressor is, what the motives of one‘s government are, whether all treaties have been observed, whether peaceful means have been exhausted to remove problems, whether the force used is proportional to the evil being opposed, and whether peace is being sought.

Those questions are legitimate for civil servants and Christian politicians. But often ordinary citizens and even government officials cannot answer such inquiries. The report demands that the Christian‘s conduct toward his government and even his payment of taxes be determined by his personal judgment on these matters (see Guideline 17). This plainly contradicts the teaching of the Lord (Matthew 22:21) and the Apostle Paul (Romans 13:1–7) and really endorses anarchy. Some speakers pointed out that following these guidelines would have surrendered Europe to Hitler. Of what good are “guidelines” which only raise misguiding questions? The report was widely criticized for its bias against ones government and the Christian‘s general duty to obey that government Despite these serious faults, many delegates vehemently defended it, emphasizing the growing rift within the church. The report was referred to the churches for two years’ study.


The debate on “Women in Ecclesiastical Office” was even more spirited and significant. A long and heated discussion centered on the claim made by both the new report and an earlier one in 1973, that “biblical teaching is not opposed in principle to the ordination of women to any office that men may hold in the church.” The majority of an advisory committee in an 11page survey of these materials disagreed with this basic conclusion and recommended that the Synod “declare that the practice of excluding women from ecclesiastical offices recognized in the Church Order be maintained unless compelling Biblical grounds are advanced for changing that practice” and that the Synod “declare that sufficient Biblical grounds have not been advanced to warrant a departure from our present practice of excluding women from ecclesiastical offices . . . .”

In a long speech similar to the 1973 Synod report, Rev. Jack Westerhof tried to prove from Scripture that God made men and women equal, that any inequality was a result of sin which Christ came to remove, and that (although for a time, women were counseled because of circumstance not to claim their rights) the whole movement of the Bible was toward removal of such distinctions since Galatians 3:28 says that there “can be no male and female; for ye all are one . . . in Christ Jesus.” Others pointed out just as emphatically that, although there is such spiritual equality, God has not in either the Old or New Testament given the regular ruling and leading offices (priest, king, apostle, and elder) to women. The same Apostle who wrote Galatians 3 denied such offices in the church to women (I Timothy 2:12, 13; 1 Corinthians 14:34–37) grounding this command not in passing circumstances but in creation.

Many wanted to open offices to women because of the changing times, the demands of women, the need for using all abilities in the church, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, etc. But the discussion always returned to the critical consideration, the teaching of the Bible. Professor Bastiaan Van Elderen dismissed Paul’s prohibition, claiming that it contradicted Paul’s own teaching in Galatians and was an adjustment to a local, historical situation and asked whether Paul was not indulging in an exegesis of Genesis, learned from the rabbis, to make a point rather than teaching something normative for us. The discussion climaxed with a declaration that Biblical grounds were needed before a change would be made, carried by a vote of 84 to 62. At least two dozen supporters of women in office registered their opposition by recording negative votes. Further decisions on this matter urged “the churches to make all possible use, within Biblical guide lines and the restrictions of the Church Order, of the talents and abilities of women” and created another committee to “help” the churches do this. A cumbersome third committee, composed of Old and New Testament scholars is to undertake a study of the hermeneutical principles involved in the proper interpretation of relevant Scripture passages.

The debate demonstrated that we are a divided house. The division on this issue and many others is caused by diverging views of the Bible’s authority. We may all say the Bible is God’s Word. But our 1972 Synod, trailing our former Dutch “sister” churches, ruled that the Bible’s authority must be understood in the light of Its “contents and purpose as saving revelation of God in Christ.” Limiting Scripture’s authority in this way permits one to say that that it has no authority in matters that are not saving.

An increasing number among us, therefore, feel free to “interpret” away whatever biblical doctrines or commandments they do not like as “time-conditioned,” and would “educate” the church to follow their lead. In this way the difference between those two hold to the direct and total authority of Scripture and those who do not must eventually produce disagreement on this and other points of doctrine or morality. Study committees composed of men who disagree in this way on the authority of the Bible, cannot be expected to shed any dependable Biblical light on this or any other problem.

Although the revelation of this deep difference is disturbing, the number who, even against persistent opposition, also by some faculty advisors, voted that the churches’ practice must be Biblically grounded, was larger than some of us might have expected. Perhaps, as the underlying issue continues to emerge, the Lord may give us enough men and women, loyal to His Word to throw off the attack upon it. To the surprise of many He is doing it among the Missouri Lutherans. He can do it among us also.


Classis Grand Rapids South overtured the Synod to reconsider the rule made at the instigation of the Stated Clerk in 1971 (Acts 1971, pp. 602, 47, 48), to give the Stated Clerk the right to omit from the printed agenda of the Synod, at his discretion, overtures, appeals, and communications which were repetitions of others already in the agenda. This overture found little support in the Synod and was brushed aside with the claim that the rights to overture and appeal to Synod are not being curtailed. Last year a similar overture from Classis Grand Rapids East was given the same treatment.

I believe that these overtures deal with a constitutional issue considerably more serious than these synods have recognized. When the Synod of 1972 made its important decision on the Nature and Extent of Biblical authority the ordinary delegates of Synod were given only three of the many overtures and other communications on this subject (Acts 1972, p. 66). The Synodical Interim Committee had first decided to reject all of the earlier reactions which it had received on the grounds that they dealt with the earlier form of the report (No. 36) instead of the later (but similar) revision (No. 44). The Stated Clerk, under his “discretionary” rule, printed only three of the later overtures, merely listing all the rest among seven “communications” which the delegates never saw. In two of these omitted overtures (the only ones on which I have information) there were grounds different from any which appeared in the agenda. In making one of the most important decisions the Synod members were denied most of the official reactions of the churches or classes. When any committee or individual has the “right” to deny delegates to Synod the sight of overtures or appeals properly brought by the churches, is our growing bureaucracy not undermining the structural principles of our Reformed Church Order? More opposition to this bureaucratic movement appeared also in discussion on certain other matters at Synod.


Earlier in this review I referred to the effect that deviating views of the Scriptures must produce in the churches’ doctrines. Such a doctrinal problem agitated this Synod. For many years Dr. Harry Boer began and headed a union seminary (the “TCNN”) in connection with our big mission field in Africa. From the beginning a number of us pointed out that to make ourselves responsible for such an institution, explicitly dedicated to· teaching a variety of doctrines including particularly some of those condemned by the Canons of Dort contradicts the vows every church officer makes when he signs the Form of Subscription. In that Form we “promise . . . diligently to teach and faithfully to defend the aforesaid doctrine, without either directly or indirectly contradicting the same by our public preaching or writing . . . We declare, moreover, that we not only reject all errors that militate against this doctrine and particularly those which were condemned by the above mentioned Synod, but that we are disposed to refute and contradict these and to exert ourselves in keeping the Church free from such errors.” Setting up a school to teach some of these very errors can hardly be harmonized with that promise.

In 1973, Dr. Boer brought an overture to the Synod trying to get this Form of Subscription, which he had signed and then opposed for many years, replaced (Acts 1973, pp. 729–731). This year, Dr. Boer sent a letter to the Synod challenging it to prove from Scripture the doctrine of reprobation as taught in Articles 6 and 15 of the First part of the Canons. He also published this letter in the April 1975 Reformed Journal (another violation of his promise under the Form of Subscription). (Don’t the Canons advance any proof from the Bible for this doctrine? Article 6 quotes Ephesians 1:11 which says that God “worketh all things after the counsel of his will.” Isnt that plain enough? It may be for the ordinary reader, but not for Dr. Boer, who says, “The two texts adduced in Article 6 are certainly not perspicuous in teaching what they are alleged to teach.” And “Scriptural support adduced for it by Reformed theologians does not impress me, and in any case I am not bound by their exegetical judgments.” Here comes the business of interpretations again.) What did this divided Synod do with this challenge to a distinctly Reformed doctrine? Under the terms of the Form of Subscription anyone who in his mind encounters “difficulties of different sentiments respecting” these doctrines vows not to “propose, teach or defend the same, either by preaching or writing until he has revealed them to the Consistory, Classis or Synod,” and promises “always cheerfully to submit to the judgment of the Consistory, Classis or Synod, under penalty, in case of refusal, of being by that very fact suspended from . . . office.” The presenting of such a difference to the church assembly is traditionally called a “gravamen.” When the matter was brought up early in the Synod sessions there was a move by Dr. Boersmany avowed supporters, to appoint a committee to study the questions he raised about biblical proof of the doctrine, but their effort failed. The other party felt that he should be gently but plainly told to bring the matter to Consistory, Classis, and Synod in proper order, rather than seeking to make the Synod “prove” the doctrine the two had promised to promote. This proposal, first gaining Synod’s support, was diverted back to the committee to return late in the meetings. When the matter was finally brought back to the floor the Synod was faced with a divided report. A minority of the committee proposed advising Dr. Boer to follow the proper procedure, while a majority advised giving Dr. Boer what he wanted, a study committee, even including himself!

Since the earlier session of Synod it appeared that enough sentiment had shifted so that the majority were not now willing to tell Dr. Boer to follow the proper order in presenting his “difficulties.” The first point of the majority report, that synod declare Dr. Boor’s matter “a legitimate concern” carried! The next proposal for the desired study committee, the chairman declared out of order since it contradicted an earlier decision. Finally, the divided synod, having struggled and stumbled with the problem until it was at a loss what to do, decided to appoint an advisory committee to report to next year‘s Synod and let that body worry about it. Some careful and honest Bible study on this neglected doctrine might benefit the church. But (or the church to permit any of its officers to break its ordination vows, contradict its doctrines, and ignore its rules of procedure without even a reprimand promises nothing but trouble for the church.


The basic rift in the church to which I have referred surfaced again in the treatment of an overture regarding the lodge and church membership. Our churches from their denominational beginnings have been convinced that the Lord’s exclusive claims upon his people forbid them to adhere also to some other nonChristian religion and that a church member could not therefore also belong to a lodge with its religion. That “no man can serve two masters” doctrine has never been popular, even when the Lord enunciated it, and especially in our days of accommodation this stand has come under frequent criticism. Especially under our present stress on “evangelism,” which is often taken to mean “get a bigger church in any way you can,” there has been increasing pressure to forget our scruples about the false religions of the lodges because too many neighbors are saying, “That lodge doesn’t mean anything to me,” and “If your church is going to be that fussy I’ll join the church up the street that doesnt care.”

Classis Lake Erie in recent years has attacked this historic stand of the church and overtured to get it changed. It addressed such an overture to the 1969 Synod. While conceding that “the Masonic Lodge is the proponent of a false religion” the Classis observed that many lodge members do not feel that way about it and that they should therefore not be excluded from membership of our churches if they wish to join them. It asked the Synod to “study whether it is possible (or a person to hold simultaneous church and lodge membership.” The Synod told the Classis to do its own study. The Classis, not satisfied, brought a longer overture to the 1970 Synod again seeking to change the stand of the church. That Synod appointed a committee to formulate a new statement of the church’s position on lodge membership. When that committee in 1972 brought majority and minority reports, the Synod reaffirmed the historic stand of the church but appointed a new committee to draw up the desired statement of the church‘s stand. The Synod of 1974 accepted the 63 page report of the study committee, strongly reaffirmed the stand of the church, and appointed a new committee to prepare a popular pamphlet embodying it. This year Classis Lake Erie, after failing to get its way in the 5-year efforts of three Synodical study committees and Synods, asked for another new study committee to cover the same ground. l1lis badly dividcd Synod by a vote of 71 to 62 defeated a move to reject the Classis’ request for a new study committee, appointed such a committee and withheld approval from the pamphlet that had been prepared. Those who want to allow simultaneous lodge and church membership, even though they admit the lodge is committed to a false religion are getting their way. A church divided in its view on the authority of the Scriptures also can’t agree on the requirements for membership of Christ’s church.


Classis Lake E rie which has labored so persistently to break down the church‘s stand regarding the lodge and standards of church membership, also overtured this Synod to appoint a committee to study the “inequitable distribution of wealth and power, both within and among nations” and to advise Christians what to do about it. Our Lord was once confronted by a gentleman who was preoccupied with such a problem and wanted Him to intervene. His retort was, “Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? Take heed and keep yourselves from all covetousness: for a man‘s life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:14, 15). A basic principle of our Church Order is that its assemblies “shall transact ecclesiastical matters only, and shall deal with them in an ecclesiastical manner” (Art. 28a). Although as Christians we are commanded to “do justly,” the redistribution of wealth and power throughout the world is hardly the job the Lord assigned to His church, let alone our own tiny part of it! The Synod, sensitive to this fact, did not appoint the requested committee, but did remind Christians and churches of their political and economic duties and inconsistently, and in an obvious concession to the Classis and the many in the Synod who want to move the same way, “encouraged” the classis to convene a conference to develop a “course of action.”


Last year an organization of laymen in our churches (ACRL), deeply disturbed about the deviations of our churches from Christian standards of doctrine and life, and frustrated by the ineffectiveness of church protests and appeals, publicly circulated a letter calling attention to some of these deviations. Although some professors among us have been publicly attacking the church‘s Confessions and Form of Subscription for years without getting so much as a reprimand, two of our Canadian Classes, exasperated by this laymens action, asked last year’s synod to take measures against it, charging in the words of Classis Chatham that the letter was “slanderous and schismatic.” The Synod, without any investigation or giving any opportunity to the accused to present their case, made the desired judgment and on the basis of two questionable sentences instructed “the consistories to deal in a disciplinary way with members who are actively involved in such divisive activities.” It is a rule of our Church Order (Art. 82) that “disciplinary measures shall be applied only after an adequate investigation has been made and the member involved has had ample opportunity to present his case.”

The Dutton consistory, seeing the Synod’s decision as a violation of this rule. appealed to this year‘s Synod against what it considered an unjust judgment. This Synod rejected the appeal on the ground that consistories must still abide by Article 82 of the Church Order so that it is not being disregarded! Doesnt the Church Order apply to Synodsjudgments also?

Mr. A. Bosscher brought to this Synod an appeal against a variety of 1974 Synod actions including also this judgment regarding the laymen which he called “hierarchical.” This Synod dismissing most of his charges, on this one point conceded that the word “instruct” used in the 1974 decision for consistories “may be questioned as to its propriety in ecclesiastical decisions.” Which seems to be about as close as this political Synod would come to acknowledging an injustice.

The Second Church of Toronto in 1973 asked the Synod to rescind the 1972 decisions on the Bible’s authority, citing a number of objections against them. The Synod of 1973 brushed these objections aside and turned down the request. When the laymen‘s organization published its letter last year, this church wrote the Synod that it agreed with the contents of the laymens statement and was not bound by the decisions of Synod, as expressed in the statement under “Deviations.” That Synod reprimanded the church by means of a letter and a committee, citing Article 29 of the Church Order, “The decisions of the assemblies shall be considered settled and binding, unless it is proved that they conflict with the Word of God or the Church Order.” The letter and committee failed to convince the church that it was in error, because the church was convinced that some of the Synod’s decisions were in conflict with the Word of God and therefore not binding upon it. The church sent a letter to this year‘s Synod refusing to support some quotas for activities against which it had conscientious objections. This Synod decided to again admonish the church to reconsider and retract its statement repeating the appeal to Article 29 of the Church Order, warned it that its course “jeopardized” its status in the denomination and would lead to separation, and urged Classis Toronto to “counsel firmly with the consistory” about its refusal to pay some quotas. The conscientious objector to a church policy gets less sympathy than one who opposes war.


The decision last year to wipe out the distinction between “sister churches” and others with which we have correspondence, calling them all “churches in ecclesiastical fellowship,” has brought a number of readjustments in our relation with other churches. One of the curious results seems to be that members coming to us from former “sister” churches will now be treated as those coming from others, “in ecclesiastical fellowship” being admitted on presenting of credentials “after the consistory has satisfied itself regarding the doctrine and conduct of the members.” This is a little stricter than the old practice.

The Synod decided to join the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council. This action was taken against the opposition of some who did not like the conservative leanings of this organization.

Against opposition from the same quarters Synod also decided to designate the new conservative Presbyterian Church of America a “church in ecclesiastical fellowship.” The hostility of some to any such conservative Reformed development as this new rapidly growing denomination (over 370 congregations in two years) is reflected in the following declarations that “this action . . . does not make any judgment as to the legitimacy ofthe separation from the Presbyterian Church of the U.S. and the decision to inform both the PCA and PCUS of these decisions. Questioning the legitimacy of ones birth is not the most cordial way to welcome a newcomer into the family. May these Christian friends understand that the welcome comes from one side of the house and the question from the other and may they also help us in the spiritual war in which they are veterans.

The Lord promised that He will build His church and that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. That is an encouragement, but it by no means guarantees the health or continuation of the Christian Reformed Church. Even the apostle Peter had to be sharply reprimanded for, without him realizing it he was doing the devil”s instead of the Lord‘s work (Matt. 16:18, 23). As one observes the confusion on basic issues and the political maneuvering in the proceeding of the Synod. at times the “gates of hell” seem to be more in evidence than the work of the Lord. The Lord’s work will not be promoted by trying to cover up these things “Watergate-style” with pious talk. He calls us to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints.” We are admonished to “building up yourselves in your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life” (Jude 3, 20, 21). For those only and for that part of the church who follow His injunction the future is always bright.