Synod 1993 had several matters before it which have received relatively little attention in the shadow of the prevailing topics of women in office, regional synods and children at the Lord’s Table. The delegates were nonetheless confronted with these “lesser” matters, some equally controversial, some held over from past years, and had to decide what to do.
WHAT TO DO WITH MINISTERS WHO LEAVE THE DENOMINATION
This year’s synod received 5 overtures requesting that synod make a standardized policy regarding the status of ministers who leave the Christian Reformed denomination. Two asked that these ministers be “released” if there has been no cause for special discipline, while the others argued that the phrase “honorably released” would be the proper terminology. All five overtures spoke against the injustice of giving such ministers the status of one deposed from office and appealed for fairer treatment. Synod. decided not to mandate a single standardized approach since “every situation has a unique combination of contributing factors and it is not possible to utilize a standardized approach, nor is it desirable to do so.” Churches and classes are directed to “take into account the manner and spirit in which a minister has acted during the time leading up to and including his departure from office when determining what action to take.” Synod however, did provide the churches and classes with four classifications of status, the first being the highest (most honorable) and those following being progressively lower on the scale: “1) the resigned minister is honorably released; 2) the resigned minister is released; 3) the resigned minister is dismissed; or 4) the resigned minister is in the status of one deposed.”
Synod. also encouraged classes to “prayerfully consider the following principles in their deliberations: a) schismatic activities are to be considered a serious violation of the sacred trust associated with ordination and a dishonoring of God which results in pain and brokenness in the body of Christ; and b) all declarations by churches and classes should cleady evidence hope for the possibility of restoration and mutual reconciliation.” The comment was made that the phrase “schismatic activities” is unclear since what might be considered schismatic to some might not to others; synod, however, made no effort to define the terms.
When the matter of approving the work of synodical delegates came before synod (including their concurrence with classical decisions declaring ministers as having the status of one deposed from office), the overwhelming majority voted to approve their work.
WHAT TO DO WITH REV. STEVEN SCHLISSEL and MESSIAH’S CONGREGATION (Brooklyn, NY)
Synod 1992 received three appeals from the office-bearers of the then Messiah’s CRC regarding the decisions of Classis Hudson which first suspended and then deposed Rev. Steven Schlissel. The judicial Code Committee JCC) held a hearing with representatives from Classis Hudson and Rev. Schlissel present. After each had the opportunity to argue their position, the JCC asked synod that it be given a year to make its final recommendations. In the meantime, the deposition of Rev. Schlissel would still be in effect. Synod adopted these recommendations (Acts of Synod 1992, pp. 677–678).
This year’s synod not only had to hear and act upon the report from the JCC held over from 1992, but also on another appeal sent by the office-bearers of Messiah’s Congregation. The JCC reported to synod on Saturday morning, june 12, and recommended that all three of the 1992 appeals not be sustained. Two of these appeals dealt with Rev. Schlissel’s suspension and deposition, and the third argued that a classis may not initiate and impose special discipline without a request from members or the council of the congregation involved. The JCC cited three instances of classes imposing special discipline without formal requests from the churches involved as precedents: the first was in 1918 when Classis Muskegon deposed H. Bultema and the entire consistory of the First CRC of Muskegon; the second was in 1925 when Classis Grand Rapids West deposed H. Danhof and the consistory of First Kalamazoo (except one elder); and the third was in 1991 when Ciassis Lake Erie suspended the entire council of the Washington, Pennsylvania CRC. Synod 1993 adopted all of the JCC’s recommendations.
Synod also had to deal with another appeal from the office-bearers of Messiah’s Congregation submitted this year. This was an appeal from a decision of Classis Hudson at its regular meeting of September 23, 1992 which declared “that the council and congregation of Messiah’s CRC had broken the bonds of fellowship with the denomination and therefore had placed themselves outside the fellowship of the CRC.” There were five grounds given for this decision. Messiah’s appeal argued that this decision was based on “misrepresentation of facts, and on the misunderstanding and misapplication of Church Order, Article 38.”
The committee assigned to this matter came back to synod. with a majority and minority report. The majority recommended “that synod declare that this appeal is not legally before it.” It included a single, lengthy ground which stated that “only members [of the CRC] have the right to pursue an appeal under Article 30-a.”
The minority report, though not arguing for or against the merits of the appeal, recommended that the appeal be legally before synod and that a committee should hear the appeal. They argued that, though technically correct, it would be unwise to declare the appeal not legally before synod. Furthermore, “to deny appellants the right to appeal a decision because that decision declares them not to be members is to beg the question and to set a dangerous precedent for any future situation where a minor assembly declares a member or congregation not to be a member.”
Synod opted for the majority and declared that the appeal is not legally before it. This decision, in effect, ends the “problem” of Rev. Steve Schlissel and Messiah’s Congregation.
WHAT TO DO WITH THE GEREFORMEERDE KERKEN IN NEDERLAND (GKN)
Another matter of concern within the CRC is its continued relations with the GKN (Reformed Churches in the Netherlands), despite the differences perceived by many in theology and morality. Synod granted the Interchurch Relations Committee (IRC) the time “to meet with the ecumenical committee of the GKN to discuss the relationship of the CRC/GKN given the CRC dissent from positions and trends in the GKN.” Also, the IRC is to “prepare a report with recommendations to be included in the printed Agenda for Synod 1995. This report shall include information about the official position taken by the GKN regarding the practice of homosexuality, the nature of Scripture’s authority, and the indispensability of Jesus Christ for the salvation of the Jews.”
WHAT TO DO ABOUT WORLD HUNGER
At the Synod of 1978, a Task Force on World Hunger reported on the need for compassion and “an action plan to respond effectively to world hunger with a ministry of Word and deed” (Acts of Synod 1978, p. 83). Synod 1991 established another Task Force on World Hunger which reported to Synod 1993. It offered a vision for the Christian Reformed denomination which included the theme: “FREEDOM TO SERVE, Meeting the Needs of the World.” (A large banner with this theme was placed above the delegates for the duration of synod. Although it originated from the Task Force on World Hunger, the banner was conveniently brought to the attention of delegates several times during the women in office debate.) Synod encouraged individuals, churches and agencies to “recommit themselves prayerfully to achieving this vision” while instructing Christian Reformed World Relief Committee and CRC Publications “to ensure that a wide range of educational materials on hunger and poverty becomes available to the churches,including biblical studies, analyses of the cause of and solutions to poverty, and ministry-action guides.” Furthermore, the Synodical Interim Committee will “engage a full–time person to coordinate the implementation of the vision.” In addition to the publication of educational materials, the churches will have the time between Canadian and US Thanksgiving Days to focus on the “Freedom to Serve” theme.
Rev. Derrick J. Vander Meulen, a delegate to Synod 1993, is pastor of the Eastmanville CRC, Eastmanville, MI.