The Bottom of the Slope – Already?

The year was 1973 and the setting was the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church which that summer received three study committee reports prepared by scholars in the denomination. One report dealt extensively with Ecclesiastical Office and Ordination (Acts, 1973, p. 635ff.); another handled the related subject of Women in Ecclesiastical Office (Acts, 1973, p. 514ff.); and the third was Report 42 from the Committee to Study Homosexuality (Acts, 1973, p.609ff.).


Although each report dealt with a different topic, there appeared some striking parallels which, through the years that followed until this very day, have plagued the church continuously. The report on “office and ordination” robbed the special offices (minister, elder) of their God-given authority, reducing them to only roles of “service;” the difference between officebearers and other members of the church being one of function only and not of essence. This report, although appearing at the same synod as the one on women in ecclesiastical office, nonetheless provided the philosophical basis upon which the women in office report was structured. It too saw “office,” not as an authority structure in the church, but as “functional service” only, from which women should not be barred.

Both reports reflected a change, the same kind of change, from the way in which Scripture had been handled in Reformed theology. That change was reflected in appeals made to 1) cultural differences between Biblical times and our current milieu; 2) twisted definitions for Biblical concepts such as “authority,” “headship,” “submission” and others; and 3) construction of overall “sweeps” of Scripture (on the basis of Gal. 3:28 for example) so as to wipe out the clear teachings of passages such as I Tim. 2, I Cor. 14 and others. This way of handling Scripture has come to be known as the “new hermeneutic” which has many different hues and degrees of application.

In similar ways, the “new hermeneutic” showed up in the report on homosexuality that same year. It too absorbed page after page, probing the possibility that cultural (cultic) considerations, scientific data (which to this day cannot prove that homosexuality is genetic), and perhaps misinterpretation of what had always been perceived as clear Scriptural prohibitions against homosexuality, might warrant a relaxing of the denominational stand against homosexuality. It asserted over and over again that the homosexual is only “minimally responsible” for his/her condition. But when it came down to actual recommendations, the report did declare homosexuality (the practice) to be sin, and it rejected the idea that faithful, monogamous homosexual relationships could be acceptable to God and the church.




In subsequent years, the CRC became embroiled in heated debate and synodical flip-flops over the issue of women in office until in 1995, the proponents of women in office won the day.

During the interim years between 1973 and 1995, conservatives repeatedly asserted that the same “hermeneutic” which was used to justify women in office could be employed to defend the practice of homosexuality. Denominational leaders joked about the “slippery slope” mentality of the conservatives and denied until October 1995 (only four months almost to the day from the time that Synod/95 approved women as ministers and elders) that there was any “connection” between the hermeneutic used to justify women in office, and the hermeneutic used by Classis Grand Rapids East in its report, to wipe out any reference to or description of homosexuality as sin, and to urge the CRC to examine the possibility that “faithful, monogamous homosexual relations” may be accepted by God and the church, and all the rights and privileges of leadership in the church be granted to them.

The committee of Classis Grand Rapids East which formulated this report was given its mandate in January of 1994, to provide Classis with advice about the variety and suitability of different ministries to homosexuals. The specific occasion for the appointment of this committee was the propriety of one church calling Rev. James Lucas, a celibate homosexual, to a ministry for AWARE (“as we are”), an organization which accepts gays “as we are” without working toward the goal of celibacy and/or change of orientation.

The June 1995 issue of this periodical, The Outlook, presented Dr. Comelis Venema’s fine, undisputed critique of the report of Classis Grand Rapids East submitted to its May/95 meeting, entitled “Revised Report and Recommendations of the Classis Grand Rapids East Study Committee on Ministry With Persons Who Are Homosexual.” (The full report of this committee, 11 pages long, is available upon request.) Because of Dr. Venema’s excellent critique, we will not discuss the entirety of the report at this time. We will instead focus briefly on section 6 involving “parameters” for ministry with persons who are homosexual, the minority and majority reports on parameter 6 (VII), the ministries (IV) and resources (V) recommended by the report, the two fatal flaws of the report and their implications for other CRC churches and the future of the denomination.

Parameter 6

The committee of Classis Grand Rapids East presented a unified report in May/95 except for “parameter 6” under “Ministry With Persons Who Are Homosexual.” On that point, the committee submitted a Majority Report which stated:

6. Ministries with persons who are homosexual should not be contingent upon declaring homosexual activity as sin or distinctive evidence of the fall. To do so is to give an incomplete moral testimony to the issues of homosexuality with the potential harm in practice of closing ministry with many persons who are homosexual. Instead, these ministries should work with everyone in Christian community to discern what it means to live lives faithful to Jesus Christ.


This report does not address whether or how homosexual orientation or practice may be considered a sin. It does not do so for three reasons. First, such an address is not included in our mandate. Second, the members of the committee were appointed with the original mandate in mind and because we possess interests and abilities related to the original mandate, though without special expertise in either Old or New Testament hermeneutics and exegesis to adequately begin to address this theological question. Third, considerable scholarly work by individuals as well as several major, mainstream denominational study committees composed of individuals with hermeneutical expertise over the past two decades have attempted but failed to achieve consensus on this issue.

Respectfully submitted, Hessel Bouma III, chair David Holquist Gladys Verhulst Betty Zylstra

The Minority Report read as follows:

6. The brokenness of humanity resulting from the fall has distorted all aspects of our personality, including our sexuality, so that no one’s sexuality functions as God originally intended. The homosexual orientation is one form of such distortion, one that usually is not of the person’s own choice or decision. The church must both hope for and direct her ministry toward whatever restoration of our sexuality to its original form is possible. Where such restoration is either limited or not possible, she must minister with compassion, encouragement and support. At all times the church must call all her members to a life of obedience to God’s provision of marriage as the proper relationship for the expression of genital sexuality.


As a result of the fall our sexuality is distorted in many ways. Sometimes it is not functional at all, for others it is hyperactive. For reasons often as yet unknown the sexual drive is sometimes misdirected to persons or objects other than those whom God intended: sometime articles of clothing, non-sexual parts of the body, or to pictures and fantasies rather than persons. The homosexual orientation is one form of such misdirection. Sometimes the misdirection seems to have occurred at an early age, prior to age seven or ten years old, even as some evidence suggests, resulting from a genetic predisposition. In other cases traumatic incidents such as sexual abuse during the significant development years between eleven and fourteen seem to have shaped the sexuality so that the person’s orientation is toward those of the same gender. To lay blame on such a person for her or his condition is both cruel and unjust.

However, all persons, whatever the shape or condition of their sexual nature, are responsible for their behaviors. And it is the church’s responsibility to call all persons to a life of obedience to all of God’s commandments related to our sexual behaviors. When we fall short of such obedience, the church must proclaim a gospel of grace and forgiveness. The church must also pray, hope, and minister for the restoration of all of creation, including the human personality and more specifically our sexuality, to its original form and intentions, Whatever restoration possible comes about through a variety of means, certainly not limited to a single form of therapy. Sometimes this restoration is quite limited, sometimes impossible. In such instances the church must double her efforts to show compassion, encouragement, and support to such persons as they seek to live obediently to God.

Respectfully submitted, James Bradley Mel Hugen

The Minority Report describes homosexual orientation as an evidence of “brokenness” and a “distortion,” and calls all who are so tempted to responsibility for behavior and a life of obedience to God. It mandates the church to call for obedience, to extend forgiveness, to work for restoration to God’s design for human sexuality. It is important to note that even the Minority Report does not call homosexual practice sin, even though it dearly describes it as such.

How did Classis Grand Rapids East resolve the Majority/Minority difference?

1) Classis removed the entire Minority Report so that no description of homosexual practice as sin remains in Parameter 6 (nor is it referred to as sin in any other part of the report).

2) Classis also removed all of the Majority Report no. 6 (including the rationale) except for the last sentence: “These ministries should work with everyone in Christian community to discern what it means to live lives faithful to Jesus Christ.”

Both sides called it a “compromise” and seemed happy with it. But was it really a “compromise”? In our judgment, it was a tragic defeat for the truth of God. The Bible clearly condemns homosexual practice as sin (an “abomination”). And Classis Grand Rapids East just voted that truth out of its report. That’s not a “compromise.” It is a “sell-out” on the truth of God. We appreciate the few churches and individuals who deplore this action of their classis.

The report

Finally, Classis Grand Rapids East adopted the motion 1) to refer this report to the church councils for study and 2) to make the report available to the membership of the churches.

Since there was no formal objection to the rest of the report, we must assume that the majority of the delegates to classis on October 19/95 endorsed the rest of the report.

What about the rest of the report? The report lists 5 organizations in bold type which minister to homosexuals. Regarding them, the report says: “All pastoral ministers and elders should be cognizant of the resources and of the support these organizations provide to covenantal members of the Christian community.” The truth is that some of these organizations are blatantly pro-gay and others are simply “accepting” of gay orientation and behavior. Two organizations, Exodus International and Metanoia Ministries, which focus on “overcoming” homosexuality, are only included as an aside. There is no attempt to distinguish between the focus and philosophy of these support groups. All are recommended to the churches.

The same can be said of the reading material which is recommended. Elder John Roels cited a long list of quotations from authors that appeared in the report bibliography. These quotes declared that Scripture did not condemn homosexuality, and they further viewed homosexuality as a positive gift of God. All of these readings are recommended to the churches for reading as helpful resources in dealing with homosexuals. Again there is no discernment demonstrated.

Also, the report in Parameter 1b recommends “inviting leaders of special ministry groups to conduct adult education programs and to participate in worship,” again with no discernment.

And in Parameter 3a, the report says that Grand Rapids churches “should pursue the goals of enabling persons who are homosexual and persons who are struggling with their sexual identity, to be integral persons in the Christian community faithful to Christ without segregating such persons from the community” (emphasis ours).

Questions: 1) Are the “homosexual persons” referred to in Parameter 3a, practicing homosexuals? The report doesn’t specify. 2) If they are “practicing homosexuals,” is there no segregation in the church? May they sing in the choir? May they be elected to offices? Could someone who is living in an adulterous heterosexual relationship sing in the choir, be elected to office? The report leaves all of these questions unanswered. What “help” then does it give? Is it not really a “hindrance”?

A few churches in Classes Grand Rapids East are unhappy with the committee for exceeding their mandate of providing the churches with advice about the variety and suitability of different ministries to homosexuals. But could the committee provide such advice without first addressing the philosophical/theological foundations on which these ministries rest? So the committee did expound somewhat on their own foundation (a garden variety of liberal thinking with a token nod to ministries such as Exodus and Metanoia); the classis actively rejected the problem of sin as the root of the problem; the classis further, by adopting the report, opened the door to the possibility of faithful, monogamous homosexual relationships being accepted by God and the church; therefore it is no wonder that the “advice” of the committee, based on a foundation of relativism at best, consists of a smorgasbord of conflicting value systems, many of which are in violation of the clear teaching of Scripture.


Most delegates to the October 19 meeting of Classis Grand Rapids East feel that their action 1) was a satisfying compromise and it 2) was in line with the synodical report on homosexuality adopted by the CRC in 1973. In our judgment, neither is true as we have already sought to establish. There are two fatal flaws which, if they stand uncorrected, will spell the demise of the Christian Reformed Church.

1) Deleting the Minority position which described homosexuality as sin (without using the word) demonstrated shocking and unacceptable spiritual weakness and confusion, and acted completely out of line with the report of 1973 which clearly and often, despite some faulty argumentation, condemns homosexual practice as sin.

2) There remains in the report, seemingly unchallenged officially, a position of latitude with respect to homosexuals who live in faithful monogamous relationships. In Section II (Pastoral Concerns) the report says: “…the church must take great care not to prejudge homosexual persons and on the basis of such prejudgment, shape her ministry…Some live in committed faithful relationships.”

In Section III (Educational Concerns) the report states the following:

Perhaps most controversial are ministries which provide support for committed homosexual relationships. For persons who believe that scripture speaks to homosexuality as we know it today and clearly condemns all homosexual behavior, this type of ministry may be unacceptable.

But the Christian community should revisit and begin dialog anew about what it means to be created as sexual beings, about how celibacy may be understood as a gift as the Apostle Paul states (I Cor. 7:5–9), and about the role and value of fidelity as a significant component of relationships in Christian community. The church should further address whether and to what extent Christians can support ministries which accept committed, faithful, monogamous relationships (emphasis ours).

Clearly, promiscuity is outside the bounds of biblically acceptable responses to one’s sexuality. The Christian community should stand steadfast against any “ministries” which tacitly accept uncommitted, promiscuous relationships or declare such relationships to be a matter of moral indifference, even as we continue to respond with compassion and with a call to faithful obedience to all persons, regardless of where they are in their own life’s journey. For, in Christ, forgiveness is granted for sin—including sexual sins—and we are called to fully accept each who has repented and joyfully restore them in the life and work of the Christian community.

One cannot escape the clear implication that the report rules out “promiscuous” homosexual relationships as acceptable, but opens the door (even urging the Christian community to dialog) to “committed, faithful, monogamous relationships.”

To the conservatives in the CRC, the possibility that the practice of homosexuality, even in committed faithful monogamous relationships, should even be “revisited” by the CRC in a study committee is unthinkable. HOMOSEXUAL PRACTICE IS A SIN, AN “ABOMINATION” TO THE LORD. IT IS NOT DEBATABLE, AND IT IS NON-NEGOTIABLE. It is not without pain that we say this. We have agonized with some specific individuals over the course of a thirty-four-year ministry in the CRC. But praise God, the GOOD NEWS is that with Christ, a homosexual can triumph—either through a Spirit-supported commitment to celibacy, or a Spirit-changed orientation. God is GOOD—and He is truly a “rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).


Has the Christian Reformed Church slid to the bottom of the slope so quickly? Is it not a “roller-coaster” rather than a slippery slope? The denomination is now, by virtue of the action of Classis Grand Rapids East, obligated to make a judgment on the action of this Classis. There need to be overtures to Synod 1996 that require Classis Grand Rapids East to bring its position in line with Scripture and the stand of 1973, or face discipline. If the denomination no longer has the spiritual fiber to discipline disobedience (which it has clearly demonstrated the past number of years), then it stands in grave danger of having its “candlestick removed” (Rev. 2:5). May God grant wisdom, strength and courage in these difficult days.

Rev. Thomas Vanden Heuvel is pastor of the First CRC, Byron Center, MI. Mrs. Laurie Vanden Heuvel is a Christian school teacher, and together they are editors of The Outlook.