The Synod of the Christian Reformed Church is scheduled to meet for its annual session from June 12–19, 1999. Instead of its usual meeting place at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, this Synod will gather on the campus of Redeemer College in Ancaster, Ontario, Canada — a suburb of Hamilton. Delegates from 47 classes (94 pastors and 93 elders are listed in the Synodical Agenda) will join with denominational personnel and advisors, for the one week session.
One of the study reports coming to the CRC Synod comes from a committee appointed by the Synod of 1996 which calls itself the “Committee to Give Direction about and for Pastoral Care for Homosexual Members.” This committee has divided its report into two parts, the first of which has been in the hands of the churches of the CRC since last fall. This part gives a brief analysis of the committee’s mandate, membership, the process by which it obtained inforqlation from the churches, a summary of how the CRC has dealt with homosexual members since its Report on Homosexuality of 1973, and a recommendation calling the church to repentance for its failures in dealing pastorally with homosexual members.
The second part of the committee’s report gives a more thorough treatment of the special needs of homosexual persons and how the church should respond to those needs. This part has not been in the hands of the churches prior to the Agenda, and the committee recommends that the churches be given time to read, study, and respond to their report and submit their reactions by April, 2000. The committee will then study these responses and render its final report to Synod 2002.
The mandate which Synod 1996 gave the committee was “to give direction about and for pastoral care of homosexual members in a manner consistent with the decisions of Synod 1973.” So it was not asked to provide a new study of the whole issue of homosexuality. Instead, its advice ondealing with homosexual members was to be consistent with the church’s stand on homosexuality adopted in 1973. That stand made a distinction between homosexuality as “a condition of disordered sexuality…for which the homosexual may himself bear only a minimal responsibility,” and homosexualism, which it defined as “explicit homosexual practice.”
Based on that distinction, the guidelines issued by Synod 1973 urged the churches to deal patiently and compassionately with the homosexual, as they should for all other sinners. It urged churches to give “loving support and encouragement” to the homosexual that he might “live a life of chastity and obedience to God’s will,” and help him “overcome his disorder.” At the same time, Synod 1973 declared that homosexual practice is “incompatible with obedience to the will of God as revealed in Holy Scripture.”
This year’s study committee did a survey of how churches and pastors in the CRC are implementing these guidelines and found that many of them are not well-acquainted with the report of 1973. In fact, the committee claims that “survey results paint a picture of lack of awareness, denial and systematic neglect of homosexual members by pastors, councils, and congregations, with only a few exceptions” (Agenda, p. 242).
Hence, in the second part of its report, the committee goes into an extensive analysis of the unique problems and needs homosexual members have and how the church should respond to them. It is quite clear from the report that the committee feels the church should be much more understanding and compassionate towards homosexual members. It emphasizes support and acceptance of homosexuals almost to the point that one wonders whether it is a sin or only a sickness with which they are struggling. The report does indicate that some homosexuals may experience healing from their condition, and even cites ministries such as Exodus International. which offer help to homosexuals in overcoming their homosexuality. The report also continues to maintain that homosexual members must refrain from homosexual acts or relationships. even though it doesn’t say this in an unambiguous, forthright manner. In the matter of exercising justice for homosexuals in society — including how we should respond to the demand for homosexual “rights” — the report is very cautious and tentative, and avoids any strong statement or stand against the push to make homosexuality an acceptable sexual orientation. It is good that the churches will have some time to evaluate this report more carefully, so that the church might respond Biblically to the sin of homosexuality and those struggling with that sin.
Structure for Ministry
Another study report on the table for this year’s Synod comes from the “Committee to Study Structure for Ministry in the United States.” This is the longest and most laborious of the study reports and will probably cause synodical delegates the most headaches. The CRC has been engaged in reviewing the structure of its ministries for many years. Its latest major study in this area pertaining to restructuring its Canadian ministries, was adopted in 1997. This year the focus is on how its ministries should be organized, governed, and carried out in the US -but it will certainly affect the Canadian part of the denomination as well.
A brief summary of what this study report is recommending follows:
1. On the classical level. the report recommends that synod require each classis to set up a “classical ministries committee.” This committee would encourage its own classis and the churches within it to “develop a ministry vision and ministry plan.” It would oversee the other committees of classis or coordinate their activities.
2.The report asks “that synod require the Board of Trustees to develop common geographical regions in North America within which all the CRC agencies will conduct their work.”
3. The report recommends establishing regional ministry fields at first two test regions—in which representatives from the various classes composing that region would form an advisory council, and denominational agency personnel would work with them to encourage regional ministry development.
4. The report recommends that synod restructure the Board of Trustees, which guides and governs all the denomination’s ministries, so that it becomes a classically-based board, i.e., it would be composed of a representative from each of the 47 classes of the CRC (plus 6 at-large members). The Board of Trustees would be divided into several committees overseeing the various agencies of the denomination.
5. The agencies of the denomination — such as Home Missions, World Missions, CRWRC, the Back to God Hour and Publications — would all be directed by smaller boards, or ministry councils, of 12 to 16 members each. Instead of each classis sending a delegate to serve on the Board of World Missions, for instance, it would have a much smaller board appointed by the Boatd of Trustees which would report to the Board of Trustees.
6. The goal of the Structure Committee in presenting these reyommendations is to decentralize; the ministries of the CRC and simplify their governance structures. The big question is whether its recommendations fulfill those goals. The Agenda includes 5 overtures which ask Synod to either reject or modify the recommendations of the report. One bone of contention is the requirement that each classis appoint a classical ministries committee to, in effect, supervise, all the other committees of classis. there is also concern that instead of decentralizing, there is actually a centralization of authority in the Board of Trustees, which would have even more oversight over each agency than it now has, while the agendes would become even further removed from the churches with their smaller boards or ministry councils. More and more, one gets the impression that the CRC has become too much a bureaucracy or business, and has become too preoccupied with structural issues.
Rev. James Admiral is pastor of the Second Christian Reformed Church in Randolph, WI.
No agendas for the OPC and PCA were available before this issue of The Outlook went to print. The September issue will carry brief reports of the synods and general assembly meetings of the PCA, OPC, URC, CRC and other Reformed bodies which submit reports.