The CRC Synod’s Agenda in Brief

The Agenda for the coming CRC Synod differs from others of recent years in containing no long reports, and therefore is somewhat shorter than others have been (although 478 pages is “short” only when compared with the 600+ issue of 1973). A hasty survey, at the editor‘s request, provokes the following observations.

REGULAR REPORTS – A Back-to-God Hour Report calls attention to the great expansion of the CRC radio broadcasting especially in other parts of the world and in other languages than English—one of the brightest features of our present denominational picture.

Calvin College and Seminary’s Board of Trustees faces the church with the need to choose a new college president, presenting two nominees: Dr. Anthony J. Diekema, Associate Chancellor and Associate Professor of Medical Education at the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago, long an active leader in church and educational activities including the chairmanship of Trinity College’s board; and Dr. Nicholas Wolterslorff, a popular Calvin Professor, co-editor of The Reformed Journal and a leader in the somewhat experimental “Church of the Servant” (whose organization was contested but sustained at the 1973 Synod).

The Foreign Mission Board asks approval of its new mission order and a new study of missionary principles and strategy of our denominational missions. The work in Africa has seen tremendous growth—the organization of its 100th church, and meetings in 1600 places of worship—but also a split in the Benue church organization and problems of inflation. The Board is asking for the opening of a new field in I,iberia.

The Home Mission Board Report contains a discussion of the “growing church concepts” (pp. 91–94). While this has the merit of encouraging evangelistic interest and activity, one that question some of the generalizations. Did Paul ever teach us that we mustminister to the felt needs” of a community “if we are to get into” it? Can one always say that an obedient church “can expect to grow”? Should we always encourage “differing cultural expressions of faith, both in worship and in ministry” as inherently “helpful to church growth”? What kind of “church growth” are we cultivating?

The Board of Publications discusses the continuing confusion about adult education (pp. 125–137); asks that its quota he im:reased to $5 per family; and asks also that The Banner be subsidized with a quota of $3 per family.

The Interchurch Relations Committee, since last year’s Synod decision no longer having to observe a distinction between “sister” and non-“sister” churches, maintains contact with a variety of churches, and recommends our entering in the new conservative Reformed “North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council and designating the Orthodox Presbyterians achurch in ecclesiastical fellowship.”

The Synodical Committee on Race Relations, seeking to remove race discrimination by promoting such discriminatory projects as providing educational scholarships for non-whites only and promoting increased hiring of minority races, has little to report (pp. 228–231).

Study Committees – 1. A study committee on the examination of candidates for the ministry recommends that the Synod itself examine candidates for the ministry and that their classical examination, drastically reduced a few years ago, be increased by the examination of two additional sermons, one of which is to deal with the Heidelberg Catechism (pp. 286–295).

2. A committee regarding the supervision of guests at the Lord’s Supper brings a divided report. A majority is convinced that this should be by way of personal contact and interviews: a minority report holds that this procedure is too restrictive (pp. 296–316). 3. In 1973 the Synod was faced with a committee report advising it to drastically liberalize its views concerning divorce and remarriage. That report, as the advisory committee observed, “minimize the contractual, covenantal nature of marriage . . . in favor of a ‘relationship of fidelity,’ thus opening the possibility for thinking that a marriage’s real beginning and ending depends on some undefined personal commitment to each other by the parties involved” (p. 318). The Synod, agreeing with this objection, referred the matter to a new committee which now brings its report on “marriage guidelines.” One’s impressions of this new Report are mixed. On the one hand it contains much careful study and consideration of the biblical material—much better than the manipulation of it by the earlier committee. It is when one comes to the practical conclusions that questions arise. These conclusions follow closely those of the objectionable 1973 report, leave room for extended grounds for divorce and under certain conditions endorse remarriage of the unbiblically divorced. Throughout the proposed advice a great deal more emphasis is placed on love, patience, sympathy, sensitivity, being “non-judgmental,” stressing people’s feelings, etc., than on confronting people with the will and the commandments of God. The latter note is not absent and there is even a recognition that there is a place for excommunication of the impenitent, though only in a negative way—It “should only follow when . . .” This need for love and patience certainly must be pointed out, but the problem I see in the advice is a matter of balance. In an age when everybody is talking love, sympathy, feelings, etc., and society around us and a growing number in the church reveal indifference or contempt for the commandments of God, the church should not see how far it can go along with this whole popular mentality but should point out as clearly as possible men‘s sin in breaking God’s commandments. It is often said that we must adjust ourselves to these new and changing times. But this is not true. The present increasing permissiveness toward divorce, though it may he defended by some current sociological and psychological cliches, differs in no way from that of the Pharisees whose hypocrisy un this issue Jesus unmasked. Where are the John the Baptists who in our day will tell the multiplying thousands of Herods, “It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife’s?” That attitude may not gain the church much popularity any more than it did for John; but such bold stressing of God’s standards will be more effective in opposing growing wickedness and leading people to real repentance than a timid sympathy that scarsely dares to call sin sin. As wickedness increases, the testimony of the Christian church must not he muted in order to avoid giving offense. The danger throughout our churches in these matters does not appear to be that of exercising too harsh and hasty discipline so much as that of reassuring the wicked of God’s love and favor while they persist in breaking His commandments. The suggestions about counselling before marriage may have some merit, but one questions whether in a stable home and church environment such an elaborate system is needed (pp. 339–340). Lets not assume or create problems if they don’t exist or make the preacher a “father-confessor” to newlyweds whether his help is needed or not. The concluding rather broad recommendation of professional counselling services also raises some questions. While professional help from men who are themselves obedient to the Lord and His word may be very valuable, one hears of too much “counselling” that by concentrating on people’s feelings and desires instead of God’s standards appears to do more harm than good, The committee asks that its report be recommended to the churches for a year of study and reaction. It should get some careful criticism.

4, The report on “Ethical Decisions about War” sounds like, as it in effect admits (p. 348) it is, a product of the anti-war protest movement in connection with Indo-China. Although it gives passing recognition to the responsibilities of government to suppress evil by force (p. 354) its argumentation is mostly on the broad principle of “love,” with little reference to Scripture and suggests that each Christian for himself decide whether the government’s action is justified and whether or not he should sup, port it even by paying taxes (cf. especially guidelines 3 and 17, pp, 359–362; cf. also Romans 13:6, 7). This unbiblical endorsement of anarchy in the name of Christian charity, largely echoes the current liberal line which by breaking down the nations internal order and its ability to resist external attack is currently helping to destroy the free world. The biblical “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29) was plainly not designed for this kind of distortion, and we hope the churches will reject it.

5. The committee on Lodge and Church Membership presents a pamphlet in popular style, even including cartoons, showing clearly and at length the inconsistency of trying to combine lodge-and church membership. 6. A new report on Women in Ecclesiastical Office (discussed elsewhere in this issue) begins by criticizing sharply the 1973 Report. Then taking up the relevant Scripture passages and deciding that if they were taken literally they would conflict with some church practices, the report “therefore” seeks reasons why one need not take the literally. With such a beginning it is hardly surprising that the conclusions are weak and unconvincing. Although the Bible, by this process of reasoning does not forbid it, the churches would not yet ordain women because they are not ready for it and the innovation might hurt the families! (pp. 399–422). 7. The Synod is being advised to adopt a “Judicial Code.” While some additional regulation of appeals may be desirable, one wonders whether such an extensive new “code” is needed (pp. 445–454). Overtures and Appeals – A number of overtures appear. Two of them would change the Home Mission Board’s practice of making home missionary appointments for a limited time. Another would appoint deacons to Classes and Synods. Classis Lake Erie, still unhappy about past Synod’s refusals to compromise the opposition to lodge membership, wants a new study committee appointed. The same Classis wants another committee to study the unequal distribution of wealth and power within and among nations. One almost begins to wonder whether the Classis is confusing the Synod with the United Nations. Church assemblies are supposed to restrict themselves to ecclesiastical matters (Church Order, Art. 28).

Classis Grand Rapids South is asking the Synod to reconsider its 1971 rule giving the denominational Stated Clerk the right, at his discretion, to remove from the Agenda overtures which duplicate others already there. Should any individual have the right to refuse publication of overtures just because others are concerned about the same issue? This rule appears to hinder both the participation and the confidence in the proceedings of our Synods and might better be changed.

Classis Grandville would delay adoption of reports on important matters for at least a year to give churches the opportunity to adequately study them a suggestion worth considering. Classis Sioux Center wishes to see only approved Bible versions used in educational materials.

The Baldwin Street Church asks Synod to reopen the case of Dr. Willis DeBoer‘s views of Scripture since this was decided by the 1972 Synod without the delegates having seen materials included in it.

Classis Rocky Mountain wishes to eliminate from the Heidelberg Catechism Lord‘s Day 30 the criticism of the Roman Catholic Mass.

The Dutton Church appeals last year’s decision regarding disciplining members active in the Association of C. R. Laymen as in conflict with Church Order and Confession.

First Highland brings objections against the new baptism form.

Peter De Jong is pastor of the Christian Reformed Church of Dutton, Michigan.