What’s Coming Up at the CRC Synod?

Every Christian Reformed Consistory member has again received a copy of the 1978 Synod Agenda. One wonders how many even of the delegates to that meeting will work through its 496 pages. To help consistory members as well as other readers to get acquainted with the synod’s coming business, THE OUTLOOK, as it has done in recent years, again attempts to give a preview of it.


The first report, that of the denomination’s radio preaching of the gospel in eight languages throughout the world, appears, in some ways, to be the most encouraging news one can find in the whole book. Mail response, for example, to the Arabic broadcasts has risen from nothing to more than a thousand letters a month. The Chinese broadcasts, reaching into the most populous country in the world from which, as in many Islamic countries, virtually all other kinds of missionary effort are barred, give us a unique and growing opportunity to bring the Word of God there.


Among the items that concern the college and seminary, what seems likely to catch the most attention is the follow-up of last year‘s announced board decision to actively promote dancing on campus. Last year’s synod turned down a motion to disapprove of that policy but directed that reactions to it be sent to the board. The board now reports that it has received hundreds of reactions, at least 85% of them critical, but is still of a mind to follow the announced course and that it expects the synod to support it (pp. 46–50).


The report on overseas missions shows how at various points the, evangelistic work is being taken over by national· churches and an important part of our missionary effort has gone into seminary training for their leadership. One notices the pastor‘s training going on in the Philippines, Taiwan, Latin America and Africa. One wonders about the objectivity of the reporting when our churches are informed that the strongly promoted, ecumenical Theological College of Northern Nigerias “student body continues to expand since the Bachelor of Divinity program was added two years ago” (p. 61). but our church public is told nothing about the fact revealed by a recent missionary report that of a recent graduating class from that institution not one was going into the ministry but all were taking much higher paying government jobs in education! Neither do we find any reference to the remarkable fact reported by the same missionary that 300,000 people now attend meetings of the Tiv churches (more than the 287,656 total membership of our own CRC). The Tiv churchesReformed Theological College (RTCN), operating as the Report says “on a shoestring budget” (p. 60), is expanding as it trains pastors to meet this enormous need as well as those of other churches.

Efforts continue in the several fields to coordinate the missionary effort with the relief work of CRWRC and the broadcasting of the Back-to-God Hour. The Latin America report aptly concludes, “At a time when many missionary organizations arc losing their sense of identity and direction, the CRWM will serve Latin America best by refusing to be diverted from its essential task. It must keep pressing forward, proclaiming the Gospel to the unsaved and establishing Reformed churches, and doing it in complementary relationship to our other denominational agencies” (p. 67).


The Home Missions board report, in its introduction states rather well that, “As the denomination gets further from its ethnic roots and immigrant status and becomes more representative of the countries in which it lives, it must find its cohesiveness in the essentials; one Lord, one faith, one baptism. For stability it must depend increasingly on its biblical foundation.” Mentioning also “kingdom consciousness” and “distinctive Reformed witness” it goes on to observe. “It must give itself in service in this world while remaining unspotted by worldliness” (p. 74). (While there are multiplying indications across the denominational scene that all of these aims are being considered outdated by many, it is good that some in roles of leadership are trying to keep them in view.)

The report also indicates an effort to get away from long-term efforts that see little or no growth. “The Board of Home Missions is committed to beginning new fields as present fields are graduated.” “Though presently Home Missions is somewhat behind the schedule of graduating five fields each year there is reason to expect the pace to increase” (p. 81).


The Publications Board notes the lack of usual protests (p. 93). increasing use of its materials outside of the denomination, especially among RCA churches (p. 97). (I did not notice any report on their use within the CRC.)

A supplementary “Report on Adult Education” calls attention to our “growing ‘identity crisis,’” “Who are we as CRC?”What justifies our continued denominational existence?” (p. 108) and “questions facing the church” such as “What is the Bible and how is it to be Understood?”What are appropriate roles of women in church and society?” “How should Christians respond to economic disparity between nations and races?” (p. 110), The frank recognition that all of these have become questionable within the denomination ought to be compared and contrasted with the expressions of biblical and Reformed loyalty noted in the missions reports. These questions in fact rather accurately summarize what promise to be some of the major business of this synod of our increasingly divided churches.


The World Relief organization, having had to reduce its programs by 15% during 1977 because of lack of financing, presents a smaller budget this year. It is working for closer cooperation with other church agencies and seeking to avoid long-term commitments to aid programs. The work of the committee in many parts of the world in times of disaster has wide appreciation and support in the churches. The reader may wonder, however, how such activities as “reforestation” and “transportation” (p. 121), “meeting literacy needs” improving “the functioning of community structures” (p. 120) and paying part of the director’s salary for a “Family Counselling” project in the city of Edmonton where there are 8 mostly goodsized Christian Reformed Churches (p. 123) fits into the denominational effort to give help to these stricken by disasters or facing extreme problems of poverty. The evident intention of the organization to curtail or avoid long-term activity in such areas would appear to deserve support.


Last year the Mission Principles report suggested the question whether in view of the reduced number and changing role of chaplains. the chaplains’ work should be placed under the Home Mission Board where it used to be . Now the Chaplains’ Committee which used only $60,000 last year is operating on a budget of $107.000 (p. 147). Increasingly chaplains are going into counselling services in a variety of institutions. The Committee feels that it must “bolster its recruiting and training program” to meet competition in the placement process (p. 141). The Committee also wants to go further into industrial and business chaplaincy. Included in the duties of such chaplains the Committee envisions “that of educating the constituency of the church on some of the inhumane and secularizing aspects of modern business and industry” (p. 141). Not surprisingly, in view of such envisioned aims, it has to call attention to the problem of determining when the work of a chaplain is still “spiritual in character and directly related to the ministerial calling” (p. 144), At this point we see another indication of the increasing confusion in the minds of the churches and their ministers about what their business in the world is supposed to be.


The FNC Committee is proposing that the minimum salary for ministers serving subsidized churches be set at $12,200 (an increase of $200 compared with last year‘s increase of $1,000), plus a (new) service increment of $50 per year for lip to 20 years of service, plus $500 per child, plus $1,000 car allowance to be equalled by another $1,000 provided by the church (pp. 161, 162).


In our interchurch relations with other members of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC) it has become “evident . . . that we do have different approaches to the Bible and different ways of reading and understanding the Word of God. That led the Council to decide to sponsor a study committee on biblical hermeneutics.” Our interchurch Relations Committee is recommending that the Synod endorse “a conference . . . or series of conferences” rather than such a joint study committee (p. 174). Last year, it may be recalled, our Synod approved the amendment NAPARC made to its constitution which affirmed that the basis of its fellowship was “full commitment to the Bible in its entirety as the Word of God written, without error in all its parts,” but followed that strongly opposed decision with another which declared that this revision “does not bind the CRC beyond that which recent Synods of the CRC have endorsed” (Acts 1977, p. 36). It becomes only too apparent that our denomination is no longer willing to commit itself fully to faith in an inerrant Bible. Now this Committee will agree to a conference in which a variety of ideas may be aired, but not to a joint study with those who take the Bible as inerrant. It will be interesting to observe what happens when the major assemblies of four other denominations (members of NAPARC) who hold to an inerrant Bible will meet at Calvin College at the same time as our Synod meets there. The necessary rift between those who build on the Bible and those who don’t will have to become apparent no matter how many declarations of ecumenical fellowship may be made. As we are asked to pray for this ecumenical development (p. 175), let us pray that God‘s Word may triumph over our denominational determination to compromise it.

The Committee Report devotes considerable attention to criticizing South African policy regulations and to its opinion on what the churches there should be doing about such matters (pp. 167–181).


For a number of years a standing committee has been issuing a variety of revisions of our old liturgical forms or new ones whether or not there seemed to be any general desire for them in the churches, and synods have been approving them. As that committee reviews its mandate since 1964 one notices the surprising fact that one of its duties has been to advise the synod “as to the supervision it ought to provide local congregations in all liturgical matters” (p. 185). Although our churches in their synods decide on matters of common policy, doesn’t it come as a surprise that one of our synods regarded itself as having the job of “supervising” each congregation? It appears that according to that decision we have been Episcopalians (governed by supervising bishops) rather than Reformed (governed by local elders) for the last 14 years. It has become increasingly common that new forms were first approved for trial by those who wished to use them. More recently in connection with the Lord‘s Supper, it appears that the form was merely an illustration of the way the Lord‘s Supper might be celebrated (p. 191). Now the committee, fearful that this policy has created “anarchy and sheer congregationalism” determines that this freedom of the churches must be reined in. It “believes that it is time for the synod to begin to set . . . limits” (p. 192). It proposes to set up an order for the Lord‘s Supper in which it indicates what words must be used and at what points and to what degree they may be altered. This order may also he the order for other services than those at which the Lord‘s Supper is celebrated. Included as an option in it is what it calls “the Passing of the Peace.” By this the Committee means Paul’s “holy kiss” for which it would substitute a handshake and words such as “The peace of the Lord be always with you” (p. 193). The Report goes on to indicate how the three current forms for the Lord‘s Supper may be divided up and used piece-meal in different parts of the service. The net impression the reader gains from the whole business is that it is extremely and needlessly complex and arbitrarily cuts up our too many existing forms.

Many years ago when an attempt was made to impose upon the church a “new order of worship” which although complicated did have some logic, the churches overwhelmingly rejected it. There is little reason to believe that this effort to impose even more complex, confusing and arbitrary legislation would or ought to be more successful than that was.

To help guide the churches in the confusion it is creating, the Committee proposes that the Synod approve a loose-leaf Service Book which can be constantly changed!

Churches are asked to bring to the Committee their reactions to the new marriage fonn which was approved for trial last year, before September 1, 1978. That form in its capitulation to the modern liberation fad in the vows pointedly refused to recognize the God-given distinction between the role of man and woman in marriage and even tastelessly presumed to instruct God in the prayer how He ought to counsel the partners when they would become bored with each other!

One wonders about some of the doctrine expressed in the new forms found in the report. Where does the Bible ever intimate that the Christian “may joyfully bear the cross of Christ” (p. 188). We have crosses to bear, but never bear Christs unique cross! Is this an unintentional slip or a deliberate heresy?

Again, although the Bible instructs us to confess our sins to the Lord and to one another as we sin against him or her, where does it ever instruct us to confess them to “the whole communion of saints in heaven and earth” (p. 194)? We should not say such things if we do not mean them. If we include such material in our liturgy just because it sounds grandiloquent, are we not in danger of turning. the whole business into hypocrisy?

The committee’s over all problem is difficult if not impossible to solve. Listening to the response of churches, it gets “no clear guidance. What one said tended to be cancelled out by another” (p. 191). Liturgy although important is a secondary matter. It must seek to express the faith and confession of the churches that use it. When there is no longer a real unity of faith and confession the problem of finding acceptable liturgy—or liturgies, must become hopeless. The Committee’s problem in endlessly multiplying new or revised forms is that this increasing variation both results from and contributes to breaking up of the bonds that still hold our increasingly divided churches together. The Committee, now itself becoming fearful of the process it has encouraged, wants to stop it. That effort can hardly succeed.


The Minister‘s Information Service notes “that there is an increasing concern about the question of being released from the office of the ministry and from the ordination vows. Would it therefore be wise to establish a period of probation prior to ordination? Or to remove the implication of permanency attached to the ordination vows” (p. 222)?

The Ministers’ Pension Fund Committee remarks that its basic pension is now $4,840 per year. It suggests that because of differences between the laws of the U. S. and Canada we may have to have two separate pension plans. It wants the Synod to designate $3,000 of the pension as a reasonable housing allowance for retirees for tax purposes. It ask a quota of 75¢ for the supplemental fund which would also cover moving expenses in addition to the $30.50 quota for the pension fund (pp. 221–231).


Last year the Race Committee (SCORR), burdened with an impossibly broad mandate (to “eliminate racism, both causes and effects . . . through the world . . .”) and no assigned job, brought in a somewhat dispirited report. The Synod, however, continued it and raised its quota which had been cut the previous year. This year the committee lists among its activities the fact that it is helping to support a “Black”MinisterAt-Large” who works under an independent board in Grand Rapids as “an ombudsman for the urban poor and minority peoples.” Admitting “the controversial nature of this ministry,” the Committee tells us nothing of the religious or denominational commitment of this minister we are supporting (p. 260).

The Committee‘s report includes the 6-page “Koinonia Declaration” of a group of white Afrikaners who are objecting to some of their South African government‘s policies. The Race Committee wants our Synod to endorse this declaration although it objects to that part of the declaration which condemns both Black as well as White nationalism. “Nor are we convinced that both White and Black nationalist movements ought to be condemned with equal force, as the Declaration seems to do” (p. 270).

Of its $114,000 budget $50,000 is for salaries and operating expenses and the rest is given to other agencies (and minority scholarships). How can giving special “minority scholarships,” restricted to certain races eliminate race discrimination?


Increasingly ministers of our churches are being placed in roles which are quite different from the ordinate pastorate. When questions about how far a minister‘s ordination might be stretched to cover such duties arose two years ago, a committee was appointed to study the matter. Its report proposes that the description of the minister‘s task as “spiritual in character and directly related to the ministerial calling” be abandoned (p. 324).

It proposes a series of changes in Church Order articles 11–14 to deal with these matters. Some of these details seem to have some merit. What I find somewhat disturbing is the Committee’s baldly stated assumption “that most stipulations governing the offices . . . are neither sacred nor biblically enjoined. To put it another way, the nature and extent of ecclesiastical office is what the church says it is” (p. 326). Although we all recognize that the Bible does not give us detailed regulations to cover every area of the churches’ life, doesnt such a sweeping assumption as this contradict the principle that Christ governs His church by His Word and Spirit? In a variety of matters one senses that we pay less and less attention to anything the Bible says, but isnt it somewhat startling to see this Committee baldly claim such independence of Scripture as a basic church principle?


After noticing this last observation of a study committee we turn to the next Report which deals with “Hermeneutical Principles Concerning Women in Office.”

We observe that it, in what may prove to be the most controversial item of the Synod’s business would lead us to the same conclusion that the Bible tells us nothing clearly and that the church is free to do as it pleases. It may be worth recalling that this is the last of three reports that in one way or another have been dealing with this matter. In 1973 an 80page report went through the Bible citing the many examples of the prominent places given women in order to prove their equality and dismissed anything the Bible taught about their not being put in the same offices as men as the expression of the male-dominated ancient culture.

In 1975 another committee first plainly exposed the fallacious reasoning of the earlier report and called attention to New Testament passages which showed that special offices were not given to women. Then it observed that if these passages were taken literally they would forbid a few things which our churches were already doing. “Therefore” (Acts 1975, pp. 483, 484, 486, 488) the Committee sought and found excuses which it argued made such Bible teachings no longer applicable. By this curious process the Committee reached the same conclusion that the Bible didnt oppose the ordination of women. The Synod of 1975 appointed a new committee which was to study the way in which the Bible should be understood to apply to such matters.

This Committee found itself sharply divided, four of the professors (from Calvin College and Seminary) on one side, three others, two from Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi and one from Reformed Bible College) on the other. In that situation the Committee, instead of presenting two reports in which the positions of each group could be clearly stated and argued, was prevailed upon to stay together and attempt to bring one report which probably satisfies no one. Although the differing conclusions are indicated at the end, the argumentation, as Professor Van Groningen, himself a committee member, pointed out in last month‘s OUTLOOK (pp. 20–22), is confusing and far from satisfactory in many ways. A large part of the report consists of statements of abstract principles of interpretation.

As one moves through it, however, he notices an emphasis emerging that stresses the way biblical material was culturally conditioned. “Consideration should be given to the possibility that that which looks like a moral principle and has been long considered such by the church is in fact no more than an application of a moral principle.” “Care should be taken not to transfer such applications directly to the different situations obtaining today” (p. 345).

Again, “the question may be considered whether a given word in Scripture, which appears to be the last word the canon speaks on the subject, is possibly open to the future for further development in connection with the coming of God’s kingdom” (p. 347). Not surprisingly, the majority of the Committee, seeking for reasons or excuses to defend the modern movement to remove all distinctions between men and women in the church, as it refers to some selected Scripture passages, ignoring many others, laboring especially to dispute Paul’s clear injunctions in I Cor. 14:33–36 and I Timothy 2:9–15 arrives at the desired conclusion that “the biblical evidence for allowing or denying women admission to the office of elder and minister as presently understood is not clear” (p. 376). It would now open the office of deacon to women, but would not yet admit them to become ministers or elders especially since “most of our churches do not seem to be ready at this time for women elders and women pastors” (p. 377).

Two of the minority, although dissuaded from bringing their own separate report differ from the majority‘s conclusion. They find some evidence in the Bible for permitting women deacons (Rom. 16:1 and 1 Tim. 3:1) and would permit their ordination to that office, “provided that their work is distinguished from that of the elders” (p. 377). They “find no evidence in the Bible for opening the offices of elder and minister to women” and see the Apostle Paul (I Cor. 14:34 and I Tim. 2:12) stating “that a woman is not to have authority over a man.” They would have the Synod declare that “the offices of elder and minister not be opened to women” (p. 378).

It seems to me that two additional observations ought to be made: (1) It should be observed that in the two passages just mentioned, which prescribes the order that must prevail in Christ’s church (I Tim. 3:15; I Cor. 14:33), the Apostle grounds his barring women from ruling offices in God’s Creation and His law, and in “the commandment of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:38). Only if they want to set that aside can our churches ordain them to these leading and governing offices. (2) It is true that deacons are engaged in “serving” and there were women since Bible times who helped the sick and needy. That they were ordained to special “offices” in such service no one has been able to show. The Lord who accepted the service of women chose and called no women apostles. Furthermore, deacons among us not only care for the needy but also serve as part of the council and in it together with the elders govern the church. Therefore if our churches ordain women to this office as we have it, they thereby set aside the Lord’s order for His church and really declare their independence from Him and His Word. This was exactly the sin Jesus condemned in the Pharisees, who “made the commandment of God of none effect” by their tradition and thereby made their worship “vain” in His judgment, “teaching for doctrines the precepts of men” (Matt. 15:3–9). He labeled them “hypocrites” (“actors”) because while pretending to explain and apply God’s Word they really set it aside.


A Committee to deal with the old problem of to what kind of office layworkers should be ordained presents a divided report. A majority recommends that they be ordained as elders; a minority would have them ordained to a new office of “evangelist.” It seems to me that the first proposal better fits the Biblical pattern which provides for the office of elder but does not seem to point to a church‘s right to establish whatever new offices it may please.


A “Task Force on World Hunger” faces us with 70 pages of lengthy discussion on poverty in the world, some common sense recommendations that we waste and spend too much and ought to be more saving and give more help to the needy. Not content, however, with such practical and generally acceptable advice, it would have us take on the job of restructuring the world (p. 463)! It is confident that it will meet with opposition as it criticizes our “recreational vehicles and Cadillacs” and “Florida vacations” (p. 459); it proposes that we give one percent of our income to a world hunger program, and vastly expand the work of the CRWRC. Since its aim to restructure the world system, “structural or systematic change both in North America and worldwide,” is a bit ambitious even for that agency, it suggests that the Synod continue the work of this Committee to take on that problem (pp. 463, 465, 468). Without underestimating the competence of our modest “task force” to handle such an undertaking, don‘t we have to face the question whether the Lord has assigned this job to our churches (Luke 12:14)? This proposal despite its good intentions could develop into the most incalculably expensive boondoggle our churches have ever undertaken.


A Committee to consider establishing a denominational “standing committee for social justice” first considers objections that this is going beyond the proper province of the church, then finds precedents we have established for a move in this direction and finally recommends establishing such committees on all church levels.

One observes in the case of a number of other churches that as they become Jess committed to or certain of the Bible and its teachings they often become more confident of their “prophetic” calling and competence to tell the world how to solve all of its problems. We seem to be seeing among us the same striking development in the multiplication of such committees to deal with all kinds of social problems at the same time as we are being assured by study committees that the Bible tells us nothing certain about anything.


This Synod faces relatively few overtures from classes or churches. Overtures 2 and 3 deal with separation of ministers from their churches. Overture 5 would enlarge the Radio Committee and make it denomination-wide. Number 6 would “articulate the nature and strategy of Reformed Evangelism.” Overture 7 would have agencies asking quota support report their salary and fringe benefit schedule ill the Agenda. Havent our churches a right to know what they arc paying above the congregational level? Overture 10 from Wisconsin would revise Synod procedure “to require that all overtures, appeals and communications addressed to Synod and endorsed by a consistory or classis be duplicated and distributed to all delegates of Synod, if these communications do not appear in the printed agenda” (pp. 492–493). It argues that delegates should know on what they are voting and that those who bring overtures have a right to a hearing by the Synod. This overture if adopted might go far toward remedying the serious political abuse that is preventing our Synods from operating as the representative bodies they are supposed to be (see my article in the December 1977, THE OUTLOOK, pp. 7–10). Pointing in the same direction is Overture 11 which would have personal appeals given to delegates with certain precautions. Overture 12 deals with Christian care for the retarded; Overture 13 would increase minister‘s pension benefits; Overture 14 asks the Synod not to approve of social dancing at Calvin College; number 15 wants the Synod to support the Koinonia Declaration, already mentioned. Finally number 16 would define the nature and authority of the Canadian Council of the CRC.