Review of the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in North America

Both present members of the Christian Reformed Church and former members take a keen interest in that denomination’s Synod which took place in Grand Rapids, Michigan this past June. One hundred eighty-eight delegates from forty-seven classes in the United States and Canada met at Calvin College to work through the lengthy agenda. As an outsider, I did not attend any of the sessions nor hear any of the debates. This article is gleaned from the Synod issue of The Banner and articles written by Mr. Charles Honey, religious editor of The Grand Rapids Press which were mailed to me by a friend.

Rev. Joel Boot of Jenison, Michigan was elected as the President of Synod and Rev. Emmett Harrison of East Side CRC in Warrnesville Heights, Ohio was elected as the Vice-President. Rev. Harrison is the first Afro-American to be elected to an office at Synod. Together, these men would lead the delegates through various key issues that lay before the Synod including the ministry shortage in the CRC; question & answer 80 of the Heidelberg Catechism; and what to do with The Banner.

New CRC Ministers

One of the biggest issues facing the Christian Reformed Church is the many vacant churches within the denomination. Synod approved thirty-one new candidates for ministry. It is always a delight to see how the Lord continues to provide for His church by calling to the ministry members from among His elect. We pray that the Lord will use these candidates to advance His kingdom and bring glory to His Name.

Of those declared eligible for call, five were women. In order to appease those who are opposed to women in ecclesiastical office, Synod voted to approve the candidates one at a time rather than as a group. Rev. Ron Meyer of Drenthe CRC in Michigan was quoted in The Press saying that “this would allow conservatives like him to vote only for those who are biblically qualified.” In spite of their silence or their “Nay” vote, all thirty-one candidates were approved.

In the next four years nearly two hundred CRC ministers will retire that’s an average of fifty per year. Even if every candidate graduating this year would get a call in the next year, there would still be an additional nineteen vacant churches. Add that to the 130 already vacant churches, and by the end of the year almost one out of every six churches will be without a minister.

Responding to this shortage, Synod set up a committee to oversee and recommend new ministers to the denomination. Whereas, this once was done by Calvin Theological Seminary Board of Trustees, the authority to present Synod with prospective candidates was now placed in the hands of a Synodical Ministry Candidacy Committee. Although delegates agreed that Calvin Theological Seminary is still the preferred way for educating future ministers, Synod voted to create long distance programs for non-resident students and less time consuming course requirements for those transferring from other seminaries.

Opening the door as wide as it dared to allow for more ministers, Synod turned down a proposal that would permit graduates from Mid-America Reformed Seminary from entering the ministry without taking the required year at Calvin Seminary. It is interesting to note that in the past few years the Christian Reformed Church has done a host of colloquium doctums, gathering in new ministers from a variety of backgrounds, but men who receive a solidly reformed training at a seminary other than Calvin must be placed on hold before they can proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Popish Mass

Discussion over question & answer 80, which calls the Catholic Mass a “condemnable idolatry” [already water down from the “accursed idolatry” of earlier translations], has been going on for a long time. Way back when Andrew Kuyvenhoven was editor of The Banner, there was a plea to remove this question and answer from the catechism.

I remember when I was in Seminary we discussed this very question in our Heidelberg Catechism class. Most of the students were rather lenient toward the Roman Catholic Church in their view of the Mass until. Then Seminarian Kirk MacNeil spoke up. He had grown up in the Roman Catholic Church. Kirk convincingly explained the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church and how still today they believe the bread and wine actually turn into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Still today, he said, they believe in salvation through the sacrament. As I read the discussions of Synod concerning this matter, I could not help but think of how providential it was that the now Rev. Kirk MacNeil would be a delegate at the Synod discussing this question of the catechism. His name appeared in the newspaper article frequently as he claimed that still today the popish mass is a condemnable idolatry.

Delegates, however, disavowed question and answer 80 of the catechism. According to The Press, Synod claimed that the text “does not accurately and fairly represent official Roman Catholic teaching.” If I read the articles in The Press correctly, it seems like there was some debate after the disavowal as to what the Roman Catholic Church actually believes concerning the Eucharist. Although he did not quote anyone, Rev. George Vandervelde said, “Catholics know the body of Jesus is not splintered up in a million little pieces all over the world.”

Back in 1987, in response to Rev. Kuyvenhoven’s article in The Banner, The Fidelity Forum of West Michigan took out a full page ad in The Grand Rapids Press explaining what the Roman Catholic Church believes. In defense of the Eucharist, they wrote: “Speaking on behalf of the millions of Catholics throughout the world, who daily worship our Lord, in the holy Eucharist - not just the symbolic presence, but in fact His true presence (Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity)…”

Perhaps Rev. Mariano Avila, professor at Calvin seminary summed it up best when he said, “It is ironic that we want to change our confessions to be in good relationship with a church that will never see us as a proper church.” In the end, Synod asked for input from the churches and will discuss the issue again in two years.

The Banner

I have long said that the reason so many conservatives remain in the Christian Reformed Church is because they do not read The Banner. If they read their denomination’s periodical and knew what was going on in their churches, they would cry out for change or leave the CRC. Members in the CRC will no longer be able to use ignorance of their denomination as an excuse for remaining. Synod voted to send The Banner to every household.

Conservative CRC members will apparently receive plenty of material to get their dander up. Rev. Robert De Moor, who recently published an article suggesting that gay couples should be legally recognized as domestic partners, was appointed the new editor. When interviewed, Rev De Moor said, “We must allow for disagreement.”

Gary Mulder, executive director of CRC Publications claims that sending The Banner to every household “won’t cost the CRC more, because $600,000 per year spent on a new religious education curriculum will be diverted to The Banner.” I have no doubt that over time that new religious education curriculum will be approved and the expense will be passed on to the churches in the form of Ministry Shares.

Conclusion

Reading the different articles from The Banner and The Grand Rapids Press concerning CRC Synod cannot help but leave an empty feeling in one’s heart. The Christian Reformed Church is a church that desires to remain faithful to the Word and the Three Forms of Unity. Yet she seems pulled in so many different directions that she doesn’t know where to turn. She still knows what is right and what God’s Word requires, but wants so badly to be a part of the big picture that she is willing to compromise her roots in order to be recognized by the world.

 

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