CRC Synod 2023: Disguised Gains

CRC Synod 2023: Disguised Gains

Synod, the last two years especially, feels like war. The differing visions for the CRC’s future and the underlying theologies behind the opposing visions collide each year at synod. The conflict does not feel like a friendly game of basketball between family members. The conflict feels like a desperate fight for the soul of the church. The viewpoints are so different that despite the verboten descriptors, there will be winners and losers. The losers will find themselves in a CRC so intolerable that they will have to leave. At synod, the gloves come off because the future of the church is at stake.

Anyone who watched the final day of Synod 2023 in the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) would have been stunned. The log jam of recommendations still to reach the floor led to the decision to postpone the remaining business to 2024. Highly important but contentious topics remained until the following year.

The differing factions within the CRC are increasingly visible at synod. “Conservative” and “liberal” descriptors are so politically charged that matters of Christ’s church become conflated with current political interests. A better term for the conservative faction is confessionalist. Exemplified by “The Abide Project,” these stress confessional identity and hold orthodox views on marriage and sexuality. The liberals would better be called revisionists. “All One Body” would fit into this group. They are more open to revising traditional church stances and new movements of what the Holy Spirit might be doing. They are either in favor of full LGBTQ inclusion or are open to the idea. Then there are moderates who often feel caught in the middle. Their organization is the CRCNA agencies and offices. They tend to be loyal to the CRC brand and averse to ecclesiastical conflict.

Synod 2022

The most contentious matters of Synod 2023 concerned matters from last year. Synod 2022 was a significant blow to the affirming (revisionist?) movement within the CRC. Synod had overwhelmingly voted to “affirm that ‘unchastity’ in Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 108 encompasses adultery, premarital sex, extramarital sex, polyamory, pornography and homosexual sex, all of which violate the seventh commandment. In so doing, synod declares this affirmation ‘an interpretation of [a] confession’ (Acts of Synod 1975, p. 603). Therefore, this interpretation has confessional status.”

Synod 2022 also was firm with Neland Ave CRC in Grand Rapids. In 2020, this congregation ordained a deacon living in a same-sex marriage. Synod overwhelmingly voted to “instruct Neland Ave to immediately rescind its decision to ordain a deacon in a same-sex marriage, thus nullifying this deacon’s term.” Further, synod instructed Neland Ave “to uphold our shared denominational covenants” and tasked the Executive Director to appoint a committee in loco to follow up with Neland Ave and Classis Grand Rapids East, which had refused to intervene. Neland Ave decided to appeal the decision to Synod 2023. Classis Grand Rapids East used the appeal as reason to still not intervene.

Better Together?

Once Synod 2022 drew a hard line on sexuality, the CRC head office became flooded with calls about current officebearers who disagreed with the decision, which led to the release of a FAQ.
In February of 2023, a new group emerged, calling themselves “Better Together: A Third Way.” Characterizing the revisionist-confessional debate as another branch of the broader culture wars erupting in the CRC, Better Together wants the CRC to have a “mission-focused, baptismally-based identity that allows for disagreement on ethical issues that do not determine our salvation, such as same-sex marriage…” This is “for the purpose of unity and mission together.” Essentially, the Third Way is unity at all costs. For one side this would be the cost of safe spaces for LGBTQ people. For the other side this would be the cost of having teachers in the CRC using the grace of God as license for immorality.
Only days after Better Together appeared, the CRC’s LGBTQ lobby group announced that 11 congregations have made public statements in support of full LGBTQ inclusion.
Overtures began to pile up. Many of them asked to reverse the decisions of the prior synod. Particular focus was on reversing the declaration that synod’s definition of “unchastity” has “confessional status.” Some called for responses to Neland Ave and the other 10 congregations with affirming statements. Others asked for leeway for Neland Ave and other affirming congregations as well as officebearers who disagree with Synod 2022’s decision.

Synod 2023

When Synod 2023 finally commenced, the initial days progressed as synods often go.
Synod 2023 decided (again) to refuse an overture to adopt Belhar Confession as a full confession. The final speaker before the vote was Christian Sebastia, a pastor originally from Venezuela who condemned the Belhar’s “liberation theology” that would open the door to “blood-red socialism.”
Synod decided to make an official statement against assisted suicide. Even speakers from historically revisionist classes spoke against assisted suicide and the need for a statement. A task force will be appointed to draft a report on assisted suicide based on prior synodical statements valuing human life.
A proposed “Code of Conduct for Ministry Leaders” with vague language about “harm” was thoroughly revised so that any open-ended language could not be used to limit the teaching of Scripture. After all, God’s Word is sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). Synod explicitly clarified that this Code is “subservient to Scripture and our Confessions.” Moreover, the Code is “encouraged” (not required) of councils to use for church staff.

All One Body demonstrators daily lined the walkways to and from the dining hall singing “Jesus Loves Me” and “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love” as delegates walked by. The group neared 130 on Wednesday, many holding signs such as, “Avoid Loveless Orthodoxy / Accept God is Love,” “Say ‘All Are Welcome’ … and MEAN IT!”
While All One Body whites (is there a better descriptor?) demonstrated outside, inside was a different story. “Several Korean and Latino delegates expressed their positions on human sexuality,” observed Latino Commissioned Pastor Moises Pacheco. “And it seemed to be totally ignored by the delegates speaking in favor of the affirming side even while they continued to claim a desire to advocate for those on the margins. Oddly enough, those on the margins that they were advocating for seemed to be their own friends and family. I’m not sure I have ever felt so ignored.

Read More

Scroll to top