Synod Synopsis: Part Three
In this final written summary of Synod 2022, I want to address the work of Advisory Committee #2 which handled matters related to the “Church Order” of the CRCNA. Our own Deacon Jennifer Stolzenbach served on Advisory #2 which was tasked with addressing a difficult, tender question related to the Neland Avenue congregation in Grand Rapids, MI which operated outside of the boundaries of current church order when they ordained a same-sex practicing deacon.*
Committee #2 had several days to work on this (and another equally thorny topic), but came to a unanimous conclusion in what was recommended to, and ultimately adopted by, Synod.
Their recommendation reads in part:**
When Neland Avenue CRC ordained a person in a same-sex marriage, it acted outside the bounds of past synodical decisions, procedures, and guidance, and the CRCNA’s interpretation of Scripture as it relates to same-sex marriage—and in so doing, has broken covenant with fellow churches. Our unity is based on bearing one another’s burdens together. Acting apart from this covenant is a violation of our sacred trust. This hurts us all.
Recommendations: (1) That synod instruct Neland Avenue CRC to immediately rescind its decision to ordain a deacon in a same-sex marriage, thus nullifying this deacon’s current term. (2) That synod instruct Neland Avenue CRC to uphold our shared denominational covenants and procedures as laid out in the Church Order and the Covenant for Officebearers.
A few important things to note:
This was addressed as a Church Order question, not as a moral question.
Synod addressed this question only as related to ordained office bearers. Some inflammatory, false headlines have articulated that the above decision implies rejections in other spheres of church life, from the way we welcome people at the front door to participation in the sacraments. Synod’s silence on those issues respects the range of practice that currently exists and the flexibility we must extend one another in a binational, diverse denomination.
Synod resisted the temptation to use the more potent tools at its disposal (formal censure, unseating delegates) in responding to Neland Avenue. This phrase was repeated several times, “Neland is part of us, and we are part of them.”
This decision of Synod narrowly addresses leadership within the body of the Church where counter-cultural norms and Gospel-obedient expectations apply.
There exist ways for Neland (and others) to appeal, explain their position, and to advocate for changes to the Church Order. This likely will happen.
There are several significant ethnic and racial minority communities within the CRC who submitted written opinions that Neland had acted in bad faith with the wider community and in support of the decision that was ultimately taken.
Lastly, let me again reiterate that this was addressed as a church order question.
In the Spirit of keeping the main thing as the main thing, consider the following written sources that shape the Church and her mission in descending order of priority and importance:
#1) The Bible as God’s Word
#2) The Creeds (have been foundational for the church across time and space)
#3) The Reformed Confessions (significant in our particular history)
#4) Interpretations of Confessions (see Synod Synopsis #2)
#5) Church Order
God forbid that we go to war over matters of church order and neglect the beauty and world-changing power of his revelation in Jesus. God forbid that we confuse the lower things with the higher things. God forbid that we forget that we are indeed People of the Book. I look forward to opening that Book of books with you again this weekend in worship where light and centeredness are routinely found. Peace to you,
– Pastor Gregg
*Please recall that the CRC has been repeatedly clear on distinguishing between same-sex attraction and same-sex sexual activity.
**You can read the whole report HERE
Photo credit: crcna.org/synod