Status Confessionis

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I have thoroughly read the Study Committee's report to be presented to Synod 2021.

I have this challenge: Please show us the decision of a synod of the Christian Reformed Church in North America that interprets the word "unchastity" so as to include what is currently called homosexual sex in a committed same-sex relationship. Only if a CRCNA synod has thus interpreted Q&A 108 of the Heidelberg Catechism can this be called a confessional issue in our denomination. It is not enough for a study committee to quote Ursinus or do anything else to argue that it is "already" a confessional issue. The synod must have decided it. I am not saying anything here about what I believe the Bible says to us with regard to this activity. That's not what's at stake in the challenge I bring. My concern is that the committee makes a church political statement that simply doesn't hold water. All previous synodical actions on the matter are explicitly and tellingly characterized as "pastoral advice."

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Participant

"All previous synodical actions on the matter are explicitly and tellingly characterized as "pastoral advice.""

Exactly the problem, then?

My hope is that somebody (from the study committee who already has their sources?) will rise to meet your challenge and find the evidence that you seek to show that a previous synod has claimed decisively that 1. marriage is between one man and one woman, and that 2. homosexual behavior is sinful.

Although it seems to me that it's clear that both of those statements have been made by the CRC already (even though they've clearly been made by the Bible already)... but just not up to an "official standard" of what makes something confessional?

Just trying to understand.

I appreciate and thank you for having this conversation now, though, so that we all know what official motions need to be made or don't need to be made at Synod 2021.

Sincere question: how is this issue demonstrably different from Kinism which Synod recently took decisive action on? Were the Synodical Reports on Race and Racism given a different weight than those on Human Sexuality? 

Community Builder

As presented in the overture on kinism in the Agenda for Synod 2019, all racism is heretical in that it denies the teachings of the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism on the doctrine of the unity of the church .  Instead of the sacrament of baptism administered to all who are born or brought into the church of Christ being central, kinism, like the heresy of justifying apartheid in South Africa, and our own North American systemic racism, teaches that one's racial identity carries greater weight than God's covenantal promises including the formation of the bride of Christ.  So when the doctrine of the unity of the church is assaulted in this way, we are definitely speaking of heresy, teaching in conflict with our adopted confessions.  The COD declaration adopted in 2020 on behalf of synod makes it clear that on this issue we have reached status confessionis.

Example: Acts of Synod 2021.

According to the Church Order Article 29 and the 1975 study committee on the settled and binding nature of our confessions and synodical pronouncements, synod itself determines the settled and binding nature of its decisions. If Synod 2021 passes the recommendation that the church's teaching on sexuality already has confessional status - that statement in itself recognizes this teaching not in the pastoral advice category, but in the confessional category. I don't see anywhere in the Church Order that requires such a specific historical burden of proof.

One additional area that our confessions deal with the term "unchastity" is in Q&A 87 of the Catechism: Q: Can those be saved who do not turn to God from their ungrateful and impenitent ways?  A: By no means, Scripture tells us that no unchaste person, no idolater, adulterer, thief, no covetous person, no drunkard, slanderer, robber, or the like is going to inherit the kingdom of God.
This answer is a quotation of 1 Cor. 6:9-10, but it leaves off the terms "male prostitutes" and "homosexual offenders," presumably because the catechism was to be used as a teaching tool for children. I believe this helps to recognize that our church's teaching on unchastity - an umbrella term that includes the practice of homosexual sex, is not only on a confessional level, but also a Scriptural level, which requires an even greater commitment.

Participant

"If Synod 2021 passes the recommendation that the church's teaching on sexuality already has confessional status - that statement in itself recognizes this teaching not in the pastoral advice category, but in the confessional category."

Beautiful.

Henry, 

I think your 'challenge' points to the inherently contradictory way that Synod has handled this issue over the last thirty or so years. Since 1973, the CRCNA has officially 'advised' its members to believe that "homosexual practice must be condemned as incompatible with the will of God as revealed in Holy Scripture" and it has 'advised' its members to believe that homosexual practice is incompatible with "a life of chastity" (Acts of Synod 1973, p.53). Given this advice,  many members have drawn the completely reasonable conclusion that - given the wording of HC Q/A 108 - the CRCNA is advising its membership to view homosexual practice as incompatible with the seventh commandment and, thus, as incompatible with the teaching of our confessions. You can't deny that the reasoning is natural and intuitive. 

Over the last thirty years or so, however, the CRCNA has offered the "pastoral advice" loophole to revisionist officebearers and members in an effort to keep them in the denomination. So, now we are in our present untenable position. On the one hand, the CRCNA has more or less implicitly encouraged traditionalists for the last fifty years to view homosexual practice as a confessional issue. On the other hand, however, the CRCNA has more or less encouraged 'progressives' or 'revisionists' to view homosexual practice as a non-confessional issue and to emphasize the 'advice' aspect of 1973's statements. This situation is inherently unstable. And we are simply at the point where the contradiction has become utterly apparent.

I think the committee is right to point out the confessional implication of Synod 1973's statements on homosexual practice. If Synod 1973 is correct that "homosexual practice must be condemned as incompatible with the will of God as revealed in Holy Scripture" and if it is correct that homosexual practice is incompatible with "a life of chastity," then, logically, homosexual practice is incompatible with our confessions. Synod 2021 should make a decision: either (A) endorse the clear confessional implications that Synod 1973's statements have or (B) withdraw those statements. Admittedly, if Synod chooses (A), revisionist congregations will likely begin to leave the denomination or be forced out. And, if Synod chooses (B), traditionalists congregations will likely begin to leave the denomination. And, if Synod chooses (C), i.e., neither (A) nor (B), I predict that traditionalist congregations will largely still leave the denomination. In short, there is no happy exit out of this mess. 

Participant

Henry, I have not been privileged to the committee's discussion, and was a bit surprised at this angle... I assumed/or at least wondered about the following line of argumentation:

1) Premise: Language meaning is determined by usage not etymology. (e.g. what words meant when used matters for interpreting past decisions.)

2) Premise: Previous synods (agree with them or not) would have used "unchastity" to describe homosexuality without having to explicitly define because that definition was baked into their own culture and usage of language.  

3) Conclusions: For "unchastity" to not include homosexuality in its scope would be a change from how previous synods defined the word. (obv previous synods wouldn't know that the word would be redefined in the future) Thus there was an agreed upon position, and a non-traditional understanding of the issue is... well, non-traditional and should be argued as such. 

I'm not expressing an opinion on the topic per se - but I'm wondering if this line of reasoning makes scene?

 

SS

 

Participant

Hence why Henry has to explicitly state that (for some reason) we CANNOT use Ursinus's definition of "unchastity", even though he wrote the Heidelberg Catechism.

Because, as the report states...

"By the word “unchastity” the catechism intends to encompass all sexual immorality, including homosexual activity. The Reformed Church in America acknowledged this in 2017, affirming that in the catechism “God condemns ‘all unchastity,’ which includes same-sex sexual activity.”244.  Ursinus, one of the authors of the Heidelberg Catechism, confirms this in his commentary on Q&A 108."

But I, like you, believe that original intentions and definitions are extremely important to a proper reading of a written confession! It is instead a change from the original meaning of "unchastity" that would need to be explicitly stated by a previous Synod. Otherwise the original intention should be assumed as the continued, unchanged definition.

Participant

I think that's an (obvious) answer to the question - the report is positing that the definition of the word unchastity has changed  culturally without synodical reflection and was previously understood to include homosexuality, a statement which is only necessary to be explicit about due to a contemporary change in usage. 

Henry is obviously really smart - I really respect his opinion. I appreciate his push back to leaning too much on Ursinus - Personally, I give more weight to what synod understood. I'm just curious how Henry responds to what seems to me to be the really obvious answer to his question. (e.g. the word 's definition changed in last 20-50 years without synodical approval)  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Isn't the opposite the true challenge?  Has there ever been a time in the history of the Protestant tradition - particularly the Reformed branch; more particularly the CRC branch - that homosexual acts were considered anything other than unchastity?  Doesn't the burden of proof lie with those who desire to say that homosexuality acts are not unchaste?  

The phrases "what is currently called" and "in a committed same-sex relationship" are red herrings.  Homosexual acts are homosexual acts, just as lust is lust and adultery is adultery.  There is no modern, sophisticated form of acceptable lust or adultery that the Bible could not anticipate.  

Certainly there are other forms of unchastity that CRC synods have never made pronouncements on.  Does it follow that as an elder I am free to promote and engage in any activity not specifically declared to fall within unchastity (or greed, covetousness, pick your category of sin) without fear of being judged to be contra-confessional?

Beyond that, does not Belgic Article 29 become utterly meaningless as to the practice of discipline if it is thought that each matter worthy of discipline must be individually and specifically enumerated by Synod?  So, for discipline to be a confessional matter do we have to have a synodical reference for every kind of sin that is worthy of discipline?  Can DeMoor point to a time when Synod did not consider homosexual acts to be sinful and worthy of discipline?  

 

Participant

I'm not sure I understand the point of this challenge.  Do all of the words in the confessions need a synod approved definition before I can understand their prima facie meaning (not to mention what the author expressly meant to be understood by the word)?  As an exegete, I work hard to determine to understand the words as the authors used them, not necessarily as they are defined by deliberative bodies.

I'm not trying to be snarky here... knowing this will help me in this discussion.  What other confessional words has synod defined? Off the top of my head I can think of the efforts to change the meaning of QA 80, but when else have we done this?

Henry,

I have fond memories of studying Church Polity under you in seminary.  And I believed then and I believe now you are very knowledgeable and wise.  I too read the entire report.  But on this this issue I have different understanding that you do.  Up to this point in history all of Christendom understood the Bible's condemnation of sexual immorality as including homosexual acts.  Our church reaffirmed this common understanding in the report it passed in 1973, which clearly stated that revisionist interpretations were wrong.  Then in 2003 (I think) our Synod and Classis Toronto relied on this common understanding to pressure First CRC in Toronto to withdraw their intention to ordain practicing homosexuals.  Back then the church assumed that its decision had confessional repercussions.  So, even if Synod does not accept the committee's report (unless it directly denies it) it would seem that churches that ordain practicing homosexuals are in violation of the confessions.   And if this committee's report is likewise passed by synod,  synod would again reject revisionist interpretations, which would mean that homosexual acts are covered under the broader classification of sexual immorality.  This time the report would have even more punch, given the committee's mandate. 

Even though there is a lot of discussion as to whether this report does have or should have confessional status, we should remember that this is not some magic pill that will solve the divisions within our church.  Confessional status will mean nothing if the CRC fails to discipline erring pastors, councils, and congregations.  Interestingly,  way back in the 1880's Synod  decided that their position on The Lord's Day had the status of the confessions.  Are we really following that decision today? 

Maybe the time has come for our churches to agree to amicably part ways over this issue, and become separate denominations.  To do this cooperatively with a common plan may prevent some of acrimony that occurred when we split from the Reformed Church in the nineteenth century, and that has occurred more recently when the United Reformed Church split from us.  Perhaps, the more conservative elements of the RCA and CRC may unite, as might the more progressive elements of our two denominations.  And perhaps all groups could cooperate in areas where we agree. 

Even though denominations may not be the best way to live out Christ's prayer that his followers be one, it is the way this mandate is already being lived out in the world today.  The invisible church is one.  But because we Christians live in different countries, because we interpret the Bible differently, and because of a host of other reasons, the visible church is divided.  The current trend among Christians toward nondenominational churches  has fragmented the visible church even more.  None of this means we can't pray and worship together and long for the day when Christ will make us completely one. When I was a pastor in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, our church, along with other evangelical and mainline Protestant churches and The Roman Catholic Church had for years been meeting with them for joint Good Friday and other special worship services.  Sometime in the middle of those years The Evangelical Lutheran Church and The Presbyterian Church USA decided to ordain members who were practicing homosexuals and to allow their ministers to preside over same-sex marriages.  And their local congregations went along with that.  But this didn't stop us from having joint worship together with them.  We continued to praise God together and to experience the blessing of our fellowship and worship.  It is my prayer that by God's grace many of our churches will do the same, even if we can no longer be one church organizationally.

 

Community Builder

Let me raise a question to get us back to talking about church polity.  I want to know whether the Heidelberg Catechism's listing in Q & A 87 might also be telling us that gluttons will not "inherit the kingdom of God."  This is, after all, one of the things we must warn our people about from the pulpit from time to time.  And sometimes this becomes a serious issue when we really need pastorally to warn one of our members about the consequences of not repenting of this activity.  The issue is clearly taught in Scripture.  Read Deuteronomy 21:20; Proverbs 23:2, 20-21; Proverbs 25:16; Matthew 11:18,19; Luke 7:33-35.  And doesn't "Our World Belongs to God" speak of the "mistreatment of our bodies" as a sin (see section 16 -- and, yes, we haven't raised this document to the level of a Reformed confession).  So if I have warned my people about the sin of gluttony and they are "unrepentant," would our confessional stance be that gluttons are not in the list in Lord's Day 32 so we have no right to treat them this way?  If we ever contemplated that issue at the level of consistory, council, classis and/or synod, and if we truly wanted to do what the Bible tells us to be warning people about, could we just say: o, yes, definitely, in the Christian Reformed Church we have already raised this issue to a "status confessionis"?  Or should we say that Ursinus deliberately did not include that word, so there's no way that our confessions teach this and we shouldn't be making this a creedal issue? Or the opposite? Just how do we resolve this?  By a synod explicitly saying that it interprets Q &A 87 to include the matter of gluttony in light of some recent disturbing trends in the life of our churches?  Or the opposite?  
 

We faced a similar issue on the matter of women in ecclesiastical office.  Does the mention of the word "men" in the English translation of the Belgic Confession's Article 30 decide the issue for us?  Some said yes.  Others said no because the original French version does not use the word "hommes" but, instead, uses "personnages" here.  (And thus our current English translation now says: "persons.") And as we know, Synod 1987 said that the issue is not a confessional issue but a church order issue.  That brought clarity.  

I appreciate you all participating in this discussion.  I think it will be a significant issue at Synod 2021.  (Loved Jeff Brower's post).

 

Henry,

The words I would focus on in this answer would be "and the like." Any sin can keep us out of heaven, even after we claim to trust in Jesus, if we deliberately travel that road rather than try to live as Jesus calls us to live.  That would include gluttony or even telling little "white lies." But if, out of weakness we fall into any sin, no matter how heinous, there is forgiveness in Christ.  But, we must not deliberately flaunt God's law and sin.  Salvation is not found in avoiding a particular list of sins, but it is found in turning from sin to Jesus.  It is in finding our forgiveness by grace through faith in him alone.

That answer affects your question of The Church Order and The Confessions.  The church is supposed to help their members to avoid sin and continue down the road of salvation.  I don't think the issue is whether or not a particular sin is mentioned specifically in the catechism, but rather is the church encouraging sin in any form, whether gluttony or homosexual practice.  If a church encouraged overeating, would we say that they were doing right?  Shouldn't such a church be disciplined?  Isn't gluttony covered by the words, "and the like?"   Isn't one of the signs of the true church that it disciplines it's members? I guess the bigger question is whether or not homosexual acts are sin.  If they are, to promote them would be to deny our confessions.

 

The Confessions do not govern behavior of members nor are they intended to be an exhaustive guide to church discipline issues. They are intended to regulate the teaching of the church, meaning all office bearers, especially pastors are held accountable to them. If a pastor was, for example, preaching that glutony in certain context was a created good then yes, said pastor ought to face discipline up to and including deposition. 

I have a hard time following the technical and linguistic arguments on "status confesionis."  In practice, would accepting the report disallow pro-gay marriage positions, and imply excommunication for them?

I can't see why it would.  This issue is not doctrinal, at least in the sense of addressing doctrines of God, soteriology, Christology, etc.  It was those issues that the historical church debated in its councils.  And it was those kinds of issues that established orthodoxy, and brought about church ruptures.

The recent political season has shown just how far apart we can be on many important political, moral, and economic issues.  But while I may internally question the intelligence, knowledge, or even good will of some people in my congregation who take opposing views, I have no desire to exclude them from fellowship.  In fact, such members may be the toe of the body that my big mouth badly needs. 

It seems to me that our beliefs on the un/acceptability of homosexual marriage falls into such a category.  It is a social/moral issue about which we might disagree.  Moving it into the category of heresies along with Arianism, or tri-theism, etc. crosses far too many bridges. 

Debating what some term meant in another language in 500 year-old documents seems to miss the point. 

Participant

From the Executive Summary of the Human Sexuality Report:

"We also conclude that this status is warranted because these sins threaten a person’s salvation. The Scriptures call the church to warn people to flee sexual immorality for the sake of their souls and to encourage them with God’s presence and power to equip them for holy living. A church that fails to call people to repentance and offer them the hope of God’s loving deliverance is acting like a false church. In coming to this conclusion, we observe that we stand with the majority church worldwide, including the Roman Catholic Church, all branches of Orthodoxy, the non-Western global church, and a majority of active Protestants in North America and Europe. Indeed, the global church finds the Western church’s challenges to biblical teaching on human sexuality incomprehensible and offensive. To refuse to uphold Christian teaching on sexual immorality would signal that the Christian Reformed Church in North America is deviating not only from Scripture but from the shared confession of the historic and worldwide church."

I agree with them. It's not missing the point at all.

Kent,

Unless Synod 2021 repudiates the report on human sexuality and adopts a report to suggest what you are suggesting, Synod will say that the official stance of the Christian Reformed Church is that homosexual acts constitute sexual immorality and are sin.  That's not just an opinion of a majority of people in our church.  That is the position of the Christian Reformed Church which we all have covenanted to uphold.  Anything short of this will leave in place the decision of 1973.

But we had better be very careful about repudiating it.  This is a position that the some of our best scholars have reached after 6 years of study.  While I agree with those who say the committee should have included some who were more open to other positions, synod 2016 was in its right to seek to form of a study committee of those who already agreed with the stand our denomination had taken on this in 1973.  If you read carefully that report you will find that the revisionist position is addressed, and our church rejected it.  In my reading of both that report and the position advocated by the revisionists today, there is nothing that the revisionists are saying today that was not already addressed in 1973, except that back then they were more optimistic about "conversion therapies."  Having found that these therapies are ineffective, our present committee's report discourages using them.  But the Biblical theological material has really not needed much revision.

This becomes a confessional issue in part based on Article 28 of the Belgic Confession, which lists the marks of true church, among which is proper exercise of church discipline.  "The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel;  it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them;  it practices church discipline for correcting faults." Given that the official stand of our church is that homosexual acts are sin, to ignore that sin by performing same-sex marriages and ordaining people who openly live in same-sex sexual relationships constitutes being a false church. 

I realize that other denominations have taken different stands on this issue, just as other denominations have understood the sacrament of baptism differently than we do.  And because they understand this differently, I would not say they are false churches.  But, because we haver covenanted together to say that this is our understanding of God's Word, for churches to ignore this to open themselves up to the charge of being a false church, and to themselves being the object of church discipline. 

It is my hope and prayer that Synod 2021 will make this clear that we might avoid the acrimony and mission-killing divisions that other denominations have endured.  We already know where that path leads, why would we desire to go down it?

My last line to my second to the last paragraph should have read:

But because we have covenanted together to say that this is our understanding of God's Word, for CRC congregations to ignore this is to open themselves up to the charge of being false churches, and to themselves being the objects of church discipline. 

Community Builder

I'm delighted with the discussion so far.  I think it's a helpful contribution to our denomination's dealing with a very important issue.  Thank you. I'm grateful.

I do understand that in 1973 our Synod decided to declare that "explicit homosexual practice must be condemned as incompatible with obedience to the will of God as revealed in Holy Scripture."  But this decision and all the others from a. to k. in the Acts are indeed framed as "statements of pastoral advice."  So, for example, Synod 1973 carries forward the very thoughtful and empathetic approach of the study committee by also including decision g.  It says that "Christians who are homosexual in their orientation" "should recognize that their sexuality is subordinate to their obligation to live in wholehearted surrender to Christ." And then the statement goes on: "By the same token, churches should recognize that their homosexual members are fellow-servants of Christ who are to be given opportunity to render within the offices and structures of the congregation the same service that is expected from heterosexuals.  The homosexual member must not be supposed to have less the gift of self-control in the face of sexual temptation than does the heterosexual," etc.

It is my belief that Synod 1973 did take a "stand" on whether homosexual practice is compatible with the will of God, but that synod also did so much more.  I believe that this framing the statements in the context of "pastoral advice" indicates quite clearly what the delegates were after, namely, that any action of the church with regard to encouragement or discouragement or the imposition of discipline and when and how that should occur should be the province of the local consistory/council/pastor because they can address the issue with an understanding of the struggles -- trials and successes and failures -- of the persons involved, something a broader assembly like the annual synod cannot possibly do.

So once again we are are dealing with an "identity issue" that comes to us in ministry settings and synod has contemplated and is once again seriously contemplating bypassing the specific and human issues involved by making general statements derived from what is indeed an understanding based on Scriptures, namely, that homosexual activity is contrary to the Word of God.  But why are we so bent on possibly "overruling" the pastoral actions of ministers and elders and consistories that is motivated only by compassion and encouragement for all of us who are sinners in so many ways to enjoy the grace of God?  Why demand discipline of a particular kind?  Why must every case involve condemnation? Do we do that with any other human issue involving our sin and our need to be open to God's grace? That is my question.

I believe that in a great many years before we ever started discussing these things prior to the sexual revolution of the 1960's, pastors, elders and consistories were very much aware of homosexual orientation and even of people, even prominent people, who were known to be living together, and decided after pastoral concern and warnings not to move on to disciplinary actions.  I hope we can somehow still find each other this way in the midst of what is now new in our culture: the social acceptance of gay and lesbian marriage and the finger of "hypocrisy" extended to the church by the general public.  Wherever you stand on this, is it worth splitting a denomination over making assembly decisions and then trusting that pastors and caring elders will deal with their members in a biblical and positive, pastoral, upbuilding way.

Just a questioning that I'd like to see some further deliberation on......

Grace and peace to you all.

Henry,

I think it is now clear where our disagreement lies.  If I understand you correctly, you are hoping to avoid a denominational split by classifying all of the disagreements our congregations have on this issue under the category of "pastoral advice."  Normally, I might agree with you.  Most of the time, I too would like to try anything to avoid a a split in our denomination.  And I also would not move to excommunicate anyone without a long painful process of working with such an individual.  In the end, as the committee suggests, I would encourage practicing homosexuals who could not accept our denomination's position to find a church that agrees with their understanding of the scriptures on this.  But I would also do so with churches who disagree with the denomination on this.

I see this as a matter of right and wrong, as being obedient or disobedient to God's expressed will.  Others, whom I love and respect, see this as a justice issue for LGBTQ people, which is also a matter of right and wrong.  I just don't see how both of these positions can exist within one denomination.  I have always believed, in light what Jesus said in John 17, that one important justifiable reason for denominations to exist is that they allow us to uphold what we truly believe is a true understanding of the scriptures.  I see them as a way that I can both stand for truth and enjoy unity with brothers and sisters who have fundamental disagreements with me about scripture is teaching.

I also am concerned that there will be so much division over trying to stay united that it will destroy the denomination we both love.  I think our join mission together will be put on hold, as churches and church leaders jockey for political advantage over those who disagree with them on this.  None of us should have illusions over the consequences will be.  Individuals and families, congregations, and perhaps even whole Classes will withdraw from our denomination if we do not clarify our position. That is because many folks will perceive that failing to take clear stand against this behavior is tantamount to advocating full acceptance of practicing homosexuals. We may lose members in the congregations I served if the denomination does not take a clear stand. Some of these members joined us because their denominations failed to take such a stand, even though their families had been a part of those denominations for generations.   Also, my present congregation shares our building with an Anglican Church that, in part, left their denomination over this issue.  I do not know how they will react.  I will tell them how I stand and how my congregations stands on this.  Hopefully, that will be enough.

I see the only way ahead as an amicable division into two denominations, with hopes that we might join with the respective RCA congregations and Classes that agree with us.  I understand you to take an opposing view.  It is my prayer that Synod 2021 will not leave the important issue, that you so well delineated, unresolved.  As you and Jeff concluded, ultimately the decision is theirs.  With that I end my comments. 

Blessings,

Dave

Henry, 
I am thankful that you entered into this conversation.  Indeed, the report's declaration that "the church's teaching on premarital sex, extramarital sex, adultery, polyamory, pornography, and homosexual sex already has confessional status" (followed by a parallel recommendation for Synod to adopt) was surprising to me.  I posted this article the network on October 20, 2020, before the report came out: https://network.crcna.org/crcna-and-synod/same-sex-marriage-resources-an....  At the very end of that linked resource, I had written: The fact that the committee was asked to reflect on and evaluate whether future synods should consider the confessional status of this matter demonstrates that it currently is not in that category.  It has been a decision of pastoral advice to the churches since 1973.  And with you, I focus that whole resource on same-sex marriage (though of course this current report's declaration and following recommendation include much more than only homosexual sex.

But this report also seems to ask quite clear questions that it does not answer about what would happen if Synod agrees with that declaration/recommendation or if Synod decides itself to make the report's articulation on homosexual sex a confessional-status position.

Here is the pertinent paragraph from page 145 of the report:

If a teaching is declared to have confessional status, questions arise about what that means for those who sign the Covenant for Officebearers (CFO) in the CRCNA. Will those who have already signed it need to accept this new item as having confessional status? What happens if they don’t? Will those who subsequently sign the CFO need to accept this new item?

This paragraph has already been reference on the CRC Pastors Facebook page, and councils have already asked, "What could this mean?  Would we (elders, deacons, and pastors) need to all affirm that we agree with this report's conclusions, or leave office?"

It is my sense that since Synod 1973, the CRC has had a clear position (that's the language from their mandate - 'position') - but that statements of pastoral advice are what constitute that position.  As you've written in your Commentary on the Church Order (2010 edition, pp 168-169), "[Synod] expected a “healthy respect” for its decisions, not creedal attachment. Officebearers would not be subject to dismissal from office based on unorthodox views, but only on disrespect for what the synod decided."

So my sense is that, for 48 years, the CRC has had space for respectful disagreement about homosexual sex (and by extension, same-sex marriage).  Any office-bearer could disagree with the CRCNA's position, and still respect it.  If the recommendations of this report are accepted, it seems to me that the CRCNA has made a significant change - that space for respectful disagreement shrinks considerably.  The question being asked is: how small does it become?

The report itself mentions some potential room: "Even if a teaching has confessional status, that does not mean there is no room for disagreement within the bounds of that teaching. In addition, the church sometimes allows for pastoral accommodations. For example, our confessions say that the children of believers should be baptized. Yet some congregations are willing to allow members not to baptize their children." (145)

So again, Henry (and others who wish to enter in), how would you articulate how that 'space for respectful disagreement' will change?  How much does it shrink?  How would you articulate the space left, and who can be there?  While Synod is able to make this decision, is there a history of other decisions where Synod 'changes the rules' significantly after 48 years? I would imagine for some, a similar 'threat to belonging' was sense if the Belhar was added to the CfO (which it was not because of that concern, I believe).  If this goes through, I imagine one response may be that some office-bearers will be dusting off the part of the Church Order around gravamans.  Another response is that some churches may simply not worry about any new declaration of Synod.  I also imagine a third response: if the CRC's position on homosexual sex is raised to a confessional-status agreement, it provides leverage to push out those who for 48 years felt like they were able to belong even though they 'respectfully disagreed.'  What's your sense of all this possibility?

 

Community Builder

One more thing:

I hope and pray that no one in our midst underestimates the terrible effects  of church splits.  After all, Paul tells us to "make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" and to "bear one another in love" (Eph. 4:2,3).

As an elementary school pupil and a child in a parsonage family in the Netherlands in the 1950's I experienced all the narratives of friends no longer friends and family members turned against their own.  As a kid I was blown away by all these stories about things after the church split right in the middle of the Second World War, 1944.  The so-called Article 31 or Liberated churches left the denomination and formed their own after a synod had deposed a pastor and professor.  When I returned years later, this time as a minister myself, I once had to preach in another village.  A group of tourists from Michigan called from a hotel and asked where I was preaching and indicated they wanted to come.  I did not see them when I began with the Lord's greeting.  But ten minutes in they streamed through the doors and sat the only place they could: at the very front.  I welcomed them in English and then informed the congregation in Dutch who these people were.  After the service I found out what happened.  The bus unloaded at the other church (Liberated) without a sign to that effect.  When the tour leader did not see my name in the bulletin he caught on.  They all exited and climbed back into the bus.  The driver asked where the "other Gereformeerde Kerk" might be found, but they refused to say.  So he asked a "gentile" downtown who was willing to give him directions.

I met some of these people on Vancouver Island in my first charge.  One man in particular (a member of the CRC since there was no Canadian Reformed Church on the island) told me how he received letters every week from his relatives in the Netherlands, urging him to join the "pure church" to save his soul.  They insisted he should move to the mainland even if he would thus have to lose his job and try to find something else.  Staying in the CRC would be anathema.

In the area of my next charge in another province, a wife was a member of the CRC and her husband of the Canadian Reformed group.  When the CRC pastor showed up to visit the wife, the husband working in the barn put his sons up to deflating the pastor's car tires, which they did in pure glee.

Every time I asked what the real issue was back in 1944.  They were unable to tell me.  The hurt was so heavy they couldn't remember. (It was presumptive regeneration at the time of infant baptism).

I have many similar stories about experiences in the ministry but I want to be brief.

I remember being a witness in two court cases while teaching at Calvin Seminary.  In both, a group left with the church building over the objections of a minority.  Folks had to go to court to try and get their building back because the Articles of Incorporation said that anyone who left the teachings of the CRC would have to leave without the assets.  In both cases they prevailed.  But then there was the other one that never went to court.  A schismatic pastor set up a new corporation, had it overlap with the old corporation for one month, then sold the building to the new one for $1.00.  Older folks, founding members included, wanted desperately to remain in the CRC and were upset that the building they had paid fortunes for over the years was no longer theirs.  They asked: is there anything that can be done?  I told them that the council did not respect the classis and would not listen to them, so an appeal wouldn't do a thing for them.  I said that the council had violated the Articles of Incorporation and that they would need to file a lawsuit in the courts.  They said: we can't do that; the apostle Paul told us not to go to court.  So they just filtered off to other CRC congregations.  Somehow, I don't believe that Paul meant to allow a group among them to buy a building for $1.00 and just tell folks: if you don't stay with us, then "good-bye."

We've observed what's happening in Presbyterian circles and in the RCA.  Do we really want the same narratives in our denomination?  Wouldn't it be more according to Paul's wishes that we try to stay together and respect each other as fellow-Christians who do or do not have a significantly different approach to one issue?  That will likely not be possible if we raise this issue to the level of status confessionis.  Every officebearer would then be bound by a synodical approval of the interpretation of two words in the Heidelberg Catechism.  I shudder to think of what that's going to mean in our family and friend relationships. And how devastating this would be to so many of our people.

I know -- we're "watchmen on the walls of Zion" and we're going to keep our teaching and ministry pure.  The truth demands it.  Well, that's the theme of all the splits and I truly feel that we shouldn't keep this narrative up until the Lord returns.  That's a witness to the world in and of itself.  Synods are there to help us stay together while the world burns all around us and cries out for the Gospel.

I'm aware that this is a bit of a rant.  But I'd love your responses and a further discussion while we're still not quite in the heat of synodical deliberation.

 

 

 

 

Participant

Henry, - Honest question --> What way forward can you imagine as an outcome that achieves unity without avoiding a position? I suspect fear of a split is a prime motivator for both sides of issue. But both sides also want to be affirmed.  What in your view would be a unifying solution. 

 

 

Hi Henry,

I hear your heart for unity and I honor it.  I acknowledge the pain and misery that you have seen caused by church splits and to a degree I echo those observations.  With that, I offer the following thoughts:

1.  In light of your significant concern over church splits, have you publicly chastised the minority that has tirelessly taught against established church teaching and has been unwilling to rest with the multiple decisions of synod on this matter?  I have not seen you do so publicly despite the fact that this faction has fomented significant discord and has pressed matters in such a way as to cause division rather than stay peaceably or leave peaceably.

2. As to the RCA and not wanting to follow their path, have you not seen that they have had a significant period of supposed live-and-let-live?  How well has that worked out for them?  

3. Not all partings are hostile, and they need not be.  Yes, the history of the church tells us that they often are.  But they need not be if we are willing to love each other enough to be honest and respectful at the same time.  The history of the church in holding together disparate beliefs in the same body or organization is not stellar either, so the choice isn't the hard work of splitting well versus the easy work of staying together well.  Each poses significant challenges for living in love. If we don't believe the same things, what good is a charade of unity?  Does the CRC then exist to propagate Dutch cultural practices in North America?

4.  Splitting does not always mean further fracturing of the church or less unity.  The CRC already is separated from other churches in organization, and that by choice.  If the CRC splits and churches affiliate elsewhere, that is not less unity, it is instead a different-looking form of the balance of unity and separation.  

5. Your attempts to minimize the differences involved are not convincing to me.  You use the phrases "one issue" and "two words" in such a way as to minimize what is at stake.  I believe you are not fully grasping or willing to admit the depth of difference involved.  First, LGBTQIA+ goes much further than just LG and the question of committed unions.  Surely you are not unaware of the significant and far reaching ramifications of the anthropological philosophies that lead one to posit the biblical normality of TQIA+.  And surely you are not unaware that the normalization of B leads to host of questions regarding the "committed" part of committed unions.  Beyond that, there are basic questions underlying how we arrive at truth.  Is truth defined/derived by experience?  Are there different "truths"?  Does General Revelation supersede Special Revelation or vice versa?  Also, if we cannot have unity on this matter, how can we have unity on any other matters of morality if everything is up for grabs based on local "pastoral" sensitivity?  Surely you do not suppose that our differences will end at matters of LGBTQIA+ when our underlying sources of truth are so divergent.  History teaches us that such is not the case.  Scripture also exhibits this phenomenon and instructs us accordingly.

6.  I'm not sure how you conclude that "Synods are there to help us stay together".  Is that a specific charge for Synod?  Supposing for a moment that this is an accurate statement of Synod's role, does it not follow that Synod then is charged with maintaining an atmosphere in the denomination that does not foment further disunity in belief?  Should not Synod have acted long ago on A1B and the churches of GRE who insist on teaching against the established doctrine of the church?  Instead, Synod has allowed this topic to fester and has allowed open flouting of church doctrine on matters of morality.  How that promotes and leads to lasting unity (staying together) in the CRC escapes me.   

7. You are rightly concerned about our witness to the world, but you examine it only from one direction.  What kind of witness to world are we when we exist with mutually exclusive positions and even worldviews?  What kind of witness to the world are we when we cannot agree on matters of morality? Does that not simply fuel more worldly belief in the subjectivity and individuality of moral choices?  What kind of witness to the world are we when we allow the world to dictate church teaching and practice - surely you cannot think that the church is leading the culture in the acceptance of LGBTQIA+ normalization.  Surely it is the other way around, which witnesses to our culture that we will follow them into truth.  There is more at stake in our witness to the world than simple organizational maintenance.  The world doesn't give a gnat's behind as to whether or not the CRC exists as an organization of churches - but the world is heavily invested in the church looking and thinking like the world.  

 

Your willingness and desire to interact here is helpful and encouraging.  I appreciate you and your viewpoint.

Participant

What Eric said.

The problem with the 'let's just try to be united' ideal is that it's a contradiction, especially with issues that are understood to be salvation issues. Some issues may be along the lines of adiaphora, such as the 1944 case you mentioned (or the obvious recent example in our denomination that a biblical case can be made for or against women in office, which some may think is stronger one way or the other way, but doesn't compare with the biblical treatment of sexual immorality). Even if the respective churches in the Netherlands may have thought their issue had that weight at the time or were led astray by those that argued it aggressively, that issue is not comparable with sexual immorality in terms of any biblical case for or against it. We may be tempted to think "we should be humble, because in 50 years maybe we'll realize that this issue isn't that important either," but sexual immorality is nothing new. Paul taught not only on unity but also taught and practiced that sexual immorality is an issue requiring separation in the case of unrepentance. Thus, if, as the report highlights, sexual immorality is to be addressed in preaching and discipline--in other words, it cannot be welcomed into the life of the church--to request a bid for unity is the same as saying that all should adopt the progressive perspective. 

Sorry, one of my email handles is listed. This is Troy Bierma.

Community Builder

Appreciate the honest question, so I'll give you an honest answer.

I think it would be best to allow everyone to interpret the two words in the Heidelberg Catechism as they see fit and give consistories and elders the freedom to do that in their own setting -- in other words, not binding them confessionally.

Then, I would have no objection to synod adopting a "position" -- even if it would say that homosexual acts are incompatible  with the will of God -- and listing that with all the other positions on so many other issues on our denominational website for all to read and respect.  Or something more nuanced.  Whatever the majority believes.  But let's not force the issue by interpreting the Heidelberg Catechism the way we would like to and having that function as a straitjacket for every pastor and elder.

Keep what 1973 also said: its statements are all "pastoral advice."  We've never raised this to a status confessionis at any synod of the CRCNA.  We should keep it that way.  Pastors and elders will have room to maneuver in being pastoral and biblical in whatever circumstances their members find themselves.

 

Participant

That seems straightforward in terms of polity.  

We are however is a talking about a pragmatic issue (e.g. your accurate, well-stated assessment of the high cost of a split) and I'm not convinced that lettings councils decide would manage to avoid such a split.  I would argue pragmatically that your approach while it more straightforward from a synodical standpoint would actually create more relational conflict since the can of worms is given to local church to go off (mixed metaphors, but if there were a theological/cultural can of worms/bomb - this might be it). 

I do fully agree with you on what we need to avoid... I just am not convinced there's an easy way forward, or at least that it's as easy as what you suggest.  :-(  I hope I'm wrong. 

 

"Pastors and elders will have room to maneuver in being pastoral and biblical in whatever circumstances their members find themselves."

Ah, but therein lies the rub.  Pastors and elders already have plenty of room to be "pastoral and biblical" in their local contexts.  But if we agree together that certain matters are by definition not "biblical", then how can we simultaneously say that pastors and elders allowing such activity in their local context are being "pastoral and biblical"?  It simply isn't coherent to say "A" and "Not A" are simultaneously true.  And frankly, it seems to me that the CRC's practice of saying exactly that on the matter of WIO has led us down a road where we have fooled ourselves into thinking that is a coherent and sustainable philosophy of joint ministry.  It simply cannot hold.  

I know that I already signed off, and I promise this will be my last submission.  But after reading all of your comments I realized that I never explained how I would envision an amicable split. 

 Perhaps, if we accepted the committee's assertion that this understanding of human sexuality already has the force of the confession, we might also say the following:

1.  Present clergy and officers who do not agree may in good conscience remain in within the denomination.  If they choose to leave, they will honorably released.  Of course at all times, any member may using the procedure outlined in the church may overture Synod to reexamine our position, and  any ordained clergy may present a gravamen.

2. All future clergy, elders, and deacons must be informed that signing the covenant for officebearers commits them publicly to this understanding of human sexuality, unless Synod at a later date allows for other interpretations.  Our seminary will be responsible for explaining this understanding to those it recommends for candidacy.

3.  No current Christian Reformed Church or pastor in their official role as pastor may bless a same-sex union, nor may such a union take place within a CRC building.  All future pastors are advised against doing this at all.

4. Because all our churches are incorporated as congregations, they may leave the denomination with their building if a majority of their members vote to do so.   In this case, the denomination would also agree that they may leave without financially compensating the minority who wish to remain in the CRC, and that the denomination will consult with and, if needed, provide financial aid for that group.

I may be wrong in this assumption, but I think that outside the Classis Grand Rapids East area and maybe a few areas in Canada, very few of our members and pastors view the Bible to say anything differently that what the committee laid-out in its report.  So, we are probably speaking of a few pastors and a few congregations and members. 

Many of those who have written have expressed concerns about our brothers and sisters who hold a different view from that expressed in the report.  I share those concerns.  But what about those members who agree with the report and who believe that it is sin for our churches to be accepting of same-sex sexual relationships.   What about those who always believed that they were part of a denomination that agreed with them on this issue.  Is it right to say that although they hold the majority opinion, they should leave, and those who want to change should be encouraged to stay?  Is is even right to create conditions in the church that encourage them to leave? That will happen if some congregations and pastors openly defy our stance on this, or certainly if we give them encouragement to do so.  In my opinion,  trying accommodate both views in our church will lead to more division and to more of the grief Henry was describing than if we clearly accepted the committee's report in its entirety. 

 

 

Participant

It has been such a discouragement to me in this thread, and other threads, to see older men in my denomination work so hard, through synodical wording or procedural loopholes, to try to make space for sin.
:(

But the most hurtful irony is the false insinuations above that the traditionalists and conservatives, like me, should be viewed as the cause of any resulting church splits!

It is not the conservatives who have been working for decades to change the beliefs and positions of our denomination! It is those who have "progressed" away from the Biblical teachings on homosexuality and the church that are at fault for any split, regardless of whether the split is liberals leaving because the CRCNA holds fast to Biblical teaching or whether it's the conservatives leaving because the CRCNA changes to allow committed LGBT+ members to church leadership. Conservatives don't want to split. We want to remain in a denomination that stands firmly on the Word of God despite whatever pressures come from the secular culture around us.

As Cedric outlined above, there are three possible scenarios, as I see it:

Option A.  Disregarding the committee's recommendations and affirming LGBT+ in the CRC.
Option B.  Endorse the committee's recommendations, including the suggestion of status confessionis.
Option C.  Endorse the committee's recommendations, but decline the suggestion of status confessionis and instead let the report stand as more "pastoral advice" and allows each classis or church to determine how they wish to hand LGBT+ in their churches.

Henry (and others), you seem to be under the mistaken assumption that while option A will create a split in which conservative churches leave the denomination, and while option B will create a split where liberal churches leave, option C will allow for unity in diversity to be maintained for all parties.

This is false.

I promise you that if Synod chooses either option A or option C, the resulting split will be equally large.

We're not stupid. We saw with Women in Office that "option C" inevitably leads toward "option A".
To "punt" this issue is to kill the CRC.

It is worth noting that the elder statesmen of the denomination have been willing to speak strongly on issues such as climate change and immigration but have been mostly silent on the marriage issue in the U.S. and Canada. I am not sure if this has to do with their political leanings, those of key donors or something else? Whatever the case, there seems to be great apprehension to ruffle the feathers so to speak of more progressive constituencies over this issue.

Community Builder

An old man making space for sin.

Just a tad ad hominem and slightly overboard among brothers in Christ, don't you think?

Let's keep this respectful please.

 

 

It seems to me that Trevor was being descriptive, not pejorative.  He said "older", not "old" as you say.  He was actually, I think, referencing that this is an age-group that he would prefer to look up to, but that he finds what some/too many of this group are advocating for to be poor.  I think Trevor honors you in his desire to see you as setting a tone in the denomination.  Are you not properly seen as "older" - elder statesman, so to speak - in this conversation?  You do speak of yourself as growing up in the Netherlands in the 1950's, which would seem to qualify you as being "older".  I don't think it is ad hominem to recognize such a fact.

Participant

Indeed. I had actually wanted to use the word "elder", but didn't want to cause confusion with the church office.

It's a matter of ORIGINAL INTENT, right?

Did the authors of the confessions consider homosexual acts to be unchaste and sexually immoral?

It seems that Henry's response is "Yes, but...we don't need to enforce it because that might cause some people to leave the denomination."

Huh? That's a very odd response.

Community Builder

No, it is not a matter of original intent.  How Ursinus thought about these things is irrelevant.  What is relevant is what the Christian Reformed Church's synods have said about the Q&A of the Heidelberg Catechism.  We are not bound by Ursinus' thoughts.  We are bound by the confessions we have adopted and the interpretation of the confessional statements in them.  So it is whether the synod of the CRCNA has ever insisted that "unchastity" includes homosexual activity.  My point is that it has not, even though it has had every opportunity to do so.  Instead, the synods have gone the way of a position and of pastoral advice for the churches.  If synod did so decide, then we would have to discipline members in a homosexual relationship right up to the point of excommunication and officebearers who tolerated the activity right up to the point of deposition from office.  This should be very clear to everyone.  But I guess it's not.

 

What's not clear to me is how the CRC can be "bound by the confessions" as you say, but not bound by the words in the confessions. How do you explain that?

If I hire you to mow my lawn, and I write a contract stating "Henry will mow my lawn every week during the summer," and you sign the contract, would it make sense for you to come back later and try to mow my deck? Or my living room? Or my vegetable garden? Because you say "We don't really know what the word 'lawn' means."

The Heidelberg catechism is clear that lying is a sin (Q & A 112). But it says nothing specifically about cheating on our taxes. So if a local church council decides to cheat on the church's payroll taxes, and also hold seminars at the church about how people can cheat on their taxes...well, Synod hasn't specifically said cheating on our taxes is a violation of our Confessions, so I guess there's nothing anybody could do about that. Right?

Please explain how we can remain faithful to the Confessions and to Scripture, while ignoring the words in the Confessions and Scripture, and pretending the words don't mean what they clearly mean?

I will say that it is crystal clear to me Henry. Again, just as we've established that Kinism is outside the bounds of Scripture and our Confessions, I would say that the same is true regarding revisionist views of human sexuality. The Confessions need not explicitly address race or racism etc. for us to discern that an ethical framework opposing interracial marriage is outside the bounds of our Confessions and historic small "c" catholicity of the church. In both cases, members may struggle with temptation to various degrees, but I am reasonably comfortable disciplining teachers who promote either one. 

If I am reading Christian Reformed Church Order Commentary by Henry DeMoor, are the thoughts of Henry DeMoor irrelevant to understanding what is written?

"So it is whether the synod of the CRCNA has ever insisted that "unchastity" includes homosexual activity."  This standard, consistently applied, would make our confessions essentially toothless or even meaningless.  If every word is open to fanciful re-definition if Synod has not "insisted" that it be understood to be it's common and historic definition then we are left with documents that have no objective meaning.  The CRC (along with the vast majority of the historic and global church) has never understood unchastity to be anything other than inclusive of homosexual activity, an act of sexual immorality.  That you seek to invert the burden of proof is not compelling.  

 

It is my understanding that Dr. DeMoor is saying, "The discernment of how to flesh out these larger category words (like 'unchastity'), considering what they mean in the particular temporal and geographical context, is the very work of the local church.  The confessions were written with these wide words; and the history of the church is that it does the work, usually at the local level, of applying these wide words." 

I would suggest that it is generally unwise to ask Synod to maintain lists of sins that fall under each large-category word: "belittle, hate, insult" (HC 105), "theft and robbery,...scheming and swindling,...greed" (HC 110), "do what I can to guard and advance my neighbor's good name" (HC 112).  There are likely all sorts of ways that we would agree, as a denomination of local churches, on what constitutes some of those pieces.  But we have not gone as far to make those clarifications 'binding.'  For instance, we could deliberate and decide denominationally around the question, "Is charging interest on a loan "greed"?  How much interest is too much?  When does it become 'usury'?"  What if we discovered that Ursinus, in his commentary on the Catechism, had written that 3% interest is the maximum; anything more is greed?  Would Ursinus's perspective be 'confessional' for the CRC today?  Absolutely not.  

I think the point Dr. De Moor is making is that the CRCNA has not, at a denominational/Synodical level ever made the clear decision that 'homosexual sex' is part of the CRCNA's confessional standards as sinful.  He has acknowledged that Ursinus thinks it is sinful.  Also, that Ursinus considers homosexual set to be in the category of 'unchastity'.  Dr. DeMoor has clearly said that the CRCNA has said it is sinful.  What the CRCNA has NOT said is that the belief that 'homosexual sex is sinful' needs to be held at the confessional level of agreement/adherence.  And he is asking us to do the work to disprove him - so look at the history.  Has the CRCNA ever made a statement that we (the CRCNA) decided that 'homosexual sex is sinful' is a statement held to the highest level of denominational agreement (confession/creedal agreement)?  The answer, at least as I read every response in this chain, is "No, we cannot point to that place in CRCNA history."  We have said, "Homosexual sex is a sin", and that is our CRCNA's 'position', but we have not raised that position to the level of 'confessional/creedal agreement.'  Instead, it has been at the agreement level called "pastoral advice."

He has also said that Synod 2021 may change that.  Synod's have the freedom to do so.  But he disagrees with the Human Sexuality reports conclusion that 'it is already confessional.'  That's the conversation as I am reading it.

Paul, that line of reasoning is valid to a degree, but has limitations on applicability unless we are willing to enter the realm of the absurd.  Does murder include the actual unlawful taking of a human life?  Can we possibly know definitively?  Should local congregations be able to decide if they consider the unlawful taking of a human life in their temporal and geographical context to be included in their understanding of murder?

I grant that DeMoor's challenge has not been met, but I deem it as proving nothing other that showing that Synod did not say something that it needn't have said in order for the language of the Confessions (and more is at stake than just HC 109) to have actual meaning.  If I challenge you to tell me when you quit beating your wife and you fail to meet the challenge, does that make my challenge legitimate?  The simple fact that DeMoor's challenge has not been met does not really prove anything.  I think we understand the point he is making, but we disagree with it.  Also, he has gone on to make other points, some of which we also disagree with.  

Beyond that, if the CRC has agreed (as you stipulate above, and you say that DeMoor stipulates) that homosexual sex is sinful, the only category it can fall into is the category of unchastity.  It is incoherent to claim that we agree homosexual sex is sinful according to the Bible, but that agreement does not mean that we understand according to our Catechism that God forbids such unchastity.  It is by definition a form of unchastity if we agree that it is sexual immorality.  

Indeed. The best way to respond directly to Henry's "challenge" is to reject the premise of his challenge. His premise is that the CRC may not discipline anyone for promoting sinfulness, unless Synod has specifically named that particular sub-category of sin as worthy of church discipline. And/or that any sin for which Synod has issued "pastoral advice" is now off the table as one which deserves disciplinary action. As if pastoral advice and confessional status are somehow mutually exclusive, de facto.

Again, Henry admits that Scripture is clear...gay sex is part of the general category of sexual immorality. He even admits that the historical Church has always viewed it that way.

But he says the CRC in 2020 may not claim it as a confessional stance because no Synod has specifically itemized gay sex as part of sexual immorality.

But where is the premise supported that Synod must specifically itemize each sub-category of broader sins in order for confessional status to flow from the broader category to the more specific instances?

Eric, 

I agree that things can get absurd.  Here is why I would suggest that this is not in the category of absurd.

In 1970, the CRCNA asked a committee "to study the problem of homosexuality and to delineate the church's position on this matter" (Acts 1970, p 121).  So they considered delineating a position worth a study committee; it was an open-enough question to consider.  It was not seen as an absurd question.

If Synod 1970 shared your mind in this matter, it would seem that the Synod would have said something like, "No need to study it; it is both obviously a sin, obviously 'unchaste' sexuality, and thus obviously a matter of confessional-level agreement." I would note that Synod did speak clearly and directly and immediately on the matter of Kinism.  They did not create a study committee on Kinism; they simply declared it heretical.  So clearly Synod is willing to say, "This is obviously sin; no need for further study."

I assume that if Synod was seriously asked, "Is breaking a window on someone else's car and taking it, never to return it, considered stealing?" that Synod would have said, hopefully with compassion, "That's an unnecessary question for a study committee.  That's absurd."

Our CRCNA history has said, "This is not an absurd question."  And what's more, when that report came back, the Advisory Committee considered the report and DID NOT add a recommendation to make their report an interpretation of the confession (which they could have).  

Instead, what Synod 1973 DID DO was appoint a new study committee to ask the question, "What does it mean that something is 'settled and binding' as it comes to decisions Synod makes?"  And that study committee came back to Synod 1975 and said (I think this is an appropriate summary) that, "Decisions of Synod are all settled and binding,... and that decisions differ in their nature of authority and in the measure of agreement expected" (among other differences).  

This is the situation as far as I can tell: 'homosexual sex is a sin' is settled and binding not at the confessional level, but at the level of a position held by the CRCNA at the level of 'pastoral advice and guidance.'  As such, there has historically been room for respectful disagreement, even among office-holders. That may change.

Hi Paul,

I think the Kinism matter is apples and oranges.  There is are no broad cultural forces pushing for acceptance of Kinism, nor are their swaths of the church pushing for its normalization and pointing to the academy for their support.  

Consider just how many times the CRC (and the broader orthodox church) has affirmed the sinfulness of homosexual sex.  The point isn't that it was never worth studying.  The point is it is absurd to take an understanding so historically entrenched and recently affirmed numerous times and then act as if that understanding is questionable as to its implications for the plain language of the confession.  Homosexual acts have *always* been understood in the CRC to be sexually immoral, to be unchaste.  To now say that office bearers are free to promote, engage in, and accept unchastity, contra the Confessions, in their local context because Synod never explicitly said they would receive discipline for such seems to me to be absurd.  

Maybe that's a good point of clarification, Paul. Though certainly there is no point in carrying on without at this point deciding whether or not it is confessional. It's been deliberated on, held as a position, and now we're under the cultural weight of incredibly massive sexual confusion on many points. That is to say, culturally, if the denomination is not clear at this point regarding it, the cultural assumptions ('anything goes') will lead the expectations, interpretation, and practice. 

Troy Bierma

Community Builder

Yes, Paul, thanks.  That is exactly how this thread began.  My challenge on the church political dimension of the much larger issue.  Because, again, synod itself declares how authoritatively it speaks.  In the case of homosexuality, everything has been "pastoral advice."  Deliberately so.

 

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