Jesus said the poor will always be with us. Ripping his passionate and compassionate observation completely out of context, it is tempting to say the “The Form of Subscription Revision Study Committee” will always be with us as well.
It is impossible for me to present the Agenda for Synod’s materials on FOS 2 with any disengagement. I have chaired that study committee for the last four years after our mandate was reformulated and the committee itself expanded and diversified at Synod 2008.
While four years is a long way from always being with us, consider this: Several overtures had meandered through several earlier synods between 2003 an 2005. BOT struck a task force to revise FOS in 2005. That task force soon morphed into a study committee and reported in 2008. Seven-plus years is getting a little closer to forever.
What’s more, the yearning to change or revise the FOS within the CRC has been around since the early 1950s. Then Calvin College German professor Clarence Boersma presented a gravamen detailing his difficulties with signing the FOS. Not much happened with Boersma’s brave, humble attempts. Some say he was intimidated into acquiescence.
Twenty years later Dr. Harry R. Boer revived the issue in a series of articles in The Reformed Journal. Boer also submitted an overture to Synod 1976, resulting in the development of the thoughtful, yet complex supplement to Church Order 5 that dealt with some of Boer’s concerns. Still not satisfied with how the supplements worked to permit officebearers to sign the FOS in good conscience, other articles and obscurely published dissertations were added to the smoldering FOS discussion, finally resulting in the task force, FOS 1 and now FOS 2.
FOS 2 began work in September, 2008 and made progress reports to synod in 2009 and 2010 after meeting with all but three CRC classes. Last year a hopeful final draft of a new “Covenant for Officebearers” covenant was recommended for adoption by the advisory committee. It met a firestorm of opposition on the floor of synod when the situation regarding two Calvin College professors’ work on historicity of Adam and Eve exploded into the discussion. It was alleged that the new Covenant would not have worked as boundary markers, though the current FOS had done so. So, back to the committee again with specific guidelines for revision to be presented in 2012.
FOS 2 members corresponded, then met for two days heeding Synod 2011’s guidelines. The revised “Covenant for Officebearers” and an appendix appears in Agenda for Synod 2012, pp. 448-461. Six classes responded to FOS 2’s report with overtures 9-14 (Agenda 2012, pp. 484-489). One calls for recommitment to yet another new study committee. Others make more specific recommendations to add “fully agree with the Word of God.” One curiously argues that “stating that our confessions fully agree with the Word of God does not mean that the confessions are infallible or inerrant.” I thought it did really mean that! Another requests that Our World Belongs to God be removed from the Covenant.
Where will Synod 2012 take this? In his ever-more controversial book Not Sure former Banner editor and soon-to-be former minister of the CRC John Suk avers that our church will not be able to agree on either this proposed covenant or on anything that is nearly as binding on consciences and as limiting to vital confessional discussion as the current FOS.
Our committee will make a case to the advisory committee and to the full synod soon. Briefly, we will claim that we have diligently followed Synod 2011’s slightly revised mandate in our latest revisions. Our constant goal has been to present a strong, pleasing document to God and the CRC that sets boundaries for theological confession, while also providing a climate for freedom from intimidation and suppression. Those were the main reasons that Dr. Clarence Boersma started his lonely journey more than 60 years ago. He has since been promoted to eternity. I pray that FOS 2 and the Covenant for Officebearers are approved before we join Dr. Boersma.