So, welcome to the post-Synod post-mortem #1. I’m hoping there will be four or five of these in the next few weeks. But I’m soon going on holidays (that’s Canadian for “vacation,” eh!?) and plan to be far out of reach of electrons for a good part of that time. For now, though, there are still four preaches to be done before holidays, plus visits to ailing parishioners. And did I mention someone made me promise to write some blogs?
I spent two days at Synod in Ancaster, Ontario at Redeemer University College—Saturday with the advisory committee for the Form of Subscription Revision Study Committee 2 (Agenda for Synod 2012, pp. 448-458) and Tuesday waiting for the plenary discussion on our committee’s seven years of plugging away at the revision. Of those seven I was chair of the committee for the last four years, one more year than I counted on. Last year Synod sent the proposed Covenant for Officebearers back to our committee with specific instructions (Acts of Synod 2011, pp. 869-872) to tighten up language on defense of the confessions and accountability for those encountering difficulty with confessional teachings (or their own interpretations thereof).
Some overtures this year suggested other amendments; one wished to recommit the revision work to yet another committee. The advisory committee did a remarkable job of taking seriously all the overtures (though not submitting the task to a new committee). They recommended a few change in diction without seriously changing the tone or content of the proposed Covenant.
Nevertheless, at first the advisory committee planned to remove reference to Our World Belongs to God, as several overtures requested. The greatest sticking points were if a testimony should be considered in any way confessional and if could be “affirmed” in the same way as the creeds and confessions. After vigorous discussion and advocacy on the part of three study committee members, we stepped out for a couple of hours. The advisory committee chair called us back about two hours earlier than we had expected.
We were pleased with the decision that the advisory committee would indeed recommend including Our World and with a significant and meaningful word change. Instead of “affirming” Our World, the recommendation was to “recognize the witness of Our World Belongs to God as a current Reformed expression of the Christian faith that forms and guides us in our present context.”
Why was it so important to include Our World? Though there is a clear hierarchy in the Covenant from Scripture to creeds to confessions to testimony, Our World is the most used confessional document in the many CRCs today for teaching, preaching and liturgy. As importantly, it often serves as a gateway to the older confessions and creeds. One delegate noted that in his study groups on a secular campus Our World so piqued the interest of both Christian and non-Christian participants that they next studied the Heidelberg Catechism. Right on.
Once on the floor of Synod, Tuesday afternoon June 12, the discussion lasted only about an hour. Good speeches were made—some for, some against. Some amendments suggested and rejected. One delegate recommended an amendment that both study and advisory committees accepted as friendly.
Then all of a sudden the vote to accept the Covenant for Officebearers was made. The voice vote was unanimous and, apparently, enthusiastic. I (along with my committee colleagues) was a little stunned. After all this time and after the near rancor of last year’s discussion at Synod—now unanimity and applause? Whatever! And most of all, thanks be to God.
Did our committee get what we wanted? Wrong question. Did we work faithfully, sensitively, (more or less) patiently? I hope so. Most importantly—will this Covenant for Officebearers promote communal covenantal, confessional conversation and LIVING for people in and outside the CRC? We pray that is the case.
Also, I and many others pray that the Covenant (official text available here) will be used more thoughtfully than the Form of Subscription has been for some years in certain places. We discovered in our research that at least 25% of CRCs were not using the FOS at all. Almost worse, many were using it only formally to sign, more or less as a museum piece, but with little thought or commitment to its content.
Already now some churches have begun using the new Covenant. We will ordain elders and deacons tomorrow at Covenant CRC in St. Catharines, including the reading and signing of the Covenant in the liturgy. Current pastors, elders and deacons who have signed the FOS but are not keen on the new Covenant are not required to sign afresh. Regardless, I am confident that no one’s firm devotion and commitment to the Scriptures, creeds and confessions can ever depend on a mere signature on a human document to bind us together. Rather, heartfelt spiritual commitment to the Lord of the Church in communion—in covenant—with each other is the foundation of faith, unity and common purpose in God’s world.