In the last number of years, many churches have struggled with filling a slate of nominees for elder and deacon. As a Regional Pastor, one of the most frequent questions I’ve heard from area churches is, “How do we field a team now that so few are willing to serve on Council?”
My fear is that this challenge may have become larger following Synod 2022’s decisions regarding the Human Sexuality Report.
Specifically problematic for some is the decision to declare the Heidelberg Catechism’s term of “unchastity” to all homosexual sex and then giving that teaching confessional status. Immediately following that decision, I had three highly-qualified congregation members say to me “I’ll never serve in office in the CRC again; I can no longer sign the Covenant for Office-bearers.” To them and to countless others, I want to say, “Not so fast, we need you.”
The Christian Reformed Church and its church order has provided a legitimate lane for disagreement with the confessions or in this case, their interpretation. The Supplement for Church Order Article 5 provides for office-bearers, or prospective office-bearers, to submit a gravamen. A gravamen is a “difficulty” with a confessional matter or its interpretation and can take two forms. One is a confessional-revision gravamen that recommends a revision of the confession or its interpretation. These are handled by classes and then synod.
The second form is a confessional-difficulty gravamen. This type is a request made to a council or board to respect and accept an office bearer’s difficulty with a particular interpretation. These too, can be requested by pastors, elders, deacons, professors, and missionaries. Rather than appealing to larger bodies like classis or synod, the difficulty gravamen is communicated to a council or board—and stays there. The church order is clear that these requests are personal in nature and are not matters open for discussion by the whole church. Instead, these are dealt with pastorally and personally by the assembly addressed.
A local council can decide whether it will accept confessional-difficulty gravamina (plural of gravamen) from its prospective office-bearers. If they do accept them, that remains a private matter with the nominee and the council. This would allow someone with a difficulty to sign the Covenant for Office Bearers in good conscience. If the council does not permit the gravamen, the prospective office bearer may have the answer as to whether they are being called to serve.
I would like to encourage elders, deacons, pastors, and councils to make room for those who may not agree with the confessional conclusion of Synod 2022; that means saying “yes” to gravamina. Part of the strength of our tradition has been to peacefully disagree and dialogue, while maintaining a self-critical and learning posture. And to all prospective elders, deacons, pastors, missionaries, and professors I would like to say, “Don’t say no yet!”
Some of us would love to see you seated around the table.