Don’t Say No Yet (An Encouragement to Future Office-bearers in the CRC)
September 14, 2022
Updated September 19, 2022
10 comments 1819 views
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.
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Our Covenant for Officebearers requires an officebearer to affirm the three confessions "as historic Reformed expressions of the Christian faith, whose doctrines fully agree with the Word of God." As Supplement, Article 5 puts it:
"The person signing the Covenant for Officebearers affirms without reservation all the doctrines contained in the standards of the church as being doctrines that are taught in the Word of God."
A Confessional-Difficulty gravamen allows an officebearer to present a difficulty to the Council for information/clarification.. The point of a Confessional-Difficulty gravamen is NOT to allow the officebearer to take a (semi-private) exception to our confessions. Unlike Presbyterians, our Covenant for Officebearers allows for no exceptions. Rather, the point is to provide information and clarification so an Officebearer knows whether his views are within the confessions, and, thus, whether he can continue to affirm the Covenant for Officebearers.
This is a factually incorrect understanding of the confessional difficulty gravamen. As Michael said, it's purpose is to work out ones questions, and wrestle through matters, not a Presbyterian form of standing exception to a confessional point!
For a better understanding of what gravamen are, and how they have been historically used in our denomination, check out this article: https://www.abideproject.org/articles/synod-faq-or-fiction
Better to point people to the actual, official resource.
The issue with the original post, and the resource listed (the HSR FAQ's), is that both fundamentally change how the process of gravamen works according to the Church Order Article 5 Supplement. A confessional-difficulty gravamen is to request clarity in a confessional or interpretative matter that a member does not have a strongly held belief. This clarification can be issued at a more local level than Synod, but cannot be given outside of the bounds of Synod's decisions. This should either lead to acceptance of the Denomination's understanding or interpretation of the Scripture or the confessions; or this leads to upgrade the disagreement to a confessional-revision gravamen.
If a strongly held belief is present and a person is not seeking clarification, but rather a change in the confession or interpretation of the church to come in line with their own. This calls for a confessional-revision gravamen. This can only be adjudicated by a body that can revise the confessions, namely Synod.
This article is part one of two. My wife and I are eagerly awaiting the second part in addition to the overture to Grandville Classis from Dorr CRC.
I have no disappointments with the Human Sexuality Report. Without this report and the statement that acting on homosexual instincts is sin*, the CRC would have ceased being the Church. We would not have been guided by God's Word.
* "In other words, there is no sin in being attracted to the same sex. We only sin if we act on our sexual attractions."
I applaud the decision of the 2022 Synod to uphold the Biblical concept of marriage...one man, one women. It is simple, easily understood, easily followed and is also somewhat akin to the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:37 " Let your 'Yes' be 'Yes' and your 'No' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." Note: Jesus directly introduced the evil ONE!! Today it is so very easy to see Satan at work in society, schools and churches where the Biblical Concept of marriage is allowed to be violated. The results are predictable, confusing & sad.
It's clear that we have two very different understandings of the confessional difficulty gravamen. Before we get too far down this path, it would be helpful to have a definitive answer on this. The understanding in the article Lloyd referenced seems to me to be more in line with our polity and Covenant for Officebearers, but that understanding appears to be at odds with what we're hearing from the denominational office.
It is sad that we hear some presenting cavils and protests about our duties as office-bearers. In the CRCNA, we office-bearers must live up to our solemnly espoused assent to the creeds and confessions of the church or dispense with the hypocrisy and dissembling.
Our historic General Synod has spoken: homosexual acts are and always have been unchaste according to God's Word. In Acts the issue of the day was uniting Gentile and Jewish congregations in one church. The counsel of Jerusalem made the ruling that the Gentiles must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. These requirements were considered few and necessary for the common good. If the Gentile believers committed to doing them faithfully, "[they would] do well". Likewise, we need to agree with General Synod that people with homosexual inclinations would "do well" if they called on the Lord Jesus and on their brothers in Christ to help them not to act on their inclinations.
I'm sorry Keith, but I can't buy your simplistic logic in applying the Council of Jerusalem's ruling to the present. If the Council's rulings are eternally binding, then the apostle Paul deserved disciplinary action for denying the validity of its decision regarding eating meat offered to idols (see 1 Corinthians 8). And surely we do not really want to apply church discipline to anyone who eats the meat of strangled animals, do we? By what authority would we exempt ourselves from two of the requirements of the Jerusalem Council from eternal application, but hang on to the remaining one?
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