Does the CRC Have a Pope?
April 11, 2011
Updated December 5, 2017
6 comments 77 views
Since synod is the highest ruling assembly, is it the pope of the Christian Reformed denomination?
Sometimes it feels that way, but that question misunderstands the nature of the authority and function of our denominational assemblies.
The Church Order, a set of regulations by which our denomination is governed, states, “the authority of council [is] original, that of the major assemblies [is] delegated” (Article 27). The council, the governing board of the congregation, is elected by the congregation either by majority vote or by lot. The council decides what happens in the local church, and no one from another church assembly tells it how it must structure its ministries, worship services, etc.
Councils have found it beneficial to join with other councils to sponsor ministries larger than a council could do by itself (e.g. the establishment of a Student Assistance Fund, the support of a campus ministry), to seek the wisdom of other councils, etc. Thus, councils have formed a classis, a regional grouping of churches. Each classis meets either two or three times a year, and each council sends a pastor and an elder (in some classes also a deacon) to make decisions on matters considered. To use the words of the Church Order, the councils “delegate” authority to the classis and agree to honor the decisions it makes.
Classes, too, have found it beneficial to join with other classes to sponsor ministries larger than a classis could do by itself (e.g. World Missions, Publications, etc.), to seek the wisdom of other classes, etc. Thus, every year each of our forty-seven classes sends two ministers and two elders (188 total delegates) to synod, an annual gathering of the classes, to make decisions on matters considered. The classes “delegate” authority to synod and agree to honor the decisions it makes.
Thus, synod is not really the highest ruling assembly. It’s the broadest assembly. Authority does not flow from the top down but is delegated from the bottom up.
Do the members of the denomination view synod as the pope? If so, what can be done to change that perception?
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Thanks, George. I had a conversation about this a couple weeks ago with someone wondering about the "authority" of synod. I didn't use the word "broadest," but I think I nevertheless captured your perspective. Next time, that word will be included in my vocabulary on the subject.
George, this is a great article to refer to people when asked this question. Thank you.
I wonder if a proper understanding of delegation would include the possibility of retracting that delegation. In other words, when elders delegate the tasks of deacons to the deacons, or certain other administrative tasks to a secretary, or to a building committee or finance committee, then the authority of that delegation presumes the elders or council ability to overrule the committee or to retract the delegation. Hopefully they wouldn't do that too often, but yet their authority and responsibility implies that they could do so. The delegation of the authority does not make them less responsible for the activities that derive from that delegation, does it?
After leaving the Roman Catholic Church when I was 20, I knew I should never again submit myself to an institution of faith that dictates my beliefs and practices- just the Bible alone. I have recently started attending a CRC offshoot in Wingham, Ontario Canada. Now before I leap I check my footing for the strong foundation of Jesus Christ.
After reviewing the CRC website, and the creeds that it affirms, to know what I was getting into, I am now seeing that the CRC, like the Catholic Church, has turned its back on the teachings of Jesus for those of man: "But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." (Matthew 15:9).
This is clearly evident when one reads Article 7 of the Belgic Confession (see below)-a confession of man. This confession of Guido de Bres was suitable for him and other Bible believers in their time and place. They asserted that we must not put human writings above the truth of God, no matter how holy they may seem.
When the CRC asserts that a member of its Church must believe this confession, it is at the same time denying what this confession and those who first lived it initially stood for: that they would NOT bow to the teachings of man, but those of God alone, who is the only, and subsequently, highest authority.
Dear Christians, remind yourselves of the teachings of 2 Timothy. It is scripture that is inspired, and it alone is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works- not the dictates of men who came before us, or who are now amongst us.
The CRC is walking into the same pit that Roman Church now finds itself; like the Israelites of Jeremiah 35, they choose to listen to their fathers, and not to God, therefore evil will be brought upon them.
Article 7 (of the Belgic Confession):
The Sufficiency of Scripture
that this Holy Scripture contains
the will of God completely
and that everything one must believe
to be saved
is sufficiently taught in it.
For since the entire manner of service
which God requires of us
is described in it at great length,
even an apostle
or an angel from heaven,
as Paul says—^2
ought to teach other than
what the Holy Scriptures have
already taught us.
For since it is forbidden
to add to or subtract from the Word of God,^3
this plainly demonstrates
that the teaching is perfect
and complete in all respects.
Therefore we must not consider human writings—
no matter how holy their authors may have been—
equal to the divine writings;
nor may we put custom,
nor the majority,
nor the passage of time or persons,
nor councils, decrees, or official decisions
above the truth of God,
for truth is above everything else.
For all human beings are liars by nature
and more vain than vanity itself.
Therefore we reject with all our hearts
everything that does not agree
with this infallible rule,
as we are taught to do by the apostles
when they say,
"Test the spirits
to see if they are of God,"^4
"If anyone comes to you
and does not bring this teaching,
do not receive him
into your house."^5
^2 Gal. 1:8
^3 Deut. 12:32; Rev. 22:18-19
^4 1 John 4:1
^5 2 John 10
*For more on the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church compared to the Bible, some of the same errors that the CRC now finds itself, please visit my blog:
It sounds so wonderful to say "Scripture alone should be our guide." Would any Christian deny that? Difficulty arises because various people say, "This is what Scripture says." The result is that there are multiple assertions about what Scripture says. In the face of that reality, it's pretty meaningless to say, "Scripture alone should be our guide." What Scripture are we then talking about--interpretation A, B, C, D or my own interpretation?
Some folks object to creeds and say, "No creed but Christ!" When you ask them what they believe about Christ, they say: He is the divine Son of God who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, buried, resurrected, sits at God's right hand and is coming again." In other words they construct what we know as the Apostles' Creed.
The church adopts creeds and confessions, not to supplant Scripture, but to say, "We believe this is what Scripture says."The Belgic Confession says that Scripture is the supreme authority in a Christian's life. To say "I subscribe to that" in no way takes away from the authority of Scripture.
Gregory Matthew Kuglin, I appreciate your dedication to scripture as the divine writings. It sounds like you are in agreement with article 7 of the Belgic Confession. I believe all the confessions stress the primary authority of scripture. The confessions are merely meant to summarize scripture, not to take precedence over scripture.
Just one point about Jeremiah 35. It seems that Jehovah actually honored the recabites for the way they followed the teachings of their forefathers, to live in tents and not drink wine, since it was used as an example of how the Israelites should have followed the teachings and commands of God. The recabites were promised as a result that they would always have someone in their family to serve the Lord (vs19).
But the teachings of the fathers do need to be measured against the teachings of scripture. The recabites did not apparently contradict what scripture had taught in the commandments, although the advice/command of the forefather Jonadab was not directly required by scriptures, but it was a good advice/command.
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