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CRC Statement on Bible Being Inerrant?

I'm teaching a lesson to our youth next week on the Bible's infallibility and inerrancy. I found the CRC position on infallibility but only found one discussion on the Bible being inerrant. Any ideas? 

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Steve, 
    I did a research project under Prof. John Bolt at Calvin Seminary on this topic. The long and short of what I found was that the Christian Reformed Church has historically included the concept of 'inerrancy' under the topic of the Scripture's infallibility (cf. Belgic Confession, Art. 7). In doing this, the CRCNA was simply carrying on the traditional understanding of Scripture that had been handed down from the Protestant Reformation (cf., Matthew Barret's new book on Sola Scriptura, entitled, 'God's Word Alone,' for more info.) This position was widely assumed in the denomination and was clearly restated by the CRCNA in 1961. In 1972, however, things began to change. In that year, Synod 1972 adopted a report on "The Nature and Extent of Biblical Authority." That report significantly muddied the waters about what the CRCNA believes about the infallibility of Scripture. Some, like John Frame at RTS - Orlando, have argued that the 1972 report and the 1961 report are compatible documents. So, the argument goes, we should assume that the CRCNA still confesses the concept of 'inerrancy' under her confession of Scripture's infallibility. Nevertheless, those who did not like the earlier understanding of the confessional position hailed the 1972 report as giving them the room they needed to deny Scriptural 'inerrancy.' This confused situation has remained with us down to this day, although I'm inclined to think that the non-inerrantists are in the ascendant.  

Can I say, though, that I do really like Vos's description of the decision to shy away from the term "inerrant" here:  

Synod 1959 of the Christian Reformed Church appointed me, among others, to the Committee on Infallibility. The committee discussed at some length the usefulness of the word inerrant to describe the Bible. We concluded that it is not the most felicitous term to express the unique character of the Scriptures. We agreed that infallible and trustworthy fit the nature of the Bible more appropriately.

What’s wrong with inerrant? Well, it tends to characterize the Bible as an encyclopedia of unassailable facts on which we can build a case in any field of learning. Inerrant also tends to lead to an interminable discussion on the apparent “discrepancies” in Scripture. Finally, the term emphasizes the accuracy or exactitude of the Bible, while the Scriptures themselves emphasize the power of the word—Isaiah 55:10, for example: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return until they have watered the earth . . . so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (NRSV).

The best thing to do here is for Ben to read the Agenda of Synod 2015, the report on deacons and elders.  It has an explanation for all things being proposed and is a much more trustworthy source than the memory of a 71-year-old geyser.

Ben Oliveira sends his best. He misses you and your wife, Ina. He has a question, in 74 d, is the reasoning for the wording because there is a concern that elders and deacons would be circumvented? Or, is there another explanation?

Thank you! We are using your book as a resource, in fact, it is a regular resource in our church.

Thanks for posting this, Henry. Appreciate that others on the site who search Article 73 will now be able to find this helpful information! 

I was just asked to tell someone when Art. 73 was amended.

You are making a statement of fact, but I do not see where you want to go with it. Can you clarify?

Article 73 (and many others) were amended in 2015.  You can find the Acts of Synod under Synod Resources from the CRCNA website.  Acts 2015, pages 663-668.  The amendments were proposed by a Study Committee working on the offices of elder and deacon.

I'm not sure about the consistency of "Council is at liberty...",  and the clause, "councils should not do this without the senior pastor's full consent..."  How is this liberty?  when constrained by such a condition?   

 

Thank you for the advice. How does this look, as a potential charge regarding confidentiality (wanting the congregation to be informed of the circumstances that would require confidentiality to be broken):

Elders and deacons, I charge you to keep in confidence the sensitive matters which congregants may share with you, only sharing with other leaders when needed to better care for those involved, and only reporting in circumstances involving evidence of a minor being neglected or abused, or of someone posing an immediate threat to themselves or to someone else.

It would be fantastic if every new member was encouraged to make a brief public testimony of their faith, rather than simply answering three formula questions.  The questions are okay, but just as faith without works is dead, so agreement without spirit is dead.  These testimonies can often have a greater impact on the life of the people in the pews than the greatest sermon ever preached. 

According to the Church Order's Article 4 it is the council that shall proceed to ordain/install elders and deacons.  The council will typically do this in a worship service and will often ask the senior pastor to lead -- at least in that segment of worship, even if another preaches.  But there is no rule that this has to be so.  Council is at liberty to ask another ordained minister to lead in that segment or in the entire service.  There should be good reasons for that, of course, and councils should obviously not do this without the senior pastor's full consent.

That's a fascinating insight, Ken, that the form doesn't actually require a confession of faith in Jesus. It's implied, of course, but that's a pretty dangerous leap to equate a living faith in Jesus with a belief that the teachings of the church are true. I do think that most PRC and NRC churches would require such a personal confession in the private conversation with a person prior to public confession, but could easily see that aspect being neglected. 

I came from the Netherlands Reformed Church in 1973 and made a Public Profession of Faith in the CRC at that time.

As I understand, the PRC and NRC are very similar in their professions of faith. They deal with life and doctrine, but not faith in Jesus Christ. I felt the need to profess this new faith in Jesus Christ when I came into the CRC. Here is the form that has been used for Profession in both the PRC and NRC...

1. Do you acknowledge the doctrine contained in the Old and New Testaments and in the Articles of the Christian faith and taught here in this Christian church to be the true and complete doctrine of salvation? 

2. Have you resolved by the grace of God to adhere to this doctrine; to reject all heresies repugnant thereto; and to lead a new, godly life? 

3. Will you submit to church government, and in case you should become delinquent (which may God graciously forbid), to church discipline?
Answer. Yes.

I hope that is helpful in guiding your conversations.

Craig,

Article 59-f applies here.  if it were a church in ecclesiastical fellowship with us, it would be 59-e.  Note that 59-f gives the consistory a responsibility to examine the persons concerning doctrine and conduct.  Then the consistory determines whether this be a "direct admission," a public reaffirmation, or a profession of faith.  One of these three that fits most appropriately with the conclusion of the examination.  If they're PRC, I would probably lean towards the first category of direct admission and so advise the consistory (if there's no problem in the conduct area).

 

 

Hi Craig,

Thanks for your question about transfer of members from "other denominations." Confessing members who are transferring from churches in ecclesiastical fellowship (as you noted, the RCA, EPC, and ECO) may be accepted within the membership of the CRC by the consistory upon the presentation of certificates or statements. Church Order Article 59-e goes on to state that the membership is accepted "after the consistory has satisfied itself concerning the doctrine and conduct of the members."

However, if a member wishes to transfer from another denomination (not in ecclesiastical fellowship with the CRCNA), according to Article 59-f, they "shall be admitted as confessing members of the congregation only after the consistory has examined them concerning doctrine and conduct. The consisotory shall determine in each case whether to admit them directly or by public reaffirmation or profession of faith. Their names shall be announced to the congregation for approval."

To answer your question about needing to make a public profession of faith once again, only if the consistory judges that a public commitment to Reformed confessions while testifying to a living faith in Christ is needed. Much depends on communication (if any) from the church that previously held the membership (active/inactive membership?).

Regards,

Dee Recker

Synodical Services Office, CRCNA

 

 

 

I am a former Roman Catholic. When I joined the CRC several years ago there was no hesitation. I knew the Church of Rome taught a different gospel and I had to get out of it.  I simply stopped attending there. There was no transfer process.  There is no official membership to cancel.  The CRC welcomed me in the fold as already baptized.  I did not have to be baptized in the CRC. As far as my Roman Catholic friends and relatives they consider me fallen away from the one true Church. I'm sure some pray that I return to Catholicism - as a prodigal son. 

Hello Arthur.  I do not know why your question has gone unanswered for so long, but for me I just saw it for the first time late-yesterday and I would like to try to give you an answer.  I hope you have become part of the CRCNA despite your question not getting an answer.

I am not aware that the Westminster Confession (WC) was ever rejected in any way by the CRCNA or of any attempts to get it accepted.  The Heidelberg Catechism (HC) was written in 1563 in Heidelberg, Germany a full 83 years before the WC (1646) was written, and it became widely used and loved there and in nearby Holland and other parts of Europe.  The Presbyterian Church in the U.S. inherited the WC from their Scottish ancestors (who got it from the the Church of England) and adopted it first in 1729, and the PCUSA formed and adopted it in 1788.  The CRCNA was started by Dutch Calvinist immigrants in 1857, and those folks had known and loved the HC those ~200 years since the WC was written and the prior 83 years!  The Dutch Reformed folks had a split in Holland but both sides still loved the HC deeply and basically, as Richard Mouw said in his 2004 book Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport "three documents that have long defined doctrinal orthodoxy in the Dutch Reformed tradition: The Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Cannons of Dort." p.21  

Obviously the CRCNA has become very diverse since it's origins, but that doctrinal orthodoxy has stuck firmly and has served us well now over 150 years.  Mouw made other interesting comments comparing the HC and WC on pp. 98-99 and 104-105 you might find interesting and helpful, quoting Hendrikus Berkhof, "they differ greatly in their tone.  This is obvious... in the way each of them begins."  He noted the WC starts by making a theological point... but the HC... begins in very personal terms.  I don't believe Mouw or Berkhof meant any criticism of WC but were just comparing some differences.

I hope this helps and I hope and pray it's not too late.  I would be glad to answer any follow up questions you might have or any comments on the subject.  Blessings to you and yours.  Pastor Tom

Rev. Tom Van Engen, Senior Pastor, Faith Presbyterian CRC, Ordot Chalan Pago, Guam  pastortve@gmail.com

Hello Arthur.  I do not know why your question has gone unanswered for so long, but for me I just saw it for the first time late-yesterday and I would like to try to give you an answer.  I hope you have become part of the CRCNA despite your question not getting an answer.

I am not aware that the Westminster Confession (WC) was ever rejected in any way by the CRCNA, but the Heidelberg Catechism (HC) was written in 1563 in Heidelberg, Germany a full 83 years before the WC (1646) was written, and it became widely used and loved there and in nearby Holland and other parts of Europe.;The Presbyterian Church in the U.S. inherited the WC from their Scottish ancestors (who got it from the the Church of England) and adopted it first in 1729, and the PCUSA formed and adopted it in 1788.  The CRCNA was started by Dutch Calvinist immigrants in 1857, and those folks had known and loved the HC those ~200 years since the WC was written and the prior 83 years!  The Dutch Reformed folks had a split in Holland but both sides still loved the HC deeply and basically, as Richard Mouw said in his 2004 book Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport "three documents that have long defined doctrinal orthodoxy in the Dutch Reformed tradition: The Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Cannons of Dort." p.21  

Obviously, I hope, the CRCNA has become very diverse since it's origins, but that doctrinal orthodoxy has stuck firmly and has served us well now over 150 years.  Mouw made other interesting comments comparing the HC and WC on pp. 98-99 an de 104-105 you might find interesting and helpful, quoting Hendrikus Berkhof, "they differ greatly in their tone.  This is obvious... in the way each of them begins."  He noted the WC starts by making a theological point... but the HC... begins in very personal terms.  I don't believe Mouw or Berkhof meant any criticism of WC but were just comparing some differences.

I hope this helps and I hope and pray it's not too late.  I would be glad to answer any follow up questions you might have or any comments on the subject.  Blessings to you and yours.  Pastor Tom

Rev. Tom Van Engen, Senior Pastor, Faith Presbyterian CRC, Ordot Chalan Pago, Guam  pastortve@gmail.com

Hi Adam,

As others have said--thanks for posting the question. 

Jim Dekker mentioned the ongoing Reformed-Catholic dialogue which has resulted in a joint agreement on baptism, as well as much discussion already around the Lord's Supper as practiced and understood by our respective churches.  This is likely the best comparative work that we have on the topic to date if you'd like to dig into it further. 

You can find the written work on this in the Agenda for Synod 2011 (https://www.crcna.org/sites/default/files/2011_agenda.pdf) starting on page 357ff on Baptism and Sacramentality ("These Living Waters"), continuing on page 440ff with a report on Eucharist/Lord's Supper ("This Bread of Life"), and ending with a comparison of Catholic and Reformed Lord's Supper Liturgies on page 492ff. 

If you'd like a quicker reference with a whole lot less reading--I'd direct you to contact Ronald Feenstra at Calvin Seminary, our current member at the Reformed-Catholic Dialogue table (Lyle Bierma has stepped away from this committment).

Blessings as you work through the conversation!

Adam, this is a great question. I suggest you copy it to the Facebook CRC Pastors group as well, of which you are a member.

I'd accept them as members on an appropriate reaffirmation of faith, and baptize their child. I would not make a point of communicating to their Catholic parish that we have done this. Assuming they are faithfully present in your church the communion issue is no big deal, and if they go back to Poland every few years and partake in the mass, that's no big deal either.

This is an interesting situation. Thank you for presenting it here.

First of all, "transfer of membership" is the term used for transferring memberships from one CRC to another. What would be needed for this is a "statement of membership" from their Roman Catholic church parish to the CRC (Brighton, MN, I presume) where they are attending. Yet it seems from your posting that the church/parish from which they're moving is not in the US. It might not be easy to get a "statement of membership," but should be possible. See Ch. Order Article 66 for these general rules. 

Second, I don't know what dual citizenship would have to do with anything you are describing and asking about--unless you are using the term "dual citizenship" as a synonym for "dual church membership.) My wife and I are dual citizens--US & Canada--but citizenship has nothing to do w/ church membership. (WAIT--we are also citizens of the Kingdom of God, which trumps all!)

Third, your question about participating in the sacraments is well put, but I will make a rather libertarian comment on that, based on experience in several denominations in six nations over 40-plus years. You are correct about baptism; officially the RCC does accept CRC baptism and vice versa. This was agreed upon after years of conversations in which CR and RC theologians and professors studied baptism exhaustively. (I believe Lyle Bierma was on that team and I know he reported on this issue and its conclusion to at least one synod I attended.) The experiential issue of Eucharist/Lord's Supper is significantly more ragged, though Church Order is pretty clear about the right to take part in Communion (C.O. 59). The fact is that more and more congregations in the CRC are opening up Communion more in keeping with the invitation in the Form for Lord's Supper in the grey Psalter Hymnal, which some have said veers away from strict interpretation of the Church Order. As well, I have been in Anglican, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and even (Eastern) Orthodox congregations in which the pastor/priest has made it very clear that Christians other than those of their own communion were welcome to participate.

I say that because in the case of the people you describe who evidently would return to Poland to visit family, it would be not merely awkward, but very sad if they could no longer participate in Communion in their homeland. Perhaps they could communicate with their home parish about this. On the other hand--and here is the libertarian comment--not a few have declared that sacraments do not belong to any church, but to God who welcomes believers, forgiven sinners, regardless of denomination. You know the implication of that reading.

Fourth, you ask about the child's baptism. I take it that the child has not been baptized in a Roman Catholic church. In that case, you are right that the should be members of your congregation, according to C.O. Article 56.

I don't know if this is helpful, but it has been enjoyable thinking about it with you. Blessings on your and your congregation's ministry with this family.

 

Adam,

A great question.  I think you identify some of the key issues toward the end of the second paragraph. Also, you are correct about the "dual-citizenship." I'm not sure that any church who recognizes membership within their polity would allow their members to also be members of another church or denomination.

Basically, I think you're on the right track. It's a great teaching opportunity for you and for the couple.  You would also want to have the council involved, endorsing and affirming the faith of the couple.

May I suggest one more thing? There are people much wiser than me and probably some who have had experience ministering in this situation that could find your question here, but are more likely to find you the Facebook group: Pastors of the Christian Reformed Church. It is a a "closed" group, meaning you would have to request to join and the moderators would include you.  It is an active group with close to 700 members of both active and (actively) retired pastors.

Blessings to you as you walk with this couple in their faith!  What a privilege!

I'm going to suggest that whether or not the congregation votes on changes to articles or bylaws depends in great part on the existing articles and to a secondary extent existing bylaws.

Regardless of what CO says, the existing articles (and/or bylaws) really control on this question.

One could of course make the argument that a church's articles/bylaws should, given the CO, say this or that, but that doesn't mean they do.  Bottom line is that existing articles/bylaws have much, much more to say about who votes to amend them than CO.

I should say this too.  Articles for a church need not (legally) provide that church members vote on amendments.  And if they don't, but rather allow the corporate BOD (aka BOT, depending on the state) to change the articles, then passing by the congregation is quite lawful.  I wouldn't say such articles are wise, but some non-profits, even churches, do not provide for congregants to vote on major governance documents. And that is quite lawful.

Michael:

Church Order Article 37 states: "The council, besides seeking the cooperation of the congregation in the election of officebearers, shall also invite its judgment about other major matters, except those which pertain to the supervision and discipline of the congregation. . . ." Peter Borgdorff, in his 2015 revision of the Manual of Christian Reformed Church Government adds that "The congregational meeting gives the council opportunity to seek the judgment or advice of the members on various matters, such as the program of the church, evangelistic outreach, and community relations."

The Articles or Bylaws usually indicate the process for making/adopting changes. Did you happen to check if this is included? If it is not indicate, I suggest erring on the side of grace and bringing the changes before the congregation for their information and for adoption.

Thanks for your question.

Dee Recker, director of synodical services

drecker@crcna.org

Hi Michael,

Article 37 of the Church Order talks about requiring the congregation's "judgment" (you can substitute "vote") with regard to "major matters."  Articles of Incorporation and By-laws are clearly in that realm.  In fact, when the article goes on to talk about council having the "authority to [make] and [carry out] final decisions," it excludes "those matters stipulated otherwise in the articles of incorporation or by law."  If you now look at the "model articles of incorporation" in the Supplement to Article 32-d of the Church Order, you will notice that Article VIII there indicates that amendments can only become effective when "at least two thirds of the members of the church who are present and entitled to vote" approve of them.  The model for Canadian churches has similar language.  It is actually the state or province that requires such congregational approval.  Not to call for a congregational vote on changes to the Articles of Incorporation is a violation of the law!

I do hope this helps.

 

 

 

Hi Amy:

Thanks for your question. There is a form for the transfer of the credentials of a retired minister. It is posted below "Forms" at www.crcna.org/statedclerks. Or you can select the following link:

http://crcna.org/sites/default/files/Ecclesiastical%20Credential%20for%2...

Regards,

Dee Recker

drecker@crcna.org

 

 

I would add this.  The church is likely incorporated and it's Articles of Incorporation  likely indicate (or should if they don't) the definition of the corporation's board of directors.  The Bylaws may further elaborate on that.

If the governing documents (Articles and Bylaws) provide that all council membets constitute the board of directors, and if the council (that is, board of directord) makes a decision that is a board of directors decision (eg. whether or not to repave the parking lot), then the elders would be quite out of line to second guess that decision in contradiction to what the board of directors (that is, the entire council) decided.

It may be prudent depending on what the (unusual) circumstances might be.  For example, the elders might have discovered something post-council meeting that demands new action that cannot await the next meeting of council.  That is an outside the normal bounds possibility.  But in most circumstances it would be inappropriate for the elders to do this.  According to the Church Order, both elders and deacons report to and are accountable to the full council and only the council may reconsider an issue and reverse a previous decision.

David,

For starters,  thank you for that insight.  I appreciate those very practical words of wisdom.

John

John,

For starters, a church should ask whether a school is a member of Christian Schools International, which defines itself as "a community of Christian day schools and affiliated institutions which share a Reformed Christian perspective" and requires its regular members to affirm their acceptance of "the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the infallible Word of God, as explicated in the Reformed creeds."

David 

Ahhh...Christian Day schools and how it fits in the CRCNA scheme, the next great battle that will be enjoined after LGBTQ is settled or a truce is signed; as if it never was enjoined before:-)

Del

Looks like this needs to be updated Elizabeth- "neighboring" doesn't seem to completely fit the bill now with precedent, and there are three delegates to be sent (unless something extraordinary prevents) to Classis from the church.  Perhaps more:-)

Del

From an RCA pastor serving in a CRCNA church, learning the differences...

Joshua, maybe we could educate the CRCNA people in the form of the thank you to Elders and Deacons when they finish their term of service.

1. have clear language when we bring someone onboard (they are ordained every time because, even though they were before, that ended when their term of service ended and so they need to be ordained again.  If this is not the case, then the ordination remains and thus they are still in some way an "Elder", just not on Council, which is how the RCA handles it)

2. When we are ordaining a new batch, we also remove the ordination from those who are completing their term.  We can have in the liturgy a time when the outgoing Elders/Deacons are recognized and we both thank them for their ministry and relieve/release them from their ordination.  The mantle is taken off.  

 

We are installing (and ordaining) new Elders and Deacons this Sunday, which is why I am on here doing research.  I am thinking about having a symbolic passing of the torch, where the outgoing Elder/Deacons have a towel (thematically pointing to foot washing) that is passed on to the new Elder/Deacon.  The idea also comes from the Elijah/Elisha passing of the mangle/ministry and the vestments of the levitical priests that were passed down.  The new elder/deacon would keep the towel during their time of ministry and then present the same towel at the end of their service to be passed to the next office bearers.

 

Is there a committee that does updates/revisions to liturgies that i should suggest some form of thankyou/celebration and removing of the mantle from exiting office bearers be incorporated into the liturgy?

Key, in my understanding of Article 12a, is the distinction between the first sentence and the second sentence (which is alluded to in the ground given for the recommended change). The first sentence is about the minister’s focus -- his or her calling specifically as minister. The second sentence is about the breadth of ministry work that a minister should be prepared to encounter -- his or her calling as one of the officebearers in the church, working together with the others in common ministry.

In view of this distinction between the two sentences, it looks to me like Article 12a captures quite well the competing concerns mentioned above: to define the core (sentence 1) but also have a view of the breadth (sentence 2).

The proposed change to Church Order Article 12-a is much more nuanced than simply adding "diaconal outreach" to the job description of the minister. Please interpret the change in the context of the ground that was provided. Though not mentioned in the ground, a valid interpretation of the change would be that promoting the work of diaconal outreach would be more applicable than engaging in that activity.

Ground: According to Article 30 of the Belgic Confession, ministers of the Word are called to common tasks with elders and deacons in equipping the church. Likewise, the second half of Church Order Article 12-a is intended to give an illustrative list of those tasks that the minister is called to do with other  officebearers. Making reference in the article to elders alone is confusing, since some of the tasks belong to other officebearers as well, such as supervising fellow officebearers (see Church Order Art. 82-84 and Supplement, Art. 82-84) and exercising pastoral care (see Art. 65). The proposed language removes this confusion by making a generic reference to other officebearers and including diaconal outreach in the tasks that the minister does in common with other officebearers.

Thanks, Norman. I agree.  It is time to focus.  Let's hope that vital conversations about pastoral theology continue to take place and that clarity emerges about the core functions of the pastoral ministry. 

This certainly resonates.  I do get the impression that some people think being reformed means to do what the world does, and then color it christian.   I don't think that's what the reformation was about.

Good points, Amy, about the need for redundancy.

When it comes to cloud storage, I'm partial to Google Drive. It makes it easy to store files in the cloud and it takes only a second to add/remove people's access to the whole folder (as council members come and go). Plus they make it easy to batch-export everything so you can periodically save it to a local hard drive.

As a bonus, when council members get familiar with Google Drive/Docs there are a million other ways it can be used to collaborate.

I'm running into similar questions in terms of setting up a system for managing our congregation's local archives, especially setting up electronic storage systems. In particular, I'm now debating the merits of various external hard drive and cloud storage options. From what I gather, it looks like there's a "rule of three": store things in three mediums, with one being geographically separate from the others. I'm thinking that looks like an electronic file of minutes would be archived in an external hard drive, cloud storage, and then printed for a physical binder/file.

The key challenge I've seen mentioned with electronic storage is that hardware/software has major updates every 5-7 years, so that's how often you need to update storage, e.g. buy a new external hard drive.

As far as distributing minutes to the congregation, our church posts a paper copy to a bulletin board with other news. Not high tech, but it's visible.

With regards to archiving, I know that churches are asked to provide a copy of their minutes to the CRC archives. See more information here, as well as other advice about keeping congregational records. Hope this helps! Maybe others have advice about how their distribute the minutes within their congregations...

The Church Order specifically gives you the right, at the local level, to select whomever you wish as officers of the council, the consistory, and the diaconate (Article 36). Typically, these are officebearers. Selecting a deacon to be clerk of council is certainly possible. Most councils prefer to have the clerk serve for both council and consistory. That would make the selection of a deacon a bit more problematic since deacons don’t serve on the consistory. But it is entirely your prerogative. 

My other suggestion would be to indicate that it is also possible to appoint a capable person not serving in office to do the actual work of recording and correspondence under the guidance of the selected elder clerk. For example, I have seen retired persons who once served as elders now serve in this capacity with great joy and enthusiasm. You could ask such a person to make a “vow of confidentiality,” and use their time and energy to everyone’s benefit.

Article 14a leaves no doubt that they can do that. The last time this rarity occurred, the minister confided in me that he had apologized for not consulting the elders sufficiently and that relationships were actually much improved after the run-in. He served with great effect for another three years before moving on, this time with the council’s blessing.

I would agree that  no council has the authority to bind a delegate's vote beyond the confessional standards, period. No council has the authority to bind a delegate's conscience at a deliberative assembly, the key word being deliberative. Otherwise there is no reason to deliberate. The Westminster Confession 20.2 forbids the binding of a person's conscience beyond scripture, because "God alone is Lord of the conscience." Any attempt by a council to do so would be liable to being overturned by classis and/or synod, and would reflect an unhealthy and ungodly attempt to control, domineer, or "lord it over" the delegate, as the Church Order says, art. 85.

Generally agree, but interesting that the Liberal (opposition) leader in Canada has recently said he would not permit candidates who disagreed with abortion rights, which it would seem is a moral issue.   In any case, would not a common sense approach be that generally delegates should be able to participate and be persuaded by discussion at the assembley, while in certain instances where a tremendous amount of discussion has already ocurred, the council may feel obligated to bind their delegates to a particular position, especially if they have put in an overture, or if their perception of an issue is such that they are concerned that delegates might be persuaded in the moment and come to regret it later?  

Older versions of the Church Order spoke of credentials and instructions (e.g., pre-1965, Article 33), and some people have indeed chosen to interpret those last two words to mean that such “binding” of votes is therefore appropriate. I emphatically disagree.

These “instructions” (litterae mandati, i.e. letters of mandate) referred to the specific matters on the agenda of the broader assembly that the delegates were being authorized to deliberate and vote upon. Often they indicated a matter or two that were to be added to the assembly’s already established agenda: last-minute overtures, communications, or requests. Reformed churches have always made a sharp distinction between these litterae mandati and the so-called mandat imperatif to clarify that this has nothing to do with the latter: binding delegates to a particular vote. The “instructions” involved what they were to do, not how they were to do it.

Even Van Dellen and Monsma, known for their insistence on the priority of local congregations, make it quite clear that such binding would disallow true deliberation and ultimately reduce the role of delegates to that of “voting machines” (Revised Church Order Commentary, 1965 ed., p. 146).

Even in our democratic forms of government, members of congress or parliament are not deemed in principle to be bound on any given issue. They are sometimes forced to vote a certain way by their party, but that never seems to happen on issues that involve a moral position. In such sensitive matters, they are allowed to vote as their conscience dictates, even if a majority within their home constituency thinks differently on the matter.

It is understood, however, and probably worth repeating, that delegates to broader assemblies of the CRCNA are bound to transact all business within the framework of their obedience to the Scriptures, subscription to the creeds and confessions, and attachment to the Church Order (see Article 5).

Your church is certainly not alone in such a disposition toward the deacons. It is also true that many other churches have redefined what ordination and leadership are really all about and militate against what you’re experiencing. It’s been that way for as long as the CRCNA has existed. The tensions have never been totally resolved.

Just for the fun of it, I’ll give you a taste of both sides in our historical narrative.

The minutes of Classis Holland, meeting on April 30, 1851, tell of a certain Mr. Paul Van Vulpen of Grand Haven who “declined the election to the office of deacon, being angry that the office of elder had not been entrusted to him.” Four years after the CRCNA came into existence, Classis Michigan ruled that a deacon presently serving a term could be placed on nomination for the office of elder; if elected, nominations for a new deacon would follow; if not, he would simply serve out his term (February 6, 1861, p. 15). You hear nothing, of course, about an elder being nominated to the office of deacon. It sounds a whole lot like what you call “elders in waiting.” H. Beuker, seminary professor, taught that elders may do the work of a deacon, but not vice versa, based on the theory that the diaconate finds its roots in the “seven” of Acts 6. And the spin on that text was that the ruling offices (apostles) are focused on the “spiritual,” the serving offices (deacons) on the “material” (Wenken over Kerkrecht en Kerkregeering, p. 25).

On the other hand, William Heyns, also a seminary professor, once applauded the formation of diaconal conferences, but insisted that these were “insufficient solutions” because they had no authority to act on behalf of the churches. The ideal solution, he said, would be to delegate deacons to major assemblies with the power to deal with all matters brought before them that concern the ministry of mercy (Gereformeerde Amerikaan, January, 1909, pp. 54-57; September, 1909, pp. 484-88; October, 1909, pp. 497-502; December, 1913, pp. 542-58). More recently, Trinity CRC of Iowa City admitted to a “long-standing practice” of having “the elders conduct annual home visitation accompanied by deacons.” The consistory flatly denied that in this way the deacons were doing the work of the elders. On the contrary, “in a congregation with a large number of students in which there is rapid turnover and [there are] cases of acute, short-term financial need,” such an arrangement actually helped the deacons “in fulfilling their office.” Upon hearing of it, Classis Pella declared that this practice was “in violation of the Church Order” since Church Order Article 65 “assigns the task only to ministers and elders” and the council promptly appealed. Synod 1981 was perplexed enough to “withhold action on the appeal” even though it hinted that, technically speaking, deacons on home visitation might well constitute a “deviation” (Acts of Synod, 1981, pp. 101-02).

There are many more such stories recorded in the annals of our denomination, some of them quite delightful. Very notable is the unauthorized “experiment” on the part of Classis Muskegon in the 1970s to have its churches delegate deacons to a governing assembly, and the subsequent recommendation of a minority report to the Synod of 1980 to carry that experimentation into the rest of the denomination. That recommendation was ruled out of order (Acts of Synod, 1980, pp. 105-06) and twenty-two delegates had their negative votes recorded. Just seventeen years later, synod changed course and permitted the delegation of deacons to classis (Acts of Synod, 1997, p. 621). I could go on and on.

Instead, I’ll just remind you that the offices do not differ in “dignity and honor” (Article 2) and that by our common consent, “no officebearer shall lord it over another officebearer” (Article 85). I would hope that a greater sense of that parity might penetrate the walls of your church.

Just had this conversation recently on Twitter. It is good to know the answer to this, but I am baffled on why there is push back about it. I ran into this problem a few years back when pastoring both an RCA and CRC at the same time. In the RCA it is once an elder always an elder. I had a hard time explaining to my elders and deacons at the CRC church that it was different with the CRC. Many didn't believe me. Thanks Dr. DeMoor for your insight and assitance int his issue. My question is, how can we better educate elders and deacons about this idea of ordination and installation?

Thanks for a great question. I looked in my Psalter Hymnal copy (1987 printing) and verified what you're telling me. I checked the index of synodical decisions and discovered that Synod 1989 did, in fact, adopt changes in the forms of ordination of ministers, elders, and deacons (Acts of Synod, 1989, p. 469). These changes can be found in the Agenda for Synod, 1989, p. 62. It is not surprising, therefore, that Psalter Hymnals printed in 1987 do not reflect these changes. The liturgical forms for the ordination of elders and deacons and ministers on the CRCNA website have been updated to reflect this decision.

It is very important that we recall the need for confidentiality in the work of officebearers at the moment they are installed. The congregation can be assured and those in office reminded, publicly, at least once a year. This will not only encourage parishioners to feel free in sharing necessary information with their pastoral leaders, but also function as a powerful defense against any possible lawsuits.

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