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What does one do with any decision of any body (Council, Classis, Synod) if they do not agree? Then, how long do we read, pray, seek to discern? I pose these not as an argument, but as legitimate questions. Do we seek unanimity? Reasonably, I do not believe this would ever be forthcoming. Do we continue until the proverbial tide turns? This would simply mean that another group will feel discounted. Is it possible we have not genuinely heard God speak because we do not wish to? Is it possible that we have heard him speak and do not wish to accept what he has said? 


Hi Jeffrey, With all respect due, it cannot be said that Jesus never spoke about homosexuality. As the gospel according to John makes it clear, if it is not obvious, there were many more things that he said and did that are not recorded. The argument from silence is a logical fallacy. The gospel writers picked and chose what they would include and what they would exclude based on their own criteria. 

I also have trouble with name calling. We ought to be able to have respectful conversations that focus on issues and not individuals. I  have not heard of anyone who wishes to "punish" anyone. Further, across the spectrum, there are those who have (or may have) a relationship with the Lord but are not living a "sanctified" life. The foundation for any discussion of a believer's behavior is a recognition that "we all fall short of the glory of God." That is not an excuse to be taken advantage of by appealing to the grace of God, simply a fact. That's why we have (or did have) discipline exercised by the elders and why we have (or did have) "mutual censure." It is all about bringing one another into compliance, about discipling one another. Good listening is understanding and accepting the other person's position without necessarily agreeing with them. But ultimately, with any issue, any question, any motion, any overture there needs to be a time when a decision is made. As I noted earlier, there are those who would persist in discussing, praying, meditating, seeking to discern until they get their own way. That is unreasonable. The HSR has been before us for over 3 years. How much discussion has taken place within our individual congregations or within our classes, I do not know, but that is where the most fruitful discussions will take place. The challenge with out Synod is that each year the delegates are different individuals which, at least in theory, means that a different decisions could be reached each year, resulting in yo-yo convictions. No body can live with that anxiety and uncertainty.   

Hi again,

For me there is a logic here. Jesus' public ministry was some 3 years. If you were to count the number of things that Jesus said as recorded in the 4 gospels and then eliminate those that are repeated, I suspect (I have not actually done this.) that would would have a result of him having spoken less than 3 sentences per day. That does not take into account the fact that parables consume more than one sentence. It would be remarkable, therefore, to assume that he spoke no more than what we have. (Confession: John refers to what he did, not what he said so I erred there.) Writers in those days  did not (obviously) have access to even a typewriter, let alone a computer or a smart phone to record. So they had to be selective in what incidents they recorded. There is also the question of whether there are gospels or records of Jesus' sayings that have been lost. (We do have such as the Gospel of Thomas and a large collection of other gospels and epistles that are readily available but not included in our canon. Are there more?) We accept, therefore, what while me may not have everything, we have everything we need for salvation, however that word is understood. I might add here as well that even today historians, despite having an abundance of information at their disposal, are selective in what they use. No history book is or can be complete. Related, of course, is that so far as we know, no one was tagging along as a recording secretary. What we have is memory and that memory, as with all our memories, is selective. We recall those things that are important to us, that have made an impact on us, that have caused us to pause and think differently, act differently. If homosexuality was not an issue within the Jewish community then it would be rather pointless for him to speak to it, one way or another.

You ask how do we move forward and "provide service to all God's children?" Before my term expired as an elder and chair of council I did a confidential survey amongst the elders and deacons. There was no one who would say that homosexuals (include others within this category) should be excluded. The majority did see homosexual practice as being a sin and would therefore disavow having them serve in any leadership capacity unless celibate. They would yet be open to all the ministries of the congregation. The potential problem with this--and the HSR addresses it, is that if we do not wish to be and to be seen as hypocrites we must be a diligent with others who perpetually act in what is understood to be sinful. That is a real challenge.

The question is a good one, however. Even if we agree with the decision of Synod, how can we move forward without doing harm? I am honestly not sure there is an answer to this. What is harmful to one may be innocuous to another. Given that a decision has been made, perhaps the place for these discussions is now on the classical and congregational levels? One things for sure, we need to continue talking.   


There has been considerable discussion over several years on the matter, it is not just recently that it has come before Synod. Discussions of the HSR within congregations, from what I have heard, is quite a different matter. At some point a decision needs to be made and the reality is that which ever party sees said decision as being contrary to their position will suggest that they have not been heard or their views taken seriously. That is not necessarily true, simply that a contrary decision has been made. Listening and listening and understanding and  even empathizing with another's perspective does not equate with agreeing of compromising. 

Among the many things that dramatically altered my "prayer" life was the realization that the prominent Hebrew word we translate as "pray" doesn't mean pray at all. Tefillah means "to connect" in in this instance to make a connection with the Lord. It suggests focus and intentionality and opens up a conversation wherein we speak but also listen. In its reflective form it means "to judge." Yup, that's right. Why? Well because Jewish people always pray out loud (God spoke creation into being, he didn't think it!) and when we do we tend to be particularly conscious of what we are saying and, if we are truly attuned to the Lord, will be constantly discerning whether "the words of our mouth and the meditations of our heart are acceptable." Read the Psalms, read Job, or Jonah. The conversations are not always nice and sweet. Complaints, doubts, anger, you name it and you will find it expressed. God desires truth in the inward being. Then there is Habakkuk. I see that "book" as a journal entry of his own growth wherein he moves from questioning God's sensibilities to a remarkable emergence of a declaration of trust in the worst of times. Yup, sometimes we need to get "down and dirty" with this thing we label prayer.

Ronald Everett VanAuken aka "The REV"

The topic is a fascinating one and our theology around it presumes a great deal. 

Assuming we truly wish to be scriptural, we would need to ask the origin of what we do. There is no agreement amongst scholars here; but if we trace it to the Passover meal, then our Lord's words, "Whenever you eat . . " would clearly indicate that he was speaking of the Passover bread and cup and thus we would celebrate annually. Regardless, the "officiant" was not a priest or a rabbi; but the host or head of the household. That we have limited it to clergy and a few select others is clearly a departure. It was also clearly a meal. So once again we have departed. Note that it was also in homes, not in the synagogue, let alone the temple. So it seems to me that, setting an understanding that developed over decades of church history, what we do today is clearly a departure from the practice of the first gatherings of Jesus' followers.



I would suggest that the place to start would be to sketch out what is required of elders by our Church Order—assuming that we are concerned about Church Order, and then what is wanted or expected of them by council and the congregation at large to be an effective community of faith. It is the old “form follows function” thing.


In many respects our Church Order tacitly assumes day long gone. By that I mean an ear when fewer people commuted, and era when the church was the center of life for most Christians and even for the community, an ear when there were far fewer activities available for both children and adults. So individuals were home more for pastoral visits and elders had more time to make them. For many these are, indeed, days gone by.


In the last congregation I pastored we had the usual districts but faced with a similar challenge we did a few things. First, we asked each member whether they would value a regular (at lest annual) visit from the pastor and an elder or whether they would opt for a “If we have a need, we will call” approach. The vast majority opted for the latter. So right away the number of expected/required visits were reduced.


We then prioritized. Those who still desired would have them. Those who were experiencing difficulties, loss, grief, etc. would be prioritized for a visit “immediately.” The second priority would be individuals who seemed to be drifting away from the faith or the church.  Visitors and those seeking membership would be a third priority. I would suggest that this probably reduced the “obligation” by about 75%. The last thing that we did was to encourage each elder to have a district gathering over a meal once a year. Some would host this in their home, some at the church building. It would be a time of community building, sharing, encouragement, and prayer. The elders, as well as myself as pastor, would still make other visits, but this allowed us to focus on needs and relieve the pressure.

I am not sure there is a simple scriptural/biblical response to this. I say this because the nature of the church changed during the apostolic era and continued to change after.

"Church" is a very poor translation of the word ecclesia which literally means "those called out" and came to refer to a community of individuals who were, in some manner, separate and distinct from others. Contrary to what we have been lead to believe, the ecclesia/church was not founded on the day of Pentecost. It was founded by Jesus when he called the first disciples and they essentially left everything to follow him, both literally and figuratively.  There was no particular requirement, simply that they tag along, learn from him, and seek to model themselves after him. This was what it meant to be a disciple.


That was when Jesus was out and about. Once he was (physically) no longer present, others essentially took on his teaching and when they passed, others took on their teaching. This meant that individual thoughts and responses came into play and the simple following of Jesus was lost to an increasingly complex and bureaucratic organization where the ministry of the many became the ministry of the few, namely the clergy. It also necessitated or at least invited a distinction between membership in the ecclesia/church universal and membership in a particular congregation or denomination with its distinctive beliefs and practices. 

Some congregations have addressed this by acknowledging everyone as members but requiring an understanding and commitment to their particular beliefs and governance before assuming a leadership position.

How do we wish to see the church? o we wish to see it primarily as a building and a highly organized structure, or do we wish to see is as an assembly of believers, which the biblical word we translate as "church" actually means? If we desire to be what the gathering of believers was, and which our Lord formed, then we must begin with the ecclesia, the assembly, and for that I would suggest that "best practices" begins with what has traditionally been called mutual censure. By this I mean that in my idea congregation, leaders would have a bond between them that is more than superficial. They would meet to "confess their sins and pray for one another," tio build one another up, to bear each others burdens, weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice. Having behind me nearly 50 years of ministry in 3 denominations as both pastor and in executive positions, and now with the CRC, it is my conviction that a truly spiritual or godly congregation cannot be effectively led if its leadership is not seeking to exemplify a life of faith. It is fundamentally not the talk; but the walk. And no, I am not a fundamentalist, just trying to get on board with what I her my Lord teaching.

As one who thrives on discussions, I find this one rather intriguing, especially as it impacts on what we do every Lord’s Day. Allow me to make a few observations.

Typically, regulative does stand against normative as polar opposites. Can we accept that there is a spectrum, or at least that neither of these is wholly acceptable?

The phrase in the catechism is “has been commanded.” Much of what we read in the scriptures, however, is illustrative, not instructive. Said differently, what we actually have is a record of how the church did worship, not how they were commanded to worship.

Even commandments require considerable interpretation, which, of course, for the Jews eventually led to the Talmud. Oran music is not commanded, neither are guitars. There is no command, much less precedent, for only an ordained minister to administer the Lord’s Supper and baptism and the practice actually goes against any understanding of scriptural worship. How about the announcements that most congregations have during worship? We could go on; but I hope the point is made.

If we were to draw on what we are actually told in scripture (1st Corinthians 14:26) about worship in at least this one apostolic congregation, we are certainly far removed from it, unless we relegate it to a small group or house church gathering. It certainly is not a Sunday morning pattern.

I have done this; but only during Lent . . . and the congregation was Presbyterian. We did it on Shrove Tuesday (Pancakes!) and then on Maundy Thursday.

The meal wold be prepared; but served buffet style. We began with a welcome and short but relevant scripture, oft paraphrased or pout in a story form, then the bread ws blessed, using the Jewish blessing over bread, broke the bread and passed it. A thanks to God was followed by the meal itself. After everyone had eaten we had a short devotional/meditation followed by the blessing of the cup--Jewish blessing again, and then the benediction.

Shrove Tuesdays were always preceded by an explanation of the origin and meaning. This was done during Lord's Day worship preceding. We tried to stick to the meaning of the day. Maundy Thursday we tried--sometimes more successfully than others, to guide table conversation around themes of fellowship, love, caring, personal commitment and sacrifice, and the like.

I have personally come to believing that the Jews and the Salvation Army have a better understanding of what we refer to as communion or the Lord's Supper than we do. By this I mean that ever meal has a "sacramental" quality to it, though we may give a special recognition via liturgy to Passover or the drastically paired down meal that we refer to as Communion/Lord's Supper.

I might add that when we started the Maundy Thursday meal, it was a Chinese buffet! :) Then we moved to alternating Chinese with a variety of other foods.


I will not offer up reading material nor will I go into an exegesis or explanation. I will suggest, however, that both election and predestination are misunderstood more often than not and this does no service to either our ministry or mission and certainly does not enhance our relationship to the Lord. Beware of who is being addressed and who is not being addressed when each of the subjects is raised. Use good logic when seeking to understand them, being aware of arriving at false conclusions. And, of course, context and the whole counsel of God is critical.

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