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I have fond memories of studying Church Polity under you in seminary.  And I believed then and I believe now you are very knowledgeable and wise.  I too read the entire report.  But on this this issue I have different understanding that you do.  Up to this point in history all of Christendom understood the Bible's condemnation of sexual immorality as including homosexual acts.  Our church reaffirmed this common understanding in the report it passed in 1973, which clearly stated that revisionist interpretations were wrong.  Then in 2003 (I think) our Synod and Classis Toronto relied on this common understanding to pressure First CRC in Toronto to withdraw their intention to ordain practicing homosexuals.  Back then the church assumed that its decision had confessional repercussions.  So, even if Synod does not accept the committee's report (unless it directly denies it) it would seem that churches that ordain practicing homosexuals are in violation of the confessions.   And if this committee's report is likewise passed by synod,  synod would again reject revisionist interpretations, which would mean that homosexual acts are covered under the broader classification of sexual immorality.  This time the report would have even more punch, given the committee's mandate. 

Even though there is a lot of discussion as to whether this report does have or should have confessional status, we should remember that this is not some magic pill that will solve the divisions within our church.  Confessional status will mean nothing if the CRC fails to discipline erring pastors, councils, and congregations.  Interestingly,  way back in the 1880's Synod  decided that their position on The Lord's Day had the status of the confessions.  Are we really following that decision today? 

Maybe the time has come for our churches to agree to amicably part ways over this issue, and become separate denominations.  To do this cooperatively with a common plan may prevent some of acrimony that occurred when we split from the Reformed Church in the nineteenth century, and that has occurred more recently when the United Reformed Church split from us.  Perhaps, the more conservative elements of the RCA and CRC may unite, as might the more progressive elements of our two denominations.  And perhaps all groups could cooperate in areas where we agree. 

Even though denominations may not be the best way to live out Christ's prayer that his followers be one, it is the way this mandate is already being lived out in the world today.  The invisible church is one.  But because we Christians live in different countries, because we interpret the Bible differently, and because of a host of other reasons, the visible church is divided.  The current trend among Christians toward nondenominational churches  has fragmented the visible church even more.  None of this means we can't pray and worship together and long for the day when Christ will make us completely one. When I was a pastor in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, our church, along with other evangelical and mainline Protestant churches and The Roman Catholic Church had for years been meeting with them for joint Good Friday and other special worship services.  Sometime in the middle of those years The Evangelical Lutheran Church and The Presbyterian Church USA decided to ordain members who were practicing homosexuals and to allow their ministers to preside over same-sex marriages.  And their local congregations went along with that.  But this didn't stop us from having joint worship together with them.  We continued to praise God together and to experience the blessing of our fellowship and worship.  It is my prayer that by God's grace many of our churches will do the same, even if we can no longer be one church organizationally.



The words I would focus on in this answer would be "and the like." Any sin can keep us out of heaven, even after we claim to trust in Jesus, if we deliberately travel that road rather than try to live as Jesus calls us to live.  That would include gluttony or even telling little "white lies." But if, out of weakness we fall into any sin, no matter how heinous, there is forgiveness in Christ.  But, we must not deliberately flaunt God's law and sin.  Salvation is not found in avoiding a particular list of sins, but it is found in turning from sin to Jesus.  It is in finding our forgiveness by grace through faith in him alone.

That answer affects your question of The Church Order and The Confessions.  The church is supposed to help their members to avoid sin and continue down the road of salvation.  I don't think the issue is whether or not a particular sin is mentioned specifically in the catechism, but rather is the church encouraging sin in any form, whether gluttony or homosexual practice.  If a church encouraged overeating, would we say that they were doing right?  Shouldn't such a church be disciplined?  Isn't gluttony covered by the words, "and the like?"   Isn't one of the signs of the true church that it disciplines it's members? I guess the bigger question is whether or not homosexual acts are sin.  If they are, to promote them would be to deny our confessions.



Unless Synod 2021 repudiates the report on human sexuality and adopts a report to suggest what you are suggesting, Synod will say that the official stance of the Christian Reformed Church is that homosexual acts constitute sexual immorality and are sin.  That's not just an opinion of a majority of people in our church.  That is the position of the Christian Reformed Church which we all have covenanted to uphold.  Anything short of this will leave in place the decision of 1973.

But we had better be very careful about repudiating it.  This is a position that the some of our best scholars have reached after 6 years of study.  While I agree with those who say the committee should have included some who were more open to other positions, synod 2016 was in its right to seek to form of a study committee of those who already agreed with the stand our denomination had taken on this in 1973.  If you read carefully that report you will find that the revisionist position is addressed, and our church rejected it.  In my reading of both that report and the position advocated by the revisionists today, there is nothing that the revisionists are saying today that was not already addressed in 1973, except that back then they were more optimistic about "conversion therapies."  Having found that these therapies are ineffective, our present committee's report discourages using them.  But the Biblical theological material has really not needed much revision.

This becomes a confessional issue in part based on Article 28 of the Belgic Confession, which lists the marks of true church, among which is proper exercise of church discipline.  "The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel;  it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them;  it practices church discipline for correcting faults." Given that the official stand of our church is that homosexual acts are sin, to ignore that sin by performing same-sex marriages and ordaining people who openly live in same-sex sexual relationships constitutes being a false church. 

I realize that other denominations have taken different stands on this issue, just as other denominations have understood the sacrament of baptism differently than we do.  And because they understand this differently, I would not say they are false churches.  But, because we haver covenanted together to say that this is our understanding of God's Word, for churches to ignore this to open themselves up to the charge of being a false church, and to themselves being the object of church discipline. 

It is my hope and prayer that Synod 2021 will make this clear that we might avoid the acrimony and mission-killing divisions that other denominations have endured.  We already know where that path leads, why would we desire to go down it?

My last line to my second to the last paragraph should have read:

But because we have covenanted together to say that this is our understanding of God's Word, for CRC congregations to ignore this is to open themselves up to the charge of being false churches, and to themselves being the objects of church discipline. 


I think it is now clear where our disagreement lies.  If I understand you correctly, you are hoping to avoid a denominational split by classifying all of the disagreements our congregations have on this issue under the category of "pastoral advice."  Normally, I might agree with you.  Most of the time, I too would like to try anything to avoid a a split in our denomination.  And I also would not move to excommunicate anyone without a long painful process of working with such an individual.  In the end, as the committee suggests, I would encourage practicing homosexuals who could not accept our denomination's position to find a church that agrees with their understanding of the scriptures on this.  But I would also do so with churches who disagree with the denomination on this.

I see this as a matter of right and wrong, as being obedient or disobedient to God's expressed will.  Others, whom I love and respect, see this as a justice issue for LGBTQ people, which is also a matter of right and wrong.  I just don't see how both of these positions can exist within one denomination.  I have always believed, in light what Jesus said in John 17, that one important justifiable reason for denominations to exist is that they allow us to uphold what we truly believe is a true understanding of the scriptures.  I see them as a way that I can both stand for truth and enjoy unity with brothers and sisters who have fundamental disagreements with me about scripture is teaching.

I also am concerned that there will be so much division over trying to stay united that it will destroy the denomination we both love.  I think our join mission together will be put on hold, as churches and church leaders jockey for political advantage over those who disagree with them on this.  None of us should have illusions over the consequences will be.  Individuals and families, congregations, and perhaps even whole Classes will withdraw from our denomination if we do not clarify our position. That is because many folks will perceive that failing to take clear stand against this behavior is tantamount to advocating full acceptance of practicing homosexuals. We may lose members in the congregations I served if the denomination does not take a clear stand. Some of these members joined us because their denominations failed to take such a stand, even though their families had been a part of those denominations for generations.   Also, my present congregation shares our building with an Anglican Church that, in part, left their denomination over this issue.  I do not know how they will react.  I will tell them how I stand and how my congregations stands on this.  Hopefully, that will be enough.

I see the only way ahead as an amicable division into two denominations, with hopes that we might join with the respective RCA congregations and Classes that agree with us.  I understand you to take an opposing view.  It is my prayer that Synod 2021 will not leave the important issue, that you so well delineated, unresolved.  As you and Jeff concluded, ultimately the decision is theirs.  With that I end my comments. 



I know that I already signed off, and I promise this will be my last submission.  But after reading all of your comments I realized that I never explained how I would envision an amicable split. 

 Perhaps, if we accepted the committee's assertion that this understanding of human sexuality already has the force of the confession, we might also say the following:

1.  Present clergy and officers who do not agree may in good conscience remain in within the denomination.  If they choose to leave, they will honorably released.  Of course at all times, any member may using the procedure outlined in the church may overture Synod to reexamine our position, and  any ordained clergy may present a gravamen.

2. All future clergy, elders, and deacons must be informed that signing the covenant for officebearers commits them publicly to this understanding of human sexuality, unless Synod at a later date allows for other interpretations.  Our seminary will be responsible for explaining this understanding to those it recommends for candidacy.

3.  No current Christian Reformed Church or pastor in their official role as pastor may bless a same-sex union, nor may such a union take place within a CRC building.  All future pastors are advised against doing this at all.

4. Because all our churches are incorporated as congregations, they may leave the denomination with their building if a majority of their members vote to do so.   In this case, the denomination would also agree that they may leave without financially compensating the minority who wish to remain in the CRC, and that the denomination will consult with and, if needed, provide financial aid for that group.

I may be wrong in this assumption, but I think that outside the Classis Grand Rapids East area and maybe a few areas in Canada, very few of our members and pastors view the Bible to say anything differently that what the committee laid-out in its report.  So, we are probably speaking of a few pastors and a few congregations and members. 

Many of those who have written have expressed concerns about our brothers and sisters who hold a different view from that expressed in the report.  I share those concerns.  But what about those members who agree with the report and who believe that it is sin for our churches to be accepting of same-sex sexual relationships.   What about those who always believed that they were part of a denomination that agreed with them on this issue.  Is it right to say that although they hold the majority opinion, they should leave, and those who want to change should be encouraged to stay?  Is is even right to create conditions in the church that encourage them to leave? That will happen if some congregations and pastors openly defy our stance on this, or certainly if we give them encouragement to do so.  In my opinion,  trying accommodate both views in our church will lead to more division and to more of the grief Henry was describing than if we clearly accepted the committee's report in its entirety. 



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