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I hesitate to respond,, but here goes:  This posting is all about procedure.  It seems to me the CRC's biggest concern is to protect the institution.  The 2022 decision was motivated more by a desire to reduce the anxiety in the church than to more effectively minister to members of the LBGTQ community (the original reason for the HSR report).  This posting continues that concern for the institution.  Maintaining the institution is certainly important, but I would suggest that Synod has avoided the "macro conversations" in  an attempt to avoid controversy and protect the institution.  Let me suggest three "macro conversations" we need to have:
1. If I understand correctly, the mandate that resulted in the HSR specifically said that the committee was not to re examine Scripture on the issue of homosexuality.  When committee members spoke out publicly against the traditional view, they were censured (correctly, in my view).  But Synod clearly is avoiding re-examining Biblical teaching.  But isn't understanding Biblical teaching the most significant "macro conversation" Synod needs to have?  Is this conversation ever over, or do we need to be humble enough to admit that we see through a glass dimly?  I am not at all convinced, for example, that we in the CRC have understood Romans 1 correctly.  Paul's point is not to provide a lesson on sexual ethics.  His makes his point in Romans 2:1-- when we judge others, we are judging ourselves because we do the same thing!   Any expectations we might have about  the "unchastity" of homosexuals needs to be applied to the unchastity of hetrosexuals who use pornography.  "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God," which I always understood was the main point of Romans 1-3 (and the first part of the Heidelberg Catechism).  Is my understanding wrong?

2. We have not had the "macro conversation" about the changing culture we are facing in North America, and how we can effectively live out the Christian message in this culture.  We North American  Christians have to do the same hard work as our World Missionaries do-- figure out how to present the gospel to people within a specific culture.  The 1973 report was published in a time when homosexuals were deep in the closet.  No one talked about it.  The 1973 decision was radical!  These people can be members of the church!  Things have changed.  We now have same sex legal unions in most places in North America.  Many are adamant that such unions are not to be called "marriage."  So what is marriage?  Is its whole purpose to produce children?  Or are there other blessings of the marital state that are just as important, even when there is no chance of producing children?   Are those who are faithful in same sex legal unions "unchaste" and in violation of the Heidelberg Catechism?  Or, should they be held to the same standards as those in legal hetrosexual unions?   Why are we asking homosexuals to practice celibacy (a spiritual gift, according to the Scripture, one which not every one has) while never asking the same sacrifice of hetrosexual members?  

These are questions that I don't have the answers to.  So, when it comes to the LGBTQ issue, I have to say,  "I don't know."  But I'm now required to "know."  If I don't agree, I can file a gravaman, but some have suggested that after two years those who file a gravaman will have to conform or leave.   

3. Which brings me to the third macro conversation:  what should the requirements for membership and holding a leadership position in the CRC?  Is a commitment to following Jesus enough?  Or do we have to conform doctrinally?  If so, which doctrines?  Do we have to believe in all five points of TULIP as articulated in the Canons of Dordt, or can we be CRC and not agree with, for example, limited atonement?  Can I be a member and a leader in the CRC and not be quite sure the church and confessions have a particular doctrine right?  Similarly, what is the moral bar that needs to be met?  Can someone addicted to pornography be a member of the CRC?  What does it mean to be saved by grace?  How far does grace extend?

We have some important macro conversations that need to be held.  Whether or not Synod is live-streamed is, in my opinion, a minor (micro) issue.

 

Eric:
Thanks for your thoughtful reply.  Perhaps we have had these "macro conversations," however, the issue has clearly not been resolved.  You suggest we need to "demonstrate the willingness to submit ourselves to the authority,  judgment, and government of the church on these and other matters."  Fair enough.  As military chaplains (do I recall correctly that you were also a military chaplain?) both you and I know what it means to "submit," and at this point I believe I have.  But perhaps it is not that simple.  A significant number of CRC members do not agree that all homosexual behavior is "unchaste," and therefore a violation of the 6th commandment.  It's one thing to submit to a Synodical decision about practice-- that is part of our covenant with each other.  I do not support Neland Ave's decision to install a practicing Lesbian as deacon, but I do support their continuing to raise the issue to the broader church for continued discussion.  I would suggest that the "macro conversation" was cut short, and needs to be continued (this is where, in my view, the church's anxiety played a huge role).  The decisions of Synod 2022 and 2023 making the issue confessional certainly doesn't encourage further discussion.  Current efforts to force those who have filed gravamen (is that the plural?) to commit to Synod's decision in 2 years (I believe Classis Iakota submitted an overture about this-- isn't that where you serve?) also cuts short the conversation.  My own classis, Classis Holland, has put out a document responding to Synod's mandate to ensure compliance, which says we are no longer allowed to speak publicly or write in opposition to the Synodical decisions.  So I might be in violation of the instruction of Classis by this post, which again cuts off conversation.  

Your language about "willingness to submit" has a judgmental aspect to it.  Not submitting to authority is clearly a violation of the fifth commandment.  The Catechism is relevant here:  "What is God's will for you in the fifth commandment?   That I honor, love, and be loyal to my father and mother and all those in authority over me; that I submit myself with proper obedience to all their good teaching and discipline; and also that I be patient with their failings— for through them God chooses to rule us."  (Q and A 104, italics added).   Am I sinning because I don't agree with these Synodical decisions?  Am I sinning by publicly expressing my disagreement?  Personally, I don't think so.  Paul's words are relevant here:   My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.  (I Corinthians 4:4)  

It is possible to abuse authority.  Years ago I read a book,  The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff  Van Vonderen.  I highly recommend it.  There is a great deal of spiritual abuse within the church.  I recall years ago the PCA congregation I was a part of put a couple under discipline who disagreed with the pastor.  They were former Roman Catholics, and were now denied the sacraments because they were "being divisive."  They needed to submit to the pastor's authority. (Presbytery eventually exonerated them).       

 I would raise the issue of moral injury, which you and I are both very familiar with (and which I'm writing extensively about in a book I hope to publish eventually).  I cannot in good conscience tell a same sex couple in a committed relationship that they are being "unchaste."  To affirm Synod's decision would be a violation of my  conscience, which it at the core of moral injury.  Nor can I in good conscience bless their union.  The CRC has not authorized me to consecrate such unions. I'm more than willing to submit to the church's authority on this.  That's made easier for me becauseI simply don't know whether such a union is right or wrong.  Others, the "affirming" crowd, might have more difficulty here.  But, can't I be a member in good standing and a leader in the CRC without having the answer to this question?  The parallel of the women in office issue is relevant here.  Synod never made the ordination of women a confessional issue, and accommodated those who disagreed.  It honored the individual's conscience.  

After 40 years of faithiful service in the CRC, I feel like I'm some kind of pariah.  I am no longer allowed to preach in the first congregation I served-- Corsica, S.D., in Classis Iakota-- because Classis Iakota has ruled that anyone who doesn't subscribe to the Synod's decisions are not allowed to occupy pulpits within classis.  I was asked to be a church visitor for Classis Holland, but that can no longer happen.  The Covenant of Officebearers now insures that anyone who disagrees will not be seated at future synods.  Is the sin here not submitting to the church's authority by those who struggle with the recent decisions or the church's abuse of their authority by making the decision "confessional" and thus requiring submission?  Perhaps that is the subject of another macro-conversation.

   

Eric:

You are right, I must have been thinking of another Eric.  

You and I come from very different backgrounds.  I'm assuming, since you're from Classis Minnekota, that your background is the rural plains.  In my experience (and you can correct me if I'm wrong here), rural communities value maintaining "our way of life."  Tradition is important;  change is looked at with suspicion.

I grew up in Detroit, during the Civil Rights movement.  I wrote a book about the experience:  "The Fort:  Growing Up in Grosse Pointe During the Civil Rights Movement."  The book centers around the church (First CRC of Detroit, "the Fort,") and the Christian School it ran.  The question I wrestle with is a question I believe is relevant here:  Where do we need to tear down the walls of "the Fort," walls of tradition that inhibit our effectiveness in reaching out to others, and where must we keep and even strengthen the walls because they define who we are.  

Changing the metaphor a bit, the question I have for you, and for Synod 2024 is this:  Is the CRC a broad enough tent (Isaiah 54:2) for both of us?

Thank you, Joel Van Dyke, for this posting.  I grew up in First CRC of Detroit during the 1960s.  I was formed by the 1967 riots that devastated that city (I even wrote a book about the experience).  I came to Calvin College (now University) and Seminary as an adolescent burning questions (literally) in my heart about how to reach places like Detroit.  Much of the teaching in those days centered around theology that originated the Netherlands, which I found hard to relate to.  I spent a year in Chicago in the S.C.U.P.E program, which helped me make some sense of my journey, but ended up serving the CRC in rural congregations as that was where pastors were needed.  I see much of our current denominational struggle as being an urban/rural one.  We remain a largely rural denomination, and our rural members believe their way of life is being threatened.  One of our urban churches-- Neland Ave-- is wrestling directly with the LGBTQ issue while many in the rural communities seem to have the answer.  I am a city boy.  I have no nostalgia for the simple, hardworking, small town or family farm life.  I thrive living in places of diversity (I loved my 20 years of service as a military chaplain, where I ministered to sailors and Marines from every walk of life in America) and am comfortable with people having different perspectives than mine on an issue.  Is there a place in the CRC for people like me? 

 

I've already written plenty on this, but let me add 2 observations.

1. Re: "discussions of the HSR within congregations . . . is quite a different matter."  One of the issues going on here is that the HSR came out at the beginning of COVID, and Synod did not meet for two years.  I think this produced a great deal of anxiety within the church, fed by some who overstated the issues and created worst-case scenarios.  As I mentioned before, I believe the 2022 decision was an attempt to address the church's anxiety, which took priority over ministry to the LGBTQ community.

2. Whatever Jesus may have said that is not recorded in the Gospels is irrelevant.  These words are not available to us, and so we are in the realm of speculation.  They certainly don't have the authority over the church and believers that Scripture has.

3. How long do we keep the discussion going?  The problem here is sin-- and not the sin of the LGBTQ community.  Too many of us are convinced we have the truth in this matter and are unwilling to consider other voices.  This is pride, which is nothing other than garden-variety sin.  I believe we need to, as a church, repent of our arrogance.  We do not have all the answers.  I'm not sure we even know what all the questions are.  Discerning the leading of God and God's Spirit takes time.  We are in Lent, a 40 day period that begins with considering Jesus' 40 days of fasting in the wilderness.  Discernment takes time.  Anxiety needs to be resolved immediately.  Are we going to be driven by our anxiety or a genuine desire to discern God's leading and a commitment to take whatever time we need?

May God bless all of us in the CRCNA as we strive with our human frailties to be a faithful church.

 

 

I am neither "affirming" or wanting to "abide."  But Synod's mandate to "guide into compliance" dictates the bottom line of any conversation between church visitors and councils.  You can listen all you want, but the only value in the "conversation" is to allow individuals to vent their frustrations.  Synod has been consistently unwilling to listen to those who disagree, including but not limited to those who want to revisit the Scriptural teaching on the issue and the minority report about those who submit a gravamen.  Now we're encouraged to listen!  Any "listening" at this point is merely patronizing-- especially if the church is not open to considering alternative viewpoints as having validity.

Jeffrey Thompson:  You hit on a couple of things that I think are significant.  Your words, "the bulliness of Synod" and " we discerned, we talked at great lengths on the topic, we prayed, we read the Holy Bible."  What this ultimately boils down to is spiritual abuse.  God has given legitimate authority to Synod, but this authority has been abused to force compliance to the majority opinion, with a sheen of spirituality.  I find it interesting that the "prayer room" has been moved to the stage of Synod.  We had better listen to ("comply with") Synodical decisions, because they are "settled and binding."  Too bad if you are the 1/3 in the church that doesn't agree-- you lost the vote.

As for Scripture, I'm not willing to limit our study to the Gospels.  I'm increasingly convinced that if we began the discussion with Pauls's words in Romans 2:1,  "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things," it might affect how we understand Romans 1.  It is sad that the chapter break falls where it does, because Romans 2:1 is the whole point.  Paul is not giving us a lesson on sexual ethics-- he's pointing out the universal reach of sin and the need of all for a Savior (which he summarizes in Romans 3:23-24,  "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."

The CRCNA has not arrived at "the truth" re. the LGBTQ challenge.  Contrary to the other response, we are not yet ready to come to a conclusion.  We need more time for prayer, study, discussion, and discernment.  And we need to listen to all voices-- our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, those who call themselves "affirming," the "abide" folks, and people like me who still have significant questions for both sides and are not ready to join either camp.  If we really want to take the Bible seriously, I suggest we all focus on I Corinthians 12, where the Church is called a body, and every part is important.  ". . .there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it."  (I Corinthians 12:25-26).  Many of us are suffering-- our LGBTQ members and those who cannot agree with Synod's recent decisions.  The solution,  "conform or leave" may resolve the church's anxiety, but it is certainly not Biblical.

 

I would add one thing:  Is the ministry setting taking a toll on your health?  The stress of a difficult place can lead to high blood pressure, depression, and other ailments.  Have you been prescribed additional medications to control these medical concerns?  A different ministry setting might literally be "just what the doctor ordered."

Can I add one other point?  Retirement is the closest earthly experience of grace there is.  Retired people don't work, yet they have value.  Retirement is a foretaste of the Shalom of Heaven itself.  The challenge for retirees is to model life in eternity to those who come after us.

  

Posted in: January 6

You present your thoughts around the theme of "Uncivil Religion." There is a "civil religion" which holds us as a nation together.  Our coins have imprinted on them,  "In God We Trust."  Sessions of Congress are opened with a generic prayer to  a rather generic "God."  When I served as a military chaplain, I offered numerous such prayers.  I suspect when you speak of "Uncivil Religion" you are suggesting this January 6 was Civil Religion gone amuck.  What if we consider January 6 under the them of  "Christian Nationalism"?   In unpacking this theme, let me limit myself to a discussion of the flags flown by the protesters on January 6.  Of course, there was the stars and stripes, our national ensign. But there was also the Christian or Church flag. God and country. Dangerous, but with our Augustinian "two Kingdom" worldview acceptable.    But what about the presence of the Confederate Flag?  I lived in South Carolina for ten years when there was a huge fight about that flag.   The Confederate Flag represents many things, depending on who you're talking to.  (1) Southern Heritage.  So is Christianity a Southern thing?  Is God a tribal god, whose influence is limited to the American south, similar to the local gods of the Old Testament?  (2) Racism.  The real issue behind the Civil War, in spite of Southern attempts to claim otherwise ("it was about states rights")  On January 6 we saw a Christianity affiliated with racism-- very disturbing.  (3) Rebel.  Many in the North have adopted this flag as the "rebel flag."  So is the Christian faith about rebellion?  As I understand the Bible, rebellion is the problem.  I have come to believe Christian Nationalism is a heresy as dangerous as the heresies of the early church.   As an American, I grieve the loss of democracy in our nation.  As a Christian, I take comfort in knowing that the Kingdom of God is not the same as the American Empire.  God's Kingdom survived the fall of Rome, it will survive the end of American Democracy, should that occur.  The loss of Democracy in the nation is sad.  Apostasy in the church is a much bigger problem, one that needs to be courageously addressed. 

 

Posted in: January 6

Les, you and I both served the same pulpit in our ministerial journey, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for your professionalism and the outstanding service you have given to the CRCNA.  I would suggest, however, that this response is pretty cynical and sarcastic.  To dismiss a fellow believer's sincere effort to put into words Biblical teaching as it applies to legitimate problems facing our nation as "Democratic talking points" certainly does not enhance conversation between fellow believers who have sincere differences in viewpoints.  As a church, we need to address the issues Biblically and theologically, which I think the CRCNA does exceptionally well.  We need to speak more in our native language as Reformed Christians:  words like Kingdom rather than the media's language of Democrat, Republican, and "talking points."  If the demands of responsible citizenship  in God's Kingdom coincides with a particular political party, even if many Evangelicals do not identify with that party, we fall in line with the Kingdom.  If the demands of the Kingdom oppose the platform of a particular political party, we need to courageously and prophetically stand for the Kingdom.  Life in the Kingdom means living under God's Law.  The Ten Commandments are a good starting place for discovering God's Will for our Lives (language I used almost every Sunday back in the day when we read the Commandments in Sunday morning worship).  One of those commandments is,  "You shall not murder."  Thus, the CRCNA is strongly pro-life, which in fact conflicts with the Democrats.  Another is,  "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor," which certainly speaks to the lie that many Republicans continue to hold that Donald Trump won the 2020 Presidential election.   In my view, the most important sentence in the original posting is this:  ". . .to the extent that Reformed Christians share any historical or theological DNA with the wider evangelical moment we need to confront a poisonous patriarchal white supremacy in the genome."  The foundation of our faith is the Bible, to be read with the exegetical tools we have all agreed on (i.e., original meaning, context, original audience, etc.) not FOX, CNN, a sitting or former President of the US, or the current emphasis of either political party.    

"The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr." ed. by Clayborne Carson.  During these times of high social unrest, I find MLK to be an inspiring example of pastoral and prophetic faithfulness.  By the end of his career, many of his white supporters deserted him because of his views on the Vietnam War, and many of his black supporters deserted him because his continued insistence on non-violence in contrast to such leaders as H. Rap Brown and Malcolm X.  This book was put together post-mortem,  and includes selections from his writings, speeches, and papers.

 

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