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The Christian Reformed Church rules on sexuality


WORLD Radio - The Christian Reformed Church rules on sexuality

Church leaders issued decisions about human sexuality and church discipline


MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Thursday the 7th of July, 2022.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.

PAUL BUTLER, HOST: And I’m Paul Butler. First up: an update on a story we reported a few weeks ago.

In June, the Christian Reformed Church in North America gathered at Calvin University for its annual synod meeting. They faced a decision about their position on human sexuality. Their deliberations included two important considerations: first, whether or not to approve a report clarifying the church’s stance on the issue. And second, whether or not to discipline churches out of line with the statement and church confessions.

BROWN: The delegates answered both those questions in the affirmative. WORLD Journalism Institute graduate Zoe Schimke returns to give us an update.

ZOE SCHIMKE, ASSOCIATE CORRESPONDENT: Kurt Monroe pastors First CRC in Sioux Center, Iowa. He was one of 196 delegates at this year’s annual Synod meeting. Going into the closed session vote, he wasn’t sure of the outcome…

MONROE: Yeah, I think a lot of us were not maybe not thinking 50-50. But we're thinking, you know, yeah, high 50s, maybe a 60, if we're lucky.

Turns out Monroe was way off. When the committee counted the votes, the motion passed 131 to 45.

MONROE: So that kind of supermajority? Yeah, really was overwhelming. Just an amazing confirmation that the vast majority of congregations out there and members of the CRC are actually orthodox on this and seeking to be faithful to Scripture [and seeking to be faithful to live in covenant faithfulness to our confessions as well.] So really, really encouraging to see that happen on the floor of Synod.

The synod declared that the sin of ‘unchastity’ as mentioned in the Heidelberg Catechism includes homosexual practice—among other sexual sins.

MONROE: It has to do with, the confession has already spoken to this. It has always spoken to this, it always will speak to this. And and so that was what Synod actually did.

That’s important because it means that the decisions of this synod don’t have to be ratified by a future synod of the CRC.

MONROE: So this doesn't take effect immediately, but affirms that its effect has been in place already.

In 2019, Neland Avenue Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan, ordained as deacon a woman in a same sex marriage. That action was the catalyst for the vote this year on the Human Sexuality Report.

Based on the report’s approval, the synod has instructed Neland Avenue CRC to immediately remove the lesbian deacon in compliance with synod’s rulings.

MONROE: Churches like Neland Ave and ministers who are preaching against that understanding of what the word ‘unchastity’ means, and that question and answer being a clear summary of biblical teaching, so they're already, they have been, out of confessional covenant with the CRC.

Not only did the synod declare that homosexual practice is sinful—but it also affirmed that it is not possible to teach otherwise without being in direct contradiction with the church’s confession and catechisms.

MONROE: So we adopted the first recommendation of that committee number two, that synod instruct Neland Avenue CRC to immediately rescind its decision to ordain a deacon in the same sex marriage, thus nullifying this deaconess current term.

This declaration also opens up the opportunity for church discipline to be brought against other churches who teach or preach contrary to this interpretation of the confessions.

LOUTERS: I understand protection of the holiness of the church. But we've lost a little view of grace in this process and that I mourn. So that is going to be a hard thing.

Larry Louters was a delegate to synod 2022 and an elder at Neland Avenue CRC. On the floor of synod, he responded to their decision to discipline the church.

LOUTERS: In our mind, it's a change of the rules a bit because we understood this to be pastoral guidance, and guidance, or is guidance, or, and so we were able to sort of disagree with that. We did not view it as covenant breaking. And we really grieve that this body has ruled as covenant breaking. That's hard to take. We love the CRC. You're gonna have to kick us out.

Last week Neland Avenue’s council unanimously voted to appeal synod’s injunction. They have decided not to remove the lesbian deacon. The decision to appeal may be a first in the CRC’s 165 year history.

If the church won’t change course, and the CRC won’t reconsider, the denomination faces a unique challenge. There are provisions in their guiding documents for churches to leave—or “disaffiliate”—but there is no instruction for how to force a church out.

Synod appointed a committee to meet with Neland Avenue CRC to oversee their compliance to its decision. Here’s Pastor Monroe:

MONROE: I'm personally praying that they'll hear the call of the church to repent, and that they will repent and submit to the teachings of the Church, submit to the teachings of Scripture, that's my prayer. But at the same time, I'm also acknowledging the fact that their immediate response was one of open defiance, [we kind of, most of us assumed that that would be the case.] And so next year's Synod is going to be just as important as this year’s Synod, if not more important, and our delegates next year are going to have to be really solid and well prepared. And we've got a lot of work ahead of us in the year to come and then the years to come.

The effect of this ruling extends far beyond the local church. It also applies to the denomination’s college and seminary.

Before synod, nearly one third of professors at Calvin University signed a letter protesting the Human Sexuality Report—claiming it would impair staff and faculty’s ability to care for LGBT students. Faculty are required to sign a covenant to keep their teaching, speaking, and writing in line with the confessions. This ruling might call into question the future of LGBT-affirming professors at Calvin. Former pastor and church official Lee Christoffels says the CRC must stand on the Word of God.

CHRISTOFFELS: We’re guided by scripture, and we are very thankful that it was that which moved the delegates to Synod to make the decisions that they did. Because they certainly were bucking the traffic, you might say, from the culture, as well as from those that we believe are within the church, but who have been heavily influenced by the culture.

Differing views on human sexuality have recently brought about a seismic shift in many churches. The United Methodist Church split in March over issues of human sexuality. And the Reformed Church in America—the nation’s oldest denomination—faces a mass exodus of biblically orthodox conservatives for the same reason.

Christoffels says this is certainly a step in the right direction for the CRC.

CHRISTOFFELS: So this was a wonderful decision, we think, that isn't to say that we don't have any more to do. There will be - reformation doesn't come easily. And reformation is often a process. And so it's a beginning. But we believe that if we can hold the line on this and make further progress, that will be very significant for the future of the Christian Reformed Church. So we're cleaning up the rooms of the house. And you don't do house cleaning on everything at once, though. Many of us are impatient for that. And pray for it and long for it.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Zoe Schimke.

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