PALOS HEIGHTS, Illinois – If the controversial issues that have periodically confronted past Christian Reformed Church synods were missing this year, that’s not to say that the week-long June gathering was strictly routine. Meeting from June 9-15 at Trinity Christian College, southwest of Chicago, Synod approved two major church-structural changes.
First, Home Missions and World Missions were combined into “one global mission agency” called Resonate Global Mission. CRC Home Missions began its work on July 2, 1879, and World Missions was founded June 18, 1888, so the two had been working as separate agencies for nearly 140 years. Nevertheless, CRC missions “can be done better by a unified agency than by two agencies divided by geography,” said Revs. Moses Chung and Gary Bekker, the heads of those agencies. Synod agreed.
The second change dissolved the CRC’s Board of Trustees (in effect since June 30) and replaced it with a “council of delegates” (COD). The council will take over the work of the former board, plus the oversight of Back to God International Ministries (the church’s radio/TV/Internet ministries) and Resonate. Establishing the COD required dissolving not only the previous board but the corporate boards of Home and World Missions, and revising bylaws for Back to God Ministries – twice, to comply with both U.S. and Canadian law.
The COD will operate via a governance handbook as opposed to a constitution. The new structure will not necessarily simplify denominational governance (the COD is larger than the BOT), but its setup and functions are intended to create more direct links to the churches and their members across the continent (about 25 percent of the CRC is Canadian). The COD has 48 delegates (one from each classis, providing geographical representation across North America). In addition there are four delegates at-large: three from Canada, one from the U.S. The work of Back to God Ministries and Resonate Global Mission will be maintained by COD regular committees, and advisory committees as necessary.
Beyond church walls
Those structural changes are significant, but they did not distract synod from its other work. An issue revisited was what place the Belhar Confession should have in the CRC’s theology and life. The Belhar originated from South Africa’s Dutch Reformed Mission Church in 1986 in the wake of apartheid’s collapse. In that context it calls Christians to justice and reconciliation. The CRC has long considered whether the Belhar should be added to the church’s historic Reformed confessions (Heidelberg Catechism, et al) – or given some other status. Giving it confessional status would require office-bearers to agree with it, but critics, including some of this year’s synod delegates, have said it espouses “faulty liberation theology” and makes statements too open to interpretation. Synod 2012 designated the Belhar an “ecumenical faith declaration,” but that seemed unsatisfactory to many. So Synod 2017 re-designated the document a “contemporary testimony,” assigning it a place alongside Our World Belongs to God, which was finalized by the CRC in 2008.
In other business, Synod 2017 honoured CRC chaplains (academic, hospital, military, industry) as the chaplaincy is celebrating its 75th year. Synod also approved two special dates to be commemorated in the future: an annual day of justice and a disability awareness week.
Synod also discussed possible ways in which the CRC and the Reformed Church in America (RCA) can further their existing sharing partnership, agreed upon in 2014 in the Pella Accord. (One result of that accord was the joint hymnal, Lift Up Your Hearts.) Three options were considered for the future, with synod urging the churches to discuss them: increased coordination, working together where possible; increased collaboration, which could involve initiating new ministries and programs together; or new creation, which might eventually see the CRC and RCA combining in a new denomination.
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