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Let me welcome you into the throne room. . .

– Rev. Sid Ypma at our closing worship for a Campus Minister’s Conference on May 26 2022

I had something else drafted for today. I’m sure it was fine.

But then on Thursday morning, my chest heaved and tears ran down my cheeks. The early draft went out the window.

“Let me welcome you into the throne room…”

This last week, I gathered for the first time in a couple years with my colleagues from Christian Reformed campus ministries across North America. When together, we hug and laugh. We listen and learn. We eat and drink. We ask endless questions. We celebrate those new to this campus ministry craft. We say teary goodbyes to those moving on to pursue another call (including those retiring).

And we worship.

The night before this past Thursday’s worship gathering, my last living grandparent, Richarla VanEe, passed away in Pella, Iowa. Hers was a storied life – full of work and prayer – all of which happened on farmland in that Pella area. Her dad died when she was 2 months old, and so she was raised by her mom, grandparents, uncles and aunts.

Twenty-one years later, on May 9, 1948, she and grandpa ‘confessed their sin against the 7th commandment’ (according to the council minutes of Otley CRC) and were able to have their firstborn (conceived before wedlock) baptized soon after their public confession. She gave birth to ten children, one dying young, and for decades lived out the vocation of a mother to many and wife to one farmer.

In 1986, when her husband (my grandpa) died, she became the lone matriarch of the VanEe clan, her children discovered her hidden gifts in finances as she helped manage the family farms. Today, there are 136 living members of that clan, and seven who have already been translated to glory, including this storied-sinner-made-saint-in-Jesus, Grandma Richarla.

I took some time alone on Wednesday night to “hold all these things in my heart.” I was also consoled by my beloved campus ministry colleagues, even as they gave me space to share a short video of my grandma praying-and-working before she died.

Then, as Thursday morning arrived, someone showed me a whole other video made by some fellow pastors. Our Christian Reformed Synod had met online last Wednesday night to elect officers, and these two colleagues were reviewing the events of that opening online session. As they did so, they expressed their disappointment with the opening reflection on Jesus’ high priestly prayer because of the focus on unity without a focus on “the truth.” Then they went on to review the selection of officers. They were both encouraged that the three men who were elected were “solid and orthodox” and were “thoughtful and have pastoral hearts.”

For those familiar with the happenings in the CRC, these three men are all connected to the Abide Project, as are the two reviewers. The elected Synod president helped author and signed the Human Sexuality Report and spoke at an Abide online gathering. The Synod vice-president is hosting and speaking at the Abide’s “Convention of Confessional CRCs” that will chart a path forward for “orthodox CRCs” after Synod 2022. And the first clerk is the secretary of the Abide team.

“Even in the selection of our officers, we are strongly in one direction. . .and we can, in a healthy way, move the denomination in a solid orthodox way.”

To be honest, I was thrown off. This seemed a fruit of a polarized moment. “Is this a victory lap?” someone posted in response.

All of this. So much. All held in my heart. And then. . .worship.

“Let me welcome you into the throne room of God,” said Sid. My tears started almost immediately.

And then, standing in the middle of our circle of fifty campus ministers and students, he boldly and bodily recounted the Revelation of John, chapters 4 and 5. We heard of the one on the throne, the twenty-four elders around the throne, the seven lamps, the four living creatures. I felt the awe of “Holy, holy, holy.” And I too almost saw the scroll in the hand of the one on the throne.

“Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?”

And my tears mingled with those of John. I felt the tension. Holding my grandma’s death inside; is there hope? Wondering what will happen to the denomination that I love; is there hope?

“Do not weep!” says one of the elders to me. “See! The Lion!” And I looked – there I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain.

My chest heaved. Tears continued. I saw the beloved. “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain.”

My heart joined the four living creatures in saying “Amen.” And I joined in worship of the worthy one.

And then. . . “I believe; help my unbelief.”

Paul Verhoef

After spending childhood years in South Dakota, Ohio, California, Colorado, Iowa, and Michigan, Paul Verhoef was called to Canada in 2004. His acceptance in that foreign land is helped by his marriage to Monique, one of those great Canadians. Paul accepted a call to be the first Christian Reformed Chaplain at the University of Calgary. He still enjoys that calling after almost 18 years. When the Verhoefs moved there, they had one baby. Now their house is filled with the joy and chaos of three teenagers. 

11 Comments

  • Arlyn Bossenbrook says:

    So the abide team knows “the truth” and no one else does?

  • Diane Plug says:

    Paul, thank you. Yes, there is deep sorrow in my heart. .

    Diane Plug

  • Ann Schipper says:

    A stacked deck after all.

  • Mary VanderVennen says:

    The process leading to the establishment of the committee, the committee report, and this election of officers to Synod means the report has lost all credibility. There is no credible scholarship or useful pastoral advice or reason for a person who is a faithful homosexual to join the CRC.

  • Nick Loenen says:

    Paul, you and so many others are a faithful witness. That is all God asks of us. The outcome is in his hands.

  • Ronald Jack Nydam says:

    Hello Paul,
    I comment very seldom, but to you this time I must. Reading your perspective on the upcoming synod, well, it made me weep too. It will be as one attending a funeral. This upcoming ugly divorce will be a deep wound to many of us who have loved the CRC for so many years. And, especially, as I sit with my gay friends, I sense their hurt and sorrow over this denominational tragedy. “They are fighting over what to do with us without hearing us, without compassion for our daily suffering.” So thank you Paul for words so well written.

  • Sheryl Mulder says:

    While the 2 Abide pastor reviewers were so quick to say that the message from the High Priestly prayer on unity was taken out of context, it would behoove them to explore the passage more. Below is a link and a small section that describes the Greek work “altetheia” which is the word used in the John passage. It is clearly not a set of propositions for which people must adhere but a verb that cannot be separated by the act of loving relationship. Jesus is the embodiment of “Truth”.

    https://stantlitore.com/2017/01/23/aletheia-or-what-is-truth/

    So, for example, when in the book of John Jesus says “I am the Aletheia,” he is saying “I am the Unforgetting.” He is describing himself as an embodied unforgetting of God’s promises, a daily living-out of the promise of union and reunion between God and humanity, and between humanity and humanity, and a daily and ongoing incarnation of God’s promise of ‘ki eyeh immakh’ (I will be with you). It’s a very nuanced and breathtaking passage, which unfortunately we don’t have the vocabulary to render well in English.
    Also, notice that in Greek, ‘truth’ (unforgetting) isn’t really a noun or a thing. It isn’t a statement. It’s an ongoing action, a verb wearing noun’s clothing. In Greek, it’s easier to verb nouns than in English. “Believe in the Truth” is a weird Englishism that would have been incomprehensible and fairly circular to writers in Koine Greek, much as if you were to say to someone today, “Trust in Trust.” (Say what?) In the Greek New Testament, rather than ‘believe in the Truth,’ you strive all the time to unforget promises, and you hold dear and trust the one who gave you the promise. Where most of our culture’s conversation about belief is transactional in nature (accept this premise and sign on the dotted line), the original text is entirely relational (trust someone and hold their promise constantly before you).

    • Adrian Helleman says:

      Truth is indeed a verb what expresses a relationship, not a so-called fact. Our theology has been shaped by Latin. John Calvin realized that when he uses verbs to describe Christ as Lord: “Christ rules.” Unfortunately, we resort to nouns: “the sovereignty of God.” I am surprised that the authors of the HSR, some of whom are supposedly experts in Koine Greek, translate aletheia as a noun. But why my surprise, our theology has become propositional rather than relational! Let’s pray that Synod shows greater wisdom and understanding than these authors evidence.

    • William Harris says:

      I would note that the Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich lexicon has nearly two full columns of rather fine print detailing the range of meanings for aletheia and the various grammatical constructions associated with it. While the biblical picture of aletheia is not propositional neither does it easily fit in with Mulder’s take, and that’s a danger. I fear that Mulder’s take will all too easily be taken as proof of a lack of biblical seriousness, one more demonstration of a the misguided notion that so-called “liberals” do not listen to Scripture.

  • Sheryl Mulder says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful response, William Harris. I do not claim to have all the answers on exactly the meaning of aletheia in this passage. Any you are likely correct, that the author I posted does not have the complete picture and understanding either. As to the accusation that so-called “liberals” do not listen to Scripture, I cannot control the perceptions of others. If they are so sure their “side” is correct, they will likely throw this accusation at people like me no matter what I say. I cannot live in fear of their response. But I think the critical piece that gets missed in the conversation is that there are many Greek and Hebrew words that we do not entirely know the exact meaning in a set passage. And our Latin based language translations may be doing a disservice to the original meaning. I respect pastors who can live in the tension when we do not know the exact meaning and allow our relationship to God and each other guide us by his Spirit. Believing that only one side of the LGBTQ+ debate has the authoritative view on how to interpret aletheia in this passage is the problem.

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