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Sometimes looking back helps in looking ahead.

After attending the recent historic and perhaps watershed Synod of the Christian Reformed Church my wife and I — she was a delegate — returned home to rummage through the pile of mail waiting for us after a week away.

Amid the political ads, magazines, bills, and unsolicited junk mail I found the Calvin Theological Seminary 50 Year Class Reunion booklet for the class of 1972. I was unable to attend the event with my classmates, but the Seminary was kind enough to send the document my way.
Included in the pages along with the usual collection of class pictures, updates from classmates and greetings from the Seminary was a 1971 essay from then Seminary President John Kromminga entitled “The Church and Change.”

It was a revelation. And I wished that all delegates to Synod would have had access to it and its prophetic, prescient vision.

Kromminga: “And then turning to the confession, I think it is high time that our confessional statements give more formal attention to the mission of the church. By that I do not mean just missions as traditionally conceived, although even they do not receive much attention in our present confessions. But the total ministry of the total church to all mankind; this deserves confessional attention because it is a living part of our confession of the living God.”

From here Kromminga locates this mission and ministry: “. . . this work will have to be done mainly on the local level; but with full (involvement on the) denominational level. They are not where they live, in the local community. And confession is not done mainly on the denominational level. It is done where people are busy putting their faith to work. Communities themselves, and the capacities of the church to minister to them differ from place to place. Therefore, the job has to be done where people make contact with other people in the name of the Lord . . . The local congregation is where the church is. It is a complete manifestation of the Body of Christ. It must be allowed the flexibility and freedom to work out local solutions to local problems. But it must also be given a framework of unity in which that local operation can be carried out. . . But if that guardian, watchdog activity is all that our confessions mean, their most important dimension is lost.”

It remains to be seen just what has been lost because of the recent Synod decisions, although the damage is already apparent to many. I can still see President Kromminga puffing his pipe, rubbing shoulders with seminary students, making ministry come alive. I wonder what speech he may have offered at the recent synod. And I wonder if he would have had the freedom to make it.

As a guest at Synod, I attended all the sessions when allowed. The political and polity divide was palpable from start to finish. We were ushered from the Covenant Fine Arts Center to the dining hall by campus police to “protect” us from the singing and praying and sometimes silent crowd in support of LGBTQ+ inclusion, as if they were violent, U.S. Capitol-storming protestors armed with assault weapons. Prayers for “unity” came often, some sincere.

All of this, and the decisions regarding confessional status and church discipline, from a confessional denomination whose birth was rooted in the desire for “purity.” We’re this, not that. We don’t do this. They do, so we must leave to start something new. Walls, boundaries, exclusion. All buttressed by a certain reading of confessional statements.

John Kromminga’s concern in the 1971 essay is the reality of the CRC today — confessional unity as a measure of purity and tool to divide, with local ministries handcuffed and rebuffed. Tinkering with the confessions to build a wall. The vital ministries of the local church? Be careful, don’t cross the line. Lord, help us.

Dave Larsen

Dave Larsen is a member of Hope Christian Reformed Church in Oak Forest, Illinois, along with his wife Sally. He is the retired Director of the Bright Promise Fund for Urban Christian Education in Chicago.

14 Comments

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Wow. Thanks for this. That does sound like the remarkable, calm, and wise John Kromminga we knew. Would that he were still leading Calvin Seminary.That essay is also important for the RCA. Where can we get a full copy?

  • Grace Shearer says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful blog today. What did you mean when you said you wondered if John Kromminga “would have the freedom to make it.”

    • Dave Larsen says:

      Grace, probably two things at work here. First the idea of academic freedom within confessional commitments and, second, the privilege of the floor at Synod.

  • Jan Zuidema says:

    Thanks for this, especially the words from John Kromminga. It is especially chilling to hear the details of the walls that were erected to keep you from straying into face to face conversation with those who are now outside the door. Synod continues to sound more and more like an orchestrated event, with the predetermined end justifying the means.

  • carl kammeraad says:

    Thanks, Dave, for enlisting “Dr. John” to help us reclaim the heart of the gospel for day to day living, and to remind us of what is central to the church’s confessions.cc

  • Stuart Williams says:

    This (the HSR ‘s “win”) so damnably manipulated – I wept as I, in my imagined gallery of nonexistent Synod youth through adult CRC(NA) members heard and saw the faces and body language of the delegates and podium leaderships’ “scripted” comments and clarifications about what could be said and done by everyone in the room [sitting and standing].
    I just read this … posting – while having breakfast at a B and B in the Rocky Mountain foothills of Alberta – and wept … and when my wife asked, “What’s the matter …?” I read it again.
    How do we stand “with” those who have been ceremoniously swept out and somehow dirtied by their sisters and brothers of Jesus?
    Thankful, yes, thankful … I am, for the embracing compassion caught within the details and tone of this candid, unwavering challenge.
    Stuart Williams – Fellowship CRC(NA), Edmonton, Alberta

  • EMILY JANE STYLE says:

    Thank you for sharing this reflection, Dave. Regarding looking back, I am waiting for someone to write an historically illuminating essay linking the “theological” impulse that helped to install the “mission” of apartheid in South Africa (via white Dutch Reformed Christians) with the “theological” impulse to declare superior to/better than… LGBTQ at CRC Synod 2022. Lord, have mercy indeed. As fear reigns.

  • Duane Kelderman says:

    John Kromminga was a member of Neland Ave. CRC. His convictions about the primacy of the local church in mission as being the locus of true confessionality were formed as Neland sought to be faithful over decades of ministry.

  • Connie Dryfhout says:

    Amazing. And Emily Jane Style….such a good reminder about the Apartheid in South Africa that somehow came through Dr. Kuyper’s teachings. We have gotten it so wrong so many times.

  • Thank you, Dave. I was reminded of a Synod I attended, I believe it was 1991, when there was a lot of wrangling (in a discussion about allowing women to hold office) between whether women could “expound ” or “exhort.” I was so upset that evening that I called my dad, a retired CRC minister. In an even voice, he told me, “It will happen in your lifetime but not mine.” And it eventually did. But then watching the current HSR livestreams, I felt slammed back to all those years when an all male Synod seemed hellbent on excluding women. This time I did not have my dad’s wisdom to console me. You’ve helped with Kromminga’s words. Thank you.

  • A Markus says:

    And yes and amen
    Thank you and thank you to Sally for her commitment to this synod and her perseverance through the meetings that were often gut wrenching to watch online- I can’t imagine being in the room.

    While supposedly “deliberative” the lack of a gallery was a bad choice because they were never forced to see who they were affecting with their decisions.

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