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It’s T-Minus 10 days and counting until the beginning of the annual meeting of the synod of the CRCNA.  Probably it is fair to say that anxiety is palpable in most all quarters.   Some worry Synod 2023 will undo last year’s actions while others fret the opposite.  No doubt there are also plenty of folks in the middle who may worry about both possibilities or just generally are concerned what may be left of the CRCNA when it’s all over.  Like many of you reading this, I have heard all of these sentiments from various people in recent weeks.

Four weeks ago in this blog I noted that there are a total of 76 overtures and that roughly two-thirds of them deal with last year’s actions on the Human Sexuality Report and the conferral of “confessional status” on an interpretive gloss on the Heidelberg Catechism’s reference to “unchastity” in Q&A 108.  Of those just over 50 overtures, it’s about a 50-50 split between those asking for some kind of rollback on that decision and those building on it to seek sanctions on those congregations or classes who disagreed with the decision and who continue to seek various forms of ministry with LGBTQ+ individuals.  The Neland Avenue CRC may be unilaterally disaffiliated and the entirety of Classis Grand Rapids East could be dismantled and its member congregations scattered to other classes.

Clearly those experiencing anxiety over Synod 2023 on all sides have valid reasons to feel that way.  Any clear-eyed assessment of what is coming up leads to at minimum a level of uncertainty and at maximum a feeling of dread.  It’s just so very obvious that on certain questions, members of the CRCNA practically all-but inhabit different universes.

Last weekend I weighed in with a comment on a Facebook post that linked to an article claiming that those who think Synod 2022 did not follow proper procedure in its confessional status decision are in error.  I pointed out that mostly that article did not mention what I deem to be the top three procedural moves that may be problematic or at least worthy of some manner of scrutiny and reconsideration.  

First, it can be argued that the interpretive gloss put on Q&A 108 constituted a de facto change of a Confession and if so, then proper procedure on that is to vote for the change at one synod and then ratify it at the next one.  The same goes for changes in the Church Order, which is in part why for about 30 years the CRCNA went back and forth on women in church office with one synod voting to remove the word “male” from the relevant Church Order article and then the subsequent synod refusing to ratify it.  Those in favor of last year’s actions claim nothing at all was changed and that the word “unchastity” had always meant everything in the adopted interpretation so there is nothing to see here. 

Yet the fact that it was a change was evident last year already in that within a day or two of the decision, that newly adopted confessional status interpretation was invoked on the floor of synod to initiate discipline on various people.  That sure made it feel like something was different about that part of a Confession than had been true before.  Also, when Synod 2022 had a motion to put the language of that interpretation directly into the text of the Catechism by way of a footnote, the motion was (narrowly) defeated because delegates recognized that if they put into writing what they had decided, that would constitute an obvious change that would need to be ratified at Synod 2023.  But if writing it out would have been a change needing subsequent ratification, how is adopting it but not writing it out not a substantive enough new part of a Confession as to need a two-year process?

Second, because the wording of and the function of the motion that made it to the floor of Synod 2022 was not how the HSR dealt with the confessional status question, it could be argued—or again it is worth examining—that this significant matter had not been before the churches for prior consideration.  Thus, pausing for a year for further dialogue on the precise action Synod 2022 took could have been warranted.

Third, the original 2016 synodical mandate for the HSR study committee asked the committee to make recommendations on these confessional status questions for future synods to consider.  The thinking seemed to be that this is a significant enough matter that the denomination and its synod had best not rush into it.  It may be true that no synod is bound by the original mandate of any study committee but more deliberation on this (given that this had been the mandate) could have taken place and could yet take place this year.

In any event, I briefly pointed out these points on Facebook and was quickly informed I was wrong on all counts.  Fair enough.  We can disagree in any good dialogue or debate.  But several people who responded to me as much as said that if I had agreed with the action in the first place, I would not care about the procedure that got the church there.  There would be nothing to fret about proper procedures if people like me were happy with the outcome, which seems tantamount to saying that if the goal and eventual outcome are considered right, then even if rules got broken to get it done, it’s OK.  That is as troubling as anything. 

As it was, Synod 2022 was informed by the Church Order parliamentarian on two occasions that certain actions synod was contemplating against Neland Avenue CRC were improper and went beyond synod’s authority but the motions were passed anyway.  And now this year there is an overture for Synod 2023 to take top-down action to dissolve an entire classis, which is also out of order on multiple levels and may even be illegal in that most classes, including Classis GR East, are legally incorporated entities that a synod cannot just dismantle.  But will a violation of proper and due synodical procedures and the fundamentals of Reformed polity be taken into account?

One of the individuals who responded to my Facebook comment—again, which focused solely on procedures—said flat out that he and I cannot remain in the same denomination together.  He persisted in this even after I mentioned I am quite traditional on my biblical views of how God created sexuality in the beginning but we may part ways in figuring out how to deal pastorally with people we know and love.  But he still said that no, we just cannot both be in the same denomination anymore.  Time will tell if that is indeed the sad truth of it all and the “time” for discerning that may well be nigh.

Scott Hoezee

Scott Hoezee is Director of the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary.


  • Norma says:

    Scott, though I’m not a part of the CRC (RCA now) I’m simply amazed that some people can’t feel they can even be in the same denomination if anyone who thinks differently about this sexuality issue or how the procedures were done. What has happened to the unity of the faith in Jesus Christ? Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Prayers that your denomination and mine can show the world what loving like Jesus looks like.

  • RZ says:

    …”if the goal and outcome are considered right, even if the rules were broken to get it done , it’s OK.” Ouch! Sounds like a custody battle or a Soviet election.
    Before divorce was “tolerated,” there were couples who continued to live together in constant conflict. There still are such “marriages.” But these are adulterated marriages in every wsy excepting locational and legal definitions. Formal schism or not, God sees the hearts of each of us and what we are doing. A legal or ecclesiastical victory is not a “win,” nor is a 70-30 or 60-40 vote.

  • Steve Van't Hof says:

    Scott, once again thank you for further clarifying this issue.

  • Jan Zuidema says:

    It sickens me to know that there are those who seem to be saying that the end justifies the means. This is the story of our world right now, where integrity, compromise, and respect has become a political game: I win, you lose. And, just as the world does, we piously cover it with promises of thoughts and prayers. I am fervently praying we can do better than this at Synod this year. Open hands, open hearts, open doors.

  • Rodney Haveman says:

    A worldview of scarcity will ultimately leave the vision and work of the church scarce.
    On another note, if a Church violates its order to take action against a Classis or congregation, it best hope that Classis or congregation doesn’t sue. The courts kick matters of theology out of its oversight but when a church uses “the ends justify the means” logic to practice “manifest injustice” relative to breaking its own order. The courts don’t look kindly to that. Obviously the Classis and congregations who are disciplined outside normal order have avenues for remedy in the order and they need to take them, but if the problem persists, it could get even uglier, if the secular legal path is chosen.
    I don’t know anything about CRC order or if you are right. I just know the courts don’t agree “the ends justify the means” when an agreed upon order is broken.
    Here’s hoping it doesn’t get there.

    • Scott Hoezee says:

      CRC Polity is grassroots based. All authority is delegated upward to a classis and then to synod but it is the opposite of Roman Catholic or other polities that are top-down where bishops can move priests around at will and where Rome can decree pretty much whatever it wants even down to granular meddling with a parish. Not so in the CRCNA. The local congregation is actually the most basic unit of authority. In the entire history of the CRC, the only time a synod has done anything relative to a classis is when a classis ASKED for something to be approved, like when a congregation that does not ordain women requests to move to a different non-geographic classis of more like minded congregations. Synod has never reached into a classis uninvited to mandate anything, much less to do what a Classis Zeeland overture is asking in the wholesale dismantling of Classis GR East. You are right: that is the kind of move that could be litigated since Classis GR East is legally incorporated independent of the synod. But let’s hope we don’t come to a 1 Corinthians 6 scenario because as Paul wrote to also the Corinthians, win, lose, or draw in court, the very fact that you went to court shows that you are already defeated as the people of God. Oy veh.

      • June A Huissen says:

        Thanks for the clarification Scott. I suppose it depends on the makeup of the delegates. How very sad for all of us. And on another issue isn’t it interesting that Synod is being moved to the chapel because of financial reasons. This means less space for visitors. Another oy veh.

      • Rodney Haveman says:

        Yup. A vision of scarcity. No one wins, in part, because “winning” is defined by “losing” at the cross, and we conveniently forget that when we must win the argument. And I’m as guilty as anyone in this regard. Jesus Christ, the Loser, he didn’t have a vision of scarcity. SMH

        Thanks for the polity lesson. Here in the RCA world, our nexus of power is really the Classis, although our basic unit of authority (first step) is also the board of elders, and in tandem, the board of deacons (not in issues of discipline though). I could go on, but no one asked for it. I suppose the differences make for interesting comparisons, and each reveals a bit of the cracks in the other.

        • Jen Holmes Curran says:

          Maybe someday I’ll preach a sermon called, “Jesus Christ, the Loser.” I like it.

          Thank you both for your thoughts!

      • Josh Christoffels says:

        Scott, I wonder what you think of Church Order article 27b: “The classis has the same authority over the council as the synod has over the classis.” What about the times when a classis has stepped in and removed officebearers from local congregations even when that local congregation didn’t ask anything to happen, like in 1918, 1922, 1925, 1980, 1990, and 1992, also affirmed by countless synods.

  • Matt says:

    It is interesting that you comment on a Facebook dialogue that cannot be read any longer because that thread has been deleted, and not by the person on whose profile page it was. The only other person who could have deleted that thread would have been you.

    You conflate and mischaracterize the nature of that thread. I will speak for myself as I was one who suggested that it seems as though you argue the way you do in many places because it appears as though you do not hold to the same view of sexuality that this denomination holds, and has always held.

    When you tried to say that you were traditional in your view on sex and marriage, you said something like same-sex marriage is not the intended “creational norm”. Many affirming revisionists will grant a creational norm idea. Your comments do nothing to show that you believe that same-sex marriage and also homosexual sex is sin, and that we ought to hold ourselves accountable to God’s will for our lives, and follow teachings of Scripture such as the words of rebuke by Jesus to Pergamum and Thyatira. And that we also ought not tolerate spiritual leaders who provide safe harbour for sexual sin, or even promote it.

    So my point in the Facebook thread was and still is, that it seems as though you argue the way you do because you are simply at odds with those in the denomination who agree with the denomination. That is why there is tension. That is also why you speak so much about anxiety. And that is why you project so much anxiety on the conservatives, when there is really not that much anxiety on this side. We are trusting Christ. We also don’t idolize the CRCNA. We desire it to remain faithful, and will put energy into that, but if God were to remove its lampstand, then we still praise God. We are approaching this from a Reformed perspective, trusting our Sovereign Lord.

    In regards to all the procedural aspects. I believe S2022 did a great job. But I will not get into those weeds with you, others already have very aptly done so. My concern is with what I believe to be the heart of the matter.

    • Scott Hoezee says:

      I have had significant conversations with all three of my colleagues who served on the HSR. Unlike you and I, these are people I know and who know me. In all three conversations, there was appreciation for–and for sure in two cases a fair amount of surprise surrounding–how much we agree on biblically and theologically in this area and in the HSR itself. So you can conclude what you want and suspect what you want to suspect and label me a promoter of sin and as being on the receiving end of a rebuke from my Lord himself. The people who know me do not, I believe, share that assessment.

      • Matt says:

        Thank you for your reply. However, as with the original Facebook thread, you have not noted anything to make is obvious that you clearly believe that sex is good and belongs in only one place. That is between one biological male and one biological female in the context of marriage, and that anything outside that is sin. Additionally that we ought not provide harbour for sin, nor promote sin.

        This is what our denomination believes alongside the historic and worldwide church. In the Facebook thread, you had ample opportunity to simply confirm that you believe the same, but you have not. This leads me to feeling like you probably do not believe the same thing as this denomination we find ourselves in. And ultimately, that seems to be the reason for the dissonance.

  • Eric Van Dyken says:

    Hi Scott,

    I wonder if you can point me to the conversation that you are referencing for the sake of clarification. Thanks.

  • Dan Winiarski says:

    A couple questions…

    1) Could you be in the same denomination as a minister and congregation that preached and practiced Kinism? Or would you say you could not be in the same denomination?

    2) Did you bring up the grave procedural error and violation if Church Order and covenant when Neland Ave CRC appointed a lesbian officebearer, rather than overturing Synod first?

  • Matt says:

    Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Phil. 4:6 ESV)

  • Lloyd Hemstreet says:

    In summary of your 3 points of argument Professor Hoezee, each of them is asking for more time. Yet, as Synod 2021 was cancelled for Covid, this matter was already before the churches an extra 12 months, and they had that time to Overture Synod 2022 about the matter (and many certainly did). While “Recommendation D” didn’t use the exact language of “Interpretation of a Confession,” I have yet to see any practical distinction between the two.

    At the end of the day, with the 40+ overtures on this topic heading to Synod 2023, now instead of a rubber stamp vote of approval of what Synod 2022 did, the whole matter will be debated yet again, in both advisory committee and on the floor of Synod. And my question is, if Synod 2023 says the exact same thing, will that be sufficient for you, or will you be writing the same article, and having the same Facebook discussions before Synod 2024, saying that we still need a few more years of making this decision?

    • Scott Hoezee says:

      I have no problems with Synod recommending the HSR as a summary of biblical teaching since that report–as you rightly note–had been before the churches for more than a sufficient amount of time and yes, thanks to COVID, for even longer than would otherwise have been the case. My only point is that there is enough surrounding the confessional status question–including the original committee mandate that foresaw the need to proceed methodically on a fraught area–and how this functions and what its place is in our Confessions as to warrant the concerns of those who are raising these questions in various overtures. And no, if Synod 2023 re-authorizes this confessional matter, I won’t see any need to re-litigate it in 2024. Can’t speak for others of course.

  • Mark DeKoster says:

    Hi Scott,

    I rarely wander through this website as there is rarely anything written that I can agree with. I could engage in comments but unfortunately that too often ends in the lambasting that you refer to in your recent Facebook post and even here on this post.

    But I need to say that I appreciate your studied take on the HSR decision made confessional. I have read elsewhere that the decisions to do so were made in haste and outside of church and Synodical Order. This decision and the procedures necessary to make the decision confessional are too important to not do it correctly.

    I can live with the HSR decision. As someone who doesn’t buy into the Ends justifying the Means, I do hope that Synod can peel back the confessional decision and put in place the correct mechanism to make that decision, even if that decision ends up being that it is not confessional. It needs to be done correctly.

    At that point in time I can make a decision on whether I can stay with my church and/or the denomination or find another.

  • Joel Slenk says:

    What a bunch of gobbledygook. The CRCNA should have the common sense to focus all its energies on mediation so that the inevitable split will be amicable and allow both sides to save face and hopefully some dignity.

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