Synod 2022 Recap
Updated: Jun 25, 2022
God has initiated reform in the CRC! - Updated 6/25/22
The video gives an overview of some of the primary accomplishments of Synod 2022, and I've posted some more personal reflection in the essay below.
The defining moment at Synod 2022 came about in a very unexpected way.
Dr. Yudha Thianto was being examined by Synod prior to being appointed as a professor of Church History at Calvin Seminary. Dr. Thianto is an exceptionally gifted teacher. His passion for Church History and our Reformed Confessions is contagious, and we all hung on his every word.
He got a softball question from the floor: “How does God speak to His people?” The audience waited, eager to see him slam the ball out of the park by declaring that God speaks through Scripture.
But he didn’t say that. Instead, he replied, “God speaks through His Church!”
Conservatives in the room were stunned. That response seemed downright Roman Catholic. How could he say such a thing when so many CRC’s are speaking in a way inconsistent with our Confessions? Was God speaking in different ways through different churches? How could we possibly approve a CTS professor who made such a blatant theological mistake?
But Dr. Thianto was absolutely correct, at least when his answer is correctly nuanced.. Throughout his interview, he reiterated numerous times that the Bible is the basis for all of his study, and that it is the standard by which he evaluates all statements. Churches have often spoken in error, and as a theologian, Dr. Thianto evaluates the truthfulness of historical eccumenical statements and determines the extent that God spoke through them through the lens of scripture.
Dr. Thianto is not just a theologian, he’s also a historian. Certainly the Church often errs, but historically, God in His grace always recenters the Church on Biblical truth. This is the full version of the Semper Reformanda slogan we often hear: the church is Reformed and always [in need of] being reformed according to the Word of God.
We’ve seen this happen in how the early Church Fathers responded to heresy with the creeds, how the Reformers made the Bible accessible and authoritative again, and how the Synod of Dordt repaired biblically compromised churches in Europe.
I would state that the Synod of 2022 recentered the CRCNA, and that in this process, God spoke through the Church.
GOD SPOKE THROUGH THE CHURCH CONTEXTUALLY:
In our soundbite culture, we’re quick to praise or denounce based on fragments of sentences. I confess that if I’d only heard Dr. Thianto say “God speaks through His Church,” apart from the full context, I’d be upset he was approved. In this case, the full context of his hour-long interview was critical.
Some people think Synod spoke too boldly, and others are upset we didn’t discipline more aggressively or label certain statements as heresy. But yet God led us, certainly with His Word, but also in the context of us meeting together.
I made a personal decision to do my best not to speak to issues from the floor (this may shock many of you, as often my biggest occupational risk is that I’ll trip as I run to an open microphone). Instead, with one notable exception I’ll describe later, I did most of my persuading by simply getting to know delegates during breaks and meals. Since unfortunately many in our denomination seem to think that Classis Minnkota is filled with misogynistic monsters due to our complementarian stance, I tried to be an ambassador demonstrating that it’s possible to be both a conservative and a nice guy.
In doing so, I learned that those with a divergent view of human sexuality are nice - even godly - people as well, even in the midst of major theological error. I appreciated their desire for all people to hear the gospel message.
A year ago, I was upset when Synod was canceled because the Canadians couldn’t cross the border due to Covid restrictions. Why can’t we just meet over Zoom, I opined at the time. All we do is talk anyways. But I was wrong. God speaks contextually through His Church, when gathered together and guided by his Word. Such context isn’t possible through a screen.
This year’s Synod was often in the context of complete exhaustion: physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual. It may be hard to feel sorry for us in the physical exhaustion we worked through, since all we did was sit and then go and eat huge (and awesome) meals three times a day. But it’s exhausting, given that the day begins at 6:30 AM, and there’s no downtime until long after 10 PM (and often hours later than that).
The context of Synod is mentally & emotionally exhausting. Oftentimes the conversations are deep and it’s necessary to technically parse every word in a sentence. We were tasked with determining what specifically our Confessions say in regards to human sexuality. As deacons, elders and ministers in the CRC, we swear that the doctrines of these three documents fully agree with the Word of God . That means that a confessional pronouncement closes the CRC door to those who come to a different conclusion. Certainly that was the right thing to do in this situation, but if you think that arriving at these decisions is easy, you better closely examine your love and compassion for others.
This Synod was even spiritually exhausting. In this case, the massive amount of time we spent in prayer empties us out, rather than filling us up. I have new appreciation for why the disciples couldn’t stay awake to pray with Jesus in the garden - they weren’t just physically tired, they were spiritually exhausted as well.
So by the end of each day, I found myself totally spent and exhausted. This too was a gift from God, however, as it made sleep possible in the non-air conditioned dorm rooms when all the open windows did was allow more Michigan heat and humidity in.
But again, God spoke through His Church in this context. Thank you so much to so many of my congregation for the texts and emails, and I hope you now understand why my replies were short and came hours later. God spoke through my fellow Minnkota delegates, as each of us had tears in our eyes at various stages of the week. I held up the others and then they held me up. It was good to meet members of the Abide project that I’d only known previously via Zoom. It was amazing to find out that there are solid conservatives who live in Grand Rapids!
GOD SPEAKS THROUGH HIS CHURCH THEOLOGICALLY
The biggest issue of this Synod was a 160 page document dealing with human sexuality. While issues of sexuality often gain attention, this topic represented nearly all of the topics causing division in our denomination: our differing anthropologies, soteriologies, and especially in the matter of hermeneutics. The statements we made at Synod 2022 brought clarity to all of these topics. We very clearly articulated that any sexual activity outside of covenental marriage between a man and a woman is prohibited by our Confessions, and therefore must be considered sinful. God spoke through His Church.
We backed up our discussions with robust discipline. Our unity as a denomination is predicated on our shared confessions - the Three Forms of Unity - so when that unity is broken by confessional infidelity, we will take action. Both the Neland Ave CRC and their classis, Grand Rapids East, will have Synodical representatives assigned to them to ensure their compliance with the decisions that were made. Yes, we could have been more punitive, but our goal in church discipline is always restoration first. If Neland and Classis Grand Rapids East continue to push against confessional truth, the mechanisms are now in place to implement further discipline.
Unfortunately, this was made clear when the council president of Neland Ave. CRC addressed the body after all of our decisions had been handed down. You could hear a pin drop in the room as he spoke. He said that Neland has no interest in leaving the CRC, and that they will take our instruction seriously, but it will be very hard. I get that. If at this point he would have even sort of repented by at least apologizing for the hurt their actions have caused, I think the room would have erupted in praise and thanksgiving.
But he didn’t. After being instructed to do so, he said his council will not initiate discipline over members living in sin, that “they don’t have the stomach for it.” They rejected the very thing that we overwhelmingly decided after three years of intense debate. At this point, a delegate stood up, confronted his stubbornness, and boldly told him to stop. The chairman, visibly shaken by what had just unfolded, asked that the body once again pray together, led by our Executive Director.
During this prayer, I was convicted that I needed to stand up, and move that special discipline be initiated against this elder. My motion was ruled out of order by the chair, and a vote to challenge his ruling was not sustained. I agree the motion was technically out of order, but the words needed to be said. I deeply regret the incident occurred, but I do not regret taking the action I did. I have confidence that continued rebellious behavior will not be tolerated by subsequent synods.
We also made strong statements indicating that Penal Substitutionary Atonement is confessionally binding, which precludes any CRC officers from denying this core doctrine. Certainly it is concerning that we even had to address this issue, but once again, God spoke clearly through His gathered church, and we were assured both formally and in informal conversations that the incident that led to this issue is being properly addressed.
As your delegates and voice at Synod, you can be assured that we asked tough questions of the agencies and institutions we have oversight upon. It was also very reassuring to see that Classis Minnkota is nowhere near the only Classis that seeks to govern the church sola scriptura - that is, according to God’s Word alone.
GOD CALLS US INTO THE FUTURE AS MEMBERS OF THE CRC.
I was wrong about who and what the CRC is. I thought liberalism had swept up so much of our denomination that the only choice we would have would be to leave. But despite all of the evidence that seemed to point to the contrary, the CRC has been and continues to be a conservative, confessional denomination.
The silent majority has regained its voice. The liberals who populate so many of our agencies, institutions, and publications are just a fraction of the overall population. Though they are loud, they are not dominant. The massive majorities that every important issue passed by illustrates this fact.
What’s so encouraging to me is the amount of young, conservative ministers, elders and deacons who are becoming active in our denomination. So many of these men came to the CRC because they were attracted by our historic theology. God sent them to us to help restore this once great denomination into a voice that will lead the Church universal into the next century just as our great theologians of a century ago led in their day.
There is still a massive amount of rot in our agencies and institutions that needs to be cleaned out. It’s important here to celebrate the achievements of Synod 2022, but to also note that it represents the first of many steps needed to restore our health. It took us decades to descend into this mess, and it will take years to fully recover from it. Be prepared to play the long game here.
We also need to exercise some pastoral patience here. In Classis Minnkota, we literally had one foot out the door and we’re prepared to fully depart the CRC if things had gone poorly at Synod. But remember, it took us a long time to wrap our heads around that decision emotionally.
There’s a massive rift in our denomination. There’s differences not only in our understanding of human sexuality, but also in other core doctrines, and even in the way we preach and worship. Unfortunately there are many who will not want to move forward with us. But remember, they’ve just endured a seismic shift. They were not expecting to lose, especially as decisively as what they did. Just as it took us time to make the emotional adjustments necessary to leave a denomination we love, it will take them time, and they’re just starting to grapple with this.
We’ve got a ton of work ahead of us. If you’re listening to this from another congregation, please get your church registered for the upcoming Convention of Confessional CRC’s coming up in August. This convention is now even more important as we develop a roadmap to bring reformation to all aspects of the CRC.
Above all, thank God for how He spoke through the gathered Church which remains committed to the inerrant truth of His holy Word.