After being asked by Synod 2019 to review historical instances of the denomination speaking and to define what is an “ecclesiastical matter,” the Christian Reformed Church’s Council of Delegates is recommending the next synod appoint a study committee.
Synod 2019 noted that opposing overtures (requests to synod) both cited Church Order Article 28-a as support. That article states that the assemblies of the church “shall transact ecclesiastical matters only, and shall deal with them in an ecclesiastical manner.” It isn’t the first time synods have faced differing political understandings of justice, including questions about what matters are ecclesiastical.
So Synod 2019 instructed the Council to do historical research about the rationale for synodical decisions in the past dealing with political and/or justice matters. In addition to historical research, synod wanted the Council to give key consideration to “What is an ecclesiastical matter, and what is the rationale for determining it?” It asked the Council to report back to Synod 2020. (Acts of Synod 2019, Article 77, Recommendation 2, p. 821)
The Council completed the first part of the instruction, receiving historical research done by staff, noting when various synods spoke on political events over the past 100 years. In the early part of the 20th century, various synods wrote to the president of the United States about issues such as use of profanity in the armed forces (1943, 1953), sale of liquor near military training schools (1942), observing the Lord’s Day on military bases (1942), and support during wars and difficult times (1918, 1960).
In the latter part of the century and into the 21st century, synods called on denominational members, congregations, assemblies and agencies to advocate regarding abortion legislation (1976, 1988, 2010), assisted suicide legislation (2010), immigration reform (2010), and climate change (2012).
Rather than try to define “ecclesiastical matter,” the Council is recommending that synod itself appoint a study committee to discern that and to develop a definition moving forward. Its rationale is that these issues are of great gravity and complexity in today’s world.
“If we need a task force, it should come from synod,” said delegate Susan Hoekema, Classis Northcentral Iowa.