Q The Church Order (Art. 28a) says that assemblies (synod, classis, council) “shall transact ecclesiastical matters only.” Does that mean they are prevented from addressing climate change or capital punishment or systemic racism?

A It's not that simple. Synod 1937 decided that "political, social, and economic questions are ecclesiastical matters only when doctrinal and ethical issues of sufficient moment and magnitude are involved according to the Word of God and our [confessional] standards." It recognized that there are limits to the church's competence. But it also insisted that the assemblies may touch on such issues when that is warranted.

Take, for example, the system of apartheid in South Africa. The assemblies of the Dutch Reformed Church there were eloquently silent. Those who wanted the assemblies to speak prophetically and correct the wrongs of society were initially told that this was none of the church's business. But they argued that apartheid was out of tune with the church’s creedal foundation that all human beings are created in the image of God. And so, eventually, the tide shifted, and the assemblies declared that any theological justification of apartheid is heresy. Note that they didn't embrace any particular political avenue. They just spoke prophetically and within the realm of their competence.

It is important also in our society today to have the church's voice heard in the marketplace. Our Lord has a claim on every square inch of it. So we address political and societal issues but never bind our people to vote in a certain way when the next election comes around. We must be careful not to politicize the gospel. Yet our assemblies and congregations must be bold in proclaiming it.

About the Author

Henry De Moor is professor of church polity emeritus at Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Mich. He is author of the Christian Reformed Church Order Commentary (Faith Alive, 2011), which interprets the CRC’s Church Order and offers practical advice on how to apply it.

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Comments

I think the person asking this question has a valid question and concern, and receives a less than sincere answer.  Historically, as a denomination, we have understood that the power of the church (at least our churches) rises from the local church.  Louis Berkhof in his “Manual of Christian Doctrine” notes that “the ruling power of the Church resides primarily in the local consistories and is by these passed on to classes and synods.”  Now, or at present, we have an Office of Social Justice that manufactures concerns which it brings to Synod for approval, bypassing the original chain of command.  It manufactures concerns and solutions that do not reflect the concern of the local church, concerns that have not been passed on from the local church to the classis and then on to synod.  What we have now seems to remove power from the local church and places it in a denominational agency.  This, to me, seems to reflect an Episcopalian or Catholic form of church government where the authority is enforced from the top down.

Let's address the elephant in the room: There is a lot of racism in the hearts of many members, and probably also some leadership, of the CRC.  We like to pretend that racism is a problem of the past, and somehow "we" got over it when slavery was abolished, and somehow the desegregation of schools and buses proves it.  Hardly.  The rhetoric against those of Middle Eastern descent and Native American/First Nations shows our hearts haven't moved forward. The Banner does a great job of showing us that there are people in the CRC working hard to heal race relations, but this hides and fails to address the racism lurking in our congregations.  I'm guessing that the person asking this question wants to know why the church isn't being more proactive in dealing with racism (and the other issues) within the church itself.  

The Dutch Reformed church in South Africa was silent?  Nonsense. As the church was complicit in both the establishment and continuation of apartheid, they resisted changing this view until OTHER churches from around the world chose to expel them from international church organizations.  Yes, that's right, OTHER churches had to speak against the political sin of racism/apartheid that ran rampant through the Dutch Reformed churches.  While I'm certain there were members of that church moving to put an end to the sins of apartheid, the silence of the church leadership was far from eloquent. When the church is silent on matters of urgency within a society, it is not eloquent, it is a clumsy, meaningless sin. History is not on the side of the silent church.  

Per DeMoor: "Note that they didn't embrace any particular political avenue."

Would that the CRC would listen to this wisdom and stop violating church order and the consciences of their members through the work of the Office of Social Justice and their continual politicking in the name of the denomination.  Exhibit A: http://us1.campaign-archive1.com/?u=5d0a468ccba985c5b0985464e&id=aa366ecfcd, wherein the OSJ again advocates for a particular political avenue.

Henry...Amen!

Contrary to perhaps what Roger says in his comment, your gentle approach with wisdom on this question is what we need.  Too much today is heard from the "hammer of the Internet" regarding pipelines, climate, etc...we need to be led by folks in our church that engage wisdom.  I hear the cadence of your wisdom in the answer, do others?

Yes, the "elephant is in the room", but are we like the blind men who are proclaiming what the beast is, or actually seeing the creature as it really is...that is the question.  As you say- the answer is not so simple.

Thank you Henry!