>Synod: Membership


(Photo and information credit: Glenda Mathes and Christian Renewal)
Rev. Paul Murphy, URCNA church planter in New York City, and Rev. Phil Grotenhuis, church planter in Springfield, MO, enjoy a lighter moment during a break in Synod action

Most of the information contained in these Synod posts, as well as other articles and pictures, will be available in the August issue of Christian Renewal. To subscribe, contact Alma at christianrenewal(at)hotmail.com. If using pictures from this blog, I prefer that you first ask persmission, but please at least give appropriate credit such as: Photo courtesy of Glenda Mathes and Christian Renewal.

As far as I am aware, the URCNA Synod had never appointed study committees before this year. Not only did Synod Schererville 2007 appoint the justification study committee (see previous post), but Synod also appointed a committee to study “the level of doctrinal commitment advisable for communicant membership.” (N.B. – The use of the word “advisable” seems to indicate something less binding than “required” would have conveyed.)

The overture requesting this study committee arose in a church planting context, specifically Springfield, MO. Many “friendly evangelicals” in the Bible belt are coming to an understanding of the Reformed faith. Some, particularly Baptists (but those from other backgrounds as well) find it difficult to embrace all of the tenets of the Reformed faith all at once.

Overture 8 lists grounds citing diversity in history, understanding, and practice among Reformed churches. Grounds also note that increased “church plant initiatives and a renewed commitment to outreach” have resulted in an increasing number of membership requests from those “who do not fully agree with our doctrinal standards.” The overture expresses the desire of church leaders “to shepherd these brothers and sisters in Christ without compromising the Reformed character of the church.”

Discussion on the floor of Synod regarding this overture was lively.

Rev. Daniel Hyde, a church planter in Oceanside, CA, spoke against the overture. “The first [profession of faith] form and the second form, along with the confessions, speak to this,” he said. “In our church, only two people grew up as Reformed. All others have come to the Reformed faith, including belief in infant baptism.”

Speaking in favor of the overture, Rev. Jacques Roets said, “As a federation, we have a lot of work to do in burgeoning areas with new churches. I speak in favor of a study committee, to help our young churches to stand firm, and also to come up with alternative ways of dealing with this issue.”

Rev. Harry Zekveld said, “This overture really calls into question the first vow. This would be putting the cart way before the horse; it’s undermining the vow. We require a confessional membership.”

Although most delegates were thinking of persons desiring admittance to the table, Rev. Larry Johnson presented a problem from the opposite perception: persons denying themselves admittance to the table.

“In our area, people come into our church with the perspective that they may not come to the table of the Lord because they think they’re too sinful,” he said. “This study committee would affect how we would address that issue. Can we not allow these people to join our church until they feel that they can partake of communion?”

The voice vote on the proposed study committee was too close to call and necessitated a show of hands, but the motion carried.

The related motion appointing six men to the study committee carried easily. Those appointed are: Rev. Tom Morrison (chair), Dr. Nelson Kloosterman, Elder Will Postma, Rev. Mitch Persaud, Rev. Rich Kuiken, and Rev. Daniel Hyde.

The study committee is asked to report to the next Synod.

Another membership issue surfaced in Overture 12, which requested a change in Church Order Article 44. This is the article dealing with procedure for accepting membership transfers.

The current article states: “Persons coming from other denominations shall be admitted to communicant membership only after Consistory has examined them concerning doctrine and life.” It goes on to state: “The Consistory shall determine in each case whether public profession of faith shall be required.”

The overture proposed changing the first sentence to: “Persons coming from denominations other than those with which we have ecclesiastical fellowship shall be admitted to communicant membership only after Consistory has examined them concerning doctrine and life.”

The Advisory Committee dealing with this overture recommended that Synod not accede to the overture on the grounds that this CO amendment would “undermine consistorial freedom” to exercise “authority in determining” how members are received. The grounds also stated that the present wording of Article 44 “provides sufficient freedom of practice, as determined by the local consistory.”

Elder Tom Kooienga (Bethel URC, Wyoming, MI) spoke against the motion and in favor of the overture, saying that this was a matter of “housekeeping” and “not a change in policy.”

Dr. Kloosterman also spoke against the motion, saying that what the overture “rightly emphasizes” is “the nature of our relationship to churches in the federation and with churches with which we have ecclesiastical relationships.”

The advisory committee recommendation not to accede to the overture was defeated. A motion was then placed on the floor to adopt Overture 12. The voice vote was too close to call, but the show of hands indicated that the motion was adopted.

Since this is a change to the Church Order, it will need to be ratified by a majority of the churches. The churches are to respond to the Stated Clerk regarding this issue before May 1, 2008.


2 thoughts on “>Synod: Membership

  1. >Glenda,Thank you for conveying the major points of last week’s synod to your readers. It’s wonderful that you are able to do this and give readers an “inside peek” at the proceedings of synod.You mention the decision of synod to appoint a study committee regarding doctrinal commitment and membership. As one who voted against this overture, I want to bring out the point that it is possible to plant a Reformed church in a non-Reformed area while still holding to the importance of “confessional membership.” Like the Springfield URC, we too have had “friendly evangelicals” come to our church, having just begun to cut their teeth on the Reformed faith. It’s wonderful to see them excited about the doctrines of grace and the sovereignty of God, but I don’t think the answer is to lower the bar and allow them to join without a commitment to our confessions. I echo Danny Hyde’s sentiments regarding the forms for profession of faith. I think that these are quite clear as to the level of their doctrinal commitment. Instead of lowering the bar, we are called to patiently teach them and trust that in time the Lord will bring them to an understanding of some of the more difficult teachings of the Reformed faith (infant baptism, abiding validity of the 4th Commandment, etc.).Thanks again, Glenda, for your helpful information regarding synod.Rev. Kevin EfflandtPastor, Bellingham URCBellingham, Washington

  2. >Thanks for your comment, Rev. Efflandt! I think most of the delegates who spoke or voted against the study committee share your view. But I think it’s important to realize that the overture isn’t asking for “lowering the bar” on membership requirements. It’s only asking for a study committee.While I understand and genuinely sympathize with those who have been grieved by situations related to this issue, I don’t believe that “lowering the bar” of confessional membership is the answer. I am hopeful that the study committee will not only affirm the URCNA’s confessional commitment, but also address ways to pastorly deal with would-be members.gm

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