June 21, 2004

Synod Calgary 2004

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Last week, I took part in the URCNA‘s Synod 2004 in Calgary. Bethel United Reformed Church hosted the synod and did an excellent job of organizing the various aspects of the meeting and providing us with meals. Ron Scheuers, the pastor of the First United Reformed Church in Chino, California, chaired the meeting with wisdom, humour, grace, and appropriate firmness. Bishop Bill, the stated clerk of the federation, is currently working on the minutes. The concept minutes of the synod are available here.

You can read those minutes for yourself, if you’re interested. But here are some items worth noting:

(1) Tacoma, Part I

According to our Church Order, a congregation that wishes to join the federation can be received provisionally by a classis, pending ratification by the next synod. Classis Western Canada 2002 received the Evangelical Reformed Church of Tacoma (pastored by Rich Hamlin) into the URCNA.

Even at that point, however, several people had concerns about this congregation, since it has only one service on a Sunday (our Church Order requires two) and since the congregation has allowed children as young as six to profess their faith in Christ and come to the Table.

Those concerns came up at the synod when it was asked to ratify the decision to admit Tacoma into the federation. Some delegates pointed out that Tacoma was working toward having two services a Sunday, but hadn’t been able to rent their building for a regular second service. The ratification motion was tabled until after the synod dealt with Overture 7, which concerned paedocommunion (and which, therefore, had nothing to do with Tacoma’s situation).

(2) Pre-Advice Committees

In order to facilitate working through all the overtures and appeals and reports, our synods usually divide the body up into several pre-advice committees, each focusing on a particular agenda item (or a particular group of related items). The committees then make recommendations to the general body.

I was supposed to be on the pre-advice committee dealing with Grande Prairie’s appeals, no doubt because whoever made up the list of committee members thought that this committee might want to discuss our appeals with me, but someone protested
and the synod voted to remove me from that committee. In the end, I worked on the committee dealing with ecumenical contact with churches abroad.

(3) Statements

The synod decided not to adopt the overtures asking it to state that abortion and homosexuality are contrary to the Scriptures and the Confessions. The synod also did not adopt the overtures regarding creation and animal death before the Fall.

(4) Overture 7: The Three Forms of Unity and Paedocommunion

Overture 7 asked the synod to adopt a statement asserting that the Three Forms of Unity exclude non-professing members from partaking of the Lord’s Supper. The synod adopted a much-amended version of that statement. The final version reads:

The confessions to which the URCNA subscribe (the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort) accurately summarize the teaching of Scripture, for example, 1 Cor. 11:24-25, 28. Thus, our confessions, in harmony with the Scripture, require that the Lord’s Supper be administered only to those who have publicly professed their faith, in the presence of God and His holy church.

The synod also adopted some grounds. You’ll find all this stuff on pages 22-23 of the PDF concept minutes. This decision will doubtless have ramifications for confessional subscription: Given this statement, is someone who believes the confessions don’t require profession of faith for access to the Table still eligible for office in the URCNA?

(5) Tacoma, Part II

As I mentioned above, for some reason, the synod had tabled Tacoma until after it dealt with Overture 7. Again, Tacoma doesn’t practice paedocommunion and so Overture 7 had nothing to do with Tacoma’s situation. Nevertheless, the synod did take up Tacoma at this point, spent some time discussing ratifying the admittance of the congregation to the federation, and finally tabled the matter again until after Appeal # 1 had been dealt with.

(6) Appeal 1: Younger Profession Of Faith

Last year, a member of Covenant Reformed Church in Grande Prairie (the congregation I pastor) appealed against the consistory’s decision to interview a member who was ten years old for public
profession of faith and admittance to the Table. That appeal was sustained by Classis Western Canada Spring 2003. Grande Prairie then appealed to Synod Calgary 2004.

The pre-advice committee recommended sustaining the appeal on procedural grounds (the Church Order doesn’t specify a minimum age for profession of faith), but the synod didn’t sustain the appeal, which means that it told the Grande Prairie elders that we can’t interview anyone ten or younger for profession of faith. This decision conflicts with the Church Order, which doesn’t specify a minimum age for profession of faith and which leaves such decisions in the jurisdiction of the local church’s consistory.

(7) Appeal 2: The Three Forms of Unity and Paedocommunion

Tim Gallant was examined for candidacy in the URCNA at Classis Western Canada 2000 (Lynden). During the exam, he indicated that he didn’t have a position (at the time) one way or the other on paedocommunion and asked whether paedocommunion was within confessional bounds. (He has since concluded that it is.) The classis responded by adopting a statement that the confessions exclude non-professing members from partaking of the Supper.

Grande Prairie (and other congregations) regarded that statement as ad hoc advice given to Tim to help him make a decision about whether he could subscribe to the confessions. Grande Prairie didn’t regard that statement as binding on all officebearers.

Classis Western Canada Spring 2003, however, adopted a statement “clarifying” the status of that 2000 statement and indicating that it was binding on all officebearers, such that in order to be eligible for office (at least in this classical region) one must not only be opposed to paedocommunion but one must also believe that the Three Forms of Unity exclude non-professing members from partaking of the Lord’s Table. In other words, if you believe that the Three Forms of Unity leave room for paedocommunion — or if you believe that a man who holds to paedocommunion is eligible for office — then you cannot subscribe to the Three Forms and you are not eligible for office.

Grande Prairie appealed this decision. Synod 2004 denied our appeal. The similar Appeal # 3 from Leduc was also denied. On all of these decisions, my elder delegate and I registered our negative votes. Our consistory will therefore have to consider the implications of the synod’s decision and decide how best to respond to it.

(8) Tacoma, Part III

At this point, the Tacoma matter was reopened. After some discussion, someone moved that the synod not make a decision on the matter but table it indefinitely so that it might be dealt with at the next synod, by which time (some thought) Tacoma might be able to have two services on a Sunday and might have changed its practice of admitting such young children to the Table. That motion carried.

I am deeply ashamed of the way this synod dealt with Tacoma. The Tacoma delegates were very gracious, more gracious than many of us would have been, I suspect. In the end, the synod did agree to pay the Tacoma delegates’ lodging and travel expenses.


While several (not all) of the decisions I’ve reported above were discouraging, I was happy with many of the other decisions that the synod made. Again, the chairman did a wonderful job of regulating the tone of the discussions. As one delegate said to me, this may have been the best-chaired synod we’ve had. It was also good to be able to visit with a number of friends, some of whom I haven’t seen for years, and to make new friends, including some on different sides of these debates.

And now I’m in Moscow, Idaho, as is Moriah, getting ready for Friday evening and beyond. Thanks for your prayers!

Posted by John Barach @ 3:02 pm | Discuss (0)

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