Hey RCA, how do we handle conflict?

***Reposted from 9.19.05 - check out new comments!***

I just got the RCA's General synod minutes in the mail a few days ago, and our General Secretary's report was in there, which I hadn't seen yet, so I read it. When it comes to the unity and purity of the Church, I think his theological priorities are out of whack, but I think they reflect a significant number of RCA people's priorities, as well. He says he wants to deal with the issue pastorally, not judicially. But we need to do this precisely because of the classis' failure to pastorally hold a potential minister accountable in lifestyle and morality. It IS true, that the judicial route is the less preferred, though it is a legit stop-gap.

In the long run, I agree with Wes that dealing with these kinds of issues judicially is insufficient. We need to be committed to keep God's Word in our hearts, not just in our rule books.


  1. Steve...I think it's worth noting that none of the judicial business at Synod had anything to do with "failure to pastorally hold a potential minister accountable in lifestyle and morality."

    Although that may be related it really wasn't the issue.

    Some would argue that it was "failure to pastorally hold a professor of theology accountable," but then, we raise the question as to whether there's any approproatie accountability without pastoral care....

    In any case, small but important point.

    Just found your blog. Will continue reading.

    Grace and Peace,
    `tim (TenClay)

  2. I agree, Synod dealt with what it could, and was responsible for.

    The real issue is a classis not dealing with what IT is responsible for, along with widespread misunderstanding of and disobedience to God's Word.

    More charitably, the issue is basic differences of how to interpret and apply Scripture within our denomination.

    By the way, how is your distinction worth noting? What does it change? Does it mean we don't want classis addressing this? That's begging the question of how to respond to the homosexuality issue. One side says to address it (at the classis level, note, not a denom. dialogue), because to not do so assumes the opposite position. The other side says not to address it, because their position is already being lived out.

  3. Actually, I don't think either side is suggesting that homosexuality not be addressed. Indeed both "sides" seem to want it addressed, just differently.

    The important question is how it ought to be addressed and who ought to address it. I see three basic options: Congregationally, Clasically, Synodically.

    Congregationally essentially establishes a conscience clause allowing each congregation to decide.

    Classically essentially maintains the status quo allowing each classis to act independently of each other.

    Synodically requires that this be a true doctrinal issue (therefore worthy of synodical time and a denominational stance).

    All three have their supporters. My observation is that those who support each one do so primarily out of a desire to promote their own particular theological view on the issue.

    As for the distinction regarding the trial. I think it's a very important one. Each area of our polity has particular responsibilities and particular areas within which they have power. There is seldom anything laudable in ignoring that. Even if we feel strongly about something.

    Grace and Peace,

  4. Hi Steve,

    I'd like to ask you why you think that a classis hasn't been "dealing with what it is responsible for."

    I assume that your comment refers to me and to the classis in which I am a candidate for ministry (New York). You are not a member of this classis, yet you seem to openly judge it as a "failure" for having not dealt with what it is responsible for (ie "holding [me] accountable in lifestyle and morality.")

    Why do you think that the ministers and Elders of the New York Classis have not done their jobs properly? Note, I'm still not ordained.

    And why do you feel that it is your responsibility to judge their actions at this point? You're not a part of the classis anyway. Would you like it if someone from another classis started judging what your classis was doing?

    It seems to me that you do not know exactly what the classis has or has not done. Instead, you're operating out of what you think it has or has not done and you're passing judgement on it.

  5. gracentruth11:23 AM

    My first blog comment. I would agree that we ought not jump to conclusions and judgements about other classis. Ann, I know your classis is struggling with this whole thing. Just a couple of questions not judgements- they are just things that cause me concern:
    1) I don't know if this is the same classis as yours so if not forgive me, but how does the pastor of Marble Collegiate announce via the New York times he has preformed many same sex unions- marriages- and nobody brings him to trial? Two thoughts: 1- it appears that his classis is ok with this and 2- he not only did the actions but had not problem publishing it.

    2) Ann, how can your classis permit you to do the work of ministry (w/o ordination) when your lifestyle is contrary to the very denomination your serve. It appears as if they are not doing anything. Would it not be better to say, "Ann, we have not made a descion concerning this issue as a classis; therefore, you will have to wait."

    I don't know. Just some thoughts and Ann your words are a good word to all of us no matter the situation. Make sure that we are operating, talking and discussing from the facts and not what we think or what we think we've heard.

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  7. gracentruth10:38 AM

    Thanks for your words. I am glad God is blessing your life and ministry. I am grateful that you are passionate about reaching people for Jesus.

    As to the interpretation of the scriptures. While one could suggest that since the Bible doesn't speak to covenantal same-sex relationships then those relationships are ok. I do not happen to think that that is a fiathful inteprertation of the scriptures, but I suspect that niether of us are willing to give there. So... a couple of thoughts:
    1) What defines us? Is is it our sexual orientaion or desires that define us? If some one were to ask me, "Who are you?" I could respond, "I am a heterosexual male." Or could it be our responsibilities or duties that define me. So then I would respond, "I am a pastor." Or perhaps it is our roles that define us. The I would respond, "I am a husband and a Father." Or we could say it is our race, color, creed socio economic status, age, weight or whatever that defines us. Any of these fall short. The scriptures says that there is one thing alone that defines me. I am a child of God. JOhn writes in the 3rd chapter of his first epistle, "How great is the love that Father has lavished on us that we chould be called the children of God! And that is what we are!" My identity is not found in the fulfilment of sexual expression, the fulfilment of a duty or role or anything else. This one thing- I am - you are- God's child is who we are. Phillip Yancy expresses well in a coffe table version of 'What's So Amazing About Grace?'. He has a a page with a a little mirrior on it and as you look at the reflection you read the words beneath your reflection- "The one Jesus Loves."

    2) I am continually amazed at how God blesses my life. Just the other day I believed I sinned against another person by not fully listening to them. I was preocuupied with something else and the Spirit convicted me that I needed to call and ask forgiveness. God used my sin as a blessing to this other persons life and a few others in ways I could not even begin to imagine. God bore fruit inspite of me! I hung up the phone and thought, "Wow God! You are so much bigger than me. How do you ever use this broken vessel?" and "Could there have been more fruit had I been obedient and faithful? Did I perhaps miss a greater blessing becuase of my sin?" I'll never know. But I didn't conclude that I should continue that behavior because there was fruit being born. I concluded that God in His grace and sovereingty blessed me inspite of my sin. His grace continues to amaze me - but with Paul I do not want to sin that His grace abounds more.

    3) I do not have problems with people taking stands for things that they believe in. I certainly have. But ought not those stands we take be dealt with in the "family"? These are problems individuals have with certain church teachings- ought not the conversation be within the church? Perhaps, their stands publicly make the church look at an issue or teaching, but I just don't think that's the way to go about it. If there issues in my marriage, I certainly don't broadcast them and and publish them opening it up for debate to the world. The world doesn't know me or my wife. We talk and pray with trusted and close friends who know us and can help us. What good or benefit comes from Rev. Williams taking his stand in the news papers?

    Thanks Ann for your willingness and heart to engage this discussion. And may God continue to grant you His peace and grace.

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  9. Ann,

    Relative importantance of the issue is not relevant. This is an ad hominem, pooh-pooh attack on conservatives ("What's the big deal?") which only begs the question - assumes your point of view - instead of dialoguing with them.

    Your wedding: you are free to do what you want in this country. But we are not free to do what we want as church members/ordinands or as servants of Christ. Outing you was not an injustice done to you; it is part of our calling to be accountable to one another. (Of course, this assumes my point of view on the issue, which core discussion we don't seem to get to very often!)

    Mission more important than homosexuality? No. When you go to those quarter million people by you, what will you tell them about God, Jesus, the Bible, sin, moral change, etc.? All of that is wrapped up in the Gospel and in our views of homosexuality. See www.albertmohler.com today for more on this.

    Your last questions again beg the question we're all asking. We have an ordination process of discernment to make sure ordinands are qualified to minister the Gospel. It wouldn't make sense to ordain someone who doesn't understand the Gospel. Those who think homosexuality is not a moral issue do not understand Scripture aright, and until they see that error, are not qualified to minister the Gospel, in my judgment. Using "Threat" and "hatred" to describe those celebrating homosexuality misses the mark by a mile. "Erring" and "lost" fits it better.

    "Why are gay people so hated in the church?" you ask. I answer with this scenario. Mom tells 2 brothers not to play in the street. Young bro promptly goes and plays in the street. Older bro challenges: "Hey, what are you doing? Mom said not to do that!" Younger bro's response: "Why do you hate me?"

    Acts 10-11. Ah, finally the issue. Referencing this, I assume you think the morality of homosexuality changes between OT and NT, because of Christ fulfilling the Law? Why then the other references in the NT opposing it as a moral evil? OT law fulfilled is circumcision, kosher, ceremonial laws; not moral ones like 10 commandments, justice and sexuality.

  10. I think that gracentruth's questions are signficiant, and want to address them in full and so have posted my response here http://yourcomfort.blogspot.com/2005/10/understandable-questions-and-some.html.

    Also, I'm more than happy to discuss my life with folks, but I'm really not keen on having Albert Mohler tossed at me. Steve, if you're so worried about gay folks in the REFORMED church, perhaps you shouldn't use an Arminian to make your point. Or don't you uphold the Canons of Dort?

  11. I do uphold Dort against Mohler's Arminianism, but am able to distinguish between issues and people - not letting more minor disagreements with someone in one area prejudice agreements with them in another.

    I am tolerant and catholic enough to agree with those in camps other than my own, when they speak truth.

    Your statement that homosexuality is like being left-handed is the core issue before us. How does that jive with Scripture's assumptions that homosexuality is a moral behavior and perversion?

    You say, "In our careful study and interpretation of the biblical texts, we have come to the conclusion that life-long covenantal same-sex relationships are not against the Word of God."

    Can you please expain the exegesis that took you to this conclusion?

  12. Steve,
    I am in the process of putting some exegesis together. But this past week has been extra busy. I'm planning on working on it Friday. Hopefully I'll have something then.

    With regard to Dort and Arminians, why is it that you are able to "not let more minor disagreements with someone in one area prejudice agreements with them in another" over issues such as free will and predestination but you are not able to do the same with regard to including lesbian and gay people in the church?

    Back in the day, Reformed people would have treated Arminians the way we treat gay folks. Today you embrace them in spite of their differing theological views. You have room enough for them, but not for Calvinist gay people?

  13. That's right, Ann.

    It all comes down to what we think Scripture says. I look at some passages and think, "I can see how people could turn out Arminian by looking at this a certain way." So I put up with it, even though I think it is wrong.

    I look at other passages and think, "The only way people can interpret this to mean homosexuality is ok is if they start by assuming it's ok, because of their experience, regardless of what this says."

    That makes experience the standard for faith and life, not Scripture. I do not put up with experience trumping Scripture, or being used as a motivation to "find" alternative exegesis of Scripture.

    Clarification: I am not anti-homosexual people. I am against people who refuse to call sin what God calls sin.

    I have the deepest compassion for homosexuals who understand the Bible's teaching and struggle personally with their desires. They are no different from heterosexuals who struggle with sexual sin.

    For people who celebrate something the Bible denounces, my attitude is not so much compassion as it is pity that they are lost and deceived.

    You can keep saying I hate gays; I can keep saying you're mistaken. But until we discuss what God says, we're not getting any further.

  14. Not sure why Ann deleted some of her posts above... some of my comments were in response to them. I hope they still make sense...

  15. KatVanBora22:40 PM

    All this discussion about homosexuality...but no Scripture to defend the moral legitimacy of it. I sense our RCA denomition's tendency to hold the Bible at arm's length to back up whatever positions the denom wants to take. Regardless of what the whole counsel of God's Word says. I see this as a greater problem than supporting homosexuality because it maligns the word of God and undermines the veracity of our Christian witness, both as individuals and a denomination.

    Unless we want to witness that it's ok to "play" with scriptural interpretation and ride the fence so we can have some things our way. Why are 2000+ years of understanding God's thoughts on homosexuality as set forth in the Bible suddenly being called to question? I believe it's our natural sinful desire to get what we want, and use any means to do so (loose biblical reading, psuedo-scientific "findings" on DNA/genetics, raising the flag of "liberty", etc).

  16. Steve,

    Just to point out in Al Mohler's defense, he is a sterling example of a 5 point Calvinist Southern Baptist, and is a leader in that denomination's Founders (Calvinist) Movement.

    What you are seeing unfold here is precisely why I left the RCA, though my family roots run deep in it. There simply is no common hermeneutic at work that leaves any room for discussion.

    In Christ,
    Ken Pierce
    Draper VA

  17. Great to hear from you, Ken!
    Thanks for reading and commenting.

    Yes, I was aware of Mohler's Calvinism (must be OK if he's in Tabletalk, right!), but thought I'd emphasis this point:

    Arminians misinterpret by highlighting the wrong texts.

    Homosexuality advocates have to misinterpret by saying, "In spite of what it says..." They are in the same position as the man Paul rebukes in 1 Cor. 5:1-5.

  18. I fear that Ken is correct in saying: "There simply is no common hermeneutic at work that leaves any room for discussion." The question, however, could be framed differently: "Is there a common biblical ethic that can create room for discussion?"

    Blessings and peace,


  19. Hi there,
    Here's my post about the Bible and homosexuality. More on marriage to come next week...



  20. Steve,
    You're awfuly silent about the biblical support for full inclusion of LBGT people in the life and ministry of the church.

    Any thoughts of your own to share about it? I'd love to continue the discussion and hear your ideas.

  21. Just one point for now, Ann, more to follow.

    Romans 1 cannot be contorted to be arguing only against a certain KIND of homosexuality.

    "God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural..." 1:26 NRSV

    What is against nature and degrading - and the result of God giving sinners over to judgment - is homo-eroticism itself. The Greek "gar", not translated in the NRSV before the phrase "Their women," is an explanatory gar, describing what the unnatural intercourse is: women with women. Not the natural use/intercourse of women with men, but same-sex erotic desire. The homoios at the beginning of vs 27 functions the same way, explaining what is unnatural: men with men, instead of with women. Paul doesn't discuss fidelity to one person; this isn't on his radar at all - the unnaturalness is the homoeroticism.

    The passions aren't degrading because they are overly lustful or non-monogamous, but because they are same-sex.

  22. Steve,

    Good thoughts. You are right on in your analysis. So often the debate is framed over whether or not homosexual orientation is a choice or a predisposition. I would say, as I think you would, that it does not matter. Both sin and futility are endemic to human nature. Sin broke all of us, and we all have inclinations and predispositions that are not our "fault" but that are out of accord with God's plan, but from which God can and does deliver us.

    My question about this whole Kansfield matter is this: why is it, if there are communions that, more-or-less openly, receive and ordain practicing homosexuals, why force a change on the RCA for which it is not "ready?"

    I say this as one who grew up RCA, whose roots in the RCA go back to the Netherlands and possibly as far back as the Reformation. When I began to pray through my call to the ministry, I knew I could not affirm the RCA stance on women in church office. I could have still entered the RCA ministry under the conscience clause, but, for the sake of the peace of the RCA, and my own peace of conscience, I went to a "far country," and entered the PCA, where I had no connections, no friends, and which is largely located in a region of the country very far from my Western Michigan home and family. The price I paid was worth it, I assure you, and I have never made a sacrifice.

    But, it does raise a question (just as it did with the WICO advocates in the CRC) --why trouble ISrael when there are other denominations (even those with a similar Reformational heritage) in which one's views are not controversial, and which would cause no crisis of conscience for brothers and sisters who see things differently?

  23. Yes, we see the homosexual issue in the same way.

    Why fight? To stop the creeping liberalism. There does seem to be a solid opposition to legitimizing homosexuality, as seen in Norm Kansfield's trial. There are far more congregations who would not tolerate this than those that do, as far as I can tell, and I'd rather see us purge the leaven (the UCC welcomes all, regardless of penitence or faith, it seems), rather than taint the faithful by requiring them to tolerate sin or leave (which they will almost surely not do).

  24. Hey, Ken,

    I lost your email, and would like to discuss Jeff Meyers' latest posts, at your convenience...

  25. Steve,

    I don't mean you leave, I mean why don't those pressing for inclusiveness find a more conclusive home?

    Just as we that are more exclusive have left to find more exclusive homes.

    That sounds terrible, doesn't it? But I really did think I would rather be at peace and not trouble the RCA with my more conservative opinions.