To Dykstra, what the congregational letter describes as “Neland’s journey toward LGBT+ inclusion” has been a move away from Scripture. “I don’t think that all of a sudden after 2,000+ years of scriptural interpretation that things have suddenly changed. I think that unfortunately our church is following cultural norms and listening to the ways of the world. What we are asked to be is counter cultural. How are we showing God’s love by condoning a sin?” Dykstra said.
Neland Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., installed a woman in a same-sex marriage as a deacon last June.
In August, the church’s pastors and council sent a letter of reflection to the congregation explaining how they reached this decision.
Larry Louters, president of the Neland council, told The Banner the church did not specifically choose this path. “Neland was given the gift of LGBTQ+ members with whom we worshiped, members with clear gifts of ministry and leadership, members we loved. We simply worked slowly and prayerfully over the past 10 years to find ways to encourage rather than ignore their gifts.”
The August congregational letter noted that a “2016 survey of positions in the congregation reveal(ed) a broad range of views from traditional (40%) to affirming (40%), and in between (20%).” It acknowledged, “We don’t all agree on SSM (same-sex marriage), or on having a SSM member in leadership. However, we also don’t believe that having a uniform position on this matter is necessary to maintain unity as a body of Christ.”
Advised by Classis
The letter says there was “an extensive study and report by our Nominations Committee in 2019” and that church leadership “requested and received assistance from church advisers from Classis GR East.” It noted a Classis Grand Rapids East 2016 report “that shows a wide range of biblical interpretations one can support with a reformed view of Scripture.”
Al Mulder, stated clerk for Classis Grand Rapids East confirmed to The Banner that “an ad hoc committee of the Neland council requested advisers to meet with them to discuss and advise the committee regarding Neland’s nomination process for electing elders and deacons.” Mulder said three ministers served as advisers and submitted a written report, which was received by the classis executive team in December 2019. Mulder said there was an understanding “that Neland would be presenting its own report to classis at such time as they deemed appropriate.” Louters told The Banner the church council “will likely file a report to classis concerning our action this fall.”
The letter says there was “much greater congregational participation in the selection and election of office-bearers this year (2020), and a very strong affirmation vote of all nominees (each received over 87%).”
Synod’s Pastoral Advice
In taking this action, Neland’s council does “not believe we have crossed any line of orthodoxy, only pastoral advice,” the August letter reads. It describes their understanding to be “that all synodical reports and decisions related to homosexuality have been pastoral advice given to the churches (1973, 2002, and 2016).” (Emphasis and parentheses original to the letter.)
Kathy Smith, Calvin Theological Seminary’s adjunct professor of Church Polity, confirmed to The Banner that she explained the same in adult education sessions at Neland, noting Synod 1975’s consideration of “the status of various types of synodical decisions and their relationship to the confessions.”
The report to Synod 1975 said, “All synodical decisions ‘shall be considered settled and binding, unless it is proved that they conflict with the Word of God or the Church Order’ (Art. 29). But there is an obvious difference between the use and function of a pronouncement as interpretation of the confessions and a decision involving ‘guidelines’ or ‘pastoral advice.’ It is the wording of synod’s decision that usually indicates the precise character of its decision, and this wording of the decision determines its use and function. No synodical decision involving doctrinal or ethical pronouncements is to be considered on a par with the confessions” (Acts of Synod 1975, p. 598).
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