Ever since Synod 2022 made decisions regarding the HSR report and declared that its interpretation of Heidelberg Catechism was confessional, church councils and officebearers are faced with conversations and decisions: We wonder what now? Do we need to take some action? Have conversations?
We recognize that a significant number of officebearers in our churches fundamentally disagree with the decisions of Synod. Some believe there are solid and biblical grounds to take an affirming stance for same sex marriage. Others believe that making this a confessional matter will harm the church and their ongoing pastoral mission to the LGBTQ community. For others the welcome of Christ is jeopardized. Still others are concerned that the injustices we lament will be repeated through this declaration and approach. It is also true that many agree with the synodical decisions. Regardless of precisely what our particular struggles are, every council could be faced with discussions that threaten the unity of congregations and the Classis. We are in challenging times that will not soon be over.
The CIC is asking itself: what do we do? How do we lead the congregations and Classis at a time such as this? In all likelihood, we will once again be dealing with overtures, appeals or gravamens in this coming year because of the decisions of Synod. These will need to be adjudicated (acceded or not acceded to). To do this well will require time, thoughtful discussion, and imaginative approaches. As CIC thinks scheduling, we imagine that many would resist longer or more Classis meetings, so how to proceed?
To discern this, CIC proposes the following:
Be aware that in all likelihood Classis will have a heavy agenda in the fall meeting. These matters will only add to the agenda. We do not want to avoid them, but we do respect the deliberative space and importance they deserve.
Appendix 1: Considerations for Submission of a Gravamen re: Synod 2022 / HSR
A gravamen is not always necessary for every disagreement or concern we may have with the confessions. Article 5 of the Church Order makes this clear (appendix 2). When a person or council believes a gravamen would be helpful and clarify the relationships in council and with the denomination, these are the steps.
For a confessional difficulty gravamen:
If you have already signed the covenant of officebearers, you simple write a paragraph that:
It is recommended that Council receive the confessional difficulty gravamen without prejudice, understanding that these matters will continue to live within the denomination for some time. Council need not mention this to the congregation or have further discussions since these matters will be coming up for discussion at Classis and/or Synod again.
After dealing with the confessional difficulty gravamen, the council, its members and the members of the congregation have time to consider a next possible step in the light of Synod 2022: a confessional revision gravamen or an overture.
Having received the confessional difficulty gravamen, members of council may want to develop a plan to take this to the next step of appealing the decision of Synod via an overture, appeal, or confessional revision gravamen. If that is the wish of a member or council, it is important to note that such appeals will require information, argument, suggestions that respond to the decisions made. We should not just recycle previous arguments but need to advance the discussion as much as possible.
When such appeals (overture, appeal, confessional revision gravamen) are made to council, they will need to be discussed and adjudicated. This too will require time. It is important that council take the time needed to thoughtfully understand and process the various aspects of any appeal.
Appendix 2 Church Order Article 5 (copied directly from Church Order – underlining and NB added)
Article 5 All officebearers, on occasions stipulated by council, classical, and synodical regulations, shall signify their agreement with the doctrine of the church by signing the Covenant for Officebearers. —Cf. Supplement, Article 5
The Covenant for Officebearers
We, [the undersigned], believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the inspired Word of God, which proclaims the good news of God’s creation and redemption through Jesus Christ. Acknowledging the authority of God’s Word, we submit to it in all matters of life and faith.
We affirm three creeds—the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed—as ecumenical expressions of the Christian faith. In doing so, we confess our faith in unity with followers of Jesus Christ throughout all ages and among all nations. We also affirm three confessions—the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort—as historic Reformed expressions of the Christian faith, whose doctrines fully agree with the Word of God. These confessions continue to define the way we understand Scripture, direct the way we live in response to the gospel, and locate us within the larger body of Christ.
Grateful for these expressions of faith, we promise to be formed and governed by them. We heartily believe and will promote and defend their doctrines faithfully, conforming our preaching, teaching, writing, serving, and living to them.
Along with these historic creeds and confessions, we also recognize the witness of Our World Belongs to God: A Contemporary Testimony as a current Reformed expression of the Christian faith that forms and guides us in our present context.
We also promise to present or receive confessional difficulties in a spirit of love and fellowship with our brothers and sisters as together we seek a fuller understanding of the gospel. Should we come to believe that a teaching in the confessional documents is not the teaching of God’s Word, we will communicate our views to the church, according to the procedures prescribed by the Church Order and its supplements. (NB: this is known as a gravamen) If the church asks, we will give a full explanation of our views. Further, we promise to submit to the church’s judgment and authority. We honor this covenant for the well-being of the church to the glory of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Acts of Synod 2012, pp. 761-62)
*To be signed by professors, ministers, commissioned pastors, elders, and deacons when ordained and/or installed in office.
Guidelines and Regulations re: Gravamina
Synod declares that gravamina fall into at least two basic types:
A. Guidelines as to the meaning of affirming the confessions by means of the Covenant for Officebearers:
A signatory is bound only to those doctrines that are confessed, and is not bound to the references, allusions, and remarks that are incidental to the formulation of these doctrines, nor to the theological deductions that some may draw from the doctrines set forth in the confessions. However, no one is free to decide for oneself or for the church what is and what is not a doctrine confessed in the standards. In the event that such a question should arise, the decision of the assemblies of the church shall be sought and acquiesced in.
B. Regulations concerning the procedure to be followed in the submission of a confessional-difficulty gravamen:
C. Regulations concerning the procedure to be followed in the submission of a confessional-revision gravamen: