What Is The Weight Of Paper?
Written By Lloyd Hemstreet
No matter how well written a decision or statement is, it can all be for naught unless there is also the means and the willingness to enforce it. One of the sad illustrations of that over the years is in cases involving personal protection orders. In my first month as a pastor here in Coopersville, a twenty-one-year-old woman, Rosemarie Reilly, was murdered in the town across the river. As is often the case, Rose was not killed randomly by an unknown attacker but by her ex-boyfriend. An ex-boyfriend, against whom a Kent County Judge had granted a restraining order on October 17th of that year. An ex-boyfriend who had continued to pursue Rose, to the extent that the Ottawa County Sheriffs had mailed him a warrant for his arrest on October 28th for domestic strangulation and November 1st for stalking. However, by that early Sunday morning, November 6th, 2016, he had not yet turned himself in. Instead, he found Rose and shot her seven times before killing himself. While our police officers and courts try to do the best they can, to some extent, a restraining order is just a piece of paper. That paper is not able, on its own, to protect the one that possesses it from all danger.
If someone is willing to violate it, it will have to be enforced by others.
Admittedly, I have used an extreme example to begin this discussion, but to some degree, this is one fear I have for Synod 2022. Could we fall for that trap of just getting our position on paper correct and thinking that is enough to fix the fractures and divisions within our denomination? Paper alone will not be enough. Synod will also need to back it up with clear and decisive action.
While not perfect, nor saying everything as I would, I'm thankful for the painstaking work that the committee put into the Human Sexuality Report (HSR). While some will take potshots here or there at it, I see it as being faithful to our highest authority, God's Word, and in line with what Reformed churches have always taught and believed. This report keeps us in fellowship with the global and historic Christian church!
So, what will Synod 2022 do with the HSR? While I don't have a crystal ball, this is my best guess at what is likely to happen. When Synod commissioned the report in 2016, though hotly contested, forming the committee passed by a sizable margin. I think the numbers in 2022 will be similar, and the whole HSR will be approved. And that includes adopting recommendation D, which Synod 2016 wondered concerning, as rushing to deal with the matter on the floor when they asked about the confessional nature of this issue. Going by the 2016 votes, that seems the most likely outcome. In the HSR, Synod receives what it asked for, and I expect Synod to adopt it in full.
If Synod does play out like that, the confessional status of unchastity will again be affirmed, demonstrating that it still has the weight of the law in our denomination. Every single officebearer and denominational employee will be accountable to it. That is how a confessional denomination is supposed to work. We agree that God's Word speaks in these ways, and so we all agree to submit ourselves to our mutual understanding. The only problem is, will all of us do what we say and keep our vows? What will happen to those who think they can teach and act contrary to this position?
In 2020, Classis Illiana sent Overture 12, addressing the doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement to Synod. As that overture lays out, this doctrine of Christ enduring God's judgment for our sins is taught in Scripture and our Confessions. It has always had confessional status in our denomination, and a CRC minister could not possibly publicly deny or teach against the fact that Jesus died to pay for our sins, right? Though already having all of the weight on paper, Overture 12 will still be addressed by Synod this year. Why? Because for over a half-decade now, that error has persisted in our ranks. The correct doctrine on paper has not been enough to address the matter. How could that be? At this point in the situation, the doctrinal fidelity is only as good as the paper it's printed on because a Classis refused to deal with the issue. The appeal of this case, which wasn't heard by Synod 2017, was kept off the floor on technicalities. So Overture 12 calls on Synod to fix something that should have been addressed long ago. We all signed the Covenant of Officebearers and gave our word that we would preach and teach in line with our confessions. Yet the weight of that paper alone was not enough.
So, if Synod gives a thumbs up and adopts everything in the HSR, that also will not be enough. Adoption must come with clear and decisive action.
For this position to hold more than just the weight of paper in our denomination, Synod will have to begin to engage in enforcement. Discipline is hard work. No one looks forward to it. No one wants to be that guy or gal and tell others they are out of line. Just as with disciplining children, it is hard to follow through, yet love demands it! Due to the public actions of Neland Avenue CRC, and Classis Grand Rapids East, Synod will have many overtures before them this year, calling for various forms of discipline. And we remember, the goal of discipline is never to punish but always to correct, asking that the Lord would soften hearts and that our union would be restored, in the Truth. But that doesn't come about by just the weight of paper. Instead, through loving rebuke, correction, and admonitions, our God can and does work restoration.
Lloyd Hemstreet was ordained in the CRC in 2016 and serves Coopersville CRC.