A Note from Luminex: The following is a letter from Branson Parler, President of the Synod of the Great Lakes (Reformed Church in America).
A Pastoral Letter to the churches of the Great Lakes Regional Synod, RCA.
In the last few weeks, informal trackers and tabulators of the RCA amendment votes are reporting that the two amendments (one addressing the Liturgy and one the Consistory) meant to codify the definition of historic biblical marriage (marriage as between one man and one woman) will not attain the 2/3 majority of classical votes necessary for adoption. We are also told, however, that the consistorial wording – the most straightforward of these amendments – came within 1-2 votes of passage. The goal of these two amendments was to find a constitutional way forward for the RCA on the matter of deep disagreements over marriage. In light of these developments, many are asking: what now?
First, we should be encouraged that a majority of the RCA stands in favor of the traditional definition of marriage. The classes that voted “Yes” on the amendment regarding the consistory and solemnizing marriages in a church or congregation represent 70% of confessing members of the RCA, 75% of average Sunday attendance in the RCA, and 69% of the assessment dollars paid. By every available statistical measure except for the BCO-prescribed classis by classis vote, the amendment was supported by more than a 2/3 super-majority. While these statistics do not change the official outcome of the classis ratification process as presently defined, they do indicate that a strong majority of the RCA holds to the historic biblical view of marriage as between a man and woman.
Further, it should be noted that the position of the RCA on marriage has not changed. The Heidelberg Catechism, a Standard of the RCA and part of our Constitution, still speaks against all forms of unchastity and sexual immorality (Q&A 107-108), which has always been understood to include same-sex sexual activity. The Heidelberg Catechism also recognizes that repentance from sin, including sexual sin, is a necessary part of the life of gratitude of the Christian (Q&A 87-90). Our theology and teaching on marriage is also shown through our liturgy, and the only marriage liturgies ever officially approved by the RCA, though not Constitutional, clearly state that marriage is between a man and a woman. Further, we have 40+ years of General Synod and denominational statements affirming historic biblical marriage. As we move toward the Great Lakes Regional Synod and General Synod meetings, we affirm to you that the Regional Synod of the Great Lakes stands firmly within this theological tradition.
While disappointed that the amendments did not reach a 2/3 threshold, we also want to affirm to you as leaders and members within the Great Lakes Regional Synod that:
- We are confident the vast majority of congregations and churches within our region are committed to a traditional biblical view of marriage as between one man and one woman.
- We are convinced the mission of God to reconcile all people to himself using us as his ambassadors is more healthy and strong when we continue to live out this call together.
- We are committed to shepherding an ongoing relationship of evangelically Reformed congregations that remain together relationally, Biblically, confessionally and missionally.
These amendment votes have made it clear to many of us that there are fundamental differences within the RCA that will require some form of realignment that will allow congregations to affirm their particular commitment to marriage. To that end, the Great Lakes Regional Synod will bring forward an overture at its May 1 meeting. The specific wording of that overture is as follows: we will ask the General Synod Council “to implement a grace-filled and orderly re-alignment that will result in giving each congregation and classis within the RCA the choice of joining one of two groups (a regional synod or conference) within the RCA that will meet in separate assemblies and judicatories aligned on questions of human sexuality, but will share some organizational ties for the purpose of ministry, mission, and benefit services.”
As unofficial and official information about the amendments becomes commonly known, we would ask you to carefully consider your responses regarding the RCA, the amendments, and the future. God has given the Great Lakes Regional Synod congregations significant influence and opportunity in the upper Midwest area that we serve. Together, we speak into the lives of over tens of thousands of people each week in worship. We engage in, support, and empower a significant number of partner ministries who transform us and our communities. We support our communities, schools and civic institutions, not as individual congregations, but as part of a family of congregations engaged around the world. With this God-given privilege, we also have God-given responsibilities to affirm the Church, lead God’s people with resolve and grace, and defend the gospel as brothers and sisters of Christ.
Part of that responsibility means clear and biblical teaching on what Scripture teaches about marriage and sexuality. To that end, the Regional Synod Executive Committee asked me to work on a catechism on marriage and sexuality that could serve as a helpful teaching and theological tool for churches in our region. I have served as Professor of Theological Studies at Kuyper College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for nine years, and one of my main areas of study and research the last few years has been sexuality and marriage. I therefore offer this catechism with the hope and prayer that it will be of service to Christ’s church and the call to be transformed and transforming, by his grace. You can access the catechism by clicking here: Great Lakes Catechism on Marriage and Sexuality
Today, we are praying for the Spirit’s blessing upon your congregations and upon your ministries. We desire for this letter to encourage you and call you to continue in gospel ministry with us in the Great Lakes region.
If we can be of support to you, we ask that you contact us so that we can affirm our convictions to you. In these uncertain times within the RCA, we desire to be the very best leaders we can as we affirm the transforming Word that is Jesus Christ.
In the strong name of Jesus,
Dr. Branson Parler
President, Regional Synod of the Great Lakes
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