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Over In Otley

Why I Got General Synod All Wrong

Posted by Mike Holleman on with 0 Comments


I Got General Synod all Wrong

In 1914, British Author H.G. Wells wrote a book which was a compilation of newspaper articles entitled “The War that will End War.” Wells, of course, was writing these articles with a perspective that if the Allies dethroned and destroyed the German military machine that all future wars would cease. Unfortunately, this was not the case. The United States by itself in just the 20th century saw another 4 major conflicts. World War I may have been seen as a war to end all wars, but it was not.

For the past few years, I have come into General Synod wanting a clear resolution

No concrete resolution came.

I would argue the RCA is in the middle of a trench war reminiscent of World War I. The RCA has been in disagreement over the issue of homosexuality for 40 years. At the 1978 General Synod, a “Maginot Line”[1] was drawn. While small steps and pushes were made, the issue moved to the forefront in 2005 with the trial of Rev. Norm Kansfield and has been moving towards the breaking point we are at now.

We have lost pastors, elders, and parishioners on both sides of the debate. I’ve seen friends of mine and influential conservative voices (Rev. Adam Barr, Rev. Kevin DeYoung) leave for the EPC and PCA respectively, I’ve seen Pastors who presided over my classis exams leave for the PCUSA. Families have been divided and broken. Rev. Tom DeVries, the general secretary of the RCA, accepted a new call to Willow Creek Association and one has to believe this battle influenced his decision.

General Synod 2017 is the most recent engagement of the RCA’s war over homosexuality, and as the “mustard gas” clears, I experience a hurtful hope. It pains me to see the denomination divided. It pains me to see the divisiveness and to see individuals leave the church.

The Key Battles of 2017 General Synod: R-17-61 and R-17-51

In my understanding of Scripture and the Heidelberg Catechism, I believe same-sex relationships are contrary to scripture. This view was upheld with R-17-61 under contentious debate. We saw a recommendation which instructs the Commission on Church Order to investigate amending the BCO to consider a constitutional way forward to discipline a classis. (For example, Classis Illinois could discipline Classis New Brunswick for allowing homosexual ministers). This passed by a SINGLE vote. Other positive notes, there will be a review of the Formula of Agreement.[2] The FOA has come under fire recently as stances of the UCC and PCUSA on homosexuality have changed and now are in opposition to the RCA’s position.

The final two items of note is that they will be reviewing who grants Certificates of Fitness for Ministry (which is required for ministers to be ordained in the RCA) and the election of James Nakakihara as VP of General Synod.

No concrete solution is imminent.

While there have been some small victories this past week, we must move ahead. We can and should expect groups such as Room For All and it’s allies to be working on overtures already to dismantle, kill, repeal and replace what was done at General Synod this year. They will be galvanized, they will be upset and they will be ready for war.

General Synod 2017 was not the “war to end all wars” in the Reformed Church in America.  While General Synod made a statement and certainly was a victory for orthodoxy, but it was only a small victory in the trench war over biblical orthodoxy. If we think everything is over, we are mistaken.

Even if we were to win the “war” over the full inclusion of LGBTQ individuals, there will be something else which will rise up to take its place. Satan and his minions are always working. We must be vigilant in praying for the leaders of our churches, those believing they are hurt by these decisions and continue to prepare for what God has next for us.


I am indebted to our brothers and sisters who attended and “fought in the trenches” of General Synod and offering perspectives throughout the week and offering correction of what you see here. My thanks go out to, but are not limited to: Rev. Dennis Colton, Elder Paul Jones, Rev. Ben Lin, Elder Eric Moreno, Rev. Joshua Scheid and Rev. Nathan Weller among others.  

[1] The Maginot Line, built by the French in the 1930s was a system of barricades, obstacles and weapons installations constructed on the East line of France along the borders of Switzerland, Germany and Luxembourg.

[2]The Formula of Agreement or FOA is an ecclesiastical agreement which allows ministers of the PCUSA, RCA, ELCA and UCC to have “full communion” with each other, allowing ministers of one denomination to serve a congregation in another denomination.



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