Wednesday, June 20, 2007

June 20, 2007



The annual synod of the Christian Reformed Church in North America began its week-long meetings 9 June at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. To mark the 150th anniversary of the denomination, synod was convened by pastors of the three oldest churches in the denomination: Rev. Mark Vande Zande of Noordeloos CRC, Holland, Michigan; Rev. William De Vries of First CRC, Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Rev. Stanley Scripps of Graafschap CRC, Holland, Michigan.

Synod elected Rev. Joel Boot as its president; Rev. Cecil Van Niejenhuis as its vice president, elder Henry Baron as first clerk, and Rev. Jake Kuipers as second clerk. Boot is a pastor at Ridgewood CRC in Jenison, Michigan, and has served as president before in 2004 and as vice-president in 2001. Van Niejenhuis is pastor of First CRC, Edmonton, Alberta. Elder Henry Baron is a professor-emeritus of Calvin College and a member of Neland Ave. CRC in Grand Rapids. Kuipers is a pastor at Ebenezer CRC, Trenton, Ontario.

Synod encouraged Christian Reformed churches to become familiar with the Belhar Confession, a declaration focusing on justice, unity and reconciliation. Originally written in Afrikaans and adopted by the synod of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church (DRMC) in South Africa, the Belhar Confession is named after a suburb of Cape Town, South Africa, where a general synod of the DRMC met in 1982.

The Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa has asked the CRC to consider the Belhar and respond to it. Synod 2006 had noted that the CRC lacks a strong confession on race relations. Synod encouraged the Interchurch Relations Committee to hold regional dialogues across the denomination to familiarize churches with the confession and its issues and stimulate discussion towards a recommendation for Synod 2009.

Twelve thousand worshippers gathered in the Van Andel arena in Grand Rapids on Sunday afternoon, plus about 2,000 more in an overflow venue, in the largest worship service ever held by the Christian Reformed Church. The service celebrated the denomination's 150th anniversary and looked forward to what the Lord still has in store.

A 500-voice choir assembled from Christian Reformed churches across west Michigan, was led by choir director Anton Armstrong. Armstrong, formerly a professor at Calvin College and currently the director of the choir at St. Olaf's College in Minnesota, said it was an honor and a joy to come back and direct the choir for the anniversary.

Synod also approved plans for a new hymnal-which will be designed for use by both Reformed Church of America and Christian Reformed churches-scheduled to hit the pews in 2013. The new hymnal will contain creeds and liturgies that RCA and CRC have in common, as well as all 150 psalms to continue the CRC's tradition. The Heidelberg Catechism will not be included because the two denominations use different versions.

Synod made an historic decision, voting to remove the word "male" as requirement for holding ecclesiastical office in the Christian Reformed Church. Synod also decided that women will be allowed as delegates to Synod 2008.

The removal of "male" opens the way for any CRC congregation to ordain women as ministers, elders, deacons or ministry associates. Since 1995, congregations and classes had been allowed to ordain women as office bearers under a system of local option.

Other recommendations included a provision allowing delegates to classis or synod who believe that including women delegates is in violation of the Word of God may record their protest on the appropriate credentials.

Delegates gave a standing ovation to Rev. Mary Hulst after interviewing and confirming her as assistant professor of preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary. Hulst served at Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church for eight years before pursuing her doctoral degree and has been teaching part-time at the seminary for a year.

Synod 2007 decided not to adopt the proposal of Synod 2006 that would have opened the way for all baptized children to take part in communion, whether or not they had made a public profession of faith.

But synod did not reject the proposal either. It appointed a Faith Formation Committee with the mandate "to deepen the integration of biblical teaching; confessional norms; church polity; and liturgical, educational, and pastoral practices in the CRC" with respect to participation in the Lord's Supper and public profession of faith.

+ Christian Reformed Church in North America, 2850 Kalamazoo Ave., SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49560 (616) 241-1691


Elizabeth Kendal, researcher for the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission, says al Qaeda is purging the Baghdad and Basra areas of Christians.

On the weekend of 18 April Christians in one neighborhood were given 24 hours to convert to Islam or die. Six Christian families fled but were not permitted to take any of their belongings. Others have been required to yield up their daughters.

A fatwa has been issued forbidding Christians to wear the cross or make any religious gesture. In al-Durah (Dora), the ancient Christian quarter of Baghdad, churches have been ordered to remove their crosses or be burned. St. John the Baptist Chaldean Church and the Church of St George were resistant so militants climbed up and ripped off the crosses themselves.

The Church of St. George was later burned anyway. According to Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty, 27 churches have been destroyed since 2003 and dozens of other churches and monasteries have been abandoned due to threats and terrorism.

Most of Iraq's displaced Christians - at least those who haven't fled to Lebanon, Syria, Sweden or the United States - are now in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq. Some international Christian organizations have joined them there, rather than leave Iraq entirely. However, a major conflagration between Turkey, Kurdish separatists and Arab factions may be imminent, and opportunistic Kurds require allegiance from Christians seeking refuge there.

Further, Islamic militants operate even in the northern cities. An Assyrian priest, Gassan Isam Bidawed, and three deacons of his church were killed by gunmen on Sunday, 3 June in Mosul.

+ Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletins,

+ Assyrian International News Agency, + Assist News Service,


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, of the Fatah party, dismantled the Hamas-Fatah coalition government 14 June under a state of emergency. This comes after five days of fighting in which Hamas, the popular Islamic paramilitary group, took over the Gaza strip.

Gaza, a small enclave - yet with 1.4 million people - of the Palestinian Authority lands around Israel, is located in part of the coastal territory of Old Testament Philistia. The Hamas victory in Gaza splits Palestinian territory into two, with the Islamic extremists controlling the coastal strip and Western-backed Fatah ruling the West Bank.

The takeover heightens the severe pressure Christians in Gaza were under already. Hanna Massad, pastor of Gaza Baptist Church, wrote last month of the deteriorating conditions for all of the residents in the Gaza Strip, and said no one was able to check on their church building because of the danger. "Even the guard wasn't able to go. It's in God's hands," he said.

The factions represent the forces at work across the Arab world, writ small in a confined space. Democratic elections tend to produce winners among the most radical Islamic groups - Hamas in Palestine, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and so on. More centrists groups such as Fatah in Palestine may be better able to govern, but have no way to bring stability when they lack a substantial popular majority.

In March 2007 Islamist Hamas entered into a government of national unity with Fatah and agreed to respect international agreements. Al Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri responded by slamming Hamas, accusing it of falling "into the swamp of surrender" by abandoning its ideology and selling out to Israel and the US.

Since then, Wahhabist jihadis linked to al Qaeda have dramatically escalated their effort in purging and Islamizing Gaza. They have assassinated three Hamas leaders (no doubt the ones they viewed as treacherous moderates) and are targeting everything they deem "un-Islamic."

On the night of 15 April, Gaza's only Christian bookshop was bombed. On Saturday night, 21 April, the American International School was bombed. On Sunday, May 6, the UN-administered Omariya School in Rafah was attacked in broad daylight by some 70 white-robed Wahhabi militants or Salafiyeen. They tried to prevent the school's sports carnival, deeming it un-Islamic, and fought the security forces with machine guns and grenades, killing one and wounding six.

+ Tom Doyle, e3 Partners,

+ Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletins,

+ Mission Network News, Cornerstone University, Grand Rapids, Michigan, (800) 284-9361;


Tom Doyle of e3 Partners says there is a breakthrough conference coming later this month. "It's bringing Muslim background believers, Christian background believers, and evangelical background believers together - all three, for times of working together, praying, forgiveness, moving forward. They want to see the churches more integrated."

+ Tom Doyle, e3 Partners, + Mission Network News,

More synod and assembly reports will appear next week and in the print edition of the Christian Observer.