The First Christian Reformed Church in Toronto has opened church leadership to practicing homosexual members "living in committed relationships," a move the denomination expressly prohibits. The church council announced the policy change in an October 10 letter.

"The decision of the council seems to go contrary to the Christian Reformed Church's established position, and contrary to biblical teaching," David Engelhard, CRC general secretary, told Christianity Today. The CRC has 279,000 members in the United States and Canada.

The 1973 North American Synod set forth the denomination's policy: Those who are homosexual in orientation may be eligible for church offices, including pastor, elder, and deacon, but those who are actively homosexual are ineligible. The church reaffirmed the policy at the synod of 2002.

The representative body, or classis, of the Toronto area's two dozen Christian Reformed churches will consider the matter in January. Engelhard said that other churches in the region are asking the classis to take action. Responses could range from a letter of admonition to the suspension or removal of First CRC officers.

Engelhard said "six to eight" dissenting members of the congregation are circulating a letter to other area churches expressing their consternation. The synod might also take action next year, Engelhard said.

In Toronto, First CRC pastor Nick Overduin said the vote "was not an act of rebellion against the Christian Reformed denomination." Church leaders say that confession of Christ, not sexual orientation, is the key factor in whether a person can hold a church office.

In the letter to the classis, the council said the goal was to make First CRC "an inclusive congregation." Church leaders said they want the church to retain its denominational ties, but they added, "We are actually not very interested in debating the subject any longer or delving into it on some repeated basis."

The church's decision worries Hendrik Bruinsma, pastor of Maranatha Christian Reformed Church in Woodbridge.

"Our deepest concern is that the very salvation of people is at stake, because people will be misled about the basics of a new life in Christ and the nature of sin, repentance, and salvation," Bruinsma said.

Engelhard said the process dealing with First CRC could be lengthy. But he acknowledged that the denomination might decide to remove the congregation. "If you look at the end game, certainly that is a possibility."

Related Elsewhere

The official Christian Reformed Church website has a page explaining its beliefs. have more information on the First Christian Reformed Church's views on homosexuality.

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