Overture on Confessional Status

(This overture is also available as a downloadable pdf below.)

Overture on Confessional Status Adopted by Classis Grand Rapids East


This overture focuses on the confusion created by the decision to consider an interpretation of a
confession as the confession itself. It cites negative impacts for churches from this lack of clarity.
It proposes that Synod’s interpretation of “unchastity” be designated “a reasonable interpretation”
useful for teaching and learning, instead of confessional status.


Synod 2022 decided “that “unchastity’ in Heidelberg Catechism Q. and A. 108 encompasses
adultery, premarital sex, extra marital sex, polyamory, pornography and homosexual sex, all of
which violate the Seventh Commandment.” It described this decision as “an interpretation of [a]
confession (Acts of Synod 1975, p. 603)” and declared that “Therefore, this interpretation has
confessional status” (Acts of Synod 2022, pp. 922-923).
Although Synod 2022 aimed for clarity, its action has generated disagreement but also significant
confusion among the congregations in the CRCNA related to an interpretation of a confession with the
same status as a confession itself. Our classis includes congregations and individuals who hold the
traditional view of marriage, those who accept/affirm same-sex marriage, and those with a range
of pastoral approaches to same-sex attracted individuals in the church.
Our classis and congregations have been working together in faith and hope, engaging in open and
honest discussion and making “every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of
peace” (Eph 4:3) in the face of a contemporary moral question. By declaring the one view to be
confessional, Synod 2022 has impaired this work, generated disagreement and confusion, made
pastoral care difficult, and conveyed to many people that they are not welcome in the Body of
Christ. Many in our classis who hold the traditional view of marriage nevertheless do not believe
this view should be held with confessional status. For the reasons stated below, we are concerned
about the confusion this has created in Christian Reformed congregations among people with
varying viewpoints.


Therefore, Classis Grand Rapids East overtures Synod to declare that Synod 2022‘s interpretation
of “unchastity” in Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 108 does not have confessional status but that
instead this can function as a reasonable interpretation of “unchastity” to provide guidance for the
church in dealing with these matters.


1. Making Synod’s interpretation of a confession itself on the same level of the confessions
has generated many questions churches are unable to answer regarding present and future
office bearers:

2. Similarly this has led to confusion regarding current and future members of the church,
including young people and people who may come into the church through evangelism:
a. Is this a determining factor in accepting a young person’s (or anyone’s) Profession of Faith
or in the baptism and Profession of Faith of those received through evangelism?
b. Can pastors serve communion to members who differ about this or baptize the child of
parents who may have a spectrum of views on this one particular topic?

Removing the confessional status adopted by Synod 2022 and keeping this interpretation in a
different category would clear up this confusion and allow the insight and wisdom of local pastors
and consistories to make determinations regarding specific individuals.

3. The Forms of Unity and the historical doctrinal standards in the CRCNA communion have
traditionally included three Ecumenical Creeds (Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian) and three
Reformed Confessions (Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, and Canons of Dort). Across
these three Creeds and three Confessions is a rich array of ecumenical and Reformed orthodox
theology from which the church teaches and preaches and to which members and office bearers
give their assent. The aim of these Creeds and Confessions is to unite the church around a common
theology. But the confusion surrounding the interpretation of the single word “unchastity” in just
one of these documents has seemed to make that one word, its interpretation, and its application
stand alone as the primary mark of confessional orthodoxy in all matters regardless of one’s
commitment to everything else in the Creeds and Confessions. Such confusion could be cleared
up by designating this as a reasonable interpretation to be used as guidance for the churches.

4. The HSR had been before the churches in the CRCNA for a longer-than-usual period of time due
to the interruptions of the global pandemic. Thus when Synod 2022 recommended the report as a
useful summary of biblical teaching, this action was within the bounds of good procedure since
the churches had had time for prior consideration. However, this does not apply to the new action of
Synod 2022. When the Advisory Committee and then Synod 2022 adopted a recommendation to
declare an interpretation of the word “unchastity” to itself be confessional, this specific matter had
not been before the churches for prior consideration. In its grounds for this decision Synod claimed
this was similar to the “intent” of the HSR but it was not the same as the report’s conclusion.
Additionally it was noted in another ground that what was in the HSR had already created
confusion, as evidenced by multiple overtures that pointed this out. But the new decision
undertaken by the Advisory Committee and then Synod 2022—in addition to not having been
before the churches ahead of time – has resulted in further confusion, which this overture seeks to

5. Synod 2022 acted on the matter of this interpretation despite the mandate to the study committee
from Synod 2016 that, because of the weightiness of this particular issue, the study committee
should make recommendations on confessional status “for future synods to consider” (Acts
of Synod 2016, pp. 919-20, emphasis added). By making a motion and passing it all in a single
synod, the Synod of 2022 created uncertainty and confusion in the denomination that the original
mandate to the study committee desired to avoid. Time was needed subsequent to the synod that
received the study committee report for the church to weigh and discuss this matter before a synod
acted on questions about confessional status. Synod 2023 can give the church that time and clear up
the confusion by putting the interpretation of “unchastity” into a different category.

6. Synod 2023 can declare that a decision of a previous synod does not stand. When the Rules for
Synodical Procedure discusses “rescinding” a decision, it applies to decisions taken by the synod
in session. However, “A succeeding synod may alter the stand of a previous synod; it may reach
a conclusion which is at variance with a conclusion reached by an earlier synod. In such cases
the most recent decision invalidates all previous decisions in conflict with it” (Rules for
Synodical Procedure, VIH, I, 2). This action by Synod 2023 would address the confusion that
has been expressed by many since Synod 2022.

Overture on Confessional Status Adopted by Classis Grand Rapids East