The general synod of the Dutch Reformed Church this week agreed on a way forward which it hopes will stop bitter infighting over members’ differences regarding same-sex relationships and allow all to act according to their beliefs.
The agreement was reached after the synod meeting in Benoni decided on Tuesday to nullify its 2015 decision on same-sex relationships, which allowed ministers in same-sex relationships and the solemnisation of same-sex civil unions, on the grounds that the decision was procedurally flawed.
Divisions within the church on the same-sex-relationship issue intensified in March this year after the High Court in Pretoria set aside a subsequent 2016 decision by an extraordinary meeting of the general synod in which it reversed its 2015 decision. The High Court found procedural and substantive faults with the 2016 synod decision.
Since March the Dutch Reformed Church has been under pressure from within — from congregations and members unhappy with having to accept a policy that conflicted with their biblical convictions, and from without — from Christian voices calling on the church to stand up for biblical truth. A March decision by the Dutch Reformed Church not to appeal against the High Court ruling was seen by many as giving in to the liberal, pro-gay movement within the church.
Unity in Christ
In its resolution on Tuesday the general synod agreed that the foundational unity of the church in Christ should not be broken because of differences in biblical interpretation.
It urged local church councils to appoint leaders and grant members all rights and privileges in the life of the church, irrespective of their sexual orientation or identity.
However, the resolution acknowledged that church councils and ministers differed on their attitude towards affirming same-sex civil unions and would like to give space for all to act according to their beliefs.
It was therefore decided that a task team would be set up to visit each regional synod to work through the matter clearly and thoroughly and develop a policy for confirming same-sex civil relationships and to continue a study of marriage and human sexuality with a view to reporting to the next general synod.
The general synod also apologised to gay members and their families whose human dignity was knowingly and unknowingly denied during deliberations on the same-sex question in recent years.
‘Worst form of compromise’
Christian leader Dr Arno van Niekerk said today (Thursday October 10) that the DRC synod’s resolution on same-sex matters was “the worst form of compromise” and tantamount to official approval of a gay lifestyle.
Commenting in his weekly Christian Consensus WhatsApp update, Van Niekerk, who in August urged the DRC to take a stand on biblical truth on the gay lifestyle, wrote: “Today is a sad day; South Africa church history will never be the same.”
He said the DRC had ignored the warnings of ex-gays and gone against God’s Word “and is now in danger of being viewed in a state of ‘apostasy’ by the rest of the body of Christ”.
He asked SA Christians who do not approve gay marriage to wear black arm bands on Friday as a sign of a state of mourning and for DRC members who disagreed with the decision of the general synod to wear black armbands on Sunday.
“We have a religious freedom right to express our concern about the state of such a church denomination. Because, by implication, it places all other churches also at risk of compromise or otherwise persecution. Let’s take practical action against this,” he said.