Seeking a Way Forward Together

Date Posted: 
Monday, January 25, 2016

Hopes for the special council on human sexuality

In April, a special council of 74 RCA members will gather in Chicago. Their mandate is to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to discern “a constitutional pathway forward for the Reformed Church in America to address the questions of human sexuality as it relates to ordination and marriage.”

General Synod 2015 called for the special council.

A smaller council, called the Group of Five, is preparing for and will facilitate the special council. It will also inform the church of the results. The Group of Five consists of five past General Synod presidents—Carol Mutch, Brad Lewis, Irving Rivera, Chuck Van Engen, and Tony Vis. They were selected for their wisdom and history of leadership in the denomination. None serve currently on the General Synod Council or its staff.

The special council participants were chosen for their ability to represent Jesus Christ above their own opinions. Each classis chose one person, and the Group of Five selected an additional 30 to make sure that the special council includes the full diversity of the RCA. The Group of Five also developed the discernment process for the special council, which will meet from April 15 to 18.

“The expectation is that [the special council] would come together, would listen to one another, would participate in conversation based upon an understanding of Scripture and coming out of their own experiences, and would seek in the midst of that to be open to the Holy Spirit speaking to them and through them to the church,” says Vis, a retired RCA minister.

The special council’s role is to discern and advise; the group does not have decision-making power.

“Councils have never been legislative gatherings,” says Van Engen, professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and president of Latin American Christian Ministries. “They are a gathering of the wise persons, the persons recognized for their leadership and influence in the church, to listen to each other and to discern together [where] they feel the Holy Spirit is leading the church.”

The RCA as a whole is invited to join the discernment process in several ways. One is to explore Scripture with an RCA member who holds a different perspective on human sexuality. Another is through prayer.

“The number one thing to pray is that the Holy Spirit will be really present with us in April,” says Mutch, a retired commissioned pastor. “If the Holy Spirit is present, there are no limits to how God can use us.”

RCA members may also commit to something called 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting in the weeks leading up to the special council. From March 29 through April 18 (the final day of the council), daily devotions will be available. The devotions will guide people in prayer for the work of God through the special council and for the health of Christ’s body in the RCA. These devotions will be written by RCA members from all regional synods. A guide for fasting during this time will also be available.

“My hope would be that we would be able to find a way to move forward together, for the greater mission of the church of Jesus Christ,” says Vis.

Sign up to receive the devotions at, or request a hard copy from Alina Coipel Robinson at

Pray with others for wisdom, discernment, and the presence of the Holy Spirit as the special council meets.

Explore Scripture’s teaching on human sexuality with someone who has a different perspective.

Timeline of events

  • December 8–10, 2015: Group of Five meets to select 30 at-large members and to plan the April gathering of the special council
  • March 29–April 18, 2016: RCA members invited to join 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting in anticipation of the special council
  • April 15–18, 2016: Special council convenes in Chicago to seek God’s will for a way forward together
  • June 9–14, 2016: Group of Five reports back to General Synod 2016 in Palos Heights, Illinois

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