Overtures and Gravamina: A Crash Course
From September to November (2022), Church of the Savior’s Council has approved several overtures, and processed several gravamina. The terms "overture" and "gravamen" may not be familiar terms to you. They certainly weren’t to us! But we have gotten a crash course, and here is what we learned…(if you just want the highlights, read the text in bold).
Synod: the annual gathering of Pastor, Elder, and Deacon delegates, where decisions are made on behalf of the denomination
Classis: a regional group of churches; CotS is a part of Classis Holland
Confession/Creed: Foundational documents for the church, that shape our belief and practice
Overture: a request for a change in CRC policy or action coming from a member, congregation, or Classis
Gravamen (plural: gravamina): an expression of disagreement with church creeds or confessions
As of November 18, the Council of CotS has submitted 4 overtures to Classis Holland. Two were submitted to the Council by Pastor Chris, and one was submitted by a congregant; all three were adopted by the Council. In addition, Pastor Chris wrote a confessional-revision gravamen, which the Council also adopted, thereby turning it into an overture.
In brief: An overture is how things get done denomination-wide in the CRC. Want the CRC to consider a new ministry for all congregations to support? Write an overture to ask for it. Want the CRC to create safe church policies that apply across the denomination? Write an overture to ask for it. Want the CRC to repeal a decision that Synod has made? You guessed it! Write an overture to ask for it.
Overtures have three basic parts:
the specific request that is being made;
the grounds (arguments) for the request; and
any background that will be helpful in understanding why the request is being made.
In brief: When an office bearer (Pastor, Elder, or Deacon) comes to have difficulty or even disagree with one of the creeds or confessions of the CRC, they can submit a gravamen explaining why they disagree. There are two types of gravamina:
A confessional-difficulty gravamen, in which an office bearer expresses personal difficulty with something in the creeds/confessions, but does not request a change to them
A confessional-revision gravamen, in which an office bearer expresses disagreement with something in the creeds/confessions, and requests a change to be made to them (or their interpretation).
A confessional-difficulty gravamen is processed at the local level by a Council. The Council only involves the Classis if they are unsure what to do with the gravamen; the Classis only involves the Synod if they are unsure what to do with the gravamen. This type of gravamen is relatively common; prior to now, there have been two that we know of submitted at CotS over the years (both pertaining to the doctrine of election as described in the Canons of Dort, in case you’re interested).
A confessional-revision gravamen is processed first at the local level by a Council, which must decide if it will adopt the gravamen as its own. If it does, the gravamen goes as an overture from the Council to the Classis. If the Classis adopts the gravamen as its own, it goes from the Classis to the Synod. If either Council or Classis doesn’t adopt the gravamen, an individual or Council can always submit it to the broader assembly on their own, as with an overture. This type of gravamen up until now has been extremely rare; there have only been a couple in the entire 150-year-plus history of the CRC.