The General Synod of the RCA met a couple weeks ago. It was long delayed and highly anticipated due to the signifinace for the future of our denomination. The reports have it that it was a genuinely deliberative session, open to listening to one another. It might have been that people were genuinely curious. Or as it was suggested to me, resigned to the inevitable.
From the office of the General Synod staff: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aevhpntpdIA
The major decisions that came regarding the 2020 Vision Task force were approving recommendations 1, 3.
#1: appoint a group of 10 to 15 people to work on specifics around restructuring. This will take several years to impact churches since BCO changes take two Synods to complete.
#3: allow churches to leave the RCA without much fuss
#2 purposed spinning off world mission of the RCA into its own non-profit. This was voted down.
Also of note, Western Theological Seminary (Holland, MI) requested to be released from being an RCA institution . Instead, they would like to be “affiliated.” I speculate that they are seeing the decline the need for RCA pastors and the rise in interest from other parts of the church. There are only a few professors who are actually RCA, and not the new ones. Gone are the days when the professors are pastors with any years serving in a church. Instead, there are a lot of PhDs looking for a life in the academy.
The fallout in the RCA will be remarkable. It has been generations in the making for sure. But it has been one issue and a chink in our polity has hobbled it to the point of breaking. We’ll see how many churches and people are left after the dust settles but half is not far-fetched.
I’ve been asked a couple time what this all means for us. At the outset, not much more than it has in the past. Or: it depends on our value being a part of the RCA as a denomination. How much support, direction, identity do we derive from being RCA? To the degree in which we do… I suggest that it will be the degree we care about what happens. My guess is that how the RCA ‘doesn’t care about us’ is at the top of the sentiments. In the last two significant floods they have suggested seeking funding elsewhere (1996), merge with Schoharie Reformed (2001) and perhaps give some money to help those downstate from their flooding (2002). Judge Bliss gave a wooden crest of the RCA for us to enjoy. I’ve heard people wonder if RCA is actually pulling for us. I think we also have local questions to address about how we want to relate to our Classis and the Regional Synod of Albany. Like, do we send kids to Camp Fowler in the future? Do we condone the ordinations of people who don’t abide by a (any) Christian sexual ethic? Can we come together at the Lord’s Table if we don’t confess the same historical faith? Do we even know if we do? What are the boundaries or center that we come around?
If you watch the video above, you’ll hear Ms. Ver Steeg describes how the RCA is all about relationships. Or, it’s all about who you know. I can say this is absolutely true. I attended Hope College, worked at Western Seminary changing light bulbs for a summer and… then of course ordination process and being among the RCA here for a couple years. The trouble is when relationships don’t work well (as they don’t always) and don’t have the capacity to hold tension. There is real impact of people using power and chasing vanity. When relationships get exchanged for institutional process, its susceptible to being unjust and abusive. Relationships are essential, but they aren’t everything holding us together. People who get married know this (or should): one are married no matter how you feel about it today. Marriage is an institution to protect the persons in the relationship. It says to others they shouldn’t ask for a date. The church as institution that exists to 1) protect us against one another and 2) make space for the work of the people. When the institution fail, relationships suffer and don’t grow. If relationships are the only thing we are about, then it’s already over.
I don’t have a map or a plan as this is incredibly complex. Trying to hold all this together induces vertigo (spiritually anyway). This is more than having the right opinion or virtue signaling or branding. My desire is that we’ll be a faithful people who are called to this place. Faithful: allowing the breadth, length, height and depth (riffing on Ephesians 3) of Christ to dwell in us. This means are we are part of Christ’s Body worldwide, too. This place: it has its own character, needs and opportunities. We aren’t called to be someone else or somewhere else. So, I hope you’ll come open seeking God’s face as we ask these questions together.