Uniting Christ's Body Through Classis

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Our inability to honor Jesus' prayer for unity in John 17 has long been a witness to our lack of sanctification. It may surprise you that Classis can be a particularly good level to attempt to bridge denominational fissures. 

Recently my classis celebrated a joint meeting of CRC Classis Central CA and RCA Classis Central CA with a joint educational day and reports from chief executives of the denominations and seminaries. It was a fantastic event. 

The CRC's article on the event featured a photo the two executive directors which tends to focus on the denominational level rather than the classical level. In all fairness it's not easy to take a picture of a classis. Both Rev. Devries and Rev. Boot spoke about how this project is helping both denominations move closer together, and this I celebrate, but I think it's also important to see how in many ways classis is a better initial level in which to pursue practical collaboration and unity.

The idea of the joint classis meeting came up rather spontaneously from the stated clerk of the RCA classis who is on our Kingdom Enterprise Zone team. He simply asked "could we have a joint meeting of classis?" We knew there would be come complications and expenses but we figured it was an idea worth exploring. We established a joint committee. They sent invitations to the various special guests all of which accepted. Even though much of the program benefited from these visitors and their presentations a lot of the real work was helping the CRC and the RCA leaders to get to know each other and to create a space where we can work together. 

The Kingdom Enterprize Zone project  began in four regions: Wyoming Michigan, Florida, Tucson-Phoenix Arizona, and San Francisco-Sacramento California. Classis is the ideal level to engage in programs like these. If we didn't have a classis we would have had to invent it to do this work. A classis is the right size to bring missional impact to a city or a region. Classes already know how to help individual churches collaborate. Classes already know how to run leadership training programs. Classes already know how leverage broader communal assets to help local churches plant new churches. Classes have all the skill sets required.

Part of the genius of the Kingdom Enterprize Zone program was to not focus on structural mergers but rather missional collaboration. We knew that if we started the conversation with the RCA at this level the conversation could very quickly fall into the "problem trap". We knew that being together is better than being alone. We knew that both groups had strengths and opportunities where the other had areas of challenge and need and that perhaps working together could yield greater kingdom impact. 

As is the case in any new venture trying something new will reveal unforseen challenges. Both denominations have their own challenges to face. Working together at the classical level, however, can help keep our view of the challenges at a workable size. The groups are small enough that people are knowable. The distances are short enough that a car trip can get us there. The finances aren't so huge that partners can't be found. It's a good place to begin. 

Is there an RCA classis near you that you can approach and begin to talk about relating with? Part of the fun of this project has been seeing relationships begin spontaneously in areas where there are no Kingdom Enterprize Zones. All you need to begin is a bit of willingness and a desire to see some of these historical divisions healed. 

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I think it is fantastic that there was such collaboration between the denominations at the level of classis. I think regional work across denominations can make big differences. Thanks for writing this up, Paul.

Now, I don't like being an Eeyore about it (everyone who knows me knows I'm much more like Tigger) but I sure would like to see us move our attention from classis. Classis is the last of our structures above the level of the church that can vote, as my classis did, not to seat women (yes, in 2012!!). I know, I know -- this story is so last millennium. We have women ministers, so let's get on with our kingdom work, right? Well, individuals can choose their church, so in many locations they can go to a CRC that does not discriminate against women. At the denominational level we permit women, at least in theory, to be leaders. We cannot choose our classis, however, while remaining within the denomination. So, some of us are inadvertantly members of a country club that does not permit tee times for black people (just an analogy) BECAUSE of the problems of our denomination that are at the level of classis. Please consider this -- how much would it tug on your conscience to have a membership at a golf course that did not permit tee times for minorities?

The classis structure is and will remain a significant issue because it is permitted to block women. Celebrating that there are classes that can be so inclusive as to have a joint meeting with a sister denomination doesn't change the fact that our sisters are still being denied a place at some classis meetings altogether and will be for the foreseeable future (our entire lifetimes, I would guess).

So, to answer your question "Is there an RCA classis near you that you can approach and begin to talk about relating with?" -- ha! That would definitely be "no" as NO ONE of my gender may even be seated at our own classis meetings. How 'bout them apples?

I would love, love, love to see the energy you and others are putting into the classical structure go, instead, into the structures of our system where women are welcomed. Even if your classis permits women, the structure is still critically ill and I wish that we would not pretend otherwise. If, on the other hand, this is part of a strategic plan to have classes share with Reformed classes, thinking that this might be a way to get women in through the back door, I do not think it will work. I do not think that was a consideration in doing this, but just in case someone might think this would be helpful to women, I really doubt it. Maybe I am missing something, but I do not see anything outside of an applecart-upset that will fix classis, as a structure. I recognize many classes do many good things, but they will continue to have this critical wound. I think we need to minimize the work and need for classis in order to lift up other structures that do permit full participation.

I realize that many who once cared about this topic have left the CRC, but how we treat women is part of the entire fabric of the world in its treatment of women. So, even if we do not care about the future for our own children, we shoud at least care related to the treatment of women world-wide and our part in that.  If we are sinking our resources into our classes, we are saying that this structure is OK or that it can be reformed or that we are fine with classis Iokota telling women in 2012 to stay in the kitchen, for example.

What if next time you have a joint regional meeting that is not a "joint classis meeting" instead? The "classis brand" is broken. If we focus on regions, rather than classes, then those regions that shun women in their classis could ignore all of that and celebrate together and join in missions in a joint regional conference of CRC and RCA people. Because there seems very little hope of reforming classis and no sign that anyone is still working to lift the barriers, I would like to see classis stay as irrelevant as it typically is, or become even more irrelevant, and have us raise up better structures for our regional church work. 

If, on the other hand, you think we can redeem this structure without blowing it up to do so, then please lay out a plan for that. Right now I cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. If I could see how classis could be redeemed, maybe I would be more inclined to lend more of a rah, rah to this effort to make classis relevant. Otherwise everything going into classis right now looks like band aids and like some final attempt to lift up a dying patient. I really do think it is fantastic that you have great classical relationships, but I don't even like hearing the word anymore. Woolworths really had to go out of business, right?