While Synod 2011 is still fresh on my mind I want to reflect a bit on synod, classis, control and diversity.
There have been a debates in the last few years that have impacted classis and the perception of centralization and control. In 2010 there was a debate whether a couple of churches could switch classes based on reasons of affinity. In 2011 there was a overture proposing that confessional changes require ratification from a set number of classes. One of the larger changes was the closing of the door for use of Article 7. Synodical delegates of course have their own reasons for their votes at synod. But it's not difficult to see within these debates the tension between uniformity and diversity, between trust and control.
One of the themes you’ll likely see in a lot of my blog posts is our need to increase lay investment and involvement in the broader assemblies. When individuals suspect that these structures are resistant to influence, cynicism rises and motivation to serve wanes. This threat is like a hardening of the arteries for our church and should be resisted. Whereas I know that every classis has its implicit leadership and power structures, I have also found that classes are often desperate for more lay participation on classical committees. Even though pastors tend to dominate the debates on the floor of classis, I’ve seen that assertive lay leaders are also heard. Every classis should be looking for opportunities to increase lay ownership of classis. Perhaps we should even have a goal of recruiting so much lay involvement on classical committees that clergy are in the minority.
Diversity is both a theological and a strategic goal but diversity is far more than looking for variety in skin color. Future missiological impact beyond Dutch immigrant ethnocentrism lies in developing a capacity for encouraging Reformed values in a variety of cultural settings. Each synod lasts only 10 days at a time, the classical level must be the locus for this effort. By virtue of language, liturgical and community practicalities most local congregations will have their own limited cultural bandwidth, it is at the classical level where partnerships across cultural lines will be forged. Also, as the RCA has done with their City Classis classis affords a venue for advanced development of specialized subcultures that can serve the strategic goals of the broader network.
I would like to see synods assume a more overt bias for trust and empowerment for the authority that classis legitimately possesses within our system. Do I know that classes will sometimes make poor decisions or fail to function as the church deserves? You bet. I also know that Synod is not immune to both of these maladies. In our system Synod is not infallible.
The truth is that the synod level needs classis more than classis needs synod. A classis could duplicate the functionality of synod to a large degree but synod is dependent upon the classes to do the work that it cannot do.
I know that by next year this little blip of a blog post will be forgotten, maybe even by me. But I hope that when Synod 2012 convenes somewhere in the hearts of the delegates they will take a moment in pursue a bias of trust and empowerment for classis in appreciation for the unique role it plays in our system.