Can a church polity (how we govern our church, i.e. the Church Order) that was developed in a time when the Christendom world view was fully operational still be relevant in our multi-faith world, where Christianity is just one of many faiths seeking people’s attention? Our present polity about classis has its foundations in both in Geneva, when John Calvin and a committee of six were asked to “develop a proposal for how the City of Geneva might proceed in making the Reformed faith the religion of all its people,” (Van Gelder, p. 8) and in the rise of the Reformed Church in the Netherlands.
Many classes, often with the help of the Classis Renewal Ministry Team, have been working hard in the last twenty years to renew their classes, to make classis more relevant to the situations facing the church today. But, in all of this discussion and renewal, we as a church have never really had “a critical and informed discussion of the underlying issue of the very identity and logic of the classis as an organizational entity of the CRC” (Van Gelder, p. 4).
Craig Van Gelder, PhD., former Calvin Seminary Professor of Missions gave a presentation in 2008 to a conference: “Classis & Presbytery in the 21st Century: Problem or Possibility?” at New Brunswick Theological Seminary addressing this issue: "Looking Back -- Seeing Forward: Examining 16th Century Foundations for Engaging a 21st Century World."
This paper, (although a bit long), is an important constructive critique of the polity of the CRC in general and the role of the classis within that polity in particular. As Craig Van Gelder writes, “there is much about both that needs to be affirmed. But…there are some important assumptions embedded in their historical and contextual formation, and that these assumptions need to be unpacked and reframed if the CRC is going to faithfully and effectively engage in ministry at the beginning of the 21st century,” (Van Gelder, p.26-27). He encourages us to start this reframing with a biblical and theological framework that utilizes Trinitarian perspectives.
I think that Van Gelder is right. We do need to take a close look at our church polity and begin to understand it in light of the historical and contextual formation. I think that our Church Order could do better in supporting the ministry of the church. What do you think? Do you think that our church polity around classes needs to be changed in order to more effectively supporting the ministry of the church? If so, how does it need to be changed? Where do we start to make this change?