Classis and the Denominational Question

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You can’t find denominations in the New Testament and the closest you come is a negative in 1 Corinthians 3. Paul scolds the church “For when one says “I belong to Paul” and another “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?” 

The CRC has long pondered its identity. In 1980, over thirty years ago Andy Kuyvenhoven editor of the Banner said “It’s Time to Burn the Wooden Shoes”. James KA Smith wonders about our wondering. 

 
Fifteen years ago the CRC was anxious about it’s lack of numerical growth. Today some Yearbook number crunchers see a demographic train wreck ahead watching a church that is aging, losing its financial foundation and seeing mostly white congregations shrinking in size and influence. Pretty grim stuff. 
 
In a CRC Voices discussion asking “Where are the leaders? What is the plan?” in addressing this threat I responded with this blog post about leadership. 
 
If the CRC is going to find its identity and its voice in the North American religious landscape in the twenty first century I think it needs to discover the beautiful tool that classis can be for the revitalization of our ecclesiastical community. 
 
I’m currently preaching a series on the book of Acts and what strikes me about the initial growth of the church in Acts is how the Holy Spirit keeps pushing the church to engage communities outside its boundaries while still being in relational and geographical contact. The Jerusalem persecution that cost Stephen his life, spearheaded by and targeted for Greek speaking Jews caused those bi-cultural (Hellenistic and Hebrew) believers to talk to the people they knew in the places they were from or fleeing towards, like Barnabas of Cyprus. World cities like Antioch then become places where the new churches with believers from new backgrounds begin to work through how the Gospel impacts their unique cultural embodiment. It requires multiple cultures in relationship with one another, and multiple churches talking, negotiating, and struggling through the issues they discover in the attempting to wed canonical tradition and present cultural realities.
 
What does Classis have to do with Jerusalem, Antioch and Caesarea? We will have multi-cultural congregations and mono-cultural congregations. Just like Christians need to be together in churches in order to bear witness to the gospel, churches need to be in community with other churches in order to be supported, to have a learning community, and to take on city sized projects and witness. Classis together with clusters within them afford this kind of space. 
 
Is your church a lone ranger church? 
 
Now you might say that you don’t need the CRC because you’ve got your local ministerial association that is called to serve your city, town or space and who am I to argue with you on that? You would not be alone in seeing this as your primary community and seeing your denominational affiliation simply as a historical accident. I know and respect a number of churches in this camp. I’d like to argue, however, that there is value in this bi-national tribe even if its a bit weak and wonky at the moment. 
 
Most of churches in our Sacramento cluster have local ecumenical relationships and we value those. We also value what we can accomplish through our Classical and cluster relationships. They provide a shared history, a shared vocabulary, a structural reality through which we can resource each other, learn from each other, network through each other and leverage relationships to establish new partnerships and networks. We also seek to leverage our diversity to plant new kinds of churches within our diverse context so as to increase the cultural bandwidth of our group. Our cluster and our classis create this space. 
 
You might not feel this in your space and if that is true I am sorry because when it works it can be a very good thing. 
 
If you don’t have this kind of space from which and through which you can work I would encourage you to start small with the churches with which you already have structural ties. Create a habit of meeting together. Figure out how to use your time to build community between you and to do the kind of learning and encouraging that will bring value to your cluster. Decide to have a baby (plant a new church) together. 
 
I won’t always be fun, sometimes it will be hard but in time if you work at it you might find that you’ve created something valuable, so valuable in fact that others might want to join in and who knows where it will go from there. The result will actually be identity, purpose and mission and when those things are good they get contagious and even larger good things can come. 
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We have a family reunion scheduled for March.  All the members will come together for a meeting, this time in a neutral place in order to feature a friend of one of the members who wrote "The Message" and “The Pastor.”

It will be a wonderful gathering for a short time, we will pray together, feast together, deliberate together, fellowship together and perhaps even shed a tear together.  Oh, we will argue- can’t avoid that among family members with what to do with outreach- and programing that feature; or what to figure we truly believe in and subscribe to; and who will represent us at a larger gathering of an extended family group. 

There will be others there who represent groups and programs we believe in; non- family members, but we will accept their words graciously and encourage them.

How will we leave after that two day get-together?  Well, for the most part tired with information over-load, but really refreshed by the sense that we are not alone out here on the frontier, near the edge of nowhere.  We will travel apart yet with a promise to return together again in 6 months at yet another location to share joy, problems, sorrow, and anticipation.

As clerk of this bunch, I share a particular joy in the upcoming gathering- if not weariness of all the preparation; but is it worth it- you bet.  It confirms who we are as a family...different in many ways, yet joined in common belief, history, and dreams.

While some members perhaps chafe under the thought of investing time in this meeting, most seem to come away with a blessing knowing they perhaps were a blessing to others.  A frequent comment is how blessed they were from the time of prayer together.

Yes, we are a family- separated by hours of driving, oceans apart by culture between urban and rural, perhaps even on how to present the word – yet we are joined together in in identity…and by grace.