Reformed polity locates authority in three different assemblies: the local council, the synod and the classis. It is my assertion that the classis is the least valued, the most neglected, the most poorly resourced and the least utilized level of the three. The classical level is the best place for us to tackle a number of the challenges we face in engaging our context with the vitality of the gospel. I will list a few here:
- The classical level is THE level through which we can seek to impact whole cities with the gospel. As a denomination we don't have megachurches that can take on city sized challenges. A classis if serious enough about the effort could impact our diverse cities of North America in ways no mega church could. A classis of multiple churches can incarnate the gospel in multiple cultures, multiple neighborhoods, through various ministry aspects. If we are serious about engaging whole cities with the gospel the classis probably the level through which to launch this effort.
- The CRC has a need to process theological and programmatic issues in a sustained, in-depth manner and is struggling to do so. How will a denomination adopt another confession? Should children be allowed at the Lord's table? We regularly attempt to address these kinds of issues at a synodical level, imagining that a group of our best minds can produce some written material which will settle matters in the church. Meetings are had, materials are distributed, and the vast majority of the church knows nothing about it. Most synodical delegates don't know each other, especially the lay persons. Can issues at these levels really be processed in a matter of hours in a room of 200 strangers? The classical level affords the opportunity for the church to do process work that the church needs to do. Classes, however, have tended not to not know where to begin. Is classis a business meeting or an expression of the community of congregations in a region?
- Classis is the best level of the church to pursue sustained church planting and renewal. If a classis manages to create within itself the kind of face to face, trusted, leadership community through which partnerships can be developed and maintained, then a classis will have the kind of infrastructure needed to launch new churches and new ministries with ongoing, reliable support. Most of our congregations are too small to launch too many things on their own but classis has the potential to broaden that support base to do things that one congregation can't do. What is required to pursue this, however, is a commitment at the local level to invest in the next assembly beyond itself and see the value and possibility of what that assembly can offer. Whole areas of ministry such as faith and work ministry and campus ministries make sense at a classical level where often they don't at the local level.
In order to bring the gospel to the world, our denomination is about to go through another post-mortem on its attempts at focusing ministry resources through agencies. Apart from a classical renewal effort pursued several years ago by Home Missions, I don't think that we’ve really looked at how classis is positioned to address denominational challenges. Look for some additional posts on this subject in the coming months on the Classis network. I'll be interested to hear your thoughts.