Evaluating Classical Credentials

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In 2006 the synod of the Christian Reformed Church changed article 41 of the church order. Up until that point the church order required that delegates to a classis address a series of six questions that began, “Are council, consistory, and diaconate meetings regularly held according to the needs of the congregation?” These six questions were printed on the credentials form and councils would wrestle with them when delegating members to a classis meeting. These six questions were replaced with two broader questions, questions that could not be answered with a simple “yes,” or “no”. It was hoped that these questions that would maintain the idea of mutual supervision while creating room to discuss concerns identified within a classis.

I fully supported the changes. I had been through too many council discussions that focussed on the meaning of words like faithfully and diligently. What does it mean to faithfully lead and stimulate the congregation in obedient stewardship? Could any established Christian Reformed Church really claim to diligently engage in and promote the work of evangelism? We would go around the table with questions like those, two or three times a year, but the reality in the congregation never seemed to change because of it. And classis didn’t seem terribly interested in the results. The credentials committee would make a brief report, there might be a mild reproof to a church that answered something less than “yes”, and that was about it.

The change in article 41 seemed like a step in the right direction, but to the best of my knowledge there has never been an evaluation of the revision. There has been no study to determine whether the revised article 41 has proven to be a more effective way of encouraging mutual accountability among congregation or of addressing issues of common concern. My own observations suggest that the revision has not had the desired results. I’ve observed councils avoid discussion and simply write down the first thing someone said to answer one of the new questions. I’ve listened to credentials reports and suspected that the same thing has happened in other councils. I’ve watched credentials committees refer every question to the classical ministry committee for future discussion. I’ve seen classical leadership try to deal with a backlog of a dozen or more questions, and I’ve wondered whether other classes were experiencing the same thing.

At least one classis seems to have had similar experiences. Classis Alberta North has attached an addendum to their classical credentials form that asks churches to be more specific when answering article 41 questions. The addendum asks councils to specify what kind of assistance they would like from classis and gives council a number of options to consider. It gives councils some guidelines to consider when suggesting a topic for discussion. The addendum also spells out a process to classis can follow to allow delegates to rank or prioritize the discussion topics that have suggested. I think these suggestions could contribute to more fruitful discussions.

The existence of this addendum, however does suggest that we are still figuring out how to use the revised credentials. In your experience, has the revision accomplished what it was meant to? How has your classis used this form?

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In my experience those credential concerns have led to a number of educational events where a special speaker has come in to talk about a specific topic (say faith formation). The questions have helped change the focus of some classis meetings from business only to education/sharing of ministry concerns. I think it has been helpful.