Sometimes it feels that way, but that question misunderstands the nature of the authority and function of our denominational assemblies.
The Church Order, a set of regulations by which our denomination is governed, states, “the authority of council [is] original, that of the major assemblies [is] delegated” (Article 27). The council, the governing board of the congregation, is elected by the congregation either by majority vote or by lot. The council decides what happens in the local church, and no one from another church assembly tells it how it must structure its ministries, worship services, etc.
Councils have found it beneficial to join with other councils to sponsor ministries larger than a council could do by itself (e.g. the establishment of a Student Assistance Fund, the support of a campus ministry), to seek the wisdom of other councils, etc. Thus, councils have formed a classis, a regional grouping of churches. Each classis meets either two or three times a year, and each council sends a pastor and an elder (in some classes also a deacon) to make decisions on matters considered. To use the words of the Church Order, the councils “delegate” authority to the classis and agree to honor the decisions it makes.
Classes, too, have found it beneficial to join with other classes to sponsor ministries larger than a classis could do by itself (e.g. World Missions, Publications, etc.), to seek the wisdom of other classes, etc. Thus, every year each of our forty-seven classes sends two ministers and two elders (188 total delegates) to synod, an annual gathering of the classes, to make decisions on matters considered. The classes “delegate” authority to synod and agree to honor the decisions it makes.
Thus, synod is not really the highest ruling assembly. It’s the broadest assembly. Authority does not flow from the top down but is delegated from the bottom up.
Do the members of the denomination view synod as the pope? If so, what can be done to change that perception?