Like a Mighty Turtle...

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At Synod 1987 a fellow delegate taught me new words for the second stanza of "Onward, Christian Soldiers:"  “Like a mighty turtle moves the church of God; brothers, we are treading where we’ve always trod.”  I found myself singing that song again when I read some of the overtures to Synod 2011.

Even though synods have received yearly reports from the Faith Formation Study Committee since 2008, a classis wants synod to withhold action on the Church Order changes the Committee proposes (Agenda, pp. 689-90). In November 2009 the churches received the initial report of the Committee to Propose a Combined Translation of Our Three Reformed Standards. In July 2010 a revised translation was available online, and the committee received over forty responses (Agenda, p. 180). An expanded committee discussed these suggestions, and the Agenda contains its final revision. Yet, one classis wants synod to postpone action on this matter for another year, and another classis wants synod to appoint another committee to study it (Agenda, pp. 656-58).

Successful organizations respond promptly to changes and opportunities. Is it possible that over the years repeated requests to synod to delay action on various matters have contributed to our membership’s disinterest in what synod does and says?

Another classis wants synod to declare that synodical decisions on changes to the Confessions must be approved by two-thirds of the classes (Agenda, pp 676-78). Since 1957 synods have defeated twenty overtures asking that decisions on weighty matters (the Confessions, the Church Order, etc.) be made by a two-thirds synodical vote or approved by a majority or two-thirds of the classes or by a majority of the consistories.

Doesn’t requiring anything more than a majority vote institute rule by minority?  

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Hi George,  Your absolutly correct about minority rule. But lets go a step further, a lot of issue's revolve around change of customs, confessions and bringing our churches into the 21st century context. These changes threaten people who's belief's rely on how we observe and protect these religious documents and protocal. The documents and actions themselves become a crutch like the chuch leaders were doing with levitical law during Jesus's time on earth.

  With salvation by Grace, only love of God and fellow humans is the requirement. Ask the theif on the cross, how many religious events he attended or how many confessions he spoke other than remember me in Heavan. That is why all this fuss is over nothing that is essential to salvation. I thought this was obvious but I am wrong again like many times before.

  I suspect you know this and it must be fustrating to constantly confront this.

Ken

Correct me if I'm wrong -- but if matters are being addressed that have already been decided by Synod, can't they be ruled by the body (or president?) not legally before Synod?  In other words, since our Church Order addresses the fact that matters already ajudicated in previous synods cannot be brought up again unless they are proven to be in conflict with the word of God, can't the body determine that things like requiring a majority vote (or whatever else) are deemed out of order, and then not address them?

Rob:

You allude to Church Order Article 29: "The decisions of the assemblies shall be considered settled and binding, unless it is proved that they conflict with the Word of God or the Church Order."

Article 31 is also relevant: "A request for revision of a decision shall be submitted to the assembly which made the decision.  Such a request shall be honored only if sufficient and new grounds for reconsideration are presented."

In a sense the overture looks like something new because it's asking for a revision of Article 47, and that approach hasn't  been used before.  In essence, however, this is an old request, one that has no new grounds and one that's been defeated twenty times by synods in our recent past.

Generally, the executive director is hesitant to rule overtures not legally before synod because it appears high-handed.  But you are correct, the officers of synod may recommend to the body that particular overtures are not legally before the body.  I think that's fairly rare, too.  Usually, the advisory committee to which such an overture is assigned will make that recommendation to the floor. 

What's the rush?  We adopt a new confession once every 150 years or so.  We amend every 30 years or so.  Allowing an extra year for a broad denominational discussion isn't unreasonable.  Also, having a significant consensus on confessional changes would help avoid further division in the CRCNA.  The overture deliberately avoided requiring the classical concurrence for church order changes so as not to gum up the works.  But confessional changes go to the foundation of what we believe.  Gaining broad consensus is warranted.

 

Hi, Bill.  

If the real concern is that we have "a broad denominational discussion,” perhaps I’d be a bit sympathetic to it.  I’d still have difficulty with that because the churches received the first report of the committee in November 2009 and the revised report in November 2010.  That means that even classes that only meet twice a year could discuss the original report at their Spring or Fall 2010 meeting or the revised report at their Spring 2011 meeting.  (Remember that the committee is asking that Synod 2011 make no changes to the report so all of us received the “final” report in November 2010.)  Classes like yours, which meet three times a year, would have even more opportunities to discuss this.  If classes aren’t interested in discussing this when the changes are being proposed, I suspect they would be less (perhaps not at all) interested in discussing this when the revisions have been approved by synod.

I also think that "broad denominational discussions," as opposed to individual classical discussions, happen at synod where representatives from all our classes are present to discuss denominational concerns.

But that’s not the only factor.  Your classis doesn’t only say, “We’d like a broad denominational discussion.”  It also says, “We want two-thirds of the classes to approve synod’s decision before the revised confessions are accepted.”  That’s rule by minority, and I’m opposed to that no matter what the issue is. 

But there’s more. Does this request come from a classis that supports the proposed revisions and wants a “broad denominational discussion” so people can become more familiar with these positive changes?  That’s not the case.  In Overture 6 your classis is asking synod to “reject the proposed revisions to the three forms of unity…” (Agenda 2011, p. 655).  In my blog I mention that synod defeated twenty overtures asking for something more than a majority vote.  The majority  (perhaps all) of those were submitted by churches/classes opposed to the direction synod was taking.  Their request was designed, not to ensure a  “broad denominational discussion,” but to make change more difficult.

This is how I see it:  First, your classis asks synod to reject the proposed revisions.  And in case synod approves the revisions, your classis still hopes the proposed revisions will be rejected if synod requires approval by two-thirds of the classes.  It's a nice job of covering the bases, but I hope synod doesn't buy it.

I'll set my "establishing a broad consensus" against your "minority rule."  When you were a pastor would you have moved forward with a major building program on a 51%-49% vote?  I hope not, unless you wanted a split church that couldn't pay its mortgage.  If you got a call on a solo nomination in which 45% of the people voted they did not want you to come, would you accept that call because you got a majority of the vote or would you decline and let the "minority rule?"  Some things are too important to decide by a small majority.  I'll contend that our confessional foundation is one of them.

Regarding the overtures, a classis is an interesting thing.  Those two overtures came independently from different churches with different purposes.  And the fact they came from the same classis doesn't mean everyone agrees.  We have four overtures before synod this year.  I support one and a half of them, am neutral on another one and a half, and oppose one.

You know enough about synodical procedure to know that a major change in the church order is not in effect until ratified by a subsequent synod.  If Synod 2011 adopts the overture to amend Article 47, as I hope, it clearly would be a major change and would not be in effect unless ratified by Synod 2012.  Thus it would have no effect on the vote this year to approve the three new translations of the confessions.  We explicitly talked about this when we voted in January.  It is neither our intent or expectation that a vote on the three translations would require classical ratification.  The suggestion that we are conniving in that way is insulting.  It would have been nice to have been asked rather than to have the worst assumed about our motives.

By the way, if it were required, as it would be in the RCA and PSUSA, I would expect easy ratification by 2/3 of the classes for the new translations.  In spite of the overture this year, I suspect it would even get a majority vote in my classis.  Classes don't always make consistent decisions.

We would hope it would apply to adopting the Belhar Confession as a fourth standard.  Adopting a new confession is on an entirely different plane than approving a new translation of an existing confession.  For a matter of that weight, classical ratification as required in the RCA and PCUSA is warranted.  If it can't get an affirmative vote in 2/3 of the classes, there is no consensus and adoption risks further fracturing of the denomination.  If it does get 2/3, those who have serious reservations are more likely to accept the decision.

 

Hi again, Bill.

You say, “I'll set my "establishing a broad consensus" against your "minority rule."  When you were a pastor would you have moved forward with a major building program on a 51%-49% vote?"

I still am a pastor—an old, retired one, but a pastor nonetheless!! :-)  In one of the churches I pastored the council recommended that the congregation call a second pastor so our ministry could increase.  That passed by 1 vote!  We went ahead, a little slower than we originally intended and spent more time building support for the proposal.  But we went ahead.  And the congregation was pleased and supportive.

I could say more about this, but this is really not the forum for that. The April 10, 1993 Banner contains an article I wrote entitled, “A Strong Church Council Takes Charge.”  It doesn’t precisely address this issue, but it raises some of the dynamics.

You also say, “You know enough about synodical procedure to know that a major change in the church order is not in effect until ratified by a subsequent synod.  If Synod 2011 adopts the overture to amend Article 47, as I hope, it clearly would be a major change and would not be in effect unless ratified by Synod 2012.  Thus it would have no effect on the vote this year to approve the three new translations of the confessions.”

You and the overture from your classis are mistaken when you say, “The CRC Church Order (Article 47) …requires approval by two subsequent synods…” (Agenda for Synod 2011, p. 677).  This is a common mistake.  The supplement to Article 47 says that changes submitted by a study committee may be adopted by one synod without submission to a second synod because the committee’s report is submitted to the churches by November 1 of the previous year, thereby giving the churches “prior opportunity to consider the advisability of the proposed changes” (Church Order Article 47).

You were a delegate to Synod 2010.  Perhaps you remember that I made and synod adopted the following motion: “That synod instruct the Faith Formation Committee to submit any Church Order changes it will propose according to the study committee schedule so that those changes may be adopted at Synod 2011 instead of being proposed at Synod 2011 for adoption at Synod 2012” (Acts of Synod 2010, p. 812).   Only one synod is necessary for the Church Order changes proposed by the Faith Formation Committee.

What’s also true about Article 47 is that changes to Church Order Supplements need not meet the “prior opportunity” requirement that changes to the Church Order must meet.  That has relevance in terms of the overture from your classis.   One of the difficulties with the overture is that it asks synod to amend Church Order Article 47 but, though it publishes the Article and its Supplement, it doesn’t state specifically how and where it wants it amended.

If the actual Church Order Article is amended, you are correct when you say the change would have to be submitted to Synod 2012 for adoption because an overture, available only to the churches when the Agenda is received in April, does not give the churches “prior opportunity to consider the advisability of the proposed changes” (Church Order Article 47).

However, it’s the Supplement that spells out the proposal/adoption process, and it’s the Supplement to which your overture seems to refer.  Thus, if synod decided to change the Supplement to include approval by two-thirds of the classes, that change could be effective immediately unless synod declared otherwise.

You also say, “The suggestion that we are conniving in that way is insulting.”

I’m sorry about that.  I didn’t mean to insult your classis.

I already apologized to Bill Vis, the stated clerk of Classis Grand Rapids North, for what he considered an "insult to his classis," but I need to do it again--a double apology!!  I know you're sick of retired people telling you how busy they are, but I've attempted to do these posts in a schedule that's already pretty full. Last night on a plane back from Texas I reread Overture 20 which is asking for an amendment of Church Order Article 47.  It's obvious that this refers  to the Belhar Confession. I missed that and broadened the reference to the revision of the three Confessions.  Mea culpa.

I still believe that synod should defeat this overture, but it's obvious that its sole reference is to the Belhar (and to any other confessional matters).

On the plane I also read something that is relative to another post I wrote.  The post was online for a half day or so, but I asked that it be pulled so I could revise it.  Credibility is enhanced  when it's evident that you're accurate about  what you're talking about!! :-)

A broad consensus for something so long-lasting is better than a simple majority.  This item is not a matter of process only, but of confessional stability.   A simple majority fails the test. 

A simple majority will result primarily in irrelevance.   A confession or testimony that 40% of people are not willing to accept as authoritative will not carry credibility of governance.  

Reluctant acceptance may lead to greater acceptance later, or it may also lead to an acceptance of irrelevance.  Bill is right on this. 

You indicate you are a retired pastor, and then say you are a pastor still.   Can you be both?   Or do you only wish to retain the title?   Or is the title only validated by an accompanying salary?  Curious. 

John asks, "You indicate you are a retired pastor, and then say you are a pastor still.   Can you be both?  Or do you only wish to retain the title?   Or is the title only validated by an accompanying salary"

 

In the Reformed system pastors are ordained for life while elders are not.  Pastors don't lose their ordination when they retire.     In my case I am under the supervision of the Han Bit Korean Church where my wife and I are members and where I serve as an associate pastor.  I preach twice a month in our English service as part of my contribution to the ministry of our congregation.  I also preach in other churches and am paid for that.  Thus, I'm even a pastor with a salary!! :-)

I should also point out that the different requirements for prior notification between changes to church order and changes to supplements is artificial and nonsensical.  There is no significant difference between the impacts of a supplement and the impacts of a change to the church order that should require different notification procedures or considerations.  They should be treated the same. 

I guess that's like elders then who also don't lose their ordination when they retire?   But why did you say you were retired, when you are not really?  

Can a pastor or elder really retire?  what does that mean?   And if they really retire, meaning they do not do any pastoral activity, why would we still call them a pastor, rather than a retired pastor? 

And would not a pastor strive for greater consensus than mere simple majority power rule? 

On re-reading, I realized that you said that elders are not ordained for life.  However, there is a practice and understanding that if you have been ordained as an elder, that a new service period will involve an installation rather than a re-ordination.  So I am not totally understanding your implication. 

As I am thinking along here, I have another question (so many questions...)  does preaching alone make you a pastor?  or ought there also to be some pastoral activities besides preaching?    Perhaps some would say you are a preacher but not a pastor....    a retired pastor who does some occasional preaching....  

If an elder were to do some preaching, would that automatically make him a pastor?   Following your example... 

(or just a preacher?)  

So, I decided to look once more at the form  for ordination of elders and deacons.   What do I see?  ambiguity of language.  "We intend to ordain elders and deacons and install them...."    Of course, "they received this  task  when Christ entrusted the apostles and their successors"... interestingly not presumably for specified terms.  

 

The church order talks about equal honor for all offices, and then allocates 25 articles to "ministers" and only one lonely article  to be shared between elders and deacons.   Ministers don't need to be re-ordained when called to another church, but elders, even in the same church presumably need to be re-ordained over and over again?   Even though they have not been deposed, or disciplined, etc.    Then, is it equal in honor to allocate one combined form of ordination to two different offices, of elder and deacon, while the office of "minister" cannot even share a form with "evangelist" or ministerial associate???   In fact, there are two alternate forms for ministerial ordination, the second one being 6.5 pages long.    This is allocating equal honor to all the offices?   I don't think so.  

Maybe this is part of the reason it is difficult to get elders to serve. 

 

John Z

The only specific reference I could see in the church order with regard to reelecting an elder mentioned re-installation, not re-ordination.  (Article 25) 

Okay, I realize my questions are a bit like a shotgun.   Probably some are uncomfortable as well.   Maybe even rhetorical.  

Back to the topic at hand: 

"And would not a pastor strive for greater consensus than mere simple majority power rule? "

Perhaps it is the concentration on adopting the Belhar, that is really the shell on the turtle.   It slows down the real activity, the real mission of the church by concentrating on paper and forms, wasting the time of synod and church councils, rather than devoting that time and energy to going into the world, preaching the gospel, and proclaiming and living for Christ. 

John:

Your observations for the most part, very much appreciated.

George:

"Doesn’t requiring anything more than a majority vote institute rule by minority? "

In my opinion while the above statement seems to make superficial sense, it fails to analyze the matter at the proper depth, by ignoring the weight of tradition as part of that "rule."  

Citing one anecdote does not really prove much except perhaps the "rule of the minority" evidence: one or two anecdotes.

To clarify if possible:  while a systemic observation is presented regarding slim majorities in critical situations perhaps representing cases where angels would fear to tread, you counter with one anecdote (a "tyranny of the minority").  I know "enough anecdotes can constitue a Phd. research project" but countering a systemic observation with one seems to me to expect the "tyranny of the minority" to prevail.  

One would have hoped for more substantial data demonstrating what happens in the majority of situations such as were presented.  (I know of one particular case, where I could mention names, where it turned out disastrously.)

Would anyone out there prefer that the US and Canadian constitutions be amended by a simple majority? If so, why?

It should be very difficult to change the foundation of an organization.  

Bill Wald:

well stated.

Why stop at the constitution, We could require two thirds vote for the president, congress, going to war, stopping abortion, etc ,etc etc.