Time for an Alternative Option for Elder Delegates to Synod?
March 26, 2011
Updated July 3, 2018
5 comments 75 views
In our Classis, and I am sure this is not a unique problem, it is becoming rather difficult to get "sitting" Elders to volunteer as a delegate to Synod; and the problem is getting down right pesky!
It seems every time we come around to soliciting Elders for the upcoming Synod, it is like "pulling teeth," the excuses are myriad — and often rather legitimate and honorable. In the light of the later, why not allow any individual who has been ordained as an Elder but is not serving a current term of office to represent the Classis at Synod? Perhaps this option already exists, but is not utilized.
After reviewing Church Order Article 45 in our three most current "knowledge sources:" Church Order and its Supplements - 2010, Manual of Christian Reformed Church Government - 2008 Revision; And Christian Reformed Church Order Commentary -2010, I only find the sentence in the commentary portion of the Manual- "Elders delegates to synod should be in active service as an elder in their home church at the time of the synod convenes." Perhaps I am missing something, but the phrase "...should be..." seems to be an operating point here. Does that phrase perhaps allow some "open thought" on representation, or interpretation of Church Order.
I seem to recollect, Elder delegate representation of this nature has been discussed and perhaps ruled on by Synod in the past. However, should we as a denomination recognize this as a recurring problem and come to the assistance of Classis with a smaller resource pool of eligible candidates and allow a more open participation for Elder delegates.
Delegates to Synod must represent Classis, thus the individual churches of that Classis- that is, and should be a given; part of our "reformed heritage" of church government. However, are we not eliminating a group of good delegates in smaller Classis who perhaps could represent that Classis and its churches admirably and competently.
Yes, there is room for abuse here, but that can be addressed — abuse of office can be found at any turn. However, opening up our delegate selection to all ordained Elders- currently serving or not, could be a step in the direction of solving a problem of too few lay nominees for Synod- especially in smaller Classes.
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I totally agree with your point here, Dutch. But there should be a motion of acceptance by the elder's local church, as well as by the classis, to approve his nomination as delegate.
Henry, is there room for change regarding Elder delegates to Synod- finding a way to utilize non-office holding Elders? Or would this be too much of a threat and diminish the authority of current officeholders, changing our polity model in an undesirable, or non-reformed way?
It's a good question you raise, Dutch. What the 2008 Revision of the Manual of CRC Government says is actually not the way I remember we used to do this in the classes I have served. We used to say, instead, and actually have in our written rules that elder delegates to synod must be in the office of elder at the time that classis chooses them; they are eligible even if their term comes to an end before synod actually meets; but they must be available to the first classis meeting to follow upon synod's meeting. What this different judgment on what's permissible points out for all of us is that this is truly an "extension" of what the Church Order says in Article 45. It is said there only that the classis must send two elders.
Before someone now concludes that therefore those currently not in office may be elected by the classis as far as the Church Order is concerned, let me point out two important things. The first is that Article 34 insists that "major assemblies are composed of officebearers." The second is that Article 25 does establish the practice of "limited tenure" and that therefore we do not have the polity that characterizes Presbyterian denominations and even the Reformed Church in America, namely, that there is "permanent tenure" so that you have active and inactive elders. By such a polity one might more readily come to a position that inactive elders may be called into action for the purpose of a synodical gathering. But we don't have that. We still have "limited tenure" and for some very good reasons. You may find them at Article 25 of my commentary.
So we can certainly give classes some freedom to have their own rules for delegating elders to synod, but I think that sending someone who is not in office at the time classis chooses does conflict with our Church Order and therefore should not be done unless we first revise the Church Order to that effect.
Is a move towards permanent tenure unbiblical, then? No, I don't think that case can be made. But history's wisdom is that limited tenure is desirable. How limited? Well, I have pointed out previously that in our system, when you review all the articles, you could be a deacon for ten years in a row .......... But that's another issue.
Article 25 says that elders and deacons shall 'serve" for a limited time, "as designated by the council". So first, what does it not say? It does not say that that they shall "be" for a limited time. Presumably elders and deacons could "not serve" at other times, when they are not "serving" or when they are "retired".
Secondly, article 25 says those re-elected shall be reinstalled, not re-ordained, presumably because they have already been ordained previously. This assumes a lack of a break between one term and the next; however the principle is that terms can be extended even individually, and that limits are arbitrary, and that ordination is not magically lost at the end of an arbitrary term limit of two years or three years or five years. There is also the correct principle involved here that it is the local church through the council or consistory that sets the limited time. Theoretically this limited time could be limited until the age of 75, rather than a specified term of a particular number of years.
So, if a council designates an elder (previous elder or retired elder or non-serving elder) to "serve", by acting as a delegate to classis or synod, it can in so doing extend the limited time of service of that elder, since council has the authority to do so. (Much the same as an elder delegate to synod may be serving at the time he is chosen, and "not serving" when he actually "serves" at Synod). And, if the elder in question is not re-elected, but rather appointed for this specific purpose without an election, then a re-installation would not technically be required. If council decides that a re-election is advisable, then a re-installation would also be advisable.
Bottom line principle is that it is the local church that must decide whether the retired elder can fill that role or not.
As I see it.
I want to add one other thing. I have a number of times heard sermons about what it means to be an elder, some of them after some elders finished their terms. One of the number one themes expressed was that you don't stop being an "elder" just because your term is up. This means that while you may stop attending so many meetings, and may not make official family visits, etc. the spiritual leadership does not end. As a retired or non-serving elder you may still lead services, read sermons, teach catechism, teach bible studies, and provide spiritual consolation and instruction. In fact, you should not stop doing these things, because these things are the essence of eldership, just as you don't stop being a deacon just because you are not attending deacon meetings.
While term limits may be a good idea, it is not a good idea to suggest that somehow elders and deacons have lost the ordination of the spirit and lost the blessing of the church when their terms are up, without having been disciplined or deposed. (As far as I know, there is no article 17 for elders or for deacons.)
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