Here are two historical perspectives on the Missional Structures report, one from a long view and one from much shorter.
First the longer view. It was 1816 and the King of the Netherlands (this was new, they hadn’t had one before) issued a new church order for the “Netherlands Reformed Church.” It was a “royal” order that centralized the administration of the church. It retained synods and classes, but they were little more than administrative bodies. This centralization of the church order threw that church into a confusion that lasted until at least 1951. It was the occasion for the “Afscheiding” or “Separation.” That split would lead to the emigration of a number of folk to the US — this becoming the basis for most of our midwestern church.
It is interesting to note that those who first left the Dutch church did not claim to be seceeding. In fact, they claimed to be the continuation of the true church. While I do not agree with their assertion, it is clear that they knew separation itself to be intolerable.
This longer view is evidence that the order of the church as centered in the classes and consistories lies deep in Reformed identity. A centralization of authority and power will raise deep antipathy. And for what reason? Because a report asserts that the current order isn’t working?
Now the shorter historical report. It was just five years ago that a committee on the revision of the church order reported (I moderated that committee). That committee attempted to “listen” to the church. There was no claim of scientific validity to the time spent speaking with persons across the church. However, it was clear that there was no energy for a complete overhaul of the church order. There was some frustration with “alignment” of the regional synods and the general synod in terms of policy and program. This frustration came, as I recall, almost exclusively from staff, and mostly denominational staff.
What did result was further reflection on the nature of the church and the introduction of what has come to be called “missional” elements. It was clear, however, that the order was not and is not a function of what the synod decides the policy of the church to be. Rather, with the preamble (and with the confessions) the order is part of the very nature of the church. It is helpful to hear the two paragraphs on the “Nature of the Church on Earth”:
“The church, which Scripture represents with many images, is a gathering of persons chosen in Christ through the Holy Spirit to profess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in order to embody God’s inetnions for the world. Gathered by the Spirit around Word and sacrament, the chuch fulfills its call within the expectations of the reign of God as it participates in mission, in calling all persons to life in Christ, and in proclaiming God’s promise and commands to all the world.
“The Reformed churches confess that the church of Jesus Christ in the world is one church, the ‘Holy Catholic Church.’ The church is the living communion of the one people of God with the one Christ who is their Head. Their oneness in him is a ‘communion of the saints’ with Christ and with one another in the divine blessings.”
As these paragraphs make clear, the church is not simply “missional,” but is “one people” in communion with Christ and one another.” This communion is not simply functional. The first paragraph introduces the impulsion to mission. And in fact, the order was changed to give to classes and consistories the responsibility to live in mission to their respective and shared worlds.
As the church considers a new order (this is not a “restructure.” That’s a category mistake.) it must do so from a shared understanding of the nature of the church. What I’ve put forth in this post is some history of the struggles within the Reformed church to come to terms with its nature.