Ten years from now, on October 31, 2017, I hope to be able to participate in the celebrations of the quintennial of the Reformation as a pastor in the Reformed Church in America.
However, the proposed ‘missional restructuring,’ if implemented, would mean that the RCA could only witness the ecclesial anniversary festivities of the Reformed and Lutheran denominations as a bystander, for it would no longer be Reformed nor Church. The RCA would have become at best a Missional Movement, a para-church organization with a headquarter in Grand Rapids and franchises in places where it could be successful.In the abstract, there is nothing wrong with the motivation behind the proposals. I am writing this on Ascension Day, and agree that believers in the Resurrection are not called to gaze immobilized upon the heavens but that the call from heaven will mobilize them to go out into all the world.However, taken concretely, the recommendations of the Missional Restructuring Task Force call for scuttling the old fleet of ships (yes, ‘classis’) of the RCA that bear the gospel and for creating an aggressive armada instead, commanded by flag officers and an admiral. To stay with the maritime imagery, this is ‘wreaking havoc’ (etymologically, ‘wreak’ means to ‘drive,’ as in being pushed by a sea wave, and ‘havoc’ is the ‘outcry,’ the Call, as in ‘after being plundered’). Do we have to ask, ‘What would Jesus do?’ The Maundy Thursday liturgy quotes the Gospel of John: ‘love one another as I have loved you.’
I appreciate the MRTF report to the 2007 General Synod for setting a choice before us, albeit couched in subversive terms. The Reformed way of being church is an important contribution to the Church of Jesus Christ worldwide. Or we are called to shake the dust of our feet (after we cash in on significant property values of ‘failing’ churches) and disregard our ecclesiastical life as passé? Part of this Reformed contribution lies precisely with the matter of our ecclesial ordering (our own ecumene, i.e. our in-house housekeeping). The Reformed hold to a via media, between the hierarchical orders (usually denying the Ascension instructions not to think of this in a vertical manner) on the one hand, and on the other end of the spectrum it mistrust the bulk assemblages of ‘free church’ ordering as not proper to the organic ordering of the Bopdy of Christ. Thus, a key component of the Reformed order is the parity between ‘offices’ and the ‘nested bowls’ of the various assemblies in which the office-bearers meet: Consistory, Classis, Regional Synod and General Synod. For many, this via media order will now be abandoned and turn it into a via dolorosa. (see the posting by Allan Janssen about the history of the Dutch church, where a large group of people who oppoed the monarchial church restructuring of their day by declaring themselves ‘Dolerend’, ‘sorrowing). In fact, the MRTF manages to completely invert the Reformed model! Rather than walking in between the Roman model and the ‘Free’ model, these new recommendations seek to combine certain aspects of the other models. On the one hand a strong monarchial top, and on the other hand a free-for-all ‘open space.’
Five years ago, I asked at a GSC meeting at which future plans were ‘imagined’: ‘Why are we first launching the plane, and then in a few years begin worrying about a landing gear?’ We need a wide open space for that, indeed! There is something askew with the process that brought us to this point in flight. However, there are also questions about the scope of the recommendations. We are not asked to clear un-built terrain, we are asked to raze present structures (or at least duck our heads) for this bird to land.
When the apostle Peter tried to leave Rome behind (the fledgling church was neither successful nor effective), legend tells us that he met a questioner on the road: ‘Quo Vadis?’ (Where are you going?) History tells us that he turned around – not a first for Peter….The Chicago Invitation group takes the question of Quo Vadis seriously, and hopes that the larger church will take note of that stance. Most participants and signatories have dedicated their lives to the mission and ministry of the Church, and believe that ‘Reform according to the Scriptures’ is the way to go, knowing full well that in-formation is crucial to staving off de-formation.
Finally, last year I wrote an extensive exegesis on Hebrews 13:1 ‘Let mutual love continue.’
That paper dealt with the need for ‘open space’ with regard to the question of homo-sexuality. While we have not yet resolved that issue, this year we are asked to consider even more urgently ‘open space’ for a complete change in structure, without considering the role of ‘order‘. In both instances we often get into trouble by confusing ‘order’ with ‘structure’, whether we speak of church relationships or human relationships.
This recommendation to govern through reactions to ‘facts on the ground’ is a thorough ‘politicization’ of process. We see everyday what that has done to local, state and national governmental bodies. This ‘fact on the ground’ preponderance produced the stalemate between Israelis and Palestinians – to name an extreme example. Do we want to go there?
Our Call is to be to something. This report calls us away from something. Too many in the RCA are left out of the ‘Our’ part of the Call. Let us gather at GS and ‘reason together.’
May mutual love continue.