The following is an excerpt (with one added editorial remark) from comments I sent in March regarding the Missional Structures Task Force Report. That was “version 3.0,” yet I believe that my comments continue to be relevant to the current version. I hope the selective scope and focus of what I say will help some in grappling with this.
The report proceeds from a conviction that our current structures
don’t work. By this the authors mean, presumably and primarily, that
our system of four assemblies is an impediment to the RCA being a
truly missional church. But for this conviction they offer no
evidence, not even by way of anecdote. It is very important to ask,
however, questions such as this: How does the structure we have stand
in the way of the realization of a truly missional church? To that
question one finds no answer in this report. The conviction that it is
so, however, is truly the assumed starting point of all that follows.
From this unsupported conviction follow all the recommendations of the
report. But why must we accept the recommendations, if the reasons for
the recommendations, which supposedly constitute their real life
occasion, are never made clear? Indeed, how can we accept them?
Perhaps it is the case that in a thousand ways our structure is doing
this one thing, namely, standing in the way of the realization of our
missional aspirations. But it is also possible that such examples of
obstruction that were offered to the Task Force were not problems
inherent in the structure, but were instead the result of
misunderstandings or abuses of the structure. Perhaps they were
problems that would arise with any structure, we being fallen
creatures saved by grace and not by works. Perhaps they would be
exacerbated in a different structure.
Indeed, I believe that all of these are not only possible, but likely.
The authors of the report probably would reject that possibility. But
in the end, those who are asked to read the report have no way of
evaluating these problems to which the report alludes. We are simply
asked to take the authors’ word for it, accepting not only that there
are problems, but that these problems are caused by the RCA assembly
I am unwilling to do so. Indeed, I want to challenge this very
conviction, the premise from which the whole report proceeds. Against
that premise, I affirm the strength of our polity, and the four-fold
assembly structure it describes. Contrary to what the report says, I
would assert that neither our polity as a whole nor our assembly
structure in particular are “built around the concept of a church that
stands at the center of the community” (p. 6). I affirm, moreover,
that our polity has remarkable flexibility in it, and by no means is,
in-and-of itself, an obstacle to the work to which God calls us, but
is sufficient to help us in that work.
The Task Force itself appears to acknowledge that flexibility, when
they point to new and creative initiatives adopted by classes and
regional synods (pp. 8, 16-17, 18), acts that were easily accommodated
by our polity. Yet they don’t recognize that their acknowledgement
implies a denial of their report’s base conviction.
In short, I am unable to walk the road that the report’s authors would
have me walk, because I cannot accept what I see is their starting
Beyond this foundational difficulty, I have objections to the report
in its proposals and in its explicit recommendations.
– I find the whole idea of replacing classes and regional synods with
“middle assemblies” to be extremely problematic on theological,
historical, and practical grounds. Most relevant to one of the
values articulated in the draft report itself, I believe that such a
move would actually exacerbate the mistrust we see between
assemblies, most especially between the local and denominational
spheres. It also, quite problematically, forgets the local and
congregational orientation of ministry. That is particularly evident
in the proposal that examination and ordination of candidates for
Minister of Word and Sacrament would become the exclusive
responsibility of the General Synod. [Note: this proposal was indeed removed in later versions of the Report.]
– I find the first recommendation, regarding “open space,” to be
troubling for its implicit assumption that this period of
experimentation should and will necessarily lead to a restructuring
of the denomination. Such an assumption is too hasty and presumes an
answer to a question that should still be open. Obviously, I cannot
accept the second recommendation, either, which explicitly commits
us to that restructuring, within a short period of time.