If I were as good a preacher or writer as my friend Daniel (that could apply equally to either of the CI bloggers sharing that name) I’d have gotten this up a few weeks ago. As it is, I’m lagging.
For my Ascension sermon, I expanded the gospel pericope to include Luke 24:13-53. I did this to dramatize how, for Luke, the events from Emmaus to ascension came in nearly unbroken succession. But, along the way, I noticed how our Lord needs to keep explaining the Scriptures, opening the apostles’ minds to them. I made an analogy to how I don’t bother to remember certain things—difficult recipes, detailed computer software functions, French, for example—because I know my wife will remember them for me. In the apostles case, Christ had told them all these things before, but there was so much for them to process that they trusted him to remember these things for them. With his Ascension, they had to begin to remember the whole story for themselves.
How does this apply to us? I submit to you that, in our busy-ness, we have allowed others to be the church for us (this is a variation on a theme that goes back to some of our earliest CI documents, and the Invitation itself). The General Synod has had certain necessary functions ever since the beginnings of the RCA, functions which, starting with Schermerhorn in the early nineteenth century, required some staff to accomplish. As often happens with staff, by the mid-nineteenth century, ours felt it needed to justify its existence by doing more. Regional synods and classes have, for generations, given away tasks to the General Synod, because it was easier to allow others to do these things than it was to learn to do for themselves, and also because many pastors spent those same generations doing things for congregations because that was easier than teaching members to answer their baptismal calling. It was too hard to be the church ourselves, so generations of us have allowed others to be the church, which found it more efficient to do this business as a denomination. When “denomination” has the same root as the word “denominator,” it is no surprise that denominations, by nature, become obsessed with numbers—good corporate stuff.
What all of us (yes, especially me) must remind ourselves of as we walk together in Pella is that it has taken us nearly 150 years of this behavior to get ourselves to this point, to make ourselves fully into a denomination, where everything is about counting, rather than a Synod, where the primary purpose is to walk together, sent out by Christ. Our staff have been doing exactly what they were asked to do, taking care of things for us. It will take us a long time to get back to where all of us are being the Church. We have done this to ourselves.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we should do it any more.