One of the very first items of business before the 2010 General Synod will be to lift from the table R-52 from the 2009 Synod. This motion called for assessments to be increased for classes that are not in compliance with the “Covenant of Care” provisions of BCO Formulary #5.
Now, I agree with the principles of the Covenant of Care: the care of ministers is an issue for the whole Church, and so the whole of the RCA should make sure this is covered. Assessments are the way we have the whole Church pay for things in our polity, and I believe that our mistake eight years ago was in not creating an assessment for the whole Church to cover at least the basic cost of the insurance program. The problem with “Covenant of Care” payments is that they are being levied by an agent of the General Synod directly upon particular congregations: our polity is not set up for that; the Synod assesses classes, and it would seem that a proclamation cannot effectively change that.
I also agree that we are a covenant community, and the only way that works is for all of us to do things that we don’t like from time to time. I do not seek, here, to defend the actions of those congregations not in compliance with Formulary #5, although we do need to remember that covenants are a two-way street, and I would argue that the General Synod has been woefully negligent in its efforts to maintain the covenant beyond calling on congregations to kick in more. The Synod, in its answers and sometimes failure to answer questions from its classes, and in the GSC’s failure to follow through on the creation of a task force to discuss issues with the covenant raised by its own Commission on Church Order in 2007, has created a perception that it is only concerned with the covenant when its income stream is imperiled.
No, my issue with R-52 is that, as I read it, it will change the nature of discipline in the RCA. Now, discipline only happens in judicatories—specific bodies meeting in judicial session. It is something that must be taken very seriously. Now, since discipline, broadly defined, is the means by which a group corrects the behavior of someone who is not in compliance with the agreed-upon behavior of the group, this new assessment is discipline, is it not?
The new assessment surcharge would become an act of discipline exercised not by a judicatory, not even by an assembly, but by an agent of the assembly (the Board of Benefit Services, which would determine which congregations are and are not in compliance and, therefore, which classes would be assessed). And since, as a matter of practicality, the entire BoBS would not be convened to deal with each specific instance, this would be discipline carried out by the staff. It also adds a category—fines—to the forms of discipline outlined in BCO 2.I.1., sec. 2, and it also creates a conduit by which the General Synod directly disciplines classes, up until now under the superintendence of regional synods.
The very first thing the BCO reminds us about discipline is that it “is the exercise of the authority which the Lord Jesus Christ has given to the church to promote its purity, to benefit the offender, and to vindicate the honor of the Lord Jesus Christ.” This high principle, I believe, is the reason why our order, ever since Dort, has made discipline difficult. My concern here is that this will be discipline done much more easily, and that very little will benefit the offender or honor Jesus.