The most promising result of CI’s May meeting was a turn toward the future. The CI’s first years were dominated by its response to the RCA’s “vision” (subsequently morphed into “our call”). Our hope was to recover the vitality of a Reformed way of being. This meeting appeared to be a turn away from a critical approach to denominational events and toward the question of the church and its future.
We see a number of challenges, I think. And we’re aware of faithful, vital ministries and congregations facing the challenges of the present. We are in a time when Protestantism in the West is facing a crisis. People are leaving church for a variety of reasons. One symptom becoming ever more evident is that fewer congregations can afford to pay a full-time minister. What does that mean for ministry, for the church? How does a Reformed understanding of the church meet or fit a world that doesn’t look like the older world did? Are we not in a different situation than that of the Reformation?
I’ve been reading Bram van de Beek’s new book on the church (the first Reformed ecclesiology I’ve seen in years). He argues that the church is in crisis. But the notion of “crisis” itself has changed. We now think crisis as a sort of really difficult problem. So we look for solutions to the problem. No, says Van de Beek, a crisis means that the church may be under judgment, the judgment of God. And the response to that crisis is not to find a solution, but to repent and to stand before God. Is this where we are?
Do our confessions offer us any promise? Does the fact that the RCA now confesses Belhar portend well? Does our church order provide a path to the future? Do we have a sufficiently robust doctrine of the Spirit that would open our order to the Spirit’s challenge? (Remembering that Calvin had a doctrine of the Spirit that would expand into the fourth book, the book on the church). Does our emphasis on the Word and Sacrament make a difference in a church too often discouraged and too often grasping for the spectacular, the new and the now?
Such questions begin to open the conversation for me. But others will have different questions, and perhaps ones that are more to the point.