Making a list of interesting tidbits is one thing, but interpreting them and applying them is something else entirely. What does the information mean for the RCA's present and future?
I am sure the information could be used to reach a multitude of conclusions, I want to highlight three:
1. The RCA's current system encourages inefficiency in ministry.
Each classis necessarily performs certain functions, many of which are rather time consuming. Each classis is tasked with vetting and preparing candidates for ministry, overseeing churches and consistories within its bounds, and a plethora of other day to day, week to week, and annual responsibilities that often take up far more time than you would expect. Additionally classes often have various committees that oversee multiplication efforts, revitalization efforts, evangelism efforts, etc. Each classis has a clerk, a president, and most often a number of other officers with various responsibilities.
Because of this it would be more efficient if smaller classes (say classes with memberships around or below 1,000 members or with very few ordained ministers) which were in close geographic proximity merged and shared their responsibilities across a broader pool of people. But, since each classis gets a vote of its own when constitutional changes are proposed, it would be to the classes disadvantage, politically, to merge. Thus the RCA's current system--and current politically charged environment--encourages inefficiency.
2. The RCA's current system grossly misrepresents the mind of the church.
The intention behind the required approval of 2/3 of the classes to effect any constitutional change is to ensure that such change would be approved of by a significant majority of the church at-large. But, as you can see from the figures above, that is simply not the case in the RCA any longer. When one geographic region is underrepresented by 23.82% while another is overrepresented by 15.4% it is difficult to say with sincerity that the mind of the denomination can be accurately discerned through the classis vote mechanism. It is now possible that a change could be passed against the wishes of over 62% of the denomination's membership. It is also possible that a change which is widely favored could be rejected by classes representing 12.02% of the members of the Reformed Church in America.
There is no obvious remedy to this scenario since reforming this process also requires approval of 2/3 of the classes. This leads to point three which is...
3. The RCA's current system eliminates any hope of positive constitutional reform.
It takes 16 classis votes to vote down a constitutional change. There are 17 classes among the three eastern regional synods. These 17 classes have demonstrated an ability to vote as a bloc, most recently on the removal of the conscience clauses and before that on the acceptance of the Belhar Confession. If that practice continues it will be impossible to effect the sort of constitutional reforms that men like me, churches like First Church, and RCA Integrity have long desired.
This is important for a couple of reasons:
A. The only truly effective means of reform in the RCA would be to change the constitution of the denomination. Recent attempts at reform outside of the constitution have been painfully ineffective. If we are going to have enforceable positions and common standards, they will need to be enshrined within the RCA's constitution (BCO, Confessions, and Liturgy). Although the eastern synods make up just over 22% of the RCA's membership they receive nearly 38% of the classis votes. It requires only 34% of the classis votes to deny a constitutional change. Thus even if there was unanimous approval of a change among the other 28 classes (and there wouldn't be), even moderately positive changes could be, and would be, defeated in a vote of the classes.
B. The RCA is in desperate need of biblical accountability in the form of church discipline. This discipline will remain an impossibility so long as there is no mechanism for cross-classis accountability. To create such a mechanism would require the approval of two general synods (a tall order since representation is not proportional there either) and 2/3 of the classes. This will certainly not happen in the current system.
Yesterday I stated that I had been looking rather intently at whether positive constitutional reform was possible within the Reformed Church in America. In short, humanly speaking, I have found reform to be impossible. It may be (and may it be!) that the Lord will bring reform to my beloved RCA, but it will not be through the efforts of men like me, churches like First Church, or organizations like RCA Integrity.
While it is certainly right and good to continue praying for reform in the RCA, one must also question how prudent it is to stay within a denomination with so many mammoth obstacles to positive reform. To me these facts and my subsequent interpretation of them are sobering and saddening. But they are also, to the best of my knowledge, true.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Over the past few months I've been tasked with doing some rather heavy thinking about the Reformed Church in America. One of the issues I've had to grapple with is whether positive reform (as understood by myself and the leadership of First Church) is possible given the current system at work in the RCA. To that end I did some research on the process for constitutional reform for the Book of Church Order, Confessions, and Liturgy of the Reformed Church in America.
If you have an interest in the Reformed Church in America, these facts may be something you'll find enlightening.
There are 45 classes.
"Classes" is plural for classis. (Presbyterian friends, think presbytery.)
The RCA had a total confessing membership of 150,437 as of 2012
The RCA gives each classis one vote in determining whether to accept or reject constitutional amendments.
The RCA requires approval of 2/3 (currently 30) of the classes to ratify constitutional changes.
The largest classis is Zeeland Classis with 10,199 members.
The smallest classis is Canadian Prairies with 360 confessing members.
The average classis has 3,343.04 members.
The median classis is New Brunswick Classis with 2,725 members.
If you combine the 11 smallest classes, Zeeland Classis still has 866 more members.
A classis of 866 would be larger than six current classes.
Of the smallest 11 classes, 9 voted to remove the conscience clauses.
If you combine the nine smallest eastern classes, Zeeland Classis (10,199) still has 195 more total members.
If you combine the eight smallest eastern classes, Illiana-Florida (8,498) still has 359 more members.
If Illiana-Florida Classis received eight votes for constitutional ratification, the Belhar Confession would not be a confession for the Reformed Church in America and we would still have the conscience clauses.
It takes 29 Zeeland Classis members to equal the per-member influence of 1 Canadian Prairies Classis member when classis votes are taken.
Schoharie Classis members are weighted 12 times more heavily than Illiana-Florida Classis members in classis votes.
Each of the Midwestern regional synods (groups of classes) are underrepresented when classis votes are taken.
They are underrepresented by a total of 23.82%.
Each of the Eastern regional synods are overrepresented when classis votes are taken.
They are overrepresented by a total of 15.4%.
Regional Synod of Mid-Atlantics has the same number of classes (4) as the Regional Synod of the Mid-Atlantics.
Regional Synod of the Mid-America has 42% more members than Regional Synod of the Mid-Atlantics.
Regional Synod of the Mid Atlantics is the most proportionally represented synod when classis votes are taken.
Of the smallest ten classes, six are in the east, eight of fifteen, and twelve of twenty.
It is possible for classes representing 62.22% of the RCA's membership to attain only 1/3 of the classis votes, thus failing to stop a constitutional change.
Conversely, it is possible for classes representing 38.78% of the RCA's total membership to attain the necessary 2/3 of the classis votes required to make a constitutional change.
If the three regional synods east of the Appalachian Mountains vote as a bloc, they have 37.7% of the classis votes while having only 22.37% of the total membership.
Attaining 37.7% of classis votes is sufficient to stop any proposed constitutional change.
Changing this process requires the approval from 30 of the RCA's 45 classes.
28 classes are currently overrepresented when classis votes are taken.
Hopefully in the next day or two I can share with you some conclusions I've reached after considering all these different facts (and many more that could have been shared).