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.