Reflection on the RCA General Synod 2018

Reflection on the RCA General Synod 2018 A little over a week ago I returned from the RCA’s General Synod held at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Being asked to write on my experience has forced me to intentionally reflect on the experience. I would boil my summary down to two words: Cautiously Optimistic. I chose those words because there were elements that gave me great hope for the future of my denomination, one I have been part of since birth. But there were other elements that really left me questioning the viability of the RCA continuing in a healthy, God-honoring way for the long haul.

Elements that gave me hope:

  1. Interim General Secretary, Don Poest, gave his “State of the Denomination” address and included a call for the formation of a committee which would figure out a way forward for our denomination and present their findings to General Synod 2020. While this could be another effort to “kick the can down the road,” it felt to me that the delegates were desiring for this to truly be progress toward a day of being able to focus on preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ instead of arguing the authority and interpretation of Scripture as it pertains to human sexuality. Don’s recommendation passed by a large margin.
  2. The Leaders. During this General Synod, we affirmed and installed a new General Secretary, a new President, and a Vice President. I believe all of these men: Rev. Eddie Aleman, Elder James Nakakihara, and Rev. E J de Waard hold an orthodox view of Scripture. I am excited to have their influence in the RCA.
  3. The Great Lakes Catechism on Marriage and Sexuality was referred to the Commission on Theology and churches and classes. There was a movement to have it be referred only to the Commission, but that was defeated. I am glad that our denomination will be hearing from more voices than just those of the Commission who I fear will only try to negate or neuter the Catechism.
  4. Meeting with the CRCNA. Our sister denomination held their General Synod at Calvin during the same time frame. There were opportunities for us to worship together and meet to discuss further partnerships up to, and including, joining back together. (I believe that will be one of the ways forwarded presented by 2020 committee.) It was good to be together and be reminded that the Kingdom is larger than our corner of it.

Elements that have me cautious:

  1. Don Poest’s recommendation. While overall it gives me hope, there is a part of me that fears this will just be “kicking the can down the road” or that the committee’s recommendation will be to maintain status quo.
  2. General Synod Professors of Theology. There was an overture to create a mechanism to evaluate this fourth office in the RCA. It was defeated. I believe it was defeated because many who were against it, including the Professors themselves, argued there already exists a mechanism to do this, discipline. The basic argument was that if there were issues, they should be brought up on charges at General Synod. My feeling is that the proposal could have been more pastoral and conversational in nature than the confrontational charges.
  3. Delegates. This was my third General Synod in a row. For the previous two years I felt that the makeup of the delegates reflected the reported balance of the RCA and that votes overwhelmingly favored orthodoxy. This year I was surprised by the amount of opposing voices and where they came from. Classes I assumed to be orthodox had pro Room for All delegates. Votes were closer than I would have liked them to be. Something that has been evident for all three years is that younger voices, corresponding delegates from the Youth Commission or Seminary Seminar, do not seem to hold orthodox beliefs.

Again, I am cautiously optimistic regarding the future of the RCA. However, it is a great comfort to know our hope is not in a denomination, but in a Savior who has overcome the world! He has created a church against which He promises the Gates of Hell will not prevail!

For more info, and the RCA’s interpretation, you can find it here.

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4 Comments

  1. Orthodoxy, like patriotism or tradition, often is used as an excuse to end conversation, study, and discernment – often because it becomes uncomfortable for those involved. Similar discussions regarding slavery were uncomfortable for many in the Reformed Church, particularly in New Jersey. The Dutch were the primary holders of slaves. Both Rutgers and New Brunswick Theological Seminary benefited from the wealth created by the slave trade (see current studies and actions by the institutions). The church I serve was constructed with enslaved labor.

    The Rev. Dr. How (New Brunswick Classis delivered a reasoned, biblically based, orthodox, and compelling paper to General Synod in 1855, “The Holding of a Slave is not a Sin.”

    In 1856, Mr. E. Lord, Esq. wrote this letter supporting Dr. How. In it, he writes, “It is exceedingly creditable to the author, both on account of the matter of it, and on account of the Christian fidelity and courage manifested in the delivery of it on the occasion, and to the body whom he addressed I hardly think that any thing has occurred of more evil omen to orthodoxy and orthodox churches, than the decision of the Synod [against accepting a classis from North Carolina]. It teaches us that, in a representative assembly of an orthodox church, those who according to the scriptures, the confession, the polity, history and usage, are undeniably orthodox on the point in debate, are to yield and Submit to those who from motives of prejudice or worldly expediency shrink from their duty, or directly set themselves in opposition.”

    To put this into historical context, the Republican Party was founded in Wisconsin on March 20, 1854 as the anti-slavery party. Things quickly changed within the country when the Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860.

    General Synod professors hold their office to guide and discern issues confronting the Church through Biblical Study and theological reflection. I suggest that the RSGL “catechism” does neither and follows the path of Dr. How and Mr. Lord.

  2. Jason and Bob, As a second term member of COT please point to any writing that the COT has offered that you count as non- Orthodox (especially in regards to human sexuality) .

  3. I am just curious what was the opposition for a “catechism” being referred to the Commission on Theology before being ‘commended’ to the churches of the Reformed Church in America? This was a first presentation. It was written by a single author who is not a General Synod Professor… and as far as I know, has no standing with the General Synod. It has not been commended to us by another Church (denomination) that has vetted the theology and citations. (Regional Synods are assemblies, not Churches) Or is this a ‘catechism’ the same way the Crystal Cathedral was a ‘cathedral’ (although, now it is a real Cathedral)? Just calling something a catechism doesn’t make it one… in the Reformed Church.

    1. The opposition, I suspect, is that the Commission on Theology and the General Synod professors can be traced, from time to time, to be a source of division in the RCA concerning orthodox human sexuality. The Catechism (instruction via Q & A) to the people in the pew, I believe, will instruct the RCA members/churches as to what we have believed for our entire existence (RCA) traced back to the Reformers, Apostolic Age to creation. You may want to watch the General Synod proceedings because I watched online and felt the discussion did seem to have a mistrust of the General Synod professors and maybe the Commission on Theology as well.

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