Since retiring in 1991 I’ve had opportunity to serve many Christian Reformed churches as interim pastor. In becoming acquainted with church leaders in those areas, I’ve been amazed to find how casually the Church Order of the CRC gets treated.
Most of these leaders are intelligent, well-meaning people, yet they are mistaken in their view of the Church Order. Let me explain.
In discussing the Church Order with them, I received the distinct impression they feel the Church Order is something imposed on them by some institution “out there.” But the Church Order is actually an agreement (a covenant, if you will) adopted by the CRC. Article 86 reads, “This Church Order, having been adopted by common consent, shall be faithfully observed. Any revision thereof shall be made only by synod.” To understand how and why this article was adopted we need to look at some history.
In 1965 synod was to consider a revision of the Church Order. The proposed revision was sent to every church council early enough for them to study and react to it. Each council then sent two delegates to the meeting of their classis (regional body). They authorized those delegates to act for the council. Each classis discussed the proposed revision. Next, each classis sent four delegates to synod, two elders and two pastors. Classis authorized them to act on its behalf. Every Christian Reformed church was represented through those delegates. Synod then discussed and acted on the proposed revision, article by article.
Since the decision of synod on every article was not unanimous, and since synod desired unity in the matter of church government, delegates unanimously adopted Article 86. Faithfully observing the Church Order is simply letting your yes be yes.
Can the Church Order be changed? Yes, but only by synod.
Should the Church Order be changed? It has been in the past and will continue to be as long as there are church members concerned enough to propose changes with sufficient grounds for change. In fact, I can see positive benefits for churches that, rather than simply ignore Church Order, do the necessary study to propose a change.
First, such a study will give churches a new appreciation for the amount of work it took to write and approve the present Church Order.
Second, it can give congregations a new understanding of the church as the “body of Christ.”
Finally, if a church’s proposed change gets adopted by synod, it will very likely speak to the needs of other congregations as well, helping the entire CRC to keep up with changing times in the church and world.
So please, let your yes be yes and don’t go it alone.