Random observations about Classis Illiana

Keep out
Last week I attended the March 11 meeting of the Illiana Classis as one of the Elder delegates from Living Springs church. This was only the second time I’ve been at a classis meeting, so I don’t have much of a frame of reference. I post these impressions here recognizing that my perspective may be completely off the mark. This is just how things looked to me, a relative outsider, based on what I heard and saw from other delegates.

1. We are more passionate about keeping people out of the Reformed Church than about welcoming them in.

  • We voted to “suspend our relationship” with churches who allow practicing homosexuals to serve as pastors.
  • We voted against adopting a confession that addresses unity, reconciliation, and justice.
  • We did manage to vote Yes to allow under-represented groups (women, ethnic minorities, and people under 30) to attend General Synod and vote on issues presented there, although the motion passed by only one vote.

I’m not saying whether these decisions were right or wrong; I’m just saying the overall impression they lead me to is that classis and church are a club that we have to keep the wrong people out of.

2. We don’t even realize our own hypocrisy.

For one thing, these votes came after a presentation by the “Multiplication Team,” whose mission is to plant 20 new churches in Classis Illiana by 2020. For another, all the recommendations we voted on were made by a Supervision Committee made up of white men over the age of 50, and no one found it inappropriate—or even ironic—to accept their recommendations, even after hearing directly from the people whose hurts we claim we want to heal.

3. It doesn’t seem to matter how we vote.

More than 30 years ago the big issue for this classis was whether to welcome women into church offices (deacon, elder, pastor). Somehow, that motion was passed in 1972. Yet last week, 30 years later, I’m pretty sure I was the only female delegate in the room. And maybe I was imagining it, but I sensed a certain coolness to my participation. I don’t think it was intentional, but I didn’t quite feel like I belonged. And honestly, that’s fine; I’m inclined to agree. I’m guessing that the black people in the room feel the same way, and I’m guessing that this is why we don’t have more diversity in our classis or more growth in our churches. We just don’t know how to make people feel welcome when they show up.

4. Reconciliation is possible, in spite of ourselves.

When someone suggested that we follow our vote against the Belhar Confession with a circle of prayer, I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to “sweep it under the Blood” and hold hands and agree that, after all, we’re united on the really important things. But I swallowed the lump in my throat and took my place in the circle. Honestly, many of the prayers sounded like heartfelt hypocrisy to me, but not all of them. And hearing mercy and hope from people in the circle who have endured more hypocrisy and hurt than I have—this reminded me to forgive. I haven’t yet reached a place where I feel all “Kum ba yah” inside, but I agree that it will be more helpful if I work to get there than if I refuse to even try, which was my first inclination.

This particularly conservative classis is on a multi-cultural journey, just like the rest of us. They may be moving slowly, but they are moving. Progress has been made, and I’m grateful for that.

If any of you readers have examples to share that do show some of the progress we’ve made, it would be helpful to me if you’d post them in the comments. For example, someone told me that night, “Well, the vote was 36-25. A decade ago it wouldn’t have been that close.” I don’t know how encouraged that makes you feel, but can you share any other evidence of progress?

Other posts about diversity:

Other posts about church:

13 thoughts on “Random observations about Classis Illiana”

  1. This has been a new world for me in the last several years of working for mainly Reformed organizations. I do find a general desire among the Reformed churches/organizations to be more diverse but at times the aspiration not matching the reality–at least for now. Thanks for your observations…looking forward to hearing more.

  2. I think your post was very open and honest that we in the Reform Church may not be fully committed to our commitment. We say that we are looking to be multi-cultural but I believe the little multi-cultural we have accomplished was by accident. It like someone telling you that you are always welcome to their home and the only place you are allowed to sit is the living room; would you feel welcome? Is seems at times that LSCC is the odd one out and I feel good about that, but with the same breathe that is sad.
    There should be some evident of your Faith.

  3. I think you’re both right. Priorities may be claimed in words, but they are proved in deeds. It’s clear that multi-culturalism is not a priority for Classis Illiana. I don’t think anyone is radically opposed to it, but no one is intentional about it.

    Maybe we—that is, Living Springs, or the Building Bridges ministry—have not done a good job of explaining why multi-culturalism is important. One representative at Classis explained that he didn’t want to vote for the Belhar Confession because he felt there were more important issues than social justice, such as abortion or divorce. I agree that abortion and divorce are important issues, but supporting the Belhar doesn’t exclude supporting those.

    Maybe we need to re-frame our efforts. In the end, it’s not really about multi-culturalism; it’s about the ministry of reconciliation Christ’s followers have been given. Multi-culturalsim is simply the evidence of reconciliation.

  4. Hello Melanie,
    Allow me to lighten but deepen the conversation. Sorry, but you aren’t only describing Reformed churches. I am grateful that Heaven will be filled with ex-Baptists, ex-Reformers, ex-Catholics, ex-Methodists! We will be welcomed as Children of God! Gal 3:26-28, “You are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
    I can understand what you are saying and I am not from the “Reformed” church. Our earthly churches are like big dysfunctional families and indeed, we have our preferences and dark prejudices (shall we discuss music?). When I was less mature in my walk with Jesus I had a terrible time navigating the do’s and don’ts of several congregations. As I have matured I have learned to stop using my human eyes and ears to make judgements. We mustn’t allow our differences to separate us from the body (our brothers & sisters) even if they are Uncle Fester’s adopted children who married our boorish second cousins. lol
    Let me share a true story. I moved to this rural area 20+ years ago and was attending a tiny ‘White=meat” church; about 10 of us at prayer meeting on Wednesday nights. The church was in an area of extreme poverty and many people came to fish at the nearby riverbank. It was a hot summer evening and about 15 minutes into service the doors opened and two casually dressed African-American men walked in. I watched three old women gasp and grab their purses. The pastor, an incredibly loving, tiny little man said, “Welcome brothers, come in, come in…join us for prayer meeting.” And they did. The old women managed to hang onto their purses while finding passes in their Bibles. I had a great time watching this wonderful pastor exhibit pure and perfect love. Now the funnier part – this is true! The men said they’d been driving around trying to familiarize themselves with the area and because they saw “Baptist” they felt it was a good place to stop. They had passed by several “Reformed” churches but did not stop because they thought “Reformed from what?” We all got a laugh out of that because many of the old ladies were of Dutch descent. They never visited again and I always laughed that they were probably angels sent to see how we would react.

    I’m not trying to trivialize the experience that you had at Classis, it can be heartbreaking to think that influential people have hardened their hearts. Can you determine if it is true prejudice that is being nurtured or ignorance which can be broken down piece by piece? Can serving the Lord allow you to free yourself from feelings of intimidation/preconception/influence in areas of race or gender? God examines the motivation of our actions, can we really believe that gender or race or education or income can sway his purpose?
    It’s OK if someone prefers white bread as long as they don’t force me to eat it. There is no way to force multicultural church/school/neighborhood/family unless it comes via natural fellowship. Beware, done without the Spirit’s guidance this area can become a foothold by which Satan will create angry division. When the voices in your head and the stirrings of your heart are like thunderclouds it’s time to seek the shelter of the Solid Rock. My suggestion is walk it! Open your personal life up to embrace everyone and enjoy!
    Have a wonderful afternoon.

  5. Thank you, farminarian (love that name!)—I clicked over to your blog too, after seeing it in the “possibly related posts.” I wondered if you were CRC after reading your description of denominational structure! (I grew up in the CRC before converting to the RCA.) One thing that is common to both denominations is that there is a lot of variety from church to church, and that’s good! Have you decided that you will go ahead with the examination process in your classis? What are the pros and cons of pursuing that path?

    Jan, thank you too for your comment. I agree that it’s difficult to mandate multi-culturalism and legislate love, but I also take a lesson from Jesus’ dealings with the Pharisees. Sometimes it’s more divisive to smile and say nothing than to call a sin a sin. I’m not always sure where that line is though!

    • Melanie,

      Just realizes that you replied to my reply. WordPress does not send a notification for that.

      As to the examination process, i am still not sure. I preach from time to time in our own church and really enjoy it. I have also lead the service in other churches with special permission from the council. The examination process just seems so onerous. It’s kind of like the classis/system would like to keep the hierarchy as pure as possible, differing to those with an MDiv from the “right” seminary.

      I do feel led to move in that direction though.

      • Thanks for the update, farminarian! By the way, if you check the box that says “Notify me of follow-up comments via email” (below) whenever you leave a comment, you’ll get an email whenever someone posts a new comment to this same blog. And if you check the “Notify me of new posts” box, you’ll get a message every time I post a new Lines of Life blog. It’s a good way to keep track of different blog conversations you might have going on with different people.

        I’m pretty sure I signed up for your blog—have you posted anything new recently? I don’t remember receiving anything from you.

    • I have actually posted recently (last night even). Glad to know that you find my musing s interesting.

      • Ah yes, I remember now. I tried subscribing to your blog, but I didn’t see a subscription area where I could put my email address. When I click on the RSS feed link, it takes me to a page of all text, kind of a dead end. So I’m not subscribed, but I try to remember to check in now and then.

  6. Hey Melanie,

    Found your blog because WordPress linked yours to mine. I am an elder in the Christian Reformed Church and we are heading down the Belhar road as well. The RCA is ahead of us and I was surprised to read that you were still discussing it. I thought it had been approved at the 2009 synod. Further research showed that I was right, but that your Classis’ still needed to ratify the decision.

    It sounds like the RCA is not so much different from the CRC. We both struggle toward inclusiveness in theory, but have a really difficult thing doing the right things in practice.

    Keep going to Classis meetings.

  7. For those who are interested, someone sent me a link to a blog post about the Belhar Confession. The post has inspired about 40 comments so far, and reading them may give you a sense of the debate surrounding this confession. I posted a comment myself, asking if anyone could explain specifically if there is anything unBiblical within the Belhar itself (most of the debate seems to swirl around perceived “agendas” behind the Belhar). So far I haven’t received an answer. Anyway, here’s the link: http://heraldblog.squarespace.com/paul-janssen/2010/3/3/as-your-classis-considers-the-belhar.html

  8. Mel,the tone of your observations triggered an unexpected response in me.It made me deal with why I left the Reformed church at age 17.I used to think that I made a statement ,but really I ran away.
    I had no examples of how,or that you could present a disagreement to the church.All I witnessed was criticism voiced outside the church doors.I left the church because of frustrating contradictions in word and deed. We are to love ,yet we judge.Accept ,but not that one.
    I left with frustration at my own inadequacies I was to immature to deal with.I was Spirit led back to the church at age 55.I`m beginning to see why it had to be a Reformed church.The fact that L.S.C.C. is a Reformed church is proof to me of progress.I`m no longer running away.

  9. Dave, it sounds like both you and the church have made progress on your spiritual journeys! You’re right, it’s good to remember that we all are hypocrites, really, struggling to make our deeds match our words. I am just as guilty of that as Classis Illiana—maybe that’s why it bothers me so much!

Comments are closed.