The RCA Needs a Miracle: a reflection on what is needed for 200 churches not to leave the RCA

In January, a group of RCA leaders met to pray and consider the work of the 2020 vision team, the future of the RCA and the upcoming General Synod. A growing consensus emerged: barring a ‘synod miracle’, it’s time to graciously leave the RCA. Full disclosure: I am part of this group of leaders and I am part of the contingency planning of what leaving might look like. This separation could mean up to 250 conservative churches leaving the RCA, maybe less or maybe more. My elders are prayerfully discerning next steps and over the next few months we will, I am sure, be having conversations with our church community bringing them up to speed and seeking discernment. I for one find no joy in this. If the RCA splits, it would be a time of lament.

As the vision 2020 team has stated, we are largely a conservative denomination. Yet, for the last decades the RCA has been unable to clearly state its thinking on gay marriage, gay ordination and gender identity. The majority believes in a traditional and historic view on these matters while the smaller minority has embraced gay sexuality as a gospel good that should be celebrated. The tensions are high and everything is coming to a head. The denomination needs to be clear about what it believes. There can be no more waiting. If things are left unchanged, there will be a split. The RCA needs a miracle.

Miracles happen. A miracle is God’s purposes, intent and power breaking into a situation where nature has already decided the outcome. Miracles change the outcome to one that was an impossibility before. When a person has inoperable brain cancer and nature’s outcome is death but by prayer the cancer disappears, this is a miracle. When a family cannot pay their mortgage and nature’s outcome is foreclosure but by prayer and faith the money ‘shows up’, this is a miracle. As I pray for a synod miracle, I wonder what a miracle would have to look like for us to know that there is hope for the RCA and orthodoxy.

The first sign of a miracle would be a deep and authentic humility born out of repentance—a revival of persons and churches. We have not honored the Lord. The embracing of a secular and modern sexual ethic is sinful. The embracing of gay marriage is anathema to the gospel. This is the historic interpretation of the biblical text, the historic teaching of the church and a faithful interpretation of our canons and catechism. This repentance would manifest itself in either progressive pastors and churches changing their mind on these fundamental issues or graciously leaving the denomination. Repentance would also mean a constitutional change that firmly declares the historic, biblical view. From the traditional point of view, the denomination cannot be of two minds on this issue since it is a primary issue—heaven and hell weigh in the balance. If this were to happen, it would be a substantive sign of God’s power and goodness at work. It would be a miracle.

The second sign would be a restructuring of classes in the RCA. It is simply unacceptable to conservatives that 11% of confessing members can stop the will of the 89% of confessing members in the RCA on any constitutional issue. This is our current structure. I can get on board with protecting the super majority rule a beloved (but modern) RCA tenet. A synod miracle would be a restructuring of our polity so that the 89% are rightly represented. This would mean terminating small classes and breaking apart large classes. The goal should be that our classes represent a system where when a supermajority exists it can act. If this were to happen then a miracle is happening.

The third sign would be a constitutional change that would make the rulings of general synod authoritative on lower bodies. This is a reformed pillar highly held in history as a fundamental reason for higher bodies and desperately needed in the RCA. This would include the ability of general synod to enforce its authority by bringing charges against classes that would not enforce the rulings of the greater body on its ministers and churches. This would allow for a mechanism of discipline against classes that does not exist. If this were to happen, it would be clear that God is renewing the RCA.

A final sign would be a commitment from our seminaries to commit to teaching a traditional view on human sexuality, a commitment to train seminarians in grammatical-historical method and the removal of professors who are not aligned with the denomination’s teaching and direction. It does the RCA no good if our institutions are liberal while the denomination is conservative. If the seminaries are liberal this denomination will face a liberal minority led by liberal pastors every generation. Our system of training will produce these pastors. If the seminaries committed to raising up leaders who are reformed, orthodox and passionate about the gospel then it would be clear that God is working a miracle in the RCA. (I will say that Western Seminary continues to move in a conservative direction and thanks to many strong leaders has a solid evangelical/reformed foundation. If it can continue to hire professors like Dr. Todd Billings, they will be a great asset to the faith.)

The changes that are needed are dramatic and costly to the RCA. They are nearly impossible. Thankfully, we serve a God whose son defeated death. Renewing the RCA is not a challenge for him. The RCA needs a miracle and I am praying that it receives one.

25 thoughts on “The RCA Needs a Miracle: a reflection on what is needed for 200 churches not to leave the RCA”

  1. Thanks for this perspective, Ron. I have always valued your opinion as being thoughtful and gracious. I, too, am hopeful we can see a miracle in the RCA. When I met with Rick Capostoso and Felix Theonugraha a few months back, I was very impressed. I feel like they have a very good grasp on the current reality and the step(s) needed to move forward.

  2. Thanks, Ron, for sharing these thoughtful insights. I concur with your observations and resonate with the tone and perspective evident in your post.

    It might be helpful to clarify the statistical basis for your reference to the 89%-11% classis breakdown. That aligns with findings in this compilation of the most recent (2018) RCA membership statistics which based on consistorial reports submitted by all RCA congregations in early 2019:

    http://bit.ly/2KElS35

    A total of 46 classes were seated at the 2019 General Synod. Based on that total, if a minimum of 16 classes vote “no” on any constitutional amendment, it fails to meet the 2/3 approval threshold. In such an instance, approval by 30 classis majority is overruled by the contrary action of just 16 classes. The spreadsheet cited above indicates that if the classes voting “no” happened to be the 16 smallest classes (by confessing members), their confessing membership would total 11% of the RCA’s denominationwide total.

    A few additional details from that analysis of confessing membership:
    16 largest classes = 65%; 30 largest classes = 89%
    14 middle classes = 24%
    16 smallest classes = 11%; 30 smallest classes = 35%

    I am not aware that any recent RCA amendment classis ratification found perfect alignment on the basis of size. Not all conservative leaning classes are large and not all progressive-leaning classes are small. Although the correlation is not perfect, conservative RCA classes usually tend to be significantly larger than most progressive classes.

    Praying for a June 2020 RCA miracle,
    Lee

  3. Ron,
    Thanks for honest and God honoring thoughts on where we are at, and where we need to go. I have struggled mightily with the direction we (the RCA) are headed in. It’s not about “saving the ship”, but making sure the ship is honoring God and sailing into His presence. We have had the same conversations as spiritual leaders at Rehoboth, and are praying for a miracle at General Synod too.
    – Kevin Schutt

  4. As in the situation in the UMC, something that continues to baffle me- why is it that that majority who are persuaded that the biblical witness to such things is true and are seeking to remain faithful is the group who are either being asked to leave or considering that they are the ones who must separate? I just don’t understand that scenario – isn’t that backwards and upside down? Shouldn’t those who have departed from the Scriptural voice on such matters be the ones who should leave and go their separate ways?

    1. I’m not in the RCA, but I’ve observed some people close to me struggle through this situation for years. Their RCA church (of which they were founding members) finally left and moved to another more conservative denomination. They are very happy now.

      The reason this happens is because progressives infiltrate, take over, and destroy. They do not build anything. They only take over what others have labored over for literally decades and demand that those who were there first adapt to them in ever-increasing levels or else leave. Those seeking to follow the Scriptures eventually give up and leave because they don’t wish to be divisive. It’s clear the progressives don’t care about divisiveness because they are never the ones to leave and put the effort and hard work (and money) into starting something new. They only care about power and having their views affirmed. They don’t care about splitting churches and denominations. They only care about power and control.

      Lather, rinse, repeat. It doesn’t matter if you are talking about the UMC, RCA, or other denominations. It follows the same pattern.

  5. Thank You Ron! May our Hope be in the power of our Great God. I am encouraged by your signs, they give me focused prayer points.

  6. I am spooked about chiming in on this conversation because I feel totally not at the level of knowlage of this group. However, society’s norms are forcing us to “come out of the closet” for Jesus.
    We need to follow scripture as it pertains to church leadership but still love God’s treasure; those created in His image; those He died for.
    We are called to love and share, while haiting the sin, (sin being whatever is lived out of His design).
    This is a deep spiritual battle. Our churches need to work and focus on teaching and equiping us on the true use of our spiritual armor and pray we receive and take this to heart. 🙂

  7. So – correct me if I’m wrong – but it’s looking like lots of folks aren’t liking the language of “defined and connected,” and are organizing a serious pushback (even a putsch) at GS 2020 to go around the 2020 team that has spent countless hours (with a majority of conservatives seated on the team) on the matter, and cancel or reject all of its work, and this conservative takeover will be seen as “the miracle.” Is this the branding effort that’s currently underway? If the 2020 team says – for AT LEAST the third time that General Synods have heard in the last 10 years – that the best way forward is to either agree to something like defined/connected or find your way out of the denomination, why is that repeated urging not understood as the nudge of the Spirit? Is it not the Spirit’s nudge because you’re just not getting your way? Is that how it works with y’all and the Spirit? Engineered miracles?

    1. I would encourage you to speak to the conservatives on the 2020 team. I don’t read the 2020 team’s statement as an assertion of what we are to do but actually a lament of what we are.

  8. A quote from Pastor Ron Citlau: “A growing consensus emerged: barring a ‘synod miracle’, it’s time to graciously leave the RCA.” A quote from Steven A Oroszi: “… why is it that that majority who are persuaded that the biblical witness to such things is true and are seeking to remain faithful is the group who are either being asked to leave or considering that they are the ones who must separate?” And this quote from Scripture, 1 John 2:18-21: “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that anti-Christ is coming, so now many anti-Christs have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. 21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth.” (1 John 2:18–21). What is beyond my comprehension is that the faithful would leave and thereby gift those “anti-Christs”. Leaving those “who do not know the truth “with the Church built by those faithful to Christ and the Word of God! Gifting them who reject “the truth” with a platform (the Church) from which to propagate a false – anti-Christ and anti-Word of God – message that may ensnare many. Who among us – if a thief enters their house – turns over the deed to their property, the contents of their house, and takes their family to live out on the street until they get another home? Similarly, “But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. (Matthew 24:43)

  9. Hey Ron – Just read your two articles posted on Kraker’s website – thanks for your clarity on all this – very good – will join in praying for a miracle

  10. Well, it’s several months later than the last post. And we’re in the throes of COVID-19. General Synod 2020 is cancelled. No one saw this one coming, did they? Is this a miracle? Is God using this time to do something completely new, that no one saw coming?

    I have found it interesting in scripture, how God waits until there is absolutely no hope at all in any quarter, then acts so completely that there is no doubt where it came from, as everyone stands there with their mouths hanging open. All of us have no choice but to stop and stay in place for another year. Up to this point, we’ve all been praying for the “discernment” to see how the other side is so wrong and our side is so humbly righteous and holy (but we’d never admit to praying like that).

    All of a sudden, there’s nothing to see! God has left the building. So discern this: “‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ Period. Discern that, people. Discern what it means to simply be quiet for a change, and actually listen–just listen for that still, small voice. And who knows? With our eyes closed and our ears open, we might actually bump into something worth discerning, because Wow! we never thought of that ….

Leave a Reply