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.