This is my August article for our church newsletter, The Courant:
What Does Synod Have to Do with Us?
Each year when I return from General Synod, I have at least one person ask something like: So, this Synod thing – what does it really have to do with us? This year that question seems particularly poignant, and the answer is simple: Everything… and nothing.
At some level, General Synod is the body that speaks and acts on behalf of the entire denomination. It sends letters and makes statements; it approves papers and hires staff for denominational purposes; it oversees missionaries and coordinates the creation of resources, curricula, papers, etc. The General Synod is the “highest” body in the RCA both legislatively and judicially.
Having said all of that, General Synod’s power is better understood as collaborative than prescriptive. Since it is made up of delegates from every Classis and Regional Synod, it enables people from around the country (and world) to work in cooperation more powerfully (hopefully!) than they can as individuals. Interestingly, however, a General Synod cannot require anyone do anything (with the exception of the people it hires and Professors of Theology – but they are different issues for different discussions). This surprises a lot of people.
Regional Synods, Classes, Consistories, and individual members cannot be told by a General Synod what they have to do or what they must believe. A General Synod can “urge” or “encourage” something, but it cannot demand.
So what can a Synod do?
In terms of this discussion, two things: (1) A General Synod can act and speak as an assembly (i.e. collaboration), and (2) a General Synod can initiate a constitutional change.
The only way to prescribe something in the RCA is to make it a part of our Constitution (essentially, the constitution consists of our Doctrinal Standards, Liturgy and Book of Church Order). All of our assemblies (and ministers) are required to follow it. The General Synod, however, cannot make changes to that constitution without approval from the Classes. In other words, for something to be required, it needs to be voted on by a General Synod, approved by 2/3rds of the local Classes, and then enacted by a second General Synod.
Even after that, however, it is only the office holders (deacons, elders, and ministers) who promise to follow the Constitution and the assemblies (Consistories, Classes, and Regional Synods) that are required to follow it, not the members of a local congregation.
So, what does an individual General Synod really have to do with us? Everything… and nothing.
Don’t you love those kinds of answers?!
As always, if you’d like to discuss this further, drop me an e-mail or give me a call!