The Reformed Church Center Asks: Should the General Synod Be a Perpetual Body?
The word “synod” comes from Latin, and means “walking together.” For church bodies, it traditionally referred to representatives of various assemblies of the church who would meet together to discuss items of common concern, reach a consensus, and then go their separate ways. When everyone left, the synod no longer existed.
In 1884, the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America, after some deliberation, declared itself to be an ongoing, perpetual assembly. For mostly administrative reasons—such as creating a corporate entity that could hold real property—the General Synod would be an ongoing entity, where the delegates would change at each stated session, but the staff and administration would go on. It would be “in charge” of the corporate entity called the Reformed Church in America, which might or might not be distinct from the church of the same name. Over time, some have argued, this has changed how local congregations and classes have related to the church. One twenty-first century US court ruling even said the RCA is a hierarchical, not a relational, church.
On Tuesday, January 21, 2020, at 5:30 pm, Matthew J. van Maastricht, the newest Fellow of the Reformed Church Center at NBTS, will present the paper “Demanding a King? An Inquiry Into the Permanence of General Synod” as part of a special colloquy celebrating his appointment to the fellowship. Responses will follow from Douglas Banks, Allan Janssen, Daniel Meeter, and Kathy Smith, and then everyone present will be invited to engage in discussion over dinner. We plan to conclude by about 8:00 pm.
Fellows of the Reformed Church Center are scholars who have made recognized contributions to the study of the RCA and its traditions, but who don’t have institutional academic affiliation. They are recommended for appointment by the Reformed Church Center committee and are then expected to be in regular contact with the Center and to make annual reports to the director about the nature and status of their research, and encouraged to visit the seminary during their terms of appointment. There is no stipend with this fellowship, but it can be helpful to scholars for access to research collections and for self-identification in scholarly communication. Anyone interested in applying or nominating someone else to be a Fellow may do so at https://www.nbts.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/RCC-Fellowship_application-nomination.pdf.
Everyone is welcome to attend this special colloquy, The suggested donation for dinner will be $15.00, but everyone is welcome to attend regardless of ability to pay. There is no donation required from students enrolled at theological seminaries or from NBTS faculty and staff. RSVP by Thursday, 16 January. at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/colloquy-demanding-a-king-an-inquiry-into-the-permanence-of-general-synod-tickets-79062418823.
Douglas Banks is the retired senior pastor of Grace Reformed Church of Brooklyn, New York, and a former stated clerk of the Classis of Brooklyn, RCA. He is dedicated to teaching the whole Word of God and committed to shepherding individuals to the love of God in Christ Jesus. His wife of forty-five years is Sheila; they have two daughters, one grand-daughter and one great grand-daughter. He is co-author of the soon-to-be-released book, Hear Me Now!
Allan Janssen is emeritus professor of Theological Studies at New Brunswick Theological Seminary and a General Synod professor emeritus of the Reformed Church in America. He has taught and spoken internationally on Reformed polity and doctrine, and is the author, editor, and translator of several books, most recently A Ministry of Reconcilliation: Essays in Honor of Gregg Mast (Eerdmans, 2017) and Constitutional Theology, second edition (Reformed Church Press, 2019).
Daniel Meeter is pastor of the Old First Reformed Church of Brooklyn, New York, with degrees from New Brunswick Theological Seminary and Drew University. He has published extensively, and his book Meeting Each Other in Doctrine, Liturgy, and Government (Eerdmans, 1993) is considered one of the most important modern works on the Constitution of the Reformed Church in America.
Kathy Smith teaches church polity at Calvin Theological Seminary, directs programs at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, and teaches Christian leadership courses at Calvin University, all in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Kathy is a graduate of Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary and is an ordained minister in the Christian Reformed Church. She is the author of Stilling the Storm: Worship and Congregational Leadership in Difficult Times (Alban, 2006).
Matthew J. van Maastricht is the pastor at Altamont, New York, and teaches Reformed standards and church polity for Western and New Brunswick Theological Seminaries. He is the newest Fellow of the Reformed Church Center at NBTS, and is a doctoral candidate at the Free University of Amsterdam. He also serves as General Editor of The Congregational History Series of the Reformed Church in America.