Denomination RCA: What Do You Know? (Part II)

After the presentation on denominational structures on April 22nd, several members asked that one of the transparencies used be published in the newsletter. One of the reasons for this interest might be an overture to this year’s General Synod to substantially reform our system of Classes and Regional Synods. This chart might help understand our current system better.

The trick with this chart is to start with the arrows, because they show the flow of power. Following this, you will discover that the highest bodies on the chart are not the most powerful ones. If you look at the arrows, most of the power rests with the Classes. A Classis is higher than a Consistory, but it has also, in many ways, more deciding authority than the two higher bodies, Regional Synod and General Synod. There are exemptions, of course. A case for a church court, for example, if not resolved in a particular Classis, will make it to the higher bodies, and their ruling will supercede Classis ruling. Also, a Classis cannot decide on its own to override our constitution (including its liturgical provisions!) as ratified by General Synod. But in most other regards, the Classis will have the final say. With this, our denomination has followed an old Reformed principle that seeks to abolish the more hierarchical structure of the Church from which we are reformed, the Roman Catholic Church.

So what is a Classis, then? Classis is a Latin word and means fleet of ships (that sail the ocean together). The plural of Classis is “Classes”.

The organization of a Classis is another attempt of restructuring what otherwise would have been a Roman Catholic Diocese. A Diocese is, again, structured hierarchically; every parish church depends on the Cathedral, and only the monasteries are exempt. A Classis, by contrast, is the assembly of representatives of all the congregations of a certain area. They are equal in rank and their assembly entails pastors and elders alike. The number of elders depends on the size of the local church, but one elder delegate is the minimum for each congregation.

One final word on the chart: When you consider the annual Classis assessment, please know that the Classis itself receives only a fraction of it. The bulk of the money goes to the higher bodies, Regional Synod and General Synod. It is used for several of their functions that many of us enjoy: The Warwick Conference Center, the Reformed Church Home, the Church Herald, to name only a few.

About Rev. Dr. Hartmut Kramer-Mills

Hartmut Kramer-Mills, a native of Jena, Germany, began his theological education at Heidelberg University. After the Middle Exam in 1986 he received a scholarship from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches for McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. He graduated from McCormick with a Master of Divinity in 1988. He graduated from Marburg University in Germany with the Ecclesiastical Exam in 1990, and received a Dr. theol. from Greifswald University, Germany, in 1997. From 1990 to 1991 he was vicar at St. Wenzel in Naumburg, Germany. He was ordained minister of word and sacrament in 1993 through the Protestant Church of the Church Province of Saxony. From 1993 to 1998 he served as assistant pastor in Stoessen, Goerschen, and Rathewitz, Germany. At the same time he was lecturer for Church History at Erfurt College in Germany. From 1999 to 2000 he served the Spotswood Reformed Church in New Jersey as interim pastor. Since 2000 he and his wife serve the First Reformed Church in New Brunswick, New Jersey, as co-pastors.
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