In an age questioning the need and the authority of institutional organization, it is understandable that the denominational structure of the Reformed Church in America can not be taken for granted. For the local Reformed church, the denomination is most tangible in the form of the Classis. Classis is a Latin word and means “fleet of ships”. It is, at least by historic origin, the equivalent to a Roman Catholic Diocese. That our European ancestors renamed it by using a nautical term, is due to the maritime traditions in the Netherlands and Northwest Germany.
When the Diocese became Classis, it was subject to some change. A diocese is organized around a bishop’s cathedral. It is, therefore, an expression of hierarchy and power vested in an individual. By contrast, a Classis is organized as a group with all participating churches sending representatives. Subsequently, the meetings of Classis are not necessarily tied to a particular church. Our Classis of New Brunswick, for example, has a rotating schedule. Every church of Classis can host a meeting.
In several ways, Classis (plural: Classes) has the highest authority within the institutional structure of our denomination. It can start new churches and close others. It supervises the churches that are under its jurisdiction. It ratifies or rejects resolutions from higher denominational levels. Only in judicial matters higher levels like Regional Synod or General Synod can exercise more authority.
This all sounds reasonable and even progressive because it keeps power locally anchored. But is this enough reason for us to be more accepting of the per-member assessment that each Classis conducts annually? It may help, perhaps, to also consider who the Classis is. Look at the accompanying picture taken during a “work dinner” on May 25th when our Classis convened for a stated meeting at the Reformed Church Home in Old Bridge. You should recognize at least three people: Pastor Susan, Pastor Paul Nulton, and our Alternate Elder Delegate Ellen Hamilton.
Approaching Classis through the people we know provides Classis with a face. If Classis has a face, it is less likely subject to more abstract criticism. A glance at the agenda of a Classis meeting may provide further help in this direction. On May 25th, the meeting was organized as one long worship service, with committee reports interspersed where appropriate. It was a beautiful meeting, something of spiritual value for all of us who usually participate in worship through officiating. The following elements of the meeting were especially noteworthy:
- The ordination examination of Peter Sanfilippo provided cause for fruitful theological discussion and,upon completion, gave reason to celebrate our hope for the future.
- Rev. Samir Youssef, the chaplain of the Reformed Church Home, gave a very compassionate report on the situation of Christians in his home country Egypt. How different it is when one of our own relates experience that we hear otherwise in the news.
- As hosting pastor, Rev. Samir also preached that day. It was a sermon we all had to hear, as was evident already by the title: The Lord Will Do Amazing Things Among You. This was followed by a communion service and dinner.
When we left the meeting, I felt uplifted and encouraged in my daily work. The fellowship and the professional wisdom of my colleagues mean “the world” me. They make things easier to bear, they affirm the meaning of what we are doing, and they provide support where needed. I can truly say: I love this Classis! It is a good place to be.