The Danger of Boardism

“It’s time,” says Rev. Jelle Tuininga, to clip the wings of our Boards and make them small, humble servants of the churches again—as they were intended to be in the first place. And one step in that direction is decentralization. Rev. Tuininga is pastor of the Christian Reformed Church of Smithers, British Columbia.

The danger of “Boardism” and thus of hierarchism is an ever-present one in the church, and one for which we must ever be on the lookout. A certain number of Boards arc no doubt necessary to expedite the work of the church, but it’s so easy for the Boards to become masters rather than servants, And that spells disaster for the church. Past history will bear that out. and the danger is no less real today. What happens then in all too many cases is that the representatives on these Boards act as if they represent the Board to the church (at Classis, e.g.) rather than the other way around. And then the tail begins to wag the dog.

I believe it is time we open our eyes to the danger of Boardism in the CRC. Let me illustrate:

1. In 1971 Synod took the following decision: “Synod urge our assemblies and our members to refrain from overtures, appeals, or communications which are repetitious, or mere expressions of agreement or disagreement with matters already on the agenda of synod.

“Synod authorizes the Stated Clerk to omit such items from the printed agenda at his direction” (Acts 1971, pp. 46, 47. Ital. mine, J.T.).

It is particularly this last statement that bothers me. I can see the rationale behind the first part of the decision. But does the final part not put too much power into the hands of one man? I believe it does.

2. According to the report of a Classical delegate to the Board of Home Missions, the Board has recently moved or is moving into some new directions which endanger, to say the least, the Reformed understanding of church polity, namely: the autonomy of the local church, where the highest authority lies with the local church through its consistory. Please lake note (I quote from the report of the Home Missions Board delegate):

“In Denver, Colorado, there is an Evangelical Committee for Urban Ministries composed of evangelicals from the CRC, the RCA, the Conservative Baptist Seminary, the Black community and the Spanish Community. This organization is in need of a director, and Classis Rocky Mountain has requested the H.M.B. to allow Rev. Gordon D. Negen to serve in this capacity, phasing out the payment of his salary by 1979, but giving initial support for this ministry by providing direction. review, evaluation and financial support. This, it is argued, could serve as a pilot project. Rev. Negen’s job description includes:

a. To coordinate the efforts of evangelical Christians, churches, and groups who are involved in specifically urban ministries.

b. To provide a channel for the exchange of resources between urban and suburban Christians.

c. To help all evangelical Christians develop attitudes toward race, poverty, crime, urban housing, etc. which are Biblical and Christian.

d. To speak to the general public on urban social issues.

Another matter is that ‘the Board of Home Missions request the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee to place and fund a worker with social-ministry awareness and skills in each of two denominational core-city missions.’ These would be two-year pilot projects in Detroit and Denver. The job description of such a CRWRC worker includes that he is:

a. To orient the congregation to the major social issues in their immediate community.

b. To formulate with members of the congregation a Christian approach to the resolution of the issues.

c. To train and mobilize the congregation for beginning a Christian resolution of these most urgent issues for which the congregation possesses or has access to resources.”

So far the report of the delegate.

Now there are several things here that raise red flags in my mind: from the questionable “ecumenicity” of the H.M.B. to the matter of priorities in Home Mission work. The Board member who gave this report concludes this section of it by saying:

“Personally I regard this as an alarming trend. Must the CRWRC, in cooperation with the H .M.B., be used in local parish situations to carry out the social implications of the gospel on behalf of the church? . . . Is this really the task of the church as church?”

I fully share the brother’s concern. And I would add: What ever happened to the autonomy of the local church here? Does the H.M.B. have the duty, let alone the right, to implement schemes of this nature? Is that its task? And is that what all the churches are paying their quotas for?

It is true that the first request came from a Classis. But just because a Classis doesn’t seem to understand the distinction between the work of the church as institute and that of the church as organism (a helpful distinction provided we keep in mind that these are aspects of the same church ) is no reason for the H.M.B. to adopt such a request. The Board has no business whatsoever in schemes such as this.

3. One more example involving another Board: the Trustees of Calvin College and Seminary. The delegate of Classis B.G. reported to the March meeting of Classis that the Board had decided to submit to Synod the single nomination of Dr. Marion Snapper for the chair of Church Education in the Seminary.

Now, according to synodical rules, “when there is a nomination of one, the grounds for such a one-man nomination should be presented to the consistories immediately after the February meeting of the board” (Acts 1961, p. 63). To the best of my knowledge, our consistory never received such information. To some who questioned this at Classis, the delegate responded by reading some Board minutes giving a long list of all the qualifications of Dr. Snapper (which in my frank hut humble opinion sounded like a beautiful “snow-job” intended to cover up some possibly embarrassing questions). But that’s not what the questioners wanted to know, and the delegate was well aware of that.

Note what Synod has decided further relative to Seminary appointments:


a. He must be truly learned in the sense that he has received a broad liberal arts education as well as a thorough Reformed theological training.

b. He must have a thorough acquaintance with contemporaneous theological thought, both Reformed and otherwise.

“Ministerial: He should ordinarily be an ordained man who has pastoral experience.” (Acts 1958, pp. 17–19).

Are these rules there to be followed or ignored? Dr. Snapper has had, to the best of my knowledge, no theological training. Is that not necessary for the field of Church Education? Or is the Board more interested in technical and pedagogical competence than in sound Reformed content? [Dr. Snapper has had four quarters, roughly equivalent to a year and a half, of theological training at Princeton Theological Seminary in 1944–45. Ed.]

“Pastor Peter” wrote recently in his diary (in the Messenger):

“Paging through the Yearbook I noticed that a number of the Seminary faculty members arc enjoying a sabbatical. The Board ought to urge the men to spend every other ‘on leave’ as a pastor in an established church or at a home mission post. This should be a must for those faculty members who have had no parish experience. Arrangements could be made. We may hope this would be a good experience for the congregation. It certainly would be a good nitty-gritty experience for a professor.”

With that I wholeheartedly agree. It would greatly benefit the professor in his teaching role in the Seminary. But now the Board wants to add to the number of those professors who have never had any pastoral experience at all—besides having no theological training. [See note above. Ed.]

It looks to me as if the Board is overstepping its boundaries here by ignoring or bypassing synodical regulations. That to my mind is Boardism.

4. One more point: What do most of our consistories—our elders—know about the men whom the Boards nominate for important positions? They have to rely pretty much on the scant information of the ministers. Apart from a few consistories in the Grand Rapids area, most know next to nothing or nothing at all about the men being considered for positions of leadership. Is that right? Does that serve the welfare of the church? What voice can or docs the church as a whole have in such decisions? Would it not be better if all our consistories received, well in advance, documented information about these people? After all, these Boards belong to the churches—as do Calvin College and Seminary. But what do churches 3,000 miles or more distant know about what goes on in Grand Rapids? Precious little. In such a situation Boardism is bound to arise; and, what is worse, have free course.

And what complicates matters even more is that the executive committees of the Boards do too much of the real work of the Board itself. That puts power into the hands of a still smaller group of men. The Board tends to become a rubber stamp for the decisions of the executive committee, and Classis and the churches tend to become a rubber stamp for the actions of the Boards. And it’s happening; let’s not kid ourselves. The local congregations and consistories need to play a far greater role in the major decisions of the Boards which affect the direction and welfare of the entire church. It’s time to clip the wings of our Boards and make them small, humble servants of the churches again—as they were intended to be in the first place. And one step in that direction is decentralization.