Federations and Synods – Pain or Gain?
For the past decade there has been a measure of contention over certain issues. Some think that the churches should go in a direction that others think not. Some regard as beneficial that which others regard as detrimental. No matter which way a decision goes, there are many unhappy people.
When things don't go the way one thinks they should, the question arises whether there is much benefit in belonging to a federation and being bound to the decisions of Synod? I think that's a fair question.
Does Scripture demand that we form a federation of churches? We do not read of it in so many words, but Scripture does point us in this direction when it teaches us that there is only one Shepherd, who is gathering His sheep into one flock (John 10:16). The fact that they are gathered together into one flock conveys the need for the sheep in any given place to be joined into one.
The purpose of this union is communion – that every one may use his gifts readily and cheerfully for the other (cf. 1 Corinthians 12). This fact found expression in the early Christian church. When the church in Jerusalem experienced physical needs, the churches in other cities were happy to give assistance (cf. Romans 15:25,26). When a question or dispute arose in the church of Antioch regarding a spiritual matter, the brethren there decided to seek the advice of the apostles, elders and brethren in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 15:2). Undoubtedly they were inspired by the wisdom expressed in Proverbs 24:6 -"In a multitude of counselors there is safety." Just as there are many facets on a diamond, so issues have many facets. To make a wise decision, we need to consider all of them. But who alone is able to think of them all? How often doesn't it happen that when a number of people discuss a certain issue, someone thinks of something that others had never considered? As a result of this combined consultation, we sharpen each other. The sage wrote,
As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.Proverbs 27:17
I wonder whether we will ever know how much we have benefited each other as churches in the federation?
When we weigh the benefit of belonging to a federation, we are inclined to place the "pro's" on one side, and the "con's" on the other. If the "con's" outweigh the "pros", then we are inclined to look at the federation as a bane instead of a benefit. We might compare this situation to a marriage wherein the husband becomes severely handicapped through some accident. His wife, who enjoys health and strength, may find that she must give her husband much more than she receives from him. She may find little benefit in this marriage. But Scripture teaches us that love does not seek its own. Love is not self-centred. Love does not consider what it receives, but what it may give. Shouldn't we think along the same lines in the federation? At times we might think that some of the churches are more of a burden than a blessing. At times we may regard some of the decisions that are made at Synods more of a bane than a benefit. We might be tempted with the thought of casting off the "yoke" and going forward alone.
But in addition to our own needs, a sincere love for the church of Christ will induce us to remain in order that we give our help to our "sister" churches.
But do we need to form a federation as we have? Couldn't we form an association of churches where churches meet with one another in conferences, sharing ideas and concerns with one another without being bound to the decisions that are made? I think that such a relationship would be comparable to a "de facto" relationship between a man and woman. A "de facto" relationship is one without strings to bind one to the other, is one that lacks all commitment of one to another, one where a person can enjoy the benefits free of obligations. In virtue of the fact that we are bound together as the body of Christ, we must out of love commit ourselves and be committed to one another for mutual benefit.
Federations and synods – pain or gain? Without doubt – gain! But as is so often the case in life, there is no gain without pain. May the King of the Church bless the communion that we as churches enjoy through our union in one federation, and through the decisions of Synod.