In a move that could have ramifications for the entire denomination, the Muskegon Classis of the Reformed Church in America (RCA) has voted to "formally rebuke" Richard Rhem, senior pastor of Christ Community Church in Spring Lake, Michigan. Earlier, the regional governing body had voted to "work toward a peaceful separation" with Rhem after his refusal to recant unorthodox beliefs related to salvation through Jesus alone (CT,
April 29, 1996, p. 59).

On July 3, Christ Community's board approved an 803-to-116 congregational vote to leave the denomination. However, at a July 17 meeting, the classis declared such a vote "in violation of the RCA Book of Church Order and therefore an illegal church action."

In addition, the classis said that Rhem will be allowed to resign voluntarily his RCA ministerial credentials when the church "is willing to return to the negotiation table for an additional effort and we are able to reach a mutually acceptable separation agreement."

While the denomination earlier appeared to want to avoid a lengthy and acrimonious disciplinary process, RCA General Secretary Wesley Granberg-Michaelson at the denomination's general synod in June said no classis should permit "a minister simply to demit, and then a congregation to leave, resulting in an independent congregation which pretends to 'reordain' its pastor." Christ Community is the fourth-largest congregation in the 316,000-member denomination.

Rhem says he has offered to resign his RCA credentials, and he is optimistic that the denomination will agree to a peaceful separation in which he would remain as pastor of Christ Community. The Muskegon Classis is scheduled to meet this month to discuss a proposed settlement.

Last Updated: October 4, 1996

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