Reformed Christian Classis Votes to Seize Christ Community's
Property Unless Seceding Church Negotiates with Classis
By a 24-14 vote in a three-hour closed session, the Muskegon Classis of the Reformed Church in America has voted to lay down the law to Christ Community Church in Michigan: unless you negotiate with us or remove Rev. Richard Rhem from your pulpit, we'll seize your building.
The October 7 vote followed several other motions. According to confirmed information from unnamed classis members, after classis voted "to hear the evidence and recent testimony to determine if the charges are true regarding the coverup by the consistory of Christ Community Church," classical stated clerk Rev. Steve Smallegan read several letters and other evidence to the classis supporting charges by a former organist at the church. The woman's charges – which Rhem has consistently denied – earlier led to classis deposing Rhem from the RCA ministry for "gross sexual misconduct"; classis' October 7 meeting sought to decide how to handle her second charge that the church board had failed to deal responsibly with her allegations. Classis minister Rev. Richard Veenstra then moved to "admonish the consistory for impropriety in handling the relationship of Richard Rhem" and specific women. In the RCA, "admonition" is the lowest of five levels of discipline which can be applied to church officers. After nearly an hour of debate, classis voted to table the motion to admonish Rhem's consistory.
Classis president Rev. Mark Nieuwsma then ruled out of order a motion by Elder David Edwards of Laketon Bethel Reformed Church that "if Christ Community Church continued to allow Richard Rhem to be their pastor, the classis will seize all property and assets" of the church. However, classis later passed a similar motion to retain control of the church property unless Rhem is removed from the pulpit – but also specifying that classis would return to the negotiating table to try once more to resolve the dispute without a bitter fight.
Despite the severe tenor of the motion, representatives of both sides saw it as an opportunity to return to negotiations that have been stalled for almost half a year. Rhem's church declared its independence from the RCA effective July 4, 1996, and more recently filed a civil lawsuit against the classis asking for clear title to the property and at least $10,000 in damages. For its part, the classis has not only tried Rhem in absentia and found him guilty of "gross sexual misconduct" but also administered a formal rebuke accusing Rhem of heresy for his views on the authority of Scripture and belief that salvation is possible apart from Christ.
Ron Zoet, director of operations at Christ Community Church and spokesman for the congregation, said he hadn't yet been officially informed of the motions by classis but wanted to look on their positive aspects. "We're not aware of the exact nature of the motions," said Zoet. "We are eager to receive them and are very pleased there is an opportunity to come to resolution on this and not proceed to trial on the lawsuit."
Classis officials hesitated to say much before the classis had finished assembling its negotiating team to meet with Christ Community Church. "Some concrete steps were taken and we will be in a position to comment on those soon, perhaps next week," said Smallegan. "We feel an obligation to communicate directly with Christ Community before commenting on our actions directly to media parties."
©1997 United Reformed News Service