A Modest Response

Vantage Point

The original document titled “A Modest Proposal” came from the pen of Jonathan Swift in 1729. In it he proposed solving the problem of the starvation and overpopulation of poor people in Ireland. He suggested that people eat most of the year-old children. Only in the final paragraphs does he hint that he doesn’t really mean for his idea to be taken seriously. Rather, he intended his shocking proposal to start a conversation about the “devouring” of poor people in Ireland by their wealthy landlords.

I’m sure Rev. Sam Hamstra’s Banner article by that name (March 2007) has gotten lots of conversation going about the future of the Christian Reformed Church. In the past few months I’ve been in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Washington, and Iowa, talking with people about international missions. In each place I heard people discussing the article and evaluating its thesis. That’s a good thing.

Christian Reformed people should talk about the future, not just the past, this anniversary year. Our future will include change, just as the past has. No doubt the CRC of 2057 will be different than the church today.

Hamstra’s article, however, seems to understand the denomination as separate from the congregations. When I think of the Christian Reformed Church, I think of more than 1,000 congregations of all sizes, locations, and types of ministry spread across North America yet united by a common commitment to their Lord and to a specific theological position in order to do ministry together. The statements which the churches have adopted through synod describe the denomination as “a diverse group of congregations, assemblies and agencies.” The denomination is not just the agencies.

Hamstra also seems to have missed a few issues of The Banner. The denominational priority, adopted in 2003, is “to create and sustain healthy congregations.” That priority, along with the denominational purpose of “transforming lives and communities worldwide,” is increasingly shaping the activity of denominational agencies. The three agencies involved in international missions recently completed a survey of CRC congregations regarding the way they approach international missions. They wanted to learn more about what churches are currently doing in order to more effectively serve those churches in their outreach, whether or not that mission work gets channeled through denominational agencies.

In many denominations far less in terms of financial contribution is expected from the congregations. However, it’s important to ask what happens to the money. If the main purpose is to “keep the central machinery operating,” then the amount ought to be held to a minimum. If, instead, the money from the congregations is primarily used to carry on hundreds of different ministries in North America and around the world, as it is in the CRC, then minimizing the money will mean minimizing the ministry the money funds.

Currently I serve the denomination as a mission agency leader, but I used to serve the denomination as a missionary, and before that I served the denomination as a pastor. Although I now know much more of what we can accomplish together, my perspective on this hasn’t significantly changed since I first became aware of what ministry share is and does.

Our denomination (congregations, assemblies, and agencies) is no teenager, but neither are we a 95-year-old, as Hamstra believes. I’d say we’re more like a 45-year-old. We know the day of Christ’s return is nearer now than when we first believed. We’ve done a lot, but we sense that our most productive years are just ahead.

It’s time to review and renew, but it’s not time to have a mid-life crisis in which we toss aside the many good things of our history. We should celebrate our birthday with a renewed sense of the importance of making every year and every day count for the cause of Christ’s kingdom.

About the Author

Rev. Steven J. Van Zanen is director for Missions Mobilization, Christian Reformed World Missions, Grand Rapids, Mich.

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