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A Modest Proposal

The reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated (“A Modest Proposal,” March 2007).

—The Christian Reformed Church in North America

(Rev. Jerry Dykstra, Executive Director)

Rev. Sam Hamstra’s definition of the CRCNA as a “company” or as the aggregate sum of synodical agencies seems terribly myopic. The CRCNA is nothing short of the people of God (be it a small part thereof) gathered by Christ in the U.S. and Canada, joined in bonds of faith and fellowship to be a light in the world. To suggest that denominational officials or ministries do not approach local congregations with the desire to help them “reach their God-given goals” is something I certainly do not recognize in our faculty at Calvin Theological Seminary (or in colleagues in other denominational agencies).

With Hamstra, I acknowledge some loss of denominational loyalty in a postmodern world. But why would we actively depart from centuries of rich tradition and turn ourselves into a voluntary federation of independent churches?

—Henry De MoorVice President for Academic AffairsProfessor, Church PolityCalvin Theological SeminaryGrand Rapids, Mich.

As a 40-year-old member of the CRC, and having heard from many other 40-year-old (or so) other members, it’s clear that my generation has abandoned the CRC in big numbers. We have become disillusioned by the CRC, both at the corporate and church levels. I myself nearly abandoned it some years ago and am still tempted do so. While Hamstra’s proposal may be very unpalatable to many, he has really struck a chord with me. Does his proposal dilute our theology? Of course not. Will it be uncomfortable and downright painful? Of course it will. Anything truly worthwhile is, and the CRC is worthwhile in so many ways.

Let’s ask ourselves the tough questions about what we must look like in 20 or 30 years to be a church and denomination that will be serving our Lord.

—Mark DalmaijerWinnipeg, Manitoba

While agreeing with Rev. Hamstra about part of his prognosis of the CRCNA, I am not too thrilled about his medical prescription. Actually, I am a bit concerned. On the one hand, our denomination is an ethno-religious construct that took a while to materialize into what we know today as the bi-national CRCNA. It does have some birth defects, like many other denominations, which continue to inflict pain. But on the other hand, the CRCNA as an institution is making honest and concrete efforts to free itself from the demons of its ethno-religious identity. People of color are the most vulnerable to the “imminent” death of the CRCNA because the institution is the main driving force behind the antiracism and diversity efforts. If we go the way of an association of CRCs, what will prevent an individual congregation from silently closing its doors to diversity? By default, many congregations are doing that already.

In tune with our Reformed tradition, I believe we still need a healthy tension between the institution and its congregations. The Holy Spirit uses that tension to speak to both.

—Rev. Alejandro PimentelDirector, World Literature MinistriesGrand Rapids, Mich.

Rev. Hamstra proposes a complete rejection of Reformed ecclesiology. That is hardly modest. And it will not save the CRC in any meaningful sense. Changing our ecclesiology will change much more than just how we are organized beyond the local congregation, rendering the CRC very little different from the local Baptist congregations.

If the CRC is going to continue to exist, it must have a reason for doing so. Until we collectively come up with one—or three—we will continue to decline, and deservedly so.

—Rev. Eric VerhulstNorfolk, Va.

Why Aren’t They Coming Back?

Regarding the February 2007 editorial (“Why Aren’t They Coming Back?”), most Christian Reformed churches have great youth groups and youth programs. But what programs or groups are available for the next age group—for those in their 20s and 30s? Not much, from what I have seen.

I feel the most critical time to gain and keep young adults is when they leave high school and start their own lives.

Young people who are involved in the church begin to call the church their own. Last year Phoenix Christian Reformed Church had four out of five deacons in their 20s, and they are all deeply involved in the church.

—Phil SteenstraPhoenix, Ariz.

There seems to be so much emphasis in the CRC on the issues on which we are not united, rather than on our passion for living Christlike lives and spreading the gospel.

How many of us interact with and include young people in our services? From early childhood on, are they made to feel they are an important part of the church?

What excites our children? Do they see our passion for our God, for redeeming the earth in his name? Do they see our concern for the poor and for justice? Do they see our love, hospitality, compassion, and forgiveness? Do they see our concern for those “outside” our circles and our efforts to include all people? Do they feel free to ask any question about which they might have doubts, or voice an opinion without fear of ridicule or anger? These are questions we need to constantly ask.

—Irene StreutkerOlney, Md.

I think that if the church were more relevant to the lives of our young people, that would help.

The church needs to challenge our young people, and us old ones too for that matter, with how to be agents of God’s grace in this broken world—in areas of service to the broken, to the abandoned, to the creation, and so on.

Surveys show that people, including young adults, are increasingly spiritual, they just aren’t attending our churches. Maybe our expectations of the church are too low and our churches are failing our young people; not our young people failing the church.  

—John KamphofCobble Hill, British Columbia

Thirty years ago my wife and I left the Christian Reformed Church. Why?

I was young and found myself unmotivated to attend church at that time. I found my parent’s traditional church uninspiring to my spiritual growth. Then my wife and I stumbled into the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement at a local church and stayed. I was attracted to

  • uplifting worship and praise that connected me to God
  • practical sermons that were interesting and relevant
  • children's programs and adult classes that compelled attendance
  • evangelism taught and done in a

tangible way.

Thirty years later I now realize that the fellowship of the saints in stable CRC congregations looks a lot like the care- fellowship groups of the mega-churches. I now realize that the consistency and solidity of the CRC delivers a sound theological/philosophical foundation for relationship with God, self, and others. How would I challenge the Christian Reformed Church? Simple: take your very solid Calvinist theology and deliver it in a practical, contemporary, and relevant way.

—Michael RitsemaGrandville, Mich.

Welcome, Stranger congregation and diaconate in St. Catharines, Ontario, have certainly been blessed in many ways through this ministry. We do, however, want to inform readers that some of the other churches in Classis Niagara contributed financially to this effort and were very helpful in providing for the needs of these new families. It is good when churches can cooperate to do the work we are called to do.

—Al BezuyenChair of St. Catharines (Ont.)Maranatha Diaconate


Corrections

The author ID on p. 24 of the March Banner should have read, “Rev. Trevor Rubingh leads New City Kids Church, a unique ministry in Jersey City, N.J., that was started with help from Home Missions grants. ”Regarding “Welcome, Stranger,” January 2007, other churches in Classis Niagara, besides Maranatha CRC, contributed financially and otherwise to the Liberian refugee resettlement efforts.Rev. James G. Busscher’s status was incorrectly reported in December 2006, p. 19. His ministerial credentials are held by Bridgewood CRC, Savage, Minn.

The Banner apologizes for the errors.


Why Aren’t They Coming Back?Banner editor Bob De Moor’s February 2007 editorial (“Why Aren’t They Coming Back?”) poses an important and penetrating question while teasing out some intriguing observations about those who have left the CRC in their youth and not returned. I wonder, however, if we are asking the wrong question. I believe his editorial implies the question we ought to be asking: Why do young people leave the CRC in the first place?

—Darwin K. Glassford
Assoc. Professor of Church Education
Director of M.A. Programs
Calvin Theological Seminary
Grand Rapids, Mich.

I think that if the church were more relevant to the lives of our young people, that would help.

The church needs to challenge our young people, and us old ones too for that matter, with how to be agents of God’s grace in this broken world—in areas of service to the broken, to the abandoned, to the creation, and so on.

Surveys show that people, including young adults, are increasingly spiritual, they just aren’t attending our churches. Maybe our expectations of the church are too low and our churches are failing our young people; not our young people failing the church.

—John Kamphof
Cobble Hill, British Columbia

Thirty years ago my wife and I left the Christian Reformed Church. Why?I was young and found myself unmotivated to attend church at that time. I found my parent's traditional church uninspiring to my spiritual growth. Then my wife and I stumbled into the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement at a local church and stayed. I was attracted to

  • uplifting worship and praise that connected me to God
  • practical sermons that were interesting and relevant
  • children's programs and adult classes that compelled attendance
  • evangelism taught and done in a tangible way.

Thirty years later I now realize that the fellowship of the saints in stable CRC congregations looks a lot like the care  fellowship groups of the mega churches. I now realize that the consistency and solidity of the CRC delivers a sound theological/philosophical foundation for relationship with God, self, and others. How would I challenge the Christian Reformed Church? Simple: take your very solid Calvinist theology and deliver it in a practical, contemporary, and relevant way.

—Michael Ritsema
Grandville, Mich.

Let me share what’s working for Second CRC in Kalamazoo, Mich.:

We maintain a very orthodox worship style. No praise team, no band, no PowerPoint presentations. We use an organ, piano (sometimes), and the “old” Psalter Hymnal. We’ve been blessed with committed pastors who’ve faithfully preached the Word of God.

At one time we too watched our young adults and young families leave their church home only to worship elsewhere in the city. That trend changed about 10 years ago, and we are once again growing.

Within a short period of time we called a new pastor and a director of youth ministries. The pastor we called was a strong man of prayer and taught us much about prayer, but more important, led the congregation in many prayer activities and ministries. Our youth director connected with the kids in high school, and our youth group grew. Young people from area churches began attending our youth group and consequently started to worship with us. Many of these kids stayed and are now becoming the church leaders, serving on church council, teaching Sunday school, and bringing their children into the worship service.

Along with other healthy church activities, a small group gathers for prayer each Sunday morning. We feel this to be vital for the health of the church.

There are no magic bullets here. Just remaining faithful to God’s Word.

—John VanderBiltKalamazoo, Mich.

Why aren’t they coming back? The reason may be the worship service format. When young people’s church attendance hinges on emotional response to “culturally correct” praise songs and music, no wonder that as they get a little older and their music tastes change, they find it easy to leave the CRC for any other denomination they find more spiritually uplifting because they have little or no ingrained catechism roots to hold them to our Reformed heritage. The sermon must not be preached as an academic lecture requiring visual aids. The double edged living Word of God cannot be improved by high tech computer imaging flashed to the overhead screen. Our denomination must steadfastly and uncompromisingly cling to the teachings of the Reformers. The more theology expounded from the pulpit the better.

It is imperative for the CRC to stay on solid ground, ever faithful to our Calvinist roots. These are the ties that bind.

—Joe A.SergeOshawa, Ontario

Abraham Kuyper is quoted as saying, “The question of reward has without doubt been neglected much too long by Reformed writers and preachers. Motivated by fear of the meritoriousness of good works, the promised rewards are suffered to lie in dead-like silence, whereby the goad to piety, given by the Scriptures in the form of the rich and many-faceted promises of reward, is blunted.”

It’s true we are all unprofitable servants. We cannot make God richer. But though we are unprofitable to God, our serving God is not unprofitable to us; for God is pleased to give by his grace a value to our good works.

God himself makes this connection between our lives now and eternity. It is my firm belief that the lack of attention to this teaching in our denomination is a dishonor to God. It’s also detrimental to the well-being of the church. This must change. Wouldn’t it be wonderful that this change would lead to an increase, rather than a decrease, of church members?

—Peter C. FlikweertChatham, Ontario

In this day and age of atheistic information spooled off by TV, news, magazines, books, movies, combined with lack of discipling within the church, we will not be able to pull them back, unless we really work hard on our knees, asking the Lord sincerely how to approach the 'lost.' Many times the phrase "A family who prays together, stays together" comes to my mind.

Since 1950, the start of the TV Age, how many CRC families have dropped that last important agenda from their homes? I would say, by my own experience, if I put the Lord on my back burner, I would not get his priority either.

I have struggled to keep the daily devotions over the years with my son. And, after a bout of teenage rebellion, he found Christ in a Christian camp experience. Since then, he has battled the different teachings of our surroundings and has chosen the Lord's way of 'shining the Light.'

Neither of us are perfect. Those imperfections may also be instrumental in holding back the unbelieving members of our family. But we must try to save their souls. I hope that you will see a wonderful awakening within the young members of the faith around you, who want to live life as in the days of the apostles. May the Lord bless your dream!

—Sien Wan-LimBurnaby, British Colulmbia

The question I would like to ask is what is the worldview of most young people when they go off into the world? Do they believe the Bible is the infallible Word of God? Do they understand the seriousness of sin and their need for salvation?

America’s Research Group conducted a poll last September. This scientific poll was based on 1,000 Americans in their 20s who regularly attended an evangelical church during high school, but no longer do.  Here are just a few of the questions and their responses:

1. Do you believe all the accounts/stories in the Bible are true/accurate?

No:  43.5%Yes:  38.3%Don’t Know:  18.2%

2. Do you believe in creation as stated in the Bible or in evolution?Biblical creation:  71.8%Evolution:  28.2%

3. Do you believe the earth is less than 10,000 years old?

No: 57.1%Don’t Know: 22.4%Yes:  20.5%

4. Have secular science dates of the earth being 6 billion years old caused you to doubt the Bible?

Yes:  46.4%No:  42.4%Don’t Know:  11.2%

5. At what age did you begin to really question the content in the Bible?

High school years:  45.7%Grades 7-9:  29.3%Grades 4-6:  12.8%Early college:  11.2%

6. Should abortion continue to be legal in most instances?

No:  48.8%Yes:  38.0%Don’t Know:  13.2%

7. Is premarital sex okay?

Yes:  51.7%No:  43.5%Don’t Know:  4.8%

This survey makes it apparent that the worldview many young people are buying into these days is that the Bible is ambiguous and irrelevant! 

In spite of everything going on in the world, I am optimistic about the CRC and the church in general. That is if we uphold the authority of God’s Word. This needs to include the first 11 chapters of Genesis as real, literal history.

Everything in the Bible has its foundation in Genesis. Knock out the foundation, and everything else tumbles down.

 —Dennis Bosch
Holland, Mich.

Continuing the Conversation

Regarding “Women in Office: Continuing the Conversation” (January 2007), back when the issue of the abolition of slavery was being debated, a number of biblical passages were quoted to "justify" the practice of slavery. Abolitionists had few, if any, chapter and verse references for their point of view, but based their position on the biblical principle that all human beings are equal

in the sight of God; thus, for one person to own another was morally wrong. So "quoting Scripture" doesn't always get to the heart of a matter.

To deny women equal opportunities as men in our present society, including in our churches, can very much be seen as a denial of basic rights.

—Ruth Westfall KorverBeaverton, Ore.

What a couple of fluffy articles on the never-ending saga of women in office. The arguments presented do nothing to put to rest this highly un-Christian and unequal treatment of women. Ardean Brock seems almost apologetic that she snuck into the ordained category as if she might be offending someone. Brenda Heyink doesn't seem to get it that bias toward women is nothing short of discrimination.

And there isn’t much point in a continuing conversation as long as there are male church leaders out there who cannot give up control. It's time this issue was put behind us once and for all and the domination of women by men be completely eliminated. The discrimination toward women is one the grossest sins the church has committed. As men we should go on our knees and beg all women in the CRC to forgive us for this unloving and un Christlike treatment.

—Peter RuniaOttawa, Ontario

The article by Brenda Heyink states how we all, men and women, can use our gifts so that neither the Church Order nor the local church prevents our gifts from being used or appreciated. We can do this if we have the desire to be faithful in hearing the Word of God in using our gifts.

Men and women have both been losers in dealing with the women’s ordination issue. We have lost respect, and now the word male is in the process of being removed from our Church Order. As a result, the church is the worse for it.

—William Van StaalduinenPantego, N.C.

I don’t think synod’s decision to ban discussion of such a divisive issue for seven years was a good idea (“Sabbath? What Sabbath?” January 2007). It’s like sweeping an elephant under a carpet. Everybody is going to trip over it while pretending not to see it. Such behavior strikes me as psychotic at best and hypocritical at worst. Either way, it’s dumb and misguided. Please change your minds and deal with the problem openly.

—Michèle GyselinckPierrefonds, Quebec

Where is the wisdom in setting hearts aflame against synod’s decision? If we want “yes” to be respected, we need to let “no” be respected.

—Randy VanderWeit
Hickory, N.C.

I believe synod made a “Solomon's decision” not to cut us apart (see 1 Kings 3:25). We need to balance our faith with head and heart to come to a wholesome balance. Trust that those dissenters read carefully the two articles written by women seminarians who indicated that they had not been prevented from using their gifts.

—George Lieuwen
Langley, British Columbia

Forty-plus years ago, Billy Graham referred to the CRC as a “sleeping giant.” If asked today, he would probably say that we’ve lapsed into a coma. I urge the delegates to Synod 2007, of which there will be no women, unfortunately, to focus on issues that will produce positive consequences for all.

Also, I would encourage women in ministry—pastors, elders, and deacons—to join me at the opening session of synod to make our presence felt. This we must do for our granddaughters and their daughters to follow, so that they will not have to endure the discrimination that we are experiencing.

—Tess Dykstra-BeukemaOak Lawn, Ill.

For those of us "in the trenches," our concern is to spread God's Word—not to argue over whether women should be in office or ordained to the office of pastor. If men are not available, due to lack of interest or numbers, women take up the slack. Both men and women study the issues and make logical decisions. Participation in synod should be based on those who are most familiar with the work of the church. Failure to use this criterion places an unreasonable burden on those who participate in synod.

—Carol J. WynstraKenosha, Wis.

As far as I can see, there will be differences about women in office until we can agree on this basic issue: Does/should the church reflect the future (the kingdom as it will be) or the past (the fallen nature of humankind)? I’d like to see some theologians adequately deal with this topic from the kingdom-of-God perspective.

—Bert den BoggendeBrooks, Alberta

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