As a new and contented member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, imagine my shock upon opening The Banner last spring and reading that my home would likely be demolished sometime within the next 50 years (“A Modest Proposal” by Sam Hamstra, March 2007).
Here we stand, for we can do no other, in the tradition of Martin Luther and John Calvin. Luther and Calvin didn’t start the Reformation by forecasting the death of the Roman Catholic Church. They just thought, “Hey, we need to make some changes around here—orthodox it up a bit.” So how in the name of the Reformation have we come to the conclusion that we need to despair over the future of the CRCNA because we’re not as cool as the big kids?
I know we seminarians have a vested interest in job security, but I don’t hear my contemporaries vying for the destruction of our denomination. Instead, I hear a lot of optimism. We’re excited about the task of translating the truth of God’s Word and our participation in Christian history to a new generation. Don’t we have a say in the future of our denomination? If so, I stand with my colleagues to declare that all is certainly not lost.
I’m a tad sensitive on this issue, considering I grew up in autonomous churches—the kind that split from each other over carpet color in the new sanctuary. Such churches live in fragile associations and have little external accountability. The result is both insulation from the Church Universal and quite a bit of self-absorption. Taking an established, creedal denomination and making it into a voluntary association of churches further splinters the universal church as each individual congregation learns to think of itself as The Church, the be all/end all of Christ’s work on earth.
Here’s the thing about denominations: You don’t always get what you want. You’re invested in something larger than yourself. From what I hear, it’s like being married. You don’t get to make all your own decisions, and you watch your choices reverberate profoundly in the life of someone else. Oh sure, there are ways to get out of the marriage if need be. But it’s a ton of paperwork, legal fees, and heartache. Maybe there are times when that’s the only thing keeping you in the relationship.
But a move toward autonomous churches in mutual association moves us out of marriage and into cohabitation, denominationally speaking. Hey, you can be home tonight or not. Whatever. If you like the way I look and I’m giving you everything you want, stick around. If I’m asking you to sacrifice, to see things from a different point of view, or just to hang tight while things go through a dull patch, feel free to opt out.
I, for one, still want to live out my covenant vows in this denominational marriage. Ecclesiastical cohabitation? I’m sorry. I’m not that kind of girl.
About the Author
Meg Jenista is pastor at The Washington DC Christian Reformed Church.