“What do you think the future of the CRC will be?”
That’s the question people have asked most frequently during my years of service as executive director of ministries.
Usually the question is asked by someone who loves the church, is committed to Reformed theology, and desires to be part of a dynamic faith community. So many Christian Reformed church members long for the CRC to be a healthy, effective, and faithful community responsive to God’s call. I’d like to suggest three characteristics that will help the Christian Reformed Church to be that kind of a community.
The first characteristic of a healthy church is that its functional identity is inclusive and global. Healthy congregations recognize that being too “congregational” or locally focused makes the members too provincial. The identity of a healthy church embraces and celebrates that the church includes members “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). A healthy church is broad in scope and feels the freedom to look beyond itself.
The multiplication of inclusive, globally focused congregations is the backbone of a healthy denomination; healthy denominations together more adequately express the fullness of the church as the body of Christ.
A second characteristic of a healthy church is that it acknowledges and practices the spiritual gift of discernment. Discernment is about dialogue and searching for truth. A discerning church is a learning community that seeks to understand the deep mysteries of God’s redemptive plan. A discerning church values scholarship and training, modeling and growing, and deepening and elevating our explorations of God’s design for our lives. A discerning church is unabashedly open to the “leading of the Holy Spirit to guide us into his truth.”
The third characteristic of a healthy church is that it lives life and builds programs and institutions interdependently. God calls the church to live in community, not only the community of the local church, but also as a classis, a denomination, and as part of the church worldwide. Living interdependently shows we’re serious about being part of the body of Christ.
Such “body life” influences how we see ourselves as a denomination. We embrace covenant theology, and our identity includes a desire to be a covenant community. As a covenant community we share our faith, our life, our values, the confessions, and our mission. We live together, work together, build together, and seek to be obedient to God’s call together. In our congregations, our classes, and our denomination, we live as members of the same family.
During my years of service I have sometimes seen our denominational church family live as God intended. At other times, we have appeared too fractured. To have a future as a “healthy church” we need to be more of the former and less of the latter. We need to be clear about our identity and the rich heritage that has shaped us; we need to be discerning about what God intends us to be; and we need to live interdependently.
If these three characteristics mark our life together in the CRC, the light of our ministry will shine far into the future.