If you are new to the Christian Reformed Church, or even a lifelong member, the variety in our congregations can make your head spin. In worship, for example, you’ll find everything from robes and ritual to rock ’n’ roll. So what in the world is happening in the CRCNA?
Three identifiable wings in our denomination provide a roadmap and highlight our church’s uniqueness on the ecclesiastical landscape.
Grassroots churches place a premium on our heritage, especially the rich teachings of the Reformation. The majority of our traditional churches fall into this category, as well as the salt-of-the-earth folks in the heartland and other rural areas. The Returning Church movement hails from this wing as well.
Grassroots churches employ a traditional or blended worship style with sermons that offer solid teaching. As a rule, these churches still consult the liturgical documents in the back of the Psalter Hymnal. Spoken prayers are not usually read.
These members love to learn and then to share biblical truth, whether with fellow parishioners of all ages or with prisoners. Grassroots churches still draw decent crowds on Sunday nights.
The Grassroots folks care deeply about the church and hope their voice is heard at CRCNA headquarters.
High Steeple churches morphed from 19th-century Kuyperianism, characterized by both the broad social agenda that arrived with post-World-War-II immigrants and the pre-immigration budding of “high church” style.
This wing values faith that works for the cause of justice and champions systemic reform in society. It promotes diversity and inclusiveness and accents Reformed theology in action.
High Steeple people keep one eye on the mainline denominations for inspiration. They relish the historic liturgy and lectionary, clerical collars, and candles. Attractive to academics, the best sermons are literary masterpieces. Prayers are crafted ahead of time and then read.
These tend to be our more evangelical, sometimes even charismatic churches. Many church planters rest in this camp, as do the increasing number of ethnically diverse congregations.
Out on the frontier, the Explorers march to the beat of their own drum with a vision for extending the borders of the church into new territories.
The pietistic or experiential vein of our tradition, grounded in the personal and missional thrust of the 17th-century Second Reformation, accounts for this wing’s place in our denomination. Intentionally nonliturgical and nontraditional, Explorers’ worship can be rousing and innovative. Sermons are practical, down-to-earth, somewhat emotional, and considered best when not read.
With an emphasis on saving the souls of people who are lost or marginalized, these churches treasure a personal and passionate relationship with Jesus. Some congregants may not get bent out of shape if babies are not getting baptized.
While Explorers may appear the least connected to the denomination, don’t count them out. They are not indifferent, just too busy in the trenches to devote much time to denominational affairs.
Strength in Diversity
At times, these distinct forces in the church are tempted to view one another with suspicion. But we need them all.
These three tendencies make us unique on the ecclesiastical landscape and constitute our greatest strength: “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Eccles. 4:12).
Perhaps, like me, you resonate with all three. That’s because they ultimately represent the three dimensions of faith: head, hand, and heart.
Despite the CRCNA’s diversity, we all are cut from the same cloth. Our ecclesiastical strands make us what the church of Jesus Christ ought to be. So let’s respect, trust, and listen to each other as together we strive to be the historic Reformed church in today’s world.
As Johnny Cash sang in “Ragged Old Flag,” we could say of the CRCNA, “She’s in good shape, for the shape she’s in.”