Q I left the CRC three years ago after completing my bachelor’s degree but stay in touch with CRC family and friends. Here’s my struggle: I can’t get past the perception that the CRC faith nurturing I received had more to do with successfully fitting in with mainstream North American values than with following Jesus. Does that make any sense?
A It’s fascinating that in your long letter you also mention that your CRC pastor challenged you to read Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistible Revolution, a book that had a significant effect on your faith development. I’m hearing more frequently that CRC youth ministries are growing disciples who don’t feel at home in the CRC as adults. Ironic.
Here’s what saddens me: we need folks like you! Already in the first century the church struggled to discern the difference between following Jesus and following the world. That struggle takes on new colors and shapes in every generation. Your struggle is not new.
Especially in this (U.S.) election year, we are prone to become politicized in ways that leave us almost incapable of hearing Jesus when so many use his name to further their own agendas.
Here’s my plea to you: First, be counter-cultural by practicing gentleness, humility and respect, thereby trying to create conditions that invite meaningful conversations about these issues. It’s not just “their” struggle but also yours. Second, there are many who struggle like you do; pray that you will find them and together find a home in the CRC.
Syd Hielema is a professor of religion and theology at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario,
and a member of the CRC’s Synodical Faith Formation Study Committee.
Q Can churches work for justice without being political?
A Yes and no. It depends on what you mean by “political.” Churches can work for justice without engaging in partisan political activity such as supporting one political party, electioneering, or distributing propaganda. That part of political life is not appropriate church activity. Church members, as citizens, may or may not choose that tool to work for justice.
“Political” also means how we structure our life together as a society. In that sense, doing justice requires churches and church members to be political. God wants a just public order; so should the church. Look to Jesus, our first church leader. He publicly challenged unjust public policies and practices in his day, but he did not seek political office.
The church, as part of society, cannot avoid being part of public life. Silence is also a political choice, especially when those who suffer injustice need support to change what is harming them in the same society as the church.
In North America, churches and church members face the challenge of redeeming our politics from the excessive partisanship and political game-playing that distort its true purpose, which is doing justice for all and caring for creation.
Members need to learn the language and meaning of justice in church in order to witness about that in public life. Avoiding talk about justice in church to avoid being “political” ends with our being complicit in politics that are destroying creation, our countries, and eventually our churches. Together we need to find and support new ways and tools to seek justice in our public life.
Kathy Vandergrift teaches Public Ethics to university students and advocates for the rights of children.
Q I’ve been witnessing to a neighbor for the last couple of years. She recently made a commitment to Christ and has started going to church with me. She would like to join, but isn’t sure about having to affirm a specific set of doctrines. Her faith is simple, yet she wants a community in which to belong. Should I encourage her to attend another church?
A Thanks for a good question. It is great that you’ve been able to articulate your faith to your neighbor, and wonderful to see God drawing her in to himself. I’m glad she has begun to attend church with you—that is an important step in one’s faith development.
Your friend’s hesitation is understandable. I would encourage her to continue to attend, to study the history of the Reformed confessions, and compare these to other theological approaches. Perhaps she needs to give it some time.
Theological depth is very important, and you might share with her how that depth has resonated in your own life. You might also give her examples of churches with differing theologies or less articulated doctrines to see whether or not she thinks those would be a better fit.
The bottom line is that community is essential in the life of faith. This community can happen at work, in the neighborhood, and in many other places. There is no replacement, however, for a faith community: a gathering of brothers and sisters called into the gospel life together, who pray, worship, laugh, love and live into the newness Christ gives us. We need more neighbors like you!
Bryan Berghoef is pastor of Watershed Church, a Christian Reformed church plant in Traverse City, Mich.