Let Us Go

Vantage Point

During their years of living in Egypt, the people of Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham prospered. But 400 years after Joseph had initially brought the 12 tribes to Egypt, Moses came to Pharaoh and said, “Let my people go.” It took many attempts before Pharaoh acceded to the request. The people of Israel did not rise up in a rebellion, a civil war, or a labor stoppage. Instead, through Moses, they relied on those in power to voluntarily give up their power.

Martin Luther King Jr., as head of the civil rights movement, also came to those in power. He went to white people, legislators, and common church people, and said, “Let my people go.” Give us human rights. Again, it was the 90 percent of the population who had to voluntarily give up discrimination, voluntarily grant equality.

Dear friends in the United States, you have been “mother” to the earliest congregations of the Christian Reformed Church in Canada for more than 100 years. You have been our mentor and helper for more than 60 years, since the flood of immigrants and the tenfold multiplication of congregations in Canada after World War II. Now it is time for us to say: “Let my people go.” Let us go. Let us be an independent CRC in Canada.

This is not a rebellion, a civil war, or a stoppage of ministry shares. It is more than time for you to recognize that you did a great job of cultivating a mature church in Canada. There are thousands upon thousands of Christian Reformed people in Canada who have benefited from your colleges and seminary in the early years so they could pursue the Christian Reformed testimony in Canada. We have matured. We have grown up. We want to move on in partnership, in equality, with equal rights, in equal determination. We want to be the CRC in Canada, not the CRC in North America.

Dear U.S. friends, urge your synodical delegates to make motions toward true independence for Canada. As Americans you are proud—humbly proud—of the mission success in Nigeria. There you claim the CRC has more members than in North America. You did not hold that church in subjection as you are holding the Canadian churches in subjection. Stop dictating to us how to do Canadian Home Missions, Canadian Chaplaincy, Canadian First Nations relations. Stop administering Canadian pensions and auditing Canadian bookkeeping records. We can do it, and we want to do it. Delegates to synod, have the courage to make the motions for Canadian independence.

We can come back stronger as true partners.

About the Author

Harry Houtman is a specialist in gift and estate planning. He attends First CRC of Toronto, Ontario.

See comments (7)


Why compound the problem by separating the denomination bi-nationally only to create another bureaucracy with independent corporate ministry structures that operate as silos both with respect to Synod, but most importantly to the local church. This is reformed polity turned upside down. 

The "Structure and Culture" report takes a stab at goverance reform by naming the problem, but then backs away from the real issue by proposing the "Five Smooth Stones" process to bring ministry agencies to the table to talk with each other, rather than putting the local congregation at the decision making table. The 1980's "Vision 21" infrastructure is anti-ethical to reformed polity whether decision occurs in Grand Rapids or Burlington. 

If one were to go down the road of a bi-national denomination in North America, why house the Canadian CRCNA offices in Burlington. Why not Regina, or Vancouver? 

Let's put the focus on reformed polity and bring the local church back into the governance picture? Considering some of the conversation threads in the Banner, the Network and CRCNA websites, perhaps its time to put governance into the hands of elders and deacons, managers rather than CEO's running ministry agencies, and pastors focusing on pastoral matters.

Seems to me that Harry has things backwards.  Rather than the U.S. churches initiating the process and insisting the Canadian churches split, the Canadian classes should be overturing synod to be released, if in fact that is what they want to see happen.  I suspect synod would acquiesce if that request were made. 

This article leaves me dumbfounded.  I have the utmost respect for Harry Houtman whom I have known for almost thirty years.  He is a person of integrity whose tireless work for decades with the Christian Reformed Extention Fund in Canada has given many people not only a competitive and safe place to invest, but also the knowledge that their investments are benefiting CRC churches and Christian Schools.  This organisation has also saved those same churches and schools in Canada millions of dollars in interest expenses on loans and mortgages. He is most certainly entitled to his opinion.  Still, what he writes here comes across to me as strange.   I find it repugnant, even as literary hyperbole, to hint at any kind of moral equivalence between the claims of the civil rights movement at the time of Martin Luther King and his personal desire for an independent Canadian CRC.  What an insult to those victims of injustice whose cause King so ably defended. What is more, there is no basis for using the plural "we", as if this is a wide-spread feeling in Canada.  In fact the opposite is true.  It is always possible to stir up trouble but as it stands now extremely few Canadian CRC members have ever even given this much thought.  There may be a few congregations where talk of denominational separation along national boundaries has surfaced now and again, but I have only heard it from a small group of voices which from time to time express it in meetings where pastors and leading people of the Canadian CRC community get together.  In thirty one years of ministry in Canadian congregations the issue has never come up, except as someone might be reporting what they heard at such a meeting.  There are some real frustrations experienced by those who work with the bureaucracy at the national and international levels, but it is completely a non-issue when it comes to just being the church at the local level.   Regional differences in both countries are perhaps of more significance than those which appear at the national level.  Even though the immigration issues we face in Canada at a national level have a very different dynamic than those in the United States, congregations in both countries making a sincere effort to exist as multicultural expressions of the body of Christ have much more in common than other churches in both countries which exist in communities made up almost entirely of a single cultural group.   And what about other issues we face in common?  On both sides of the border we face similar issues transitioning from a historic ethnic bond to present North American spiritual realities.  On both sides of the border we face similar issues dealing with the reality that many who have grown up in the church leave behind any denominational connection for wide variety of reasons.  Are the dynamics of our work to build the church in Christ, and to equip its members to raise children in the Lord, to work as agents of Christ in every part of their lives, and to resist the powers of the devil, the world, and our own sinful natures different at a fundamental level in the United States and Canada?   Structural issues at the denominational level can be solved, and even those are more a problem to some than to others.  They are no reason for separation.  Besides, what place do churches defined by nationality have on any biblical understanding of what it means to be an expression of the people of God, united in Christ, who love the world, and who are in the world, but not of the world? 

Hendrik, I appreciate reading your reaction because it roughly parallels mine.  I found the suggestion that the U.S. churches are holding the Canadian churches "in subjection" particularly outrageous, because there is nothing in the record to support such a charge.  That's why I suggest a way it could be tested.  Let the Candian classes overture synod for release.  I am convinced it would be granted, though I doubt there is actually significant support for that on the Canadian side. 

Regarding the pension Harry needs to study the facts.  I am ending a six year term on the U.S. Pension Trustees and am currently the U.S. president, so I know the structuire well.  The Candian Pension Fund is run by a group of five Canadian trustees.  While we meet jointly the Canadian trustees are ultimately solely responsible for that fund. 

Since I was in seminary, I've heard this kind of agitation from our Canadian siblings every couple years or so.  I've always thought, "If they want to be separate, then be separate - no skin off my nose." 

In fact, I've always had a sense that it's a petulant adolescent kind of sentiment instead of a mature one.  A mature child simply moves out - no harm, no foul, it's just time to do so.  An immature child threatens to move out in hopes the parents will cave on something or other, which is what this sounds like.

I don't know Mr. Houtman, but I'd say he grossly misunderstands the US perspective on the relationship between the Canadian and US churches of the CRCNA.

it is clear from the various comments that the basic problem is how to curtail the overreaching posture of 2850 kalamazoo avenue. The structure report essentially wants to strenghten it and add more agencies, more directors and increase ministry shares for its growing operations. One way to begin to change that course is to reduce the flow of funds to 2850. another would be for the canadian churches to split off. Still another way would be to renew the ecclesiology of the CRC and start seriously with improving the functioning of the local churches. I suggest that the work of the classes be improved and strenghtened to help renew and grow the local congregations. so work from the bottom up. then make available a large % of the ministry shares to the classes as  they submit grant proposals. To enable this return flow of funds the bureaucracy of 2850 would have to shrink by reducing the number of directors and reducing the elevated salaries and expense accounts. the bottom line in all this is to lower the power,role and significance of the bureaucracy of 2850 and build up the church from the bottom up. if that could be accomplished we all would be happy and the CRC would restore a proper ecclesiology and also more in Kuyperian refomed lines.

Regarding the structure report, it is not all that reasonable to expect a bureaucratic functionary to draft a report saying the problem is bureaucratic functionaries.  Very few people think the problem is in the first person.  Rather, that's where the solution is to be found.  The problem is always in the third person (or occasionally the second).

At least, I almost always find that to be the case. :-)