Frequently asked questions

Big Questions
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We should allow freedom to disagree on topics that are not essential to the Christian faith.

Church
Q Our church has been inconsistent in fulfilling the obligation to contribute denominational ministry shares. Our budget committee claims the average actual payment made by all churches is only 15 percent of synod’s yearly assessment. So our council uses this factor to determine our fair share. As a member, should I find this reasoning acceptable?

A Let’s do a fact check. For the last complete fiscal year at the time of this writing (2012), the actual contribution made by all churches amounted to 63.5 percent of that year’s assessment. Our director of finance and administration, John Bolt, provided this information and suggested that your budget committee might be confusing categories here. There is a significant 15 percent figure, but that is the part of the CRC’s total budget that is applied to administration.

Given the high cost of soliciting donations, our denomination's ministry share system remains an incredibly efficient one. Independent charities covet it. Many of us remember the time when the percentage was in the nineties. Some churches would contribute more than 100 percent to cover shortfalls from struggling neighboring churches, just so that the total contributions from their classis would actually amount to what we had decided to do at our synod. Such loyalty to our denominational covenant is waning rapidly. If this “localized autonomy” trend continues, we will see drastic change. The missional and benevolent arms of the CRC will, in effect, become independent charitable organizations. And should missionaries truly have to raise their own funds? Don’t they have better things to do?

—Henry De Moor is professor of church polity emeritus, Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Mich. He’s the author of Christian Reformed Church Order Commentary (Faith Alive, 2011).

Related Link: What Are Ministry Shares (crcna.org)

Ethics
Q One of my Christian classmates doesn’t believe in evolution and suggests that those of us who do believe in the science of evolution can’t be Christian. How do I respond without getting into an argument?

A There is an old saying (often mistakenly attributed to John Wesley) that goes, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” This may be a helpful way to frame the conversation with your classmate.

First, both of you need to be charitable in your disagreements and in how you talk to each other. We should “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). I would not advise trying to change each other’s beliefs at this stage.

Rather, my goal would be to help both of you become more loving and humble. Regardless of one’s opinions of evolution, we can be charitable to those who disagree with us. Labeling someone a non-Christian based simply on one controversial issue is unloving and hurtful. I believe the only real litmus test for being a Christian or not is accepting or rejecting Jesus as Lord (see 1 Cor. 12:3).

Second, we should allow freedom to disagree on topics that are not essential to the Christian faith. This, in my opinion, includes evolution. Many faithful evangelical Christian scientists, including Francis Collins, hold to evolutionary science. Perhaps both of you can share learning resources with each other for continuing conversations. In your case, biologos.org is a good site to share.

Third, affirming and identifying essential common ground, such as Christ’s saving work in his death and resurrection, will help both of you put evolution in perspective.
Finally, consider praying together as a tangible expression of your unity in Christ.

—Shaio Chong is a chaplain at York University in Toronto, Ontario.

Related links:
The Christian Reformed Church’s position on creation and science (crcna.org)
CREATION VS EVOLUTION: IMPACT ON WITNESS AND FAITH (The Network)

Relationships
Q My uncle’s apartment is full of stuff he picks up at garage sales and doesn’t need. Twice my wife and I have carted away truckloads of stuff, but it doesn’t help. We are frustrated and don’t know what else we can do. He does not seem to want to help himself.

A Your uncle is most likely suffering from an obsessive compulsive hoarding disorder. Obsessive compulsive disorders (OCDs) can occur among persons who live with extreme loss, stress, family conflict, loneliness, or isolation and who feel incapable of facing (or are unmotivated to face) the reality of their loss or stress.

People sometimes are emotionally so overwhelmed that they can no longer help themselves move beyond the point of grief, anger, guilt, or despair—or all of the above. Instead, those feelings get channeled into a behavior that provides relief and a measure of satisfaction—in your uncle’s case, acquiring “stuff.”

If his hoarding constitutes a danger to others or to himself, you must intervene. If, for instance, his apartment is a fire or health hazard, enlist the help of your local health department or fire station and ask what services are available. A family doctor can provide a referral to a psychiatrist or therapist specializing in the treatment of OCD.

Essentially, you cannot change your uncle. But that does not mean you should abandon him. All people need community, and the more your uncle is cared for, the more he may be motivated to accept help for his condition. Your uncle belongs too, even when he is sometimes frustrating to be around.

—Judy Cook is a family therapist and a member of Meadowlands Fellowship CRC in Ancaster, Ontario.

See comments (1)

Comments

Henry DeMoor's answer (regarding the shortage of ministry shares paid) is accurate enough, but ignores the 800 pound problem gorilla sitting in corner, which is the extent and degree of disconnect between the denominational agencies/officers/BOT and the local churches.

Some specifics.  In the minds of most CRC members, the denomination shouldn't be in the business of political lobbying and advocacy.  Sure, there are times to "be a prophetic voice" to government as the church institute but we've gone far beyond that -- and all of it is funded by ministry shares.  To make things worse, many of the specific political views (including specific bills and positions) lobbied for and advocated by CRCNA agencies are at odds with the political perspective of many, perhaps most, CRC members.  To make things even more worse yet, there is no sense that the individuals in the denomination who pick and choose the specific bills and positions to lobby and advocate for are particularly qualified in that arena (sphere) of life.  One might expect the CRCNA to have denominational expertise in theology -- and it does of course -- in spades -- but law, political theory, and economics (the stuff of politics)??  I don't expect the denomination to have particular expertise there, nor do I observe it.  And I'm not alone.

The last time I looked, close to a half-million ministry share dollars per year was spent on OSJ, and OSJ isn't the only place where denominational political efforts take place .  That literally means political lobbying/advocacy are being made a priority over, say, funding support for foreign missionaries.  And so when the denomination announces that all foreign missionaries will now have to raise all their funding -- because they will receive no ministry shares -- there are lots of CRCers who wonder about the spending priority decisions being made.  Most members don't say much about it (that's a Dutch sort of thing) but they quietly start looking for other places where they can further the kingdom of God.  If denominational choices are too at odds with local perspectives on how to further the kingdom of God, change starts to happen.  At least part of that change is being manifested in reduced ministry share payments.

Speaking of CRWM (CRC World Missions), many perceive it as morphing into something completely different than what it has been in the past, and not in a good way. CRWM (note the denotative meaning of the words "World Missions") now expends resources to encourage "diversity and anti-racism," funds a "Hope Equals" project to find solutions to the Palestian/Israeli conflict, and spends dollars trying to figuring out "how to become a good global citizen."  These new endeavors may be fashionable (and with a fashionable political bent) but there are tens of thousands of CRC members who don't give high points to fashion generally, nor to institutional church efforts favoring a consistent left-wing political bent priority to the particular politics it involves itself in and pushes.  Not that politics shouldn't be done by Christians, including CRCNA Christians, but there's a time, place, and institution for everything. 

If the CRCNA expands its scope (its "sphere involvement"), it necessarily contracts its focus, not to mention its level of expertise in what it should be focusing on (its own "sphere of responsibility").  And it trades 'doing its own stuff with competence' for 'doing someone else's stuff lacking competence'.  These choices can't help but have consequences, including the "localized autonomy" phenomena observed by Henry DeMoor in his response.

 

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