In June the synod (annual leadership meeting) of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) and the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America (RCA) met briefly to approve a historic joint agreement. While denominational leaders emphasized that the agreement was about enhanced ministry, not merger, many of us dare to hope for the latter.
The agreement brought our denominations a baby step closer. Both synods agreed that from now on the guiding principle is that the CRC and RCA “act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel [us] to act separately.” Hardly an unconditional vow of marriage! But at least now we’re sort of going steady.
Apart from that joint session and some combined worship services, there was not a great deal of interaction between the synods and/or their respective delegates. Even at shared mealtimes, both communions tended to keep to their own. It will take time for the rest of us to catch up with our denominational leaders—those who have come to know, respect, and genuinely like their colleagues from the other shop(s) as they work together for the common good. To really warm up to each other and develop personal relationships, we need to interact regularly on the grassroots level. Dating is about getting to know each other better so that mutual commitment can grow.
The best way to rebuild our unity in Christ is not by attempting initially to negotiate away our doctrinal differences but to join hands and hearts in our common mission of sharing the gospel and showing Christ’s heart to the world. It was not ministry that forced our separation in the first place—it was our beliefs. When it comes to working with the RCA in providing disaster relief in High River or setting up a church plant together in the heart of Seattle, it doesn’t much matter what we believe differently about the compatibility of church membership with Lodge membership. Or about whom to invite to the Lord’s table, or whether Christian day schools are the preferred option for educating our youngsters. What matters is that by working in concert we discover in one another the heart and mind and hands of Jesus.
Besides the merging of denominational agencies, the sharing of some ordained ministers, and a handful of church planting ventures, how can we move this relationship forward?
Our colleges and seminaries could work toward synchronizing their offerings to allow for greater specialization and mutual coordination of programs and courses of study. That way a whole new crop of leaders would have classmates they know, trust, and like from the other denomination.
Our classes could plan regular joint meetings and ministries such as chaplaincies, prison ministries, and workshops for church leaders.
On the local level we could plan joint worship services, routinely exchange pulpits, and participate in joint outreach and mission projects. And ministers could invite colleagues from “across the pond” to each other’s study meetings and social events.
Unless CRC and RCA members come to know each other personally, this can only ever become an arranged marriage. While those can work, we can and should do better.