Dating Denominations

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Dating is about getting to know each other better.

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.

About the Author

Bob De Moor is a retired Christian Reformed pastor living in Edmonton, Alta.

See comments (9)


Wow you are really doing it!  We figured as much and have already left the denomination for good..along with many others and many more when the merger comes... We do not want to be a part of the World COUNCIL OF CHURCHES...which is part of the UNITED NATIONS...They are all for the ONE WORLD CHURCH which will not be CHRISTIAN.  


For mergers in business the objective is to keep the strong points of both partners (and of course all the money stuff should somehow work). In church mergers it is often the least conservative or most liberal beliefs/confessions that become post merger norms.


The argument that we can work together with others in High River applies to many other denominations (or actually people of other denominations). Using that argument we should have multiple dating arrangements. So let's be careful using the marriage metaphor.


I suggest the requests for a merger come from at least 60% of our Classes before any motion to merge is ever made on the floor of Synod. In the mean time CRCNA Agencies and individual churches can work together as per the ecclesiastically fellowship rules.


Economic synergies will come by themselves overtime if RCA members join the CRCNA at a local level or the reverse. Once that happens in 60% of the joint locations we can assume a pretty good grass roots level of support for a motion at Synod at that point.


(On a technical level it would be nice to know how the RCA calculates membership and what that total is as at December 31, 2014, or any other close date, broken down the same way as we do in CRCNA.)


"Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to Him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And He saith unto me, write, "Blessed [are] they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb." And He saith unto me, "These are the true sayings of God." (Revelation 19:7-9) and "Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the Law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the Law did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. But now we are delivered from the Law that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter ... there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit, for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the Law of sin and death ..." (Romans 7:4-Romans 8:1-17)

"When it comes to ....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."  If this is true, then what does it mean to hold to be a "Confessional" church.  Where, if not in a church plant,  do beliefs matter?  This type of statement is indicative of the problem within the CRCNA. Historically, liberal churches have sought to seek joint missional ventures in order to bypass theological commitments. But as we have noted in church history, this does not bode well at all for confessional integrity, doctrinal and ethical parameters, and for theological integration of faith with life. It is once again disappointing to see the yearning for unity override the commitment to truth, wherever it may be required to uphold, e.g. Lodge affiliation, etc. etc.

I am rather unenthusiastic about these steps that are laying the groundwork for merger in the future. The theological breadth tolerated in the RCA, including ordained ministers of the Word who deny the physical resurrection of our Lord, is just too broad for my comfort range. This "demythologizing" viewpoint was held by an RCA pastor who came to lead a spiritual retreat of our Japan mission some years ago. The fact that Richard De Vos has thrown his considerable resources behind this push and that some others have made merger their stated life's mission stimulates my cynicism rather strongly. I realize that for those of the mid-19th Century immigration (mostly to West Michigan and Iowa), there are perhaps few differences that divide them. But the ongoing toleration of Masonic Lodge membership, the departure from orthodox theological positions with little or no consequences, and very different ecumenism, with the RCA's main partners being the PCUSA and UCC, say to me that putting the brakes on this is the way to go for the CRCNA. 

This is very troubling and further evidence that Bob De Moor is not qualified to be the Banner Editor.  He has a right to his own opinion but as the Banner editor he is supposed to uphold the values and beliefs of the CRC. The RCA has changed significantly in the last several years and in my opinion has lost its way. The talk of further alignment with them should be of concern for all of us.

The RCA denomination has approved the Belhar Confession, removed the conscience clause related to women’s ordination and demonstrated a lack of accountability and discipline on Biblical truths.  There is a growing acceptance of homosexual practice in this denomination.  The RCA General Synod of 2012 has formed a commission to write a new statement on human sexuality. Many of the people on this commission hold a position contrary to Scripture and the traditional male/female roles. In fact the RCA church has a practicing lesbian holding the office of Pastor of the Word and Sacrament.

If Bob De Moor represents the majority in the CRC then it’s becoming apparent that those who oppose the CRC drift and acculturation are a significant minority now.  

This is our blessful fact throughout our synods. Let's now focus on our strengths for mutual benifits of our Kingdom works, such as outreach ministrues and missions in here and abroad. Even we have differences, we can help and build up each other for better together because we are all His family members.

Sarcasm aside, why should the CRC consider merging with another denomination, when it hasn't even worked out how to be at peace with itself?  The women-in-office issue is treated by many in the CRC as a done deal, just waiting for complete adoption, when in fact the denomination accepts two positions as being biblically responsible.  I seem to recall that the idea at the time was to work toward unity on the issue, but I have seen no debates on the topic at all since then, leading me to wonder whether that was a false commitment to try for unity.  If the CRC's way of working out differences is for influential people in the denomination to wait until their favorite position wins, and then drop or stifle the issue, then this suggests that any marriage to another denomination will be one with communication problems.

I'm somewhat curious about a practical result.  Has there ever been a case historically in the last 200 years where two denominations have joined together where they have increased in membership as a result?   In the cases I am aware of, membership has continued to decline jointly, usually at an even faster rate than for other denominations.  The PKN is an example of this decline, which happened both before and after unification.  

Unity is a good thing;  it is scriptural.  But unity out of fear of decline, or for the purposes of strengthening structures at the expense of spirit and obedience, probably will not receive God's blessing.  God does not want our structural connivances nor our institutional "sacrifices".  He wants our hearts and our obedience.  Covering over our disobedience on immorality, or on gender issues, or on teaching our children in the fear of the Lord, will not receive God's blessing.  Israel was condemned for offering sacrifices to both God, and to Baal;  we cannot serve God and the world.