If you think the Christian Reformed Church is mostly made up of people just like you, think again. Come along on a whirlwind tour of churches big and small, new and old, conservative and not—and marvel at what keeps us all together.
Welcome, boys and girls, ladies and gents, to this whirlwind seat-of-the-pants tour of the Christian Reformed Church. Mind your step as you ease into that recliner. Settle back, enjoy the view, and leave the driving to us. See that kind but slightly harried person waving goodbye? That’s your friendly local pastor, who will be more than happy to answer any questions you have when we’re done.
Ready to roll? We’re off.
Here we are pulling into Greater Los Angeles. Look to your left. There’s the Anaheim CRC—a fine specimen of CRCism—serious about its Reformed heritage but entrepreneurial enough to grow from its Dutch immigrant roots to active engagement with its community. Notice that separate building on the parking lot? They’re outgrowing their present building. That’s also blessedly typical of many other CRCs.
Now look to your right. See that building kitty-corner from the Rosedale Cemetery? That’s The Gracious Ark CRC. It started seven years ago and has been an organized congregation for two of those years. Pop in on a Sunday morning and most of you wouldn’t understand a word. That’s because the services are in Korean. It’s one of the bigger churches in Classis Pacific Hanmi, a regional group of Korean Christian Reformed congregations. We could also show you CRCs that are predominantly Hispanic, Chinese, First Nations, African American, and Vietnamese, among others.
Hold on to your hats—we’re throttling up to warp speed and heading north to the land of hockey, “howzitgoinehs,” and Tim Hortons’ great coffee.
Before we get there, we’ll make a quick stopover at Sunrise CRC of McMinnville, Oregon. Notice the white frame building with plastic hanging over the front door? They’re renovating. This 1980s-vintage church has few, if any, “traditional” CRC folks in it. In Sunrise CRC you’ll find ex-Catholics, -Mormons, and -Baptists. Even the pastor hails from a different faith community and sports a name that isn’t remotely related to Vander-this-or-that.
Hang on folks—we’re crossing the Canadian border and touching down in beautiful Abbotsford, British Columbia. We’re here to view some mother-and-daughter acts. First CRC (now “Gateway Community”) started in 1950 and grew rapidly as a fresh wave of immigrants from the Netherlands moved in. It spawned Second CRC (now called “Living Hope”) in 1969 and Trinity CRC in 1977. Those three, in turn, spawned New Life and Zion Chinese CRCs. And they’re not done yet, as they’re currently involved in even more church plants. As these churches gradually lose their Dutch accent in more ways than one, they’re continuing the effort of tuning themselves to life and ministry within the Canadian mosaic.
Next we’ll hop back across the border to Sumas CRC in the state of Washington. It’s a small rural church that’s been around the better part of a century and that, until recently, did not allow women to vote at congregational meetings. So you see, folks, there really is lots of variety in the CRC— and in more ways than one.
Oh, and see those immaculately coifed lawns next to that restaurant in the shape of a windmill? That’s Lynden, Washington. See all those vibrant churches there? Yup, almost all of ’em are CRC. Boys and girls, let me give you some advice: If you hate yard work and washing cars as much as I do, do not let your family move there!
Next up: a quick sweep of all those steadfast Iowa CRCs and a pleasant amble through West Michigan, with its high concentrations of sixth- and seventh-generation descendants of settlers who arrived with a dogged determination to remain Dutch and Reformed. Thankfully these younger generations have learned to ease up on the former in favor of the latter so that our Reformed vision can be shared with and enriched by so many others.
Look to your right, ladies and gents. There you see First CRC, Toronto. And over to your left, just a stone’s throw from it, is Woodbridge-Maranatha CRC. These churches are at opposite poles in how we should minister to homosexual persons. Today in the CRC you’ll see as much or more variety in one town as you do from one region to the next.
Finally, ladies and gentlemen, here we are on the East Coast. Notice how wonderfully diverse the CRC communities are becoming here—all the way from Iglesia El Buen Samaritano in Miami up to Northside Community CRC in Paterson, New Jersey, and then right on through to All Nations Heritage CRC in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Given all this variety, what are the threads that bind us together? What’s your take, ladies and gents? Any ideas, kids?
Yes, you, ma’am. Commitment to Scripture? You bet! Good observation! Invariably CRC congregations care deeply about knowing God’s Word and faithfully applying and obeying it.
What’s that, sir? CRCs can’t always agree on how to apply that biblical truth? Bicker till the cows come home? Some issues causing a really painful ruckus now and again? Yep, you got that right. But at least we care enough about biblical truth and about church unity to find ways of living together even when we can’t see eye-to-eye.
Here are some other suggestions I’ve heard recently—stuff to add to the list of things that keep us together.
Doctrine We’re still sold on Reformed teaching, although we differ widely in how to best present and communicate it. Ma’am? You doubt that we’re as together on that as I suggest? Please notice that we haven’t had a real doctrinal dustup in more than 30 years! Our divisions have centered on pastoral issues, not on our confessions.
Worldview We’re agreed that all of life is sacred. Instead of trying to hide from our culture, we seek to address it prophetically. Despite the brokenness caused by sin, we affirm that our world belongs to God and that God is saving and restoring all of it. We live daily in the sure hope that our Lord will finish the job and that in the meantime we’re invited to lend a hand as covenant partners in that restoration effort.
Common Mission Being part of a denomination provides real added value to our local churches by allowing us to do global ministry together in a way we could never dream of as individual congregations. Say what, young fella? You’re happy you can plunk down the bucks for a goat here and the CRC will get it to AIDS orphans in Uganda? I hear you. We’re also blanketing the world with God’s Word over the airwaves, sending missionaries, and starting new churches at home and abroad. If we stay current on some of that, then we can’t help but get excited about what God is up to in our communal efforts.
Accountability We work routinely in groups of churches (regionally as “classes,” binationally as “synod”) to keep each other accountable. And we even have a Church Order, which is sort of boring and routine except that it does a good job of protecting biblical values and becomes a real church saver when congregations threaten to implode. Mostly, though, the Church Order is like your knee joint—when it’s doing its job right you barely know it’s there.
High Commitment We take seriously that in Jesus Christ we’re called together to be and act like God’s growing family. We know we’re a small but living part of Christ’s one body—not just a social club.
Worship Despite huge differences in worship styles, CRCs are invariably committed to a high view of worship, where we humbly seek to glorify God, build each other up by sharing Word and sacrament, and respond in grateful obedience. Beyond that we’re pretty well agreed that we’re talking taste and/or cultural relevance.
Kingdom Vision We’re big on raising our kids in God’s ways, on Christian education at all levels, on seeing all our daily work and activities as a calling from God, and on working together with other Christians to show the world some hints of what that kingdom will look like until Christ returns.
Well, folks, we’ve arrived at the end of our tour. Look around the margins and you’ll find some trivia along the way that we hope will amuse you. Do keep celebrating with us both the variety and the unity in our denomination. And let’s pray for the love, vision, and grace to keep us all on the same track.
And thanks for the tip, ma’am. Your tour interpreters will certainly try to speak more clearly, simply, and effectively in the future. May God bless us all on our ongoing journey of discovery.
1 Do folks who want to join the CRC need to be rebaptized if they were baptized in another Christian church?
2 Which bus driver has gone on to become the Executive Director of Ministries for the CRC?
3 Where are the denominational offices of the CRC located?
4 Which province sported the very first CRC in Canada?
5 What percentage of CRC members have the Queen of England as their head of state?
6 In 1970 some intrepid Calvin College students did a spoof on the denominational magazine. What did they call it?
7 By roughly what multiple has the number of congregations grown since the CRC’s humble beginnings in 1857?
8 What two last names appear most often in the current CRC Yearbook listing of CRC pastors?
9 What was the per-member contribution towards denominational ministry called before it became known as “ministry share”?
10 How long is a typical English-language radio program of The Back to God Hour? Bonus: How often does the CRC’s annual synod (our widest assembly) meet?
Answers for CRC Trivia:
2. Peter Borgdorff
3. In Grand Rapids, Mich., and Burlington, Ontario
5. 29% (Canadians)
6. The Bananer
7. 250 (1,021 congregations now, divided by four original congregations)
8. De Vries (26 times); Kim (24 times)
10. 28 1⁄2 minutes
Total CRC membership: 273,220
Worshiping Communities: 1,021
Largest membership: 2,019, Sunshine CRC, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Largest Classis: Greater Los Angeles, 6,995 Members In 41 Churches
Smallest Classis: Arizona, 878 Members In 10 Churches [ Congregations are divided into 47 regional groupings called classes.]
Just for Fun
If The Banner were to do an exit poll as you left your place of worship, what sound would you classify as being the most brutal?
a. Out-of-tune pipe organ with all stops pulled
b. Cymbal clashes by incompetent drummer
c. Viscous sneeze in pew right behind you
d. Pastor coughing directly into microphone
e. Heaping collection plate you just dropped
f. Your little one loudly demanding, “Isn’t he ever gonna quit?”
How We Work Together
To fulfill our shared mission at home and around the globe, the Christian Reformed Church owns and/or participates in a mind-boggling array of local, regional, national, and international ministries. Those directly owned and operated by the denomination are five agencies, two institutions, and close to a dozen denominational ministries. For more information check out the CRC website at www.crcna.org. Here’s a quick list:
The Back to God Hour (BTGH)
Christian Reformed Home Missions (CRHM)
Christian Reformed World Missions (CRWM)
Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC)
Calvin College (CC)
Calvin Theological Seminary (CTS)
Canadian Ministries (CM)
Christian Reformed Church Loan Fund
Christian Reformed Denominational Office (DO)
Disability Concerns (DC)
Pastor-Church Relations (PCR)
Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action (OSJHA)
About the Author
Bob De Moor is a retired Christian Reformed pastor living in Edmonton, Alta.