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The Ecumenical Rule Book

Last month this column talked about how the Christian Reformed Church relates to other denominations, establishing ecumenical relationships via our Interchurch Relations Committee.

How does that committee, and ultimately synod, decide who we will talk with and who we will cozy up to in closer, more sisterly relationships?

The guiding document, our ecumenical rule book so to speak, is the denomination’s Ecumenical Charter. And as of last year, we have a new one.

What’s changed? Rather than looking for relationships only with churches who think like us, the new charter calls for much broader ecumenical relationships.

As the Interchurch Relations Committee members wrote when they proposed the new charter, “The CRC is less insistent than we once were that our partners understand Christian, or even Reformed, truth in the same ways as the CRC.”

At heart, the committee said, it is enough to believe that a particular denomination is part of the universal church of Christ to be considered an ecumenical partner.

Under the new charter, there are two types of relationships we have with other churches: either we are in ecclesiastical fellowship or in dialogue.

We are still closest to the Reformed churches, with whom we have a shared theological heritage. With those churches, such as the Reformed Church in America, we have ecclesiastical fellowship.

That means we send delegates to each other’s major assemblies, such as synod, and we allow each other’s pastors into our pulpits, celebrate the Lord’s Supper together, exercise mutual concern and encouragement, and communicate on issues of common concern. The CRC is in ecclesiastical fellowship with some 30 denominations worldwide.

 With other churches, we are in dialogue. In these relationships, such as with the Presbyterian Church in Canada, we maintain conversation and correspondence on a wide range of issues and explore areas for joint ministry.

The CRC’s Ecumenical Charter can be found on pp. 298-304 of the Agenda for Synod 2006, where it is called the “proposed” charter. The Agenda is online at, under Resources, Synod, and a print copy of the Agenda is available in each church.

Next month: Our closest friend, the Reformed Church in America.

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