It’s been nearly 150 years since the Christian Reformed Church of North America was born after parting ways with the Reformed Church in America (RCA). The split resulted from a dispute over issues such as the permissibility of hymn singing and whether church members could also be members of the Freemasons Lodge.
But as the CRC approaches its 150th anniversary next year, cooperation between the two churches is growing. “Cooperation is the right thing and a very good thing for both denominations,” said Rev. Peter Borgdorff, the CRC’s executive director.
In the past five years both the CRC and RCA have received mandates from their synods to find ways to work together.
Borgdorff meets regularly with Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, general secretary of the RCA. From those conversations, Borgdorff has found that the CRC can learn much from the RCA about encouraging healthy congregational life.
“The RCA is further advanced in developing materials for assisting local congregations,” Borgdorff said. “They have done more work within their denominational family.”
In December 2004 the RCA and CRC formed a partnership to share publishing services under Faith Alive Christian Resources.
“Overall, the partnership is going very well,” said Gary Mulder, executive director of CRC Publications. “The RCA churches seem to be pleased, and there is trust within the RCA-CRC partnership team that has enabled us to resolve issues.” Those issues have involved making sure the needs of RCA churches are represented and deciding which RCA resources to include in Faith Alive catalogs, he said.
More recently the Back to God Hour, the CRC’s electronic media ministry, has been planning collaboration and joint programming in English-language radio with the RCA’s Words of Hope radio ministry.
Other areas in which the churches are learning from each other include chaplaincy, missions, and church planting. Perhaps the most visible of those is church planting.
Denise Stevenson, church planting and development leader for Christian Reformed Home Missions, says there are currently three CRC-RCA joint church plants, all in West Michigan. “Any type of collaborative efforts that keep us at the table pooling resources has great potential towards bringing the denominations back together on a plethora of fronts,” she said.
Rev. Allen Likkel, also of Christian Reformed Home Missions, points out an additional benefit: “When unchurched people can see the unity of Christians, that confirms the power of the gospel.”