The Reformed Church in America (RCA) and the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) made history on Saturday, June 14, 2014, when delegates from the synods of both denominations held a joint synod session to debate and adopt a resolution. It is the first time that has happened since the CRC seceded from the RCA in 1857. [In 2011, delegates from the two churches held a session to ratify a resolution about translations of the Reformed confessions that had been previously adopted separately by both synods.]
Delegates from both denominations voted simultaneously and unanimously to adopt a resolution declaring that “the principle that guides us, and the intention that motivates us, is to ‘act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel [us] to act separately.’” Additionally, the resolution included instructions to the CRC’s Board of Trustees, and the General Synod Council of the Reformed Church in America that the future relationship between the two denominations be guided by this principle.
Dr. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, general secretary emeritus of the RCA, placed the historic division between two denominations into a more global context. “The idea that any group with a slightly different understanding of the truth can separate itself from a denominational structure has been so commonplace, we barely give it a thought,” he said. “What we confess as the one holy, catholic church has become endlessly divided. Our present shameful sinful state of affairs is that there are 43,800 denominations in the world. Our proper response should be confession and repentance.”
Rebecca Warren, chair of the CRC’s ecumenical and interfaith relations committee, delved into the history of the two churches, noting that their roots stretch back more than 100 years in North America. But “the churches decided that what divided them could not be bridged,” she said. “They parted ways, creating separate agencies and churches.”
Hurts are more recent than 150 years ago. Brian Seifert, a CRC delegate from Cadillac, Mich., and David Schut, an RCA delegate from Sioux Center, Iowa, addressed the gathering together. Both told of growing up hearing pejorative comments about the other person’s denomination. Seifert said he once heard a CRC pastor speak of an RCA pastor as ‘the great Satan.’ “On behalf of the CRC,” he said to Schut, “I ask forgiveness.”
Jeff Japinga of the RCA’s commission on Christian unity noted that in recent decades, an increasing set of cooperative efforts between the two denominations is changing the landscape. “What we have done together has advanced the gospel in so many ways,” he said.
The list of those cooperative efforts continues to grow. There are congregations that belong to both denominations. Church multiplication efforts of both denominations are combined in Kingdom Enterprise Zones. Pastors from either denomination may receive calls to churches in the other. The Disability Concerns ministry operates within both denominations. World Renew provides domestic disaster response for both denominations. The Reformed Benefits Association administers the U.S. insurance plans for both churches. The new Lift Up Your Hearts hymnal was produced by a partnership of the CRC and RCA. The IT departments of both churches have joined forces. The list goes on.
Cooperation also happens in local communities. Doug Van Aartsen, an RCA delegate from Ireton, Iowa, recounted a time more recently when he worked together with the CRC pastor in the same town. He said that a trailer park in Sioux Center, Iowa, that housed a number of Hispanic families was being closed and the families were being relocated in Ireton. “The town, to its shame, was opposed to this,” Van Aartsen said. “The CRC pastor and I stood against them. There is now a group of Hispanic people in Ireton, and we have a good relationship. It was an example of two congregations working together at a local level. I’d like to think we made a difference.”
As Dutch references abounded, including references to the historic rivalry between the two denominations’ schools (Hope College and Calvin College), one delegate noted that it seems that the issues are only between folks with Dutch backgrounds. “There is no consideration for ethnics,” said Rev. Ron Chu, a CRC delegate from Classis California South. “I came [into the CRC] in 2001 and I’ve been treated really well. I hear the same thing from Korean pastors in the RCA. You are willing to embrace people from other ethnic groups, and I hear that you guys are arguing among brothers and sisters. That is something to think about.”
The adoption of the resolution was concluded with cheers, hugs, handshakes, and applause as delegates from both churches joined hands to sing together the doxology.
Synod 2014 is meeting at Central College in Pella, Iowa, from June 13-19. For continuous Banner coverage, please follow The Banner on Facebook or @crcbanner on Twitter. You can find more tweeting by following hashtag #crcsynod. News stories will be posted at www.thebanner.org several times daily. For CRC Communications releases, webcast, and live blogging, please visit www.crcna.org/synod. Unless noted otherwise, all photographs are by Karen Huttenga.