Several ecumenical guests from denominations in communion with the Christian Reformed Church brought greetings and reports to Synod 2019.
Chan Thieng, general secretary of the Christian Reformed Church of Myanmar expressed thanks for the invitation to attend "as one of your friends from afar." Thieng shared some history of the CRCM and of the Reformed Theological College of Myanmar, where he also teaches. Thieng graduated from Calvin Theological Seminary in 1995.
He described the context in which the CRCM ministers, being formed in a country where more than 80% of the population practices Buddhism and "generally speaking, Christians belong to ethnic minority groups."
At the current time, Christians are beginning to experience more freedom in worship and association than in the past 60 years. Thieng said the CRCM has 20 home missionaries, they've started a health clinic and their Reformed Theological College "trains youths for the ministries of the church."
Gustav Claassen, general secretary of the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa, told synod, "We as reformed churches need one another." He spoke of challenges facing his South African church including effects of climate change on the land, political movements highlighting differences and divisions, and the need for scriptural responses to the prevalence of same-sex relationships.
Claassen said the DRC sees itself as an African church, believing that it was established "355 years ago to serve our land in the way Jesus would." He said they need their sisters and brothers in different churches to persist in their prophetic witness together, referencing the prayer of Jesus in John 17 "for all believers to unite in their witness to renew the world."
William Julius of the Uniting Reformed Church of Southern Africa centered his remarks on the Belhar Confession, urging the synod to adopt the Belhar as a full confession in the CRC.
The Belhar came out of the churches of the Uniting Reformed Church when South Africa was governed by apartheid, the systematic separation of the races. The Belhar declares apartheid and the ideas behind it heretical, a violation of the fundamental teachings of the Christian faith.
Some Reformed churches in Africa and beyond have affirmed Belhar as an official confession of faith along with the Reformation confessions the Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dort. The Christian Reformed Church, instead of including it among the Reformed confessions, initially put the Belhar in the category of “Ecumenical Declarations of Faith.” When other denominations found this confusing, the church placed the Belhar in a new category of faith documents called “Contemporary Testimony.”
The burden of Julius’ remarks was that the CRC should rethink this decision and include Belhar among its confessions. He suggested the present time of division, disunity, and racial discord in our countries is “a kairos moment,” an auspicious time to reconsider the Belhar.
“Belhar is not a political document,” he said. “It is based on the Word of God,” adding, it is a statement not for a certain period only, but for the church in all times and places.
Hirotsugu Mochida greeted synod on behalf of the Reformed Church of Japan.
"We are grateful for seven decades of cooperation in mission, and the many people brought to the Lord through that mission," he said. He further thanked the denomination for World Renew's relief work after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.
Mochida described Japan as "a land of great spiritual darkness where only 1% of the people are Christians.
"We plead that you will send us more missionaries to assist us in the work of proclaiming the gospel to the other 99%," he said.
Mochida called himself a fruit of the CRC's work in Japan, since he became a Christian in response to hearing the gospel through Back to God Ministries at age 13.
Synod 2019 is meeting at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., from June 14-20. For continuous coverage from our award-winning news team, download the Banner app on your mobile device or follow The Banner Magazine on Facebook or @crcbanner on Twitter. You can find more tweeting by following hashtag #crcsynod. News stories will be posted on The Banner’s dedicated Synod web page several times daily. Unless noted otherwise, all photographs are by Karen Huttenga.