Work on realigning the administrative and governance structure of the Christian Reformed Church continued at the May meeting of the CRC’s Council of Delegates, albeit with bumps in the road. (The Council acts on behalf of the CRC’s synod between the annual meetings of synods.)
The restructuring along American and Canadian lines was announced in February after legal counsel advised that direction and control of Canadian resources had to be handled by Canadian delegates to the Council (known collectively as Canada Corporation) to be in compliance with Canadian tax law. (See “Restructuring Gives CRC in Canada More Ministry Control,” April 2020, p. 18.) The changes were met with consternation on the part of some staff and delegates and led to the sudden resignation of former executive director Steven Timmermans. (See “Timmermans Resigns as Executive Director,” April 2020, p. 14.)
A Skeleton Plan
The executive committee of the Council proposed what it called a “skeleton plan” for how the restructuring might look. It proposed that each country appoint an independent executive director who would work collaboratively with his or her counterpart on the other side of the border. Both job descriptions would include a plan for cross-border cooperation and unity.
The plan includes having synod appoint an ecclesiastical officer who can “help shepherd the denomination forward in a way that fosters unity across the border, emphasizes our shared faith, synodical positions, and ecclesiastical polity, and advances the denomination’s global ecclesiastical goals.”
Andy De Ruyter, president of Canada Corporation, stressed that it is not a finished project. “It’s a stepping stone so we can move forward,” he said.
Not all delegates were in favor of moving forward with only the proposed plan. Tyler Wagenmaker, Classis Zeeland, said this is a good time to “have a crucial conversation about going forward as one denomination or (as) two denominations working together.” He wanted to give the denomination two stark differences to choose from. “This proposal gives us one way but doesn’t allow us as a denomination to be able to have the other conversation.”
To that end, he made a motion to instruct the executive committee to map out a second distinct option of “what it might look like to become two distinct nationally-defined denominations that cooperate with ministries where applicable."
Mark Vande Zande, Classis Heartland, agreed with Wagenmaker. “If we don’t have the discussion, we aren’t listening to the voices in our denomination,” he said.
Several delegates bristled at the suggestion that they discuss possibly splitting.
De Ruyter reacted strongly. “To put (dividing) on the table now is an easy way out,” he said. “I’m a bit taken aback by that suggestion. We’re trying to follow what we have to do as a nonprofit. It will be tough, but we need to work through it.”
Chris DeWinter, from Classis Niagara, pointed out that for more than 30 years, the denomination has considered binationality to be a gift to its churches. “Synod has always spoken clearly about binationality,” he said. “This is an outworking of that.”
Why Being a Binational Church is So Important (Feb. 2012)
Zachary King, director of the CRC’s mission agency Resonate Global Mission, was on the committee that wrote the proposal. He pointed out that joint ministry agreements are options for shared programs. “We saw this as the opportunity to enhance binationality, as a way to adhere to all legal requirements. A structure like this would allow us to do this,” he told delegates.
Emmett Harrison, from Classis Grand Rapids East, favored the proposal from the executive committee. “The overall intention is to work hard to fulfill specific legal requirements on both sides of the border yet maintain unity, working hard at being a binational denomination.”
Several delegates felt that even considering dividing the denomination along national lines would be overstepping Council’s authority. Adrian de Lange, Classis Rocky Mountain, noted that there are structures in place if people want to have that conversation, such as overtures to synod from churches or classes (regional groups of churches).
Colin Watson, acting executive director for the denomination, told The Banner that he is committed to working with leaders in both countries for continuing unity.
Moving Forward As One
After lengthy discussion, Council adopted the proposal. It defeated adding a second option by a large margin.
Paul De Vries, Council chair, said it is very important that the Council communicate that the actions taken show that it is doing its best to move forward.
“We’ve made it clear we don’t want to talk of separating the denomination unless we can’t help it,” he said. “If we are going to continue to work together well, we have to do our best. If we absolutely can’t do it, that should be something we discuss only when we come to that point.”
Enjoyed this article?
Don’t miss this week’s must-read articles:
- Tell A Better Story
- ‘Rebirth’ for a Wisconsin Church
- Book review: A Church Called Tov, by Laura Barringer and Scot McKnight