What Does It Mean to Be Christian Reformed?

The View from Here

There is a rule that ministers should not tell stories about their children from the pulpit—at least not without their permission. Maybe there should be a similar rule that prohibits denominational folks like me from writing about their children. I’ll let you decide.

Our adult children (and their spouses) range in age from 19 to 30-something, with the majority being 20-somethings. I asked them some questions as members of Christian Reformed churches, and those who answered said I may share my resulting perspectives with you. 

I will begin with an explanation. I sent my quasi-scientific survey to nine people. I didn’t get a 100 percent response rate, and I think that’s healthy—they don’t go along just because their dad serves the Christian Reformed Church. 

A term often used with survey research is “informed consent.” I told them my intentions, so they understood the purpose of my questions: I had a Banner deadline approaching!

While I care a great deal about every generation in the CRC, the group I think about most is the young adult generation. We all read the research that says this generation is not sticking with the institutional church as have the preceding generations. (For a helpful analysis, read Emerging Adulthood and Faith by Jonathan Hill, available from Calvin College Press.)

I’m concerned for our denomination. So I asked my kids to try to understand their CRC-ness.  I gave them three dimensions to consider:

  • The degree to which being part of their local congregations identifies them as Christian Reformed.
  • The degree to which their commitment to the denomination identifies them as Christian Reformed.
  • The degree to which embracing a particular set of biblical/theological beliefs leads them to identify as Christian Reformed. (For this, I used the example from Kuyper: that every square inch belongs to God.)

I asked them to place percentages beside each factor, and asked that the three add up to 100 percent.

Without revealing specific responses, a clear pattern emerged. For nearly all of them, the strongest reason for identifying as Christian Reformed was membership in a local congregation. That’s what makes them CRC. 

The second-strongest factor was embrace of Reformed biblical/theological beliefs—and for two, it was actually their strongest focus. In last place was identification with the denomination.

Is this pattern similar to yours?  I suspect it is for many. And that’s as it should be. Being part of a local worshiping body ought to be of utmost importance, and what a blessing it is to know that CRC congregations are filling this critical role. 

I also was pleased to see that the biblical/theological dimension is also important, even though I know that my kids aren’t into distinctions such as the church as organism or as institute. These kinds of distinctions don’t matter much to to them. If the topic is stewardship of God’s creation, they don’t much care about separating the actions of individual members from those of the institutional church. I would go as far to say that if the institutional church is silent in the public square, they would find it to be unfaithful to God’s call.

We also need to face the third dimension: identification with the CRC as a denomination. Unlike previous generations, this emerging generation doesn’t focus much attention there. It’s clear that for this young adult generation, being part of a denomination is acceptable, but not necessary.

Perhaps that’s something we need to learn from our young adults. We must focus on healthy congregations with sound biblical and theological foundations, while the denomination’s role is to help churches to flourish—so that our sons and daughters can be rooted, growing in faith and sharing their faith with others. 

I’m grateful to be learning from them!

About the Author

Steven Timmermans served as the executive director of the Christian Reformed Church in North America from 2014 to 2020.

Steven Timmermans se desempeñó como director ejecutivo de la Iglesia Cristiana Reformada en América del Norte de 2014 a 2020.

Steven Timmermans는 2014 년부터 2020 년까지 북미에서 기독교 개혁 교회의 집행 이사로 재직했습니다.

See comments (3)


There is an adage that probably applies more to malls than to churches: Build it and they will come. How about "Preach it and they will come"?

Today's young people are not only the future of our denomination; they're the foundation for today's vibrant denomination.  When one asks young adults today what attracts them to church -- any church -- it is invariably that there is sound biblical preaching; many would say exegetical preaching. "Preach the text and make a bee-line for the cross."

Our modest church initiated a bus ministry a few years ago and we currently have five bus loads of university students (from secular universities) attending our two morning worship services. What's the attraction? Biblical preaching, a 45 minute sermon, and meaningful worship where the music is connected to the message.  There is something inspirational about having more than 100 university students occupying the front rows in the sanctuary, fully engaged in worship and taking copious notes during the message.

Ask them what it means to be Christian Reformed and they probably couldn't tell you. "We're here for the message, man."

It's all about the preaching. That leads to transformed lives, the growth of small groups as places of discipleship, and improved personal devotions.

May we all experience the day when we answer the question -- What does it mean to be Christian Reformed? -- with the answer: "That's where solid, biblical preaching takes place."

The church will not grow through a social gospel. It won't grow by offering workshops on scuba diving or adding a wide range of programs to already-heavy weekly schedules.

The sermon theme preached by John and reinforced by Jesus was "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near."  That message is as valid today as it was then.  And it is a message that regularly draws hundreds of university-age students to weekly worship... and the rest of us.

Thank you Steve for presenting this topic.  Knight is right! Remember that he is attracting mainly non-crc students.  Steve is referencing present crc members.  The biblical preaching principle should apply to both.

I don't think I can say it much better than what Keith Knight does.

As to Steve Timmerman's children's disinclination to take note of the difference between the church as institute and as organism, I promise him they will someday.  It will happen when someone in their local church wants to leverage that (institutional) church's name and influence to support his/political positions deemed wrong-headed by Steve's children.  All of a sudden, it will seem proper that the (institutional) church figure out what the (institutional) church is and what it is not.  That is, while Steve's kids might now have never heard of our Church Order's Article 28, they will then appreciate it.

No less than a guy named Abraham Kuyper dealt with this concern.  He may well have never considered the institute/organism distinct either when he was younger.  Given some years and experience, however, it figured out its importance, as well as the parallel importance for government (that its task as an institution must also be limited).  Indeed, figuring that out was part of humanity's development toward political pluralism that sees an appropriate level of tolerance to be a good thing. 

Sans an understanding/appreciation of the church as institute vs organism, the church risks becoming tyrannical, just as government becomes tyrannical when it decides it has no institutional constraints.