What Does It Mean to Be Christian Reformed?

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.

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