That We May Be One

A Season of Change

Matthew 2:13-15 tells the story of Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt after Jesus’ birth. In this passage we see echoes of God’s love for his people Israel and God calling them out of Egypt as recorded in the book of Exodus. But we also see that Jesus and his earthly family experienced the hardships of life in a difficult land. They experienced homelessness and persecution, and at least for a while they were immigrants in a strange land. This reality is comforting to me as we look at the church today.

It is easy to look at the news and become discouraged. The pace of natural and human-caused disasters seems to be increasing, disrupting the shalom of God we all crave. In the midst of this, we see people fleeing their homelands and striving to find peace and safety wherever they can. 

The Christian Reformed Church is a microcosm of the universal church, and in it we see glimpses of God’s work manifesting in this current reality. We see local churches growing in diversity, congregations reaching out to their communities, new churches being planted, and immigrants and refugees being advocated and cared for. I thank God for passionate saints, in the CRCNA and beyond, who show deep love for their neighbors by these actions.

In this issue, you will see a picture of the growing diversity of the CRCNA. Of our slightly more than 1,000 churches in Canada and the U.S., more than 330 self-identify as either multicultural or predominantly minority. Most of our denomination’s new churches are in this category. 

This diversity is something to celebrate, as is the unity we find in our shared passion for God’s kingdom and our mutual commitment to reach others in the communities where God has planted us. 

As the church universal heads into this Christmas season, I leave you with Jesus’ prayer for his disciples not long before his arrest: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23).

May we live into the reality of Jesus’ prayer and his longing for us to be together in community.

About the Author

Colin P. Watson Sr. is the executive director of the CRCNA. He is a member of Madison Square Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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Although the growing diversity of our denomination brings me great hope in some ways, I still see it as very sad that we don't even try, in many other ways, to embrace unity in the way that Jesus prays for in Jn. 17:20-23. I have heard far too many times people emphasizing that we need to "maintain our Reformed distinctive". Far too often we see the church unwilling to embrace mystery and "theological room" for others within the structure of the church. Here are some examples...

Right from the beginning Jean Calvin and the other Reformers couldn't make "room" for people who essentially believed slightly different things about the Lord's Supper, about the sacraments, or about baptism in particular--even going so far as to battle with, persecute and kill those who disagreed with our theology. Later, in 1857, we parted ways with the RCA primarily over hymns and other nuanced theological issues, which we now take for granted --and no, "lodge membership" was not part of that split--that didn't come till later.

Still further down the line, I remember the church and family explosions of brother vs. brother in the debates regarding women serving in ecclesiastical office.

And, in 2016, instead of embracing people who may have a different theology regarding baptism by giving them room to dedicate their children instead of baptising them right away--in spite of more than 500 years worth of debate about what the "right" theology of baptism is, the CRC could not embrace diversity, but insisted on imposing our covenant theology (and yes, I love the covenant theology of baptism we have) upon those who weren't there yet (and maybe never would be). 

And now, our denomination is on the threshold of insisting that officebearers must "tow the line" on our theology of human sexuality, by declaring that it is "already confessional".

Our history, as a denomination, sadly, is rarely the history of Romans 14 in which Paul advocates that we be at peace with those who differ with us on "debatable matters", and instead it is more in line with the false idealism of the modernist's dream of being able to "nail down", in immense detail, ever theological "jot and tittle". 

I too pray for unity in our denomination. Sadly, humanly speaking, looking at our past and present, I don't see very much effort at actual-factual, practical unity with other denominations, nor do I see much effort at creating room within our denomination for those who may believe differently than the majority of us do on "non-essentials". 

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