Why is it that we go “back and forth” and not “forth and back?” Why do we tell someone to “go ahead, back up?” Why are we taught to use rearview mirrors even when we are driving forward?
Life seems full of these little inconsistencies. But there is good reason for some of them.
Rearview mirrors, for instance, are not optional. They are standard equipment on every road-worthy vehicle. And they’re not just for backing up; they’re vital to other driving maneuvers as well.
It’s also important to use rearview mirrors as we move through life. It has been said that “those who ignore the past are bound to repeat it.” We are better equipped to move forward when we first take time to look back.
As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Christian Reformed Church, let’s remember where we have been and reflect on the experiences that have brought us to this place and time in our history.
As I glance in the CRC’s rearview mirror, images from the past 150 years flash by. Some are a source of pride and encouragement, but some are painful.
I see families of faith huddled together in a snow-covered split log church on the south shore of Black Lake. I see the intently focused faces of Navajo children as they heard the gospel for the first time. I see men and women whose passion was to travel the globe to reach people who didn’t know Jesus.
In the days when the blue centennial edition of the Psalter Hymnal first found its way into the pews of churches across North America, my father and grandfather would often retreat to the porch to enjoy a cool evening breeze, a good cigar or pipe, and hours of deep theological discussion. It was a time in the church when theology was not only a seminary exercise but an everyday passion.
There are so many reminders in our past of God’s faithfulness and the church’s obedience.
Sadly, some of the images I see in the church’s rearview mirror give me pause. I realize that I must reflect and confess that the church I love was, and is, also a place of pain and disappointment.
We cannot forget that 1857 must be both celebrated and mourned. We celebrate a new beginning, but we mourn the split from the Reformed Church of America.
In the 1920s families and churches split over differing interpretations of the issue of “common grace.” Synods were filled with angry debate. Many left the CRC to form the “Protesting Reformed Churches” (today’s Protestant Reformed Church). How can we understand and experience grace for every generation before we reflect on the fires fueled by politics and personalities that scorched the church we love?
As the 20th century came to a close, thousands left the Christian Reformed Church protesting the back-and-forth decisions on the role of women in the church—a debate that continues today.
Looking back reminds us all that we are sinful and broken people who desperately need a God of grace and forgiveness. In our celebration we must take time to confess our sins and throw ourselves on the mercy of God. Let us not pass too quickly to celebration, for it is not our greatness but God’s grace, his unconditional love, that brings us first to our knees in confession and then to our feet in celebration.
We have much to celebrate, much reason for rejoicing. In this year of remembering, rejoicing, and rededicating, you are invited to begin by looking back and thanking God for all that he has done in the life of the Christian Reformed Church. God is great, God is good. Let us thank him. n
About the Author
Jerry Dykstra served as the executive director of the Christian
Reformed Church in North America from 2006-2011.