Two Churches, One Mission

When leaders of the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the Reformed Church in America traveled across the United States and Canada earlier this year to meet with pastors and congregational leaders, they had one major theme: togetherness.

Rev. Joel Boot, executive director of the CRCNA, and Rev. Tom De Vries, general secretary of the RCA, wanted to take away the focus from one “m” word: merger, and replace it with another: mission.

“The more we can be working together toward the mission of God, the better testimonies we can be,” Boot said.

“There is genuine openness to talking together, working together, praying together, worshiping together, and reaching out together. I found people across the continent hungering for that emphasis and eager for that engagement,” he said.

As the denominations prepare for their first combined general synod June 13-19 in Pella, Iowa, Boot and De Vries showcased the collaboration that exists in three major areas: increased missional impact, realized efficiencies, and expressing a common witness.

They noted that when CRC and RCA congregations work together, they accomplish much more than they do on their own. At the denominational level this is also true. Sharing resources enables us to create new initiatives that help congregations and worldwide efforts.

This collaboration in mission has already taken many forms.

Disaster relief has been made easier as World Renew and the RCA Care network have jointly hosted relief teams.

Students at both Western and Calvin theological seminaries gain leadership experience together in areas all around the world during the January term.

Christian Reformed Home Missions and the RCA’s church multiplication offices are collaborating in what are called “kingdom enterprise zones.” In these designated areas, leaders from both denominations pool their skills as they look to strengthen current churches and create growth for new ones.

The two denominations are also working closely together in the area of disability ministries.

Another way in which the CRC and RCA are joining forces and sharing resources is through the Reformed Benefits Association. This collaboration provides health insurance for ministers, lay personnel, missionaries, and retirees in both denominations.

“Every dollar that we can save on health insurance is a dollar a church can put into ministry,” notes Bob Nykamp, COO of Pine Rest Health Services. “Maybe that’s one more life touched.”

The information technology departments in the RCA and CRC have also created a single team that provides helpdesk and other support for CRC and RCA offices in the U.S. and Canada.

For a few congregations, collaboration has meant becoming a dually affiliated church. These churches share membership in RCA and CRC classes. Among them is Pillar Church in Holland, Mich., where the CRCNA was created when it split from the RCA in 1857.

The CRC and RCA are working together with the larger Christian church, expressing Christian unity by emphasizing common beliefs. Along with shared creeds, the two denominations share memberships in a number of national and international ecumenical organizations, including World Communion of Reformed Churches, Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A., the Canadian Council of Churches, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, and Sojourners.

The two denominations also have a common witness through their media ministries. Back to God Ministries International and Words of Hope work together internationally, and in North America they jointly produce “Groundwork,” an English-language radio program that includes cohosts from both denominations.

As the two denominations move forward, Boot and De Vries asked for prayers and invited people to send notes of encouragement that will be displayed at synod.

“We hope that they may know better not only what we are doing together but why it matters in the work of Jesus Christ,” Boot said.

About the Author

Christian Reformed World Missions

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Although I've always supported and have spoken favorably about World Renew -- and still do -- it needs to be pointed out that although the CRCNA likes to take credit for it, World Renew is not, simply not, a part of the CRCNA.  It is it's own corporation, with its own governing board, and its own officers.  It does not receive CRCNA ministry shares but directly raises its own funds.  Nor does it do the work, or do work in behalf of, the CRCNA.  Indeed, its recent change of name is indicative that it has been, and considers itself, an independent actor (and a very good one) for a very long time, working with Christians from a number of denominations.  And all of that is very good.

In fact, World Renew is Exhibit A for the argument that the institutional church (whether CRCNA or RCA) does well to preach/teach/inspire/encourage, but then not to extend beyond its sphere of authority/responsibility.  Can you imagine how much less effective World Renew might be if it was under the authority of the Synod, or even the CRCNA BOT, as opposed to its own board of directors and officers?

The CRCNA endorses a number of institutions and organizations as being "worthy of support" by the CRCNA membership, and World Renew is one of those.  That's fine (assuming that power is not abused), but the CRCNA should not try to or claim to do the work of those other organizations -- like WCRC -- but rather be pleased that those other organizations also draw support from members of other institutional churches.  That happening gives real world evidence of the holy catholic (universal) church we regularly confess.

Thus, the work of World Renew will go on, probably in the very same amount and at the very same level of quality, whether the CRCNA and RCA merge, collaborative, or stay separate.  And World Renew can also continue to collaborate with the RCA Care Network whatever these two denominations do.  In fact, World Renew's governance/authority structure will not change even if the CRCNA and RCA merge.  And if the RCA wanted its Car Network (assuming that was an RCA owned ministry) to merge into World Renew, they could choose to do that (if World Renew agreed) without any need to merge the denominations.

This article says the CRCNA has a "membership in ... Sojourners."  Really?  If so, that is outrageous.  While I certainly don't disagree with everything Sojourners advocates, it is clear that Sojourners is not a church organization, not an ecumenical organization, but rather a political organization.  Beyond that, it is a political organization dominated by a single person, its founder, Jim Wallis (whose name, Jim Wallis, is the second link after Home on the main page of its web-site).

Why would the CRCNA have membership in a political organization effectively owned and operated (even if it is technically a non-profit organization) by a single individual?

This statement needs to be corrected (if in error) or clarified and explained (of not in error).

Clicking on the main menu link of Jim Wallis, by the way, produces sub-links of:

    Jim's Books
    Jim's TV Appearances
    Jim's Blog
    Jim's Articles
    Jim's Events
    Jim's Video Course

Again, some confirmation (and if confirmed, explanation) or denial of this is required.  I'm quite sure there are a lot of CRCNA members who themselves might be members of, say, Focus on the Family (which is also quite political, though frankly not as much as Sojourners), but would never be members of Sojourners and would strongly object to their institutional church being a member of Sojourners (or even Focus on the Family) in their behalf.

Actually, I believe World Renew is part of the CRCNA. It does not receive ministry share support. However, its board is appointed in pretty much the same way as the boards of the other denominational agencies: nominations from classes/regions, voted on at synod. World Renew reports to synod, and between synods to the Board of Trustees. Its directors report to the executive director as well as to the World Renew board, the same dual reporting structure that applies to WOrld Missions, Home Missions, Back to God, etc. It needed approval by synod to change its name. As far as I know, its bylaws would reflect this. 

FYI, Pillar Church in Holland, Michigan did not split from the RCA in 1857 but rather in 1882, joining the CRC in 1884.

Gayla: I think your characterization of World Renew is mistaken.  World Renew is its own legal entity, that is, a legally existing corporation with its own legal governing board.  As an aside, there are actually two corporations I believe, one US (Michigan corporation, filed in 1963), and one Canadian.

The CRCNA agencies (e.g., CRHM) are not separate corporations, but defined "efforts," if you will, that are merely facets of the CRCNA (also a legal corporation (Michigan)).  Christian Reformed Home Missions, for example, is listed in the Michigan online records as an "assumed business name" of the CRCNA, which means it is not a separate legal entity.  I can't even find assumed business name filings for OSJ or Safe Church or World Missions.  World Renew might "report to Synod" but that has nothing to do with governing authority. 

This distinction is not merely a detail or technicality.  An agency's officers (e.g., CRHM, OSJ CRWM) can be changed or the agency eliminated at the whim of the CRCNA (more specifically, the CRCNA BOT I believe as the denom is currently structure, or even possibly by the ED).  I presume Synod could second guess the BOT on that (come the next one-week-each-year Synod), but still, the agency can be changed or eliminated at the whim of the CRCNA.

Not so World Renew.  The CRCNA BOT cannot tell World Renew to change its officers, nor can it eliminate World Renew's existence.  World Renew is its own legal entity (even when it was called CRWRC, the name implications notwithstanding), and has its own (legally governing) BOD (board of directors).  Now, it is true that World Renew is "somewhat connected" to the CRC, even in matters relating to governance.  World Renew's bylaws (but not Articles of Incorporation) provide that some of its BOD actions need to be ratified by Synod (but they are only initiated by the World Renew BOD).  Also, World Renew Directors (members of the Board of Directors) come from its "Board of Delegates Members" who in turn are elected by various Classes (but, importantly, not Synod).  In effect, World Renew's governing documents control the CRC church affiliation of its individual directors, grant meaningful corporation member authority to persons elected by the various classes (but not Synod), but it is by no means a mere "agency" of the CRCNA.  And, by its own chosen bylaws, World Renew it is designed to "work with" the CRCNA, but by no means exclusively with the CRCNA.  Mind you, I'm not opposed to that "lack of CRCNA control" -- rather, I applaud it.  World Renew is much too large of an endeavor to be managed and governed in the same way that, say, OSJ is managed and governed.

Although I've not thoroughly researched it, my quick peek at the Calvin College Articles of Incorporation suggest its BOD (actually caledl BOT -- Trustees instead of Directors -- but same thing) are directly appointed by Synod, which means the CRCNA has quite a bit of "direct control" over Calvin College that it doesn't have over World Renew, and certainly much than it has over its agencies which have no legal separation at all from the CRCNA (or the authority of the BOT and/or ED).

If you are correct, then I learned something new today!

I think both the CRCNA and World Renew believe they benefit (in terms of response from CRC members) from the impression that World Renew is "another CRC agency."  Many CRC members do not even know that World Renew doesn't get ministry shares.

On the other hand, I think World Renew recognizes that as to the world outside the CRCNA (which it is increasingly involved with), having a name that seems to connects it to the CRCNA as a mere agency discourages them from working with World Renew (and that's bad).  There is a tension there.  The generally expressed reasoning for the name change (to World Renew) was a bit disingenuous I thought.  I think the reason was simple: to distance CRWRC/WR from the CRCNA by name, that is, to communicate to others outside the CRCNA that it is not merely "just another CRCNA agency" (which is in fact true) even it has had and still may have some level of "special connection" to the CRCNA.

At present, World Renew has a registered name of "Christian Reformed World Relief Committee"  -- which allows them to give both the impression of being a mere agency (like Home Missions) when needed/desired, but they don't have to use that dba when that impression is not desired.

I think the CRCNA should be fully satisfied that their preaching, teaching, inspiration and encouragement has spawned efforts like CRWRC/World Renew, and not desire that CRWRC/World Renew be perceived an institutionally identical with the CRCNA, but then I'm that sphere sovereignty guy. :-)

I just got done reading a book about/by Partners Worldwide, which is also its own separate orgnanization of course, but saturated with influences of a Reformed worldview, and of CRC people in particular (and Partners Worldwide has worked much in the past with CRWRC).  Like World Renew, Partners Worldwide's governance body is populated with folks who have expertise in what they specifically do.  In neither case would be be good for the organization to be run by an insitutional church.

Local CSI Christian Schools are often organized in this way as well, and subject to the same misimpressions.  They are generally (always?) separate corporations, run by their own boards of directors, but many people think they are "owned" by one or more CRC churches.  In fact, sometimes the Articles of Incorporation or Bylaws of these CSI schools require that directors be members of a CRC church.  Again, that doesn't mean that the CRC churches own the schools, but merely that the CSI school -- it's own entity -- wants to maintain a certain perspective within its governing body (its BOD) and it was decided that the best way to do that was to "use the CRC church(es)" in a sense to help guarantee that perspective.

I think it is helpful for World Renew to "use" the CRC -- that is, draw members who in turn elect directors -- from the various classes.  But like the CSI churches, it is still important to "distinguish between the spheres," in part so that folks who are competent at being a school board member (or in WR's case, a relief/development organization board member) are the governing body, and not a church council (or other church authority body).