CRC-RCA Relations on Synod’s Agenda

Rev. Peter De Jong, pastor of the Christian Reformed Church of Dutton, Michigan, evaluates items on Synod’s Agenda dealing with the relations between the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America. These items are found on pages 187–188, 585, 593, and 600 in Agenda for Synod 1973.

The History – One hundred and sixteen years ago fom little churches notified Classis Holland of the Reformed Church in America of their withdrawal from its fellowship since they could no longer in good conscience remain part of that denomination. Their documents express their objections to such practices as singing of hymns, open communion, neglect of catechism preaching and teaching and of home visiting, and general lack of appreciation for and maintaining of the Reformed faith and practice they had come to love. Since that time, what is now the Christian Reformed Church has gone its independent way.

Recently some conversation began between the Inter-Church Relations Committees of the two denominations regarding “the best approach to pursuance of ecumenical relationships.” The result was a proposal for a meeting of a “broadly based group of leaders in both denominations” in an effort to “create an atmosphere of understanding and trust.” Plans for such a meeting, announced to the 1972 Synod received its commendation. (Acts 1972, pp. 291, 75.) With those meetings held last October 31–November 2 at Holland, Michigan, our readers have, no doubt, become familiar through the special reports in the February-March 1973 issue of THE OUTLOOK as well as in other publications. Dismissing the 1857 secession of the Christian Reformed fathers as naive, provincial and dated, and pointedly evading at the time any effort to consider possible remaining differences of principle between the two bodies, the delegates reportedly embarked on what one writer called a “headlong . . . pursuit of fellowship.”

The Conference issued a statement to all CRC Consistories recommending a broad program of cooperative action on all levels. To both denominations it reiterated the suggestion of pulpit exchanges and recommended joint studies, festivals, freer transfer of members, and cooperative conferences, magazines, servicemen’s work, camping and educational materials. To the Classes it recommended similar cooperative activity particularly in evangelistic and missionary planning, and it advised local churches to seek closer fellowship in similar ways, including special services on April 8 to be held “jointly or otherwise” to promote such “fellowship, cooperation and denominational unity” (Agenda 1973, pp. 188, 189, 192–195).

The Overtures – Now three overtures are asking the CRC Synod to face the serious differences of principle which have been so studiously avoided in this pursuit of unity of action.

Overture 21 from Classis Holland asks Synod “to instruct the Inter-Church Relations Committee to determine whether there are any areas of disagreement in the interpretation and application of Scripture between” the two churches “before the various joint ventures being recommended are approved.”

“1. Synod must determine agreement in principles before approving and recommending joint practices with another religious group in such strategic areas as: missions, education, worship and youth activities.

“2. The unity which Christ requires is not merely a unity of action (John 17:22b – ‘. . . . that they may be one, EVEN AS WE ARE ONE . . .’).”

Orange City’s Overture (No.5) asks “that all efforts toward unity and cooperation (such as suggested in the RCA-CRC statement) with the RCA on the denominational, classical and local levels include frank, biblical and creedal discussions of our similarities and differences on the following and similar matters:

“A. Covenantal consciousness is a doctrinal emphasis which comes to expression in our support for Christian education.” The Overture goes on to cite the statement sent out by the RCA to guide every minister in its churches, that such Christian school education “is not an essential element in the Covenant of Grace, nor a necessary consequence of baptismal vows.”

“B. Membership in the World Council of Churches” which the RCA maintains and the CRC rejects as “not permissible.”

“C. The two denominations are not creedally one,” since the RCA has dropped the negative parts of the Canons of Dordt.

“D. The question of lodge membership” which the CRC declares is wrong and the RCA leaves to the decision of individual consistories.

“E. Women as office bearers have been officia1ly permitted in the RCA,” while the CRC, up to the present, does not permit this.

Classis Sioux Center in Overture 16 similarly requests the “Synod to mandate its Inter-Church Relations Committee to discuss all biblical and creedal differences between the CRC and RCA in the future meetings for the promotion of unity and cooperation.” We are informed that the grounds for this overture are the same as those for Orange City’s except for one addition: “The view of Scripture is a major difference between the RCA and the CRC,” since the RCA has stated, “Scripture as the work of the faithful God is infallible and inerrant in all that it intends to teach and accomplish concerning faith and life.” “This . . . means that the church must determine what the Bible does and does not intend to teach or what man ought not to believe for salvation.”

Evaluation – It appears that these three overtures will compel Synod to face the question of whether it still takes the matters of principle which they raise seriously or whether it will treat them as no longer sufficiently important to impede the unity of action into which churches are plunging, drifting or being pushed.

Few would deny that we ought to promote good relations with our fellow Christians in the RCA and cooperate in community and other matters in which our Christian faith prompts common action. Regarding the differences mentioned in the overtures, we observe that many in our churches as well as the RCA do not favor Christian schools, advocate joining the WCC, know little and care less about the Canons of Dordt, and regard lodge membership as unimportant. A committee informs this Synod that it sees no reason why women should not ho1d church office. The statement of the RCA on the Bible can be matched with one in such a generally conservative document as the CRC 1961 Report on Infallibility which stated, “Scripture speaks with divine authority and trustworthiness on all things on which it chooses to speak in so far as it chooses to speak of them” (Acts 1961, p. 267). And we might add that there is plenty of evidence that we too are fast becoming the same kind of divided house that many in the RCA have long deplored as constituting one of their gravest problems. If we are becoming so similar why not get together?

What the Synod will decide will depend less on where it thinks we are than on in what direction it thinks we should go. If it feels that we should move toward fellowship and decides that the issues raised by the overtures are not serious enough to be allowed to interfere with that movement or even to be given serious consideration, it will be officially declaring our denominational indifferent to these points of Christian faith and practice for which throughout our history we have labored and struggled.

Unity that is promoted by indifference to Christian truth and practice will certainly not be the unity for which the Lord prayed, and it promises no good for the churches of either denomination. The fellowship of indifference is not the communion of saints. If the Synod still takes its commitment to the Reformed faith serious1y it will have to deal with the issues raised by these overtures and essentially sustain them. Whatever decisions are made on this as on some other issues by this Synod will tell us whether the CRC is still determined to remain true to the Lord and His word or whether it will join the apostasy of indifference which the Bible tells will characterize churches in the end-times (II Tim. 4:24).