It was the great missionary William Carey who said, “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.” The URCNA appears to be doing little of either. We are a small-minded group of churches. In the opinion of this writer, the reason is fear.

Someone once said, “Fear is the beginning of defeat.” Fear prevents the URCNA from expecting and attempting great things for God. Please do not misunderstand me. It is not as if nothing is being done or has been done in our churches or federation. Every profession of faith, every advance in sanctification, every mission and missionary are great things (not to mention the Trinity Psalter Hymnal). But there could be so much more if we were not crippled by fear. If we continue to be characterized by fear we will be defeated in our efforts to promote and advance the cause of our Savior. Allow me to explain.

The URCNA has existed for more than twenty years. And yet I continue to hear cries about potential and/or creeping bureaucracy. After all, “We don’t want to become like the CRC!” “That is what we left behind.” “It is a slippery slope toward what we do not want to be.” The repeated and oft-heard opposition to anything done by or established beyond the local congregation is fear, and it will be our defeat because it is unhealthy. We would do well to remember all that the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) accomplished for the cause of Christ largely because they did not leave everything to the local church (more on this below). The term “bureaucracy” has a negative connotation—that is, excessive administration characterized by red tape and the concentration of power in administrators. The URCNA is about as far removed from bureaucracy as can be. We have one one full-time employee (which some think is one too many).

Let me use an analogy from marriage that I convey in premarital counseling. In Genesis 2 we read, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” I inform the couple that it is necessary for them to “leave” their respective parents. That is not only a geographical reference but a spiritual and psychological one as well. What I mean is this: a couple is to establish their own covenant household separate and apart from their parents. They are to make decisions for themselves and not allow the parents to control or make the decisions for them. Many couples are heard to say things like “I want to do it this way because that is the way it was done in my home growing up,” or, “I never want to do it that way because I had to do it that way growing up.” I point out to the couple that despite having moved out of their parents’ homes they are still allowing their parents to determine their behavior in either what they will or won’t do because of the influence of the home from which they physically removed themselves.

I hope you see where I am going with this? The URCNA, despite having left our mother’s home (the CRC) is still allowing our parent to determine what we do or do not do. In our efforts (fear) to not be like the CRC we are still controlled by the CRC because, like the couples I counsel, the parent’s behavior is determining our behavior. And all of this is generated by fear. This ought not to be, especially after twenty plus years! It is time to get beyond this fear.

Here is a shocking statement from someone who was a leader in the secession. The problem in the CRC was not bureaucracy. The problem in the CRC was that the boards, agencies, and staff were unaccountable. Repeated efforts to get answers to questions about doctrine, practice, and money went unanswered. Numerous examples could be provided, but those of us who were there know them all too well. From headquarters at 2850 to the campus of college and seminary there was no real accountability.

The varied activities of the CRC accomplished great things for the cause of Christ. In fact, they accomplished things far beyond their numbers, much more so than any other Reformed or Presbyterian denomination I am aware of. Missions, education, mercy ministry, and more were astounding given the size of the CRC. There was a lot to admire and even to emulate in the history of the CRC.

I began this series by noting that it is an effort to diagnose the spiritual health of the URCNA. A correct remedy depends on a correct diagnosis. If we continue to misdiagnose the problem of the CRC as bureaucracy, then we will continue to oppose any development of cooperation and coordination beyond the local congregation. The problem, I suggest, was lack of accountability. I suggest that we can accomplish accountability and have greater cooperation and coordination in our efforts to promote the cause of Christ. Here is how that can be done.

Instead of boards you have committees composed of nominated representatives from the churches. Then synod meets every year in order to hold them accountable.1 There may be some tweaking of this broad proposal, but in the opinion of this writer it will allow for more cooperation and coordination while maintaining accountability and accomplishing far more than what we currently accomplish.

Fear is an inappropriate reaction born of a misdiagnosis and cripples our efforts to expect and attempt to do great things for God. It is unhealthy and in need of change for the better. And we can do better. We have done better. Let us move forward together into the twenty-first century as a powerful force for the gospel and the kingdom of Christ.

1. I believe it was fear that led us twenty years ago to hold synod every three years. What were we thinking of—trying to get a brand new federation/denomination off the ground while meeting so infrequently?

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church delegates at the last synod told us as much when one informed us that is why they meet every year—that is, for the express purpose of holding their committees accountable.

Rev. Paul T. Murphy is the missionary pastor of Messiah’s Reformed Fellowship (URCNA) in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC. He has been an elder and pastor for more than thirty years.