Ecumenical Relations Is Distinct From Interfaith Dialogue

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In its report to Synod 2009, the Ecumenical Relations Committee (ERC) said that it was beginning to talk about interfaith dialogue. The impetus for the conversation was the fact that through the Canadian Council of Churches, CRC people were serving on committees dialoguing with the Jewish community and with the Muslim community, and also on a CCC committee tasked to reflect as churches on how interfaith dialogue should be conducted within denominational structures. To the surprise of the ERC, Synod said that Interfaith dialogue should be part of the Committee's mandate, and then told the committee to come up with rationale and grounds for their decision.

In the period between Synods 2009 and 2010, the ERC studied the issue in some depth. It concluded that while there were some surface similarities between ecumenical relations and interfaith dialogue (i.e., people of faith who do not agree on both significant and superficial points of doctrine and liturgical practice coming together to understand each other better, and where possible stand together on select issues), really they are very distinct. The ERC understands that ecumenical relations properly exist between people and churches who belong to Christ's family: that whatever their differences are, they concur on the basic tenets of the gospel. Interfaith dialogue is with those who belong to a "community of faith" but who do not confess Jesus as Lord.

For the CRC, this distinction is important. There are Christian churches which define the word ecumenical quite differently ("we have ecumenical relations with any community of faith: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh..."). By being transparent on the position of the CRC and its Ecumenical Relations Committee, we hope to avoid confusing or alarming our people, and maintaining our testimony to the world. That's a major reason why the committee asked to be renamed. Now it's the "Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee (EIRC)." The two dimensions of the mandates assigned by Synod are named, and not comingled.

After the decision of synod was made to rename the committee, someone said to me that it should be "Ecumenical Relations and Interfaith Dialogue Committee (ERIDC)" to make it even clearer; I suggested he make a motion to reconsider, but he never did that. But I think we can move forward with it the way it is (and I am loath to ask Synod 2011 to once again rename this committee — that would be 4 names in 4 years!). My hope is that we as a denomination will grow in fellowship with believers and Christian Churches domestically and internationally, and that we will grow in respectful understanding with our neighbours from other faith traditions.

- Bruce Adema

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