World Communion of Reformed Churches

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The Uniting General Council of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) has come and gone. For many in the Christian Reformed Church, it was an intensely busy time. Since the Council was held on the campus of Calvin College, we were a primary host denomination and had responsibilities for all kinds of activities and services. And since our people are the kind of people they are, they showed their energy, hospitality, reliability and faith to those attending. We owe a debt of gratitude to those who displayed to the Reformed world the gracious face of the CRCNA.

As one of the CRCNA’s six delegates to the Council, I was very much aware of the significance of the proceedings. For decades the Reformed Ecumenical Council provided its member churches with a forum in which to interact on issues of confessional integrity and solidarity, and gave the opportunity to talk, pray and study together and to support each other. We six voted with the other REC delegates to dissolve the Council. I had a lump in my throat when I raised my hand in assent.

For generations, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches provided an opportunity for fellowship and common witness, particularly in matters of justice, to churches around the globe that identified in some way with the Reformed tradition. The six of us voted with the other WARC delegates to dissolve the Alliance. The gravity of the decision we made weighed on us.

When the time came to officially create the new ecumenical body, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, I wondered: Will this new entity be stronger, better, more effective than the two previous organizations? Will the commitment to confessional fidelity and mutual encouragement that was so much part of the ethos of REC live on in WCRC? Will the passion for justice in its many forms that was so much of what WARC was about beat in the heart of WCRC? When it was all said and done, I left feeling encouraged and hopeful.

The WCRC will build on two priorities, with equal attention paid to each. First, we agreed that Communion would be a priority. What does it mean to be a Communion of Reformed Churches? How does Communion get expressed? What is the basis of Communion? How do denominations in the North and the South, the East and the West, from rich and poor communities, perceive Communion, and how does it become real among them?

Second, we stated very clearly that justice will be a priority for the WCRC — justice, in its many dimensions, including: economic justice, gender justice, racial justice, political justice, justice for minority groups in society. To repeat what someone at the UGC said, quoting someone else: “The gospel without justice is not the gospel at all.” I believe that by being part of the new WCRC, we are embarking on something good and powerful, which will bear fruit for the Kingdom and which will bless the member denominations, including the CRCNA. It was an honour to be a delegate.

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While I was in Language Services as an interpreter/translator, I still was able to get a good sense of what was happening in the uniting conference. At times as I tried to gauge the participation from the floor, I got the feeling that the REC was jumping into the WARC river, and while it made a splash, it later bobbed along barely above the surface. It was evident to me that the WARC people are more accostomed to this kind of process and had the major initiatives already underway.
As to "communion" and "justice" I truly hope that a good balance can be maintained. But at times I got the sensation that some of the more forceful - at times in committee almost strident - voices for justice matters were not willing to slow the pace to allow some of the folk less oriented to that catch up. It would be not only sad but unjust if some sectors/denominations are not given time to adjust and truly experience the union of communion, and choose to paddle in other waters.

Why would you want to slow the pace of reform?

If it is not good why do it all? If it is good why slow it down? Wouldn't it be just as unjust to have those "less-oriented slow down progress?

Thanks Ken

I agree with your comments Lou. While I was busy at work in the press room as a steward, I was able to hear enough on the floor that gave me pause as well. I began following our ecumenical relationships at a young age due to my own grandfather's participation in RES/REC during the 80's. My hope is that future pastors and leaders in the CRCNA won't forget the legacies of Schrotenboer, Lont, or van Houten (to name just a few). I also pray that, particularly as we assess the value(s) of the Belhar and Accra confessions in the coming months/years, we will not neglect our relationships with our other ecumenical partners (i.e. member denominations of the NAE or EFC) due to the excitement of this new communion.

I really appreciate Lou and Mark's comments.  They help outline some of the challenges, and some of the opportunities, that come with the CRC's participation in the WCRC.

 

Without a doubt, there are a variety of perspectives in the WCRC.  There are some who are very focused (perhaps even fixated) on justice issues, and have little interest in confessional fidelity or doctrinal precision.  These folks can be strident, and it would be hard not to notice them or their agenda.

 

To be fair, there are also those in the WCRC who are very focused (perhaps even fixated) on confessional fidelity or doctrinal proceision, and have little interest in justice issues.  These folks probably feel sidellined, and it is very possible to overlook them.

 

The CRC is in an interesting and important position.  We are clearly interested in justice issues, and we have an ongoing commitment to confessional fidelity and doctrinal precision.  I believe that it was in significant part because of the contribution of CRC delegates to the assembly that the WCRC agrred that there would be twin priorities for the Communion, and that these two priorities would get equal attention in terms of staffing and WCRC resources.  These priorities are Communion and Justice.

 

Our denomination has gone through a major change in the last number of years.  We now have sufficient confidence in our history, our theological conclusions, and our people (and of course, in the faithfulness of our Lord) that we are not afraid to talk to churches and traditions that are quite different from our own.  We do not believe that we are so weak or spiritually flabby that we will be led astray or infected by theological liberalism.  We also have sufficient humility to admit that there are things that we can learn from other traditions and fellowships.  And equally humbly, we believe we have something beautiful and valuable to contribute to them.

 

The RES/REC heritage will not be lost, but rather enhanced and expanded, by diligent and thoughtful participation by CRC and other former REC member denominations in the WCRC.

Community Builder

Consider me not a fan of WCRC.  Bruce is right that "Our denomination has gone through a major change in the last number of years."  In terms of moving in the direction that the WCRC represents, again, I'm not a fan.

I certainly believe in doing justice (been a lawyer doing working for that, occupationally and otherwise, for 32 years).  What I don't believe is that Micah 6:8, which tells us to "do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly" should be reduced only to "do justice."

WCRC represents a worldview where any suggestion or mention of mercy is angrily rejected as racist, sexist, ___ist denial of rights.  That perspective is warped and unbiblical.  WCRC loves to condemn all other thinking but its own when it comes to political or economic thinking, but if you ask exactly what their thinking is, you get the same nebulous, ambiguous mantra that roughly translates into old-school liberation theology that was prodominantly Marxist in its orientation.  Hello Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas, except now updated to add green movement mantras.

Beyond that, the WCRC represents a coalition of folks who in fact know very little about political or economic theory but insist they do by their incredible broad brush decrees of condemnation, thinking that wraping condemnations in an abundance of religious language replaces the need for substantive knowledge about what they are condemning.  Certainly, the WCLRC condemns some things that clearly and obviously need condemning (no knowledge about much of anything required).  But the incredibly arrogant, broad stroke condemnations (eg., rants against neo liberal economics) are in fact little more than sit-in mantras.

The RCA has lost half its membership in 30 years.  The not-so-long-ago split in the CRC probably opened the door to this sort of "major change [in the CRC] in the last number of year."  I pray the CRC will seriously re-think this direction before it too succumbs to this oh-so-high-sounding irrelevance.

Why are you so upset? God is in control of his church that exists across denominations and out of buildings or insitutions. He does not need my or your help to save his church unless you feel Spirit driven to make these remarks. Change is scary and I agree it can be confusing if we don't keep our eyes looking for His footsteps.

Community Builder

Ken: You seem to regard me as defined by my feelings, asking why I am "so upset" and advising me that "change is scary" and that "it can be confusing."  I would suggest I am intentionally motivated predominantly by what I think, am not "confused" and not by feeling "so upset" or "scared."  I'm not too interested in a discussion that ignores statements made and asserts feeling states.  I just don't think those discussions get anywhere.

Doug,
I don't know you. I just commented on your attitude toward change. Nothing more should be implied.

Community Builder

Ken: I don't have an attitude, per se, about change, but I will have a perspective on one kind of change or another.  For example, if my son's behavior and demeanor becomes very angry and hateful, I'll have a particular perspective that is different from if he becomes really happy and hard working.  Both are change.  My responses/perspectives/"attitudes" will be different in each case.

The denominiation's move toward the WCRC, as opposed to in some other ecumenical direction, isn't just "change" but a certain kind of change that implies a change in particular perspectives and about particular issues.  So again, it's not just change, per se, that invokes my response.

Ken: I trust God is in control of the lives of his people, but it grieved me when my Father died.  God is in control of his church.  I trust that.  Nevertheless, the death of the CRCNA would grieve me.

If the CRC continues down this path of politicization, it will die.  Something might yet grow from the corpse, but the CRCNA will cease to be.  You might ask how I can be certain of that.  Consider:

1) our membership peaked in 1992 at about 316,000.  It is now about 250,000 and lost about 3,000 members (net) annually over the last several years;

2) the membership that remains is on average older, having fewer children, and fewer of those children are remaining in the denomination;

3) denominations that have taken a similar path (ELCA, PCUSA, Episcopal Church USA, etc.) have all seen precipitous declines in their membership followed by years of steady bleeding at a slower rate, a phenomenon paralleled in the CRC experience since 1992, but where they had millions of members, we had thousands - we'll hit bottom before they do;

4) this decline has occurred during one of the most concerted efforts at church growth in CRC history - since 1992 we have spent roughly $160 million (about $7-8 million annually) on domestic missions (there are slightly over 100 more CRC congregations in 2011 than in 1992, despite the loss of over 60,000 members).

Interestingly, this decline in our membership dates to the final ratification of the change in the church order opening all the offices to women and to the establishment of a "Social Justice Coordinator" (later morphing into the Office of Social Justice).  It's not possible to draw a direct cause-effect line between these, but neither can I believe this is just coincidental.

Bruce and others,

I realize that this discussion might be cold but perhaps Bruce or someone can answer some questions that I have.

When the CRC considers joining an ecumenical organization, are its member churches taken into consideration at all? Is there a point when differences become severe enough to be intolerable?

Thanks