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What is the future direction of the CRCNA? We know who we've been, but who will we become?



The Christian Reformed Church in North America is in an intense battle for the future of its identity. Various factions have developed across our bi-national denomination, and the ideologies brewing inside these groups have diverged to the point of mutual exclusivity.

Or have they?

At first glance, the greatest divide seems to be between the two sides of the Synodical showdowns at Synods 2022 and 2023. Which side are you on? Are you pro-Human Sexuality Report (HSR) or anti-HSR?. Is your church Affirming of practicing LGBTQ+ in leadership or is it a sin to be repented of?

These two views are incompatible. How can same sex marriage, for example, be a God-glorifying area for sexual expression and an ongoing act of rebellion against God’s Moral Law? It can’t be both.

Many on the affirming side would like to claim that "hey, maybe it could be both", but this only highlights a lack of listening to the arguments of those on the historically orthodox side. The affirming side appears to hope that small victories will lead to larger victories and greater inclusion, just like what happened with Women in Office over the past three decades. But at least two things are different this time. First, this issue is a much more straightforward moral issue with confessional implications. With uniformity across the two Testaments, the Bible prohibits same sex acts as sinful. Second, this time those who are orthodox have a much greater majority in the denomination. In addition to these two differences, there could be added a greater level of awareness of the tactics used in the past and a firmer resistance to those tactics.

For these and other reasons, those on the orthodox side will never accept a “local option” this time. When one side of an impasse holds “no compromise” as one of its core tenets… compromise is impossible.



And yet compromise is exactly the singular focus of "Better Together”, a newly funded (to the tune of $1.2 Million(!) by the Lilly Foundation) advocacy group that wants CRC churches to stay together despite these conflicting beliefs.

Their clarion call is unity, “calling the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) to a mission-focused, baptismally-based identity that allows for disagreement. In particular, we believe that the church and her members can disagree on ethical issues such as same-sex marriage (SSM) and more (e.g. divorce), so as to celebrate and expand the mission and unity of the wider church.”

To really dive into Better Together’s front-page, first-paragraph, fundamental assumption — that the church “can disagree on ethical issues”? — would need it’s own article. (Preview: where do our ethics come from?!)

But instead, our focus is on the vision of “unity” that Better Together is really suggesting, because this gets down into one of the key aspects of our modern fight for CRCNA identity.

The questions: What was the CRC? What is the CRC? And what should the CRC be in the future?

There are two competing answers to these questions.



Two Competing CRC Identities

On the one hand, there is the side that views the CRCNA historically and ideally as a family of churches and church members united around a common confession. In this case, unity is found in our shared commitment to the Christian Faith as summarized and clarified in the eccumenical creeds and the 3 Forms of Unity — the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort.

This is the Religious CRC.

Here a person’s identity comes from their chosen and confessed beliefs. If you don’t embrace the teachings of the CRCNA, then you would seek to find a church with which your beliefs align. Church discipline is here almost entirely the fault of the one who sins and refuses to repent and turn from their sins. This is a religious matter, and souls are at stake! 



On the other hand, there is the side that views the CRCNA historically and ideally as a family of churches and church members united around a common “surname”. To be CRCNA means that your church is a part of the heritage that has passed down and evolved over the decades to become the current diverse set of churches we see today. In this case, unity is found in our shared family name. To me, it seems that Better Together’s emphasis on “baptismally-based identity” points in this direction; that once a person is born and baptized into the CRCNA, they forever remain as those within the family surname CRCNA.

This is the Ethnic CRC.

In this case, your identity does not come from what you do but from who you are. One doesn’t need to believe the same things in order to be CRC, because the CRCNA isn’t united in beliefs, but in heritage. Here, to remove a member would be to disown a son or daughter; a heartless thing to do no matter what actions the child has done.



These are broad-brush categories. The point isn’t to nail down individual people into individual groups, but to think about these two differing foundations of identity and discern the paths ahead.

These two identities are further clouded by the reality that many of those with a Religious CRC identity have actual ethnic ties the “founding fathers” of the denomination back in the Netherlands. And some in the Ethnic CRC would say they believe in “most” of the confessional teachings.

But it is important to stress here that our term “Ethnic CRC” refers only to the definition of those “who share a common cultural background or descent.”

Ethnic: (adj)

1. of or belonging to a population group or subgroup made up of people who share a common cultural background or descent.



The term here (Ethnic CRC) has little to do with whether a person is “Dutch” or not (at least only a tangential connection).

To me, the Ethnic CRC is the Nominal CRC. The nominal unity that Better Together promotes is a unity in name but not in substance.

We are called to higher things. Religious things.

I would like to call for us to embrace “Religious CRC” as our current and future identity over “Ethnic CRC”.

Now, it is supremely important for us not to neglect the many Scriptural references to the church body as a family! But we see that even this relationship prioritizes the religious over the ethnic. God works through family, and our baptism is of supreme importance. But there comes a point for every person when the rubber meets the road. Then it’s time for the Profession of Faith.

Now, in these days of subjectivity and haze, let us stand together and be united in Scripture and our confessions! Let's say what we believe and believe the things we say!

Comments

While I'm abundantly on record against the direction the CRC is heading, I do appreciate one thing about the framing you use here, Trevor. I have indeed said to people that the last two years have felt like losing my family. My credentials are as good as any Dutchman in the denomination, but even more than that it's the loss of my local church. We can debate endlessly (and have) how we got here and who's right and wrong, but nothing changes the grief and pain I (and thousands of others) have felt losing my family. I still hope and pray for the CRC to be a place where people have transformative encounters with Christ, I'm just sad to be doing that from the outside now.

Wow. Under the banner of church renewal? Thee author has done a good job of presenting the opposing positions members of the CRCNA have taken, as well as (as I understand it anyway) the road ahead there will be many appeals to Synod until finally the Church acquiesces to the protesters. Imagine, if you can, if there had never been a “women in office” issue brought forward by our “experts”. What GOOD did it do? Is it good that the CRC not just split, but splintered. Could it also have something to do with our church leaders back in the day, pridefully boasting about the great number of members we’d have by the year 2000?, and God saying “oh, yah?”

Now we have the HSR brought forward by our experts, resulting in church members once again having to “choose” sides. What GOOD does it do for our fragile adherence to unity?

If the HSR had never been brought forward, what Harm would it have done? I think we’ve all been aware that homosexuality existed among us, and all did their best to accept however we identified ourselves to be. Now we can’t do that anymore, because someone thought it expedient to flesh out our position on homosexuality.

Let’s just be faithful followers of Christ, and deny the Devil a foothold in the unity we have left, ‘cause he’d be very happy to break up our (not only ours) church some more. Stop having experts bring forth any more contentious issues.

Here is one of hundreds of reasons I have opposing people's opinion that people who identify themselves as homosexuals do not belong in the CRCNA. The following sentence illustrates it very well:

"How can same-sex marriage, for example, be a God-glorifying area for sexual expression and an ongoing act of rebellion against God’s Moral Law? It can’t be both.

People confuse sexual expression as the same as a loving expression.  They are two different expressions! I Love my neighbour and have loving expressions with them but I do not have sexual expressions with them.

Get your head into that thinking mode and you might understand that all this arguing and defamation is based on the wrong premise.

Quote, all you want from scripture - what you will find is Loving one another is pleasing to God. The sexual acts are between God and those committing any act of sexual activity that is not pleasing to God whether it is same sex or not - if the sexual act is an act of Love, would that not please God? Yes, it would. Yet, God is not concerned with the rules man makes up, He is only concerned with his Laws the 10 and to clarify it further are the two that Jesus said to the Rabbis and Pharisees who tried to trick him. That's it no more, no less pleases God when we obey them.

 

Sincerely

Jeffrey Thomson
 

 

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