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Dear congregations and classes, 

As one of several weighty matters that were dealt with by Synod 2022, the delegates directed me, as general secretary, to “instruct the churches and classes to seek and to keep the unity of the church and the denomination in ways that are consistent with biblical principles, our Reformed confessions, and our Ecumenical Charter” (Acts of Synod 2022, p. 858). Additionally, Synod 2022 directed me “to gather best practices on pursuing unity from the various classes and to share these with the broader church.” 

In response to this instruction, I sent a pastoral letter to all congregations of the CRCNA in December 2022, encouraging them to share “the lessons they have learned about unity in this fraught time.” The following is a summary of what I heard from you, and a reflection about what I have learned as a result.

Thank you for taking time to consider this request and for sharing your lessons for the betterment of all. May we all continue to strive for greater unity within the church.

Your partner in ministry,

Rev. Dr. Zachary King

General Secretary

Lessons on Unity

Lesson #1: It would be great if unity could be achieved in our denomination simply by instructing the general secretary to make it so. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem possible. Instead, unity will require intentional effort on all our parts.

Lesson #2: Reflecting on unity exposes our disunity. Some responses to my inquiry were sharp. The current issue occasioning our disunity (our denominational position on same-sex sexual relationships) is one that has split many denominations in North America. Some of these responses spoke forcefully of injustices done to LGBTQ people. Others focused on the importance of maintaining the covenant relationship that we have through our synodical decisions and beliefs. There was a group of responses that took the form of lament. They grieved the reality of deep disagreement about what they considered to be the clear teaching of Scripture and church history. Others grieved the hurt they have experienced at synod and in classes and congregations. There were several responses that acknowledged that seeking unity might not even be wise or possible. They suggested that the distance between “affirming” and “traditional” positions (with regard to same-sex sex) was so vast that there could be little or no common ground. A search for common ground, they argued, would lead to an untenable compromise for one side or the other.

Lesson #3: There are those who are finding a way to love each other and minister together despite some significant disagreement. Many of these have taken clear positions on divisive issues and have had healthy, trust-building interactions amongst those who disagree. Speaking clearly and respectfully about one’s convictions and listening well to others are key. Prayer and spiritual connection are common themes with this group. Unity is important to this group, but perhaps more important is the fundamental relationship to God, nurtured by prayer and Scripture. 

Lesson #4: There are large groups of CRC folks who are aware of the struggle with unity, but are moving ahead with life, ministry, and mission. Admittedly, many such groups have high levels of alignment on issues that might divide other congregations and groups. The lesson here is not that the divisive issues we are facing should be marginalized, but rather that they should not consume all of the energy that could otherwise nourish the life and mission of our congregations. 

Lesson #5: The experiences of our immigrant congregations and members help us to find ways forward in times of disunity. At its inception, the CRCNA was an immigrant church. Immigrants find themselves on steep learning curves culturally, linguistically, and socially. Many of the CRCNA’s current immigrant groups are similarly oriented toward the difficult work of listening, learning, and discerning about what to hold on to, what to adapt to, and how to be faithful in a new context. This posture correlates strongly with unity.

Lesson #6: Unity requires submission to the confessions and decisions of our ecclesiastical bodies. The lesson was implied even within Synod 2022’s direction to me about this task (“seek to keep the unity of the church and the denomination in ways that are consistent with biblical principles, our Reformed confessions…”). However, this is a controversial point, because some of the respondents shared their feelings that recent decisions and confessional interpretations are unjust. Nevertheless, it is impossible to move forward together unless individuals and groups recognize and abide by the discernment of the greater body and our church order. In order for this biblical form of mutual submission to avoid degenerating, the entire body must demonstrate the love of Christ to those who hold minority viewpoints.  


As I have traveled through my first year as general secretary, unity has been an issue in my heart, prayers, and mind. Like many pastors, I am by nature a “peacemaker,” seeking the well being and unity of those I shepherd. We do not relish conflict, especially intractable ones. The state of our denomination’s unity gives us anxiety. But God has challenged us to surrender the church, including the Christian Reformed Church, to him. Christ is the Lord of the church and he will defend it. 

I am comforted and challenged by Ephesians 4:1-6, which states:

“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” 

The future unity of the Christian Reformed Church is beyond all of us. What we have in front of us is today. Today, we are animated by God’s Holy Spirit. Are we living a life worthy of the Spirit’s calling? Are we completely humble and gentle, patient and forbearing? Do we keep unity through the bond of peace? Are we giving glory to the One God, the Lord, and Father of all? 

I wonder if the deep “lesson of unity” God is calling us to learn is that unity starts with God, and by grace we receive it. If that is true, then let us seek unity in prayer:

Holy and gracious God,

From before the beginning of time you existed in diversity and unity,

Father, Son, Holy Spirit, one God, perfectly united in being, will and purpose.

You created us good, but we broke faith with you and we cursed each other.

In love you sent us patriarchs and prophets, you made us into a people.

In the fullness of time, you sent us your eternal Son, uniting our nature with yours.

Your Son’s suffering, death, and resurrection made us one with you and each other.

But we are stubborn and stiff-necked people, always hating, harming, and grieving you.

We confess our sins of division: between races, sexes, personal preferences, haves and have nots.

Lord Jesus, you prayed for all those who will believe in your message

That they may be one, just as you are in the Father and the Father is in you.

Jesus, we don’t even know what oneness looks like, let alone how to get there.

We are broken and bleeding, longing for your healing, crying out for your Spirit.

Holy Spirit, teach us to be completely humble and gentle, forbearing with each other.

Gracious Spirit, make us peaceful and gracious, true sons and daughters of our Father.

Loving Spirit, help us to love one another as you love us, breaking the grip of fear.

Whatever happens to our churches in the next two, five or ten years,

may you grant us the deep grace to live out the unity you have achieved.



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