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I want to add some observations to the conversation Jeff and others have raised: why shouldn’t the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America merge?
- We’ve asked ‘why shouldn’t they merge.’ We also need to ask, ‘why should they merge?’ Shared roots, doctrinal and theological similarities do not necessitate a merger. Let’s think creatively about other ways that the two bodies can effectively work together on shared commitments, and also bear witness to unity (and reconciliation) in Christ. Is structural merger going to be the best way to do that? Yes, heaven might rejoice if the RCA and CRC come together, but what will earth think? Who will care, and whose lives will be transformed in positive and meaningful ways? If the people who will care the most are the people who are already ‘insiders’ and leaders of the two bodies, then there is a strong obligation, I believe, to gauge whether a merger will primarily be something that ‘insiders’ will be proud of, a source of ecclesiastical back-patting, if you will, or whether it will truly be a step towards more effectively, cooperatively living out our shared callings in the world.
- Bigger questions of ‘what are denominations for?’ are at stake. It would be naive to proceed further with attempts at merger without taking a hard look at the state of denominations. We all know that we are increasingly living in a society that, at least in many places, is post-denominational, post-church, even post-Christian. Merger could be an opportunity to reshape a shared sense of what it means to be part of these bodies, but it could also be a myopic exercise that will lure us into pretending that denominations mean more than they really do anymore. There would be a constant temptation, I think, to act as though an effective merger would leverage the influence and impact of each body. Are we really sure that’s what would happen?
- There IS a lot we can do together, but nothing is currently standing in the way of doing that. When the aforementioned Grand Rapids philanthropist shared his dream to see the two bodies merge in his lifetime, I was serving on RCA staff in the office of the General Secretary. At that point we surveyed every single person on staff to get a better sense of where collaboration was already happening. The spreadsheet was huge. At the denominational level right down to the local levels, shared endeavors are already underway. From Faith Alive to the hymnal project to church planting movements, common passions are already being resourced and carried out. It’s a little ironic to think about taking something like the shared church multiplication efforts as a cue that the denominations should merge, when meanwhile, the people being drawn to faith and community in those church plants probably don’t care much at all about denominations, if they even know what denomination their worshiping community is part of. Church plants tend to downplay that they even belong to a denomination! There are exceptions, of course, but not many I can think of.
- Well, I have too much more to say about this, I’m realizing. I’ll leave it at those three bullet points for today and craft at least three more for next time. Those will be a little more personal reflections on this issue from my perspective as a former denominational staff member and as a young ordained woman who has been part of both the CRC and RCA. More to come!
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