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Lynn Japinga is substituting for Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell who is on sabbatical. If
you are desperate for more information about the RCA’s Synod of 1969, you can check
out her forthcoming book, Loyalty and Loss (or whatever title the editor chooses), early
in 2013.

(In memory of the Rev. Carl Schroeder, who entered the nearer presence of God on Sept.
3, 2012)

“If that happens I’ll leave the RCA.”

I’ve heard or read that sentiment several times since the General Synod meeting in June.
The RCA is once again fighting about homosexuality and the role of women. At heart,
though, the debate is about biblical interpretation and the nature of the church. The
threats to leave remind me of another time in the RCA’s history.

In 1969, after bruising battles over a proposed merger with the Southern Presbyterians,
membership in Churches of Christ Uniting (COCU), membership in the National Council
of Churches, and RCA students resisting the draft, General Synod delegates were tired,
frustrated and angry with each other. On the second to the last day of Synod, after a close
and contentious vote, Harold Schut, a pastor from Scotia, New York, offered a motion to
the Synod. Since the RCA was so bitterly divided, he said, it should consider an orderly
dissolution of the denomination. Neither side would leave; neither side would win. The
whole denomination would simply cease to exist.

In 2004, I spoke with Carl Schroeder, who attended that Synod. He had served as a
missionary in Taiwan before becoming Minister of Evangelism for the RCA in 1969.
Thirty-five years later, he was almost in tears when he described the unfolding events.
It was such a mess, he said. There was so much sadness. Delegates wondered whether
it would be worth the effort to put the church together again. Schroeder was particularly
disappointed by the failure of the merger with the Southern Presbyterians, and he saw
little future for the RCA as a separate denomination. He considered leaving the RCA, but
he finally decided that “who I was, where I came from, who nurtured me, who paid for
my education, who paid my salary … it was the people I was so upset with, and I could
not just pick up and leave.” In the end, his loyalty to the whole RCA transcended his
irritation with some of its members and decisions.

Carl and ministers of his generation were very loyal to the RCA. Not that they always fell
into alignment. They could be critical, impatient, and irritated with other RCA members,
and the denomination as a whole. But they had connections. Many of them grew up in
the RCA, and attended an RCA college and seminary. They had friends who were at the
opposite end of the theological spectrum. The denomination meant something to them.

What about now? Are RCA members loyal to one another? To a group such as RCA
Integrity or Room for All or Chicago Invitation? Are they loyal to the denomination as a
whole? Or to God?

When can loyalty no longer be sustained? When we don’t get our way? When the purity
of the church is threatened? When justice is threatened? When the gospel is threatened?
When the denomination does something we don’t like?

If a delegate to the Synod of 2013 made a motion to dissolve the denomination, what
would we do? Has the RCA finally come to a place where people can no longer live
together? If we don’t dissolve, what holds us together?

Readers … insights?

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell is a recently retired minister of the Reformed Church in America. He has been the convener of the Reformed Journal’s daily blog since its inception in 2011. He and his wife, Sophie, reside in Des Moines, Iowa.


  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Thanks, for this, Lynn. First, I loved Carl, my former colleague. We worked together, prayed together, and talked theology together. He had Paterson roots, too.
    As to your question: the RCA has almost always valued maintaining relationships more highly than other Calvinist denominations. I have learned to value that as well. I didn't always. What happened this summer is that a group of General Synod delegates were quite content to act like in other denominations, and devalue the relationships for the sake of a perceived truth.

  • Rich Tiggelaar says:

    I don't know if anyone has ever referred to the RCA as a "small" denomination just as certain churches are identified as small churches. I think that is true and one of the resons why is because of what Daniel says: "the RCA has almost always valued maintaining relationships more highly than other Calvinist denominations". Small churches always value relationships more than anything else. In a small church, one might gossip about his or her neighbor on Monday but may need to work together by Thursday and always will do that. Is that historic small denomination value disappearing in the RCA?

  • Thomas C. Goodhart says:

    Thanks, Lynn. In many ways, things never change–attitudes, reactions, things seemingly going-to-hell (figuratively, not necessarily literally.) I suppose in some ways I feel a little "old fashion" in that I still have those old RCA connections of having gone to an RCA college and seminary. Interestingly, along with some of those folks who were significant…can we say, instigators, of this year's General Synod stuff. But I didn't grow up RCA. Nor am I related to anyone in it. But I have certainly come to appreciate and love our little church family. Having just returned from a few days of vacation visiting "family" in Iowa, at least in part because of our RCA connection, it's hard to imagine severing those larger ties or having never had them to begin with. Mostly, however, when I think of the RCA and what holds us together, it is the local congregation that immediately comes to mind. I blame my "home church" in Holland Classis who got me into this denomination. And my current congregation, who I wouldn't want to be outside of it, that keeps us here.

  • Douglas says:

    I'm beginning to wonder if it is time for both fringes in the RCA to move on, and to allow the RCA to move on with its mission and vision. Let's see how this discover process comes to some identity for the RCA, and those who find they are unable to be loyal to one an other in that context should be allowed and encouraged to move–taking their buildings, assists, pensions and the like with them.

    In my mind we have made too much room in the RCA for the fringes to name the game–that includes Room For All, RCA Integrity and Chicago Invitation.

  • Nathan Weller says:

    Interesting post with Reformation Sunday coming up. Where should our loyalty lie? With a denomination or with God and God's Word? I'll always follow the faith of my fathers–my mind is held captive to the word of God. I'll loyal to God first and foremost. As it should be for every minister of word and sacrament.

  • Alan C. Dykstra says:

    The RCA has created these groups. One group calls one thing a sin while another blesses. If the denomination had a leader or a group of denominational leaders who actually upheld what it says, we wouldn't be in this mess. These groups are not the problem, it's the denominational leaders who are to blame. When Solomon failed to faithfully lead God's people, other leaders rose up and split God's people into two kingdoms (1 Kings 11-12).

  • Paul janssen says:

    Full disclosure…. I have been involved in Chicago Invitation, though in the past, more involved than I am now. In what way would anyone say that CI is remotely "fringe"? Is any group that coalesces around some interest "fringe"?

  • H. VanTil says:

    The question was asked, "Are RCA members loyal to one another?"

    RCA members are not loyal to each other when the denomination declares an official position multiple times over many years and it is ignored by a group of people. These people create disunity and schism and break covenant. They do not submit to their leaders (Hebrews 13:7). You are loyal to your denomination when you submit to its direction. If you cannot submit to its direction then you should leave for the sake of the unity of the church and the glory of Christ.

    If the denomination continues to say one thing and do nothing about the disease which continues to spread, then people should leave so they can let the organizational tree die as it has been these past 40 years of decline.

    Let's pray this 8 person committee gives us some direction with substance, otherwise pastors and churches should move on, whatever "fringe" group they belong to.

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Mssrs Weller, Dykstra, and VanTil. First, I want to be loyal to you. If you have made the same declaration I did at my ordination and at every successive installation, then we have committed ourselves to the same obedience and Lordship and mission and structure of accountability, and I want to be loyal to you and in relationship with you. That relationship is textured within a structure of mutual accounrability which is the Government of the RCA.
    Second, if you are against the full inclusion of LGBT persons, I disagree with you but I still want to be loyal to you and in relationship with you. My goodness, you represent the great majority and tradition of the Christian church. Most Christians agree with you, not with me. What right do I have not to be loyal to you or in relationship with you. At the same time, while I love the tradition and honor the great majority, those are only relative for me, and I'm willing to break from tradition and leave the majority, with sorrow, for the sake of the Lordship of Christ, and under the leading and authority of Holy Scripture. Please don't think that I welcome LGBT persons out of some liberal disregard of scripture, because I do it out of scripture interpreting our experience (and not the other way around).
    Third, as an RCA pastor, for the sake of this loyalty and relationship with others such as you, I hold myself accountable to the Standards, that is, to the Standards as a real-life strategy of holding myself accountable to the Lordship of Christ and the scriptures which witness to him. By the wisdom of the structure of the Reformed Church, I am not accountable to any so-called policies of any given General Synod, and neither are you. If I were a General Synod officer, maybe so, but not as a local pastor.
    Fourth, never have I been asked "to submit to the direction of the RCA," and neither has any other office-bearer. I declared "to submit to the counsel and admonition of the classes, always ready, with gentleness and reverence, to give an account of my understanding of the Christian faith." The Classis, for its part, is required by the BCO to hold me accountable to the Standards and scripture, not to any policy or position or direction of the General Synod. I rejoice to be held accountable for my beliefs on inclusion of LGBT persons. I don't want to be excused for them. So, Mr. Weller, I agree with what you write, though I'm not sure I know what you mean by what you write.

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