For some years now, the Canadian Reformed Churches and United Reformed Churches have had a relationship of ecclesiastical fellowship. The ultimate goal has always been a federative merger, but so far that goal has proven elusive. Nevertheless, this relationship is unique and close. A press release on the CanRC website gives hope that the relationship is growing closer. On April 3-4, a CanRC Classis Manitoba was held concurrently with a URC Classis Central US. It took place south of the border, in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. They met both jointly and separately. From the press release, it appears that everyone agreed it to be a worthwhile ecumenical venture. It’s a first, but hopefully not the last. Let’s pray that such endeavours will see the two federations grow in love for and trust in one another.
Tag Archives: CanRC/URCNA unity
The United Reformed Churches of North America are currently holding their synod in Wyoming, Michigan. I’m not going to comment on everything discussed and decided at this assembly. Instead, I just want to mention one item of interest since I’ve discussed it here many times. On Wednesday, they discussed relations with the Canadian Reformed Churches. According to the press release:
Wednesday morning’s session included an address from a fraternal delegate of the Canadian Reformed Churches encouraging a continued dedication to work toward ecclesiastical unity even while recognizing that obstacles remain on the path to merger. In connection with ecumenicity, an overture seeking to adjust the mandate of CERCU was not adopted. Synod re-affirmed its desire and intention to continue pursuing ecumenical developments with the CanRC acknowledging that formal steps forward will not take place within the next six years.
A couple of weeks ago, there was a synod of the United Reformed Churches in North America. One of the noteworthy things that happened at Synod Visalia was a colloquium or discussion about covenant theology between theologians of the URCNA and of the Canadian Reformed Churches. Representing the URCNA were Dr. Cornel Venema from Mid-America Reformed Seminary and Dr. Bob Godfrey from Westminster Seminary California. The CanRC representatives were both professors from the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary, Dr. Ted Van Raalte and Dr. Jason Van Vliet.
The colloquium was an initiative of the URCNA Committee for Ecumenical Relations and Church Unity (CERCU). It seems that fears and suspicions about covenant theology in the Canadian Reformed Churches continue to beleaguer efforts to work towards a merger of our federations. Hence, this colloquium was proposed as a way to help clear the air. Most reports that I’m hearing suggest that it definitely was a step in the right direction. I commend CERCU for organizing it!
Prior to the colloquium, a couple of documents were prepared by the participants. You can find those documents here, prefaced by a letter from the CanRC Committee for Church Unity to CanRC church councils. The first document is from the URCNA representatives and lays out their position. The second is from the CanRC representatives. They answer some questions posed to them by Dr. Venema and Dr. Godfrey.
I want to note a few things about the CanRC contribution to this discussion.
First, it needs to be recognized that Dr. Van Raalte and Dr. Van Vliet are not presenting the “official” covenant theology of the Canadian Reformed Churches. Apart from what our confessions say (which is not much), we do not have such a theology worked out in the kind of detail you find in this document.
Second, Dr. Van Raalte and Dr. Van Vliet are both professors at our seminary. Thus, it can be said that this is representative of what is being taught to our seminary students.
Third, I endorse what Dr. Van Raalte and Dr. Van Vliet have written. I might express myself somewhat differently on some points, but I have no substantial problems or questions about what they have set forth. I particularly appreciate that they maintain:
- The imputation of the active obedience of Christ in our justification. They unambiguously state that this is the position of the Three Forms of Unity.
- That, in justification, law and gospel are antithetical.
- That covenant and election are not to be identified with one another, though they are connected.
- That all the children of believers truly are in the covenant of grace
- That there are different “outcomes” with regard to those in the covenant of grace: life or death.
- The activity of faith in justification is merely receiving or accepting the free gifts of Christ.
I could add more, but those are some important highlights.
I keep hearing that the colloquium was recorded on video, but I have not yet seen or heard of it being posted. I will let you know if I run across it. I do know there will be some further follow-up in Christian Renewal. Daniel Hyde’s take on the colloquium will be published, as will a response from Dr. Van Raalte and Dr. Van Vliet. I look forward to reading that interchange and pray that all of this discussion will further the cause of unity.
Our Synod finished its business last night. Not all the Acts have yet been posted, but they should be soon.
Today I’ll make some comments about a few matters found in articles 113-134.
In article 122, there are some noteworthy decisions regarding the CanRC edition of the Heidelberg Catechism. As mentioned here, the Standing Committee for the Book of Praise proposed a change to QA 115. Synod decided to leave well-enough alone. However, there were also a few changes proposed by one of the churches and a couple of these were taken over by the synod. Answer 10 says that “He [God] is terribly displeased with our original sin…” It will now read, “He is terribly angry with our original sin…” In Answer 75, “everlasting life” will be changed to “eternal life” in order to make it consistent with Answer 79.
The matter of women’s voting came up again in article 125. At Synod 2010, the Fellowship CanRC in Burlington appealed a decision of Regional Synod East on whether or not this issue was a matter of local regulations. Synod 2013 decided that Synod 2010 erred in the way it handled that matter. Synod 2013 then proceeded to deal with the appeal and denied it. It reaffirmed that the issue of women’s voting is in fact a matter of the churches in common and not a matter for local churches to decide by their own regulations.
However, perhaps the most interesting items in these acts are found in the articles dealing with the United Reformed Churches. From a superficial CanRC standpoint, the process is continuing. Our committees were all reappointed. Our church unity coordinators were also mandated to urge the URCNA to reappoint all their subcommittee counterparts. Should those counterparts be reappointed or mandated with a call to engage the CanRC subcommittees, we will be ready and waiting for them.
But…there is a fly in the ointment here and it’s not a tiny one. In article 126, in the “Considerations,” one can find interaction from some of the churches with the report of our Coordinators for Church Unity. URC brothers who are paying attention will undoubtedly read some of this with concern. Three local churches wrote letters to our synod stating that “some points of Federal Vision can find sympathy in the Canadian Reformed Churches.” One church wondered whether the URCNA “has a clear picture of the Federal Vision movement.” Though for the sake of honesty and transparency it’s necessary that these sentiments be expressed, I deeply regret that they live in our federation. At least now the URCNA will have a clear justification for their concerns about pursuing full federative unity with us. There are now official CanRC documents stating that there is sympathy for “some points of FV” in our churches. One church wonders whether our brothers in the URC even understand the FV — that despite the fact that they’ve been engaging it and studying it at length for over a decade. Let’s be realistic: a merger in my lifetime is now certifiably a pipe dream. If it happens, it will be nothing short of miraculous. Moreover, those of us in the CanRC who are concerned about FV clearly have our work cut out for us.
The same article also has some more discussion about the status of the Nine Points of Schererville and the Fifteen Points of London. Some of our churches continue to be concerned about the status of these points in the URCNA. Our Coordinators have been mandated by this synod to get more clarity on that point, while at the same time discouraging the URCNA from “making further statements of this nature.” Does anyone else see the problem there? We need more clarity on what these points mean to the URCNA, but we also urge them to stop making statements “of this nature.” The nature of these points is unclear — that’s what the CCU is mandated to clarify. How can we urge them to stop making statements like this until we have a clear understanding of the nature of these statements?
Over the last few years, I’ve not been hopeful for the prospects of federative unity between the URCNA and CanRC. Today I’m disappointed to say that I’m even less so. Whatever momentum we’ve had in the last few years is likely to be torpedoed by what our URC brothers read in the Acts of Synod Carman 2013. This grieves me and, even more importantly, I can’t believe that this would be pleasing to the Lord.
Today let’s take a look at what’s happening with the discussions towards federative unity with the URCNA. This is a process which has been underway for what seems like forever. Well, actually since 2001, when Synod Neerlandia entered into phase 2 relations. That’s only been a dozen years (!). There’s good news and bad news as we survey the various reports on relations with the URCNA.
Some of the good news is found in the report of our Coordinators for Church Unity. While the Coordinators are realistic about the slowing momentum towards unity, they also see some spots where there are improvements in relations. But especially noteworthy is the interaction of our Coordinators with the Nine Points of Schererville and the Fifteen Points of London regarding Federal Vision. As I have mentioned before, it’s good to hear Canadian Reformed voices saying, “Contrary to the Federal Vision movement, we too believe that baptism does not bring about the believer’s union with Christ or justification. One is united to Christ through faith, and one is justified through faith.” Well said!
The Church Order Committee is the one committee where the most progress has been made (report here). A Proposed Joint Church Order has been drafted. A lot of effort has gone into finding common church political ground for a united federation. Our last Synod provisionally adopted the PJCO for a united federation. The last URCNA Synod accepted it for continued study among their churches. The church polity angle seems to be covered quite well, even if some are not totally satisfied with the end product.
But alas, there is also bad news. The Committee for Theological Education report is one page. It will take you two minutes at most to read it. The URCNA disbanded their Theological Education Committee in 2010, so our committee had no URC counterpart with which to meet. Our committee concludes, “Since we had no URCNA committee with whom to discuss our mandate, we never convened and can only report that there has been no progress in this matter.” No progress — that’s very sad.
It’s almost the same story with the Liturgical Forms and Confessions Committee. This committee has a URC counterpart with which they COULD meet, but the URC committee has no mandate to meet with our committee. URCNA synods have not mandated their committee to have any discussions with the CanRC. Now, if that URCNA committee wanted to, they could propose to a Synod that it be made part of their mandate, but there does not seem to be any interest. Again, very sad. Our committee is proposing that they be disbanded until the URCNA is willing to play ball. Having served on this committee in a previous iteration, I can understand their frustration.
What will our Synod do? Our last Synod wrote a letter to Synod 2010 of the URC. It was a passionate plea for unity — a call to our URC brothers and sisters to take Christ’s call to unity seriously. The officers of URCNA Synod 2010 were mandated to write a response, which they did. The URC letter noted that they didn’t reappoint their Theological Education committee because there was an impasse. There is no mention of the Liturgical Forms and Confessions committee. The letter also notes that the feeling in the URCNA is that we should move more slowly towards federative unity in order to build “a lasting unity that will truly glorify God and advance the gospel of peace in our world.” Moving more slowly can be appreciated, but scrapping committees and not giving other committees an ecumenical mandate might send another message. I have commented on that before (although some of what I wrote about in 2009 has since been addressed). Could there be a growing frustration in the Canadian Reformed Churches with this process? After all, we have invested much (far more than the URCNA), but seen comparatively little in return. I wonder if this will be reflected in the decisions of Synod Carman 2013. Can we move forward together in good faith or will we be stalled at a snail’s pace or slower for another dozen or more years? Following the recommendation of the Liturgical Forms and Confessions Committee will dial things down yet more. So would disbanding the Theological Education Committee. That would leave our Church Unity Coordinators with a very long-term project. But perhaps that’s where we’ll find ourselves next month whether we like it or not (and I decidedly do NOT like it).