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).