A United Reformed Church?

In the past few months several periodicals have reflected on the possibility of a merger, or at least discussions with a view to a possible merger, between the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church. The Reformed Journal, in an article by Harry Boer, was, I believe the first to speak out on the subject. After the failure of the proposed merger between the RCA and the Southern Presbyterians, Dr. Louis H. Benes, editor of The Church Herald, seconded Dr. Boer’s suggestion.


In the past few months several periodicals have reflected on the possibility of a merger, or at least discussions with a view to a possible merger, between the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church. The Reformed Journal, in an article by Harry Boer, was, I believe the first to speak out on the subject. After the failure of the proposed merger between the RCA and the Southern Presbyterians, Dr. Louis H. Benes, editor of The Church Herald, seconded Dr. Boer’s suggestion. His editorial, entitled “Church Union—And Reunion,” was reprinted in The Banner of August 29, 1969. In that same issue of The Banner appeared an article entitled “The Lord Has Watched Between Us,” from the pen of Rev. Arnold Brink, secretary of the denominational Committee on Interchurch Relations. And in that same issue Editor John Vander Ploeg reflected on the subject in a rather detailed manner, urging what he calls “ecumenical realism.” In De Wachter of September 2, 1969, meanwhile, Editor William Haverkamp joined the discussion and advised that at present such discussions should not be held, but that the churches should wait to see the outcome of the labors of the committee for reconciliation in the RCA. Finally, Torch and Trumpet, October, 1969, carried a three-part feature on this subject under the title, “What About CRC-RCA Merger?” This was introduced by the following note, which will also serve to explain somewhat the nature of this symposium: “Rev. Gordon H. Girod, well known pastor of the Seventh Reformed.Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan, was originally asked to describe and evaluate the fact of the failure of the merger proposal involving his denomination and the Presbyterian Church U.S. (Southern). This led very naturally to mention of and reaction to the current conferences with view to reunion between the RCA and the Christian Reformed Church. To these reactions of Rev. Girod, we asked Dr. Peter Y. De Jong, professor of Practical Theology, Calvin Seminary, and Rev. John H. Piersma, pastor of Bethany Chr. Ref. Church, South Holland, IL, to respond.” It is certainly not the intention of the present editorial to reflect in detail upon all of the above articles. I believe it is fair to say that there are rather widely varied attitudes expressed in them. Some of these writings appear to represent the broadminded spirit of ecumenicism (with emphasis on the –ism!) which is one of the characteristics of our times. In some I seem to smell the rather wishy-washy kiss-and-make-up spirit. Others favor a hands-off or wait-and-see attitude. And some appear to favor, to some degree, a discussion of issues, apparently in an attitude of ecumenical realism. Again, some speak of “merger,” while others speak of “reunion.” And do I also detect that some have an eye for a union of conservatives from both denominations? Perhaps there will be further developments; and I hope that there will be further—and more frank—journalistic discussion.

Meanwhile, The Standard Bearer is interested in this subject, as it always is interested in events which concern the Reformed community. It is interested not merely in the narrower and more immediate issue of a possible RCA-CRC merger or reunion and the discussions about it. Upon this subject we shall certainly comment,—from the viewpoint of a spectator and listener, perhaps more objectively than the participants are able to do. But The Standard Bearer is also interested in the broader aspects of this subject which are necessarily involved, namely, the aspects of ecclesiastical unity (not union) and of being Reformed.

Still more. The Standard Bearer is interested in these aspects not only abstractly and as a matter of theory, but concretely and as a matter of practice. I would not venture to say at this stage, in the light of past writings and past performance, that the Editor of The Banner and this writer would be meaning the same thing by these words when it comes to concrete specifics. But in his August 29 editorial he writes the following: “Conceivably, a United Reformed Church could some day still arise with its constituency drawn from the RCA, the CRC, and other church bodies in which there are those who are eagerly longing for an affiliation that will allow for greater affinity and the possibility of seeing eye-to-eye and standing shoulder-to-shoulder at a time when it is so urgent that what we sing may really come to pass: ‘Like a mighty army, moves the church of God,'” Editor Vander Ploeg is not specific in this statement; and it remains to be seen who are meant by “other church bodies” and what is meant by “an affiliation that will allow for great affinity,” etc. Does he, for example, mean some kind of vaguely conservative and Reformed umbrella under which a mixed constituency might find shelter?

Nevertheless, the idea of a united Reformed church is an interesting and attractive, and, understood rightly, a sound idea. Moreover, it sometimes seems that the time must come, amid all the ecclesiastical tensions caused by today’s rapid apostasy, when those who desire to be and remain genuinely Reformed must be well-nigh compelled (or impelled?) to flock together. Who knows? I have no grand illusions, when I view the Reformed scene, as to the size of those remnants who desire to be genuinely Reformed. And I know that there are others, also from other denominations, who share my opinion on this score. But size and numbers are of no account. Did not our Savior Himself address His church as a “little flock?”

It is, then, with a view to this idea that The Standard Bearer will also discuss some of the matters already mentioned in connection with the RCA-CRC question.

And for a starter, I will propose three items which I believe must needs have a place in any fruitful labor toward a united Reformed church:

1. A united Reformed church must be united, that is, genuinely one as to the three marks of the church, Article 29 of the Belgic Confession.

2. Such unity implies being Reformed, not in name or mere lip-service, but in the genuine, full, and strict sense of the word, and that too, on the basis of the Word of God and the Reformed confessions.

3. The Protestant Reformed Churches as a denomination, both in name and ecclesiastical conduct, represent such unity and such Reformed-ness, “and desire to receive into our church communion everyone that agrees to our confession,” Public Declaration of Agreement with the Forms of Unity.

For my part, I welcome and encourage discussion of this subject,—be that journalistic discussion, or be it discussion on official or unofficial conference, provided such discussion is specific, full, frank, and honest.