Prof. Decker is professor of Practical Theology in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
“The Reformed Church in the United States should begin now to forge links of fellowship and cooperation that will lead to eventual union with other Reformed churches. Our period of geographic and cultural isolation is at an end. It is time for the RCUS to become more definitely a part of the continuing Reformation.” With these words The Reverend Peter B. Grossman, editor of his denomination’s magazine, Reformed Herald, began a recent editorial. The RCUS is the conservative remnant of the old “German” Reformed Church. In 1934 one classis (Eureka in the Dakotas) refused to join the Evangelical and Reformed merger. The Evangelical and Reformed became part of the United Church of Christ in 1957, one of the most liberal of the mainline churches in this country. There was some contact between the RCUS and our churches in the 1940s, as some of our older members perhaps recall.
The confessional standard of the RCUS is the Heidelberg Catechism. This denomination has close contact especially with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America (RPCNA). The close relationship with the OPC is due to the fact that most of the RCUS ministers were educated at Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia) during the 1950s and ’60s. The RCUS in recent years has less formal contacts with conservative Christian Reformed churches and men. In fact one of the RCUS ministers, Rev. Robert Grossman, is Professor of Practical Theology at Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Orange City, Iowa.
Grossman continues, “The church landscape is littered with splinters of Bible-believing Reformed and Presbyterian churches. We are not alone in the battle for the faith of the Reformation. That fact should be obvious to any who look beyond their own front door. Two reformed groups are especially important for the RCUS. (Grossman is referring here to The Orthodox Presbyterian Church [OPC] and The Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America [RPCNA], RDD). Our histories and theological positions are amazingly similar. A new reformed unity movement ought to capitalize on that.”
Grossman proceeds to list and briefly identify the denominations which he thinks ought to be working together to achieve unity. In addition to the OPC and the RPCNA, Grossman includes the Presbyterian Church in America, a rather large and conservative church which came out of old “southern” Presbyterian Church in the US in the early seventies. Grossman lists the conservatives in both the Reformed church in America and the Christian Reformed Church, the Canadian Reformed Churches, the Orthodox Christian Reformed Churches, and the Protestant Reformed Churches. Concerning the PRC he writes, “The Protestant Reformed Church is a group about the size of the RCUS that came out of the CRC in the 1920s. The RCUS had conversations with the PRC in the 1940s and ’50s, but no union.”
It is Grossman’s position that, “True church unity must be based on unity of confession and devotion to the Bible as God’s true Word. The churches we’ve noted above, and others, hold vigorously to either the Westminster Confession of Faith, or, the Three Forms of Unity . . . . Is there any reason why we should not work toward actual and visible unity? . . . . It is time, now, to herald a new Reformed ecumenical movement. Our fathers preserved the church from the liberalism of an earlier generation. If we do not leave a unified, biblically Reformed church for the next generation, the Reformation may well die in our land.”
Dr. Nelson D. Kloosterman, a professor at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, addresses this issue as well in his seminary’s newsletter under the title, “Preparing for Genuine Ecumenicity.” Writing from the perspective of the conservative CRC position, Kloosterman thinks there are “opportunities for re-alignment.” Writes he, “Here is opportunity coming to meet us: if survival requires reestablishing a confessional identity, we are going to be faced with two axiomatic (that is fundamental) matters: namely, how and with whom that identity is re-established. Plans are underway among Reformed leaders from various church fellowships in North America to answer these two questions. One very promising piece of news is this summer’s decision by the general assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to investigate the possibility of adopting, alongside the Westminster Standards, the Three Forms of Unity. Beyond that, there is considerable interest in examining ways to bring the two forms of church government together as well. From this earthling’s point of view, the timing couldn’t be better.”
Kloosterman wants to “. . . articulate a common faith response (confession) . . .” to what he deems are the three contemporary enemies of the Reformed faith. These enemies are, “egalitarianism, expressed, for example, in feminism and her blood brother, homosexualism . . . evolutionism, . . . and religious individualism” . . . .
Kloosterman concludes, “The key to any future ecumenical developments among North American Christians of Reformed and Presbyterian conviction and tradition is reestablishing a confessional identity that takes subscription seriously by enforcing it meaningfully. Read that last sentence again, and reflect on this: in view of a rapidly expanding loss of ‘evangelical’ doctrinal, liturgical and ecclesiastical identity – and given the lateness of the hour – the LORD may be about to breathe new strength into weary church members so they may serve, once again, The Way, The Truth, and The Life.”
This article was reprinted in Christian Observer.
The Rev. G. I. Williamson, an OPC pastor, reports that, “On the 16th and 17th of August a small group of concerned men, about 15 in number, met at Trinity Christian Reformed Church in St. Catherines, ON. The original call for this meeting came from men in the Christian Reformed Church, and they also made up the largest portion of this gathering. However, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Presbyterian Church in America, and the growing unaffiliated Reformed community were well represented.”
This group of men resolved: “That a Confessional Conference be held at a time and place to be determined by a committee chosen by the steering committee; persons attending shall be delegated by a church.
“That the purpose of the Confessional Conference shall be:
A. To address the issues of egalitarianism and origins. To that end the conference shall:
1. Articulate a clear statement of the hermeneutical and revelational principles involved;
2. Develop confessional statements to serve as a Biblical response to the two contemporary issues of egalitarianism and origins;
B. To explore ways in which God might bring us into one united Reformed Church, based on the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards.”
What must we make of all this? Certainly any unity among Reformed believers must be based on the truth of the inspired, infallible, Holy Scriptures as that truth is articulated in the Reformed Confessions. In addition, however, there are a host of differences and denominational distinctives with which such a conference would have to deal – among them: various views on the covenant, church polity, common grace, the re-marriage of divorced persons, labor union membership, and more. Among the denominations mentioned in the above articles are those who sing only the Psalms, and others who use hymns in the worship. At least one of the denominations mentioned is committed to Purity of Worship.
Perhaps in the lights of all this it would be better to work to establish a Council of conservative Reformed Churches from around the world similar to the Reformed Ecumenical Council. This would provide a forum to address enemies common to us all. What will come of all this only the Lord knows.
The Mid-America Messenger