In several recent articles we have considered the proposed merger of the Reformed Church in America with the Southern Presbyterian Church. Within a few months the outcome of the merger proposal should be known. But one wonders why the Reformed Church and the Christian Reformed Church would not rather more actively seek each other? A recent editorial in the Reformed Journal together with an examination of past decisions of the Christian Reformed Synods reveal that within this denomination there are those who are watching the present courtship with interest—and hoping that they may yet have a chance to woo the fair maiden themselves. What ought to be a matter of serious concern to those involved, however, is the enticement which is offered to encourage this union.
The overture of 1964
In 1964 at the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, in harmony with recommendations proposed by the Reformed Ecumenical Synod, Classis Central California came with the following recommendations:
Classis Central California wishes to go on record as heartily endorsing the recommendations under VLC, of the report on the Reformed Ecumenical Synod.
Classis specifically overtures Synod to apply this principle to the Reformed church in America so that the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America may officially be drawn into closer fellowship with one another. Grounds:
1. Besides having a common credo, we have a common cultural and spiritual heritage. These cultural and spiritual ties have continued since our people live close together in America.
2. We should also recognize that the Reformed Church in America is one of the largest bona fide Reformed churches in America. (Note: We might also add that the way to true unity is found first of all in the Bible, second in common creeds, and third in common spiritual heritage. Thus it would appear that the way to true unity is going back to heal the old splits as the Holy Spirit through time and circumstances gives us time to look at them afresh.”) (Acts, 1964, pages 482-483)
The above overture was given into the hands of the Committee on Inter-Church Relations. This committee submitted a definite answer to the Synod of 1966. They had had contact with a similar committee of the Reformed Church. After discussions the committee proposed the following:
1. That Synod seek co-operation in the area of liturgical concerns.
2. That Synod urge their Foreign Mission Board to explore ways in which the two churches might co-operate on that level.
3. To seek to work together in the area of world relief.
4. To seek to develop a “united strategy for church extension in areas that are contiguous or overlap.”
5. To encourage closer fellowship at congregational and classical levels.
6. To seek further joint meetings with the Inter-Church Committee of the R.C.A. The Synod specifically approved points 1, 5, and 6 of the proposals.
Clarification in 1966
There had been some question concerning the decision of Synod to approve the suggestion of 5 above. Classis Illiana asked Synod to clarify this decision—and Synod suggested that this classis seek an answer from the Committee on Inter-Church Relations. The committee answered as follows:
To the Synod of 1967, classis Illiana presented a letter seeking information regarding synod’s decision of 1966 encouraging “the exchange of fraternal delegates at classical meetings with the Reformed Church of America.” Synod advised classis Illiana to seek such information from our committee, in view of the fact that the original proposal which synod adopted had been the recommendation of our committee. Classis Illiana did forward to us such a request and our committee sought to answer the classis by replying that the action of the synod encouraging such exchange of fraternal delegates was with the hope “that through such contacts misunderstandings can be cleared away which will pave the way to future contacts” of a more meaningful nature. We also stated that this action was recommended in view of an earlier decision of the synod of 1964 (Acts, p. 83). Furthermore, it should be perfectly clear that the synod of 1966 leaves each classis free to decline to enter into such fraternization if it considers that there are sufficient reasons for declining. If any classis considers that the reasons for doing as synod has urged are insufficient, it is free to decline or to define the range and extent of a relationship it is willing to establish.
5. Our committee has had no further meetings with the Inter-Church Relations committee of the Reformed Church in America. It was mutually agreed that it appeared advisable in view of their present negotiations with the Presbyterian Church US that no further meeting be scheduled until the matter of their merger has been settled.
So the question of closer contact between the C.R.C. and the R.C.A. stands. The “suitor in the wings” awaits the consummation or cancellation of the “marriage” of the R.C.A. and the P.C.U.S.
Suggestions from the Journal
In the most recent issue of the Reformed Journal(Sept. 1968) one of the editors seeks to discourage the present merger plans between the R.C.A. and P.C.U.S. with the suggestion that a more natural “marriage” would be between the C.R.C. and R.C.A. He writes:
Of all the factors involved in evaluating the validity of a given merger none would seem to be more weighty than the factor of what I would call historical naturalness. There should be in the respective histories of the uniting Churches significant backgrounds that make union not only desirable but natural. A church union should normally have the effect of fulfilling a historical yearning. This certainly is not all that goes into the validation of a union between Churches, but in given situations it can be of great significance.
Looking at the proposed merger between the Reformed Church in America and the Presbyterian Church in the United States one is hard put to see compelling reasons for union from the point of view here entertained. There doubtless are reasons of another kind that have moved the respective general assemblies to propose the merger to the classes and presbyteries of their denominations. But from an R.C.A. point of view a possibility will be sacrificed in the union which ought not to be lightly surrendered. This possibility is the ultimate reunion of the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church.
. . . By foregoing an immediate union with a Church historically and geographically rather distant, the R.C.A. would be keeping open a door to a reunion between blood brothers that ought to take place. By saying No to the present possibility with this more inviting possibility in mind the R.C.A. would certainly be placing the C.R.C. under the obligation of reexamining the validity of a continued separate existence.
The argumentation appears good. After all, the two denominations do have (for the most part) a common background as far as origin and creeds are concerned. They are similar in many ways.
But what of those differences which had formerly separated the two denominations? To mention only two major differences, there is the divergent stand on lodge membership and Christian school instruction. One can not help but be disappointed with Boer’s suggestion in the Reformed Journal. Rather than giving reasons for believing that the R.C.A. might be persuaded to agree with the C.R.C. positions, he seems to suggest that possibility of merger rests upon the changing positions of the C.R.C.
when the B.C.A. observer of the C.R.C. scene pays more attention to fundamental ecclesiastical decisions than to the debates that precede them, he cannot fail to be impressed by the fact that there is developing in the C.R.C. an openness to other than traditional viewpoints which augurs well for fruitful dialogue and fellowship, first .between the two Churches and later hopefully within the united Church.
Now Boer is not specific when he mentions an “openness to other than traditional viewpoints . . . .” What does he have in mind? Is he thinking of the “other than traditional viewpoints” represented in recent decisions on the so-called “Dekker case,” in the decision granting a limited approval of movie-attendance, in the divorce-remarriage decision, in the woman suffrage in the church, in the decision to send observers to the W.C.C. this past summer, etc.? He is then correct in suggesting that the C.R.C. is rapidly changing. Though there have been those who strongly opposed the adopted decisions, the decisions were nevertheless made—and are binding. Certainly such decisions “auger well for a fruitful dialogue” with the R.C.A.
Outside of the possibility of merger, now that “traditional viewpoints” are being re-examined and revised, this must at the same time cause sorrow in the hearts of those who still love and hold to the Reformed truth within the C.R.C.’ Do not these people realize yet into what paths they are being led? Do they not see how rapidly the “traditional viewpoints” are being changed? Such might find a passing comfort in the strong opposition to the change in “traditional viewpoints,” but they close their eyes it seems to the reality that the changes are nevertheless made—and they and their children must live with them. And not the Reformed truth, but these changes will open the possibility of merger with the R.C.A. And these same changes will open the way toward participation with the W.C.C. And these changes will lead toward the possibility of wider mergers as well in the future. How far must one be dragged along such a path before he sees the danger—and forsakes such a way?