Christian Reformed Church

We Must Listen AND Respond

We Must Listen AND Respond

“Homosexuality is a condition of disordered sexuality that reflects the brokenness of our sinful world.”

Ouch. That is the opening line in the position statement on homosexuality of the Christian Reformed Church of North America. I wonder how many gay individuals had a chance to review that before it went to press. I’m guessing not too many. That is a hurtful and embarrassing statement. I am ordained in the CRCNA. This statement does not represent me.
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What’s the Big Idea?

Quite a bit recently people have been ready to write the eulogy on the church, and particularly on organized religion.  Christianity is in crisis they say.  My own tradition is not exempt, it seems.  Recently John Van Sloten of New Hope Church in Calgary noted in a blog post that:  “the Christian Reformed Church is in desperate need of a big idea.”

As to why, Van Sloten, recently returned from some denominational meetings, said this:

“Our numbers are dropping, young adults in the church have disappeared, our congregations are aging, and according to discerning minds we are about 15-20 years away from the death spiral that many mainline denominations are now in. Some think we’ve held on this long because of one of our biggest idiosyncrasies; our tendency to control everything so tightly!

The writing is on the wall.”

He is probably right.  Our time has come.

But Van Sloten isn’t ready to give up the ghost just yet:

“And in order to stop the bleeding – no even more – in order to resuscitate the patient, drastic steps need to be taken.  No more incremental programming changes. No more technical fixes. We need something big; an adrenaline shot to the heart.”

I read his post with some interest, being a fellow clergy member in the same denomination.  He then poses two possibilities, which I proceeded to peruse with interest.

Let’s take them one at a time:

  1. If we don’t find a big outside the box idea, God will. And that big idea may play out outside of the box of the CRC (ie: he’ll let us die!)

OK, this is just a reiteration of the situation.  Something has to change, or the game is up.  Agreed.

Well this puts a lot of weight on the second thought.  Let’s hope for a game-changer.

  • 2. The CRC’s big idea must come from the centre of its core theology and be fully manifest in the pulpit. Theology and preaching are central to our identity. Surely God’s biggest idea for us would be borne out of and proclaimed from these places.

Here’s where the post came to a screeching halt for me.

Earlier Van Sloten had noted that there is an uptightness to the denomination — a need to control everything.  And it’s obvious this is not working.  One of the main ways I perceive that we are uptight and seek to control everything is regarding doctrine, or as he puts it, core theology, and it’s corollary, or how that doctrine/theology is often passed on:  preaching.  These are perhaps two of the hallmarks of our tradition.  But if things are dying and those are the hallmarks, perhaps its time for some new hallmarks.

I have a hard-time seeing this as a viable solution, or even a big idea.  To me, it comes across as more of the same.  Better grab the shovels.

Foreshadowing

I can think of recent events which are harbingers of what is to come:

1)  Two religion faculty members at Calvin College write some thought-provoking pieces about the challenge of reconciling Adam and Eve historically with the evidences of history, of literature, and perhaps most notably, scientific discoveries and the theory of evolution.

A quick taste of what they wrote:

One professor, Daniel Harlow, wrote that he was exploring from the perspective of mainstream biblical scholarship, which is that “Adam and Eve are strictly literary figures—characters in a divinely inspired story about the imagined past that intends to teach primarily theological, not historical, truths about God, creation, and humanity.”

Harlow also wrote, “Genesis 3, read in its immediate context, does not depict the man and woman’s transgression as an act that infected all subsequent humanity. . . . For teaching about the Fall and original sin, then, we must wait for Paul and the church fathers.”

The other professor, John Schneider, wrote that the traditional understanding of the Fall does not fit with current science: “[T]he narrative of human evolution makes it very hard, if not impossible, to maintain [the position that human and demonic creatures are responsible for evil]. For it seems, on this science, that not just natural evils . . . but also the disposition for human moral evils, are practically part of God’s original design.”

Exceptional pieces written about an issue which the church at large is going to have to deal with theologically as it moves forward.  And it should be clarified that these two were not making grand new theological assertions, but merely showing how traditional thinking has to be rethought in light of new understandings in science and biblical studies. But apparently some do not want to move forward, and it was decided that these two had to retract their efforts or find a new place of employment.

Why?  Because their scholarship didn’t toe the line at theological constructs developed over 500 years ago.

Now you’re wondering: Did I hear that right?  Academics forced to curb their research in religion and literature as it intersects with scientific developments, to stunt their own academic exploration in order to “submit” to theological doctrines developed during the lifetime of Galileo?  Yep.  Turns out that’s the route the college went, which is significant because Calvin is affiliated with the denomination we are discussing.  Rather than move forward, the message was loud and clear: let’s keep the engine in neutral, or maybe even pop it into reverse.

There are real theological issues the church must face here, and it’s time we act like adults and deal with them, as Peter Enns suggests, rather than sweep them under the rug.

2) A CRC pastor recently published a book about his own journey from faith to doubt.  His insights and experiences were welcome by many, but threatening to others.  He was encouraged to consider his options, and eventually felt he was better in a more progressive denomination. A few lamented his departure, many more were glad to be rid of such a troublemaker.

3) Part of the means of control in the denomination is expressed in what was formerly known as the “Form of Subscription.”  This was a statement dating back nearly 500 years that stated exactly what it is that we as a denomination believe doctrinally regarding God, Scripture and salvation, among other things.  (I know, hard to believe (no pun intended) that belief doesn’t shift or move forward in half a millennium.)

Recently (perhaps due to some of the above) it was suggested that this be updated. One crucial statement that many of us thought was a movement in the right direction was to note that the three doctrinal statements (Belgic Confession, Canons of Dort, and the Heidelberg Catechism) are historic expressions of the Reformed faith have shaped our theological heritage and will continue to guide us (.  A small move, but a move forward.  It seemed a logical way to put it, because they are historic documents, after all.  They state concerns that were of vital interest in the era they were written.  But we no longer live in that era.  There are concerns today that those documents don’t address.  There are ways of understanding Scripture and faith and Jesus that didn’t exist when those were written. Advancements in biblical scholarship, critical study, archaeology, language, comparative religions and in many other related fields have given us insights they never had.  Not to mention developments in science.

In any case, many were shocked at this way of framing these confessions (apparently they thought they were ahistorical, having fallen from the heavens into the Reformers’ hands).  And unsurprisingly this updated Form of Subscription was rejected in 2011 in favor of something adopted in 2012 that looked nearly identical to the one it was supposedly ‘updating.’

On to Something

These three issues, among others, make me think that perhaps, after all, Van Sloten is on to something.

But in a sideways sort of way.

What may need to change is a letting go of the obsession over doctrinal obsessions, yes, there is a core that should remain, but there are plenty of peripherals that are less and less compelling to many many people, and it seems to me that our insistence on maintaining our dogmatism will be our death knell, not our salvation.

Recently the writer Jim Palmer confessed:

“So, I went to seminary, learned Greek and Hebrew, and got my M.Div. I was a Senior Pastor for several years and delivered a gazillion sermons. The working theory was that what people needed most was good, accurate, correct information about God. The idea was, have good theology and everything else will work out. It didn’t quite happen that way. There were lots of people with good theology and no inner peace or freedom.”

In other words, lots of preaching and obsessing about correct theology only goes so far, and in many cases, not far at all.

The reasons for this are myriad, but chief among them is the growing sense among many that God himself isn’t as concerned with how to describe, dissect, and diagram himself (or herself) as many theologians have been.  There is a growing sense that Jesus was about helping bring wholeness and freedom, healing and reconciliation rather than a ‘new yoke’ comprised of medieval theological formulations to which all must now submit.  To put it simply, many people just don’t care about doctrinal fastidiousness, and are concerned about day to day practical realities, the kinds about which Jesus so often taught and focused on: a father who had two sons, a follower who had a dead father, a woman caught in adultery, a tax collector who wondered if restoration and a new way of life was possible.

Living into God’s Story

Some time earlier in a related discussion, James K.A. Smith noted that churches obsessing over theology can still succeed:

“I’m just pointing out that the missional success of unapologetically Reformed churches like Redeemer in NYC (and it’s whole network), or City Church in San Francisco, are testimony that “thickly” Reformed (AND catholic AND missional) churches can actually invite people into God’s story and not merely attracted disaffected, previously-churched people.”

At the time, I responded with:

I also agree with Smith that many Gen Xers and millenials are simply not interested in “relevant” worship or “contemporary” faith. Style and mode do matter at some level, but not nearly to the degree of the substance beneath.

As for Smith’s anecdotal evidence of ‘thickly’ Reformed churches, one could also give plenty of anecdotes of younger folks who have had it with ‘thick’ faith in a new package (see Driscoll or any young, restless, and Reformed types) and are interested in a more engaging, developing theology that *is* — as Smith notes — informed by the broad catholicity of the faith. But more than that, a faith that also has room for mystery, for realizing the limits of all theological perspectives (including, or perhaps especially, one’s own tradition), and is strongly interested in an incarnational, Christ-centered faith. Many are simply not interested in being forced into a theological or intellectual corner by having to ‘sign on’ for certain doctrines. This is where the rub is. They (and I) want to be informed by the historic confessions without being told: you MUST own every single piece of them, which is about as appealing as being told you MUST take that spoonful of cod liver oil because… wait, what were those reasons again? Never mind – we’ve always done it this way (it’s tradition!) – so open up and take it!

So many -across the generations- want, as Smith says, to live into *God’s* story more than they want to live into any single version of that story, because they realize God is beyond any single tradition. (And are simply tired of the hubris that says ‘ours is the best and truest’).

Smith went on to dismiss such efforts in living, thinking and working through the shifting theological ground that many are doing:

“Thomas Merton would have never been saved by “pub theology.” Or Pete Rollins. Or Rob Bell. Or Brian McClaren. Or much that has been touted as “updated” versions of the CRC.”

I responded as follows (and I quote at length as this was buried in the comments under an earlier post, but it articulates my concern with Smith’s dismissiveness):

As for Smith’s comment regarding Pub Theology. . . The point of pub theology, as far as I’m concerned, is not to be the latest ‘outreach’ effort or to mask as a new proselytizing fad. If pub theology is saving anyone, it is saving me. Saving me from the attitude that I’ve got it all figured out and no one else does. Saving me from an attitude that lets me live in my own little world with my own prejudices about different people, faiths, philosophies, or approaches to God. It saves me from dismissing someone out of hand when I haven’t heard their story. It saves me from an attitude that says, ‘I’ve arrived’. And I really like craft beer.

All the guys Smith has listed and summarily dismissed with a wave of his hand have informed my own faith journey in important ways. Its fine if he doesn’t like them, but the theological snobbery I perceive is exactly the sort of thing many of us would prefer to get away from. That attitude doesn’t further the conversation, in my opinion (understanding that this is a limited form of communication in which it is possible to read into things). I also fail to see the constant pejorative use of ‘liberal Protestant’ as being of much use. I just spent a week with mainliners from varying backgrounds (ELCA, PCUSA, UMC, etc) and was impressed at the ways many in these denominations are seeking to engage their communities for Christ in some good, healthy, and creative ways. Living within a historic theological tradition with flexibility and life. There may be things within those contexts that one does not like, but it is hardly a fate to be avoided at all costs. (And from whom we could even learn a few things).

My own desire is to be centered on following Jesus in how I actually live my life (though it is a constant struggle). I want a faith at which Christ is the center from which I operate, and the goal toward which I strive. I’m frankly not that interested in worrying about how big (or small) the theological circle is within which I operate. I want to be informed by the creeds and confessions (and have and continue to be shaped by them), but I am less interested in being forced to stand or fall on them. For our faith to have weight and depth – it must engage these important parts of our tradition. But for it to live and move and breathe – it must not be encumbered or chained to the ground by them. I am interested in inviting people into the center. The theological edges are frankly not that important to me, and I think a healthy agnosticism toward some doctrines that the confessions lay out dogmatically would be a healthier (and perhaps more biblical) approach.

So what’s the big idea?

Perhaps it is this: that we learn to let go of our certainties, stop trying to railroad people into believing things they have genuine questions about, and be open to re-articulations of the faith that resonate with and reflect the concerns and issues of today.  How?  Well, as Van Sloten notes, the pulpit isn’t a bad place to begin.  Having preachers willing to be open about the challenges present in the text, to be honest about their own struggles and faith life, to exhort us to live into and live out the grace Jesus embodies and be less concerned about getting more sheep to ‘sign on the dotted line.’  Preaching that doesn’t cause us to reconsider, reflect, struggle, learn, and reformulate might just be preaching to the choir.

But it must go beyond the preacher. We must embrace grassroots efforts like Pub Theology, in which open conversation is the goal, preaching is set aside in favor of listening, and a setting is created in which all are welcome to the table without having to pass a litmus test of belief or behavior.  If we want to engage our communities on spiritual topics, we cannot expect to sit back and watch people show up at our worship gatherings.  We must be present in places where people already are, and drop our agendas of evangelizing everyone we meet — in our circles we don’t bring people to Jesus so much as to Reformed theology.  If we want to learn how to hold our faith amid the growing pluralism of our day, settings like this will get us started.  (Not to mention that a sure-fire way to ensure our further irrelevance will be to circle the wagons and congratulate ourselves on our unique theology.)

We could promote small group curriculum like “Living the Questions” or “Animate» Faith,” get serious about studying the Bible filtered less by preconceived doctrinal grids and informed more by serious scholarship and study that brings new light to old texts.

And finally, we must seek to find ways to bring the hope of the kingdom of God to our communities in tangible ways. I’m heartened by the many, many ways I see this happening throughout our denomination, and I think these signs of life are already present in growing ways.

Surely there are more big ideas out there (Add yours below!).  But these things may be a start.

In the end we can take heart, because the universe has existed for about 14 billion years, and the CRC has only existed for about 0.0001107% of that time.

The world will get on fine without us.

Toes, Lines and Bad Religion

There is a little controversy brewing over a recent suggestion Bob DeMoor made in an editorial, Which Line to Toe?, in the Banner (the monthly magazine of the Christian Reformed Church).  There has been an ongoing dialogue in the CRC as to the role the historic Reformed confessions should play in our life together as a denomination.

They were written in the 1600’s and 1700’s – should adherence to them be mandatory?  Historically, all pastors and office bearers (and professors at Calvin College and Dordt College) have signed that they will teach and uphold these (by signing the Form of Subscription).  Yet times have changed.

DeMoor notes that:

It’s been some four hundred years since our confessions were penned. During that time our church, guided by centuries of study in the humanities (such as biblical studies and linguistics) and the natural sciences (such as biology and astronomy) has earnestly and prayerfully studied Scripture and creation revelation so that we may accurately confess and address God’s Word to each new generation. And folks like Abraham Kuyper have wonderfully widened our biblical vision on the reach of God’s kingdom.

We’d expect that all of that would trigger major revisions to those confessions, especially since every officebearer must subscribe to them.

But these revisions haven’t happened.  So lately it has been proposed that perhaps this Form of Subscription should be rethought.  Perhaps we ought to declare that these historic creeds and confessions ought to ‘guide’ as historical documents and we should continue to be ‘shaped’ by them without demanding slavish intellectual submission to them.  I found this approach refreshing and compelling – perhaps a good way forward.  There’s been much hemming and hawing about this (and much fear-mongering).  This possibility is still in process.

De Moor’s editorial suggested we go even further.  We affirm a new document altogether.   Radical, right?  Who would write it?  How would we ever have consensus on such a thing?

In fact, this document already exists.  It’s called, Our World Belongs to God: A Contemporary Testimony.  Give it a read – see what you think.  This is a document, says De Moor, which

elegantly summarizes our biblical faith in our contemporary context. It demonstrates much of that growth of our understanding and clearly addresses our society, culture, and Zeitgeist. Yet it remains the poor stepchild, with subordinate standing to our confessions.

In other words, times have changed, and since we’ve refused to update the old confessions, why not re-appropriate our common statement of faith (which we already have) that articulates afresh our understanding of Scripture, God, and the world we live in?

I think it’s a brilliant approach.

Not everyone likes it though.  Surprise.

What is a surprise is that someone in the philosophy department at Calvin College —who is a terrific thinker and writer— would be the source of the opposition.

James K.A. Smith has blogged a critical response to De Moor’s proposal.  I’m all for being critical, but I found his response less than compelling (and we won’t even get into the dripping sarcasm).

Let’s take them point by point.

First up:

(1)  De Moor is once again executing plays from the liberal Protestant playbook.

OK.  And…

Smith seems to think that by simply stating the words ‘liberal Protestant’ he has made some sort of brilliant argument.  His disdain for mainline approaches is clear (and fair enough), but he doesn’t spend any time developing this point.  Simply that he doesn’t like it (and he knows many in his conservative Reformed audience don’t either).  By merely stating it, he thinks he’s made a point.  I would beg to differ.  To be fair, he encourages people to read Ross Douthat’s book Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, so perhaps the point he fails to develop here will be understood once we all go buy and read that book.

His second point:

(2)  While De Moor is pointing out the supposed historical limitations of Reformed confessions forged in the 16th and 17th centuries, in fact nothing in his argument can prevent the same stance and posture toward ancient catholic confessions like Nicea and Chalcedon.  Should we also just tip our hat to those creeds, Bob, but then pledge our allegiance to an activist document written by North Americans in the 80s?

Where to begin.  This is the old slippery-slope argument based on fear.  “If we begin to question the Canons of Dort – what’s next, the Athanasian Creed?”

I find this quite disappointing from someone who knows better.  First of all, De Moor was not suggesting that the Contemporary Testimony suddenly takes primacy over the ancient creeds.  Nor was he suggesting dismissal of the Reformed confessions (Canons of Dort, Belgic Confessions, and Heidelberg Catechism).  It is a matter of appropriation and relation.  The Contemporary Testimony states how we feel as a community about who God is and how he is calling us to be in the world.  This does not mean we ‘get rid of’ the other stuff, as Smith is misleading people to think De Moor is saying.  What De Moor actually said was much more compelling and thoughtful:

Of course, we shouldn’t dream of jettisoning our historic confessions. As my colleague, Rev. Gordon Pols, puts it: “Our posture to our historical confessions should be the same as that to our parents: we honor them.” To honor them means we don’t mindlessly and robotically obey them as we mature. It means we fully recognize what they taught us and the direction they set us on. As we grow, we continue to heed their guidance. But we also continue to find our own calling in the light of Scripture and the Spirit’s leading. As the church in the third millennium, we affirm our roots as we publicly profess our owned faith.

This is a wise, compelling, well-articulated approach of the relationship we can (and should) have toward these historic documents.  And if that isn’t enough for some, De Moor notes that

We could also carefully describe that ongoing relationship to the historic confessions in the Contemporary Testimony itself.

We could reminder one another, and younger generations, where we come from, without continuing to insist that they go back and live in the past.  The bottom line?

 That would allow many more officebearers and profs to sign the form of subscription without holding their nose.

Yes.

But Smith is afraid we will now begin to question everything.

Good.  I hope we do.  Only fear prevents one from questioning.  If you have the truth as you claim to, what fear is there for asking questions?

“But if we question X, aren’t we going to open the door to questioning Y?”

Yes!  As we should.

We do that with the Bible all the time – reinterpret in light of new understandings of language, archaeology, culture, and context.  Why should theological decisions made centuries later be off limits? They were made in certain contexts under certain motivations (often more political than theological). Exploring them might actually prove helpful. Why should theology be the one and only field of human inquiry where we automatically defer to antiquity? Should we assume we have nothing to bring to the table when it comes to understanding God? A faith that is living and active would seem to point in the other direction. I am not in favor of questioning for it’s own sake, but rather for seeking out where our foundations are not as infallible as we perhaps thought they were.  We are called to smash idols, and perhaps there are some lurking in places we haven’t been willing to look.

Smith’s third point is this:

(3)  I have a little hypothesis to float here, and I know it will be somewhat off-putting.  But here goes: I think this is very much a generational issue.  More specifically, I think this is a baby boomer problem.  And for the past 20 years, the leadership of our denomination has been in the hands of baby boomers who absorbed an anti-institutionalism that was in the water in the late 60s and early 70s, which they then channeled toward the faith of their forebears–particularly their immigrant forebears. Hey, baby boomers, I want to let you in on a little secret: you don’t own the denomination, though I know you’ve acted like you do for the past 20 years.

This seems to me to be a red herring that distracts from the argument. Blaming some kind of over-generalized boomerism is less than helpful. Is anti-institutionalism really what is driving DeMoor’s argument? I can hardly see that as the case. You might even say he is acting on behalf of the institution by hoping to prevent it from becoming an irrelevant ancient relic itself.  Again, á la point one, acting in ways similar to other mainline approaches should not be automatic grounds for dismissal.  (And if it should – give us the actual reasons rather than just ad-hominem disdain).

There’s actually a resurgence happening within many mainlines because disaffected *younger* evangelicals and others are finding a space where both ancient practices and progressive thinking are welcome (See Diana Butler Bass: Christianity After Religion or her recent column: A Resurrected Christianity?).  A place where we live and act in light of history and tradition, but are not slavishly bound to it – as it appears Smith and many others would prefer in the CRC.   Trying to pin this on boomers leaves out the scores of younger folks (Driscollites aside) who want to follow Jesus without being forced into an intellectual corner.  Smith does note that there are many younger people who want a ‘more ancient’ faith.  Agreed.  But ancient doesn’t mean antiquated.

It appears to me (and I hope I’m wrong) that Smith is more interested in catering to the old guard and the younger conservatives by posturing himself as the new thoughtful guardian of our theological heritage.  That we can move forward by not moving at all.  He knows better, and frankly it’s quite disappointing.  If you ask me, this is a step backward, and he’s made his entire case based on fear and distraction.  It’s hard to move forward if you can’t take your eyes off of what’s behind you, just as you can’t drive very well by continually staring in the rear-view mirror.

I nod toward De Moor’s proposal as a healthy, thoughtful, and not unrealistic approach.  A move forward, while understanding and appreciating what got us here.  Some would say let’s get rid of the Form of Subscription altogether.  I’m not opposed to that, but perhaps De Moor’s approach is at least a step in the right direction.

What do you think?

Update:
In case you haven’t seen them, Dan Brown, Mark Hilbilenk, and John Suk have responded with some interesting thoughts on their own blogs, each worth reading.

Dan Brown – Toes on the Body of Christ, the Past, Present and Future of the CRC

Mark Hilbelink  – In-Fighting & Generational Bias @ CRC Young Adult Leadership Website

John Suk – Time to Put the Confessions to Pasture?  (this is latest entry, and if you ask me, best)

(The conversation is continuing between all parties in the comment section under Mark’s post – read them and jump in!  I’d also be interested in your comments on what I’ve written above – comment below.)

The Future

A recent article in the Banner asked about the ‘future of the Christian Reformed Church‘.

A conference I attended wondered about the ‘future of continental philosophy‘.

There is much talk about our ‘economic future’, as the market has betrayed us (how dare it!), and we realize we’re not as invincible as we thought we were.

Apparently we should all invest in futures.

What does the future hold?  These are good and important questions.

The article on the CRC noted:

“The Christian Reformed Church is much different than it used to be. Forty to fifty years ago you could identify a Christian Reformed congregation by its style of worship. That is no longer possible. And the denominational loyalty we once counted on seems to be on the way out too, especially with younger folks. Historically we’ve also been held together by what we call “our three Forms of Unity”: the Belgic Confession, Canons of Dort, and Heidelberg Catechism. But today it’s not uncommon to discover that many members of Christian Reformed churches have no idea what those documents are all about. (Recently a minister told me he was not in favor of adopting the Belhar Confession as a creed to be added to the three we already have. He said it would simply be another irrelevant document along with ones already on the shelf.)

A feature article in the November 2009 issue of Perspectives stated unequivocally that our sister denomination, the Reformed Church in America, has run its course: “It has sprung debilitating leaks which can no longer be plugged. It is time to look for a new vehicle, or coalition of vehicles, to move the church faithfully and compellingly into the twenty-first century.” Is the CRC on the same road?”

I think this is probably the case, and it might not be a bad thing.  The author of the article, Alvin Hoksbergen, thought so as well:

“A growing number of our congregations are ignoring or downplaying their historic Reformed, Calvinistic roots. One way they do so is by identifying themselves as “community churches.” It seems the intent is to distance themselves from unappealing events of the past and emphasize what it means to be Christian rather than Reformed. This is understandable, and much can be said in its defense.

The current emphasis on ecumenism has great appeal. We need only think of the days when most Protestants thought Roman Catholics held to a different religion. It was not uncommon for youngsters in our catechism classes to ask whether Roman Catholics would one day go to heaven. I remember how surprised I was to learn that young folks in Roman Catholic parishes asked their priests the same question about Protestants. Thank God we have moved beyond that day.

There is much that’s refreshing about what is happening today. Generic Christianity is not the curse we may have thought it would be. The 12 articles of the Apostles’ Creed briefly summarize what it means to follow Christ. Our three Forms of Unity do not have that function. We are properly embarrassed about the hostile language historically used by those documents to denounce fellow believers with different theological emphases. So you can understand why some may think it helpful to take the name “Christian Reformed” off the marquee and identify themselves primarily as community churches.”

This makes sense, and certainly reflects my own faith community.

A comment on the article summed up the transition seen in many churches like this:

“The new model of church (the community model) is one where the heirarchy is flattened, the focus is on Scriptural discourse and conversation, there is allowance for multiple opinions, its multi-cultural, the congregation is well-educated, and diversity is appreciated and respected. What’s important in these churches is not that they adhere to a doctrinal line, but that they are authentic, loving, Jesus-honoring and relevant to the community in which God has placed them.  Christianity is greater than our CRC denomination; we are but one expression of his truth (and a pretty culturally constrained one at that).”

Well said.  Does the Christian Reformed Church have a future?  I’m not sure.  I certainly appreciate the roots it has, the foundation it has given me and many others.  I suspect that as long as there are people who continue to drag their feet on issues like women in office, or becoming truly open places where people of all orientations and backgrounds are respected and welcome, or honest, academic pursuit regarding the question of origins, we will continue down the road of irrelevancy.  But all that aside, is this the kind of question we ought to invest our time and energy in?  Aren’t there bigger concerns in our world than one single denomination (and a small one at that)?  Aren’t there bigger issues worthy of our attention?  What would be gained by a strong CRC future?  What would be lost in a future without it?

The author of the article gave some hints as to how he thought it could contribute (a long quote here):

“There is more to our future than considering the benefits of today’s ecumenism and the structures that have been part of our history. There are also the biblical insights contributed by Calvinists throughout history.

Granted, there are things that we should move beyond, but we must not lose sight of the fact that Calvinists had significant influence on the development of society in North America. By the time of the Civil War, nearly two-thirds of the colleges in the U.S. had been founded and were controlled by the theological heirs of John Calvin.

I cannot recount in this article the large number of theological insights contributed by the Calvinistic/Reformed tradition, but I can mention two that could make a significant contribution today if they were proclaimed by Reformed congregations.

The first concerns the matter of justice. It is beyond dispute that justice is required in our society, and many of our pastors preach about the need for it. But in its debate whether to adopt the Belhar Confession, the CRC is deciding whether the promotion of justice should be tied directly with our denominational identity. May the biblical concept of justice be left to the whim of individual members?

If we officially adopt the Belhar as a fourth Form of Unity by synodical action in 2012, we will be a church that takes a prominent stand about the relationship between justice and love. There is nothing irrelevant about that.

A second relevant contribution relates to our society’s economic meltdown. What brought this about? The secular government concludes that human greed stands close to the center of the problem. Perhaps had we as a denomination been on top of our game, we would have proclaimed this before it was announced by economic strategists.

While some Christian economists present theories about how believers can get back on top of the current financial crisis, Reformed believers would encourage them to acknowledge the role human greed plays. Reformed theology states unequivocally that human sinfulness lies at the heart of the economic problems we face today. Perhaps Reformed leaders have had little to say about that because we as a denomination have moved away from what it means to be Reformed. John Calvin would have nipped this in the bud long ago.

Where are we going as a denomination? If we do not come to a fresh and relevant understanding of what we have to contribute as Reformed Christians, our future may not be long-lived. But should we gain a new and vigorous appreciation of who we are, we may have a lengthy and productive ministry ahead of us.”

I love what he has to say about justice, and I think we ought to echo that — not just as a Reformed community, but as a biblical one.  As a Jesus community.  A prophetic community.

Regarding his comments on greed, I have to disagree.  Here’s a comment I posted in response to the article:

“Regarding the comment in the article about our current economic crisis, what the author fails to realize is that preaching about greed is what has gotten us into this mess in the first place. We practice an economic model that is built on greed – free market capitalism. The more everyone buys and seeks to have, the greater the market will do and the more jobs there will be and ultimately everyone will reap the benefits! Whenever I try to have a conversation with someone about alternate economic approaches, it always comes back to: “But man is fallen, so we need a system built on greed.” 

When it all comes crashing down we should not be surprised, nor should we then blame the greed we sought to build it on in the first place. We ought to just blame ourselves. 

Does our denomination have a future? Perhaps. But the bigger question is – what is the future of our nation and our world, economically and otherwise… These are more important questions – you might even call them kingdom of God questions – than whether or not the CRC lasts another 50 years. The church ought to be a conduit to the kingdom, not an end in itself.”

What do you think?  Does the CRC have a future?  Does it matter?  Which futures are most important?  How do we know?  Are different people called to invest in different futures?  How does one know where to concentrate one’s energy?  Post any thoughts below!

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