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by Rev. Richard Stienstra


Dated: September 19, 2000

Christian RenewalTaken with permision from CHRISTIAN RENEWAL, September 11, 2000

It was early in 1994 that the first letter of inquiry was sent to the Canadian Reformed Churches, as mandated by the Alliance of Reformed Churches. The object was to pursue church unity.

After the formation of the United Reformed Churches in 1995 the active involvement by both federations became more systematic and sustained, and considerable progress was made. A road map was designed for the unfamiliar territory ahead, and entitled Guidelines for Ecumenicity and Church Unity. The URC synod adopted the guidelines, and the CanRef unity committee was agreeable to follow them. At the same 1999 Synod of Hudsonville the URC officially entered into the first phase of the guidelines, Corresponding Relations, with the Canadian Reformed Churches.

Dr. P. Y. De Jong representing the URCs and Dr. Jelle Faber of the CanadianReformed Churches offered a review of the history of their respective denominations at a public meeting in Southern Ontario two years ago.

During the last three years the URC Committee for Ecumenical Relations and Church Unity as well as the CanRef Committee for Promotion of Church Unity have produced position papers on their churches' history, the doctrine of the covenant, and the doctrine of the church. Once agreement on these fundamental doctrines and issues was achieved, the discussions turned to the more practical matters of church life. In due time a paper of concurrence was produced by the two committees, Statements of Agreement, and sent to all the churches in both federations in preparation for their synods, both of which are scheduled to meet in 2001.

Also passed on to the consistories along with the Agreements is the recommendation from both committees, that each synod agree to enter into the next phase of church unity: Ecclesiastical Fellowship. This proposed relationship between the United Reformed Churches and the Canadian Reformed Churches constitutes a major step forward for both federations, especially since the commitment is also "to eventual integrated federative church unity." Basic to the envisioned unity plan is the recognition by the two synods that both federations are true and faithful churches of the Lord Jesus Christ.

There are half a dozen provisions contained in the description of this new relationship, but in my view the outstanding two are the acceptance of each other's attestations or certificates of church membership, and the opening of the pulpits to ministers of the other federation. For some the freedom for intermarriage between members of the two churches may be paramount and enhance the unity of the churches' witness, while for others admittance to the Lord's Table when the local church's practice for guests is followed may remove long-standing irritants. Should the recommendations be accepted, the Canadian Reformed Churches and the United Reformed Churches would consider each other "sister churches."

The question in many minds is, will both synods agree? The CanRef synod meets in May 2001, while the URC has scheduled its assembly a month later. The issue for both delegations will be how and whether the Scriptures and the Confessions mandate church unity under present circumstances. The United Reformed Church Order prescribes that after its synod agrees to the step, a majority of the consistories still need to give their approval (art.36). I believe it would be regrettable and conceivably a sin if both or either federation would not be prepared to proceed at this time.

A legitimate consideration is how much time should lapse between Ecclesiastical Fellowship and the next and final phase of Church Union when the two federations produce a plan for actual integration or merger. Ideally, one might say, the time frame should be three or six years. Surely a serious pursuit of union at the Lord's time is important for both churches. However, after many years of separate life, at times marked by frustration and alienation, profitable union cannot be forced. It will take time to grow together, and the King of the Church will lead His people.

Wisely, I think, the Statements of Agreement contain recommendations for the appointment of committees already at the time of Ecclesiastical Fellowship so that ample time may be available for a joint Church Order, a new Song Book, and the theological education for ministers.

May the Saviour's prayer for the Canadian Reformed and the United Reformed Churches be answered,

"...that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me," John 17:22,23.

RICHARD STIENSTRA

Secretary,
Committee for
Ecumenical Relations and Church Unity,
United Reformed
Churches in North America

Also available on SpindleWorks by Rev. Richard Stienstra

An Abstract of the History of the United Reformed Churches in North America

CONTOURS OF GOD'S COVENANT, An Unofficial Exposition of the United Reformed Churches in North America

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