Approximately 100 people gathered from southern California and elsewhere on the evening of August 5, to hear a presentation by the members of the Joint Church Order Committee of the Canadian Reformed Churches and the United Reformed Churches. The meeting was hosted by First United Reformed Church of Chino, California. Rev. Ron Scheuers, minister of the host church and member of the committee, called the meeting to order with the reading of John 17:20-26. He reminded us of the importance of being one in the Lord.
Rev. Scheuers introduced each of the members of the committee (with the exception of Rev. Ray Sikkema, who was absent for health reasons) and then gave a presentation to inform those present about the history of the Canadian Reformed Churches and the work of this particular committee.
Rev. Bill Pols, minister of the Orthodox Reformed Church of Edmonton, Alberta, gave a report about the process toward church unity. He highlighted the important decisions made by various synods of the United Reformed Churches and the Canadian Reformed Churches. He also reminded us that the prospect of greater church unity was part of the original vision of the United Reformed Churches, already back in its root in the Alliance of Reformed Churches in the early 1990’s.
Following that, Dr. Art Witten, an educator within the Canadian Reformed Churches, gave a presentation about the historical background of the Canadian Reformed Churches. In order to acquaint us with the churches, he began with some numerical and geographical statistics. He then spoke of the reason for the existence of the Canadian Reformed Churches, demonstrating that the churches are “a continuation of the reformed church.” He traced the history from the Synod of Dort to the present, through the various secessions and mergers in the Netherlands. Dr. Witten reminded us that the Church Order of Dort is a common frame of reference between our two federations.
Next, Dr. Bert Nederveen, pastor of the Ebenezer Canadian Reformed Church of Burlington, Ontario, spoke about the theological foundations of the Canadian Reformed Churches. He traced this back to the solas of the Protestant Reformation, affirming salvation by grace alone through faith alone, revealed in Scripture alone. He then spoke of the desire to seek unity with others who share these theological convictions. He told us that the unity of the church is related to the catholicity of the church.
The next presenter was Mr. Gerard Noordeman, also, of Burlington, Ontario. He reported on the missionary endeavors being conducted by the Canadian Reformed Churches. Their mission work takes place abroad–in places like Brazil, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea–and locally, with missions in British Columbia to both the native inhabitants and the Chinese immigrants. He went on to talk about their commitment to Christian day-school education for the children and concluded by describing the development of the Theological College of the Canadian Reformed Churches in Hamilton, Ontario, the school for the training of their ministers.
Rev. John Van Woudenberg, minister of the Emmanuel Canadian Reformed Church of Guelph, Ontario, was given the task of covering the various practices in the Canadian Reformed Churches with regard to worship, the Lord’s Supper, Sabbath observance, etc. He highlighted that fact that while there may be some Canadian Reformed Church distinctives in these areas, many of the fundamental convictions and practices are the same as those in the United Reformed Churches. He described worship as a covenant dialog between God and His people in which God takes the initiative and the people respond. He explained the use of “attestations” for the movement of members from one church to another, as well as the specific use of travel attestations for the purpose of celebrating the Lord’s Supper in a church other than one’s home congregation. We can certainly appreciate the high regard for the Lord’s table and its proper fencing practiced in the Canadian Reformed Churches.
Mid-America Reformed Seminary professor, Dr. Nelson Kloosterman, reported specifically on the work of the committee in their progress toward producing a joint church order. He reminded those present, that the mandate for the committee came from Synod Escondido (2001), which is, “That the current Church Orders of the two federations be evaluated in the light of the Scriptural and confessional principles and patterns of church government of the Dort Church Order; that the Church Order committee work together with a Canadian Reformed Church Order committee to develop a suitable and agreeable adaptation of the Church Order of Dort, retaining and maintaining its principle, structure, and essential provisions.” He pointed out the challenge of evaluating the church orders of two distinct federations with an eye toward a third church order, that of Dort, having the desire to uphold the principles, but not slavishly follow, the almost 400 year old church order. Dr. Kloosterman reviewed the structure of the new church order and highlighted some of the returns to a more traditional understanding of the reformed system of government.
Finally, Mr. Harry Van Gorp, member of the Bethel United Reformed Church of Aylmer, Ontario, talked about some of the cooperative experiences that are currently going on at the local level between Canadian Reformed and United Reformed congregation, including occasional pulpit exchanges, joint schooling efforts, and the use in United Reformed churches of the Canadian Reformed Churches Heidelberg Catechism curriculum, I Belong, by Dr. James Visscher.
The two hours that were taken to give these presentations went by very quickly. The next hour was spent with those present asking questions of the presenters. The questions ranged from church polity to reformed theology to the benefits of moving toward union. Rev. Scheuers answered the third question in three parts. “Unity,” he said, “is a good idea because we become more obedient to the command of Christ to be one. Also, we get a great appreciation of each other’s heritage. And finally, we can do more together than we can do alone.”
Throughout the evening, it became evident that the members of the committee have a great amount of trust and respect for each other. They commented about their appreciation for each other’s particular history. Dr. Witten said, “Experiencing the unity of faith which exists among the members of the committee and developing a high level of trust in working together toward a joint church order has been one of the greatest blessings in working on this committee.”
Now, the challenge for the churches will be to develop that same trust and confidence. Hopefully, a joint church order will be one step in the ongoing process of church unity. “The most significant challenge [toward unity],” said Dr. Kloosterman, “ is the will to be united, the willingness to recognize that our respective federations are not destinations, but milestones along the route of living faithfully in our generation.”
Respectfully submitted, Rev. Bradd L. Nymeyer Phoenix United Reformed Church