Esteemed Brothers in the Church of Christ:
It truly is an honor and privilege that I may once again be present in your midst and address you as General Synod of the URCNA. The fact that I can address you in your broadest assembly with all your churches represented by its delegates makes this moment very special. Since GS Nyack 2012 I have been in the rather unique position of visiting seven of your eight Classes. Included in these visits were some sixteen opportunities to conduct worship services in URC congregations, and besides those to preach as well in other churches among your Classes upon special invitation. Aside from these preaching engagements I could address your Classes and congregations to introduce the federation of CanRC and its history and heritage. In short, if ever it has been appropriate to apply the figure of “ambassadors” to the servants of Christ as they make their appeal on Christ’s behalf [2 Cor. 5:20], I certainly felt like I came in that function! My appeal, however, on behalf of Christ, was not so much as saying, “Be reconciled to God,” but to encourage you with the other words of the apostle, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace!” Indeed, your invitations, your receptions, and your interests and inquiries, together with my humble attempts in fulfilling my mandate, did add up to the apostle’s appeal to manifest the maintenance of the unity of the Spirit and to promote the will to ecumenicity through the bond of peace!
Brothers, I consider myself exceedingly blessed by the experiences enjoyed during these visits and occasions. Just as we are exulting here at GS Visalia 2014, so I rejoiced in each and every of the other opportunities, in the truth of the words of Psalm 133, “Behold, how pleasant and how good, that we, one Lord confessing, together dwell in brotherhood, our unity expressing!” [PH #279] When the CERCU report to your synod mentions that “growing love, mutual knowledge and trust, as well as increased cooperation in such things as education, evangelism, youth activities, conferences, joint services, and pulpit exchanges have marked the past number of years,” among the churches in closer geographical proximity, that is, then I may add that also these my personal encounters contributed to a similar growth in love, mutual knowledge, and trust! Your committee report is so true when it observes that “it is significant that the closer and more frequent the interaction has been, the greater is the interest and openness toward progressing onward in this endeavor.”
At times the question was put to me whether I was still as convinced and motivated that the process toward organizational unity should be pursued, having experienced and discovered that “significant ambivalence remains concerning the whole process among the US Classes of the URC.” [As your CERCU report refers to my findings.] Let me assure you with all the sincerity of my heart and integrity of my faith, that my exposure to these US churches and Classes and my interaction with the brotherhood in the URCNA have become an even greater incentive for this pursuit than I have had since the beginning of my involvement in 1992. In fact, the miracle of the growing unity among the churches in Canada to the point of its present integration and immersion and cooperation at every level of church life, congregational communion, and the pursuit of kingdom service in a growing number of areas of life, this miracle must be a strong motivation to continue our pursuit to the point at which we may see the miracle of the twenty-first century come true in the union of the URCNA and CanRC to the greater glory of God our Savior and as testimony to the world!
Why this should be? Well, brothers, we all know that the church gathering work of Christ is a dynamic process. When you, in 1995–1996 set out to establish the federation of United Reformed Churches in North America, you pursued a union by faith, in love, with courage, and in mutual trust (as your CERCU report testifies), because you knew that this was in accordance with the Word of God. You did so because the entire Scripture reveals this dynamic process toward union in Old and New Testament: in the service of God at Shiloh, in one tabernacle, one temple, for the one people of God (which was composed of twelve so very different tribes), a unity of God’s people which our Savior articulated when speaking about one flock and one Shepherd, revealing to us in the New Testament gathering of His church that He breaks down dividing walls to unite Jews and Gentiles, uniting them into one holy nation, working toward the one multitude! God is one; He unites under the headship of Jesus Christ, and He restores unity as well!
Then the Scriptures reveal to us that this work is visible: the multitude in Revelation 7 came about through Christ, as He walked among the seven churches in Asia Minor, holding their stars in His one hand, being the one foundation under their local churches, which expressed their unity by being a hand and foot to each other, in the congregations and among their federation! Indeed, it is this dynamic work of God that we can see throughout the history of the church, as we confess in the oneness and catholicity of the church! Hence, we are urged to look at God’s work and not at the people and their feelings, reservations, or their ambivalence, but we must see our faith working through love, scripturally, confessionally, historically, and organizationally! The church is pillar and foundation of the truth; it’s this truth which unites believers, congregations, and federations! We have seen the miracle of this unity develop and grow in Canada, as it continues to manifest itself; in the same spirit of unity in the truth we may see this dynamic character of the church become evident in the union that we continue to pursue as brothers and sisters of common confession and heritage!
Esteemed brothers, just as GS Escondido 2001 was pivotal in promoting a growing momentum by its forward-looking decisions and appointments, you have gathered in one of the churches in California again with the opportunity to maintain and increase the momentum through decisions and CERCU’s recommendations which pursue this unity in the truth (including our common understanding of the richness of the doctrine of the covenant)! The most recent GS of the CanRC, in Carman 2013, has reiterated and confirmed its sincere desire that we proceed in the way in which the Lord of the church has blessed us so exceedingly. It endorsed your CERCU’s plan for the preparation of union in the coming years till your and our next GS, in 2016 the Lord willing. We, as Coordinators of the Committee for Church Unity, the Rev. Clarence VanderVelde and I (your ambassador of the CanRC), will be ready and eager to do everything we can to cooperate and to facilitate whatever plans and discussions need to pave the way for your consideration and decision of our desired union. Personally I would like to assure you that as gladly as I have accepted the invitations and made the visits to your churches and Classes to introduce our churches, so eagerly I would be available to further your acquaintance and remove whatever ambivalence remains!
Dear brothers in the Lord, receive the greetings of the CanRC in the communion of the Spirit of peace and in the pursuit of scriptural ecumenicity and the ecclesiastical unity of our two Reformed federations of churches of the Lord Jesus Christ!
Rev. Willem den Hollander is a fraternal delegate of the Canadian Reformed Churches (CanCR) to the URCNA.