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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
This past year, the directors of Canada Corporation of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) voted to separate Canadian “church operations” completely from American operations while maintaining the unity of “ecclesiastical functions.” The Council of Delegates, which manages the church between Synods, then ratified this move. With other concerned CRC members, we believe that if you sever operations and governance, it is only a step away from a formal split of the denomination.
The decision did not involve theology. A Canadian classis raised concerns that it might be offside Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to issue charitable receipts for donations which in part fund activities south of the border. We respectfully question both this conclusion and the process which led to it.
Over the years, some have called for a separate denomination north of the 49th parallel. That is fair game for debate. But there has been no real debate this year, and certainly not a full and informed one.
This is no way to conduct church polity.
- The decision was rushed, made over a period of just six months.
- Most of the decision making was conducted in closed sessions.
- Though other non-specialist church lawyers may have endorsed the opinion, decisions were made on the basis of a single legal opinion from a single charity law firm.
- To date, the legal opinion has not been made public. Canada Corporation has not allowed a lawyer retained by us to receive, analyze and comment in any detailed or meaningful way on the legal opinion. In other words, we have been unable to review the very logic on which the decision was premised. It is a rare tax or legal opinion which is 100% certain and which does not permit a workaround.
- CRA has not challenged whether the denomination can issue receipts under the current system; the church acted solely on the basis of fears that it might. In fact, there is no CRA letter, no warning and certainly no tax ruling. Every year, millions of Canadian Roman Catholics send donations which end up in part at the Vatican: no one is suggesting that their tax returns will be reassessed.
- Neither Canada Corporation nor Grand Rapids can explain what it means for a church to have utterly separate operations while engaged in shared “ecclesiastical functions.” A committee is looking into that. This is classic cart before horse and is, frankly, not a responsible way to engage in reformed church polity.
- What we can predict is that this will lead to wasteful duplication and bureaucracy on both sides of the border.
Community CRC from Kitchener, Ontario and First CRC from Owen Sound, Ontario formally overtured the Council of Delegates to freeze the status quo until Synod could properly debate the issue. After all, COVID had closed off our access to classical meetings and Synod 2020, all of which were cancelled. These overtures were rejected. The split in operations will continue full steam ahead. Synod 2021 may have a chance to review the decision, but by then the train will be a year and a half out of the station.
Let’s make sure Synod 2021 has a say
It is our hope that the Canadian classes of the CRC will instruct Canada Corporation and the Council of Delegates to hit pause and to allow Synod 2021 to do its job. Failing that, it is our prayer that Synod 2021 will intervene of its own accord.
We are not organized. We are two small town lawyers with roots in the CRC. We have deep and abiding affection for the CRC as the nurturer of our faith and do not want to see its institutional integrity threatened.
If you share this hope, please call or email both us and the stated clerk of your classis.
John A. Tamming,
Classis Huron, Delegate to the Cancelled Synod of 2020
Frank De Walle,
Classis Southern Alberta