Let’s hear it for a binational church!

“Binational” has become a rather important adjective in the vocabulary of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). Increasingly it shapes our organizational structure and witness. We are a binational denomination with 1,000 congregations across Canada and the U.S. I love that we are binational. In fact, I love binationality so much that this New Jersey guy married a Canadian (from Beautiful B.C.) in ’75 and we raised three children who are dual citizens. I’ve been an Oilers fan since our Edmonton days in the 70s and a Jays fan since our Hamilton days in the 80s (Go Jays!). I was the first in line for the grand opening of the new Tim Horton’s in Kalamazoo a couple years ago.

Why do I think being binational is such a big deal? Because at its roots is the conviction that the church of Christ and the kingdom of God are trans-national. Church and kingdom are not contained or defined by any single nation. We are part of something vastly larger, the mission of God that spans the ages and the globe.

Our commitment to binationality is a commitment to participate in that global mission of God as fully and energetically as we can in the particular contexts of our two nations. It’s not a question of who’s bigger, who has more churches, who has a longer history or who has more resources. It’s a recognition that the full resources of the Kingdom of God are at our disposal as we join the Mission of God advancing in our nations. It’s not a Canadian mission. It’s not an American mission. It’s the Mission of God moving men and women, boys and girls, all over the world to bow the knee and confess the Name.

I find that vision and that Mission enormously exciting and motivating.

I also recognize that the impetus for that vision in the CRC today comes most forcefully from the church in Canada. Over the past several decades it has been the Canadian side of the CRC that has pressed for a stronger voice and greater autonomy in joining the work that God is doing in its national context in building his church.

It is the church in Canada that looks for opportunities to meet in regional and national venues to share, explore, pray and strategize together.
Being a member of the Board of Trustees of the CRC I am continually inspired by the passion of my Canadian colleagues to discern where God is already moving and opening doors for witness across Canada. They exhibit a restless determination to inspire congregations and classes across the nation to witness to the grace, mercy and justice of the Kingdom of God in ways that are timely and effective.

An alien people
By contrast I admit to frustration at how hard it is generate traction around distinctively American issues and opportunities in pursuing the Mission of God in our national or regional contexts.

I have long wondered why this is the case. It would be easy to conclude that there is more “mission zeal” in the “true north strong and free.” But I don’t believe that’s true. I know that there is lots of Spirit-inspired energy stirring creative and effective witness in our churches in the States. The challenge on this side of the border is to think about mission in terms of national and regional contexts.

I don’t pretend to fully understand this difference in the way we engage our national contexts, but I would point to one factor that I believe plays a significant part. Our Canadian churches don’t labour under the illusion of Canada being a “Christian nation” where the vast majority of citizens already profess to be Christians. We don’t confuse being Canadian with being Christian. The voice of the Christian church competes and at times blends with voices of diverse cultures. I’ve always perceived that in Canada we accept the reality of being an alien people within a dominant secular culture. So we are challenged to think carefully and strategically about how to be salt and light, agents of grace and truth in our nation, our towns and cities, and our neighbourhoods.

The U.S. is shaped more by its identity as a melting pot. We want and expect people to self-identify as Americans first and foremost. When people vow allegiance to God and country, it’s not always easy to know which is first. This strong sense of national identity is not conducive to thinking of the Mission of God in local and regional terms. Add to that our strong American individualism and you can appreciate why it is hard to gain traction around the idea of gathering in regional and national settings to explore our mission opportunities and challenges.

All of which leads me to say that I am deeply grateful that we are a binational church. We are surely better and stronger together.

  • Ken Baker, Pastor of Third CRC in Kalamazoo, Mich. (and former pastor in Leduc, Alta., Hamilton, Ont. and Coquitlam, B.C.).

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