Living Together

A history of schisms.

People in a small group were sharing some difficult family histories of divorce and parental abandonment. I reflected that amazingly my wife and I have few divorces in our family trees. I commented that in my family we did not split families, we split churches. 

The Wolthuis family was from Ulrum, the Netherlands, home of the Afscheiding, the Dutch church division behind the Christian Reformed Church’s origins. My Wolthuis grandparents were members of the First Protesting Christian Reformed Church in Kalamazoo which split from the CRC, also separate from the Protestant Reformed. On my mother’s side, the Ditmars and Griffioens had connections with the Remonstrants, the group the Canons of Dordt were written against. One of my wife’s relatives was an early proponent of the United Reformed Church separation. There is a direct line between the URC and a divisive Synodical decision of 1952 among some extended family. 

SYNOD 2019
As a delegate to the CRC Synod in June, I was struck by the efforts to live together. It makes sense to be sad when watching the United Methodist Church and the Reformed Church of America talk about schism. The last time I was a delegate to Synod we were in the middle of the women-in-office debate and the worship wars. Too often sides form with a goal to win. This is the same disease sickening American politics. I hope we are not contaminated with it again when the Biblical theology of human sexuality report is presented and we wrestle with “living together.”
Synod dealt with some tough issues of ministerial abuse of power, judicial appeals, the role of a second Sunday worship service and changing how denominational ministries are funded. We talked at tables honestly about the human sexuality preliminary report and our concerns to be Biblical and culturally meaningful. We condemned the racism of Kinism as a grievous misuse of Reformed theology.

We heard of the struggles of our Christian brothers and sisters from South Africa, Namibia, Japan, Myanmar, Canada and the US, but rejoiced in the presence of the Gospel and God’s people in those places.

What united us with the work of God throughout the world was worship and mission. This Synod was permeated with a spirit of worship, prayer and unity. Our worship followed the statement of the Canons of Dordt: Fallen humanity Adopted by God through Intentional atonement in Christ Jesus and the Transforming work of the Holy Spirit in the Father’s Hand (FAITH, with some rewording).

The candidate list looked different than when I was a candidate. There is considerable diversity in those seeking to serve in the CRC. There is diversity of gender, ethnicity, age, experience, education and ministry goals. Four candidates were presented to the full Synod anonymously because of their ministry work in dangerous settings. We worked to develop new ways to integrate into CRC ministry those from different cultures and educational preparation. A task force will address how to give flexibility to pastors and churches for bi-vocational ministry. We strive to live together and still recognize and celebrate difference.

CRC-supported higher education institutions are showing creativity in addressing changing demographics of available students and changing needs in society. This includes developing prisoner education, vocational skills and adapting to the challenges of increased secularism. They are leading the church and developing leaders for living together.

There are many difficult issues on which we will disagree. Let us not divorce. Saint Augustine stated, “there is nothing more serious than the sacrilege of schism because there is no just cause for severing the unity of the Church.” 

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1, NIV) 

  • Rev. Tom Wolthuis is a minister in the Christian Reformed Church and the Director of Geneva Campus Ministry at the University of Iowa.

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