The Future

A recent article in the Banner asked about the ‘future of the Christian Reformed Church‘.

A conference I attended wondered about the ‘future of continental philosophy‘.

There is much talk about our ‘economic future’, as the market has betrayed us (how dare it!), and we realize we’re not as invincible as we thought we were.

Apparently we should all invest in futures.

What does the future hold?  These are good and important questions.

The article on the CRC noted:

“The Christian Reformed Church is much different than it used to be. Forty to fifty years ago you could identify a Christian Reformed congregation by its style of worship. That is no longer possible. And the denominational loyalty we once counted on seems to be on the way out too, especially with younger folks. Historically we’ve also been held together by what we call “our three Forms of Unity”: the Belgic Confession, Canons of Dort, and Heidelberg Catechism. But today it’s not uncommon to discover that many members of Christian Reformed churches have no idea what those documents are all about. (Recently a minister told me he was not in favor of adopting the Belhar Confession as a creed to be added to the three we already have. He said it would simply be another irrelevant document along with ones already on the shelf.)

A feature article in the November 2009 issue of Perspectives stated unequivocally that our sister denomination, the Reformed Church in America, has run its course: “It has sprung debilitating leaks which can no longer be plugged. It is time to look for a new vehicle, or coalition of vehicles, to move the church faithfully and compellingly into the twenty-first century.” Is the CRC on the same road?”

I think this is probably the case, and it might not be a bad thing.  The author of the article, Alvin Hoksbergen, thought so as well:

“A growing number of our congregations are ignoring or downplaying their historic Reformed, Calvinistic roots. One way they do so is by identifying themselves as “community churches.” It seems the intent is to distance themselves from unappealing events of the past and emphasize what it means to be Christian rather than Reformed. This is understandable, and much can be said in its defense.

The current emphasis on ecumenism has great appeal. We need only think of the days when most Protestants thought Roman Catholics held to a different religion. It was not uncommon for youngsters in our catechism classes to ask whether Roman Catholics would one day go to heaven. I remember how surprised I was to learn that young folks in Roman Catholic parishes asked their priests the same question about Protestants. Thank God we have moved beyond that day.

There is much that’s refreshing about what is happening today. Generic Christianity is not the curse we may have thought it would be. The 12 articles of the Apostles’ Creed briefly summarize what it means to follow Christ. Our three Forms of Unity do not have that function. We are properly embarrassed about the hostile language historically used by those documents to denounce fellow believers with different theological emphases. So you can understand why some may think it helpful to take the name “Christian Reformed” off the marquee and identify themselves primarily as community churches.”

This makes sense, and certainly reflects my own faith community.

A comment on the article summed up the transition seen in many churches like this:

“The new model of church (the community model) is one where the heirarchy is flattened, the focus is on Scriptural discourse and conversation, there is allowance for multiple opinions, its multi-cultural, the congregation is well-educated, and diversity is appreciated and respected. What’s important in these churches is not that they adhere to a doctrinal line, but that they are authentic, loving, Jesus-honoring and relevant to the community in which God has placed them.  Christianity is greater than our CRC denomination; we are but one expression of his truth (and a pretty culturally constrained one at that).”

Well said.  Does the Christian Reformed Church have a future?  I’m not sure.  I certainly appreciate the roots it has, the foundation it has given me and many others.  I suspect that as long as there are people who continue to drag their feet on issues like women in office, or becoming truly open places where people of all orientations and backgrounds are respected and welcome, or honest, academic pursuit regarding the question of origins, we will continue down the road of irrelevancy.  But all that aside, is this the kind of question we ought to invest our time and energy in?  Aren’t there bigger concerns in our world than one single denomination (and a small one at that)?  Aren’t there bigger issues worthy of our attention?  What would be gained by a strong CRC future?  What would be lost in a future without it?

The author of the article gave some hints as to how he thought it could contribute (a long quote here):

“There is more to our future than considering the benefits of today’s ecumenism and the structures that have been part of our history. There are also the biblical insights contributed by Calvinists throughout history.

Granted, there are things that we should move beyond, but we must not lose sight of the fact that Calvinists had significant influence on the development of society in North America. By the time of the Civil War, nearly two-thirds of the colleges in the U.S. had been founded and were controlled by the theological heirs of John Calvin.

I cannot recount in this article the large number of theological insights contributed by the Calvinistic/Reformed tradition, but I can mention two that could make a significant contribution today if they were proclaimed by Reformed congregations.

The first concerns the matter of justice. It is beyond dispute that justice is required in our society, and many of our pastors preach about the need for it. But in its debate whether to adopt the Belhar Confession, the CRC is deciding whether the promotion of justice should be tied directly with our denominational identity. May the biblical concept of justice be left to the whim of individual members?

If we officially adopt the Belhar as a fourth Form of Unity by synodical action in 2012, we will be a church that takes a prominent stand about the relationship between justice and love. There is nothing irrelevant about that.

A second relevant contribution relates to our society’s economic meltdown. What brought this about? The secular government concludes that human greed stands close to the center of the problem. Perhaps had we as a denomination been on top of our game, we would have proclaimed this before it was announced by economic strategists.

While some Christian economists present theories about how believers can get back on top of the current financial crisis, Reformed believers would encourage them to acknowledge the role human greed plays. Reformed theology states unequivocally that human sinfulness lies at the heart of the economic problems we face today. Perhaps Reformed leaders have had little to say about that because we as a denomination have moved away from what it means to be Reformed. John Calvin would have nipped this in the bud long ago.

Where are we going as a denomination? If we do not come to a fresh and relevant understanding of what we have to contribute as Reformed Christians, our future may not be long-lived. But should we gain a new and vigorous appreciation of who we are, we may have a lengthy and productive ministry ahead of us.”

I love what he has to say about justice, and I think we ought to echo that — not just as a Reformed community, but as a biblical one.  As a Jesus community.  A prophetic community.

Regarding his comments on greed, I have to disagree.  Here’s a comment I posted in response to the article:

“Regarding the comment in the article about our current economic crisis, what the author fails to realize is that preaching about greed is what has gotten us into this mess in the first place. We practice an economic model that is built on greed – free market capitalism. The more everyone buys and seeks to have, the greater the market will do and the more jobs there will be and ultimately everyone will reap the benefits! Whenever I try to have a conversation with someone about alternate economic approaches, it always comes back to: “But man is fallen, so we need a system built on greed.” 

When it all comes crashing down we should not be surprised, nor should we then blame the greed we sought to build it on in the first place. We ought to just blame ourselves. 

Does our denomination have a future? Perhaps. But the bigger question is – what is the future of our nation and our world, economically and otherwise… These are more important questions – you might even call them kingdom of God questions – than whether or not the CRC lasts another 50 years. The church ought to be a conduit to the kingdom, not an end in itself.”

What do you think?  Does the CRC have a future?  Does it matter?  Which futures are most important?  How do we know?  Are different people called to invest in different futures?  How does one know where to concentrate one’s energy?  Post any thoughts below!

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One thought on “The Future

  1. Curious, Bryan. What are you alternate economic approaches? And I am being totally SINCERE in my inquiry. The big-ness of it all just seems so overwhelming to me. Maybe the yarn ball has unraveled too far to put it back in place…or maybe I am just a skeptic of our government system, in general. My brother (who lives and breathes politics/history/economics) says our government system was founded with skepticism as a foundation. Hmmm…Anyway, I would love for you to expound on some of your ideas for solutions to our nation’s economic issues b/c it’s important that we think through these things without the persuasion of glossy politicians and biased media. Would love your thoughts. Hope ya’ll are doing well. Love you guys, G

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