Among a new generation of Reformed pastors and churchgoers, there seems to be little awareness that the project they are pursuing, and the shifts they are pushing, have already been tried and have ended with catastrophic consequences in the life of a major Reformed denomination. I write this out of sincere love and concern for my brothers and sisters in NAPARC churches. Don’t do this.
It was a painful decision for my father to leave the Christian Reformed Church of North America (CRC). He was pulled apart over it. He expressed all of his concerns to the new minister. “The direction you’re taking,” my father said, “is undermining the Great Commission of Jesus.” Immediately, the pastor yelled back, “this is what’s wrong with you Reformed people.” My father retorted, “But aren’t you Reformed?” That is a great question.
By being raised in the CRC I learned a lot about what can happen to a church. I have been a pastor in a confessional Reformed church for almost 15 years now. As I watch the shifts and listen to the discussions, this all seems like déjà vu. What took the CRC thirty to forty years to accomplish, in jettisoning her Reformed heritage, seems to be taking some NAPARC churches about a decade. I am particularly concerned for the PCA, but they are not the only one. There are other Reformed denominations following suit, but the PCA, at the moment, appears to be leading the pack.
The most disturbing part is that many seem completely oblivious to the shifts. Among a new generation of Reformed pastors and churchgoers, there seems to be little awareness that the project they are pursuing, and the shifts they are pushing, have already been tried and have ended with catastrophic consequences in the life of a major Reformed denomination.
I write this out of sincere love and concern for my brothers and sisters in NAPARC churches. Don’t do this. I’ve witnessed families, friends, and churches ripped apart by the direction the CRC chose. I know the pressures are great. I too want success in the church. I too want our Reformed churches to be heard. But that desire has to be controlled by what Christ has commanded us to do. I don’t want to see other faithful churches make the same mistakes that led to the confessional demise of the CRC. We need you! As I attempt to be my brother’s keeper, may the Lord use this as a call to renew all of us together in our commitment to our Biblical and confessional identity as Reformed churches.
The CRC Paradigm
To consider what happened in the CRC, the symbol of the wooden shoes may help. The wooden shoes (klompen) often found on the doorstep of most Dutch households, has always been a symbol of their rich heritage. As the times changed, many in the CRC were conscious (and weary) of the charge that they were culturally exclusive in their churches. In fact, it was this very concern that motivated the editors of the Banner, the denominational magazine of the CRC, to issue its most controversial piece on November 3, 1980 that had a cover photo of klompen burning. This was an abrasive call for the CRC to abandon its parochial, ethnic, and cultural identity.
Unless one appreciates the particular ethos of the CRC, it’s difficult to communicate how momentous and offensive this picture was for the CRC. The perception of the CRC, as an ethnic, exclusive club became the predominant concern in the denominational headquarters and Calvin Seminary as far back as the early 1930s. The Dutch immigrant members of the CRC were under great pressure to assimilate to American culture. They were concerned by the charge that they were too Dutch and only focused on their own people. They were facing a crisis of identity and there was a sincere desire to be more welcoming to all peoples, especially when it came to the American church scene. They didn’t want to be considered clannish or sectarian.
Conscious that such a change was Biblically mandated, the CRC made a serious overhaul of her identity to be a more “embracing” church. The project, at least from a Biblical and confessional perspective, was a failure, and the CRC has followed in the trajectory of other liberal denominations that have stripped away all their particulars until little remained.
The CRC failed to preserve those things that made her distinctively Reformed. Stuffed within the burning shoes were the very confessions that defined her, resulting in the complete loss of any Biblical and confessional identity.
The path was predictable. They began as a confessional Reformed church. In order to fit in with American evangelicalism, she became broadly evangelical and is now assimilated to mainline churches whose theology is increasingly liberal and whose practice is buried under cultural accommodation and social activism.
It will help us to step back and see the doctrinal and practical shifts that occurred in the CRC as she was addressing her own identity crisis and taking on all the social concerns of the day. I count six colossal steps to apostasy in the CRC overhaul:
- The Abandonment of the Authority of Scripture–This was the first domino to tip knocking everything else over. No longer was Scripture the final say regarding doctrine and life, but major doctrines were called into question due to cultural pressure.
- The Abandonment of Reformed Principle of Worship–Historic Reformed convictions and principles laid out in the confessions were abandoned based on seeker sensitive assumptions.