GS 2001 art 73

GS 2001 Article 73United Reformed Churches in North America

After noticing that all the brothers were present, the chairman gave the floor to Committee 4. This Committee presented a revision of its report on the URCNA (see Article 67). The following amendment was adopted unanimously.

The chairman called for a new vote on the whole proposal. The following proposal was adopted unanimously:

1. Material

  • 1.1. Report of the Committee for the Promotion of Ecclesiastical Unity regarding the United Reformed Churches.
  • 1.2. Letters from the Churches at Aldergrove, London, Burlington Waterdown, Willoughby Heights, Winnipeg (Grace), Coaldale, Lincoln, Houston, and Orangeville.
  • 1.3. Letter from br. D. Teitsma

2. Admissibility

The letters from the various churches are declared admissible. The letter from br. D. Teitsma interacts with the Report of the CPEU. Reports are sent to the churches for interaction and not to individual members. Individual members must first address their consistories. Therefore, this letter is declared inadmissible (CO Article 30).

3. Observations

  • 3.1. The report of the CPEU re the URC, which is included as an appendix in the Acts, serves as Observations.
  • 3.2. The CPEU recommends:
    • “1. That synod thank the URCNA for accepting the CanRC into Phase 1 of their guidelines for ecumenical relations, and express gratitude that with this acceptance via appointed committees much contact could be experienced with the URCNA.
    • 2. That deputies be instructed to pursue continued fraternal dialogue with the United Reformed Churches in North America with a view towards establishing federative unity. This will include the following elements:
      • 1. That the Statement of Agreement with its accompanying time frame be adopted by Synod 2001, and that, with the recognition of the URCNA as faithful churches of Jesus Christ, we move to Phase 2 of the negotiations on the Statement of Strategy (Appendix 12) all with the understanding that both federations are committed to reach the final phase of these discussions in 2004.
      • 2. That special committees be appointed in accordance with the recommendations in the Agreement regarding the church order and theological education, for the purpose of meeting with the URCNA counterparts in the period 2001-2004.”
  • 3.3. The Church at London comments on various areas of the report. First, concerning joint activities under Phase 2 they state, “we should not act as one, until we are together ‘in one house.’” Second, they are concerned that a visitor should not be admitted to the Lord’s table unless the elders of the visitor’s home congregation attest both to the doctrine and conduct of this person. Third, they support having a federational school to train men for the ministry, rather than having both federational and non-federational schools. Fourth, concerning procedure, London suggests that a draft plan of union be sent back and forth between the CanRC and URC synods until it is acceptable to both.
  • 3.4. The Church at Burlington-Waterdown concurs “with the finding that we are at a stage of being able to develop closer contact at phase two.”
  • 3.5. The Church at Willoughby Heights concurs with the recommendations of the committee. They also state, “although fully supportive of efforts to come to unity with the FRCNA and the OCRC, we believe talks with the FRCNA and the OCRC should not be pursued too vigorously as you can only seriously pursue unity with one federation at a time.”
  • 3.6. The Church at Winnipeg-Grace concurs with the recommendation of the committee saying, “the churches should continue in establishing unity with courage and with caution.”
  • 3.7. The Church at Coaldale hopes that the recommendations of the committee will be accepted by Synod, otherwise they “fear that this will cause a major set back in our newly initiated dialogue and unity discussions with Trinity URC of Lethbridge.”
  • 3.8. The Church at Lincoln agrees with moving forward to Phase 2. However, they believe that the target date for federative unity by 2004 is unrealistic. They recommend, “that the goal to complete phase 2 of the steps toward federative unity be extended beyond Synod 2004.”
  • 3.9. The Church at Houston requests synod to judge that, “1. The statement of agreement on the Sacraments of Baptism and Lord’s supper not be accepted as it stands. 2.The statement of agreement should read, ‘In the attestation the signatories state that they are communicant members not under discipline of a faithful Reformed church which fully confesses the doctrines of Scripture as summarized in the Reformed confessions.’”
  • 3.10. The Church at Orangeville “regrets that the concerns about the United Reformed Churches (URC) raised by the Orthodox Christian Reformed Churches (OCRC)… were not really addressed by the Committee for Promotion of Ecclesiastical Unity.”

4. Considerations

  • 4.1. Synod gratefully takes note of the “Statements of Agreement” (Appendix 9 in the Report) and the “Strategy to Church Unity” (Appendix 12 in the Report) as evidence that significant progress has been made towards federative unity in our contact with the URC. These documents should serve as a general directive to the churches for use within their local discussions with United Reformed Churches.
  • 4.2. From all the information contained in the report, Synod agrees with the findings of the committee that sufficient progress has been made that “with the recognition of the URCNA as faithful churches of Jesus Christ, we move to Phase 2 of the negotiations on the Statement of Strategy.”  The letters from the churches also indicate a desire to step forward in our relationship with the URCNA.
  • 4.3. Some wrong terminology has crept into the CPEU report when it states on pg. 6,“On the basis of the Statements of Agreement which are the results of our discussions regarding the marks of the true church ad Art. 29 B.C., we recommend that Synod recognize the URCNA as faithful churches of our Lord Jesus Christ…”(emphasis added). We do not recognize each other on the basis of the Statements of Agreement. Rather, we recognize each other on the basis of Scripture and confessions.
  • 4.4. Although it is good and necessary to have a definite time frame in which to strive for federative unity, it is not clear at this time that we will be able to reach federative unity by the target date of 2004. The report recommends appointing various committees (re: theological education, song book and church order.)  It would be beneficial to allow these committees to begin their work. The Lord willing, at Synod 2004 the progress must be reviewed and the matter of the time frame should be readdressed.
  • 4.5. It is very important that both the Canadian Reformed and United Reformed Churches are firmly committed to federative unity. To this end, local congregations should implement Phase 2 while the congregations resolve to strive for federative unity and to encourage their respective federations towards that goal.
  • 4.6. For the sake of clarity it is important to note that Phase 2 involves the following:
    • 4.6.1. The churches shall assist each other as much as possible in the maintenance, defence, and promotion of Reformed doctrine, liturgy, church polity and discipline;
    • 4.6.2. The churches shall consult each other when entering into ecumenical relations with other federations;
    • 4.6.3. The churches shall accept each other’s attestations, admitting such members to the Lord’s table;
    • 4.6.4. The churches shall open the pulpits to each other’s ministers, observing the rules of the respective churches;
    • 4.6.5. The churches shall consult each other before major changes to the confessions, church government, or liturgy are adopted;
    • 4.6.6. The churches shall invite and receive each other’s ecclesiastical delegates who shall participate in the broader assemblies as much as regulations permit (Appendix 3 of the Report);
    • 4.6.7. Certain forms of cooperation can be explored and implemented, for example, “men’s clubs, women’s service agencies, Bible studies, speeches or addresses by each other’s ministers, cooperation in evangelism.”  “Meetings of combined consistories (or meetings of consistory committees) should be held regularly to isolate the specific differences that need further attention” (Appendix 12 of the Report).
  • 4.7. Since the implementation of Phase 2 is primarily a local matter, it can vary from place to place, also bearing in mind how much discussion has taken place already between the local Canadian Reformed and United Reformed churches. In order to work further towards federative unity it will be necessary to appoint committees on the church order and theological education. Synod considers that the Standing Committee for the Publication of the Book of Praise could deal with the matter of the songbook. These committees will work closely with committees appointed by the URC Synod. These committees should report at regular intervals to the CPEU, which, in turn, will produce a single, comprehensive report, jointly with the Committee for Ecumenical Relations and Church Unity of the URC.
  • 4.8. Moving forward to Phase 2 and activating these committees can only take place if the URC decide at Synod Escondido 2001 to commit themselves to working towards federative unity with the CanRC.
  • 4.9. Should this happen, it will be a major event in the life of our churches. It will also require much work and much wisdom in order to arrive at the goal of federative unity. We can only do this under the Lord’s blessing. Therefore, as churches we should express our gratitude to the Lord and ask Him for His further blessing upon our labours.
  • 4.10. Re: letter from Church at London:
  • In their first and fourth concern the Church at London is essentially proposing a different strategy for church unity, namely, waiting until a “plan of union” is accepted by both churches before pulpit exchange and table fellowship would be possible. The strategy given by the CPEU is based on a common understanding that recognition of one another as true churches (Art. 29 BC) requires an exercising of fellowship (Art. 28) to come to federative unity in due time.
  • Both the CanRC and URC agree that the table of the Lord must be properly supervised, and they do exercise this supervision. The proposed church order committee will have to come with a recommendation as to how admission to the Lord’s table would take place in the new federation. This covers London’s second concern.
  • In their third concern London expresses the desirability of having a federational school for the training of theological students. Synod agrees with this concern and notes that it is already being addressed in the Statements of Agreement.
  • 4.11. Re: letter from Church at Houston
  • The background to Houston’s request is that in their local discussions with the URC, there has been disagreement over the interpretation of the Statement of Agreement on the Lord’s supper. At present, there are some differences between the URC church order and the CanRC church order on this matter, but this does not prevent local table fellowship in Phase 2. The proposed church order committee will have to come with a recommendation as to how admission to the Lord’s table would take place in the new federation.

5. Recommendations

Synod decide:

  • 5.1. To acknowledge, with gratitude to the Lord, that the contact with the URC has progressed in such a favourable way.
  • 5.2. To thank the committee for the work done.
  • 5.3. To recognize the United Reformed Churches as true churches of our Lord Jesus Christ (Art. 29 BC) and move to Phase 2, as described in consideration 4.6,on the path towards federative unity.
  • 5.4. To encourage local congregations to begin implementing Phase 2 and ask for the Lord’s blessing upon this in congregational prayer.
  • 5.5. To appoint a committee re: theological education and a committee re: church order, and to direct the Standing Committee for the Publication of the Book of Praise to deal with the matter of the songbook.