GS 2013 art 129

GS 2013 Article 129 – CCU – Coordinators’ Report

Committee 4 presented its second draft. This was the result:

1.         Material:

  • 1.1.      Report from Coordinators for the Committee for Church Unity, with appendices (8.2.2)
  • 1.2.      Addendum from the Coordinators for the Committee for Church Unity (8.2.2.b)
  • 1.3.      Letters from the churches at Aldergrove (, Abbotsford (, Attercliffe (, Cloverdale (, Burlington-Ebenezer (, Grand Rapids (, Hamilton-Providence (, London ( and Langley (

2.         Observations:

  • 2.1.      The coordinators for the CCU note that Synod Burlington 2010 did not give them a specific and well-defined mandate (Article 63); they operated on the assumption that their task was to carry on in the same direction as the previous coordinators, which was to “[promote] unity with the United Reformed Churches in North America” (Acts 2007, Article 174).
  • 2.2.      The coordinators report on their many and sundry activities: they attended the URCNA General Synods in London 2010 and Nyack 2012 and coordinated the visit of Drs. G.H. Visscher and J.P. VanVliet to Synod London 2010 at which the professors answered questions from the delegates; the coordinators met with representatives of CERCU several times; they visited various meetings of the classes of the URCNA, which provided opportunity to address “concerns, challenges and fears that live among the URCNA regarding merger with the CanRC.”
  • 2.3.      The coordinators report on the decisions of Synod London 2010 as they pertain to the unity process. Synod London 2010 decided that the Theological Education Committee’s mandate had been fulfilled and was at an end. It concluded the mandate of the Songbook Committee to produce a common songbook with the CanRC for use in a united federation, but directed the committee to maintain dialogue with the CanRC on this topic. It accepted for continued study the Proposed Joint Church Order 2010 and continued the Proposed Joint Church Order committee, mandating it to continue working with the CanRC sub-committee to draft joint regulations for synodical procedure. Finally, Synod London encouraged the churches to continue to give feedback to the Liturgical Forms and Confessions Committee in its ongoing work. Synod London wrote a letter to the CanRC (see Appendix 2 of the CCU report) in response to Synod Burlington 2010’s letter addressed to the URCNA and to Synod London 2010 (Acts 2010, Article 169).
  • 2.4.      Although the CanRC experienced disappointment on several counts because of the decisions of Synod London 2010, the coordinators suggest there is reason for hope. Dialogue between the URCNA’s Songbook Committee and the CanRC sub-committee is still with a view to the possibility of a common songbook in a united federation. The PJCO 2010 was accepted for continued study as the church order for a united federation. Furthermore, Synod London 2010 adopted the following recommendation: “That Synod encourage the churches to facilitate further opportunities to interact with the Canadian Reformed Churches by implementing the essential work of organizing events, speaking at conferences, writing columns, filling pulpits and otherwise building the organic, heartfelt unity on which federative unity must be built” (Article 47). The CCU notes the declaration of Synod London 2010, “That Synod explicitly reaffirm our conviction that the Canadian Reformed Churches are a federation of true and faithful churches of Christ, whom we love and respect as fellow-workers in the kingdom” (Article 47).
  • 2.5.      The coordinators observe that the decisions of Synod London 2010 have slowed down the process leading to merger, but assert that we must recognize that in any relationship both parties must be ready to move forward to the next stage; it would be counter-productive for one to be too insistent on moving ahead. They cite Synod London’s recommendation, “That Synod recognize that challenges and concerns remain among both the committees and congregations of the URCNA with regard to our relationship with the Canadian Reformed Churches” (Article 47). Likewise, the CERCU report to Synod Nyack 2012 spoke of “concerns and fears” among the URCNA regarding the pursuit of the ecumenical calling.
  • 2.6.      With respect to the Fifteen Points of Synod London 2010 (an elaboration of the Nine Points of Synod Schererville 2007), the coordinators observe that these points were adopted by synod with reference to Federal Vision, a movement with particular views on covenant and baptism. The coordinators flag Point 12 of the Fifteen Points as being of most interest to the CanRC; namely, “The sacrament of Baptism does not affect the believer’s union with Christ or justification but is a confirmation and assurance of the benefits of Christ’s saving work to those who respond to the sacrament in the way of faith (HC, LD 25 and 27).” In explanation, the coordinators state, “Contrary to the Federal Vision movement, we too believe that baptism does not bring about the believer’s union with Christ or justification. One is united to Christ through faith and one is justified through faith. It is good that we state this explicitly, since we are sometimes seen by some as being part of the Federal Vision movement.”
  • 2.7.      The coordinators contend that we should not feel threatened by Point 6 of the Nine Points adopted by Synod Schererville 2007. In Point 6, Synod Schererville 2007 rejected the error of those “…who teach that all baptized persons are in the covenant of grace in precisely the same way such that there is no distinction between those who have only an outward relation to the covenant of grace by baptism and those who are united to Christ by grace alone through faith alone (HC, Q&A 21, 60; B.C. 29)”. The coordinators comment: “As Canadian Reformed Churches, we too believe that while all covenant children receive the promise of salvation, not all will receive the promised salvation.” Synod London 2010 was asked whether Point 6 was directed at the CanRC and Synod replied that it was not but was intended to address “an error associated with Federal Vision which contends that in baptism a person is granted every spiritual gift, including a true and saving faith, the grace of conversion and justification.”
  • 2.8.      The coordinators suggest that this analysis offered of the Fifteen Points adopted by Synod London 2010 (and the Nine Points of Synod Schererville 2007) should be sufficient to allay fears among the CanRC regarding the content of these points.
  • 2.9.      The coordinators report that the URCNA has entered EF with the RCNZ and the RPCNA and continued contact with the RCN.
  • 2.10.    Besides some pulpit exchanges, between the time of Synod London 2010 and Synod Nyack 2012, the coordinators heard and saw little other activity from the URCNA with a view to facilitating opportunities for interaction, as was recommended by Synod London 2010.
  • 2.11.    The coordinators also give a summary of the decisions of Synod Nyack 2012 with respect to the CanRC. Synod reiterated what Synod London 2010 said about local URCNA churches creating opportunities for interaction with the CanRC in order to get to know one another better. Synod decided to continue its PJCO committee and gave it the mandate to work out synodical regulations for a merged federation, while receiving for continued study the PJCO. Synod decided to take up the offer from the OPC to work together on a new Psalter Hymnal. The coordinators note how this decision is disappointing, but that it is understandable because, from the URCNA’s point of view, there is no fear of a merger associated with working with the OPC on a songbook.
  • 2.12.    In an addendum, the coordinators report on a recent meeting with CERCU, at which they talked about ways to promote the process toward unity at the local level. Discussion regarding theological education and the support for at least one seminary is ongoing within the URCNA. At this meeting, the coordinators addressed concerns among some in the URCNA with regard to the position of the CanRC on Federal Vision. The URCNA brothers also reported that they are “giving serious consideration to working toward a recommendation to URC Synod 2016… to enter into a Phase 3A relationship with the Canadian Reformed Churches. This would entail a commitment to making preparation for eventual, integrated federative church unity.”
  • 2.13.    While the coordinators wonder what their exact task is, they recommend reappointment in order to preserve momentum toward unity. They also recommend that Synod Carman 2013 reappoint the CanRC Church Order Committee so that the URC brothers have counterparts with whom to dialogue.
  • 2.14.    Aldergrove desires an expression of regret from Synod Carman 2013 about the lack of substantial progress in our merger talks with the URCNA and regret particularly that Synod London 2010 did not reappoint a Theological Education Committee and the Songbook Committee. In Aldergrove’s view, the apparently faltering merger process receives its energy mostly from the side of the CanRC, with the URCNA appearing as somewhat reluctant partners. Aldergrove is concerned that the URCNA has “outstanding areas of concern” and that there is “suspicion” regarding the CanRC, though these concerns are nowhere clearly identified. Attercliffe, too, laments how our relationship with the URCNA has not progressed.
  • 2.15.    Aldergrove contests the statement of the coordinators, that “there has existed in the CanRC’s an element of exclusivism which could also create disinterest among the URC’s to join with them” and further, that “the old thinking that existed among some in the CanRC was that there could be only one visible manifestation of the true church so that every other church, other than one’s own, must be a false church.” Aldergrove finds that this statement too easily jettisons our federation’s historic emphasis on the obligation of ecclesiastical unity.
  • 2.16.    Aldergrove, Cloverdale and Attercliffe question the analysis of the coordinators, that their comments on the Fifteen Points are sufficient to allay fears regarding their content. These churches note that some points of Federal Vision can find sympathy in the CanRC and Cloverdale wonders if the URCNA has a clear picture of the Federal Vision movement. Aldergrove and Cloverdale question whether Point 12 of Synod London 2010 harmonizes with what we confess about the efficacy of baptism in LD 26-27 as well as B.C. Article 34. The CanRC understanding of the position of all baptized children is well summarized in the “Prayer of Thanksgiving” in the Form for the Baptism of Infants: “We thank and praise you that you have forgiven us and our children all our sins through the blood of your beloved Son Jesus Christ. You received us through your Holy Spirit as members of your only-begotten Son and so adopted us to be your children. You sealed and confirmed this to us by holy baptism.” Cloverdale is concerned about the unclear “sic” in Point 12 and the implicit defense of “the covenant of works” in Point 5. Hamilton-Providence, on the other hand, is satisfied with the coordinators’ conclusions on this matter.
  • 2.17.    London, Grand Rapids and Aldergrove question the status of the Nine Points and Fifteen Points. First, London notes how this was going to be investigated by the coordinators (Acts 2010, Article 63, Recommendation 4.4), but it does not reappear in the report: “It is true that the letter from Synod London 2010 to the CanRC churches suggests that these Statements – dubbed “pastoral advice” – are not confessional in nature, but the CCU does not clarify this in its report for Synod 2013.” London recommends that the CCU as yet examine and report on the character and weight of “pastoral advice” or any other categories of synodical statements in the URCNA. Second, Grand Rapids directs attention to the decision of Synod Nyack 2012, where the URCNA defined the categories and respective authority of “Doctrinal Affirmation,” “Pastoral Advice,” “Study Committee Report,” and “Synodical Judgment.” In particular, the “Doctrinal Affirmation” is of concern, since it requires submission and may not, either directly or indirectly, be contradicted in preaching or writing; Grand Rapids suggests that this represents an extra-confessional binding and must be evaluated by the coordinators and discussed with CERCU. Likewise, Aldergrove expresses unease about the status of the Fifteen Points of Synod London 2010, questioning if the CanRC must agree with these statements in order for merger talks to continue and if candidates for ordination in the URCNA would be questioned about these statements. Aldergrove and Cloverdale insist that we discourage the URCNA from making extra-confessional declarations and that we not give endorsement, implicitly or explicitly, to any extra-confessional declarations of the URCNA.
  • 2.18.    Grand Rapids notes with concern that the URCNA entered EF with the RPCNA, while Synod Burlington 2010 did not. It first questions if consultation between the CanRC and the URCNA took place before this relationship was formalized; second, it questions, “[d]o we now have a de facto Phase 2 relationship with the RPCNA?” Grand Rapids wants clarity on this matter from the coordinators.
  • 2.19.    Attercliffe wonders how the URCNA see Phase 3 coming to fruition, if there is inactivity among many of the joint committees.
  • 2.20.    Abbotsford requests that the coordinators be given a clear mandate. Burlington-Ebenezer requests that the coordinators be mandated to encourage the URCNA leadership to implement Article 47 of Synod London 2010, about encouraging opportunities for interaction and seeking to allay suspicions about the CanRC. Aldergrove encourages a renewed consideration of the original Statements of Agreement received by Synod Neerlandia 2001 and by the General Synod of the URCNA in the same year and to uphold them as the basis of our continued dialogue.
  • 2.21.    Abbotsford draws attention to a number of positive local activities in conjunction with the URCNA, such as ministerial retreats, occasional combined catechism classes and youth gathers and a combined men’s Bible study society. Abbotsford requests that the coordinators gather and share reports on how local churches foster unity between the CanRC and URCNA.
  • 2.22.    While the progress toward church unity with the URCNA “has been slow and at times frustrating,” Langley urges that the coordinators be reappointed with a general mandate of continuing discussions with the URCNA.
  • 2.23.    The coordinators recommend that synod:
    • [1]        Reappoint Coordinators for the Committee for Church Unity, giving a specific and well-defined mandate;
    • [2]        Reappoint a CanRC Church Order Committee;
    • [3]        Decide that the discussion concerning the Nine Points of Synod Schererville 2007 and the Fifteen Points of Synod London 2010 has been completed.

3.         Considerations:

  • 3.1.      The coordinators have been very active in promoting the unity process with the URCNA.
  • 3.2.      It should be noted that in many locales in Canada there has been excellent cooperation and fellowship among the CanRC and the URCNA (e.g., pulpit exchanges, joint church services, combined council meetings, Bible studies, ministerials, support of Christian schooling, joint church news).
  • 3.3.      It is disappointing that the CCU subcommittees, with the exception of the Church Order subcommittee, lack counterparts from the URCNA with which to dialogue and make joint submissions to our respective synods.
  • 3.4.      It would be beneficial for the coordinators to seek clarification on the authoritative status and definitions of the different categories of doctrinal statements adopted by recent URCNA synods; for example, whether a “Doctrinal Affirmation” binds the church membership or ministers in any way. Further, clarity is needed on the categories in which the Nine Points and Fifteen Points are found and discussion should be continued on their content. It is important that the coordinators do not officially endorse the Nine Points or the Fifteen Points, as the CanRC does not want to be bound by “extra-confessional” statements.
  • 3.5.      It would be helpful for the coordinators to discuss with CERCU the areas of concern or fear in the URCNA that seem to be hindering progress toward a merger with the CanRC.
  • 3.6.      It would be valuable for the coordinators to seek ways to facilitate the work of building unity on the local level, as well as to visit churches and classes of the URCNA, particularly in the United States.
  • 3.7.      A continued consideration of the original Statements of Agreement (Acts of Synod Neerlandia 2001, Appendix 9) and the Strategies to Church Unity (Acts of Synod Neerlandia 2001, Appendix 12) will provide a basis for continued dialogue between the coordinators and CERCU. In particular, the Strategies to Church Unity speak of Phase 1 (“An Initial Recognition and Exploration”), Phase 2 (“Acceptance and Cooperation”) and Phase 3 (“Advanced Recognition to Union”). With respect to Phase 3, the Strategies state: “With the assistance of the deputies for ecclesiastical unity… proposals should be coordinated into one mutually acceptable draft plan for union, agreeable to all parties… The more detailed draft plan for union, including the formulation and adoption of a mutually agreed upon text of the church order, should be ready for adoption by the broadest assemblies of both federations… The agreement of Phase 2 should include some initial mutually agreeable provisions regarding theological education, song books, liturgical forms and customs and Bible translations. The further coordination of these matters in a definitive form would be the subject of the more detailed arrangement in Phase 3, as well as subsequent negotiations.”

4.         Recommendations:

That Synod decide:

  • 4.1.      To thank the coordinators of the CCU for maintaining contact with the URCNA;
  • 4.2.      To reappoint the Coordinators of the CCU, mandating them:
    • 4.2.1.   To discuss with CERCU the areas of concern or fear in the URCNA that seem to be hindering progress toward a merger with the CanRC;
    • 4.2.2.   To seek ways to facilitate the work of building unity on the local level, as well as visiting churches and classes of the URCNA, particularly in the United States;
    • 4.2.3.   To mandate the coordinators to discuss with CERCU how to make preparations for Phase 3, such as through the reappointment of the subcommittees for theological education, liturgical forms and confessions and a common songbook;
    • 4.2.4.   To seek clarification from CERCU on the authoritative status and definitions of the different categories of doctrinal statements adopted by recent URCNA synods and to encourage the URCNA to refrain from making further statements of this nature;
  • 4.3.      To continue EF (Phase 2) with the URCNA under the adopted rules.