PCA Votes to Break Fraternal Ties with Christian Reformed Church
Colorado Springs, CO (June 11, 1997)--The 25th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America voted to "terminate our recognition of the Christian Reformed Church as a church in ecclesiastical fellowship with the PCA effective immediately and the IRC be instructed to initiate conversations with the CRC with a view toward making a recommendation to the 26th General Assembly concerning the future relationship between the two denominations." Added to the motion from the Committee of Commissioners (C of C) was an amendment from Dr. D. Clair Davis, church history professor at Westminster Seminary, which reached out to those classes (presbyteries) and congregations which have not approved the ordination of women to ruling office.
The vote to terminate fraternal ties with the CRC passed overwhelmingly on a show of hands with only scattered "no" votes.
Prior to the vote, the Assembly heard from the fraternal delegates and observers, including Dr. David Engelhard, CRC General Secretary (equivalent to Stated Clerk). He said, "I grieve because in addition to . . . cooperative ventures there has also been friction, a dark side." Regarding the issue of ordaining women to ruling and teaching office, he said: "You disagree, and we can understand, and we appreciate that." He alluded to the fact that when those in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) "speak about us and our positions and about breaking relationships, that they speak honestly and carefully. The report [of the IRC] has not treated the CRC very fairly." He cited the allegation that the CRC is "moving away from the authority and inerrancy of Scriptures and its commitments to the doctrinal standards of the church" and that the CRC is only "superficially orthodox". Dr. Engelhard maintained that "such non-evidentiary statements by one church about another is not only unfortunate, it's scandalous. . . . I recognize that these comments are indeed made by the Committee in an effort at explaining and justifying some of its decisions and actions. But, given that context, one should still not be permitted to besmirch the name of another."
Engelhard then used the same terminology which the IRC had used in denouncing several presbytery overtures which questioned the actions of the IRC. "The CRC frankly is offended by this report . . . . Not only does it contain factual errors but also what could be construed as deliberate distortions of the truth. The CRC has been charged with serious wrongs by the IRC. We maintain that Christian charity, the command of love to believe all things, a concern for the effects of false accusations, for 'the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity . . . and it is set on fire of hell', a recognition that the works of the flesh include 'contentions, . . . dissensions, factions', and a reminder of the admonition to 'avoid foolish disputes, . . . contentions, . . . for they are unprofitable and useless,' ought to have tempered our brothers' actions."
Dr. Engelhard declared that the two churches "are more alike one another than we are different from one another." Referring to former Back to God Hour preacher Dr. Joel Nederhood, Engelhard appealed that the PCA maintain unity with the CRC so as to bear a credible testimony to unbelievers.
Dr. Engelhard's words elicited a motion from TE David Coffin, which asked that, in light of the delegate's comments about the PCA, the C of C prepare an appropriate response to him and to the CRC. That motion carried without opposition.
The PCA's action comes one day after that of the OPC Assembly, which, with no audible dissent, also voted to sever its fraternal ties of sixty years with the CRC. In addition to that action, the OPC voted to establish a relationship of fraternal correspondence with the largest body of seceders from the CRC, a new denomination called United Reformed Churches.