St. Louis, Missouri (July 1, 1998)-With no debate, the Presbyterian Church in America General Assembly voted to suspend the Christian Reformed Church from membership in the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC). The action follows on the approval of the same measure by the major assemblies of the other NAPARC churches, whose action already guaranteed that the CRC would indeed be suspended from the ecumenical body. Although a variety of concerns about the direction of the CRC have been voiced in NAPARC circles for years, the official reason adopted by NAPARC for the action was that the CRC has opened all ecclesiastical offices to women.
Ecumenical relations with the largely-Dutch denomination have been the subject of much dispute in the PCA over the past several years. The PCA's Interchurch Relations Committee (IRC) had failed to carry out a directive by the 1992 General Assembly to investigate the CRC. The 1993 Assembly voted that the IRC should comply with the directive; and also called the CRC to repentance for alleged deviations on a wide variety of topics.
At the 1994 Assembly, the IRC presented a highly-controversial report regarding the CRC. The General Assembly that year took the extraordinary measure of ordering that that portion of the Committee's report not even be printed in the Minutes.
The Assembly today also voted, without debate, to send a letter of support and encouragement to the largest body of seceders from the CRC, the United Reformed Churches of North America (URCNA). The Orthodox Presbyterian Church has already voted to establish fraternal relations with the URCNA; and NAPARC has invited the newly-formed group to attend as an observer church.
Already constituting the largest number of secessionists from the CRC, the URCNA may soon become a bit bigger. Classis Western Canada approved an overture to "take concrete steps toward full federative union with the Orthodox Christian Reformed Church [OCRC] by appointing a committee of our classis to begin discussions with them." The OCRC is a small band of churches which had left the mother CRC denomination in the 1970s.
The URCNA is already making its presence felt. Westminster
Theological Seminary in California has established a scholarship
fund for URCNA students; and has recently hired Dr. Michael Scott
Horton, who has URCNA credentials, to serve on its faculty. Dr.
Horton is a young theologian well-known in Reformed and Presbyterian
circles for his advocacy of traditional Protestant theology, particularly
in opposition to various trends in evangelicalism, including church
growth mentality and an increasing rapprochment with Roman Catholicism.
[The following material is from an article by Darrell Todd Maurina, reporter for United Reformed News Service:]
"As you know, there has been a lot of debate and discussion in the PCA about relations with the CRC," said Rev. Ric Perrin, outgoing chairman of the PCA's interchurch relations committee. "At the very bottom I don't think there has been much disagreement about the seriousness of the issues the CRC is dealing with. What there was, I believe, was a difference in how all that should be dealt with and timing of all that."
"My own position was that while there may have been things going on in the CRC that were disturbing, until they were really dealt with at the level of the synod, the PCA really didn't have any legitimate cause to do very much about that," said Perrin. "They had to deal with their own internal problems and it wasn't at all clear how all that was going to go."
Perrin noted that the PCA's letter to the URC was carefully worded, and that the motion passed at General Assembly without dissent.
"The letter itself was decidedly an effort, in remembering our own emergence as a denomination, that there were those who quickly wrote to us, communicated with us, and encouraged us," said Perrin, noting that his own denomination was formed only 26 years ago. "When you're just getting started that feels really good. We wanted to say we understand where you are, and if we can let you know we are with you in this, then please do take some encouragement from that."
"You'll notice the way the letter was worded
and the action of the General Assembly was not to specify what
kind of ecclesiastical relationship we might have," said
Perrin. "It's not presuming fraternal relations nor ruling
it out, those things take a long time to develop."