2 Corinthians 5:18-21 ESV All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Reconciliation between the Reformed Church of America and the Christian Reformed Church of North America has been a topic of conversation that I grew up hearing about. It is said that sound is incredibly prominent along with the other senses even in the womb, and I am certain that I was hearing about the strife of the two churches when I was still in my mama’s tummy in that secret place. Although I wrote the last statement a little bit tongue and cheek, there is much truth to it. Sometimes those conversations came in the form of questions, grumbling, trivial complaint and anger. Yet other times I would hear it expressed with a longing and a hopeful cry of… “What if?” What if the two churches could just get a long?” Stemming back to the split of the churches in 1857 there has in fact been generations of toxic buildup between the two worshipping bodies in certain parts of this nation ( my corner of that buildup happens to be in small town Iowa. Beautiful land. Beautiful Jesus-loving people. But yes, the toxic rift I speak of has been prominent on my home turf, and dare I say it….it has primarily been from a bunch of Dutch kissing cousins so to speak.
I was born into what many would note to be a “mixed” marriage of a mother who attended the Reformed Church of America and a father who grew up in the Christian Reformed Church. My parents married in the late 1970’s after both of them lost their first spouses in their 20’s in tragic accidents. It will suffice to say that my parents endured a few battle wounds with much extended family discord in their early years of marriage. Apparently, there were a lot of opinions about which building had the right letters slapped on their bricks. Might I add that the brick buildings were literally a few blocks apart, and I’m pretty certain he was the same Jesus who died on the same cross in both congregations. Needless to say, I have been steeped in the church discord my whole life in the small community in which I lived. As I candidly told this story, I am sure some of you could tell your own along the same lines.
This past week the greater story unfolded in a historical joint general synod meeting between the two denominations. Both denominations met simultaneously at Central College in Pella, Iowa…together….to discuss the split of 1857 and how the churches can better partner together in the future, putting aside years of hurt and generational sin, for the glory of the Lord and the edification of His Body. Men and women alike from both denominations openly stood up speaking words of repentance and grace for the purpose of seeking reconciliation with their brothers and sisters in the faith. Both denominations stepped onto the solid rock of Christ, declaring to plant there feet ….together… in a place of partnering to further the name of Jesus. The Lund Principle was our binding call that night to “…act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel us to act separately.”
When President Carl Boersma called for the vote the echoing “Yes” from the hundreds of supporting delegates was a beautiful sound. But perhaps what came next was even more beautiful. It was the sound of silence… when President Boersma called for opposing votes there was not a voice to be heard, not a sound was uttered… it was a unanimous silence that said we choose to say “yes” to that of unity and reconciliation in the Lord. Likewise, it was a “heck no” to that of further separation and destruction of the enemy between our denominations.
The theme of reconciliation is a key central doctrine in our faith. When we choose to reconcile we must make change to move from enmity to that of peace to promote changed relationship with one another. Let us take this beautiful word a step farther beyond that of the CRC and RCA story that continues to unfold. In 2nd Corinthians 5 we read that we have been given the ministry of reconciliation because we first learned it from Christ. “…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ.”
This is the same Christ who knew no sin. As I write I can’t help but think about how Christ reconciled our volatile and sinful world, generation after generation of saints, by taking on the cost of what that volatility meant, and still means today, so that we can indeed experience restoration in our relationship with God the Father. My imagination can simply not do justice to the tragic beauty that must have been present in the very sound of silence as such perfection drew his last breath for such imperfection as ours.
As the Church- the Body of Christ, CRC or RCA, ______fill in the blank of whatever name your bricks have lettered on the side of your building walls, pushes forward as ambassadors in reconciliation and changed relationships- might we always be mindful that we can only reconcile in the name of Jesus because we are first reconciled to God through him. Any effort in reconciliation will ultimately be in vain if not done in his name and for his glory to see his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
It is true that we do not know what the road holds as we push forward toward for the cause of Christ. For a time I imagine there is potential that this process of reconciliation will be littered with questions, grumbling, trivial complaint, and anger…lots of theology to boot. While we are much alike in many ways, there are still certain differences that have grown since the year 1857 when we became two churches. An interesting thought from author Peter Scazzero in his book The Emotionally Healthy Church reflects upon the fact that God does not erase the past, but willing reflection upon the good, the bad, and the ugly can lead to emotionally healthy churches. I believe that is what the CRC and the RCA churches are trying to enter into! Praise God for it is about time!
On pages 102-103 of The Emotionally Healthy Church Scazzero writes, “God does not give us amnesia or do emergency emotional/spiritual reconstructive surgery. God does forgive the past but he does not erase it. We all come into the family of Jesus with broken bones, and wounds, and legs shot up in the war of life. God’s intention is to heal our brokenness and patch up our wounds. He allows scars and weakness to remain. We are then to go out and heal others as wounded healers. Discipleship, then, must include honest reflection on the positive and negative impact of our family of origin as well as other major influences in our lives. This is hard work. Following Jesus takes time. But the extent to which we can go back and understand how it has shaped us will determine, to a large degree, our level of awareness and our ability to break destructive patterns, pass on constructive legacies, and grow in love toward God and people.”
Yet, I pray there will be many ambassadors who express longing and a hopeful cry of… “What if?” What if the two churches could just get along?” I pray that this generation of saints and ambassadors will progressively work together with creativity, passion, and perseverance to make Jesus known. I pray to work against generational sin concerning our churches so that my children and grandchildren will be able to tell the story of 2014 when God’s hand lead in reconciling the “kissing cousins” known as the CRC and RCA worshipping bodies. Let us push forward…together… with the end in mind. Let us push forward…together… seeking the silence of the very moment when we too draw our last breath. Let us push forward…together… knowing that in the silence of that moment we will be eternally reconciled from the tyranny of this earth to the glory of his heaven, becoming the righteousness of God.