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The latest prayer letter from RCA general secretary Tom De Vries.
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United in Christ


We live in a day of ecclesiastical pluralism. The church is viewed as many and not as one. Geography certainly plays into that understanding, as does theology.
 
As we move toward the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, we can see how the schism with Roman Catholicism was the first of not a single fissure, but the beginning of a fracturing that brought many divisions into the church that Christ prayed to be united (John 17:20-23), and the apostle Paul described as one body and one spirit (Ephesians 4:4-6).
 
The RCA follows a strain of the Reformation that was committed to a unity of faith and committed to the unity of the church. John Calvin, an ardent apologist of the Reformation was also a passionate pursuer of unity in the churches of the Reformation. He served as a bridge builder between the Lutherans and Zwinglians on the dialogue around the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and a focus on the presence of Christ in communion.
 
Calvin’s ecclesiology and theology motivated him to work diligently for a unity among the churches of the Reformational movement. He wrote in the Institutes:
It is not sufficient, indeed, for us to comprehend in mind and thought the multitude of the elect, unless we consider the unity of the church as that into which we are convinced we have been truly engrafted. For no hope of future inheritance remains to us unless we have been united with all other members under Christ, our Head. The church is called "catholic," or "universal," because there could not be two or three churches unless Christ be torn asunder (cf. 1 Cor. 1:13) - which cannot happen!
(Institutes, IV. i. 2)
This statement comes out of a section (Institutes, IV. i.), which has the title: The True Church with Which as Mother of All the Godly We Must Keep Unity.
 
In his commentary on Ephesians, reflecting on Ephesians 4:4 and providing foundational theology for how we view the unity of the church, Calvin writes:
He expresses more clearly how perfect should be the unity of Christians . . . How much we should hate all quarrels, if we duly reflected that all who separate from their brethren, estrange themselves from the Kingdom of God! And yet, strangely enough, while we forget our mutual brotherhood, we go on claiming to be the sons of God. Let us learn from Paul that none are at all fit for that inheritance who are not one body and one spirit.
We can appreciate the difference between matters of faith that are fundamental and those that are secondary when we understand how we are gathered around the person of Jesus Christ and the Word of God as we comprehend our faith and our theology. John Calvin recognized this same distinction when working toward church unity:
 
What is more, some fault may creep into the administration of either doctrine or sacraments, but this ought not to estrange us from communion with the church. For not all the articles of true doctrine are of the same sort. Some are so necessary to know that they should be certain and unquestioned by all men as to the proper principles of religion. Such are: God is one; Christ is God and the Son of God; our salvation rests in God's mercy; and the like. Among the churches there are other articles of doctrine disputed which still do not break the unity of faith. Suppose that one church believes - short of unbridled contention and opinionated stubbornness - that should upon leaving bodies fly to heaven; while another, not daring to define the place, is convinced nevertheless that they live in the Lord. What churches would disagree on this point? Here are the apostle's words: "Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, be of the same mind; and if you be differently minded in anything, God shall reveal this also to you" (Phil. 3:15). Does this not sufficiently indicate that a difference of opinion over these nonessential matters should in no wise be the basis of schism among Christians? ... But here I would not support even the slightest errors with the thought of fostering them through flattery and connivance. But I say we must not thoughtlessly forsake the church because of any petty dissensions.
(Institutes IV. i. 12)
What is fundamental. What is secondary. Where there is room for agreement, accommodation, and compromise, and where we stand solidly on the doctrines of our faith.
 
As we move this coming week toward the gathering of the Special Council, I ask that you would pray for how this group views ecclesiology and the life of the church together, and how we respect and reflect our theology of church unity as a foundational element of what is means to be God’s people who are the family of God. Will we reflect ecclesiastical pluralism, or will we be committed to the unity of the faith and of the Son of God, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?
 
With one more quote from John Calvin included in a correspondence he wrote in 1539, a reflection of his passion and commitment to how we live together as the church, even in the difficult times:
Always, both by word and deed, have I protested how eager I was for unity . . . My conscience told me how strong the zeal was with which I burned for the unity of thy Church.
May we burn for the church to be unified, not as an end in itself, but as the example of what is means to live out Ephesians 4:4-6 (PHILLIPS):
Make it your aim to be at one in the Spirit, and you will inevitably be at peace with one another. You all belong to one body, of which there is one Spirit, just as you all experienced one calling to one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God, one Father of us all, who is the one over all, the one working through all and the one living in all.
Tom
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