Eendracht maakt Macht
These words adorn the banner at the bottom of the crest of the Reformed Church in America. Often the translation into English is, “Unity makes strength” but, as I understand it, a better translation is “Concord makes strength” — a pulling together like a team of horses.
The Christian church today is fractured, but it has not always been. For nearly a thousand years, the Christian church was essentially unified throughout the world. This changed significantly with the Great Schism of 1054 when the Eastern church (Orthodox) and the Western church (Roman Catholic) excommunicated one another. For another five hundred years these remained the primary divisions within the Body of Christ.
The Western church experienced yet another major fracture when Martin Luther, in his attempt to reform the church, found himself considered to be a heretic and was cast out of the church. From this moment, the Protestant branch of the Christian church was born and continued splitting and fracturing over significant things such as the Doctrine of the Trinity and more trivial things such as the introduction of hymns in worship alongside the Psalms.
I, myself, am also aware of my own history and I, too, am involved in the fracturing the Body of Christ. In the nineteenth century, there was a split in the Reformed church in the Netherlands. As some of the Dutch immigrated to the United States, the Reformed people joined together and several then joined with the established Reformed Church in the United States. For a number of them, however, this union was short lived and they seceded and came together to form a second Reformed denomination on this continent. It is into this latter denomination that I was baptized and raised, and it was here that I learned the essentials of the faith. My ancestors were secessionists and it is through them that I participate in this.
It is easy to speak of this split now more than 150 years past the event, but it was a painful experience that divided churches, communities, neighbors and friends. It even divided families and the hurt ran deep. This fracture, just like all divisions within the Body of Christ, created a wound. The wound healed over with time, but it left behind a scar and that portion of the Body of Christ will never be the same.
As a child my church experienced a similar pain when a fairly sizable group of people left to form another church. While I was too young to understand the reasons, I certainly understood that it was a difficult time for our church. There were noticeably fewer faces in worship when the dust settled. But it was not just this, it was clear that a wound was created that cut through our small hamlet, through friends and neighbors, through families. A would was opened in our corner of the Body of Christ. The wound has healed, but the scar remains.
In my experience, seemingly everyone involved in a schism has a rationale to anesthetize the pain. Those leaving claim that their church had already left them, so it is not really they which are at fault for this pain. Those being left can be quick to simply dismiss those leaving as schismatics and shake the dust off their feet. But as much as we may try to numb the hurt, the fact still remains that the Body of Christ has been divided yet again.
In my denomination, the Reformed Church in America, the process of leaving can be very difficult. While there have been calls for an easier way to be released from the denomination, I hope and pray that it is not made easier. This is not to be vindictive. but rather, because it should not be easy and painless to divide the church. Sometimes the analogy of marriage and divorce is used when speaking about church splits, but this is not exactly accurate. Marriage, at least in my context, is entered into by two people. But the church was not created by people voluntarily, the church was/is gathered and is upheld by Christ. The church is not to be taken lightly and it is our duty to guard the unity of the church.
This is not to say that separation can never be warranted, but we are often too quick to jump toward breaking fellowship. I am a part of this disunity because I am the son of a schism of a schism of a schism of a schism. This being said, any and all fractures within the church must be messy and must hurt because the church is not simply an organizational reality, but the Body of Christ, and each fracture hurts the body and it should hurt everyone.
Yesterday a post was published on The Gospel Coalition announcing that University Reformed Church voted to request a release from the Reformed Church in America (RCA) to affiliate with the Presbyterian Church in America. University Reformed is one of a handful of churches and ministers who feel as though they can no longer be in Christian fellowship in the body into which Christ had called them.
The typical rhetoric seems to be in play yet again. In his post, DeYoung writes, “…we believe the RCA has changed significantly in the last several years. The denomination has moved away from churches like ours.”
It’s not us, it’s them!
At the same time, there are pejorative goodbyes and dismissing them as schismatics.
It’s not us, it’s them!
And while we are numbing ourselves to the pain of separation, a fresh wound is being cut into our already much-scarred corner of the Body of Christ. And this too will heal and this too will leave a scar reminding us of the gravity and pain of separation and division. In such fracturing, there are no innocent parties, but everyone bears responsibility for their part in the separation.
Will the potential departure of University Reformed cause the demise of the RCA? Of course not. The denomination does not need University Reformed or any particular local church to survive.
But survival is not the goal. The RCA needs University Reformed just like University Reformed needs the RCA — because Christ has called us together into a body.
So more than anything, I grieve. I grieve because another fracture in the church is occurring. I grieve because our family is being divided. I grieve because we are taking another step away from Jesus’ prayer that all of his followers would be one. I grieve because in something like this all of our hands are dirtied.
Eendracht maakt Macht.
Someday, we pray. But until then, we are broken people who make broken institutions. The Church universal is the bride of Christ, but it bears the stain of a sinful world and sinful people.
“And as this grain has been gathered from many fields into one loaf, and these grapes from many hills into one cup, grant, O Lord, that your whole Church may soon be gathered from the ends of the earth into your Kingdom. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”