A Cross-Border ChurchCanadian churches sometimes have an uneasy relationship with churches in the United States. So why do some denominations spread out across both countries?
All Canadians know the United States has a big influence on our lives. The movies in our theatres and the programs on our televisions are often made there and assume that context. Our economy is intricately tied to theirs. The U.S. president coughs and we sneeze – just think about the change of date for daylight savings time!
Being in a bi-national church is not always easy for Canadian CRC folks.
We also have conflicting emotions about the United States. We buy their products and accept their culture but we are quick to state in no uncertain terms that we are not Americans. We are proud of our health care system that, with all its imperfections, is accessible to everyone and shake our heads at the stories of folks in the United States dying of diseases they can’t afford to have treated. We wonder at Americans who so vehemently argue for the right to keep deadly weapons in their possession and we bemoan the handguns smuggled across the border that find their way into the hands of criminals.
One of our former prime ministers, the late Pierre Trudeau, once compared our relationship with the Americans to “sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”
Canadian churches can also have an uneasy relationship with churches in the United States. Some of us see churches across the border that appear to have bought into a civil religion that values patriotism over the gospel. Some of us perceive in our American cousins a blunt and simplistic fundamentalism.
Whatever the reason, it is certainly true most Canadian denominations are not tightly or organically tied to churches in the United States.
The Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRC) is one of the few exceptions. Ours is a bi-national church, with one-third of the membership (78,400 people) in Canada and the rest (almost 190,000 people) in the United States.
Being in a bi-national church is not always easy for Canadian CRC folks. Sometimes the Americans seem to forget we are here and talk as if we don’t exist. There are those in our Canadian congregations who think Canadians in the CRC are under the ecclesiastical thumb of the Americans. Isn’t it time to cast off the shackles and stand on our own two feet?
To be fair, it’s probably not always easy for the Americans to have us in the denomination either. All too often we Canadian CRC members can be arrogant and condescending toward our American siblings.
So why bother? Why doesn’t the CRC draw a line between our Canadian and U.S. churches and become two denominations?
Despite the challenges, we believe there are compelling reasons to continue in our bi-national unity.
We complement each other. Speaking in broad generalities, Americans in the CRC have a warm piety and an administrative sophistication that encourages and instructs us. We Canadian CRC folks have a commitment to justice ministries and a holistic Kingdom vision that inspires and influences our American members. Together we are stronger and better than we would be if apart.
We reveal a profound truth. As Christians we know our citizenship is with the Kingdom of God and our ultimate allegiance is to the Lord (not to any nation or state). By maintaining the bi-national structure, we subtly yet consciously testify to this fact.
We have a greater impact. The combined resources – leadership, financial, theological – are leveraged to broaden and deepen the ministries that take place locally and around the world.
For a bi-national denomination to succeed there must be a strong commitment to making it work and a willingness to listen to and learn from each other. The denomination needs to value the unity of the bi-national church while allowing the congregations to be relevant within their national contexts.
Often it would seem easier and simpler to divide, but we are convinced unity is worth the effort and is bearing good fruit to the glory of God. And, really, what more could we hope for!
Originally published in Faith Today, July/August 2008.
Used with permission. Copyright © 2008 Christianity.ca.