Christian unity

The Reformed Church in America has a long history of collaborating with other Christians. Whether in hospitals founded by missionaries, in a local VBS hosted with neighboring churches, or in dialogue with other communions, we partner with other believers in order to advance Christ’s mission on earth. Our common, unifying work is a response to Jesus’ prayer that we “may all be one” (Jn. 17:21). In the Bible, Christian unity is described as a gift and a call. It is a gift that has already been realized by Jesus Christ, who has broken down the dividing walls of hostility (Eph. 2:14). It is a call to bear one another’s burdens so as to make visible to all a unity that God already sees (Gal. 6:2).

The word ecumenical comes from the Greek “oikoumenous,” which refers to the “whole earthly family.” Thus, the work of Christian unity, of ecumenism (ek-yoo-men-ism), is the ministry of reconciliation and cooperation with the whole family of God. Ecumenical relationships at the denominational level are facilitated by the Ecumenical Associate, Monica Schaap Pierce and a host of RCA representatives to councils, convocations, and assemblies of our partners. Perhaps most significantly, the work of church unity also takes place at the local level—with ecumenically staffed food pantries, ecumenical worship services, community Bible studies, pastors’ groups, and many other expressions.

The urgent work of reconciliation and cooperation requires renewed strength and courage, which we can only find in God. It necessitates trust in, and openness to, the Spirit. It demands an unqualified, intentional, and prayerful commitment to heal the brokenness of the Body of Christ. Stressing the importance of Christian Unity, John Calvin once wrote, “Christ cannot be divided. Faith cannot be rent. There are not various baptisms, but one, which is common to all… Faith, baptism, and God the Father, and Christ, ought to unite us, so as almost to become one person.”

The Christian Unity Project—the public face of the RCA’s Commission on Christian Unity, which is staffed by the Ecumenical Associate—strives to equip all congregations, classes, and the denomination for this urgent work. Come join us. #UnityIsCalling

Ecumenical Partnerships

Denominational partnerships

Roman Catholic – Reformed Dialogue of the United States

In 1965, four denominations from the Reformed family of churches and representatives of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops launched an official conversation in the United States. The United Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Presbyterian Church (U.S.), the Reformed Church in America (RCA), and the United Church of Christ (UCC) appointed a team of pastors, theologians, and lay members to initiate an ongoing consultation.

Today, the dialogue comprises the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the UCC, the Christian Reformed Church in North America, the RCA, and representatives of the U.S. Catholic Bishops. Previous rounds of dialogue produced common statements on baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The most recent round, the eighth, focused on ecclesiology—particularly the roles of the Trinity, covenant, Word and sacrament, mission, and unity and diversity in the life of the church. The dialogue also examined ecclesial ministry and oversight and uncovered a unifying affirmation that these are undertaken personally and collegially in service to the church, not just for the church’s own sake, but for the sake of the world God loves. The report of the eighth round is summarized in the penultimate draft “The One Body of Christ: Ministry in Service to the Church and the World.” The ninth round of dialogue commenced in the fall of 2018 with a focus on the relationship between justification and justice. The prospectus can be found here.

A Formula of Agreement

A Formula of Agreement is a historic measure designed to heal the rift between the largest branch of the Lutheran church and several Reformed denominations. The document declares that a “full communion” exists between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and three churches of the Reformed tradition—the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., the United Church of Christ, and the Reformed Church in America.

A Formula of Agreement originated from the work of the Lutheran-Reformed Committee for Theological Conversations, which concluded a series of four Lutheran-Reformed dialogues beginning in 1962. The report from the final round of dialogue, A Common Calling: The Witness of Our Reformation Churches in North America Today, expresses the doctrinal consensus reached in the dialogue process and is meant to be viewed together with A Formula of Agreement.

The Formula was approved by the RCA at the 1997 meeting of General Synod and by the other three denominations during their similar denominational meetings that same year.

“Full communion” is not a plan to merge; the four denominations continue to maintain their distinctive traditions and identities. Rather, the four agree to recognize the validity of each other’s baptism, encourage the sharing of Holy Communion, and permit ministers from one denomination to serve in the other denominations. The pivotal concept in developing the Formula was that while differences between faith traditions must be acknowledged, even to the point of failing to reconcile, these differences are not church dividing so long as “the core traditions of the churches belong together within the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church” (A Formula of Agreement, p. 5).

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