Reformed denominations, churches, and Christians sometimes get accused of being divisive by many of our evangelical friends. However, as it turns out, I believe, our Federation (the United Reformed Churches in North America) far outdoes most evangelical churches in striving for church unity with other denominations and churches. I know that is a bold claim! The proof is in the pudding, as they say. But did you know that the URCNA is hard at work striving toward unity with other churches in North America and around the world?
Our Federation has two standing (year-round) Synodical committees devoted entirely to ecumenical relations with other denominations. One is called the Committee for Ecumenical Contact with Churches Abroad (CECCA), which engages with denominations and churches outside of North America. The other is called the Committee for Ecumenical Relations and Church Unity (CERCU), which engages with denominations within North America.
The URCNA takes our Lord’s High Priestly Prayer in John 17 serious when he prays, “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” We pray for this, and in God’s grace our Federation of Churches continually works toward this goal.
A few months back, I attended the annual meeting of “NAPARC” in Pompton Plains, New Jersey. I went as an observer and also to take part in the United Reformed Church’s bilateral, interdenominational, ecumenical talks with other like-minded Presbyterian and Reformed denominations in North America.(1) Since then, I’ve been asked many questions about NAPARC. This article is a brief explanation about what NAPARC’s basis, purpose, function, and authority is as described by its website and constitution.(2)
NAPARC is an acronym that stands for North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council.(3) This Council consists of thirteen member churches, of which the United Reformed Churches in North America is one. Here is the full NAPARC member list in alphabetical order:
- The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC)
- The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC)
- The Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC)
- The Reformed Church of Quebec (ERQ)
- The Free Reformed Churches of North America (FRCNA)
- The Heritage Reformed Congregations (HRC)
- The Korean American Presbyterian Church (KAPC)
- The Korean Presbyterian Church in America (Kosin) (KPCA)
- The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC)
- The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)
- The Presbyterian Reformed Church (PresRC)
- The Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS)
- The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA)
- The United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA)
According to its constitution, the basis for this group of churches’ fellowship with one another is the Bible, the Three Forms of Unity, and the Westminster Standards:
Confessing Jesus Christ as the only Savior and Sovereign Lord over all of life, we affirm the basis of the fellowship of Presbyterian and Reformed Churches to be full commitment to the Bible in its entirety as the Word of God written, without error in all its parts and to its teaching as set forth in the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms.(4)
One of the primary purposes of NAPARC, which is also clearly stated in its constitution, is to work toward unity with the other member churches:
We regard this basis of fellowship as warrant for the establishment of a formal relationship of the nature of a council, that is, a fellowship that enables the Member Churches to advise, counsel, and cooperate in various matters with one another, and to hold out before each other the desirability and need for organic union of churches that are of like faith and practice.(5)
The ways that this Council ecumenically functions, as laid out in its constitution, is as follows:
- Facilitate discussion, consultation, and the sharing of insights among Member Churches on those issues and problems which divide them as well as on those which they face in common.
- Encourage the Member Churches to pursue closer ecclesiastical relations, as appropriate, among the regional and major assemblies.
- Promote the appointment of committees to study matters of common interest and concern and, when appropriate, make recommendations to the Council with respect to them.
- Exercise mutual concern in the perpetuation, retention, and propagation of the Reformed faith.
- Promote local, regional, and general assembly/synodical-wide cooperation wherever possible and feasible in such areas as missions, relief efforts, training of men for the ministry, Christian schools, activities for young people, and church education and publications.
- Operate a website to facilitate the exchange of information and to foster increased cooperation and fellowship among the Member Churches.(6)
NAPARC is not a church or denomination in and of itself. Therefore, its authority is only advisory as it functions to facilitate cooperation with, and unity among, the member churches:
It is understood that the Council is not a synodical, classical, or presbyterial assembly, and therefore all actions and decisions of the Council…are advisory in character and may in no way curtail, restrict, or intrude into the exercise of the jurisdiction or authority given to the governing assemblies of the Member Churches by Jesus Christ, the King and Head of the Church.(7)
The URCNA’s membership in NAPARC (along with the work of the URCNA’s two standing Synodical committees) is tangible evidence that we are heartily endeavoring to work toward unity with other denominations. So, the next time anyone lays the claim against our Federation that we are divisive, you can point to this diligent, constant work.
(1) I am Classis Southwest’s representative on the URCNA’s standing Synodical Committee for Ecumenical Relations and Church Unity (CERCU). If you do know what any of that means, feel free to ask me!
(2) Lord-willing, I will teach an Adult Sunday School class in the near future about NAPARC and explain in more detail our Federation’s formal participation in its ecumenical activities.
(3) NAPARC’s website is www.naparc.org.
(4) NAPARC Constitution.