For full reports and exact statements of the denomination's position on this issue, the reader should look to the references provided.
The church is called to testify to what it already is - spiritually one in Christ - and to what it should become - visibly one in Christ. Church unity is therefore both a gift and a goal. The local church and the worldwide church are to be one body and are to strive for the unity that still eludes them. The church carries out its ecumenical task because the fragmentation of the body of Christ is contrary to his will. But uniformity is not essential for church unity. Various local, regional, and national churches will differ widely in history, tradition, custom, language, way of life, and mode of thinking. The unity of the church allows for diversity in worship, confessional formulas, and church order.
On the way to achieving unity, major differences in the perception of biblical truth need to be discussed and, if possible, resolved. God can be trusted to teach all who engage in ecumenical dialogue and thereby will unite us through a common understanding of his truth. In the search for unity we may not compromise the biblical message and, at the same time, guard against the presumption of possessing the truth in all of its fullness. Churches ought to seek healing for past wounds by overcoming differences with those who are closest to them. The Christian Reformed Church in North America gives high priority to relations with other Reformed churches but also wishes to engage churches of other traditions such as non-Reformed Protestant churches, the Roman Catholic Church, and Orthodox churches. Revisions of the ecumenical charter of the CRC adopted by Synods 2006 and 2010 make provision for these differing forms of relationship and reflect the present ecumenical stance of the CRC as part of the body of Christ worldwide. In addition, the church’s Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee engages in interfaith dialogue “to foster better understanding between people of differing faiths living in a pluralistic society” (Agenda for Synod 2010, p. 448).
In 1944 the CRC synod adopted twelve propositions on ecumenicity. Forty years later the Interchurch Relations Committee (IRC) addressed the need for a new ecumenical charter through an ad hoc committee that reported to Synod 1985. After the proposed ecumenical charter was sent to the churches for response, Synod 1987 amended and adopted it. This ecumenical charter contained in detail the principles that are summarized in the position stated above. In 1996 the IRC reported that it was again reviewing the ecumenical charter. In 1997 an overture from Classis Grand Rapids East asking for a new strategy for ecumenical work was referred by synod to the IRC. Synod adopted a new ecumenical charter in 2000 and revisions in 2006 and 2010.
In 2009 synod agreed with a proposal by the IRC to change its name to the Ecumenical Relations Committee. In 2010 synod agreed with a further recommendation that the committee would be more accurately named the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee (EIRC). Also, in response to a request from the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa to Reformed churches throughout the world, Synod 2009 voted to introduce and promote study of the Belhar Confession (which calls for faithfulness in unity, justice, and reconciliation) in preparation for consideration of a proposal to Synod 2012 to adopt the Belhar as a fourth confession of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. In 2012 synod adopted the Belhar as an Ecumenical Faith Declaration and recommended it to the churches “for study and for incorporation of its themes into their discipling and liturgical ministries” (Acts of Synod 2012, p. 767). In 2013 the EIRC noted that ecumenical partners have expressed interest in the Ecumenical Faith Declaration concept, and synod encouraged continued discussion toward identifying criteria that would help define this new category of church documentation. In 2014 the EIRC provided an update on this discussion after hosting a conference of ecumenical partners, and synod instructed the EIRC “to continue its assessment of the place of the Belhar Confession in the life and ministry of the CRC” (Acts of Synod 2014, p. 565). In 2015 the EIRC expressed concern that in the ecumenical community most of the CRC’s ecumenical partners did not find the category of Ecumenical Faith Declaration helpful in their context Synod 2015 took note of “the problematic nature” of this category (Acts of Synod 2015, pp. 543, 545, 636), and Synod 2016 directed the EIRC to “report on the confusion” over this matter “as identified by our ecumenical partners” (Acts of Synod 2016, p. 913). Synod also proposed “that Synod 2017 recategorize the Belhar Confession” as a contemporary testimony in the CRC (Acts 2016, p. 913). In the meantime, at the EIRC’s request, synod has further encouraged the congregations of the CRC to study and incorporate the themes of the Belhar Confession “into their discipling and liturgical ministries” (Acts 2015, p. 636).
In light of revisions approved by Synod 2010 to the ecumenical charter of the CRC, revisions to Church Order Articles 49 and 50 were also adopted by Synod 2010. That year synod also approved additions to the EIRC mandate "to reflect the responsibility for interfaith dialogue" (Acts of Synod 2010, pp. 827-28).
In response to recommendations by the EIRC, based on dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church, Synod 2011 approved a “Common Agreement on the Mutual Recognition of Baptism,” encouraged CRC congregations to use the language of a common “Certificate of Baptism” in all future baptismal certificates, and received “These Living Waters” and “This Bread of Life” as ecumenical documents on baptism and the Lord’s Supper, respectively, recommending them “to the churches for further study and reflection” (Acts of Synod 2011, p. 822). In addition, Synod 2011 requested its publishing agency, Faith Alive Christian Resources, to “explore with the educational and publishing agencies of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the United Church of Christ the possibility of jointly preparing educational materials on the documents produced by the U.S. Roman Catholic-Reformed dialogue on the sacraments” (p. 823).
In other action, Synod 2011 adopted a combined CRC/RCA translation of the three Reformed standards (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dort) for use in both the CRC and the Reformed Church in America (Acts of Synod 2011, pp. 853-54). In addition, Synod 2011 met in a joint session with General Synod 2011 of the RCA, in which representatives of both denominations described collaborative work in ministry in the CRC and RCA and affirmed a “Resolution for the Common Translation of the Three Reformed Standards” (pp. 882-83). In 2014 the synods of the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the Reformed Church in America met simultaneously in Pella, Iowa, and held joint sessions at which they celebrated their collaborative efforts in ministry in recent years and adopted a joint resolution of cooperation and fellowship to formally recognize their cooperative ventures.
References to Agendas and Acts of Synod
Acts of Synod 1944, pp. 83-85, 330-67
Acts of Synod 1985, pp. 201, 237-41, 728-29
Agenda for Synod 1986, p. 194
Acts of Synod 1986, p. 613
Agenda for Synod 1987, pp. 156-57, 170-75, 451-52
Acts of Synod 1987, pp. 587-90
Acts of Synod 1996, pp. 387
Agenda for Synod 1997, pp. 232, 479-80
Acts of Synod 1997, p. 637
Agenda for Synod 1998, p. 181
Acts of Synod 1998, p. 377
Agenda for Synod 2000, pp. 202, 245-53
Acts of Synod 2000, pp. 670-71
Agenda for Synod 2006, pp. 290-304
Acts of Synod 2006, p. 714
Agenda for Synod 2009, pp. 242, 248-52, 269-313
Acts of Synod 2009, pp. 577, 589, 604-607
Agenda for Synod 2010, pp. 421-23, 429-50
Acts of Synod 2010, pp. 826-28
Agenda for Synod 2011, pp. 27-28, 179-298, 344-46, 350-510
Acts of Synod 2011, pp. 822-23, 848-54, 882-83
Agenda for Synod 2012, pp. 232-56
Acts of Synod 2012, pp. 765-67
Agenda for Synod 2013, pp. 223-28
Agenda for Synod 2014, pp. 261-67, 269-75, 278-86
Acts of Synod 2014, pp. 502-505, 564-65
Acts of Synod 2015, pp. 543, 545, 636
Agenda for Synod 2016, pp. 324-25
Acts of Synod 2016, p. 912-13