On January 1, a split took place in the Reformed Church in America. Forty-three local congregations decided to leave the organization and form a new denomination: the Alliance of Reformed Churches. It is likely that in the near future a number of congregations of other conservative denominations will join them.
I have always had a special interest in the Reformed Church in America, because this church has a very close historical connection with the Netherlands. This church was in fact an American branch of the Dutch Reformed Church, and later remained closely tied to the Christian Reformed Church (after it was formed in 1892, when it split from the Dutch Reformed Church). But what particularly caught my attention this week was the reason for the formation of yet another separate denomination. The immediate cause why the 43 congregations no longer wanted to remain under the umbrella of the Reformed Church in America was the LGBT+ issue. Many could not agree with the conclusion that henceforth the church would fully recognize same-sex marriages, and that non-hetero persons could become pastors.
It is not the first denomination in the US to break up for this reason. in the recent past, a conservative segment of Episcopalians, Lutherans and Presbyterians decided to go their own way and establish their own denominations, and among Methodists the same is about to happen.
Is such a development also to be expected in the Seventh-day Adventist Church? I know quite a few Adventists (who are well informed about what is going on in their church), who think a split between liberal and conservative Adventists is inevitable. The polarization has become so great that it is impossible to keep everything together. And the LGBT+ issue also plays an important role in Adventist circles, in addition to the ongoing conflict over the ordination of female ministers. So, wouldn’t it be best if the conservative Adventists founded their own independent denomination?
I don’t think this is going to happen. Many conservative church members actually think it would be more logical if their liberal fellow-believers separated from the present organization. But that too is very unlikely. Many of them, at some point, simply leave the church. In that segment of the church there is not the spiritual energy to form an entirely new organization. Furthermore, we should note that many conservatives are actually quite satisfied with the current direction of the world church, and often they have found a spiritual home in one of the numerous “independent ministries,” which, with few exceptions (e.g., Adventist Forums and Adventist Today), are following a conservative or ultraconservative course.
In a church which now has some 22 million members, a diversity of views on all kinds of theological, ethical and practical matters is inevitable. The differences in (church) historical, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds make this inescapable. And when the leadership of the church opts for one particular tendency, this naturally results in both approval and protest.
How can internal unity be preserved (and in certain places: be restored)? It seems to me that there are two options. The first is to choose one basic approach and refuse to accommodate those who disagree. In other words, you focus on a “remnant,” a “rest,” and encourage others to disappear. In my opinion, this is a path that changes the church in a fanatical sect.
The other option is that we strive for a church in which basic values are held in common, but in which different modalities can coexist in harmony, and remain in conversation with each other. It is unfortunate that this has not happened in the
I hope that my church will succeed in accommodating the diversity that has become an irreversible reality.