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The Reformed Church in America (Part II): Reforming the Reformed Church From the Bottom Up

Unlike some other denominations whose commitment to Biblical authority and Christian doctrine has come into question, the Reformed Church in America (RCA) has the beginnings of a grassroots movement dedicated to the preservation of orthodoxy.

Lee Duigon
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I agree we don’t want to be the anti-homosexual party. Yet homosexuality is the battle line right now. We need to fight where the battle is.
— quoted from an email from a Reformed Church pastor [name withheld] to Rev. John Thornton

Unlike some other denominations whose commitment to Biblical authority and Christian doctrine has come into question, the Reformed Church in America (RCA) has the beginnings of a grassroots movement dedicated to the preservation of orthodoxy.

“Some of us are trying to fellowship together and support each other through phone calls, email, and other means,” said John Thornton, an RCA visitation pastor in South Dakota.

This nascent network has already generated a new faith statement articulating an orthodox Christian position on homosexuality, and the prospect of a new “covenant,” generated by ordinary pastors and lay persons, which may help guide the church through the troubled waters of the 21st century.

Why Fight Over Homosexuality?

While the RCA leadership has committed itself to “dialogue” with homosexuals and their supporters, and new groups like Room for All ( agitate for a “gay-affirming” church, some orthodox pastors and church members have decided on a proactive response.

“We don’t want to be the anti-homosexual group,” said Kevin DeYoung, a pastor in central Michigan. “That’s more of a symptom of what’s wrong with the church; it’s not the root cause.”

“It’s an issue of Biblical authority,” Thornton said. “If they can twist the Bible to say it supports homosexuality, then they can twist it to say anything. So the question is, what is our authority — popular opinion, or the Word of God?

“Room for All is operating on an emotional level. For them it’s all about ‘how we feel,’ rather than how God feels. Some of them are in positions of authority: pastors, theology professors, etc. They pose a serious challenge to the church.”

“We’re using email to try to organize ourselves a little more,” DeYoung said. “Everything’s in its early stages. So far, things have been very encouraging.”

“We Believe …”

Several hundred pastors, elders, and lay people have already signed onto a faith statement drafted by Scott Nichols, a pastor in New Jersey. The statement, “We Believe,” can be read in its entirety at

At the General Synod, the "We Believe" statement was entered into the record of the synod's deliberations, an official document which will be distributed to all RCA churches. The synod did not entertain any debate on the matter: that, Rev. Nichols said, will come later, when the RCA opens its "dialogue" on homosexuality.

“We want to see the Biblical position as the starting point of any dialogue they have,” he said. “That wouldn't be a bad stopping point, either.”

More than 800 signatures were on the statement when the synod received it, he added.

“Whole congregations are signing on now,” Rev. Thornton added.

“This is part of our response to the leadership’s call for a dialogue on homosexuality,” Nichols said. “The last General Synod [2005] featured a faith statement by those who favor ‘full inclusion’ for homosexuals.

“If there is to be a dialogue, there will certainly be a platform for what we believe. We want our statement to be read into the record.”

“We Believe” has six main points, summed up here:

  • Heterosexuality is God’s revealed will for humankind.
  • Homosexuality arises from Original Sin, so it doesn’t matter whether it’s “biological” or “cultural.”
  • This sin, like all others, can be healed by Jesus Christ.
  • Homosexuals should recognize their behavior as sin, renounce it, and seek healing through faith in Christ.
  • Without endorsing or affirming their behavior, churches should renounce harassment of homosexuals.
  • Churches should minister compassionately to homosexuals, but not allow openly sinful persons to become ministers or church leaders.

“Signers of this statement will be presenting it to the leadership of the RCA,” Nichols writes, “using it in advertising, and also making it a major point at the General Synod.”

A New Covenant

DeYoung, Thornton, Nichols, and others are working on a “new covenant” to guide the church.

“We all know what the RCA is, in theory — but not in fact,” Rev. DeYoung said. “To clarify things, we’re drawing up a covenant spelling out key areas of Scripture which will define us as a church.

“At this stage, we’re preparing it in the form of a 12-point covenant. We hope to go public with it in a few months. At this point it hasn’t been finalized, and it doesn’t yet speak for anyone.”

Because it has not yet been finalized, DeYoung declined to discuss its specifics. But he did try to explain the general purpose of the document.

“The covenant arises out of the belief that the church must continually reassert and re-clarify matters of theological orthodoxy,” he said. “The covenant we are working on does not purport to be the final word or even the best word on some of the controversies in the RCA.

“But we hope that it can be a clear word, one that states unambiguously what the Scriptures and the Standards teach on issues like the authority of the Bible, the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, the reality of eternal punishment, and the immorality of homosexual behavior.

“We haven’t yet determined how to use the covenant. My hope would be for churches and pastors to affirm the covenant and declare themselves to be ‘Integrity Churches’ or ‘Covenant Churches’ or some such designation which makes clear what we believe, and can be used to hold ourselves and others within the denomination accountable.”

Why should such a covenant be necessary?

Because mainline Protestant denominations in America are suffering a theological meltdown.

For example, the April 2006 issue of The Layman (Vol. 34, No. 2), reporting on developments within the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), is packed with articles describing homosexual “marriages” performed in churches, church leaders linked to neo-pagan and other non-Christian religions, rumors of impending schism, sharply declining membership and revenues, and so on. This pattern is not unique to the PCUSA [see Chalcedon’s series of articles on “Paganism in Our Churches”].

“Is there a meltdown? The answer is both yes and no,” DeYoung said. “There are many reasons to be discouraged, and it’s the mainline churches who give us most of those reasons. There are big, huge issues that have to do with who God is and what He expects of us, and that’s where those churches are failing theologically.

“But there’s lots of good news, too. Thousands of young pastors my own age (28) are passionate about the Word of God. I believe the younger Christians in America are coming back to orthodoxy.”

John Thornton, partially disabled and confined at times to a wheelchair, has been using email to reach out to his fellow RCA pastors — all of them.

“A few have sent me very ugly emails and called me hateful, etc. Their position is, ‘If you love people, you have to accept everything they do,’” he said. “But a lot of the responses have been very positive.

“There are more of us, the orthodox, than there are of them. But it’s not an issue of which is the most popular opinion, but which opinion is right. The wrong opinion can win in a popularity contest.”


The RCA is a small denomination numerically. But it is America’s oldest Protestant denomination (established 1628), and it has the same problems as do the much larger ones — not the least of which is a leadership that seems to be in denial of the problems.

All of these denominations include pastors and laity devoted to right doctrine and laboring to preserve and promote it. Most of these efforts seem to lap ineffectively against the resistance of church leaders who are either unable or unwilling to defend orthodoxy.

But within the RCA, the reformers are not waiting for the denomination’s leaders to solve their church’s problems from the top down. Their campaign is from the bottom up — something that Chalcedon has always advocated.

What will the RCA’s leaders do when they begin to see Covenant Churches springing up in their midst? Will they go with the flow or try to oppose it?

If the Holy Spirit is behind this movement, the church leadership’s response won’t matter.

Lee Duigon
  • Lee Duigon

Lee is the author of the Bell Mountain Series of novels and a contributing editor for our Faith for All of Life magazine. Lee provides commentary on cultural trends and relevant issues to Christians, along with providing cogent book and media reviews.

Lee has his own blog at

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