Coinciding with the 500th anniversary of 16th century reformer John Calvin, a meeting between leaders of the two largest reformed church bodies is being held this week to plan their merger.
The executive committees of the 75 million-member World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the 12 million-member Reformed Ecumenical Council will convene in Geneva, Switzerland, where Calvin had promoted the Protestant Reformation.
There, he had also urged visible unity among the Reformers.
"This move towards unity is a fitting tribute to Calvin by his modern day heirs," said Peter Borgdorff, president of the REC, in a statement.
At the Geneva meeting, the two bodies will discuss the structure and budget for the new global communion – which will be known as the World Communion of Reformed Churches – as well as plans for the Uniting General Council in June 2010, when the merger is expected to be formally approved.
"We will be looking at ensuring the financial base of the new organization in light of the current financial climate," Borgdorff said in a statement. "This means shaping the structure so that we can meet the challenges of today while planning for the future."
WARC president Clifton Kirkpatrick commented, "The objective is sustainability."
While some speculate the merger was prompted by financial challenges, Kristine Greenaway, executive secretary of communications for the WARC, rejected such claims.
"The merger was not prompted by financial struggles," Greenaway said in an e-mail to The Christian Post. "While both organizations indeed face financial challenges, the merger was occasioned by the desire to respond to the call to be one for greater stronger witness in the world and to reverse the tendency for the Reformed to yield to divisions."
According to Greenaway, income in the WARC has remained steady from member churches and "has even increased slightly." Income has only declined from churches in Germany. And the decline, Greenaway explained, was not occasioned by a drop in member church commitments, but rather by changes in the church tax system and the decline in the value of the U.S. dollar against the Swiss franc.
Moreover, membership in the WARC has been stable and increasing, she stated.
Greenaway was unable to comment on REC finances.
The proposal for a merger was introduced in 2006 and approved by the executive committees of the two bodies in 2007. In 2008, a draft constitution and preliminary plans were affirmed.
The reasons for merging, Greenaway explained, are to unite the Reformed churches and strengthen their common witness.
"Christian disunity has usually compromised the effectiveness of the proclamation of the Gospel and Christian actions in the world," she stated. "The Bible witnesses to the fact that in unity there is increased strength, and the oneness of believers will lead to the world believing (John 17:21). So the merger will indeed strengthen the common witness of the Reformed family of churches."
Some of the objectives of the WCRC include fostering Reformed confessional identity and unity in the whole church, renewing a passion among Reformed Christians for God's mission, and promoting justice in the economy and the earth and to work for peace and reconciliation in the world.
Heading the new communion as general secretary will be Setri Nyomi from Ghana who is currently the general secretary of WARC. The president of the WCRC will be elected at the June 2010 meeting, which will take place in Grand Rapids, Mich.