The Reformed Church in America has no plans to end its full communion relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America over the Lutherans' recent vote to allow noncelibate homosexuals to be ordained.
"Cutting ties with the ELCA over their Assembly's narrow decision would witness to the world that Christians will fight and divide themselves from one another, and break the bonds of Christian fellowship, over such an ethical difference," RCA spokesman Paul Boice told The Christian Post.
More than ten years have passed since the two denominations entered into full communion and began recognizing each other "as churches in which the gospel is rightly preached and the sacraments rightly administered according to the Word of God" and providing for the orderly exchange of ordained ministers.
But when the highest legislative body of the ELCA approved a resolution last month allowing gays and lesbians in "life-long, monogamous, same gender relationships" to be ordained, the controversial action called into question its full communion agreements with other denominations.
Pastor Kevin DeYoung of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Mich., stated in his blog that the Gospel is at stake if the RCA remains in full communion with the ELCA.
Calling ELCA's action egregious, DeYoung urged his denomination to break its relationship with the Lutherans.
"What do we do when a denomination perverts the grace of our God into sensuality (Jude 4) – and not just a few renegade churches here and there, but the whole denomination in its official decision making capacity?" DeYoung posed. "Homosexuality is, as J.I. Packer has argued, a heretical issue because it denies a central tenet of the gospel – repentance."
The debate stirred by ELCA's recent vote echoes discussions from more than a decade ago when the RCA was considering full communion agreement with the United Church of Christ, which supports an open and affirming view on homosexuality.
"The official stances of our two churches differed, and continue to differ today, as with the ELCA," Boice explained. But, "the difference on this ethical issue did not involve the core of the gospel; in other words, we still recognized one another as churches."
The 1997 "Formula of Agreement" establishing a full communion partnership was signed by the RCA, ELCA, UCC, and Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
That agreement, Boice noted, calls the denominations to "mutual affirmation and admonition." In that spirit, the RCA has been clear with the UCC concerning their differences and will also hold the same stance with the ELCA, Boice said.
The RCA spokesman added that their relationship with the Lutherans is "a significant one," particularly around their combined efforts in mission and ministry.
"If we began cutting ties with every denomination with which we had a difference, we would be unfaithful to our Lord's call to seek the unity of his body and do serious harm to our witness and mission in the world," he said.
Currently, the RCA does not affirm homosexual behavior and holds that it is contrary to the will of God. But there are divisions within the Reformed body over homosexuality and the denomination began an "honest" and "intentional" dialogue on the issue in 2005.