After months of preparation, a theologically conservative denomination has broken away from the Reformed Church in America, with 43 congregations joining the new body on New Year’s Day.
Known as the Alliance of Reformed Churches, the new denomination was created as the RCA continues to deal with a debate over its official stance on LGBT issues.
Dan Ackerman, director of Organizational Leadership at ARC, wrote in a blog post last June that there were “three primary convictions” that led to the formation of the new denomination.
“The Bible as understood within Reformed theology — its understanding of God, sin and the world — provides a thoughtful faith that can engage people facing today’s uncertainties,” wrote Ackerman at the time.
“The mission of Jesus in the world, entrusted to the local church, can be better served by a more agile form of ministry and governance than what we’ve inherited from the 1500’s.”
“The nature of the organization is to hold a high value on congregational mission and vision so that the organization provides added value to its congregations while, in turn, receiving its funding from those same congregations as partners,” Ackerman continued.
Jeff Walton of the theologically conservative think tank Institute on Religion & Democracy noted in a blog post published Wednesday that the number of churches leaving the RCA for the ARC represents about 5% of the denomination.
“Now the realignment that began in the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is reaching the Dutch Reformed – but without the lawsuits and acrimony that characterized some of those prior splits,” wrote Walton.
“Delegates to the RCA General Synod in October approved recommendations that allow transferring churches to retain assets and church buildings.”
In recent years, there has been much debate in the RCA over whether the denomination should become accepting of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
In July, an earlier task force known as Vision 2020 recommended a “restructuring” of the RCA, believing that the debate over sexual ethics was part of a broader trend of division.
“There have been numerous points, especially in the last 70 years, where the RCA has been at an impasse. Points of disagreement and tension have included differences of views on things like ecumenical partnerships, social justice/political involvement, merging with another denomination, communism, internal restructuring,” stated the Vision 2020 report.
“This means we currently face something we have previously weathered, but it also means that we are likely to be here again if we do not find a way to handle conflict differently.”
At its general synod last October, the denomination voted to create a task force that would consider proposals to resolve the debate within the approximately 186,000-member RCA.