Presbyterians and Reformed churches move closer

Here’s a promise of greater unity in the conservative reformed part of Australian Christianity. Two church groups – the Presbyterian Church of Australia (PCA) and the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia (CRCA) have signed an agreement to work more closely “together in God’s Kingdom”.

This week a Memorandum of Understanding between the PCA and the CRCA  was signed on behalf of both denominations by Andrew Nugteren, secretary of the CRCA Committee for Ecumenical Relations, and Peter Barnes, Moderator-General of the PCA.

This step towards co-operation took place at the Presbyterians’ national gathering – their General Assembly – held at Hurstville, Sydney, this week.

“As reformational and confessional churches this Memorandum of Understanding seeks to foster a closer and more formal relationship between our two denominations within the Australian cultural context,” the agreement says.

“At a local level, such engagement would include:
– combined services where suitable and desired;
– receiving of one another’s members;
– recognition of one another’s Ministers for preaching duties;
– working together in local evangelism;
– focusing church planting work with consideration for one another;
– combining and/or assisting with local diaconal/mercy ministries where possible.”

At a denominational level the agreement proposes working together on

“- cooperation with Presbyterian Inland Mission;
– working together on societal challenges that face us: eg marriage equality, safe church issues; as well as submissions to government on various ethical and moral issues;
– exchange of greetings and delegates at broader church assemblies;
– provide a foundation for closer relationships with other reformational churches throughout Australia.”

This agreement can be seen as a long-delayed response to the Presbyterians who decided not to enter the union that produced the Uniting Church in 1977. That led to the re-emergence of the Presbyterians as a more conservative church.

The CRCA was founded by Dutch migrants in 1951. They had  no desire to form a new church but found the old PCA was too liberal for them, and other Presbyterian churches had forms of worship (such as restrictions on music) that were too strict for them. The church has grown to 8000 members in 60 churches – and has been a very significant player in founding Christian schools. These include the Sutherland Shire Christian School, south of Sydney, and Tyndale in western Sydney.

The PCA is the largest Presbyterian denomination in Australia. Eternity estimates its membership at least five or six times the size of the CRCA.

The CRCA brings into the relationship the Reformed Theological College, recently relocated to Melbourne from its long-time base in Geelong, which already has friendly relations with the Presbyterian colleges in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

“One of the situations that saw the CRCA being formed as a denomination was the predominant theological liberalism of the PCA in the late 1950s and 1960s,” Presbyterian Minister Gary Ware has blogged. “The memorandum of understanding was an expression of recognition that our biblical and gospel understandings now align in significant ways. The PCA has changed and seeks Gospel partnership in obedience to Jesus. The CRCA have seen an expressed desire for a day in which the PCA would be a true sister denomination in the Gospel realised.”