The mandate for unity: Over the years the RCUS has maintained relationships with other churches collectively as denominations and the relationships are called “fraternal.” It is logical that the RCUS should seek out fellowship with churches which are like-minded in terms of doctrine and practice. There is a unity that already exists in a common confession because it is unity based on the Truth of Holy Scripture. Unity is not pursued because it is the nice thing to do, but because it is the only basis on which we both stand together. In the matter of ecclesiastical (churchly) relationship there is a mutual promise to “watch over” one another. Fellowship is promoted by having a serious concern for the doctrine and practice of the “fraternal church.” It must be remembered that unity is not obtained by sacrificing the Truth but by upholding it at all costs.
Mutual accountability is a blessing as it is motivated by love to God as well as to the neighbor. The Interchurch Relations Committee of the Synod of the RCUS is responsible for carrying out the determinations decided by the delegates in a Synod meeting. The committee is not autonomous, but is fully responsible to the authority of the Church in what is called upon to do. Since our Scriptural beliefs and practice are what we confess in our secondary standards, it is on the basis of these that we are able to encourage each other as churches (denominations) to be faithful to the Lord.
Our rules for fellowship require “that we agree to take heed to one another’s doctrine, liturgy and church government, that there be no deviations from the Holy Scriptures or from the Reformed confessions.” It is not like being a “watchdog” over each other, but a taking heed in brotherly concern. In order to have the kind of interaction that will prove both useful and fruitful, there is a need to be mutually involved to some degree in church life. This is possible through the exchange of “fraternal delegates.” There is a commitment then, between churches in fraternity, that they “Will exchange delegates at one another’s assemblies or general synods and invite them to participate as advisors.” It is on the level of the meetings of Synods, Classes, General Assemblies, and Presbyteries, that the function of churches may be observed.
Another benefit of interchurch relationships is that this is how we make each other aware of actions taken by the courts of the church. We are open toward one another, rather than secretive or suspicious. Thus, churches in fraternity “Will inform one another of the decisions taken at their assemblies or general synods by exchanging minutes or at least by forwarding decisions which are relevant to the churches concerned.” In this way any need for encouragement or counsel by one church to the other is not based on rumor or supposition, but on the facts recorded of actions taken.
This kind of transparency enables churches to actually move toward a better unity and function as servants of the Lord. The relationship is not built on mutual suspicion, but on the realistic conviction that in Christ we have unity and are therefore members of one another. Sadly, there are times when churches depart from their commitment to the Word of God and the Confessions that spell out what they believe the Bible to teach. In such a situation, how much better is it to be warned by a brother when approaching dangerous ground that is dishonoring to God and detrimental to his people? In the RCUS, we would count it a blessing to be warned or reproved in love for errors made or pending that would have such a result.
It is expected that churches will abide by their confessions and the practices that flow from them. All of us are accountable to God who gives the standard to which we subscribe. It is negligence of duty not to give effort or have any zeal for the practice of the truth. Even churches are known for what they do. What we believe must be consistent with what we practice. As a church born of the Reformation there are activities that would never be tolerated in our midst. On the other hand, there are practices that are expected of us because of our theological stand as Reformed Churches. Because of this shared history and commitment, the churches “Will inform one another in case of changes in or additions to confessions, church order or liturgical forms, if these are of a doctrinal nature. The denomination concerned will notify the other denomination of these changes so that consultations can take place if considered necessary.”
“Mutual Submission” is the term that describes how RCUS puts the Bible into practice in the relationship between the delegate pastors and elders and the judicatories of the church (such as Classis or Synod). No hierarchy, no independency, but mutual responsibility and submission. The relationships that the RCUS pursues with other denominations are of concern to those with whom we have a fraternal relationship. Our bond is significant enough that we give each other forthcoming information without reservation, and therefore, churches in this relationship “Will inform one another regarding new relationships with third parties and membership in ecumenical organizations.” These rules guide our relationships with other denominations and foster an understanding between us.
There are many benefits that flow out of our relationships with one another: pulpit exchanges, participation when visiting other states or nations, as one can seek out a true church for worshiping the Lord. That distinction is rarely heard in our postmodern culture, where there is a disdain for absolute truth or any person that affirms that there is absolute truth. Having this relationship enables us to be faithful to our own confession of faith and to demonstrate to our families that “not any old church will do.” Whether seeking a spouse, moving to a new area, or traveling on business or vacation, RCUS members will want to pay close attention to finding churches of like-precious faith. The established relationships which the RCUS has with several denominations are an excellent guide in that search. (The last page of any RCUS Abstract lists the current national and international fraternal relationships of the RCUS – Editor)
Rev. George Syms