After more than forty years as an independent congregation, Immanuel Fellowship Church in Kalamazoo, MI, hopes to affiliate with the United Reformed Churches in North America.
At a meeting on March 2, 2016, Immanuel’s congregation voted unanimously in favor of affiliation. The consistory of Covenant URC in Kalamazoo brought an Article 32 recommendation regarding Immanuel Fellowship to Classis Michigan when it met on March 8. Given the impending deadline for the URCNA Synod, delegates voted to put the matter on the agenda. The Classis Michigan vote to receive Immanuel Fellowship Church was unanimous.
But delegates were not quite as united when it came to a colloquium doctum for Immanuel’s pastor, Rev. Bill Boekestein, who had been out of the URCNA for only ten months.
Classis Clerk Rev. Greg Lubbers says, “There was considerable healthy debate upon the procedure in regards to this issue in light of the Church Order articles 32 and 8 along with appendices 5 and 6. However, the delegates of Classis Michigan did determine it was proper for Rev. Boekestein to undergo a colloquium doctum, which he sustained.”
Rev. Boekestein was not caught totally unprepared. “I knew that a colloquium doctum was a possibility,” he says. “The discussion was a joyful time of sharing our mutual fellowship in the Lord and His Word.”
The acceptance of Immanuel Fellowship Church into the URCNA is provisional until ratified by Synod Wyoming in June.
What led a congregation with such a long history of confirmed independence to seek affiliation with a federation?
Rev. Boekestein explains, “At a time (mid 1970s) when many people were troubled by trends in well-known Reformed denominations, Immanuel’s founders courageously chose to leave the comforts of familiarity and begin a Reformed church firmly grounded upon God’s Word and the Reformed Confessions. In more recent years, the congregation did experience some of the difficulties that often confront independent churches, notably a lack of connectedness, which is especially felt in times of trial.”
“For the past few years, Immanuel Fellowship has been prayerfully considering whether it might be God’s will for the church to connect with a larger family of churches. Through much thought and prayer, this growing sense began to take more concrete shape last year. During that year, the congregation met frequently to discuss the possibility of joining the URC. We asked and interacted with some great (and hard!) questions. We studied the Church Order. We were encouraged by our brothers and sisters at Covenant URC, Kalamazoo. In the end, we became convinced that we could well honor our own history and heritage by joining a family of churches that, with us, treasures the Scriptures and the Reformed Confessions.”
Immanuel’s elders developed an extensive list of reasons, most firmly grounded in Scripture, for the congregation to consider over the course of discussions.
Historical reasons included the pattern of the early Christian churches in submitting to broader assemblies and Synod of Dort’s emphasis on unity and the need for a church order.
Biblical reasons included broad directives such as Christ’s prayer for unity in John 17 and the model of the body, found in Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12, and elsewhere. Federation allows believers to bear with one another in the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4). It also provides encouragements and support for office-bearers as “fellow soldiers” (Philippians 2:25). Federations enable believers to better fulfill the Great Commission of Matthew 28 and better cooperate in diaconal work (Romans 15 and Galatians 6). United churches guard against human imperfections and benefit from a multitude of counselors (Proverbs 11, 1 Corinthians 13).
Additionally, it can be difficult for an independent church to secure ministers or attract members. And membership in a federation offers an avenue of appeal for aggrieved members.
Rev. Boekestein reports, “We have already been edified by our interactions with the churches and members of Classis Michigan and eagerly await ratification of our membership (Lord willing) at Synod 2016.
The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 9 & 10 of the April 13, 2016, issue of Christian Renewal. Immanuel Fellowship’s membership in the URCNA was ratified by delegates on the first day of Synod Wyoming 2016.