Archive for March, 2013

Works of Power and Grace: The Story of New Netherland

The Christian Reformed ChurchA few weeks ago I happened to drive past a church that identified itself as a “Historic Dutch Reformed Church.”  It was located about 40 miles west of my hometown, on the side of Long Island closest to Manhattan.  Surprised that I hadn’t heard of it before, and curious to know more, I later looked it up on the internet.

“Historic” is almost an understatement, on American soil at least.  This church, I discovered, was established in 1732—that’s the year George Washington was born—and has been in existence ever since that time.  Its website says, “We earnestly seek to know the mind of Christ and strive to be faithful to God and to each other in a changing, complex, and often troubled world.”  Yet as I explored this site further, doubts began to arise in my mind that their worship and congregational life remain Reformed in the orthodox Scriptural sense.  With regard to churches like this one, I had begun to notice a tendency to view the Dutch Reformed title as a historic label more than a continuing commitment.

Just last night I was carrying on some historical research for my church, West Sayville URC, and discovered a booklet describing “A History of the First Reformed Church of West Sayville, N.Y., 1866-1966.”  This was the church founded by the first immigrants from Holland to West Sayville in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and it was the church from which our congregation would split ten years later.  Since then it has changed locations and names a few times, but it remains an active congregation in our community and will soon be able to celebrate its 150th anniversary.

What both of these churches have in common is that they are members in the denomination today known as the RCA or Reformed Church in America.  At first glance, we might automatically line up the Reformed Church in America with some of the other Reformed denominations familiar to us today: the United Reformed Churches, the Christian Reformed Church, the Reformed Church in the United States, and so on.  Truthfully, the RCA has a much longer and more complex history, but it is intimately tied to the origin of our own churches as well.

Dr. Henry Beets

Dr. Henry Beets

That’s why, in the third chapter of The Christian Reformed Church, Dr. Henry Beets pauses in his historical account of the founding of the CRC to explain how the first Dutch immigrants came to North America, and how their first churches worshipped.  This post is loosely paraphrased from the key points in his chapter.

The first wave of Dutch Reformed immigrants came to North America early in the seventeenth century.  The English captain Henry Hudson had discovered the river named after him with the Dutch ship De Halve Maan (The Half Moon), and Holland immediately claimed possession of the New York-New Jersey area, calling it “New Netherland.”  At first the only settlements along the Hudson River and at its mouth were forts; then came trading posts, farms, villages, and soon a city: New Amsterdam.  A conglomeration of Dutchmen settled here in the New World, and practically all of them professed the Reformed religion.  But Beets suggests that not all of these settlers were men and women of high spiritual standards.  Their primary objective was not religious liberty, but material prosperity.

Nevertheless, churches were soon established in New Amsterdam, the first as early as 1628.  (That congregation, now known as the Middle Collegiate Church, is still in existence and is the oldest continuously active church in America.)  Many more churches would be founded both in Manhattan and on “Lange Eylandt,” which explains the origin of the Dutch Reformed Church I stumbled across a few weeks ago.  Another Dutch hub was the town of Albany up the river, which would play a key part in the story of the settlers in Michigan a few centuries later.

The Dutch presence in the New World was seriously impacted when New Netherland was surrendered to the English in 1664, and New Amsterdam became New York City.  Beets says, “Many of the younger element were drawn away by what is called the ‘social pull,’ and joined the Church of England.  Dutch stubbornness, insisting on continued use of the ancestral tongue in church services, increasingly alienated some of the most progressive element.”  Friction also began to arise between the group of churches in America and the parent denomination in the Netherlands.  In 1792 the Dutch Reformed Churches here split from the churches in Holland—hence the denominational title “Reformed Church in America.

Sadly, as Beets points out, the four cycles of church history mentioned in Chapter 2 (construction, systematization, corruption, and restoration) were already at work in this denomination as well.  The principal obstacle to the spiritual health of the churches was the specter of Unitarianism, which became immensely popular as the eighteenth century drew to a close.  This system of belief has been described as “a bold reactionary protest against the leading doctrines of the prevailing Calvinism of New England,” and, says Beets, “it would have been miraculous if the Dutch Church had escaped the ravages of the times unhurt.  Fact is that the Ecclesiastical Records of New York State evidence time and again that religious conditions in that body were far from satisfactory—to put it mildly.”

With corruption, however, comes the opportunity for restoration, and in October 1822 a small group of churches in New Jersey under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Solomon Froeligh vowed to restore the Reformed church to its original purity by declaring themselves the “True Reformed Dutch Church.”  As Beets will mention in a later chapter, these congregations formed the Classis of Hackensack, which would remain independent until it united with the forthcoming Christian Reformed Church in 1890.  This bit of historical information accounts for the strange geographical overlap of the CRC’s Classes Hudson and Hackensack, which can still be noted on a map today, as well as the occasional shuffling of individual congregations between the two bodies.

Whatever may have been the spiritual condition of the Reformed Church in America, this denomination undoubtedly grew in numbers and power.  By 1845 it consisted of 32,883 communicant members comprising 274 congregations.  A Board of Domestic Missions was established in 1831, and a Board of Foreign Missions the following year.  In particular, the Domestic Board would have much to do with the immigration and settlements of the CRC’s founders, as later chapters will show.

Beets’s closing paragraph is worth duplicating in its entirety, since it shows his historical insight, objective approach, and lack of unnecessary animosity towards the RCA.

Dr. J. Van Hinte in his monumental work Nederlanders in Amerika brings out with great clearness that the ‘why’ of the coming of the Hollanders to New Netherland was primarily commercial.  There was no need for any of the Dutch colonists to escape their homeland because of persecution.  While some of those who came across, and many of their descendants, were people of refinement, and nearly all were nominally of ‘the Reformed persuasion,’ not all adorned their profession with a godly life.  For one reason, their spreading out into the wilderness northward, southward and westward, to form new settlements, with not enough preachers and teachers to guide them, seriously affected their religious welfare.  In fact, it is in various respects a wonder that so many of these Dutch pioneers remained so loyal to the doctrines and ways of the fathers, even though their religion may have been largely formal.  Calvinistic principle had more to do with this than some are willing to confess.  And God’s covenant mercy.

Amen to this—for it is only by God’s covenant mercy that the Church continues to exist at all.  May that realization always humble and inspire us as we continue serving Him in spirit and in truth.


Lord’s Day 12: I Share in His Anointing

Catechism and Psalter

As believers, we refer to God’s Son as either “Jesus” or “Christ,” or often both.  Many times, however, we fail to recognize the deeper significance of both of these names.  In Lord’s Days 11 and 12, the Heidelberg Catechism digs deep into the truths of Scripture to teach us the true meaning of each title.   Last week in our series on the Catechism we focused on Lord’s Day 11, which explained the meaning of the name “Jesus.”  Today we consider Lord’s Day 12, which focuses on the name “Christ.”

31 Q.  Why is he called “Christ” meaning “Anointed”?

A.  Beause he has been ordained by God the Father
and has been anointed with the Holy Spirit
to be
our chief prophet and teacher
who perfectly reveals to us
the secret counsel and will of God for our deliverance;
our only high priest
who has set us free by the one sacrifice of his body,
and who continually pleads our cause with the Father;
and our eternal king
who governs us by his Word and Spirit,
and who guards us and keeps us
in the freedom he has won for us.

32 Q.  But why are you called a Christian?

A.  Because by faith I am a member of Christ
and so I share in his anointing.
I am anointed
to confess his name,
to present myself to him as a living sacrifice of thanks,
to strive with a good conscience against sin and the devil
in this life,
and afterward to reign with Christ
over all creation
for all eternity.

Suggested Songs

The main thrust of Lord’s Day 12 is what theologians refer to as the “threefold office of Christ”: he is our Prophet, our Priest, and our King.  Because we as his people share in his anointing, our office mirrors his.  Thus, the doctrine set forth here is far from abstract.  Indeed, it is responsible for our entire outlook on the role of the Christian life.  I’ve selected a few psalms from the blue Psalter Hymnal to bring out some of these concepts.

243, “Thou Art My Portion, Lord” (Psalm 119)

“[H]e has been ordained by God the Father and has been anointed with the Holy Spirit to be our chief prophet and teacher who perfectly reveals to us the secret counsel and will of God for our deliverance.”  Not only does this setting of Psalm 119:57-64 set forth Christ’s role of prophet as he reveals God’s Word to us, but it also demonstrates the proper reaction of the obedient Christian.  One of the ways in which we should show our response is to seek to worship with his people: “All those who fear Thy Name/Shall my companions be.”

Thou art my portion, Lord;
Thy words I ever heed;
With all my heart Thy grace I seek,
Thy promises I plead.

I thought upon my ways,
Thy testimonies learned;
With earnest haste, and waiting not,
To Thy commands I turned.

221, “The Lord unto His Christ Has Said” (Psalm 110)

(Sung by West Sayville Reformed Bible Church on Long Island, NY)

He has been ordained and anointed to be “our only high priest who has set us free by the one sacrifice of his body, and who continually pleads our cause with the Father.”  Few psalms are more explicit about the priesthood and kingship of Christ than Psalm 110.  The Psalter Hymnal goes so far as to explicitly insert the name “Christ” here in the place of the original first line, “The Lord unto my Lord has said.”  Although it is not a particularly literal psalm setting, “The Lord unto His Christ Has Said” is a remarkably applicable song for this Lord’s Day.

The Lord unto His Christ has said,
Sit Thou at My right hand
Until I make Thine enemies
Submit to Thy command.
A scepter prospered by the Lord
Thy mighty hand shall wield;
From Zion Thou shalt rule the world,
And all Thy foes shall yield.

Thy people will be gladly Thine
When Thou shalt come in might,
Like dawning day, like hopeful youth,
With holy beauty bright.
A priesthood that shall never end
The Lord has given Thee;
Thus He has sworn, and evermore
Fulfilled His word shall be.

Thou shalt subdue the kings of earth
With God at Thy right hand;
The nations Thou shalt rule in might
And judge in every land.
The Christ, refreshed by living streams,
Shall neither faint nor fall,
And He shall be the glorious Head,
Exalted over all.

33, “Now the King in Thy Strength” (Psalm 21)

And He has been ordained and anointed to be “our eternal king who governs us by his Word and Spirit, and who guards us and keeps us in the freedom he has won for us.”  Because Psalms 20 and 21 are both royal psalms with rather unique contexts, it’s understandable if they’re not sung very often in our churches.  Even so, these songs are rich with references to God’s Anointed One, the ultimate Son of David, who rules and reigns over his people and all the nations.  Despite its almost ridiculously simplistic tune, Psalter Hymnal number 33 complements our confession of Christ’s kingship:

Now the King in Thy strength shall be joyful, O Lord,
Thy salvation shall make Him rejoice;
For the wish of His heart Thou didst freely accord,
The request of His suppliant voice.

All the blessings of goodness Thou freely didst give;
With the purest of gold He is crowned;
When He asked of Thee life, Thou hast made him to live
While the ages shall circle around.

Through salvation from Thee has His fame spread abroad,
Thou didst glory and honor impart;
Thou hast made Him most blessed forever, O God,
And Thy presence has gladdened His heart.

Be Thou then high exalted, Jehovah our God,
And arise in the weight of Thy might;
We shall sing of Thy strength and omnipotent rod;
In Thy praises shall be our delight.

35, “All Ye That Fear Jehovah’s Name” (Psalm 22)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“I am anointed to confess his name [and] to present myself to him as a living sacrifice of thanks.”  Besides being an all-around delightful psalm versification to sing, “All Ye That Fear Jehovah’s Name” from Psalm 22 captures our response to God’s salvation.  The Psalter Hymnal capitalizes the first-person pronouns in this text, hinting that we ought to view Christ as the singer.  Although that is a solid interpretation, we as Christians should also echo Christ’s response.  The third verse of number 35 mirrors the Catechism most helpfully:

All ye that fear Jehovah’s Name,
His glory tell, His praise proclaim;
Ye children of His chosen race,
Stand ye in awe before His face.

The suffering One He has not spurned,
Who unto Him for succor turned;
From Him He has not hid His face,
But answered His request in grace.

O Lord, Thy goodness makes Me raise
Amid Thy people songs of praise;
Before all them that fear Thee, now
I worship Thee and pay My vow.

For all the meek Thou wilt provide,
They shall be fed and satisfied;
All they that seek the Lord shall live
And never-ending praises give.

83, “O Royal Bride, Give Heed” (Psalm 45)

(Sung on YouTube)

“I am anointed…to strive with a good conscience against sin and the devil in this life, and afterward to reign with Christ over all creation for all eternity.”  Psalm 45 might seem so flowery as to scare some over-cautious singers away, but it begins to make sense once we understand it properly as a song setting forth the relationship between Christ and his Bride, the Church.  Again, the Psalter Hymnal takes the liberty of explicitly naming Christ and the Church in this text, a doubtful but not unjustifiable alteration.  This psalm setting urges Christians to “forsake the world/And every former friend,” and promises the same eternal reign with Christ set forth in the Catechism.

O royal bride, give heed,
And to my words attend;
For Christ the King forsake the world
And every former friend.

Thy beauty and thy grace
Shall then delight the King;
He only is thy rightful Lord,
To Him thy worship bring.

Enthroned in royal state,
All glorious thou shalt dwell,
With garments fair, inwrought with gold;
The Church He loveth well.

Thy Name shall be proclaimed
Through all succeeding days,
And all the nations of the earth
Shall give Thee endless praise.

Throughout our lives on this earth, may we never fail to recognize and appreciate the identity of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and our own identity as his Church.


Psalm 65: Due Praise

Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion,
and to you shall vows be performed.
O you who hear prayer,
to you shall all flesh come.
When iniquities prevail against me,
you atone for our transgressions.
Blessed is the one you choose and bring near,
to dwell in your courts!
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
the holiness of your temple!

–Psalm 65:1-4 (ESV)

"All nature joins in singing a joyful song of praise."

“All nature joins in singing a joyful song of praise.”

Can Psalm 65 be summarized in a single sentence?  If so, it is a song of thanksgiving to God for his abundant providence and faithfulness in both creation and redemption.  The Lord sits supreme above all the (false) gods of the nations because he hears prayer (v. 2), atones for his people’s transgressions (v. 3), has created the world (vv. 6-8), and continues to sustain it with awesome deeds (vv. 9-13).  As a result, how could praise be withheld from him, especially in Zion, the city of his chosen people?

Today it’s time for us to evaluate Psalm 65 as set to music in the Psalter Hymnal.

114, “Praise Waits for Thee in Zion”

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

In my own church at least, “Praise Waits for Thee in Zion” is probably the most familiar setting of Psalm 65 from the Psalter Hymnal.  This praiseful and praiseworthy versification sets to music the first five verses of Psalm 65, which form a fairly complete section of thought in the text.  It begins by extolling the Lord for his salvation, and it ends by stating that “Man finds no sure reliance, no peace, apart from Thee.”

The accompanying tune, MENDEBRAS, is a bouncy German melody arranged by Lowell Mason, and it’s one that I inevitably associate with this psalm setting.  When played too slowly this tune is dismal, but the opposite temptation always lurks to play it just a bit too fast.  Personally, I like a tempo just a touch slower than 120 bpm (2 beats per second).  The only challenge to the singers is the soprano jump to a high F in the last line.  Some hymnbooks have remedied this by lowering the key to E-flat, which I believe ruins the brilliance of the music.  Instead I would suggest that sopranos who can’t reach the F simply sing a D, as is written for the third line directly above.

115, “Thy Might Sets Fast the Mountains”

(Sung by the Protestant Reformed Psalm Choir)

Psalter Hymnal number 115 takes on the remainder of Psalm 65, verses 6-13.  Like its companion, “Thy Might Sets Fast the Mountains” is textually accurate and musically appropriate.  Once again the versification has three stanzas, with a recapitulation of the key theme of this part of the psalm at the very end: “All nature joins in singing a joyful song of praise.”

You’ll probably recognize the tune WEBB right away as the melody of “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus” (Psalter Hymnal number 467).  While this association may be a little confusing at first, I believe this is a very fitting tune with the confidence and jubilation necessary to carry the vivid words of Psalm 65.  Thankfully, the soprano line never goes too high, and the brilliant key of A works perfectly.  Once again, the only challenge to the average accompanist is finding the proper tempo.  If you can attain that, this version of Psalm 65 might soon become a favorite!

116, “Forth from Thy Courts, Thy Sacred Dwelling”

(Sung on YouTube)

“Forth from Thy Courts” is the Psalter Hymnal’s Genevan offering for Psalm 65.  The English text of this 16th-century setting, composed by Rev. William Kuipers in 1931, is much more ornate than our other versifications, and in some cases a little less accurate.  It still forms a powerful paraphrased version of the psalm, however, as evidenced in the second stanza:

A mighty stream of foul transgression
Prevails from day to day;
But Thou, O God, in great compassion,
Wilt purge my guilt away.
Blest is the man whom Thou hast chosen,
And bringest nigh to Thee;
That in Thy courts, in Thee reposing,
His dwelling-place may be.

To modern ears, this Genevan tune in a minor key is far from jubilant; that is a roadblock that may be impassable for our American culture.  However, choosing a befitting organ registration for this selection and playing it at a lively tempo can help dispel any complaints about singing a dirge.  After the very last verse, you might repeat the last line and end in an F-major chord, as done in the recording above.

117, “Before Thee, Lord, a People Waits”

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

While a fourth version of Psalm 65 isn’t really necessary in the Psalter Hymnal, there’s nothing that should detract from its use.  “Before Thee, Lord, a People Waits” includes a solid versification of Psalm 65:1-8, and a lilting, uplifting tune to accompany it.  I find the tenor and bass parts in the first two lines to be rather monotonous, but it would be relatively easy to employ some creative re-harmonizing here.  Once again, the poor sopranos will be confronted with a high F right at the end; I don’t believe the key can be dropped, since the bass part goes down to a G already, but an alternate soprano note of C might resolve the problem.

The year is crowned, O Fount of blessing,
With gifts to cheer the land;
Thy goodness fills the earth, expressing
The wonders of Thy hand.
The hills rejoice; the pastures, teeming
With flocks that skip and spring,
The golden grain, in valleys gleaming—
All sing to God the King.


Featured Recording: Our Refuge and Our Strength

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain;
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain…

Featured Recording

There’s no doubt about it: “America, the Beautiful” is probably one of the best-loved patriotic songs ever composed.  The grandeur of its poetry, the thrust of its message—it is truly an inspiring hymn for patriots to sing.  Personally, I’ve enjoyed hearing, playing, and singing this song for most of my life.  But recently I began to wonder: does “America, the Beautiful” have anything to say about theology?  To answer this question, I looked a little closer at the text, and in particular, the last stanza:

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

The lofty poetry of this stanza might veil its meaning a little.  To simplify, the singer praises a patriotic dream.  It is a dream for the future in which “alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears.”  Which cities are these?  Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think we can draw no other conclusion than that they refer to America itself!

For my part, I think this line sounds uncomfortably similar to Revelation’s descriptions of the New Jerusalem—“the holy city Jerusalem…having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel” (21:10, 11), and “he will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (21:4).  How does it strike you?

As a disclaimer, I’m aware of the two-kingdoms debate that has been yanking at our churches for the past few years, and I’m not about to get into its technicalities here.  But regardless of how one views the relationship between the church and the world, I think we would all agree that there is no equivalency between the United States of America and the New Jerusalem.  Truly this nation has been blessed by God in many ways, and it is not improper for us to pray, “God shed His grace on thee”—but how can we affirm that our heavenly home is tied to no earthly country, yet sing a song that flatly contradicts this view?

It’s not been easy, but this evaluation has forced me to take a second look at many of the familiar patriotic songs we sing.  Sadly, I have to conclude that many of them, like “America, the Beautiful,” come up lacking.

Interestingly, this hymn’s glorious tune, MATERNA, precedes the text by 11 years (Katherine Lee Bates wrote the words in 1893 and 1904).  I’m not sure when this text and tune were paired together.  In any case, I certainly wasn’t expecting to find MATERNA in the 1912 Psalter, to the words of Psalm 46.  First I was struck by how perfectly the lyrics and music blended; then I began to examine the connection a little more closely.

Psalm 46 begins with the powerful words, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”  Already I could hear echoes of the first stanza of “America, the Beautiful”—the purple mountain majesties, the sea and shining sea.

Further on, the psalm makes reference to a city, but a very different city than the ones mentioned in the patriotic song.  This is no ordinary place; it is “the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.”  The psalmist declares, “God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.”

What comes next in Psalm 46 almost seems like a direct rebuttal of the misguided hopes of “America, the Beautiful.”  The nations rage, the kingdoms totter, but when God utters his voice, the whole earth melts.  To dispel any doubts about the origin of his confidence, the psalmist says, “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”  This mighty King “makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire.”  Then we hear his mighty declaration to the nations:

Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!

Finally, the psalmist repeats his refrain once more: “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”  What better answer could there be to the words of “America, the Beautiful”?

“Debunking” favorite hymns is an unpleasant and risky practice, and all too often I find my opinions too strong and my wisdom too weak.  Nevertheless, I humbly submit these thoughts to you for your consideration.  Does the mere familiarity or popularity of a hymn justify its use in our churches, regardless of whether its contents are true?  May we ever be careful to match our singing with our doctrine!

Of course, a “Featured Recording” post wouldn’t be complete without a featured recording.  Thus, I simply present to you this beautiful men’s choir arrangement of 1912 Psalter number 126, based on Psalm 46, and sung to this tune: “God Is Our Refuge and Our Strength.”  This glorious psalm setting makes it a little bit easier not to miss singing “America, the Beautiful.”


(Click here for last week’s Featured Recording)

Works of Power and Grace: The Further Reformation

The Christian Reformed ChurchAfter a regrettably long break, we finally have opportunity once again to return to our discussion of Henry Beets’s history of The Christian Reformed Church.  To be honest, the first chapter of this work was probably the most difficult to include due to its historical focus and broad scope.  As we consider Chapter 2 today, I look forward to unearthing some more interesting points for application and discussion.

In order to explain the denominational name “Christian Reformed,” Beets turns his attention to the more specific history of the Reformed church in the Netherlands.  I’ll include a very high-level overview of each section of Chapter 2 to save space for the best quotes and thoughts.

Section 1.

Lutheranism was the first form of Protestantism to influence the Netherlands, followed by a wave of Anabaptism, and then Calvinism, “stronger and more lasting.”

Section 2.

One of the most significant heralds of the Reformed faith was Peter Dathenus (born 1531), who translated the Heidelberg Catechism and the Genevan Psalter into Dutch.  Guido de Bres (1522-1567) was another “able minister of the New Testament” who composed the Belgic Confession and eventually “sealed his testimony with his own blood.”  Under the reign of William of Orange, the Reformed Church of the Netherlands became the official church of the land.

Section 3.

However, the public acceptance of Calvinism soon proved to be a mixed blessing, for it is claimed that only one tenth of all Netherlanders were genuine Calvinists.  “And among these enrolled as ‘Reformed’ not all were sound in doctrine, much less godly in life.”  Beets says,

In the course of time civil authorities interfered time and again in the exercise of Christian discipline over the doctrine and life of professors, preachers, and prominent church members.  Nor was the walk of thousands of the people above reproach.  Conformity to the world began to make fearful inroads.  The churches were crowded with nominal professors.  Gradually unsound, unreformed voices were heard in cathedrals and pulpits.

As this unsoundness continued to eat away at the church, the National Synod of Dordrecht was convened in 1618-19.  This historic international assembly arranged for the translation of the Bible, adopted the Canons containing the five points of Calvinism, prepared a Church Order, and revised and officially adopted the Heidelberg Catechism and Belgic Confession.

Section 4.

Here is one of Beets’s most insightful comments in the entirety of Chapter 2, though it may not have originated with him:

It has been observed that religious movements usually pass through four cycles: those of construction, of systematization, of corruption, and of restoration.  We saw this worked out in our first chapter.  It went that way in America as we shall see later.  It also marked the course of events in the Netherlands, and the last two of the four cycles named account for the origin as well as the name of our denomination as we shall see presently.

In other words, Beets points out that the waxing and waning of the church is a normal phenomenon, though not a particularly desirable one.  We’ll return to this point later as it concerns the United Reformed Churches in North America.

Section 5.

In 1816, King William I abolished the old form of church government and erected instead a “collegialistic body” subject to governmental authority.  “In vain did the Classis of Amsterdam protest against this high-handed procedure—this Caesaropapism, a term expressive of the theory that the civil government has supreme authority over church affairs.  The Classis was silenced and declared disbanded.”

Another grave change came via the Form of Subscription which pastors and elders had signed since the Synod of Dort.  “The pastors were no longer to set their hand to it that they were to preach Reformed truth ‘because’ (quia) it was conformable to the Word of God, but ‘in so far as’ (quatenus) it agreed with it.…Very soon men arose who publicly denounced the Catechism, who pictured the old Forms of the Liturgy as ‘miserable,’ and who petitioned the king for a smashing of the ‘chains’ of Dordrecht.…Doctrinal corruption, the third cycle above referred to, reached its highwater mark, as other evils had done before, at the close of the Middle Ages.”

Here it ought to be noted that history repeats itself.  Just last year, in 2012, the Christian Reformed Church replaced this same Form of Subscription with a “Covenant for Officebearers”  which notably lacks a statement of Biblical inerrancy and contains provisos for church officers who disagree with the confessions.

Section 6.

However, as he has continued to do throughout history, the Lord preserved his Church through these trying times.  “A new Reformation was about to re-form what had become so sadly deformed in the Netherlands.”  Beets rattles off names like Bilderdijk, DaCosta, Count van Zuylen van Nyevelt, and Vijgeboom as forerunners of this “Further Reformation.”  But he says “the real ‘Reformers’ whose stand was decisive and whose action bore lasting fruit, were the Revs. H. De Cock, Gezelle Meerburg, and the candidate A. C. Van Raalte.”  These names will appear frequently as we progress through the history of the Christian Reformed Church.

Section 7.
Rev. Henrik De Cock, 1841-1842, and the Ulrum, Groningen, Church building

Rev. Henrik De Cock, 1841-1842, and the Ulrum, Groningen, Church building

As Hendrik De Cock, born in 1801, began to read Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion and some other writings of his Reformed predecessors, he was led to forsake the liberalistic views of his mother church and instead “to preach the Word in accordance with the Calvinistic Standards of the Church.  He published various books in defense of the old, but almost forgotten, truths of the Reformed Confession.”

Beets is not entirely supportive of De Cock’s position, noting (pay attention, musical readers!) that he endorsed “a violent and unfair attack on the hymns of his Church” and transgressed certain rules and regulations, leading to his eventual censure and suspension.  Until this time the Dutch Reformed churches had generally practiced exclusive psalmody, but a wave of doctrinally unsound hymns had swept across the denomination along with the other liberalizing trends.  Perhaps De Cock overreacted, but it is clear that his sincere desire was simply to bring the Church back into conformity with Biblical doctrine and worship according to the Calvinistic tradition.

The result of De Cock’s deposition was that on October 13, 1834, “after prayer offered while all were on their knees,” this minister, his consistory, and most of his congregation signed an Act of Secession and Return to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of their forefathers.

The Act expressed a desire to unite with other bodies founded on the Word of God, wherever found, and stated the purpose to abide by the Word of God, the Standards of the Reformed Church, and the Church Order of [Dort].  De Cock’s purpose was not disruption, but reformation.  He expressed it more than once: ‘We have not seceded from the true Reformed Church, nor from the true Reformed’; ‘we separate only from the synodical Church until it returns to the ways of the fathers which it has forsaken, and to the most holy faith which it has denied.’

Once again, the parallels between the Seceders’ split from the Dutch Reformed Church and the URCNA’s secession from the CRC are all too clear.

Beets lists some of the signatures of the document, pointing out that many of the family names have survived right up until the current day in our churches: Batema, Beerema, Berghuis, Blaak, Boerema, Bronkema, Danhof, Hommes, Hulshof, Japenga, Kamp, Klaassen, Kniphuizen, Koster, Kuipenga, Kuizema, Luinenga, Nienhuis, Poelman, Prins, Rillema, Rosema, Schur, Slotema, Telma, Tuinenga, Vander Borg, Van Zwol, Veltkamp, Veltman, Wierenga, Winters, Wouters, and Zaagman.  This would make a fun project for the genealogically-minded!

The second leader of the Secession was Rev. H. P. Scholte.  He and his followers “also signed an Act of Secession, and during the next decade he played a leading role, until estrangement between him and De Cock and others, on personal and doctrinal, and particularly church governmental questions, led to his suspension.”  Other Secession leaders were Revs. A. Brummelkamp, A. C. Van Raalte, and S. Van Velzen.

Section 8.

Here Beets rather cumbersomely wraps up his summary of the Dutch Further Reformation.  Basically, he says that the activity of these Secessionists brought about the organization of what became the Christian Reformed Church in the Netherlands, which would cross the Atlantic and give birth to the denomination of the same name in America.  In conclusion, he says:

This is clear: the objectives of the Seceders, even though not always clearly expressed, were that the old Church might be rejuvenated and the impure purified, and a return to the standard set up by the Church of the Apostles.  In other words, the sole aim was to restore and maintain the great marks of the Church of Christ: the sound preaching and teaching of the Word, the proper administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of Christian discipline.

Thoughts for Discussion

For DiscussionThe most significant point of application I gained from this chapter was that our situation in the URCNA is far from unique.  There have been splits, schisms, and secessions in the church since the very beginning.  Even the apostle Paul explained to the believers in Corinth, in no uncertain terms, that “there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized” (I Cor. 11:19).  This is not a new phenomenon but a normal, and dare I say, a necessary part of the history of the church.  In fact, I believe we ought to be suspicious as soon as our churches begin to grow without bound in size and popularity.  Woe to us when we are universally loved and accepted even by unbelievers!  Rather, we ought to look for and strive after congregations, no matter how small or weak, that exhibit the marks of the true Church, as Beets has noted.

Although this realization ought to reassure us as we look back on our own complicated interactions with the Christian Reformed Church, it also ought to serve as a grave warning for us here in the United Reformed Churches in North America.  Where construction and systematization are well under way, as Beets has related, the potential for corruption and deformation also lurks.  I have no illusions that our federation will be immune to the same conflicts and troubles that plagued the Dutch Reformed Church, the Christian Reformed Church, or the true Church at any period in history.  May we ever be on guard for the signs of this decay, and may God raise up faithful men, as he did in the past, to oppose it.  Ultimately, however, regardless of our denominational status, we can rest in the comfort that Christ is the cornerstone of his Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it!


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