Posts Tagged 'Books'



The “Not Yet” of the Psalms

The concluding verses of Psalm 72, sung to the rousing African tune SIYAHAMBA, are a favorite doxology in the congregation I attend at college. This royal psalm describes the blessings all the nations will enjoy as a result of the Messiah’s kingship:

May he live, and gold from Sheba’s realm
Then be given as a gift to him.
May the people always pray for him,
May they bless his name throughout the day.
In all regions—and upon the hilltops—
O may there be abundant crops of grain!
Being fruitful—Lebanon with cedars—
O may the city thrive like grassy fields!

The Book of Psalms for Worship, selection 72E

As joyous as it is to sing about the bounteous results of Christ’s reign, Psalm 72 often leaves me confused. I understand that its original context is probably a prayer of David or Solomon for Solomon’s kingship, as evidenced by the inscription and v. 20. But many of the blessings invoked in Psalm 72 clearly transcend an individual or even a national focus: “May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth!” “May people be blessed in him, all nations call him blessed!” (vv. 8, 17 ESV). Such prayers seem to look forward to the coming of a Messiah whose worldwide reign will bring ultimate peace and prosperity. We Christians confess that the Messiah has come and has begun his reign—and yet the blessings of Psalm 72 seem to remain unfulfilled.

Will there come a day on this earth when all nations acknowledge Christ as King? Will we see a time when “the righteous flourish, and peace abound[s], till the moon be no more” (v. 7)? If so, why do the circumstances of the world seem to be growing worse rather than better?

Jesus on Every Page by David MurrayLately I’ve been reading David Murray’s recent book Jesus on Every Page: Ten Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament. His chapter on the Psalms and the Song of Solomon, entitled “Christ’s Poets,” held a groundbreaking insight for my understanding of such passages.

Dr. Murray asks some questions that cut to the heart of our understanding of the psalms: “[D]id the original composers and singers understand what we can with the benefit of New Testament hindsight? Did they see the Messiah in the Psalms to the extent that the New Testament writers did?” He answers that while Old Testament believers could not enjoy the “extraordinary light” we have been granted as a result of Jesus’ death and resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, they did trust in a future Messiah, and they knew his message of salvation would be much clearer to future generations. Yes, Dr. Murray would say, Psalm 72 was written with the person and work of Jesus Christ as its preeminent focus.

But what Dr. Murray said next instantly clarified my confusion concerning Psalm 72:

In some ways, we are in a similar position to these first psalm singers when we think ahead to the second coming of Jesus. Many passages in the Old and New Testaments—including the Psalms—predict Jesus’ coming again in great glory to end this world and create a new environment for a renewed people. But while we get the overall outline of what lies ahead, only when these events unfold in detail will we fully understand these scriptures. In the meantime, we look ahead with optimistic faith and sing psalms such as Psalm 72 and 98 with the same inquiring faith that the Old Testament prophets also experienced with reference to the first coming of Jesus [I Peter 1:10-12].

In other words, we may not fully understand all the promises of Psalm 72 and other forward-looking scriptures. But that’s okay. Although Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection, and ascension perfectly fulfilled the messianic promises of the Old Testament, the final consummation of his kingdom according to the Bible’s prophecies is yet to come. The author of Hebrews explains this distinction wonderfully in reference to Psalm 8: “At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9).

So it’s okay for the promises of Psalm 72 to puzzle us. It’s all right to wonder how God will bring about the consummation of the Messiah’s kingdom. As humble, awed worshippers, we need not doubt; rather, we can look forward to the certain fulfillment of this and every other unclear passage. And when we sing, “May his name endure forevermore; may it grow as under shining sun,” we can do so not only in praise but also in anticipatory excitement. Nothing can stop the fact that Jesus is coming again!

–MRK

–quotes from Jesus on Every Page are from pp. 190, 191

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Works of Power and Grace: Keeping the Banner Aloft

The Christian Reformed ChurchA handful of Reformed churches make the difficult decision to break away from their parent denomination.  Troubled at the trends of increasing liberalism and waning orthodoxy among their fellow churches, they at length determine that their only option is to form a new body with the express purpose of remaining faithful to the Bible, the creeds, and the confessions.

In many ways it is an exciting time for this new little group.  They have the chance to root themselves firmly in the historic Reformed faith, to spread their branches into a functional and God-glorifying federation of churches, to bear the fruits of Biblical preaching, sacraments, and discipline, and to sow the seeds for a whole new generation of faithful Christians.

But this period in the churches’ life is also filled with immense struggles, possibly the greatest they will face for decades.  It is what some have aptly called “the crisis of youth.”  Although the churches are united in their desire to remain faithful to Biblical orthodoxy, they differ in their origins, their ethnicities, their traditions, and even their theology.  Individuals with identities emerge who, intentionally or unintentionally, lead their followers in slightly different directions.  Debates develop and factions form over various aspects of doctrine, be they trivial or essential.  Being composed entirely of human beings, they are all too prone to sin and stumble.  But, striving to seek God’s will and to remain faithful to his Word, do they still comprise his church?  Absolutely.

Dr. Henry Beets

Dr. Henry Beets

The scenario I’ve just related is, of course, an historical one.  You may already have in mind the founding of the United Reformed Churches in North America in the 1990s, and their life and growth over these past 17 years.  However, the above account comes not from the history of the URCNA, but from a mildewy old hardcover entitled The Christian Reformed Church by Dr. Henry Beets.  Those words represent Beets’s summarized account of the founding of the CRC in 1857.  It is to Chapter 6 of his insightful work that we turn today.

There, in 1857, stood the little group of churches—four of them, in fact, with only two ministers.  In a few years there were only two churches and one minister.  It would take many years for the Christian Reformed Church to build enough of a presence even to form a denomination proper.  Along the way there were a host of impeding factors, some of which Beets comments on here.

Enough Dutch stereotypes have permeated our communications here in the URCNA that we probably fail to realize the significant cultural and psychological differences even between Dutchmen in those early days.  Beets points to three ethnic sub-groups in the first CRC congregations: “Friesians, Saxons, and Franks—considerably differentiated physically and psychologically.  As a result, the people of the provinces of the Netherlands differ among themselves as to several characteristics.  People speak of the Friesians as predominantly intellectual, of the Groningen folk (of Saxon origin) as practical, sober-minded, realistic; of the Drenths as conservative; of the Hollanders on the whole as phlegmatic, and of the Zeelanders as inclined to mysticism.”

Also, due to the history of the Secession in the Netherlands, the religious training the CRC’s early ministers had received varied considerably.  Many early leaders looked to one or another individual as their guide and role model, to the united churches’ detriment.  Theological understanding differed with regard to baptism, the covenant of grace, and “second holidays” (celebrating for two days Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost).  Beets says, “Add to this divergent opinion about fire and life insurance, vaccination, and, last but not least, the difference between ‘passive’ and ‘active’ attitudes as to religious life.  Closely related to this last fact was the distinction between experiential or subjective, and more doctrinal and objective preaching.  It took time to create at least something of an amalgamation of the aforementioned elements, forbearance in love on these issues, and of the presentation of a united front to move forward.”

What about education?  “The older element as a rule, strangers to the struggle for the Christian school in Holland, were quite content with public education here, since it had, as in the Netherlands of yore, at least a Christian veneer.  The element coming in later years clamored for a positively Christian school.  Time and again this led to alienation of affections and to occasional clashes.”  Varying political affiliations and ongoing financial struggles were two more causes of lamentable disunity.  Considering all of these factors, Beets comments:

In the face of all these things, it is amazing to find the small group, whose fortunes we describe here, able to keep up its own church establishment, to keep the banner they had raised floating in the breeze, to march ahead in several respects, and try to realize the early ideals.

The survival of the church is amazing, yes—but the work of our Lord is amazing too.

Gysbert HaanBeets moves on to describe some of the early leaders of the CRC who, at the risk of alienating themselves from their family and fellow churchmen, stood for the truth and upheld the orthodox Reformed faith.  Among these was elder Gysbert Haan of Grand Rapids.  “Slender, muscular, clean shaven, his hair whitened already early in life, with piercing eyes, with strong convictions and iron will power, an able debater, in calmness possessing his soul.  He was well posted on questions of church government and theology and was a born leader.”  Haan fought vigilantly against the advances of Arminianism as set forth in Baxter’s Call, a work that was strongly defended by two church leaders who later confessed that they had not even thoroughly read the book.  Beets praises him with all his faults as “one of our men of the hour.  There would, humanly speaking, have been no Return in 1857 to the standpoint left in 1849, without Gysbert Haan.”  Other important leaders included elders H. Dam and Y. Ulberg of Vriesland, J. Spykerman and P. Vanden Bosch of Noordeloos, J. F. Van Anrooy and A. Krabshuis of Graafschap, and A. Nysse of Grand Haven.

The young Christian Reformed Church was troubled both by ridicule and condemnation from the outside (even being termed “the vilest district of modern Babylon” by Rev. Scholte of Pella), and disagreements and quarreling from within.

At one time, 1863, in a moment of crisis, there was talk of discontinuance as a separate group.  Merging with Old School Presbyterians was proposed by one leader.  Then Johannes Groen of Vriesland was stirred up and delivered a speech that saved the day.

Through it all, however, the CRC survived, and grew, and thrived, as Beets emphasizes, “to the praise of God alone…The banner was not only kept aloft, but carried forward.”  By 1880 the denomination comprised four classes (Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, and Hudson), with a total of 12,001 souls.  Yes, though with a scornful wonder men saw her sore oppressed, the Christian Reformed Church was richly blessed by God even in those first hard twenty years.

Now, what of this narrative’s application to us today in the United Reformed Churches in North America?  The parallels are striking.  Both of our federations began as a relatively small group of churches seeking to remain faithful to God’s Word and the Reformed faith.  The CRC was 13 years old in 1880, the end of the period Beets describes here; our federation is about 17.

Many of the specific challenges we face have remained the same as well.  Although the URCNA has not made multi-ethnicity a hobby horse, as it has recently become in the CRC, one can still occasionally see misunderstandings and disagreements between our churches of Dutch origin and more recent congregations, much as Beets describes.  There also seems to be a certain tension between some of the seminaries that supply our ministers.  Our pastors, elders, and congregations have slightly different theologies and varying opinions even on the non-essentials, and worship practices (with psalm-singing high on the list) differ from church to church.  Taken together, these obstacles can sometimes seem insurmountable.  I’ll admit, lately I’ve experienced moments of despair about our weak collection of churches as well.

But there is an extremely important lesson to be learned from the story of the Christian Reformed Church’s founding, and woe to us if we ever forget it: The Lord builds his Church—not men, not consistories, not synods, not seminaries.  In fact, the Lord builds his Church using even foolish, quarrelsome, and sinful humans like us, for the glory of his Name.  Yes, the CRC has wandered far from its original foundation, and (much as it pains me to say it) perhaps the URCNA will have followed the same path by its 150th birthday.  But that eventual possibility must never distract us our immediate mission: to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth, and remain steadfast on God’s Word.  And no matter what adversities come our way, we have these unshakable promises from the Lord to his Church:

Zion, on the holy hills,
God, thy Maker loves thee well;
All thy courts His presence fills,
He delights in thee to dwell.
Wondrous shall thy glory be,
City blest of God the Lord;
Nations shall be born in thee,
Unto life from death restored.

When the Lord the names shall write
Of thy sons, a countless throng,
God Most High will thee requite,
He Himself will make thee strong.
Then in song and joyful mirth
Shall thy ransomed sons agree,
Singing forth throughout the earth:
‘All my fountains are in thee.’

–MRK

Works of Power and Grace: The Reformation of 1857

The Christian Reformed ChurchThe October 15, 2012, issue of The Standard Bearer, a magazine of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America, bore a surprising title: “The Reformation of 1857.”  Of course most Christians are aware of the Protestant Reformation whose beginning we commemorate as October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the church door in Wittenberg.

There was indeed another reformation of sorts in 1857.  It transpired on a much smaller scale and in a much shorter timeframe.  But its key motivation was no different: the desire to return Christ’s church to a system of Biblical, confessional, God-glorifying worship.  And for many of us in the United Reformed Churches in North America, we owe the very existence of our congregations to it.

Henry Beets devotes the fifth chapter of his historical account, The Christian Reformed Church, to an explanation of this “Reformation of 1857.”  It’s a complicated story, and its ramifications have continued right up to the present day.  I’ll do my best to summarize Beets’s chapter here.

By the early 1800s, it is safe to say that the Dutch in the Netherlands were practically oblivious of the existence of their kinsmen who had settled in America in the preceding centuries.  Even the fact that Van Raalte and Brummelkamp’s letter to America was addressed “to the Believers in the United States” demonstrates their ignorance as to the existence or condition of the Reformed churches there.

By God’s providence, however, this letter made it into the hands of Rev. I. N. Wyckoff of Albany, New York, a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church (RCA), and he diligently spread the word about the Hollanders’ desire to immigrate and made preparations for their arrival.  It was he who fraternally sent on the immigrants to their new homes in Michigan and Iowa, as Beets related in his last chapter.

In June of 1849, Rev. Wyckoff (a fluent Dutch speaker) paid a visit to the settlement in Holland, Michigan, on behalf of the Board of Domestic Missions of the RCA.  The settlers there were certainly desirous to enter into ties of unity with the true Reformed church wherever it existed in the new continent, but they also expressed concerns about uniting with the Dutch Reformed Church (RCA).  Wyckoff himself recorded their reservations in his official report on the meeting:

At the classical meeting it was soon made known that the brethren were a little afraid of entering into ecclesiastical connection with us, although they believe in the union of brethren, and sigh for Christian sympathy and association.  They have so felt to the quick the galling chains of ecclesiastical domination, and have seen with sorrow how exact organization, according to human rules, leads to formality on the one hand, and to the oppression of tender conscience on the other, that they hardly know what to say.  I [Wyckoff] protested, of course, that it is furthest from our thought to bring them in bondage to men, or to exercise ecclesiastical tyranny over them.  And I stated that they would be perfectly free, at any time they found an ecclesiastical connection opposed to their religious prosperity and enjoyment, to bid us a fraternal adieu, and be by themselves again.

This qualification appeased the fears of the Michigan settlers, and they agreed to join the Dutch Reformed Church.  In 1850 the General Synod ratified their membership in the denomination as a distinct entity, the Classis of Holland, but—and this is where the misunderstanding began—the provision Rev. Wyckoff had promised to the colonists was apparently overlooked.

There was an ominous rumbling in this diplomatic fumble, but Classis Holland continued in the Dutch Reformed Church and attempted to learn more about the denomination it had just joined.

Soon, however, the rumbling began to grow louder.  An increasing number of settlers began to feel and express that they believed the decision to join the RCA had been a wrong one.  Why was this?  Beets explains (pay close attention!):

Charges were made, and to our mind substantiated, that the Reformed Church in the East was not displaying the ‘marks’ our fathers had attributed to the faithful Church.  These charges included specifically the neglect of preaching on such fundamental doctrines as election, and limited atonement; the practice of private baptisms and open communion; the toleration of Free Masons as members in good standing; the use of 800 hymns, crowding out the Psalter; neglect in Catechism preaching and teaching and family visiting, as required by the Church Order, was evident.

The dissenters presented their concerns by way of the proper avenues at consistorial and classical meetings, but for the most part, their arguments fell on deaf ears.  It would be but a small group that would withdraw from the Dutch Reformed Classis of Holland—a very small group.

Rev. K. Vanden Bosch

Rev. K. Vanden Bosch

On April 8, 1857, the Classis met in Zeeland, Michigan.  Only four consistories had sent in notices of withdrawal: the churches of Graafschap, Polkton, Noordeloos, and Grand Rapids.  And these four churches were served by only two pastors, the Revs. Koenraad Vanden Bosch and H. G. Klyn.  The seceding group held their first classical meeting shortly thereafter, “and ratified as their Standards, subject to the Word of God as supreme law, the Creed, Catechism and Canons of the Reformed Church of the Netherlands, its liturgy and Church Order.”  This was the official beginning of the group of churches that would come to be called the Christian Reformed Church.

Lest the founders of the CRC be condemned as divisive schismatics, Beets is careful to emphasize the purity of their motives.  In fact, their heartfelt desire was that their brothers and sisters in Classis Holland would share their convictions and reunite with them.  As the Graafschaap congregation expressed it, “Brethren, we rejoice that nearly the entire congregation again stands on the platform on which our fathers enjoyed so much joy.…O, we should rejoice still more if the King of the Church would persuade you that it is the duty of all.”

Although this is where Beets’s chapter ends, it ought to be noted that this confused union and division between the RCA and the CRC has complicated relations between the two denominations ever since.  Only recently have the RCA and CRC begun to seriously talk about reuniting, and this, I must conclude, is due more to the increasing liberalization of the CRC than to a desire to return to the orthodox Reformed faith on the part of the RCA.  It’s an intricate story, of which I’ve only barely scratched the surface.

Close parallels could also be drawn between the secession of 1857 and the secession of the 1990’s.  Like those four churches in Michigan, it was the desire of the founders of the URCNA to return to a confessional, Biblical, historic Reformed view of worship, doctrine, and life.  It is only with the profoundest sorrow that we can behold the liberalization of the broader church, as we say with the Graafschaap church of 1857, “[W]e rejoice that nearly the entire congregation again stands on the platform on which our fathers enjoyed so much joy.…O, we should rejoice still more if the King of the Church would persuade you that it is the duty of all.”

–MRK

Works of Power and Grace: Michigan and Iowa

The Christian Reformed ChurchBack in 1978, the Christian Reformed Church had ten classes, 205 congregations, and more than 90,000 members.  In the state of Michigan.  Alone.

I apologize that these statistics are 35 years out of date; despite its spiffy new website, the Christian Reformed Church doesn’t make its congregational statistics readily accessible today.  The latest Yearbook I own dates from 1978.  Still, you get the picture: the CRC has a huge base in Michigan.

Why is Grand Rapids the hub of the Dutch Reformed world, the center of gravity of the entire Christian Reformed denomination—and why does it remain a key location even today among the United Reformed Churches?  Dr. Henry Beets offers at least a rudimentary answer to this question in the fourth chapter of his book The Christian Reformed Church.  It is to this chapter that we turn today.

In the previous chapter Beets described the first wave of immigrants from the Netherlands to the United States, who were primarily responsible for the settlements in modern-day New York and New Jersey.  These Dutchmen established the denomination known as the Reformed Church in America, but they had little to do with the founding of the Christian Reformed Church.  That denomination would not be formed until the second wave of emigration from the Netherlands, which would begin in the 1840s.

Primarily worldly reasons motivated the first Dutchmen to settle in New Amsterdam, but what were the motives of the second group of settlers?  Beets says, “We take pride in saying that our forefathers can, through grace, stand the comparative test between the two waves in these respects with favorable outcome.”  Although there were certainly economic factors at work in nineteenth-century Holland (Beets refers to a “paralyzing depression” and “general economic unrest”), much of the reason for emigration stemmed from the oppression and discrimination suffered by those who had seceded from the state church of the Netherlands.  “Moreover, and that is another side of the matter, in the case of Scholte and some of his followers, emigration was promoted by a sense of disgust in their hearts, created by the constant bickerings among the brethren about all kinds of things, from contention about the dress of preachers, and ‘second holidays,’ up to weightier matters of baptism, church government, and the petitioning of the government for liberty of worship.”  Two of the principal advocates of emigration, Revs. Brummelkamp and Van Raalte, expressed two more objectives for coming to America: “to have their children enjoy education in Christian schools, and to have an active part in the propagation of God’s truth among the heathen.”

The Hollanders who were interested in emigration began making plans to travel to America in groups, rather than individually.  Van Raalte and a group of about fifty reached New York on November 17, 1846, and from there began a trek westward to Michigan, where they settled with the aid of some Reformed brothers already in the States.  Scholte and his followers began a colony in Iowa, which they called “Pella” after the name of a city to which the early Christians had escaped just before the fall of Jerusalem in A. D. 70.  Other settlements sprang up in Wisconsin, Indiana, New York, and New Jersey; but, says Beets, “we are particularly concerned in this history with the followers of the Rev. A. C. Van Raalte in western Michigan, because their life and particularly their actions pertaining to church matters determined much of the history here sketched.”  Even at this early date, Michigan was becoming a home base of sorts for the new group of Christians!

Trials plagued the Michigan settlers—there was a shortage of money, food, and shelter, and an abundance of mosquitoes, disease, and weakness—but they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distresses.  Beets says of these dedicated men and women in Michigan and Iowa that “they had left Holland after seeking prayerful guidance at God’s throne, with the purpose of making our country the permanent home of themselves and their posterity.”

In 1848 the local churches formed the “Classis of Holland,” which assembled, like our modern classes, twice a year, and whose ministers met quarterly for mutual edification.  By 1849 the combined membership of the churches included 928 communicant members.  The prospects were bright.  As Beets puts it:

Surely, it looked for a time as if our people in Michigan and other settlements with a Reformed stamp, in Wisconsin and Illinois, had before them a wonderful opportunity to build up a Christian community after Calvin’s model of Geneva, as their special contribution to America, to develop and apply the great principles of Calvinism so sorely needed and to some extent so sadly forgotten in our land, and of erecting in the course of time a ‘Calvin University,’ to have proclaimed in every domain of life, ‘Pro Rege’: for the King.

Chapter 5, the topic of our next discussion, addresses these issues: “How and why our pioneers flung their own banner to the breeze in 1857.  The story of the return, to be ‘by themselves’; the motives and ideals of the day.”  Won’t you join us then?

–MRK

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.

–MRK


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