*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 8th of April 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Today, I will tell you the story of the birth of an American Christian denomination. These stories are, unfortunately, legions amongst Protestants. Perhaps when schism becomes the model for resolving issues, we shouldn’t be too surprised that schism begets schism. Let’s tell a story and see what redeeming or instructive elements we can find.
On the 8th of April in 1857, about 750 Christians across 4 Dutch Reformed Churches in Michigan formally seceded from the Dutch Reformed Church in America to form the Christian Reformed Church- one of the storied Christian and Reformed denominations in American history.
Consider this small secession church will found Calvin College in Grand Rapids- and a few members, well… you might know the names- like Eerdmans, Zondervan, and Baker. Go to any Christian bookstore- look at the big publishing house names and see why this group of Reformed Christians has impacted the American church.
In the 1800s, following standard migration patterns from Europe, many Dutch immigrants made their way to the midwest. Many were fleeing what they perceived was a loosening of theological and moral standards back home. The 19th century saw a perceived secularization of the state Reformed church- and so many left to form a more perfect ecclesiastical body in the New World.
Many of these immigrants united with the established Dutch Reformed Church that had been established since the first Dutch immigrants came to the east coast in the 1600s.
(The “Dutch” Reformed would soon become known as the Reformed Church in America- the “Dutch” as in Netherlandish or “Dutch” as in Deutsch or German got too confusing in the midwest where all the Dutch and Deutsch were congregating).
The first name of this small church body was the “True Holland Reformed Church.” One church, known as “Second Reformed,” in Grand Rapids split and renamed itself “First Reformed.”
The issues were the use of hymns in the old church- the new CRC would subscribe to exclusive psalmody with accompaniment. The new CRC would hold to “closed communion,” requiring doctrinal agreement on the Lord’s Supper before Christians could celebrate it together; they were critical of Freemasonry and condemned the older church for allowing its members also to be Masons.
So - follow me. This is is the CRC breaking from the RCA. But soon, the Protestant Reformed Churches or PRC would break from the CRC. There would be Free Reformed Churches breaking from the CRC, and late last century, the United Reformed Church split from the Christian Reformed Church as the URC saw the CRC as far too liberal.
So… what does this all mean? Perhaps Schism begets schism. Maybe how you leave a body to join a new body might presage how you might leave that new body in the future.
Full disclosure: I’ve been a member of a mainline Lutheran and the mainline Presbyterian church, a smaller conservative Lutheran denomination, and a smaller Presbyterian denomination. I’ve left churches and seen others leave. And while we might laugh at some of the antiquated reasons for schism- try to understand the issue at hand as really, really important.
I’ll admit that breaking up a family of believers over one's position on Freemasonry seems silly (and yes, I know the reasons- they are not crucial to me, now.) My own church experience has never seen strife over psalms vs. hymns, but I have seen churches split over the place of a synthesizer (something likely laughable in 100 years).
My point is to understand the issues that split a church to be deeply personal and theologically charged. I’m not saying not to make a judgment: some schisms are for dumb reasons. But remember the people involved in that context. Maybe see how the split begets splits and do what you will… I’m just the storyteller.
Today we remember a momentous split in the history of the Dutch American Calvinist church bodies when the Christian Reformed Church broke from the Dutch Reformed Church on this the 8th of April in 1857.
The Last Word for today comes from the daily lectionary in the lead up to Palm Sunday- Isaiah 54:
This is like the days of Noah to me:
Just as I swore that the waters of Noah
would never again go over the earth,
so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you and will not rebuke you.
For the mountains may depart
and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 8th of April 2022, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose favorite Dutch things include Dutch chocolate, Double Dutch jump rope, and splitting the bill on a date. He is Christoper Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a direct descendant of the founder of the Dutch Reformed Church in Brooklyn in 1664. I’m Dan van Voorhis
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.