Christian Reformed Church

Intro

The Reformed churches are a group of Christian Protestant denominations.  Commitment to teaching the original Calvinism usually continues to be reflected in their official definitions of doctrine, but in some cases is no longer necessarily typical of these churches.

History and Development

The Christian Reformed Church has its roots in the Reformation of the sixteenth century. Historically, they came from the Netherlands.  In 1517 the Protestant Reformation divided the Western (or Roman) church into several new branches. The Reformed churches flourished in the Netherlands. In the middle 1800s, some of these Dutch Reformed people moved to the United States, and in 1857 they started the Christian Reformed Church in North America.

What sets the Christian Reformed Church apart from many other denominations is its embracement of key teachings of John Calvin. John Calvin’s teachings blossomed in many countries, including the Netherlands. While much of the Netherlands remained Roman Catholic, the Reformed faith established itself as the state church. Politics and the reformation movement had some frictions. The Reformed Church in the Netherlands began to show its share of moral decay and of theological liberalism - the latter largely spurred on by the Enlightenment, an intellectual movement that idolised human reason.

In response to this trend, a grassroots movement developed among the less-educated masses who stuck to traditional Calvinist doctrines. Because the churches did not nurture such faith, those who joined this movement worshiped in small groups called “conventicles.” When the Reformed Church began to actively persecute the leaders of this movement, a number of groups, under the leadership of Rev. Hendrik de Cock and others, seceded from the church. This branch of Dutch Calvinism ultimately gave rise to the Christian Reformed Church.

The harsh conditions in the fledgling “colony” convinced Van Raalte to seek help from the Dutch Reformed Church. That church had been introduced to American soil over a century before, when Dutch Reformed merchants accompanying Peter Stuyvesant settled in New York, then called New Amsterdam. That line of communication between Van Raalte’s Michigan churches and the Dutch Reformed congregations of New Jersey soon blossomed into a full-fledged merger.

The stream of Dutch immigrants into the Christian Reformed Church increased dramatically in the latter part of the nineteenth century. These new arrivals shared a commitment to the Reformed creeds and confessions, but they introduced a very different vision. Their views were shaped largely by the Dutch theologian and statesman, Dr. Abraham Kuyper. Kuyper led a movement out of the Reformed Church that joined the seceders. While still solidly grounded in Scripture and the confessions, Kuyper’s vision was to claim Christ’s lordship over all of life. Believers were not only called to maintain holy lives in relation to God and each other, they were also called to extend God’s kingdom into the society in which they lived. The new vision that began to live among Christian Reformed Church’s members spurred the movement to engage in the wider world.

The Second World War served to Americanize the Christian Reformed Church even further. But it also had the effect of spurring a new immigration of Dutch Calvinists - this time mostly to Canada. While Christian Reformed Church churches had been planted decades earlier in places like Nobleford and Edmonton, Alberta, new churches sprang up overnight in Alberta, Ontario, Manitoba, and British Columbia. The large immigration of Dutch Calvinists to Canada in the early 1950s brought some significant culture clashes into the Christian Reformed Church. While the Dutch Canadians shared a commitment to the Reformed confessions, some beliefs differed from their American cousins.

Doctrines

The faith is centred in Christ. The final authority in the Reformed faith is Holy Scripture, the living Word of God, which they believe is spoken to everyone through the Holy Spirit of God.

The following confessions and creeds are statements of Reformed beliefs:

• Three historic documents - the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort
• Three historic creeds - the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed

Christian Reformed Church Today

The changes in values, lifestyles, and social interactions that happened in the 1960s profoundly affected the Christian Reformed Church. While the Christian Reformed Church never overtly held racist teachings, members debated long and hard over the ways the church should combat racism - if at all. Even among Kuyperians, there was strong disagreement over the extent to which the institutional church should become involved in significant social issues.

The role of women in church leadership also became a hotly contested conflict during the sixties. Changing roles for women in the larger society forced the Christian Reformed Church to ask whether women should be allowed to serve in ecclesiastical office.

A decision was made that allows individual churches to ordain women as elders and classes (if they so choose) and to allow their constituent congregations to ordain women as ministers of the Word as well. That decision spurred the departure of more than forty thousand members from the Christian Reformed Church.

 

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