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Robert P. Swierenga, "Burn the Wooden Shoes: Modernity and Division in the Christian Reformed Church in North America"


Paper Presented to the University of Stellenbosch Conference (South Africa), International Society for the Study of Reformed Communities, June 2000.


In the 1990s the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA), according to survey data, lost between 41,000 and 53,000 souls, or nearly 15 percent of the membership. From a high of 316,000 members in 1992, seven lean years followed. Instead of reaching the stated goal of "400,000 by 2000," the momentum swung in the opposite direction; the denominational Yearbook in 1999 tallied only 275,000 members.[1] This is less than three decades ago. The decline is actually greater, since hundreds of members departed prior to 1990, beginning with the first congregation to leave in 1960--the Christian Reformational Church of Wyoming, Michigan. The 1990s secession is far greater than the Protestant Reformed defection in 1924, which included only 1,300 souls, or a mere 1.2 percent of the membership. Indeed, the secession of the 1990s substantially exceeds the 10 percent of Classis Holland (Michigan) of the Reformed Church in America (RCA) who withdrew in 1857 to organize the CRCNA.[2]

United Reformed Church in North America

            Where have the ex-CRCNA members gone? Some two-thirds joined new independent Reformed churches, or to a lesser extent, they affiliated with established denominations--Orthodox Presbyterian (OPC), Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), Associate Reformed Presbyterian (ARP), Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS), Protestant Reformed (PRC), and the Canadian Reformed Church (CRC). The independent churches coalesced into four denominations or federations (reduced to three in 1999). The largest is the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA), formed in 1996 with 36 churches and 7,600 members, and boasting 73 congregations and 17,400 members at the end of 1999. The other three bodies are the Independent Reformed Churches (IRC), established in the early 1980s and in 1999 totaling 20 congregations and 3,500 members; the Orthodox Christian Reformed Church in North America (OCRCNA), a federated body formed in 1988 and in 1999 totaling 12 congregations and 1,400 members, mostly in Washington State and British Columbia; and the Christian Presbyterian Church (Korean), with 6,000 members (3,000 from the CRCNA) at its founding in 1993 under the leadership of Dr. John E. Kim.[3]

            The IRC congregations were loosely linked into three regional fellowships: the USA-based Alliance of Reformed Churches (1984), the Canadian-based Christian Reformed Alliance (1988), and the Lake Michigan Regional Fellowship (1993), which is essentially a classis within the IRC. The IRC began as an umbrella body for conservative churches within the CRCNA and later became the primary organization of the independent churches. Because most of these congregations have since 1995 affiliated with the United Reformed Churches, the Alliances disbanded in 1999, and its constituent body, the Lake Michigan Regional Fellowship (LMRF), has become an shadow of its former self. LMRF congregations maintain a formal tie with the URCNA, known as "ecclesiastical fellowship," which allows pulpit exchanges, mutual sharing in the Lord's Supper, and joint youth programs.

            The last holdout is the oldest body, the Orthodox Reformed federation, which the United Reformed has "urged to merge" since 1997. Doctrinally and liturgically there is little difference between them, but the Orthodox Church, like the LMRF, fears an ecclesiastical superstructure that may again "lord it over them." Their absolute commitment to a literal six-day creation is also a major stumbling block, because the URCNA allows for the days to be periods of time, despite the vociferous objections of some members.

            The United Reformed and Canadian Reformed federations have also entered into merger talks, with a suggested date for "full union" in 2004. The Canadian body was established in 1954 among "Liberated" immigrants who followed Kampen Seminary professor Klaas Schilder's Free Reformed Church split in 1944 from the GKN. Schilder raised doctrinal concerns but his broader purpose was to warn the GKN against modernist theology. The Canadian Reformed is today a 15,000-member denomination totaling 48 churches. These merger discussions resemble a courtship dance that will likely result in a union of all the seceded churches with Dutch roots, resulting in one powerful denomination of 150 congregations and 50,000 members. But the creation debate and differences over polity and personality conflicts could just as readily undermine these efforts. A church alliance built on a common enemy, rather than a common theology, is particularly vulnerable to splintering again.[4] 

            In addition to the 60 percent or more of ex-CRCNA members who opted for more traditional Reformed churches, perhaps 25 percent left the Reformed faith for Arminian churches--Baptist, Wesleyan Methodist, Assemblies of God, and non-denominational bodies. At the other end of the spectrum, some 10 percent transferred to mainline denominations, affiliated with mega-churches, or dropped out altogether. They were frustrated or disillusioned by the stubborn resistance of a minority within the CRCNA to slow the pace of acculturation, as evidenced in battles over the ordination of women, theistic evolution, the New Hermeneutic, feminine names for God, ecumenism, homosexualism, "worship wars," church growth programs, and other issues. For these progressives, a relational Christianity was more important than doctrinal principles. In any case, the slippage has been far greater on the "right" than on the "left," if one can so label the opposing "minds." But those departing had one thing in common; they burned the wooden shoes and jettisoned the Reformed creeds. Their Dutch Reformed roots seemingly had little meaning.

            The aim of the United and Orthodox Reformed churches is to stand confessionally in the biblical and Dutch Calvinist heritage. They cling to the truth handed down and defend it against the forces of modernism. They revere the Three Forms of Unity (Heidelberg Catechism, Canons of Dordt, and Belgic Confession) and the Form of Subscription for office-bearers; they value Dutch Reformed liturgy, hymnody, and psalmody; insist on catechetical training; and they strictly interpret their Dortian-based Church Order to ensure that the authority of the local church is not eroded by a denominational hierarchy.

            An unstated goal of many is to preserve churches that resemble the ethnically homogeneous CRCNA of the 1950s, when the motto, "In isolation is our strength," yet ruled the day. "The URC is in essence what the CRC used to be," declared a minister in the URC in 1998.[5] The new churches hold close ecclesiastical fellowship with the PCA, OPC, RCUS, and ARP denominations, but give no thought to merge with these American bodies. Weekly catechism preaching is the norm and congregations sing from the old standby, the "blue" Psalter Hymnal of the CRCNA, first introduced in 1959.[6] Indeed, the entire order of worship is familiar to anyone raised in the CRCNA, including the approved formularies in the back of the blue hymnal for the sacraments, ordination, etc. The seceders hark back confessionally to their Dutch roots in the Afscheiding of 1834, Kuyper's Doleantie of 1886, and Schilder's Free Church movement of 1944.

            To fill the pulpits with like-minded men, the United Reformed congregations turn primarily to the Mid-America Reformed Seminary in Dyer, Indiana (founded in 1982 and first located in northwest Iowa), and Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, California. The biweekly magazine, Christian Renewal, begun in 1982, serves as their newspaper, and the monthly periodical, The Outlook (successor to the Torch and Trumpet), is their tutor in doctrine and life.


Secession roots in generational change of 1945-1955

            It is the thesis of this paper that the seeds of secession in the CRCNA were planted at least fifty years ago.[7] After the Second World War this immigrant church experienced a generational change, both at the top, in the pulpits and denominational schools--Calvin College and Theological Seminary--and at the bottom, in the pews. The immediate cause was the return of the soldiers. Thousands of second and third generation Hollanders served with the American military forces in the far corners of the world, and more than twenty ministers in the CRCNA served as chaplains.[8]

            The experience changed many, and on their return they called for the church to open up to the American scene and become more culturally diverse and contemporary. "We ought to abhor a narrow isolationism as the very plague of death to our Church," declared George Stob. "Our people were afraid of America--afraid of the corrupting influences that might weaken our Reformed character and rob us of our heritage." It was time, added Harry Boer, to leave our Dutchness behind and become a truly "American church" by reaching out to all races and peoples. Chaplains like Stob and Boer, and indeed all the servicemen as well, were introduced to mainline American Christianity and cultural diversity in the military chapels, as were the new breed of campus pastors who the CRCNA Home Mission board began putting on college and university campuses in 1941.[9] Leonard Verduin at the University of Michigan was the first of these men. The war thus dealt a blow to the church's ethnic and doctrinal isolation and weakened its homogeneity.

            In fact, in 1946 the total of members transferring to other denominations jumped by 40 percent and the totals continued to climb until 1951. A surprisingly large 10,000 members transferred out of the CRCNA during the decade of the 1940s, mostly after 1945. The losses were particularly heavy in Grand Rapids, Holland, and Chicago. Most likely joined mainline churches or perhaps the RCA.[10]

            Some veterans enrolled on the GI Bill in Calvin College and Seminary, the denominational school, and pushed their ideas that the CRCNA "should move out of its status as a sheltered enclave and become more open to new ideas and attitudes." Chaplains who entered the parish ministry or took up teaching posts at Calvin College and Seminary echoed the same themes. Many other vets, such as former chaplain, Henry Van Til, arrived on campus with equally strong opposing convictions, believing that "in the world's turmoil and upheaval the Christian Reformed Church should hold fast to its principles and that any dilution of them would be perilous." This polarity in thinking caused some tensions on campus. So recalls Edward Heerema, one of these students who stood firmly on the stand-pat side. But the movers and shakers on the faculty and in the Plato Club of philosophers, had the best minds and they gained the upper hand.[11]

            A background factor in the generational shift was the sharply reduced influx of new immigrants since the 1890s, and the strong forces of Americanization that were unleashed during the First World War and its aftermath in the "roaring Twenties." The war virtually stopped all immigration, and when it resumed afterwards, the new U.S. immigration laws of 1921 and 1924 sharply curtailed it. The Netherlands quota was set in 1924 at only 1,648 per year. These developments cut off the strong immigration stream that had given birth to and sustained the CRCNA. This was the key factor in the turbulent transition from Dutch- to English-language worship services in most Christian Reformed congregations in the 1920s.

            The massive post World War II immigration of orthodox Calvinists to North America added a cultural dimension to these intergenerational tensions. The newcomers primarily settled in Canada, because of U.S. quota restrictions, but ministers, called "field agents," effectively marshaled them into the CRCNA. Between 1950 and 1960 the Canadian membership in the CRCNA grew by nearly 50,000. The immigrants renewed a flagging ethnoreligious identity among the second and third generation Reformed Dutch, although it was remarkably short-lived. In contrast to the slow assimilation of the nineteenth century immigrants, the postwar immigrants moved into the mainstream in one generation. These postwar Netherlanders had been changed by the war experience even more than the Americans. In church assemblies the Canadians in the last fifteen years have moved into the "driver's seat" in both the conservative and progressive camps of the CRCNA.[12]

            Students from north of the border had a major impact on the intellectual life of Calvin College and Seminary, reflecting the Afscheiding and Doleantie minds within the Gereformeerde Kerk Nederlands (GKN). The Canadian wing of the CRCNA introduced neo-Calvinist political thought and the human-centered, biblical hermeneutic of several theologians at the Free University of Amsterdam, the flagship school of the GKN, This body is rightfully considered the mother church of the CRCNA, and its influence remained strong for generations, until the two denominations had a parting of the ways in the 1990s. Daughter separated from mother because mother had become too open to theological heterodoxy, as evidenced finally by their full acceptance of practicing homosexuals. The GKN seemed to be deforming rather than reforming. The Canadian wing of the CRCNA, while generally open to change, also has a strongly orthodox contingent that led the secession movement of the 1990s.

            The year 1951 was a fateful one in the intellectual life of the CRC. Calvin President Henry Schultze announced his retirement and was succeeded by a young history professor and war veteran, William Spoelhof, who narrowly won out over Henry Stob, the faculty's first choice. That same year philosophy professor, Evan Runner, a graduate of Westminster Seminary and the Free University of Amsterdam (VU), and a disciple of the Dutch philosophers Herman Dooyeweerd and Dirk Vollenhoven, began lecturing at Calvin in his bombastic style to a cadre of ardent Kuyperians (styled the Groen Club) who came to sit under him. Runner had met Calvin alumni Henry Stob and Henry Van Til in Amsterdam at the VU and at the English Church, where all three Americans preached, and Stob brought Runner to Calvin. Further, H.J. Kuiper, the editor of the CRC denominational weekly, The Banner, in 1951 launched an anti-communist crusade against speech professor Lester De Koster for his supposed socialistic proclivities. Most serious of all, Calvin College became embroiled in the "Sacred Seven" controversy and the (largely unrelated) "Seminary Situation" came to a head.[13]

            The Sacred Seven were senior pre-seminary students at Calvin College who leveled serious charges against the faculty in 1951. They were frustrated and disturbed by the lectures of six professors in particular, which seemed to be "wholly inconsistent with and detrimental to the primary objective of Calvinistic Christianity.... Instead of remaining true to this lofty mandate," the students charged, "we fear that man is being enthroned at Calvin College, rather than God." Some professors, they said, were failing to integrate "God's General Revelation, with the Special Revelation of God in the Scriptures." The seven, who had the silent support of five cohorts who declined to sign the grievance document, unwittingly stirred up a hornet's nest throughout the denomination. Their protest was meant for internal self-examination, but it quickly circulated widely and became a rallying point for conservative critics of the college. The faculty rallied to the defense of their abused colleagues, and the board of trustees opened a formal inquiry, first grilling the students, but quickly turning to investigate the substance of the charges against the accused faculty, who labeled the move a "witch-hunt." In the end, after a year of heated meetings and committees, President Spoelhof deftly muted the controversy and it withered away. Subsequently, after many years as pastors in the CRCNA, five of the seven left the denomination over the women in office issue and other concerns. The protest was thus the first postwar salvo of the conservatives against the rising progressive tide in the CRCNA.[14]

            Soon the progressives and conservatives began squaring off in print via newly founded periodicals, the Reformed Journal (1951-1990) and the Torch and Trumpet (1951-1970), renamed Outlook in 1971. The latter was the mouthpiece of the Reformed Fellowship, and three of the Sacred Seven were frequent contributors. These sheets expressed the opposing "minds" of the church. The Journal rejected the "hardening and narrowing" it saw in the church and called for fresh ideas and an openness to new thinking. Four of its five editors were veterans; two having served as chaplains and one as a teacher in General Douglas McArthur's Religious Affairs Department in occupied Japan!

            Torch and Trumpet (nicknamed "TNT"), by contrast, called for a "militant Christianity" that guarded the "purity and doctrinal integrity of the Church." It would be "alert against dimming and diluting," like a "watchman on the walls of Zion," sounding the alarm against the dangers of apostasy and deformation. As editor Peter Y. De Jong opined: "Today the feeling is widespread that the Christian Reformed Church is passing through a period of spiritual declension," and "wide-awake elders" must rise to the challenge. Such thinking ensured that the entire decade of the 1950s would see a struggle over self-definition between the two camps.[15]

            The Seminary Situation involved a wholesale faculty shakeup in 1952, in which all but one of the seven professors were dismissed or forced to retire, and the one who stayed narrowly escaped being dismissed in favor of a reprimand. The cause was a complete breakdown in interpersonal relations, although theological differences exacerbated the problem. Indeed, the spark that set it off was a theological controversy involving God's immutability, raised by seminarian Raymond Opperwal in a sermon. The procedural process in dealing with the "heresy" charges against Opperwal eventually split the faculty. Four of those released were known as conservatives and two as progressives.[16]

            This was a watershed event for the school and the church at large. It brought an entirely new faculty in one fell swoop and provided the opportunity for the postwar generation who wanted the church to enter the American mainstream to supplant the old guard who held to the enclave mentality. The new appointees, particularly John Kromminga (church history) and Henry Stob (ethics and apologetics) soon became the dominant voices in the church for the next thirty years. R.B. Kuiper, who was named president, had just retired as professor at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, and his term was expectedly brief. Kuiper, a life-long, militant defender of the Reformed faith against heresy, stepped down in 1956 after only four years, and Kromminga succeeded him. Again Henry Stob finished in second place for a presidency. "I was," he admitted, "not the sort of man who could be expected to steer the seminary down quiet waters into safe harbors."[17]


The Progressive Agenda

            Henry Stob signaled with his pen that a new spirit had taken hold in the church. There was a theological stirring and fermentation not seen since the 1920s; the times were "vibrant, conclusive, moving, fruitful."[18] Immediately upon his appointment, Stob published a brief "Note to a College Freshman" in the Reformed Journal, in which he urged Calvin students to overlay the "Mind of Christ" on the broader "common" mind, the "human mind" of a liberal education. This "think-piece" brought an immediate response from the Torch and Trumpet editorial committee--Edward Heerema, John Piersma, and Henry Van Til. Very gingerly, the threesome chided Stob for down-playing the historic Reformed doctrine of the antithesis in favor a syncretistic, platonic philosophy.

            With Stob's reply, the exchange continued for another round, which gave the three clerics another opportunity to point out his tendency to "synthesize Christianity with a humanistic mode of thinking." Calvinists, rather, must not compromise with the "world." Stob, on the other hand, who had taken his doctorate at the modernist University of Göttingen, stressed the reach of God's common grace in the culture. He encouraged Reformed Christians to enter the American mainstream and participate freely with non-Christians in so-called neutral organizations, which, he said, are not anti-Christian but merely non-Christian. For his "slight piece" of wisdom to students, a one-page item in the Reformed Journal, the Seminary faculty, led by President R.B. Kuiper, recommended to the board of trustees not to reappoint Stob. The Reformed Fellowship, building on the complaints of the Sacred Seven, had drawn first blood. Stob knew that he was in the crosshairs of "people on the extreme Right whose mentor was Cornelius Van Til and chief spokesmen were H.J. and R.B. Kuiper." Stob refused to budge an inch in his broad view of common grace and general revelation, but after reaffirming his beliefs in a twelve-point credo, the board re-appointed him in 1953 after a year of uncertainty.[19]

            Stob continued his intellectual forays into the "mind of the church" in 1957, the celebrative centennial year of the CRCNA, in a series of articles in the Reformed Journal. He identified three minds or "governing perspectives" concerning the relationship of the church to the culture--a militant mind, a mind of safety, and a positive mind.[20] Needless to say, he rejected the conservative militants, which included a diverse group of renowned church statesmen--R.B. Kuiper, Cornelius Van Til of Westminster Seminary, H.J. Kuiper, and Clarence Bouma, among others, as well as younger militants like Henry Van Til, Calvin College professor of Bible, and cleric Peter De Jong.

            Heerema, R.B. Kuiper's son-in-law and a fellow militant, predictably rejected the positive mind as "much out of step with our special history," and a source of "confusion, uncertainty, and lack of clear-minded commitment to the faith we profess. . . . What has to be the result when such thinking influences the future preachers in their training and when such attitudes spread through the church?"[21] "Militancy is the price which a church must pay for its continuance as a true church," R.B. Kuiper thundered in reply to Stob. H.J. Kuiper declared just as stridently: "The Mind of Safety...is the fruit of a deep concern for the welfare of the Church through the retention of our rich spiritual heritage."[22]

The Infallibility Question

            Stob's ideas were only the beginning of the challenge to the prized orthodoxy of the CRCNA. Over the next decades came debates over the infallibility of the Bible and the extent of God's redemptive love, creation and evolution, election and reprobation, the ordination of women, homosexualism, and the authority of the Church Order. The reinterpretation of the doctrine of biblical infallibility began in 1958, when first-year seminarian Marvin Hoogland, editor of the student periodical Stromata, published a think-piece that argued for limiting the doctrine to matters of faith and conduct, but not to statements of natural science, grammar, and history. He cited a study of extant biblical manuscripts that found more than 200,000 variations in the text.[23]

            Hoogland's ruminations raised a storm of criticism and nearly prevented his licensure to preach. H.J. Kuiper spoke for many when he wrote, in obvious despair: "Of late we have become almost inured to shock by things written in certain periodicals that circulate especially in the Christian Reformed Church. But we were really shocked" at this. "What is happening to the Christian Reformed Church?" Synod chastised Hoogland for causing the church grief and dismay, but Professors Stob, Dekker, Carl Kromminga, Anthony Hoekema, and President John Kromminga raised the ante considerably by defending Hoogland's writings as "moving quite within the boundaries of the Creeds." John Kromminga wrote his own position paper for the Board of Trustees: "How Shall We Understand Infallibility?" noting that the Christian church had always struggled with the question of "what was believed to be infallible, and how far that infallibility extended." Minor errors in the old manuscripts were of little consequence. "I recognize and admit no errors, inaccuracies, contradictions, or other inadequacies of any sort in Scripture which affect its authority on this its message," Kromminga declared.[24]

            This seeming constricted view of infallibility prompted his Seminary colleague, Marten Wyngaarden, speaking for six colleagues, to write a protest to Synod 1959 against his president's reinterpretation of the Belgic Confession Articles III-V. Classical overtures against Kromminga also poured in to Synod from across North America. Now the conservatives had bigger fish to fry than a lowly seminarian. They got Synod to declare Kromminga's statement "weak" but could not pass a motion to censure his views, as Wyngaarden demanded, even though Synod reasserted the traditional position that the creeds allowed for no "actual historical inaccuracies" in any part of Scripture, due to copying mistakes or otherwise. R.B. Kuiper sounded a jeremiad: "If Calvin College and Seminary are to continue to serve the Christian Reformed Church as pillars, they will have to remain... bulwarks of orthodoxy." Otherwise, the church will lose its place as "one of the most orthodox churches on the face of the globe," and it will belie Billy Graham's characterization of it as a "sleeping giant." Since theology was at the center of life and practice in Reformed churches such as the CRCNA, Kuiper expected that declension would start at the top.[25]

            Kuiper was pleased to see the bulwarks of the CRCNA strengthened in 1959 by the accession of the churches belonging to the "De Wolf group" of the Protestant Reformed Church, and by the synodical affirmation of infallibility. But he worried that the rise of new urban church "plants" as a result of evangelism by the home missions board might throw denominational stability out of balance. His colleague, Christian Huissen, warned about slipping denominational loyalties among the new crop of Calvin Seminary graduates. He noted that since about 1955 a number of candidates in their examinations at Classis Sioux Center questioned the validity of the 1857 secession and doubted the right of the Christian Reformed Church to exist as a separate denomination. This thinking echoed that of two intellectual leaders, Lewis Smedes and James Daane. Smedes, Henry Stob's most prominent disciple, called for the church to mark its centenary by lamenting the "sins and mistakes of the past" and to undo the wrongs of 1857 by seeking reunification with the RCA. Daane agreed, and condemned any denominationalism that hindered the visible unity of the church. By 1983 Banner editor Kuyvenhoven declared: "We are coming closer not so much because we have sought one another, but because the stream of time happens to move us toward an inevitable meeting." Kuyvenhoven's timing was off, but reunification is increasingly likely as time passes.[26]

            No sooner did the infallibility question die down, and Harold Dekker, Seminary professor of missions and a former military chaplain, published an article in the Reformed Journal entitled, "God So Loved--All Men." In it Dekker stressed God's universal love at the expense of the cardinal Reformed tenet of limited atonement (the "L" of TULIP). Again torrents of printers' ink spilled out in the church periodicals, De Wachter, and The Banner, and Dekker's speculations were roundly condemned. The sudden deaths of Henry Van Til and H.J. Kuiper at this critical time weakened the militants by silencing their intellectual leaders.

            Synod ultimately "admonished" Dekker for the "ambiguous and abstract way in which he expressed himself on the love of God and the atonement," but it also turned away on technical grounds an overture of protest from the 3,000-member strong, Classis Orange City (northwest Iowa). After four years of synodical committee work, the "mountain (of reports, articles, and meetings), has given birth to a mouse," said Andrew Kuyvenhoven about the decision of Synod 1967. Thus, the professor, despite a "scent of protoliberalism," kept his honored position but under "the shadow of ambiguity." Synod's proclivity in dealing with the teachings of Dekker and Kromminga was to keep the peace at the expense of making definitive pronouncements. This mentality of unity at the expense of clarity set the pattern for all future cases and was a radical departure from the pre-1945 years when heads rolled.[27]

            The Dekker case, James Bratt noted in his masterful book, Dutch Calvinism in Modern America, was a signpost that the "Progressive" camp had triumphed. Dekker had reminded the church that God's love was boundless and sufficient to save everyone, and that the circle of the elect may be larger than thought possible. "The Confessionalist's dominance was now broken on the official level," Bratt concluded.[28]

            The new theological trends and the deaths of the "watchmen" unsettled both pulpit and pew. "Is the glory departing?" asked R.B. Kuiper. Christian Huissen summed up the future path of the church in four words: "Indifference, Stagnation, Bankruptcy, Apostasy." He was the first to use the "A" word in print. "In the passing of this man [H.J. Kuiper] and others of his generation we are witnessing the end of an era in the history of the Christian Reformed Church," intoned Huissen. James Daane agreed but rejoiced: "The winds of change are and have been blowing through the Christian Reformed churches.... We feel them in our faces and in our souls.... [The] old leadership is now dead or largely muted in retirement."[29]

            Peter Y. De Jong put his hope in "wide-awake elders" to step in and halt the "spiritual declension" in the church. "No church has ever reformed itself from the inside," declared Gordon Girod. "But perhaps if you men, you laymen,...[are] willing to fight--FIGHT THE CLERGY, FIGHT THE FACULTY, fight everybody--perhaps for the first time in history we'll see a church reformed from the inside." This is precisely what Henry W. Hoeksema and Nick Bierma of the Association of Christian Reformed Laymen set out to do in 1968. "Remember that apostasy begins in the pulpit," they declared, "not in the pew. Someone once said, 'A fish always begins to rot from the head.'"[30] The critics cited the pulpit, but really had in mind the professors' lecterns, under whose shadow the next generations of clerics sat.

            These years saw the first breakaway congregation, led unexpectedly by a convert from Roman Catholicism, the Rev. Vincent Licatesi, pastor of the Godwin Heights CRCNA of Wyoming, Michigan. Calvin College students in his congregation had reported on disturbing ideas they had picked up on campus, and he and the elders were equally distraught by several decisions of Classis Grand Rapids South. When church leaders seemingly brushed aside their concerns and Licatesi did not get the answers he wanted, he resigned in 1970 after 27 years of ministry in the CRCNA, thus forfeiting his denominational pension. "I want no schism!" he declared to his congregation by letter. "I want to leave quietly and peacefully! I have fought to the point of seeing that there is no use fighting within the framework of Consistory, Classis, and Synod. The Ecclesiastical process is not working as some say it is working. Our church is going 'down' at such a rate of speed that there is no stopping her any more!... I am convinced," he continued in his resignation letter to the Godwin Heights congregation, that the CRCNA "has departed from the truth and harbors heresy and worldliness as well as confirmed liberals!" The Godwin Heights consistory reluctantly acquiesced and released their beloved pastor from his charge.[31]

            Licatesi then began holding services in various local arenas for "people who will leave our churches." He was a lightning rod and attracted to his preaching services a thousand or more Christian Reformed members from throughout the greater Grand Rapids area. Soon he had founded a new congregation and Peter De Jong of the Dutton CRCNA participated in his installation, which act brought down the wrath of Classis Grand Rapids East on De Jong. Licatesi's success indicated a breakdown of the unity that had been a hallmark of the CRCNA. This prompted the editor of the Banner to deride and condemn him and to offer the "hand out-stretched" to the dissidents to return to the fold. However, the hand seemed more like "a clenched fist with brass knuckles," said his supporters. Licatesi's followers trod a well-beaten path. From 1950 though 1964, the CRCNA had already lost 23,000 souls (20 percent of the total membership in 1964) to other denominations and, most disturbingly, its rate of growth declined by half in 1964, which was a harbinger of future problems.[32]

            The Licatesi movement was clearly on the mind of John Vander Ploeg, the new editor of Torch and Trumpet, in 1970. This former editor of the Banner, focused his first editorial on the theme: "Secession is Serious Business." Vander Ploeg broached for the first time the weighty thought that withdrawal from the CRCNA was no longer "a purely academic or theoretical matter." But the time was not yet, he declared, although he promised, ominously, to use his pen to "polarize--with no apology." Vander Ploeg added: "Let's face it; disenchantment with our denomination and its leadership can only be expected to grow unless certain disturbing trends are dealt with in a forthright manner and in no uncertain terms." He never gained this satisfaction. Instead he heard repeated warnings from his successor as Banner editor about the "sinfulness of ecclesiastical schism."[33]

            Also in 1970 Peter Y. De Jong, esteemed for his orthodoxy but apparently not popular with students, resigned from his Calvin Seminary professorship after the board refused to recommend him for tenure. Conservatives believed that De Jong's ouster "had been very carefully engineered by the liberal element, which, whether we like it or not, is in the driver's seat in our denomination." Distrust in the Seminary reached the point that in December of 1970 the entire ten-member faculty published an "open letter" to the denomination in the Banner, which repudiated all charges as misrepresentations and reaffirmed their commitment to the "inspired Scriptures" and the Confessions, and promised to be "faithful to Christ." The effort seemed futile, since President Kromminga had lost the trust of most conservatives.[34]

            In the early 1970s, the church wrestled anew with the issues of biblical authority and the new hermeneutic that Hoogland and Dekker had introduced a decade earlier. Both Synod 1972 and Synod 1973 adopted reports that sought to speak definitively on the matter. Coincidentally, both bore the number "Report 44." But neither satisfied the conservatives. The first report, "On the Nature and Extent of Biblical Authority," declared that the truthfulness of the Bible rested ultimately on its testimony to the redemptive work of God in Christ, and not on the accuracy of its statements in the domain of history and science.

            To the conservatives, this made an artificial separation between the "eternal Word" or "authentic Word," and the "Inscripturated Word" or "the Word that carries divine authority." The report also made the authority of Scripture dependent on the interpretation of expert biblical scholars and not on the "signature of the author," the Holy Spirit. They warned that such "elitist thinking" sowed confusion, undermined biblical authority, and led God's people into the "wastelands of relativism and subjectivism." Since the later debate over women in office turned on this very issue of biblical interpretation, perhaps they had a point. Report 44-1972, declared James Bratt, broke forty years of conservative dominance in the CRCNA and "sealed" the victory of the progressives. It signified that the church "had moved out of its fortress into a house with windows open to the world."[35]

            The critics were also quick to note that Report 44-1972 had been instigated by a request of the GKN to the CRCNA by way of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod (RES), to which both belonged. The GKN asked their American daughter church to explore the nature of Scriptural authority. This was an issue the GKN had already faced, and by 1970 it espoused a relational view of Truth, based on the new hermeneutic. No synodical report did more to undermine confidence in the CRCNA than Report 44-1972 because the conservatives saw in it prima facie evidence for the new hermeneutics. Throughout the 1970s churchmen at classes, synods, and study conferences debated the merits and demerits of the Report and the larger question of the nature of biblical authority, but without finding common ground.[36]

            Report 44-1973, on "Ecclesiastical Office and Ordination," which was also an initiative of the RES, dealt with the role of elders as servants, while de-emphasizing their traditional task as overseers. The Report also noted that in the early Christian church, offices developed in a "loose, fluid manner," which would presumably give the modern church the flexibility it desired to redefine them. This Synod of 1973 that spoke about office and ordination was the same body that faced the first report on women in office. The ensuing years saw some six revisions of the Church Order, weekly catechism preaching was no longer being "faithfully observed," and conservatives, such as the Association of Christian Reformed Layman (ACRL) and the Reformed Fellowship, complaining bitterly that the church was adrift.

            No wonder that Clarence Boomsma, a renowned cleric at the "college church" in Grand Rapids, was asked in 1973 to write a series of articles for the Banner, on the subject: "What is Happening to Us?" The outlook was bleak. Boomsma saw a "spirit of unrest, a loss of homogeneity, a decreasing loyalty to the denomination, and a weakening of Christian commitment." He also lamented a "loss of vigor and devotion in the defense and appreciation of the distinctively Reformed tenets of our faith." Direct rejections of the doctrines of election and reprobation went virtually unchallenged by church theologians. At best, the theologians felt confined by their vows of office not to engage in speculative work; at worst, theology and creedal standards no longer mattered. Secularism had taken its toll on the church. Even the Form of Subscription that bound all office-bearers was under attack. In 1975 editor Kuyvenhoven called the Form "an ecclesiastical yoke by which orthodoxy is to be maintained." Given such thinking, one wonders why this same editor would lament: "Even in our church the confessions are losing their hold. The three forms of unity fail to give us a common frame of reference for understanding both the Bible and our mission in the world."[37]


Women in Office

            The disunity was most apparent on the issue of women in office, which had first surfaced during the counter-cultural 1960s. Synod 1970 appointed a committee, at the behest of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod (RES) assembly of 1968, to "study" the matter of women as office bearers. The GKN, a member of the RES, had that year decided to ordain women elders. "We submit that laymen could settle this matter in five minutes," declared the ACRL. But the committee of seven, which included two women, labored three years. In its Report 39 for Synod 1973, the committee agreed (with only one dissenting voice) that the "practice of excluding women from ecclesiastical office cannot be conclusively defended on biblical grounds." Paul's strictures were "local, cultural, and therefore temporal;" they had no more import today than prescriptions for wearing the veil, covering the head, and keeping long hair. The committee, the first of at least seven to follow, was headed by the Rev. Remkes Kooistra, a Canadian immigrant with a doctorate from the Free University of Amsterdam, who reflected the new thinking in the GKN, which had opened all offices to women in 1961.[38]

            Synod referred Report 39 to the churches for study and named a new committee, headed by a more conservative Canadian immigrant, John Hellinga, to obtain responses and bring a recommendation for action in two years. When Report 39 reached the churches, with its word "conclusively" (can anything be proven conclusively?) to pry open the door, the battle was joined. "Wither Women?" blared the front cover of the Banner. The issue, predicted Kuyvenhoven, "will never, never go away," it was the "unavoidable debate." And he did his best to make his prediction a self-fulfilling prophesy.[39]

            Surprisingly, the Hellinga committee by a four-to-one majority agreed with the Kooistra committee, and Synod 1975, in the first decision on the substance of the issue, again rejected its committee's work, but by a slim 57 percent majority. Synod would not open all offices to women "unless compelling Biblical grounds are advanced," but the handwriting was on the wall. Four women were already studying for the ministry at Calvin Theological Seminary and more would follow. Another committee was named and the struggle went on like this for the next twenty years. The closed door prompted at least six female graduates of the Seminary to leave the CRCNA for ordination in other denominations, which by 1986 counted more than 20,000 women in the ranks of the clergy, plus 900 in Canada. Other progressives quietly left for those mainline denominations, knowing that the CRCNA was clearly not ready for change and would have to be pressed hard to do so.[40]

            The push came from church leaders allied with a coterie of women, who organized the Committee for Women in the Christian Reformed Church (CW-CRC). "Never before," declared Randal Lankheet, "has our denomination been targeted by a single-issue pressure group. Never before has a group of such highly-organized and sorely-dissatisfied church members worked so hard to change one of the most time-honored practices within Reformed circles." Jelle Tuininga called the effort "feminist politicking."[41] Leading churchmen were clearly in their corner. While synodical committees continued to wrestle with the issue, particularly as it related to the biblical teaching on headship, Banner editor Kuyvenhoven, Wachter editor Siert Woudstra, Seminary professors such as Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. and Melvin Hugen, and clergymen such as Clarence Boomsma, did their exegetical reworking, confident that a change in policy was only a matter of time. They were right.

            The women gained their first objective in 1978 when Synod opened the office of deacon to women. The nose of the camel was under the tent, so to speak, even though the decision was repealed the next year. Synod 1984 reinstated it and Synod 1985 reaffirmed the decision, on the condition that the work of the deacons must be kept separate from that of the elders. (Many church councils ignored such an impractical arrangement, and in 1996 Classis Lake Erie was the first officially to permit churches to delegate one deacon and one elder to vote at meetings.)

            The 1984 decision passed by a bare majority of seven votes (82-75), but synod also came within five votes (81-76) of overturning the "headship principle" that was the bedrock of the case for excluding women from leadership roles in the church. And it refused to grant ministers the right not to participate "in the ordination of women if it is against their conscience." The bitter polarization in the meetings and votes portended the coming secession in the church.[42]

            Conservatives rightly considered the 1984 assembly "a showdown Synod" and the vote to place women in a position of church governance a "revolutionary decision." Many suspected that it was like D-Day; it signaled that the conservatives had lost the war although the battles would continue for some years. A Grand Rapids Press reporter correctly noted that the move opened the way "eventually [to] ordain women as ministers and elders as well as deacons." Editor Woudstra of De Wachter explained the strategy of the progressives: "We are not quite ready for women as ministers and elders. So let's have women deacons first. In that way the Church will get used to it." "One is almost forced to conclude," chimed a conservative in response, "that there is an element in the C.R.C. convinced that when the percentage of people, though this be a minority, is large enough, it is time to move forward and force the rest to 'rethink' their beliefs in the light of the changed official position of the church." No matter that Synod violated Article 29 of the Church Order, which makes synodical decisions "settled and binding" unless they conflict with the Word of God and the Church Order.[43]

            After the key 1984 decision, these defenders of the Church Order, who portrayed themselves in the garb of Kuyper's "kleine luyden," formed a new "Reformed Coalition" to unify existing groups and mobilize others in a last ditch effort against the "radical feminists" that had infiltrated the church. To their thinking, it was impossible for an infallible Bible to give such mixed signals; they blamed the "spirit of the age, orchestrated by the great enemy of the church."[44] The watchmen on the walls of Zion formed the Committee of Concerned Members of the Christian Reformed Church (CCMCRC) in 1984 to marshal the defense against the progressives, in concert with the Association of Christian Reformed Laymen, which had published an acerbic newsletter since 1968.[45]

            Together, these groups founded Christian Renewal, a bi-weekly newsmagazine, and retooled the Torch and Trumpet into the more positive religious periodical, The Outlook. Most importantly, they launched their own seminary (MARS) to provide an alternative to "onze school." Church leaders in the CRCNA closed ranks around their beleaguered Seminary, and held firmly to the requirement that every prospective minister in the CRCNA must spend the final year of study there and then be recommended by the faculty and examined by Synod before candidature.[46]

            The conservatives still had numbers on their side. A 1984 survey of the CRCNA showed that two-thirds opposed women deacons and three-quarters opposed women elders and ministers. Synod 1985 received more than fifty overtures and letters from congregations and even thirteen entire classes, all opposed to women deacons. Nevertheless, the body turned them all aside. The only explanation, said Richard Venema bitterly, was that the conservatives had been "seduced by a lobby."

            Our people were cleverly seduced by the persistent lobbying of a small band of extremists who made it their business to change our denomination in a radical way. For that they even succeeded in getting the help of our denominational weekly. Imagine our people paying quota money to support a magazine of the church that openly advocates views contrary to what they and their denomination have always believed and confessed! In the end, there were enough confused people who had been brainwashed to think that the Bible no longer gives clear evidence to support a position that the Church had unitedly and firmly held for nearly two thousand years.[47]

            The conservatives set about plotting strategies of their own. Some 750 people convened in Sioux Center under the auspices of the Reformed Fellowship of Northwest Iowa to hear a fiery address by Hiram Vander Kam, professor-emeritus of Mid-America Reformed Seminary. They resolved not to obey the synodical ruling on women in office and, barring its reversal, to consider calling a convention to "continue" the CRCNA, i.e., to secede. "We wish to warn our denomination that this unscriptural decision will not only destroy the unity of the church but also hasten its apostasy." Others assembled in overflowing crowds at churches in Zeeland and Cutlerville in Michigan, both long-time conservative centers, and agreed to the same strategy. To all this angry rhetoric Kuyvenhoven of the Banner opined: "Little study, lots of emotion." The editor did not mention the fact that eighty ministers had also left the denomination in the preceding fifteen years and some 425 members had put their name on the line to do the same at Sioux Center.[48]

            The respected John H. Bratt, professor emeritus of religion and theology at Calvin College, took a more reasoned approach by reminding the would-be seceders that their Dutch forebears in 1834 and 1886 had bolted only when the church denied the doctrine of redemption. To leave for less is to be schismatics rather than seceders, and that is wrong.[49]

            Some congregations, out of a sense of profound dissatisfaction with the direction of the church, resorted to a kind of civil disobedience. As a last means of protest, they "withheld" some or all of their "quotas," or voluntary assessments per family, adopted by Synod to support the missions and ministries of the denomination at large. The rationale was that Synod 1939 had ruled that quotas were purely voluntary and not in the nature of an assessment or tax. Hence, individuals or churches may withhold their quotas, if to contribute would be a sin against their conscience.[50]

            The protestors particularly targeted the quota to support Calvin College and Seminary, causing a temporary financial crisis at the Seminary. This support system had long been a symbol of a strong united church, and was the envy of other denominations, but the rising spirit of dissention threatened to undo it. World Missions had to lay off missionaries and cut back on overseas ministries for lack of monies. At least one conservative, Norman De Jong, strongly condemned such withholding as having no warrant in Scripture or the church order, besides being "unwise" and "counter-productive." Lester De Koster, formed editor of the Banner and a leading voice for orthodoxy, wisely urged conservatives to refocus their attention. Attacking the liberal mind, he declared, will not reform the church. That is possible only by recovering our "rich Reformed heritage."[51]

            The final throes of the struggle took place from 1990 to 1996, when the annual synods oscillated--usually by narrow majorities--between opening, closing, and finally opening all offices to women. Synod 1990 approved women serving as elders, pastors, and evangelists, but the decision was subject to ratification by Synod 1992, which allowed women to "expound" but not to be ordained. It was a pyrrhic victory for the progressives, but they triumphed at Synod 1993, which by a slim majority lifted the ban on ordination, but with a one-year delay before implementation. Conservatives made a last ditch stand at Synod 1994, when they reversed the previous three synods, declaring that "the clear teaching of Scripture" prohibited ordaining women. Synod 1995, in the face of growing turmoil and a gathering split in the denomination, finally ended the seesaw of decisions by opening all doors to women by way of exception; the church order remained unchanged. The vote again passed by a bare majority. Synod 1996 turned away all attempts to revisit the question. After twenty-five years, the church agreed to disagree, but it was deeply wounded in the process. Within weeks of the 1995 synod vote, Kooistra's former church, First Toronto, where he had written Report 39 in 1973, ordained Ruth Hoffman as the first woman minister in the CRCNA; two others followed shortly in Michigan.

            The procedural seesaw over women preachers and elders in the 1990s was a replay of the decisions of the 1980s on women deacons. Both reflected the divided mind of the church, and especially the wide gulf between clergy and laity, and between Grand Rapids ("Jerusalem") and "all Israel" (the church at large). Synod 1995 declared the last word: "There are two different perspectives and convictions, both of which honor the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God (boldface mine), on the issue of whether women are allowed to serve in the offices of elder, minister, and evangelist." The many seceders since 1990 took this as clear proof that the CRCNA had lost the Bible, while progressives rejoiced and conservatives who opted to stay in the CRCNA reconciled themselves to becoming second class citizens. They agreed to disagree, on the grounds that the issue of women in office was not fundamental. Synod further mollified them by allowing for a local option. Classes and congregations were allowed to set aside the word "male" in Article 3 of the Church Order, but not mandated to do so. Synod also precluded women elders and ministers from being delegated to higher assemblies. Synod 2000 has before it the question of whether to strike both concessions to the consciences of conservatives, but it will likely refrain from doing so for another five years, for fear of sparking another large exodus.[52]



            Besides the "women's question," other contentious issues in varying degrees also surfaced, notably ecumenism and theistic evolution. Already in the 1950s Stob, Kromminga, and other CRCNA leaders had pressed the denomination to reconsider its long-standing opposition to membership in the World Council of Churches (WCC). At the least, they urged the CRCNA to send official delegates to the world gathering in 1954. The hope was that the immigrant church would leave its adolescent mind of safety and risk entering the North American urban mainstream, as the senior denomination, the RCA, had done. As Calvin religion professor Henry Vander Goot stated: "Thanks to a newly educated class of leaders, many discovered that one could be a Christian and cultured at the same time. Moreover, this 'discovery' was taken to be a major contribution to CRC life in the new world, and there could be no turning back on it." The CRCNA has something distinctive to contribute to the ecumenical movement, it was argued, and it must be allowed to do so. Critics like Vander Goot insisted that the CRCNA would be subsumed by the "left-leaning Christianity" of the WCC, not the other way around. This was proved by the experience of the GKN, which entered the World Council for the same reason and was then co-opted by its agenda of "Third World issues." The CRCNA has sent official "observers" to WCC gatherings but has not yet decided to affiliate. The issue remains for now on the "back-burner," as does a parallel effort to forge closer ties to the RCA.[53]


Theistic evolution

            Another major irritant in church life arose in 1986 with the publication of Howard Van Til's The Fourth Day. Van Til, professor of physics and astronomy at Calvin College, presented a theistic evolutionary view of the universe and of all living things, and declared the first eleven chapters of Genesis to be primeval rather than literal history. Van Til's colleagues, seemingly Clarence Menninga and Davis Young in the geology department, shared similar views. The issue had been presaged by developments in the GKN, by several committee reports of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod, and by the lectures of Calvin professors John De Vries and Donald Wilson, and Henry Stob and John Stek of the Seminary. De Vries in the 1950s allowed for human civilization to be at least 50,000 years old, but he held to the historicity of Adam and Eve. Stob at the Seminary similarly taught that "under God's governance and direction some kind of cosmic evolution had indeed occurred." Stek in the 1970s seemingly went further in his Old Testament course, and the Calvin board of trustees chastised him in 1981 for denying the event character of Genesis 1-3 and thereby violating the church's confessional position.[54] The Calvin board and the national synod likewise criticized Van Til's flawed biblical exegesis, but the Board allowed him room to work in astronomy under the precepts of academic freedom.

            Conservatives were particularly alarmed by the "matter of Adam" at the college and seminary. Indeed, some considered Van Til a far greater threat to the doctrinal integrity of the church than ordaining women, because he cast into doubt the biblical teaching of Adam as covenant head and implied that sin preceded the fall. Postwar immigrants with Schilderian roots, such as Rein Leetsma, the "grandfather" of the 1990s secession movement, were particularly adamant about a literal reading of the creation account. The editors of Christian Renewal made this THE central issue for several years and it spurred a growing readership. Theistic evolution continues to bedevil the URCNA and is the main stumbling block to merger with the Canadian Reformed and Orthodox Reformed denominations. Most alarming was the prospect that Stek, Van Til, and colleagues would influence a whole generation of future church leaders and educators, who would take an evolutionary view of origins into the pulpits and Christian secondary schools. Lester De Koster, former Calvin professor of speech and Banner editor, wrote an apologetic book, The Great Divide: Creation OR Evolution, which charged that Van Til had crossed the line. Van Til's theory of "creationomic science" merely paid lip service to the book of Genesis; it resulted in a "hybrid 'religion' mislabeled 'Christianity' to mislead." Christian Renewal published De Koster's critique in serial form over a full year, 1987-88.[55]

            Despite the most vigorous protests over several years, the Calvin board of trustees and denominational leaders defended the academic freedom of the professors, and in early 1988 judged that Van Til's views fell within the bounds of the church's doctrinal standards. "Warning--Darwinese is spoken here," declared De Koster in Christian Renewal, which emblazoned these words across a photo of the Calvin College catalog.[56] The evolution/creation debate lacked the emotional intensity and protest politics of the women's ordination issue, but as a theological issue, the "battle for the Bible" carried great significance and drove many to secede, especially in the Canadian wing of the church. The astute reporter Darrell Todd Maurina firmly believes that the URCNA would not exist today but for the Van Til controversy on theistic evolution.[57]



            An issue even more explosive than women in office and theistic evolution is that of homosexuality, which Kuyvenhoven featured in a theme issue of the Banner on September 17, 1984. "The church can't avoid the sins and the sorrows of homosexuality," the editor declared, especially since by conservative estimate every church has enough homosexuals "to fill half a pew in your congregation come Sunday morning." The editor featured anonymous interviews with two homosexuals, one of whom left the church and one still "in the closet" who remains a member. The position of the CRCNA was staked out clearly by Synod 1973, which declared that "homosexualism--as explicit homosexual practice--must be condemned as incompatible with obedience to the will of God as revealed in the Holy Scripture." Two questions remain, said the editor; "Is homosexuality reversible?" and "What does it mean to 'accept' a homosexual?" The answers remain debatable, the editor concluded, but at the very least, the church must love, nurture, and affirm in Christian love its celibate homosexual members.[58]

            Kuyvenhoven's salvo was clearly the "next crusade," opined Peter De Jong. "It appears that the successful effort to override the Biblical prohibitions of women in office may now be followed by a comparable effort to break down the churches' traditional and Biblical opposition to homosexuality." Few voices within the CRCNA at the time would accept practicing homosexuals in the church, but De Jong feared that would soon change. Some of those voices were faculty members at the only Dutch Reformed graduate school in North America, the CRCNA-affiliated Institute for Christian Studies (ICS) in Toronto. Others were in the First Toronto Church. More startling, in 1992 the CRCNA had its first openly gay--but celibate--minister, Jim Lucas. A 1985 Calvin Seminary graduate, Lucas had pastored Christ Community Church of Grand Rapids until it closed in 1989. Two years later he transferred his ministerial credentials to the Eastern Avenue Church and became the "pastoral convener" of an interdenominational gay support group, As We Are (AWAre), which the church allowed to meet on its premises. The umbrella organization had been founded at the Toronto Church for those with roots in the CRCNA by Hendrik Hart, a heterosexual professor at ICS who advocates gay rights, including marriage.[59]       

            Lucas "came out" at a conference on sexuality at Calvin College in 1992, about the same time that gay alumni of the college had formed GALA (Gay and Lesbian Alumni), which the college did not and has not officially recognized. Lucas and the Eastern Avenue council, which supported his "outing," knew that going public would have consequences in the church at large, and it did. Classis Hackensack (NJ) overtured Synod 1993 to provide clear guidelines for ministers such as Lucas who, while celibate themselves, espouse homosexual behavior in others. Synod 1993 rejected the request, but Synod 1994, responding to two more classical overtures, declared that members may not "practice or advocate homosexualism."[60] Eastern Avenue anticipated ordaining Lucas as chaplain to As We Are with the concurrence of Classis Grand Rapids East. But just before the church acted, Lucas changed his long-held position of supporting the 1973 decision, and announced that he now believed "faithful, committed, permanent, same-sex unions can be an experience of God's grace and within God's will for those who find they are not able to maintain a life of celibacy." As We Are issued a similar statement. This gave the Eastern Avenue council pause.

            Then in 1995 the GKN fraternal delegate to the CRCNA synod, Rev. Richard Vissinga, endorsed the views of Lucas and his cohorts. Vissinga chastised the CRCNA for not making room for practicing homosexuals, as his denomination had done years earlier. Vissinga paraphrased the popular "proof text" of the women-in-office decision to make his point. "In Christ there is neither male or female, slave or freeman, Jew or Greek,--and I might add, neither hetero or homo." Relations between "mother and daughter" had been strained for some time, but Synod and the church deemed this statement the final proof of apostasy in the GKN and Synod broke off virtually all official ties. Relations with the GKN were further strained in 1996 when Calvin Theological Seminary released at mid-year visiting professor Jan Veenhof, a highly respected member of that denomination, who had written approvingly of faithful Christian homosexual couples. His controversial dismissal, together with the local crusading work of Jim Lucas, prompted the staff of Chimes, the Calvin College student newspaper, to devote its final spring 1997 issue to the topic of homosexuality at the college. The editors called for greater "understanding," ran an article by religion professor Philip Holtrop that noted the possibility of reading the Bible to allow for homosexual practices, and carried an ad for a college-sponsored gay and lesbian student discussion group "to provide a safe and accepting place on the Calvin campus."[61]

            Classis Grand Rapids East, which included the Eastern Avenue church and indeed the home churches of most of the denominational officers and Seminary faculty, meanwhile held ongoing studies and discussions but without concluding that homosexual practice is sinful. This waffling prompted the entire fourteen-man Calvin Seminary faculty, whose credentials are held in churches in the Classis, to take a most unusual and public step in late 1995. They drafted a letter chastising the Classis leaders and demanding that the body reaffirm the official 1973 position. That the letter was released to the public media and made the local television news reports raised the ante. Classis reluctantly decided at its next meeting in the spring of 1996, with reporters and news photographers present, to do as the faculty requested. Under the gaze of the "whole denomination," as one delegate said, they reaffirmed the 1973 stance.[62]

            These events prompted James De Jong, the president of Calvin Theological Seminary in 1997 to publish a theme issue on the topic in the Calvin Seminary Forum, a mouthpiece for reaching the churches, in which he and several faculty members contributed forthright articles. De Jong declared that all CRCNA ministers and congregations are "obliged to support" the official synodical stand of 1973. He stated further that he intended "to tackle head on the argument for the toleration of conflicting positions on homosexualism.... It confuses people when the church deals with issues of dissent in a vacillating or indifferent manner." Furthermore, De Jong declared that while the synods dealt with contradictory reports on ordination of women, after much study the church agreed that both were Scriptural. But there is no equivalency on homosexualism, on which the Scriptures are clear and the church holds an unambiguous position, and it would be a "mistaken, uncritical application" to make it so.[63]

            Gay members of the CRCNA and several sympathetic clerics condemned De Jong's article. Brad Bergman declared it was "something the Catholic Church would do to stop any kind of discussion." George Vander Weit, the long-time stated clerk of Classis Lake Erie and author of the 1990 overture that led to women's ordination, called the article "unhelpful" and "simplistic." There are no "undebatable pronouncements from on high" in the church, declared Vander Weit. After the ruckus, Eastern Avenue's council reluctantly but wisely backed away from calling Lucas. He subsequently lost his ministerial credentials for lack of a call within the six-year period prescribed by the church order.[64]

            The next year, in 1999, the issue came up in the Chicago-area churches when William Lenters and Marvin Hoogland sponsored a "Conference on Hope" at their Hope CRC in Oak Forest, Illinois. The speakers, most of whom were practicing gays or lesbians in the CRCNA, advocated the acceptance of committed relationships and even gay marriages, and demanded that the church change its 1973 stance. This prompted Classis Chicago South to declare that "the conference did not provide for the proclamation of the Christian Reformed position on homosexual acts," and the Classis came close to launching an investigation into the views of the two clerics. Lenters subsequently resigned from the ministry for other reasons.[65] But the Oak Forest conference publicized the incontrovertible fact that any number of practicing gays and lesbians are in good standing in their CRCNA congregations and are regularly participating in Holy Communion. They can take comfort in the fact that in 1999 one of the most outstanding ministers in the denomination, emeritus professor Lewis Smedes of Fuller Theological Seminary, published an article in Perspectives, successor to the Reformed Journal, in which he urged the CRCNA to accept in good standing "Christian homosexual persons...who have committed themselves to a monogamous partnership," following the precedent set by the earlier embrace of divorced and remarried people.[66] When intellectual giants in the church like Smedes, Remkes Kooistra, and others express such views, it is only a matter of time before the denomination will have to reconsider its 1973 position.


Secession of the 1990s 

            The secessions that ebbed and flowed since 1960 climaxed in the 1990s. Peter Y. De Jong, a leading CRCNA pastor, former Seminary professor, and churchman, spoke for many when he announced his withdrawal as minister and member in 1993. "I have been compelled to leave an increasingly unfaithful federation of churches," said De Jong, because of the "rottenness of officially adopted positions and practices." The main problem, De Jong continued, is "the biting acids of modernity. They subtly weaken, then corrode and finally destroy the strength of any church which fails to be uncompromisingly loyal to the Holy Scriptures." The "spirit of this present world" has infested the church. "What began here and there as seepage, soon became a trickle, then a stream, and today threatens the CRC like a flood ready to sweep away all vestiges of its Reformed character in time."[67]

            The religious and social geography of the withdrawals from the CRCNA deserves a study in itself. The pace differed widely across the United States and Canada. The first classical assemblies to witness heavy membership out- transfer, according to the Yearbooks, occurred in the early 1970s in the Western Michigan heartland of the denomination--Grand Rapids East, Grandville, and Holland, and in California South, Alberta North and South, and Chatham (western Ontario). There were also big one-year loses in Grand Rapids North and Toronto in 1970, Zeeland in 1972 and 1978, and Quinte (eastern Ontario) in 1975. Losses in Classis Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain first spiked in the late 1970s and continued in the 1980s, but the rest of the west remained calm until the 1990s. Classis Pella had minimal losses until the First Pella congregation split in 1998. Classis Columbia in the northwest had a one-year spike in 1979 and then was stable until the 1990s. Classis Central California had minimal withdrawals until 1988. Classis Greater Los Angeles, organized in 1989, suffered massive losses in 1994-95 when the Korean churches bolted. In the northwest Iowa nexus, massive withdrawals hit Classis Orange City in 1994, but neighboring Classis Sioux Center witnessed only a slow but steady erosion after 1980.

            In western Michigan, the largest withdrawals were consistently in the western suburbs of Grand Rapids--Classes Grandville and Georgetown, but not in Thornapple Valley to the east or Grand Rapids South. Kalamazoo and Zeeland had minimal losses until the 1990s, and Muskegon and Cadillac have yet to experience major out-transfers. The Chicago classes, North and South, were also stable until the 1990s; only Illiana suffered a division beginning in 1993. Classes Lake Erie and Minnesota South never had appreciable losses, and Minnesota North and Wisconsin rarely did until 1988.

            The eastern and southern USA classes had relatively few withdrawals until the 1990s, when first Florida and then Hudson suffered losses. Atlantic Northeast and Hackensack did not see schisms until 1997 and 1998, respectively. Eastern Canada and Quinte were unusually calm, compared to the other six classes. Classis British Columbia began to lose heavily in 1984, Alberta North in 1986, but the rest--Chatham, Hamilton, Huron, and Toronto first had big losses in 1989-90. Today the United Reformed Churches count fifteen congregations in southern Ontario, which make up the oldest and most hyper-conservative congregations in the denomination. Classis Southwest USA, by contrast, consists of new congregations in southern California who came directly out of the CRCNA. This classis is less rigid by seceder standards.

            Since ministers often orchestrated the secessions, their seminary training is significant. Of the 97 ministers (2 deceased) listed in the 1999 URCNA yearbook, 38 earned the BD degree from Calvin Theological Seminary, 28 graduated from Mid-America Reformed Seminary, 19 hold diplomas from Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia (12) and California (7), 3 are alumni of the Protestant Reformed Seminary, and 9 graduated from other seminaries, including 1 each from the Reformed Seminary (Jackson, MS), Fuller Seminary, Western Theological Seminary, and the Canadian Reformed Seminary. Mid-America is now training most of the ministers, as its founders hoped, and Westminster California is playing a strong supporting role. These institutions are replacing Calvin and Westminster Philadelphia, which prepared the older generation of seceders.

            While most of the seceded clerics were raised within the bosom of the CRCNA, there is a hint of "outsider influence" in the fact that several (Edward Knott and Andrew Cammenga) had roots in the Hubert De Wolf Protestant Reformed group that rejoined the CRCNA in 1961; Edward Heerema, a son-in-law of Cornelius Van Til, was Orthodox Presbyterian; and Jerome Julien was RCA. Ironically, all whom were drawn to the URCNA for its Dutch Calvinist identity may soon find themselves an ethnic minority in that body, as the Westminster Presbyterian leadership grows in influence. In any case, the URCNA is a "strange bird" composed of a mix of denominations that vary greatly by region and heritage.   

            In 1999 the seven-year membership decline in the CRCNA halted, at least temporarily. If the ordination of women is mandated denomination-wide, perhaps another 10,000-15,000 members (4-5 percent) will leave. But no mass exodus will occur, as in the 1990s, until the second shoe drops--the acceptance of practicing gays and lesbians.



            The larger concern in all these debates is the look of theological deformation. John Vander Ploeg had warned of this in the 1950s already and many conservatives had repeated it since. Redeemer College philosophy professor, Theodore Plantinga, was thus repeating an old theme when he declared in 1983: "I believe there is doctrinal erosion underway in the Christian Reformed Church.... The health and vitality of the Church is at stake." He cited as examples CRCNA pastor Neal Punt's book, Unconditional Good News: Toward an Understanding of Biblical Universalism (1980); Synod's decision to "redeem" dancing by "transforming" it; and Synod's writing of a new creed, The Contemporary Testimony, with its ambiguous use of the word "world." The next year John Bolt, religion professor in Redeemer College, noted that Punt's book elicited little debate because "for the most part serious doctrinal discussion is dead in the CRC." The result, Bolt lamented, is that the conservatives and progressives no longer talk together, and the church has succumbed to "extremism" and "polarization." The following year, Nathan Hatch, an elder in the South Bend CRCNA and professor of history in the University of Notre Dame, noted the "toppling" of the "stable theological system" within the CRCNA over the past 25 years.[68]

            In 1999 James Bratt observed that the CRCNA has a "new way of doing business." In the sixties the professionals debated the theological issues while the laity stood by confused and apathetic. But by the nineties "the issues were not even noticeably Reformed in origin or argument." The denomination and its administrative arms had become politicized, just like society at large, and it took stands on gender roles, cultural diversity, and individual rights, on similar grounds as society at large. The conservative remnant stood on Scripture, plain and simple, while the progressive majority insisted on living in the "world."[69]

            This new way of doing business in the church was really the adoption of the ideals of democracy that had been enshrined in the previous two hundred years. Norman De Jong first made this connection in his doctoral dissertation in 1972 on Boyd A. Bode, a son of a Christian Reformed minister who as a professor at the University of Wisconsin became an ardent disciple of John Dewey, the philosopher of American democracy. De Jong concluded that Christianity and democracy were antithetical. "Logically and theologically," one could not be "both a democrat and a Christian." The sovereignty of God precluded the sovereignty of the people. If Christ is king, the collective voice of the people cannot be king. Democracy is a philosophy of life that has captured the hearts and minds of the American church. Yet, De Jong believes, it "is as much a heresy as are homosexualism, apartheid, and evolution." The democratic ideals of equality and fraternity have progressively taken over the church, and it is being conformed to the world instead of being transformed by Christ. Many of the conflicts over belief and practice in the churches stem from the inroads of the democratic ideals of tolerance, individualism, feminism, multiculturalism, and anticlericalism. Even church polity has been corrupted by democratic ways of thinking and acting, as has often been evident in the contentious meetings of higher assemblies since the 1960s.[70] 

            The changes in the CRCNA follow by about twenty years--one generation--those in the mother denomination in the Netherlands, the GKN, and in its sister church in North America, the RCA. The same forces of democratization and modernity are pressing Reformed bodies everywhere, and only the isolationist mentality that prevailed in the CRCNA until the post-World War II years retarded the pace of change by a generation. That mind of safety has disappeared and daughter is rapidly "catching up" with its mother and sister.



[1]. Christian Renewal, March 9, 1998, 5.

[2]. Robert P. Swierenga and Elton Bruins, Family Quarrels in the Dutch Reformed Churches of the Nineteenth Century (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1999): 89-90.

[3]. Christian Renewal, Mar. 8, 1999, 5; Mar. 20, 2000, 6.

[4]. Ibid, Nov. 30, 1998, 4; Feb. 22, 6; April 5, 6; May 10, 5; Nov. 8, 4; Year End, 1999, 4.

[5]. Christian Renewal, Oct. 26, 1998, 5. One leader, Jelle Tuininga, rejects the "fortress mentality," ibid, Dec. 14, 1998, 3.

[6]. The URCNA talk of commissioning their own songbook, but the cost and copyright complications are a drawback. As a stopgap measure, the URC ordered the reprinting of 10,000 copies of the blue hymnal, preferably with references to the CRCNA deleted. Christian Renewal, May 31, 6; July 12, 4; Oct. 25, 1999, 6.

[7]. Dr. P.Y. De Jong, a leader in the United Reformed Church, believes that the decline in the CRCNA began in 1945. Up until then, he noted, the church was solid, but then the "wrong kind of people came to positions of power and authority." Chaplains who went overseas came back influenced by Barthianism. Too much influence of the GKN on CRC leaders were other causes of doctrinal decline." John Van Dyke, "'Let's Get Acquainted' Evening Begins with History Lesson," Christian Renewal, June 8, 1998, 6.

[8]. Henry Stob, Summoning Up Remembrance (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1995), 225-26.

[9]. George Stob, "The Christian Reformed Church in the American World," Reformed Journal (June 1951): 1-4 (italics mine); Stob, "Our Years in America," ibid (Sept. 1951): 1-2; Harry R. Boer, "The Christian Reformed Church and the American World," ibid (Dec. 1954): 5-9.

[10]. Annual membership reports in Yearbooks of the Christian Reformed Church, 1940-1950; P.Y. De Jong, "Where Are the Ten Thousand?" Torch and Trumpet, (June-July, 1952): 1-3.

[11]. Edward Heerema, Letter to My Mother: Reflections on the Christian Reformed Church in North America (privately printed, Cape Coral, FL: 1990), 24; Stob, Summoning Up Remembrance, 259-60, 269-76.

[12]. George Stob, "A Decade of Growing Pains," Reformed Journal (Mar. 1961): 12; Herman Ridderbos, "The New Canadians and the C.R.C.," ibid (June 1961): 13-15; Jacob Van Hinte, Netherlanders in America, English edition (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), 618; James Kennedy, Nieuwe Babylon (1996).

[13]. Stob, Summoning Up Remembrance, 299-310; "Spoelhof at 90: An Interview," Calvin Spark, Spring 2000, 17-18.

[14]. Fred M. Bultman, "The Sacred Seven," unpublished student paper, Calvin Theological Seminary, Nov. 12, 1996. See also letter of Cecil Tuininga, "The Sacred Seven Revisited,” Christian Renewal, Apr. 27, 1992, 3; Stob, Summoning Up Remembrance, 299-300, 318-20. The seven signers of the grievance were: John S. Boonstra of the Dutch Reformed Church of Argentina, Dick C. Bouma of Grand Rapids (MI), John J. Byker of Allendale (MI), Cecil W. Tuininga of Neerlandia (CAN), Harry Van Dyken of Ripon (CA), Gerard Van Groningen of Ripon (MI), and Richard J. Venema of Hospers (IA). All were well into their thirties and older than their college classmates, having worked for years before completing their college education. Byker and Van Groningen were veterans of the Korean War. Byker and Van Dyken were the founding pastors of the first OCRCNA churches.

[15].The editorial board of the Reformed Journal included Harry Boer, James Daane, George Stob, Henry Stob, and Henry Zylstra. Daane was the only non-veteran and Zylstra was a soldier. Ridderbos, "New Canadians," 13; Peter Y. De Jong, "Needed--Wide-Awake Elders!" Torch and Trumpet (Dec.-Jan., 1951-52): 3; Leonard Greenway, "With Torch and Trumpet," ibid (Jan. 1962): 9-10.

[16]. Acts of Synod, 1951, 34; 1952, 97-99, 101-04, 115-22; Stob, Summoning Up Remembrance, 302-04, 320-34.

[17]. Heerema, Letter To My Mother, 25, Henry Stob, "Chapter 17, Search for a President," in www.stobfamily.com, 5.

[18]. James Daane, "Theology in the Sixties," Reformed Journal, Mar. 1961, 9-11; George Stob, "A Decade of Growing Pains," ibid, 11.

[19]. Henry Stob, "Notes to a College Freshman," Reformed Journal Sept. 1952, 12-13; Stob, "Towards Better Understanding," ibid, April 1953, 12-15; Johan Van Gelder, "Developments in North America," Christian Renewal, Feb. 18, 1985, 8-9; Edward Heerema, John Piersma, and Henry Van Til, "Notes to a Seminary Professor," Torch and Trumpet, Feb.-Mar. 1953, 2-7; Edward Heerema, John Piersma, and Henry Van Til, "Mind, Heart, and Antithesis," ibid, June-July, 1953, 6-8, R.B. Kuiper, "Scripture on the Antithesis,' ibid, May-June 1959, 3-7; Henry J. Kuiper, "The Antithesis as a Cornerstone of Christian Life and Action," ibid, July-Aug. 1960, 5-8. Stob's acerbic view of the controversy was published after his death on his internet site, "www.stobfamily.com," in one of eight addendum chapters to his book, Summoning Up Remembrance. See chapter 15, "Theological Education," 2-9.

[20]. Henry Stob, "The Mind of the Church," Reformed Journal, March 1957, 3-6; "The Mind of Safety," ibid, April 1957, 4-9; "The Militant Mind," ibid, June 1957, 3-7, July-Aug. 1957. 3-6, Oct. 1957, 13-17; "The Positive Mind," ibid, March 1961, 5-9. Nicholas Woltersdorff subsequently named the three minds "pietism," "doctrinalism", and "Kuyperianism," and James Schaap in the denominational history, Our Family Album (1999), called them "Inward," "Outward," and "Upward" minds. Peter De Jong rightly notes that all such attempts to categorize are artificial and lead to a "hasty 'pigeonholing' of people into artificial compartments in which they do not fit" ("Tracing Our Reformed Roots," Outlook, June 1985, 12).

[21]. Heerema, Letter To My Mother, 30. Cornelius Van Til, Edward Heerema, and R.B. Kuiper, all belonged to Orthodox Presbyterian churches at one time or another.

[22]. R.B. Kuiper, "Calvin College and Seminary," Torch and Trumpet, Mar. 1957, 21; Henry J. Kuiper, "The Safety-First Principle Tested," ibid, July-Aug. 1957, 15.[22].

[23]. Marvin Hoogland, "Infallibility Questioned," Stromata, Sept. 1958, 8-10; "Infallibility and the Road to Liberalism," ibid, Jan. 1959, 1-4; Henry Stob, Chapter 22, "The Infallibility Controversy," www.stobfamily.com, 4-14.

[24]. Henry Stob, "Synod and Biblical Infallibility,” Reformed Journal, May 1959, 5; Stob, "Infallibility Controversy," 7-14.

[25]. Henry Stob, "Synod on Biblical Infallibility,” Reformed Journal, July-Aug. 1959, 8; Heerema, Letter To My Mother, 31; Henry J. Kuiper, "The Infallibility of Scripture Denied,” Torch and Trumpet,  Jan. 1959, 5; Henry J. Kuiper, "What Is Happening to the Christian Reformed Church," ibid, Apr. 1959, 7; R.B. Kuiper, "Calvin College and Seminary," ibid, 7, 14; Henry J. Kuiper, "Synod's Decisions on Infallibility," ibid, Sept. 1959, 9-11, quote 9; H.J. Kuiper, "Some Synodical Decisions and Discussions," ibid, July-Aug. 1960, 11; H.J. Kuiper, "Is the Christian Reformed Church 'A SLEEPING GIANT'?" ibid, Dec. 1961, 7-8.

[26]. Christian Huissen, "Arens Comments--Huissen Replies," Torch and Trumpet, Mar. 1963, 22; Lewis Smedes, "Two Centennial Thoughts," Reformed Journal, June 1956, 12-14; James Daane, "What About Denominationalism?" ibid, Nov. 1956, 13-18; Andrew Kuyvenhoven, "Two Churches Called Reformed," The Banner, Jan. 10, 1983, 7.

[27]. Harold Dekker, "God So Loved--All Men," Reformed Journal, Dec. 1962, 5-8; Feb. 1963, 13-16; Dekker, "God's Love to Sinners--One or Two?" ibid, Mar. 1963, 12-16; "Telling the Good News to All Men," ibid, Mar. 1964, 15-19; Peter De Jong, "Does God Love All Men Alike?" ibid, 21-23; Henry Stob, "Does God HATE Some Men?" ibid, 9-13; Acts of Synod, 1967, 236; R.B. Kuiper, "Professor Dekker on God's Universal Love," Torch and Trumpet, Mar. 1963, 4-9; Edward Heerema, "The Synod and the Orange City Overture," ibid, Oct. 1963, 9-11; R.B. Kuiper, "Some Conclusions as to the Love of God," ibid, May-June, 1964, 12-17; Edward Heerema, "The Shadow of Ambiguity," ibid, Apr. 1968, 10-14. Kuyvenhoven quote in James D. Bratt, "Wars of Words, Wars of Grace: A brief hisroty of the battles that have shaped the CRC," The Banner, 20 Dec. 1999.

[28].  James Bratt, Dutch Calvinism in Modern America: The History of a Conservative Subculture (Grand Rapids: Wm B. Eerdmans, 1985), 207-08.

[29]. Christian Huissen, "Indifference, Stagnation, Bankruptcy, Apostasy," Torch and Trumpet, Mar. 1960, 13-14; Huissen, "H.J. Kuiper, a personal tribute," ibid, Feb. 1963, 8-9; R.B. Kuiper, "Is the Glory Departing?" ibid, May-June, 1963, 8-15, "A Report on Synod 1963," ibid, July-Aug. 1963, 10; Merle Meeter, "The Winds of Change," ibid, Jan. 1967, 11-13 (quote 12).

[30]. Peter Y. De Jong, "Needed--Wide Awake Elders," ibid, Nov. 1964, 4-5, 19-20; "A New Venture," ACRL News Bulletin, Oct. 1968, 1; transcript of Gordon H. Girod's radio sermon, ibid, Dec. 1968, 8-9; "Longing Souls vs. Itching Ears," ibid, Sept. 1969, 1.

[31]. Licatesi's June 15, 1970 letter of resignation and the Godwin Heights consistory response of Aug. 2, 1970 are reprinted in full in the ACRL News Bulletin, Oct. 1970, 8-9.

[32]. Darrell Todd Maurina, "Oldest secession congregation disbands," Christian Renewal, Feb. 7, 2000, 7. See also ibid, Nov. 9, 1998, 4; "Double Standard or Classical Hop," ACRL News Bulletin, May 1971, 3-4; Dirk W. Jellema, "Rate of Growth in the CRC," Reformed Journal, May-June 1964, 5. As Licatesi's separatist intent became clearer when he established the Christian Reformational Church of Wyoming, his followers dwindled to about 100-125 members. His congregation was part of the Alliance of Reformed Churches until joining the URCNA in 1997. It disbanded in 2000.

[33]. John Vander Ploeg, "Secession is Serious Business," Torch and Trumpet, Nov. 1970, 6-7; "Polarization--With No Apology," ibid, 8; "The CRC in 1970--Quo Vadis?" ibid, Dec. 1970, 12-14; Cornelius J. Van Schouwen, "About 'Schism': Another Point of View," ibid, May 1971, 9-10.

[34]. "For Such a Time as This," ACRL News Bulletin, Feb. 1970, 1-3; The Banner, Dec. 4, 1970. Conservatives questioned the orthodoxy of a number of professors at Calvin College and Seminary in the 1970s, but the faculty or the board of trustees, as the case might be, stood by them all. Persons in the cross-hairs on charges of modernism included Harold Dekker, Lewis Smedes, Willis De Boer, Edwin Walhout, David Holwerda, Donald Wilson, Melvin Hugen, Siert Woudstra, Harold Ellens, Leonard Sweetman, Allan Verhey, Howard Van Til, Clarence Menninga, Davis Young, Clarence Vos, and seminarian Raymond Opperwal. See ACRL, Handbook of C.R.C. Issues (Grand Rapids, 1978), a compendium of ACRL News Bulletins of the 1970s.

[35]. James Bratt, "Wars of Words, Wars of Grace: A brief history of the battles that have shaped the CRC," The Banner, Dec. 20, 1999, 14-16, quotes 15; Peter De Jong, "The Inroads of Subjectivism," Torch and Trumpet, Jan. 1971, 14-18; Letter of Board of the Association of Christian Reformed Laymen to John H. Kromminga, President, Calvin Theological Seminary, April 21, 1976, in ACRL, Handbook, 75-77.

[36]. Heerema, Letter To My Mother, 35-42; "Dr. John Kromminga and 'The Clue to the Word,'" ACRL, A Handbook of C.R.C. Issues, 62-66, 82-108.

[37]. Acts of Synod, 1973, 61-64, 635-716; Clarence Boomsma, "What is Happening to Us?" The Banner, Jan. 12, 19, 26, Feb. 2, 9, 16, Sept. 14, 28, Oct. 12, 26, Nov. 9, 1973; [Banner editor] ibid, Jan. 27, 1983, Oct. 28, 1985; Clarence Boomsma, "What Has Happened Theologically to the CRC?" Calvin Theological Journal 19 (Apr. 1984): 32-49; Heerema, Letter To My Mother, 43-52; James Daane, "Catechism Preaching," The Banner, Nov. 2, 1973, 6-7.

[38]. Acts of Synod, 1973, 82-85, 514-39, quote on 588; "Whither Women?" The Banner, Jan. 23, 1984, 7; "Women as Office Bearers," ACRL News Bulletin, Aug. 1970, 9.

[39].  Andrew Kuyvenhoven, "The Unavoidable Debate: Women in Church Offices," The Banner, Apr. 17, 1989. Peter Y. De Jong predicted in early 1968 that the issue would arise "shortly" in the CRCNA ("Women in Ecclesiastical Office," ibid [Jan. 1968], 12-13).

[40]. Those who left were Patricia De Jong, Mary Potter, Marchienne Rienstra, Neva Evenhouse, Brenda Alexander, Glenda Prins, and Nola Opperwal. Three who stayed were Susan Berends, Mary Pals, and Leanne Van Dyk  ("A Hard Choice," The Banner, Jan. 23, 1984, 10-11; Grand Rapids Press, Nov. 16, 1974; "All-Male Synod Denies High Office to Women," ibid, June 1975, cited in ACRL Handbook, 224.

[41]. Randal Lankheet, "Learning from the Lobbyists," Outlook Feb. 1984, 18-19; J. Tuininga, "Feminist Politicking," ibid, May 1984, 19.

[42]. "A Hard Choice" The Banner, Jan. 23, 1984, 10-12; "The Unavoidable Debate: Women in Church Office," ibid, Apr. 17, 1989, 6; "The History of Our Debate," ibid, 7; "What Happened at Synod," Christian Renewal, Oct. 22, 1984, 4.

[43]. Peter De Jong, "A Showdown Synod," Outlook, May 1984, 2-3 (quote 3); Richard J. Venema, "The Synod of 1984--What Happened?" ibid, Oct. 1984, 2-3; Grand Rapids Press, June 20, 1984; J. Tuininga, "Conscientious Objectors, Outlook, Feb. 1985, 17.

[44]. "Near Unanimity on Headship in the Bible," Christian Renewal,  June 4, 1984, 4-7; Thomas C. Vanden Heuvel, "A New 'Reformation Coalition,'" ibid, Nov. 19, 1984, 2, 15; "Out of Concern," broadside, ibid, Nov. 19, 1984, 20; Jelle Tuininga, "Three Points in Response to Bolt's Article," ibid, Dec. 3, 1984, 11.

[45]. The Association of Christian Reformed Laymen (ACRL) was formed in 1968 in Grand Rapids, chaired by Henry Hoeksema and Nick Bierma as secretary. These indefatigable men published a monthly News Bulletin from 1968 to 1981 that became increasingly shrill in its attacks on CRCNA synods, ministers, professors, and Banner editors who were deemed to be heterodox.

[46]. "Will the Question of Women in Office Divide the Church?" Christian Renewal, Apr. 9, 1984, 1; "An open letter to the editor of The Banner;" 2; Heerema, Letter To My Mother, 95-109.

[47]. Carol Topp and Peter De Jong, "What Church Roles May Women Fill? The CRC Responds," ibid, Jan. 23, 1984, 8-9; Henry Vander Kam, "Women in Church Office," Outlook, May 1984, 16; W. Robert Godfrey, "The Synod of 1984 and Women in Church Office,” Christian Renewal, Sept. 17, 1984, 10-12.

[48]. Andrew Kuyvenhoven, "The Unavoidable Debate: Women in Office," The Banner, Apr. 17, 1989, 6-7; Nelson D. Kloosterman, "1984: Where Do We Go From Here," Outlook, Nov. 1984, 10-11; Peter De Jong, "The Road Ahead," ibid, Jan. 1985, 8-9.

[49]. John H. Bratt, "Seceders or Schismatics? The Banner, Aug. 1985, 11.

[50]. Churches withholding Calvin quotas were First Chino (CA) in 1982, and First Orange City (IA) and Sanborn (IA) in 1986. First Rock Valley (IA) in 1987 simply distributed a large budget envelope that listed all the denominational agencies and asked persons to designate their gifts. See Peter De Jong, "The Road Ahead," Outlook, Jan. 1985, 9; "To Give or Not To Give," Christian Renewal, Mar. 23, 1987, 4; Ray J. Sikkema, "Quotas: Enforced or Free-will Giving?" ibid, May 25, 1987, ibid, 4; "Coercion or Christian Giving?" ACRL News Bulletin, Oct. 1970, 5-6; "How Binding Are Quotas?" ibid, Nov.-Dec. 1970, 2-3.

[51]. Norman De Jong, "Two Concerns," Christian Renewal, Feb. 4, 1985, 1; Mark VanderHart, "On the Northwest Iowa Chapter of Reformed Fellowship," Outlook, July-Aug. 1985, 25-26.

[52]. The entire history of synodical decisions on women in office is summarized in the report of the synodical "Committee to Review the Decision re Women in Office for Synod 2000," published in the Agenda of Synod, 2000.

[53]. The Inter-Church Relations Committee of the CRCNA in the mid-1990s proposed to Synod that the denomination join both the Alliance of Reformed Churches (ARC) and the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Synod chose to (re-)affiliate with the NAE but rejected ARC ties. John Kromminga, "Ecumenicity: The Calling and Problem of the Church, Reformed Journal, Jan. 1954, 3-4; Henry Vander Goot, "Why Not the W.C.C.? Christian Renewal Feb. 21, 1983, 2; Martin H. Woudstra, "The World Council of Churches Concerns Us All," Outlook, Apr. 1984, 11-13; Gordon H. Girod, Peter Y. De Jong, and John H. Piersma, "What About CRC-RCA Merger?" Torch and Trumpet, Oct. 1969, 2-11.

[54]. Neal Hageman, "Mal Hecho--Badly Done," Outlook Jan. 1984, 21-22; Stob, "Theological Apprenticeship," 8.

[55]. Nicholas J. Monsma, "Genesis, Evolution and the Churches," Torch and Trumpet, Sept. 1964, 15-18; Oct. 1964, 15-18; Heerema, Letter To My Mother, 73-94; Marten H. Woudstra, "The Matter of Adam at Calvin College [sic, Seminary], Outlook Mar. 1984, 13-15; Gerard Berghoef and Lester De Koster, The Great Divide: Creation OR Evolution (Grand Rapids: Christian's Library Press, 1988), 13-14; Christian Renewal, Oct. 20, 1986, 7, 14; June 8, 1987, 4-5, 10-11, 18-19; Mar. 21, 1988, 6-7. De Koster's series began in Mar. 23, 1987 and ran through April 1988.

[56]. John Van Dyk, "Calvin Professor Exonerated," Christian Renewal, Feb. 29, 1988, 1, 14; De Koster, "Warning: Darwinese is Spoken Here," ibid, Mar. 21, 1988, 6. The decision of the Calvin board led a wealthy Grand Rapids lay member of the CRCNA, Leo Peters, to run a series of full-page advertisements denouncing the board in the Grand Rapids Press. The ads caused a huge stir, 90% positive and 10% negative, it was said, and led to Peters being disciplined by his consistory for slander. ("Unwanted Advertising for Calvin," ibid, 4.

[57]. Phone interview, Mar. 17, 2000, with the author.

[58]. "Homosexuality: Is It Reversible?" The Banner, Sept. 17, 1984, 5-15, quote, 5.

[59]. Peter De Jong, "The Next Crusade?" Outlook Nov. 1984, 2-3; John Hultink, "Table Talk," Christian Renewal, Feb. 4, 1985, 4; Letter of Eastern Avenue CRC Council, reprinted in ibid May 11, 1992, 9.

[60]. "Gay CRC Minister 'Comes Out' in Calvin Speech," Christian Renewal, Mar. 1992, 1-3; John P. Elliot, "Eastern Avenue Plans No Action Against Homosexual Member," ibid, Apr. 13, 1992, 7; "Synod on Sexuality," ibid, July, 1993, 6; "CRC Members May Not 'Practice or Advocate Homosexualism,'" ibid, July, 1994, 7.

[61]. Darrell Todd Maurina, e-mail report, June 18, 1995; "AWAre Grand Rapids begins Third Year," Christian Renewal, Nov. 22, 1993, 5; John Van Dyke, "Inside," ibid, Apr. 7, 1997, 2; Maurina, "Calvin College Student Newspaper Raises Issue of Homosexuality," ibid, Apr. 7, 4.

[62]. "Grand Rapids East Reaffirms CRC Position on Homosexuality," Christian Renewal, Feb. 12, 1996, 6.

[63]. James De Jong, "Obliged to Support," Calvin Seminary Forum 4 (Fall 1997): 6-7; John Cooper, "Do We Need to 'Revisit' 1973?" ibid, 1-2, 5. Yes, said Cooper, but never to change 1973's call for celibacy.

[64]. Darrell Todd Maurina, "Classis GRE Lets Lucas Keep Ordination," Christian Renewal, Feb. 9, 1998, 5. Maurina, e-mail report of interviews with Bergman and Vander Weit, Oct. 8, 1997.

[65]. Darrell Todd Maurina, "Homosexuality Conference Criticized by Classis," Christian Renewal, Mar. 22, 1999, 4.

[66]. Lewis Smedes, "Like the Wideness of the Sea," Perspectives, May 1999, 8-12. A few months later in the same publication, Hope Professor David Myers, a leading Reformed psychologist and noted for his conservative views, similarly changed his long-standing position against homosexualism, on the grounds that homosexual orientation is not a disorder of choice. David C. Myers, "Accepting What Cannot Be Changed", ibid, June-July 1999, 5-7.

[67]. Peter Y. De Jong, "Why I Left the Christian Reformed Church," Christian Renewal Nov. 9, 1993, 8-9. The ACRL defined modernity as "the critical spirit that refuses to take things or believe things on authority, especially Biblical authority." Applying this definition to the CRCNA, the ACRL then listed four characteristics of CRC modernists (with examples): "the art of speaking in tones of religious consecration of what is in its essence egoistic;" "to profess himself from the housetops at the expense of those whom he labels 'conservative' or 'old-fashioned;'" "loves to assume the apocalyptic pose and give forth as profound Biblical truth what is at heart only a pseudo-religious humanitarianism;" and "hungers for the 'thrilling' and the 'marvelous' and is, in short, incurably melodramatic" (ACRL News bulletin, Oct. 1975, 5-6.

[68]. Bratt, "War of Words," 17.

[69]. Theodore Plantinga's three-part opinion column, "Doctrinal Erosion?" Christian Renewal, May 9, 2, May 23, 2, June 6, 1983,  2; John Bolt, "The Problem of Polarization," ibid, Oct. 22, 1984, 1; Nathan O. Hatch, "Evangelical Colleges and the Challenge of Christian Thinking," Reformed Journal, Sept. 1985, 10-18.

[70]. Norman De Jong, "The Democratization of the Church," Outlook, Dec. 1985, 10-12. De Jong's history dissertation is "Boyd H. Bode: A Study of the Relationship Between the Kingdom of God and Democracy" (PhD. dissertation, University of Iowa, 1972).