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Robert P. Swierenga, "CRC 150th Anniversary 2007"

These paragraphs were printed in the Sunday bulletins of the Central Avenue Christian Reformed Church of Holland, Michigan, during March and April, 2007.

1. The roots of the Christian Reformed Church go back to the Secession of 1834 in the Netherlands State Church (Hervormde Kerk), when devout members were condemned for calling the national church back to true faith. On October 13, 1834 the Rev. Hendrik de Cock, pastor of the Ulrum (Groningen) congregation, and his entire consistory signed the Act of Secession and Return, by which they declared their separation from the apostate State Church. The next day 137 members of the congregation added their names to the document. This bold action brought the wrath of the government and church authorities down on the heads of the "schismatics." But the Ulrum congregation had sparked a spiritual renewal in the Netherlands that resulted in the birth of a new denomination, a faithful remnant of Christ, the Christian Seceded Church (later the Christian Reformed Church of the Netherlands).

2. King Willem I condemned the Seceders of 1834 as "schismatics, fomentors of unrest, and secret agitators." Yet the spiritually thirsty believers only wanted to hear the pure gospel preached, sing the Genevan Psalms, and faithfully celebrate the sacraments. The king sent police and solders to arrest and fine Seceder pastors and consistory members. Rev. Albertus Van Raalte was imprisoned several times and fined a total of fl 40,000 ($16,000 in 1840 dollars!). Other pastors and consistory members suffered similar punishments. Seceders, mostly of the kleine luyden  (common people), were blacklisted, boycotted, and ostracized by State Church people. No wonder Seceders began to immigrate to America in the 1840s for religious and economic freedom! 

3. Persecution made the Christian Seceded Church grow rapidly. In fifteen years, it numbered 40,000 souls. Between 1846 and 1849 6,000 (15 percent) of those members immigrated to America, mostly in groups under their pastors--Albertus Van Raalte, Hendrik Scholte, Cornelius Vander Meulen, Marten Ypma, Hendrik Kleyn, and Seine Bolks, among others. The various congregations joined together in 1848 to form the Classis of Holland, an independent body, which sought to uphold the true faith.

4. In 1850 Classis Holland counted seven congregations--Holland, Graafschap, Zeeland, Drenthe, Friesland, Overisel, and Grand Rapids, with more than 500 families (2,500 souls). That summer, the Rev. Isaac Wyckoff, pastor of the Second Albany (N.Y.) Reformed Church, came to Holland at the urging of Van Raalte. On behalf of the RCA Board of Domestic Missions, Wyckoff "invited" the congregations of Classis Holland to unite with the RCA in the East.

5. Rev. Wyckoff met with the various congregations of Classis Holland, and Classis Holland agreed to unite with the RCA, with the strong urgings of Dominies Van Raalte (Holland), Vander Meulen (Zeeland), Ypma (Friesland), Kleyn (Grand Rapids), and Bolks (Overisel). Unfortunately, the classical procedure was flawed. The body never voted on a resolution to join the RCA, at least according the minutes of Classis Holland of which Van Raalte was the stated clerk. Nor is there a record of any congregation voting on the issue formally in a congregational meeting. Classis Holland delegated Van Raalte to attend the RCA Synod meeting in New York, and the Union of 1850 was sealed.

6.The Union of 1850 was controversial from the outset and it cast the Colony into religious turmoil. The RCA in the East had for more than two centuries been a part of the Netherlands State Church, which body had caused the Seceders so much grief. And the RCA had little understanding of the persecution the immigrants had experienced in the Netherlands. Further, the RCA was entirely English-speaking, its congregations sang hymns (with "man-made" words that Seceders believed had no place in divine worship), and its ministers did not follow the Lord's Days of the Heidelberg Catechism, they practiced "open" communion (non-members could partake without first being examined), they failed to exercise church discipline, and some ministers and elders were even Freemasons who tried to serve two masters.

7.The Union of 1850 almost immediately led some in the Holland colony to form their own congregations. Two-thirds left the Drenthe church and about one-third the Graafschap and Noordeloos churches; they formed "free" churches and called pastors from the Netherlands. Those from Graafschap were living around the hamlet of South Holland (today Michigan Avenue at 32nd Street), so they took that name for their church. The seceders from the Noordeloos church were living in North Holland and adopted that name for their church. When Classis Holland would not recognize these new congregations or ordain their lay pastors, the South Holland and Drenthe congregations and their pastors, Jacob Schepers and Roelof Smit, respectively, joined the Associate Reformed Church of Michigan, which was an orthodox, psalm-singing Reformed body with roots in Scotland (Hence, the Dutch called it the "Schotse Kerk.") These schisms in Holland Classis were dress rehearsals for 1857.

8.Gysbert Haan is often called the "father" of the Christian Reformed Church, because he played such an important part in its birth. In 1849 Haan, an ardent follower of De Cock, came to Vriesland after worshiping for some time in RCA churches in New York and being astonished at what he saw. While serving as an elder in the Vriesland church, and in 1853 in the Grand Rapids church, Haan openly condemned the RCA for not upholding the Reformed confessions and the Church Order of Dort. His eyewitness reports about the "irregularities" in that church carried a lot of weight in West Michigan. In a meeting of Classis Holland in 1855, Haan directly accused Revs. Van Raalte and Vander Meulen for teaching from a popular booklet of Rev. Richard Baxter, Call to the Unconverted, which the American Bible Society had translated into Dutch and the RCA was promoting. Baxter, said Haan, was teaching Arminian, not Reformed, doctrines.

9. In 1856 the Noordeloos RCA called Rev. Koene Vanden Bosch from the Netherlands as its pastor. Vanden Bosch learned of Gysbert Haan's charges of heterodoxy in the RCA even before leaving his homeland. From the moment of his arrival in the Colony, he decried the Union of 1850 and voiced his concerns at the next session of Classis Holland. Rev. Vanden Bosch, like Haan, was an ardent Cocksian and a fearless leader. He played a critical part in creating the True Holland Reformed Church (later the Christian Reformed Church), and from 1857 to 1863 was its only minister.

10. The birth date of the Christian Reformed Church is April 8, 1857. On this day at a meeting of Classis Holland, four congregations presented letters of secession--Noordeloos, Graafschap, Grand Rapids, and Polkton (a small congregation near Coopersville). The Vriesland congregation joined the True brothers soon after. Rev. Vanden Bosch's letter of secession was strong. He said the RCA was not a true church of Jesus Christ, and that it was rife with heresies and sins. "I renounce all fellowship with you and declare myself no longer to belong to you," he declared. Some 250 members of Classis Holland, about 10 percent of the total membership, joined Vanden Bosch that day and become charter members of the True Holland Reformed Church.

11. The Graafschap consistory penned the most specific letter to Classis Holland stating their reasons for separating: the RCA had introduced 800 hymns in worship "contrary to the church order;" it practiced "open communion," failed to teach the catechism and ignored family visiting, and "what grieves our hearts the most in all this is that there are members among you who regard our secession in the Netherlands as not strictly necessary, or [think that] it was untimely." Two months earlier, the Graafschap consistory had expressed to Classis its concern about RCA pastors and elders being Freemasons, so this complaint was not mentioned in its formal letter of secession.

12. Rev. Van Raalte, by the strength of his personality and status as Holland's founder, was able to forestall schism in his Holland congregation for eight years, until 1865. As early as 1855, however, one of his elders, Abraham Krabshuis, had published a letter in the local newspaper, De Hollander, charging Van Raalte with not preaching the catechism. So Van Raalte had men in his own consistory who were concerned about his practices. Krabshuis in 1865 was one of the first two elders in the Holland CRC (later Market Street and now Central Avenue), the first Christian Reformed congregation in the city. Before 1865 staunch believers traveled on foot or by wagon to the Graafschap CRC, or remain in Van Raalte's RCA congregation and bit their tongues.

13. November 8, 1865 is the founding date of the Central Avenue CRC. It followed months of worshiping in cramped quarters in the home of Mrs. Thomas Knol on 7th St., and then in Harm J. Slag's ship wharf at the foot of 6th St. On November 8th ten men met to organize the Holland congregation under the aegis of the Graafschap CRC. They were G.E.J. Ham, Jacob Tolk, A. Cloetingh, Gerrit Yskes, W. Vorst, Cornelius Vorst, John Ratering, Jurrien Dykhuis, Harm Slag, and Harm Kragt. Representatives from the Graafschap CRC included the new pastor, Rev. Douwe Vander Werp, and elders Abraham Krabshuis, John Bouws, and Egbert Frederiks. At the organizational meeting, G.E.J. Ham and Abraham Krabshuis were elected elders (Krabshuis transferred in) and Harm Slag deacon. A second deacon, Cornelis Bos, was elected on New Year's Day 1866 at the first Congregational meeting. Other founding families were those of Cornelis De Jong, Willem Benjaminse, Fokke Bakker, Jacob De Feyter, Albert Boegel, Arend Bremer, and Jakobus Schrader. So began Holland's first Christian Reformed congregation, which in only eight years will celebrate its 150th anniversary, the Lord willing.