In North America we have two smaller "Dutch Reformed" denominations that at first glance would seem to have much in common. The first is the Protestant Reformed Churches, separated from the Christian Reformed Church over the issue of "common grace". The second is the Canadian Reformed Churches, which is the Canadian (and also American) version of the "liberated" Dutch churches.

This is a brief introduction to the issues that shaped both groups and the relationship between then.

The Conclusions of UtrechtEdit

The GKN adopted the Conclusions of Utrecht in 1905, and among its four points is Presumptive Regeneration.

The Kuyperian view of the covenant, which was dominant in the GKN at that time, holds that only the elect are in the covenant. That raises questions about infant baptism, since some who are baptized are not elect.

Presumptive Regeneration teaches that the children of believers should be assumed to be "regenerated and sanctified in Christ" unless or until their lives show otherwise, and hence they should be baptized. Infant baptism is not based exclusively on the presumption of regeneration, but on God's command, and the church should never assume that all the baptized children of believers are in fact elect and regenerate.

The Conclusions of Utrecht were adopted by the Christian Reformed Church in 1908, reaffirmed in 1962, and "set aside" as no longer binding in 1968.

The Danger of Presumptive RegenerationEdit

The danger of presumptive regeneration is that it eliminates any urgency for covenant children to develop their own faith. They are presumed saved, taught the catechism, and may be allowed to become confessing members of the church without any sign of an active faith - so long as their lives don't exhibit a reprobate lifestyle.

The benefit of presumptive generation is that we treat covenant children as God's children, not as unbelievers and people outside of the church. We teach them the Bible stories, the catechism, and that Jesus died for them.

Rev. Herman Hoeksema in the CRC (and later the PRC) and Dr. Klaas Schilder in the GKN were among many who saw the danger of this doctrine, which was creating a visible level of "deadness and worldliness" in their respective denominations.

For Schilder, the solution was to hold that the baptized children of believers are sanctified in Christ - and to confront covenant children with "the conditions and the responsibilities of covenant life in precise and concrete terms" when they reached the age of discretion. He believed this would create a more spiritual, less worldly church.

Schilder saw the covenant as unilaterally established by God with believers and their children. But it is worked out bilaterally, as believers are called to walk by faith and live godly lives.

Seeing how relatively ineffective preaching rules and threats were in the Christian Reformed Church, Hoeksema came up with a different prescription. He believed that right living would come about as the fruit of true belief - and that all of the preaching in the world won't convert the reprobate. If anything, it would only harden their hearts against the gospel.

Hoeksema saw the covenant as unilaterally established by God with the elect; the children of believers who are not elect are not part of the covenant for Hoeksema. Accordingly, only the elect can walk by faith and lead godly lives.

Common GraceEdit

Hoeksema's view was that God only has a covenant relationship with the elect; the reprobate within the church are not truly members of the covenant community. To his mind, God shows no grace whatsoever to anyone who is not elect. What the elect see as a blessing becomes a curse to the reprobate.

However, the Christian Reformed Church adopted the Three Points of Common Grace in 1924:

  1. In addition to the saving grace of God, shown only to those who are elected to eternal life, there is also a certain favor, or grace, of God shown to his creatures in general.
  2. Since the fall, human life in society remains possible because God, through his Spirit, restrains the power of sin.
  3. God, without renewing the heart, so influences human beings that, though incapable of doing any saving good, they are able to do civil good.

The Three Points were reaffirmed in 1959.

Cast OutEdit

Hoeksema was unable to affirm the Three Points, and this lead to his being suspended by classis in December 1924 - despite the fact that Synod 1924 found him "fundamentally Reformed". Revs. George M. Ophoff (of [file:///crc/mi/gv/hope/hope.html Hope CRC], Grandville) and Henry Danhof (of First CRC, Kalamazoo) were deposed for the same reasons in January 1925.

Others shared Hoeksema's viewpoint, leaving the CRC and forming the Protestant Reformed Churches. About 75-80% of Hoeksema's congregation followed him in creating [file:///prc/1st/1st.html First Protestant Reformed Church] in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Hope CRC of Grandville saw a similar exodus, and [file:///prc/hope/hope.html Hope PRC] was organized in 1925.

Rev. Danhof led a number of members out of First CRC, Kalamazoo, and formed a Protesting Reformed Church, which became independent from the Protestant Reformed denomination in 1926 due to his dissatisfaction with the direction of the PRC. Danhof and his congregation rejoined the CRC (as Grace CRC) after his retirement in 1945, although his membership was soon terminated due to dissent.

A competing Protestant Reformed congregtion was established in Kalamazoo in 1927.

Twenty years later, the GKN Synod declared that Schilder's view of the covenant was not consistent with the Reformed confessions and Reformed tradition. Schilder was unable to subscribe to the Kuyperian view of presumptive regeneration and was thus suspended. Because of this, those who agreed with Schilder's views "liberated" themselves from the GKN.

Schilder and Hoeksema had been friends before the Liberation, and the shared experience of being cast out of their denominations strengthened that, but eventually their divergent views of the covenant would keep them from working together.

'Conditional Theology'Edit

Hoeksema strongly emphasized the sovereignty of God in election, while Schilder also put a strong focus on our covenant responsibilities as God's redeemed. Hoeksema believed that it was futile to call the reprobate to faith as they were unable to embrace the gospel; Schilder believed that all should hear the good news and the call to righteous living, even though only the elect would respond in faith. Similar teachings; different emphases.

Schilder would have happily lived with both viewpoints in the same denomination (and he personally abhored the creation of new and unnecessary denominations), but Hoeksema had no place for "conditional theology" in the PRC.

Post-War ImmigrationEdit

Following World War II, there was a strong Dutch emigration to Canada, the United States, and Australia. The Dutch were especially beholden to the Canadians, who had played such a big role in liberating their nation. The bulk of Dutch immigration to North America took place from 1947 through 1957.

Because the Christian Reformed Church didn't support the Liberated church, immigrants from the Schilder group were generally not interested in joining Christian Reformed congregations, although sometimes that was their only option.

Because of the connection to Dr. Schilder, the Protestant Reformed were initially enthusiastic about welcoming "liberated" immigrants and enfolding them in their denomination after teaching them how the PRC differed from the liberated churches. A Protestant Reformed church was organized in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1949, followed by one in Chatham in 1950.

Through the work of a Rev. Hettinga, liberate congregations were begun in the Canadian west. The fledgling Canadian Reformed federation had five churches in 1950 and nine in 1951, giving the Liberated a denomination of their own - and eliminating any need to work with the Protestant Reformed, who were busy burning the bridge from their side.

'Declaration of Principles'Edit

Because of differences between Schilder's and Hoeksema's views, Liberated immigrants had been urged to join the PRC while holding to their own view of the covenant, and the Protestant Reformed had taken pains to insure that these immigrants understood the PR view on the covenant and other matters before accepting them as members.

At its 1950 Synod, the PRC addressed Schilder's covenant view in its "Declaration of Principles". In addition to affirming the Reformed confessions and denying Common Grace, churches joining the PRC would hencefoth have to affirm that:

"The promise of the Gospel, both as to the will of God to save His people and the execution of His will to save them, is not general, that is, it does not include all the baptized children of the church, but is particular, that is, it pertains only to the elect of God."

Schilder's view of the covenant put the two Protestant Reformed churches in Canada at odds with the rest of the PRC, and within two years both had withdrawn from the PRC. (It should be noted that there was not another PRC church established in Canada for another 25 years.)

The Chatham congregation joined the fledgling Canadian Reformed Church, but the Hamilton church had a problem.

In Canadian Reformed polity, it is generally accepted (although not part of Church Order) that a community should ideally have but a single "true" church, because Schilder taught part of the task of the church is "to keep the number of churches in God's wide world as small as possible" within regional bounds. Since there was already a Canadian Reformed church in Hamilton, the federation was unwilling to accept the "Independent Protestant Reformed Church" of Hamilton into its federation. So in 1952, the two congregations signed an act of union and merged.

Shaking Things UpEdit

Schilder's views made some inroads in the PRC, where Rev. Hubert De Wolf (one of Hoeksema's co-pastors at First PRC) was accused of preaching "conditional theology" (specifically for stating "God promises every one of you that if you believe, you will be saved") and was suspended in 1953. Half the Protestant Reformed denomination followed him, and the "Orthodox Protestant Reformed" denomination declared the "Declaration of Principles" without force.

Henry De Bolster, an elder of the Hamilton Canadian Reformed Church and future CRC pastor, applauded the "liberation" from the PRC. This eventually split the congregation in Hamilton, and the independent First Canadian Reformed Church of Hamilton was created in July 1957. The new congregation pursued union with both the De Wolf Group (OPRC) and the Christian Reformed Church. It was received into the CRC as Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in November 1959. (Within two years, the De Wolf Group also united with the CRC.)

Little OverlapEdit

The Protestant Reformed Churches have had little presence in Canada because the bulk of Dutch Reformed church plants in the peak immigration period were by GKN members, who joined the CRC, and Liberated believers, who joined the Canadian Reformed Church.

The Canadian Reformed Churches have very little presence in the United States because there was far less Dutch immigration to the US in that same period.

The differences between the two denominations, which had such similar births, appear to be intractable.


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