The Reformed faith came to the Netherlands in the 16th century. The first Reformed congregation in North America was established in New Amsterdam (now New York City) in 1628 and continues to this day as the Collegiate Dutch Reformed Church. In 1747, the German Reformed congregations formed their own Coetus; they eventually separated completely from the Dutch church to become the Reformed Church in the United States. The Dutch American churches officially separated from the Dutch churches in 1792 under the name Reformed Protestant Dutch Church (RPDC).
In 1816, William I reorganized the independent Gereformeerde Kerken as the Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk (NHK, Netherlands Reformed [more accurately Reorganized] Church). The Church Order adopted at the Synod of Dordt in 1619 was replaced with a government created hierarchical collegial structure.
The First Secessions
There was a small secession from the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church (now the Reformed Church in America or RCA) in 1822. The seceders called themselves the True Dutch Reformed Church (TDRC) and maintained great antagonism toward the RCA throughout their history. (This group is also known as the True Reformed Protestant Dutch Church and True Protestant Dutch Reformed Church.)
A secession from the NHK began in 1834. Some pastors were deposed. Others led their congregations out of the denomination they considered apostate. The seceders were united in their opposition to the mother church, but not united enough to remain together. The Afscheiding resulted in at least two denominations: the Christelijke Afgescheiden Kerk (CAK, Christian Seceded Church) and the Gereformeerde Kerk onder het Kruis (Reformed Churches under the Cross or kruis kerken). Another secession was led by a Rev. Ledeboer, who left the NHK in 1841.
The seceders were ill treated at home; emigration became a viable option. In 1846, Rev. Albertus C. van Raalte led a group of seceders to the New World. This group established a colony at Holland, Michigan, complete with its own churches. In 1850, the Classis of Holland united with the RCA.
However, the union was not without its dissenters. Gijsbert Haan had remained in New York while the colonists settled in Michigan. There he was strongly influenced by the TDRC propaganda about the evils of the Reformed Church. After several years, Haan managed to lead a portion of Second Reformed Church (Grand Rapids, MI) and its pastor to secede. Thus, the Christian Reformed denomination (CRC) was born in 1857.
In the Netherlands, many of the kruis kerken joined with the CAK, forming the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk (CGKN).
Dr. Abraham Kuyper led another secession from the NHK in 1886. The Doleantie (Grieving) soon looked toward union with the CGKN. In 1892, the dolendere united with most of the CGKN, forming the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (GKN, Reformed Churches in the Netherlands).
Two years earlier, in 1890, union had been effected between the TDRC and the larger immigrant CRC. The union brought a much needed English-speaking element to the CRC. The TDRC congregations were organized as Classis Hackensack. Although both groups shared a theological perspective and condemned Freemasonry, several of the Hackensack congregations allowed members of other lodges to join their churches. Since the CRC condemned all lodge membership as incompatible with the gospel, most of Classis Hackensack withdrew from the CRC in 1908.
Another union took place in the Netherlands in 1907, when Rev. Kersten orchestrated the joining of the remaining kruis kerken and the Ledeboerian churches. The new denomination was called Gereformeerde Gemeenten (Reformed Congregations).
The equivalent North American denomination finds its origin in 1877, when the Grand Rapids, MI, and Lodi, NJ, congregations chose to affiliate under the name Netherlands Reformed.
This period of unions was followed by more separations. In 1924, Rev. Herman Hoeksema of the Eastern Ave. CRC in Grand Rapids, MI, was deposed for refusing to teach the doctrines of common grace and presumptive regeneration as stated in the Conclusions of Utrecht, which the CRC adopted in 1908. The vast majority of his congregation followed the deposed pastor, as did a congregation in Kalamazoo. Others soon followed and the Protestant Reformed Churches were officially organized in 1926. (Although the CRC reaffirmed the Conclusions of Utrecht in 1962, they were "set aside" in 1968.)
Toward the end of World War II, Dr. Klaas Schilder was deposed by the GKN. This action resulted in the formation of the GKN Vrijgemaakt (liberated). The GKN-v is the second largest Reformed body in the Netherlands following the union of the NHK and GKN.
Post War Immigration
Following World War II, Dutch immigration to North America reached its highest level ever. Many of these believers brought their denominations with them, resulting in the Canadian and American Reformed Churches (North American version of Vrijgemaakt) and the Free Reformed Churches (CGKN) being planted in Canada and the United States. The immigration also resulted in new Christian Reformed, Reformed, and Netherlands Reformed congregations, especially in Canada.
The Protestant Reformed Churches were rent asunder in 1954, half the denomination remaining loyal to Rev. Hoeksema and half looking for more intellectual and theological freedom. The seceding group, known as the Orthodox Protestant Reformed Churches or "the DeWolf Group", united with the CRC in 1961. A core issue in this schism was the "free offer" of the gospel.
At about the same time, there was a secession from the Gereformeerde Gemeenten over the same issue. The seceding group, under the leadership of Dr. Steenblok, took the name Gereformeerde Gemeenten in Nederland. There is a small North American sister denomination called the Reformed Congregations in North America.
In the Netherlands, there arose a controversy in the GKN-v asking whether they alone were the true church in the Netherlands. Several who disagreed were suspended from office by the 1967 synod. Some churches left the bonds of the GKN-v, eventually forming a loose federation called the Nederlands Gereformeerde Kerken.
There has been a steady exodus of congregations from the CRC since the late 1980s, mostly by those dissatisfied with the changing stance on women in church office. The first to secede were the [http:// Orthodox Christian Reformed Churches], which began with a single congregation in 1979 and grew to four churches by the end of 1980, formally creating their own denomination (then with seven congregations) in 1988. At its peak, the OCRC had 15 member churches, primarily in Canada.
Others organized informally as the Christian Reformed Alliance in 1990. As more congregations withdrew from the CRC, that name was no longer appropriate, and in 1992 several newly independent congregations formed the Alliance of Reformed Churches (which never became a denomination) which became the core of the United Reformed Churches when that denomination organized in 1996. The ORCR joined the URC in 2008.
Some Korean churches left the CRC to form their own denomination, the Christian Presbyterian Church. I know nothing further about this group.
There was also a significant secession from the Netherlands Reformed Congregations when Rev. Joel Beeke of First Netherlands Reformed (Grand Rapids, MI) was deposed. The new Heritage Netherlands Reformed denomination (now simply Heritage Reformed Churches) has 10 congregations (January 2013) and a seminary, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary , which is also used by the Free Reformed.
Since 2006, the RCA and CRC are allowed to exchange ministers between denominations.
Estimated Denominational Membership (2012)
- CRC, 250,000
- RCA, 240,000
- URC, 22,500
- CARC, 17,000
- NRC, 9,400
- PRC, 7,800
- FRC, 4,700
Union and Disharmony in the Netherlands
In the Netherlands, the NHK, GKN, and Evangelical Lutheran Church negotiated a merger, creating the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (Protestantse Kerk in Nederland, or PKN) on May 1, 2004.
The day before the union was completed, opponents of the union within the NHK met to form the Restored Reformed Church (Hersteld Hervormde Kerk, or HHK), which began with 65 congregations and remnants of 70 more. It had 117 member churches as of January 2013.
Likewise, seven abstaining congregations from the GKN met to create the Continued Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Voortgezette Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland, or VGKN) in May 2004.
In 2003, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands restored (De Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland hersteld, or DGKh) separated from the GKv, and in 2010, the Reformed Church dissenting (Gereformeerde Kerk (dolerend), or GK) left the GKv.
Estimated Denominational Membership (2012)
- PKN, 2,000,000
- GKN-V, 127,000
- GGiNeA, 102,500
- CGK, 74,000
- HHK, 53,900
- NGK, 31,000
- GGiN, 22,000
- OGG, 18,000
- VG, 5,000
- VGK, 3,400
There have undoubtedly been other secessions I'm not familiar with, and many details could be added to those given here. This page is intended as a general introduction. For more information, I recommend The Dutch Reformed Presence in Canada (1994).