Dutch Reformed Wiki

This paper was originally written in 1994 for Canadian Church History at Calvin Theological Seminary. There have been some updates since them, although the paper is not up to date. Feel free to print and use this for noncommercial purposes.

Background to Immigration[]

The Dutch in Canada Before World War II[]

The people of the Netherlands have never been an emigrating people. Having strong ties to their land and to one another, the Dutch have always reflected long and hard before emigrating. . . . The Dutch preferred to stay in their homeland rather than emigrate in any sizable numbers.[1]


Figure 1. U.S. immigration shown in blue, Canadian in red.

Yet some Dutch did come to North America, first establishing the colony of New Netherland (until the British conquest in 1664); later planting kolonies in western Michigan and Iowa (c. 1846-58). Still, the 19th-century peak Dutch immigration (1881-93) saw less than 10,000 Netherlanders arrive each year, compared to hundreds of thousands of Germans, British, and other Europeans. With the advent of immigration restrictions, the already small influx was further reduced.

Immigration slowed during the Depression and nearly stopped during World War II. Immigration statistics show 116 Dutch immigrants (not counting children under 10) entering Canada from 1940 to 1945.

Unlike Dutch Catholics, Dutch Calvinists tended not to assimilate readily into existing denominations. The first Canadian Christian Reformed congregation was organized at Nyverdall, Alberta, in 1905; another was begun in Winnipeg in 1908. The first Reformed Church in America congregation in Canada was formed at Monarch, Alberta, in 1909. Although the reformed Dutch[2] were not a large minority, there were already signs that they would not surrender their heritage.

Post-World War II Dutch Immigration[]

Following World War II the Dutch were forced to realize that many permanent changes were taking place. . . . The Depression hit, and before they could adjust . . . they were subjected to Nazi occupation.[3]

The Great Depression, two world wars in a generation, and the threat of communism changed Dutch attitudes on emigration. Beyond these circumstances shared with the rest of Europe, the Dutch government also had to deal with over 100,000 refugees from Indonesia, overpopulation, a housing shortage, loss of jobs, a reduction in tax revenues, and international currency problems.

Even without government policies to encourage emigration, the exodus began. This increased in 1949 when new emigration policies were announced, including subsidies to people "deemed as economic surplus."[4]

Dutch immigration to North America had slowed significantly by the early-1960s, as shown in Figure 1.

The Dutch Reformed in North America before World War II[]

Reformed Church Origins[]

Nowhere in Europe did people suffer more for what they believed than they did in Holland. Spain, the most powerful country of that day, ruled Holland with an iron hand. The Spanish kings were determined to root the Reformation out of Holland.[5]

Due to Spain's cruelty, the Catholics of the Low Countries united with the Protestants to throw off the Spanish chains. The Netherlands became a republic in 1648, and the Gereformeerde Kerken (Reformed Churches) were officially recognized.

The first Dutch immigrants came to the new world in the early 17th century and brought their reformed faith with them. The first congregation of what became the Reformed Church in America (RCA) was organized in New Amsterdam in 1628. By the time the English conquered New Netherland in 1664, there were 15 reformed congregations in the colony.

As in New France, the English did not actively discourage the religion of the conquered inhabitants. At times, Dutch reformed congregations received charters - something otherwise reserved for the Anglican Church. By the time of the Revolution, there were over 100 Dutch reformed congregations. They had been so well treated and assimilated by the British, in fact, that perhaps one-third were loyal to the nation which had defeated them a century earlier. Some of these loyalists returned to the Netherlands following the Revolutionary War, while others settled in future Canada, often joining Presbyterian or Anglican churches. In some cases they did created Dutch Reformed churches in Canada, but following the War of 1812, most of these left the Reformed Church of America and aligned themselves with the Presbyterian church.

The Reformed Protestant Dutch Church, as it was then called, was no stranger to controversy and secession. Three small secessions took place in the 19th century. The first occurred in 1822 over the issue of Hopkinsism; the resulting denomination called itself the True Dutch Reformed Church (TDRC). The second involved immigrant congregations in Michigan; after joining the RCA in 1850, four of these congregations left the fold in 1857 and began the Christian Reformed Church. The third controversy was over lodge membership; the RCA's refusal to stand against lodge membership impelled several congregations to join the fledgling CRC in the early 1880s.[6]

The Afscheiding, Rev. Ledeboer, and the Doleantie[]

The RCA was established long before William I made the Gereformeerde Kerken[7] the state church, henceforth called the Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk (NHK, Netherlands Reformed [or, better, Reorganized] Church). Making the church a department of the state did not sit well, nor did the liberalism introduced during the Napoleanic era. These changes planted the seeds of change. "Six ministers and their flocks returned to the standpoint of orthodoxy in 1834 and the years immediately following."[8] This group became the Christelijke Afgescheiden Kerk (Christian Seceded Church). This was the group to which Scholte, van Raalte, and their followers belonged before coming to North America in the late 1840s.

The Afgescheiden were united in their opposition to the NHK, but not in enough ways to remain unified. The first parting of ways took place in 1837 over the issue of state recognition. The crown was willing to recognize seceded congregations if they no longer claimed to be the true continuation of the Gereformeerde Kerken and also abandoned the Church Order of Dort. A group called the Gereformeerde Kerken onder het Kruis (Reformed Churches under the Cross) emerged, which opposed the compromises necessary for state recognition. In 1869 the afgescheiden and most of the kruis kerken merged to form the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken (CGKN).

In 1841, Rev. Ledeboer led another group out of the NHK. This group stressed personal piety and was unwilling to affiliate with the afgescheiden or the kruis kerken. Much later, the Ledeboerians merged with the kruis kerken that had remained outside of the 1869 union to form the Gereformeerde Gemeenten (Reformed Congregations) in 1907. This group corresponds to the Netherlands Reformed Congregations in North America.

The Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk experienced another secession in 1886, the Doleantie (Grieving) led by Abraham Kuyper. In 1892, union was effected between the Doleantie and a majority of the Christelijke Gereformeerde. The new church returned to the original name of the Dutch reformed churches: Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (GKN). Four congregations remained outside this union, retaining the name Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland.[9]

This is summarized on A Timeline of Dutch Reformed Churches. The left part of the chart represents denominations and individuals in the Netherlands; the right part covers North American churches and leaders.

[Later research has uncovered the Nederlands Gereformeerde Kerken, an offshoot of the "Article 31" churches begun in the late 1960s, and the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Church, formed by a group seceding from First NRC of Grand Rapids in 1993. These do not appear on the timeline.]

Christian Reformed Church Growth[]

The Christian Reformed Church grew slowly in its first twenty years. From four congregations in 1857, it grew to 26 in 1875 (when the first yearbook was published). In 1880, there were 39 congregations.

The RCA's refusal to condemn lodge membership led several congregations and families to join the CRC. Because of the lodge decision, the CGKN after 1882 no longer recommended its immigrating members join the RCA, instead promoting the CRC.[10] Since the 1880s was the peak decade of Dutch emigration prior to World War II, the CRC benefited greatly. Additionally, the True Dutch Reformed Church, located in New York and New Jersey, united with the CRC in 1890 as Classis Hackensack.[11] Together, the RCA defection, CGKN immigration, and 1890 union brought the Christian Reformed Church from 39 congregations to 95 in a single decade.

Beyond the number of new members, this period also broadened the base of the CRC. The TDRC brought an English-speaking element much needed for the CRC to enter the American mainstream. Also, the followers of Abraham Kuyper brought his ideas with them, ideas which had far less impact on the RCA.

Early Dutch Reformed Churches in Canada[]

The first Christian Reformed Church in Canada was organized in 1905 at Nyverdall, Alberta (separated in 1911 to form congregations in Nobleford and Granum). A congregation was organized in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1908, followed by an RCA congregation at Monarch (Nobleford), Alberta, in 1909. Christian Reformed churches were established in Edmonton in 1911 and Burdett, Alberta, in 1911. All of these congregations have survived to the present.

Of the next five Dutch reformed churches organized in the Canadian west, only one was so blessed. The RCA church at Botrell, Alberta, was organized in 1912 and disbanded in 1971 (the RCA had only two Canadian congregations before World War II). Due to severe crop failures, the CRCs of Cramersburg, Saskatchewan, lasted from 1912 to 1923; Zant, Manitoba from 1917 to 1920; and Edam, Saskatchewan, from 1917 to 1923. However, the Christian Reformed church in Neerlandia, founded in 1915, continues to this day.

It wasn't until 1926 that Christian Reformed congregations were found in Canada outside the prairies. In that year congregations were established in Chatham, Ontario, and Vancouver, British Columbia. A congregation was begun in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1929; another in Sarnia, Ontario, in 1934.

Also begun in the 1930s were the following congregations: Lacombe, Alberta, in 1935; Holland Marsh, Ontario, in 1938; and Houston, British Columbia, and Windsor, Ontario, in 1939. Of the congregations founded between 1920 and 1940, only the Windsor church has since disbanded (in 1960).

In brief, on the eve of World War II there were two RCA churches in Canada, both in Alberta. The CRC had six churches in Alberta, five in Ontario, two in British Columbia, and one in Manitoba. The Dutch reformed had a barely noticeable presence in Canada.

The Dutch Reformed Churches in the Netherlands[]

A Timeline of Dutch Reformed Churches is a helpful aid in understanding when separations and unions took place as well as how the various denominations are related. It is helpful to have some background in the issues which divided these churches before we discuss the postwar immigration.


Dutch Reformed Timeline

Government Recognition[]

In 1816, King William I made the Gereformeerde Kerken the official state church, renaming it the Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk and replaced its synod with a government-appointed ruling body. This was unacceptable to many, resulting in the Afscheiding of 1834. However, this was not without its own complications. The government actively oppressed the new churches and their members. Some decided to apply for state recognition to avoid this problem; this group became the Christelijke Afgescheiden Kerk.

However, there were those convinced that state recognition involved too many compromises. This group was called the Gereformeerde Kerk onder het Kruis. A union of most kruis kerken with the afgescheiden took place in 1869.

Outside of the early colonial period, state recognition has not been an issue for the North American churches.

Common Grace[]

Abraham Kuyper provided powerful leadership to Calvinists in the Netherlands from the 1860s to 1920. He was a pastor, newspaper editor, politician, and innovative thinker. Kuyper's most persistent early theme was the antithesis: there can be no compromise between darkness and light. This thinking helped lead the "faithful" out of the NHK in 1886 and unite the dolerenden with the Christelijke Gereformeerde in 1892.

Another of Kuyper's ideas was common grace. Common grace means that God's goodness in creation (e.g., rain on the crops of the righteous and unrighteous) is a form of grace, albeit not saving grace. Partially because of common grace, the Christian should be involved in government, business, education, etc. Not only that, Christians could cooperate with others toward the same goals despite the antithesis.

Those uneasy with the twin emphases of anithesis and common grace remained outside of the GKN. These thinkers may have influenced the thinking of Herman Hoeksema, who later founded the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC).

The GKN established common grace as dogma with the Conclusions of Utrecht in 1905. The CRC adopted the conclusions in 1908 and further strengthened its stance on common grace with the "Three Points of Kalamazoo" adopted in 1924.

Church Polity[]

It has been an ongoing question throughout church history: How should the denomination be organized? The Roman Catholic model was hierarchy; the reformed model was synodical or presbyterian.

Still, the presbyterian model doesn't answer the question of congregational autonomy v. denominational authority. On one side of the issue we find those who maintain that only the local congregation is truly the church; all else constitutes federation. For these churches, classes and synods have little more than advisory power. The synod may be able to drop a congregation from its membership roster, but only the local congregation/council can discipline its members. This includes deposing office bearers.

On the other side is the hierarchical model. According to this model, a classis has more authority than a congregation and a synod more than a classis. Although discipline of individuals is left to their church council, the larger assembly may discipline office holders of smaller assemblies.

When the Schilder case came before the GKN synod in 1944, Article 31 of their church order read:

If anyone complains that he has been wronged by the decision of the minor assembly, he shall have the right to appeal to the major ecclesiastical assembly; and whatever may be agreed upon by a majority vote shall be considered settled and binding, unless it be proved to conflict with the Word of God or with the articles decided upon in the General Synod, as long as they are not changed by another General Synod.[12]

Although this was written church order, by this time the GKN had become more hierarchical in nature, which would be reflected in their next revision of church order. Schilder called the new structure "synodocratic" and saw it as a great threat to congregational autonomy. Abraham Kuyper was also a strong supporter of the rights of the local congregation.

Personal Piety and Presumptive Regeneration[]

Does communicant membership in the church require intellectual agreement, a personal encounter with God, a holy lifestyle? If we define the church as the people of God, who are the people of God?

As a state church, the NHK holds the extreme position that anyone can be a member of the church - even those who have never been baptized (they have such a membership category for the unbaptized children of members, who may themselves belong to this class). To my knowledge, all other Dutch reformed bodies require that members be baptized.

However, not all denominations require their members to be active - the RCA has a statistic for inactive members; this includes those away from the community (at school, on the mission field, etc.) and others. While it is perhaps courageous to maintain such a statistic, the RCA's inactive data reflect poorly on the spirituality of the "old RCA" in the East.[13]

In reformed churches we anticipate our children will affirm faith in God when they understand what is involved in belonging to God and his church. In most reformed congregations, this permits the believer to partake of communion and participate in congregational voting, although some churches give communion to pre-professing children and some require professing members to reach a particular age before voting. (Some deny the vote to female communicant members.)

However, not all baptized children grow to faith, as our believers' baptism friends will remind us. It is generally believed that the children of believers are holy and that, should they die in childhood, they will spend eternity with their loving Father in heaven. Abraham Kuyper extended this concept to presumptive regeneration - "the doctrine that 'the seed of the covenant [that is, the children of believers] by virtue of the promise of God is to be regarded as regenerated and as sanctified in Christ, until the contrary is shown in their confession and conduct when they are reaching years of discretion. . . ."[14] This theory, upheld in the 1905 Conclusions of Utrecht, has been a point of contention between several denominations.

Post-World War II Dutch Immigration to Canada[]

Following the horrors of Nazi occupation, seeing the threat of economic collapse, and perceiving the threat of Soviet expansion, many Dutch were willing to leave their homeland following World War II. For the first time, even the Roman Catholics and hervormden left in large numbers. Primary overseas destinations included the United States (with its immigration cap), Canada, and Australia.

In 1952, Roman Catholics made up 38% of the Dutch population. The NHK accounted for 27%, GKN for 10%, other denominations another 7%, and the unchurched the final 18%. The following table shows the proportions of each in emigration from 1948 to 1962 (the unchurched are not included):[15]

Percentages by Religious Affiliation
                Canada  Australia  U.S.
Roman Catholic     24      38      10
Hervormd           26      30      20
Gereformeerd       41       9      20
Other churches      7      19      24
Roman Catholic     33      49      26
Hervormd           27      23      27
Gereformeerd       26       7      14
Other churches     10      17      18
Roman Catholic     35      45      35
Hervormd           24      24      36
Gereformeerd       23       6       6
Other churches     13      20      13

The disproportionate number of those entering Canada, especially in the first post-War years, may be related to the Canadian government's exception to immigration quotas for Dutch farmers (made at the request of the Dutch government). If the gereformeerden were more rural than the other groups, it stands to reason that such a policy would bring more of them to Canada.

Other Dutch reformed groups may have been more rural than the GKN. These believers, when they settled in the same area, eventually reproduced their denominational differences in the New World. Thus the Canadian Reformed, Free Reformed, and Netherlands Reformed denominations were introduced to Canada.

The Christian Reformed Church in Post-World War II Canada[]

At the outbreak of hostilities, fourteen of the sixteen Dutch reformed congregations in Canada were Christian Reformed. In addition, the CRC had ongoing experience assimilating Dutch immigrants throughout the 1920s and 30s. They had a distinct advantage in reaching out to the thousands of Dutch reformed (and non-reformed) believers coming to the New World.

The CRC geared up to receive these immigrants. It found Dutch-speaking field missionaries and provided funding to begin churches. Because of this, the CRC has been the largest Dutch reformed group in Canada by a large margin. New congregations were organized beginning in 1948 in Ontario and 1950 in western Canada.

A glance at denominational yearbooks from this era shows a hard working core of pastors tending the immigrant flocks. Many served more than one church at a time; others moved from area to area, staying only long enough to build up the new congregation. When a history of 1946 to 1957 is written, the names of Garret André (8 churches served, 1948-57), Ralph J. Bos (9, 1948-57), Samuel G. Brondsema (9, 1949-55), Paul De Koekkoek (8, 1945-55), John Hanenburg (9, 1950-57), Peter J. Hoekstra (9, 1946-57), Herman Moes (4, 1949-56), Adam Persenaire (8, 1948-57), Gerrit H. Rientjes (4, 1952-53), John Rubingh (8, 1946-56), Albert H. Smit (5, 1950-56), Charles Spoelhof (7, 1948-57), and Gerald Van Laar (5, 1950-57) must all receive prominence.

My father, whose family came to Canada in 1950, tells how Christian Reformed congregations grew by being the Dutch-speaking church in a given area. They thus attracted members from other Dutch traditions, both reformed and evangelical. A list of communities served by the CRC and other Dutch reformed denominations appears as Appendix 1.

The CRC maintained consistent growth in Canada, both in number of congregations and total membership, until 1987. After a rebound in 1989, membership has been dropping. This corresponds to synod's decisions on women in church office and may explain much of the recent growth in the Canadian Reformed, Orthodox Christian Reformed, and independent reformed congregations.

The Reformed Church in Post-World War II Canada[]

The Reformed Church in America had three handicaps in ministering to Dutch reformed immigrants. First, the NHK recommended its members join the United Church of Canada. Second, the RCA didn't have the Dutch-speaking pastors the CRC had. Third, on a denominational level the RCA did not want to spread to Canada.[16]

While many hervormden were willing to join the United Church or Presbyterian Church, others were not. However, some of these were also unwilling to join the CRC because of established NHK/GKN differences which translated to RCA/CRC differences in North America. These believers petitioned the Particular Synod of Michigan for assistance in organizing congregations, which help the Americans were happy to give. However, when they requested the Board of Domestic Missions oversee work with the immigrants, they were rebuffed - "RCA headquarters let it be known that they did not want to introduce a new denomination in Canada."[17]

When the Dutch immigrants and the Synod of Michigan proved adamant, the General Synod reached a compromise position: the RCA would establish a 10-year presence in Canada to assist in assimilation; after ten years, every congregation would be free to affiliate with the United Church or the Presbyterians.[18]

The first RCA in Ontario was organized at Chatham in 1949, followed by congregations in Brantford and Harriston in 1950. A full list of RCA congregations in Canada and their year of organization follows:

1909 Monarch, AB
1912 Botrell, AB (Community), disbanded 1971
1944 Edmonton, AB (Emmanuel Community), disbanded 1946
1949 Chatham, ON (First)


Brantford, ON (Bethel)
Harriston, ON (First)


Maitland, ON (Community)
St. Catharines, ON (First)
Wainfleet, ON (Maranatha)
Whitby, ON (Emmanuel)


Drayton, ON
Edmonton, AB (Emmanuel Community)
Exeter, ON (Bethel)
London, ON (Emmanuel)
Lethbridge, AB (Hope), merged with Presbyterian congregation in 1971
Toronto, ON (First), disbanded 1970


Fruitland, ON (Ebenezer)
Winnipeg, MB (Elmwood)


Calgary, AB
Guelph, ON


Edmonton, AB (Second), transferred to United Church in 1957
Kingsville, ON (Faith)
Medicine Hat, AB, disbanded 1962
Vancouver, BC (Hope)


Abbotsford, BC (Bethel)
Cambridge, ON (Countryside)
Mississauga, ON (Ebenezer)
Strathroy, ON (Hope), disbanded 1964


Whally, BC (Grace Community)
Woodstock, ON (Emmanuel)


Barrie, ON, disbanded 1982
Edmonton, AB (Bethel), merged with Emmanuel in 1969
1960 Toronto, ON (Maple Leaf Drive)
1963 Montreal, PQ (Maranatha), dropped 1984
1979 Burnaby, BC (New Life Community)
1981 St. Albert, AB (Christ Community)
1984 Welland, ON (Christ Community)
1986 Calgary, AB (New Hope)
1987 Richmond, BC (Fookien Evangelical)
1988 Fort McLeod, AB (Bethel)


Kamloops, BC (Christ the King), rec'd from UCC
Nanaimo, BC (Woodgrove Christian Community), rec'd from UCC
Parksville, BC (Arbutus Grove), rec'd from UCC
Port Alberni, BC (Cedar Grove), rec'd from UCC


Toronto, ON (Agape Hispanic)
Tory Hill, ON (St. Paul's Collegiate), rec'd from UCC


Athabasca, AB (Athabasca United), rec'd from UCC
Norwich, ON (Ebenezer)
Powell River, BC, rec'd from UCC
Springford, ON
Stevensville, ON (Faith)
Toronto, ON (Christ the King)
1992 Surrey, BC (New Life Community)

At a workshop held in Hamilton, ON (March 31-April 2, 1959), the immigrant churches decided to remain RCA in a nearly unanimous decision.[19] Until 1962 (when the Classis of Ontario was formed to cover Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba) all Canadian congregations belonged to American classes. Through 1993 the churches of Alberta, British Columbia, and Manitoba were part of the Classis of Cascades. They are now divided into the Classis of British Columbia and the Classis of the Canadian Prairies. Together the three Canadian classes constitute the Regional Synod of Canada, also known as the Reformed Church of Canada. The last Canadian congregation in a U.S. classis, Faith RCA of Kingsville, ON, transfered to the Classis of Ontario from the Classis of Lake Erie in 1993.

A recent development for the RCA in Canada is the defection of United Church congregations (noted above as "rec'd from UCC"). Despite this, the RCA saw a continual membership decline from 1966 to 1986; American membership also peaked in 1966. Since the addition of the former UCC congregations, RCA membership in Canada appears to have stabilized.

According to the 1992 Acts of Synod, the RCA in Canada has 42 congregations with 6,924 total members. The RCA is the third largest Dutch reformed group in Canada.

The Protestant Reformed Churches in Canada[]

The Protestant Reformed Churches came into being as an indirect result of Abraham Kuyper's doctrine of common grace and as the direct result of Rev. Herman Hoeksema of the CRC refusing to accept this teaching when it was made binding by the CRC synod in 1924 (part of the Three Points of Kalamazoo). Rev. Hoeksema took 80% of the membership of Eastern Ave. CRC (Grand Rapids, MI) out of the CRC in 1925.

First Protestant Reformed Church was organized in Grand Rapids in 1926, after losing a lengthy court battle regarding church property. By 1929 Protestant Reformed churches had been organized in Grandville, Holland, Hudsonville, and Kalamazoo, Michigan; Doon, Hull, Oskaloosa, Pella, Rock Valley, and Sioux Center, Iowa; and Oak Lawn and South Holland, Illinois.

To help understand the antipathy this group held for the CRC, I here quote the fifth question and answer from their catechism:

5. But why cannot you be a member of the Christian Reformed Churches of America?

Because they would demand of me to express conformity with the Three Points adopted in 1924. These Points were added to the Confession of the Reformed Churches by the Synod of Kalamazoo in 1924 and since that time they are an integral part of the Confession of the Christian Reformed Churches. And they officially expel or bar from their fellowship every one that will subscribe to the Three Forms of Unity, vis., the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic or Netherlands Confession, and the Canons of Dordrecht, but refuses to express agreement with the Three Points. And seeing that I cannot sign these Points of doctrine they certainly make it impossible for me to affiliate with them.[20]

It is interesting to note that the PRC planted and prospered only where the CRC already existed, at least in the early decades. Thus it should be no surprise that they began outreach work with Dutch-Canadian immigrants following World War II. Their special target was members of the vrijgemaakte churches, discussed below under Canadian Reformed.

They were not above deception - my father tells of an uncle who brought their gereformeerde family to the Hamilton PRC, where they were asked for their papers.[21] However, something seemed amiss and my grandfather retained the family's documents. The following evening a CRC pastor explained matters and received their papers.

The first Canadian PRC was organized in Hamilton, ON, in 1949. A second congregation was established in Chatham in 1950. More information on both appears below in the section on the Canadian Reformed Church. Neither congregation remained in the PRC longer than two years.

The PRC has had some success in the Canadian west, organizing congregations at Edmonton, AB, in 1975 and Lacombe, AB, in 1986. Following is a chronological list of Protestant Reformed congregations in Canada.

1949 Hamilton, ON, left PRC in 1950, merged with Canadian Reformed in 1952
1950 Chatham, ON, joined Canadian Reformed in 1950
1975 First, Edmonton, AB
1986 Immanuel, Lacombe, AB

Rev. Hubert De Wolf was co-pastor with Hoeksema at First PRC of Grand Rapids from 1944 to 1953. He became the center of great controversy when he stated in an April 1951 sermon, "God promises every one of you that, if you believe, you will be saved."[22] After he was deposed in 1953, the denomination divided. Where there had been 24 PRCs in 1953, seven left the denomination and ten others were torn in half. In 1954, seventeen congregations (2,405 members) remained in the Protestant Reformed Churches in America; seventeen congregations (3,335 members) formed the Protestant Reformed Churches of America. In 1957 the latter group pursued relations with the CRC and by 1961 had joined that denomination.[23]

With 26 congregations (only 2 in Canada totaling under 200 members), the PRC remains small, with only 2 more congregations than it had in 1953.[24]

The Canadian Reformed Churches in Canada[]

The Dutch reformed in the Netherlands are far more likely to separate and recombine than their North American siblings. Until the 1980s only the TDRC and Protestant Reformed have created denominations without a direct Dutch parallel. Two North American reformed denominations have emerged in the past decade, both primarily composed of formerly Christian Reformed folk who left the CRC over issues including evolution and women in church office.

One twentieth-century schism in the Netherlands had a great impact on the postwar immigrants and the churches they established. The GKN Synod deposed Dr. Klaas Schilder in 1944 (a decision it has since repudiated). Issues involved common grace, church order, and the right to theological debate.

Schilder believed that the theological differences being aired in the 1930s ought to be pursued in the church papers and in exchanges of views involving the professors and theologians. The church should not intrude - as long as all parties to the debate remained within the bounds of the confessions.[25]

After the 1944 decision, Schilder and those agreeing with him formed a new denomination, known informally as the vrijgemaakte or the Article 31 church. Thus was born the third-largest reformed denomination in the Netherlands.

Because the CRC failed to recognize the Schilder group as the legitimate continuation of the GKN, members of this church were wary of joining the CRC upon reaching North America. Some initially tried affiliating with the Protestant Reformed, since Rev. Schilder shared some views on common grace with Rev. Hoeksema - Schilder initially recommended his followers in North America join the PRC. The vrijgemaakten, at the synod of 1948, took up official contact with the Protestant Reformed. However, following the adoption of the "Declaration of Principles" by the PRC, which appeared directed against the Article 31 churches, "at the Synod of Kampen 1951 it was reported that, owing to decisions of the Synod 1950 of the Protestant Reformed Churches, no conditions for a relationship as sister churches could be established."[26]

The Hamilton and Chatham Protestant Reformed congregations severed their relationship with the Protestant Reformed denomination. The Chatham church was readily welcomed into the fledgling Canadian Reformed Churches (now Canadian and American Reformed Churches [CARC]).

However, the Canadian Reformed had already organized a church in Hamilton. Further, the (independent) Protestant Reformed congregation did not wish to disband and have its members join the Canadian Reformed church as individuals. Thus, on June 13, 1952, an act of union was signed which merged the two congregations. The following Sunday, the former members of the PRC council were voluntarily released from office.[27]

The merger in Hamilton "carried the seed of a new schism with it."[28] Those who had belonged to the PRC retained leanings toward that denomination, especially the De Wolf group (also known as the Orthodox Protestant Reformed Churches or OPRC), which softened some of the hard lines drawn by Rev. Hoeksema. At the OPRC synod in 1954, the "Declaration of Principles" were declared without force. An elder of the Hamilton Canadian Reformed Church, H. R. De Bolster (later a CRC pastor and president of Redeemer College), "thanked the Lord in the public worship service of Hamilton's church for the 'liberation' of the Protestant Reformed Churches."[29]

This and other issues eventually led to a split within the Hamilton congregation. In July 1957 each faction suspended the other and the "First Canadian Reformed Church of Hamilton" was instituted.[30] The Canadian Reformed synod refused to recognize this group, which immediately pursued relations with both the OPRC and the CRC. On November 19, 1959, Classis Hamilton of the CRC received the congregation as an autonomous church. The congregation renamed itself Immanuel Christian Reformed Church. This was the only Canadian Reformed congregation to join the CRC.

Two books, Inheritance Preserved and Seeking Our Brothers in the Light, provide a good discussion of the Schilder case, later decisions by the GKN reversing their decisions, and the failed merger talks between the CRC and the CARC. One can hardly read either book without wondering why the CRC could not effect a merger with the Canadian Reformed, which is undoubtedly the intent of the authors.

The following table lists Canadian Reformed congregations in Canada and their year of organization. Several U.S. churches exist which are called American Reformed.


Coaldale, AB (4/16)
Immanuel, Edmonton, AB (7/9)
Neerlandia, AB (8/6)
Orangeville, ON (8/13)
Maranatha, Surrey, BC (12/17 as new Westminster)


Houston, BC (3/4)
Hamilton, ON (org. 5/20 as CARC)
Eben-Ezer, Chatham, ON (org. 3/23/50; CARC as of 10/20/51)
Carman, Manitoba (8/12)


Smithville, ON (9/14)


Winnipeg, Manitoba (2/15)
Watford, ON (3/15)


Toronto, ON (1/1)
Cloverdale, BC (3/7)
Carman, AB[31]

Rocky Mountain House, AB

1955 Ebenezer (East), Burlington, ON (5/1)


Brampton, ON (1/15)
Fergus, ON (1/15)
Smithers, BC (4/15)
1959 Ottawa, ON (1/4)
1960 London, ON (4/1)


Barrhead, AB (1/1)
Abbotsford, BC (2/24)
1964 Calgary, AB (11/22)
1968 Matheson, ON (discontinued 1969?)


Chilliwack, BC (2/1)
Lincoln, ON (8/15)
1971 Rehoboth (West), Burlington, ON (5/1)
1974 Guelph, ON (1/1)
1981 Providence, Edmonton, AB (4/1)
1983 South, Burlington, ON (1/2)


Ancaster, ON (5/5)
Attercliffe, ON (7/1)


Lower Sackville, NS (org. 2/24/84; joined CARC 3/12/87)
Grand Valley, ON (7/19)
Elora, ON (9/6)
Vernon, BC (11/1)


Port Kells, BC (1/21)
Rockway, ON (12/31)
1991 Taber, AB (1/20)
1992 Chatsworth, ON (7/5)
1993 Yarrow BC (6/27)
1994 Aldergrove, BC (1/2)

In 1984 there was only a single U.S. congregation; four have since been added. According to the appendix in Seeking Our Brothers in the Light, there were 45 congregations in 1992.[33] The 1991 edition of the Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches gives a total membership of 12,552 in 1989.[34] The Canadian Reformed Churches are the second largest Dutch reformed denomination in Canada.

The Free Reformed Church in Canada[]

The Free Reformed is not a large denomination, including two American congregations and ten Canadian ones. Additionally, two more U.S. and one Canadian congregation are listed as unorganized.

The FRC corresponds to the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in the Netherlands, the group that stayed out of the 1892 merger with the Doleantie. Rev. P. Vander Meyden of the Free Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan, characterizes the FRC thus:

What distinguishes our denomination is the desire for Calvinistic experiential preaching which balances the offer of grace and man's responsibility with our dependence on the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. We stress both the great privilege of being under the word and sacraments which declare God's covenant promises as well as the responsibility of repentance and the necessity of (even covenant children!, cf. John 3:3ff) being born again. Our relationship to the Lord must not be something to which we just give intellectual assent. Rather, it is something which we must come to experience spiritually.
With these concerns bound upon their conscience, the spiritual descendants of the Dutch 1834 Secession could not feel at home under the preaching of the Christian Reformed Churches. They felt that the results of the Kuyperian teaching of "presumptive regeneration" had become strongly entrenched in the CRC.[35]

Following, in order of organization date, is a list of Canadian Free Reformed congregations, culled from yearbooks of the Free Reformed and, prior to 1974, the Christelijke Gereformeerde.

1950 Dundas, ON (6/28)
1951 Chatham, ON (4/24)


St. Thomas, ON (10/10)
Smithville, ON
1953 Hamilton, ON (6/24)


Toronto, ON (5/2)
Mitchell, ON (7/13)


Alberni, BC, not listed in 1967 data
Aldergrove, BC (6/15)
Red Deer, AB, not listed in 1967 data


London, ON (1/16)
Vineland, ON (10/22)
1967 Pitt Meadows, BC
1980 Langley, BC (7/9)
1991 Chilliwack, BC (7/20)
unorg. Brantford, ON (expected organization in 1993)

In 1992 the Free Reformed had a total membership of 3,483, with 2,982 members in Canada. The three largest congregations are at Dundas, Hamilton, and Vineland; they have (respectively) 561, 533, and 446 members.

The Netherlands Reformed Congregations in Canada[]

The Netherlands Reformed Congregations were organized as a denomination in 1907 under the leadership of 25-year-old Rev. G. H. Kersten. This was a union of the remaining kruis kerken and the Ledeboerians, who left the NHK in 1841.[36] This strongly pietistic group is sometimes called "the no-TV church" for their view that, while television is not inherently evil, there isn't enough edifying on TV for the believer to own one, let alone allow so many compromising messages to enter the home.[37] The NRC carefully guards the communion table - many lifelong professing members rarely take communion and some never have.

Following is a list of current Netherlands Reformed Congregations in Canada sorted by organization date:

1950 Norwich, ON (10/22)
1951 Lethbridge, AB (5/25)


Chilliwack, BC (4/30)
St. Catharines, ON (7/7)
1955 Bradford, ON (11/11)
1957 Unionville, ON (9/1)
1961 Fort Macleod, AB (6/23)
1975 Hamilton, ON (1/8)
unorg. Calgary, AB, meeting since 1955

In 1992, the Netherlands Reformed Congregations had one congregation in Australia, nine in Canada, and fifteen in the United States. Total membership was 10,113, with 4,762 in Canada. Their largest congregation, at Norwich, ON, has 1,566 members.

Independent and Orthodox Reformed Churches in Canada[]

The current secession from the CRC has proven at least as strong in Canada as in the United States. The leading journal of the separatist movement, Christian Renewal, is published in Jordan Station, ON. It is perhaps the best source of information on withdrawing churches, although The Banner has improved its coverage in the last few years. According to The Banner, 42 independent churches and 17 CRCs belong to the Alliance of Reformed Churches.[38]

Separated congregations go by a number of names: Orthodox Reformed, CRC (Independent), Independent Reformed, Independent CRC, etc. Several congregations have joined together as the Federation of Orthodox Christian Reformed Churches, which appears to be an emerging denomination.

Following is as complete a list of Canadian congregations as I have been able to find in print.[39] There may be former CRCs which are not listed; I have not yet seen a published list of ARC congregations.

Federation of Orthodox Christian Reformed Churches of Canada and the U.S.[]

Orthodox CRC, Bowmanville, ON
Orthodox CRC, Cambridge, ON
Orthodox CRC, Kelowna, BC
Covenant Reformed Church, Surrey, BC
Orthodox CRC, Toronto, ON
Orthodox CRC, Wingham, ON

Other Independent Dutch Reformed Congregations[]

Evergreen Covenant Reformed Church, Agassiz, BC
Independent CRC, Ancaster, ON
Aylmer Independent CRC, Aylmer, ON
Bethel Independent CRC, Calgary, AB
Grace Reformed Church, Dunnville, ON
Orthodox Reformed Church, Edmonton, AB
Independent CRC, Hamilton, ON
Trinity Reformed Church, Lethbridge, AB
Independent CRC, London, ON
Parkland Independent Reformed Church, Ponoka, AB
Immanuel Orthodox Reformed Church, St. Catharines, ON
Trinity Orthodox Reformed Church, St. Catharines, ON
Independent Reformed Church, Sheffield, ON
Grace Orthodox Reformed Church, Simcoe County, ON
Independent Reformed Church, Troy, ON
Orthodox Reformed Church, Wellandport, ON
Independent Reformed Church, Winnipeg, ON
Independent Reformed Church, Woodstock, ON
Covenant Christian Church, Wyoming, ON

I have no membership data by which to compare group size with other Dutch reformed bodies, although the ARC could rival the size of the Canadian Reformed Churches. How many denominations will emerge remains to be seen.

Many small reformed bodies are paying close attention to the ARC, perhaps hoping these congregations will seek to join them. At the November 1993 meeting of the ARC, observers were present from the Canadian Reformed Churches, Christian Presbyterian Church, FRC, OCRC, PRC, Reformed Church in the United States,[40] and Reformed Presbyterian Church General Assembly.[41] At this meeting a committee was appointed to

contact the Canadian Reformed Churches, the Free Reformed Churches, the Orthodox Christian Reformed Churches, the Protestant Reformed Churches, the Orthodox Presbyterian Churches, the Christian Presbyterian Church, and the Reformed Church in the United States, requesting some official communication from them to see whether they are interested in working toward federative unity with the independent churches, and if so, according to what procedure they would suggest such a federative unity be sought.[42]

Statistical Overview[]

The following summarizes recent denominational data for the Dutch reformed churches in Canada. For comparison, the average CRC congregation has 307 members (195 professing, 112 nonprofessing, 36.5% youth ratio), 77 families (3.98 members per family), a birth rate of 41.4/1,000, a transfer rate of 5.5%, and a profession rate of 13.4/1,000.[43]





prof. rate

CRC, 1993






RCA, 1992






CARC, 1984






NRC, 1992






FRC, 1992






PRC, 1992






avg. members

birth rate

transfer rate


avg. family size













Can Ref
























largest cong.


smallest cong.


youth ratio[44]

CRC Second, Brampton, ON


Vauxhall, AB



RCA Woodstock, ON


Norwich, ON



CARC Smithville, ON


Oakanagan Valley, BC



NRC Norwich, ON


Calgary, AB



FRC Dundas, ON


Toronto, ON



PRC Edmonton, AB


Lacombe, AB



evangelism rate

five-year growth rate



















It is quite possible that the definition of a family varies between denominations. The data indicate the RCA has the smallest pool of potential confirmants and the lowest birth rate, as indicated by infant baptisms. This may be due to a higher inactive membership rate in some congregations, the addition of UCC churches with overall older memberships, and alternative ministries which are not geared to attract families.

Looking at family size, youth ratio, and birth rate, all statistics point to overall health and a promising future for all but the RCA. However, statistics cannot factor issues which may divide congregations and denominations, such as presently afflict the CRC.


While it is lamentable that the body of Christ is so fragmented, this seems to be our lot. The Afscheiding, the Doleantie, and the Schilder split in the Netherlands - among others - maintained that they were not seceding from the church but returning to the roots of a church gone astray. The True Dutch Reformed, Christian Reformed, and Protestant Reformed made similar claims in North America. Current defections from the CRC and Netherlands Reformed Congregations also claim to be returning to the orthodox stance they were founded upon.

Secession and schism are not a topic we can discuss abstractly in our circles. Real people, God's children on both sides, are being hurt as families and churches draw battle lines. Even those who profess common grace as a reason to work with the unsaved sometimes exhibit less grace toward their brothers and sisters in Christ on the "wrong side" of our denomination wars.

We speak of one holy catholic church in our creeds; then we spiritualize the concept so we don't have to obey Jesus' instructions:

"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift." (Matt. 5:21-24)

Plantinga and Wynia write about "seeking our brothers [and sisters] in the light" (from 1 John 1:5-10 and 2:9-11).

Unless we maintain that these other reformed denominations are no longer true to God's word, we all stand in the same light. Can we all stand together in the light of Christ?


  1. Oosterman, Gordon, et al., To Find a Better Life: Aspects of Dutch Immigration to Canada & the United States 1920-1970 (Grand Rapids: National Union of Christian Schools, 1975), p. 9.
  2. In this paper, the word reformed is capitalized only when used in denoninational names. The term Dutch reformed is used for individuals, congregations, and denominations which trace their history to the original Reformed Church in the Netherlands (NHK after William I).
  3. Ibid., p. 18.
  4. Ibid., p. 19.
  5. De Ridder, Richard, and Thea Van Halsema, My Church (Grand Rapids: Committee on Education of the Christian Reformed Church, 1967), p. 99.
  6. As interesting as it is to discuss the causes of schism and secession, that goes beyond the scope of the present paper. Look for my forthcoming Reformed Roots and Branches, which will discuss such issues.
  7. Throughout this paper I use the Dutch names and abbreviations for denominations in the Netherlands. This is to avoid the confusion of two Reformed Churches, two Christian Reformed Churches, etc.
  8. Centennial Facts and Background (Grand Rapids: Centennial Committee of the Christian Reformed Church, 1956), p. 9.
  9. Veenhof, Jan, "A History of Theology and Spirituality in the Dutch Reformed Churches (Gereformeerde Gementen), 1892-1992," Calvin Theological Journal, vol. 28, no. 2, November 1993, p. 271.
  10. Bruins, Elton J., "The Masonic Controversy in Holland, Michigan, 1879-1882," in Perspectives on the Christian Reformed Church: Studies in Its History, Theology, and Ecumenicity, Peter De Klerk and Richard R. De Ridder, eds. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983), pp. 69-70.
  11. In 1908, seven of these congregations left the CRC because, although both groups roundly condemned Freemasonry, these congregations allowed membership in other lodges.
  12. Van Oene, W. W. J., Inheritance Preserved, rev. ed. (Winnipeg: Premier, 1991), pp. 45-46.
  13. It is frightening to see the inactive statistics for some RCA congregations, classes, and even regional synods (especially in New York and New Jersey). In one classis (Columbia-Green) inactive members almost equal active members; in many areas one-third of the professing members are listed as inactive. Except for California, this phenomenon is generally limited to the New York/New Jersey area. The lowest inactive rate, roughly ten percent, is in the midwest (Regional Synods of Great Lakes, Heartlands, and Mid-America).
  14. Schaver, John Luis, The Polity of the Church, 6th ed. II (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1961), pp. 34-37 as quoted in Profiles in Belief.
  15. Oosterman, et al., p. 94.
  16. 16. Van Essen, Henry, "The Reformed Church in America in Ontario" in Pioneer, November 1987, p. 9.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Ibid., p. 10.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Hoeksema, Herman, The Protestant Reformed Churches, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids: no publisher, 1947), pp. 293-94.
  21. To save time, the Dutch churches issued membership papers to emigrating families. Thus, they could immediately give them to their new church upon arrival.
  22. Van Oene, W. W. J., Inheritance Preserved, rev. ed. (Winnipeg: Premier Publishing, 1991), p. 153.
  23. For the most part, these congregations disbanded and their members joined a nearby CRC; a few of congregations did join wholesale. It is interesting to note how many of the surviving pastors of the De Wolf PRC have been involved in the current secession from the CRC. Additionally, Lew Vander Meer, formerly pastor of Sunshine CRC, came into the CRC as the result of this merger.
  24. 1953 membership was 5,864 members; 1992 membership was 5,886. It wasn't until 1982 that the PRC again had as many congregations as they did in 1953.
  25. Plantinga, Seeking Our Brothers in the Light: A Plea for Reformed Ecumenicity (Neerlandia: Inheritance Publications, 1992), pp. 24-25.
  26. Van Oene, p. 66.
  27. Ibid., pp. 89, 135-38.
  28. Ibid., p. 152.
  29. Ibid., p. 156.
  30. Although the majority of the congregation, led by elder De Bolster, favored its formation, the pastor and majority of the consistory opposed it. The newly constructed church building was awarded to the seceding majority by court action. (Related by John Knight after reading a bound volume of these transactions in the possession of Rev. De Bolster.)
  31. Churches listed in italic type were listed in the 1984 yearbook but are not listed in Seeking Our Brothers in the Light.
  32. Data on Canadian Reformed congregations since 1984 from Inheritance Preserved and Seeking Our Brothers in the Light and CARC website.
  33. pp. 135-40.
  34. p. 266.
  35. Letter dated December 16, 1993 from Rev. P. Vander Meyden to the author.
  36. Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches, 1991, pp. 87-88.
  37. Although we might have laughed about this at one time, evangelical Christians are increasingly turning against TV for the same reasons the NRC did years ago.
  38. "Alliance Churches Move to Federate," The Banner, vol. 128, no. 44, December 20, 1993, pp. 23-24.
  39. From the church directory in Christian Renewal, January 24, 1994. Not all independent congregations are listed.
  40. Not to be confused with the RCA. The RCUS is the remaining Eureka Classis of the (German) Reformed Church in the United States, which merged into the United Church of Christ when it was formed in 1934. This group is found in the Great Plains region of the United States.
  41. "Alliance of Reformed Churches," Clarion, December 1993, pp. 4-6.
  42. Ibid., pp. 5-6.
  43. Transfer rate is defined as total membership decline (transfers, deaths, reversions) divided by total membership. Profession rate is per 1,000 nonprofessing members.
  44. Nonprofessing members as a percentage of professing members.