Monday, January 28, 2008

Blog Adjustments

I have tried to fix the blog.
I think I have fixed it now so that anyone can comment.
Please do not be Anonymous.
You will have to pass a word scramble.


Friday, January 18, 2008

Session Two

Colony, Conflict, and Constitution

Dear students, my lecture is much shorter this session. That’s because you’ve got an especially big chunk of reading to do. You are reading a wonderful book, The Dutch Reformed Church in the American Colonies, by Gerald F. De Jong.

This is a remarkable book and a great read, with first class scholarship and original research. The late Professor De Jong was a deeply spiritual man, who felt like your favorite grandpa, but he was also a distinguished and exacting scholar at the University of South Dakota. This is the best book in the RCA Historical Series, and because you won’t get the chance again for a while, you might as well read it now.

The period we are looking at can be summarized by four themes:
1. The slow and steady expansion of our churches as indigenous to North America.
2. The evolution of our distinct identity, as neither Dutch nor English but North American.
3. The Coetus - Conferentie conflict.
4. The conflict’s resolution in our Constitution, the landmark of our indigenous identity.

1. The slow and steady expansion of our churches as indigenous to North America.

When the English took over in 1664, the dozen or so Dutch Reformed congregations faced the threat of being immediately turned into Anglican parishes, under the Episcopal government of the Church of England. They won the right to continue to exist, although the church in New York had to yield its building and its property and endowments to the Anglicans (which is why Trinity Church - Wall Street is one of the riches churches in the world today).

The other threat to the church was the effective end of immigration from the Netherlands. In spite of these two threats, the Dutch Reformed culture of North America, though only forty years old, proved itself vital and substantial.

Those earliest congregations not only hung on, but began to expand and multiply, even against the hostility of English colonial government, at worst, and its indifference, at best. The Dutch American families multiplied "like rabbits," as one observer wrote, and those large families were apparently able to keep the faith throughout their generations.

At the same time, when other immigrants arrived, under English auspices, some of them Americanized, not as English, but as Dutch! The most famous examples are the French and Germans whose churches became Dutch Reformed. From the beginning, therefore, in the Netherlands, the Dutch Reformed Church in North America was able to integrate a remarkable degree of ethnic diversity. This also meant that it practiced a less strict version of Calvinism than in neighboring New England, which was more homogenous.

2. The evolution of our distinct identity, as neither Dutch nor English but North American.

Looking back, we assume that the language change from Dutch to English was inevitable, and that those who opposed it must have been obstinate enemies of progress. Not necessarily. There were plenty of examples to the contrary!

Think of Quebec, where French has maintained itself until today, or think of South Africa. In Great Britain itself, both Scotland and Wales, though under even closer English domination, maintained their native languages with vigor until the Nineteenth Century, and even longer so in Ireland.

Americans were less monolingual than they are now. It was by no means atypical for ordinary peasants to be bilingual, even if they were illiterate in both! If the relative proportion of the Dutch Americans to the English had been, say, just a little larger, New York and New Jersey might have become a Dutch Quebec. Or if the Dutch Reformed church had been more different from the Church of England, which was, at least, officially Reformed, and the Church of Scotland, which was effectively Reformed.

A bilingual Dutch American who visited an Anglican or Presbyterian church in Manhattan would have been able to worship God without idolatry. So I suspect that because the Dutch were Reformed, the language change was bound to happen.

But it’s because they were Reformed that they held on to their language as long as they did. As you know from your Church History, the Reformation emphasized religion in the vernacular. The Reformation empowered the vernacular languages and cultures which Latin Catholicism had ignored. Because they were Reformed, the Dutch Americans could read their Dutch Bibles, and love them. Because they were Reformed, they could read from the rich library of Dutch devotional and popular theological books that we know they had. They held onto their Dutch as long as they did because it was the medium of so much richness, both familial and spiritual.

A further thing. For all of us modern Americans and Canadians, who come to the RCA as predominantly an English-speaking denomination, we have little idea and no experience of Psalm-singing, which was the primary spiritual expression and the heart and soul of primitive Dutch Reformed religion. Metrical Psalm-singing. The Genevan Psalter. The primary medium of both prayer and hermeneutic.

The importance of this cannot be overstated, and it’s not just a matter of nostalgia. The center of Dutch Reformed liturgy on Sundays and the focus of Dutch Reformed devotion at home was the same: Psalm-singing. And this was bound up in the Dutch language, and it was not available in English. To switch to English was to lose it. (Which is exactly what happened.)

And finally, the use of Dutch was the defense of being American. This may strike you as backwards, but it is true. To be a Dutch speaker, in New York and New Jersey at least, was to be more American.

First, English was a johnny-come-lately, and the Iroquois, for example, spoke Dutch (and French) more than English. Second, Dutch was the badge of only hesitant submission and superficial loyalty to that British crown. Notice, for example, that as soon as the Thirteen Colonies won their independence, the language change was swift. The shield against the British was no longer necessary.

So the Dutch Reformed church in the American colonies was the expression and nursery of an indigenous North American culture, neither English nor really Dutch anymore, but something of its own. The Dutch they spoke developed into an independent dialect, "De Taal," that is, "the language," sort of like Afrikaans or Québécois, with Indian, French, and English words thrown in. Ironically, as their dialect diverged from European Dutch, they found English preaching easier to understand than the preaching of Dutchmen from the Netherlands.

Their churches developed divergent styles and habits from the churches in the Netherlands. And their pastors noticed this. Some of them thought this was great, and some of them thought this was bad, and that brings us to our next theme. Because, as you will learn when you are pastors, whenever you see growth, yes, you will also get conflict. Count on it.

3. The Coetus - Conferentie conflict.

To the victor belongs the spoils, and history is written by the winners. When we tell the history of the American Revolution, we call the rebels "patriots." If Britain had won, we’d call the Tories "patriots,’ and we’d call the rebels, guess what, "rebels." Notice what we call the folks who lost the Civil War!

In the case of the Coetus - Conferentie conflict, our bias, looking back, is generally with the Coetus. (Pronunciation: seetus, konferensee.) And, effectively, the Coetus won. Therefore it’s important to give the Conferentie a fair shake and a fair hearing.

There were saints and sinners on both sides. We need to understand their motivations. But more, we need to interpret what the issues were. Since we are children of the Coetus, we have to give the Conferentie the benefit of the doubt, and offer them both more sympathy and more imagination.

Give them a second hearing, get past their sins and offenses, look hard to imagine what they represent. You might disagree with them, and what they most feared might be what you love, but if you also want to love your enemies, you need to honor their point of view. More than that, you to understand the Conferentie if you want really to understand the Coetus, and by implication, yourself as well.

Let me emphasize that, from our vantage point, we underestimate the Anglican threat. We need to remember that in England at that time, you could be executed for being a Catholic. You couldn’t go to university if you were a Presbyterian or Congregationalist. Even in New York, the Presbyterian Church was technically illegal, and could not incorporate or hold title to its property. (Its church building had to be the private property of one of its members.) No non-Episcopal church could ever feel completely secure under the English colonial government, and only a couple of the Dutch ones had Royal Charters to fall back on.

You can hardly blame the Conferentie for regarding a very tight connection with the Classis of Amsterdam as purely a matter of survival. It’s not that they were afraid of the future; they were afraid of the present! And as the decades went on, the interest of the Crown in its colonies did not wane, and most of its policies were going the opposite of liberalization. That’s why we had a War of Independence. The very fact that we felt ourselves forced to fight (and die) in a Revolution should give you some sympathy for the Conferentie’s fears.

When I taught this class traditionally, I divided the students into three groups, the Coetus, the Conferentie, and the Classis of Amsterdam. The two sides presented their cases. The Classis questioned them. The two sides debated, and then the Classis issued a decision. (One year the group who were the Conferentie showed up with towels on their heads for powdered wigs!)
Is it possible for us to have a Distance Learning Debate of Coetus - Conferentie? How do we do this? How do we assign who gets to be whom? We’ll get back to you.

The Coetus - Conferentie conflict is so important because it captures so many of the issues that have defined us from the beginning and are still defining us today. I mentioned some of these in the previous session, and you should be able to discuss them in terms of this session too:

What kind of Calvinists should we be: how strict, how loose, how Lutheran, how Puritan?

How American should we let ourselves be?

What kind of education should we demand of our pastors?

What should be our relationship to other denominations?

Does it honor God to keep our denominational independence?

How shall we fit within a generally Arminian and Pelagian environment?

How do we deal with our relative smallness among the denominations?

What are effective strategies for Domestic Missions and Church Extension?

4. The conflict’s resolution in our Constitution, the landmark of our indigenous identity.

John Henry Livingston was our combination George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. If Domines Megapolensis and Selyns were our Abraham and Isaac, Doctor Livingston was our Moses. He forged the resolution of the Coetus - Conferentie dispute, and his synthesis revitalized all sides. He was the great man (called by God) who brought us together, brought us around the corner, and got us moving again.

Livingston is also the single person most responsible for the character of the Reformed Church in the next two centuries: orthodox but not judgmental, traditional but also ecumenical, calmly Calvinist, and committed to education and Missions. As recently as my childhood, I knew that the RCA had an outsized reputation for Missions and education. No matter how much the East might differ from the Midwest, we united on Missions and education. (That Missions and education no longer define us is the least appreciated but most significant change in the RCA.)

We’re getting ahead of ourselves. For now, we have to consider that Livingston was the mover
and shaker of our Constitution, and it was the Constitution that propelled us from being a collection of Dutch congregations in some British colonies into being a unified denomination that was native to a new nation.

We were relatively small, but we were at home, and we were well known. It was Livingston who received the oath of office from George Washington at his Inauguration. We were, let’s say, the Delaware of denominations.

Livingston had lots of help. There were pastors and elders who first directed him, welcomed him, encouraged him, supported him, and then labored with him. They saw him as their future leader and when he was ready they let him lead Some of their names you will run across in your reading. But if you know the story of Livington, you know a lot about the RCA.

He was able to bring together the wounded and wary congregations, hold them together through the Revolutionary War, and then lead them to work together to reconstitute themselves for a new day. The landmark was our Constitution, the basic shape of which is still in force today.

As I argue in my book, Meeting Each Other, Livingston had to forge a synthesis that was both conservative and progressive. He had to show that the Constitution was essentially the same as what the denomination had been based on since 1619. At the same time, he had to apply it to a context that was brand new in the world, the separation of church and state. We had to become on paper what we had learned to be in practice: a "free church." Fortunately, as I pointed out in the first session, the basic order of the Reformed Church was forged among the free and exiled "churches under the cross" from the 1550s to the 1580s.

By this time we were known, most often, as the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church in North America (RPDCNA.) Still quite Dutch, at least in background, language and history, but not so much in ethnicity. John Henry Livingston himself was not ethnically Dutch. His ancestors were Scots who fled to the Netherlands for religious reasons and thence to the Hudson Valley.

When he went to college, he went to Yale, and he reports that he considered returning to the Presbyterianism of his ancestors (as some of his relatives had done), or even to Anglicanism. But he chose the Dutch Reformed church, conflicted and facing decline, and he gave it his life (sort of like Howard Hageman)

In an apparent combination of foresight and desire, he went to the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands to study for his doctorate. While he was there, he either drafted himself or collaborated on the Plan of Union to heal the struggling church in North America.

Of course, some people didn’t like him. Some people found him distant and pompous and arrogant. He wasn’t the best of our preachers, and maybe not our best theologian, even in his own day, though for years he had the only earned doctorate.

But good grief, he was all at once a full-time pastor in Manhattan, a professor of theology in Flatbush, and the only denominational officer we had at the time. It was all on him, so we can forgive him if he was a little stiff. But he certainly knew his stuff. He understood Covenant Theology, and his sermon on the "Everlasting Gospel" had a national reputation for the cause of Foreign Missions.

So that’s where we end up. From colony through conflict to Constitution. Don’t rush our getting there. Give your full attention to the century in between.

Study Questions for DeJong.

(Pay attention to Chapters VII & VIII. They’re wonderful.)

1. What is a krankenbezoeker?
2. What happened in 1628? Where?
3. Describe the general layout of colonial Dutch Reformed (DRC) church buildings.
4. What is a "collegiate" church?
5. What is the foundational reason for the existence of the DRC in NA?
6. What tensions were between the West India Company and the New Amsterdam consistory?
7. How did the DRC’s status change in 1664? What did the DRC have to sort out thereupon?
8. What caused the continued expansion of the DRC in NA after 1664? Whereto? Compare to Quebec and South Africa.
9. Why should a Dutch pastor come to North America? What could he expect? Who paid them? Before 1664? After 1664?
10. What was the pastor’s job? Were there other workers in the church?
11. From 1680-1720, what were the typical problems faced by pastors? Congregations?
12. Compare Selyns and Bertholf, the "founders" of the church in NYC and NJ respectively.
13. Describe a typical Sunday worship service.
14. What was the import of the royal charter in 1696? What did it resolve?
15. How was the DRC like the Church of England? Like the Presbyterians?
16. Did Black people come to church?
17. Why were some congregations reluctant to baptize slave children?
18. Why was the mission to the Indians unsuccessful?
19. What is pietism?
20. What were the complaints against Frelinghuysen? Style, doctrine, discipline?
21. What happened in 1738, 1747, 1754, 1755, 1771?
22. On the Coetus/Conferentie schism,
A. Who are the real Calvinists?
B. Why could each side call itself "conservative"?
C. How educated should a Reformed pastor have to be?
1. Knowing what? Why?
2. Skilled in what? Why?
D. What are the roots of the schism?
E. What were the apparent issues? Were they the real issues? Anything deeper?
23. What was the Van Driesen case and what did it represent? The DeWint case?
24. How did the royal charter hinder the use of English in the NYC church?
25. In 1763, bringing in English preaching entailed implied bringing in what else?
26. What were the strengths and weaknesses of the DRC?
27. What tensions are built into the RCA, judging from its early history?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Session One

Dear Students:

The Lecture and the first Discussion Questions for Session One are posted below. But they are in reverse order!

If I were a more expert blogger, I would have posted them in the right order, but there you have it, I didn't.

So please, start at the bottom, not the top. Please start with Lecture 1A, the Preface, and then go up to Lecture 1B, and then, last, to the Discussion Questions.

Meanwhile, on this coming Lord's Day, Ascribe to the Lord glory and praise.

Dr. Daniel Meeter, VDM

Session 1 Questions For Discussion

1. What has surprised you in this history?

2. What do you like? What do you wish was different?

3. What would you have done differently if you were in charge?

4. What issues and problems that confront the RCA today do you see already in our early history, and how did they attempt to either solve or manage them?

5. What in this history would you like to tell to your first batch of new members? What would you be tempted not to mention?

6. Take a good look at the Declaration for Licensed Candidates that you will make before your classes, and also the Declaration for Ministers that you will make at your Ordination. These are very solemn vows. What phrases in these declarations require you to be familiar with this history? And what loyalty is required of you?

7. What do you see in this history as the strengths of the RCA? What are its weaknesses? Are its weaknesses the obverse of its strengths?

8. The Reformed Church in America is the only surviving mainline denomination to carry the tradition of the Reformed Churches on the European continent. How are we different from the UCC and the Presbyterians, which come from the somewhat different Reformed tradition of the British Isles? Is our tradition worth preserving?

Lecture 1B: Reformation Roots

Dutch / Reformed Church / in America

We began as the Dutch Reformed Church and we are now the Reformed Church in America. What has changed is the movement from "Dutch" to "in America," and what is constant is the "Reformed Church."

At the very beginning we were "Dutch" and not "in America." For a great part of our history, we were both "Dutch" and "in America." Now we are effectively not "Dutch" at all, and fully "in America." (It’s frequently been more accurate to say "North America.") In this slow transition from "Dutch" to "in America," how has the "Reformed Church" evolved?


When modern North Americans think of "Dutch," their images are mostly quaint, narrow, and rural. This is an historical mistake. The Netherlands of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries was the most modern, urbanized, and diverse part of Europe.

In 1500, except for a few of its cities, it was just a collection of poor and backward provinces within the Holy Roman Empire. By 1628, it was an independent nation that was in its Golden Age. Its navies ruled the seas, its merchants ran the world economy, and the riches of the planet passed through its harbors, and yet it was a tiny nation, without nobility, and with no natural resources. It was a Republic, the first Protestant Republic. Its culture was open, innovative, embracing, and relatively fair and just.

Its studios drew artists from everywhere. Its universities drew students from all of Europe. There were more Hungarian students at the University of Utrecht than at any school in Hungary! The University of Franeker in Friesland was the Athens of the English Puritans and Rotterdam was their Rome. The University of Leiden was considered the top school in the world.

Almost everyone could read, its rate of literacy was the highest in the world, anyone who went to school knew Latin at some level, and the pastors of its churches were the best educated in Europe.

Its cities drew entrepreneurs and refugees from everywhere. There were so many Norwegians, Danes, Germans, and English in Amsterdam and so many Scots in Rotterdam that those cities sponsored churches for each of them. There were French ("Walloon") Reformed Churches in every city as well. Leiden was the sanctuary for the Pilgrims of England, and Amsterdam was the sanctuary for the Jews of Europe. The Netherlands was the first Christian nation to give the Jews full civil rights and full freedom of worship. Many pastors read Hebrew with their rabbi neighbors.

The Netherlands was the collective publishing house of Europe. Since everyone could read, books would sell. There was full freedom of the press. If a book was banned by one nation’s authorities, it was printed in the Netherlands, including many Roman Catholic books. More Hungarian-language books were printed in the Netherlands than in Hungary. Most English Puritan books were printed in the Netherlands, about which Kings James and Charles loudly complained. Travel books, books of maps and exploration, books on botany and medicine, and of course theology. Lots and lots of theology.

The whole culture was multi-ethnic and multi-lingual. Certainly Dutch ethnicity and the Dutch language predominated, but the ordinary citizen could often speak three languages, and had an immigrant in-law. The facts of Dutch geography had made it a transfer point. It lay in the middle of three larger and more unified cultures: French, German, and English. All things French and German traveled down the rivers, and all things English sailed across the narrow sea. What brought on the Golden Age was that the Netherlands, originally the victim of its geography, learned how to exploit it. The Reformation was not the only cause of this, but it was the dominant one.

Reformed Church

The Reformation came to the Netherlands, as fits its geography, in three versions: German, French, and English. It began as German, then was dominated by the French, was nurtured in England, sought refuge in Germany, and there was influenced again, and then developed its own blend. But the Reformation came late to the Netherlands.

As early as 1521, three Lutherans were burned at the stake in Amsterdam. The Anabaptists had an early following, flowering, crisis, and disaster, and it took Menno Simons to settle them down and organize them as responsible congregations. These were the early German influences. But neither the Lutherans nor the Mennonites captured the spiritual imagination of the Netherlands.

Hageman describes why there was less need for the Reformation. (I am reminded of Mike Huckabee’s great line: "You won’t know the Lord Jesus is all you need until you discover he’s all you’ve got!") There was less abuse in the Roman church. The hierarchy was weak, and the Brethren of the Common Life had developed a popular and practical way of being Christian, with an excellent emphasis on education and charity. Life was good in the Netherlands, and always getting better, especially for the common folk.

But when life started getting bad, and the hierarchy onerous, and the government positively nasty, then neither Lutheranism nor Anabaptism had the right stuff. It was Calvinism, the French influence, i.e., L’Église Reformé (the Reformed Church), that had the theology, practice, and organization to both strengthen the people under persecution and organize them for liberation.

You have already studied the Reformation. You have already studied Calvin and Calvinism. So please understand that what follows is just one take on it, for our own purposes. Think of Calvinism as an attempt to solve some problems that the Reformation had raised.

At the end of his life, Martin Luther despaired at the condition of the Protestant churches of Germany, and he questioned whether the whole thing had been worth it. Hageman describes how the Reformation, after its early success, had hit a wall, and that it was losing and on the defense. He points out how John Calvin, the second-generation Reformer, was the one who brought new life to the Reformation, and a whole new influence, which changed the face of the world.

His influence is not just the Reformed Church, but democracy as we know it, and modern learning, and modern economic organization. Indeed, though secular historians don’t like to admit it, and though he constantly gets unfair treatment in the popular mind, he’s probably the most important single figure in world history since the Middle Ages. He was hardly perfect, and we are living down some of his mistakes, but you need to be proud of your connection to him.

Calvin was a great organizer and a great teacher. (Of course he was also a brilliant philosopher and theologian.) He balanced the best of Lutheranism and Anabaptism. Lutheranism is all about grace, grace, grace; it’s about liberty, freedom, and justification by faith alone apart from works. It preaches the gospel, not law. Anabaptism is all about discipline, sanctification, good works, and obedience. The movements saw themselves as opposites. Calvin forged the synthesis.

Lutheranism kept the old Catholic idea of Christendom. They kept much of the medieval liturgy and they kept the parish churches, to which everyone in their neighborhoods belonged. The princes should be Lutheran, and so should the universities. The princes should endow and protect the universities and the churches, and the princes should use the sword to defend the Gospel. In a Lutheran parish church, the Gospel was preached every Sunday, and what was required was a penitential faith and the (antinomian) ethic of overflowing love.

Anabaptism completely rejected Christendom. A church is not a parish but a self-conscious congregation, separated from the world. They met in barns and houses, not church buildings. Their worship tried to imitate the New Testament. They had no interest in universities and they had no truck with any government, and they were strict pacifists and they would not bear the sword. In an Anabaptist congregation, the law of Christ was preached every Sunday and on weekdays too, and what was required was discipline and rejection of the world.

For Lutherans, sola scriptura (solely by scripture) was opposed to the judgements of the Pope and the councils of the church. It did not at all rule out tradition, or the use of other books in the church. It grammatical terms, it is an ablative, not a nominative, it doesn't mean "scripture alone," but "only by scripture." And yet, for Anabaptists, sola scriptura was opposed to all other learning in general, and the Bible should be the only book in the church.

You can see the differences summarized in the chart I have provided you in the syllabus. The Lutherans emphasized justification by faith, and they preached what God has done for us. Sola gratia, sola fide. The Anabaptists emphasized sanctification and discipline, and they preached what we must do for God. The Lutheran hermeneutic of scripture was always to distinguish Law and Gospel (both are found in every book of the Bible), and all of scripture points us to the cross of Christ. The Anabaptists found in scripture the patterns and rules to obey and imitate.

Lutheran ecclesiology is focused on the local parish, the church is for everyone in the neighborhood, and there is no discipline. Anabaptist ecclesiology is focused on the congregation, gathered, separate from the world, and disciplined. If you fell into sin, you were banned and shunned.

On politics, the Lutherans taught "two realms," and they were generally conservative. The prince is an officer of God, so do not disobey the government. The Anabaptists were so radical as to never get involved. Don’t ever fight the government, just leave.

Calvinism was the synthesis. It was able to synthesize the demands of justification and sanctification in the sovereignty of God: God is sovereign in our salvation and God is sovereign in our lives. God’s sovereignty in salvation is expressed in predestination (and you had better understand predestination if you want to be happy in the RCA), and predestination’s security made for a tough kind of faith: "fearing God, they feared no man."

Calvinism synthesized the Biblical hermeneutic. Scripture was understand in terms of covenant, which opened up the Old Testament. As the Book of the Covenant, scripture was the rich and only Rule to measure and benefit all other knowledge, both judging and transforming all of life and culture. For Calvinism, sola scriptura was much closer to Lutheranism than to Anabaptism, but where the Lutherans confined the judgement of scripture to the church, the Calvinists applied to all of knowledge and culture.

Calvinism synthesized the geographical parish and the self-conscious congregation by teaching the parish to act like a congregation! He effectively invented the consistory, and the consistory organized the parish into being a sufficiently disciplined congregation. He also revived the three-fold office of pastor, elder, and deacon.

Calvin based his liturgy on what he understood to be the pattern and practice of the early church fathers, neither the New Testament itself nor the medieval church. Indeed, the Reformed Church was not modeled on either the medieval church nor the New Testament church but on the patristic church of the first and second centuries after Christ, which implies that it can accept tradition but always reform it according to the Word.

And finally, Calvinism, with its Old Testament and covenantal sensibility, applied the sovereignty of God to politics. Calvinism sought to transform the world for Christ and for justice and righteousness, and it allowed Christians to fight if they had to for justice and freedom. Even more, Calvinist church order gave a powerful example for political organization, and the structure of the church became the model for the structure of the republic.

And so it was Calvinism that had the right stuff for the Netherlands. In the time of crisis, the Reformed Church was the church that served the congregations in times of both persecution and empowerment. A single church order proved relevant for both the refugee congregations under the cross and the established parish churches at the center of the city.

In America

Hageman nicely tells the story, from 1550 to 1619, of how the Reformed Church developed from a few small congregations to become the established church of the Netherlands. In 1619 was the Great Synod of Dort, which finally consolidated the doctrine and organization of the Dutch Reformed Church, though other confessions and religions were given remarkable toleration.

You know, this story recapitulates the story of the early Christian church, how the few small congregations of the apostles developed, often under persecution, into the established church of Emperor Constantine.

But there’s a remarkable difference, of course. The Netherlands was a Republic, and at the vanguard of the development of democracy in the world. It was called the United Provinces of the Netherlands, and it was not a centralized monarchy. The Dutch Reformed Church was not a state church in the same way that the Lutheran or Anglican churches were, although it was certainly an "established" church.

There was no monarch to be the Supreme Head of the Church, as in England and Scotland. The Reformed Church was established separately in each of the Dutch provinces, and each province had its own Provincial or Particular (we now say Regional) Synod. Each provincial government was the patron and protector of its provincial Reformed Church. The General or National Synod met only infrequently, and, for a number of reasons, after the Great Synod of Dort in 1619, it did not meet again for two hundred years! The Dutch Reformed Church had no hierarchy and no centralized administration.

The Netherlands itself was so decentralized. It was a very peculiar nation, and the royalty of Europe considered it a nursery of dangerous ideas. How strange, being so decentralized and so jealous for freedom and equality, that it in just a few decades it should have build an empire to rival the power of Spain.

As I have written in one of my books, "It was an empire without an emperor, and it was ruled by committees. It was directed by a number of mercantile companies that were chartered by a group of provinces. Its glory was its profitability, and its imperium was the concentration of commerce and the accumulation of wealth.

"Wherever in this peculiar empire the Dutch companies established permanent trading posts, they also sponsored religious services, having accepted the responsibility (Belgic Confession 36) ‘to maintain the holy worship of the church’ and ‘to see that the Word of the Gospel is preached everywhere.’ Thus, in such places as Indonesia, Ceylon, South Africa, Surinam, and the West Indies, Dutch Reformed churches were established that endure to this day.

These colonial churches were supervised and supplied, for the most part, by the Classis of Amsterdam. The Classis’ Committee of Deputies for External Affairs acted as a foreign mission board for the whole Dutch Church, executing all the duties, that, for example, the Church of England had assigned to the Bishop of London.

"By 1621 the Dutch West India Company established the colony of New Netherland in North America, comprising the modern states of New York and New Jersey and parts of Delaware and Connecticut. The Company had been furnishing its colonies with spiritual ministry in the form of official "Comforters of the Sick," and the first such Comforter to arrive in New Netherland, early in 1624, was Bastian Krol."

"Four years later the first regular pastor was sent to serve the growing village of New Amsterdam at the tip of Manhattan Island. Domine Jonas Michaelius immediately organized a congregation according to the Church Order of Dort, formed a consistory, and celebrated a service of Holy Communion." (Meeter, Bless the Lord, O My Soul, Lanham, MD and London, 1989, pp. 27-28.)

From this little seed, transplanted from Europe, has grown the plant that is the RCA. From this Communion service we date our founding, as the oldest Protestant denomination in North America with a continuing ministry.

We should note a number of things. First, the RCA was planted only nine years after the Synod of Dort, and before the synod’s officers had published its documents. It could be argued that the RCAmerica is almost as much the younger sister of the Netherlands Reformed Church as its daughter. Indeed, our separate development started so early as to give us very different characteristics from the start.

At the same time, we were like our mother in that our first Communion service was bilingual, and Domine Michaelius read the Liturgy in both Dutch and French. (At the time of the American Revolution, we were worshiping in four languages in New York: Dutch, English, French, and German.) We should also note that this first little congregation was also a parish, because it served everyone in the colony. And the colony was already a melting pot, with as many inhabitants not Dutch as Dutch.

"For another thirty-five years, in spite of neglect and mismanagement by the West India Company, the colony of New Netherland quietly grew. Land was cleared around the forts and along the rivers. A few small villages were settled by farmers and new congregations were organized. Eventually little churches could be found at Fort Orange (Albany), Brooklyn, Flatbush, Flatlands, Harlem, Kingston, Bergen (Jersey City), and Staten Island. By the time of the English conquest in 1664, there were about a dozen congregations served by six pastors." (Meeter, 29).

These congregations were all established by the civil authority of the West India Company. Peter Stuyvesant, for example, established the triple collegiate church of Brooklyn, Flatbush, and Flatlands. All the inhabitants were taxed to pay for the buildings and the pastor’s salaries. All the inhabitants, including the slaves but excepting the Indians, were expected to attend. (Some people refused to pay and refused to attend!) All the inhabitants were under the spiritual care of the elders, and all the inhabitants could go to the deacons for "welfare" assistance.

The deacons of Brooklyn, for example, had a small herd of four cows, the "Cows of the Deaconry," which they lent out to the poor of the village. If you were lent the cow, you could sell your left-over milk, and half your profits you had to give back to the Deacons.

Also in Brooklyn, when both the parents of one particular farm family died, the Deacons put the orphaned children up at the homes of different families in the parish. They also took possession of the farm, made an inventory of its goods, sold them off at auction, and put the proceeds in a trust fund for the orphans. (I admit that I am very proud of the deacons of my congregation.)

The Dutch capitulation to the English in 1664 threatened the religious settlement of the population, the status of their churches, and their connection with the Classis of Amsterdam. "Could its members, especially the ministers, be subject to the British government, but owe ecclesiastical obedience to a religious body in Holland? Would the Dutch Reformed people of New York and New Jersey be expected to contribute to the financial support of of an established English Church? Who would pay the salaries of the ministers formerly paid by the West India Company and by taxation? These and other problems troubled the Church for many years after 1664." (De Jong, Church in Colonies, 48.)

The greatest problem, perhaps, was how to translate an "established church" into a free church of self-supporting congregations. But of course, that just put us back to our earliest beginnings as "churches under the cross" in London and Germany, when we were more or less free-standing, self-supporting congregations.

"The terms of surrender in the Articles of Capitulation were actually quite generous. Article Eight guaranteed that ‘the Dutch residents here shall retain and enjoy liberty of conscience in Religion and Church Discipline,’ and the churches were allowed to keep their property and buildings.

In fact, the Reformed Church grew steadily after the English conquest, largely due to a very high birthrate, resulting in ‘the astonishing multiplication of the old Netherland families into a very numerous posterity,’ as the Classis of Amsterdam put it. The Dutch Americans were able to maintain their language and culture under the English regime for another century, and with such strength that the French and German immigrants who later settled the Hudson Valley adopted Dutch as their new language rather than English." (Meeter, 30.)

But the die was cast. If the Dutch population had been relatively larger, like Quebec, or if the colony had been more isolated, like South Africa, they might have been able, even under English government, to preserve their own non-English culture. It was not to be. For the next century, from 1664 to 1776, our denomination was the Dutch Reformed Church in North America. But that century also saw the evolution of thirteen British North American colonies into something new called "America." And what that also meant was the necessary evolution of the Reformed Church away from "Dutch" and toward "in America." And that’s the topic of our next lecture.

Lecture 1A: Preface

Four Motivations

1. Loyalty

Let me begin by telling you why we study the history of the RCA, and propose to you what I consider to be the proper motivations for doing so. Let me mention four motivations:
Loyalty to the Lord Jesus, Understanding, Wisdom, and Love. First, Loyalty to the Lord Jesus. We study the history of the church because of our loyalty to the Lord whose church it is. To get at this, we’ll look at the Apostles Creed, our summary of the gospel.

If you think of the Apostles Creed as a story, it is a single story in three parts, the story of what the One God does in terms of the Three Persons. The three parts are what the Father does, and then what happened to the Son and what the Son does, and then what the Spirit does. The Apostles Creed is not a list of ideas but a short report of actions, the actions of God.

As you know from Reformed theology, there is an interaction of the Son and the Spirit in our lives today. What happened to the Son and what the Son does are both applied to us by the Spirit. That’s what the Spirit does, the Spirit applies what happened to the Son and what the Son is right now doing. After all, they are both Persons of the One God.

Right now the Son is reigning at the right hand of the Father. We call this, of course, the Kingdom of Christ, which is the temporal form of the Reign of God.. (As you know, until the Second Coming, the Father has put all things in the power of the Son.) The great expression of this in the New Testament is Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, which is the epistle of the Ascension, and the implications of the Ascension, and how the Ascended Messiah is now King of the World, and how he works in the world through the church.

To put it another way, according to the Creed, what the Lord Jesus is doing right now is reigning as Christ at the right hand of the Father. And what the Holy Spirit is doing right now is, first, applying the benefits of Our Lord’s incarnation, suffering, death, and resurrection, and second, acting as Our Lord’s agent in governing the world.

Furthermore, there is a specific way in which the Holy Spirit does both of these things, and the last part of the Creed is a short report of the actions of the Holy Spirit in the world today.

So if we ask, What is the Holy Spirit doing in the world today? the Creed tells us that:
The Holy Spirit is doing the Holy Catholic Church.
The Holy Spirit is doing the communion of saints.
The Holy Spirit is doing the forgiveness of sins.
The Holy Spirit is doing the resurrection of the body.
The Holy Spirit is doing the life everlasting.

We might also say it this way, that the Lord Jesus is doing all these things through the power of the Holy Spirit. And we might well add, the Lord Jesus is doing these things through the Spirit for the Father and to the Father, so that God might be all in all.

Contemporary Christians in North America, especially, suffer from too much individualism. We think of the work of the Holy Spirit in narrow personal terms. But the first work of the Spirit is the Holy Catholic Church.

What does all this have to do with the motivation for studying the history of the Reformed Church in America? Stay with me. Let’s take one step closer to our own history, to the Heidelberg Catechism, and what it says about the Holy Catholic Church, in Question 54:

Q: What do you believe concerning the Holy Catholic Church?

A: I believe that the Son of God, by his Spirit and Word, out of the entire human race, from the beginning of the world unto its end, gathers, protects, and preserves for himself a community for chosen eternal life, and united in true faith. And of this community I am and always will be a living member.

Do you believe this? You need to believe it, not just because it’s the best definition of the church I know. You need to believe it because soon you will be teaching it, as you will promise to do in your various Declarations before classis and at your ordination and installation. You need to believe if it you want to be happy in the RCA, for this is the foundation of the RCA’s doctrine of the church, and the "source code" of its church order and its liturgy, not to mention its approach to both missions and ecumenism.

In this wonderful answer, 440 years old but still so fresh and contemporary, the church is defined as a community (not a hierarchy or even as an organization). The church is defined as a work of the Lord Jesus (not as our work), which he does by means of his Word and Spirit. The church is defined as existing from Genesis (not just Pentecost).

The church is the community of life and faith which the Lord Jesus gathers, protects, and preserves by means of his Word and Spirit. The whole story of the Bible is the history of the Lord Jesus gathering, protecting, and preserving this community.

And in this answer, you are defined as a living member of this community. You are part of the larger story. You are one of those persons whom the Lord Jesus has gathered in, and is protecting, and will preserve. You are part of a community which extends across the whole human race, and which crosses the centuries from Genesis till when Our Lord returns.

What is more, you are seeking ordination in the Reformed Church, which means that you believe that God has called you to leadership in this community. Not just any leadership, but the leadership that comes out of serving the Word. Your ministry of the Word is one of the important means by which the Lord Jesus gathers, protects, and preserves this community.

The reason that you study church history is so that you can trace the gathering, protecting, and preserving work of the Lord Jesus across the centuries, up to and including yourself. You study the Holy Catholic Church out of loyalty to its Lord, the Lord who has chosen it (for life) and united it (in faith). As a servant of the Lord Jesus you honor the choices of your Lord, and you seek to be united to his community across the centuries. Not only in your heart, your will, and your emotions, but also in your mind. God has given you the capacity for knowledge in support of your calling, and therefore you seek this knowledge as a way of honoring your Lord.

2. Understanding, Wisdom, and Love

Now lets look at the other motivations, which are understanding, wisdom, and love. First, we study our denomination’s history it for understanding. Where did we come from? What happened to us to bring us to what we are today? Why are we the way we are, and why have we become the way we are? We study history to understand ourselves, but we also study it to understand the past itself, in its own terms, if only to honor the grace of God within the lives and projects of those who have served God before us.

Second, we study it for wisdom. We study history to get perspective on ourselves and our own situation. We do not want to suffer from pride, from what C. S. Lewis called "chronological snobbery." When we look at what our forebears did in the past, we learn from their failures no less than their successes. And we resist the temptation to judge them by our own standards, but rather examine in the light of what they did and what they stood for.

Third, we study it for love. (It is my deep conviction that we underplay love as a general motivation for ministry). We study our history because we love learning. As Ministers of the Word, we are responsible to be lovers of learning. We study our history out of love for our forebears in the church. No matter whether we agree or disagree with our forebears, we owe them love.

If I love my spouse, I want to know whatever I can about her, the way she does things, her habits and peculiarities, her convictions and opinions. And I want to know whatever I can about her parents, and her grandparents, and the landscapes of the towns in which they lived.
RCA ministers need to love the RCA the way it is right now. That’s not necessarily a matter of agreement. But if you don’t love the RCA the way it is right now, your disagreements will be of the flesh.

Too often Christians love people and institutions only in terms of what we want them to become. We tend to love non-believers because we intend to make them believers. We love them not at they are but as we want them to be. Especially under the burdens of the latest ideas of "leadership," we tend to love our visions for our congregations more than we love our congregations as they are. We tend to love the kind of members our ministries will attract more than the members as they are right now. Your first responsibility is to love the first group of members you will serve, right from the start of your first call. Because Christ does.

You need to love the RCA and its history, warts and all, for better or worse. You need to love the way it did things, in sickness and in health. You need to love the way it tried to obey the Lord Jesus, for richer or poorer. Its buildings, its traditions, the way it worshiped, its attempts at foreign missions and new church development. Even if you feel that the Word of God requires further reformation of all these things, you need to love them first before you can serve them.

God has commanded us to honor our fathers and mothers. This honor is an important form of love. The analogy for pastors is to honor our predecessors in the church. We may well want to do things differently then they did, but we still must honor them. We want to spend some time with them, and enjoy our fellowship with them. This is not optional but necessary, because, as our Lord said, this commandment has a promise, that if we honor them, we will live long in the land which the Lord has given us.

Let me sum up so far. In these four motivations, we recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in the church. We say in the Apostles Creed that we believe in the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Catholic Church. We mean by this that the Church is the central means of the Spirit in bringing the power of Gospel to the world (Ephesians 3:10). We honor the work of the Spirit in the church by studying its history. We honor the faithfulness of God to the Reformed Church in America by studying its history. We honor the gathering, protecting, and preserving work of the Lord Jesus by studying in the history of the community of Jesus in which we are living members.


Let me now say a few words about my general approach. What I want to emphasize in this course is the peculiar set of problems that have defined us throughout our history.

Let me elaborate. One way of understanding any particular culture is as a set of solutions to the particular problems that it faces. For example, the culture of the Inuit is a set of solutions to the problems of living in the Arctic. The culture of the Bedouin is a set of solutions to the problems of living in the Sahara. In both cases, their solutions, while effective, do not make their problems go away.

Many of the problems we face in the world stay with us, they do not go away, no matter how effective we are at solving them. The problems are just part of the environment, or they’re built in to life, and our solutions are the strategies we’ve developed for managing those problems, and even to thrive in those problems.

The Reformed Church in America may be understood as a particular culture within the larger Holy Catholic Church. I think it’s true that the culture of the RCA is less distinctive and all-inclusive than it used to be. The culture of the RCA used to include not only its churches but also its homes and the dinner tables of its families.

Indeed, I believe that in the past, the most effective enculturation of RCA members was not done by the church but by fathers and mothers in the way they raised the kids, how they read the Bible at home, how they prayed at meals, how they behaved on Sundays, how they spent their money, what they did and didn’t do for entertainment, where they went to college, etc.

That is far less so today, for a whole host of reasons. Most RCA homes are indistinguishable from non-RCA homes. The culture of the RCA is now limited to the institutional church itself. As often as not, it’s limited to the government of the church. In so many congregations, the RCA Liturgy is rarely used, and their worship is pretty much the same as any other evangelical or mainline church. The same is true for the doctrinal life of the congregations. Few laypersons are familiar with the Heidelberg Catechism, though in earlier generations many laypeople knew it well and loved it.

This is not just a condition of the RCA. It’s true for most historic denominations. The change is even more drastic in the Christian Reformed Church. It’s the general condition of pragmatic, market-oriented North America. The pace of cultural change and innovation keeps accelerating, and so does the mixing of our sub-cultures. This is not all bad. But it has its costs, in people feeling rootless and disconnected, and in leaders often being out of control, because they are able to escape the claims historical accountability.

For all of this, at some level, the RCA, as a denominational entity, still has a particular culture of its own. This culture is most apparent in the way that classes and synods operate, and less obviously, but more importantly, in the way that consistories operate. This particular culture has been developed, in great part, as a long series of solutions for managing certain problems.

As you will see, these problems include the following:
What kind of Calvinists should we be: how strict, how loose, how Lutheran, how Puritan?
How American should we let ourselves be?
What kind of education should we demand of our pastors?
What should be our relationship to other denominations?
Does it honor God to keep our denominational independence?
How shall we fit within a generally Arminian and Pelagian environment?
How do we deal with our relative smallness among the denominations?
What are the proper motives for Foreign Missions?
What are effective strategies for Domestic Missions and Church Extension?

These problems are with us today. These problems have always been with us. The sum total of the ways that we have tried to solve and manage these problems is our denominational culture, and our relative integrity in this process is what has developed our denominational character.

To illustrate, let me take one besetting problem in some detail. The RCA has a besetting problem that the Presbyterians never had, and this has had a profound affect on our development. That is the besetting problem of language change—of switching from Dutch to English. All the original RCA congregations had to go through this change, which was always a very costly one, while almost no Presbyterian congregations had to go through this change, since almost all the Presbyterians immigrants were already speaking English.

This has had profound secondary effects. In the RCA, every second generation had to make a choice between their parents and their neighbors, between their roots and America (or Canada). This also meant that to survive in North America, they had to separate themselves from much of the richness of their tradition. While the Presbyterians could keep on singing their Psalms just as they did done in Scotland, we in the RCA had to give up our Psalms, especially since they were so hard to translate. (In 450 years there has never been a good English translation of the Genevan Psalter.)

Thus, the RCA has lost its own native musical tradition. While all around the globe the Reformed Church is known best for Psalm-singing, in the RCA most members haven’t ever heard of it. And we have spent the last two hundred years borrowing music from other denominations and traditions, and we don’t agree on what we like. Thus, the culture of the RCA has been conditioned by a lack of unity and some frustration over music.

Another effect has been that our preachers and theologians are cut off from our deepest native sources in doctrine and theology, because those sources are written in Dutch and German. Most of our seminary professors have been trained by Presbyterians. (Western Seminary in Holland, Michigan is a case in point.) One can hardly blame them. But it’s affected the RCA.

Another example, as we will see more fully in later sessions, is the problem of an educated ministry. How educated? And by whom? As teachers of scripture or as leaders of organizations? As pastors of the flock or as prophets to the nation? The RCA has been debating this for some three hundred years, and this debate has been very formative of the RCA.

What we will emphasize in this course is not research. We will expect a decent knowledge of important facts and movements and personalities, but we will emphasize understanding the continuing issues that have defined us and distinguished us, for better or for worse.

Your First Two Books

Your first assignment is two books. Let me offer a few words about Howard Hageman’s Lily Among the Thorns, which I do hope you enjoy. This little book was written more than fifty years ago, and it’s worth reading as something of a classic for the RCA. It is beautifully written, and it was meant as a popular book. Excellent scholarship lies beneath it, and its historical facts are solid and dependable. It’s the best short introduction to the history and character of the RCA.

A word about its author, not least because the author is an outsized figure in our recent history. Dr. Hageman was a convert to the RCA, and I knew him well. Hageman grew up Methodist, in New England. He was a brilliant young man, who went to Harvard, where he was second in his graduating class, and at his commencement he gave the Salutatorian address, in Latin!

He sang in the Harvard Glee Club, and while singing Bach’s St. Matthew Passion he had something of a conversion experience. (Talk about it the power of the Word!) So he started going to church and he started reading Karl Barth.

He knew his Latin and Greek, and even before he graduated he began doing graduate-level work. He began assisting the great scholar Werner Jaeger in new editions of the Church Fathers, and he continued this as a Harvard Fellow after he graduated. But Professor Jaeger told him that before he could go any further, he needed to learn some theology.

Hageman had some ancestors who were Reformed, so he chose to go to New Brunswick Seminary to study with Dr. Beardslee. While there he kept doing his Harvard work on the side. At this point, he was not a member of any RCA church!

During seminary Hageman did the ordinary field work in local RCA congregations. And in doing this, he began to feel the call to serve the Lord Jesus as a minister of the gospel. At his graduation from seminary, he declined the offers to do graduate study at Harvard and also at Princeton, and he accepted the call of the North Reformed Church of Newark, an urban church, downtown, in a city in decline.

Hageman served that congregation for three decades, the decades of riots and despair, and was active in the life of the city. He also worked hard for the RCA. He was president of General Synod. He wrote Sunday School curriculum. He wrote a weekly column for the Church Herald. He was the anchor of the whole long project to revise the RCA Liturgy. He made Bible studies for the US Army, and he preached to the troops in Europe. He was a famous preacher, and he preached at the special services of every congregation that invited him, it didn’t matter how small or great. All this while he continued to do first-class scholarship, and gave the Stone Lectures at Princeton, which resulted in the book which quickly became the classic study of Reformed worship, Pulpit and Table.

The little book you are reading for this course was written by a true minister of the Word, that is, a Pastor and Teacher. It is written with a teacher’s knowledge and a pastor’s heart.

The other book you are using is very different. By Grace Alone is more like a family picture album. Its history is less objective, and not always balanced. It has some small mistakes in it. It suggests the preferences and predilections of its compilers. It’s more about the surfaces and less about the depths.

Like a family album, it looks at the past in our terms instead of the past’s own terms, and it sometimes reports what we want to see in our ancestors instead of how they saw themselves. For example, to call John Calvin a "Feminist" is the kind of thing you’d say at a family reunion, and not in public, where you’d have a hard time defending it!

But for all of that, the book is wonderful and indispensable. There is not better source for seeing our own story. You can share this book with your congregations, when your people come to you, as they will, with the desire to know our roots. Where did we come from? Who are we?