RCA History & Missions (DL), Session 4: The Second Immigration, and the Flowering of Missions
Read Bruggink and Baker, By Grace Alone, chapters 11-13.
Read P&P, 77-110, W&W, 31-74, 107-17
Time line of Missions
1792 William Carey (British), beginning of Protestant missions movement
1804 Livingston’s sermon
1819 John Scudder to Ceylon
1830 David Abeel to Far East, eventually Borneo (Netherlands East Indies)
1832 Board of Foreign Missions, Board of Domestic Missions
1838 South India–Scudder moves, locates in Arcot; first field
1842 Amoy, China–Abeel moves, stays; second field
1853 Classis of Arcot, RPDCNA, organized
1857 RCA withdraws from ABCFM, all our missionaries supported by BFM
1859 Japan–Brown and Verbeck to Japan, third field
1864 Amoy controversy settled
1889 Arabian Gulf–Cantine, Zwemer, fourth field
1895 Oklahoma–Frank Hall Wright to Native Americans, first domestic work
1900 Kentucky, Annville Institute, second domestic work
1919 Brewton, Alabama, Southern Normal School, third domestic work
1924 Chiapas, Mexico–Kempers, fifth field
1947 Church of South India organized
1948 South Sudan–Swarts and Kats
1949 missionaries leave China (to Taiwan, Philippines, etc.)
1968 General Program Council merges all missions and program boards
1971 John Gatu, “missionary, go home”
In this session we are learning about the middle period of the RCA, and the development of the two main defining characteristics of the RCA for a long time: the East-Midwest coalition, and the emphasis on foreign missions. Until very recent decades these two defining characteristics provided a consensus on how the RCA saw itself. By the 1980’s these two characteristics began to lose their force, and the RCA once again became unsure of its identity. The two key leaders of the RCA, Ed Mulder and Gene Heideman, began suggesting that the denomination needed a new vision, and many other leaders agreed with them. This is one way to understand the work of Wes Granberg-Michaelson as General Secretary. He was brought in to give a vision to the RCA, and his vision has been double: to find some new replacement for the East-Midwest coalition (the centralization of the RCA and the leadership of the staff), and to find some new replacement for the foreign missions emphasis (the Ten-Year Goal).
Let me add here that along with foreign missions the RCA also had a positive outward emphasis on Christian higher education. As you already learned, the colonial RCA valued an educated ministry, at some cost to its growth. Both the East and the Midwest shared this value. Out of this we developed a two-tiered system of three colleges and two seminaries. For a long time this system produced a large cadre not only of pastors who were both well-educated and loyal, but also of lay-leaders who strongly identified with the doctrines and heritage of the RCA. This factor, I believe, is largely underestimated. And the fact that it is no more has enormous consequences. We will come back to this, but for this session, we will put the education issue on hold and stay with the foreign missions emphasis.
Now stay with me here, because we are getting a little ahead of ourselves, but I want to put the material of this session in context. The RCA is incredibly different than it was only three decades ago. And if the RCA is in some turmoil, which I believe it is, and if it’s struggling over its “Mission and Vision,” which I know it is, we need to understand why we are in this state.
We have suffered the breakdown of that East-Midwest coalition which you will see being developed in the readings of this session. Three things in particular led to the breakdown of the coalition. The first was the inevitable Americanization of the Dutch-immigrant Midwest, which took a long time, though not as long as with the East. However, the Midwest did not become a second version of the East. While the East maintained its historic character as a Protestant establishment, the Midwest developed a more evangelical and even sometimes fundamentalist character. Much of this has to do with the fact that the East was descended from a “state church,” while the Midwest was descended from “secession congregations,” with the inevitable mood of “over-againstness,” although this mood was never as strong in the RCA as it was in the CRC.
The second was the development of the Far West as a third region. At first, the California congregations were simply the far Midwest. But eventually these developed their own take on things. The signal example of this was Robert Schuller. The Church Growth movement was both a positive desire to evangelize and a negative judgment on the existing churches in the Midwest no less then on the East. (Indeed, it was only the East that had the “tall steeple” churches which Schuller aspired to, as he has written. In full circle, Schuller was one of the first outside the East to be wholly positive about Marble Collegiate’s Norman Vincent Peale.)
The example of the breakdown is the first election of a Far West president of General Synod. For years the General Synod practiced the custom of electing a President alternately from the East and the Midwest. This was an example of how to maintain the coalition: if the leaders could work together, so could the regions in general. This unwritten rule was broken in 1985. In 1984 the President had been Bill Brownson from Classis Holland, so by tradition it was the turn of the East. But Kenneth Leestma from California was elected, and not as a Midwesterner. Well, have we got a third region now? Is there a new dynamic, that power in the denomination comes from a new coalition of two against one?
The third factor was the shift in leadership expectations. For the duration of this middle period, the RCA preferred its leaders to be strongest at relationships. They should be able to work the coalition, and the best training for this was the local pastorate and long experience in denominational participation. They should have gifts of diplomacy and sympathy. You will see examples of this in your readings, not only with Van Raalte, but also Thomas DeWitt and Isaac Wyckoff. Recent decades, however, have seen a new emphasis in leadership, which the RCA has shared with the larger culture in general. The leader should be a visionary, and the ideal type was the new-church pastor, who started fresh, and did not have to compromise. This was bound to be tough stuff for an old denomination which had developed its characteristics over time.
The last decades of this middle period were under the leadership of Ed Mulder, as Geneal Secretary, and Gene Heideman, as Secretary for Program. They held the coalition together. Ed was a native of Minnesota, from the second immigration, but he had served successful pastorates in both the East and the Midwest. He began as a pastor of a small “colonial” congregation in New Jersey. He served on the staff of Marble Collegiate. He pastored a large establishment church in Hackensack, New Jersey. And he pastored a large church in Holland, Michigan. Both sides of the coalition felt that he belonged to them. He was like Livingston and Van Raalte, he was all about relationships.
Gene Heideman was also from the Midwest, but his career had been in foreign missions and in education, and so he represented the two successful outward efforts of the RCA. He had served as a missionary in India, and he had taught at Central College and Western Seminary. He was less about relationships, but, with his doctorate from Utrecht (the first in the RCA since Livingston!), he stood for theological substance. No one could out-argue Gene Heideman when it came to historic Reformed theology, and yet he stood passionately for ecumenism.
What happened at their retirement reminds me of Winston Churchill after World War II. For all the love and admiration of his country, he lost the next election. Great Britain wanted something else. The RCA chose as its leaders someone very different from Ed and Gene. The long middle period of the RCA was over. (If you think it’s been tough for us, just like at the CRC!) For the last three decades the RCA had been scratching its head over its purpose and identity. Seminarians were going elsewhere than New Brunswick and Western. Eastern RCA kids were no longer going to Hope and Central. Even the foreign missions program was dwindling, as Harmelink’s essay points out. And that’s why the RCA has putting so much energy into a single Ten-Year Plan. It’s to replace, I think, what had been before, and what we had taken for granted. It’s over, but you need to know what it was.
The Chapters You Are Reading
Piety and Patriotism
pp. 77-94, “World Mission”
I think you will enjoy this chapter. Here is where the RCA developed its first successful outward look. The RCA earned an extremely positive reputation for its outsized work in foreign missions. Foreign missions provided a vision and mission that, for a long time, united the East and Midwest wings of the RCA. Missions kept providing the cutting edge for the RCA, and, if it’s not where our ecumenism began, its where our ecumenism developed. It seems that the RCA is at its best when it’s looking outward, and when it looks inward it tends to get stuck.
We saw in the last session the beginning of domestic missions. For whatever reason, we have never been as effective in domestic missions as we have been in foreign missions. Maybe the reasons are in the mind of God. Maybe the reason is that God knew that for us to do what we were called to do in foreign missions, we had to develop certain features that would hinder us in domestic missions. I don’t know. Maybe our best historical reasons fall short of fully knowing.
Last session we saw how domestic mission was for a long time simply church extension. We saw how it took three stages. The first stage, I’ll call it the “Daniel Boone stage,” was church extension among the native-born Americans who, after the Revolution, pushed across the mountains to the near Midwest. We’ll include the attempts to assist the German Reformed church in this stage. The second stage, the “Van Raalte stage,” was church extension among the Dutch immigrants of the Second Immigration. We’ll learn more about that in this session.
The third stage, of which you got only brief notice, was church extension among the other immigrants, such as the Hungarians, Italians, Japanese, and Chinese. Only the Hungarians had a Reformed connection. We quickly discovered that this mission would have to find success in other measures than new congregations. Looking back, we can also say that this version of domestic mission is the one that touched the boundary of foreign missions, for with the Chinese and Japanese we were working with the very same people as our foreign missionaries. And only this stage was missions in the classic sense, of “crossing cultural boundaries with the gospel.” In the classic sense, church extension in the first and second stages of our domestic mission was not “missions.” Neither is the Church Growth movement today, with its aggressive appeal to current popular culture. Evangelism, yes, but “missions,” no. It’s only a matter of definition, I know, but a very valuable distinction in definition.
One thing in passing. Protestant often think they invented missions. Well, the Protestants actually were late to missions. As Stephen Neill points out in his excellent history of missions in the Penguin series on church history, the Roman Catholic Church has really been the great missionary church, like it or not. So when we date the beginning of the modern missions movement to William Carey in 1792, we have to write that with a very large asterix.
It’s important for this chapter that you understand “millenialism.” There are roughly three types: post-millenialism, pre-millenialism, and a-millenialism. The latter is the common RCA position, that the “thousand-year-reign” of Christ is metaphorical, and that the Second Coming will be both catyclismic and definitive. Pre-millenialism is of different sorts, but it generally holds that the Second Coming will be preceded by a literal thousand year reign of Christ upon the earth. Post-millenialism holds that there will be a more gradual evolution of the Lordship of Christ upon the earth until the final climax of the Second Coming.
In the recent century post-millenialism has been associated with liberalism. Think of that hymn: “God is working his purpose out . . . till the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea.” But early on it was not so. Livingston was no liberal. Yet he seems to believe in a gradual flowering of the Kingdom of God until the Second Coming. Don’t take this to include the gradual eradication of sin, by any means, for this development was not the same as evolution. But what you see in Livingston is a new take on the Calvinist emphasis on the Kingdom of God, when the Kingdom of God is not understood narrowly as individual sanctification, but the Reign and Sovereignty of God in real terms in history on the earth.
This is important for RCA people to understand. For when the RCA is examined from a CRC point of view, and in terms of CRC’s “kingdom” categories, the RCA seems to come up short. But, thanks to Livingston, the way that the RCA expressed its Calvinism was in foreign missions. The proof of this is that RCA missions included schools, hospitals, and rudimentary economic ministries.
One other note on foreign missions. If you don’t know Dutch colonial history, it’s easy to overlook the fact that the Dutch connection was maintained in our first three foreign mission fields. Abeel first went to Indonesia, which was not just a Dutch colony, but “the” Dutch colony. Scudder first went to Ceylon, which had been a Dutch colony till 1802, and where a small but indigenous Dutch Reformed denomination continues to this day. Both Abeel and Scudder left these fields for other places: China and India.
Even the mission to Japan depended on the Dutch connection. For two centuries, the only Europeans allowed to visit Japan were the Dutch merchants on their little island of Deshima in Nagasaki harbor. The only Western language known to the Japanese was Dutch. (“Rangaku” was the Japanese word for Western learning, derived from either “Orange” or the pronunciation of “Holland.”) So when Guido Verbeck went to Nagasaki as an American missionary, he was able to communicate with the Japanese in, yes, Dutch! Who’da thunkit. So Arabia and the Persian Gulf was our first foreign mission field to start without a Dutch connection.
pp. 95-110, “Theology”
I cannot stress too much how important this essay by Heideman is. Please take your time with it. Please try to place yourself and your future ministry within it. How will you relate to the system of Dort that you will declare your allegiance to? How will you contribute, as some sort of Calvinist, to the sovereignty of God within America? How will you follow Livingston, or not? What do you want the RCA to stand for theologically?
My own congregation very much values my being their local theologian. I do not believe for a moment that ordinary laypeople don’t want theology. My people ask theological questions all the time, especially my junior high Sunday School class. If you are going to be happy as an RCA pastor, you must accept the gift and obligation of taking responsibility for theology in your context. You need to work at it, and thank God for the chance to work at it. Heideman’s essay is a very good place to do it.
Word and World
pp. 31-43, “New York and Holland”
Eenigenburg’s essay is valuable in bringing out the theological aspects of the East-Midwest coalition. You’ll get background and subtle differences, but also the basic unity that Van Raalte sensed.
pp. 45-74, “Saints and Sinners”
I wish you could have known Gene Osterhaven. He was brilliant, personable, and passionate. He was humble and kindly. But when he turned on the heat, watch out. This essay is all him. I think you will enjoy it too. It doesn’t back off from controversy. But I believe it all stands up. Please note the spirit in the quotations included. Please note the vision of the church.
Let me remind you of the prior 1822 Secession at Hackensack under Solomon Froeligh. Froeligh had been a contentious descendent of the Coetus, and he used the Hopkinsian issue as cause to lead a secession of several pastors and consistories out of the RPDCNA, and start the “True Reformed Dutch Church in the United States of America.” This remained a very small group, with classes in Hackensack and Albany. They were all first immigration people.
During the second immigration, Gijsbert Haan met some of these people in New York, and learned from them their criticism of the RPDCNA. This very much influenced his later behavior in Grand Rapids. In the 1880s’ the True Reformed Dutch Church split again; some of them joined up with the United Presbyterians, and others joined up with the CRC. One of the two classes of the CRC in New Jersey is still called Classis Hackensack, though there hasn’t been a CRC congregation in Hackensack since who knows when.
pp. 107-117, “Heidelberg and Grand Rapids”
Here’s another insightful essay by Heideman. He lays out the three step movement in the RCA’s understanding of the relation of church to missions. The beginning was establishment, which Livingston changed this to voluntary church membership. John Piet moved it, controversially, to the next step, that election is for mission. You should be able to trace this out and understand, because it’s had a powerful influence on the RCA today, especially its Mission and Vision Statement, which led to the Ten Year Goal.
This essay should help you to spot the huge flaw in the Vision and Mission Statement, however. It never mentions the Kingdom of God. The church seems to be the whole focus of the church, instead of the church being for the Kingdom of God. Well, on the basis of this essay, what would Albertus Pieters have said about that?
The Three-Self mission strategy of Rufus Anderson is given short mention by Heideman because he’s doing historical theology, not history itself. But the Three-Self strategy was very important in World Missions history. Did you know that to this day that the huge independent indigenous Christian Church in China is known as the “Three-Self Church?” How many people know that this was thought out in the rooms of the RPDCNA Foreign Missions Board in NYC?
By Grace Alone, chapters 11-13.
What shall I say? Well, it’s just not fair to leave it at “irascibility,” but there’s a lot of “family history” here.
Study Guide for Session 4:
1. By the 1850’s, was the RPDCNA Dutch-Calvinist, American Evangelical, or both, and to what extent?
2. What happened in 1847, and what profound effect did it have on the RPDCNA?
3. What is the “Thompson Principle”?
4. What was the first immigrant group to be ministered to in the Nineteenth Century?
5. Why did the Hollanders leave Europe for the Midwest? Who led them?
6. What were the Seceders’ stated reasons for leaving the RCA?
7. What does Osterhaven say are the real reasons for the secession?
8. Comment on this: The cure that is secession is worse than the disease.
9. What other immigrant groups were ministered to after the 1890’s?
10. Identify the three waves of Dutch immigration.
11. Should the DRC Americanize, or is it the DRC’s divinely given responsibility to try to get America to be more purely Reformed?
12. How did Domestic Missions begin to change at the end of the 1800s?
13. What’s the importance of Livingston’s 1804 sermon, The Everlasting Gospel?
14. Be able to identify Van Raalte, Scholte, and Vander Meulen.
15. Know who De Cock was, and what happened at Ulrum in 1834.
16. Be able to define the Afscheiding.
17. Be able to describe Livinston’s millenialism.
18. What did this have to do with America?
19. Know what ABCFM stands for, and which denominations were in it.
20. Know the connection from Livingston to Bork to John Scudder.
21. Know what the UFMS stands for. It merged with the ABCFM in 1826.
22. Understand the deal between the Board of Foreign Missions and the ABCFM.
23. Why did the Board break off with the ABCFM in 1857?
24. What else happened in 1857?
25. Be able to explain the conflict between the Amoy mission and the Board and the General Synod. Does it remind you of Classis Amsterdam? How did this permanently affect RCA mission policy? How did Barnerd Luben state it in 1953?
26. Describe the WBFM and its significance. Who is Ruth Ransom?
27. Who is A. L. Warnshuis?
28. How did missions strategy change with the change in name to World Missions?
a. sister to sister rather than mother to daughter
b. local determinaiton of need and recruitment
c. lengths of stay and other kinds of specializations
29. Explain the decline between 1955 and 1975.
30. What’s the importance of John Gatu?
31. What were the two orientations that Heideman says the RCA was trying to balance?
32. After 1664, unlike in New England, the DRC was no longer responsible for the
morality and piety of the community at large. What’s the long term effect for
the mission of the RCA in America, compared to, say, our mother church, or
the DRC in South Africa?
33. What’s Hopkinsianism? The Ten Eyck case? What was the effect?
34. What’s the difference between Frelinghuysen’s Awakening and later American revivalism?
35. What are the Dutch Reformed and Presbyterian differences on Election?
36. Mercersburg Theology argued that the RCA had left true Calvinism. How? Why?
37. What are the predestinarian and eschatological interpretations of our confessional system as experienced in our history?
38. What did Van Raalte fear more than persecution?
39. Who is Gijsbert Haan?
40. What’s the True Reformed Dutch Church, from 1822, centered in Hackensack, New Jersey?
41. What are Osterhaven’s six reasons for the secession?
42. Note the theological issues of essentials vs. non-essentials, and the difference between truth and our perception of it.
43. You need to know and understand the General Synod’s decisions on Freemasonry.
44. What are the three purposes of mission, according to Voetius?
45. You need to know Rufus Anderson’s Three-Self Mission Strategy.
46. How did the Amoy Mission demonstrate the Three-Self strategy?
47. How did the RCA follow this as general missions policy?
48. What was Albertus Pieters’ disagreement?
49. For your classis exams, let me recommend that you be able to reel off the succession of RCA mission sites, up to and including Chiapas, Ethiopia, and the Sudan.
Discussion Group Issues
1. Discuss Heideman’s two essays. Use the related study questions above to do so.
2. Discuss the idea of coalitions in a denomination, and what they’ve developed into.
Reflect on following issues: Show me you know the stuff. Give implications.
1. The Secession that birthed the CRC
2. The Freemasonry issue.