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“Hope of the World”: The Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America, 1945-1969   19 comments

1955-1968 Dutch Reformed

Above:  My Copies of The Hymnbook (1955), The Liturgy and Psalms (1968), and Psalter Hymnal (1959)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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U.S. DUTCH REFORMED LITURGY, PART V

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Hope of the world, Thou Christ of great compassion,

Speak to our fearful hearts by conflict rent.

Save us, Thy people, from consuming passion,

Who by our falsehoods and aims are spent.

–Georgia Harkness, 1953, The Hymnbook (1955), Hymn #291

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I.  PREFACE AND INTRODUCTION

In the early 1980s, hardly the pinnacle of humor on Saturday Night Live, some good jokes did slip through the filters.  Among them was this piece of faux wisdom:

Change is the only constant.  Then you need it for bus fare.

Change was among the constant factors in the Reformed Church in America (RCA) and the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA or just CRC) during the period of 1945-1969.  The RCA almost came apart at the seams because of the resulting tensions and resentments.  And the CRCNA moderated, much to the chagrin of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), with which it nearly merged.  By the end of 1969 the gap separating the RCA and the CRCNA had narrowed.

The process of taking notes for this post required me to spend much time with books and PDFs.  I have listed my hardcopy sources at the end of this post.  For the sake of convenience, however, I state here and now that the germane Agendas and Acts of Synod of the CRCNA are available at this link.  I have also provided other germane hyperlinks throughout the post as forms of documentation.

Before we continue, O reader, I inform you that the rough draft of this post, excluding the bibliography, filled sixty-eight pages of a composition book.  I have tried to be thorough without being excessive.  There is simply much material, despite the fact that I could have written many more pages.  So you might want to review Parts I, II, III, and IV of this series and take your time with this post.  The organizational structure should guide you through the material well.

I am, believe it or not, working on this series as part of a hobby.  I could be watching old Doctor Who serials, but I am doing this instead.  Make of that what you will.

Now, without further ado….

II.  ECUMENISM, BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION, AND BIBLE TRANSLATION

Liturgy does not occur in a vacuum.  To understand it properly one must have a grasp of its contexts.  The Hymnbook (1955), for example, was a joint project of the RCA and four Presbyterian denominations.  Thus that volume’s existence indicates something about the RCA’s ecumenical engagement at the time.  And the choice of Bible translation (the American Standard Version of 1901) for use in Psalter Hymnal (1959) points to the CRCNA’s official attitude toward the Revised Standard Version at the time.  So, before I undertake to explain details of liturgy in the RCA and the CRCNA from 1945 to 1969, I will lay a solid foundation.

Biblical Inerrancy and Infallibility

This issue arose in both the RCA and the CRCNA, with different results.

Before we proceed, O reader, we ought to understand definitions correctly.  The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition (1996), defines “inerrant” and “infallible” as synonyms.  They refer to being incapable of erring and to containing no errors.

The RCA had a contingent (mostly in the Midwest and the West) which valued inerrancy and infallibility.  The issue did not come before the General Synod until 1948, however.  In 1946 New Brunswick Theological Seminary hired Hugh Baillie MacLean, a Scottish Presbyterian, as Lecturer in Old Testament.  MacLean addressed the General Synod of 1948, causing a controversy in the process.  He affirmed the value of the Old Testament, arguing that the New Testament had not made it irrelevant.  That did not prove controversial, but the next part did.  He also stated that the Bible was a product of God and people, and that changing human understandings of God had influenced the development Scripture.  So, MacLean said, God never ordered the Israelites to commit genocide in Canaan, despite appearances in the Bible.  Actually, he argued, later writers told the story that way because they concluded that the Israelites should have killed all the Canaanites.

Had MacLean denied the truth of Scripture?  The General Synod of 1949 heard seventeen overtures (all from the generally more liberal East of the Church) supporting MacLean and thirteen overtures (all of them from the generally more conservative Midwest and West of the denomination) condemning him.  The scholar remained at his post until he died in 1959.  During his tenure he impressed his students with his knowledge, his ability to make the Bible come alive, and his commitment to divine love for people and for justice.

Among MacLean’s students was William Coventry, who became the center of a dispute in the RCA.  From May 1958 to January 1959 he struggled to receive a license to preach.  The conservative Classis of Passaic, where many of the ministers had graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary, an institution of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), denied Coventry said license in May 1958 because he had denied Biblical inerrancy and infallibility and argued that Adam had never existed.  Next four congregations of that classis appealed the decision to the Particular Synod of New Jersey, which sustained the appeal.  Yet the Classis of Passaic continued to refuse to grant the license to Coventry, not yet ordained.  So some progressive congregations, complaining of the stifling conservatism of the Classis of Passaic, requested transfer to a different classis.  The Classis of Passaic appealed the ruling of the Particular Synod of New Jersey to the General Synod of 1958, which directed the Particular Synod either to grant the license directly or to force the Classis of Passaic to do so.  Meanwhile, Coventry had accepted a call to a congregation in the adjacent Classis of Paramus.  That classis attempted to have him transferred to their jurisdiction so they could grant the license  to preach.  In January 1959, after consultation with clergy from both classes, an examiner asked Coventry specific questions regarding the interpretation of Scripture.  Coventry provided more orthodox answers and thereby received his license to preach.

Subsequent General Synods addressed the question of Biblical interpretation.  The 1959 General Synod ruled that the reality of a range of opinions regarding the proper interpretation of Scripture within the RCA and larger Protestantism did not constitute a cause for concern.  Four years later the General Synod approved a 1960 Theological Commission report which said in part,

Scripture as the Word of the faithful God is infallible and inerrant in all that it intends to teach and accomplish concerning faith and life.

The RCA rejected any rigid position on the subject.

The CRCNA, however, approached the topic differently.  This occurred in the context of a struggle between progressives (relatively speaking) and Confessionalists in the denomination.  The progressives favored a policy of permeation, or applying Christian faith in the modern culture, not hiding out from it.  They scored a victory in 1952, when all but one member of the Confessionalist old guard at Calvin Theological Seminary had to leave.  Nevertheless, these progressives were theological conservatives; they were just less conservative than the Confessionalists.  Affirmation of Biblical inerrancy and infallibility remained an assumed matter at Calvin Theological Seminary as late as 1959.  That year the CRCNA Synod received an overture that

no seminary student who is not wholly committed to the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture shall have access to any pulpit in the Christian Reformed Church

and deemed it

unnecessary at this time,

due to the orthodoxy of Calvin Theological Seminary.

Starting in 1959, however, there was an investigation of the Reverend Doctor John H. Kromminga, President of that seminary from 1954.  Professor Martin J. Wyngaarden, also of the seminary, alleged that Kromminga had, in writing, taken a position on Biblical inerrancy and infallibility inconsistent with the Belgic Confession of Faith.  The CRCNA Synod exonerated Kromminga of all charges, over Wyngaarden’s strong and vocal objections.  Kromminga, the Synod concluded, had merely used vague language initially; he had cleared up all misunderstandings with precise language.  He received indefinite tenure in 1962 and retired twenty-one years later.

The CRCNA reaffirmed its position regarding Biblical inerrancy and infallibility in 1961.  One can read the full text of that position in that year’s Acts of Synod, pages 253-328.  The General Synod of the RCA would never have approved such a hardline position.

The World Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Roman Catholicism

The RCA had been a charter member of the Federal Council of Churches (1908-1950).  It maintained this affiliation through 1950, turning back overtures to leave in 1932, 1934, 1936, 1944, 1947, and 1948.  Objections to membership in the Federal Council included allegations that:

  1. The Council was Communist;
  2. The Council, if not Communist, was soft on Communism;
  3. The Council was too liberal; and
  4. Membership in the Council weakened the Reformed witness of the RCA.

The RCA also became a charter member of the World Council of Churches (1948-) and the National Council of Churches (1950-), the latter being the successor to the Federal Council.  Criticisms of RCA membership in the Federal Council became arguments against membership in these new Councils.  Within the right wing of the RCA other criticisms of them included:

  1. Charges of meddling in matters economic, political, and social; and
  2. Allegations that the Eastern Orthodox were not really Christians.

The General Synod turned back attempts to withdraw from the Councils in 1965, 1967, and 1968.

I will return to the first point periodically in this post, pointing out ironies regarding it.  As for the second point, I conclude that traditional Protestant hostility toward Roman Catholicism is germane, for that antipathy transferred to the Eastern Orthodox.

An intellectually honest approach to the question of Protestant anti-Roman Catholicism recognizes the fact the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), or Vatican II, was a dividing line in church history and ecumenical relations.  For many Protestants, however, Vatican II made no difference, for they remained hostile toward the Roman Catholic Church.  This applied to the conservative middle of the RCA, but not just to that segment of the denomination.  In 1960, for example, Norman Vincent Peale, pastor of Marble Collegiate Church, New York, New York, led a campaign against Senator John F. Kennedy, the Democratic nominee for President, on the basis of JFK’s Roman Catholicism alone.

Nevertheless, the generally more liberal Eastern portion of the RCA practiced more tolerance or acceptance of Roman Catholicism than did the generally more conservative Midwestern and Western parts of the denomination.  Eastern RCA ministers usually wore a clergy collar, for example, but their Midwestern and Western counterparts seldom did.  And, when two RCA clergymen attended an interfaith service at a Roman Catholic parish in Pequannock, New Jersey, in 1968, parts of the right wing of the RCA objected vociferously.  There was also the 1963 case of an allegedly incriminating photograph of two RCA ministers, a Roman Catholic priest, and an Eastern Orthodox priest at an event during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  One conservative Midwestern RCA clergyman registered his displeasure in The Church Herald, the denominational magazine.  He argued that the photograph suggested wrongly that the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Churches were Christian.

Old prejudices had stubborn staying power.

If this was the reaction in the RCA, how hard was the anti-Roman Catholic line in the CRCNA.  Very!  The 1949 Minority Report regarding CRCNA membership in the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) argued for continued affiliation with that group and included Roman Catholicism along with

Unbelief, Communism, Modernism

as

the great foes of orthodox Christianity

which both the CRCNA and the NAE opposed.  And the 1957 Synod protested the appointment of a U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  The Acts of Synod cited concerns about the separation of church and state, but anti-Roman Catholicism was certainly a major factor in the matter.  (Quotes from Acts of Synod, page 313)

The CRCNA was predictable in its opposition to the World and National Councils of Churches.  A report to the 1959 Synod referred to members of those Councils as

“churches,”

as if they were really sects, not churches, and stated that these alleged churches denied

the orthodox faith and Scriptural teaching.

(Quotes from Acts of Synod, page 60)

The picture became mixed at the CRC Synod of 1967.  The Majority Report (Acts of Synod, pages 380-443) recycled old criticisms of the World Council of Churches (WCC).  It is too liberal, the report said.  The WCC meddles in social, economic, and political issues, the report alleged.  The Synod adopted this report.  Yet there was the Minority Report (Acts of Synod, pages 444-485).  The bottom line of the Minority Report was the recognition of problem areas regarding potential CRCNA membership in the WCC with a noticeable absence of hostility toward that Council.  There were no charges of apostasy, for example.  It was a minority opinion, but it had a constituency within the denomination.

The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE)

The CRCNA joined the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), becoming a charter member.  From then to 1951, when the denomination left, CRC Synods received overtures to withdraw.  Throughout the 1950s and 1960s the CRCNA heard requests to rejoin, something it did eventually, but not before 1970.  The complaints against CRCNA membership in the NAE had nothing to do with charges of Modernism, for the NAE existed in part to resist Modernism.  No, opposition to NAE affiliation within the CRCNA had mostly to do with Reformed identity and doctrinal purity.  Arguments against the NAE gathered from the CRCNA Acts of Synod (1948-1951) included:

  1. Membership in the NAE impairs the CRCNA’s Reformed witness (that rhymes with objections to RCA membership in other councils);
  2. Membership in the NAE might “accelerate the growth of Fundamentalism in the Christian Reformed Church” (Acts of Synod, 1949, page 288); and
  3. The NAE is too Arminian.

The Majority Report to the Synod of 1949 advised CRCNA withdrawal from the NAE

lest our Reformed witness be confused, submerged, and impaired; and lest our fellowship in the N.A.E. accelerate the growth of Fundamentalism in the Christian Reformed Church

because

Fundamentalism is anti-Reformed and anti-Calvinist

and is

at best Arminian, but in fact anti-theological.

(Quotes from Acts of Synod, pages 288 and 290)

The unsuccessful pro-NAE argument was a defensive one.  It held that the CRCNA must stand with the NAE because

the great foes of orthodox Christianity in our own day, Unbelief, Communism, Modernism, Roman Catholicism, are very strong and active today.  We believe that as history rolls onto the end this danger will become more acute.  This makes it all the more urgent that those who are fundamentally one in the Lord stand together to defend themselves.

(Quote from Acts of Synod, 1949, page 313)

A 1961 recommendation followed in the same vein, urging the CRCNA to rejoin the NAE to resist, among other influences,

Communism, Paganism, Roman Catholicism, and Modernism.

(Quote from Acts of Synod, page 476)

The CRCNA rejected NAE requests to send representatives to address denominational Synods and declined invitations to rejoin in the 1950s.  By the middle 1960s, however, the CRCNA and the NAE had become partners in creating the New International Version of the Bible, a fact which unsettled part of the denominational constituency.  And a 1967 NAE invitation to the CRCNA to return to the fold led to a study commission and a polite hearing, but not immediate re-affiliation.  Attitudes were softening.

The Revised Standard Version and the New International Version

The Revised Standard Version  (RSV) of the Bible did not change substantially between 1954 and 1969, but the CRCNA’s official opinion of it did.  Before the denomination approved of the RSV officially in 1969, however, it launched the process which led to the creation of the New International Version (NIV).

In the 1960s the RCA joined with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC), the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (CPC), the Moravian Church in America (MCA), and the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) to authorize common Sunday School materials, the Covenant Life Curriculum (CLC).  Some of these volumes have entered my library.  Thus I cite them to document the fact that they cited the RSV primarily.  Some in the right wings of the RCA and the PCUS (at least) considered the CLC materials theologically suspect due to the presence of very mainline Protestant Neo-Orthodoxy in them.  (I draw upon my memory of research into the reactionary wing of the PCUS via primary sources to support the PCUS part of the previous sentence.)  The Hymnbook (1955) of the RCA, the ARPC, the PCUS, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (PCUSA), and the United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPCNA) quoted both the Authorized (King James) Version and the RSV.  The RCA clearly had no official objection to the RSV.

For fifteen years, however, the CRCNA had a different opinion.  An overture to the Synod of 1953 led to the creation of a study committee.  That group reported to the Synod of 1954 and lambasted the RSV.  They labeled it inferior stylistically to the Authorized (King James) Version and worse, theologically Modernistic:

This bias does not appear on the side of faith.

(Quote from Acts of Synod, 1954, page 435)

The Synod accepted the report’s conclusions and advised against any use of the RSV in CRC congregations.

The RSV was a product of the National Council of Churches (NCC), which the CRCNA considered apostate at the time, so the translation’s origins influenced the Synod’s conclusions.  The CRCNA, having mellowed by the late 1960s, appointed a new study commission in 1968 and approved the use of the RSV the following year.  The denomination’s representatives on the matter even suggested some changes to the RSV ahead of the publication of the Revised Standard Version, Second Edition (RSV II), in 1971.  At the time of the 1969 CRCNA Synod the RSV translation committee had agreed to give all these suggestions serious consideration, had approved some, and had rejected none.  Engagement proved fruitful; labeling the translation faithless did not.

The RSV II, by the way, was the foundation from which the translators of the theologically conservative English Standard Version (2001) worked.

The process which led to the translation of the New International Version (NIV) began with an overture at the Synod of 1956.  The proposal was that the CRCNA join with other conservative Churches to produce

a faithful translation of the Scriptures in the common language of the people.

The Synod of 1956 referred the matter to the Old Testament and New Testament faculty of Calvin Theological Seminary.  By the early 1960s they had secured sufficient support, including much from the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).  The rest was history; translation began in 1965.

This work aroused opposition within the CRCNA.  At the Synod of 1964, for example, Classis Central California made an eleventh-hour attempt to halt work on the NIV.  It proposed an overture to this effect, providing the following reasons as grounds:

  1. The American Standard Version (ASV) of 1901 is good enough.
  2. Creating a new translation will be too expensive.
  3. Having too many translations complicates needlessly he process of memorizing Scripture.
  4. There is insufficient support within the CRCNA for a new translation.

That overture failed, but a subsequent overture from the same classis led to the approval of the RSV in 1969.

The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America (1954-1961)

From 1955 to 1961 the CRCNA considered merging with the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA).  This proposal originated within the RPCNA, whose Synod of 1954 approved negotiations toward that end.  The CRCNA Synod of 1955 responded favorably, so talks commenced.  Major issues became obvious quickly and remain unresolved as the CRCNA stepped away from its traditional cultural isolationism, hence the failure of the merger negotiations:

  1. In 1956 the CRCNA Synod rejected a request from the RPCNA Synod to join it in supporting a proposed amendment to the Constitution of the United States recognizing Jesus Christ as “the Saviour and Ruler of Nations.”  The CRCNA affirmed the sentiment yet deemed the proposed amendment improper.
  2. Reports to CRCNA Synods from the late 1950s to 1961 pointed to differences between the two denominations regarding the Scriptural pattern of worship.  The RPCNA, unlike the CRCNA, rejected hymns, written prayers, and musical instruments.  Indeed, it still rejects hymns.  The RPCNA’s 2010 worship resource, The Book of Psalms for Worship, is exactly what the title indicates.
  3. These CRCNA reports to Synod also mentioned a different ethic regarding the Christian’s proper relationship to civil authority.  The RPCNA considered voting and holding public office sinful.

A 1959 CRCNA report labeled merger unlikely, a 1960 report held out some hope, and a 1961 report, citing

some traditional positions and practices

of the RPCNA, declared merger an impossibility.

(Quote from Acts of Synod, 1961, page 121)

The Orthodox Protestant Reformed Churches in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America, 1957-1961

The Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRCA) broke away from the CRCNA in 1926 rather than affirm the Common Grace theology of Abraham Kuyper which the CRCNA Synod had made mandatory for ministers.  (I covered that ground in Parts III and IV of this series.  I have also provided links to all the previous parts of this series at the beginning of this post.)  The CRCNA was Calvinistic, but the PRCA was hyper-Calvinistic.  The PRCA split in 1953, when the Orthodox Protestant Reformed Churches in America (OPRCA) formed.

I use these labels for the sake of accuracy, but the CRC Acts of Synod usually referred to the PRCA as the PRCA (H. Hoekstra Group) and the OPRCA as the PRCA (De Wolf Group).  So, O reader, know that fact if you decide to read the Acts of Synod for details relevant to these groups.

The main purpose of the OPRCA (1953-1961) seems to have been to reunite with the CRCNA.  In fact, some congregations did this before the denomination followed suit in 1961, four years after talks started.  This rush back into the embrace of the CRCNA displeased the PRCA, which spewed ecclesiastical venom at its parent denomination.  A testy communication from the PRCA to the CRCNA in 1957 prompted this restrained and accurate summary in a report to CRCNA Synod:

The tone and contents of the letter are not as give promise of fruitful discussion.

(Quote from Acts of Synod, page 83)

Union between the OPRCA and the CRCNA became effective on July 13, 1961.  A letter from the PRCA to the OPRCA dated July 12, 1961, addressed the

Erring Brethren

and warned them to

desist from the evil path

they had followed since 1953.  (Quotes from Acts of Synod, 1962, page 461).  Then the PRCA picked a fight with the CRCNA over the records (before the schism of 1953) of churches, formerly PRCA but then OPRCA and later CRCNA.  The CRCNA resolved the matter by sending copies of all such records to the PRCA.

The Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Christian Reformed Church in North America, 1959-1969

J. Gresham Machen, late of Princeton Theological Seminary and the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (PCUSA), formed the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), initially named the Presbyterian Church of America, in 1936.  (Note the “of America,”  reader.  The Presbyterian Church in America, founded in 1973 as the National Presbyterian Church, produced a hymn book, Trinity Hymnal–Revised Edition (1990), with the OPC, after two failed attempts at organic union with that body in the 1980s.  I also ponder how difficult naming a new Presbyterian denomination in the United States must be, for sounding much like another label is probably impossible.  Fortunately, I can keep the denominational names separate most of the time.)  Machen was a theologically complex man–not even hostile to Evolution–but he died on January 1, 1937, and a power struggle divided his nascent denomination five months later.  Thus the Bible Presbyterian Church came into existence.

The OPC and the CRCNA began their ecclesiastical dance in 1944.  The two started preparing joint Sunday School materials in the early 1950s.  The CRCNA Synod of 1959 sought merger with the OPC, which seemed likely for a few years.  Negotiators in the early 1960s considered only one issue–polity–a possible barrier to organic union.  They did not think of it as an insurmountable barrier, however.  The crux of this issue was that the OPC General Assembly was less prone than the CRCNA Synod to bind church members with pronouncements.  The CRCNA had stricter rules about liturgy, for example.

In 1966 the OPC backed away from potential organic union with the CRCNA.  At first the OPC cited some of its internal issues, such as the process of adopting a new Form of Government and the pursuit of merger negotiations with the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES).  (The RPCES became part of the Presbyterian Church in America in 1982 instead.)  Actually, the OPC was more concerned with perceived liberal tendencies in the CRCNA.  This had nothing to do with Synodical decisions, for the CRCNA had maintained a hard line regarding Biblical inerrancy and infallibility, for example.  But the Synod had not made a definite statement about Evolution (something which Machen would not have asked them to do, by the way).  And a prominent CRCNA minister had sounded rather Arminian regarding the Atonement recently.  Furthermore, no matter how often the CRCNA called the World Council of Churches too liberal, the OPC remained unsatisfied.  No number of CRCNA assurances from 1967 to 1969 sufficed.  The CRCNA was insufficiently orthodox for the OPC.

The United Presbyterian Church of  North America and the Reformed Church in America

There was a 1944-1949 proposal to merge the RCA and the United Presbyterian Church of  North America (UPCNA).  This was not the first overlap between the UPCNA and a Dutch Reformed denomination.  As I have established previously in this series:

  1. The UPCNA had discussed merger with the CRCNA in the 1890s,
  2. The CRCNA’s Classis Hackensack had used and adapted the UPCNA’s Psalter (1887),
  3. The UPCNA’s Psalter (1912) served as the basis of the CRCNA’s Psalter (1914), and
  4. The UPCNA and the RCA had discussed merger in the late 1920s and early 1930s.

The United Presbyterians and the Dutch Reformed were hardly strangers to each other, but the proposed merger in the 1940s failed.  The UPCNA passed it, as did the RCA General Assembly of 1949, yet not enough RCA Classes approved it by sufficiently wide margins.  Supporters of organic union had made their case:

  1. The two denominations were similar, therefore compatible;
  2. The RCA would become part of a larger and more prominent denomination;
  3. The merged body would enjoy better name recognition, for many people knew the name “Presbyterian” better than “Reformed;” and
  4. The merger would decrease Christian divisiveness.

Yet the proposed merger died because Midwestern and Western Classes of the RCA killed it in the name of maintaining Dutch identity, doctrinal orthodoxy, and liturgical similarity.

The UPCNA found its merger partner, the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (PCUSA).  They joined in 1958 to create the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (UPCUSA).

The Presbyterian Church in the United States and the Reformed Church in America, 1962-1969

The Eastern portion of the RCA, always more supportive of organic union with others than the Midwestern and Western sections thereof, tried again in the 1960s.  Potential suitors included the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and the United Church of Christ, but the RCA leaders decided to try to merge with the Southern Presbyterians, the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS), instead.  This proposal stirred up strong opposition within the right wings of both denominations, but the RCA’s right flank succeeded in preventing the merger.  RCA critics stated their reasons:

  1. The PCUS was insufficiently Reformed;
  2. The PCUS belonged to the Consultation on Church Union (COCU); and
  3. The PCUS was too liberal.

The 1969 death of the RCA-PCUS merger and the years-long debate leading up to it stirred up much resentment within the RCA.  Other issues contributed to the infighting in the RCA, but the proposed merger functioned as a major lightning rod.  Many progressives thought that conservatives had taken their denomination away from them.   Many conservatives wondered, however, how progressives had become so radicalized.  The RCA might have come part at the seams in the early 1970s had the General Synod of 1970 not decentralized much of the decision making in the denomination, thereby relieving the General Synod of the responsibility of issuing so many statements.

The PCUS merged with the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (UPCUSA) in 1983 to create the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) [PC(USA)].

III.  PUBLIC AND PRIVATE PIETY

Perhaps the proposed RCA-PCUS merger served primarily to crystallize a host of issues which divided the wings of the RCA.  These existed mainly in the realm of public and private piety.  The CRCNA dealt with the same issues also.

Racism and Civil Rights

The Dutch Reformed, whether theologically relatively liberal or conservative, were all over the proverbial map regarding how best to address questions of civil rights.  There were many overt racists in the pews, of course, as there were in the larger society.  These defended segregation with a host of reasons, including white privilege, the assumption that God had separated the races, and concerns for property values.  Among those who opposed racism disagreement about how best to correct the situation divided the ranks.  Those who focused on individual responsibility thought that a sufficient number of people repenting of the sin of racism was enough to solve the problem.  Others, however, added to that the moral imperative of the church to address social, economic, and political structures.  This was the kind of “meddling” for which many people criticized the World and National Councils of Churches.

The RCA’s Christian Action Committee (CAC) favored actions which upset both racists and solely individual-responsibility types opponents of racism.  The CAC, backed up by the General Synod of 1957, made the following statements:

  1. It encouraged the RCA to confess its racism and related sins.
  2. It  noted the lack of Biblical support for opposing interracial marriage.
  3. It opposed racially restrictive housing covenants.

The second and third points proved especially controversial.  Concern over property values was a financial consideration, of course.  Sometimes it was more than that, obviously.  But few issues have demonstrated the power to stir up deep emotions in people more strongly than human sexuality.  What consenting adults do with each other has proven to be a cause of much moral concern–frequently with good cause–but who may marry whom has often functioned as an issue which has focused bigoted opinions people have learned from others.  Cultures have long imparted prejudices to their members.  Such was (and remains) the case with opposition to interracial marriage.

The RCA was of a divided mind on civil rights.  The 1960 General Synod even refused to support the National Urban League (NAL) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for fear they might be Communist organizations.  And in 1969, the General Synod declined to request the U.S. Congress to improve working conditions for farm workers, especially migrants who picked grapes in California.  Was Cesar Chavez a radical?  Perhaps, but he was definitely a Roman Catholic committed to economic justice.

Both the RCA and the CRCNA addressed questions of Apartheid in South Africa.  Each denomination related more naturally to a different Dutch Reformed body in that country, the RCA with the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa (DRCSA) (albeit uncomfortably) and the CRCNA with the Reformed Churches in South Africa (RCSA).  The CRCNA Synod of 1960 approved an overture to ask said Synod to send a letter to the RCSA, which had not taken a position regarding Apartheid.  The CRCNA letter reminded the RCSA gently of its Christian duty

to avoid any semblance of an attitude leading to estrangement between races.

The RCA, in a 1968 letter to the DRCSA, which used the Bible to defend Apartheid, condemned that misuse (if not abuse) of Scripture.  These were laudable letters, but the CRCNA’s communication raised the question of hypocrisy, for that denomination, while condemning Apartheid and encouraging its sister church to oppose that official system, accused the World and National Councils of Churches of meddling in social, economic, and political matters.  Did the CRCNA want to have it both ways?  And, assuming that there was (and is) a distinction between theological issues on one hand and social, economic, and political matters on the other hand, where was (and is) it?

The CRCNA also struggled with that theological-social, economic, and political distinction regarding domestic civil rights.  In 1957 Classis Hackensack sent to the Synod an overture emphasizing human solidarity and quoting the Bible to declare that determining

the opportunities in society on the basis of race and color is contrary to the will of God.

The grounds for the overture were telling.  Verbatim:

  1. The problem of race segregation is not confined to a single congregation or classis, but it is an issue on which many congregations in many places have need of guidance.
  2. The material provides guidance on a vital issue involving the Christian conscience in a matter with direct and immediate bearing upon the life of the church.
  3. This material also provides a witness from the Word of God to a world on a vital issue which has been disturbing the conscience of our society for many years.
  4. It is the duty of the church to address itself to such issues as this with courage and conviction, clarity, and constancy from the Word of God.

The Synod removed the last two grounds and passed the overture.

Just two years later, however, the Synod adopted a statement which emphasized (1) human solidarity, (2) love for one’s neighbors, (3) church responsibility to scrutinize its teachings and attitudes as well as civil laws in the light of Scripture, (4) avoiding even the impression of racial discrimination in the church, and (5) rebutting the argument that the Bible contains any evidence for or against interracial marriage.  The grounds for the overture included:

In view of the racial tensions and the flagrant violation of the Scriptural principle of equality occurring in society and church, both in America and in the world, the church has a calling to register a clear and strong witness to her members and her world.

(Quote from Acts of Synod, 1959, page 84)

The CRCNA addressed racism at home in 1968 and 1969.  The Synod of 1968 approved in full an overture which included condemnation of a racial segregation at a CRCNA parochial school.  That Synod also designated July 14, 1968, as a day of prayer and fasting for the sins of racism so that God might renew U.S. society.  And the Synod of 1969 approved an overture which stated that churches had a responsibility to address, social, economic, and political issues related to racism.

War and Peace:  Vietnam

The Vietnam War divided U.S. society and became controversial in ecclesiastical circles, including within the RCA and the CRCNA.

The relatively liberal establishment of the RCA represented a diminishing power base in the East, for numerical and financial strength was growing in the Midwest and the West, where congregations tended to be more conservative and where many communities were less diverse and cosmopolitan than in the East.  The accompanying shift in ecclesiastical power became obvious in the 1960s.  Although the General Synod had questioned the morality of the draft and affirmed the principle of conscientious objection to war and military service earlier in the decade, the 1969 General Synod rejected a proposal to provide legal counsel to draft dodgers.  Part of Richard Nixon‘s “Silent Majority” was vocal within the RCA.

My research yielded little information about the CRCNA and the Vietnam War per se.  Nevertheless, I did notice that the Synod of 1969 reprinted verbatim the text of the denomination’s 1939 Testimony Regarding the Christian’s Attitude Toward War on pages 447-493 of Acts of Synod.  That Testimony condemned both militarism and pacifism while expressing support for both military personnel and selective conscientious objectors, those who objected to a particular war on moral grounds.  I do not assume that this position reflected unanimous opinion within the CRCNA, for I assume that there was no unanimous position regarding any issue within the CRCNA or any other denomination at any time.

Worldly Amusements

Some opposition to “worldly amusements” persisted in the RCA into the 1950s and 1960s.  The General Synod of 1911 had opposed the opening of a dance hall in Asbury Park, New Jersey, but the Christian Action Committee (CAC) , in response to an overture regarding to the 1963 General Synod, refused to condemn dancing at church colleges.

Social dancing can be good or evil….

the CAC replied.  And, despite the stringent Hays Code governing the censorship of Hollywood movies from 1934 to 1968, the 1940 General Synod condemned “unwholesome” movies and advocated for government censorship of such cinematic products prior to their export.  Nevertheless, certain denominational officers encouraged church members to attend some religiously themed films, a fact which seems to have troubled the Classis of Chicago in 1954.  The General Synod that year took no action regarding the overture from that classis.

The CRCNA, unlike the RCA, had forbidden its members to play cards, attend movies, or dance.  It had done this in 1928 and reaffirmed that position in 1951 in the context of the showing of Hollywood movies at Calvin College.  Then the denomination changed course in the middle 1960s.  An overture from Classis Eastern Ontario to the Synod of 1964 requested the appointment of a committee to study the issue.  That overture, which the Synod approved, noted the ubiquity of television, a post-1951 development.  It also reported survey data.  Of 615 CRCNA young people in that classis surveyed, 70.7% reported attending a movie theater at least once or twice annually, despite the denomination’s prohibition against doing so.  The most common reason for attending a movie theater was entertainment.  And the favorite movie was Ben-Hur (1959), with The Ten Commandments (1956) not far behind.  A traditionalist argument, then, entailed asserting that watching Bible-themed movies starring Charlton Heston was sinful.

ben-hur-jesus-crucified

Above:  The Crucifixion of Jesus, from Ben-Hur (1959)

Image Source = http://basementrejects.com/review/ben-hur-1959/

It was an argument the Synod of 1966 rejected.  The Film Arts Report cited Christian Liberty and stated that

the film arts as actualized in the cinema and television

were

a legitimate cultural medium to be used by the Christian in the fulfillment of the cultural mandate.

Furthermore,

Since the film arts is a cultural medium that can be used for good or evil, the products of the film industry must be judged on their merits in the light of Christian standards or excellence.

(Quotes from Agenda for Synod, 1966, pages 226-227)

Dancing was still forbidden, however.  This did not mean that no members of the CRCNA engaged in that activity, of course.

IV.  WORSHIP

Now that I have completed the process of laying the foundation I begin to construct the building proper.  Along the way I will refer to the foundation.

Opposition to and fear of change was not restricted to questions such as civil rights, “worldly amusements,” the Vietnam War, Bible translations, ecumenical activities, and Biblical inerrancy and infallibility.  They became evident also in liturgical matters.  For example, the CRCNA Synod of 1961 adopted an overture condemning the increasingly popular practice of “special youth services,” what my Episcopal parish calls “Children’s Church,” whereby children leave the main worship service for a time and have a service geared toward them.  The Synod reasoned that

parents and children should serve and worship together.

(Quote from Acts of Synod, 1961, page 514)

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in the Christian Reformed Church in North America

The CRCNA was using English translations of traditional Dutch forms for Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  That started to change in the 1950s and 1960s.

Revision of the Form for the Lord’s Supper came first.  The process started with a 1952 overture which noted the archaic language and awkward structure of the ritual.  Two successive committees went back and forth with the Synod, which, until the end of the decade, forbade changing the order of the rite.  The 1959 Synod approved proposed Forms for trial use through 1963.  At the end of that period the committee, responding to feedback from congregations, made some changes.  The 1963 Synod approved the revised Forms for trial use for one year.  The 1964 Synod adopted those Forms, placing them beside the traditional Form, which became Form Number One.  The two new Forms became Form Number Two and Form Number Three.

Form Number One had three parts:

  1. The Preparatory Exhortation, which included 1 Corinthians 11:23-29;
  2. The Formulary, which included a reminder of the purpose of the sacrament, followed by a penitential prayer; the Lord’s Prayer; the Apostles’ Creed; the breaking of the bread; the distribution of elements; and the devout singing of a Psalm or the reading of a Biblical chapter recalling the Passion of Jesus; and finally Psalm 103:1-4 and 8-13, Romans 8:32, and Romans 5:8-10; then
  3. The Thanksgiving, a prayer followed by a repetition of the Lord’s Prayer.

Forms Two and Three retained that three-part structure, updated some of the language, and introduced noticeable differences.   In both the Preparatory Exhortation could come on either the communion Sunday or the preceding one.

Form Number Two:

  1. Added a prayer for grace at the end of the Preparatory Exhortation;
  2. Omitted the Lord’s Prayer;
  3. Allowed for the singing of a hymn during the setting of the table; and
  4. Provided for the singing of a hymn or the reading of Scripture during the distribution of the elements.

Form Number Three:

  1. Provided for an alternative prayer at the end of the Preparatory Exhortation;
  2. Quoted 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 in the Formulary;
  3. Added a congregational prayer of thanksgiving in the Formulary;
  4. Retained the Lord’s Prayer at the end of that prayer and prior to the Apostles’ Creed;
  5. Added the Anglican Comfortable Words to the Formulary; and
  6. Had the minister read Psalm 103:1-4, Revelation 4:11, and Psalm 145:21 after the completion of the communion.

The designated communion Sundays varied from congregation to congregation.  The Synods of 1948 and 1956 rejected overtures for the uniform celebration of the sacrament, despite the argument that the proposed practice would:

  1. Express unity, and
  2. Make the celebration of the sacrament easier for traveling CRCNA members.

Nevertheless, the Synods of 1948 and 1956 cited local prerogatives when rejecting these overtures.

The Synod of 1969 approved a proposed Form for the Baptism of Children for trial use.

Proper contextualization requires me to summarize the traditional Form for the Baptism of Infants, as found in the back of Psalter Hymnal (1959), first.  So here it is.  The old Form begins with a reminder that people are

conceived and born in sin, and therefore are children of wrath

who need spiritual regeneration, that

Holy baptism witnesses and seals unto us the washing away of our sins through Jesus Christ,

and that people of God are,

through baptism, admonished of and obliged unto new obedience, namely, that we cleave to this one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that we trust in Him, and love Him with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength; that we forsake the world, crucify our old nature, and walk in a godly life….

It continues by stating that children partake in this sinful nature although they do not comprehend these matters and

so again are received unto grace in Christ Jesus….

The traditional Lutheran-Zwinglian Flood Prayer or a variant thereof follows.  (I covered the Flood Prayer in Part II of this series.)  Then the minister addresses the parents and asks them three questions:

First:  Do you acknowledge that our children, though conceived and born in sin and therefore subject to all manner of misery, yea, to condemnation itself, are sanctified in Christ, and therefore as members of the church ought to be baptized?

Second:  Do you acknowledge the doctrine which is contained in the Old and the New Testament, and in the articles of the Christian faith, and which is taught here in this Christian church, to be the true and complete doctrine of salvation?

Third:  Do you promise and intend to instruct these children, as soon as they are able to understand, in the aforesaid doctrine, and cause them to be instructed therein, to the utmost of your power?

The parents answer in the affirmative, the minister baptizes the children (using the traditional Trinitarian formula), and a prayer of thanksgiving concludes the sacrament.

The proposed Form of 1969, located on pages 336-339 of that year’s Acts of Synod, is quite different:

  1. It contains no references to Original Sin and emphasizes the faithfulness of God.
  2. It requires parents to answer two questions (not three) and to confess Christ as “Lord and Savior” and to promise to raise the children in the Christian faith.
  3. The minister asks the congregation to support the family spiritually.
  4. The Apostles’ Creed follows.
  5. The baptism itself ensues, followed by a triumphant hymn and a prayer of thanksgiving.
  6. The tone is more positive than in the traditional Form.

Here dangles a thread which I will continue in Part VI of this series.

Tradition and Flexibility in the Worship in the Christian Reformed Church in North America

The Synod of 1964, noting that choirs had become more common in CRCNA churches, created a permanent Liturgical Committee to renew forms and practices.  The committee performed its duties in a time of rapid change, liturgical and otherwise.  The mention of church choirs reminded people of one change, for opposition to choirs had been one justification for founding the CRCNA in 1857.

The Liturgical Committee’s report to the 1968 Synod contained sage advice:

Respect for tradition in liturgy is a fence against individualism and sectarianism.  It keeps us from trying to improve liturgy through gimmickry and novelty for the sake of novelty.  It will keep reminding us of what is essential and what is peripheral.  It is also the best teacher of the lesson of flexibility, for it is the history of liturgy that we observe the fluidities along with the underlying stability of the church’s liturgy.

(Quote from Acts of Synod, page 156)

That properly cautious note came in the midst of liturgical upheavals, including the widespread abandonment of tradition just because it was old.  In truth not all tradition was bad and not all change was good; the good and the bad existed in both categories.  The Liturgical Committee understood correctly that flexibility was part of the traditions of Christian worship but that outer boundaries were necessary.  The alternatives included chaos and the blurring of the line separating worship from entertainment.  Both alternatives have become reality, unfortunately.

Psalter Hymnal–Centennial Edition (1959)

The usual maximum lifespan of a Protestant denominational hymnal in the United States is about thirty years.  Psalter Hymnal (1934) lasted for a quarter of a century.  Work on Psalter Hymnal (1959) began in 1951.  One of the reasons for its creation was the improvement over the poetic and musical content of the 1934 volume.  The finished product, the Centennial Edition, reflected a preference for the Psalms (310 of 493 musical selections) and retained four-fifths of the content of Psalter Hymnal (1934).  The Bible translation was the American Standard Version (ASV) of 1901, consistent with the denomination’s rejection of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) at the time.  The Doctrinal Standards and Liturgy were in the back of the volume.

CRCNA Centennial Logo

Above:  The Centennial Logo of the Christian Reformed Church in North America

A scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Among the new content of Psalter Hymnal (1959) was the CRCNA’s Centennial Hymn (1957), by Marie J. Post:

O Lord, beneath Thy guiding hand

Our fathers’ fathers formed our creed,

Brought prayer and psalm to this fair land

And were supplied every need.

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Belief in Thy sustaining power

Restored their hearts in days of fear;

Thy grace and glory, hour by hour,

Gave hope and blessing through each year.

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In every part of life the light

Of knowledge shines, at home, abroad.

May covenant children, taught the right,

Tell others of their sovereign God.

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Thy Name, O Lord, still leads, still draws;

That Name we sing with ardent voice,

That thousands more may know Thy laws

And in Thy saving cross rejoice.

Psalter Hymnal (1959), republished with revised liturgical forms and translations of creeds in 1976, lasted until 1987, when a new Psalter Hymnal took its place.

The Hymnbook (1955)

The RCA, in true ecumenical form, joined with four other denominations to create The Hymnbook (1955).   Thus it shared an official hymnal with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC), the United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPCNA), the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (PCUSA), and the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS), the last three of which had become one denomination by the middle of 1983.  The RCA’s Midwestern and Western constituencies had blocked a merger with the UPCNA in 1949, but the two denominations shared a hymnal for seventeen years.  (For three of the four Presbyterian denominations who authorized The Hymnbook in 1955 The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns became the next hymnal in the sequence in 1972.  On the other hand, the ARPC lists it as an approved hymnal in 2014.)  This being the RCA, however, official hymnal status meant little or nothing to many congregations.  Many Midwestern churches, for example, did not adopt it.

The Hymnbook (1955) is a conservative hymnal stylistically, for a small minority of hymns dated to later than 1920.  Two of these were “Morning Has Broken” (1931) and “Hope of the World” (1953.  Editor David Hugh Jones stated that the greatest innovation in the book was the placement of the hymn numbers on the outer edges of the pages.  The arrangement of hymns is also far from revolutionary, for it ordered some texts by church year and others by topics.

The Hymnbook (1955) contains more than hymns and service music (1600 selections).  In the front are Aids to Worship, Invocations, Prayers of Confession, Assurance of Pardon, Prayers of Thanksgiving, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Apostles’ Creed.  In the back are Scripture Readings (some of them responsive) arranged in three categories:

  1. The Christian Year,
  2. The Christian Life, and
  3. The Civil Year.

These readings come from the Authorized (King James) Version and the Revised Standard Version.

The Hymnbook (1955) had such staying power in the RCA that, in 1987, two years after the debut of the unpopular Rejoice in the Lord (1985), twenty-nine percent of RCA congregations still sang from it.  This volume was considerably more popular than its immediate predecessor in the RCA, The Hymnal of the Reformed Church (1920), which only eighty-four congregations (a minute percentage of RCA churches) had adopted by 1928.  Of those eighty-four congregations, fifty-seven were dissatisfied with it that year.  And no more than seven percent of RCA congregations adopted Rejoice in the Lord.  It sold well outside the denomination, however.  In fact, my copy bears the stamp of a congregation of the United Church of Christ.  Interestingly, many Presbyterian congregations found The Hymnbook unsatisfactory due to the inclusion of gospel songs.  They preferred the old Hymnal (1933), a stately worship resource of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.

The Liturgy and Psalms (1968)

Attempts to revise the Liturgy of 1906 had been in the works since 1932.  They had failed for various reasons:

  1. Not enough of the Classes approved of proposed changes.
  2. The proposed merger with the United Presbyterian Church of North America had delayed the process.
  3. Finally, in 1950, the General Synod created a committee to revise the Liturgy of 1906.  That committee produced provisional liturgies, which congregations used from 1952 to 1955.  These forms, which returned to Protestant Reformation-era liturgies for inspiration, proved too “Romanist” for many people, so the requisite two-thirds of Classes did not approve the provisional forms by the Spring of 1956.

The RCA, back at Square One, published new provisional services again in 1958, authorizing them for trial use for five years.  These rites reached back not only to the Protestant Reformation for inspiration, but all the way back to the second century C.E.–the time of the early church.  The form of Holy Communion in the Didache emphasized redemption, not confession of sin.  A sufficient number of Classes approved the new forms in 1966, and the hardcover book, intended for the pews, debuted in 1968.

The Liturgy of 1968 was simultaneously ambitious, idealistic, conservative, innovative, and dated.  It called for the weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper, something still not a reality in most RCA congregations.  There were prayers for the harvest yet none regarding nuclear energy and war.  The pronouns were archaic, being “Thee,” Thy,” et cetera.  Old forms of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper were present, as were new ones.  Thus the new Liturgy contained conflicting theologies of those sacraments.  Was Baptism primarily about Christian initiation or church membership?  Whatever one thought about that issue, there was a ritual to affirm it.  And the book was generally not in the pews.

The Liturgy of 1968 lasted until 1987, when Worship the Lord replaced it.

Liturgical Variety in the Reformed Church in America

By the late 1960s liturgical variety in the RCA, long a reality evident in the multitude of hymnals congregations used, had increased.  Sunday evening services, a Reformed tradition, had become less common, especially in the East.  The Liturgy of 1968 met with widespread disregard.  And “seeker services” were becoming more plentiful.  The tradition was taking quite a beating, despite the best efforts of good liturgical scholars.  Worship was becoming more about the people and less about God in many churches.  Entertainment was replacing reverence, mystery, and awe frequently.  But at least the beat was good, right?

Dutch-Language Worship Resources

Many Dutch people relocated to Canada after World War II.  The RCA and the CRCNA competed with each other and other denominations for the allegiances of emigrants while ministering to them during the timeframe this post covers.  Most of these new Canadians were poor and knew little or no English when they arrived, so their initial worship resources were mostly in the Dutch language, of course.  The CRCNA, which had resisted Americanization for a long time, found itself in the ironic position of encouraging new arrivals to acculturate fairly rapidly.

V.  CONCLUSION

Change comes in two varieties–good and bad, yet both types make many people nervous.  Good change challenges our prejudices and keeps healthy traditions alive by replenishing the bone marrow in the skeleton of continuity.  Bad change abandons that which is laudatory and throws open the city gates for the barbarian forces of gimmickry, narcissism, and trendiness to enter and to commence the reign of schlock.

This has been an account of two parallel spiritual journeys, each of which contained elements laudatory and shameful.  Both the RCA and the CRCNA wrestled with change of both the good and the bad varieties from 1945 to 1969.  Although the CRCNA moved to its left and toward the theological center, the RCA moved all over the map.  Those journeys led to some interesting developments starting in the 1970s.

The saga will continue in Part VI.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY OF HARDCOPY SOURCES

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.  Third Edition.  Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996.

Bible.  American Standard Version, 1901, 1929.

__________.  Authorized Version, 1611.  Updated, 1769.

__________.  English Standard Version, 2001.

__________.  New International Version, 1973, 1978.  Updated, 1984 and 2011.

__________.  Revised Standard Version, 1946, 1952.  Apocrypha, 1957.  Catholic Edition, 1966.  Second Edition, 1971.  Expanded Apocrypha, 1977.  Second Catholic Edition, 2002.

The Book of Psalms for Worship.  Pittsburgh, PA:  Crown & Covenant Publications, 2010.

Brumm, James Hart, ed.  Liturgy Among the Thorns:  Essays on Worship in the Reformed Church in America.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.  The Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America, No. 57.

Coalter, Milton J., et al.  Vital Signs:  The Promise of Mainstream Protestantism.  Second Edition.  Grand Haven, MI:  FaithWalk Publishing, 2002.

__________, eds.  The Confessional Mosaic:  Presbyterians and Twentieth-Century Theology.  Louisville, KY:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990.

The Encyclopedia Americana.  Volume 19.  New York, NY:  Americana Corporation, 1962.

Encyclopedia Britannica.  Volume 23.  Chicago, IL:  Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1968.

Hart, D. G.  Defending the Faith:  J. Gresham Machen and the Crisis of Conservative Protestantism in Modern America.  1994.  Reprint; Phillipsburg, N J:  P&R Publishing, 2003.

The Hymnal.  Philadelphia, PA:  Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, 1933.  Reprint, 1938.

The Hymnbook.  Edited by David Hugh Jones.  Richmond, VA:  John Knox Press, 1977.

Japinga, Lynn.  Loyalty and Loss:  The Reformed Church in America, 1945-1994.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2013.  The Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America, No. 77.

The Liturgy of the Reformed Church in America Together with the Psalter Selected and Arranged for Responsive Reading.  New York, NY:  The Board of Education of the Reformed Church in America, 1968.

Psalter Hymnal.  Grand Rapids, MI:  CRC Publications, 1987.

Psalter Hymnal:  Doctrinal Standards and Liturgy of the Christian Reformed Church.  Centennial Edition.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Publication Committee of the Christian Reformed Church, 1959.

Psalter Hymnal:  Doctrinal Standards and Liturgy of the Christian Reformed Church.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Board of Publication of the Christian Reformed Church, 1976.

Rejoice in the Lord:  A Hymn Companion to Scripture.  Edited by Erik Routley.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1985.

Rhodes, Arnold B.  The Mighty Acts of God.  Richmond, VA:  The CLC Press, 1964.

Schuppert, Mildred W.  A Digest and Index of the Minutes of the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America, 1906-1957.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982.  The Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America, No. 8.

__________.  A Digest and Index of the Minutes of the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America, 1958-1977.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979.  The Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America, No. 7.

Smidt, Corwin, et al.  Divided By a Common Heritage:  The Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America at the Beginning of the New Millennium.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006.  The Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America, No. 54.

Thompson, Ernest Trice.  Presbyterians in the South.  Volume Three.  1890-1972.  Richmond, VA:  John Knox Press, 1973.

__________.  Through the Ages:  A History of the Christian Church.  Richmond, VA:  The CLC Press, 1965.

Trinity Hymnal–Revised Edition.  Suwanee, GA:  Great Commission Publications, 1990.

The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns.  Philadelphia, PA:  The Westminster Press, 1972.

Worship the Lord.  Edited by James R. Esther and Donald J. Bruggink.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987.

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KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 9, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CLARA LUPER, WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF ROLAND ALLEN, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY

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Posted June 9, 2014 by neatnik2009 in 1 Corinthians 11, Moravian (General), Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Predecessors, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Predecessors' Offshoots, Psalm 103, Psalm 145, Reformed (General), Revelation of John 4, Romans 5, Romans 8, United Church of Christ, United Church of Christ Predecessors

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“United as Members of One Body in True Brotherly Love”: The Reformed Church in America, 1628-1857   10 comments

4a08186v

Above:  Marble Collegiate Church, New York, New York, 1901

Publisher and Copyright Claimant = Detroit Publishing Company

Image Source = Library of Congress

(http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/det1994005022/pp/)

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-det-4a08186

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U.S. DUTCH REFORMED LITURGY, PART I

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Besides, that we by the same spirit may also be united as members of one body in true brotherly love….

–The Liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, 1789

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I.  PREFACE

There is a long-running conflict between the quest for doctrinal purity (according to whatever standard one measures that) and the desire for ecclesiastical unity.  The former flows from an exclusive spirit, but the latter indicates an inclusive impulse.  The names, dates, places, and issues change, but people repeat the old pattern.  I have studied these matters closely and long enough to recognize without surprise that breakaway groups frequently suffer from schism.  Apparently many of the self-identified pure are impure according others among the self-identified pure.  What else is one supposed to expect when setting out on the schismatic enterprise?  The quest for doctrinal purity is the road to a series of schisms, for each of us is somebody’s heretic.

I write as one outside the Reformed camp.  My initial theological formation occurred inside The United Methodist Church.  At age eighteen I became an Episcopalian.  Since then I have never looked back.  The mix of my Anglicanism has become more Lutheran in recent years, but I have collection of Madonnas and crucifixes.  I am, in order, an Anglican-Lutheran-Catholic.  Thus I approach this material as an outsider–an intellectually curious one committed to the idea that, despite the plethora of small theological differences among we Christians, more unites us than divides us.  We ought, therefore, to focus on the latter, not the former.

II.  INTRODUCTION

The saga of Dutch Reformed Christians in the United States of America is a fascinating one.  This series of blog posts, focused on liturgical matters, requires a certain amount of historical background for comprehension.  So this post will provide much of it.  I will not attempt to recreate books I have consulted while preparing this post or will consult while preparing subsequent ones.  Therefore I refer anyone who seeks more details to the books in my bibliography and to the links I have embedded and will embed in the text.

The Reformed Church in America (RCA), one of the oldest denominations in the United States, is among the smaller of the mainline Protestant bodies.  It is a denomination with a mixed identity, for its shrinking Eastern branch is more progressive than its growing Western arm.  The Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA or just CRC), the RCA’s more conservative offshoot, is moving to the left while the RCA is moving to the right.  The two denominations are converging, even sharing a hymnal, Lift Up Your Hearts, since 2013.  Nevertheless, substantial differences remain.  The continuing saga of the evolving relationship between these two bodies will remain a story worth monitoring for some time to come.

One storytelling technique is to start at the end then move to the beginning and move forward.  I have given you, O reader, a glimpse of the end of the story.  Now I take you to the beginning and move forward.

III.  THE DUTCH REFORMED CHURCH IN AMERICA DURING THE COLONIAL AND REVOLUTIONARY ERAS, 1628-1783

Our story begins in New Amsterdam, the capital city of the colony of New Netherland (New Jersey, much of New York, and parts of Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Maryland).  In 1628 the congregation known today as Marble Collegiate Church came into being.  From that event the present Reformed Church in America (RCA) dates its beginning.  For a few decades the Dutch Reformed Church was the religious establishment in New Netherland, enjoying all the benefits which come with that status.  Then, 1664, forces of the British Empire seized the colony.  New Amsterdam became the City of New York and the slow process of the Americanization of the Dutch Reformed Church in the territory which would become the United States of America began.

This was an emotionally and theologically difficult transformation, for the question of identity was at stake.  Dutch Reformed adherents settled on ethnic loyalty to their church, keeping it distinct from other Calvinist groups, such as the Congregationalists and the Presbyterians.  “Dutch” mattered more than “Reformed.”  That was how the former establishment adjusted to its demoted status.  Few liturgical issues have proven thornier down the corridors of time than the language of worship.  That language remained Dutch among the Dutch Reformed for a long time.  The Marble Collegiate Church installed its first English-speaking pastor, Archibald Laidlie, in 1764.  Many congregations used a variety of English-language psalters, none of which the Dutch Reformed Church had authorized, prior to the publication of the official and English-language Psalms of David in 1789.

Those who study the immigrant experience know that the process of adjusting to and accommodating another culture is difficult.  In the case of the Dutch of the former New Netherland this process played out on home turf.  I have mentioned some changes they made.  Here are two more:

  1. A church in New York City installed a pipe organ in 1727.  This proved quite controversial.  The organist, however, did not play the instrument on Communion Sundays.
  2. The practice of separating men and women during Sunday worship became less frequent during the 1700s.

And here is a third.  The (First) Great Awakening also proved controversial in Dutch Reformed circles.  Not only did it shape the Dutch Reformed Church, but that denomination influenced it.  Two components of Dutch Reformed theology clashed.  The experiential aspect of the religion told people that ought to have a personal experience of salvation and emphasized personal piety, often at the expense of sacraments and other “externals.”  Thus Pietism and Revivalism occupied the minds of one wing of the church.

There was a very different camp of Dutch Reformed Christians, however.  They looked back to the Canons of Dort (1619), from which we receive our explanation of the five points of Calvinism:

  • Total depravity,
  • Unconditional election,
  • Limited atonement,
  • Irresistible grace, and
  • Perseverance of the saints.

Some especially strict Dutch Calvinists regarded the Canons of Dort as not only accurate but divinely inspired.  Back in the old country

The Dutch Calvinists came to consider themselves as the new Israel, a chosen people under God, country, and the house of Orange.

–Elton  J. Bruins and Robert P. Swierenga, Family Quarrels in the Dutch Reformed Churches of the 19th Century (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), page 9

And many Dutch Calvinists in America, part of a church still part of the Dutch national church, agreed.

The Reverend Theodorus J. Frelinghuysen (1691-1748), a leading light of the pro-(First) Great Awakening wing of the church, struggled with the conundrum of affirming both Predestination and the message that people must be born again.  Many of his critics thought that emphasized the latter too much and the former too little.

From 1747 to 1771 the colonial Dutch Reformed Church had two warring factions:  Coetus (Frelinghuysen’s camp) and Confertentie (traditionalists).  Coetus partisans favored not only Pietism and Revivalism but American control of the American church.  No longer should candidates for the ministry have to study in The Netherlands, they insisted.  And, they said, the time to cut the umbilical cord had come; the American church should cease to answer to the Classis of Amsterdam.  Confertentie partisans, being traditionalists, favored a stricter reading of the Canons of the Dort as well as maintaining the status quo with regard to the church in The Netherlands.  They were, relatively speaking, the more orthodox Calvinists.

The Reverend John H. Livingston (1746-1825) became the Father of the Reformed Church in America.  In 1772 he reunited the Coetus and Confertentie factions.  For the rest of his life Livingston shaped the denomination liturgically and theologically.  That body achieved independence from the mother church in 1772, becoming the Reformed Dutch Church in North America (RDCNA).  Later it became the Reformed Dutch Church in the United States of America (RDCUSA).  In 1819 the denomination became the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church in North America (RPDCNA).  Finally, in 1867, it took its current name, the Reformed Church in America (RCA).

Both Frelinghuysen and Livingston felt the irenic influence of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563).  Elector Frederick III of the Palatinate, a German state, had commissioned the writing of the catechism, designed to be agreeable to Lutherans and Calvinists alike.  That theological generosity was evident in Livingston’s emphasis on the unity of church as it continued to adapt to changing political and social conditions.  That theological generosity marked the denomination’s leadership even as forces within the body tore it asunder in subsequent decades.

IV.  THE DUTCH REFORMED CHURCH IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 1784-1857

The Psalms of David (1789), The Psalms and Hymns (1814), and Additional Hymns (1831 and 1846)

The Reverend John H. Livingston (1746-1825), Father of the Reformed Church in America, presided over the denomination’s continued Americanization and edited its earliest service books-hymnals The Psalms of David (1789) and The Psalms and Hymns (1814).  He adapted the Canons of Dort for the American scene in 1792, accepting voluntary church membership, for example.  And his Psalms of David (1789) broke with the already weakened Reformed tradition of singing only Psalms and rejecting hymns, “the compositions of sinful men,” as many said of them.

I plan to avoid the trap of attempting to do too much in this post.  Therefore I will discuss the 1789 Psalms of David and 1814 Psalms and Hymns in detail in the next post in the series.  In this post I remain committed primarily to providing historical background information.  Nevertheless, I do offer a brief summary of the those books here.

The table of contents for the 1789 and 1814 books was identical:

  1. The Psalter;
  2. Hymns and spiritual songs “faithful to the Heidelberg Catechism” and pegged to it;
  3. A Compendium of the Christian Religion, a catechism;
  4. The Confession of Faith and the Canons of Dort;
  5. The Liturgy; and
  6. The Nicene and Athanasian Creeds.

The Liturgy came in six sections:

  1. Public Prayer;
  2. The Administration of the Holy Sacraments;
  3. The Exercise of Church Discipline;
  4. The Ordination of Church Officers;
  5. The Celebration of Marriage; and
  6. Comforting the Sick.

The thoroughly Reformed liturgy fell into widespread disuse in the early 1800s.  Proponents of the liturgy lamented this fact, but their protests changed nothing.  Liturgical differences proved pivotal in preventing an attempted union of the Reformed Church in America and the German Reformed Church, for the latter U.S. denomination was undergoing a liturgical revival due to the Mercersburg Theology of the Reverends John Williamson Nevin (1803-1886) and Philip Schaff (1819-1893).  They called the Reformed Churches back to their Protestant Reformation liturgical roots and away from Revivalism and Pietism.  Along the way Nevin and Schaff faced charges of heresy–Romanism, specifically.  That was strong language in those days.  Yet Nevin and Schaff won the argument in their denomination.  The Reformed Church in America, however, was not yet ready for the Mercersburg Theology.

The Reformed Church in America, in its post-Livingston phase, embraced the Second Great Awakening, which was at its height after his 1825 death.  Two hymnals, both named Additional Hymns and bound with both separately and with The Psalms and Hymns, proved indicative of their times.  Additional Hymns (1831) abandoned the practice of pegging hymns to the Heidelberg Catechism in favor of a topical arrangement.  Most of the content of this revivalistic hymnal came from Pietists.  The largest category was “Revival,” focused on individual believers struggling with adversity.  Most of the 172 new hymns in the book were about people, not God, in true Pietistic fashion.  Additional Hymns (1846), also Pietistic, went further, adding 340 new hymns.  “Particular Duties” was among the largest categories.  The sense of social responsibility which the Heidelberg Catechism engendered and which had influenced the 1789 and 1814 collections, although present, was weaker.  The authorized texts indicated an emphasis not on God or on social improvement, but on judgment, the uncertainty associated with death, human responses to grace, and how individuals should live faithfully each day.  The first person singular was prominent, consistent with much of Evangelicalism.

I feel the need to make a point plainly:  another aspect of Evangelicalism encourages social responsibility.  At the time of the Second Great Awakening many Northern Evangelicals became deeply involved (or more so) in the movement to abolish slavery.  Many Southern Evangelicals, however, quoted the Bible more vigorously to defend slavery.  The Second Great Awakening encouraged many people to join social reform movements.  It fostered a sense of social responsibility in many people, but not in all whom it influenced.

Hopkinsian Theology and the Secession of 1822

Tensions focused on the question of how strictly Reformed to be and to remain resurfaced in the early 1800s, as the Reformed Church in America engaged in ecumenical efforts related to Sabbath observance, temperance, the abolition of slavery (some people were for it, others against it), and frontier evangelism.  The church was expanding westward.  But what was the best way to do so?

This question began to flare up in the second decade of the nineteenth century and led to a minor schism in the third.  The General Synod of 1814 questioned the practice of receiving Congregationalist clergymen without doctrinal examination.  The trigger for the dispute was the Reverend Jonathan Hopkins, a student of Jonathan Edwards.  Hopkins, however, emphasized free will more than his teacher did.  Was Hopkins too Arminian?  Was Arminianism infiltrating the Reformed Church in America?  This was a major issue.  The Synod of Dort (1618-1619), after all, had convened to refute Arminianism and produced the Canons of Dort.

Two synods were the chief ecclesiastical bodies involved in the conflict internal to the Reformed Church in America.  The Synod of New York favored relaxing Calvinist orthodoxy in the name of winning converts on the frontier, but the Synod of Albany preferred the old orthodoxy.  This dispute of 1822-1824 rehashed an ecclesiastical altercation from 1747 to 1771.  Abstract theology, however was not the major issue for the Synod of New York.  The Dutch Reformed of southern New York, having lost their establishment status in 1664, had retained numerical strength for a long time.  Yet, in the early 1800s, that was changing due to changing demographics and to intermarriage with descendants of English people.  The Synod of New York was playing catch-up.

Some of the stricter members of the Reformed Church in America broke away in 1822, forming the True Reformed Dutch Church (TRDC), also known as the True Protestant Dutch Reformed Church (TPDRC).  (Was the parent body false?)  The new denomination formed with twenty-six congregations and twenty-four ministers.  Some of the churches of this body joined the Christian Reformed Church in North America (founded in 1857) in 1890.  The first of the three U.S. Dutch Reformed schisms had occurred and presaged the second.

The General Synod of 1824 addressed the dispute with the theological generosity.  It reaffirmed the Canons of Dort and permitted participation in revivalism.  The True Reformed Dutch Church was not impressed.

The Secession of 1857 and the Christian Reformed Church in North America

The Secession of 1857, which created the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA or just CRC), had its roots in The Netherlands.  The National Synod of 1816 had altered the church-state relationship by making King Willem I the highest authority in the church.  Later that year he had mandated the singing of hymns–an affront to many strict Calvinists.  An ecclesiastical resistance movement ensued and culminated in the Secession of 1834.  Religious persecution–fines, imprisonment, et cetera–followed.  The persecution, although over in 1848, had convinced many of the Seceders to emigrate to the United States, with encouragement from the Reformed Church in America.

There were several factions of Seceders in The Netherlands.  All agreed that they wanted nothing to do with the Dutch national church, but they disagreed regarding what should replace it.  One camp argued for a return to the Canons of Dort in lieu of the national church.  Another favored congregational independence and an experiential Gospel in that place.  A third faction, that of the Reverend Albertus C. Van Raalte (1811-1876), supported defense of liberty and the separation of church and state in lieu of the national church.  Van Raalte’s mentor was the Reverend Hendrik P. Scholte (1805-1868), who emigrated to the United States and remained within the Reformed Church in America from that point to his death.

Van Raalte led an exodus to the United States.  He arrived in late 1846; many others followed.  The Reformed Church in America sponsored their journeys westward and financed the construction of houses of worship.  These new congregations formed the Classis of Holland (as in Holland, Michigan), which joined the Reformed Church in America  (RCA) in 1850.  This merger proved crucial to the Reformed Church in America, for it gave the denomination an anchor for expansion into the Midwest and the West.

Van Raalte had found his ecclesiastical home in the New World.  He began to Americanize, something which some of those who had followed him to the United States never did.  Van Raalte, ever grateful for all the Reformed Church in America had done for him and his partisans, remained within it for the rest of his life.

Some of Van Raalte’s fellow emigrants disagreed, however.  No matter how generous the Eastern establishment of the Reformed Church in America was, that amount of money proved to be less than some had expected.  Regardless of how orthodox the RCA was, it proved to be too liberal for some people.  Emigrants had broken away from a national church they considered too liberal, formed more orthodox churches, moved to the United States, and affiliated with a denomination considerably more conservative than the Dutch national church.  Yet, for some, the Reformed Church in America was still too liberal–apostate, even.

There was a litany of complaints.  The singing of hymns proved unacceptable to many.  Some RCA congregations in the East used choirs in worship and/or practiced open communion.  Freemasonry was a widely accepted secret society (albeit less so than before the late 1820s).  Many RCA congregations permitted Freemasons to join.  None had to do so, however.  And sermons based on the Heidelberg Catechism were less frequent than in former times.

Purity of doctrine was only one issue, though.  It was not even the major one.  Cultural differences took center stage.  Those who formed the Christian Reformed Church in North America (five congregations and one minister at the beginning) in 1857 were thinking as transplanted Europeans, not as Americans.  They reacted against the Dutch national church and took out their frustrations on the Reformed Church in America.  They did  not make the distinction between European Freemasonry and American Freemasonry.  And they resisted Americanization, clinging to their Dutch identity, language, and Psalters in the wilderness of the Midwest.  They, Van Raalte said, fought ecclesiastical battles from the old country.

What separated the seceding emigrants from the non-seceding ones in 1857?  As Elton J. Bruins and Robert P. Swierenga wrote:

The RCA members acted like immigrants and the CRC members acted like colonists.

Family Quarrels in the Dutch Reformed Churches of the 19th Century (1999), page 103

The deed was done.  The Christian Reformed Church, initially weak, became a major force via the third secession of the 1800s.

That, however, is a story for another post.

V.  CONCLUSION

The past, in a real sense, is present.  This is especially true in ecclesiastical groups with origin stories which many well-informed adherents have come to regret.  The Southern Baptist Convention, for example, came into existence in 1845 in defense of slaveholding missionaries.  That, like so much else which almost nobody in the Western world defends these days, seemed like a good idea at the time.  That denomination, to its credit, has apologized for the conditions of its founding.  The Christian Reformed Church came into existence for reasons which many of its leaders these days admit were dubious at best.  I have read criticisms from prominent contemporary CRC figures of the founders of that denomination.

The previous owner of my copy of Family Quarrels in the Dutch Reformed Churches of the 19th Century resisted agreeing with those leaders.  He, a member of the Christian Reformed Church, underlined much and wrote fascinating marginalia.  He suspected an anti-CRC bias in the book, to which a prominent Christian Reformed pastor wrote the Preface.

We humans form attachments to organizations, about which we prefer to hold the best possible opinions.  We tend to be loyal to these groups.  That can be laudable, but somber honesty is a higher virtue.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY OF HARDCOPY SOURCES

Benedict, Philip.  Christ’s Churches Purely Reformed:  A Social History of Calvinism.  New Haven, CT:  Yale University Press, 2002.

Bruins, Elton J., and Robert P. Swierenga.  Family Quarrels in the Dutch Reformed Churches in the 19th Century.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999.  The Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America, No. 32.

Brumm, James Hart, ed.  Liturgy Among the Thorns:  Essays on Worship in the Reformed Church in America.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007.  The Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America, No. 57.

Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), The.  Part I.  Book of Confessions.  Louisville, KY: The Office of the General Assembly, 1996.

Lift Up Your Hearts:  Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2013.

Our Faith:  Ecumenical Creeds, Reformed Confessions, and Other Resources; Including the Doctrinal Standards of the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the Reformed Church in America.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2013.

Smidt, Corwin, et al.  Divided by a Common Heritage:  The Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America at the Beginning of the New Millennium.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006.  The Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America, No. 54.

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KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 16, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANDREW FOURNET AND ELIZABETH BICHIER, COFOUNDERS OF THE DAUGHTERS OF THE CROSS; AND SAINT MICHAEL GARICOITS, FOUNDER OF THE PRIESTS OF THE SACRED HEART OF BETHARRAM

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN NEPOMUCENE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF SUDAN

THE FEAST OF TE WERA HAURAKI, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY

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