Archive for the ‘Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.’ Tag

Of Their Time   4 comments

Hymnal 1911-1917

Above:  The Title Page of the Presbyterian Hymnal (1911) with the Supplement of 1917

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor


World War I (1914-1918) was a devastating conflict which changed the map of the world.  Many of the problems of today have much to do with that war and the events of the years immediately following it.  Europeans promised the same territory to both Jews and Palestinians, created Iraq (where the British military became bogged down in an insurgency for years), broke up empires, and created new countries, some of which (Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia) which have ceased to exist.  U.S. President Woodrow Wilson (in office 1913-1921) oversold the conflict as a war to make the world safe for democracy.  Meanwhile, back home in the United States, which entered the war in 1917, early in Wilson’s second term, which he won on the slogan “He Kept Us Out of War,” xenophobia, nativism, and irrationality reigned.  The city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, banned performances of the music of Ludwig von Beethoven, an anti-imperialist who died in 1827.  Had the great composer been alive in 1917 and 1918, he would have opposed the policies of Kaiser Wilhelm II.  But why let reason stand between one and an irrational fear?  Mobs burned books in the German language or about Germany, vandalized buildings belonging to congregations where worship was not in English, dachshunds became liberty hounds, the state of Iowa outlawed public gatherings where the spoken language was not English (although many sheriffs in the state permitted Danish Lutheran congregations to worship in Danish), et cetera.  Opposing state-sponsored violence became a crime, one for which many pacifists went to prison and conscientious objectors suffered.  Really, were the Amish, Mennonites, and Quakers threats to national security?  Were the Dutch Reformed (of the Christian Reformed Church in North America in particular) and the Lutherans (especially those in the denominations we call The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod these days) worshiping in other tongues that threatening?  In November 1918, at the organizing convention of the newly merged United Lutheran Church in America (1918-1962), derived from German immigrant stock in North America since the 1700s, delegates felt the need to demonstrate their patriotism by singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “America,” due to lingering suspicions related to Germany, German-Americans, and the war.

The study of the past tells me that the war did not live up to its billing, that wartime hysteria and intolerance turned into widespread disillusionment, and that the psychological scars of the “Great War” or the “World War,” as people called it before World War II, influenced national decision-making (often for the worse) leading up to World War II.  Accounts of the “Lost Generation” and the false sense of security the Maginot Line engendered testify to the aftershocks of World War I.

These and other facts influence how I read certain texts from World War I and the time immediately following it.  How can they not, given my temporal relationship to that conflict?

During that war and immediately afterward some denominations amended their recent official hymnals.  The Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. added the “Supplement of 1917” to its Hymnal of 1911.  This supplement consisted of three patriotic hymns:  “God of Our Fathers, Known of Old,” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  The National Council of Congregational Churches of the United States added three hymns to The Pilgrim Hymnal (1912) after the war.  Hymns #542a-c were, respectively, “O Land of Lands, My Fatherland,” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and “America, America, The Shouts of War Shall Cease.”  “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was already present.

Two of those texts intrigue me.  The first is “O Land of Lands, My Fatherland.”  The author was the Reverend Washington Gladden (February 11, 1836-July 2, 1918), whose feast day in The Episcopal Church is July 2.  Gladden, a proponent of the Social Gospel, opposed corruption in government, favored civil rights for African Americans, and supported the labor movement.  He wrote many poems (including hymns), the most famous of which might be “O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee.”  In 1918 he composed the following text:

O Land of lands, my Fatherland, the beautiful, the free,

All lands and shores to freedom dear and ever dear to thee;

All sons of Freedom hail thy name, and wait thy word of might,

While round the world the lists are joined for liberty and light.


Hail, sons of France, old comrades dear! Hail Britons brave and true!

Hail Belgian martyrs ringed with flame! Slavs fired with visions new!

Italian lovers mailed with light! Dark brothers from Japan!

From East to West all lands are kin who live for God and man.


Here endeth war!  Our bands are sworn! Now dawns the better hour

When lust of blood shall cease to rule, when Peace shall come with power;

We front the fiend that rends our race and fills our hearts with gloom;

We break his scepter, spurn his crown, and nail him in his tomb.


Now, hands all round, our troth we plight to rid the world of lies,

To fill all hearts with truth and trust and willing sacrifice;

To free all lands from hate and spite and fear from strand to strand;

To make all nations neighbors and the world one Fatherland!

The second text was, as the hymnal labeled it, “A National Hymn of Victory Inscribed to the Builders of the ‘League of Nations.'”  The author was the Reverend Allen Eastman Cross (December 30, 1864-April 23, 1942), a Congregationalist minister from Manchester, New Hampshire.

America, America!

The shouts of war shall cease;

The Glory dawns! the Day is come

Of Victory and Peace!

And now upon a larger plan

We’ll build the common good,

The temple of the Love of Man,

The House of Brotherhood!


What though its stones were laid in tears,

Its pillars red with wrong,

Its walls shall rise through patient years

To soaring spires of song!

For on this House shall Faith attend,

With Joy on airy wing,

And flaming loyalty ascend

To God, the only King!


America, America,

Ring out the glad refrain!

Salute the Flag–salute the dead

That have not died in vain!

O Glory! Glory to thy plan

To build the common good,

The temple of the Rights of Man,

The House of Brotherhood!

To mock the optimism and idealism of the texts is easy to do, but I propose that to do so is in error.  No, these hymns did not predict the future accurately.  Yes, the brutality of history since World War I has belied these texts’ highest sentiments, but the dream those hymns represent has never ceased to be a noble one.  The texts are of their time in two senses:  certain references to nations and the level of optimism regarding the future.  Without a goal to which to aspire, however, how are we humans supposed to improve the world?

I value precision in language, so I mark the difference between the Social Gospel and Neo-Orthodoxy.  The former is more optimistic regarding human potential for effecting goodness than is the latter.  Neo-Orthodoxy, with its sober understanding of human nature, incorporates the best of the Social Gospel and emphasizes the human obligation to reform society and its structures for the better while stating that only God can usher in the Kingdom of God.  I read these quoted hymns through my lens of Neo-Orthodoxy and recognize a combination of naiveté and realism as I mourn the fact of those dashed hopes.  May nobody permit pessimism to prevent one from doing what one can to leave the world (or one’s corner of it) better than one found it.  God can save the world, but we can improve it.  We can love our neighbors as we love ourselves and seek to reform unjust social systems and institutions.  We have a moral imperative to do so.







I have provided hyperlinks to some sources.  My other sources were:

Bachmann, E. Theodore, with Mercia Brenne Bachmann.  The United Lutheran Church in America, 1918-1962.  Edited by Paul Rorem.  Minneapolis, MN:  Fortress Press, 1997.

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints.  New York:  Church Publishing, 2010.

Mortenen, Enok.  The Danish Lutheran Church in America:  The History and Heritage of the American Evangelical Lutheran Church.  Philadelphia, PA:  Board of Publication, Lutheran Church in America, 1967.

The Hymnal Published in 1895 and Revised in 1911 by Authority of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America; with the Supplement of 1917.  Philadelphia, PA:  The Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work.

The Pilgrim Hymnal with Responsive Readings and Other Aids to Worship.  Boston, MA:  The Pilgrim Press, 1912.  Amended and reprinted, 1919.



A Stingy, Mean-Spirited Orthodoxy   3 comments

Books with Menorah

Above:  Two Books and a Menorah, January 16, 2015

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

I am quite fond of Judaism, from which my religion, Christianity (yes, a generally liberal version thereof) flows, and which many conservative Christians seem to consider severely lacking.


Purity codes and tests disturb me.  Jesus violated them, and I have almost always been allegedly impure, according to them.  My context is the Bible Belt, in which I have always been a relative heretic, although I am actually fairly orthodox in the context of Christianity as a whole–the one in which Protestantism constitutes a minority.

A recent news story reminded me of J. Gresham Machen, who broke with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. in 1936 to found the Presbyterian Church of America, which as called itself the Orthodox Presbyterian Church since 1940.  He published Christianity and Liberalism in 1923.  In that volume he argued that he and people who thought like him were Christians and that liberal Christians belonged to a religion other than Christianity.  Albert Mohler, the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky, made the same claim recently.

I have no use for the Holier-Than-Thou Club, members of which define me as hell-bound infidel.  Their orthodoxy is narrow-minded, stingy, and mean-spirited.  It functions to define them as the “in” crowd and people like me as the outsiders relative to true religion.  These self-righteous people and I reside in parallel theological realms.  I want nothing to do with their dimension.  No, I prefer a kind, humble orthodoxy–one which acknowledges that it might be mistaken on some points.

Father Anthony de Mello, S.J., related a wonderful story in The Song of the Bird (1982):

The disciples were full of questions about God.

Said the master, “God is the Unknown and the Unknowable.  Every statement about him, every answer to your questions, is a distortion of the truth.”

The disciples were bewildered.  “Then why do you speak about him at all?”

“Why does the bird sing?” said the master.

De Mello continued:

Not because it has a statement, but because it has a song.

(The Song of the Bird, pages 3 and 4)

God exists beyond the realm of complete human comprehension.  The best we mere mortals can do is to grasp part of the truth of God.  I am certain, therefore, that I am both correct and incorrect about a great deal, and that much of what I assume to be right is really wrong.  I sing my theological song anyway and leave the particulars to God and grace.  I strive for a generous orthodoxy, not a stingy and mean-spirited one.






“Let Us Break Bread Together”: The Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America, 2001-2014   28 comments

2001-2013 Dutch Reformed

Above:  My Copies of Sing! A New Creation (2001), Worship the Lord:  The Liturgy of the Reformed Church in America (2005), Psalms for All Seasons (2012), Lift Up Your Hearts (2013), Our Faith (2013), and The Worship Sourcebook  (2013)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor




Let us break bread together….

Let us drink wine together….

Let us praise God together….

–Hymn #837, Lift Up Your Hearts:  Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs (2013)



This post flows naturally from its six predecessors.  I, to make navigation as easy as possible for those with even the slightest inclination to use all the tools available at this weblog to find something here, have created a guide post for this series, a project I have assigned myself as a hobby.  Yes, I am an intellectual.  Yes, I enjoy the vibrant life which takes place between my ears and behind my eyes.  Besides, I trust that God gave me my intelligence so that I may use it well.  And I am grateful for the educational level I have attained, so I refuse to hide my light under a bushel.  I have dialed down the linguistic showiness from my peak level, which often includes a peppering of French, Latin, and Greek terms not translated into English, but my knowledge base is impossible to hide.

This post rests upon a foundation of many sources.  I have listed the hardcopy sources at the end of the post.  Most sources, however, are electronic.  Thus you, O reader, will find URLs behind some parts of the text.  And, if you wish to follow my tracks further, you may find and download the germane Agendas for Synod and Acts of Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA or just CRC) here and those of the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA) here.  The Acts and Proceedings of the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America (RCA) are available here.  I have relied upon summaries and reports of proceedings of the recent bi-national (U.S. and Canadian) gatherings of these denominations, along with previously posted Agendas thereof, to complete preparations for this post.  I have endeavored to check facts and write accurately without becoming lost in the details and hope that I have succeeded.

From 2001, the beginning of the new millennium (there was no retroactive year Zero of the Common Era), to the middle of 2014, the RCA and the CRCNA moved closer to each other while recognizing that major issues continued to separate them.  The two denominations admitted the reality of these differences while working together on much they could do better cooperatively.  Meanwhile the URCNA, which split from the CRCNA in 1995, engaged in ecumenical work to the theological right of the RCA and the CRCNA.  The URCNA commenced work on a joint hymnal with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) as the RCA and the CRCNA neared the completion of labors on their shared hymnbook, Lift Up Your Hearts (2013).  The desire for greater unity, even if not in the form of merger, was in the air.


Liturgy is an extension of slavery.  For example, what is the content of a particular rite?  And why does someone decide to create or not to create a certain ritual?  Thus I lay a firm foundation before moving along to analysis of hymnals, et cetera.

Ecumenical Relationships

And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.  Holy Father, protect them in your name thta you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

–John 17:11, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)


+++The Reformed Collaborative:  The Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America+++


The RCA-CRCNA relationship, the Reformed Collaborative, has come to involve a range of activities, from having a common supplier of church publications to sharing one benefits provider to cooperating in planting congregations to authorizing union churches to creating and authorizing a new official hymnal.  Other examples of cooperation fall into the realms of ministering to people with disabilities; creating a shared translation of the three traditional Reformed doctrinal standards/Forms of Unity:  the Canons of Dort, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Belgic Confession; holding bi-national denominational meetings simultaneously in 2011 and 2014; arranging for the “orderly exchange of ministers” across denominational lines; studying the Belhar Confession (1986) simultaneously and approving it (the RCA as the fourth Form of Unity in 2010 and the CRCNA as an Ecumenical Faith Declaration two years later); and laying aside old animosities.  The 1857 schism in the RCA which created the CRCNA resulted from ill will and created more of it.  That antipathy continued well into the twentieth century.  Certainly some tension remains, for some people will always retain grudges and other negative attitudes, but at least good will has been more plentiful lately.

For a thorough explanation of the Reformed Collaborative one may consult the CRC’s 2014 Agenda for Synod, pages 279-286.

There had been simultaneous meetings of the RCA General Synod and the CRCNA Synod at Calvin College, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1989, with leaders of both denominations encouraging delegates to mingle.  The pace of rapprochement quickened six years later, when the RCA General Synod approved an overture

to explore avenues of reconciliation between the Reformed Church in American and the Christian Reformed Church in North America for additional programmatic cooperation.

–Quoted in the RCA Acts and Proceedings, 2001, page 101

In 2002 the CRC Synod approved dialogue with the RCA

to ascertain how our ministry and mission throughout the world might be strengthened by greater cooperation between our two denominations.

Acts of Synod, 2002, page 498

Five years later, on the occasion of the anniversary of the CRCNA’s schism from the RCA, the RCA General Synod commended its offspring “for one hundred and fifty years of faithful ministry” and looked forward to

increasing cooperation in ministry, joint appointments of overseas missionaries, common publishing and distribution of print and multimedia materials, and orderly exchange of ministers

as the RCA anticipated “even greater cooperation and ever deeper fellowship as we, separately and together, follow Christ in mission to this world so loved by God”  (Acts and Proceedings, 2007, page 270).  In 2011 the CRC Synod approved “A Resolution of Appreciation” for Dr. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, who was retiring from the post of RCA General Secretary, which he had held since 1994.  And the RCA General Synod of 2014 and the CRCNA Synod, meeting in a joint session, approved unanimously a resolution declaring that

the principle that guides us, and the intention that motivates us is to “act together in all things except those in which deep differences of conviction compel us to act separately.”

Those 2014 bi-national meetings overlapped in an opening worship service, a Sunday evening service, daily morning prayer, and three joint sessions.


+++The National Association of Evangelicals, the National Council of Churches, and the World Council of Churches+++


The CRCNA remained a member of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), an organization the RCA would have joined had the NAE consented.  Part of the RCA–one regional synod and some congregations–had affiliated already, for the decentralized nature of the denomination had made that possible.  Yet the RCA itself sought to join the NAE while remaining a member of the National Council of Churches (NCC) and the World Council of Churches (WCC), something the NAE had forbidden.  On March 6, 2000, however, the NAE changed that policy.  Thus the RCA applied for membership later that year.  Yet, in March 2001, the reversed the new policy and the RCA’s application became a dead letter.

Some quarters of the RCA continued to harbor anti-WCC sentiments.  An overture to the General Synod of 2012 requested reconsideration of membership in that Council and the presentation of a report to the following year’s General Synod.  The WCC, the author(s) of the overture claimed, had supported Zimbabwean Communists financially, opposed the State of Israel, and demonstrated Universalist tendencies.  The overture failed for, as the rebuttal said, some of the charges were twenty years old and, even if true then, were no longer applicable.  The rest did not survive fact checks.

The CRCNA continued to have an observer on the NCC’s Faith and Order Commission until after the Synod of 2007.  After the observer died the denomination’s ecumenical council, for reasons the Agendas for Synod and Acts of Synod do not reveal, sent no replacement.


+++The Formula of Agreement and Allied Denominations+++


The RCA entered into the Formula of Agreement with the United Church of Christ (UCC), the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) [PC(USA)], and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in 1997.  Thus full communion–including the recognition of each other’s ministers–came into being among the four denominations.  The ELCA was also in full communion with the North American provinces of the Moravian Church, a global ecclesiastical body.  And the UCC had full communion with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) [CC(DC)].  These close relations created some tension with the UCC and the ELCA over questions regarding their increasing inclusive policies regarding non-celibate homosexuals and positions of church leadership.  (I will leave that thread unresolved until later in this post.)  And the RCA entered into bilateral and multilateral dialogue involving the Moravian Church.

The Moravian-RCA-CRCNA-UCC-CC(DC)-PC(USA)-ELCA Consultation on Scripture and Moral Decision-Making (2011-2012) started partially because of disagreements over expressions of human sexuality.  The germane report to the RCA General Synod of 2013 (Acts and Proceedings, pages 281-291) indicated that “Jesus is Lord” constituted the starting point of the discussions regarding moral discernment.  The participants:

  • Affirmed human dependence on grace;
  • Rejected cheap grace, that which demands nothing of us;
  • Affirmed God’s call to help the oppressed and to work for justice;
  • Supported honoring God in all ways, including sexuality; and
  • Agreed that Christian love entails admonishing and building each other up.


+++The Roman Catholic Church+++


Vatican Flag

Above:  The Flag of Vatican City

Image in the Public Domain

The RCA, CRCNA, UCC, and PC(USA) entered into dialogue with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity over a period of years.  These discussions, which Pope John Paul II initiated, grew from a round of dialogue at the Vatican in December 2000.  As time progressed the number of participating Reformed denominations increased until becoming four.  This dialogue resulted in statements on Baptism and the Holy Eucharist/Lord’s Supper before moving along to the theology of ordained ministry and its relationship to the theology of sacraments.

Dialogue of this sort entails mutual respect.  That much constitutes a vast improvement over the ecclesiastical hostility of just a few decades prior.


+++The Split Peas, Et Cetera+++


Burning Bush Logo

Above:  The Burning Bush Logo

Image in the Public Domain

From that happy note I turn, O reader, one of my accurate and unfortunate conclusions based on much evidence:  some of the self-identified pure are purer than others.  This explains many ecclesiastical schisms as groups break away to preserve the purity of the faith, as they understand it.  Thus, regardless of how conservative a denomination might be, there is usually at least one group to its right.  This fact helps to explain why so many denominations exist inside a particular nation-state.  The Presbyterian and Reformed family of churches in the United States and Canada constitutes a prime example of this reality.  I have to keep track of all these denominations.  I know, for example, the difference between the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the American Presbyterian Church (APC).  I can distinguish between the Presbyterian Reformed Church (PRC) and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA).  I do not confuse the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (1956-1965) for the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (1981-).  Yet sometimes I experience great difficulty in discerning major differences between and among some of the denominations, some of them very small (as in just four or five congregations), in the Presbyterian and Reformed family in North America.  Certainly this kind of fractiousness was not what our Lord and Savior had in mind during his time on Earth.


+++The Protestant Reformed Churches in America+++


Consider, O reader, the case of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRCA), which split off from the CRCNA in the middle 1920s.  The founders of the PRCA rejected Common Grace theology, the affirmation that even those not among God’s Elect could function as instruments of grace.  Thus, the logic said, the holy people of God should cooperate with a variety of individuals to perform good deeds and honor God.  Common Grace theology rejected Christian separatism.  But the founders of the PRCA were hyper-Calvinists who were among the purest of the self-identified pure.  As I wrote in previous posts in this series, the Orthodox Protestant Reformed Churches in America (OPRCA) broke away in 1953, only to return to the CRC fold eight years later.  The PRCA considered the OPRCA, on the eve of its reunion with the CRCNA, to be “erring brethren” who had embarked upon an evil path in 1953.  Not surprisingly, the PRCA rebuffed all CRCNA attempts at dialogue, as late as 2003.

The CRCNA split in the 1990s; part of its right wing defected to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and another segment formed the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA) in 1995.  Not even the very conservative URCNA proved sufficiently pure for the PRCA, which brought up the issue of Common Grace for three years until, in 2004, the young denomination conceded the impossibility of meaningful conversations with such an unwilling church.


+++The Orthodox Christian Reformed Churches+++


The URCNA, meanwhile, courted the Orthodox Christian Reformed Churches (OCRC), which traced its existence to the late 1970s and early 1980s.  The founders of the OCRC had found the CRCNA, a conservative body, too liberal, so they left.  The URCNA, after nine years of trying, succeeded in absorbing the OCRC in August 2008.


+++The North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council, the Christian Reformed Church in North America, and the United Reformed Churches in North America+++


The North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC) had suspended the membership of the CRCNA in 1997.  The CRCNA’s offense had been to open all church offices (especially those of elder and minister) to women.  The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) had led the charge, but the four other members at the time–the Korean American Presbyterian Church (KAPC), the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC), the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA), and the rump Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS)–had voted to suspend the CRCNA’s membership.  That membership ended formally in 2002.  By then the PCA, the OPC, the KAPC, and the rump RCUS had terminated ecclesiastical relations with the CRCNA.  The RPCNA followed suit in 2003.  Nevertheless, the ARPC insisted for a few years that this matter would not affect their relationship with the CRC.  Then the ARPC broke off relations in 2011.

Thus, at the time of the CRCNA’s Synod of 2012, the list of North American denominations in ecclesiastical fellowship had shrunk to two–the RCA and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), to whom it sold Christian education materials.  In 2014 the CRCNA expanded that list to three names by adding ECO:  A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, a 2012 offshoot of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) [PC(USA)].  The PC(USA) had moved toward becoming more inclusive of non-celibate homosexuals in church offices.  Many of those who opposed this remained within the PC(USA), but others left.  Two of the destinations for those leaving were the EPC and the nascent ECO.

Most of the CRCNA’s erstwhile friends and allies in North America established relations or contact with the URCNA, which joined NAPARC in 2005.  The ARPC and the RPCNA had been ordaining women as deacons for a long time.  The URCNA  noted that this practice predated late twentieth-century feminism and was therefore “not the result of a liberalizing or destructive hermeneutic” (Acts of Synod, 2012, page 221).  The URCNA entered into Corresponding Relations, the entry-level relationship, with the RPCNA in 2004 and took the relationship to the next level–Ecclesiastical Fellowship–in 2012.  Contact with the ARPC, PCA, and KAPC remained intermittent through 2014.  The rump RCUS entered into Corresponding Relations in 2001 and Ecclesiastical Fellowship three years later.  The OPC entered into Corresponding Relations in 1999 and Ecclesiastical Fellowship eight years later.  Then, in 2012, the URCNA accepted the OPC’s invitation to create a joint hymnal, perhaps due for publication in late 2016, shortly after the simultaneous meetings of the URCNA Synod and the OPC General Assembly.

The URCNA sought other ecumenical partners in North America.  It came close at the Synod of 2014 to resolving to develop a plan to merge with the Canadian and American Reformed Churches (CanRC), a body with Dutch origins and founded in 1950.  At that same Synod delegates learned more about the Free Reformed Churches of North America (FRCNA), another denomination with Dutch Reformed roots and founded in the 1950s.


+++South Africa+++


In this series of posts I have referred to relations between and among North American and South African Dutch Reformed denominations, especially in the context of Apartheid.  Now I continue that practice.

  • The RCA and the CRCNA pursued and deepened relationships with the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA), the 1994 merge of the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa (DRCA) and the Dutch Reformed Mission Church (DRMC).  Thus the URCSA became Black and Colored.
  • The CRCNA established relations with the rump DRCA.
  • The CRCNA maintained relations (established in 1982) with the Reformed Church in Africa, a denomination of mainly Indian ethnicity.
  • The CRCNA continued to relate to the Reformed Churches of South Africa (RCSA), in its several synods.  Relations, which the CRC had suspended with the national synod before the end of Apartheid because of that synod’s support for the racist policy, but restored them in the 1990s.  Nevertheless, some injured feelings persisted in the RCSA’s national synod.
  • The URCNA established relations with the RCSA in 2001.  Three years later the former cautioned the latter not to admit women to the offices of elder and minister.  The RCSA followed that advice, much to the satisfaction of the URCNA.
  • The CRCNA established relations with the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa (DRCSA), the largest White denomination in the Republic of South Africa.  The RCA was already friendly with the DRCSA, which had apologized for supporting Apartheid with theology.


Flag of South Africa

Above:  The Post-Apartheid Flag of the Republic of South Africa

Image in the Public Domain


The Belhar Confession and Its Implications

But let justice roll down like waters,

and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

–Amos 5:24, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)


+++Background and Summary of the Belhar Confession (1986)+++


The Belhar Confession (1986) and the adoption of it by the RCA and the CRCNA are germane to much material in this post.  Thus I begin this section with a summary of the Confession and its background.  All quotes come from the translation which the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) prepared and the RCA and the CRCNA published in Our Faith (2013), pages 145-148.  That translation is also available here.

The story of the Belhar Confession started in 1982, in the context of Apartheid in the Republic of South Africa.  The former Dutch Reformed Mission Church (DRMC), which went on to merge into the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA) in 1994, approved the Belhar Confession in 1986.  In 2010 the RCA made it the fourth Form of Unity, alongside the Canons of Dort, the Belgic Confession, and the Heidelberg Catechism.  The CRCNA adopted the Belhar Confession not as the fourth Form of Unity but as an Ecumenical Faith Declaration two years later.  The CRC Synod of 2012, citing a lack of consensus in the denomination regarding the definition and role of a confession, appointed a committee to study the issue and report to the Synod of 2015.

The process of studying, debating, and approving the Belhar Confession in the RCA and the CRCNA was not without controversy.  There was a consensus that Apartheid had been sinful and unjust, and therefore consigned properly to the trash bin of history, so racism was not a major issue.  No, the Belhar Confession’s implications in other arenas made many people uncomfortable and continue to do so.  But, as an old saying tells me, one purpose of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable, as in the Beatitudes and Woes (Luke 6:20-26).  So be it.

The Belhar Confession addresses issues of church unity, human unity, reconciliation in church and society, and divine justice.  Any human system which sets people at enmity with each other

is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly…anything which threatens this unity [in Christ] may have no place in the church and must be resisted,

the document says.  Therefore the Belhar Confession rejects any role for racism in determining church membership, as it did in South Africa.  The text goes on to emphasize reconciliation via Jesus and the Holy Spirit and to

reject any doctrine which, in such a situation [of forced separation of the races] sanctions in the name of the gospel or of the will of God the forced separation of people on the grounds of race and color and thereby in advance obstructs and weakens the ministry and experience of reconciliation in Christ.

You, O reader, might be thinking something like, “So far so good.  What has been–and remains–so controversial and objectionable, except among and to White Supremacists?”  To answer that question I move along to the fourth section of the Belhar Confession, which emphasizes God’s call to establish justice and peace among people, the divine preference for the poor and the oppressed, and the church’s obligation to

stand by people, in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream

and, “as the possession of God,” to

stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that, in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.

The document therefore rejects “any ideology which would legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel.”  The Belhar Confession concludes:

Jesus is Lord.

To the one and only God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be the honor and glory forever and ever.

What are the injustices which the church must witness against and oppose actively?  Pondering that question has made–and continues to make–many people uncomfortable.  Most of the arguments against the Belhar Confession I have read online criticism start with the “I’m not a racist, but…” defense.  Yes, Apartheid was an abomination, but there are good reasons having nothing to do with race, racism, ethnicity, and/or xenophobia to oppose the Belhar Confession, these critics write.


+++Racism and Multiculturalism+++


The most obvious implications of the Belhar Confession in the RCA and the CRCNA, historically and predominantly White denominations, pertain to racism (often unintentional and institutional) and multiculturalism.  The two denominations had been conducting anti-racism training  and seeking to diversify their ranks on all levels for decades by 2010 and 2012.  Since the 1980s, for example, the CRCNA had encouraged its congregations to observe All Nations Heritage Week, with a focus on a different racial or ethnic group each year.  The week ended with All Nations Heritage Sunday, the first Sunday in October.  Money from a special offering that day increased the ability of the CRC’s Race Relations Committee to award grants and scholarships to promote more diversity in denominational leadership.  And churches could combine this observance with World Communion Sunday quite easily.

The RCA General Synod of 2010 started the process which culminated in the 2013 report on White Privilege (Acts and Proceedings, page 142-163).  The report analyzed White Privilege in society and the RCA and led to a resolution to “develop an online and interactive RCA resource for freely discussing, understanding, and dismantling” it and another resolution to promote congregational partnerships across racial and ethnic lines.


+++Gender:   Roles of Women+++


Venus Symbol

Above:  The Venus Symbol (for Females)

Image in the Public Domain

So far, so good.  Now, however, the really controversial applications of the Belhar Confession enter the picture with issues of gender.  The sociological definition of sex is anatomy-based.  Gender consists the societal and social implications of that anatomy for one.  Does one, for example, have a glass ceiling?  And is one bitch or merely assertive?  And some cultures, by the way, have recognized more than two genders since time immemorial.  Gender is a social definition, not a biological reality.

The first gender issue to analyze in this post is that of the roles of women in the church.  I recall a story about a Roman Catholic schoolgirl.  Someone asked her how many sacraments there are.  She replied that the answer depends on whether one is male or female–a reference to the exclusively male priesthood.  The Reformed, of course, have ordination yet not as a sacrament.  Nevertheless, many women in the RCA and the CRCNA have experienced much difficulty and frustration regarding church leadership and continue to do so.

As I established in the previous post in this series, the RCA opened the offices of deacon and elder to women in 1973, six years before doing the same regarding the ordained ministry.  Then, in 1980, the RCA put two conscience clauses into place to maintain church unity and to protect ministers and other office holders who disagreed.  Over the years, however, abuses and misuses of the conscience clauses held women back and became divisive in the denomination.  The CRCNA, after more than twenty years of arguments, opened all offices to women effectively in 1995.  By 2010, however, related arguments continued and some of the Classes still refused to grant women equality in the church.

At the RCA General Synod of 2002 President John C. H. Chang noted in his report that, if his daughter did have a vocation to ordained ministry, she would “hit the wall of no-opportunity” in the denomination.  This was wrong, he said: “I’m wondering how many of our churches can accomplish the mission the Lord calls us to and keep telling our daughters ‘no'” (Acts and Proceedings, page 37).

This is a good time for numbers:

  1. Nearly two-thirds of the members of the RCA are women, and
  2. RCA seminaries, which provide strong support for female students, graduate nearly equal numbers of men and women.

Yet, according to the 2012 report of the denominational Commission for Women:

  1. There were 1,556 active clergy in the RCA.
  2. 271 (17.4%) were female.
  3. Of those 271 female ministers, 100 (36.9%) served in parish settings, 128 (47.2%) served in other capacities, and 43 (15.9%) were without charge.
  4. Of the 1,285 male ministers, however, 729 (56.7%) served in parish settings, 425 (56.7%) served in parish settings, and 131 (10.2%) were without charge.

That report continued, observing that many female ministers still experienced

instances of exclusion, inequality, and pain.  Women are still required to defend their calling and their ordination in the assemblies of the RCA, including on the floor of the General Synod, in a way that their male colleagues are not.

The General Synod of 2012 voted to remove the conscience clauses.  The requisite two-thirds of Classes had approved this change to the Book of Church Order by the time the General Synod of 2013 convened.  That year the General Synod Council decreed:

The RCA will be a fellowship of congregations in which all women are equipped and empowered to fully exercise their gifts in the life, ministry, mission, and offices of the church.

Acts and Proceedings, page 212

That report went on to detail procedures for helping women advance in the denomination.

The passage of time will reveal the resolution of this matter.



+++Gender:  Homosexuality and Homophobia+++


Marriage Equality

Above:  The Marriage Equality Sign

Found in many places on the Internet

The RCA and the CRCNA are not ready for this yet.

The most common objection I have read to the Belhar Confession in “I’m not a racist, but…” critiques online regards homosexuality, a concept the document never mentions to alludes to directly.  One can, however, recognize the Belhar Confession’s implications regarding homosexuality and homophobia quite easily.

Both the RCA and the CRCNA contain a wide range of attitudes toward homosexuals and homosexuals; official documents have admitted this frankly.  And both denominations continue to maintain officially, with nuances, that, although the proper approach to these questions is one grounded in compassion, brotherly love, and the theology of the image of God (Genesis 1:27), same-sex desire is sinful (even if one has not chosen it) and ordination and same-sex unions are off-limits.

I do have one question before I proceed:  Can sin exist in the absence of choice?

Both the RCA and the CRCNA have also recognized their official failings to live up to their pastoral statements regarding the spiritual care of homosexuals since they started making such statements in the early 1970s.  Yes, homophobia is alive and well in the church, unfortunately.

Debates over homosexuality have threatened the unity of the RCA, which has a stronger liberal wing than does the CRCNA.  A dialogue regarding the topic started in the 2005 and continued for a few years.  During that time the General Synod rejected a barrage of anti-homosexual overtures and urged Classes and congregations not to press judicial actions.  Assemblies followed that advice according to a notice at the General Synod of 2011.

The RCA, which restated its support for full civil liberties and rights in 2006, refused to consider the question of same-sex unions and marriage solely in the context of human rights and civil rights, adding Reformed theology to the mix.  At the conclusion of the multi-year dialogue, in 2012, the General Synod resolved that “any person, congregation, or assembly which advocates homosexual behavior or provides leadership for a service of same-sex marriage or a similar celebration has committed a disciplineable offense” and created a committee “to pray and work together to present a way forward for our denomination” regarding the issue.  And the General Synod of 2014 started the process of amending the Book of Church Order to define marriage as being between one man and one woman.

Delegates to the General Synod of 2014, according to the official summary available at the RCA website, “chose not to state that the history of the RCA’s stated position is nuanced and that a wide array of perspectives regarding same-sex relationships exists in the RCA.” This puzzles me, for I understand the documented reality of the matter.  First, the history of the RCA’s stated position is nuanced.  I refer you, O reader, to “A Historical Survey of the Actions of the General Synod with Regard to Homosexuality:  1974-2012” (Acts and Proceedings, 2012, pages 334-340).  As for choosing not to say that a wide array of perspectives regarding same-sex relationships exists within the RCA, I could point to numerous examples to demonstrate that such an array exists, but two will suffice.  (I will not “flip note cards” on you, O reader.)  A report to the General Synod of 2009 reads in part:

Widely scattered views characterize RCA members’ beliefs about homosexuality….It would be unfair to many RCA members to represent their positions as lying along a line that is drawn, for example, between “open and affirming” on the one hand and “hate the sin but love the sinner” on the other.

Acts and Proceedings, page 105

And, four years earlier, the Commission on Christian Action report regarding homosexuality acknowledged the lack of consensus, even among its own members.  Instead the report of 2005 (Acts and Proceedings, pages 364-372) contained verbatim perspectives of the commission members.

Homosexuality became a sticking point with some of the RCA’s ecumenical partners who had moved to ordain non-celibate homosexuals.  Thus the RCA, rejecting overtures to terminate these ecumenical relationships, entered instead into dialogue first with the United Church of Christ (UCC) then the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).  These dialogues entailed statements of disapproval and concern sometimes, but the old RCA desire for church unity over ecclesiastical purity won the argument.

Perhaps the most publicized case regarding homosexuality in the RCA was that of the Reverend Doctor Norman Kansfield, President of New Brunswick Theological Seminary until June 2005.  Kansfield got into trouble when, in June 2004, he presided over the wedding of his daughter, Ann Margaret Kansfield, to Jennifer Aull.  This act of a doting father and father-in-law led to his suspension from ordained ministry and removal from the presidency of the seminary.  The General Synod of 2005 also denied him the status of General Synod Professor Emeritus on the grounds that it had removed him from office.  The three charges, as Acts and Proceedings, 2005, pages 43-52, contain them, were that:

  1. Kansfield had acted “contrary to our faith and beliefs as affirmed by the Holy Scriptures and the decisions of General Synod concerning the relationship of active homosexuality;”
  2. He had contradicted his ordination affirmation:  “I promise to work in the Spirit of Christ, in love and fellowship within the church, seeking all things that make for unity, purity, and peace;” and
  3. He had violated his promise to submit himself “to the counsel and admonition of the General Synod, always ready, with gentleness and reverence, to give an account of my understanding of the Christian faith” by not doing so at the General Synod of 2004, prior to the wedding in Massachusetts.

Kansfield’s period of suspension ended in October 2011.  By that time the UCC had ordained both his daughter and daughter-in-law, who, as I type these words, serve as co-pastors of the Greenpoint Reformed Church, Brooklyn, New York, New York.  The RCA might not ordain practicing homosexuals, but its decentralized structure provides a back door by which a RCA congregation may call a practicing homosexual minister.

The CRCNA also contains a range of opinions regarding homosexuality.  The First Christian Reformed Church of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, is one of the most liberal congregations in the denomination.  It became the first church within the CRC to call a female pastor.  And, in 2002, it opened church offices to homosexuals living in monogamous relationships.  The Classis forced the congregation to back down, but the the First CRC website, as of the day I type these words, presents the Statement of Faith and Action, dated September 29, 2002:

We believe that all people are created in the image of God and are unconditionally loved by God. We are committed to embrace people of all ages, races, genders, sexual orientation, differing abilities, ethnic origins, and economic circumstances. We affirm that all who seek to live faithfully, that is confessing Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, are full participants in the life, membership, sacraments and leadership of this congregation. Our desire is to build community in the midst of differences and strive to honour God’s greatest commandment, to love one another as Christ loves us.



+++Economic Justice+++


Thus says the LORD:

For three transgressions of Israel,

and for four, I will not revoke the punishment,

because they sell the righteous for silver,

and the needy for a pair of sandals–

they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth,

and push the afflicted out of the way….

–Amos 2:6-7a, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Another implication of the Belhar Confession is economic justice, one of the major themes–more prominent than sexuality and expressions thereof, in fact– in the Bible.  I could provide an extensive catalog of RCA and CRCNA actions regarding economic justice, but three examples will suffice:

  1. In 2007 the RCA supported the living wage–a higher minimum wage–as a moral issue.
  2. That year the RCA called for a change in U.S. policies regarding Cuba, for “The new restrictions and the ongoing embargo are driven not by Christian love but by the political fears of an administration that benefited from sustaining a conflict from long ago.”  The RCA favored “a better way of being in relation to Cuba, a way that is built on unity, reconciliation, and justice” (Acts and Proceedings, pp. 259-260).
  3. In 2009 the CRCNA supported the Accra Confession:  Covenanting for Justice (2004), a response to economic injustice, environmental degradation, and the failure of the church to address these issues properly, especially in the Third World.



Above:  The Apotheosis of War, By Vasily Vereshchagin

Image in the Public Domain


+++War and Peace+++


Yet another implication of the Belhar Confession concerns questions of war and peace.

The CRCNA made a pronouncement about war and peace in 1939.  The denomination has updated that position occasionally over the subsequent decades while maintaining much consistency.  There are just wars and unjust wars, the CRC says.  Both militarism and full-blown pacifism are errors, it tells people.  And selective conscientious objectors deserve the church’s support.  This last point has proven controversial within the CRC for some time.

The CRCNA updated its policy to reflect post-9/11 realities in 2006.  The denomination reaffirmed the 1982 conclusion that nuclear weapons are not “legitimate means of warfare” and the related call to reduce the supply of such weapons.  The CRCNA, stressing the call upon Christians to make peace, addressed the question of preemptive military action.  Such action

is justified under certain circumstances, when the threat of attack is imminent.  However, preventive warfare, initiating military action against a country or government that poses no near-term threat, amounts to little more than illegitimate aggression by the country that initiates the military action.

Agenda for Synod, page 382-382

The 2006 report which the Synod adopted, also called for good treatment of selective conscientious objectors in the military.  When the discharge comes, it should be an honorable one, the CRC stated.  This point caused much consternation at the Synod.

The CRCNA was talking about the war in Iraq without using the country’s name.  The RCA did use the name “Iraq,” voting down an overture to call for an end to that conflict.  The previous year the RCA had rejected an overture to condemn preemptive warfare.

The RCA General Synod of 2003 referred a report, “Thinking Critically About Security:  Following Christ in an Age of Terror” (Acts and Proceedings, pages 116-121) to congregations for study.  According to that document, the principles for thinking about security were:

  1. God is the all-in-all; security is not;
  2. Security is inclusive of the world, not restricted to particular nation-states;
  3. National self-interest is not global security;
  4. Insecurity is holistic of sin, racism, injustice, disease, hunger, et cetera; and
  5. Superpowers do not bring about global security; love does.

Both the RCA and the CRCNA have joined the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), founded in 2006.  Thus both have endorsed the following statement:

Torture Is a Moral Issue

Torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions, in their highest ideals, hold dear.  It degrades everyone involved–policy-makers, perpetrators, and victims.  It contradicts our nation’s most cherished ideals.  Any policies that permit torture and inhumane treatments are shocking and morally intolerable.

Nothing less is at stake in the torture abuse crisis than the soul of the nation.  What does it signify if torture is allowed in deed?  Let America abolish now–without exceptions.

Acts and Proceedings, 2008, page 230

Flag of Israel

Above:  The Flag of the State of Israel

Image in the Public Domain

The RCA also made pronouncements regarding the issue of Israel-Palestine, especially the conditions in the Occupied Territories and the circumstances of Palestinian Christians.  The General Synod of 2010 approved an overture to form the Working Group on Peace and Justice in Israel and the Occupied Territories.  The Working Group’s interim report of 2011 (Acts and Proceedings, pages 90-92) told stories of Palestinians and Israelis who had suffered from violence.  The 2012 report (Acts and Proceedings, pages 109-121), citing the Belhar Confession, called for:

  1. the end of the Israeli occupation,
  2. safety and security for Israel and Palestine,
  3. full rights for both populations, and
  4. the cessation of violence in the area.

The General Synod approved the report.

Flag of the Palestinian National Authority

Above:  The Flag of the Palestinian National Authority

Image in the Public Domain



As I have written in this post, liturgy is an extension of theology.  So, for example, theology of marriage influences the content of a form for the wedding ceremony and the existence or absence of a rite for same-sex unions.  I have, therefore, covered some liturgical ground in the previous section, “Theological Foundations.”  Now we are off to the races.

Diversity and Theology of Worship

I read on Facebook recently that, when a new wind blows, some people build a wall and others erect a windmill.  Which response is proper depends upon the nature of the new wind, for not everything new (or at least new to one) is inherently positive nor is all that is traditional bad (or at least outmoded) by nature.  Likewise, not all that is traditional is inherently good nor is everything that is new (at least to one) good by nature.  The best policy is to evaluate each tradition and innovation on its own merits or lack thereof.  That is, of course, a subjective decision; how can it be otherwise?

CRCNA officialdom evaluated traditions and innovations in worship.  The Synod of 2008 approved the revised Our World Belongs to God:  A Contemporary Testimony (1986), intended for use in worship and updated to the post-Cold War, post-9/11, new technological, and other realities.  A report to the Synod of 2011 expressed concerns regarding the widespread discontinuity with tradition in the denomination:

There is an increasing diversity of worship in the churches.  While this can indeed be healthy, it can also introduce the danger of liturgical anarchy, a loss of distinctly Reformed worship, and a loss of the adhesion of an important “glue” that might hold us together in our increasingly fragmented denomination.




One element of this diversity was Pentecostalism, something which caused grave concern in official CRC circles.  The General Synod of 1971 approved an overture to appoint a committee to study and offer guidance regarding the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the context of the Charismatic movement, or Neo-Pentecostalism, “as it is creeping into our denomination” and causing “unrest and confusion” in the CRCNA.  The subsequent 1973 report rejected the Charismatic movement as non-Scriptural and non-Reformed, describing it as an “error” and led to the denomination barring from church office anyone who affirmed the second-blessing teaching.  In 2007 and 2009 the CRCNA addressed Third Wave Pentecostalism, cautious of the theology of prophecy as well as of emotionalism in worship.


+++The Reformed Church in America and the Worship Survey of 2004+++


The RCA’s 2004 Worship Survey yielded interesting results.  Some of these pertained to the choice(s) of hymnal(s) on the congregational level.  Partial results follow.

There was no single hymnbook dominant in the RCA, despite the existence of an official main hymnal and an authorized supplement to it.  The top rankings, in descending order, were:

  1. The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration (non-denominational, 1986)–16.2%;
  2. Sing! A New Creation (RCA and CRCNA, 2001)–16%;
  3. The Celebration Hymnal (non-denominational, 1997)–8.7%;
  4. The Hymnbook (RCA, Presbyterian Church in the United States, Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., United Presbyterian Church of North America, and Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, 1955)–6.9%;
  5. The Worshiping Church (non-denominational, 1990)–6.2%;
  6. Hymns for the Family of God (non-denominational, 1976)–4.9%;
  7. Hymns, Psalms and Spiritual Songs (ecumenical edition of The Presbyterian Hymnal, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 1990);
  8. Sing Joyfully (non-denominational, 1989)–3.5%;
  9. Praise! Our Songs and Hymns (non-denominational, 1979)–3%;
  10. Rejoice in the Lord (RCA official hymnal, 1985)–2.7%; and
  11. Hymns for the Living Church (non-denominational, 1974)–2.7%.

Sixty-eight other hymnals, some of them local productions, rounded out the English-language list.  Also, 1.9% of congregations reported using non-English-language hymnals.


Above:  Copies of Some of the Non-Denominational Hymnals from the Worship Survey of 2004

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

How many Scripture readings do people hear read in Sunday morning worship?

  1. One–56.2%
  2. Two–37.3%
  3. Three–14.3%
  4. No response–2.4%

From which translation?

  1. New International Version (NIV)–62.2%
  2. New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)–25%
  3. Revised Standard Version (RSV)–8.9%
  4. Other–11.8%

73% of congregations reported extemporaneous prayers.

84.7% of congregations reported following the basic structure of worship the RCA set forth in its Liturgy.

How often do congregations celebrate the Lord’s Supper annually?

  1. More than twelve–24.2%
  2. Six–19.9%
  3. Twelve–15.5%
  4. Five–10.1%
  5. Eight–8.3%
  6. Four–7.4%
  7. Seven–7.1%
  8. Ten–4.7%
  9. Nine–2.2%
  10. Eleven–0.5%

Does the minister wear a robe?

  1. Never–43.2%
  2. Always–28.5%
  3. Sometimes–28.2%

Are there paraments?

  1. Yes–68.5%
  2. No–31.5%

If so, does the church change the colors according to the church year?

  1. Yes–92.6%
  2. No–6.2%
  3. No reply–1.2%

Are there banners?

  1. Yes–73.5%
  2. No–26.5%

Which seasons of the church year do congregations observe?

  1. Advent–96.8%
  2. Christmas–92.9%
  3. Ordinary Time/Season after Epiphany–44.9%
  4. Lent–90.4%
  5. Easter–92.6%
  6. Ordinary Time/Season after Pentecost–50.8%

80.3% of congregations reported using praise choruses.

Which creed(s) do congregations use in worship?

  1. Apostles’–87.7%
  2. Nicene–44.3%
  3. Other–27.9%

Regional differences became clear:

  1. Worship was more traditional in the East than in the Midwest and the West.
  2. Use of the lectionary was more common in the East than in the Midwest and the West.
  3. Children were most likely to be welcome to take the Lord’s Supper in the Northeast.
  4. Paraments were most common in the East.
  5. Banners were most common in the Midwest.
  6. 62% of congregations in the Synod of the Far West used a RCA-approved rite for the Lord’s Supper.  Over 80% of congregations in the other synods did this.

Overall, the use of approved baptismal and Eucharistic rites remained constant (about 85-90%) from the previous survey, that of 1994.


+++Bible Translations+++


Both the RCA and the CRCNA expanded their lists of Bible translations approved for use in worship.  Going into 2001, the RCA had approved, among others, the NIV, the RSV, and the NRSV.  The latter was the preferred official translation.  In 2007 the RCA added Today’s New International Version (TNIV) to the list.  The CRCNA, going into 2001, had approved the Authorized (King James) Version (1611/1769), the American Standard Version (ASV) of 1901, the RSV, the NIV, and the NRSV.  To this list it added the English Standard Version (ESV) in 2007 and the New Living Translation (NLT) the following year.



Some denominations have books of worship to which parishioners have access in congregations.  Roman Catholic publishers make available an array of Missals and Missalettes.  Lutherans have, as a matter of tradition, included forms for worship in their hymnals.  And my adopted denomination, The Episcopal Church, uses The Book of Common Prayer (1979), supplemented by subsequent authorized resources.

Other denominations have official yet seldom-used books of worship.  In the U.S.A., for example, there has been a lineage of Books of Common Worship in mainline Presbyterianism since 1906, the most recent debuting in 1993.  Likewise, the current United Methodist Book of Worship (1992) is the third volume in a lineage which reaches back to World War II.  Most United Methodists I have asked since 1992 and the majority of members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) I have asked since 1993 have not heard of their denominational book of worship.  Most of that minority which has heard of it has not seen it.  Yet I, an Episcopalian, have a copy of each.  It is bad when one knows less about one’s own denomination than someone outside of it.


Above:  My Copies of These Books

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Both the RCA and the CRCNA have, as a matter of tradition, well-defined liturgical forms, most of which have been available to lay members and clergy alike.  In the old days these came bound with the hymnal.  Today, however, one may find them or most of them available easily at denominational websites.  Yet, given the variety in worship in the RCA and the CRCNA, there is demand for a volume of resources consistent with the Reformed orders of service that is not a formal book of services.


+++The Worship Sourcebook (2004 and 2013)+++


The Worship Sourcebook (First Edition in 2004, Second Edition in 2013) is not a volume like the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship (1993), that is, a full-blown service book.  No, the Sourcebook is exactly what the title indicates–a book which functions as a source of numerous prayers, litanies, et cetera, grouped according to element of worship, such as Prayers of Confession or Assurances of Pardon or Prayers of the People.  It does, however, derive much content from the Book of Common Worship (1993), which, in turn, quoted resources of a wide range of denominations.  The first edition of the Sourcebook sold well–“beyond expectations,” as a report to the CRCNA Synod of 2005 stated.  This volume, a joint project of Faith Alive Christian Resources (the common publisher of the RCA and the CRC) and the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, went into the second edition in 2013.  I own a copy of this edition.

The 844-page Second Edition, which comes with a CD inside the back cover so that people can add content easily to church bulletins, opens with a Prologue explaining the history of Reformed worship and justifying the volume’s existence.  Traditionally, worship in European Reformed churches was “by the book,” as it was during the early colonial period in North America.  Yet Pietism, Revivalism, and the conditions of the American frontier took their tolls.  The abandonment of tradition became its own tradition.

The Preface to the Second Edition, on page 9, offers this reflection on styles of worship:

Broadly speaking, worship in just about any style suffers when it slips into mindless routine that fails to appreciate the formative power of habitual action to shape us as Christian disciples.  Worship also suffers from endless innovation that constantly casts about for the latest fad.  Between these two extremes lies the wisdom of “disciplined innovation,” in which pastoral leaders, like jazz musicians, draw upon ancient patterns and forms and then prayerfully, communally, adapt them to address local needs, circumstances, and opportunities.

In other words, freedom requires structure in order to avoid becoming anarchy.


+++Liturgies of the Reformed Church in America+++


The RCA has published revised and formal volumes of Liturgy occasionally, placing between two covers all the authorized services as of a certain time.  Thus, since the dawn of the twentieth century, the denomination has done this in 1906, 1968, 1987/1990, and 2005.  In the previous post in this series I wrote about Worship the Lord (1987) and listed forms which the RCA had authorized between then and 2000.  I will not repeat that content here.

Worship the Lord:  The Liturgy of the Reformed Church in America (2005) a handsome gray volume with three tastefully colored ribbons, contains all the forms authorized in the RCA as of the date of publication.  Thus it contains much material the denomination authorized prior to 2001.  The service forms approved for regular use since 2001 are:

  1. Order for Profession of Faith,
  2. Order for the Ordination and Installation of Elders and Deacons,
  3. Order for Commissioning Christians to the Ministries of the Church,
  4. Order for Recognition of Ministries in the Church,
  5. Order for Christian Marriage,
  6. Order for Christian Burial:  A Service of Witness to the Resurrection,
  7. Order for Ordination to the Office of Minister of Word and Sacrament,
  8. Order for Reception into the Classis and Installation of a Minister of Word and Sacrament, and
  9. Order for Commissioning a Minister of Word and Sacrament into a Specialized Ministry.

Since the publication of Worship the Lord (2005) the RCA has made other forms available for use.  Two of these are the Proposed Order for the Organization of a New Chruch and the Order for Commissioning a Commissioned Pastor (2011) are two of them.  The next three pertain to Christian initiation.  Baptism and profession of faith are occurring more frequently in adults not raised in Christian households.  The RCA’s former default setting was infant or child baptism.  Now, however, adult baptism has become the default setting.  With this reality comes an amplification of missional emphases in new forms for these services.  Thus the newest RCA forms for Christian initiation are:

  1. Celebrating the Baptismal Covenant:  A Combined Order for Baptism, Profession of Faith, and Reaffirmation of Faith;
  2. Celebrating the Baptismal Covenant:  The Order for Profession of Faith and the Baptism of Youth and Adults; and
  3. Celebrating the Baptismal Covenant:  The Order for Baptism of Children.


+++A Common Form for the Baptismal Certificate+++


Dialogue among the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the RCA, the CRCNA, the United Church of Christ (UCC), and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) [PC(USA)] resulted in two reports–one on Baptism and the other on the Holy Eucharist/Lord’s Supper–in 2011 then in denominational studies of them.  One tangible result of the study on Baptism was a common Certificate of Baptism (CRC, Agenda for Synod, 2011, page 356), the text of which follows:

Name was baptized with flowing water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit at name of the congregation by name of the minister.  Signature.  Date.

This shared certificate comes with the mutual recognition of Baptism across these denominational lines–Reformed and Roman Catholic.


+++Reformed Ecumenicity in Liturgy+++


The CRCNA Synod of 2013 expanded the range of authorized forms for Baptism and profession of faith with rites based on the most recent germane RCA rituals (CRC, Agenda for Synod, pages 333-347).  This action filled some needs in the CRCNA and demonstrated ecumenicity with the RCA.


+++Approved Eucharistic Rites for Occasional Use+++


Meanwhile, the RCA was approving Eucharistic rites for occasional use, especially in congregations which used contemporary worship and often improvised abbreviated forms.  In 2008, after several years of study and contemplation, the Commission for Christian Worship proposed to write some briefer forms but mainly to solicit them and to suggest extant third-party forms for the General Synod to approve.  So, with General Synod approval for this plan, the Commission went to work.  In 2009 the Commission suggested the following, all of which the General Synod approved:

  1. The Lima Eucharistic Liturgy (1986),
  2. The Consultation on Church Union Liturgy (1988),
  3. The Formula of Agreement Liturgy (1998), and
  4. Occasional Use Liturgy Number 1 (2009).

Acts and Proceedings, pages 278-288


+++The United Reformed Churches in North America+++


The United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA), formed in 1995 from the CRCNA, had adopted the liturgical forms in the Psalter Hymnal (1959/1976) in 1996 and modified the Form of Subscription to the Canons of Dort the following year.  These decisions made sense, for most of these congregations sang out of the that hymnbook anyway, having not switched to the Psalter Hymnal (1987) years before.

The time to revise old forms and create new ones did arrive, however.  So, starting in 2007 and continuing through 2012, the URCNA developed, revised, and adopted the following:

  1. Prayers,
  2. Form for Frequent Celebration of the Lord’s Supper,
  3. Form for the Reception of Families,
  4. Form Number 1 for the Baptism of Infants,
  5. Form Number 1 for the Profession of Faith,
  6. Form Number 1 for Adult Baptism,
  7. Form Number 1 for the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper,
  8. Form for Excommunication,
  9. Form for Readmission,
  10. Form for the Installation of a Minister of the Word,
  11. Form for the Installation of Elders and Deacons,
  12. Two forms for the Solemnization of Marriage,
  13. Form Number 2 for Baptism (based on Form Number 3 from the Psalter Hymnal of 1959/1976), and
  14. Form Number 2 for the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper (based on Form Number 3 from the Psalter Hymnal of 1959/1976).

As of the conclusion of the URCNA Synod of 2012, unfinished business included the translations of the three ecumenical creeds (Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian) and the three Forms of Unity (the Canons of Dort, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Belgic Confession).  (Sources for this information = Acts of Synod, 2007, pages 298-308; Acts of Synod, 2010, pages 485-537; and Acts of Synod, 2012, pages 355-438.)  The Acts of Synod for 2014 are not available as of the time of the drafting and typing of this post, but official summaries of the Synod of 2014 available at the denominational website tell me that the Synod of 2016 will inherit the unfinished business I have described.

And, by the way, according to the Acts of Synod for 2010, the Bible translation quoted in revised forms is the English Standard Version (ESV).


The Relationship Between Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

The RCA decided in 1988 and reaffirmed the following year to admit baptized children who had yet to make a profession of faith to the table of the Lord’s Supper, at the discretion of local congregational leaders.  The CRCNA refused to go that far in the 1990s.  Instead it insisted that the only children permitted to take Communion were those who had made a profession of faith.  Therefore the CRCNA Synod of 1995 approved a new form for the public profession of faith by children as the denomination pushed for professions of faith at younger ages.

The CRCNA came around to the RCA’s position in 2006, adopting the recommendation allowing “for the admission of all baptized members to the Lord’s Supper on the basis of their membership in the covenant community.”  The Synod of 2007 appointed a committee to study the issue.  The Faith Formation Committee’s 2011 report affirmed the decision of 2006:  Profession of faith is not a requirement for partaking of the Lord’s Supper in all congregations.  No, “age and ability-appropriate obedience” constitutes the proper context for understanding participation in that sacrament.  The same report affirmed the sacrament of Baptism as a prerequisite for taking Communion.

The RCA revised and updated its advisory materials for congregational leaders regarding the admission of young children to the Lord’s Table.  In 2013 the General Synod Council prepared an interactive resource to accompany the CRC’s 2011 document, A Place at the Table:  Welcoming Children to the Lord’s Supper:  A Guide for Congregations.  And, the following year, the General Synod approved updated guidelines for permitting young children to participate in the sacrament, which the RCA had requested all of its congregations to celebrate more frequently ten years prior.


Infant Baptism and Infant Dedication

These discussions regarding admitting young children to the Lord’s Table overlapped with questions of infant dedication, which some RCA and CRCNA congregations permitted in lieu of infant Baptism.  The Baptism of infants is consistent with Reformed sacramental practice and tradition.  It is also consistent with the sacramental practice of tradition of the vast majority of Christianity.  The Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox churches, the Anglican denominations, and many Protestant communions–such as the Lutherans and the Methodists–also baptize infants and have done so for a long time–almost two thousand years in the case of Rome.  All these communions constitute probably at least 80% of the Christian Church, so they are hardly outliers.  Yet the RCA and the CRCNA had to deal with questions of the legitimacy of infant Baptism in the 200os.

The RCA General Synod of 2004 reminded people that the practice was not only normative but rooted in covenant theology.  The CRCNA Synod of 2007 agreed and also discouraged infant dedication.  The Synod of 2011 repeated this affirmation of infant Baptism.    The next year’s Synod stated that the practice is consistent with Scripture and repeated the discouragement of infant dedication.  The Synod continued:

Congregations should minister to those who will not present their children for infant baptism with a spirit of gratitude to God for the gift of these children, offering encouragement and accountability to parents as part of faithful, pastoral ministry

while teaching regarding infant Baptism (Acts of Synod, 2012, page 775).

And who may present a child for the sacrament of Baptism?  The RCA dealt with that issue.  The General Synod of 2006 required that at least one guardian or adult relative be a “confessing member” of the congregation in which the sacrament occurs.  The next year’s General Synod resolved that church elders, already responsible for deciding who may join a congregation, having a role in hearing public processions of faith, and governing admission to the Lord’s Table, will also decide where primary parental responsibility resides regarding the Baptism of a child.  This last provision is necessary sometimes, given the realities of shared custody of children after divorce.




+++Sing! A New Creation (2001)+++


I wrote about Sing! A New Creation (2001) in the previous post in this series, for work on it was mostly complete before 2001.  Yet the topic bears repetition here.  The joint RCA-CRCNA project, containing 294 songs, all from the latter half of the twentieth century, contained a variety of styles, including Taize music, world music, praise songs, and Roman Catholic folk hymns.  It sold well, according to Faith Alive Christian Resources reports to CRCNA Synods.  And it sold beyond the core RCA-CRCNA market, for one of my sources mentioned that he knew of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) congregations which sang out of it.  As I have written already in this post, the 2004 Worship Survey revealed that only 16% of RCA congregations sang out of Sing! A New Creation.  That survey also documented the plethora of hymnals (mostly mildly Evangelical and quite contemporary) in use in the RCA.

Lift Up Your Hearts

Above:  Lift Up Your Hearts (2013), Its Two Official Predecessors, and Our Faith (2013)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor


+++Lift Up Your Hearts and Our Faith (2013)+++


Work on Lift Up Your Hearts:  Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs (2013), successor to the CRCNA’s Psalter Hymnal (1987), official successor to the RCA’s Rejoice in the Lord (1985), and actual successor to a bevy of hymnals RCA congregations used, started in 2007.  Along the way Faith Alive Christian Resources created some precursor hymnals:

  1. Contemporary Songs for Worship (2008), with 37 hymns;
  2. Singing the New Testament (2008), with 260 hymns;
  3. Hymns for Worship (2009), with 256 hymns; and
  4. Global Songs for Worship (2010), with 57 hymns.

A 2007 survey of CRC congregations helped to define the reality of the context in which the joint hymnal committee worked:

  1. 60% of congregations had blended worship services,
  2. 70% had the Psalter Hymnal (1987) in the pews or chairs,
  3. 12% had the Psalter Hymnal (1959/1976) in the pews or chairs, and
  4. 60% always or usually sang out of a hymnal.

Official hymns of the two denominations, as a matter of tradition, contained the confessions of faith.  Yet, by 2011, few RCA and CRCNA congregations used those in worship.  Also, the joint committee targeted the ecumenical Reformed market, not just the two primary denominations.  So the creeds and confessions found a home in Our Faith (2013), a paperback book, and more songs filled the space of those documents would have occupied otherwise.

During my research for this post I consulted the website for Lift Up Your Hearts, a treasure trove of useful information despite the fact that it refers to the Psalter Hymnal (1959) as being from 1957.  There I read the names of congregations which had purchased the new hymnal.  Most of these came from the RCA and the CRCNA, but others belonged to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) [PC(USA)] and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), as of early July 2014.  (Yes, I checked congregational websites.)  And I read that, of the more than 850 songs in Lift Up Your Hearts,

  1. 136 came from the Psalter Hymnal (1959/1976),
  2. 302 came from the Psalter Hymnal (1987),
  3. 214 came from The Worshiping Church (1990), and
  4. 126 came from Sing! A New Creation.

Glory to God

Above:  Glory to God:  The Presbyterian Hymnal (2013) and Its Three Immediate Predecessors

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a cousin of the RCA and CRCNA, also published a new hymnbook in 2013.  Glory to God:  The Presbyterian Hymnal and Lift Up Your Hearts are more contemporary than their immediate authorized predecessors.  The Hymnbook (1955), traditional when it was new, is a forebear of both 2013 hymnals, in fact.  Both Glory to God and Lift Up Your Hearts contain praise songs, world music, Roman Catholic hymns, Taize music, and traditional hymns.  Yet Glory to God tilts toward the traditional and Lift Up Your Hearts toward the contemporary.

Lift Up Your Hearts comes in a variety of editions–pews, reading, digital, and projection.  This diversity of formats appeals to a range of tastes, from the traditional, “give me a hardcover hymnal” school to those who project words onto a screen.

The organization of songs and other content in Lift Up Your Hearts indicates two headings with sections and subsections present.  The first heading is “The Story of Creation and Redemption,” or from creation to the Second Coming and the new creation.  This, by the way, is the entire organizational principle of the much-maligned (especially in the RCA) Rejoice in the Lord (1985).  The second heading is “Worshiping the Triune God,” with material arranged according to the Reformed order of worship, from “Opening of Worship” to “Sent Out.”

The very nice companion volume to Lift Up Your Hearts is Our Faith:  Ecumenical Creeds, Reformed Confessions, and Other Resources (2013).  It includes three sections:

  1. Ecumenical Creeds (Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian),
  2. Confessions (the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort), and
  3. Testimonies (Our Song of Hope, RCA, 1978; and Our World Belongs to God:  A Contemporary Testimony, second edition, CRCNA, 2008).


+++Psalms for All Seasons:  A Complete Psalter for Worship (2012)+++


Another product of Faith Alive Christian Resources intended for the RCA, the CRCNA, and the ecumenical Reformed market is Psalms for All Seasons:  A Complete Psalter for Worship (2012).  This volume, at more than 1132 pages, with Psalm settings filling pages 2-1110 and Canticle settings (the Songs of Zechariah, Mary, and Simeon) filling pages 1012-1029, is the largest Psalter in North America.  It contains hymns based on Psalms as well as translations from a range of sources.  Some of these sources include:

  1. The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), from which the first translation of each Psalm comes;
  2. The New International Version (NIV);
  3. The New Living Translation (NLT);
  4. The Message (Eugene Peterson);
  5. Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), the hymnal-service book of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA); and
  6. The Book of Common Prayer (1979), of The Episcopal Church.

In the back of the book one finds the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) and the following services:

  1. Morning Prayer;
  2. Noon Prayer;
  3. Evening Prayer;
  4. Night Prayer; and
  5. Service of Prayer for a Meeting, Class, or Conference.


Above:  URCNA and OPC Hymnals

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor


+++The United Reformed Churches in North America+++


As I have written in this post, most congregations of the United Reformed Churches in North America (URCNA) sing out of the CRCNA Psalter Hymnal of 1959/1976, a book whose reprinting the URCNA Synod has authorized twice.  Nevertheless, work on a new hymnal has been underway–with some changes of course along the way–since 1997.

The URCNA Synod of 2001 authorized work with the Canadian and American Reformed Churches (CanRC) on a joint metrical Psalter.  The CanRC was developing a successor to its Book of Praise (1984), the dominant portion of which was the Psalter.  Likewise, the Psalter was to constitute the main portion of the next URCNA hymnal.  Until the URCNA Synod of 2007 URCNA and CanRC hymnal committees were under the impression that they might be working on the same future hymnbook.  The URCNA Synod declared, however, that such ideas were mistaken.  The assignment was to work on a joint metrical Psalter alone.  So the CanRC Synod of 2007 authorized a revision of the Psalter work completed so far in advance of the publication of the new Book of Praise in 2010.  I found the PDF version of that 2010 hymnal with a simple Google search and have added it to my collection.

So, for five years (2007-2012), the URCNA labored to produce its new hymnal as a solo project.  Since hymnal revision costs money and publishers seek to recover their costs, concern over how to accomplish that goal was understandable.  There were also purposes to keep the cost per copy to a minimum and to maintain unity and identity within the URCNA.  Thus the Synod of 2012 approved an overture to require that congregations purchase the new hymnal when available.

Then, in 2012, the URCNA accepted an invitation from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) to work on a joint hymnal.  Thus the new hymnbook would succeed both the Psalter Hymnal (1959/1976) and the Trinity Hymnal–Revised Edition, the 1990 joint hymnbook of the OPC and the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).  The estimated date of publication of the embryonic hymnal is late 2016, shortly after the anticipated approval by the URCNA Synod and the OPC General Assembly, meeting simultaneously in the same city.  There are plans for separate URCNA and OPC editions, due to different rites.  The most recent news I have found is that the URCNA Synod of 2014 approved the Psalter portion.

All my attempts to learn what plans the PCA has for its next hymnal have proven fruitless.  Some options come to mind, however:

  1. Singing out of reprinted editions of old hymnals is a feasible option.  The OPC’s Trinity Hymnal (1961) remains in print and in use, after all.  The same could become true of the 1990 OPC-PCA Trinity Hymnal.
  2. Some PCA congregations might use the new URCNA-OPC hymnal.  Besides, many congregations outside the OPC and the PCA sing out of the 1990 Trinity Hymnal.
  3. Some PCA congregations might find Lift Up Your Hearts (2013) to be a good fit.
  4. And there are, of course, for those who prefer hymnals yet find none of the above options palatable, non-denominational hymnbooks.


+++Informed Musings on Shared Official Reformed Hymnals+++


Sharing an official hymnal in the history of U.S. Presbyterian and Reformed bodies does not necessarily precede organic union.

  1. The Hymnal of the Reformed Church (1920) did not lead to the union of the RCA and the old Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS); the latter became part of the Evangelical and Reformed Church (ERC) in 1934 instead.  Today its legacy lives mainly in the United Church of Christ (UCC).
  2. The Hymnbook (1955) was common to the RCA, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC), the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS), the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (PCUSA), and the United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPCNA).  The PCUSA and the UPCNA merged in 1958 to create the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (UPCUSA), which joined with the PCUS in 1983 to form the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) [PC(USA)].  The RCA and the ARPC remain separate, however.
  3. Between 1955 and 1983 came The Worshipbook–Services and Hymns (1972), common to the PCUS, the UPCUSA, and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (CPC).  The PC(USA), successor to the PCUS and the UPCUSA, cooperates with the CPC, sharing a Book of Common Worship.
  4. The OPC and the PCA published the revised Trinity Hymnal in 1990, after two failed attempts at organic union–one in 1982 and the other four years later.

So I wonder about the future of relationships involving the RCA, the CRCNA, the URCNA and the OPC, especially in the context of the sharing of hymnals.  Will the RCA and the CRCNA ever come to the point of formal reunion?  Will the URCNA find at least one more partner for organic union?  Only time will tell, and I will watch from the sidelines, in the See of Canterbury.



This long post is about coming together while remaining mostly separate and addressing societal-theological issues.  My research reveals that sometimes, as in the RCA and the CRCNA, there is at least as much disunity within a denomination as there is between them.  This proves especially true regarding matters of theology and worship.  And sometimes, as deceptive as a shared denominational label can prove to be regarding actual ecclesiastical unity, the existence of denominational separateness can mask a greater, underlying unity.  In other words, appearances and tightly-held identities, which provide psychological comfort for many people, can prove to be deceptive.



According to this report on the 2014 General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 2018 has become the probable publication date of the proposed URCNA-OPC hymnal.

KRT–AUGUST 29, 2014 C.E.



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.

Glory to God:  The Presbyterian Hymnal.  Louisville, KY:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 2013.

The Hymnal for Worship & Celebration.  Waco, TX:  Word Music, 1986.

The Hymnbook.  Edited by David Hugh Jones.  Richmond, VA:  John Knox Press, 1955.

Hymns for the Family of God.  Nashville, TN:  Paragon Associates, 1976.

Hymns for the Living God.  Carol Stream, IL:  Hope Publishing Company, 1974.

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

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.

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.

Praise! Our Songs and Hymns.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Singspiration Music, 1979.

The Presbyterian Hymnal:  Hymns, Psalms, and Spiritual Songs.  Louisville, KY:  Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990.

Psalms for All Seasons:  A Complete Psalter for Worship.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2012.

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

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

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

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

Sing! A New Creation.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2001.

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.

Trinity Hymnal.  Philadelphia, PA:  Great Commission Publications, 1961.

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

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

The Worship Sourcebook.  Second Edition.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2013.

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

Worship the Lord:  The Liturgy of the Reformed Church in America.  New York, NY:  Reformed Church Press, 2005.









Posted July 5, 2014 by neatnik2009 in Amos, Amos 5, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Genesis 1, John 17, Luke 6, Moravian (General), Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Predecessors, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Predecessors' Offshoots, Reformed (General), United Church of Christ

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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




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



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….


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


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


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


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)].


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.


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

Image Source =

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


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.







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, Romans 5, Romans 8, United Church of Christ, United Church of Christ Predecessors

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“God of Our Fathers”: The Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America, 1914-1945   16 comments

Psalter 1914-1927 and Psalter Hymnal 1934

Above:  My Copies of The Psalter (1914/1927) and the Psalter Hymnal (1934)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor




God of our fathers, whose almighty hand

Leads forth in beauty all the starry band

Of shining worlds in splendor through the skies,

Our grateful songs before Thy throne arise.

–David C. Roberts, “God of Our Fathers,” 1876; from Psalter Hymnal (1934)



This series of blog posts, which I predict will run its immediate course in eight installments, with potential for a ninth eventually, has become quite involved–more so than I had thought previously.  That is fine; I am not complaining, for I have been learning much while preparing Parts IV and V and sketching the broad parameters of Parts VI and VII.  The intellectual pleasure of learning so much so quickly has been rapturous for me.  Yes, I am a geek–indeed, a nerd–and a proud one at that.  I like my brain.

One of my undergraduate education professors at Valdosta State University, Valdosta, Georgia, in the 1990s told our class that students need hooks onto which to hang details.  I have tried to follow that advice well in a series of classrooms.  And I adhere to it now.  So, with that segue accomplished, here are your proverbial hooks, O reader:

  1. The Reformed Church in America (RCA) remained Americanized and, on the official level at least, favorable to ecumenical engagement.  This commitment was evident liturgically in The Hymnal of the Reformed Church (1920), a joint project with the (German) Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS).
  2. The Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA or just CRC) became more Americanized from 1914 to 1945, partly because of the domestic and foreign experiences of World War I.  The denomination remained strongly culturally isolationist for much of the period, though.  And it retained its status as a bulwark of very conservative Calvinism.  Nevertheless, the CRCNA was insufficiently right-wing for those who seceded in 1926 to form the Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRCA).  Despite its conservatism, the CRCNA did liberalize sufficiently to reverse its traditional Psalms-only rule for the majority of the denomination, in which pockets of hymn-singing had existed with Synodical approval since the 1880s.
  3. The RCA and the CRCNA, parent and breakaway child, have long had a non-hostile relationship on the official level.  The two have exchanged fraternal greetings annually at CRCNA Synods and RCA General Synods for a long time.  Nevertheless, the two have not traveled the same path for most of the time since the CRCNA broke away in 1857, hence the long separation.  By the end of World War II the RCA and the CRCNA, although still far apart on many issues, were closer than they were at the start of World War I.


Liturgy is an extension of theology.  For example, whether one sings Psalms and hymns or just Psalms in church is a theological decision.  Liturgy also occurs in the contexts of culture and history.  Thus I must establish the contexts of liturgical decisions and patterns first if I am to adhere to the optimum policy.

World War I and Postwar Disillusionment

President Woodrow Wilson (in office 1913-1921) was reluctant to take the United States into World War I (1914-1918).  This raised the ire and scorn of former President Theodore Roosevelt (in office 1901-1909), who accused the incumbent of cowardice.  (Roosevelt ceased to extol the manly virtues of the war after he lost a son to it, but that is another story.)  Wilson won a second term narrowly in 1916, largely on the fact he had kept the nation out of the war.  Ironically, he led the United States into that conflict formally in the second month of that second term.  Reasons included a German threat to the territorial integrity of the country as well as serious financial considerations, such as the fates of historic trading partners in Europe.  The charges of a “capitalists’ war” were not entirely unfounded, even if they were overly simplistic.

The President, who had warned prior to April 1917 that U.S. entry into war would lead to many people forgetting that there had ever been such a thing as tolerance, embraced such intolerance once the nation had gone to war.  Nonviolent critics broke the law by engaging in activities such as giving speeches and distributing leaflets or attempting to do so.  Thus they violated statutes, which Wilson had signed into law, and went to federal prison.  The U.S. Supreme Court upheld these convictions, but President Warren G. Harding (in office 1921-1923) exercised his power of the pardon generously, much to chagrin of the right wing of his Republican Party.  The founding of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was no accident, given the many violations of civil liberties in the United States during the war and shortly thereafter.

The intolerance extended to state laws, urban ordinances, and mob actions.  One man faced persecution under the Minnesota Espionage Act because he criticized a woman who was knitting socks for soldiers.

No soldier ever sees these socks,

he had said.  It was an unkind comment, but was it a criminal offense?  The City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, banned performances of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven, who had died in 1827.  Was a man who had been dead for nine decades and who had in life opposed the imperialistic policies of Napoleon Bonaparte supporting the Kaiser’s war effort?  And many Christians who worshiped in the German language had to contend with intimidation and vandalism.  During this time many Lutherans made a rapid transition to worshiping in English.  What became of freedom in the land of the free?

The CRCNA, which offered few English-language services on any given Sunday in 1915, also accelerated its use of English in worship due to pressures from jingoists, vandals, and state laws.  Some states, such as Iowa, outlawed preaching in Dutch.  And vandals attacked parochial schools, alleging that they were somehow Prussian.  The denomination’s position on World War I did not help matters when many people lost their minds, rallied around the flag, and renamed German names of dog breeds and food products.  In an age of Liberty Hounds (Dachshunds), Alsacian Shepherds (German Shepherds), and Liberty Cabbage (Sauerkraut) the CRCNA’s stance that the war was (a) evidence of total depravity and (b) God’s punishment on the U.S.A. for national sins aroused much ire outside the denomination.

Wilson oversold the war.  It was “the war to make the world safe for democracy,” allegedly.  Postwar realities, being grim, especially in Europe, inspired widespread disillusionment, as in the literary Lost Generation.  In this context the RCA, which had once considered World War I a holy war, learned a harsh lesson and backed down from its gung ho stance.  At the same time, however, the CRCNA learned a different harsh lesson and began to move away from its culturally isolationist position under pressure from returning veterans who belonged to the denomination.  When the U.S. entered World War II formally in 1941, the CRCNA was gung ho and the RCA supported the war effort without resorting to grandiose language.

Confessional Calvinism, Common Grace, and the Christian Reformed Church in North America

Two sides in the three-way disagreement over the Kuyperian Paradox locked horns within the CRCNA in the 1920s.  The Antitheticals, who favored Christian separatism, had lost the argument at the Synod of 1906, where the Confessionalists had won.  The two sides joined forces to oppose Calvin Theological Seminary professor Ralph Janssen, whom they accused of liberalism, and therefore heresy, because he had incorporated higher criticism into his Biblical studies.  These critics won at the Synod of 1922, which removed Janssen from his post.  Two years later, however, the CRC Synod made affirmation of Abraham Kuyper‘s later Common Grace theological stance mandatory for pastors.  That position held that even the unredeemed could function as God’s instruments.  In 1924-1925 the Reverend Herman Hoekstra and others refused to obey.  These Antitheticals seceded instead and formed the Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRCA).


The RCA was, at least officially, enthusiastic about ecumenism.  It had become, for example, a charter member of both the American Bible Society (1816) and the Federal Council of Churches (1908).  The RCA considered itself a mainline denomination, albeit a fairly conservative one.  Yet even this position proved too liberal for much of its Midwestern and Western constituency, which was generally suspicious of social progressivism, membership in church councils, and plans to merge with other denominations.

There was more than one unsuccessful merger proposal involving the RCA from 1914 to 1945.  The first was a plan to merge the RCA and the (German) Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS) in the 1910s.  The only fruit this tree bore was The Hymnal of the Reformed Church (1920), a joint project of the two bodies.  The RCUS, by the way, went on to merge in 1934 with the Evangelical Synod of North America (ESNA), of Prussian Lutheran-Reformed heritage, to form the Evangelical and Reformed Church (ERC).  The ERC’s legacy became part of the history of the United Church of Christ (UCC) in 1957.  Thus the 1920 Hymnal of the Reformed Church preceded two streams of successors:

  1. The Hymnbook (1955), Rejoice in the Lord (1985), and Lift Up Your Hearts (2013), the RCA lineage; and
  2. The Hymnal (1941), The Hymnal of the United Church of Christ (1974), and The New Century Hymnal (1995), the Evangelical and Reformed Church-United Church of Christ lineage.

The second plan, which began in the late 1920s, was to merge five denominations:

  1. The Reformed Church in America (RCA);
  2. The Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS);
  3. The Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS), the old “Southern Presbyterian Church;”
  4. The Presbyterian Church in then U.S.A. (PCUSA), the old “Northern Presbyterian Church” (a misleading label since it was a national body; and
  5. The United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPCNA), whose Psalters the CRCNA and parts thereof had adapted.

The plan failed on several fronts as denominations removed themselves from it.  The 1931 Southern Presbyterian General Assembly, citing questions of race and alleged doctrinal unsoundness in the PCUSA, withdrew, for example.  And an attempt to expand the union into a six-way arrangement including the CRCNA failed in 1930, when the CRC Synod declined, citing doctrinal concerns regarding the other five bodies.  These issues included Modernism, alleged laxity in church discipline, and permissive policies regarding membership in secret societies, such as the Masonic Lodge.

Of the five denominations only the RCA still exists.  The United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPCNA) merged with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (PCUSA) to create the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (UPCUSA) in 1958.  The UPCUSA and the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) reunited in 1983 to form the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) [PC(USA)].  And the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS) merged into the Evangelical and Reformed Church (1934-1957).  The current body which bears the RCUS name is a rump of the original denomination.

The CRCNA also contained a large number of people wary of membership in church councils.  It had joined the Federal Council of Churches in 1918, for the FCC was the only agency which placed military chaplains at the time.  Yet concerns about Modernism led the CRCNA to withdraw from the Federal Council in 1924.  The denomination became a charter member of the anti-Modernist National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) in 1943.  Nevertheless, a vocal CRCNA constituency, objecting to such close work with Arminians and Fundamentalists and concerned about the allegedly detrimental effect it had on the CRCNA’s Reformed witness, succeeded in prompting the denomination’s withdraw from the NAE in 1951.

Worldly Amusements

Q:  Why don’t Fundamentalists have sex standing up?

A:  It might lead to dancing.

–An old joke

Hostility to “worldly amusements” has long been a characteristic of certain varieties of conservative Protestantism.  I have read such condemnations in the sermon notes of my great-grandfather, George Washington Barrett (1873-1956), and old-style Southern Methodist.  And stories of Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and other types of churches calling members to account for dancing, hosting dances, attending fairs, and/or playing card games from the 1800s to the 1900s are numerous.  Such hostility was also present in Dutch Reformed enclaves in the Midwest and present in both the RCA and the CRCNA.  The latter, however, unlike the former, made such hostility denominational policy in the twentieth century.

The theological principle of separation from the world (not being conformed to it), not to mention the insertion of long poles far into many spiritual large intestines, informed the condemnation of “worldly amusements.”  (How could some of these people sit down comfortably or at all?)  Thus, in the case of the CRCNA, the ruling that no member should play cards, attend movies, or dance became not just a recommendation but a piece of obligatory guidance.  As the Reverend Doctor Peter Y. De Jong wrote:

Because these principles are solidly grounded on Scripture, they must be heartily believed and conscientiously practiced by all of our members.  Such spiritual practice is far richer than refraining from sin because the church requires it.  In the light of these every Christian who prayerfully considers any problem can come to full light.  Only then will our spiritual life be full and rich and deep, which is pleasing to our faithful Covenant God and Father.

The Christian Reformed Church:  A Study Guide, Centennial Edition, 1956; reprint, 1964; page 81

I will return to this matter in subsequent posts.


The Christian Reformed Church in North America:  From Dutch to English–The Psalter (1914)

The liturgical transformation within the CRCNA proved difficult for many people.  By 1940, however, English was nearly universal in the denomination, which had lost some members to the process.  The Psalter (1914) was far from popular in some quarters of the CRCNA.  Henry Vander Werp, a CRCNA alternate to the committee which had created The New Metrical Version of the Psalms (1905 and 1909), the basis of the United Presbyterian Psalter (1912), itself the basis of the CRCNA Psalter (1914), had created a Psalter of his own.  It retained more content from the Genevan Psalter (1563) and less from The New Metrical Version than did The Psalter (1914).  The Synod of 1912 rejected an overture to adopt his Psalter, justifying the decision by citing the fact that it was the work of one man.

The Psalter (1914) broke with CRC tradition in ways other than the obvious:  the exclusive use of English.

  1. It introduced different patterns of meter to the CRCNA.  Traditional Dutch meters kept the Psalms intact and applied a variety of meters and rhyme patterns to them.  Scottish Presbyterian meters, however, divided the Psalms into segments, thereby applying more than one versification to some texts.
  2. It also replaced many traditional melodies with tunes new to the CRCNA.  Only two Genevan Psalter tunes remained in the new Psalter.  The transition proved easier for the young than for the elderly.

The Psalter (1914), reprinted with the 1920 translation of the Church Order in 1927, contained rituals and other important documents in the back:

  1. The Heidelberg Catechism;
  2. The Belgic Confession of Faith;
  3. The Canons of Dort;
  4. The Liturgy;
  5. The Church Order; and
  6. The Formula of Subscription to the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession of Faith, and the Canons of Dort.

The Liturgy contained:

  1. Baptism;
  2. Public Confession of Faith;
  3. The Lord’s Supper;
  4. The Discipline–Excommunication and Readmission of Excommunicated Persons;
  5. Ordination of Ministers of God’s Word;
  6. Ordination of Elders and Deacons;
  7. Installation of Professors of Theology;
  8. Ordination of Missionaries;
  9. Marriage; and
  10. Consolation of the Sick.

These followed the traditional Dutch forms.

The Protestant Reformed Dutch Churches in America (PRCA) continued to use this volume after the CRCNA adopted the Psalter Hymnal (1934).  The liturgical forms available at the PRCA’s website in 2014 are nearly identical to those in the back of The Psalter (1914).

The Christian Reformed Church in North America:  Uniform Orders of Worship (1920-1930)

The European Reformed churches of the Protestant Reformation were liturgical, complete with service books and forms of worship.  This well-attested fact constituted news–irrelevant at best and unpleasant at worst–to many U.S. members of Reformed churches in the 1800s and 1900s.  That statement applies also to many of the U.S. Reformed in 2014.  Sometimes the tradition to which people cling is of more recent vintage than the alleged innovations to which they object.  So which one is the innovation?  The reality of Continental Reformed liturgical history did not, however, trouble the members of the CRCNA committee which produced three uniform orders of worship in time for the CRC Synod of 1920, which made them mandatory.  The Acts of Synod (1920), pages 185-204 contains the full orders with interesting explanatory notes.

The order of worship for the first (morning) service was as follows:

  1. The Introductory Service–The service opened with the Votum (Psalm 124:8) then continued with the Salutation (Romans 1:7) before leading into a Psalm of gratitude.
  2. The Service of Reconciliation–The confession of sin and absolution, parts of Protestant Reformation-era Reformed liturgies, were present.  They proved especially controversial due to rampant anti-Roman Catholicism, however.  The order of service specified forms for the invitation, the confession, and the absolution.  The Apostles’ Creed and the Psalm of praise followed.
  3. The Service of Thanksgiving–A general prayer, concluded with the Lord’s Prayer, led into the Offering, then a Psalm of thanksgiving.
  4. The Service of the Lord–There was no responsive reading, for the committee deemed that practice to be primarily a way of maintaining interest among members of the congregation.  Thus the minister, representing God at the church service, read a portion of Scripture.  Then the sermon followed.
  5. The Closing Service–A prayer, a Psalm or the Doxology or both, and the Benediction closed the service.

The other two orders of worship were quite similar to the first.  At the second (evening) service there was no Service of Reconciliation and the Decalogue moved into the Service of Thanksgiving.  The third order of worship, just for

Christmas, Old Year, New Year, Good Friday, and Ascension Day

Acts of Synod, 1920, page 199,

also omitted the Service of Reconciliation.  The third order of worship lacked the Decalogue, however.

These orders of worship became quite controversial, so the Synod of 1930 removed the absolution and made the orders optional.

The Christian Reformed Church in North America:  Singing Hymns

The practice of singing Psalms–yet not hymns, allegedly the compositions of sinful men and women and therefore unworthy, as the traditionalist Reformed criticism describes them–used to be more commonplace in the Reformed world.  In 2014 some denominations retain the practice, but most sing hymns.  Objections to the singing of hymns in the RCA helped to form the rationales for the Secessions of 1834 (in The Netherlands) and 1857 (in the United States), thus they were among the justifications for the founding of the CRCNA.  Nevertheless, that denomination, from the middle 1880s forward, did not adhere strictly to the practice of singing only Psalms.

At first the CRCNA permitted groups with joined the denomination to continue their practice of singing hymns.  As I wrote in Part III of this series, some German-speaking congregations affiliated in the 1880s and English-speaking churches joined in 1890.  The Germans continued to sing their 355 hymns in addition to the 150 Psalms and Classis Hackensack kept singing its 190 hymns plus the 150 Psalms.  It even modified The Psalter (1914) to include its 190 hymns.  The camel’s nose was already inside the tent.

For the majority of the CRCNA, however, hymns were forbidden in worship.  Article 69 of the Church Order (1920 translation) read:

In the Churches only the 150 Psalms of David, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Twelve Articles of Faith, the Songs of Mary, Zacharias, and Simeon, the Morning and Evening Hymns, and the Hymn of Prayer before the sermon shall be sung.

Nevertheless, many young members of the CRCNA favored singing hymns by 1918.  The Synod of 1928 appointed a committee to study the issue.  That group, which favored hymn-singing, issued its report two years later.  In 1932 the CRCNA modified Article 69 of the Church Order to permit the singing of hymns throughout the denomination.

The Christian Reformed Church in North America:  Psalter Hymnal (1934)

Psalter Hymnal (1934) was a landmark worship resource for the CRCNA.  It both reached back into the denomination’s tradition and paved the way for changes.  On one hand Psalter Hymnal (1934) included more Genevan Psalter (1563) tunes than did The Psalter (1914), but on the other hand it opened the flood gates for hymn-singing to become more popular than Psalm-singing in the CRCNA.  The new hymnal emphasized the Psalms, which comprised 295 of its 458 musical offerings.  There were 140 hymns familiar to members of other denominations.  A few these songs were:

  1. O Worship the King;
  2. Now Thank We All Our God;
  3. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel;
  4. Hark!  The Herald Angels Sing;
  5. Silent Night! Holy Night!;
  6. When I Survey the Wondrous Cross;
  7. The Church’s One Foundation; and
  8. Abide With Me.

The standards for selecting hymns were:

doctrinal soundness, New Testament character, dignity and depth of devotional spirit, and clearness and beauty of expression.

Psalter Hymnal (1934), page iii

Much of the material in the back of the volume was similar to that in the rear of The Psalter (1914), the main difference being a revision in the English translation.  There were more offerings, though.

  1. The Three Ecumenical Creeds–Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian–were present.
  2. There was also a treasury of Christian prayers.

Also, the 1914 forms for the ordination of Ministers and Missionaries became forms for the ordination or installation thereof.

Psalter Hymnal (1934) stood in lineage with Psalter Hymnal (1959/1976), Psalter Hymnal (1987), and Lift Up Your Hearts (2013), books I will analyze in subsequent posts.

The Reformed Church in America:  The Hymnal of the Reformed Church (1920)

The history of hymnals in the RCA has proven to be more complicated than in the CRCNA.  Prior to The Hymnal of the Reformed Church (1920) the last official hymnal had been Hymns of the Church (1869), almost a carbon copy of the Anglican Hymns, Ancient and Modern (1861).  This Anglican-Reformed approach met with the disapproval of much of the RCA, which convinced successive General Synods to approve the use of third-party hymnals.  Thus the RCA, despite having a series of official hymn books, has long experienced a plethora of hymnals in use on the congregational level.

The Hymnal of the Reformed Church (1920) was a joint project with the (German) Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS).  It started as a revision of The Hymnal of the Reformed Church in the United States (1890) in 1911, but the committee decided to try to make the new book an ecumenical venture.  The RCA General Synod of 1912 accepted the invitation to participate in the project, and the rest was history.  The joint committee wrote in the 1920 Hymnal:

Our purpose has been to lead congregations in every way possible in a more heartfelt worship in all Church services, and a more general participation in congregational singing.

The organization of the 700+ hymns was topical, not pegged to the Heidelberg Catechism, as early RCA hymnals had been.  And the RCA Liturgy was present in the RCA edition.

The Hymnal of the Reformed Church, in the RCA, preceded three other official hymnals.

  1. The Hymnbook (1955) was a joint project with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC), the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS), the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (PCUSA), and the United Presbyterian Church of North America (UPCNA).
  2. Rejoice in the Lord (1985), a solely RCA project, sold better outside the denomination than within it.  In fact, only seven percent of RCA congregations adopted it.  My copy of the hymnal bears the imprint of a congregation of the United Church of Christ.
  3. Lift Up Your Hearts (2013) is a joint project with the CRCNA.

Those, however, are topics I will explore in subsequent posts in this series.


Disagreements within denominations are frequently more important than those between or among them.  The Reformed Church in America (RCA) and the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) experienced 1914-1945 differently yet with some similarity.  Both had warring wings, for example.  The RCA, though, kept its wings in balance until immediately after World War II, when Part V of this series will begin.  In contrast, the more conservative, culturally isolationist wing of the CRCNA began to lose power to relatively progressive elements.  Nevertheless, the denomination forbade dancing from 1928 to 1982 and attending movies from 1928 to 1966. So we know that its culturally isolationist wing retained some power for a long time, despite the vocal and repeated protests of dissidents, who had entered the twentieth century mentally.  The CRCNA moved forward and backward from 1914 to 1945.



Brink, Emily R., and Bert Polman, eds.  Psalter Hymnal Handbook.  Grand Rapids, MI:  CRC Publications, 1998.

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.

De Jong, Peter Y.  The Christian Reformed Church:  A Study Manual.  Centennial Edition.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Book House, 1956.  Reprint, 1964.

Haeussler, Armin.  The Story of Our Hymn:  The Handbook to the Hymnal of the Evangelical and Reformed Church.  St. Louis, MO:  Eden Publishing House, 1952.

Hall, Kermit L., et al., eds.  American Legal History:  Cases and Materials. 2d. Ed.  New York, NY:  Oxford University Press, 1996.

The Hymnal; Containing Complete Orders of Worship.  St. Louis, MO:  Eden Publishing House, 1941.

The Hymnal of the United Church of Christ.  Philadelphia, PA:  United Church Press, 1974.

The Hymnbook.  Richmond, VA:  John Knox Press, 1955.

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.

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

The New Century Hymnal.  Cleveland, OH:  Pilgrim Press, 1995.

The Psalter, Doctrinal Standards, Liturgy, and Church Order of the Christian Reformed Church in America.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eeerdmans Publishing Company, 1927.

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

Psalter Hymnal:  Doctrinal Standards and Liturgy of the Christian Reformed Church.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Publication Committee of the Christian Reformed Church, 1934.

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

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

The Psalter Hymnal:  The Psalms and Selected Hymns.  Pittsburgh, PA:  The United Presbyterian Board of Publication and Bible School Work, 1927.

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

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.









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“That It May Please Thee to Remove All Sects and Scandals”: The Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America, 1857-1913   12 comments


Above:  Washington Square Reformed Church, New York, New York (1840-1879), Pastorate of the Reverend Mancius Smedes Hutton, Chairman of the Committee on Revision, 1870-1873

Image in the Public Domain




That it may please Thee to remove all sects and scandals.

The Liturgy of the Reformed Church in America, As Approved by the General Synod of 1873, By the Committee on Revision (1873), page 14



One of the temptations to which I have refused to yield while planning and writing this post is the lure to include too many details, especially with regard to the minutae of liturgical revision.  No, I have resolved to provide summaries, supported by selected examples, instead.  Those who wish to read all the details may follow my bibliography and hyperlinks.  Such interest makes the heart of this liturgical geek rejoice, actually.  Yet I prefer not to lose that part of my readership which prefers that I not overwhelm it with, for example, every instance of Anglican influence upon revised Dutch Reformed liturgies since 1857.

This post begins with 1857 and concludes with 1913 for excellent reasons.  1857 aside from being the birth year of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA or just CRC), was also the year the first post-John H. Livingston liturgy of the Reformed Church in America (RCA) debuted.  1913 was the year prior to the start of World War I, the de facto beginning of the twentieth century.  1914 was also the year the CRCNA published its first English-language Psalter, a landmark change for a denomination strongly attached to its Dutch heritage.  The war changed the United States, the world, and both denominations.

That  is a long story, part of which I plan to tell in Part IV of this series.

And yes, just in case anyone wonders, I chose the quote for the title of this post with a strong sense of irony.


Theological disagreements over Freemasonry, a minor issue in the Secession of 1857, were central to the Secession of 1882, which actually occurred in 1881-1884.

In Part I of this series I wrote that critics of Freemasonry involved in the Secession of 1857 did not distinguish between European Freemasonry and American Freemasonry, for those who seceded from the Reformed Church in America in the Midwest that year thought as transplanted Europeans, not as Americans.  I did not support the first part of that statement in that post, so I do so now.  European Freemasonry was an Enlightenment project.  Many ideals of that intellectual and political movement stood in opposition to Christendom (sometimes appropriately, I am convinced, as in the cases of liberty of conscience and the proposition that political power flows properly from the consent of the governed).  Many European churches from Rome to the Reformed forbade its members to belong to the Masonic Lodge.  U.S. Freemasonry, however, had a different flavor–one which many Christians considered consistent with their faith.  Thus many prominent Christians were also staunch members of the Masonic Lodge.

The question  of whether a member of the Reformed Church in America should or could belong to the Masonic Lodge was a minor issue until 1867, when the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, which then called itself the True Dutch Reformed Church (TDRC) forbade its members to belong to the Lodge.  Thus the RCA, which had Midwestern congregations competing with CRC/TDRC counterparts, had to address the question, a non-issue in the East yet a major concern in the Midwest.  The 1868 General Synod did nothing, despite the request of the Classis of Wisconsin.  The following year, however, the General Synod, prodded by the Classes of Holland and Wisconsin, referred the question to a committee, which reported to the 1870 General Synod.  The decision in 1870 was that, although no member of the RCA should belong to any secret society, such as the Masonic Lodge, the denomination had no right to impinge upon each congregation’s prerogative to address the issue as it saw fit.  This was a compromise, one which the Reverend Albertus C. Van Raalte (1811-1876), who disliked Freemasonry, accepted.  He was able to contain the controversy in his section of the RCA for a few years, but his absence after 1876 proved critical to the Secession of 1882.

The controversy over the RCA’s handling of financial troubles at Hope College, Holland, Michigan, led to a conspiracy theory, the renewed Masonic controversy, and the Secession of 1882.  Hope College, which the RCA had founded, was in deep financial trouble.  The denomination sent the Reverend G. Henry Mandeville, from the East, to assume the leadership of the school.  The Provisional President closed the theological education program there.  Some critics concluded that this action proved the existence of a Masonic plot, for Mandeville was a Freemason.  The application of Ockham’s Razor would have helped in this instance, would it have not?

Ironically, First Reformed Church, Holland, Michigan, Van Raalte’s former pastorate, joined the Secession of 1882 and kept the building, with its distinctive front pillars.  An RCA congregation, retaining the name of First Reformed Church, continued–and still exists.  The seceded congregation, known alternately as the Ninth Street Church or the Pillar Church,

reestablished itself around a vision of reconciliation

in 2012, retaining its CRCNA affiliation while resuming its old RCA membership, according to its website.

The Secession of 1882 strengthened the Christian Reformed Church, which called itself the Dutch Christian Reformed Church (DCRC) at the time.  Although immediate losses to the RCA were minor, the long-term impact was major.  The CRC/DCRC became stronger in the Midwest, heightening tensions between approximate RCA and CRC congregations.  Furthermore, the main Seceder denomination in The Netherlands switched its allegiance from the RCA to the CRCNA, referring its emigrating members to the latter, not the former.  This influx made the CRCNA more resolute in its opposition to Americanization.


The Liturgy of the Reformed Church in America, long composed of obligatory rites and recommended rituals, has proven to be a matter of controversy and varied opinion.  Liturgical practice in the RCA has spanned a wide range of practices, including the choice of hymnals, for a long time.

The Liturgy of 1857

The High Church wing of the RCA, seeking to reclaim the denomination’s historic status as a liturgical body, resisted the Low Church Evangelicalism which was ubiquitous in the denomination.  Thus the introduction of Anglican influences into the RCA began.  The General Synod of 1853 created a committee to revise the Liturgy.  That committee unveiled its product four years later.  The Liturgy of 1857, although always unofficial and never Constitution, as the majority of Classes never approved it, did circulate widely in the RCA and influence the worship patterns of many congregations.

The Liturgy of 1857 was a milestone.  For the first time the RCA published a complete order of public worship–one which borrowed generously from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (1789).  There were also distinct Sunday morning and evening services, which followed the same basic pattern, but with slight differences distinguishing the two from each other.

Much of the Liturgy of 1857 influenced worship in one New York City congregation, which published its own Church Book (1866).  The service book named neither the congregation nor the minister who edited it at the behest of the consistory, or church council.  Nevertheless, the existence of such a volume, which also contained non-RCA rites, documented a degree of variety of liturgical practice in the denomination at the time.


The General Synod approved a variety of hymnals, most of them not of RCA origin, for use.  A new official hymn book Hymns of the Church, debuted in 1869.  This volume bore a striking similarity–some would even say due to plagiarism–to the Anglican Hymns, Ancient and Modern (1861).  (If imitation is the highest form of flattery, what is plagiarism?)  The strong Anglican-Reformed flavor of Hymns of the Church dissatisfied much of the RCA.  That branch of the church did have options, however.  General Synods had already approved the Sabbath School and Social Hymn Book (1843) and the Fulton Street Hymn Book (1862).  Subsequent General Synods, honoring requests, approved other non-Anglican-Reformed hymnals:

The Liturgy of 1873/1882

Liturgical reform continued.  It resumed in 1868 with a committee chaired by the Reverend Elbert S. Porter, an opponent of the High Calvinistic Mercersburg Theology prominent in the U.S. German Reformed Church.  After two years, however, Porter stepped down and the Reverend Mancius Smedes Hutton, pastor of the Washington Square Reformed Church, New York, New York, assumed the chairmanship.  Hutton supported the Mercersburg Theology, which called U.S. Reformed Christians back to their Protestant Reformation liturgical roots and opposed Pietism and Revivalism.  The chairman, in his report to the 1871 General Synod, listed three guiding principles of liturgical revision:

  1. Greater congregational participation,
  2. Acknowledgement of the RCA’s liturgical roots, and
  3. John Calvin’s Strasbourg Liturgy as a model from which to work.

The Committee on Revision, laboring from 1871 to 1873, increased Anglican influences in the Liturgy, stopping short of creating an RCA version of the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer (1789).  They drew from the Prayer Book heavily, though.  And the Committee bowed to pressure, revising Datheen’s order for the Lord’s Supper conservatively, mainly by introducing some rubrics and dividing some prayers.  The Committee also adapted a Eucharistic Prayer from the Church of Scotland’s Euchologion, or a Book of Common Order (1869), and placed that prayer in the Prayers for Special Occasions section.  This was a prayer for use in addition to, not in lieu of, the one in the Datheen rite.

A note early in the proposed service book defended the volume’s existence:

This Revised Liturgy is set forth as a general expression of the way in which the public services of religion should be performed.  It is to be understood that it is not of binding authority, but is only recommended as containing suitable offices for public religious service.  The only parts of our service book which are obligatory, are those which are enjoined by the Constitution of the Church.

–Page 5

The Liturgy of 1873/1882 was a combination of the old and the new.  The familiar parts of the RCA Liturgy were present.  There one found forms of the Lord’s Supper; Baptism; Marriage; Church Discipline; the Ordination of Ministers, Elders, and Deacons; and the Creeds; as well as various prayers.  Some of the orders had changed , of course,  and some of the prayers had not appeared in previous service books of the RCA.  And the legacy of the Liturgy of 1857 was evident, as in the Order of Scripture Lessons, a lectionary setting forth an Old Testament lesson and a New Testament lesson for each Sunday morning and Sunday evening service, according to the church year.

The Classes approved the Liturgy, which the denomination republished in 1882.  Even after that years-long process the controversial nature of the book was evident in the 1882 Preface, which noted that the only obligatory rites were the Administration of the Sacraments, the Discipline, and the Order of Worship.  Then the Preface concluded:

With these exceptions, this Liturgy is not of binding authority, but it is set forth as a general expression of the manner in which the Public Worship of God should be conducted, and, in the words of the late Rev. Mancius S. Hutton, D.D., the chairman of the Committee through whose labors the Revised Liturgy was first prepared and presented to the Church, “With the hope that it will so commend itself to the piety and wisdom of the Church, that its increasing use will place us before the world in our true historic position as a spiritual Liturgical and Reformed Church.

–Page 6

The Liturgy of 1906

The process of creating the Liturgy of 1906, in full The Liturgy of the Reformed Church in America Together With the Psalter Arranged for Responsive Reading, required two starts.  The Reverend Mancius Holmes Hutton, son of the second chairman of the Committee which created the Liturgy of 1873/1882, chaired the 1902-1903 committee.  Hutton the Younger, however, was not equal to his father in liturgical scholarship, so the committee made some awkward and arbitrary decisions.  Most Classes rejected the report to the 1903 General Synod, so the 1904 General Synod created a new committee with a different chairman.  The resulting service book lasted for sixty-two years.

The Liturgy of 1906 was sufficiently similar to its 1873/1882 predecessor to be easily recognizable yet sufficiently different as to be distinct.  The Sunday morning and evening orders of worship, for example, were slightly different from their immediate predecessors.  The Eucharistic Prayer of 1873 was still present, but no longer exiled to the Prayers for Special Occasions.  The old form of the Lord’s Supper was also present, for those who preferred it.  And there were two forms of Baptism–one old and the other new.  This practice of including two forms for both the Lord’s Supper and Baptism continued in the 1968 Liturgy and Psalms but not in its immediate successor, Worship the Lord (1987).

The New Metrical Version of the Psalms (1905 and 1909)

The New Metrical Version of the Psalms (first edition, 1905; second edition, 1909) was an ecumenical Reformed project.  Nine denominations participated in its creation.  They were:

  1. The Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, the old “Northern Presbyterian Church;”
  2. The Presbyterian Church in Canada, part of which is now in The United Church of Canada;
  3. The United Presbyterian Church in North America, which merged with #1 in 1958 to create The United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America;
  4. The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, which still exists;
  5. The Reformed Presbyterian Church (General Synod), whose legacy lives on inside the Presbyterian Church in America;
  6. The Reformed Church in America;
  7. The Christian Reformed Church in North America;
  8. The Associate Presbyterian Synod of North America, whose legacy lives on inside the Presbyterian Church in America; and
  9. The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, which still exists.

This Psalter, one of the most widely used books of its genre in the twentieth century, was more significant for the CRCNA than for the RCA, which had established its commitment to church unity and had worshiped God in English for a long time.  The CRCNA, however, had worshiped God mostly in Dutch and had been standoffish, guarding its Dutch identity stubbornly.


Prior to the CRCNA’s Psalter of 1914, based on the United Presbyterian Psalter of 1912, in turn based on The New Metrical Version of the Psalms (1905 and 1909), most worship of God in that denomination had occurred in the Dutch language.  The CRCNA had used the old Dutch liturgy and the Psalmen Davids (1773), which included all the tunes from the Genevan Psalter (1562).  There were  no “innovations” in the bulk of the church’s Liturgy, as there were in the RCA.  This conservatism typified the CRCNA, where change came slowly.  Such conservatism also led to more uniformity than in the RCA, a pattern which remains true today.

There was not unanimity, however.  Some German-speaking congregations had joined the CRCNA in the middle 1800s.  They, with CRNCA Synodical approval, continued to use their service book and hymnal, which included all 150 Psalms plus 355 hymns.  (The CRCNA, in contrast, did not publish its first denominational hymnal (as opposed to Psalter) until 1934.)  And in 1890, much of the True Protestant Dutch Reformed Church (TPDRC), also known as the True Reformed Dutch Church (TRDC), an 1822 offshoot of the RCA, joined the CRCNA as Classis Hackensack.  (At that point in time the CRCNA adopted its current name.)  The 1822 group, which had already adopted the 1887 United Presbyterian Psalter and amended it to include 190 hymns (drawn mostly from John H. Livingston’s Psalms and Hymns (1814) and pegged to the Heidelberg Catechism, continued to worship from their familiar resource.

The CRCNA, which began its liturgical transition to English in earnest with The New Metrical Version of the Psalms (1905 and 1909), sped up that process with related projects.  The Synod of 1910 permitted use of the forthcoming United Presbyterian Psalter (1912) throughout the denomination.  Classis Hackensack used a modified version, one which included its 190 hymns.  The 1912 United Presbyterian Psalter, with some material unique to the CRCNA, became the Christian Reformed Psalter of 1914, modified slightly and republished in 1927.

Separatism and the Kuyperian Paradox

The CRCNA, prior to and well into the twentieth century, defined itself not only as a bastion of doctrinal purity but of Dutch identity.  Thus it remained separate from the mainstream U.S. society and other denominations.  In the 1890s reunion talks with the RCA failed, as did merger discussions with the United Presbyterian Church of North America–the former for doctrinal reasons and the latter for ethnic ones.  This separatism had both cultural and doctrinal reasons.  Given the fact that one of the main historic purposes of free public education in the United States has been to Americanize students, the CRCNA’s long-standing practice of operating parochial schools had a cultural purpose.  It also had a theological purpose, as in other denominations.

There were three distinct theological parties within the Christian Reformed Church relative to the Kuyperian Paradox, at the center of which was Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), a Dutch theologian and politician who served as Prime Minister from 1901 to 1905.  Kuyper, early in his career, favored Christian separatism from society, with all the unredeemed people in it.  Later in life, though, after he had joined a coalition government, Kuyper concluded that even unsaved people could do good things and function as instruments of God.  The label for this theology was Common Grace.  Many members of the CRCNA, caring deeply about what Kuyper had said and written, divided into camps relative to the Kuyperian Paradox:

  1. The Antitheticals supported his first position only.
  2. The Positive Calvinists affirmed his second position only.
  3. The Confessionalists found a way to favor both positions.

This debate, which pertained to salvation, preaching, and sacraments, went to the 1906 CRCNA Synod.  The Antitheticals and the Positive Calvinists were Supralapsarians, meaning that they stated that election (as in Double Predestination) had occurred before the Creation.  Thus, they argued, redemption and damnation were already realities at birth, so preaching and the sacraments merely confirmed regeneration.  The Confessionalists, however, were Infralapsarians, meaning that they stated that election had occurred after the Creation and before the Fall of Man.  Thus, they argued, preaching and the sacraments induced regeneration.  The 1906 Synod sided with the Confessionalists.

The RCA, meanwhile, supported the reforms of the Progressive Era instead of becoming bogged down in polysyllabic theology and the politics of doctrinal purity.


The Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church in North America traveled along divergent paths from 1857 to 1913.  They shared a few things, such as The New Metrical Version of the Psalms (1905 and 1909) and resentments and suspicions, however.  The two paths continued to diverge for years to come.



Brink, Emily R., and Bert Polman, eds.  Psalter Hymnal Handbook.  Grand Rapids, MI:  CRC Publications, 1998.

Bruins, Elton J., and Robert P. Swierenga.  Family Quarrels in the 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.

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

The Psalter, Doctrinal Standards, Liturgy, and Church Order of the Christian Reformed Church in America.  Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1927.

Psalter Hymnal:  Doctrinal Standards and Liturgy of the Christian Reformed Church.  Grand Rapids, MI:  Publication Committee of the Christian Reformed Church, 1934.

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.

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








Posted May 22, 2014 by neatnik2009 in Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Predecessors, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Predecessors' Offshoots, Reformed (General)

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Incense, Mustiness, and Sanctity   7 comments

Book of Common Worship 1993

Above:  The Title Page of the Book of Common Worship (1993)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor


One does not plead for the use of incense–Presbyterians are not likely to come to that–but at least one may protest against mistaking a general odor of mustiness for the odor of sanctity.

–Kenneth J. Foreman, Professor of Philosophy and Bible, Davidson College, Davidson, North Carolina, in “Better Worship for Better Living,” Presbyterian Survey, August 1932, page 482


Foreman’s words struck a chord with me a few years ago, when I found the quote while conducting research.  In fact, I chuckled quietly, as I was in a library at the time.  And, as I have affirmed since, Foreman was correct.

The worship of the living God ought to be an activity characterized by decorum and great dignity.  This attitude of mine explains why I dislike revivalism, the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements, and contemporary worship, and why I gravitate toward good liturgy.  And yes, I like the use of incense.  Some of the rural United Methodist congregations my father served in southern Georgia, U.S.A., were musty by Foreman’s standard.  Prolonged exposure and subjection to bad liturgy starved my soul.  Now, fortunately, good liturgy has become my steady diet.

U.S. Presbyterianism, despite its strong Puritan-influenced rejection of formal worship, comes from the Church of Scotland, which had a formal liturgy in the 1500s.  (The Church of Scotland, which has had its liturgical ups and downs over the centuries, retains an edition of the Book of Common Order.)  Formal worship–including frequent Holy Communion–is part of the Reformed Christian heritage–its tradition.  Yet this fact constitutes news to many pious Reformed Christians, especially in the United States, where many such congregations follow worship patterns influenced more by Puritanism and bygone rugged frontier conditions than their Protestant Reformation heritage.  As The Worship Sourcebook, Second Edition (2013), a product of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, states:

The biblical Psalms may well have functioned as a prayer book for the people of Israel.  Some of the earliest Christians compiled their advice about forms and patterns of worship into church order documents, the first of which, the Didache, dates back perhaps into the first century A.D.  Over time, especially in the early Medieval period, these documents grew very complex, with detailed instructions about every aspect of worship.

In the Reformation period Martin Luther and John Calvin called for significant changes to recommended or dictated patterns of worship by simplifying the structure and testing every text by theological criteria.  Out of the various Reformation traditions, the Anglican and Lutheran traditions retained the most detailed instructions.  The Anglican tradition preserved common patterns and texts for worship in the famous Book of Common Prayer, while the Lutherans did so in several editions of service books, adapted for use in each town. The Reformed tradition was also a service book tradition, albeit with far simpler liturgy.  In addition to the influence of Huldrych Zwingli’s liturgy, Calvin’s Genevan liturgies were adapted for use in Scotland and Hungary, while new liturgies that were developed near Heidelberg, Germany, became influential in the Netherlands.  Throughout the early decades of the Reformation, pastors did not create new orders of service for worship each week, as so many do today.  Worship was, to the surprise of many contemporary readers, “by the book.”

Despite this tradition, most evangelical and even many Reformed and Presbyterian congregations in North America have resisted the use of formal service books and set liturgies.  This resistance resulted partly from the influence of Puritan critiques of “by the book worship, which were much more stringent than critiques offered by the Reformers.  Other influences included the formation of early Methodist, Baptist, Anabaptist, and other “free church” congregations. as well as the spread of North American populism, pragmatism, and revivalism.  Congregations in many streams of North American Christianity have long resisted being told how to structure worship and have cherished their ability to respond to their own preferences and sense of what is most effective.

As a result, thousands of North American congregations today owe a great deal both to both a two-thousand-year history of service books and to the legacy of North American freedom and populism.  In recent years amid remarkable changes in the practice of worship, hundreds of those congregations are looking for new ways to appropriate both of these aspects of their identity.  Some efforts go by the names “blended worship,” “convergence worship,” or even “ancient-future” worship.  But despite vast and remarkable growth in contemporary music based on popular styles, many of the best-selling books on worship today are, ironically, studies of worship in the early church, prayer books for formal daily prayer, and books about the recovery of the sacraments.  Recent innovations under the umbrella of terms like “postmodern worship” and “alternative worship” sometimes feature even greater interest in traditional forms and texts than in the “contemporary worship” of the 1980s and 1990s–though in configurations that elude easy categorization.

–Pages 28 and 29

Worship the Lord 2005

Above:  The Cover of Worship the Lord:  The Liturgy of the Reformed Church in America (2005)

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Laudable Reformed Christian rituals and service books exist.  I point, for example, to the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship (1993)  and Book of Occasional Services (1999) as well as to the Reformed Church in America’s Worship the Lord (2005), all of which grace my liturgy library (the Book of Occasional Services as a free PDF).  But how many PC(USA) churchgoers know of their Book of Common Worship?  And how many Reformed Church in America worshipers attend congregations which make little use of the 2005 liturgy?

The first words which enter my mind when I ponder worship in the Presbyterian Church are

decently and in order.

In other words, I think of decorum and great dignity–even if the forms are simpler than they are elsewhere.  Worship patterns vary within denominations, of course, so this generalization does not apply universally among Presbyterians (or members of other denominations).  Yet I affirm the historic Presbyterian commitment to dignity and decorum in worship.

There is a High Church Presbyterian movement; it has existed in its renewed form since at least the middle 1800s.  I have availed myself of and downloaded certain congregational and semi-official and official service books from Reformed churches.  Such downloaded files join volumes, such as every edition of the U.S. Presbyterian Book of Common Worship (starting with the 1906 edition) as invaluable parts of my liturgy library.  I have found denunciations of these “Episcoterian” tendencies in certain online forums.  Perhaps the authors of some of these posts need to review the history of their own tradition and ponder Professor’s Foreman’s critique.

I will be in my Episcopal parish, bowing to the high altar and to processional crosses most Sunday mornings.