Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

Origins and Development of the Free Reformed Churches

Written by Rev. C.A. Schouls
Background and Setting
Following World War II there was a wave of immigration to North America, especially to Canada, from the Netherlands. Between 1946 and 1982 a total of 523,842 people left for all countries, of which about one third (184,150) went to Canada. The peak years for this movement were from 1950 to 1955.

The Christian Reformed Church had become well established in the USA and some congregations had been formed in Canada in the 1920's. These congregations did much work in receiving the new immigrants, helping them get settled and starting up daughter churches. Most of the new immigrants were from the Gereformeerde Kerken (Doleantie, 1886, Dr.A. Kuyper--see previous article). Many of our own first settlers went there, often urged to do so by their churches in Holland. (There were those in Holland who thought that the divisions of a former generation should not be carried over into the ÒNew WorldÓ and they did not favour a North-American continuation of the Dutch divisions.)

However, these people who went from the Dutch Christian Reformed churches to the North American Christian Reformed churches soon found that the similarity was primarily in the name only. Not only had these churches developed along a somewhat different line since the 1834 Secession (they had settled in the USA from the 1850's on) and not only had they officially adopted the conclusions of Utrecht in 1908 (Synod of Kalamazoo) thus officially adopting also the doctrine of presumed regeneration, but they had also received a large and fresh influx of immigrants from the Gereformeerde Kerken. These churches had just gone through a bitter split in 1944 (from which the Canadian Reformed Churches spring) and they were still in the Òsecession mentalityÓ--many were self professed experts on doctrine and brought with them a heightened awareness of what Kuyper had taught. They sharpened up the differences, thus making it, if anything, even more difficult for people of another mind to feel at home with them.

The First ÒFree Reformed ChurchÓ
November 7, 1921, saw the birth of the first ÒFree Reformed ChurchÓ in North America. It was not the most glorious beginning. A Netherlands Reformed Congregation in Clifton, NJ had found reasons to depose its minister. Some of the congregation could not accept this and formed an independent congregation around this minister. They called it ÒThe Free Reformed ChurchÓ.

Grand Rapids
Also here the origins of the congregation lie in the Netherlands Reformed Congregations. Some who were more progressive and concerned for the future wanted a church in which English was spoken (the congregation had been in existence since the turn of the century and was still using only Dutch--in fact, the children born there were taught Dutch at the Christian school!). A separate congregation had been established with this being one of the main factors. Other things entered the picture and on June 28, 1944 this new congregation went its separate way from the NRC under the name ÒOld Christian Reformed Church.Ó It took up correspondence with the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Nederland in 1947 and received a minister from there. When the flood of immigrants swelled in the 1950's many, who settled in Ontario, had their membership papers sent to Grand Rapids.

Canada
In 1950 Rev. J. Tamminga was sent by the Dutch CGK on a fact finding mission to Canada and the USA. He found that the immigrants were not satisfied with church life. They Òmissed somethingÓ in the preaching. Soon various congregations and groups began to form. In Ontario, the first one was at Dundas under the leadership of an elder by the name of J. Hamstra. Chatham was formed in 1951, St. Thomas in 1952. Chatham called Rev. Tamminga and he went in August 1951, moving from a huge congregation of well over 1400 members to serve a congregation of eight families. For the first four years he was the only minister in our churches. (At this time, a sad development took place--a rupture occurred splitting the fledgling denomination into the ÒOld Christian Reformed ChurchÓ--the name adopted in Grand Rapids--and ÒFree Christian Reformed Church.Ó Grand Rapids, supported by Dundas and Smithville/Vineland, felt that the new churches just being formed should not have the freedom to call their own pastors, especially since they might be financially dependent upon it. The churches of Chatham and St. Thomas vigorously opposed this and felt their rights were taken from them. They refused to be treated as Òhome missionÓ stations. During this time, Mr. J. Hamstra was ordained as a minister of the word and in that capacity he served the Dundas congregation until 1972. The split was healed in 1960.)

During these first four years Rev. Tamminga criss-crossed the country several times by train, preaching wherever groups of immigrants asked him. Soon churches were formed in Peterborough, various places in Alberta, in the Fraser Valley and on Vancouver Island. In 1955 St. Thomas finally received a pastor in Rev. J. Overduin; in 1956 Rev. W. F. Laman went to Hamilton. Others followed in later years, but these were the real pioneers. Many of the small churches could not survive and, just around the time some of the vacancies were being filled, the wave of immigration began to slow down.

By the time the split was healed in 1960, the newly re-united denomination had four (!) names: Free Reformed Church of Clifton, Old Christian Reformed Church of Canada (Dundas), Old Christian Reformed Church, U.S.A. (Grand Rapids) and Free Christian Reformed Church of Canada. It took until the mid 1970's before a common name was finally adopted: the Free Reformed Church of North America. This was later corrected to ÒFree Reformed Churches of North AmericaÓ. The last to make this change officially was the congregation of Vineland in 1982 or 83.

Currently there are 16 congregations, ranging in size from 18 (Toronto) to 562 (Vineland) members, with 13 pastors, one of whom is serving on the mission field in Guatemala. As far as churches go, we are extremely small and count for little in the eyes of the world. That is not so important. We do need to be concerned about making an impact where we live. That has not always received sufficient attention. Above all, we need to be faithful to the Lord and His Word. May God give us grace to do that.

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