A Brief History of the Church: Part Three: The Reformed Church in America

After a long and hazardous journey in crossing the Atlantic Ocean, our forefathers landed on these American shores. They came with the history of the Reformation and the experience of persecution as their background. They came with but one purpose in mind, to be able to serve God in accordance with the teachings of Scripture, and in strict adherence to the letter and spirit of reformed confessional standards, and polity.

The Reformed Church of America had settled in America prior to the arrival of these Netherlanders, so being unfamiliar with their new surroundings it seemed most logical for them to affiliate with that denomination.

After some period of time they came to realize that some practices in that church were uncomplimentary to their orthodox vision of the reformed faith. The new immigrants also desired to organize Christian schools for the education of their covenant youth. These together with some minor differences led to controversy, and eventual separation. The Netherlanders founded what we have come to know as the Christian Reformed Church.

The Christian Reformed Church remained true to the orthodox faith of its founders for well over a century. During that time there was a steady influx of new immigrants, primarily from the Netherlands. Upon their arrival, most, if not all, settled in ethnic reformed communities, and most lived within walking distance of the church. Those who farmed came to church by means of horse drawn buggies or sleighs. In this way people of the reformed faith remained in close affinity with one another and formed close-knit ethnic neighborhoods, its members living under the very eye of the church, so to speak.

Sundays were quiet days, respected by all as The Sabbath Day. Neighborhood stores, owned and operated by members of the community, were closed on Sunday. Children’s bikes, skates, and balls were laid aside for the Sabbath. They learned that the Sabbath was God’s day. All this led to the solemnity of the day, the only distraction was the ringing of the various church bells calling the people to worship. All in all, one had the unmistakable feeling that Sunday was a special day, The Lord’s Day.

All with rare exception sent their children to the Christian school and Catechism, which were faithfully attended. If someone was missing on roll call, the parents were advised, and should the absence persist, the parents could soon expect a visit from the church elders.
Following the end of World War I things began to change. The economy improved, causing the times to be dubbed “The Roaring Twenties”. Automobiles were becoming more common, but had to travel on mostly gravel roads. This enabled the younger generation to break out of their ethnic neighborhoods to seek out more worldly types of entertainment. Radio, quite recently invented, replaced the Victrola in most homes. It represented the first invasion of the outside world into the Christian home. While its message and music were restricted and monitored, it was the beginning of a more modern approach to Christian living.

Then in 1929 came the stock market crash, followed by the Great Depression. The banks closed and people lost their savings. There were many business failures and massive unemployment. With unemployment and the loss of savings, people were unable to make their mortgage payments, and many lost their homes, as the banks foreclosed on them. The depression lasted through most of the thirties, people survived with the help of a government work program, which was commonly know as the W.P.A. All in all it was a most distressful time, leaving all thoughts of the Roaring Twenties behind.

World War II began on the heels of the depression. America entered the war on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and destroyed our Pacific fleet. It took four years to defeat the Japanese, and the war ended in the Spring of 1945. With the war ending, the church was about to experience some drastic changes in its longstanding orthodox position.

As our young men were released from the service, they returned home to their ethnic neighborhoods, but not for long. They married, and built new homes, in mixed neighborhoods.

In doing so, they deprived themselves of the coherency and the protective qualities of living within the ethnic neighborhoods.
Over time they began to absorb some of the life style of their more worldly surroundings, and hastened the end of ethnic neighborhoods.

Having gone through the unsettling effects of the war, and no longer hindered by ethnic restraints, many began to accept a more modern view of Christian life. At about the same time the advent of television brought the world directly into the Christian home. The joint effects of these changes were soon to become evident in the life of the church.

Worldly Amusements

One of the first of such effects occurred when the Christian Reformed Synod received overtures, requesting the annulment of its stand on worldly amusements, that of theater attendance, the modern dance, and card playing. After considerable debate on the floor of Synod, it acquiesced to the overtures, and rescinded its stand on the grounds that the church could not legislate sin.

It would appear that this ruling flew directly into the face of the Reformed Doctrine of the Antithesis, in which God ordained (put) enmity between the church and the world. This means that the Church is duty bound to oppose the world and worldliness with all the power of its being. However the annulment would do just the opposite. It would serve as an appeasement to the world. To oppose the world is not only necessary for the well being of the Church, but it is essential to its very being. If a church should cease being antithetical to the world, it would no longer be the Church. The Church would soon forget that the antithesis is an actual fact. That enmity between the Church and the world is not passive, but decidedly active.

This annulment of the ban on worldly amusements weakened the church’s stand against the world. It silenced the pulpit from speaking out in an identifiable and specific manner against worldliness. Soon the pulpit spoke only in general terms with regards to worldliness, which failed to serve the mandate of the Church to oppose the world, and all worldliness as God has ordained.

Hollywood’s productions are worldly in character, and epitomize all that is evil in the world. Their films for the most part are unfit for Christian viewing. Christian participation in accepting Hollywood’s offerings will give Satan the opportunity to anesthetize and poison the mind, and dull the conscience against sin. In turn the Christian’s stand against the world is weakened, and thus the spiritual life of the Church is weakened as well.

Along with the freedom for theater attendance, the annulment removed all restrictions from participating in the modern dance or its equivalent. For over a century the Church considered and ruled that the modern dance was an immoral and worldly form of entertainment. Immoral because it opens up avenues for evil intentions, and often leads to further acts of immorality. The Scriptures admonish the Christian to flee temptation.

Today this form of entertainment, contrary to the biblical teaching of the antithesis, is being introduced to our covenant youth in some of our Christian colleges and high schools. Some parents applied pressure on school boards to hold dances in the school gymnasiums, offering to provide monitors. One might ask the question if the dance does not provide opportunity for evil intentions, why then the need for monitors to supervise? In some of our Christian schools, the modern dance meets with approval, while Reformed doctrine is out, often replaced by church history.

Satan has many arrows in his quiver. Television represents one of them. Today there is a television in practically every home, it becomes a convenient tool in helping to dull the Christian’s stand against the world. The old saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt” is right on the mark.

We are bombarded with immoral scenes and dress. Our children grow up watching all this on a daily basis. It should be no surprise that as they mature that they see no wrong in catering to worldliness. They have cut their eyeteeth on this smut. They see little contrast between the church and the world since they grew up side by side with both. Both the church and the home must share the responsibility for this situation. Both have failed to stress that God ordained the antithesis with the world. In so doing they weaken the spirituality of the church and home.

Through these and other means, the world has become a part of out life as never before, and the lives of Christians, as well as the Church are adversely affected. Everywhere we turn today the acknowledgment of God is being erased from our midst. Satan works diligently to marginalize Christians and remove all traces of God from our Christian way of life. It would appear that he is making inroads in the Reformed Church, as well as in our Christian schools.

The Lord’s Day

Once we drop our guard and make compromises with the world, more compromise is sure to follow. God said: “I am the Lord God: walk in my statutes, and do them. Hallow my Sabbaths, and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the Lord your God” (Ezkiel 20:19–20).

To hallow the Sabbath means to regard that day as sacred, to set it apart for sacred use, and to regard it with reverence.

Many Christians today hurry home from morning worship service to watch national sports programs on public television. Others make use of the Sunday paper to fill their minds with mundane thoughts or rustle through myriad number of store ads, in the hope of finding bargains for purchase on Monday. In the meantime the children spend time reading the comics, rather then study their catechism lesson. These and other such habits violate God’s Sabbath, and should be viewed as a desecration of the Lord’s Day.

Women in Ecclesiastical Office

Once we compromised with the world to a point, we faced further compromises in the Church. Synod soon received overtures to allow women to serve in the offices of the Church.

Scripture emphasizes that these offices should be the responsibility of men, but synod decided to allow for women deacons. At first, it left it up to each council to decide whether or not to have women deacons to serve in their church. Soon, however, women as elders and ministers was approved. It is one more move towards modernism in the Church and a move that clearly opposes scripture.

Worship

Our forefathers established a liturgy based on Scripture, one uniform liturgy to be used throughout the denomination. Synod was overtured to remove these restrictions, and allow each church to set up its own liturgy. This overture was approved. Now instead of the Word being central to the worship service, we have various forms of entertainment to compete with the Word. At the extreme end we see movies or plays replacing the preaching of the Word. One is reminded of the people of Israel, as they said to Moses: “Speak thou with us and we will hear, but let not God speak with us lest we die” (Exodus 20:19).

The Church today has accepted much of the world into its midst, and has moved a far pace from the orthodox faith inherited from our forefathers.

Conclusion

The Church, having compromised its stand against the world, opened the door for Christians to participate in worldliness. Christians supposedly have been transformed from darkness into light. They have made profession of their faith, and promised to walk obediently before God. True faith consists in three parts, knowledge, conviction, and surrender. If the Christian really has the knowledge and the conviction, he will reach a point in their life when he needs to make choices. “I want to do one thing and God asks me to do another!” If one has the conviction associated with true faith he will surrender and chose God’s way, rather than the way of the world.

The evil times in which we live are offering easy choices to walk side by side with the world. Christians should remember that God has ordained us to oppose the world and its worldliness. Satan is ever present to help one make the wrong choices. Some having supposedly seen the light, having reached a fork in the road of life, chose to walk in darkness.

Therefore an exhortation is in order: “Walk as children of the light.” Ephesians 5:8

Mr. Dow Haan, Sr. is a member of the Covenant United Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

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