The Canadian and American Reformed Churches (CanAmRC), more commonly referred to as the Canadian Reformed Church (CanRC), consists of fifty congregations in Canada and four congregations in the United States.
The Canadian Reformed Churches are rooted in the Protestant Reformation as it developed in the Netherlands. The cause of the Reformation made great inroads there, which led to the establishment of a vigorous Reformed church life grounded in the key confessional documents of the Reformed Churches: the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism.
Before long these churches faced threats from within that attacked the heart of the Reformation’s emphasis on salvation by grace alone. At the center of the controversy was Jacob Arminius, whose teaching subtly undermined the sovereignty of God in saving sinners. He ascribed to fallen man the power to accept or reject God’s grace. This became known as arminianism. Beginning in fall 1618, a synod was held in Dort that was attended by delegates from the Netherlands, England, Scotland, Germany, and Switzerland. The synod refuted the teachings of Arminius and maintained the sovereignty of God’s grace. The decision of this synod, the Canons of Dort, became the third confessional document of the Reformed churches in the Netherlands in 1619.
While the Reformed churches enjoyed peace and had the support of the state during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, religious vitality gave way to nominal Christianity. In the nineteenth century two groups separated from the state-supported church, the first in 1834 and the second in 1886. In 1892, the majority of the churches of these two groups merged and became the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.
Eventually, new troubles arose within these united churches. The key issue concerned teachings regarding covenant and baptism. A synod held in 1942 imposed one particular explanation on all its members. When a number of ministers was deposed and excommunicated, a separation occurred that involved about ten percent of the membership. Since those who separated indicated that they were liberating themselves from extrabiblical teachings that conflicted with the Three Forms of Unity, they became known as the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated). The separation that occurred in 1944 is called “The Liberation.”
After the Second World War there was a massive immigration from the Netherlands to North America, especially to Canada. When members of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands arrived in Canada, they first took up contact with already existing churches of Reformed persuasion, hoping that they could join with them. That hope soon disappeared when it became clear that one of those churches, the Protestant Reformed Church, expected the newly arrived immigrants to accept a document called the Declaration of Principles, which essentially equated election and covenant. The immigrants refused to do this, as they did not wish to be bound by theological formulations that they believed to be beyond the Three Forms of Unity. The other Reformed church under consideration was the Christian Reformed Church. Joining it also proved impossible when it became clear that this church sided with those in the Netherlands who had earlier expelled the newly arrived immigrants.
These immigrants decided to organized their own congregations, and the first Canadian Reformed congregation was instituted on April 16, 1950, in Lethbridge, Alberta. That same year also saw churches instituted in Edmonton and Neerlandia, Alberta; Orangeville, Ontario; and New Westminster, British Columbia.
Over the years, the CanAmRC has grown to a federation of fifty-four churches. Twenty-seven of its churches are located in southern Ontario, four in Manitoba, eight in Alberta, and eleven in British Columbia. There are four American Reformed Congregations, one each in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado, and Washington State. The CanAmRC has two regional synods and is made up of eight classes.
The CanAmRC church order follows closely the church order adopted by the Synod of Dort, which in article 29, “The Ecclesiastical Assemblies,” states, “Four kinds of ecclesiastical assemblies shall be maintained: the Consistory, the Classis, the Regional Synod, and the General Synod.”
Each church sends one or two delegates, and, together, all the delegates form a regional synod. The members of a regional synod have been delegated by classes, while the members of a general synod have been delegated by regional synods. At a classis the delegates come as representatives of their churches; at a regional synod the delegates represent all the churches in their area.
The Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary, located in Hamilton, Ontario, is operated by the Canadian Reformed Churches primarily for the training of ministers of the Word in that federation of churches. The seminary falls under the supervision of a board of governors, which directly reports to the general synod of the Canadian Reformed Churches.
The Canadian and American Reformed Churches is a federation with which the United Reformed Churches (URC) has interacted most extensively as a church in phase 2 of ecclesiastical fellowship. Phase 2 is one of recognition and is entered into only when the broadest assemblies of both federations agree this is desirable. The intent is to recognize and accept each other as true and faithful churches, with a desire for eventual organic union. The URC views the CanAmRC as generally the federation with which it shares most in common in terms of confession, history, and church polity. The two have worked together toward an organic union, but some differences exist, which has slowed the progress of federative unity. Both synods urge continued work toward union, and their respective synodical committees continue to dialogue together. Many of the churches of both federations have pulpit exchanges with each other.
- Information for this article comes from the federation’s website, http://www.canrc.org/, where you can find more complete information about the Canadian and American Reformed Churches.
Mr. Myron Rau
is the chairman of the board of Reformed Fellowship. He is a member of the Covenant United Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan.