The 1934 Merger (and the Rebirth of the RCUS)

The 1934 Merger (and the Rebirth of the RCUS)




 

 

 

Source: You Shall Be My People. Copyright © 1996 by the Synod of the Reformed Church in the United States.

Rev. Peter Grossmann

I WAS born, grew up, and was educated in the environment with which much of this project is concerned. My father and grandfather before me were ministers in the Reformed Church in the U. S., the former for just twenty-two years, the latter for some twenty years. The subject here dealt with, then, is one that is close to my heart and interests, indeed, a vital part of my life. Because of my close associations with the work, the problems and the people of the Eureka Classis of the Reformed Church in the U. S., I have, particularly since the beginnings of my studies at Westminster Theological Seminary, become more aware of the implications of the position that this part of the Church has held during the past quarter century. I believe that it is important that a study be made of the background of, and stand against, the Evangelical and Reformed merger of 1934.

Specifically, my purpose in the writing of this paper[1] has been first to gain information and present it in unified form (which to my knowledge has not yet been done), and, secondly, since the state of the Reformed Church has been for many years the intimate concern of my family, to examine my personal involvement in the Eureka Classis.

INTRODUCTION

As it stands today, the Eureka Classis of the Reformed Church in the U. S. occupies a unique position in the history of that ecclesiastical body. It carries on the {48} traditions and theological heritage of the old German Reformed Church, having remained basically biblical and Reformed through the years. The Classis at the time of this writing has weathered a quarter century of criticism, attack on organization and personalities, and has in fact successfully staved off the engulfing octopus of modern ecumenicity! In all fairness it must be said that the history of the Eureka Classis over the last twenty-five years has been proof positive of the wonders of the grace of God in His preservation of the truth. And yet, they are few who recognize the Classis as a church. Very seldom does one see any reference to this body in the literature of the Church of the age. Those who even know of its existence as a Reformed Church are small in number indeed. Those who do know it, however, know that it is truly a part of the body of Christ on earth, and they also marvel at the tenacity and solidity of its people and teaching. Today (1960 ed.) the Classis is stronger than ever. It is growing yearly and with the growing membership there comes an increasing awareness of the far-reaching power of the Word of God. Ecclesiastical and theological position are not the only unique characteristics of the Classis. It is almost in its entirety made up of people of Russian-German origin. The national spirit is strong among the rural peoples of the Midwest, and though we might criticize this evident exclusiveness, it has also served to bind the organization together and protect it from within against the onslaughts directed against it by individual persons and the Evangelical & Reformed Church (E&R). Thus the spirit of nationalism which is so strong among people of Germanic origin has served to good effect in most cases.

There are several things I would like to discuss and evaluate in this paper. As a background I shall go back to the early history of the Reformed Church in this country, and also review as much as materials available allow, the origins of the Eureka Classis. I will be in the main concerned with the Evangelical and Reformed merger of 1934 and what came of that union and what its effects have been on the Eureka Classis. There is, unfortunately, only a small amount of information available to me concerning the Evangelical Synod of North America and I will therefore not be able to give as complete a history of that body as of the Reformed Church in the U. S. However, it is not my purpose to investigate all the ins and outs of the mergers but instead, the forces in the Reformed Church which led to it. Thus I feel that the lack in this part of my investigation will not materially affect the direction which I intend to pursue. As this paper is read, it will be noted that I have referred to a large number of individual congregations and people. It is these that make up the Church of Christ, and their activities and influences are essential to this work. It will also be seen that there is not available a large amount of written material for consultation. Many of the events are too recent to be included in written history and furthermore, my own personal experiences in the life of the Classis are the basis of much of what I write. It is hoped that this will not detract greatly from the value or accuracy of this discussions but will indeed contribute to the interest of {49} the subject matter. My principle written sources have been the histories by James I. Good on the Reformed Church in the U. S. up to 1910, the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, two publications of the Eureka Classis, The Witness and Reformiertes Gemeindeblatt and numerous letters and essays from my father’s personal files. He kept carbon copies of all the letters he wrote during his ministry and I have found them invaluable in gathering specific information about disputes within the Classis and about doctrinal differences with the E&R in particular. I have used also a great many pamphlets and the like published by the E&R, especially from the 10 years immediately following the merger of 1934. These will be specifically mentioned throughout this paper as I have made use of them.

In my research and in the writing of this paper I have been greatly indebted to the following: my mother, for the interest she has shown in this work and the advice and guidance she has given me in the gathering of materials; the Rev. K. J. Stuebbe of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, for the direction obtained in his maturity of years; and to the Pastors D. E. Bosma of Eureka, South Dakota, and William E. Korn of Menno, South Dakota, for the contribution of various written materials.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, April 1960 {50}

EARLY HISTORY OF THE EUREKA CLASSIS

In the years prior to 1910 it became clear to certain German Reformed leaders in the Dakotas that they were a conservative group living inside of a less than conservative denomination, the Reformed Church in the United States. They therefore overtured the Northwest Synod of the RCUS to constituted them as a German-speaking classis in the Dakotas. With permission granted, the first session of the Eureka Classis was held at Scotland, South Dakota, beginning on June 7, 1911. The Eureka Classis was constituted in the same geographical area as the North and South Dakota classes of the same Synod, but was a separate classis actually formed to maintain the theological position of its pastors and congregations. Members of the Eureka Classis differed from the majority of the members of the Dakota Classes and in order to avoid further dissension and conflict the separate Classis was organized. Besides elders representing various charges, the founding ministers of this new Classis were Henry Treick of Scotland, SD, Edward Scheidt of Kulm, ND, Gustave Zenk of Eureka, SD, Henry Sill of Herrick, SD, William Wittenberg of Garner, Iowa, William J. Krieger of Tripp, SD, and William Feige, chaplain at the Veterans Hospital in Hot Springs, SD. Scheidt was elected president of Classis and Zenk was Stated Clerk. The position of the Eureka Classis was based on biblical, Reformed doctrine, and it has maintained that position to the present day. These men took as the motto of their Classis, 1 John 9, “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and Son.” At that same first meeting in 1911, it was determined that a school be established and the Scotland Academy was founded as a result. Scotland Academy continued for some years and provided high school education for many people in rural Dakota who would never have had this benefit except for its provision by the Eureka Classis.[2]

This was the beginning of the Classis which for the past fifty years has been active in the affairs of the western segment of the Reformed Church in the United States, and has actually continued this denomination long after the rest of it dissolved into a modern ecumenical merger. The Eureka Classis and its conservative nature was the result of an immigration of German-Russian people to the Dakotas and Nebraska during the last decades of the nineteenth century. These folks were descendants of the Germans who had moved to Russia one hundred years earlier and had maintained their religion and language as a separate component of the Russian society. With changes in the Russian Czar’s attitude toward these Germans, and with the increased agitation toward an overthrow of the Russian Czar’s government, these {51} people began to leave Russia by the thousands, even though they had established prosperous farms in the southern Odessa region of Russia.

During the early years of settlement in the Dakotas, Christian instruction and preaching were hard to come by. Most of the ministers in the last decade of the nineteenth century had come from Germany and were responsible for people spread over broad areas. At first, worship services were held in farm homes, and out of doors in good weather. Soon, however, churches began to spring up on the land and in the towns and villages that had themselves followed the railroad as it crossed the plains. Often the country churches were built before those in the towns, and the rural people hung on to their country churches for many years, some of them not closing until the 1950s. Names associated with the early days of work among the German Reformed Dakota pioneers included Rev. Reu, the first German Reformed pastor in the Eureka, South Dakota, area, Rev. Nuss, and Rev. C. Bonekamper,[3] as well as several of the men involved in establishing the Eureka Classis.

It is worthwhile to note here that all of these men based their teaching first on the word of God, and were Reformed in their interpretation of it. Very close to their hearts were the teachings of the Heidelberg Catechism. This little book had journeyed to Russia, and then to the United States with this new wave of immigrants. It is not surprising that they joined the Reformed Church in the U. S., which also held the Heidelberg as its creed, though less tenaciously and less specifically than did these new immigrants. Among the German Russians, the Catechism was used right alongside the Bible, and these two books were often the only source of instruction in both Christian principles and in reading for the younger generation. There had been a drift away from strict subscription to the Heidelberg on the part of officers and from its careful teaching to the upcoming generations in some parts of the RCUS, but among these new immigrants there was still a living adherence and understanding of this precious creed. As soon as was possible, all families had their children instructed and confirmed in the principles of the Catechism. Often a talented young man in the neighborhood would teach the younger children until such time as an itinerant minister could be obtained to administer the rite of confirmation. Though the situation among these country folks was often poor, their religion was very important to their lives.

This is the historical background of the Eureka Classis, a body which came to play an important role in the Church in the west. Just what that role was we shall see after looking at events leading up to the Evangelical and Reformed merger of 1934. {52}

THE CHURCHES BEFORE THE MERGER

THE EVANGELICAL SYNOD OF NORTH AMERICA

This ecclesiastical organization with which the Reformed Church in the U. S. merged in 1934 has its roots in the Evangelical Church of Germany. The Evangelical Synod of North America was the American version of the State Church of Prussia, formed by the uniting of the Reformed and Lutheran Churches of northern Germany in 1817. This particular union was brought about as a political expediency, but its spirit had its origins in the German reaction to eighteenth century pietism. This reaction made for the de-emphasis of doctrine and consistent Biblical teaching, and opened the way for the formation of the Evangelische Kirche Deutschland (EKD) out of which came a large portion of evangelical thought in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. There were several evangelical bodies in the United States, some dating back to colonial times which also grew out of the EKD, however, the one with which we are here concerned, the Synod of North America, developed later than this.

The German Evangelical Synod of North America was founded on October 15, 1840 at the Gravois Settlement near St. Louis, Missouri, by six German ministers. It had at its inception twelve congregations and 353 members. Its official name was “Der Deutsche Evangelische Kirchenverein des Westens.” Its membership was made up of recent German immigrants to this country who had settled on the banks of the Mississippi River. Early expansion of the Synod caused its name to be changed to the Synod of the West in 1866, and in 1877 to German Evangelical Synod of North America.

This Church took as its standards the Augsburg Confession, Luther’s Catechism and the Heidelberg Catechism. With this disparity, even inconsistency, in confessions it was necessary to adopt a mediating resolution: these confessions were to be accepted by members of the Synod “…in so far as these agree; but in their points of difference the German Evangelical Synod adheres strictly to the passages of Holy Scripture pertaining thereunto and avails itself of that liberty of conscience prevailing in the Evangelical Church.”[4] As will be shown later in this paper, the above resolution became the basis for the Evangelical and Reformed merger of 1934 and is one of the elements of that union which has led to a very significant weakening of Christian teaching and practice.

“The object and purpose of the German Evangelical Synod in general is the advancement and extension of the Kingdom of God, but especially the establishment and expansion of the Evangelical Church among the German population of the {53} United States of America.”[5]

This statement of purpose at the organization of the Evangelical Synod was one which the Church carried out to its fullest expression. Missions among the German-Russian settlers of the northwest soon became an important work for the Church. All the plains states saw the growth of the Evangelical Synod during the last three decades of the nineteenth century.

The Evangelical Synod was divided into eighteen districts, which later grew in number to twenty-one, and these held annual conferences. There was a General Conference every four years. The delegates were chosen by ballot in the district meetings, one representative for every twelve minister-members, and one layman for every twelve congregations. Authority was centralized in a Board of Directors elected by each General Conference.[6]

Characteristic of the Evangelical Synod, as of all churches of foreign origin in this country, was the process of “Americanization.” In 1925 the word “German” was dropped from the name of the Synod. There was also a continuing revision and expansion of interests and activities. By 1907 there were 102 home mission congregations. External expansion took place mainly in the areas to the north and west of St. Louis, on the plains among the German-Russian immigrants. Provisions were made early for the use of English in worship along with German. The language of the old country, however, persisted until the 1950s in rural areas, as it did among Reformed and Lutheran Churches. In 1927 a new constitution was adopted following the lines of modern ecumenical thought. This document embodied a blend of Presbyterian, Congregational and Episcopalian forms of worship and church government. [7]

From the beginning, the Evangelical Synod had been interested in church union movements. Through the years ecumenical conversations were held with the Moravians, the United Brethren, the Evangelical Church and with the Reformed Church in the U. S. The conversations with the latter lasted for some years and resulted in the merger of 1934. The ecumenical spirit had long been part and parcel of the thinking of the leaders of the Evangelical Synod of North America.

From a publication of the merged church in 1940 this line of thought is evident.

With the turn of the new century it became apparent that the rising generation would not be restricted by the narrowing conceptions of the past. . . . Stirred by the zeal more effectively to meet the {54}religious needs of the time, the spiritual glow of the first generation was in many ways recaptured. . . Now as a new day is breaking, we pause for a moment to reassert the faith of our fathers in the spiritual cause of the Kingdom. True to the union spirit in which it was conceived and the union tradition which characterized its development, the Evangelical Synod unites with the Reformed Church for the perpetuation of the spiritual heritage which is common to both and for the consummation of which each has laid down its life. As in final retrospect we look back upon the way in which we have journeyed it would be presumptuous to measure the grace of God in terms of human accomplishments. But rather, as we stand on the threshold of a new era, we look forward to the revelations of God’s grace which are yet in store for those who spend their lives in selfless devotion for the cause of His Kingdom.[8]

As to comment on this quote, let it suffice to say that the two Churches certainly did lay down their lives for the cause of union! Both bodies exist now as one in a great amorphous mass, and both committed ecclesiastical and doctrinal suicide for the purpose of “furthering the Kingdom of Christ on earth!”

At the time of the union in 1934 the Evangelical Synod of North America was composed of 1,254 congregations, with 1,227 pastors and 281,598 members in 21 districts.

THE REFORMED CHURCH IN THE UNITED STATES[9]

Our discussion of the Reformed Church in the U. S. will be more complete than that about the Evangelical Synod of North America. As stated in the Introduction, the reason for this will be to better trace the growth of the ecumenical spirit in the German Reformed Church in this country and to show how these developments led up to and allowed for the merger of 1934.

HISTORY-PERIOD OF THE COETUS

The Reformed Church in the U. S. traces its origins back to the Reformed Church in Germany and Switzerland. The reformation tradition of the RCUS goes back to Ulrich Zwingli, and today there are those congregations among the German Reformed which trace their heritage to Zwinglian teachings even more than to Calvin’s. The simplicity of the order of worship, especially, is based on Zwinglian {55} forms. However, Zwingli alone was not the spiritual ancestor of the German Reformed bodies, but the majority of the Reformers are to be included in their doctrinal history. Bullinger, Calvin and Elector Frederick III of the Palatinate are in particular looked upon as the fathers of German reformation thought. The Heidelberg Catechism, which was published first in January 1563, has ever since been the doctrinal standard and book of teaching of the German Reformed people.

The first of the German Reformed in the North America came from the Palatinate, Switzerland and western Germany. The first minister among these pioneers was probably Samuel Guldin, from Bern, who came to this country in 1710. The first German congregation was founded in 1714 at Germania Ford, Virginia, but it later dissolved. In 1725 John Philip Boehm headed the first complete congregational organization at the villages of Falkner Swamp, Skippack, and Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania. Boehm was a school-master from the Palatinate and had lived for some five years on a farm near Montgomery, Pennsylvania. He had served these three congregations as “reader” for those five years. Under his leadership the congregations were organized along traditional Reformed lines, with elders and deacons administering the churches. Boehm subsequently organized at least thirteen congregations covering an area which now comprises eight counties. All these churches accepted Boehm’s Church Order based on the principles of Calvin, the Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of Dort. In the years that immediately followed, German Reformed congregations were formed in the basins of the Delaware-Schuylkill and the Schuylkill-Susquehanna Rivers. A congregation was organized in Philadelphia by George M. Weiss in 1727.

In 1729 Boehm was ordained by the Dutch Reformed Church in New York under the auspices of the Classis of Amsterdam, which at that time controlled the Dutch Church in the New World. This brought the German Reformed congregations into contact with the Reformed Church in Holland. This relationship lasted until 1792. In 1742 Count Zinzendorf tried to organize all the Pennsylvania Reformed churches with the Moravians as the leading body. As he conceived it, all the churches in the Commonwealth would eventually come under Moravian administration. This plan was opposed by Boehm and Guldin and they were successful in keeping the Reformed Churches out of this union.

In September of 1747, the Coetus of Pennsylvania was organized at Philadelphia under the leadership of Michael Schlatter who had been sent to America for this purpose by the Dutch Reformed Church. This move continued the work that Boehm had begun. At that time there were four ministers and representatives from twelve charges in the Reformed body. The second coetus was held in 1748, at which meeting the Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of Dort were officially accepted by the Church. From 1741 to 1751 several suggestions were made by the Dutch to unite the German Reformed with the Presbyterians. These met {56} strong opposition and failed. In 1792, after a long period of peaceful cooperation with the Holland Church assemblies, the coetus declared itself independent, and the relationship with them was ended.

PERIOD OF THE SYNOD

The first Synod met at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, on April 27, 1793. There were twenty two ministers present, representing 178 congregations and some 15,000 people. Among the first problems to be faced was that of educating ministers to serve the rapidly growing Church. As was the custom in early America before the time of organized theological seminaries, a number of ministers undertook the education of prospective pastors. Prominent among them were Helffenstein, Hermann and Becker. Another question which came up was the use of English in the worship services. From the time of this first Synod, English began to be gradually introduced into the churches, a process which took over 150 years to accomplish!

The year of 1820 saw the formation of classes within the Church and at the Synod meeting it was decided to open a theological seminary, which finally took place five years later. The seminary was located first at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, with Dr. Lewis Mayer chosen to be the single professor. (He was to be given $1,000 a year as salary) A few years later the seminary was moved to York, Pennsylvania, then in 1836 to Mercersburg. Dr. John W. Nevin came to teach in 1840, and 1844 saw the coming of Dr. Philip Schaff to the seminary. These last two men were soon to make their presence widely felt in what came to be known as the “Mercersburg Theology” and the liturgical movement in the Reformed Church in the U. S.

From 1829 to 1844 there was a revival movement in the Church, as in others of the time. This affected the churches of America by introducing a less doctrinal and more emotional Christianity which also distrusted the historic denominational structures and educated ministers. In 1845 Schaff’s speech, “The Principle of Protestantism,” gave rise to a period of controversy which lasted until 1878 when a Peace Commission was organized to quiet the storm in the Church. The Mercersburg Theology was further advanced by speeches by Nevin and Schaff. A significant one by Nevin was entitled “The Mystical Presence,” and Schaff delivered another called “What is History?” At the meeting of the Synod of 1847 a liturgical movement began which after ten years finally obtained the provisional acceptance of a new and complex church liturgy. Though the credit for this cannot all be given to Nevin and Schaff, their activities and ideas found a large following in the Church. When we discuss the Mercersburg Theology later on, we shall see just what the liturgical movement and the new theology meant to the traditional Christian and Reformed position. {57}

There was of course opposition to the ritualistic movement in the Church, and in 1867 this resistance resulted in the Myerstown Convention of the old Reformed side and the founding of Ursinus College. In 1869 the Western or low-church liturgy was published to counteract the high church movement. Active liturgic controversy in the RCUS was ended in 1878 by the Peace Commission which attempted to mediate between low and high church adherents, especially by introducing a mediating directory of worship. Though this formally ended the struggle, its developments and results were to be felt for years to come, indeed, up to the merger of 1934. It is significant to note that the various publications of the Evangelical and Reformed (the merged) Church tend lightly to pass over this controversy which almost broke the Church in two. The opinion of this writer is that this policy of not mentioning or discussing in detail the Mercersburg Theology and liturgical controversy is entirely in keeping with the strong ecumenical spirit prevalent in both the Evangelical Synod and the Reformed Church of that time.

DOCTRINE-WORSHIP-GOVERNMENT

We have seen that the Reformed Church in the U. S. was Reformed, Calvinistic and Presbyterian. Its standards were the Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of Dort. As time went on, the Calvinism in the Church diminished and some Arminianism crept in. When Nevin came to Mercersburg from the Presbyterian Church, he was looked upon by many as cementing ties with that Calvinistic body.

It will be well for us to examine more fully the details of the Mercersburg Theology. The proponents of this line of thought claimed that it was neither Calvinistic nor Arminian, but “Christocentric.” The “spiritual real presence” of Christ was emphasized in the Lord’s Supper, as was the objective efficacy of the sacraments in themselves. Salvation was seen as coming through outward membership in the visible church. These emphases led to an involved liturgical form of worship in which the communion table was replaced with an altar and outward participation was the important thing. William Rupp of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, led the broad-church opposition to these teachings. The Western and German-speaking parts of the Church retained the “free” liturgy, that is, they used set forms only for the sacraments, weddings and ordination. In contrast, the Mercersburg Theology gave rise to a complicated set form of Sabbath worship as well as for special occasions. The new movement stressed the authority of the higher church courts, while the old Reformed part stressed the importance of the local assemblies of the Church. In fact, as time went on, the General Synod centralized power and gained more and more authority.

These were the essential differences between the liturgy and theology of Mercersburg and those of the old Reformed position. The thought of Nevin and Schaff, which in large part gave rise to the Mercersburg Theology, was based not {58} upon consistent Biblical belief or exegesis, but upon the philosophies of Schelling and Hegel. Nevin was known to be very spiritualistic, even a mystic, among the thinkers of the day. Schaff held, according to historian James I. Good, not to Reformed, but to a mediating position between that of Schleiermacher and the Old Reformed. Schaff had grown up in the Lutheran Church of Germany, studied in a pietistic school and at TŸbingen, where he was strongly influenced by the Hegelian professor F. C. Baur. He later studied at Halle and Berlin where he came under the influence of the more conservative Neander and Tholuck.

“His theological views were from the Lutheran university at TŸbingen, his historical ideas from Neander of the Evangelical Church of Germany, composed of Lutheran and Reformed. It was not until he came to this country that he promised adherence to the Heidelberg Catechism and our Reformed doctrines. . . . But he came representing a new and different theology, the Mediating theology of Schleiermacher, but of the right wing, inclining toward orthodoxy. . . . Prof. Jacobs, of the Lutheran Theological Seminary of Philadelphia, says, Dr. Schaff’s ideal on coming to Mercersburg was the foundation of a German-American Church, uniting the Reformed and the Lutheran, that is, he was unionistic, rather than Reformed.”[10]

As we move into the next chapter on the Evangelical and Reformed Merger of 1934, it will become evident that the united Church was built upon many of the aberrations and deviations from Reformed thought which characterized the Mercersburg Theology and the high church liturgy of the nineteenth century. We shall notice particularly these developments in the E&R Church, which came out of the trend away from orthodoxy in the Reformed Church in the U. S.; the centralization of power and authority in the higher church courts (characteristic also of the Presbyterian Church in the USA); the fast-dwindling importance of the Bible and its teachings; the move away from being a confessional church as the Heidelberg Catechism was shunted to one side; and concomitant with this, the growth of the teaching that the Word of God is not powerful to save, thus degrading the power of the Holy Spirit in the preaching of the Gospel; the use of altars and the growth of an altar-liturgy; and finally, but by no means least important, the incipient idea that Christ was not divine but merely a great teacher who best embodied in history the ideals of the commandments and laws of God. This last has grown out of the refusal to accept the Bible as the authentic, authoritative, and infallible Word of God, it being only a book about the history of a peculiar people and the development of the unusual religious consciousness of Israel. When the Bible reaches such triviality in the minds of the people, and especially, the ministers of a church, Jesus Christ is no longer for them the second Person of the Trinity in such cases, it is inevitable that the practice of religion takes on elaborate liturgical and social forms to compensate for this loss. Indeed, the most seriously diabolical result {59} is that a man-centered religion goes under the name of Christianity. In reality it is blasphemy to apply the Biblical concept of the Christian religion to such a prostitution of the central doctrines and practices of the faith!

As we turn now to look at that historical year of 1934, let us keep in mind the previous discussion of change in the Reformed Church, and we shall see that the merger of 1934 was indeed the culmination of century-long trends in the Church.

THE EVANGELICAL AND REFORMED MERGER OF 1934

PRINCIPLES AND DETAILS OF THE MERGER

TEACHINGS OF THE E&R

The first definite approach to union was made as early as 1922 when Commissions on Closer Relations were appointed by both the Evangelical Synod of North America and the Reformed Church in the U. S.[11] After several years of negotiation, a Plan of Union was submitted to the two bodies and approved by a large majority of both. On June 26, 1934, the “supreme judicatories” of both Churches met simultaneously at Cleveland, Ohio, “and on the evening of that historic day, members of the General Synod of the Reformed Church and of the General Conference of the Evangelical Synod marched side by side into the Zion Evangelical Church, partook together of the Lord’s Supper and signalized the consummation of the union in the handclasp of Presidents Dr. Paul Press and Dr. Henry J. Christman.”[12] What a happy and historic day in the lives of the members of those two Churches!

But was it a great day for all? Let the words of an old pastor in the Reformed Church answer that question, words which this staunch defender of the faith spoke to the author only a few weeks ago. I quote him as closely as I can remember:

When we marched down the street to the Evangelical Church and everyone turned to go inside, I had a terrible feeling in my heart. After the two presidents shook hands, everyone stood up and sang “Our God Our Help,” but I remained seated. The man standing next to me grasped my arm and tried to pull me to my feet, saying, “Man, get up and sing, doesn’t the spirit move you?” I walked out of the building and wept bitter tears. . . .

There were many that day who felt as did this man, and many were to {60} grieve not just that night, but for years to come, over the great travesty perpetrated upon the members of two large and significant Churches.

But what was it that affected these men so, men who had given their lives to the work of the Kingdom, men whom one would think should be happy that unity among the children of God was being forwarded? A quote from the 1936 constitution of the E&R will show us one thing which affected the Reformed people in this way.

The doctrinal standards of the Evangelical and Reformed Church are the Heidelberg Catechism, Luther’s Catechism and the Augsburg Confession. They are accepted as authoritative interpretation of the essential truth taught in the Holy Scriptures. Wherever these doctrinal standards differ, ministers, members and congregations, in accordance with the liberty of conscience inherent in the Gospel, are allowed to adhere to the interpretation of one of these confessions. However, in each case the final norm is the Word of God.[13]

From the historic Reformed point of view the problems inherent in this statement are self-evident; since the Heidelberg Catechism and the Lutheran confessions contradict each other at a number of points, there is here no confessional integrity. This statement on doctrinal standards is essentially the same proposition set forth by the Evangelische Kirchenverein des Westens in 1840. The Reformed half of the merger accepted this unworthy statement, expanded it somewhat, and thus gave up much of what it had stood for through so many years of trial. To this day the modern ecumenical movement proclaims the advantages of such “doctrinal liberty.” The problem with this is that historically and biblically, the Christian church has been built upon doctrinal unity, not doctrinal freedom. It is not surprising that those who so highly prize doctrinal freedom find it easy to suggest reassembling Protestantism with the Roman Catholic Church.

From the same page of the E&R publication (footnoted above), My Church, Whence-What-Whither, we find additional information about this confessional laxity.

As was written before the consummation of the merger: “Both the Reformed Church and the Evangelical Synod are confessional churches, yet they are not heavily burdened with confessions of faith,” so now it may be said that the united Church uses “the basic confessions of evangelical Protestantism in Germany in the sixteenth century,” not to compel its members to think in sixteenth {61} century molds, but rather to preserve the historic continuity with the great liberating principles and ideals of the Reformation’s return to original Christianity. . . . Characteristic of both churches, Reformed and Evangelical, was an irenic spirit and zeal for the cause of cooperative Christianity. Both were original members of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America. It is not too much to expect that our united Church will continue to take a leading part in the ecumenical movements of the future. . . Dr. Philip Schaff’s motto has well been quoted as expressive of the ruling spirit of our Church: “In essentials unity, in things doubtful liberty, in all things love.”[14]

What we see here is a new and to us unacceptable view of the confessions. We see here the idea that the church is in some sense “confessional,” but not too much! It is as if they meant to say, “We’ll not be bothered overly much by the fact that we say we adhere to confessions.” When one body claims to hold equally to three conflicting confessions, we can be sure that there will either be disunity if doctrine is taken seriously, or even worse there will be the conclusion that doctrine is unimportant. It is this latter idea which clearly controls what is written in the above-mentioned booklet. With this approach to doctrine, we should not be surprised to find what we do in the United Church of Christ (UCC), inconsistency in teaching and emphasis is the order of the day as one travels from congregation to congregation.

In explanation for the name “Evangelical and Reformed,” this statement is offered, “It is not a placing of two denominations side by side with each other. There is now only one denomination, an organic union, not a juxtaposition of two, not even a federal union.” (from a pamphlet, My Church and I). From another pamphlet comes this assertion, “We are a Church establishing union on the basis of a mutually recognized unity of the spirit rather than on the basis of mutually agreed articles of faith.”[15] If this is true for all of Christianity, as many would have us believe, then there is nothing to prevent the organic union of all organizations which have some remote claim on the name “Christian.”

One more look at the E&R constitution reveals the following peculiarity. We turn to page 28 where we read the following about “Applicants for Temporary License.” “In special cases a temporary license for one year periods or less may be granted by the president of the Synod with the approval of the President of the Church authorizing the applicant to preach the Gospel, and to administer the sacraments and rites of the Church.” According to Reformed principles and {62} according to the teaching of the Scriptures, this provision hardly needs comment. If ordination is not required before one administers the sacraments, ordination either becomes a high-church priestly office that goes far beyond the sacraments to the power of forgiving sins, or it sinks to the level of any unofficial act of worship or service.

Moving on now to the issue of salvation, the following quote of a prayer from a suggested worship service for Young Peoples’ Day, January 19, 1936 is instructive:

“Almighty God, ceaseless creator of the ever changing worlds, clothed in mystery, yet manifest in the cosmic urge moving in all nature to more perfect forms; we thank Thee for Thy continued presence in the mind and heart of man, making him ever discontent with things as they are, urging him forever onward and upward on his way-We thank Thee, O God, for exalted visions of the eternal destiny of man, and for all the dreams of a divine society on earth, foretold by Jesus in the glad tidings of the Kingdom of God.”

Such high-flown language is difficult enough for the average young person in the Church to fully understand, but more important, there is here again manifest the man-centered humanism that passes for Christianity in so many Churches of today. The effect that this has had on the young people of the Church is sad to behold, for once introduced to a man-centered Gospel, they are even more resistant than before to the biblical Gospel of salvation through grace alone.

As we observe the pervasive social Gospel and do-goodism that permeated the writings of the merged Church after 1934, we see the tremendous attraction this must have had for the young people of that generation, especially those who felt the Church was opposing them by requiring them to worship in the now foreign language of their fathers. That the Eureka Classis was able to successfully oppose this liberal spirit and continue the existence of the RCUS must be credited to God’s sovereign grace and power.

THE MISSION HOUSE

This institution at Plymouth, Wisconsin, was founded in 1862 to supply the western portions of the Reformed Church in the U. S. with German speaking pastors and teachers. As far as its influence in the merger of 1934 is concerned, there is not much written material available. However, it is significant that the Mission House has been, since at least the late twenties, known to be mediating in its theology. Even as far back as 1906 the Eureka, South Dakota, congregation objected to the teachings of a professor there, H. A. Meier. Since the seminary in particular (there are also an Academy and College on the same campus) dealt with church people in Germany, the influence of continental rationalism and neo-orthodoxy had early effects on the type of thought found among faculty and students. Karl Barth {63} made a great impression on the Mission House with his commentary on Romans, and at least as early as 1935 his works were being translated into English by Mission House professors. Although some of the men on the faculty of the Seminary were defenders of the Reformed faith, the philosophical rationalism of the “old country” and that of American liberalism was popular among the students and younger professors. In time much of this influence was incorporated into the material being taught. But in spite of this evolution in theology, during the middle fifties, for example, the Wellhausen documentary hypothesis on the Pentateuch was still being propounded. There is today (1960 ed.) an odd admixture of a few Reformed concepts with the latest in theological development.

When the fateful year of 1934 dawned, the Mission House was all too ready to move along with the large majority of the Reformed Church into the merger with the Evangelical Synod. There have been those who since that time have recognized the mistake that was made, but few, if any, have had the fortitude to come out of an organization once they have joined its ranks.

ECUMENICITY

This is the magic word in the E&R today (1960 ed.). All is to be put aside if it does not coincide with the purposes of organic unity. The important thing in the Church above all else is the work to unite all of Christendom under one flag. The attitude is that the Reformation of the sixteenth century was a shame and a travesty, but the ecumenical movement, the union of the Reformed Church in the U. S. with the Evangelical Synod of North America, and more recently the union of the E&R with the Congregational Churches of America, have been the most important and inspiring events in the history of the twentieth century Church!

Conversations with the Congregationalists got underway before the E&R was five years old, and in 1943 a Primer of Union was issued. This work resulted in the formation of the United Church of Christ in June, 1957. Ecumenicity is now being pushed in the new organization with the same vigor as was the social Gospel in the thirties and early forties. The glories of the visible church are made so much a part of the emphases of the Church that once again the Good Tidings of salvation in Christ Jesus take a back seat in the preaching and work of the Church. Once again we see the culmination of the trends of a generation in the United Church, just as the liturgical movement and Mercersburg Theology of the nineteenth century had so much to do with the Evangelical and Reformed merger of 1934.

We have looked now at the merged church in some detail. This is what the men of the Eureka Classis had to fight. And fight they did, for in many ways there was little that was gentle or even brotherly about the struggle which grew out of the union in 1934. It was a life or death struggle for the Reformed faith, one that today {64} is still occasionally renewed.

We now turn to the position and work of the Eureka Classis, the continuing Reformed Church in the U. S., against the Evangelical and Reformed Church.

THE REFORMED CHURCH IN THE U. S. CONTINUES OBJECTIONS TO THE MERGER OF 1934

THE SOLITARY POSITION OF THE EUREKA CLASSIS 1934-1939

When the votes of the Classes of the Reformed Church in the U. S. on the matter of union were counted, the majority was so overwhelmingly in favor of merger that none thought final acceptance in 1940, when the old Synods met for the last time, would meet any opposition. This was not the case. The proponents of the merger did not reckon with the solidarity of the western membership of the Reformed Church. From the time that the merger was first proposed, the Synod of the Northwest militated against it, particularly the Classes of Eureka, North Dakota and South Dakota. It soon became evident, however, that the Eureka Classis alone would stand firm to the end. In those crucial years between 1934 and 1939 many Reformed folks in the Midwest realized that there was much more at stake than mere ecclesiastical identity. Soon to be offered up on the altar of union were the precious Reformed doctrines and the Calvinistic heritage which had so long been characteristic of the old Reformed Church. That body had several times before resisted suggestions of merger with the Dutch Reformed, the Presbyterians and various Evangelical bodies. This time, because of increasing laxity of the leaders of the Church in matters of doctrine, the old faith was left behind to follow the siren song of liberalism and the ecumenical spirit of the age. A catastrophe which had been in the making for generations was soon to break forth in full measure upon the Reformed Church.

As we have noted above, the Eureka Classis and its neighbor Classes were already far more conservative than the Eastern sections of the RCUS, indeed that is why the Eureka Classis was founded in 1910. Therefore it is not surprising that as the denominational leaders developed ecumenical relations the Classes in the Dakotas commented negatively on them. We find, for example, that the Eureka Classis in 1924 refused to support a number of agencies of the denomination and retorted to the Synod’s suggestion that it support the ecumenical “Church Forward Movement,” that the work of the Eureka Classis was to forward the teaching of the Bible. In that year, Rev. John Grossmann, the father of Rev. Walter Grossmann who was to be instrumental after 1934, was President of Classis, Rev. Peter Bauer of Zeeland, North Dakota was Vice President, Rev. J. Klundt of Wishek was Stated Clerk and Rev. P. Schild of Hosmer was Treasurer. It is clear from the minutes of Classis that these men, along with Rev. Henry Treick of Eureka, South Dakota, and {65} Rev. William Wittenberg, who then served the Kulm, North Dakota charge, were solid in their agreement to hold fast to the old Reformed faith. The same thing was true of the somewhat changed ministerial membership of the Classis in 1932 just before the merger was approved by the General Synod of the RCUS. In this year, Rev. F. A. Rittershaus of Artas was President, Rev. P. Bauer of Leola was Vice President, Rev. W Schmidt of Zeeland was Treasurer and Rev. F. W Herzog of Ashley (who shortly returned to Germany) was Stated Clerk, as he had been for several years. This was also the year when Rev. William Krieger, who was to take such a large part in preserving the RCUS, was installed in the Eureka charge. It might well be said that by this time those who were members of the Eureka Classis were serving there just because of its stand for a conservative and strictly Calvinist faith.

Events led in a few years to a change of the personnel who led Classis but not to a change in its stand against the merger of 1934. By the time of a special Classis meeting in October 1935 two pastors, Rev. Thiele and Rev. Herzog, had returned to Germany at the deceptive invitation of the Hitler government to help build a new Germany. Rev. Henry Treick, Rev. Peter Bauer and Rev. Wittenberg had retired, Rev. Rittershaus had left Artas and Rev. Schmidt had left Zeeland. Rev. William Krieger, who had been elected Vice President at the spring meeting of Classis, presided, and Rev. Walter Grossmann was Stated Clerk, a position to which he was elected in the spring of 1935 and which he held without break until his death in 1956. The purpose of this special meeting of the Eureka Classis held at Alpena, South Dakota, is important for our understanding of the stand of the Classis against the merger. The purpose stated in the minutes was fourfold: 1) to settle matters between the Ashley charge and Rev. Herzog, 2) to receive the ministers and charges of the North Dakota Classis as members of the Eureka Classis, 3) to hold a joint session with the South Dakota Classis to discuss serving vacant charges in the Dakotas, and 4) to underwrite the travel expenses of those attending. This meeting was held between the consummation of the E&R merger in 1934 and the final meetings of the old Reformed classes and synods which had been scheduled for 1940. This was, of course, to facilitate merger on the local level. The three Dakota area Classes, however, used these meetings as opportunities to further prepare for final separation from the merger. It is important to note that Rev. K. J. Stuebbe, who in 1935 was pastor at Tripp, South Dakota, and was President of the Synod of the Northwest of the now E&R Church, was also present at this special meeting of Classis. Rev. Stuebbe was later to lead his Manitowoc, Wisconsin, Salem-Ebenezer Reformed Church out of the merger.

It now fell upon two men in particular, Rev. Krieger and Rev. Grossmann, to guide the Classis over the rocky roads ahead, always trying to lead their people along the course of correct biblical faith. The Rev. William Krieger was a native of {66} Iowa, where he grew up in the German Presbyterian Church. His early education was obtained in the area of Waukon, Iowa, and his theological training at Princeton Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey. Rev. Krieger was educated at Princeton when it was the foremost conservative Reformed seminary in the United States. Rev. Krieger was married to a daughter of Rev. Jacob Stark, a leader of the conservative and Calvinistic Kohlbrueggian school of theology, and so was familiar with the conservatism of the German Reformed in the Dakotas. Probably during the first decade of this century he came to the Dakotas to serve the growing Presbyterian Church there. His associations with the Eureka Classis began quite early for he was a charter member of the Classis at its formation in 1910, when he was serving free Reformed churches at Tripp, South Dakota. Prior to that, he had served the Presbyterian Church at Roscoe, South Dakota, during which time he was a frequent preacher in various German Reformed Churches in the area. He is remembered particularly as having often bicycled some thirty miles to preach in the Glueckstal Reformed Church fifteen miles, north east of Eureka. Rev. Krieger was a man of unusual education and knowledge for those times and places. When in the thirties he came to leadership in the Classis, these talents and associations stood him in good stead. Up until his death in 1948 in California where he had gone for his health, he continued to write and speak against the dangers of the merger.

Rev. Walter Grossmann was a son of the German Reformed Church in the Dakotas. His father, Rev. John Grossmann, was first a pastor in the Reformed Church in Canada where he began his ministry after his immigration from Germany in 1900. He then moved to North Dakota, preached in several charges there and finally to South Dakota where he served Reformed Churches until he died in 1929. The writer’s father thus grew up in the Dakotas and was educated at the Mission House Academy, College, and Seminary at Plymouth, Wisconsin. Upon his graduation from the seminary, and due to poor recommendations from the seminary faculty because of his outspoken conservatism, he was forced to work for a year as an engineer until he received a call from the Reformed Church in Hosmer, South Dakota. This call came in 1934, and Rev. Grossmann arrived in Hosmer about one month before the consummation of the E&R merger. Rev. Krieger then served the Church in Eureka, twenty miles to the north, and these two men immediately embarked on a program to keep the Eureka Classis clear of the ever-widening arms of the merger. It can be candidly and honestly said that until 1939 the fortunes of the Classis depended predominantly upon these two ministers, and even after that their influence, along with the faithfulness of many local elders, was essential to keeping many individual congregations of the Classis from defecting into the union.

One of the greatest problems facing pastors Krieger and Grossmann in their work to keep the Eureka Classis free from the E&R was the mediating position of several of their colleagues in the classis. By 1934 there were several crucial {67} vacancies among the congregations of the Classis left by older men who had since retired from the pulpit or passed out of this life. Consequently a number of the smaller vacant churches experienced early difficulties with pressure from the merged Church. This circumstance combined with a weak stand by some within the classis provided an unending amount of trouble in keeping it from succumbing to merger ideology. Because the final acceptance of the union was scheduled for 1940, which would give the various synods and classes ample time to straighten out whatever problems they might have in aligning congregations and individuals on the side of the merger, Krieger and Grossmann were able during those six years to prepare their defenses. There were ministers in the Classis and in other classes of the Northwest Synod who wished to remain clear of the merger, but in time it became evident that by reason of their family ties or because of unsettled convictions they were not willing to stand with so small a minority as the Eureka Classis against the united Church. According to an article in the publication of the Reformed Publication Society, The Witness for January, 1945, there was wide and varied opposition in the Reformed Church in the U. S. to the proposed merger in the years up to 1934, but as the time for final ratification approached in 1940, more and more of these opponents moved to support the union. By the Fall of 1940 there were but the Eureka Classis and a few scattered congregations who still held fast to their persuasion to remain Reformed.[16] It seemed unbelievable to the writer’s father, as he remarked in a letter to Rev. Krieger in 1937, that so many of the Reformed men could not, or would not, recognize the deviation from biblical teaching that was coming to the surface among the leaders of the merger.

However, indecision alone was not responsible for a desire among some to be included in the Evangelical and Reformed union. First, and quite possibly the most important was the fact that there was among the lay people of the Church a relatively undiscerning Christian faith. Church members in general were not doctrinally aware and certainly were not in a position to be critical of the liberalism couched in glowing terms by the Church’s leaders. This was certainly true among the German-speaking congregations of the Northwest Synod, who in any case could not read the English-language materials coming out of the RCUS headquarters on Race Street in Philadelphia. Furthermore, most of the ministers who served these people were graduates of Mission House Seminary, which we noticed earlier was lacking Reformed decisiveness in its preparation of students for the Gospel ministry. The social Gospel and the inroads of liberalism were now being felt. There was therefore a corresponding unconcern among many of the members of the Church for purity of doctrine and adherence to the Scriptures. This was not entirely their own fault, for their pastors were by and large poorly equipped to instruct them. There are to this day (1960 ed.) those who will defend the Mission House and its products. {68}

However, one need only look at their libraries and listen to the sermons of these men to realize that they seriously lack knowledge of some of the most basic principles of Calvinism. Thus, when the move for a union into a “bigger and better” organization was in the making, this was considered by numerous members of the Reformed Church to be very attractive and in keeping with the spirit of the times.

Nationalistic unity among the Germans in the Midwest was strong indeed. In communities all over the country there were few people who came from anything but German stock and any encroachment by outsiders in the life of the Church or in business was not encouraged. Again there is blame for this prevailing situation to be laid at the feet of the leaders of the Church, who should have been able to see the need for the Reformed faith among all Americans, and not just those of German background. Yet for many with such a limited outlook on life in a growing democracy, it became desirable to maintain their peculiar German customs and thus their nationalistic unity. For a large number of these folks the coming merger was an opportunity to both enlarge their Church and at the same time retain their desired German unity. When this aversion to anything “foreign” is coupled with close family ties to members of the Reformed Church outside the Eureka Classis, it is easy to see how many people would not be able to object strongly to the merger.

Another factor contributing to the lack of unity against the merger among the congregations of the Eureka Classis was their wide geographical separation and the relatively small number of large strong congregations. Krieger and Grossmann were separated by only twenty miles, though this distance meant much more twenty five years ago than it does today, and they served the two largest and strongest churches in the Classis. The combination of these two men and their churches was to be a major deterrent to merger within the Classis. They were further augmented in their position by their respective country congregations. Eureka was a two point charge, St Peter’s Church in town and Glueckstal congregation fifteen miles to the northeast. Hosmer was a three point charge, being associated with Calvin Church and the Neudorf congregation thirteen miles to the north and northeast. These country congregations contributed significant support to the opposition to union, and remained in the Classis as separate entities until the middle fifties when they amalgamated with their sister churches in Eureka and Hosmer.

Weakness lay, however, in the lack of strong churches elsewhere in the Dakotas. There were several without pastors, for example, Highmore, Heil, Herrick, Delmont, Kulm and Isabel. These were all subject to increasing pressure and inducement from neighboring Reformed churches willing to enter the merger, and in time, most of them were swallowed up by legal process or dissension which divided them from within. For some years several of the smaller ones stayed with the Classis, but came to be disorganized for lack of leadership and eventually dwindled away to non-existence. It was not unusual for the pastors of the Classis {69} to preach of a Sunday in their own congregations and then travel as far as 250 miles to serve a vacancy in the afternoon or evening. This load fell largely on W. Grossmann because he was the youngest of the ministers then in the Classis. The problem was compounded by the demand for both English and German services in many places.

As these various problems became more acute, the supply of pastors was spread more thinly than ever. Many congregations were unable to support their own ministers and had to depend solely on those from other places to serve them. This in turn took valuable time and energy which could well have been spent in organizing opposition to the merger. By 1936 things were well enough defined to indicate that at least the stronger of the Classis’ churches were going to see it through. This was the stand of a very small group of Reformed ministers and laity over against a half-million people led by men eager to promote the liberal social Gospel and ecumenicity.

ACTIVE OPPOSITION

Between 1934 and 1940, the Classis was the source of a constant flood of objections to the final fulfillment of the Evangelical and Reformed merger, which as stated, was to come to completion in 1940. Until that year the old Reformed classes and synods were to meet to iron out remaining difficulties, and from that time on the merged Church would be operating under the provisions of the new constitution with Evangelical and Reformed assemblies combined. We shall now consider in some detail the objections that came out of the Classis of Eureka during that interim period. Much of our material will come from letters written by W. Grossmann and W. J. Krieger, and from official resolutions and overtures of the Classis to the Synod of the Northwest and other judicatories of the Reformed Church in the U. S. Articles from The Witness and Reformiertes Gemeindeblatt will also provide a source of information, though the German paper duplicates much material found in the English publication, and therefore references to the German organ will not be many. The material will be considered in chronological order insofar as is practical to show the development and changes in the Classis’ situation.

In a letter to W . J. Krieger, W. Grossmann sets forth certain resolutions for the Classis to consider on the matter of the union.

1. Whereas a union between the Reformed Church in the U.S. and the Evangelical Synod of North America was consummated according to a Plan of Union accepted as such, and this Plan of Union in which various and sundry rights were guaranteed, was arbitrarily disregarded in the formulation of a constitution, which proposed constitution is about to become the fundamental law of {70} the Church;

2. Whereas the confession of faith of the Reformed Church in the U. S., which is the basis of that corporation, has been made void in the proposed constitution by accepting other differing confessions as equally valid;

3. Whereas the form of church government accepted by the members of the Reformed Church in the U. S. in their constitution has been displaced without the consent of the individual members, who are as stockholders in a corporation and therefore have the right to themselves decide by vote;

4. Whereas the doctrine of the officials of the Church of the union movement, as this doctrine is revealed especially in making the Kingdom of God a social goal, is contrary to scriptural teaching as set forth in the Heidelberg Catechism;

Be it resolved: that we, the dissenting churches, remain organized as the Reformed Church in the U. S. based on the confession of the Heidelberg Catechism, on which this Church is based, and maintain the presbyterial form of church government and thereby contend that that portion of our Church accepting other confessions as equally valid, to have departed from this organization, and thus to have forfeited property and ecclesiastical rights of the Reformed Church in the U. S.

The proposed constitution of the Evangelical and Reformed Church also caused a good deal of consternation among the ministers of the Eureka Classis with respect to their congregation’s rights to remain Reformed in their own practices. Once again, a resolution formulated by W. Grossmann on this important matter illustrates their concern:

1. Whereas it is our conviction that the proposed constitution outrageously ignores the provisions of the Plan of Union, safeguarding the interests of the congregations, classes and synods, respecting their positions as judicatories and respecting their doctrinal attitudes; and

2. Whereas the proposed constitution makes provision for the gradual nullification of the effect of the distinctive doctrines by dangerously jeopardizing maintenance of such doctrines by the Placement Committee (the Placement Committee has charge of accepting and placing of pastors in the congregations, ed.) {71}

Whereas such nullification of distinctive doctrines has been expressly indicated by the President of the Church as an object to be attained; and

4. Whereas by these facts dissemination among our congregations of the doctrine of the Bible as clearly set forth in the Heidelberg Catechism is gravely endangered; and

5. Whereas it is our conviction that the plan of government provided for in the proposed constitution is flatly contrary to the plan of government taught in the Scriptures; and

6. Whereas we cannot bring upon ourselves the responsibility before the most high Lord Jehovah for supporting and sponsoring such a church government and doctrine;

Be it resolved:

1. That the Eureka Classis rejects the proposed constitution.

2. That the Eureka Classis refers the matter of severing connections with the Evangelical and Reformed Church and of taking necessary and possible legal steps to safeguard their property rights to the individual congregations of the Eureka Classis.

It is important for us to see from the above resolutions that the merged Church took upon itself, without respect to the authority provided by the Constitution of the Reformed Church in the U. S., the assumption that all the bodies of the Reformed Church would automatically become members of the union. The Classis position was that this move stepped beyond the bounds of the rights that rested with the individual classes and congregations to decide for themselves by vote what their status would be with respect to the merger. Two more considerations that are concomitant with the above resolutions are; 1) that the Eureka Classis was of the conviction that the spirit manifested by the authorities in so flagrantly disregarding the Plan of Union boded ill for any contracted rights of any body or member of the Church, and 2) that the intolerant spirit manifested by the supporters of this proposed Constitution in discussing it with opposers was a portent of an arrogant bureaucracy at the helm of the merged Church.

On the topic of litigation over church properties, the case of Watson versus Jones (1871), known as the Walnut Street Case, is of significance for our consideration. This decision of the United States Supreme Court concerning the union of churches put the Eureka Classis in a precarious position. It declared, “The property of every synod, presbytery, and individual church would, the moment the {72}union was consummated, pass under the control of the General Assembly of the united Church.” The Christian Beacon for 26 October 1939 comments, “This is the leading case and controls the decisions of the courts. Synods, presbyteries and churches that felt in conscience that they could not enter the union, would lose all their property. And those that went in, and felt at any time that conscience called them to come out, would lose all.” To this, Zollman, in his American Church Law says, “The decision places in the hands of the church judicatories a tyrannical power which is inconsistent with the right of the parties that come before them, and destroys religious liberty pro tanto, instead of protecting.” Upon considerations such as these, the Eureka Classis gained some measure of success in the courts in contests for church properties, though in several cases demoralizing defeat was the result of litigation.

During the course of the Eureka Classis’ contentions against the merger, and particularly the proposed constitution as abrogating important provisions of the Plan of Union, W. Grossmann again filed a paper which makes more explicit objections to the Constitution up for consideration by the E&R. This “Memorandum relative to Church Union” will be self-explanatory.

In 1934 the General Synod of the Reformed Church in the U. S. adopted a Plan of Union with the Evangelical Synod of North America, in which the following rights were guaranteed the churches, classes and districts; Article V, Section 7, “The General Synod shall promote the reorganization of Classes and Districts into Conferences which shall be constituted on a territorial basis and shall have the same status as Classes or Districts. However, the General Synod shall not have power to unite subordinate judicatories of the consolidated churches except at their request.” And Article VIII, Section I, “the congregations, Classes, Synods and Districts shall continue to exist and to do their work in the way it was done prior to the union; they shall also continue to hold and to supervise whatever property they possess and institutions they control. ”

The necessary majority of the Classes and Districts have adopted the Plan of Union, and on the basis of this plan a merger was effected. If the Plan of Union is not merely a scrap of paper, then the Committee on Constitution was fully bound by it. This committee, however, made radical and unwarranted departures from the Plan of Union. Before any departure from the Plan of Union could be made, it would have been the duty of General Synod to take up these changes for reconsideration, and should then again have submitted them to the Classes and Districts for {73} action. The General Synod failed to do so.

A union based on a federation of confessions is no union at all. It is illogical, indefensible and defeats its true purpose, unity. It is merely an external organization, and as such its existence is unwarranted. And without a definite confession, which, in unequivocal terms, pledges its adherents to all the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as the only rule of faith and practice, it is hardly entitled to be called a member of the Body of Christ. The essential requirements, unity of faith and spirit, are wanting in a federation of confessions.

On June 26th, 1934, at Cleveland, Ohio, the General Synod declared that the Plan of Union was legally adopted. But regardless of the specific provisions of the Plan of Union the Committee on Constitution made, and the General Synod sanctioned violations of the Plan of Union as is evident from the Following:

a) The proposed Constitution of the Evangelical and Reformed Church nullifies the authority of the Heidelberg Catechism as the only standard of our Church, by binding the congregations to standards in many respects contradictory to each other, as Art. I of Part II of the proposed constitution sets forth.[17]

b) The proposed constitution unites subordinate judicatories and eliminates others without their request. (re Art. V Section 7 of the Plan of Union, “However, the General Synod shall not have power to unite subordinate judicatories of the consolidated churches except at their request”); but Part V, Item 22 of the proposed constitution states: “The Evangelical and Reformed Church consists of ministers and of lay members organized into congregations which constitute Synods; the Synods, through elected delegates, constitute the General Synod. ”

c) The proposed constitution eliminates classes and synods as they exist, and provides for new divisions contrary to the guaranteed rights provided in the Plan of Union.

d) The proposed constitution takes the control of institutions away from judicatories controlling them and gives it to the General {74} Synod.

e) The proposed constitution has set up a form of government departing from the historical customs and usages of the Reformed Church in the U. S.

In view of these facts we question the legality of the merger. Two conflicting laws cannot be effective at the same time, neither can several conflicting confessions.

We . . . therefore, respectfully overture General Synod:

1. To revise the proposed constitution in accordance with the guarantees given in the Plan of Union:

2. That congregations, desiring the Heidelberg Catechism as their only confession of faith and presbyterial form of government, shall not be deprived of their rights to continue as, or form, classes and synods in the same manner as provided for in the present Constitution of the Reformed Church in the U. S. ;

3. That the aforesaid congregations shall not be coerced or permitted to call a minister, holding beliefs contrary to its own confession, and that such rights be safeguarded;

4. That the aforementioned congregations, classes and synods continue to control institutions which have been, and now are under their supervisions; and

5. That General Synod shall see to it that all publications of our Church are in harmony with our confession of faith.

The open and unwarranted abrogation of the Plan of Union by the proposed Constitution of the Evangelical and Reformed Church is clearly set forth above. This illegal procedure prompted several mediating and undecided congregations and ministers to join the Eureka Classis in its stand against the merger.

With passing time it became clear that resolutions to the judicatories of the Evangelical and Reformed Church notwithstanding, there was to be no significant change in either the proposed constitution or the practices of the merged body whereby the all-enclosing arms of the union-octopus would soon envelope even dissenting classes and congregations. Therefore, more positive action had to be taken, and thus in the last months of 1938 matters came to a head with the declaration of the Eureka Classis’ intention to continue as the Reformed Church in the U. S., retaining the Heidelberg Catechism as the only confession of the Church.

This definite statement of intention was embodied in two more resolutions, {75} the first of which was sent to the General Synod of the Evangelical and Reformed Church meeting in 1938. This document held that since the Eureka Classis in session at Artas, South Dakota, May 19th to 22nd, 1938, had unanimously resolved to continue existence as the Reformed Church in the U. S., and since the Evangelical and Reformed Synod had officially adopted the proposed Constitution and had thus seceded from the Reformed Church in the U. S., its doctrine and policy, it was resolved by the Eureka Classis that it,

serves notice on the merged Evangelical and Reformed Church that all properties, holdings and rights of the Reformed Church in the U. S. are now legally vested in the Eureka Classis, and therefore said properties, holdings and rights cannot and may not be diverted or transferred to the new organization called the Evangelical and Reformed Church.

FURTHERMORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Eureka Classis extend its resolution, adopted at its session at Artas, South Dakota, May 19th to 22nd, 1938, that it also reserves the rights to all properties, holdings and rights of the Reformed Church in the U. S and if necessary, lay claim to such.

The second resolution here under consideration also made a definite statement to the effect that the continuing Reformed Church in the U. S. remained true to the Scriptures and the interpretation thereof set forth in the Heidelberg Catechism. It was made clear that other bodies which might affiliate themselves with the Eureka Classis would also become members of the continuing Reformed Church in the U. S. Moreover, provision was made

That the officials of the Eureka Classis (combined Executive Committee and the Board of Trustees, as the case may require) negotiate with the officials of the Evangelical and Reformed Church in regard to coming to a definite agreement regarding properties, holdings and rights of the Reformed Church in the U. S. Such negotiations must be reciprocated by the officials of the Evangelical and Reformed Church by the 15th of October, 1938, otherwise the Eureka Classis will bring legal action regarding such properties, holdings and rights against the Evangelical and Reformed Church.

In these ways the Eureka Classis struggled to maintain first, its identity as the Reformed Church in the U. S., but more importantly, its adherence to the true teachings of the Scriptures. It was a bitter struggle, one that lasted for years, but one also that was willingly engaged in for the sake of the truth of the Gospel and the Kingdom of God. We can well quote one last resolution from the Eureka Classis to {76} the Synod of the Northwest of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, adopted by roll call vote at its regular annual session at Leola, South Dakota, May 16-19, 1940.

Dear Fathers and Brethren:

Whereas the Eureka Classis has served notice on the General Synod of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, Minutes, Gen. Synod, of its intention to retain its identity as the Reformed Church in the United States, with all its rights, prerogatives and privileges; and whereas the Eureka Classis is firmly convinced that the new merger is not and cannot be conducive for the promotion of the true faith, unity and doctrine, we find it impossible to affiliate with the Evangelical and Reformed Church.

In view of these facts, we the Eureka Classis do now and here resolve and formally declare that we are, and shall henceforth continue to function as the legally constituted Reformed Church in the United States.

(signed) W. Grossmann
Stated Clerk
Eureka Classis

Official seal affixed:
Eureka Classis der Reformierten Kirche in den Vereinigten Staaten, II John 9

With this summary resolution of action that had gone before, the Eureka Classis legally continued to exist as the Reformed Church in the U. S. The break was complete.

THE REBIRTH OF THE EUREKA CLASSIS

Yes, the break was complete, but the struggle was far from over! The Eureka Classis, now officially and legally re-born as the continuing Reformed Church in the U. S. was to be for some years to come hard put to justify its existence and defend its opposition to the Evangelical and Reformed merger of 1934. Criticism and attack came from all quarters, from the union, from other dissenting Churches, but most dangerously and surprisingly of all, from within. There was a variety of criticism that had to be answered, and those who stood solidly on the Scriptures and against the merger once again rose to the occasion. There was a crying need for unity among the congregations of the Classis; disunity could not be tolerated for it endangered the work and principles of a decade of resistance. Individual congregations had internal problems that sometimes led them to the brink of disaster.

On numerous occasions W. J. Krieger and W. Grossmann had been called {77} upon to overcome the attacks of the enemy, and thus far they had proven equal to the demands made upon them. When internal strife threatened the existence of the Classis, these two men had no choice but to join in the fray once more. In late 1940, a particularly grievous situation arose that required quick and decisive action. The Rev. John Bodenmann, pastor of the Wishek, North Dakota, charge, and at that time Vice President of Classis, was encouraged by the Classis to take a stand against the merger and to cooperate with the strengthening of the Reformed stand. His charge was part of the North Dakota Classis that had in 1935 dissolved itself into the Eureka Classis. Bodenmann was known still to be undecided about which side to take, but the Classis was acting in good faith in their conversations with him, giving him every opportunity to learn their position and expecting in turn a definite indication from him of his inclinations. On November 12, 1940, a special session of the Eureka Classis met to consider the question of joining the newly formed Dakota Synod of the Evangelical and Reformed Church. Bodenmann stood at that point for joining this new Synod and wished to present arguments to the classis for doing so. As best we can reconstruct the matter twenty years later, some sort of agreement was reached about a time when written arguments were to be presented to the Stated Clerk and then passed on to the congregations simultaneously. Then just before Christmas of that year and in violation of the agreement made at the special session of Classis, Bodenmann suddenly circulated without the knowledge of the officials of the Classis a letter condemning the stand against the merger. This paper went out to all the churches of the Classis before the anti-merger side had its own arguments ready because they were depending upon Bodenmann to keep the agreement. Following are excerpts from that essay, outlining Bodenmann’s position:

To the congregations of the Eureka Classis,

We were against the church-merger from the beginning and voted against it in the South Dakota Classis. The vote in both Churches (of his charge) . . . produced an overwhelming majority for this Merger. So we had lost, even though we were opposed. We were voted into the Merger. Having been in the pastoral calling for forty years, we had always held that the losing side in a vote must submit to the majority.

The Eureka Classis wants to remain the Reformed Church in the United States. How it wishes to accomplish this, we do not know. A single Classis by itself has never been a church body, but only a judicatory, and in fact the second lowest judicatory the Church . . . . Now the Eureka Classis wants to be an autonomous Church, that has no higher judicatory over itself, it wants to be classis, synod and general synod all in one. … {78}

How does it stand with the confession of the united Church? Have we given up anything of our precious faith? Absolutely not! Our Heidelberg is mutually recognized in the united Church as an official confession. No one wishes to take the Heidelberg away from anyone. …

And so Bodenmann continues for several pages, reproducing all the arguments and guarantees of the Plan of Union of the united Church. The majority rules, the Heidelberg Catechism will be retained, the Placement Committee is not dangerous, and that freedom as well as order is essential. In conjunction with this, Bodenmann claims that in the decade from 1930-1940 the Reformed Church in the state of North Dakota had lost more than a dozen congregations while in the same period the Lutherans and Congregationalists had grown, all because they had freedom as well as order, which the Reformed Church did not. And yet, he must have seen, as we have in this discussion, the fallacy of this sort of reasoning. We cannot know exactly what prompted Bodenmann to change banners so suddenly in the midst of the conflict.

Whatever the case may have been, there was but one path left open for the anti-merger side of the Classis, and that was to circulate as quickly as possible its own statement. This was done, in mimeographed form, whereas Bodenmann, having the advantage of surprise, was able to get his essay nicely printed in German.

The answer written by W. J. Krieger and W. Grossmann to Bodenmann’s paper came out just after Christmas of 1940 and consolidated in one place the position against the merger as we saw in the last chapter. On the question of the churches of the Eureka Classis joining the Dakota Synod of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, Krieger had this to say:

Does the Dakota Synod (of the E&R) have a written guarantee that it will stay this way (that is, that the Heidelberg will be retained, ed.)? The following church law will certainly be observed: “If one becomes a member of a freely joined religious corporation, one binds himself to all its rules and regulations, and agrees therewith to the carrying out of such authority as is given to its leading officers, and he is bound to the future decisions of those authorities.” The Dakota Synod has become a member of the new Church, therefore she is bound to the future actions of the officers of that new Church. And yet it is asserted that one is not bound to all three confessions.

Grossmann wrote in the same paper:

This business concerns itself with one point: Does one believe the {79} Word of God?!! This acceptance of three different confessions in the united Church implies an indifference in relation to doctrine. This indifference is then indifference to a careful attention to the teaching of Scripture. Doctrine, after all, is concerned with what is actually taught (in Scripture), and not that one is able to forgive which confession someone might accept. We wish only to bring out some of the least that is taught in the new Church. This teaching can be noticed behind most of the statements of the officers of this Church. It is declared: “The world is not saved through the one cross on Golgatha, but rather through millions of crosses and on each cross a human soul, revealing God’s love, because they are reconciled with him.” This is certainly manifest and grievous false teaching, for the Bible teaches clearly and distinctly that salvation was completed through one offering of Christ upon the cross. The word of God teaches forcefully that we must test doctrine. John teaches in his second letter that we must not in the least support this kind of false teaching. Paul declares that such false teachers are condemned. John teaches that when we support these kind of teachers we make ourselves partakers of their punishment. . . . The lords of the Church may perhaps allow us to live our faith, but will God uphold our faith if we operate this way?

It is said that we should submit ourselves to the majority (cf. Bodenmanns statement above-ed.). This may certainly be the case in ordinary circumstances. But when it comes to opposing the teaching of the Bible, the majority has nothing to vote about. Must one really support false teaching, just because the majority has voted for it? To whom should we give the most obedience, to God’s word or to the human majority?

Finally, it comes down to this: shall we, because of all kinds of threatened and visible problems-which may never actually appear as facts-operate directly contrary to the admonition of God’s word? What Samuel teaches will always be true: whoever rejects God’s word, him will God cast out.

As the situation developed, a few of the congregations concerned with the matter of joining the Dakota Synod of the Evangelical and Reformed Church did defect from their original stand with the Eureka Classis. Bodenmann’s charge at Wishek, North Dakota, was among these. For some time after this particular conflict, W J. Krieger was actively engaged in circulating several lengthy papers in German on the question of the merger. He did excellent work in presenting {80} arguments on the basis of Scripture against going into a church that had so little doctrinal definition, and partly due to his efforts, several congregations wavering between merger and independence decided to stand with the Classis.

During the early forties, when the stand of the Eureka Classis became clear and more widely known, several other ministers and congregations were attracted to it. Rev. D. E. Bosma, a graduate of the Mission House, in 1943 accepted a call to serve the Eureka charge when W . J. Krieger was forced by ill-health to retire from the pulpit. Rev. Bosma had for many years served Reformed churches in Iowa, and when the dangers of the merger became clear, aligned himself and his congregation against union. He was not a member of the Eureka Classis, and thus for some years was independent of any ecclesiastical affiliation. However, with his coming to Eureka, his former congregation in Iowa decided to join the Evangelical and Reformed Church. Bosma deplored this, and once said to this writer that on a visit to relatives in Iowa he visited the last church he had served there. He was appalled at the changes that had taken place since he had left, “it was like walking into a Catholic Church!”

The Rev. William E. Korn, who has now served the Menno, South Dakota, charge for over twenty years also came into the Classis during this period. He had been born and educated in Germany, then held pastorates in Canada before coming to the Dakotas. He is known as a scholarly man, staunch in his defense of the Eureka Classis and the Reformed faith.

A great amount of good support came from Rev. Kasper Krueger, also from Germany, who served at Ashley, and then Upham, North Dakota, until his death in October of 1957. His close association with W. Grossmann gave the latter cause to take heart in the struggles with the Evangelical and Reformed Church.

In Wisconsin two men, Rev. K. J. Stuebbe and Rev. Emil Buehrer, in the midst of the conflict with the merged Church, concluded that their only right stand could be on the side of the Gospel, so they too left the united Church. The former of these two had been pastor of the Tripp, South Dakota, charge until 1939, when he moved to Newton, Wisconsin, where, at over 70 years of age, he actively served the causes of the Reformed Church in the U. S.

Other men who took a stand with their charges on the side of the Classis were U. Zogg at Sutton, Nebraska, who died in 1954, and Robert Klaudt at Shafter and Bakersfield, California. Rev. Klaudt later served Hosmer, South Dakota, and Sutton, Nebraska, until his retirement in January 1960.

Thus the Eureka Classis continued her existence as the Reformed Church in the U. S., carrying forward the traditional Calvinistic doctrines and a presbyterial form of church government. Many like-thinking people of the Midwest have seen {81} fit to join and so strengthened the position of the Classis. Important in the life of the Classis, as in every Reformed Church, are the doctrines of the Scriptures, as interpreted by the Heidelberg Catechism. It is significant that this little book was a bone of contention between the merged Church and the Classis, and indeed, the strong adherence of the Westerners to that confession lay back of the position many people took against the union in 1934. The survival of catechetical teaching and preaching has contributed largely to the maintenance of Reformed doctrine and the strong desire of the people to stand solely on the Scriptures.

Though the continuance of the Eureka Classis as the only remaining body of the Reformed Church in the U. S. is an indication of the solidarity of the German people of Reformed heritage and an encouraging sign that Calvinism certainly is far from out-moded, many difficulties have been part of the progress of the Church. Every minister who had attended the Mission House faced two problems. One was, of course, his attachment to that school and the constant contact with her graduates that every institution maintains. Therefore pressure to align with the merger was continual from that source. Secondly, there was the realization that the Mission House had not provided what it should have in theological education or evangelical scholarship. Those men who remained Reformed did so in spite of, not because of, the education they received at Mission House. As the writer’s father once said, “About the only good I got out of the Seminary at Mission House was some instruction in Hebrew and Greek and a background in dogmatics.” Such conditions could only result in weaknesses in preaching and pastoral work.

There remained the problem of serving the widespread pulpit vacancies all over the Dakotas. With the increase in the number of ministers adhering to the Classis’ position, this difficulty was somewhat alleviated. There are, however, some congregations which have no ministers of their own, both by reason of a small supply of men and because some of the vacancies are so small they cannot support a pastor of their own. These have been the “home mission” churches of the Classis. One of them, at Heil, North Dakota, organized in 1914 by the writer’s grandfather, John Grossmann, has carried on for over forty years without a pastor.

RECENT HISTORY AND CHARACTER OF THE CLASSIS

CONTINUING PROBLEMS, TRIALS, AND WEAKNESSES

History shows that every human organization has weaknesses as well as strengths. The Eureka Classis is no exception, and it may indeed seem to those of a pessimistic bent that this small body has had more than its share of problems and weaknesses. On the other hand, the strength of faith and perseverance on the part of those who have maintained the Reformed Church in the U. S. is unmistakable. Our report of the continuing history of the RCUS will focus on both problems and {82} strengths.

The continuing problems of the Classis which confront us are those of losses in property and congregations, and of theological disputes. Litigation over the properties of several churches and charges consumed the energies of the leaders of the Classis for several years. According to the principles of the laws of the land, the position of the Classis was quite precarious. There was little chance that the continuing Reformed Church in the U. S. could retain title to certain buildings and land because of the peculiar situations which arose. In the courts, the Classis contended that in the cases of congregations divided in membership between merger and anti-merger viewpoints, those segments of the people who continued steadfast in the Reformed faith should be allowed to keep their properties and that those who wished to enter the Evangelical and Reformed Church should be willing to forfeit these holdings and rights. This contention we have seen earlier in the resolutions of the Classis to the Synod of the Northwest and to the General Synod of the Evangelical and Reformed Church. With respect to these property questions, churches standing with the Classis sometimes were able to retain their titles, but in others those titles were lost. In A Digest of Legal Investigations Concerning Union of Denominations, prepared by Rev. E. Buehrer of the Reliance Publishing Company, we find on page 7 a consideration based on the laws of the State of Wisconsin that aided the cause of the Classis.

Where a majority of a religious society has withdrawn therefrom and organized a new church of a different denomination, the minority, adhering to the original society, are entitled to the use and occupation of the church building held in trust for said society, and the new church and its trustees may be restrained from interfering with such use. . . . Neither seceding members, though a majority, nor any majority of a religious society, no matter how fully invested with all corporate powers, have a right to divest its property from the uses defined and limited by the grant of such property to it or the purposes of its organization as regards the particular faith it was organized to promote. The Opinion stated: “Wherefore, it is the opinion that the courts will enforce the use of the church property to the dissemination of the doctrines devoted by its founders, namely in support of the doctrines of the Reformed Church in the United States.”

Thus the property of the Salem-Ebenezer Reformed Church, rural Manitowoc, Wisconsin, was never disputed; it remained with the congregation. However the picture was quite different in South Dakota. Here, for example, the Marion charge was forfeited to the majority of the members who voted to enter the union. Even in the case of the church at Scotland, the property ended up in the {83} hands of the minority that wished to join the merger. The South Dakota Supreme Court ruled that the RCUS was Presbyterian in church government, and therefore that the property was controlled not by the local congregation, but by the higher ruling bodies in the Church. This question was solved by the Classis for future situations by amending the Constitution of the RCUS to provide that local property was always to be disposed of by local authority.

The next problem we will discuss is that of providing pastors for the churches. The Classis imported two men from Germany and sought to educate one Classis prospect through parsonage training. In the late forties, W. Grossmann undertook to educate Mr. Hermann Mensch in the principles of Reformed theology. Mensch was a mature man, with a family, some of whom were already students in high school when he decided to enter the ministry. For some two years Rev. Grossmann instructed Mensch three times a week in doctrine, catechetics and the original languages of Scripture. After this, Mensch attended the seminary of the Protestant Reformed Church (PRC) in Michigan, and in due time was ordained to the ministry by the Classis. He was to take charge of two congregations, Leola, South Dakota, in the central part of the state, and Isabel, in the western part of the same, as well as to serve Heil, North Dakota, when able. At first he was well liked, being a vigorous preacher and seemingly sound in teaching. After a short time however, it became evident that he differed with the whole tenor of Reformed teaching and he came to have serious personal difficulties with other pastors in the Classis. At the height of the crisis, Mensch had publicly distinguished between the reprobate members and those in grace in the Leola congregation. The reprobate were certainly condemned to hell from the pulpit, and indeed, had different sermons preached to them than those heard by the saved!

Eventually, Mensch succeeded in so dividing the membership of both the Isabel and Leola Churches that both were in grave danger of imminent disintegration. The Executive Committee of Classis held several meetings with the Leola Congregation and eventually dissolved the pastoral relation and reprimanded Mensch. The Isabel congregation did not consent to the actions of the Executive Committee and was stricken from the roll of Classis. It later joined the PRC. The Leola Congregation was divided, with a smaller part establishing a Protestant Reformed Church in Forbes, North Dakota, and the remaining congregation at Leola continuing in the RCUS to this day. Many years later Mr. Mensch expressed repentance for his actions and requested to be reinstated as a minister of Classis. Forgiveness was granted but he was not able to sustain a theological examination for reinstatement.

Late in the forties there was presented to the Eureka Classis the opportunity of inviting two men from Germany to serve the Church. Rev. Fred Herzog, who with his father the earlier Rev. Fred Herzog had returned to Germany, was one of these {84} men. He was educated in Germany and Switzerland (having lived in Karl Barth’s home for a year). Then after the war, with the hard times in occupied Germany causing the Herzogs considerable difficulty, the Classis undertook to assist Herzog and his sister Hannah to migrate to the United States. This was brought about by the generosity of several congregations, and Herzog was installed in the Ashley charge. He soon ran afoul of W. Grossmann who strongly opposed his neo-orthodoxy. The two had protracted correspondence and long discussions, concerning in particular the solitary position of the Eureka Classis and its determination to stay out of the Evangelical and Reformed merger. Herzog held that this was wrong, he said he felt “like a Reformed pillar saint” outside the E&R. He claimed further that the Reformers were in error for leaving the Roman Catholic Church. To summarize the situation, let us quote from a letter by W. Grossmann to Rev. William Korn November 16, 1951. Concerning Herzog he says:

“He writes that Calvin initiated an error when he separated himself from the Roman Catholic Church. If I understand his writings correctly, Calvin should have remained in the Roman Catholic Church in order to reform it. Then he writes that Christ did not step out of the Church. He writes further, toward the end of this part of his treatment, ‘And thus He gives us the great example rather to die than to leave the church. At His death false doctrine was at its peak. And yet He did not secede. His martyrdom in the church was the salvation of the church.’ Then in reference to 2 John 9-11, he writes on another occasion: ‘Yet as to the problem of reforming the church, I would rather be rebuffed by the Apostle John for receiving a false teacher into my house in order to preach unto him God’s judgment than slam the door in the wicked man’s face and afterwards in heaven get a medal hung around my neck with the inscription “Defensor Fidei.” This pretty much gives the basic tenor of his whole writing, of course one would have to read the whole letter . . . . . .

The crux of the discussion soon focused on Herzog’s dialectical ideas of Scripture and inspiration. When it became evident to him that he could not reform the stand of the leaders of the Classis, he sought refuge elsewhere. He joined the E&R and eventually became professor of Systematic Theology at the Mission House Seminary. In January of 1960 he accepted a position on the faculty of the Divinity School at Duke University.

Rev. F. Lierhaus was a case similar to Herzog’s, and again W. Grossmann had to combat certain leaders in the Classis who favored this man’s ministry at Artas, South Dakota. However, matters came to a sad and abrupt conclusion when Lierhaus and another minister visiting from Germany were killed in an auto accident near Rapid City, South Dakota, in 1951.

Another problem of continuing concern was the depopulation of the farming areas of the Dakotas. As a result of the Great Depression and the second World War, thousands of people moved off the land, many of them finding work in the {85} cities. Often Reformed people would become entangled with liberal Lutheranism or Methodism, and even Pentecostalist organizations. For this reason a mission was begun in Aberdeen, South Dakota, by W. Grossmann and D. E. Bosma in 1948. Aberdeen was then the second largest city in the state and many Reformed people lived there without a church of their own. The mission there held worship services in the YMCA building for about five years before organizing in November 1953 and calling a pastor in 1958, the Rev. Calvin Stuebbe. At the same time the Calvin country congregation of the Hosmer charge disbanded and sold their building to the Aberdeen congregation.

Attempts have recently been made to begin a work in cooperation with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Pierre, South Dakota, the state capitol. However, there has not to date been enough support for this project and it is now at a standstill. But, the future for that city looks promising.[18]

Speaking of missions brings up the matter of foreign missions which have not been supported until recently by the Eureka Classis. Two things make progress slow: one is the small size of the Classis (some 2,500 members) and the other is a de-emphasis on foreign work by some pastors. These say that we have enough trouble supplying our vacant home missions congregations and that it costs too much money to support a foreign work.

We turn briefly to a combination of two related negative aspects of church life in the RCUS in recent years. The first of these is the common tendency to separate life from doctrine. Many in the Church have been instructed in the doctrines of the Catechism but have failed to apply them consistently to their lives. This seems also to have been a result in part of a Neo-Kohlbrueggian influence in the Classis. Complicating this is the second negative tendency which arises when a church continues to preach and teach in a language foreign to the language of daily life. While a simple German is still used in some homes and in greetings on the streets of many German-Russian towns in the Dakotas, English is the language of business, education and social life for most people, especially the younger generations. When these generations are forced to carry on their worship services and religious instruction in another language, religion and life often become separate compartments of existence. As a result, for too many of the people in the Church, religion is too much a “Sunday morning” affair.

POSITIVE ASPECTS

On the credit side of the ledger we find the first and foremost strength in the Eureka Classis to be the strong desire for truly Reformed doctrine and {86} preaching. Though there are some shortcomings in this desire and the fulfillment thereof, the fact that commitment to the Scriptures and the Heidelberg Catechism have remained at a high level gives great encouragement. In the last analysis, the Bible alone can serve as the reliable ground for faith and life. This is recognized by all concerned, and by God’s grace will in the future, as it has in the past, protect the Classis from liberal error and the possibility of becoming enmeshed in the ecumenical octopus of the modern day.

There have also been recent gains in the size of the Classis. Churches in Garner, Iowa, and in Bakersfield and Shafter, California, have become official member congregations of the body. This lends considerable financial support as well as numerical strength. In this way the Reformed witness also is solidified and carried over a wider area. The field in almost all of the State of California is wide open, and it is hoped that there can soon be additional churches there outside the German community (which migrated from the Dakotas before World War I, and also during the Great Depression).

Our investigation of the stand of the Eureka Classis of the Reformed Church in the U. S. has covered two centuries of history. It is necessary that we take into account all that history of the Church in order to properly understand how the present situation came to be. We have tried to show how the Mercersburg Theology and the liturgical controversy of the nineteenth century in the Reformed Church in the U. S. laid foundations for the Evangelical and Reformed merger of 1934. In spite of these influences, the Church in the Midwestern part of the United States was able to maintain relative purity both in doctrine and practice. The steadfastness of this community in the things of the Word and its adherence to the Heidelberg Catechism were at the heart of this consistent position. For this also, may the Lord be praised!

Our God’s providential care over his children provided the necessary leaders in crucial years, and by His power alone they were able to persist in the life-and-death struggle against a liberal union of two mediating ecclesiastical bodies.

We have tried to be as honest and candid as possible in our appraisal of the various stands and teachings of the Eureka Classis. The author has profited immeasurably from this study, and it is hoped that it has contributed to a wider understanding of the Classis’ stand for the Church of Christ.

We rest on the motto of the Eureka Classis, 2 John 9:

“Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. ”

Peter Grossmann, April 1960


[1] This is from a student paper for Professor Paul Woolley. It was written in 1960 while Rev. Grossmann was a student at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

[2] “The Eureka Classis Merger History,” The Witness ( Green Bay, WI: Reformed Publication Society, Jan. 1945), p. 5.

[3] James I. Good, History of the Reformed Church in the United States in the 19th Century (New York: Board of Publications of the Reformed Church in America, 1911), p. 631.

[4] The New Schaff Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1953), vol IV, p. 468.

[5] The New Schaff Herzog Encyclopedia, p. 468.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Twentieth Century Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, edited by Lefferts A. Loetscher, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1955), Vol 1, pp. 404-405.

[8] Two Eras: One Past-One to Come, (issued by the Anniversary Committee of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1940), pp. 32-34.

[9] Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, vol ix, pp. 436-437.

[10] Good, History of the Reformed Church, pp. 209-210.

[11] My Church: Whence, What, Whither (Department of United Promotion, Evangelical and Reformed Church, Philadelphia, 1943), p. 15.

[12] My Church, p 15.

[13] Constitution and By-laws of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, Part I, Section 3, pp. 5-6.

[14] Constitution and Bylaws of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, Part I, Section 3, pp 5-6.

[15] The Evangelical and Reformed Church: What We Are and What We Do.

[16] “Eureka Classis Merger History,” in The Witness, Jan. 1945, p. 5.

[17] This reference reads: “A congregation of the Evangelical and Reformed Church is a body of Christians accepting the standards of faith and doctrine prescribed in the constitution of the Church . . . a congregation . . . may be admitted into the Evangelical and Reformed Church by the Synod, provided said congregation complies with the requirements of the Church.” Constitution and By-Laws of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, Part II, Article 1, pp. 6-7.

[18] An RCUS congregation, Hope Reformed Church, was founded at Pierre in 1963, with Rev. Robert Grossmann as its first pastor.

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