The History of the RCUS Since the 1934 Merger

The History of the RCUS Since the 1934 Merger

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

Rev. Robert Grossmann

HISTORICAL REVIEW

THE Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS) has a history going back in North America to 1725 when the first three permanent congregations were founded under the leadership of Rev. John Philip Boehm at the villages of Skippack, Whitemarsh and Falkner’s Swamp in the Colony of Pennsylvania.[1] The history of the RCUS prior to its establishment in North America goes back to the Reformed Reformation in Switzerland and Germany, when and where the specifically Reformed doctrines of the Protestant Reformation were discovered in the Bible and taught by preachers such as Ulrich Zwingli, Martin Bucer, Henry Bullinger, John Calvin, Zacharias Ursinus and Casper Olevianus. These teachings were also defended to the death by kings such as Frederick the Pious and his grandson Frederick V of the Palatinate, as well as several of the Princes of Brandenburg-Hesse.

German Reformed people who had fled their homes in the Palatinate of Germany, also home of the Heidelberg Catechism, were the people who made up {86} these early Reformed Churches in North America.[2] These folks fled their homes because of persecution and the devastation wrought on the Palatinate during the Thirty Years War (ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648), and the French and Austrian military campaigns that followed.

It is important to understand not only the facts of this early background of the Reformed Church in the United States, but also the profoundly Reformed theological convictions of the earliest members and leaders of this Church. This theological background is especially important today because the element of the Reformed Church in the United States that continued after 1934 is far more representative of the Church’s theology in 1725 than it is of the general theology which dominated the Reformed Church in 1934. While it could claim a continuing organizational heritage, the Church which in 1934 merged with the Evangelical Synod of North America to form the Evangelical and Reformed Church (E&R) was doctrinally quite removed from its roots in the 1700s. It has, of course, been the general trend in most church denominations in the United States, that they have left their strictly Bible-based doctrines to include a much broader idea of Christianity as a religion of “love” and social progress. The theological currents which drew the leadership of the RCUS to carry out the E&R merger of 1934 are much more those of the modern liberal ecumenical movement than the strictly Reformed theological convictions that led to the formation of the denomination’s first churches in 1725, and which undergirded its first national assembly in 1747. (We use the word “liberal” here and elsewhere below to refer to those who emphasize the human rather than the divine element in Scripture and who therefore do not receive the words of the Bible as the very words of God, inerrant in their writing and infallible in their teaching.)

How it came to be that in 1934 a small group within the Reformed Church in the U. S. held a theology similar to that of the Church in the 1700s while the rest of the denomination around them was quite different is a fascinating story. We do not have space for the whole story, but it is important to have at least a brief outline of it if we are to understand the continuing Reformed Church in the U. S. at the end of the twentieth century. Several elements in this story may be outlined to give us the overall picture. These elements include periodic immigrations, theological importations, and the general secularization of western society in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

THEOLOGICAL IMPORTATIONS

Since its beginning as a national denomination in 1747, the “High German Reformed Church,” as it was called in those days, faced a formidable task in securing educated and qualified ministers. This particular need for ministers was paramount in the Church’s early relationship with the Dutch Synods of North and South Holland and the Classis Amsterdam, as cumbersome as communication across the Atlantic Ocean was in those days. This relationship was one in which the Dutch assemblies searched Europe to provide qualified ministers for their daughter Church in North America, and also provided funds to help pay their salaries. Interestingly, the ministers provided by the Dutch were all German and Swiss, none were themselves Dutch. The positive result of this relationship was that even though a number of early ministers sent by the Dutch did not turn out well and left the service of the Church, the majority of them labored faithfully and strenuously to found a truly Reformed denomination in the New World.

Following the governmental separation of the German Reformed in North America from Dutch oversight, which was accomplished after the Revolutionary War when the German Coetus declared itself a Synod in 1792, the need for ministers continued to increase because of continued German Reformed immigration to the newly founded United States of America. Over the next forty years some seventy-five ministers were trained by older pastors in more or less formal “parsonage-training” programs. The quality of training here of course varied with the quality of the leading teacher, but many of these men also rendered admirable service to the Church. Nevertheless, from 1792 on there was a desire among many in the Church to found their own seminary.

The founding of the Seminary at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, was a traumatic event in the history of the RCUS. A decision to found the Seminary at Fredericksburg, Maryland, was taken by the Synod of 1820 and actually resulted in a split in the Church which lasted until 1836. While meaning well, the Synod in 1820 declared that no more parsonage-training would be allowed. In addition the Synod decided to offer the position of professor to Rev. Philip Milledoler, a Dutch Reformed minister who had been born German Reformed, at the then princely salary of $2,000 per year. This, along with the Seminary’s proposed location, was unpopular among many ministers. As a result, about one-fourth of the ministers left the old Synod in 1821 to found the “Free Reformed Synod of Pennsylvania.” This Synod rejoined the old Synod in 1836.[3] {90}

The Seminary was finally opened at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1824 with the Rev. Lewis Mayer as its first professor. Rev. Mayer turned out to be an effective and solidly Reformed teacher who labored in difficult financial circumstances. However, as the years went by the Synod imported professors from Germany and the New School party in the Presbyterian Church who laid foundations for liberalizing the teachings of the RCUS. In 1838 the Synod engaged Dr. Frederick Rauch to teach in the Seminary and serve as its president. While it is difficult at this distance to determine a great deal about Rauch’s theology, especially because of his short time at the Seminary, there were complaints about his use of terminology and concepts common to the rationalistic theologies then spreading across Germany. In God’s providence this professor became ill and died in 1842, only four years after beginning his labors.

To replace Rev. Mayer, the Synod sent a committee to Germany to engage the services of the world-renowned Reformed professor Dr. F. W. Krummacher. When Krummacher turned them down because of his age, the Committee took the advice of a number of German theological conservatives and invited the Rev. Philip Schaff to become their new professor. Schaff came to America in 1844 and was soon embroiled in controversy. His very opening speech at his inauguration as professor was entitled, “The Principle of Protestantism,” and raised a storm of protest about his sympathy for Roman Catholicism and his use of the “thesis, antithesis and synthesis” historical scheme of the German rationalist philosopher G. W. F. Hegel.

To replace Dr. Rauch, the Synod of the German Reformed Church now engaged the services of Dr. John Williamson Nevin, a Princeton Seminary graduate. Dr. Nevin had been terminated at the Presbyterian college in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, because of his support for New School Presbyterianism during the time the Old School Presbyterians had taken over their General Assembly and had excised nine synods(!) from their denomination. Both Dr. Nevin and Rev. Schaff were brilliant men, and it was not long before they developed a close friendship and working relationship. It turned out that their theological sympathies also moved in the same directions, directions which led them away from historic Reformed orthodoxy toward a semi-sacramentalist view of the Church and salvation. They also introduced a highly liturgical form of worship which had much in common with Episcopal and Roman Catholic practices. Indeed, several of their students eventually left Protestantism for the bosom of the Roman Church.

The Synod of the RCUS now entered a stormy period in which many charges against these new professors were brought, and a magazine war erupted between the old Reformed and the new “Mercersburg” sides of the controversy. The new movement was called “Mercersburg Theology” because during this period the {91} Seminary had been moved to the city of Mercersburg in central Pennsylvania.[4] This controversy resulted in compromise between the two parties, with the old Reformed party losing the most ground. The Synod almost annually dealt with complaints against the professors and their teaching, often restating historic Reformed views of certain issues, but always refusing to reprimand or dismiss the professors who kept right on teaching their novelties, many of which simply contradicted Reformed orthodoxy. The result was internal strife which only ended with a compromising peace in which a mediating Directory of Worship was published in 1887. In this Directory, Lutheran and Episcopalian views, particularly of baptism and confirmation, and a weakening of the vows of officers to the Scriptures and Heidelberg Catechism are found.[5]

There can be little doubt that the weakening of Reformed commitment and the compromise with sacramentalist theology which now became the norm in the Reformed Church in the U.S. were precursors and preparation for the later entrance of complete theological liberalism and ecumenism into the leadership of the Eastern part of the RCUS. This liberalism and relaxed relationship with Lutheran influences are what made it possible for the RCUS to enter into a merger with the Evangelical Synod of North America, which was basically a Lutheran denomination of German background. Indeed, the later life of Philip Schaff demonstrates his own commitment to liberalism, for he retired from the RCUS Seminary and later became a professor at Union Seminary in New York, the only seminary in American history to be established for the specific purpose of teaching theological liberalism.

By 1900, the strict historic Calvinism of the early fathers of the RCUS had long been left behind and actually held sway only in a few isolated congregations. Most of the conservative element in the Church was content with a more or less biblical evangelicalism rather than a positive Calvinism. The only organized exception to this rule in the RCUS was the Calvinism of its most recent immigrants, the German-Russians of the Dakotas and Nebraska. The book, A History of Mission-House Lakeland,[6] contains a most interesting footnote which illuminates this situation. This footnote concerns Rev. D. W. Vriesen, who agreed with these {92} Calvinist German-Russians. Vriesen was pastor of Ebenezer Reformed Church at Newton, WI, and for many years a professor of preparatory studies for seminary students at the Mission House. The footnote reads, “Vriesen was a Kohlbrueggian; that is, a follower of the extreme Calvinism of the Dutch theologian Herman F. Kohlbruegge (born 1803). The Kohlbrueggians gained some following among the German pastors, particularly in the Dakotas, and at the Northwest Synod of 1906 accused one of the Mission House professors (H. A. Meier) of heresy.” This action at the Northwest Synod in 1906 was perhaps a precursor of the refusal of the Eureka Classis of the Dakotas to enter the less than Calvinist Evangelical and Reformed merger of 1934.

PERIODIC IMMIGRATIONS AND THE MAKEUP OF THE RCUS

As noted above, the founders and first generation of Reformed Christians who made up what later came to call itself “The Reformed Church in the United States” were predominantly from the Palatinate of Germany, an area which had moved from being a cradle and stronghold of Reformed teaching to being a devastated land of persecution for believers of this persuasion. This first generation of Reformed people held the common Reformation conviction that the Bible is literally God’s word, and that whatever it teaches is true, whether it be the central message of God’s creation and salvation, or the number of soldiers in David’s army. The idea was that as a result of its inspiration by the Holy Spirit the Bible had to be considered without error in every part even though in putting it down on paper God used the writing styles, theological convictions and historical memories of fallible human beings.

As John Calvin remarked concerning 2 Tim. 3:16, one of the apostle Paul’s great statements concerning inspiration, “So, the first point is that we treat Scripture with the same reverence that we do God, because it is from God alone, and unmixed with anything human.”[7] Anyone familiar with Calvin will realize that this does not mean that Calvin believed a “mechanical inspiration” as some would charge, but rather that God so used the human writers with all their human characteristics in such a way that they wrote the very words of God. Nor is this a new idea at the time of the Reformation; this very Protestant sounding view of the Bible was sounded one thousand years before Calvin by one of the early bishops of Rome who claimed a special title among the leaders of the Church as “pope.” Gregory the Great (died 604 A. D.) held that if we know the true author of each work (book of the Bible) and we understand what He says to us, why should we be curious to learn what pen {93} imprinted the divine words on the page.[8]

This Reformed respect for Holy Scripture also meant that the founders of the RCUS were robust Calvinists. John Philip Boehm, Michael Schlatter and the other ministers, as well as all the Elders who attended the first meeting of the coetus in 1747, signed the Heidelberg Catechism and “all the acts of the Synod of Dort of 1618-19” with “heart and soul.” One minister, Rev. Bartholomew Rieger, hesitated briefly and then agreed to sign because he was at first “not sure of the article of predestination according to Calvin.” This carefulness on the part of Rieger as well as of the other men demonstrates a clear and conscious adherence to the teachings of the Reformed creeds.

What followed in the years after 1800 made the RCUS all too typical of American Protestant churches during their second century of existence. After the Revolutionary war in which her people gave a patriotic account of themselves, the German Reformed severed their earlier (1727-1792) connection with the Dutch ruling bodies in Holland, the Classis of Amsterdam and the North and South Synods of Holland. Following 1800 they were swept up in the great controversies concerning modern “excitement” methods of evangelism and the desire to fit in well with the broadening American Christian community. The evangelism practiced by Charles Finney and others preached an anti-church, anti-doctrine Gospel which generally produced a negative attitude toward an educated and teaching-centered ministry. It often destroyed local churches in the name of “evangelism,” so much so that the four great American cults grew up in New England in the areas of this kind of preaching.[9] Thus the Reformed Church, like many others, began to lose some of its earlier commitment to specifically Reformed principles and practices.

About this time, which was also when the “German Reformed Church in the United States” was beginning its first seminary (1824), there came a second great immigration of Germans to North America. The Palatinate Germans had settled along the Eastern seaboard of North America, some in New York, Virginia and the Carolinas, but most in Pennsylvania. By 1830 the borders of the “free land” which could be homesteaded had moved west to Illinois, Wisconsin and Missouri. These new Germans homesteaded land in these western states. Homesteading was a method by which land could be removed from government ownership into private hands by any able-bodied family head who would occupy it for five years and improve it through farming. This was an enlightened program if ever a government had one, and quite the opposite of modern schemes to place more and more land under government control. The Homestead Act had a large part in providing the {94} opportunity for individuals upon which the prosperity of America grew over the last 150 years.

These new immigrants came from all over Germany as a result of over population, and as the result of a new movement for consolidating and confusing the Protestant churches in the various parts of that European country. In 1817 William, King of Prussia, had ordered the Reformed and Lutheran Churches to combine under one administration, a move which caused great distress among people in both communions who wished to maintain their doctrinal distinctives. Ruling princes in other provinces of Germany soon followed William’s lead, and the result was a new flow of doctrinally conservative Lutheran and Reformed people to the United States, the home of religious liberty. The large German populations of St. Louis, Missouri, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, are the direct results of this emigration which lasted some thirty years.

Among these many new German Americans were not only the ancestral founders of the American beer brewing industry, but also many people of Reformed persuasion who soon joined the German Reformed Church in the United States. Many of them also fought on the side of the Union in the Civil War. These new RCUS people had not participated in the theological and social currents that had already affected their new denomination and they tended to be old-fashioned conservative Reformed, though generally not as specifically Calvinistic as the Church’s founders had been 100 years earlier. These new Reformed Germans in America were quite devoted to the Heidelberg Catechism and continued the tradition of complete trust in the Bible as the written word of God. Because of theological developments in the Eastern section of the Church, and because of the great distances involved, these Wisconsin and Missouri German Reformed were soon founding their own college and a seminary at Plymouth, Wisconsin. The college was founded in 1860 and was called “The Mission House.” Today it continues as Lakeland College of the United Church of Christ while the seminary has been merged into a UCC institution.

As the Eastern portion of the RCUS moved in a less doctrinal, more ecumenical and more secular theological direction (not without resistance from many), the new immigrants on the Western frontier held more to the old faith. Fifty years later, and even as the newer and less specifically Reformed ideas moved west, there came a third and final great immigration of Reformed Germans, this time from the country of Russia. The total of German immigrants to North America over the whole period from 1650 to 1950 has been over 50 million. Many of these, especially those coming after World War II, were far less committed to a particular theological position than were the earlier immigrants. This was not true of the “German-Russians.” These immigrants were descendants of Germans who had moved to Russia beginning in 1760 at the invitation of the Czarina Catherine the Great, who {95} was herself a German princess before marrying the Czar. The German-Russians were staunch members of the doctrinal traditions of their home churches in Germany, whether they were Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Congregational or Mennonite. This was because they been insulated from the so-called “Enlightenment” philosophy, having spent the nineteenth century in Russia, which was even then an insular country. Thus they had escaped the replacement of the Christian faith with rational philosophy, something that had happened among the churches in their homeland.

Thus there arrived in the United States just at the end of the nineteenth century a whole new group of Christians who found their way into the Reformed Church in the United States because of their common European heritage. It was not long however, before these new immigrants realized that they were old Reformed believers in a church denomination that was far down the road to liberalism and ecumenism. They began considering various alternatives by which they could maintain their traditional Calvinism and appreciation for the teachings of Herman F. Kohlbruegge.

Kohlbruegge was an old-fashioned Calvinist who also had a few interesting twists in his understanding of the Bible’s teaching. His main concern was to enforce the teaching of total depravity and he therefore denied that even Christians are anything but totally depraved in all respects. While this teaching did not lead him to antinomianism-he was careful to maintain that “the Ten Commandments are not abrogated but are given to us to teach us how to think and act,”[10] some of his followers developed a Neo-Kohlbrueggianism which did move in that direction. Nevertheless these German-Russian immigrants were the only real Calvinists of any consequence left in the RCUS, and they numbered only one percent of the congregations and less than one percent of the members of the denomination.

After some searching, the conservative Calvinist pastors of the Dakotas discovered a provision in the Constitution of the RCUS by which they might be able to establish a specific language classis. In 1910 they presented a petition to the Northwest Synod of the RCUS to constitute them as a separate classis to exist on the same geographical area as the North and South Dakota Classes but to be a specifically German-speaking Classis. This petition was granted and when the Classis met for the first time in June of 1911 at Scotland, SD, they immediately chose the name “Eureka Classis” for their new body to reflect the meaning that they had “found it,” that is, they had found a way to maintain their conservative theology in a liberal denomination. The Greek word eureka means, “I have found.” {96}

In this way there developed within the Reformed Church in the United States in the early part of the twentieth century, a ruling assembly over a group of churches which had far more in common with the teachings held by the earliest founders of the denomination than they had with the current leadership. Indeed, it can be said that the leadership and much of the RCUS was out of touch with the theology upon which the Church was founded, just as the Eureka Classis was out of touch with the theology and aspirations of the great majority of the Church around them. The interesting thing is that without being very much aware of it, the theology of the Eureka Classis, except for a few specific tenets of Kohlbrueggianism, was quite in harmony with that of John Philip Boehm and Michael Schlatter who had in 1747 founded the first coetus of the German Reformed Church in North America. In the amazing providence of God this small group of committed Calvinists was destined to continue the name and testimony of the Reformed Church in the United States long after the vast majority of the RCUS had ceased to exist by merging itself into the Evangelical and Reformed Church, which itself later merged with congregational churches to form the United Church of Christ.

Along with the Eureka Classis there were a number of individual congregations around the United States that were quite conservative and also a number of pastors who held Kohlbrueggian viewpoints. These congregations were scattered from Wisconsin to California but all consisted of people and pastors who were part of the later two immigrations of German Reformed people to the United States. Even though some of the congregations and pastors in the East were quite conservative in their view of Scripture, none of the churches in the older part of the RCUS were as strictly Calvinistic as were the Eureka Classis and the congregations that held to a Kohlbrueggian theology. All of this led to a continuing Reformed Church in the United States that is quite different from where the majority of the Church stood just before the merger of 1934. By 1925 the Eureka Classis consisted of twenty-nine congregations, all in North and South Dakota.

ANTECEDENTS OF THE EVANGELICAL AND REFORMED MERGER

Ecumenical interests had long been a part of RCUS thought and life. Not only had the Church begun under the auspices of the Dutch Reformed in Holland, but throughout the nineteenth century strong ecumenical relations were conducted with the Dutch Reformed Church in America, which today is known as the “Reformed Church in America.” Notwithstanding the fact that the early leaders of the RCUS, in particular John Philip Boehm, had resisted an early attempt by the Dutch to merge them with the Presbyterians and had successfully fought off an attempt by the Moravian leader Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf to gather all German churches in America into one organization regardless of their creeds, the {97} German Reformed always maintained cordial relations with their neighbors who held to similar doctrines. The German and Dutch Reformed had exchanged synodical delegates as early as 1809 and had held triennial meetings from 1816 until the Dutch cut off all ties in 1858 as a reaction to the influence of the quite unreformed Mercersburg Theology mentioned above.

As the leadership of the RCUS became more and more liberal toward the end of the nineteenth century, it also became more and more interested in the modern ecumenical movement. This movement believes that the church must act as a political force in society and that it can only do this if it gathers as many people and churches as possible into large super-denominations. This belief in the “clout” of large interest groups is founded on the liberal “social Gospel” which had replaced the old salvation-gospel in most large Protestant churches in the United States by 1900. The social Gospel teaches that this world is far more important than whatever other worlds may or may not actually exist, and that therefore the church, as well as government and all other institutions, ought to be dedicated to the betterment of man in this life. In this view the “betterment of man” is focused on economic equality and license to live a man-centered life without regard to God’s commandments. Because of their common interest in these ideas, the leaders of the RCUS were deeply involved in the formation of all of the modern liberal ecumenical organizations.

The RCUS was a charter member of the Federal Council of Churches founded in 1908, which in 1950 became the National Council of Churches. Dr. George W. Richards, for many years the president of Lancaster Seminary, played an important part in the founding of the World Council of Churches at Amsterdam in 1948. The first World War created a crisis for America, but once it was past, especially the modernist churches looked forward to moving their “Christian” vision (which by now in the RCUS included some distinctively socialist ideas among some leaders) across the world.

We should not be surprised that the social Gospel produced these kinds of results in North America; after all, the liberal social Gospel produced in Karl Marx the foundations of Communism[11] and in Adolph Hitler the foundations of Nazi {98} Socialism for Germany.[12] Therefore it should not be surprising that the modern liberal and ecumenical churches in the United States have been in the forefront of supporting Communist movements all over the third world. It needs to be understood in this connection that people who believe the social Gospel also believe that they know better what is good for people than the people themselves ever could. Besides which, socialism as a system that confiscates the product of one person’s labor and gives it to another is by this very action always dictatorial. From a conservative biblical point of view, all of this amounts to nothing more than a violation of the Eighth Commandment and of the personal stewardship of earthly goods required by it.

The Synod of the RCUS formed a “Forward Movement” in 1919 to advance the Church on all fronts of endeavor, and in particular to forward the social Gospel agenda. The Interchurch World Movement, of which the RCUS was a participant, sought to “overcome the overlooking and overlapping” that existed in American Protestantism. A reawakened interest in Mercersburg liturgy also prepared the church for eventual merger with a Lutheran body, even though that was not particularly in view in 1900. It should be understood that a large segment of the RCUS, including its official historians, always had viewed the Mercersburg movement in a positive light.[13] There were, as mentioned above, strong reactions against Mercersburg during its rise but by 1900 the only objections were found in the books of James I. Good. Good had discovered in Holland the original records of the coetus and had become a defender of the old Reformed faith as being the genius of the RCUS, even though he himself was not strongly predestinarian.[14] Good’s book, The History of the Reformed Church in the United States in the Nineteenth Century, in which there is a detailed criticism of Mercersburg Theology, was published not by the RCUS, but by the Board of Publications of the Reformed Church in America, a Church of Dutch heritage.

By 1930, three years before the Reformed Church in the U.S. merged with the Evangelical Synod of North America, the Reformed Church consisted of 1,685 congregations in 58 classes which all told included 348,189 members. The {99} denomination supported at least eight colleges and three seminaries, as well as numerous orphanages, hospitals and homes for the infirm elderly. She had been carrying on her own foreign mission work since 1866, especially in the near East (modern day Iraq), Japan and China.

THE EVANGELICAL AND REFORMED MERGER OF 1934

THE PLAN OF UNION

By the early 1920s, voices were heard throughout the eastern wing of the RCUS calling for union with any one of a variety of Protestant bodies, from Presbyterian to United Brethren to Reformed Church in America. By 1926 the General Synod had established a Commission on Closer Union which was in communication with several groups, particularly the United Brethren (the old Moravians) and the Evangelical Church (the product of a 1922 merger of Evangelical [Lutheran] churches). In 1928 the Commission on Closer Union prepared a Plan of Union for the uniting of the RCUS with the United Brethren. While this was passed by the General Synod of the RCUS in 1929, it was not received enthusiastically by the classes. Furthermore, it was not approved by the synod of the United Brethren.

Negotiations were reopened with the Evangelical Synod of North America in February 1932 (it almost seems the men were determined to merge with somebody) and by the time of their respective general synods, a new Plan of Union was ready for consideration. By this time the negotiators had realized that denominational differences could not easily or quickly be overcome by direct negotiation and the conclusion was taken that such differences were simply to be ignored. Carl Schneider says, “Without defining or establishing a consensus of beliefs or the extent of agreement or disagreement, a unity in spirit was affirmed as a sufficient basis for the steps now to be ventured. The Plan of Union thus lost the aspects of a contractual merger and was thrown into area of faith.” The Plan of Union simply swept differences in doctrine and practice under the rug (here euphemistically called “the area of faith”), at least until after union could be accomplished.

In 1932, the General Synod of the RCUS approved this Plan of Union with the Evangelical Synod of North America. Then in 1933, the Evangelical Synod of North America approved as well, and by that time the necessary majority of the 58 Classes of the RCUS had approved. The union forming the Evangelical and Reformed Church was consummated in a meeting at Cleveland, Ohio, on the night of June 26, 1934. {100}

THE EUREKA CLASSIS AND THE MERGER OF 1934

The ministers and elders of the Eureka Classis were of course aware of the general tenor of theology and life in the broader RCUS and their own differences with this direction. A brief selection of decisions of the Eureka Classis at its 1924 meeting will make this evident. The Classis met at Zeeland, North Dakota, on the evening of May 14, and it is probably significant that the opening sermon by the President, Rev. John Grossmann, was based on 2 Pet. 1:19, where the written word of God is heralded as a “light shining in a dark place.” The Classis in 1924 was in receipt of a variety notices from the Synod of the Northwest and from the General Synod of the RCUS which included matters from a list of excused and unexcused absences from Synod’s previous meeting to a request from the Council of Churches in Christ in America encouraging support for the entrance of the United States into a World Court Tribunal. On the latter matter, the Classis reported succinctly, “As Classis we are opposed to United States membership in a World Court Tribunal. “

Concerning a request for financial help for needy persons and diaconal institutions in Germany, Classis decided to adopt this notice and encourage its congregations not to become weary in loving our neighbors. Concerning the celebration of the 200th anniversary in 1925 of the founding of the Reformed Church in the U. S., Classis decided to adopt this point and instruct its officers to include this celebration in its program for worship services during the 1925 session of Classis and that this be included in the schedule for the congregations in 1925.

Concerning an admonition that Classis was behind in its support of denominational causes, Classis wrote, “The Eureka Classis, as it has in the past, will support denominational causes through freewill collections.” Concerning questions about the constitutionality of certain of its actions, Classis replied, “We do not accept the answer of the Synod through its Justice-committee because their explanation is in conflict with the spirit and thought of Articles 20 and 94 of the Church Order. Concerning General Synod’s request for the introduction (into Classis) and strong support for the “Church Forward Movement,” Classis replied, “That on the basis of grounds given earlier, the Eureka Classis cannot participate in the Forward Movement. Synod has not refuted these grounds by pointing out that other synods and classes, within and without the Church, have joined the Forward Movement. The Eureka Classis will only be convinced by the Scriptures.” On a number of matters ranging from requested votes on constitutional amendments to further disagreements with Synod and General Synod, Classis simply “took note.” Classis referred reports about the discarding of German language teaching, of the teaching of evolution and of the accreditation of the Mission House to its Committee on Education. Finally, the Classis made provision for the public printing of a report by Rev. Ulrich Zogg about the influence of liberalism in the RCUS, especially {101} through a Dr. Truxal, who was a member of the denominational Board of Trustees. It also adopted a series of resolutions seeking to defend their churches from this influence. The resolutions had previously been adopted by the South Dakota Classis and along with Rev. Zogg’s report had been sent as official business to the Eureka Classis.

From this brief digest of classical business, it becomes clear that the Evangelical and Reformed merger of 1934 came as no surprise to our fathers, nor was their rejection of this merger to be unexpected, based on their earlier decisions and attitudes. It would be surprising if no one in the rest of the denomination had joined many in the Eureka Classis in breathing a sigh of relief when this “thorn in the side” finally did separate itself from the rest of the Church after 1934.

Prior to 1933 the Eureka Classis had voted, along with three others, to express opposition to any proposed merger with churches of non-reformed character. Many local congregations across the United States. also viewed the merger with dismay, but there was no way to stop approval of a measure that was planned by eastern leaders and approved by the vast majority of educators, institutional board members and synodical leaders throughout the denomination. The Eureka Classis itself consisted of little more than 1% of the churches of the RCUS and about one-half of one percent of the members.

POST-MERGER STRUGGLES TO MAINTAIN THE RCUS

The Eureka Classis rejected the merger and voted in 1938 that it could in no wise participate but would firmly continue as the Reformed Church in the United States. The Rev. William J. Krieger, a leader in the battle to continue as Reformed, and a charter member of the Eureka Classis, was from 1932 pastor at Eureka, South Dakota, and continued there until his retirement in 1943. He served as president of Classis from 1936 to 1943. Rev. Krieger was a “German Presbyterian,” having graduated from Princeton Seminary. He was also the son-in-law of Rev. Jacob Stark, a leading Kohlbrueggian theologian and founding editor of the very conservative church paper, Der Waechter. In his retirement, Rev. Krieger lived with family in Lodi, California, but he continued to have influence in the Eureka Classis, which now continued and had incorporated itself as the Reformed Church in the United States. Rev. Krieger died in 1948, and was buried at Eureka, South Dakota.

In 1934, Rev. Krieger was joined in the battle to maintain the Reformed Church by newly ordained Rev. Walter Grossmann, whose father John Grossmann had been a pastor in the RCUS from 1910 to his death in 1929, and had served in the Eureka Classis from 1922-1924. Rev. Walter Grossmann graduated from Mission House Seminary in 1932, but was unable to find a field of service because of poor recommendations from faculty members who were put off by his outspoken {102} conservatism. Rev. Grossmann served the three congregations of the Hosmer charge until 1952, and served as Stated Clerk of the Eureka Classis from 1935 until his death in 1956.

Upon these two men, the experienced theologian and the novice pastor, fell much of the burden of maintaining the ministry of the Gospel among the numerous churches of the Eureka Classis as well as leading the classical organization. This was because only a few pastors continued to serve the Classis churches, including retired men who preached on a part-time basis. In 1944 Classis listed four ministers, one retired, to serve twenty churches with 1,380 members. Rev. D. E. Bosma was at Eureka, having replaced Rev. Krieger who was in retirement, Rev. W. Grossmann served the Hosmer Charge and Rev. Erwin Pfeiffer was missionary-at-large residing at Herried, South Dakota. The three active pastors lived within forty-five miles of each other, but the churches of Classis were spread over an area 400 miles north to south and 200 miles east to west.

During the late 1930s and the second World War years, churches at Highmore, Alpena, Isabel, Trail City, Herried, Artas, Greenway, and Leola, South Dakota, and at Heil, Ashley, Venturia, Lincoln Valley, and Upham, North Dakota, were maintained by faithful elders who read sermons for morning worship. These churches were often served at evening services led by a pastor who had driven 40 to 200 miles on Sunday afternoon to be present.

At the 1936 session of Eureka Classis, the North Dakota Classis dissolved, and its pastors and churches joined the Eureka Classis (some later left-the Zeeland, North Dakota congregation, for example, joined the E&R and then returned to the RCUS from the UCC in 1971). Unfortunately several of the pastors from the North Dakota Classis later joined the E&R (some to maintain interest in the Church’s retirement fund) and two of them, Rev. Thiele and Rev. Herzog, returned to Germany at the misleading invitation of the Nazi government. At its 1938 and 1939 meetings the Classis dealt with the question of the merger most carefully, and decided that it could not participate in any way, but that it must continue as the RCUS.

At its meeting in 1945, the Eureka Classis voted to incorporate in the state of North Dakota as the Reformed Church in the United States. Since the merged church was not concerned to keep this name, this action of the Classis was not challenged in the ecclesiastical or civil courts. Meanwhile the Synod of the Northwest continued to report the 1935 statistics of the Eureka Classis churches as part of its statistics up through the second World War.

DISPOSITION OF CHURCHES AFTER 1934

Not surprisingly, since there was not a unified conservative movement in {103} the RCUS before the 1934 merger; a number of churches slowly died off or made their way out of the E&R. St. Matthew’s Reformed Church in Philadelphia simply died off after its pastor, Rev. Silvius, who served them 50 years, retired, and a suitable replacement could not be found. A number of congregations joined the Reformed Church in America and as late as 1960 a congregation in downtown Manhattan, New York, joined with the Moravian Brethren.

Several other congregations with previous ties to the Eureka Classis became more or less independent and eventually joined the Eureka Classis during the 1940s and 1950s. Among these (dates of joining in parentheses) were Newton (Manitowoc), Wisconsin (1958), Garner, Iowa (1959), Menno, South Dakota (1945), Hope Church of Sutton, Nebraska (1945), Shafter, California (1960), and Bakersfield, California (1960).

Salem-Ebenezer at rural Manitowoc, Wisconsin, had been the church served by Rev. D. W. Vriesen, the outspoken conservative and Kohlbrueggian Calvinist who had taught at the Mission House from 1875 to 1888. Rev. Vriesen thus formed a strong connection to the conservative movement among the Reformed pastors in the Dakotas. Rev. Vriesen’s later successor, the Rev. K. J. Stuebbe was in contact with the Eureka Classis and along with Rev. Emil Buehrer of Green Bay, Wisconsin, often visited Classis meetings during its years of struggle.

Peace Reformed Church at Garner, Iowa, also had an early pastoral connection with the Eureka Classis through a retired minister, the Rev. William Wittenburg living there. Wittenberg had been a charter member of the Classis when it was formed in 1911. Also the Rev. Robert Stuebbe, second son of Rev. K. J. Stuebbe, was ordained by the Eureka Classis upon his graduation from Mission House in 1944 and served both Peace Reformed in rural Garner, which stayed out of the merger, and Zion Reformed in Garner, which had joined the merger.

Zion Reformed Church in rural Menno, South Dakota, was made up of German-Russian people, many of whom had relatives among Eureka Classis Churches at Eureka and Alpena, South Dakota, and at Upham and Lincoln Valley, North Dakota. Zion Church at Menno had also been a congregation of the South Dakota Classis, among whose pastors and churches there was also a strong reaction against the liberalism and ecumenism which gripped the RCUS during the early part of the twentieth century. Zion’s pastor, the Rev. William E. Korn had immigrated to the United States from Germany through Canada, and was a close friend of the Eureka Classis leaders. In 1965 Zion Reformed Church moved to a new building in the town of Menno where there already existed the Menno United Church of Christ, a Reformed congregation that had joined the merger in 1934. To complicate matters further, a portion of Zion UCC in Menno left that congregation and the UCC in 1978 to found a new congregation, Peace Christian Reformed Church, which is a {104} member of the Christian Reformed Church in North America.

Hope Reformed Church of Sutton, Nebraska, was being served by Rev. Ulrich Zogg at the time it joined the Eureka Classis in 1945. Rev. Zogg was a conservative Kohlbrueggian pastor who was well acquainted with the ministers of the Eureka Classis. The people of this congregation were also German-Russians who had maintained their conservative Reformed heritage after coming to the United States.

The Reformed Churches at Shafter and Bakersfield, California, were also made up of German-Russian people, most of whom had migrated to California from Menno, South Dakota, and its surrounding area during the teens and twenties of the twentieth century. By 1960 when these congregations joined the Eureka Classis, they had been served by Eureka Classis ministers for a number of years; Shafter by Rev. Walter Grossmann from 1952 to 1956, and Bakersfield by Rev. Robert Stuebbe from 1951.

There was a fairly large and widespread group of conservative Reformed churches within the E&R at first, but liberal seminary education soon infected all but a very few of them with the progressive spirit. Of these conservative E&R churches, some died off and a few finally left after the UCC merger of 1957. Included among those that left the UCC and joined the continuing RCUS (dates of joining in parentheses) were Zeeland, North Dakota (1971), Emmanuel at Sutton, Nebraska (1969), Peace at Napoleon, Ohio (new church organized out of UCC 1972), and St. Paul’s at Hamburg, Minnesota (1992). Included among the more conservative elements in the E&R must be the Magyar (Hungarian) Synod, which refrained from joining the 1957 UCC merger and continues as the E&R. Its position, however, is to the left of the continuing RCUS.

THE E&R MERGES INTO THE UCC

The congregations of the RCUS that were in the E&R after 1934 again had an identity change in 1957. In that year the Evangelical and Reformed Church merged with the Congregational Christian Churches and a few other smaller congregational denominations to form the United Church of Christ.

As early as 1941, committees of the E&R recommended talks with other churches which might lead toward union with them. These talks led to a merger proposal with the Congregational Christian Churches and by 1944 had produced a procedure for merger. By 1947, a final text of a “Basis for Union” had been proposed to the ruling bodies of the Denominations involved and approved by them. However, a “small” group within the Congregational Christian Churches forced the adoption of a series of “Interpretations” of this plan to be passed at the General Conference of 1948. These were in turn approved by the General Synod of the E&R {105} in 1949 and then by 33 of its 34 synods.

The uniting General Synod was to be held June 26, 1950 but a court challenge by a Congregational Church to the authority of the General Council of that body to conclude a merger held up the action for four years. Then, after court approval in 1953, more negotiations ensued, finally culminating in a Uniting General Synod at Cleveland, Ohio, June 25-27, 1957. The second General Synod of the UCC in 1960 adopted a new Statement of Faith, which was added to earlier confessions. Two Hungarian Reformed Synods had existed within the old RCUS and in the E&R but now came to different conclusions. As noted above, the Magyar Synod refrained from joining the UCC merger and continued as the only synod of the Evangelical and Reformed Church. The Calvin Synod, also Hungarian, joined with the UCC merger but continues today as a relatively conservative group within that denomination. The Calvin Synod has in recent years been noted for its resistance to the approval of various liberal agenda items in the UCC, such as the ordination of homosexuals, and has helped various non-Hungarian groups to remain conservative while remaining in the UCC.

THE CONTINUING R.C.U.S.

THE SECOND WORLD WAR YEARS

The next great struggle for the continuing existence of the RCUS came with the United States’ entrance into second World War. While RCUS young men went off to fight the second World War with the rest of the American youth, the Eureka Classis fought to maintain its existence. The need for pastors was acute for many years, yet no young men were found to enter seminary. Eureka Classis churches were a far-flung domain covering North and South Dakota, with one congregation in Nebraska joining in 1945. As noted above, in 1944 there were as few as three active pastors in Classis to serve twenty churches whose charges were flung across 8,000 square miles of the old Dakota Territory. Not only were pastors circuit riders in their home charges, they spent most Sunday afternoons driving hundreds of miles to serve vacant congregations, often across gravel roads which were death on the low-quality war tires. Carrying two spare tires became standard operating procedure.

Rev. Krieger and later Rev. Bosma served two congregations in the Eureka Charge, Rev. W. Grossmann served three congregations at Hosmer and Rev. Pfeiffer had five congregations in the Odessa Charge, centered at Artas, South Dakota. Nor were these small charges. The Eureka Charge reported 282 communicant members in 1944, while Hosmer Charge reported 325 in the same year.

The lack of pastors during these years can also be laid to the other facts besides the world war. Many of the conservative pastors were older men by 1940. Some stayed in the E&R to receive the pensions they had paid for, others simply {106} had to retire, as G. Zenk and W. Krieger. After the end of the war, a few men from Classis churches went to Mission House Seminary which was now in the E&R, but they left the Classis and joined the E&R. These included Melvin Vilhauer of Hosmer and Howard Kusler of Eureka.

Later, a couple of men were imported from Germany, Rev. Frederick Herzog (son of the Pastor F. Herzog who had returned to Germany in the thirties) and Rev. Frederick Lierhaus. Rev. Lierhaus served the Odessa Charge at Artas and Herried, South Dakota, and Rev. Herzog served the Ashley Charge at Ashley and Venturia, North Dakota. Both of these men turned out to be less than conservative Reformed. Herzog left for graduate studies and greener pastures in the E&R and Rev. Lierhaus was killed in a tragic automobile accident in 1954.

Rev. Herman Mensch was parsonage trained and then attended the Protestant Reformed Seminary. He came out to split one church and take another into the Protestant Reformed Church. He was deposed, and later asked forgiveness, which was granted. Eventually he requested to be examined for re-instatement but was unable to sustain the exam.

Finally in about 1952 the Classis men decided to try Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Lloyd Gross began attendance there in 1955, and 1955 graduate Norman Hoeflinger was recruited for our ministry. This began a relationship with Westminster Seminary which became the only approved seminary of the RCUS for the next twenty years. We will have opportunity to speak more about Westminster below.

ECCLESIASTICAL SURVIVAL DURING AND AFTER SECOND WORLD WAR

In the providence of God, the Evangelical and Reformed Church never questioned the right of the Eureka Classis to the name “Reformed Church in the U. S.,” although they did attempt to regain some local church property (see below). Eureka Classis churches were continued on the roll by the E&R throughout the second World War by simply listing the statistics from their last reports, some as old as 1933. In 1945, the Classis took the important step of incorporating under the laws of North Dakota as the Reformed Church in the United States and after that had a protected legal claim to their continuance as the RCUS.

In 1945, the Reformiertes Gemeindeblatt (literally “Reformed Congregation-sheet,” now the Reformed Herald) was begun with the Rev. William Korn as editor. This publication explained the position of the Eureka Classis as the continuing RCUS, and began to weave a web of information and interrelatedness among the churches. Over the years the editorship of this important publication in the life of the RCUS has passed from Rev. Korn to Rev. Norman Hoeflinger, Rev. {107} Melvin Nonhof, Rev. Norman Jones, Rev. Steven Demers, Rev. Peter Grossmann and Rev. David Dawn. Each editor has made a large contribution to the life of the Church and each has strengthened one or another aspect of its unity as a continuing denomination of Christians.

In 1950 a Eureka Classis edition of the Heidelberg Catechism was printed in German and English (it could be had in either or both languages). This edition sought to return to the earliest text of the Catechism in German (though it did correct the very colloquial German of the 1563 editions) and to provide a most careful and direct translation of the same into English. The Catechism in use among RCUS churches since 1863 had been the Tercentenary edition edited by Philip Schaff. Interestingly, while all original Eureka Classis churches switched to the new edition, several congregations which were now in membership but had not been part of the original Classis resolutely clung to the Tercentenary edition.[15]

This new edition of the venerable Heidelberg was financed by a Mr. William Krueger of Baxter, Iowa, and like other RCUS materials, was published by Reliance Printing at Green Bay, Wisconsin, Rev. Emil Buehrer (1889-1972) proprietor. Rev. Buehrer had been pastor of the Reformed Church at Green Bay, from 1918 until he was forced to retire in 1938 by the E&R authorities because of his continuing objections to the merger of 1934. He joined the Eureka Classis in 1946 and his company became the unofficial printing house of the continuing RCUS. Rev. Buehrer and Reliance printing were most generous with the RCUS, providing books and other printed materials at very little profit, depending upon other printing work for their livelihood, including for many years the printing of the programs for the Green Bay Packer football organization.

SOCIAL AND NATIONAL EFFECTS ON THE RCUS

The continuing history of the United States, especially the second World War, provided other influences and concerns for the RCUS. German Americans had integrated into the life of citizenry in the United States with little problem even early on. Immigrants from the 1840s already served in the Union army during the Civil War. This was true of German immigrants and their descendants during the First World War, even though in some communities there was hearty distrust and hate for Germans during that war. In fact, certain states attempted to outlaw the use of the German language during the First World War (Iowa was one), and names of places were sometimes changed. For example the name German Township in Hancock County, Iowa, was changed to Liberty Township during this war.

Little of such rancor seems to have occurred for German-Americans during {108} second World War. Germans in South and North Dakota continued to hold worship services in German without molestation. Thousands of young men of German descent participated in the Second World War on the American side, including hundreds from the Eureka Classis. Many of these young men were quite fluent in German and thus found use as interpreters. Others found their facility in German a curse as they not only heard, but also understood, the dying cries and curses of the enemy soldiers. Yet the patriotic pride in years, wounds, and lives given to the American cause runs extremely high in the German-Russian communities comprising most RCUS locales.

Nevertheless, there were RCUS folk who found their loyalties split. As mentioned above, two pastors returned to Germany at the call of the government there for godly men to help build a new Germany. While most remaining RCUS ministers were completely opposed to the German cause, Rev. D. E. Bosma, who took the Eureka charge in 1943, often praised the Third Reich, also in print in The Witness, a theological paper published by the conservative Reformed Kohlbrueggians through their Reformed Publication Society.

As mentioned above, the war almost totally cut off the supply of men entering seminary and candidating for the ministry. During second World War, the Eureka Classis ordained but one man, Rev. Robert Stuebbe, who was then a member of Classis, but was serving the Garner congregation which did not join Classis until 1959.

During the war another American phenomenon began to affect the RCUS. As a result of the great depression, thousands of farm families and young people began moving to the cities. This began depopulation of the rural areas, particularly in the Dakotas, but it also opened possibilities for beginning congregations in the larger cities. In 1948, the Revs. W Grossmann and D. E. Bosma began evening services in Aberdeen, South Dakota, which resulted in the establishment of a congregation there. This work progressed quite slowly and Aberdeen was not organized as a congregation until 1953. Aberdeen was without a pastor until 1958 when the Rev. Calvin Stuebbe, eldest son of Rev. K. J. Stuebbe, began serving it and the Leola, South Dakota, church some forty miles distant.

During the winter of 1945-46, a property rights suit was heard by the Supreme Court of South Dakota in which the Dakota Synod of the E&R sued the congregation of Bethany Reformed Church at Scotland, South Dakota, for its property. The Congregation had voted by a majority of 65 percent to leave the E&R and join the Eureka Classis. The court found in favor of the E&R, citing the organization of the RCUS as basically “Presbyterian” in government, and pointing out that the congregation had earlier peacefully joined the merger in 1934.

There was a different outcome to a somewhat similar case in Iowa. In 1951, {109} after Rev. Robert Stuebbe had left Peace Reformed at Garner, to pastor Bakersfield, California, officials of the E&R sought to gain control of the property of that local church. Here the court found in favor of the congregation and demanded that the E&R never again attempt to meddle in the congregation’s affairs. Following these developments, the Classis amended the Constitution of the RCUS to declare with certainty that property of congregations is held in trust for them, and not for the denomination.

During these war years the now independent congregations at Newton, Wisconsin, Garner, Iowa, Menno, South Dakota, and Shafter, California, maintained friendly relations with the Eureka Classis but did not join. This weakened the hand of the Classis somewhat, but these congregations were doubtful about denominational entanglements and some among them were reluctant to join what they thought might well be a dying cause.

A final matter of historical interest during this period were the brief relations of the continuing RCUS with the Protestant Reformed Churches. During the second World War years, the Eureka Classis began a brief series of meetings with the Protestant Reformed brethren aimed at seeking closer cooperation between the two groups. These meetings ended abruptly in 1947 when none of the PRC men appeared for a meeting scheduled at Waukon, Iowa. When the RCUS men found out that the reason for this absence was the sickness of only one of the PRC men, their leader the Rev. Herman Hoeksema, they broke off further discussions. Contacts were continued during these years however as the RCUS thought of looking to the Protestant Reformed seminary as a training ground for ministerial students. This too came to a bitter end when the Rev. Herman Mensch, who had studied at the Protestant Reformed seminary, turned out to be a proselytizer for them, and was found guilty of schismatic activity and deposed from the ministry. It was not without influence in this bitterness that Rev. Mensch had been actively supported in his efforts by PRC minister Rev. Lubbers.

One more meeting was held between Protestant Reformed and RCUS ministers in about 1970 at the instigation of Rev. Mark Hoeksema, grandson of Herman. Rev. Mark Hoeksema and a fellow pastor who served what were formerly RCUS people at Forbes, North Dakota (near Leola, South Dakota) and Isabel, South Dakota (the two churches involved in Rev. Mensch’s schism), had found friendly fellowship among RCUS ministers in the Dakotas and recommended that a meeting be held to improve understanding and perhaps reconcile old differences. These meetings were held in a friendly atmosphere over several days at a retreat center, with the above-mentioned Rev. Lubbers present, but nothing further developed. {110}

THE WESTMINSTER PERIOD

It cannot be doubted that the decision made informally but firmly by pastors William Korn and Walter Grossmann to send students for the ministry to Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, and recruit graduates from there for our ministry, was one that guaranteed the continuing existence of the RCUS as well as its continuing adherence to Reformed orthodoxy. There was by no means a universal agreement on this among Classis pastors. Rev. D. E. Bosma, who served as Classis President, continued to support the Mission House, now in the E&R. He encouraged two young men, Melvin Volhauer and Howard Kusler, to attend there with the result that they entered the E&R upon graduation. Bosma’s position was supported by Rev. F. Herzog, who also soon left the RCUS, joined the E&R and taught briefly at Mission House.

Through his scholarly pursuits, Rev. Korn had become aware of the writings of Dr. Edward J. Young of Westminster. Following up on these, he and Rev. Grossmann accumulated and appreciated the works of Cornelius Van Til as well. These writings convinced the two men that while Westminster was Presbyterian, it was truly Reformed and especially, its view of Scripture was that of the historic Reformed faith. Eureka Classis ministerial student (now Rev.) Lloyd Gross was pre-enrolled at Mission House Seminary of the E&R when in 1953 his former pastor, W. Grossmann, virtually coerced him to choose Westminster. This began a trend that continued for the next twenty-five years, so much so that men seeking to attend other seminaries were heartily discouraged from doing so.

Westminster turned out to be conservative indeed, but much more than that, it provided what was probably the best Reformed theological education available in the United States at the time. While its graduates lacked something in pastoral training and preaching skills, they were very well trained in Reformed teaching and biblical exegetical skills. This turned out to be a boon for the Eureka Classis whose pulpits were now more and more filled with Westminster men. These men also had been imbued with a full-orbed view of Reformed teaching, having been thoroughly introduced to the world of Dutch and Scottish Calvinism, as well as its roots in the Swiss and German Reformations. Their theological and historical training allowed them to understand the totalitarian nature of Calvinism, as well as its developments and implications for life. The names of professors John Murray, Cornelius Van Til, Edward J. Young, Paul Woolley, and Ned Stonehouse now became honored and beloved by ministers in the RCUS as well as by those of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and many in the Christian Reformed Church. The RCUS now began to look outward as well as inward to preserve its faith.

Though not the primary reason for sending men to Westminster Seminary, the presuppositional apologetic of Cornelius Van Til became an important tenet of {111} RCUS thinking. Having been converted through Van Til’s teaching to the necessity of the absolute authority of the “self-authenticating word of God” in the Bible, these men, whether they were sons of the RCUS or came to it from other backgrounds, were now truly prepared to carry on the conservative Calvinism of the founders of the Eureka Classis, even though they generally found some of Herman Kohlbruegge’s ideas somewhat off the beaten track of Reformed theology.

Beginning in the early 1970s, some questions about teaching at Westminster Seminary on the part of its second generation of professors arose among RCUS pastors due to our students being sympathetic toward infant participation in the Lord’s Supper. Several young men under care of Classis ended up leaving the ministry of our churches as a result of these differences. With the establishment of Westminster Seminary in California, more of our students have attended there, although theological questions about the church growth movement and lack of adherence to Van Tillian apologetics have also been raised about its teachings.

The provision of new conservative pastors for the RCUS soon had a settling and strengthening effect on the denomination. Statistics in 1960 showed that the now more stable continuation of the RCUS consisted of twenty congregations with 2,419 communicant members and a total baptized membership of 3,371. By the end of the year fourteen pastors served these churches. It is of note that three of the pastors were Westminster graduates, newly ordained and installed: Rev. Thomas Beech at Ashley-Venturia, North Dakota, Rev. Peter Grossmann at Hope Church in Sutton, Nebraska, and Rev. Hessel Stevens at Hosmer, South Dakota.

ECUMENICAL RELATIONS WITH OTHER REFORMED CHURCHES

1960 was also significant because in that year the RCUS established fraternal relations with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), also a conservative Reformed remnant group. These relations have been close and happy for now 35 years. Many cooperative ventures, from foreign missions to youth camps and pastors’ retreats, have resulted.

Learning from the practices and principles of our OPC brethren has influenced the RCUS over these years. Several items in our Directory of Worship and Constitution have been taken over from OPC materials. A number of ministers of the OPC have transferred to the RCUS and several men from the RCUS have transferred to the OPC. The former include Rev. Melvin Nonhof (1957), Rev. Howard Hart (1970), and Rev. Robert Sander. The latter include Rev. William Warren, Rev. Roger Gibbons, and Rev. Sam Bacon.

During the 1960s fraternal relations were also opened with the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRC). In 1965, feeling a kinship with the {112} staunch Calvinism that had historically characterized the CRC, the Eureka Classis agreed to establish relations with them and became a “Church in Correspondence.” Many in the RCUS had listened with great profit to pastor Peter Eldersveld on the original Back-to-God hour radio program, and several churches used CRC Sunday School materials during the 1950s. Classis voted to dissolve these relations just a few years later when the ecumenical relations committee of the CRC synod proposed “actively seeking organic union” as one of the rules for churches in correspondence. The appearance of pictures of Christ in CRC Sunday School material and the outcome of the controversy surrounding Calvin Seminary professor Harold Dekker’s teachings concerning a “universal love of God” were other factors in this decision.

MISSIONS IN THE CONTINUING RCUS

Fraternal relations with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church were begun in the same year that the RCUS began a twenty-six year period of cooperation with that denomination in the work of foreign missions. The procedure was for the OPC to recommend a prospective missionary who would be examined by the Eureka Classis and sent out with its support but under the oversight of the OPC Committee on Foreign Missions. Later the Classis adopted a procedure for officially “Commissioning a Missionary” of the RCUS to formalize this arrangement. This arrangement was the suggestion of Rev. John Galbraith, Executive Secretary for OPC foreign missions. The first missionary sent out was the Rev. Harvey Conn, who proved to be an extraordinarily effective missionary in Korea.

This step on the part of Classis rounded out the vision and work of the continuing RCUS to include, along with home missions, the full work of a church denomination. In this respect the OPC with its brotherly concern has been a challenge and inspiration to the RCUS to move forward on the path of serving her Lord. Following the resignation of Rev. Conn from missions to teach at Westminster Seminary, the Rev. Lendall Smith was commissioned by the Classis to work in the OPC mission to Taiwan, free China. This arrangement ended in 1986 due to dissatisfaction on the part of the RCUS brethren with the approach to missions by the Taiwanese mission of the OPC. There was disappointment on both sides with these developments but the OPC and RCUS have continued their cordial relations.

In the field of Home Missions, the RCUS has worked long and hard with mixed results. As noted above, services were held as early as 1947 and after 1949 on a regular basis for Reformed people who had moved from the German-Russian farming communities of the Dakotas to Aberdeen, the “Hub-city of South Dakota.” In 1958 the Rev. Calvin Stuebbe, who had been serving the Emmanuel E&R of Sutton, Nebraska, but who had formerly served a student summer at Eureka, South Dakota, was installed as pastor of the newly created Aberdeen-Leola joint charge. This church continues today. {113}

A new congregation was begun in the South Dakota capitol of Pierre in 1961 with area pastors serving in winters and student Robert Grossmann serving in summers until 1963, when he was ordained and installed as mission pastor. This church has had ups and downs but continues today. Subsequent missions were begun in the next few years at Minot, North Dakota (also continuing), Hastings, Nebraska (since dissolved), Bismarck, North Dakota (dissolved) and in 1975 at Mitchell, South Dakota (which prospered so a new church was built in 1985 and paid off in early 1993), and Kansas City, Missouri (where a small group still struggles to maintain itself).

In all of these works the RCUS folk have labored faithfully, if not always wisely, and various lessons still need to be learned about starting churches and faithfully using God’s appointed means of building His church, namely, the preaching of the Gospel. Nevertheless, while there were seventeen churches in the Eureka Classis in 1934, today there are forty, over half of them having been begun as missions (many of the original seventeen were country or very small town churches and have dissolved to join congregations in larger towns and cities).

ADDITIONS FROM OUTSIDE OF THE DENOMINATION

In 1968, the Eureka Classis session was visited by representatives of two groups of General Association of Regular Baptist (GARB) background. The original group from Faith Community Church at Anderson, California, which was also the mother of the second, came only to observe (but joined the RCUS the next year). The second, American Reformed Church of Fort Collins, Colorado (which later moved to Loveland), made application and was received as a member congregation of the RCUS.

These people had traveled a long theological road under the leadership of Rev. Jefferson Duckett, for over twenty years a GARB pastor. Rev. Duckett had come to a Reformed position through the writings of Cornelius Van Til and eventually left the GARB to form Faith Community Church. Pastors C. W Powell, Dorman Savage, and Roger Gibbons were spiritual sons of Rev. Duckett. Rev. Gibbons and Rev. Savage, who had met at Bob Jones University, had moved to Colorado and begun what they called “American Reformed Church. “

Over the next ten years all of these men served pastorates in the RCUS with Rev. Duckett retiring and Rev. Gibbons transferring to the OPC. Churches at Sacramento, CA, and Karval, CO, can also be attributed to their work in and for the RCUS. Following Rev. Duckett’s missionary vision, a number of RCUS congregations have been founded in Northern California. Rev. Duckett himself founded Sacramento Covenant Reformed Church. {114}

A RE-FORMED DIRECTORY OF WORSHIP

Following the Mercersburg controversy of the nineteenth century, a compromise directory of worship was adopted by the General Synod of the RCUS in 1884 and approved by two-thirds of the classes by 1887. This Directory is one result of the “peace movement ” in the RCUS which sought to bury the hatchet of controversy over the Mercersburg Theology. Collage pictures of the members of the “Peace Commission” can still occasionally be seen in churches or books.[16]

Like most compromises, this Directory avoids controversial terms. In this case terms such as “altar” and other Lutheran phrases are left out even though Mercersburg advocates spoke openly of a “service of the altar.” Nevertheless it contains a number of Lutheran elements, such as the naming of the child at baptism and the laying on of hands in confirmation. It also contains a specifically Lutheran reference to baptism in the formula for confirmation, namely, “In this sacred ordinance, you on your part renew and ratify the promise and vow made in your baptism. . . .” It is here referring to the vows and confession of faith made on behalf of the child by the sponsors in Lutheran baptism, an element foreign to the Reformed use of the sacrament.

With these problems in view, the Eureka Classis in 1965 erected a committee to revise the Reformed Directory of Worship. This Committee reported first in 1966 with a directory to be used provisionally for a year, then again in 1967. At the 1967 meeting the proposed directory was carefully corrected by the Classis meeting as a committee of the whole, and several new members were added to the Committee.

The final report of the Committee was adopted in 1969 and the newly reformed Directory of Worship of the RCUS bears the publication date of 1970. This directory attempts to be thoroughly Reformed and utilizes not only the regulative principle (see the preface and first chapter on the Public Worship), but also reflects careful study of other Reformed and Presbyterian forms, particularly those of the OPC (from which the questions for profession of faith and confirmation were derived).

THE RECONSTITUTED SYNOD OF THE RCUS — 1986 TO THE PRESENT

At the 75th, or 1985, meeting of the Eureka Classis at Aberdeen, South Dakota, there was not only a Diamond Jubilee celebrating this important birthday; plans were also made to lay this historic body to rest. At the direction of Classis a {115} book celebrating its 75th anniversary was prepared by the Rev. Norman Hoeflinger and Rev. Robert Stuebbe. This book, History of the Eureka Classis 1910-1985, provides an introductory chapter on the European roots of the RCUS and centers around a series of brief descriptions of each of the annual sessions of Classis from 1911 to 1985. It also contains a digest of the pastors and churches of Classis and thus serves as an important resource for those interested in the continuing RCUS.

At the 1983 meeting of Classis, a new Constitution had been adopted by the Eureka Classis which also received from its Committee on Constitutional Revision a recommendation to reinstitute a synod for the RCUS. At its 1985 meeting, Classis decided to move forward on this recommendation, adopted geographical borders for the new classes, and voted to reconstitute as a synod after the opening session of Classis in 1986. Thus plans were made to lay the Eureka Classis to rest with its fathers. The Classis was full of years and had served her Lord and His people well. She had been approved by the Northwest Synod in 1910, had been organized in 1911, and had carried out her purpose of maintaining a conservative Reformed theology in a liberalizing Church. In God’s providence she also served as the vehicle for continuing the RCUS when the majority of the denomination entered the E&R merger of 1934. Not only that, the Eureka Classis had served a growing national Church organization for many more years as its only major assembly and judicatory. She had engaged in home and foreign missions, and had become an “Adullam’s cave,” of twentieth century Reformed Christians who had fled to her for refuge from the widespread unbelief and false teaching that gripped the old Protestant denominations in North America. Readers will remember that the future King David and his men used Adullam’s cave in the mountains of Judah as their base of operation, a place which became a refuge for all those in Israel who sought escape from King Saul. The Eureka Classis was only one of several such remnant refuge Churches in the United States during the latter part of the twentieth century.

As planned in 1985, the Eureka Classis was called to order once more at Menno, South Dakota, on May 6, 1986. Classis immediately dissolved itself to form the Synod of the Reformed Church in the United States. The four classes planned in 1985 met separately and then together reconstituted the Synod of the RCUS. The plan went off without a hitch and Synod and each of the Classes have met in each of the following years. Teething problems have arisen in some of the smaller classes but over the years each has gained a sense of its own identity and Synod has continued faithfully to attend to the work of the whole denomination.

MISSIONS IN THE RCUS SINCE 1984

At the 1984 session of Classis at Bakersfield-Shafter, California, the Rev. Aaron Kayayan, French minister of the Back-to-God Hour of the Christian {116} Reformed Church, presented the cause of the need to organize a Reformed Church in Zaire. Classis approved this as a mission project and gave its Foreign Missions Committee authority to formulate plans and begin this work. By the end of 1984, Rev. Paul Treick had traveled to Zaire with Rev. Kayayan, and the two men had examined and ordained a number of elders and one minister, thus founding the Reformed Confessing Church of Zaire (ERCZ to reflect its French name).

Throughout the years since 1984, the RCUS has supported several preaching elders in Zaire who function as part-time ministers and evangelists. RCUS representatives have traveled to Zaire on several occasions for teaching sessions, to help with broader assemblies and to help in getting the ERCZ approved as a church by the government of Zaire. Recognition was finally accomplished through seven years of work and financial aid, and the Church now operates legally in the country.

In December 1986 members of the Zaire Administration Committee of the RCUS met in Chicago with representatives of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated) (GKN [Liberated]) to work out cooperative agreements for mutual work in Zaire. This relationship has continued to the present and both churches continue helping the ERCZ even though political unrest in Zaire has made matters exceedingly difficult in recent years, with foreigners having to flee the country temporarily on more than one occasion.

The GKN (Liberated) and RCUS have cooperated in founding a seminary in Zaire and in providing diaconal help to the churches and people there. The GKN has sent men for both works and the RCUS has provided funds for a central building for the ERCZ and for pastoral support.

The synod and classes of the RCUS have also continued to carry out a large number of home mission projects considering the number of supporting congregations. As noted above, not all home mission works have resulted in thriving churches, nonetheless, this is not for lack of trying. During the 1980s churches begun earlier at Hastings, Nebraska, Bismarck, North Dakota, Mobile, Alabama, and Miami, Florida were dissolved after valiant struggles to become self-supporting churches. A work attempted at Fargo, North Dakota, also failed to establish a viable organization. Nevertheless new works continue to be started with some success. Among these are Modesto, Yuba City, Chico and Willows, and Lodi, California, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Attempts have also been made at Minneapolis, Minnesota with limited results. At Rapid City, South Dakota, worship services were begun in 1992, and a new church was founded there in 1993 with Rev. Dorman Savage as pastor.

Several congregations have also been begun in recent years as self-supporting works from their inception. Among these are Arvada, Colorado, (since disfellowshipped by the South Central Classis over the issue of serving communion {117} to young children), Karval, Colorado, Rock Springs, Wyoming, and Carbondale, Pennsylvania. One congregation-St. Paul’s Evangelical Reformed Church at Hamburg, Minnesota-has returned to the RCUS from the UCC during this period. The RCUS continues its zealous attempts to spread the Gospel and begin churches wherever prospects seem positive. Many congregations have regular outreach programs through radio and other means. Ebenezer Reformed Church at Shafter, California, has developed a prison ministry in the maximum security facility at Corcoran. Rev. Gene Sawtelle of First Reformed Church at Yuba City, California conducts a similar ministry at Folsom Prison. The Shafter prison ministry has resulted in a number of conversions, regular Bible studies within the prison walls by pastor Vernon Pollema, and membership in Ebenezer Church by several long-term prisoners.

EDUCATION AND NEW INTERCHURCH RELATIONS

As a result of travels by representatives of the RCUS and Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated) or “GKN (Liberated),” in each other’s countries, there has been much contact between these two conservative Reformed church bodies. Finding a great unity in doctrine between the two Churches, they began to speak about a formal interchurch relationship. The GKN (liberated) suggested working toward “sister-church” relations which were established by the General Synod of Leeuwarden, Holland, in 1990 and confirmed by the Synod of the RCUS at Garner, Iowa, at its next meeting in 1991. As a result of its relationship with the GKN (liberated), the RCUS has also become a member of the International Council of Reformed Churches (ICRC) which is an association of over a dozen conservative Reformed Churches from around the world and which holds meetings every four years.

During the period of the reconstituted synod, the RCUS has used several seminaries for ministerial training. These include Westminster in Philadelphia, Westminster in California, Reformed Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, and Mid America Reformed Seminary at Orange City, Iowa. In addition, a number of graduates of Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, and Reformed Episcopal Seminary in Philadelphia have entered the RCUS ministry. Presently (1996) the two Westminsters and Mid-America Reformed Seminary are approved for students from the RCUS. Westminster in California and Mid-America are seminaries included on the RCUS synodical guidelines for giving.

During this period, two RCUS men have served as professors at RCUS approved seminaries. Dr. John Zinkand was ordained by the Eureka Classis in 1965 to serve as an associate professor at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. He had been professor of biblical languages at Dordt College and a member of the CRC {118} previous to that. Dr. Zinkand returned to Dort College after a few years and some years after that transferred his membership back to the Christian Reformed Church. While in the RCUS he often served churches during the summer months. In 1986, Rev. Robert Grossmann began teaching Ministerial Studies and Church History at Mid-America Reformed Seminary after serving twenty-three years in various pastorates of the RCUS. In 1993 Rev. Grossmann left Mid-America seminary to return to an RCUS pastorate.

The Reformed Church in the U. S. has pursued Christian education for its children and youth beyond the Sunday School and Catechism class. Several congregations or their members have been involved in beginning and/or supporting Christian day schools for elementary and high school students. Such associations are found in Anderson, California, Mitchell, South Dakota, Carbondale, Pennsylvania, Yuba City, California, and Sutton, Nebraska. One pastor, the Rev. C. W. Powell, has taught in Christian schools almost continuously for the past twenty years, even though he has always been pastor of a church during those same years. Also, a fair percentage of Reformed Church families engage in home-schooling their children, including several pastors’ families.

Since the early 1960s, the Reformed Church has supported Dordt College at Sioux Center, Iowa, and in recent years has had approximately twenty students in attendance each year. A good number of students also attend other Christian colleges.

The Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America (RPCNA), an historic Covenanter and exclusive Psalm-singing church of Scotch-Irish background, has had fraternal relations with the RCUS since 1975. In spite of differences in practice, the RCUS has been comfortable with this fraternity as it stated upon entering the relationship, “because of your commitment to the Word of God and your firm stand in the Reformed faith.”

The RCUS has had sporadic relations with the Independent Presbyterian Church of Mexico. Through the efforts of Rev. John Paul Roberts, contacts were established in 1991 between the RCUS and the Independent Presbyterian Church of Mexico (this is one of several splinter groups; at least one other has the same name). These contacts involved meetings with seminary faculty members in Mexico and several trips and shipments of aid to the Mexican church people. This relationship has not been unbroken, but California RCUS Churches have attempted to maintain contact.

RETURN TO THE THREE FORMS OF UNITY

Sometime during the years from approximately 1800 to 1850, the High German Reformed Church gave up the Belgic Confession of Faith and Canons of {119} Dort as creeds. How or why this happened is a matter for conjecture and perhaps an educated guess. Though diligent searches have been made, so far no record of synodical or classical action, or in fact of any kind of action, which would date and explain this significant change has come to light. We do not even know if the change was sudden or occurred over a period of time. We know that John Philip Boehm in 1725 founded the first three German Reformed Churches in Pennsylvania with the Belgic Confession and Canons of Dort as well as the Heidelberg Catechism as creeds. We know also that the coetus was founded with all three creeds in 1747 and that this adherence was reiterated in 1752.

It is known from the records of the Coetus of Pennsylvania that as late as 1790 the coetus clearly declared that the “Netherlands confession of faith and church formulas” were “implicitly” a part of the “doctrine, customs and ordinances of the Reformed Church.” We know further that in the report of a committee of the Synod of the Reformed Church in 1817 to explain the reasons for the 1793 separation from Holland, that neither doctrine nor creeds are mentioned. We also know that in 1820 when a group in the Synod was dissatisfied with the plans for a theological seminary, they threatened to withdraw and join the Reformed Dutch Church. This move would have placed the ministers clearly under subscription to both the Belgic Confession and Canons of Dort as well as the Heidelberg Catechism, a fact known to them without a doubt. However, neither of these latter two facts contain positive information about actual adherence of the Church to these creeds at this time.

In 1846, early in the Mercersburg Theology years, the Synod of the Reformed Church declared adoption of a constitution which included only the Heidelberg Catechism in its section on creeds. Certainly from this time forward the Reformed Church in the U. S. operated with only the Heidelberg Catechism as its creed. The Eureka Classis was founded as a conservative classis in 1910 with mostly German-Russian people as church members. These people also held only to the Heidelberg Catechism as their creed.

A new awareness of the biblical character and usefulness of the Belgic Confession and Canons of Dort became part of the thinking of Reformed Church ministers, and a number of elders and lay people during the Westminster period mentioned above. As a generation of pastors with roots inside and outside of the RCUS who were educated at Westminster and were exposed to these creeds as well as the Westminster Standards, they became convinced that the giving up of the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dort by the RCUS was a mistake. The entrance of people of Dutch Reformed background and of others of who had been exposed to these two creeds added numerical strength to those who held this conclusion. {120}

During the decades of the 1970s and 1980s, two major attempts were made to readopt these creeds and add them to the Heidelberg Catechism as confessions of the Reformed Church in the U. S. In both cases the matter was laid on the table in order to avoid so offending the minority that opposed this measure that it might have split the otherwise solidly united denomination. It needs to be noted that the opposition was not essentially doctrinal. All of the ministers and elders held to all the points of teaching in these creeds even though there was a question raised about the wording of one article of the Canons of Dort. The opposition seemed to center most on the idea that adopting these additional creeds would somehow denigrate the Heidelberg Catechism from its place of high esteem or even dilute the Church’s adherence to it.

Readoption was finally accomplished in 1995. At the 1993 Synod meeting of the Reformed Church in the U. S., the matter of adopting the Belgic Confession and Canons of Dort was again proposed, on this occasion by the Standing Ecumenical Committee of Synod. This matter was postponed until 1994 and the Executive Committee of Synod was charged with submitting recommendations to the 1994 Synod on the “implementation and implications” of such adoption.

At the 1994 Synod meeting, the matter was presented by the Executive Committee and passed on a roll call vote by more than the two-thirds majority required. The vote was 39-13. Before the vote on adoption was taken the Synod had adopted several minor wording amendments to the Belgic and Canons, including one which changed the wording previously found offensive in the Canons of Dort. The matter of adopting these additional creeds was then submitted to each of the four classes for ratification, also a requirement of the Constitution of the Reformed Church in the US. [17]

The 1995 Synod of the Reformed Church in the U. S. declared on the basis of majority votes in three of the four classes and a tie vote in one of them, that the Belgic Confession and Canons of Dort were once again the official creeds of the Reformed Church in the United States. In answer to a complaint about the tie vote in the Covenant East Classis, Synod agreed with its Judicial Committee that a tie vote does not amount to a rejection, which the Constitution of the RCUS calls for if constitutional amendments are to be rejected (Article 104), and thus the tie amounts to tacit approval of the issue placed before the Classes by Synod.

SUMMARY OF THE RCUS TODAY

In doctrine, the RCUS continues to the present day (1996) to maintain a strong adherence to the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture, and to the historic {121} Reformed faith. The RCUS holds to the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dort as its official creeds, and demands strict subscription to the creeds on the part of its ministers. Doctrinal emphases include a continuance of the Reformed regulative principle[18] of worship, including the rejection of pictures and images, a rejection of modern feminism, and adherence to the biblical teaching of the Divine creation of the heavens and earth in six ordinary days of light and darkness.

Adherence to the historic Calvinist teachings of double predestination, the unity of the covenant and the application of Scripture to all of life are also strong emphases. In line with the latter teaching, the ideas of Theonomic Reconstructionism and a modified Post-Millennialism have caused some controversy within the Church. The RCUS also continues a strong emphasis on covenant catechization and practices the rite of confirmation as subscribed to by John Calvin.[19] Covenant children are required to learn and pass examinations on the history of redemption and memorization of the Heidelberg Catechism prior to making profession of faith in confirmation.[20]

Geographically, the Reformed Church in the United States exists in four classes combined under one synod. There are about forty congregations with a total of some 3,200 communicant and 4,200 baptized members. The classes with the locations of their congregations are listed below:

1. Covenant East Classis with congregations at Carbondale, Pennsylvania, Napoleon, Ohio, Manitowoc, Wisconsin, Hamburg, Minnesota, and Garner, Iowa. A new congregation, Deaf Reformed Church of Bowie, Maryland, is in the process of being accepted into Classis as this is being written.

2. Northern Plains Classis with congregations at Aberdeen, Artas, Eureka, Herreid, Hosmer, Leola and Pierre, South Dakota, and Ashley, rural Denhoff, Minot and Upham, North Dakota. This Classis founded a new mission work at Watertown, South Dakota during 1995.

3. South Central Classis with congregations at Colorado Springs, Loveland and Karval, Colorado, at Kansas City, Missouri, Rock Springs, Wyoming, at Lincoln and Sutton (two congregations), Nebraska, and at Menno, Mitchell, Rapid City and Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

4. Western Classis with congregations at Anderson, Lancaster, Bakersfield, {122} Lodi, Modesto, Sacramento, Shafter, Willows, Chico, Grass Valley and Yuba City, California.

Ecumenical interest in other Reformed bodies and Christians of a conservative stripe runs strong, and the synod of the RCUS continues official relations with the OPC, the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, and the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (liberated). Exploratory talks are under way toward formal relations with the Canadian Reformed Churches. The Synod has been received into membership in NAPARC (North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council) and the ICRC (International Council of Reformed Churches) within the last few years. {123}



[1] For a detailed account of this history see James I. Good, The History of the Reformed Church in the U.S. 1725-1792 (Reading, PA: Daniel Miller, 1899), or Robert E. Grossmann, Outline History of the Reformed Church in the U.S. 1725-1995, (Garner, Iowa: Elector Publications, 1995).

[2] These German Reformed Churches began the RCUS, a denomination. Not to be confused with the Reformed Church in America (RCA). This is an entirely different church of Dutch background begun already in 1628 in the Colony of New Amsterdam (later named “New York” when the British drove out the Dutch in 1664).

[3] The history of the Free Synod is chronicled in H. M. J. Mein, The History of the Eastern Synod of the Reformed Church in the United States, (Lancaster, PA: Published by the Eastern Synod, 1943), chapter VII.

[4] The Mercersburg Theology and the battles it aroused are chronicled in James I. Good, The History of the Reformed Church in the United States in the Nineteenth Century, (New York: Board of Publications of the Reformed Church in America, 1911), and in The Mercersburg Theology, edited by James Hastings Nichols, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966). A book-length critique of the Mercersburg Theology was written by J. S. Schneck, an early supporter of Philip Schaff, who later changed his mind. This book is entitled, The Mercersburg Theology Inconsistent With Protestant and Reformed Doctrine, (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippencott and Company, 1874).

[5] Portions of this Directory of Worship demonstrating these points are quoted below.

[6] Edited by Eugene C. Jaberg and Roland Kley, (Philadelphia: The Christian Education Press, 1962), p. 92.

[7] Quoted in Calvin: Commentaries, edited by Joseph Haroutunian, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1958) p. 85.

[8] Quoted in Scripture and Truth, edited by D. A. Carson and John Woodbridge, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983) p 205.

[9] These cults are: Mormonism, Seventh Day Adventism, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christian Science.

[10] Herman F. Kohlbruegge, Erlaeuternde and befestigende Fragen and Anworten zu dem Heidelberger Katechismus, (Elberveld, Germany: Verlag der niederland-reformierte Gemeine, 1894), p 181.

[11] Marx was a German, educated in the theologically liberal universities of the early nineteenth century there. He studied under the radically rationalist theologian Bruno Baur for a time. Baur called the Gospels “forgeries.” Marx was also Hegelian in his thinking for a time and one can see this influence in all of his writing about history (as one can see with no less a Reformed writer than Philip Schaff!). Marx also built his atheism on Ludwig Feuerbach’s idea that religion is what is holding people under submission to authorities, and thus keeping them from true “progress. “

[12] Hitler’s system was also socialistic, NAZI stands for National Socialist Party. The idea that Hitler was “right-wing” is the figment of American newspeak. Hitler much admired the German philosopher Nietzsche who was the son of a Lutheran minister and a part of the liberal and rationalist German educational establishment.

[13] Joseph Dubbs concludes, “We have no hesitation in affirming that the period of ‘the Mercersburg movement’ was not a time of retrogression but of genuine advancement.” Historic Manual of the Reformed Church. Published by the General Synod of the RCUS in 1885.

[14] This writer has in his possession an original letter from Professor Good to a Rev. Kieffer in which Good claims that he is of “the school of Saumur” (usually called Amyraldianism, and which holds to a hypothetical universal atonement) and that he does “not believe in any limited atonement.”

[15] Good complains of some slanted translation in the Tercentenary. Good, History of the Reformed Church in the United States in the Nineteenth Century, p. 405.

[16] In 1995 this author found one hanging in the unused balcony of St. Matthew’s UCC in Bridgewater, Virginia.

[17] Article 104.

[18] The Reformed or “Regulative” principle of worship holds that man may worship God “in no other way than He has commanded us in His Word” (Heidelberg Catechism 96).

[19] Calvin, John, Institutes, Book 4, Chap. 19, Section 13.

[20] See Constitution of the Reformed Church in the United States, Article 192.

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