1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Reformed Church in America
REFORMED CHURCH IN AMERICA, until 1867 called officially “The Reformed Protestant Dutch Church in North America,” and still popularly called the Dutch Reformed Church, an American Calvinist church, originating with the Settlers from Holland in New York, New Jersey and Delaware, the first permanent settlers of the Reformed faith in the New World. Their earliest settlements were at Manhattan, Wallabout and Fort Orange (now Albany), where the West India Company formally established the Reformed Church of Holland. Their first minister was Jonas Michaelius, pastor in New Amsterdam of the “church in the fort” (now the Collegiate Church of New York City). The second domine, Everardus Bogardus (d. 1647), migrated to New York in 1633 with Governor Wouter van Twiller, with whom he quarrelled continually; in the same year a wooden church “in the fort” was built; and in 1642 it was succeeded by a stone building. A minister, John van Mekelenburg (Johannes Megapolensis) migrated to Rensselaerwyck manor in 1642, preached to the Indians—probably before any other Protestant minister—and after 1649 was settled in New Amsterdam. With the access of English and French settlers, Samuel Drisius, who preached in Dutch, German, English and French, was summoned, and he laboured in New Amsterdam and New York from 1652 to 1673. On Long Island John T. Polhemus preached at Flatbush in 1654–76. During Peter Stuyvesant’s governorship there was little toleration of other denominations, but the West India Company reversed his intolerant proclamations against Lutherans and Quakers. About 1659 a French and Dutch church was organized in Harlem. The first church in New Jersey, at Bergen, in 1661, was quickly followed by others at Hackensack and Passaic. After English rule in 1664 displaced Dutch in New York, the relations of the Dutch churches there were much less close with the state Church of Holland; and in 1679 (on the request of the English governor of New York, to whom the people of New Castle appealed) a classis was constituted for the ordination of a pastor for the church in New Castle, Delaware. The Dutch strongly opposed the establishment of the Church of England, and contributed largely toward the adoption (in October 1683) of the Charter of Liberties which confirmed in their privileges all churches then “in practice” in the city of New York and elsewhere in the province, but which was repealed by James II. in 1686, when he established the Church of England in New York but allowed religious liberty to the Dutch and others. The Dutch ministers stood by James’s government during Leisler’s rebellion. Under William III., Governors Sloughter and Fletcher worked for a law (passed in 1693 and approved in 1697) for the settling of a ministry in New York, Richmond, Westchester and Queen’s counties; but the Assembly foiled Fletcher’s purpose of establishing a Church of England clergy, although he attempted to construe the act as applying only to the English Church. In 1696 the first church charter in New York was granted to the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church (now the Collegiate Church) of New York City; at this time there were Dutch ministers at Albany and Kingston, on Long Island and in New Jersey; and for years the Dutch and English (Episcopalian) churches alone received charters in New York and New Jersey—the Dutch church being treated practically as an establishment-and the church of the fort and Trinity (Episcopalian; chartered 1697) were fraternally harmonious. In 1700 there were twenty-nine Reformed Dutch churches out of a total of fifty in New York. During the administration of Governor Edward Hyde, Lord Cornbury, many members joined the Episcopal Church and others removed to New Jersey. The Great Awakening crowned the efforts of Theodore ]. Frelinghuysen, who had come over as a Dutch pastor in 1720 and had opposed formalism and preached a revival. The Church in America in 1738 asked the Classis of Amsterdam (to whose care it had been transferred from the West India Company) for the privilege of forming a Coetus or Association with power to ordain in America; the Classis, after trying to join the Dutch with the English Presbyterian churches, granted (1747) a Coetus first to the German and then to the Dutch churches, which therefore in September 1754 organized themselves into a classis. This action was opposed by the church of New York City, and partly through this difference and partly because of quarrels over the denominational control of King’s College (now Columbia), five members of the Coetus seceded, and as the president of the Coetus was one of them they took the records with them; they were called the Conferentie; they organized independently in 1764 and carried on a bitter warfare with the Coetus (now more properly called the American Classis), which in 1766 (and again in 1770) obtained a charter for Queen’s (now Rutgers) College at New Brunswick. But in 1771–72 through the efforts of John H. Livingston (1746–1825), who had become pastor of the New York City church in 1770, on the basis of a plan drafted by the Classis of Amsterdam Coetus and Conferentie were reunited with a substantial independence of Amsterdam, which was made complete in 1792 when the Synod (the nomenclature of synod and Classis had been adopted upon the declaration of American Independence) adopted a translation of the eighty-four Articles of Dort on Church Order with seventy-three “explanatory articles.” In 1800 there were about forty ministers and one hundred churches. In 1819 the Church was incorporated as the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church; and in 1867 the name was changed to the Reformed Church in America. Preaching in Dutch had nearly ceased in 1820, but about 1846 a new Dutch immigration began, especially in Michigan, and fifty years later Dutch preaching was common in nearly one-third of the churches of the country, only to disappear almost entirely in the next decade. Union with other Reformed churches was planned in 1743, in 1784, in 1816–20, 1873–78 and 1886, but unsuccessfully; however, ministers go from one to another charge in the Dutch and German Reformed, Presbyterian, and to a less degree Congregational churches.
A conservative secession “on account of Hopkinsian errors” in 1822 of six ministers (five then under suspension) organized a General Synod and the classes of Hackensack and Union (central New York) in 1824; it united with the Christian Reformed Church, established by immigrants from Holland after 1835, to which there was added a fresh American secession in 1882 due to opposition (on the part of the seceders) to secret societies.
The organization of the Church is: a General Synod (1794); the (particular) synods of New York (1800), Albany (1800), Chicago (1856) and New Brunswick (1869); classes, corresponding to the presbyteries of other Calvinistic bodies; and the churches, numbering, in 1906, 659. The agencies of the Church are: the Board of Education, privately organized in 1828 and adopted by the General Synod in 1831; a Widows’ Fund (1837) and a Disabled Ministers’ Fund; a Board of Publication (1855); a Board of Domestic Missions (1831; reorganized 1849) with a Church Building Fund and a Woman’s Executive Committee; a Board of Foreign Missions (1832) succeeding the United Missionary Society (1816), which included Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed and Associate Reformed Churches, and which was merged (1826) in the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, from which the Dutch Church did not entirely separate itself until 1857; and a Woman’s Board of Foreign Missions (1875). The principal missions are in India at Arcot (1854; transferred in 1902 to the Synod of S. India) and at Amoy in China (1842); and the work of the Church in Japan was very successful, especially under Guido Fridolin Verbeck (1830–1898), and 1877 native churches built up by Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed missionaries were organized as the United Church of our Lord Jesus Christ in Japan. There is also an Arabian mission, begun privately in 1888 and transferred to the Board in 1894.
The colleges and institutions of learning connected with the Church are: Rutgers, already mentioned; Union College (1795), the outgrowth of Schenectady Academy, founded in 1785 by Dirck Romeyn, a Dutch minister; Hope College (1866; coeducational) at Holland, Michigan, originally a parochial school (1850) and then (1855) Holland Academy; the Theological Seminary at New Brunswick (q.v.); and the Western Theological Seminary (1869) at Holland, Michigan.
In 1906 (according to Bulletin 103 (1909) of the Bureau of the U.S. Census) there were 659 organizations with 773 church edifices reported and the total membership was 124,938. More than one half of this total membership (63,350) was in New York state, the principal home of the first great Dutch immigration; more than one-quarter (32,290) was in New Jersey; and the other states were: Michigan (11,260), Illinois (4962), Iowa (4835), Wisconsin (2312), and Pennsylvania (1979). The Church was also represented in Minnesota, S. Dakota, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Indiana, Ohio, Kansas, N. Dakota, S. Carolina, Washington and Maryland—the order being that of rank in number of communicants.
The Christian Reformed Church, an “old school” secession, had in 1906, 174 organizations, 181 churches and a membership of 26,669, of which more than one-half (14,779) was in Michigan, where many of the immigrants who came after 1835 belonged to the secession church in Holland. There were 2990 in Iowa, 2392 in New Jersey, 2332 in Illinois, and smaller numbers in Wisconsin, Indiana, Minnesota, S. Dakota, Ohio, New York, Washington, Kansas, Massachusetts, Montana, N. Dakota, New Mexico, Nebraska and Colorado.
See D. D. Demarest, The Reformed Church in America (New York, 1889); E. T. Corwin, The Manual of the Reformed Church in America (ibid., 4th ed., 1902), his sketch of the history of the Church in vol. viii. (ibid., 1895) of the American Church History Series, and his Ecclesiastical Records of the State of New York (Albany, 1901 sqq.), published by the State of New York.
- In 1832 the articles of Church government were rearranged and in 1872–74 they were amended.
- See W. E. Griffis, Verbeck of Japan (New York, 1900).