Timeline by Jessica Cronau, Elizabeth Ensink, Matthew Meyerhuber, & Jonathan Tilden
Holland, Michigan is a predominantly Reformed Christian community with a historic Dutch identity, but the split of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) from the Reformed Church in America (RCA) in 1857 reveals distinct differences within the group of settlers from the Netherlands. This timeline examines the history of this schism between 1834 and 1885 in order to understand the differences in theology, liturgy, and demographic backgrounds of the RCA and CRC congregations. Further, it examines the relationship between these issues of religious integrity and the preservation of Dutch identity and culture, drawing on interviews, archival research, and existing literature on the topic.
The theological differences underlying the schism are well-defined, but this timeline investigates the demographic and cultural identity issues that also had a role in the schism. This fits into the broader theories of secularization and modernization that are important in understanding the separatist attitude of many in the Dutch Reformed churches. When the Dutch immigrants settled in America, they were faced with cultural pressures, such as use of the English language, that altered their identity. This “Americanization” eroded religious orthodoxy. There were two responses available then to religious communities dealing with modernization and secularization—accommodation to culture or resistance to culture. It was in this choice that the RCA and CRC differed. The RCA and CRC have similar heritages, liturgies, and cultures. However, the CRC has historically placed greater emphasis on doctrinal purity, and the RCA has been more focused on church unity. The CRC claimed separatism to preserve Dutch culture, believing they were the one true church because their members came to America later with the intent of making an orthodox Dutch Reformed community.
This timeline further illuminates the modern status of many towns across America that have both RCA and CRC churches within walking distance of each other. With the RCA and CRC currently making efforts toward reconciliation, a historical understanding of the issues that originally divided them is crucial.
Click on the timeline below to interact with the split of the RCA and CRC church.