Christian Reformed Church of Perth

 

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CRCA History

 

1. Our Roots in the Reformation

The Reformed Churches of Australia trace their origin back to the Swiss or Reformed Reformation, which began independently of, but at the same time as the Lutheran Reformation in Germany. While Zwingli is regarded as the founder of the Reformed Reformation, it was Calvin who completed it.

Calvin produced his "Institutes of the Christian Religion", the greatest dogmatic work of the Reformation. He was also a brilliant church organiser, having formulated and implemented the Presbyterian type of church government which we still use in the Reformed Churches of Australia (RCA) and other Reformed Churches.

Calvin liked the name Reformed Church, because he saw it very much as a re-forming of the Christian Church.


2. Our Roots in the Netherlands (Holland)

The Dutch had long been critical of the Roman Church's excesses, consequently many Dutchman studied under Calvin and his Successor, Beza, in Geneva. On returning to their homeland, they preached their new found faith and translated some of the Calvinistic writings into Dutch.

 

3. Formation of the Dutch Reformed Church

The Protestant Church, although still persecuted at the time, held its first synod at Emden in 1571. This synod adopted the Belgic Confession and the Genevan system of Church government for all the Dutch churches, thereby, in effect, forming the Dutch Reformed Church. The system of church government was of local sessions meeting weekly, classes (made up of groups of sessions) meeting 3 monthly, synods meeting each year in 3 areas, and to complete the structure, every 2 years a national synod.

After the peace of Westphalia, this church was recognised as being 'the' church of the Republic of the United Netherlands.

The Remonstrants: The national church was effectively split late in the 16th century by what is now known as Arminianism. The central figure in this debate was Arminius, who rejected what are now known as the 5 points of Calvinism. To resolve the issue, an international Synod was held at Dordt in 1618-19. This synod, which became known as the Synod of Dordt, rejected the Arminian position by formulating the Canons of Dordt, which set forth the 5 points of Calvinism. These Canons are one of the 3 doctrinal standards of the RCA.


4. The Secession of 1834

With the advent of the French Revolution and its aftermath, the Dutch Reformed Church fell to a very low level due to a liberalism that regarded Reformed doctrines as being out of date. But some ministers and thousands of middle and lower class members remained faithful to Reformed teaching, and tried to get the Church to live up to its creeds and church order.

A revival began to occur among the upper classes, largely through men who had been affected by a Genevan Revival, which in turn resulted from men being influenced by Whitefield and the Wesleys.

One of the faithful ministers, De Cock, led a secession in 1834 (known as the Afscheiding) when it became impossible to work for reform within the Church. The secession group stated that they would not fellowship with the Dutch Reformed Church until that church returned to the true service of the Lord. The secession group, which became known as the Christian Reformed Church, went back to the standards of the Dutch Reformed Church (i.e. Heidelberg Catechism, Canons of Dordt, Belgic Confessions) and adopted the Church Order of 1618-19. Other local congregations joined the secession, and they held their first Synod in 1836, and founded their own theological college in Kampen in 1854. Due to persecution, two of the leaders of the secession led their congregations to Iowa and Michigan, and it was from this initial migration that the Christian Reformed Church grew in the U.S.A. (Much of the Sunday School and Catechism instruction material we use is produced by this church.)


5. The Secession of 1886

Some years after the 1834 secession, Abraham Kuyper, a young minister of modern persuasion within the Dutch Reformed Church, was 'converted' to Calvinism by the witness of his staunchly Calvinistic congregation. Thereafter, Kuyper sought to make the Dutch Reformed Church to once more be a vibrant bastion of the Calvinist faith. He tried to work within the Church, but he and his followers were forced to leave their church in 1886, resulting in a second large secession from the Dutch Reformed Church. This secession became known as the Doleantie.


6. The Formation of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN)

As the motivation for both secessions had been much the same, members and leaders of both groups worked for unity. Finally, in 1892, the bulk of the Christian Reformed Church was united with the Doleantie Churches to form one church known by the name of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN). This new church consisted of over 700 churches and some 300,000 members. However, some C.R.C. members and ministers did not enter the union, apparently due to concerns about aspects of Abraham Kuyper's teachings, in particular presumptive regeneration. The GKN sought to apply the Scriptural teachings in their fullness to every area of human activity, and took a very strong stand on the three forms of unity and adopted the 1618-19 Church Order. The GKN did not want the age old church state power struggle to re-emerge, and so she worked toward the idea held by Anabaptists since the Reformation, that there should be separation of Church and State, and this is still the view of the RCA today. Kuyper was the main force behind this development, and he wanted Christians to be active in politics etc., but he wanted them to work as groups of Christians not as representatives of the Church.

The GKN, to which most of the original members of the RCA belonged before migrating to Australia, was troubled in 1944 when some 100,000 members and ministers left with Dr. Schilder over the matter of the power of Synod to depose ministers and elders, and over the doctrine of presumptive regeneration. This split-off became known as the Free Reformed Church (earlier Reformed Church maintaining Article 31). A small number of their membership joined the RCA upon migrating to Australia, while most did not and formed Free Reformed Churches in Launceston, Tas. and in W.A.


7. The Formation of the Reformed Churches of Australia

After World War 2, many people of the various Reformed Churches of the Netherlands sought to leave behind the problems of post-war Europe. A relatively small proportion of these people settled in Australia. The Reformed migrants were mainly members of the GKN, although there were also a significant number of members from the Dutch Reformed Church, (but these join the Presbyterian Church). These migrants were advised to seek the pastoral care of the Scottish Free Presbyterians upon their arrival in Australia.

In 1949-50 the GKN sent Rev. J. Kremer to Australia to investigate the spiritual and church life of the various Reformed groups that had settled in Australia. As a consequence of this visit, the Free Presbyterian Church of St. Kilda extended a "call" to a GKN minister in the Netherlands to work within the Free Church, to assist the work among the Dutch migrants.

The differences between the culture of the Australian-Scottish Presbyterians and the Reformed Netherlanders was itself a hindrance, but the real problem was that the Dutch were not at home with the liturgical restrictions of the Free Church (no organs, no hymns). Having again experienced the familiarity of worship services in their own mother tongue upon the arrival of the GKN minister, and in the format they had learnt to love since childhood, it was almost impossible for the Dutch migrants to genuinely desire to be a part of the Free Church. As other denominations were too liberal, the Dutch migrants decided in December 1951 to organise a separate denomination, resulting in the institution of Reformed Churches in Sydney, Penguin and Melbourne. These churches, and others that had been instituted in the meantime, assembled in June 1952 to hold their first 'Synod'. At this Synod, the name 'Reformed Churches of Australia' was adopted, as were the three forms of unity as adopted by the GKN. In 1953, our church adopted the 1618-19 Church Order as modified by the Christian Reformed Church of the USA in 1912.

Thus were born the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia.
 

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