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
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out of date.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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