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Reformed Churches

REFORMED CHURCHES

REFORMED CHURCHES. The Reformed branch of the Protestant Reformation yielded two main streams in North America. Presbyterians, the English-speaking expression of Reformed Christianity, have always had a larger presence in American history thanks in part to language and culture. The second stream came to the United States by way of northern Europe, where the term "Reformed" signifies essentially the same thing as "Presbyterian" in Britain. Both Reformed and Presbyterians follow the reforms launched most notably by John Calvin in the sixteenth century. Theologically, they stress human depravity and dependence on divine mercy for salvation. Liturgically, they practice a simple form of worship that stresses the centrality of Scripture. Governmentally, these churches follow a presbyterian order that grants authority to elders through a series of graded ecclesiastical assemblies. For Reformed churches these are the consistory at the congregational level, the classis at the regional, and the synod for national purposes.

The first Dutch Reformed congregation was established in 1628 in New York City. The surrounding areas were centers of Dutch Calvinist strength throughout the colonial period. These churches remained generally uniform in their Dutch identity and piety, even after the English gained control of New York, until a new and more enthusiastic form of devotion began to divide ministers and laity alike. The revivals of the First Great Awakening fueled these tensions to the point that two identifiable parties emerged—the conferentie, who championed the order of inherited Dutch ways, and the coetus party, who favored zeal and autonomy from the Old World. By 1772, church leaders had effected a compromise that allowed the American churches greater autonomy from Dutch oversight while retaining the Dutch language for worship. Eventually, this led to the founding in 1792 of the Reformed Church in America (RCA) the oldest and largest of the Dutch Reformed bodies.

A new wave of Dutch immigration in the mid-nineteenth century, however, created strains on the established church, especially notable when American practices did not line up with those in the Netherlands. The recent immigrants became frustrated with the perceived laxness of the RCA and in 1857 founded the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), the second-largest Dutch Reformed denomination. In the 1920s, a debate in the CRC over worldliness and ecumenical relations precipitated the 1924 split that produced the Protestant Reformed Churches in America. In 1996, a number of congregations left the CRC over the issue of women's ordination to found the United Reformed Churches in North America. Subsequent twentieth-century migrations from the Netherlands have yielded several other Dutch Reformed denominations—the Free Reformed Churches, the Canadian and American Reformed Churches, the Netherlands Reformed Congregations, and the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregations.

German and Hungarian Reformed denominations have also been part of the ecclesiastical mosaic of the United States. The former traces its roots back to the formation of the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS), a synod that first convened in 1793. The RCUS blossomed during the mid-nineteenth century under the theological leadership of John Williamson Nevin (1803– 1886) and Philip Schaff (1819–1893), both of whom taught at the denomination's seminary in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. From the beginning of the twentieth century, the RCUS participated actively in Protestant ecumenical conversations, and in 1934 joined the Evangelical Synod of North America to become the Evangelical and Reformed Church, the denomination in which brothers Reinhold (1892–1971) and H. Richard Niebuhr (1894– 1962) ministered. In 1957, this body merged with the Congregational Christian Churches to form the United Church of Christ. The German Reformed tradition continues in another denomination with the name Reformed Church in the United States, a body that refused to join the merger of 1934. First called the RCUS, Eureka Classis, the regional association of churches in the Dakotas and northern Iowa, these congregations eventually dropped the geographical descriptor to be simply the RCUS.

The history of the Hungarian Reformed churches is bound up with the German Reformed. The small number of Hungarian Reformed made the construction of a formal association of churches difficult. Consequently, from 1890 they received oversight from the RCUS. In 1904, the Hungarian Reformed churches withdrew from the RCUS and came under the supervision of the Reformed Church in Hungary. After World War I (1914–1918), maintaining relations with the church in the motherland became difficult. Some of the Hungarian Reformed churches reaffiliated with the RCUS and eventually became an ethnic synod within first the Evangelical and Reformed Church and then within the United Church of Christ. Other congregations in 1924 formed the Free Magyar Reformed Church in America. In 1958 this body adopted the name Hungarian Reformed Church in America.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Balmer, Randall H. A Perfect Babel of Confusion: Dutch Religion and English Culture in the Middle Colonies. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Bratt, James D. Dutch Calvinism in Modern America: A History of a Conservative Subculture. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1984.

Fabend, Firth Haring. Zion on the Hudson: Dutch New York and New Jersey in the Age of Revivals. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2000.

Gunnemann, Louis H. The Shaping of the United Church of Christ: An Essay in the History of American Christianity. New York: United Church Press, 1977.

Parsons, William T. The German Reformed Experience in Colonial America. Philadelphia: United Church Press, 1976.

Piepkorn, Arthur Carl. Profiles in Belief: The Religious Bodies of the United States and Canada. New York: Harper and Row, 1977.

D. G.Hart

See alsoCalvinism ; United Church of Christ .

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Reformed Church in America

Reformed Church in America, Protestant denomination founded in colonial times by settlers from the Netherlands and formerly known as the Dutch Reformed Church. The Reformed Church in Holland emerged in the 16th cent., after Calvinism gained influence in the northern provinces of the Netherlands. In 1571 a synod held at Emden laid the foundation for the Reformed Church. A liturgy was formulated along Reformation lines, and a modified Presbyterian form of polity was adopted. The Belgic Confession of Faith (1561) and the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) were made the basis of the new church; later, the canons of the Synod of Dort (1619) were added. After 1581, when the northern provinces of the Netherlands declared their independence from Spain, the Reformed Church grew even stronger.

In America, the early Dutch settlers in New Netherland held informal meetings for worship until Jonas Michaelius organized (1628) a congregation in New Amsterdam, called the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church. Four churches in New York City (the Fort Washington Collegiate Church, Middle Collegiate Church, Marble Collegiate Church, and West End Collegiate Church) are descendants of this early activity. Until the English conquest of New Netherland in 1664, the Reformed Church was the established church of the colony. After that, while still owing ecclesiastical allegiance to the classis (i.e., governing body) of Amsterdam in Holland, the church gave civil allegiance to England. However, the church continued to expand.

Permission was given (1747) to form an assembly in America, which in 1754 declared itself independent of the classis of Amsterdam. This American classis secured a charter (1766) for Queens College (now Rutgers Univ.) in New Jersey. The appointment (1784) of John Henry Livingston as professor of theology marked the beginning of the New Brunswick Theological Seminary. In 1792 a formal constitution was adopted; in 1794 the Reformed Church held its first general synod; and in 1867 the present name became the official one.

The church embraces many of the historic colonial churches of New York and New Jersey, the denominational stronghold; fresh immigration from the Netherlands in the mid-19th cent. led to the development of the church in the Midwest. Hope College and Western Theological Seminary were founded in Holland, Mich., and Central College at Pella, Iowa. In 1857 a group of Dutch settlers in Michigan separated from the Reformed Church and organized the Christian Reformed Church; in 1922 that body received most of the American congregation of the Reformed Church of Hungary.

A small part of the Eureka classis, organized in 1910 in South Dakota, continued as the Reformed Church in the United States after the majority of the body merged (1934) into the Evangelical and Reformed Church, which joined (1961) the Congregational Christian Churches to become the United Church of Christ. The Reformed Church in America, which has long been active in the foreign mission field, numbers about 305,000 (1997). Several attempts at unification between the Reformed Church and other Reformed and Presbyterian groups have proved unsuccessful.

See M. G. Hansen, The Reformed Church in the Netherlands, 1340–1840 (1884); J. J. Birch, The Pioneering Church in the Mohawk Valley (1955).

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Reformed churches

Reformed churches, in a general sense, all Protestant churches that claim a beginning in the Reformation. In more restricted and more usual historical usage, Reformed churches are those Protestant churches that had their ecclesiastical origin in the doctrines of John Calvin, as distinct from those that are Lutheran or Evangelical. Swiss and Dutch churches and many in Germany came to be denominated Reformed. The Reformed churches as a rule follow the polity of Presbyterianism. They tend toward a simple form of worship rather than elaborate ritual. In the United States, churches bearing the Reformed title include the Reformed Church in America, generally known as the Dutch Reformed Church, the Christian Reformed Church, the Evangelical and Reformed Church, and the Free Magyar Reformed Church in America. The first two trace their origin to Holland, the third to Germany and Switzerland, and the fourth to Hungary. See Calvinism.

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Reformed church

Reformed church Any Christian denomination that came into being during the Reformation by separating, as a congregation, from the old universal Catholic Church (the Western Church). More specifically, Reformed Churches are those Churches that adopted Calvinism in preference to Lutheranism. In the USA, the largest Reformed Churches, such as the Dutch Reformed Church and the Evangelical and Reformed Church, originated from n European countries, particularly Holland and Germany.

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Reformed Churches

Reformed Churches. Term loosely applied to Protestant churches, but specifically those which hold Calvinistic, as opposed to Lutheran, theology. See further PRESBYTERIANISM for the distinctions among Reformed Churches.

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Reformed Church in the United States

Reformed Church in the United States: see Evangelical and Reformed Church.

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