Christian Reformed Church in North America

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Christian Reformed Church in North America
Christian Reformed Church in North America logo.png
Official Logo of the Christian Reformed Church
Abbreviation CRCNA or CRC
Classification Protestant
Orientation Evangelical/Calvinist
Theology Reformed
Polity Modified-Presbyterian
Region United States, Canada
Headquarters Grand Rapids, Michigan and Burlington, Ontario
Origin 1857
Holland, Michigan
Separated from Founded by Dutch immigrants;
split from the Reformed Church in America
Separations 1924–26 Protestant Reformed Churches;
1988 Orthodox Christian Reformed Churches;
1996 United Reformed Churches in North America
Congregations 1,090 (2015)[1]
Members 245,217 (2014)[1]
Official website

The Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA or CRC) is an Evangelical Protestant Christian denomination in the United States and Canada. Having roots in the Dutch Reformed churches of the Netherlands, the Christian Reformed Church was founded by Gijsbert Haan and Dutch immigrants who left the Reformed Church in America in 1857 and is theologically Calvinist.[2]


The Christian Reformed Church split from the Reformed Church in America in an 1857 Secession, which was in part the result of a theological dispute that originated in the Netherlands. In 1857 four churches and about 130 families separated from what was at the time called the Dutch Reformed Church in America, and the Christian Reformed Church was organised. In March, Noordeloos church of Classis Holland left the Reformed Church in America. Later on March 19 some members of Second Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, organized an independent church that became First CRC, Grand Rapids. On April 8 Graafschap and Polkton churches seceded from Classis Holland of the Reformed Church, and two ministers resigned as ministers of Classis Holland of the Reformed Church in America. On February 8, 1857 the name Ware Hollandsche Gereformeerde Kerk (True Dutch Reformed Church) was chosen for the new denomination. On April 17, Vriesland church left the Reformed Church in America to join Ware Hollandsche Gereformeerde Kerk.

These churches from Classis Holland became the basis for the Christian Reformed Church in North America.[3] The secession was led by Gijsbert Haan and other orthodox ministers of the "northern" or DeCocksian Groninger tradition of the Afscheiding[citation needed] Issues included the perceived liberalization of the church in areas such as the use of hymns instead of only Psalms, offering communion to non-Reformed people, and neglecting doctrines such as predestination. Members of the Reformed Church in America were not as supportive of Private Christians School like the followers of Gijsbert Haan this was another reason for the split. A controversy over Freemasonry in the RCA in the early 1880s led many Dutch Americans into the CRC.

In the 1860s and 1870s several new congregations were organised. In 1876 the Calvin Seminary was founded. In 1887 the first English speaking congregation was planted. In 1891 the 100th church was organised in the denomination. In 1911 the first church was chartered in California.

On January 24, 1925, the suspension of Rev. Henry Danhof of First Christian Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan lead to the organization of First Protesting Christian Reformed Church; the split was because the common-grace controversy. The congregation returned to denominational fellowship in 1946.[4]

In the 60s changing roles for women in the larger society forced the CRC to ask whether women should be allowed to serve in ecclesiastical office. While both sides in this struggle sincerely sought to be biblically obedient and Reformed in their interpretation of the Scriptures, neither side was able to convince the other. The impasse has led to a compromise decision that allows individual churches to ordain women as elders.[5]

Dutch immigrants came to North America and the CRC increased in numbers dramatically in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Their views were shaped largely by the great Dutch theologian and statesman, Dr. Abraham Kuyper. The church had spread in pockets throughout the United States. After the Second World War new wave of immigration of Dutch Calvinists occurred this time mostly to Canada. In the 1960s and 70s the denomination expanded.[6] Some other denominations later merged with the CRC, most notably the True Protestant Dutch Reformed Church (also known as the True Reformed Dutch Church) in 1890. Between 1924 & 1926, a debate over "common grace" led to the formation of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America.

In 2007, the CRC commemorated its sesquicentennial, themed "Grace Through Every Generation: Remembering, Rejoicing, and Rededicating".

Ecumenical Partnerships

In 1975, the CRC joined the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA), the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES) and the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) in forming the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC).

In the last decades of the 20th century, the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church enacted changes that were troubling to the more conservative members of its constituency. Out of concern about the state of affairs in the CRC, a group of ministers formed Mid-America Reformed Seminary in 1981, and around the same time a federation of churches known as the Orthodox Christian Reformed Churches, comprising former CRC congregations, was formed. The 1995 decision to ordain women led to the formation of the United Reformed Churches in North America (URC), and the severing of fraternal relationships between the CRC and the OPC and PCA in 1997. The CRC's membership in NAPARC was suspended in 1999 and terminated in 2001. This gradual doctrinal shift has spurred more conservative congregations to leave, and a significant number of these have ended up in either the PCA, OPC, OCRC, or URC.

The CRC was a charter member of the Reformed Ecumenical Council, which organized at Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1946. The CRC joined the World Alliance of Reformed Churches in 2002[7] after many years of hesitation due to the more liberal membership and agenda of that body. In 2010, the Reformed Ecumenical Council and World Alliance of Reformed Churches merged to form World Communion of Reformed Churches at a joint meeting hosted by the CRC in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The CRC also belongs to the Canadian Council of Churches, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the World Reformed Fellowship and the National Association of Evangelicals.


The denomination is considered evangelical and Calvinist[2] in its theology. It places high value on theological study and the application of theology to current issues, emphasizes the importance of careful Biblical hermeneutics, and has traditionally respected the personal conscience of individual members who feel they are led by the Holy Spirit. The Church promotes the belief that Christians do not earn their salvation, but that it is a wholly unmerited gift from God, and that good works are the Christian response to that gift.

Reformed theology as practiced in the CRC is founded in Calvinism. A more recent theologian of great influence on this denomination was Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920). Kuyper, who served as the Prime Minister of the Netherlands from 1901 to 1905, promoted a belief in social responsibility and called on Christians to engage actively in improving all aspects of life and society. Current scholars with growing reputations, such as philosophers Alvin Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff, as well as the late Lewis B. Smedes have associations with this denomination and with Calvin College. Philip Yancey has stated, "I also admire the tradition of the Christian Reformed Church, which advocates 'bringing every thought captive' under the mind of Christ; that tiny 'transforming' denomination has had an enormous influence on science, philosophy, and the arts."[8]

Doctrinal standards

The CRC subscribes to the Ecumenical Creeds[9]—the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed—as well as three Reformed Confessions, commonly referred as the Three Forms of Unity: the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort.[10]

In 1986, the CRC formulated a statement of faith titled "Our World Belongs to God: A Contemporary Testimony" which addresses issues such as secularism, individualism, and relativism. These issues were seen as "unique challenges of faith presented by the times in which we live".[11]

Life issues

The Christian Reformed Church in North America is opposed to abortion except in cases when the "life of the mother is genuinely threatened" by her pregnancy. The church "affirms the unique value of all human life" from the "moment of conception". Believers are called upon to show "compassion" to those experiencing unwanted pregnancies, even while they speak out against the "atrocity" of abortion. In 2010, the Synod adopted a recommendation "to instruct the Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action (OSJ) to boldly advocate for the church’s position against abortion, and to help equip churches to promote the sanctity of human life" (Acts of Synod 2010, p. 883)."[12]

Unlike many other Christian denominations, the CRC does not have an official stance on euthanasia. Their Acts of the 1972 Synod, however, can be interpreted as also a condemnation of euthanasia, since it opposes "the wanton or arbitrary destruction of any human being at any stage of its development from the point of conception to the point of death". (Acts of Synod 1972, p. 64)[13] The CRC already expressed its official opposition to legal euthanasia both in Canada and the United States.[14]

The CRC has a moderate stance on the death penalty: "The CRC has declared that modern states are not obligated by Scripture, creed, or principle to institute and practice capital punishment. It does, however, recognize that Scripture acknowledges the right of modern states to institute and practice capital punishment if it is exercised with utmost restraint."[15]

The official stance of the CRC is that homosexuality is "a condition of distorted sexuality that reflects the brokenness of our sinful world". Christian homosexuals should not pursue "homosexualism", defined as "explicit homosexual practice", which is "incompatible with obedience to the will of God as revealed in Scripture". Christian homosexuals should be given "loving support" within the church community, compassion, and support "towards healing and wholeness".[16][17]

Political Involvement

The CRC advocates increases in immigration and legalizing illegal immigrants through its Office of Social Justice.[18] The group explains its support, noting "Because we eat and drink communion with immigrants who have no legal status--we have a reason to care. Since we dip our bread into juice, the grapes picked by immigrants who honestly never had any chance of gaining legal status--we have a reason to care."[19] The CRC writes that "Immigrants are essential to filling the shortage of STEM workers." [20]


The Christian Reformed Church emblem approved for U.S. military gravestones.

The ecclesiastical structure of the church is similar to the Presbyterian form of church government, that is, being under governance by local church elders, as compared to Episcopal forms where governance is by bishops and congregational forms where governance is held by the church members. The Christian Reformed Church has three levels of assembly: the church council (local assembly, composed of a congregation's deacons, elders, and ministerial staff), the classis (regional assembly, of which there are 47: 36 in the United States, 12 in Canada, and 1 straddling the international border), and the synod (bi-national assembly.) [21] The church's Synod meets annually in June, with 188 delegates: two ministers and two elders from each classis. The Christian Reformed Church governance or polity is different than the Presbyterian system in that elders and deacons serve for a limited time, not forever, and ministers are ordained and credentialed by a local congregation, not the regional classis or presbytery.[22] Central offices of the church are located in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Burlington, Ontario. The CRC in North America has sent missionaries to many countries around the world where Christian Reformed Churches have been established, but these have organized on their own and are independent from the North American CRC. Many of these are listed under the "See Also" section on this page.

Education and agencies

Reformed teaching puts an emphasis on education. As such, many CRC churches support Christian day schools as well as post-secondary education.[23] This includes Elim Christian Services in Palos Heights, Illinois, which offers a school devoted to the education of those with special needs.

The denomination owns and supports Calvin College as well as Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where the denomination's North American headquarters are located. Historically most ministers ordained in the denomination's churches were trained at Calvin Seminary, in Grand Rapids. Other colleges associated with the denomination are Kuyper College (also located in Grand Rapids), Trinity Christian College, Dordt College, Redeemer University College, The King's University College, and the post-graduate Institute for Christian Studies.[24]


File:BTGH Web Logo 2008.jpg
The logo of The Back to God Hour radio program, which gave Back to God Ministries International its original name.
File:Bgxx BackToGodMinistries logo color.png
The logo of Back to God Ministries International
  • Back to God Ministries International – (formerly The Back to God Hour until 2008) media ministry of the CRCNA that utilizes radio, television, internet and text messaging to reach nearly 200 countries, with 34 websites in 10 languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish[25]
  • Calvin College – the oldest and primary college of the CRCNA
  • Calvin Theological Seminary – the CRCNA seminary for training ministers and those doing ministry work
  • Christian Reformed Home Missions – ministry in U.S. and Canada
  • Christian Reformed World Mission – ministry in the rest of the world
  • World Renew – (formerly "Christian Reformed World Relief Committee" or "CRWRC" until 2012) disaster relief and economic development [26][27]

Departments & Offices

  • Faith Alive Christian Resources - formerly known as CRC Publications until 2007, this arm publishes books, magazines and learning materials. In 2013, Faith Alive was reorganized from a CRC agency with its own board to a Department supervised by the CRC Board of Trustees.
  • Canadian Ministries
  • Candidacy Committee
  • Chaplaincy & Care Ministry
  • CRC Foundation
  • Disability Concerns
  • Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee (EIRC)
  • CRC Loan Fund
  • Office of Social Justice
  • Pastor-Church Relations
  • Race Relations
  • Safe Church
  • Servicelink
  • Sustaining Congregational Excellence (SCE)
  • Sustaining Pastoral Excellence (SPE)

Denominationally Related Agencies


Year Membership churches
1963 256,015 585
1964 263,178 597
1965 268,165 610
1966 272,461 624
1967 275,530 629
1968 278,869 634
1969 281,523 648
1970 284,737 658
1971 285,628 660
1972 286,094 674
1973 287,114 750
1974 287,553 763
1975 286,371 688
1976 287,503 695
1977 288,024 706
1978 287,656 791
1979 289,011 814
1980 292,379 828
1981 294,354 824
1982 296,706 828
1983 299,685 828
1984 302,436 838
1985 305,228 853
1986 306,309 959
1987 308,993 876
1988 310,160 891
1989 310,014 903
1990 314,226 941
1991 315,086 958
1992 316,415 981
1993 311,202 979
1994 300,320 979
1995 294,179 985
1996 291,796 991
1997 285,864 987
1998 279,029 972
1999 275,466 964
2000 276,376 982
2001 279,068 991
2002 278,944 989
2003 278,798 995
2004 275,708 1,002
2005 273,220 1,021
2006 272,127 1,047
2007 269,221 1,057
2008 268,052 1,049
2009 264,330 1,059
2010 262,588 1,078
2011 255,706 1,084
2012 251,727 1,099
2013 248,258 1,101
2014 245,217 1,103
2015 249,227 1090[28]

CRC churches are predominantly located in areas of Dutch immigrant settlement in North America, including Brookfield, Wisconsin, Western Michigan, Chicago, the city of Lynden in Washington State, British Columbia, Ontario, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Alberta, Iowa, suburban southern California, Ripon, California, and northern New Jersey.[29] About 75% of the CRCNA congregations are located in the USA, while the remaining 25% are in Canada.[2] The church has grown more ethnically diverse with some congregations predominantly Native American, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, African-American and Hispanic. All together, Christian Reformed Churches speak around 20 languages and over 170 congregations speak a language other than English or Dutch.[29] Many churches, particularly in more urban areas, are becoming much more integrated. Emerging from its role as primarily an immigrant church, the church has become more outward focused in recent years.[30]

Christian Reformed Churches in the USA by county, 2008

Membership trends

After a time of steady growth during the period of 1963–1992, membership totals have since seen a steady decline, even though the number of churches has grown.[1] In 1992, at the height of its membership, the Christian Reformed Churches had 316,415 members in 981 churches in the United States and Canada. In 2012 membership had dropped to 251,727 members in 1099 churches, marking a loss of 65,000 members (or 20% of its membership) in the last 20 years.

In 2015 CRC reported membership growth, first time since 1992. According to recent statistics the denomination has 249,227 members in 1090 congregations.[31]

Notable members

Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church and founder of Willow Creek Association, was raised in the Christian Reformed Church, but left and was a critic of the CRC's apparent lack of evangelistic focus. In later years, Hybels has softened his stance, noting that the CRC has made progress in evangelism and that many CRC members attend the evangelism conferences hosted by the church he founded. Others, such as novelist Peter De Vries and filmmakers Paul Schrader (Raging Bull, Taxi Driver), Leonard Schrader (Kiss of the Spider Woman) and Patricia Rozema (I've Heard the Mermaids Sing, Mansfield Park) were raised in the church by CRC-member parents and attended denominational schools, but later left the church. However, the influence of CRC origin can be detected in their later work, especially the films of Paul Schrader, who has publicly stated that "a religious upbringing... never goes away."[33]

Harold Camping, president of Family Radio, was a member of the Christian Reformed Church until 1988, when he left the church, claiming that the spirit of God had left all churches.[34]

Wiebo Ludwig, a convicted Eco-activist and the leader of the Trickle Creek Christian community in northern Alberta, was raised in a Dutch Reformed church, and attended both Dordt College and Calvin Theological Seminary.

See also

The Christian Reformed Church is not a worldwide organization but has similar, independent church bodies in other lands.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Membership Statistics. Christian Reformed Church.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Welcome: Learn about the CRC. Christian Reformed Church.
  3. "First sesquicentennial", Charles Honey. The Grand Rapids Press, March 17, 2007. D1
  4. Memorable Events. Christian Reformed Church.
  5. History. Christian Reformed Church.
  6. Separation from the Dutch Reformed Church. Christian Reformed Church.
  7. Acts of Synod 2002, pg.485; Acts of Synod 2003, pg.231
  8. Philip Yancey, "A State of Ungrace Part 2" Christianity Today Vol. 41, No. 2. February 3, 1997
  9. De Moor, Robert (2001). Reformed: What It Means, Why It Matters. Faith Alive Christian Resources. p. 67. ISBN 1-56212-433-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Psalter Hymnal: Doctrinal Standards and Liturgy of the Christian Reformed Church. Publication Committee of the Christian Reformed Church, Inc. 1959.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. De Moor, Robert (2001). Reformed: What It Means, Why It Matters. Faith Alive Christian Resources. p. 68. ISBN 1-56212-433-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Christian Reformed Church in North America Stance on Abortion
  13. Christian Reformed Church in North America on euthanasia. Christian Reformed Church.
  14. CRC Urges Action on Euthanasia Bill, November 16, 2009
  15. CRC on capital punishment
  16. "Homosexuality". Christian Reformed Church. Retrieved 18 September 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "Pastoral Care for Homosexual Members" (PDF). Christian Reformed Church. Retrieved 18 September 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Issues: Immigration Reform. Christian Reformed Church, Office of Social Justice.
  19. Immigration 101: Why we care Christian Reformed Church, Office of Social Justice.
  20. CRC Social Justice
  21. Christian Reformed Church Governance. Christian Reformed Church.
  22. Church Order and Its Supplements 2013, page 9.
  23. De Moor, Robert (2001). Reformed: What It Means, Why It Matters. Faith Alive Christian Resources. pp. 58–59. ISBN 1-56212-433-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Happy 150th, CRC!, Rev. Scott Hoezee, The Banner, 2007
  26. World Renew.
  27. Acts of Synod, page 606
  29. 29.0 29.1 CRC Church Finder
  30. The CRC and You.
  32. [1]
  33. Festival of Faith and Writing brings together a variety of voices. Calvin College – Spark On-Line.


  • Bratt, James H. Dutch Calvinism in Modern America: A History of a Conservative Subculture. Eerdmans, 1984.
  • Doezema, Linda Pegman. Dutch Americans: A Guide to Information Sources. Gale Research, 1979.
  • Kroes, Rob, and Henk-Otto Neuschafer, eds. The Dutch in North America: Their Immigration and Cultural Continuity. Amsterdam: Free University Press, 1991.
  • Kromminga, John. The Christian Reformed Church: A Study in Orthodoxy. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1949.
  • Schaap, James. Our Family Album: The Unfinished Story of the Christian Reformed Church. Grand Rapids, Mich.: CRC Publications, 1998.
  • Sheeres, Janet Sjaarda. Son of Secession: Douwe J. Vander Werp. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2006.
  • Smidt, Corwin, Donald Luidens, James Penning, and Roger Nemeth. Divided by a Common Heritage: The Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church in America at the Beginning of the New Millennium. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006.
  • Swierenga, Robert. Faith and Family: Dutch Immigration and Settlement in the United States, 1820–1920 (2000)
  • Zwaanstra, Henry. Reformed Thought and Experience in a New World: A Study of the Christian Reformed Church and Its American Environment 1890–1918. The Netherlands: Kampen, 1973. 331 pp.

External links