GENERAL DEVELOPMENTS AND GROWTH OF THE CRCNA
It has been noted several times up until now that the Christian Reformed Church in North America grew for its first half-century largely in isolation from its North American surroundings, while maintaining very strong links to the religious scene in the Netherlands. The church grew by immigration and by giving birth to "covenant children." Because worship and social life were carried on almost entirely in close, Dutch- speaking communities, there was very little ability to reach out to surrounding communities evangelistically. Nor, unfortunately, was there much desire to do so. "Missions" was considered something of an obligation and small efforts were exerted from time to time, but the objects of these early mission efforts were the "pagan" (i.e., Native American) groups and not the neighbor of European descent.
Pastors for the CRC continued to be called from the Netherlands. These were educated in the Dutch CRC school in Kampen (pietistic) or in Kuyper's Free University (neo-Calvinistic). However, those in North America also felt the need to raise up trained leaders from their own midst as well, and as early as 1876 provisions were made for secondary training for the gospel ministry. March 15, 1876, is considered the "birthday" of the present Calvin College and Seminary. The school certainly had humble beginnings, like the church which gave birth to it, and changed locations several times, eventually growing into a separate liberal arts college and theological seminary. The Seminary came to be more and more important in the life of the church as the North American CRC came out of isolation and self-consciously sought out its role in its own land, depending less and less on theological developments and training going on in the Netherlands.
The Christian Reformed Church continued to grow steadily (see chart), reaching the milestones of 100 congregations in 1896, 200 in 1912, 300 in 1940, 400 in 1952, and 500 around 1960. Because of the influx of immigrants with new social awareness and greater intellectual sophistication, thanks largely to Kuyper's influence, different emphases or mentalities began to appear in the church, resulting in the already mentioned variations in preaching styles and some amount of controversy. Periodicals and pamphlets appeared championing one emphasis or the other and often engaging the others in debate. As publications increased, publishing houses also appeared, giving rise to the birth of the Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. ( the oldest of the three, having begun before W.W. I), the Zondervan Publishing House (1932), and the Baker Book House (1939). The official publication of the CRC at this time was the Dutch-language De Wachter, but to this was added the English language Banner. However it was the unofficial publications in which various positions were taken and championed, while the content of the official publications depended on the convictions of the present editor.
James D. Bratt in his book, Dutch Calvinism in Modern America ( Eerdmans, 1984), outlines four somewhat opposed viewpoints or "mentalities" often found among the Western RCA and CRCNA congregations in the late 19th Century and continuing into the early 20th. The four can be grouped into two, as is often done, i.e. the Pietistic ( traditional) and the Neo-Calvinistic ("Kuyperian"), but he further divides them into Outgoing/Positive and Defensive/Antithetical. Thus the Outgoing Pietists focused on traditional Reformed doctrine, building up of the covenant community, and providing a positive witness to the North American religious scene, hoping to reform it morally by emphasizing progress in the sanctification of believers, being optimistic that the Dutch Calvinist had a positive contribution to make there. The Defensive Pietists, while sharing their emphasis on personal piety with the Positive Pietists, focused more on man's lostness, his moral bankruptcy and the need to protect the youth from the almost exclusively negative outside influences of North American life, maintaining strict doctrinal instruction and fierce loyalty to the confessions and constantly warning against worldliness. This group is often known as the Confessionalists. Both groups of Pietists tended to be "infralapsarian" in theology, consistent with their emphasis on personal religious experience. The Positive Calvinists were thoroughly forward-looking disciples of Kuyper who wanted to drag the CRC out of its isolation and to establish a Calvinistic influence in all aspects of North American life, i.e., not just in the institutional church, but in schools, labor unions and political parties as well.
BRATT'S FOUR MENTALITIES IN THE CRCNA (from Bratt, p. 47)
Often at odds with the largely reactionary Defensive Pietists, this group more than any other helped bring the CRCNA out of its Dutch isolation. Finally, Bratt lists the Antithetical Calvinists, also Kuyperian in their thinking and, consistent with their emphasis on the sovereignty of God, "supralapsarian" in their theology, who were largely preoccupied with pointing out the false religious principles and destructive philosophical undergirdings of America in general and other religious groups (Methodists, for example) and theologians (the liberal and neo-orthodox) in particular. Understanding these four mentalities is critical to understanding the composition and quarrels which go on in the CRC even today.
The "infra./supra." controversy was taking place in the Netherlands, and people tended to take rather strong positions, sometimes denouncing the other as unbiblical or non-Reformed. The quarreling was mirrored in the CRCNA, but an uneasy truce was called when the conclusions of the GKN Synod of Utrecht of 1905 were adopted wholesale by the synod of the CRC in 1908. This synod ruled that scripture did not bind one to either position, but that both were equally Reformed. The synod also acknowledged the appropriateness of the doctrines of justification from eternity and regeneration by the direct operation of the Holy Spirit (apart from the administration of the sacraments), said that the regeneration of infants could be presumed but that this was not the ground of infant baptism (the ground being God's covenant promises), and underscored the necessity of the public profession of faith by covenant children. The "Conclusions of Utrecht" continued to be part of the confessional commitment of the CRCNA until 1968, when their adoption was rescinded by synod under pressure from many Canadian churches and classes which were sympathetic to and sometimes contained immigrants from the Schilder group, former members of the GKN who had seceded in 1944 to form the Gereformeerde Kerken in Netherlands Vrie (Free Reformed Churches of the Netherlands--GKNV), which had rejected these.