Tag Archives: Schism

Echoes of 1857

In 1857, the Reformed Church found itself fracturing when a faction saw themselves as purer than everyone else. Their separation had nothing to do with their ability to follow their consciences. They were not pushed out, they were not forced to function against their beliefs, and no one was forcing their beliefs or practices into a different direction. The secessionists simply saw themselves as too pure to be associated with those with whom they disagree.

Upon receiving several letters of secession, Albertus C. van Raalte, the Clerk of Classis at the time, spoke, and the following was recorded in the minutes. These words ring just as true today as they must have when they were spoken on April 8th, 1857.

…although there is noting else for the Classis to do than to receive these letters of secession as notification, as it is the fruit of a lust for schism already for a long time manifested by a few leaders, against which there is no weapon, which will do us less damage outside of the church than inside of it; and although the speaker has no desire to abridge the liberty of those who are separating themselves, also is even earnestly desirous that we may not be involved in quarrels, and [thus] arouse [mutual] bitterness among the Holland people, but may avoid everything that may give occasion thereto, and may, as far as possible, promote [mutual] love…nevertheless he is constrained with his whole soul to testify against this conduct that tears asunder the church of God, and warns each and every one against such a reckless course of conduct, which will bring ruin upon our posterity; [and to point out] that the whole affair (excepting a few leaders who fan the fire of distrust and suspicion), is a mixture of ignorance, sectarianism, and a trampling under foot of the brethren, of which the ministers of the [Classis] have been constantly for years the prey, which trampling under foot now extends itself to the entire old Dutch Reformed Church and the orthodox denominations — [a spirit] which has never been characteristic of the Reformed Church [and] which shall bear the judgement of God.

(Classis Holland: Minutes 1848-1858, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1950, p. 244-245)

The issue then, as now, was not necessarily the separation, it was what brought it about. Pride, hubris, the necessity to bend everyone to your perspective or divide. And it was the pretending that separation was the holy option. At times, separation may be necessary (though these instances are very few). But it is sin. And to pretend that it is not does nothing to further the cause of Christ.

Of course, the most significant difference is that then the schismatics were in the clear minority, though today, there is possible that there is a numerical majority. But despite the American principle that numerical majority is right, the wide road does not necessarily lead to life.

Wounds in the Body of Christ

Oklahoma City Bombing National Memorial

(cc) Tabitha Kaylee Hawk

Eendracht maakt Macht

These words adorn the banner at the bottom of the crest of the Reformed Church in America. Often the translation into English is, “Unity makes strength” but, as I understand it, a better translation is “Concord makes strength” — a pulling together like a team of horses.

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The Christian church today is fractured, but it has not always been. For nearly a thousand years, the Christian church was essentially unified throughout the world. This changed significantly with the Great Schism of 1054 when the Eastern church (Orthodox) and the Western church (Roman Catholic) excommunicated one another. For another five hundred years these remained the primary divisions within the Body of Christ.

The Western church experienced yet another major fracture when Martin Luther, in his attempt to reform the church, found himself considered to be a heretic and was cast out of the church. From this moment, the Protestant branch of the Christian church was born and continued splitting and fracturing over significant things such as the Doctrine of the Trinity and more trivial things such as the introduction of hymns in worship alongside the Psalms.

I, myself, am also aware of my own history and I, too, am involved in the fracturing the Body of Christ. In the nineteenth century, there was a split in the Reformed church in the Netherlands. As some of the Dutch immigrated to the United States, the Reformed people joined together and several then joined with the established Reformed Church in the United States. For a number of them, however, this union was short lived and they seceded and came together to form a second Reformed denomination on this continent. It is into this latter denomination that I was baptized and raised, and it was here that I learned the essentials of the faith. My ancestors were secessionists and it is through them that I participate in this…

Today I’m at That Reformed Blog. Head over there to finish reading…