Tag Archives: Secession

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.