Monday, August 15, 2016

Sunday School: Part 1 of the Doctrines, Beliefs, and Practices of the Reformed Tradition

As I mentioned in my previous post, my family has been members of one of the most strict and conservative fundamentalist evangelical churches for generations. These are the legacies which I was given to accept as the truth and facts about a Supreme Being: The God of the Christian Bible.

I started my education of Calvinist doctrines from an early age beginning with "Sunday School". The education, or indoctrination as I prefer to call it originates with all the well-known Bible stories. Examples of these stories include The Creation, Noah and the Flood, Joseph and his multi-colored coat, David and Goliath, Jonah and the Great Fish, and the birth of Jesus. As I got older, I learned the more violent stories which included Samson and his slaughter of the Philistines, Joshua and the Battle of Jericho, The Exodus and the plagues inflicted on the Egyptians, Daniel in the Lion's Den, Daniel's friends in the fiery furnace, the execution of Jesus, and much more.

(These are Gustave Dore images which are in the public domain)

The actual killing of people was minimized and often overlooked. Explanations like "those people were evil, or they're not God's Chosen people or they didn't obey God and deserved it" were often given. For children, whose brains are still developing and do not yet understand such brazen acts of execution, they can not possibly comprehend the meaning and doctrines behind these stories. They only see people dying and don't want that to happen to themselves.

In fact, it is my assertion that these stories lay the foundations of fear which these precious children carry with them for life. Thoughts, worries, and the anxiety of ending up in hell at my death, had been the most fundamental persuading factor which kept me bound to the Christian Religion, specifically to my Calvinist beliefs.

This fear of going to Hell was central to persuading people to live upright and obedient lives following what was taught in Sunday School, preached at church services, and maintained in study groups and classes. About the age of 10, I began attending catechism classes once a week. These classes were where we would study the doctrines and history of the Protestant church, particularly the Reformed tradition. We learned about all the Confessions, Creeds, and people who were part of the Protestant Reformation. (you can read more about the Protestant Reformation in the previous post)

The most fear which was publicly evident was from the pulpit on Sundays. Every so often, the pastor would preach what was known as the "fire and brimstone" sermons. When I think back on those days, I recall how much we hated those sermons. Scaring people into believing in God just didn't seem right to me, even as a teenager. We also felt we didn't need to hear them because, by this age, we already adhered to the "true beliefs" that we had been taught since preschool.

I think that these fear driven beliefs cause irreparable harm to the believer's psyche and ensure that they will keep attending and supporting the church, usually for their entire lives. The worry about sinning by not having a pure enough life and heading to an eternal torment is enough to keep them coming back for more. Of course, there are also many other reasons for supporting the church. For my family, it was part of our tradition. It's what you did on Sunday. We went to church, usually twice (morning and evening) in support of our church.

Christian School Education picked up where the church left off. We took Bible classes in every grade in addition to Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. These were schools of the Christian Reformed Church and were financially supported by them, in addition to tuition.

As you can see, it truly is a lifelong indoctrination, when you are a child born into that faith. I don't know how it is with other religions, but I do believe it is very similar in teaching their children from an early age. We never questioned what we learned and always assumed everything to be true. The sad part of it all, is that children are never taught to question things or to think for themselves or to form their own opinions and beliefs. I always have had an inquiring mind and wondered (to myself) whether some of these miraculous stories and beliefs, actually happened or not. But, the fear of going to hell always brought me back home to where I was most comfortable: the beliefs of our family. One hymn we sang in church proclaimed this fact that indeed it is the "faith of our fathers" The last line of each verse sums it up for me in that must always hold true the faith of our fathers:

Faith of our fathers! Holy Faith!
We will be true to thee 'till death!

{Lyrics by Frederick William Faber (1814-1863)}


Next up: What are these Doctrines that the Calvinist believes?

Friday, August 5, 2016

A Very Brief History of The Reformed Tradition's Roots: From The Netherlands to America

In my profile, I touched on a few highlights of my background. In the next few blogs, I would like to give more details of my religious upbringing and the history of religion in my family. It will help the reader understand what I have believed and what this Church holds to be true. These next few posts may be boring for those who don't like history, but it is necessary to provide a background to the origins of my religious faith.

My research into my family genealogy is what prompted me to question the validity of the Bible and Christianity. As I researched my ancestors, I explored the history of the Netherlands and how Christianity influenced the Dutch people, which is the primary ethnicity of my family. Most of my ancestors lived in the Province of Groningen in the Northern part of the Netherlands.

The Protestant Reformation

My family has been members of one of the most conservative evangelical branches of Christianity for generations. Theses denominations are the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church. The greatest influence upon these two denominations is John Calvin and his writings. Calvin was an influential French theologian during the Protestant Reformation, which began with Martin Luther's rejection of some of the practices of the Roman Catholic Church in Germany in the 1520s.

Martin Luther - 1529

John Calvin was born in Geneva, Switzerland as Jehan Cauvin in 1509. Calvin left the Roman Catholic Church in the 1530s and published his most prominent work the "Institutes of the Christian Religion" in 1536.

John Calvin - abt. 1550

Calvinism in the Netherlands

Calvin's brand of the Reformation appeared in the Netherlands in the 1540s concentrating in the western and northern areas, where my ancestors lived. The Dutch Reformed Church or the Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk was established in 1571. There was much persecution of religious groups over the next sixty years until independence in the Netherlands was achieved in 1648. The Netherlands was known at that time for its religious tolerance, as there were groups of Catholics, Anabaptists, Anglicans, Jews, and Calvinists. 

On a side note, the year 1806 is crucial, especially for Dutch genealogy. Napolean set up the Kingdom of Holland, and he gave it to his brother Louis I to rule it. As a result, people were required to register with the state using last names. I discovered these facts while researching my genealogy. Before this time, most families did not have last names. Genealogy research in Holland before 1806 is much more challenging, and most records are from Churches.

Louis Napoleon Bonaparte

In 1813, Napoleon's army was defeated at the Battle of Leipzig. Following that defeat, his troops retreated to France from all over Europe. In 1815, Willem Frederik from the house of Orange proclaimed himself the ruler over the Sovereign Principality of the Netherlands after the Napoleonic Kingdom of Holland had dissolved. Willem was the son of Willem V, the last monarch before his exile due to Napoleon's French Revolution and the Bavarian Revolution in Amsterdam. In 1815, Willem proclaimed the country a Kingdom, and from that day on has been known as the Kingdom of the Netherlands. He then changed his name to Willem I. The Kingdom of the Netherlands at that time, consisted of the Northern Netherlands (Holland) who were mostly Protestant and the Southern Netherlands (Belgium) who were Catholics. 

Willem Frederik - William I

In 1816, Willem I reorganized the Dutch Reformed church, which had been the country's official religion up until 1798. He renamed it the Nederlands Gereformeerde Kerk or the Netherlands Reformed Church, and it remained the country's most influential Protestant Church. Willem I was a staunch supporter of the Reformed Church which led to clashes between the liberal Calvinists, Orthodox Calvinists, and Catholics.

In 1834, a group of orthodox Calvinists led by the Reverand Hendrik de Cock seceded from the Netherlands Reformed Church. Other churches joined Rev. de Cock in seceding from the Church and formed the Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. These groups were known as the Secessionists or Seceders.
Hendrik de Cock 1829

Calvinism in the United States

In September of 1846, Albertus Van Raalte who was a secessionist pastor, his family, and a group of about 50 others fled the Netherlands because of famine and religious persecution. They traveled through New York on their way to establish a colony in Wisconsin. On the way going to Wisconsin, they came upon Black Lake in Western Michigan and decided to settle there instead. They began settling in and around this area in February of 1847. It eventually became the city of Holland, Michigan. 

Albertus Van Raalte 

The task of starting a colony there wasn't easy. Many settlers were inexperienced, and the forests on the land needed clearing before they could begin farming. The first years were difficult due to disease and the difficulty of making a living off the undeveloped land. Van Raalte looked to the Dutch Reformed congregations in the New Jersey area for help and eventually joined the American branch of the Dutch Reformed Church in 1850. These New Jersey groups were part of the Reformed churches that formed in New Amsterdam in 1628. 

In July of 1847, Gijsbert Haan and his family left the Netherlands following Van Raalte's lead, and stayed in the New Amsterdam area for a time before heading to Michigan. While living in New York, his thinking was shaped by a group known as the True Protestant Dutch Reformed Church, which had seceded from the American Dutch Reformed Church in 1822. The seceders felt that the American church didn't follow Calvin's teachings and that they were only semi-Calvinists with unsound practices. 

Gijsbert Haan

When Haan and his family finally reached Van Raalte and the colony in Michigan, he began exerting his influence on what he had learned in New York. Most churches in Holland were happy with their union with the Dutch Reformed Church. But he kept pushing for separation due to what he called the unsound practices of the church. Van Raalte had wanted the settlers to become "good Americans" and to assimilate into the American culture. He and most of his followers were open to the adaptation of the church as well to Americanization, including a transition to conducting services in English, cooperating with other denominations in the production of Sunday School materials, and maintaining the connection to the Reformed Churches in the East. Haan and his followers were pushing for isolationism. They felt that by isolating themselves from others, they would be stronger and not lose their ties to the Netherlands. Additionally, there were a few doctrinal issues that they disagreed with, but the primary thrust of seceding was more about conduct and non-theological issues.

Soon, he had enough followers and on March 19, 1857, he and a significant portion of the Second Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, including its pastor, agreed to secede, and they formed the First Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids. Six weeks later, members from four churches, consisting of about 130 families joined them and formed the Christian Reformed Church Denomination (CRC) on April 29, 1857. 

According to the CRC website (, the reasons for the 1857 secession were:
  • a perceived lack of piety and too much accommodation to American culture by these same pastors;
  • the use of hymns in worship by the Americans - the seceders insisted on psalm-singing only;
  • the practice by the American churches of "open communion," extending an open invitation to all believers to participate in the Lord's Supper;
  • the perceived lack of solidarity on the part of the Americans with the secessionist cause in the Netherlands. *

The Christian Reformed Church also promotes the importance of Christian Education of their children and even requires it for some. For example, if someone works at one of their schools, it is mandatory that their children attend a CRC Christian school. Because of this vigorous insistence on Christian education, the CRC has established many Christian schools across the country.

The Reformed Church doesn't own as many lower education parochial schools as the CRC, but there are a few Christian colleges in the Midwest, including Hope College in Holland, Central, and Northwestern Colleges in Iowa.

Next up:  Doctrines, Beliefs, and Practices of the Reformed Tradition


1 History | Christian Reformed Church, (accessed August 05, 2016).

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Judaism, Christianity, & Islam: Common Roots

I took some time off from the blog, unintentionally, because I got caught up with all the politics and campaigns going on in July. What a complete mess! Anyways, I'm back and I will try to blog more often.

Previous blogs gave stats on the World's Religions and a bit about their Origins. I want to concentrate mainly on Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. These three religious groups comprise over half the world's population and they share foundational roots, that being the Abrahamic tradition. For those not familiar with this term, Judaism's story begins with Abram, later known as Abraham. Supposedly, the one and only true God chose Abram and made a covenant with him. He promised Abram that he would have as many descendants as the stars, and God would give them some land in the Middle East, known later as the "Promised Land".

Judaism, the religion of Abram's descendants, for all intensive purposes started with Moses. Moses and God had a personal relationship and the Bible says that they spoke to each other all the time. God gave Moses a bunch of laws, rules, and practices that the Israelites had to follow. If they didn't, the penalty in many cases was death. The most famous of all these laws, which most people are familiar with, is the Ten Commandments.

Judaism produced the Hebrew Bible, on which the Old Testament of the Bible is primarily based. 

Christianity produced the Bible consisting of the Old and New Testaments. Christians believe the Bible is the inspired words of God.

Islam believes only in the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament), and the Psalms as inspired, along with their holy book the Qur'an or Koran, which was produced by Muhammad.

Since these three religions all have a common foundation built on the first five books of the Bible, I will narrow my focus to these five books of Moses, or the Torah. Genesis is the foundational book of the Bible, and this is where I will begin my study. What better place to start than the beginning of a book?

Before I begin sharing my research on Genesis, I want to give you some more background on myself, more detailed than what is shown in my profile. I will post this in the next blog.