(Note: The previous installment brought the history commemorated in the “One Hundred Fifty Years” of our subject to the point at which the Secession had become an accomplished fact in the congregation at Ulrum, of which Hendrick de Cock was pastor. The current installment continues from this point by briefly relating the spread of the Afscheiding. The reader should bear in mind that this is by no means a detailed account of the Secession and its spread.)
The flame kindled at Ulrum soon spread throughout the Netherlands. To those at all acquainted with Dutch church history the names of Scholte, Van Raalte, Brummelkamp, Van Velzen, and Meerburg—along with that of De Cock—are familiar. All of these, though of varying strength as far as their Reformed convictions are concerned, were agreed as to the necessity of the Secession. And they were the original leaders of the Secession movement. And that movement was blessed of the Lord. Persecution could not stop it. And there was indeed real persecution! A provision of the Napoleonic penal code was invoked which forbade public gatherings of twenty or more persons, with the intent of preventing the meeting of the Secession congregations for public worship. There were fines levied. There was imprisonment imposed. The quartering of soldiers in homes of the Secessionists was used as a means to squelch the movement. But by the end of 1835 there were some 70 congregations, and that, too, in spite of such a severe shortage of ministers that the few who were available had to preach as often as twenty times per week. Often the churches had to be satisfied with the services of exhorters. And while there were individual efforts put forth toward the training of more ministers, there was no central Theological School until the establishment of Kampen in 1854.
But now we take our leave of the Netherlands, though our description of the Secession movement there has been very brief. And we move to the American scene.
In 1847 the Secession movement was transplanted to our country. This began with the establishment of the Pella (Iowa) colony under Scholte and the establishment of the Holland (Michigan) colony under the leadership of Albertus Van Raalte. But what I wish to stress in this connection is the fact that in effect a miniature of the entire Secession movement, with all its differences of emphasis and with all its strengths and weaknesses, was transferred to this country. That this is true is still evident in the names of the towns and villages round about Holland, Michigan. Zeeland, Vriesland, Drenth, Overijsel, Graafschap, Groningen, Noordeloos are all communities in that area; and they all remind us of the fact that the colonists kept their peculiar identities and also their peculiar religious emphases when they moved to this country. Frequently the early cultural isolation of these colonists has been bemoaned and criticized by historians; but we should remember that it was precisely this geographical and cultural isolation which also made it possible for the Secession movement, with all its internal differences and variety of emphasis, to be transferred to our country and to persist and develop as it did.
It was out of this transplanted Secession movement that our mother church, the Christian Reformed denomination, was born in 1857. And it had its origin not in the Van Raalte colony as such. The latter represented the weaker wing of the Secession movement, and under the direct influence of Van Raalte himself had united at an early stage with the Reformed Church in America. But the more strongly Reformed element of the Secession was represented in the De Cock-Joffers-Van Velzen wing. And it is from the latter especially that the fledgling Christian Reformed denomination came in 1857. The Christian Reformed Church, therefore, stood originally in the historical line of the Afscheiding, and that, too, the Afscheiding in its stronger and more soundly Reformed aspect.
(to be continued)