Rev. Wilbur Bruinsma, pastor of Pittsburgh PRC in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Previous article in this series: February 15, 2023, p. 228.

After the split in 1953, the Mission Committee was left to pick up the splinters left behind in its mission work. The Mission Committee reported to the 1954 meeting of synod that Rev. Andrew Cammenga was removed from his position as missionary due to his insistence that Rev. DeWolf along with the men of First Protestant Reformed Church (Grand Rapids) who followed him were the legal consistory of First PRC. It was also reported to this synod that “the Revs. Blankespoor, Kok, Knott, and elder Bouma were not present (at the meetings) because they had severed their relations with our churches.”1 The PRC Synod took two actions. First, it elected a sufficient number of new committee members to bring the committee to its full contingent. Second, it instructed First PRC to call another missionary to carry on the work of missions.

At its next meeting in July, 1954 the Mission Committee presented to First PRC a gross list of six nominees for the calling of a missionary: R. Harbach, J. A. Heys, H.C. Hoeksema, G. Lubbers, M. Schipper, and G. Vandenberg. In January of the next year Rev. George Lubbers accepted the call to be home missionary. His initial work was in the Pella, Iowa area, but soon changed to other areas of the Midwest. The main focus of missions for the next several years would be in Colorado and the Dakotas among those who belonged to the Eureka Classis of the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS). This denomination of churches was also known as the German Reformed Church since it had been made up of German immigrants who came to America as early as 1725, settling in the East.

During the late 1800s a second wave of German immigrants from the southern regions of Russia settled in the Dakotas. Since they were German, it was natural for them to join themselves with the German Reformed Church (also called the RCUS). Soon after these im- migrants joined this denomination, however, it became apparent that the RCUS was divided over what was known as the Mercersburg theology and its resulting liturgical controversies.2 The German immigrants in the Dakotas vehemently objected to this error and in 1911 formed the Eureka Classis of the RCUS consisting at that time of seven ministers and sixteen congregations.

Due to the influence of the Mercersburg theology, the RCUS voted in 1934 to merge with the Evangelical Lutheran Church. The Eureka Classis opposed this union and officially voted against its constitution in 1936. But in 1940 the merger finally became official and the RCUS now became known as the Evangelical and Reformed Church. The Eureka Classis refused to be a part of this union and as early as 1940 resolved to be the continuing body of the RCUS. This resolution was finalized in 1945 when the Eureka Classis became incorporated in the state of North Dakota as the legal continuation of the RCUS. At that time the Classis consisted of 10 pastors and twenty-eight congregations.

We offer this brief history because between 1940 (the year of the merger) and 1945 when the Eureka Classis constituted itself as the continuing RCUS, a couple of pastors of these congregations were seeking a “different and better church connection,”3 possibly with the Protestant Reformed Churches. The synodical committee submitted a detailed report of this contact to the Synod of 1945 (pp. 41-47). What follows are a few highlights of that report.

In 1943 a Rev. U. Zogg, pastor of a church in the Eureka Classis in Scotland, South Dakota, having heard the “Sovereign Grace Hour,” a radio broadcast aired by the PRC in the Midwest, contacted several of our ministers. In an attempt to seek closer contact with him, a committee of ministers from our midwest churches met several times with him and Rev. W. Korn of Menno, SD. Revs. Zogg and Korn together with several other ministers of the Eureka Classis “expressed their desire for a conference with the Rev. H. Hoeksema and our midwestern ministers on the one hand, and as many as possible of their number, both ministers and elders, on the other hand.”4 The synodical committee scheduled this conference for September 20 and 21, 1944. Nine PRCA ministers and three students met together with eleven ministers and fourteen elders of the RCUS. Rev. Hoeksema lectured and preached four times in the German language. The conference was determined a success.

But according to the report of the synodical committee, there were quite a few differences between the two denominations. Most of the matters that were included on the agenda were not discussed:

The agendum was made up of matters and dogmas which might be differently expressed or confessed by the German Reformed brethren than by us. On the dogmatic field we proposed to confer about the Organic Conception of Predestination, the Covenant of God, the Natures of Christ, the Connection between Justification and Sanctification, Infant Baptism and Premillennialism. Regarding church political questions we noted the different Ecclesiastical Bodies and the relation between them, the Form of Discipline and the question whether or not it is practiced, their Acquaintance with the Three Forms of Unity and our Church Order, and Women Suffrage in the Church. As to the matters of a more or less practical nature, we proposed to treat of the Confirmation question, Unionism, Christian Education, Americanization, Divorce, Worldly Amusements, Missions, Binding of the Confession and the Forms for the administration of the Sacraments, the Use of Hymns in distinction from Psalms in Pubic Worship, What is Meant by Trinity Sunday, the Status of Deaconess, Who is Authorized to Present Children to be Baptized, Holy Supper, and under that, the so-called Open Table and its administration to the aged and sick, and the Burial Service.5

This agenda certainly highlights the differences that existed between the two denominations, but this did not seem to deter our churches from pressing ahead with further contact with the Eureka Classis. In fact, it was reported that our men who attended the conference of 1944 actually advised the brothers of the Eureka Classis to push toward the incorporation of their churches as the RCUS.6

The results of this conference were, first of all, representatives of the RCUS attending the 1945 PRC Synod and, secondly, official correspondence from their newly organized synod was received. In this correspondence four suggestions were made: 1. That our churches appoint a committee to study the confessional standards of the RCUS; 2. that fraternal delegates be sent from our synod to theirs and vice versa; 3. that we open the doors of our seminary to young men of their churches; 4. that we arrange for more conferences between our churches to come to an understanding of one another’s position regarding the Reformed truth and life.

The 1945 Synod for the most part agreed with these suggestions, except for the organizing of another conference, which it felt did not belong to the jurisdiction of the synod. It seemed at this point as if an optimistic and fruitful future between the denominations had begun. But for some reason this was not to last.

The Committee appointed by the 1945 Synod reported the following to the 1946 Synod. First, the only confessional standard of the RCUS is the Heidelberg Catechism. 7 Second, two men visited the classis of the RCUS convening in Upham, ND in May 1946. They brought our churches’ greetings and informed them of our approval of having their men attend our seminary. Third, their men “feel that in our churches they have a strong ally in the cause of the truth which they love and seek. Although these churches have been in a disorganized state for some years, we are happy to report that they are now more organized and are putting forth every effort toward a more solid organization so as to be able to cultivate the tremendous field in which they have been called to labor.”8 Nothing more was reported.

In 1947 one can sense a bit of agitation on the part the delegates of our synod. The RCUS did not send representatives to our synod even though we had sent two men to their classis that met in Leola, SD on May 26, 1947. In their report our representatives hinted at some struggles the RCUS was having. These were not spelled out, however. The decision was taken that our churches send representatives to the next classis of the RCUS in 1948. No mention was made of a conference. No mention was made of their sending potential students to our seminary.

In 1948 less yet was reported. The synod was informed that the RCUS classis was not meeting until June 21, three weeks after our meeting of synod. Once again, representatives of their classis were absent at this synod. It was voted to send representatives to their next meeting.

The 1949 Synod then rolled around. There are no representatives of the RCUS at our synod—again. But our representatives had visited their classis in 1948. They had conveyed the greetings of our churches and encouraged them in their struggles for the truth. They also reminded the men of their classis that they had not sent representatives to our synod for the past few years. The men of their classis conveyed their regret to our churches but that the meeting of our synod conflicted with their confirmation classes making it impractical for them to attend. They proposed that instead of sending representatives to our synods we continue the conferences that had not materialized since 1944.

A motion was made and supported “to accept the regrets expressed by the RCUS and to appoint Rev. P. De- Boer and Rev. J. VanWeelden as a committee to represent us at their next classical meeting the coming year.”9 This motion was defeated. A defeated motion requires no grounds and for that reason we do not know why the synod decided no longer to send representatives to the RCUS synod. No conferences were scheduled after this. Neither did our seminary receive any of their students.

We can surmise that one of the reasons was that the RCUS was getting cold feet because of the many doctrinal, confessional, and practical differences between our two denominations. Perhaps another reason the RCUS may have shied away from us is the doctrinal controversy in the Protestant Reformed Churches that was beginning to heat up. Who would want to become enmeshed in our controversy? Whatever the case, our denomination’s relationship to the RCUS suddenly waxed cold.

We do know this. Two of the leading ministers in the RCUS during these years of contact with us began to encourage young men of their fledgling denomination to attend Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. The first student of their churches enrolled in this seminary in 1953, the year of our split. This led, in turn, to formal ties between the RCUS and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1960. The churches in the RCUS found fellowship elsewhere than with our churches. But this was not true of all of them. Three congregations from this denomination would in years to come turn to the PRCA for organization as churches in our federation. This work for the most part constituted our mission work during the 1950s. Of that we learn in our next article.

1 1954 Acts of Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches, pp. 39, 40.

2 The Mercersburg theology arose out of the RCUS seminary in Mercersburg, PA. Its main proponent was Philip Schaff who through his mystical error concerning Christ’s incarnation was sympathetic with Roman Catholicism. Those interested in this controversy can research it themselves on the Internet.

3 1945 Acts of Synod, p. 42.

4 1945 Acts of Synod, p. 42.

5 1945 Acts of Synod, p. 44.

6 1945 Acts of Synod, p. 45.

7 Sometime soon after 1793, the RCUS (yet known as the German Reformed Church) decided to discard the Canons of Dordt and the Belgic Confession. This would explain why the RCUS many years later in 1945 maintained only the Heidelberg Catechism.

8 1946 Acts of Synod, p. 79.

9 1949 Acts of Synod, p. 60, Art. 29.