The origin of this church lies in Europe. It is, in part, to be traced to the Zwinglian Reformation in Switzerland, in the beginning of the sixteenth century, and partly also to some of the followers of the Reformation in Germany, who could not fully agree with all the Lutheran views, but were of a rather Calvinistic type. These instituted the German Reformed Church.
Because the Heidelberg Catechism is part of our Confessions, we are, of course, acquainted with the fact that Frederick III, elector of the Palatinate, instructed Zacharius Ursinus, and Caspar Olevianus, professors, in the university of Heidelberg, to prepare a Catechism of the purpose of setting forth, preserving, and inculcating into the young the true doctrine, and that these two professors composed what is so well known among us as the Heidelberg Catechism.
This Catechism was adopted by the German Reformed Church as its only symbol.
As, early as the latter part of the seventeenth century, and since then at regular intervals, a considerable number of German emigrants, hailing from the German Reformed Church in Europe settled in America; and in course of time, they established the (German) Reformed Church in the United States. One of their first ministers that settled among them was one Philip Boehm, who came to this country in 1720. Others soon followed. As early as 1747 they organized and held their first Synod. At that time they numbered forty-six churches, served by five ordained ministers. Since then the Church enjoyed a very rapid growth, and became a numerically powerful denomination, organized under a general synod, with several “particular” synods, each comprising several classes.
Like their mother church in the old country the brethren of the Reformed Church in the United States adopted the Heidelberg Catechism as their sole confessional symbol and doctrinal standard.
This means, of course, that they embrace the Reformed Faith, and are officially churches of the Calvinistic type.
It also means that their Reformed views are less sharply defined than those of some other Reformed Churches, especially with respect to the doctrine of predestination, and, more particularly, with reference to the truth of reprobation.
In distinction from them, we have also the Netherland or Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dordrecht. And especially the latter expresses itself rather fully on the doctrine of double predestination and related doctrines. But the Heidelberg Catechism is less explicit on this truth, hardly mentions the doctrine of election, and does not at all directly refer to the truth of reprobation.
However, the Reformed Church in the United States used to attach great value to, its doctrinal standard. It was required of the ministry to instruct the young faithfully in the Heidelberg Catechism to prepare them for “confirmation,” which usually takes place when the children reach the age of thirteen or fourteen years.
I may add to this that the brethren we met in the conference, and the people of the community in which we met, generally belonged to a class of later immigrants that had come from Germany in more recent years.
One result of this is that most of them spoke German fluently and preferred it to the American language in teaching and preaching.
Another result of this is that the doctrinal influence of the Rev. Kohlbrugge, a theologian whose name is not strange to those of who hail from the Netherlands, and whose name is usually connected rightly or wrongly with a tendency to Antinomianism, is more or less clearly noticeable with many of them.
However, our conference would, humanly speaking, in all probability never have been held, if something had not occurred that upset the spiritual equilibrium of some of the brethren in the Reformed Church in the United States, even to the extent that they could at least consider the possibility of having to seek another church connection.
This important occurrence was the union of the (German) Reformed Church in the United States with the Evangelical Lutheran Church, a merger which was proposed and agreed upon in 1934, and accomplished in 1936.
The result of this merger is known as the Evangelical and Reformed Church.
About this Church and its basis we must needs write more in order to understand the position of the brethren that sought contact with us.