Reformed (Dutch) Church Historical Notes
Excerpts from "The History of Montgomery Classis R.C.A., 1916", by W. N. P. Dailey
The seal of the Reformed Church in America dates back to 1556, and is built upon the seal or shield of Prince William of Orange, the leader of the Reformation in the Netherlands. The present shield goes back to its official use in 1826, when the pillars were added to give it an ecclesiastical bearing. The stars at the top of these pillars suggest the heavenly life. The motto on the top ribbon is Latin and means, "Without the Lord all is Vain," while the nether ribbon is in Dutch, meaning, "Union makes Strength." The various armorial bearings on the three shields originate from the fact that the Princes of Orange were also lords of other principalities. When a number of Provinces came tinder one leadership the right to make use of the emblem of all centered in one person. Thus we have on the large shield the four shields of Nassau, Katzenelnbogen, Vianden, and Dietz. On the small shields at the centre, composing the second shield, are those of the united provinces of Cahlons and Orange, while the very smallest shield, which is divided into squares, is there by the reason of the marriage of Jane of Geneva to one of the princes of Orange. It is interesting to note that the first quarter of the large shield bears the arms of Nassau, the capital of which was the birthplace of William the Silent, Prince of Orange. It has a lion rampant, surrounded by seventeen billets, representing, it is said, the union of the ten states of the Netherlands with the seven states of Holland, under the rule of William. The princes of Orange received a recognition from the Emperor, Charles V, which permitted them to place the Imperial crown above the helmet, which is the emblem of bravery in time of war. The Coat of Arms is now the accepted emblem of the denomination. The armorial device fittingly recalls the glorious work of William the Silent, founder of freedom. Its Latin motto reminds the church of its entire dependence on Almighty God, while its Dutch motto bespeaks man's needed help, and its pillars direct our thoughts to the stars and beyond them to the hills from whence cometh our help.
The Dutch Church in the Mohawk Valley
The Reformed Church in America is the oldest evangelical body on the western hemisphere. As the pioneer, therefore, of those doctrines, and form of government, believed to be the most in harmony with the Scriptures, and the American constitution, she occupies a unique place in the annals of the States. While the Holland Dutch first came to the New World in 1609, and at once established their church and school, it is noteworthy that all elements of the Reformed churches of the American continent-from France and Switzerland, and the German Palatinate-the churches of the Reformed faith established in Virginia (at times meaning the Atlantic coast lands), and Maryland, and Pennsylvania-all turned to the Classis of Amsterdam (Holland) for men and money. The archives of this Classis, from 1582 to 1816, contain a voluminous correspondence from all these fields. From 1609 to 1664 the religion of the Dutch church was the recognized religion of the country. Even up to 1693 it was the most respected of all of the denominations because of its Christian tolerance and charity to all. In 1693 the Colonial Assembly of New York passed an act whereby the Protestant Episcopal church became the religion known to the law, and from 1693 to 1776, besides supporting its own ministry, the Dutch church was forced to contribute to the support of the church of England. In prior years the Dutch churches were always accessible to the clergy of the English church who conducted the Anglican services in them. The act of the New York Colonial Assembly was the result of the alliance of the Church of England with the Royal Cause. As a secondary result it was the rebellion of the colonists to the church of England that ensued in the rebellion of the colonies against the English government, It was not so much a religious as a political rebellion. The church of England wanted a hierarchy in America under foreign domination, and in New York and Virginia was as intolerant as in the mother country. When the Revolution broke out every clergyman of the established church in New York, New Jersey and New England was an out-and-out Tory, and this was probably true of all the other colonies. It was due to their inherited reverence for distinction of rank. In New York the antagonism was so great that in a sense the Revolution was a religious war, the members of the established church being loyalists and the dissenters all Whigs. Although Washington was a member of the Church of England all his army chaplains were dissenters, and through the war he attended their meetings. After the war all this was changed.
The development of the Dutch church in New Netherlands, as Manhattan was first called, is an interesting story. The church was organized in 1628 by Rev. Jonas Michaelius, and a small structure built within the Fort at the lower end of what is now New York City. The first minister at Fort Orange or Beverwyck (Alburn, NY) was Johannes Megapolensis, who arrived in 1642. He was the first Protestant missionary among the Indians in America, antedating John Eliot's work in New England by several years. He learned the Mohawk language, regularly preached to them, received them as members into his church, and was on the friendliest terms with them, both in their teepees and in his own home. In the Mohawk valley proper the first settlement of the church was at Schenectady, an outstation of the Albany church from 1662 to 1670, when the first definite organization there is recorded. The first established minister at Schenectady was Rev. Petrus Tesschenmacher (1684-1690), a graduate of Utrecht, who was killed at the burning of Schenectady by the French and Canadian Jesuits on February 8, 1690. Schenectady was the most remote settlement from Albany at this time, being founded by Arent Van Corlear in 1662. For a hundred years the little congregation at Schenectady was exposed to the ravages of the French and Canadian fanatics, twice suffering almost total extinction. For a century the street now called "State," under whose pavements lies the dust of the early settlers, was called after 1690 the "Street of the Martelaers" (Martyrs). In other Notes we have spoken of the Iroquois, the efforts made to educate and evangelize Indians, the various missions among the Amerind, and in the main portion of the book the work of the churches west of Schenectady. Ten years after the first massacre there the Rev. Barnardus Freerman, for so he wrote his name, became pastor of the church, and did a great work among the Mohawks, especially. He remained six years, but so great was his kindness and so successful his work among the Indians, that five years later we find the Mohawks petitioning the Governor of the Province for his return to their castle. For some reason the treatment accorded the Dutch ministers by these Aborigines was far different from that given to the Jesuit priests. The first church building at Schenectady was destroyed in 1690, the second, built in 1703, was converted into a fort in 1734; the third, built of stone, as its predecessors, had the high pulpit and sounding board, raised seats tor the men, lowly ones for the women. For eighty years this building was used, when in 1814 a fourth structure was built of brick, which was burned in the fire of August, 1861, when the present edifice, one of the finest in the country, was constructed. The ministers of this church often itinerated in the Mohawk valley.
The Reformed Church in America is a product of the European revival known as the Reformation. Other articles in this book speak of its history in general, and in the Mohawk Valley in particular, and of its progress or development in America. In this note we want to refer, very briefly, to its doctrine, its confession, and its customs. The basic belief or creed of the Church is to be found in the Word of God, which is its rule of faith and conduct. Other expressions of faith are accepted merely as guides for the culture of the individual soul or as aids toward the administration of the kingdom of God in the church. A trinity-statement of belief forms the groundwork of the doctrines and confessions of the church.
The Belgic Confession, formed in 1561, puts in an orderly fashion our belief in God, the Trinity, Faith, the Church. Salvation through Christ, and the judgment. Since 1619 it has been tenaciously adhered to by the Reformed Church in America. While Calvinistic in its conceptions of the truth, its focus is on Jesus Christ, the world's Savior, Who alone can impart the divine life.
The Canons of Dort is an after-growth of the controversy that ensued the adoption of the other two-the church's interpretation of the Confession and Catechism. It dates back to 1618 when representatives of the Reformed Church of Europe met at Dordrecht to define more clearly certain statements of the Belgic Confession. What is generally known as the "Five Points of Calvinism" was the result of this conference, and was adopted, later, by the Reformed Church in America. In these Canons of Dort is expressed the firm belief of the Reformed Church in God's absolute sovereignty, in man's original sin which can only be done away with by divine regeneration, in the necessity of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, and in God's plan of salvation.
The customs of the Reformed Church in America are, mainly, peculiar to its organization, settled fixtures of its constitution and forms of worship. The General Synod has oversight of the administration and worship, the latter being semi-liturgical. Consequent with the changing years and the varied environment of the church, the Constitution, as well the forms of worship have undergone change, yet there has always been a reverent deference paid to the originals, and any change has always first received the approval of the entire church. Among the usages made prominent in the Church is the established order of worship, including the responsive reading of the Psalter and Commandments, and the use of the Lord's Prayer and Apostles Creed. For three centuries now the ministry, besides declaring their belief in and acceptance of the doctrines of the church, have obligated themselves to preach on the Heidelberg Catechism. The elders who have the spiritual oversight of the church often sit together near the pulpit, visit the congregation with the minister and must always be present when the sacraments are conducted. The entire service or worship of the church is centered in the sacraments, the Lord's Supper and Baptism, regarded as signs and seals of Christ's covenant with His people and their expression of love and loyalty to Him. Other forms are prescribed for the ordination of the ministers, elders and deacons, reception of members, catechetical instruction arranged for, and other organizations meet the varied social and spiritual needs. The weekly prayer service is intended as a school of Christ wherein piety, personal service and brotherly love is taught. From the inception of the church there has always been a charitable spirit of toleration toward all other sects, and a cordial cooperation wherever possible, with every evangelical force making for righteousness.
The Collegiate Reformed (Dutch) Church of New York City is the oldest Evangelical church in America, having been organized in 1628 by Rev. Jonas Michaelius, tho in the coming of the Dutch to Manhattan in 1609, religious work was immediately begun. A third of a century later (1664) when New Amsterdam surrendered to the English, there were eleven Dutch churches in the Province. The denomination has today more than seven hundred churches and about a hundred and fifty thousand members whose gifts for all purposes last year were nearly two and a quarter million dollars. The story of the development of the church thro its three centuries is punctuated with tragedy and triumph, with some errors of judgment, mayhap, but withal a large-hearted tolerance and a genuine devotion to the interests of the people as a whole. Not long after the foundation of the work on Manhattan an effort was made by the English to establish an official church. Dominie Megapolensis, and his son, Rev. Samuel, who had to do with the terms of surrender, saw to it that the rights of the Reformed church were protected, and religious liberty guaranteed to the Province However, though by far the stronger body, the Dutch church was compelled to pay tribute to the Church of England in addition to supporting their own. They had brought from the Netherlands their traditionary love for religious freedom, and when the English, and German, and French came, they accommodated themselves to these peoples, gave them the free use of their churches, and afforded them services in their mother tongue. In return the English Governors gave their Church favorable grants, and made the existence of the Dutch church a very hard task.
Another impediment in the progressive development of the Dutch church was the administration of all affairs by the Classis of Holland which ruled with rigidity for a century and a half. The discussion that naturally ensued over this condition ranged ministers and churches into opposing camps, and much turmoil and strife was engendered. Perhaps the chiefest obstacle to the progress of the church was the set determination of the older element to cling to the preaching in the Dutch language, notwithstanding the large influx of English speaking immigrants. One's sympathy is with the Dutch of that day whose antipathy to whatever was English was natural, considering how they had been treated by the Established Church of England or those who represented that church-and considering how the war lords of England conducted their campaign against the settlers, in the Hudson and Mohawk valleys, with the aid of the savages. And this suggests that the prescribed environment of the field of the Dutch church had not a little to do in the way of retarding its development, since it was around New York city, in New Jersey, and in the Hudson and Mohawk valleys, that the brunt of the Revolution was felt, with the French Wars preceding and the Border Wars following. The men who made up the Colonial army at Oriskany, and the members of the Committee of Safety of Tryon County, were almost wholly identified with the Dutch church. There were twelve of these churches in the Mohawk valley to four of the Lutheran and two of the Church of England. The conditions prevailing in America during most of the eighteenth century had a tendency to check the Holland immigration which had begun so auspiciously in the seventeenth.
After the Revolution radical changes followed; the domination of the Church of England ceased; the General Synod was formed for the administration of affairs in the homeland; later on a new tide of Holland immigration set in and the Reformed Church began to expand in the west, notably in Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. One of the very first establishments in Manhattan was the organization of a public school whose teachers taught the rudiments of education and at the same time comforted the people in their sorrow and practically did the work of the minister until his coming in 1628. This school is now the Collegiate Institute of New York City. Education was to be the handmaid of their religion, which is evidenced to this day in the educated ministry that has taro these centuries been one of the cardinal features of the Reformed Church. Some historians point to the names of the English on the first charter of Queens (Rutgers) but it was the petition of the Dutch ministers that caused Queens to be founded. After whatever English names appear might have been put ex-officio. It was the English who burned the college buildings soon after they were erected. Rutgers College, Hope College, New Brunswick Seminary, Western Theological Seminary, and the other colleges and academies, in the home land, and on the foreign fields, where the Reformed Church is working, testify to the consistent attitude of the Church toward education and religion in their coordinate relations. Its missionary spirit has been keen from the very beginning. It was the first to preach the Gospel to the Red Men, while in these latter days of Indian Mission work, the name that stands above every other, both in the councils of the Indian as well in the mind of the church, and in the opinion of the Government is that of Walter C. Roe. Within a decade after the Declaration of Independence the Reformed Church began a definite work for Domestic Missions. From 1602 the Reformed Church of the Netherlands prosecuted foreign missions both in the East and West Indies. Modern Foreign Missions began toward the close of the eighteenth century, and the Dutch Church of America, uniting with the Presbyterian and Baptist churches, began an aggressive campaign at once. Later (1826) a union was made with the American Board. In 1832, while cooperation was still maintained with the American Board, there was a separate Board of Foreign Missions in the Dutch Church, and in 1857 it became independent. Its principal fields of operation are China, Japan, India, and Arabia.
"True Reformed Dutch Protestant Church"
The only defection that the Reformed (Dutch) Church in America has had for its more than two centuries of existence (except the Christian Reformed church) was the schism known by the above title, but so small and so devoid of influence was this secession that it was hardly worth while to call it a division. There were but two classes organized, one in New Jersey and the other here in Montgomery county, popularly called the "Wyckofite" church because one of the separatists was Rev. Henry V. Wyckoff whose personality for a generation kept the schism alive, though for the most part through the years it had but little more than a name. Its inceptor was Rev. Solomonmon Froeligh of Hackensack, N. J., a professor in the church seminary recently founded, joined with whom were Revs. Abram Brokaw of Ovid, N. Y., Sylvanus Palmer of Union (Montg. Co.) N. Y., Rev. H. V. Wyckoff of the Charleston, N. Y. church, and Rev. J. C. Toll of Mapletown, N. Y., both in Montgomery county. The schism came in 1822 and was brought about largely by the "limited atonement" preaching of Rev. Conrad Ten Eyck of Owasco, formerly of the Reformed churches of Amsterdam, Mayfield, and Johnstown. It resulted in the suspension of the above ministers from the Reformed Dutch church ministry. In 1820 General Synod (R. P. D. C.) had resolved that the Particular Synod of Albany should organize a new Classis of Sharon, Rhinebeck, Johnstown, Mayfield, Westerlo, Middletown, Fonda's Bush, Albany Bush, Ovid, and the Second Church of Charleston, but this the Synod of Albany refused to do in 1821, because of the "disrespect and insubordination" shown by several of the pastors of these churches of the Dutch church. Nothing daunted, the dissenters met and moved to suspend the whole ministry of the Reformed Dutch church which action begun was not carried out. Later in ecclesiastical differences ensuing between these two classes each suspended the other and in terms that are not current in the language of religious bodies of this day. In New Jersey the spirit of contention was centered in the Schraalenberg church where one of two pastors had obtained unfairly a title from the Governor to certain church property. Manuscript evidence is in hand of the writer to show that these men, headed by Prof. Froeligh, were preparing for some time for the break. We have gone through the private correspondence of one of the malcontents, and have also looked through the printed pamphlets and reports of their General Synods which were kept up for a quarter of a century, and we have failed to discover any logical basis for separation or any work the "Trues" did that was worth while. The General Synods were gatherings largely of a twofold nature, to discipline and collect assessments with which to pay the traveling expenses of the delegates.
In the articles of their organization they solemnly declared that the "Reformed Protestant Dutch church" was unsound from its head to its feet, and after excoriating the entire church, they delivered them over to Satan until they should repent. The church in 1825 numbered a score of churches or congregations and about half as many ministers. The preaching was exceedingly long and extremely dogmatic. Secret societies were virulently attacked. It believed in an unalterable reprobation. The printed arguments for its rise have a great deal to say of the evils of Antinomianism, Arminianism, Erastianism, Deism, Arianism, Hopkinsianism, Socinianism, Universalism, Lordly Episcopacy, and Papal Despotism-terms of frequent discussion in their assemblies and of prolonged development in their publications. We have examined the records of the churches at Middletown (Mapletown), Westerlo (Sprakers), and Canajoharie, where Rev. J. C. Toll was pastor for ten years or more and find them almost wholly devoted to discipline and trouble in the congregation. The Union Classis (Montgomery Co.) was so small that sessions were only held once in two or three years. There were congregations at Owasco, Ovid, Danube (Indian Castle), and Mount Morris (Livingston Co.), N. Y., in addition to the above. While churches were not always built there was preaching also at Tribes Hill, Amsterdam, Glen, Osquako, Mayfield, and Johnstown. In 1830 the secession came to its climax in strength and later joined the Christian Reformed church. There is a church at Glen, N. Y., where services are held monthly and an occasional service is still conducted at Johnstown, N. Y.
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