The Free Reformed Churches of North America are a small denomination of churches that trace their roots to the Protestant Reformation of the 16th and 17th Centuries. During this period, many countries (mainly in Western Europe) came under the influence of the teachings of the Reformers – men such as Martin Luther in Germany, John Calvin in Switzerland and John Knox in Scotland. These men separated from the Roman Catholic Church because it was their conviction that this church had become a false church.
The influence of the Reformation was felt especially in the Netherlands where the Free Reformed Churches have their origin. Here the teachings of the reformers – especially the Swiss reformer John Calvin – gained a strong foothold. Within a few decades, the Reformed faith became the official religion of the Netherlands and the Reformed Church the official state church.
Towards the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th centuries, however, this began to change. The Reformed Church in the Netherlands came under the influence of rationalism and theological liberalism. In 1834, after trying for several years to reform the church from within, Rev. Hendrik DeCock, a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church in Ulrum in the province of Groningen, was deposed from the ministry and he subsequently led his congregation out of the Dutch Reformed Church. Within a short space of time many other congregations followed suit – an event which has come to be known as the “Secession of 1834”.
Although persecuted at first, within a few years these churches formed themselves into a new denomination – the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (the Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, not to be confused with the Christian Reformed Churches in North America which is a separate denomination). Meanwhile there were many who, although they sympathized with the Seceeders, remained within the Reformed church hoping the Lord might bring about a reformation from within.
Then in 1886, another exodus from the Reformed Church took place under the leadership of Dr. Abraham Kuyper. This event came to be known as the “Doleantie” – from the Latin word meaning “sorrowful”, “complaining”. Like the Seceeders before them, the members of this group were also concerned about the theological direction of the Reformed Church. Consequently, in 1892, the churches of the Doleantie and most of the churches of the Secession merged to form the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (GKN) – the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.
Some of the churches of the Secession, however, refused to go along with this merger. These churches were concerned about the way the Doleantie movement regarded the Dutch State Church; the Doleantie regarded the church as sick but still a true church whereas the Seceeders regarded the church as false. They were also concerned about some of the teachings of Dr. Abraham Kuyper, especially his view of presumptive regeneration. Kuyper taught that children of the covenant are to be presumed to be born again unless the opposite proved true later in life. This, they felt, was unbiblical and if not dealt with, would have a detrimental effect on spiritual life. Consequently, these churches decided to continue the original church of the Secession under the same name – the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (the Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands). It is from these churches that the Free Reformed Churches trace their roots.
Currently there are 21 Free Reformed Churches in North America: 13 in Ontario, 3 in Alberta, 3 in British Columbia, 1 in New Jersey and 1 in Michigan. For more information about the exact location of our churches, please check out our denominational website at http://www.frcna.org