Our Story: A Brief History of the URCNA

Our Story’s Roots

The roots of our story as the United Reformed Churches in North America are the same as other Christian churches that submit to the authority of the Scriptures and find their foundation in the writings and preaching of the prophets and apostles, of which the cornerstone is Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:20).

This story continued in the ancient centuries of the church when, because of error, it became necessary to express the true faith in creeds that summarized the Bible’s teaching about God and Jesus Christ. These creeds are known as the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed.

During the sixteenth century Reformation, men such as Martin Luther (d. 1546) and John Calvin (d. 1564) combated further error. Along with the three creeds, our story is rooted in three documents of the Reformation that confess the truth of God’s Word—the Belgic Confession (1561), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), and the Canons of Dort (1618–19). These “Three Forms of Unity” draw us together into a community of churches. They are not meant to divide us; rather, they are statements of unity that show the world the biblical truths so many Christians from so many eras and nations have confessed and still confess with joy.

Our story may also be found in the reforming work throughout Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as expressed, for example, in the French Confession (France), Second Helvetic Confession (Switzerland), Thirty-Nine Articles (England), and Westminster Confession of Faith, Shorter and Larger Catechisms (England, Scotland, Ireland).

Our Story in the Netherlands

Our story is not a perfect story; nor is it one without some painful chapters. The bright light of the Reformed churches in the Netherlands at the Synod of Dort (1618–19) eventually was attacked, leading to many struggles for the truths we confess today. In the 1830s, the Reformed State Church abandoned the truths of the Synod of Dort as well as other key doctrines and confessions of the Reformation.

Therefore, a group of people came out of that church in order to continue the historic faith, standing confidently on the shoulders of the Reformation. They were not starting a small sectarian church; they were simply returning to the biblical teachings of older Reformation churches. Some people in this group moved to America and started what we know as the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in 1857. Another group, years later and still in the Netherlands, faced much of the same anti-Reformation teaching. They left the State Church of Holland in 1881; some moved to the United States and joined the Christian Reformed Church in the following years.

Our Story in the United States

In the twentieth-century, our story took some twists and turns. Now in the United States, our forefathers again faced teachings that were not clear Reformation teachings, the root of which was a move away from the inspiration and authority of Scripture. For example, in the 1950s the CRC’s seminary, Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, MI, had professors advocating what was called “neo-orthodoxy,” which said the Bible was not the Word of God, but that it became the Word of God. In the 1970s this led to other issues such as teaching the Arminian view of the love of God that had been rejected at the Synod of Dort, the opening of ecclesiastical offices (minister, elder, and deacon) to women, theistic evolution, and a 1973 declaration by the CRC that homosexuality is not much different than color blindness and is not an outright sin as long as it is not openly practiced.

These all added up and forced people to action in the 1980s. A sizeable group in the CRC was disturbed that it was moving away from Reformation truths. In 1994, sixty-two churches met to discuss solutions to the problem, leading to the formation of the United Reformed Churches in North America in 1995.

Our Story Today

Now, with nearly 120 congregations and church plants in both the U.S. and Canada, the URCNA continues to stand upon the foundation of the Word of God and to confess its teaching in the ancient creeds and Reformation confessions. The preaching and teaching of the Word of God, therefore, is the life-giving nourishment of our souls. Our commitment to this is evidenced by the fact that our ministers have undergone a thorough training at select seminaries, including Mid-America Reformed Seminary, Westminster Seminary California, and Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. After this training they are rigorously examined before being ordained to the Gospel ministry.

As such a group of churches, we stand alongside others who believe and confess the same as members of the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council, which is made up of twelve Presbyterian and Reformed groups of churches, as well as the International Conference of Reformed Churches, which is made up of twenty-five groups of churches on the six inhabited continents.

We are governed by a mutually accepted Church Order, which is an updated version of the Church Order of the aforementioned Synod of Dort. Each church belongs to one of eight regional groups of churches, called a classis, which ordinarily meets twice each year for prayer, accountability, and discussion of common issues. All the churches send representatives to meet at least once every three years in what is called a Synod.

Finally, we are working to spread our story at home and abroad. At home, the difficult task of church planting is underway, stretching from Washington D.C. to Kauai, Hawaii as well as among Spanish-speaking immigrants in Ontario, CA, and Chicago, IL, and Chinese and Sikh immigrants in Toronto, Canada. Abroad, our missionaries are laboring in Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, and throughout Latin and South America, India, Armenia, Italy, and the Philippines.

We invite you to explore our story—that we are sinners delivered by Christ alone and grateful for such deliverance in worship.

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