Christian Reformed Church Beliefs and Practices

Christian Reformed Church Beliefs
John Calvin (1509 - 1564) and Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531). ZU_09 / Getty Images

Christian Reformed Church beliefs follow the teachings of early church reformers Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin and hold much in common with other Christian denominations. Today's Christian Reformed Churches place strong emphasis on missionary work, social justice, race relations, and worldwide relief efforts.

Christian Reformed Church

  • Full Name: Christian Reformed Church in North America
  • Also Known As: CRC and CRCNA
  • Known For: Protestant Christian Denomination in Canada and the United States with roots in the 16th-century Reformation of the Dutch Netherlands and beliefs based in Calvinist theology.
  • Founding: 1857
  • Headquarters: Grand Rapids, Michigan; Burlington, ON, Canada
  • Worldwide Membership: 230,000
  • Leadership: Synod and Council of Delegates
  • Mission: "As people called by God, we gather to praise God, listen to him, and respond. We nurture each other in faith and obedience to Christ. We love and care for one another as God's people. We commit ourselves to serve and to tell others about Jesus. We pursue God's justice and peace in every area of life."

What Is the Christian Reformed Church?

The Christian Reformed Church had its beginning in the Netherlands. One of many Calvinist denominations in Europe, the Dutch Reformed Church became the state religion in the Netherlands in the 1600s. However, during the Enlightenment, that church strayed from Calvin's teachings. The common people responded by forming their own movement, worshiping in small groups called conventicles. Persecution by the state church led to a formal secession in 1834 led by Rev. Hendrik de Cock and others.

Hendrik de Cock
Hendrik de Cock (1801-1842), Dutch Reformed minister who led the secession of 1834. Public Domain 

Many years later, Rev. Albertus Van Raalte saw that the only way to avoid further persecution was to go to the United States. They settled in Holland, Michigan in 1848. To overcome the harsh conditions, they merged with the Dutch Reformed Church in New Jersey. By 1857, a group of four churches seceded and formed the Christian Reformed Church.

The Christian Reformed Church in North America is headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, with congregations spread throughout the United States and Canada, and about 30 other countries in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. The Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) has more than 230,000 members in over 1,000 churches. Notable CRCNA ministers and members include Jerry Dykstra, Hendrik de Cock, Albertus Van Raalte, and Abraham Kuyper.

CRCNA Governing Body

The CRCNA has a horizontal ecclesiastical governing structure comprised of the local council; the classis, or regional assembly; and the synod, or bi-national Canadian and US assembly. The second two groups are broader, not higher than the local council. These groups decide matters of doctrine, ethical issues, and church life and practice. The synod is further divided into eight boards which oversee the various CRCNA ministries.

Christian Reformed Church Beliefs

The Christian Reformed Church professes the Apostles' Creed, Nicene Creed, and Athanasian Creed. They believe salvation is God's work from beginning to end and that humans can do nothing to earn their way into heaven.

Baptism - Christ's blood and spirit wash away sins in baptism. According to the Heidelberg Catechism, infants, as well as adults, may be baptized and received into the church.

Bible - The Bible, the central text of the Christian Reformed Church, is the "inspired and infallible Word of God." While Scripture reflects the personalities and cultures of the individual writers, it infallibly conveys God's revelation. Over the decades, the Christian Reformed Church has authorized several translations of the Bible to be used in worship services.

Clergy - Women may be ordained to all ecclesiastical offices in the Christian Reformed Church. Synods have debated this issue since 1970, and not all local churches agree with this position.

Communion - The Lord's Supper is offered as a remembrance of Jesus Christ's "once-for-all" sacrificial death for the forgiveness of sins.

Holy Spirit - The Holy Spirit is the Comforter promised by Jesus before his ascension into heaven. The Holy Spirit is God with us in the here and now, empowering and guiding both the church and individuals.

Jesus Christ - Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the center of human history. Christ fulfilled Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah, and his life, death, and resurrection are historical facts. Christ returned to heaven following his resurrection and will come again to make all things new.

Race Relations - The Christian Reformed Church believes so strongly in racial and ethnic equality that it has established an Office of Race Relations. It conducts ongoing work to raise minorities to positions of leadership within the church and has developed an antiracism curriculum for use globally.

Redemption - God the Father refused to let sin conquer humanity. He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem the world through his sacrificial death. Further, God raised Jesus from the dead to show that Christ has overcome sin and death.

Sabbath - From the time of the early church, Christians have celebrated the Sabbath on Sunday. Sunday should be a day of rest from work, except by necessity, and recreation should not interfere with church worship.

Sin - The Fall introduced the "sin virus" into the world, which contaminates everything, from people to creatures to institutions. Sin can result in alienation from God but cannot blot out a person's longing for God and wholeness.

Trinity - God is One, in three persons, as revealed by the Bible. God is a "perfect community of love" as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Worship Practices

Sacraments - The Christian Reformed Church practices two sacraments: baptism and the Lord's Supper. Baptism is performed by a minister or ministry associate, by sprinkling water on the forehead but may also be done by immersion. Adults who are baptized are called to make a public confession of faith.

The Lord's Supper is offered as bread and the cup. According to the Heidelberg Catechism, the bread and wine are not changed into the body and blood of Christ but are a certain sign that participants receive a full pardon for their sins through communion.

Worship Service - Christian Reformed Church worship services include meeting in the church as a covenant community, Scripture readings and a sermon that proclaim the Word of God, celebrating the Lord's Supper, and dismissal with a command to serve in the outside world. An authentic worship service has an "intrinsically sacramental character."

Social action is an important facet of the CRCNA. Its ministries include radio broadcasts to countries closed to evangelism, work with the disabled, ministries to aboriginal Canadians, work on race relations, World relief, and a host of other missions.