The Reformed Church in the United States

Who We Are -- What We Are-- Why We Are

The present-day Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS) is the continuing remnant of the German immigrant denomination of the same name which was founded in 1725 by the Rev. John Philip Boehm. The old RCUS continued as a separate denomination until 1933-34 when the larger part of it united with the Evangelical Synod of North America to form the Evangelical and Reformed Church. This new church merged with the Congregational Christian Churches in 1957 to form the United Church of Christ.

One classis -- the Eureka Classis -- refused to participate in the 1934 merger. This classis continued as a separate entity for the next five decades. During this time, several congregations of like mind have become part of it. The North Dakota Classis dissolved in 1936 and its ministers and churches joined the Eureka Classis. During the 1950s, congregations at Menno, SD; Manitowoc, WI; Garner, IA; Sutton, NE; and Shafter and Bakersfield, CA, which had either left the Evangelical and Reformed Church or had been independent, joined the Eureka Classis. The 1970s welcomed the arrival of several churches from the General Association of Regular Baptists that had become Reformed. In subsequent years, several groups (some as whole congregations) have left the UCC to join the RCUS. Today, the RCUS numbers about forty congregations.

At its annual meeting in 1986, the Eureka Classis dissolved to form the Synod of the Reformed Church in the United States. Today, instead of one classis, the RCUS consists of four classes: Covenant East, Northern Plains, South Central and Western.

First Things First

There are several reasons why the Eureka Classis refused to participate in the 1934 merger, but its fundamental reason is the doctrine of Scripture. The Eureka Classis was established in 1910 by churches that were already concerned with the rising tide of liberalism in the Eastern Synod, the seminaries and bureaucracy of the church. Its reason for existence was to maintain the pure preaching of the Word of God.

The foundational principle of all Christian teaching is that the Bible is the very Word of God, by which every question must be tested (cf. Isa. 40:8; Matt. 5:18; 24:35; 2 Tim. 3:16; 1 Pet. 1:21, 25). Eve, believing Satan's lie, fell into sin and recommended the same to her husband, who followed her sad advice (Gen. 3:1ff.; 1 Tim. 2:14). Today, our only hope of salvation is in believing God's Word of Truth (John 17:17; 18:37). Upon this principle, the Protestant Reformation was established. The answer to Question 21 of the Heidelberg catechism begins, "True faith is a certain knowledge whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word."

Liberalism, by contrast, is built solely upon human opinion. This is manifested in two common tendencies: (1) relegating the fundamental teachings of Scripture -- the virgin birth of Christ, his substitutionary atonement and bodily resurrection, etc. -- to the realm of non-binding and merely theoretical, and (2) replacing these teachings with popular humanistic notions, including the universal brotherhood of believer and unbeliever, socialistic political theory, and a broad one-world, one-church ecumenism.

The merger of 1934 signaled the victory of these liberal tendencies as ruling the church and thus compromised loyalty to the Bible as God's infallible and inerrant Word. This is not to say that every congregation of the Evangelical and Reformed Church had submitted to these tendencies (some never have), nor that everyone in the merged church was in a position to recognize them. Sadly, the leadership of the Evangelical and Reformed Church covered up criticism of the merger and willfully hid from the people the existence of a continuing remnant of the RCUS. The prophet Isaiah denounced such false prophets of his day: If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them (Isa. 8:20).

The RCUS is not the only Reformed or Biblical church, nor are Reformed believers the only Christians. Christ warns us against such arrogance in Matthew 24:23, 24. Nevertheless, we are convinced that the teaching summarized in the Reformed creeds is the most faithful expression of Biblical teaching known to man. This is a matter of conviction, not pride, for we confess with Jacob of old, I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant (Gen. 32:10; cf. 1 John 5:19).

The Necessity of Creeds

The Word of God calls upon believers to confess their faith. Jesus said, Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven (Matt. 10:32). The apostle Paul concurs: If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Rom. 10:9). To assure a purity of confession, the church has written various creeds over the years. Creeds are universal as summaries of the truth of the gospel.

Even those who proclaim "No Creed but Christ" have a list of propositions that defines the Christ they believe in. The problem is that they are not willing to publish this list since it might change. There should be no fear to publish the teachings of Scripture, though: the Lord got his doctrines right the first time! Nevertheless, as Christians we must agree that, if our creedal summary is in error, we will change it.

The Bible teaches that man's conscience should be bound only by the Word of God (Mark 7:9). This does not lead to anarchy, as one might suppose, because the Bible also teaches the unity of the true faith and separation from those who do not hold to the clear teaching of God's Word (2 Cor. 6:14ff.; 1 Tim. 6:3-5; 1 John 4:1-3; 2 John 10).

Basic Christian unity is confessed by Reformed Christians with all who sincerely hold to the teachings of the Apostles' Creed (see Heidelberg catechism, Questions 22 and 54). Historic confessions have generally used the Apostles' Creed, the Ten Commandments and the Lord's Prayer to structure their more specific doctrinal statements.

Reformed churches, along with other churches descending from the Reformation, have followed the ancient church tradition of writing expository creeds which state Biblical teaching in a way that separates believers from unbelievers (cf. the Nicene Creed, which declares that all Christians must believe in the Trinity). Reformed confessions include the Heidelberg catechism, the Belgic Confession of Faith, the Canons of Dort, the Second Helvetic Confession and the Westminster Standards (the first three creeds constitute the confessional base of the RCUS). These expository creeds serve as the skin and bones for the church as an organization on earth. As bones, they give it a unifying structure, since all members and officers confess the truth of the doctrines they set forth; as skin, they separate those of a particular denomination from others outside the church structure.

Because Reformed churches hold that unity in truth is the basis of all other unity (2 John 10), they form close-knit denominational fellowships and establish ecumenical connections with other Reformed bodies holding similar creeds. Such fraternal relations should not be confused with the modern tendency of church unionism.

Mutual Submission

The basic principle of Biblical church government is mutual submission to one another in the Lord. This means that individual believers and congregations should submit themselves to each other in a brotherly way, that is, without one lording it over another.

To maintain order in the church, Christ has appointed officers for its care and instruction. Church officers, according to the Biblical pattern, include pastors, elders and deacons. Such officers should not be regarded as "higher" forms of Christians; rather, they serve special functions of ruling and leadership. These officers submit certain decisions (elections, buying property, etc.) to the congregation, while the congregation submits other functions (preaching, daily oversight, pastoral work, etc.) to its officers.

In the same way that congregations and officers relate to each other by mutual submission, local churches, classes and synods also submit to each other. Calling pastors, electing elders, admitting members, observing the sacraments are all left to congregations and their consistories (elder-deacon boards). Classes and synods are only indirectly involved in these matters and can only consider a particular problem with them by appeal from a local decision. On the other hand, examining pastors for the ministry, establishing pastor-church relations, foreign ministries and adopting creeds are examples of functions that local churches submit to classes and synods.

Advantages of Joining the RCUS

     The center of our worship, teaching and evangelism is the Word of God. We are missions-minded. We have no centralized bureaucracy. We are a fellowship of Christian love and brotherhood. We will fight for the Biblical and Reformed faith. We know what we stand for.

Author: Rev. Robert Grossmann