RCA Renewal

As most of my readers know, I serve two rural Dutch Reformed churches, one CRC and one RCA. Both churches are considerably more conservative than the bulk of their denominations. I have been enormously encouraged recently by making a contact of Kevin DeYoung, pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, MI. He, and a fair number of other Reformed pastors within the RCA have put together a group that they call RCA Integrity. All I can say is, “May their tribe increase.” Kevin has recently put out a short commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism. I hope that the Lord will use this tool to bring back the RCA to its confessional heritage. The good news is that this movement seems to have a lot of younger Reformed folk within it.



  1. James Vandenberg said,

    April 16, 2010 at 10:49 am


    Since you serve in the RCA, do you have to sign onto the Belhar Confession?

  2. greenbaggins said,

    April 16, 2010 at 10:55 am

    I am ordained in the PCA, actually. I do what they call “out of bounds” labor. No, I do not have to sign on to the Belhar, although that matter is not settled in the RCA yet, either. I have commented on the Belhar on my blog.

  3. David Grissen said,

    April 16, 2010 at 11:27 am

    I like the Covenant. Relevant for today. I’m wondering if you should add, “slavery” to the last section related to justice. It seems we have more slaves in the world today than we did at the time the civil war was fought to free them.

  4. Ken Pierce said,

    April 16, 2010 at 4:18 pm


    Having grown up in the RCA, and serving for 2 years in an ex-RCA church, I have great interest in Kevin and his ministry. I heard him at T4G on the impassability of God –excellent, and am taking two RCA candidates from RTS to the conference in a few weeks where Mark Dever will speak.

    What RCA conservatives have always lacked is a captain. Now, they have one. May his tribe increase.

  5. April 16, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    I am trying to remember what Joe Mullen (my former pastor when I was in the Navy but now my Associate Pastor) told me, but I think Kevin’s wife was involved at Joe’s PCA church in VA. Beach and that Joe performed their wedding.

  6. Ken Pierce said,

    April 16, 2010 at 6:57 pm

    She is pca in background. Dominic told me her parents are at village 7

  7. David Gadbois said,

    April 17, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    Lane, I don’t know of any good reasons why “conservative” CRCs or RCAs should stay in their denominations when us folks in the URC would receive them with open arms. Its like conservative churches that are still in the PCUSA. I don’t get it. It smells to me like unprincipled parochial loyalty. Or perhaps there are some property/financial vice grips at work…

    This phenomenon of “conservative” reformed churches or self-described “Calvinists” who aren’t in a NAPARC denomination/federation is strange and, I think, to be discouraged.

  8. Ken Pierce said,

    April 19, 2010 at 9:40 am


    That may be how it appears on the surface. The truth is that the denominational cultures of the RCA and CRC/URC are incredibly different. OUtsiders don’t see this, but I would bet Lane knows it well.

    The reason RCA conservatives have survived (and their churches have tended to thrive) is just that the RCA is not heirarchical, whereas the CRC and the URC, are.

    The CRC General Synod actually approves every ministerial candidate, and thus liberalism has advanced at a far faster rate in the CRC than the RCA.

    When it comes to liberalism, the RCA said, “We don’t care what the BIble says, so therefore ordain women, etc…” The CRC says, “The Bible says…” In short, the CRC developed a hermeneutic for liberalism, while the RCA was laissez faire. What the CRC did is introduce cancer into their own system, and call it health –it is far worse to justify liberalism hermeneutically, than allow it passively, because it then becomes an article of the faith.

    The CRC strain also has much cultural baggage (they would say commitments), borne out of Kuyperianism, that would hinder the liberty of RCA evangelical congregations.

    One simply cannot understand this without knowing the history of the Afscheiding and Doleantie strains, how they interact and break apart, and what form those things took when they came to the US.

    RCA conservatives would trace their roots to Afscheiding folk who migrated in the latter part of the nineteenth century, united with the existing Dutch Reformed church in the US (the more liberal state church).

    The CRC would be largely the fruit of the Doleantie, and thus have some Kuyperian baggage (don’t get me wrong, I love Kuyper, but he had baggage). These, too, united with the extant Dutch Reformed church, but then split off to form the CRC.

    Splits are never neat, and some Afscheiding went along with the Doleantie in their split. Most CRC conservatives, and URC folk would have incorporated influences of both strains in their piety. Yet, the tension, I think, is reflected in some of what we are seeing transpire at WSC these days.

    So, the answer cannot simply be the URC.

    Moreover, why do conservatives always retreat instead of advance?

  9. greenbaggins said,

    April 19, 2010 at 9:51 am

    I would agree with your analysis, Ken. It is also the reason why conservatives have more of a chance in the RCA than in the CRC, to turn the denomination around.

  10. Phil Derksen said,

    April 19, 2010 at 9:57 am

    Pastor Lane,

    Would you agree that there may well come a time in a liberalizing denomination’s history when the best action is for conservatives to leave? For example, I have to assume you think it was proper (necessary) for the PCA folks to seperate from the PCUSA in 1973, right?

  11. Ken Pierce said,

    April 19, 2010 at 10:03 am


    I am not Lane, but I speak as one who grew up RCA and in Western Michigan’s Dutch kettle, and separated myself, and came to the PCA because of its commitments: not just the Reformed faith, but also missions and church planting.

    I have been ordained in the PCA for 12+ years. God is sovereign, but if I were being ordained today, I would not be as quick to leave, and probably would not leave at all.

    I have come to see that conservatives are far too quick to give up the fight, to retreat because of purity into our own Masada. And we know what happened at Masada, right?

    One of my RCA friends and I analyze it this way. The PCA has Pharisee problems –and I don’t mean the right wing of the PCA is pharasaical, and the left wing is gospel-centric, as is sometimes put forth. I mean rather that the PCA tends to be characterized by a pride and self-satisfaction, and not much by love, and this is irrespective of party.

    We fight a lot, and over little.

    The RCA has sadducee problems.

    The question is “What is worse?” Well, the jury is out.

    But, it troubles me that we don’t often have enough confidence in our God to turn things around. But, he has done that! Three prominent examples: the LCMS, the SBC, and the ARP.

    My friend, congregant, and former professor Knox Chamblin is PCUSA. His stance has always been that he will stay until they force him out. And, he is a light in an ever-darkening place.

    Conservatives always lose because conservatives always take their dice and leave when the game turns against them. I am tired of doing that.

  12. Phil Derksen said,

    April 19, 2010 at 10:11 am


    Thanks for your insightful perspective. Would you be interested in answering even more directly the specific questions I posed to Lane?

    Of course whenever I ponder this issue I always thing about the Protestant’s seperation out of the Roman church in the 16th century…

  13. Ken Pierce said,

    April 19, 2010 at 10:18 am

    I do not think it was right for the PCA to separate in 1973. My friend and mentor (and current ARP moderator) J. R. de Witt was involved in the precursor movements, and argued vociferously that there was no precipitating event for them to leave, and I have come to see that he was right. But, what is done cannot be undone, of course.

    The Protestant Reformers did not separate from the church, they were put out of the church. In fact, as was pointed out by someone (Mohler or Duncan) at T4G, there were efforts by the Lutheran and Reformed to approach Rome and put things back together. Trent made this impossible, of course, by anathematizing the gospel and those who believed it.

    I think the time to leave is when the conscience is truly violated by the requirements of the church. By truly violated, I mean when they make you swear to something you believe to be untrue. Or, like Machen, when they boot you out.

  14. Phil Derksen said,

    April 19, 2010 at 10:45 am


    Thanks again for your thoughts. For myself, I think that history has vindicated the propriety of conservatives’ seperating themselves from an ever-more apostasizing PCUSA. Nor did they do so without a considerable fight to right things. Of course one could argue that if they had stayed somewhwt(?) longer, then they might have turned things around, as has occassionally happened in some other situations. While possible, I would personally be quite skeptical of such a turn around ever having happend in the case of the PCUSA. By the same token, I also have questions as to whether it is useful/right for conservative churches to indefinitely stay in denominations that are increasingly tolerant of “another gospel” being preached.

    Your point about the historical dynamics behind the Protestant-Catholic split is well taken. However, what about the intermural splits within early Protestantism itself? Again, I have to think that the Reformed churches acted rightly in setting up their own ecclesial community (as opposed to joining Luther’s earlier movement, so to speak) in order to be able to propgate and operate within a doctrinal structure that they firmly believed was truest to biblical teaching. As sad and unpleasant as it may be, unfortunately I think multi-denominationalism is probably a necessary evil in a fallen world.

  15. David Gray said,

    April 19, 2010 at 10:52 am

    >I think the time to leave is when the conscience is truly violated by the requirements of the church. By truly violated, I mean when they make you swear to something you believe to be untrue. Or, like Machen, when they boot you out.

    I’ve always thought differently but you make a good point re the attitude of Luther, etc. towards Rome. My understanding has been that it isn’t possible any longer, in the PCUSA, to be ordained without positively affirming the ordination of women. At that point attrition spells the end result. How does that play into your take on this? I’ve always thought it a pity that the Calvinist wing of the reformed was so separated from the Lutheran and it seems that Calvin thought so as well.

  16. Ken Pierce said,

    April 19, 2010 at 10:54 am


    I want to take a bit of issue with you on the PC(USA). For one thing, the PCA did not leave the PC(USA), it left the PC(US). It’s hard to argue that history has vindicated that split, because the history of the PCUS may have been far different had conservatives not abandoned her. At least, that was the opinion of the conservatives who stayed, like Sam Patterson, the heroic founding president of RTS.

    RTS was founded as a renewal movement seminary to serve the PCUS. Many of its early faculty were PCUS, and several continued to be even through my time there. That was Sam Patterson’s vision for the school he was instrumental in founding. The money men tended to disagree.

    I think it is the duty of conservative churches and ministers to preach the gospel incessantly, and not leave because it is not being preached. It’s probably not being preached in every PCA or OPC pulpit, either. The net result of gospel preachers leaving is less gospel being preached.

    And, when we leave, we tend to trade the big battles (gospel, Christ, Scripture) for little battles that chew up major time.

    The whole discussion must admit of degrees because of fallenness. Would it be good for Lutherans, Baptists, and Calvinists to be together in one denominational umbrella? Probably not. But , it is good for us to work together on matters of common concern.

    That said, it is not God-glorifying for there to be 60 some odd conservative Calvinistic denominations either!

    But, at this point, I don’t think denominational union actually serves church unity. It would exhaust precious time and resources in haggling about stuff that just doesn’t matter all that much. It may be better to labor alongside one another, and support one another. Denominations appear to be perishing qua instutions, which may not be altogether a bad thing.

    We need connections, but do we need heirarchies and centralization? Hard to see support for that in the Scripture.

  17. Phil Derksen said,

    April 19, 2010 at 11:02 am


    My sincere appologies for the mistaken nomenclature concerning the P-soup alphabet, as some have called it. While we might end up disagreeing on some points, I will end here by heartily agreeing with this statement of yours: “It is good for us to work together on matters of common concern.”


  18. Phil Derksen said,

    April 19, 2010 at 11:07 am


    One last thing, if I may. You might find this article interesting:


  19. Ken Pierce said,

    April 19, 2010 at 11:13 am


    No apologies necessary. Just an important historical point. The PCUS was the Southern church –still far more conservative than her northern sister, at that point called the UPCUSA. They merged in 1983 –which saw another significant exodus into the PCA and the formation of the EPC.

    The point is that if the PCA had stayed in the PCUS, that merger may never have happened –one cannot say, now.

    1983 would have been a precipitating breaking point, to be sure. But, in 1973, there was no confessional alteration, etc. The shenanigans that had been going on for 80 years simply continued and the conservatives said, “Enough.” But, and this is an important point –only 23,000 left (out of a denomination then numbering 2 million, I think). A drop in the bucket.

    Most conservatives stayed. Good, godly men like Clayton Bell stayed. Stalwart conservative churches like Highland Park Dallas, First Orlando, First Nashville, Second Memphis, Second Richmond, and Peachtree Atlanta stayed. Coral Ridge stayed, for crying out loud!!

    The fruit really wasn’t ripe yet, at the very least.

  20. Ken Pierce said,

    April 19, 2010 at 11:14 am

    I wish I had added this to my last post.

    Many of those who left, did so because they were racist/segregationists. That is not a slanderous charge. I served a church that did just that.

  21. April 19, 2010 at 11:26 am

    Or, like Machen, when they boot you out.

    What about those who left the PCUSA because Machen was “boot”ed out? Do they get a free pass from you for separating even though they personally weren’t booted? Or, are they in error? Plus, I think it is not entire historically correct to say Machen was booted.

    At the final session of the trial held on March 29, 1935, the commission declared Dr. Machen guilty, suspended him from the ministry of the Presbyterian Church in the USA, but recommended that the sentence take effect only after appeal to the higher courts had been heard.

    from Machen’s Trial

    Ministers Griffiths, McIntire, MacPherson, Rian, Woodbridge, and Woolley were ordered suspended from the ministry.

    also from Machen’s Trial

    Suspension from office was all that was done. They left before they were booted. Now, it is admitted that it is very likely that had Machen et al, not left at that point, deposition from office would have been next.

    Bottom line, is that Machen wasn’t really booted, he left. Does he still get a pass from you?

  22. Phil Derksen said,

    April 19, 2010 at 11:27 am


    You’ve been very informative. Thanks. I must say that what I feel most keenly just after having conversations like this is, “Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.”

  23. Ken Pierce said,

    April 19, 2010 at 11:39 am


    It is not my job to pass judgment on historical figures. People have to follow their conscience, and consciences differ. There is not always a clear-cut, “Everyone must do this,” solution. But, I will try to analyze, inform, and persuade consciences.

    Suspension from the ministry for a spurious reason is tantamount to being driven from the denomination, I think.

    Let’s remember that: a.) the OPC was a tiny drop in the PCUSA bucket, far smaller than Machen imagined it would be. b.) within a few years, the OPC split over millenarian and Christian liberty issues. Most conservatives stayed. Good men and churches stayed. “Fundamentalist” leaders stayed.

  24. Ken Pierce said,

    April 19, 2010 at 12:28 pm

    Just realized I had not responded to David Gray’s question about needing to affirm the ordination of women to be ordained in the PCUSA.

    The simple answer is that I don’t know. I have good PCUSA friends who don’t believe in female ordination, and they continue to serve. Whether they could be ordained today, I don’t know.

  25. Andrew Duggan said,

    April 19, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Let’s remember that: a.) the OPC was a tiny drop in the PCUSA bucket, far smaller than Machen imagined it would be. b.) within a few years, the OPC split over millenarian and Christian liberty issues. Most conservatives stayed. Good men and churches stayed. “Fundamentalist” leaders stayed.

    I think I get what you’re saying.

    “Tiny drop” vs “Most conservatives stayed.”
    “OPC split over…” vs “Good men and churches stayed.”

    No judgment there. ;-) ‘nough said.

  26. David Gray said,

    April 19, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    >“Tiny drop” vs “Most conservatives stayed.”

    Speaking as an OPC member and very pleased to be so I think it would be hard to argue with the veracity of that statement.

  27. Ken Pierce said,

    April 19, 2010 at 1:07 pm


    If you knew the personal cost of my coming into the PCA, you probably would not draw such inferences.

    The point is not that the conservatives who left were wrong to leave.

  28. Andrew Duggan said,

    April 19, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    If you knew the personal cost of my coming into the PCA,

    Perhaps not, and with all due respect for your sufferings, if as you said in #13 you,

    … do not think it was right for the PCA to separate in 1973.

    why would you have paid such a cost for something that you do not think was not right in the first place? Although I do not know you, you do have my sincere sympathy for being in such a straight, because if I were in your shoes I would be consumed with finding a way of fixing/mollifying a situation that would be to me a major mistake. [It is not my intention to judge you, and I understand that you may not see any inconsistency with seeing the separation of the PCA in 1973 as wrong and still paying a high personal cost for joining it, it would, though, for me be a very tough place to be.]

    Less personally, if as you said it was not right for the PCA to separate in 1973, then are they not all guilty of schism? I don’t see how that conclusion is escapable, unless one’s ecclesiology is rather low church. Given that, shouldn’t the PCA find some way to express that sin and its repentance, even if ends up being little more than a separate peace due to the subsequent merger of the PCUS and the UPCUSA?

  29. Ken Pierce said,

    April 19, 2010 at 2:14 pm


    Quite simply, because opinions change over time. When I joined the PCA in 1993, I did not see things the way I do now. And I am not one to get all upset and concerned about denominationalism. History simply cannot be undone, and I am where I am, I think, by the will of God.

    There is no putting humpty-dumpty back together again, given the current state of the PCUSA.

    Whether it was schism or not is hardly cut and dried. Again, there is a place for individual conscience here. What happened, happened.

    My view is: serve where you are. This is an unsettled day in the life of the church, in terms of connectionalism. But, the ministry of the local church is primary. As my ministry is productive here, and I believe myself to be called here, I am willing to labor in an imperfect denomination, as all denominations are imperfect, some to greater or lesser degrees.

    Conservatives often run towards purity, and away from the battle for truth. Why not rather advance the truth, and defeat the lie? Why run from liberalism and let it continue to advance? Are we scared of liberals? Who has God on their side? Is there not a God in Israel? If God is on the side of his gospel and his word, should we not advance with it in the very jaws of the enemy, so to speak?

  30. Andrew Duggan said,

    April 19, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    There is no putting humpty-dumpty back together again, given the current state of the PCUSA.

    why, it is because…

    Are we scared of liberals? Who has God on their side?

    And I am not one to get all upset and concerned about denominationalism.

    Then why take the trouble to comment that the founding of the PCA was illegitimate?

    Despite the rhetoric, I do agree that the PCUSA is quite beyond repair, but I think that has more to do with the fact the OPC exercised discipline against them, and in keeping with Christ’s promise in Matt 18:18, he has removed their candlestick. Regarding the PCA and PCUS, I think that God confirmed the judgment of the PCA in 1983, when he had the PCUS merge with the already apostate UPCUSA.

    Where is the third mark of the church in all of this? When it comes to essentials of the Christian Faith such as what was at stake the PCUSA prior to 1936, it sometimes it is becomes necessary for even a tiny drop to exercise discipline on the majority. No matter what the cost. You might call that a “run .. away from the battle for truth”, but I call it making sure it’s not one’s own candlestick that gets removed, nor the one that gets spewed out because of being lukewarm.

    What does that enemy have to fear, if the “conservatives”, have taken the ultimate censure of church discipline “off the table”?

    I’m sorry to pick on you so much, I don’t have a dog in the PCA fight, much less the RCA, being OPC myself, but it does seem funny to me that the same set of people are branded by some, as those that “run .. away from the battle for truth”, and Machen’s warrior children, by others.

  31. Ken Pierce said,

    April 19, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    Well, since I am probably one of the people Prof. Frame had in his sights in that silly and pathetic article, I guess I find myself doubly confused.

    My whole point has been that people have different consciences on this, and I am not in a position to judge their consciences. I am just glad not ALL conservatives withdraw.

    Let’s face it, the history of conservatives withdrawing has not been pretty. The history of hte OPC has been one denomination-rending debate after another. We have not fared much better.

    I would rather fight the big battle than spend decades practically anathematizing people for following Gordon Clark, erratic though he was.

  32. Andrew Duggan said,

    April 19, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    Well, since I am probably one of the people Prof. Frame had in his sights in that silly and pathetic article…

    And all this time, I had no idea that Frame’s article was an allegory. I am quite impressed.

    .. and I am not in a position to judge their consciences. … The history of hte OPC has been one denomination-rending debate after another.

    Indeed. So is that reason #723 or #724 why the OPC is esteemed so negatively compared to the PCA? FWIW, I do apologize for the awkwardness of the phrase “is esteemed so negatively”, but I thought using the standard, monosyllabic vulgar colloquialism would only give justification for additional negative stereotyping of the OPC, (having previously identified myself as such) while allowing one to remain free from any hint of the stain of passing judgment.

    Thanks for the lesson. Honestly, very educational – thanks.

  33. David Petersen said,

    April 19, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    These are some very interesting comments regarding the PCA and at what point one should leave a denomination. I’d like to put out some observations on the PCA’s departure as I did my MA thesis on it. I am a PCA member (Granada Presbyterian Church- Coral Gables, FL).

    Ken correctly noted that the PCA departed from the old PCUS, a denomination that was comparatively more conservative than the UPCUSA. I believe that a merger would have eventually taken place; conservatives, while they possessed a veto minority on constitutional issues, never could gain control of the denominational machinery. A moderate-liberal faction held power and used the majority vote to push through union presbyteries and closer relations with the UPCUSA. Those churches left in 1973 because they saw that 1) union negotiations were not proceeding because of hangups over the “escape” clause (which was put into the 1983 document) and 2) the denominational synods and presbyteries were reorganized in 1973 effectively diluting conservative strength. Many conservatives did not believe they had a viable future in this denomination. Others felt they did (and some of these left in the early 1980’s for the PCA or EPC). History has shown that many of the charges levelled at the PCUS by conservatives were correct. Of course, property always played an issue. It was (and still is) that 800lb gorilla in the room.

    It is important to note that the churches did not leave on a whim or a dramatic church trial (like Machen). The controversy had been brewing since the 1930’s era with Hay Watson Smith and the issue of subscription. Two churches in Savannah actually left in the mid 1960’s. Looking at the movement as a whole, I was impressed by its “grassroots” nature and the variety of churches it attracted.

    As Ken noted, some churches were “captives of their culture” (with reference to John Eighmy’s phrase) and left because of cultural/racial issues. It is my opinion that the departing churches were united theologically, and it was this issue that provoked a departure. Nevertheless, some churches in particular, also left because they felt their racial beliefs would be accepted in the future denomination. Others, however, did not. A prominent Alabama PCUS minister, who was well known for his racism refused to join. I have found no reason to conclude that the PCA was formed for racist reasons. Certainly, it was a product of Southern culture – a culture that was undergoing some radical transformations during the 1960/1970’s. Another interesting point, is the broad scope of churches that joined. Miami, Baltimore, Texas, Jackson etc…I do not see cultural or racial issues alone uniting and sparking such a movement. The strongest racial opinions I saw in conservative literature were written in the 1950’s and mid 1960’s. The other issue that has been little mentioned is that many of these churches were essentially evangelical, not always strongly Calvinistic.

    One last point- some have criticized the departing PCUS churches for leaving prematurely. But, at what point is it justified for one to leave? Can you in good conscience be a member of a denomination that promotes (and funds) actions that violate your conscience. Frankly, I was shocked at how far the PCUS went in its progressive theology. Whatever the conservatives did (and they did try), certainly did not show up in the GA minutes.

    That all said, I’m not trying to whitewash the PCA. They have plenty of crud in their history just like other denominations. My own church has more than its share of it as well.
    I’m not as familiar with the RCA, but am encouraged at these signs. I sincerely hope they can help turn the denomination in a different direction.

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