The Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRC) are a denomination of 28 churches and over 7000 members in the United States and Canada. These churches not only preach the gospel in our established congregations, but also are diligent in the work of missions, sending out missionaries not only within North America but also to Northern Ireland and the Philippines. We maintain our own seminary in Grandville, MI, for the training of prospective ministers of the gospel. The seminary faculty is made up of three full-time professors who teach the subjects of a four-year seminary program.
Holding the Presbyterian form of church government, the denomination is organized in two classes, Classis East and Classis West (the eastern border of Illinois being the boundary), which meet two or three times a year, and in a Synod, which meets annually in June. Without detracting from the principle of the binding authority of the major assemblies, the Protestant Reformed Churches emphasize that each congregation is self-governing by a body of elders chosen out of the congregation (the autonomy of the local congregation). Hence, the name of the denomination not Church (singular), but Churches (plural).
Although founded as a separate denomination of Reformed churches in 1924, the PRC trace their spiritual lineage back to the apostles, whose doctrine is the foundation of the Christian church with Jesus Christ as the chief cornerstone (Eph. 2:20). The word Protestant in the name Protestant Reformed indicates a close adherence to the great Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. At that time the Protestant churches separated from the Roman Catholic Church in order to preserve the truth of the Word of God, as that truth had been brought to light especially through the labors of Martin Luther and John Calvin. The God-centered theology of the Reformation spread and developed in Europe with a power which can be attributed only to God. In the Low Countries this theology was systematized in three creeds, which became known as the Three Forms of Unity of the Reformed Churches: The Belgic Confession (1561), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), and the Canons of Dordt (1618-1619). It is upon the basis of Gods Word as interpreted by these creeds that the Protestant Reformed Churches stand. These creeds, which are the confession of the Reformed churches of the past, are the spiritual heritage of the Protestant Reformed denomination.
Our origin in 1924 was occasioned by the doctrinal controversy over common grace within the Christian Reformed Church in the early 1920s. In 1924, the CRC adopted the doctrine of common grace as official church dogma. However, not all ministers in the CRC were convinced that the doctrine of common grace was Scriptural and Reformed. The result of the controversy was that several ministers with their congregations were put out of the CRC. These men then established the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Foremost among the founders of the PRC was Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965), longtime pastor in the First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI; prolific author; professor of theology at the Protestant Reformed Seminary for 40 years; and outstanding theologian. In his book, A Half Century of Theology (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1977), the well-known Dutch theologian G.C. Berkouwer acknowledged that the unquestionably sharp theological thought of the American theologian Herman Hoeksema played an important role in his theological development. In fact, Berkouwer chose Hoeksema as his dialogue partner (p. 98). The dialogue, however, was profound disagreement, particularly Berkouwer’s disagreement with Hoeksema’s staunch adherence to the Reformed doctrine of predestination.
In the early 1950s the Protestant Reformed Churches endured a severe, internal, doctrinal controversy in defense of the unconditionality of the covenant of grace. As a result of this struggle, the denomination was reduced in size. However, at the present time there is stability and steady growth, lovely activity, and peace for these churches.
DISTINCTIVE DOCTRINES AND PRACTICES
The PRC have as their creeds the “Three Forms of Unity” — the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic confession, and the Canons of Dordt. The churches require that all officebearers subscribe to these Reformed confessions. The PRC confess and proclaim the doctrines of double predestination; limited, effectual atonement; total depravity; irresistible grace; and the perseverance of saints, as fundamental truths of the gospel of grace.
By their rejection of “common grace,” they mean especially to deny that God is gracious in the preaching of the gospel to all who hear the external proclamation, holding that, although the gospel ought to be preached to all and although all ought to be confronted with the command to repent and believe, God is gracious in the preaching to the elect alone (“particular grace”).
The Biblical doctrine of the covenant is precious to these churches. They regard it as a truth that is central in Scripture and basic to the Reformed faith, even as it is fundamental to the life of the Reformed believer. The doctrine has been developed in the PRC. They conceive it, not as a contract mutually agreed upon by God and men and dependent upon the fulfillment of stipulated conditions by two parties, but as a living relationship of friendship between God in Christ and the elect church, established and maintained by the sovereign grace of God alone. They deny that faith is a condition to the covenant, holding rather that faith, the “gift of God’ (Ephesians 2:8), is the means by which God realizes His covenant, as well as the means by which the elect enjoy the covenant and willingly carry out their part in the covenant.
Among the practical implications of this covenant view, in the thinking of the PRC, is the calling of the church to promote and defend marriage, the earthly symbol of the covenant between Christ and the Church (cf. Ephesians 5:22ff.), as a life-long unbreakable bond. On this basis, the church should, and can, oppose the evil of divorce and remarriage in her communion — an evil that devastates Protestant churches today, angers God and disgusts godly men and women. Thus also, the family is safeguarded for the sake of the godly rearing of the children, who are included in the covenant (Malachi 2:14-16; Matthew 19:3-15).
Members of the PRC believe that good, Christian schools are a demand of the covenant. They, therefore, have established a number of Christian grade schools and high schools, maintaining them with no small amount of sacrifice. In areas where their own schools are not possible, parents use the existing Christian schools. Young people are encouraged to attend Christian colleges.
In their public worship on the Sabbath, these churches sing only the Psalms (with organ accompaniment) in keeping with article 69 of the Church Order adopted for the Reformed Churches by the Synod of Dordt (1618-1619). They use the King James Version of Holy Scripture, judging it to be the best English translation available, especially as regards the crucial matter of faithfulness to the inspired original.
The PRC note with alarm, if not horror, the widespread abandonment of the doctrine of the inerrant inspiration of Scripture by Reformed churches both in the United States and in Europe; the openness of reformed churches to the charismatic movement; the involvement of Reformed churches in ecumenicity that allies them with churches which are hostile to the distinctively Reformed doctrines, with churches which are theologically “liberal” (churches in the National and World Councils of Churches), and even Rome; and the sheer worldliness of life now tolerated, and in some cases promoted, by Reformed churches, contrary to what the Reformed churches once exhorted as the “antithesis” –the spiritual separation from the world of a holy life. (This last evil is what Francis A. Schaeffer deplored as the evangelical churches’ “accommodation” to the world, in his The Great Evangelical Disaster.)
Not a whit less serious to the PRC is the threat of Arminianism. Despite the rejection of Arminianism as false doctrine by the Synod of Dordt, and the condemnation of it by the Westminster Standards, it makes deep inroads into the Reformed churches in the popular doctrines of a universal love of God for sinners revealed in the Gospel; of a death of Jesus for all men without exception, with appeal to John 3:16; and the dependency of God in salvation upon the decision of the sinner (“free will”). If free will is not openly espoused, all too often there is deep silence in the churches’ preaching and confession with regard to predestination (election and reprobation) and the other doctrines of sovereign grace. The PRC believe themselves called, as a denomination of Reformed churches, stoutly to defend and enthusiastically to proclaim the historic, creedal, and distinctive doctrines of “Calvinism.” They rejoice whenever they see men and women standing, not alone for “conservatism,” but for the faith set down in the Canons of Dordt and in the Westminster Confession.