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Music in the Woods (5)

The people of the Afscheiding who began to settle in the woods of West Michigan in 1847 treasured the doctrines of election and reprobation, preached the Heidelberg Catechism, and loved to sing the word of God in the Psalms. But they discovered that the Reformed Church in America, to which they had united in 1850, did not. The RCA spoke little of election and reprobation, did not preach the Catechism, and sang hymns. They also allowed Masonic lodge membership—a serious sin. Whether one admitted it or not, to be members with the Reformed Church in America was to approve of all these things. The immigrants of Noordeloos, Polkton, Graafschap, and part of Grand Rapids, along with the Revs. Koene Vanden Bosch and Hendrik Kleyn could not approve. In 1857 they left the RCA and their many fellow Dutch immigrants who chose to remain with the RCA.

They could not in good conscience stay, but they also left in humble repentance. They had been one with this denomination for seven years, including, therefore, one in its guilt. And church splits are never a mere “fraternal adieu” as was suggested to them it ought to be. They fasted and prayed, and then marched on as all warriors of faith must move forward.

The kingdom of God always wins on this earth, but as it “cometh not with observation” (Luke 17:20), so is its victories. It appeared as if all was lost. The saints left standing for holiness of doctrine and life were few and despised. Most of the Dutch immigrants stayed with Van Raalte and the RCA—and they were not happy with those who left. Within one year Rev. Kleyn went back to the RCA as well. One minister with four small churches stood by themselves.

Rev. Vanden Bosch traveled by ox wagon on primitive roads and trails, trying to care for the four congregations as best he could. Though he was a faithful preacher, Rev. Vanden Bosch was not a gifted and educated leader such as Rev. Van Raalte was. And they were so few! They needed help and encouragement. They sent word to their church brothers in the Netherlands about the separation they believed so necessary, but only received a cold reply. They were truly alone in the world.

What could possibly become of one inexperienced minister and four small churches? God was watching out for his little flock. As new immigrants arrived in West Michigan, a number of them joined these churches. After six years a minister from the Netherlands finally answered a call to help them, and now more would come. Slowly and steadily they began to grow. For many years they were known as the True Dutch Reformed Church, but in 1890 they adopted the name of the Christian Reformed Church.

Yes, this is the history of those who have gone before us in the battle for the truth, for the holiness of God and of his people—and for singing the Psalms. By 1924 the battleground would again change into another chapter of the history of the spiritual warfare of God’s people, but an important foundation was laid in the forests of Michigan in 1857. The truth, with its sound so complete and pure in the Psalms, would continue to ring in the music in the woods.