Music in the Woods (4)

The Reformed Dutch immigrants who began to come to West Michigan in 1847 were known for their piety and love for the songs of Zion. At home, at work, at church, they sang the Psalms in all their joys and sorrows, and trials and toil. They had been grievously persecuted in the Netherlands, and as such most landed on American soil in abject poverty. Yet they sang through it all with thanksgiving to God.

The Reformed Church in America was concerned about them. Rev. Isaac Wyckoff and others had helped them on their way to Michigan, but they wanted to help them more. They were all Reformed, were they not? So in 1850 the Dutch immigrants joined the large, established Reformed Church in America. Now the Reformed churches in the east could better help these new, struggling churches in the west.

And they did. But the union was not all that it seemed. In very little time reports of conditions in the east reached the ears of these immigrant Psalm singers in the west. Their brothers in the east may have been concerned about the poor health and poverty of these Dutchmen, but these Dutchmen were even more concerned about the spiritual health of these Reformed Americans. All was not well in the east. They did not cherish the doctrines of the sovereignty of God and depravity of man, election, and reprobation. They did not cherish singing the word of God in the Psalms.

They sang hymns in the east—just like the man-centered hymns the king in the Netherlands had tried to force all Reformed people to sing. It was one of the reasons these Dutch immigrants had separated from the State Reformed Church in the Netherlands in 1834—and had been sorely persecuted for doing so. Now they found themselves joined to a church that sounded more and more like the church they had left in the Netherlands.

Rev. Wyckoff had told them they could leave at any time, but Rev. Van Raalte urged them to stay together. So did other ministers in the Dutch colony. They held to the same confessions, did they not? Then they ought to be one.

By the mid 1850s there were hundreds of Dutch people living in Holland and the surrounding settlements, even as far as Grand Rapids. They did not relish another church split such as they had experienced in ‘34. Accusations and angry quarrels were already taking place over the matter.

But the Psalms, they are songs of joys and sorrows, repentance and deliverance, and something else, too. They are battle cries of victory.

In April of 1857 Classis Holland met in the quaint, cedar log church of Zeeland, Michigan. Rev. Van Raalte and other ministers and elders were there, but others were noticeably not present. Four letters from four congregations were read, each explaining why they must leave the fellowship of the Reformed Church in America. Two ministers and about 150 families were now on their own. Those that stayed in Classis Holland were saddened and angry.

Such was the state of the church 150 years ago. It was a victory for the truth.