The initial rivalry between Hope College and Calvin University
Hope College and Calvin University fans enjoy their sporting rivalry; but the rivalry that led to their respective denominations and schools was just as intense.
The rivalry started in the Netherlands. To quote Robert Swierenga in “Dutch Chicago”, “The Secessionists of 1834 drew on both the pietist (heart) and doctrinal (head) traditions as an antidote to theological liberalism, religious formalism and ecclesiastical power struggles to which much of the National Reformed Party church succumbed in 1815.
“Their house churches became centers of resistance in the 1820s and 1830s, when religious change swept through the country. During the economic crisis of the 1840s, seceding congregations sent a disproportionate number of their members to America … “
Upon arriving in Holland, Albertus Van Raalte’s supporters first met in front of his log cabin and then in a log structure where the Pilgrim Home Cemetery now stands. In 1850, Van Raalte affiliated his church with the Reformed Church of America.
However, neighboring South Holland congregations, Graafschap, Noordeloos and Drenthe disagreed, accusing RCA churches of singing hymns against psalms, emphasizing “free will” against deterministic theology, moving away from the Heidelberg catechism and worshiping in English – in short, fearing the Americanization of their religion.
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In 1850, the South Holland congregation affiliated with the Scottish Calvinist Church. In 1855, the Noordeloos congregation voted to remain independent.
Still, Van Raalte’s congregation grew. In 1856, they built Pillar Church to accommodate their numbers.
In 1857, the congregations of Noordeloos, Vriesland, Graafschap and Grand Rapids formed the True Dutch Reformed Church, and part of Van Raalte’s congregation migrated to the congregation of Graafschap.
During this time, Van Raalte founded – with the support of members of the RCA – a preparatory school which in 1866 became Hope College.
In 1862 Hope Church was formed as the RCA Church. In 1865, Market Street Church (now Central Avenue) became a true Dutch Reformed Church. It was located halfway between Hope and Pillar.
In 1866, part of Van Raalte’s congregation followed evangelist Michael Clapper, who formed a Pentecostal church. In 1867, the Third Reformed Church was formed west of Hope Church as part of the CAR.
In 1869, Van Raalte and his wife, Christina, set out to establish another colony in Virginia. They returned a few years later.
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Albertus Van Raalte died in Holland in 1876, the same year that the True Dutch Reformed Church opened its own preparatory school in Grand Rapids. We know them today as Christian Reformed Church and Calvin College, respectively.
In 1880 there was yet another schism. The ARC governing body voted in favor of lodge membership. But many members of the CAR in the Holland area felt that Freemasonry amounted to a competing religion, so they left the CAR for the CRC.
This current political decision also cost the ACR the approval of the Secessionist Church in the Netherlands, at a time when many Dutch secessionists were migrating to the United States. Thus, between 1873 and 1900, the CRC grew eight times faster than the RCA.
The schism also had an impact on Pillar Church. In 1882, the learning members of the Pillar CRC declared Pillar as their own. Lawyer Arend Visscher took their case and argued in the Michigan Supreme Court.
The court ruled in favor of the CRC members, with the stipulation that they pay RCA members $ 200 for a separate building. RCA members then built a red brick building on the southeast corner of Ninth Street and Central, in the same block as Pillar and one block from CRC on Market Street.
They called their church First Reformed. In 1963, they moved to State Street and built on a property that once belonged to Arend Visscher.
After 1900, another movement in the Netherlands benefited the CRC: the neo-Calvinist revival of 1886, led by Abraham Kuyper, a staunch defender of a typically Christian education.
My family was also influenced by secession: my great-great-grandfather, a farm worker, was forbidden to leave his job because he wanted to vote for Abraham Kuyper.
I was influenced by the rivalry because my family lived in a predominantly RCA / CRC neighborhood and attended a CRC church and school, which meant I had two groups of friends. As an adult, I taught at both Calvin University and Hope College, similar yet different, both increasingly diverse.
The information for this story comes from the work of Robert Swierenga, a graduate of Calvin University; and Ian Bussan, Madalyn DeJonge and Rebekah Llorens of Hope College.
– Community columnist Steve VanderVeen is a business professor at Hope College. Contact him at [email protected]