Liturgical Change in the Christian Reformed Church (1964-1985) — Part 1

20 October 2011 by Wes Bredenhof

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CRC Logo


It’s held by many that “change” is a dirty word in Reformed churches.  To try and bring about change in Reformed churches, especially those with a predominantly Dutch background, is an exercise that few have patience for.  We have traditions that have become comfortable to us, traditions that seem right and “Reformed” to us, and therefore change is not seen as necessary or desirable.  We have a conservative ethos that resists rapid change.

Canadian Reformed readers will certainly see the truth in those statements.  On the surface, some things have changed in our churches in the last sixty years.  Dutch services have disappeared entirely.  We no longer use the King James Version or the Revised Standard Version.  We have a Book of Praise with 85 hymns.  However, when it comes to the core of it, if a person could enter a time machine and travel back to a 1950s-era Canadian Reformed worship service, there would be a lot that remains familiar.  With regard to liturgy, little substantial change has taken place in sixty years.  With some minor variations in some places, the same order of worship is followed, the same elements of the service are present, and the preaching of the Word remains central.

The same cannot be said for the majority of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRC).  In sixty years, there have been many cosmetic changes when it comes to liturgy, but there have also been some substantial changes in the way worship itself is understood.  Now a word of caution:  when we speak about the CRC, we have to recognize that we are not dealing with a homogeneous federation of churches.  There have been widespread changes in many individual CRC congregations, but not all.  Some local churches have embraced liturgical changes, while others have to one degree or another resisted.  Nevertheless, there has been an official development or transformation which one may trace through ecclesiastical records.  It is this development that we’re interested in with this series of articles.

In particular, I want to focus attention on the process of liturgical change in the CRC from 1964-1985.  Especially with the early years of this period, I have some resources available to trace some developments in local situations, particularly in the Grand Rapids area.  However, for the most part, I will be relying on official Acts of CRC Synods.  We will see that these synodical records illustrate a development with regard to liturgy in the CRC.  We will examine the liturgical changes of this period and attempt to account for them.  We’ll also briefly consider resistance to these changes.  Finally, we want to learn what we can from this episode in CRC history.

Next timePart 2, A Time of Turmoil: the CRC in the 1960s