At Christ Reformed Church at Indian Creek we have a rich theology and heritage in the German Reformed tradition. As with any organization or church, it is worthwhile to review its history, beliefs and practices, and compare them with the present. Since Christ Reformed Church traces its roots back to the German Reformation, let us look at our rich history.
THE REFORMED CHURCH IN EUROPE
The Reformed Church had its beginnings in three countries: Switzerland, Germany and the United States. With the exception of the Waldensians, it is the oldest Protestant Church. Ulrich Zwingli, its founder and first leader was born in Switzerland in 1484, to a family that was deeply religious. At an early age, Zwingli was sent to live with his uncle, a priest in Weesen, to study for the priesthood. Zwingli was also taught at Basle, Berne and Vienna Austria, after which he became a priest.
It was a Zwingli's second parish, Einsiedein, that he first began preaching the gospel. it was 1516, one year before Luther had posted his ninety-five theses on the Wittenberg Chapel door. This was the beginning of the Reformation in Switzerland.
Thetwo doctrines that Zwingli emphasized were: the supremacy of the Bible and the death of Jesus as our ransom. These two areas, the authority of the Bible and the Person and work of Christ, are the foundation stones upon which the Reformed faith stands. At his third parish in Zurich, Zwingli began to preach "right through the Gospel of Matthew, from A to Z". Zwingli also founded what is known as the "regulative principle" (every practice that was not expressly commanded in the New Testament should be abolished). In a public debate with Dr. Farber, the vicar of the Bishop of Constance, Zwingli declared his belief:
...alone in Jesus Christ our Savior, to whom the heavenly Father Himself gave witness that we should hear Him as His beloved Son. His will and true service we can learn and discover only from His true word in the Holy Scriptures and in the trustworthy writings of His twelve apostles, otherwise from no human laws and statutes.
After Zwingli's death his work was carried on by Henry Bullinger at Zurich, in northern Switzerland and John Calvin in southern Switzerland, at Geneva. These men continued both in the zealous preaching and in the belief in God's Word as the supreme authority. Calvin stated in his "Institutes":
There has very generally prevailed a most pernicious error that the Scriptures have only so much weight as is conceded to them...as though God depended on the arbitrary will of men...For God alone is a sufficient witness of Himself in His own Word...We esteem that we have received it from God's own mouth...to be superior to that of any human judgement.
Our forefathers' teachings were based solidly upon Scripture. This is shown in our confessions and catechisms of the Reformed Church. The Church historian Schaff, writes:
This doctrine of the intrinsic merit and self-evidencing character of the Scripture, to all who are enlightened by the Holy Spirit, passed into the Gallican, Belgic, Second Helvetic, Westminster, and other Reformed Confessions. They present a fuller statement of the objective of formal principle of Protestantism, namely the absolute supremacy of the Word of God as the infallible rule of faith and practice...
The Heidelberg Catechism was first published by Frederick III, Elector of Palatinate, in 1563, and became the document of belief of the Reformed Faith in Germany. It was the work of Ursinus, born in eastern Germany, a student of Malancthon at Wittenberg and professor at Heidelberg, and Casper Olevianus, born in western Germany and studying under John Calvin at Geneva. It too instructs us to look to the Scriptures for our faith,
From the holy Gospel, which God Himself revealed first in Paradise; and afterwards published by the Patriarchs and Prophets...whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word...(questions 19, 21)
Concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Catechism was even more plain. In the answer to Question 15, "What sort of mediator and deliverer then must we seek for?", the answer is, "for one who is very man, and...one who is also very God." In Question 17, the work of Jesus is plain. Jesus, as God did, "sustain in His human nature, the burden of God's wrath; and might obtain for, and restore to us, righteousness and life."
The Heidelberg Catechism is a sound document and proper representation of the Christian Reformed Faith. It is built upon the apostle's Creed, the Ten Commandments, and te Lord's Prayer, it declares God's sovereign grace, has stood the test of time, and is worthy of respect. For these reasons the Reformed Church has held to it, both in Germany and in America. It has only been in the last seventy years that this document of our faith as well as Scripture itself has been pushed into the background by liberal theologians and denomination leaders.
THE REFORMED CHURCH IN AMERICA
During the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), the Palatinate Wars (1688-1695) and in the following years, the believers of the Reformed Faith were oppressed. In 1627, the Reformed people of Heidelberg were rounded up and commanded to give up their religion. Their response was that they would rather give up their land and country than their faith. Their Churches were taken from them. The people mistreated. The University of the Heidelberg was taken away. French armies ravaged and overran their land. They destroyed 12000 town and villages and made 40,000 families homeless in winter. Finally, in 1719 they were forbidden to even use the Heidelberg Catechism. So Many did leave their homeland, coming to America.
German immigrants of the Reformed Faith began coming in large numbers around 1720 and many settled here in Pennsylvania. These immigrants brought with them their Bibles, Catechisms and hymn books. Soon they began building churches. John Philip Boehm came to America and organized the first German Reformed congregation in 1725, in Falkner Swamp.
In 1746 Rev. Michael Schlatter also came to America to organize German Reformed Congregations. Schlatter formed congregations into a Coetus, which held its first meeting in Philadelphia, with four ministers and twenty-seven elders, which represented 12 congregations. By the end of the eighteenth century the German Reformed Church in America had separated from the mother church of Holland and formed its own synod.
On October 20th, 1746 Michael Schlatter preached in a "new wooden church" to a congregation of 46 men and their families at Indian Creek, who before then had been ministered to by a schoolmaster, john W. Straub... (the rest is history, our history).
In 1934, our denomination, the German Reformed Church, joined hands with the Evangelical Synod, becoming the Evangelical and Reformed Church, and in 1957 it merged with the Congregationalists, becoming the United Church of Christ. Unfortunately, over time, this new denomination began to drift from its historical beliefs and identity. So in 1994 our Church joined a more biblical and evangelical denomination, the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference, and became dual affiliated. Finally, in 2001 after careful study and prayer, the membership of Christ Reformed Church voted that the "UCC's leadership has changed, deserted and broken covenant with us and no longer represents our historic faith or denominational heritage."
By God's grace, the faith and identity of Christ Reformed Church is the same as when we began over two hundred and seventy years ago. And our prayer is that succeeding generations of our church will continue to be faithful to Christ and His Word.