Rediscovering Van Raalte’s Church History: Historical Consciousness at the Birth of Dutch American Religion

The leader of a nineteenth-century Dutch migration to the United States, the Reverend Albertus C. Van Raalte, stood at the center of religious debates both in the Netherlands and in the United States. In his home country, Van Raalte was denied candidacy in the Hervormde Kerk, after which he joined the orthodox Seceder church that formed in the “Afscheiding,” or secession, of 1834. In 1850, three years after arriving in the United States, Van Raalte helped organize a successful union between Dutch Calvinist immigrants and the Reformed Church (having been established by Dutchmen in colonial New York in 1628). Tensions within that union, however, led to another secession in 1857 that resulted in the birth of the Christian Reformed Church. Van Raalte’s legacy and the meaning of his life and work has long been debated by partisans on all sides of these ecclesiastical divides.