What are the differences between Reformed Church in America and Presbyterian Church?


I have looked at the official websites of the Reformed Church in America and several Presbyterian churches. I did not notice very many differences. How does the RCA differ from the Presbyterian churches?


It’s Dutch in origin rather than British (primarily Scots) as Presbyterianism is. It therefore emphasizes the “Three Forms of Unity” historically rather than the Westminster Confession; it was not shaped by the “Puritan” and “Covenanter” struggles against Anglicanism; and it shares a basic “immigrant church” identity with Lutheranism. For instance, the RCA has not been significantly influenced by revivalism in the way Presbyterianism has; and few RCA people see anything wrong with drinking and smoking! Also, this immigrant identity tends to moderate liberal/conservative conflicts. They certainly exist, but generally I’d say that there is less extreme liberalism in the RCA than in PCUSA–and at the same time there is much less evangelicalism.



Thanks! Do you have any links about the “Three Forms of Unity”? I have never heard of this document.


The doctrine and essential polity are similar to the point of being nearly identical, but different names are used for offices and assemblies of officers and as has been pointed out the Reformed church is Dutch in origin and the Presbyterian is English/Scottish.

The Presbyterian Church began as the English-speaking expression of continental Reformed Christianity of which the Dutch Reformed Church was the leading expression.

Historically, Presbyterians have been apt to have a different Church-State theory than Dutch Reformed people.

The former were the seedbed of English puritanism while the latter were far more laissez-faire given that their whole economic existence was predicated on a broad mercantile pluralism.


Would you be able to expand on this more?


The three Reformed standards of unity are: the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of the Synod of Dort. To correct a bit of an error, the RCA is very evangelical. Though a relatively small denomination, in the nineteenth century, it had successful missions in India and China. Today, the RCA has made evangelism a major focus with goals of establishing new churches. Probably the most famous current RCA pastor is Robert Schuller (Crystal Cathedral). His church sponsors many church growth workshops.


You’re confusing “evangelical” with “evangelistic” (something Anglicans in particular seem to do a lot). By “evangelicalism” I mean the tradition coming from Pietism and 19th-century revivalism, emphasizing an experience of personal conversion and historically characterized by things like free forms of worship, lively hymn-singing, special evangelistic services, and, yes, a strong emphasis on missions and evangelism (but this is only one part of evangelicalism). A good example of a theologian who moved from Presbyterianism to the Continental Reformed tradition (German, not Dutch) precisely because of his distaste for these things is John Williamson Nevin.

I know there are evangelicals in the RCA, but I don’t think evangelicalism is as prominent there as in PCUSA.


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