Controversy and Division over Church Control

Holland or the Americas

The passing of Frelinghuysen did not end the difficulties of the Church in the colonies. A problem had been building for many years. The absence of any Ecclesiastical Judiciary in the colonies to resolve disputes promptly and to ordain ministers. As early as 1706, Dominees DuBois, Anthonides, and Beys had by letter urged the Holland Classis to approve a general meeting of the colonial Dutch ministers yearly to tend to church matters. This was summarily dismissed by the Classis as a matter "yet far in the future."

The matter was not brought up again until January 1735 when the Classis itself suggested the New York ministers come up with some plan to handle Ecclesiastical business. Perhaps the Classis had finally been worn down by trying to adjudicate the Frelinghuysen problem which by now had been dragging on for ten years with no resolution. About the same time they made the same suggestion to Domine Haeghoort of the New Jersey Freehold and Middletown churches. He had been on the periphery of, but not directly involved in, the Raritan controversies. He was therefore happy to cooperate and he drew up a "Statement of Reasons for the necessity of a Coetus." A Coetus was to be a body subordinate to the Classis with no jurisdictional authority and there was precedent for such a body in East Friesland but not in Holland.

In March, 1735 DuBois' congregation approved and prepared a circular which was sent to the New York and New Jersey churches together with Haeghoort's "Statement of Reasons." It was also sent to the Classis of Amsterdam and September 5, 1735 was set as the date for a meeting to organize and develop a constitution for the body. Dominees Freeman and Van Sandvoort as well as Frelirighuysen also supported the establishment of a Coetus. Frelinghuysen was familiar with such an organization from his early ministry in East Friesland. The meeting was held in Sept, 1735 and there was general accord among the attendees that only Ecclesiastical business shall be transacted...all in subordination to the Amsterdam Classis. DuBois sent a letter to all churches describing the results of the event.

The Coetus was not to have its first meeting for over 10 years, in September 1747. Meanwhile, many problems arose of which Frelinghuysen became a party, as did others. In 1737, a young Pietist minister, Peter Dorsius, accepted a call to Neshaminy, Pennsylvania near Tennent's Log College. He seems to have misunderstood his authority in teaching young men for the ministry. He and Frelinghuysen and Tennent started ordaining young pietistic men for the ministry, starting with Henry Goetschius and shortly thereafter to Dorsius' student Johannes Fryenmoet in 1741. These ordinations were overturned by the Amsterdam Classis which led to a great deal of bitterness and confusion. Years went by as the matter went back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean.

In 1744 Fryenmoet was finally re-ordained, but some baptisms he had performed earlier were questioned. It was not until 1747 that these baptisms were declared invalid and rebaptisms needed to be performed. Of course, by this time some people had moved away and children had died resulting in bitterness and rancor among the people involved. Indeed, Fryenmoet was disillusioned with Frelinghuysen and as a result turned his allegiance to Dominee Boel. In fact, in December 1746, he journeyed to the Raritan and baptized numerous children of the disaffected anti-Coetus faction of Frelinghuysen's church.

A new pastor, Johannes Arondeus, had arrived from Holland to replace Freeman who had stepped down due to ill health in 1741. He immediately became a fervent enemy of the Coetus and persuaded Fryenmoet to appoint him as pastor of the "Conferentie" faction of Frelinghuysen's congregations. This appointment was certainly not proper, but Arondeus proceeded to ordain new consistories in all but the New Brunswick Church in 1746. So, once again Frelinghuysen was challenged by a split in his congregations. Unfortunately, illness and death overtook Frelinghuysen shortly thereafter in 1747.

A second session of the Coetus met in April, 1748 and a constitution of rules was enacted. But the tensions with the Conferentie increased and finally in 1754 there was a general disruption of the church into two separate bodies. This split continued for nearly 20 years as Boel and his friends attempted to keep everything in "the Dutch way". This destroyed much of the effectiveness of the Dutch churches.

Over the next 18 years there were many unsuccessful efforts to bring peace between the Coetus and Conferentie parties. Many letters went back and forth between Holland and the colonies. The Classis in Holland constantly urging the parties to get together, but remaining unyielding in its opposition to surrendering all of its jurisdiction. With the passing of Dominee Boel, a new Dominee, Ritzema came to be the leader of the Conferentie party and continued the opposition to the establishment of a Coetus.

As the 1750s passed and the country moved well into the 1760s, an entirely new division was boiling up in the colonies. Political opposition to English rule was starting to gain traction and may have had some indirect influence on the Conferentie. The Dutch rule of the churches in the colonies was also a foreign, European control. For whatever reason. The Classis opposition to an independent American Church weakened as 1770 approached, as did the opposition of the Conferentie party in the colonies.

On May 10, 1770 John Livingston, then a theological student in advanced studies in Netherland's Utrecht University, accepted a call to minister to a New York church. Significantly, his ministry was to be "in the English tongue." He arrived in New York in September 1770 and had an immediate effect on the efforts to heal the split. Livingston was a colonist who had gone to Holland for theological training and was regarded as "neutral" with regards to the divisions between the factions.

A general meeting was called for 15 October 1771 between the factions. At this meeting, many differences were ironed out and a tentative church constitution was written. Additionally, a committee of Conferentie, Coetus and neutral (Livingston) Dominees was formed to further the union. Livingston was selected as President at this meeting. Great care was taken to avoid words such as "Coetus" to describe the Articles of Union to avoid further trouble. The Articles of Union were forwarded to Holland and on 14 January 1772 the Dutch ratified the Union which gave complete independence to the Dutch-American churches. An understanding was arrived at that the decisions and actions of future Union meetings would be sent to the Classis at Amsterdam.

A second meeting was convened in June 1772 and a document written that detailed the Dogma and Rules of the Church. This document was sent to all Dutch churches and congregations in the New World. In October 1772, 62 churches ratified the Union and the Schism was finally over! Reverend Livingston has been given much credit for re-uniting the churches and deservedly so. However, the changing times and the passing of many of the older, embittered participants on both sides probably was also a deciding factor.

Addendum

The Revolutionary War started in 1776, shortly after the reunion of the Dutch churches was accomplished in 1772. The war was fought over New Jersey territory, back and forth in an ebb and flow as the combatants gained the upper hand and subsequently lost it. Also New York City was burned and occupied. There was much destruction of Dutch property and some churches, as well as the disruption of the economy. All communication with Netherland was cut off. It was well that "home rule" had been established a few years earlier.

It was during this time and shortly before, that significant numbers of Dutch settlers had migrated west to the community called Conewego in eastern Pennsylvania. In 1780, braving the depredations of English supported Indians, a large group of Dutch migrated further west to the wild territory of Kentucky, some from Conewego. This group, led by the Dutch patriarch Banta, was intent on preserving the "Dutch way." They intended to buy a large tract of land, establish a Dutch "commune" with Dutch language and schools predominant and a Dutch Church.

These settlers went down the Ohio and landed at what is now Louisville. They built a small station, but soon had to flee south to Harrodsburg which had a stout fort. They were thwarted in buying land at Harrodsburg by previous English "patents" and Indian raids at other locations, and had to wait over 10 years to buy 6000 acres of land in Shelby County. In the mid 1790s they finally moved to their area called "Pleasantville" and established their colony. It lasted about 25 years when many of the second generation moved on to cheap land in Indiana. Also, a number of the Bantas and others joined the Shaker community nearby, selling their property as a condition of joining.

These westward migrating settlers appeared to have some of the theological philosophy of the old "Conferentie" party to some degree. This may have been a significant factor in their leaving the New Jersey area along with their problem in New Jersey with the English armies. So, we conclude that there was some residue of the old controversies lingering and perhaps this was the last vestige of that.

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