The Reformed Churches of Australia trace their origin back to the Swiss or Reformed Reformation, which began independently of, but at the same time as the Lutheran Reformation in Germany. While Huldrych Zwingli is regarded as the founder of the Reformed Reformation, it was John Calvin who completed it.
Our Roots in the Netherlands (Holland)
The Dutch had long been critical of the Roman Church's excesses, and consequently many Dutchman studied under John Calvin and his Successor, Theodore Beza, in Geneva. On returning to their homeland, they preached their new found faith and translated some of the Calvinistic writings into Dutch.
Formation of the Dutch Reformed Church
The Protestant Church, although still persecuted at the time, held its first synod at Emden in 1571. This synod adopted the Belgic Confession and the Genevan system of Church government for all the Dutch churches, thereby, in effect, forming the Dutch Reformed Church.
The Remonstrants: The national church was effectively split late in the 16th century by what is now known as Arminianism. The central figure in this debate was Arminius, who rejected what are now known as the 5 points of Calvinism. To resolve the issue, an international Synod was held at Dordt in 1618-19. This synod, which became known as the Synod of Dordt, rejected the Arminian position by formulating the Canons of Dordt, which set forth the 5 points of Calvinism. These Canons are one of the 3 doctrinal standards of the Reformed Churches of Australia.
The Formation of the Reformed Churches of Australia
After World War 2, many people of the various Reformed Churches of the Netherlands sought to leave behind the problems of post-war Europe. A relatively small proportion of these people settled in Australia. The Reformed migrants were mainly members of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands (GKN), although there were also a significant number of members from the Dutch Reformed Church. These migrants were advised to seek the pastoral care of the Scottish Free Presbyterians upon their arrival in Australia.
In 1949-50 the GKN sent Rev. J. Kremer to Australia to investigate the spiritual and church life of the various Reformed groups that had settled in Australia. As a consequence of this visit, the Free Presbyterian Church of St. Kilda extended a "call" to a GKN minister in the Netherlands to work within the Free Church, to assist the work among the Dutch migrants.
The differences between the culture of the Australian-Scottish Presbyterians and the Reformed Netherlanders was itself a hindrance, but the real problem was that the Dutch were not at home with the liturgical restrictions of the Free Church (no organs, no hymns). Having again experienced the familiarity of worship services in their own mother tongue upon the arrival of the GKN minister, and in the format they had learnt to love since childhood, it was almost impossible for the Dutch migrants to genuinely desire to be a part of the Free Church.
In December 1951, the Dutch migrants decided to organise a separate denomination, resulting in the institution of Reformed Churches in Sydney, Penguin and Melbourne. These churches, and others that had been instituted in the meantime, assembled in June 1952 to hold their first 'Synod'. At this Synod, the name 'Reformed Churches of Australia' was adopted, as were the three forms of unity as adopted by the GKN. In 1953, our church adopted the 1618-19 Church Order as modified by the Christian Reformed Church of the United States of America in 1912.