Religion played an important role in the lives of the Dutch emigrants, providing a source of faith, social life, and government. Outsiders to the Dutch community often failed to realize the significance of religion on the lives of the individuals. Their devotion to their religious principles led to several splinters within their church, as doctrinal interpretations were debated. The religious conviction of the followers of Dominie A.C. Van Raalte was so deep that they were willing to emigrate to America in order to practice their faith in their own way. Holland, Michigan and the surrounding area were founded, in the eyes of its organizers, to give its inhabitants a more pure, Christian life.
The Reformed Church of America was firmly established in the area of former New Netherland by the time of the large wave of new Dutch emigrants during the 1840s. However, during the early years of the new colony in Michigan, they kept their church separate from the Reformed churches of the East. The immigrants were wary of their established counterparts, fearing that three hundred and fifty years of Americanization had left the Reformed Church less pure. Their seven congregations of six hundred and twenty nine families became known as the Holland Classis. Only in 1850 did the Holland Classis allow itself to be absorbed into the Reformed Church, under the agreement that they would be allowed to leave the union freely if they should choose.
In 1857, two Michigan ministers exercised this right and left to form the Christian Reformed Church. The split was the result of a disagreement over the use of hymns in the place of Old Testament psalms during services and allowing non-church members to participate in communion. The Christian Reformed Church also opposed allowing church members to participate in secret lodges, such as the Freemasons, which the Reformed Church overlooked. Education became a source of conflict, the two denominations debating between public and religious schools.
From its initial following of seven hundred and fifty people, the Christian Reformed Church continued to grow in size, attracting many new members from 1880 till 1920 because of their Dutch sermons, and staying more conservative than its older counterpart. Its members were largely made up of freshly settled immigrants. Though many members of the Reformed Church were the descendents of Dutch blood, the Dutch immigrants considered them already contaminated with the "evils" of society.
Being founded by newly arrived Dutch immigrants, the Christian Reformed Church used the Dutch language frequently, till after 1920. The traditional values of the members of the Christian Reformed Church looked down upon divorce, abortion, and mixed marriages. Members of the Church lived simply, frowning on extravagance and frivolity. Women were confined to the tradition roles of wife, mother, and housekeeper, with less active participation in church affairs than the women of the Reformed Church. The Christian Reformed Church also created their own schools, the first being "Van Raalte's Pioneer School", which later became Hope College. They did this to save the Dutch faith and avoid get any American influences. Along with schools, they also created their own trade unions, political parties, and papers. The schools were the most successful. The seminary was also successful; they ordained reverends and teachers, who later went to immigrant communities all over North America.
In 1924, the Protestant Reformed Church was formed when three Christian Reformed ministers were ousted from their offices because of their disagreement with the "Three Points of Common Grace". This document, created by the Christian Reformed Church, explained that God extends saving grace to those people He has chosen to eternal life, but he also shows certain favor or grace on all creatures and people. Even without renewing the hearts of those not chosen, God restrains unimpeded breaking out of sin so human life remains possible. Although people who have not received God's saving grace are unable to do any saving good, they can still do civil good. Believing the Three Points to be contradictory to the Bible and the views of the Christian Reformed Church, the Protestant Reformed Church was formed, lead by Herman Hoeksema. Today, the Protestant Reformed Church believes that God's grace extends only to the elect saved. As of 2000, there were twenty-eight Protestant Reformed congregations in North America.
The Netherlands Reformed Congregations, a highly conservative denomination, originated in 1830 before the emigration to the United States, when a small group in the Netherlands broke away from the state church. Distancing themselves from their fellow secessionists of Van Raalte and his associates Vander Meulen and Scholte due to doctrine disputes, they lead their own emigration first to South Holland, Illinois in 1865 and then to Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1870. In 1972, there were fourteen Netherlands Reformed Congregations churches in the United States, most still conducting their services half in Dutch and half in English, with over five thousand members.