The Heritage Reformed denomination was established in 1993 after the Netherlands Reformed Congregations (NRC) underwent a split related to church-orderly and theological issues. The most substantive underlying issue to future HRC members and congregations was Christ-centered preaching, combined with the preaching of an unconditional offer of grace. In the first few years, churches were established in Grand Rapids, Michigan; Woodstock (now Burgessville), Ontario; St. Catharines (now Jordan), Ontario; Hull, Iowa; Bradford, Ontario; Fort Macleod, Alberta; Pompton Plains (now Kinnelon), New Jersey; and Plymouth, Wisconsin.
Presently, the HRC consists of approximately two thousand members in North American churches from the East Coast (New Jersey) to the West Coast (British Columbia). Most of her ministers labor in North America, though three are presently laboring in Africa—two in South Africa and one in Malawi.
Our Congregation: Introduction & Doctrinal Roots
The Heritage Reformed Congregation of New Jersey was officially organized on December 5, 1997. The founding families of the congregation came predominantly from the Netherlands Reformed Congregations of North America (NRC). The NRC is a denomination that, from its conception in the late 1800’s, rightly and honorably desired to resist the Arminian and liberal tendencies of many of the Reformed churches in North America, placing significant, and eventually, excessive emphasis on the need to be born again, as well as the need for the experimental experience of salvation, with a diminishing of the free offer of the Gospel to needy sinners.
Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990’s several of us were increasingly convicted of the critical importance of three things: 1) That the Gospel of Jesus Christ must be preached in all it’s freeness and fullness; 2) That our children must be taught to hope in God (Psalm 78); and 3) That we must have a more evangelical focus, that others might know the hope that there is in Jesus Christ (“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32)). The question, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts16:30) needed to be answered in a Biblically balanced way. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31) is as true as Jesus’ declaration to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Our hope was and remains in a wonder working and gracious God, Who draws sinners unto himself, is the Author and Finisher of our salvation through the Sovereign operation of His Holy Spirit, and Who delights in being freely offered to needy sinners “without money and without price” (Isa 55:1). So it was a critical difference regarding the way of salvation that led to the formation of our congregation.
These convictions became such that the Lord led several families to peacefully withdraw from the NRC, and begin to meet in the spring of 1997 in our homes, seeking what the Lord might do. The Lord answered our prayers, and we quickly grew, conducting morning and evening worship services, as well as Sunday school and doctrinal catechism lessons for our children. Many were called into a work they had never dreamed of doing, but the Lord’s help and grace evidently abounded, and the work and budding church prospered both spiritually and in numbers, as more families began to join themselves to the new group of worshippers.
Organization as Heritage Reformed Congregation of New Jersey
Realizing that we needed pastoral and spiritual guidance, help, and oversight, the group, like the early Macedonian church in Acts 16:9, applied to the Heritage Reformed Denomination in September, 1997 to “come over and help us” become an affiliated congregation. The denomination helped with prayer and advice, and placed us under the oversight and guidance of the St. Catherines, Ontario (now Jordan, Ontario) HRC congregation. They provided wise and Godly men to come and advise us, and help us elect an interim leadership committee, and to do all things “decently and in order” (I Cor. 14:40). The HRC also began, at our request, to send preachers to preach for us on a fairly regular basis. Pastor Mark Kelderman, then a seminary student at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary (PRTS), was the first to preach for us, on Ascension Day, May 9, 1997.
In the ensuing months, attendance grew steadily, as did a true hunger and thirst for the living Word of God. The Lord provided more than we could ask or think financially, showing us time and again that “the silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the LORD of hosts” (Haggai 2:8). The leadership committee quickly saw the need for local officebearers to locally minister to the body of the church, and sent a letter on September 26, 1997 officially requesting our organization as the Heritage Reformed Congregation of NJ, part of the HRC Classis. On October 24, 1997, at the Classis meetings in Burgessville, Ontario, we were unanimously approved to be organized as a full congregation within the HRC.
The Lord gave amazing health and strength and energy to us as, in short order, we prepared for the organization, wrote and filed our legal congregational Bylaws and Articles of Incorporation, and applied for Tax-Exempt Status. With great joy and much brotherly love, our congregation was formally organized on December 5, 1997. Shortly thereafter, we had our first congregational meeting to elect elders and deacons. With great joy, we also were privileged to begin observing the sacraments of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism.
Our Pastors and the Preaching/Spreading of the Gospel
Both prior to and after our formal organization as a congregation on December 5, 1997, the Lord was pleased to provide frequent guest preachers from the HRC denomination, including both PRTS seminary students and ordained ministers of the gospel. The congregation was greatly blessed under the preached word, and continued to grow in numbers and in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. We increasing desired and prayed for a full time pastor to help shepherd our growing congregation.
1998 proved to be a year of great spiritual growth and zeal for the congregation. Although we did not yet have a pastor, many evangelistic efforts were undertaken. Outreach ministries were established at the Florence Christian Home for unwed mothers, as well as the Christian Health Care Center nursing home. We began to hold regular Sunday morning worship services in a potential church plant in Stroudsburg, Pa. A robust radio ministry was soon operating, with messages regularly aired on WMCA (AM) and WFME (FM), both of which reached the greater New York City metro area, as well as some national broadcasting on the Family Radio network (prior to the heresies propagated by Family Radio). A Women’s ministry group (H.O.P.E.) for Bible study and works of charity and mercy was also established. In short, the LORD greatly blessed us with spiritual mercies and the love of Christ.
The Lord was pleased to answer our earnest prayers at a prayer meeting focusing on our need for a pastor in the spring of 1999, when a call issued to graduating PRTS seminary student Mr. David Lipsy was accepted the very day after our prayer meeting. “The LORD hath done great things for us; whereof we are glad” (Psalm 126:3). Pastor David Lipsy was ordained and installed as our first pastor on August 20, 1999. His inaugural sermon was based on John 1:6-8: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light”.
Immediately prior to the arrival of the Lipsy family, the Lord again demonstrated His provision for us by enabling us to purchase a home in Pompton Plains, NJ as a parsonage for the Lipsy family. Funds were raised, a mortgage procured, and a closing and renovations were accomplished in near miraculous time to enable the Lipsy family to move in just prior to Pastor Lipsy’s ordination.
The congregation experienced steady growth in numbers and in grace for a time under the ministry of Pastor Lispy; the Lord blessed the preaching and provided growth in leadership skills. We witnessed the Lord’s clear and guiding Hand as we sought out men who can be trained for Godly leadership, witnessing with joy how God gifts men with leadership skills when called upon to serve His church. We grew with a sense of a church family, and increasingly hungered for growth in holiness and sanctification, balanced with the continuing need to hear the sweet music of the gospel, also for our failures in sanctification. We grew in this way with much joy, and of course with various sorrows and struggles that are inherent in sinful and fallible men.
Late in 2007, after eight years of faithful and blessed ministry among us, Pastor Lipsy was called by the Lord to work on planting a church in Arkansas. The congregation was at a new crossroads; we had become a stable congregation, and now we were without a Pastor and undershepherd to lead us in the paths of God’s Word. Our faithful God, however, provided again. It was more than a year before the Lord sent us a new Pastor, but there was not a Sunday when we did not have a preacher for all those weeks. We grew much spiritually over this time, with men preaching from many parts of the world, and from various denominations, mostly coming to us via our seminary, PRTS. We grew much in our realization of the oneness of the Church of Christ, and the bonds of unity and love between brothers and sisters in the household of faith, regardless of nationality, race, denomination, etc.
Then, on February 3, 2009, the LORD gladdened our hearts and filled us with thanksgiving when Pastor Johnny Serafini accepted our call to come and labor among us as our pastor. Pastor Serafini originated from Brazil, and had been studying at the PRTS seminary, and had preached for us while still a student. There were many obstacles to overcome, as he was not a pastor in our denomination, and not known by other churches. We watched as the Lord again removed one obstacle after another, and to the joy of the people of God, on September 6, 2009, Pastor Serafini was installed as our new pastor.
Since then, the congregation has been blessed with the faithful preaching and ministry of Pastor Serafini, with an ever deepening sense of the great privilege we have. Each Lord’s Day, we marvel that the Lord is pleased to bring us His Word, and we are able to bring our praises and petitions before His face with humility yet boldness in Christ our Savior (Heb. 4:16). We have stayed fairly steady in numbers, and are blessed to see the first generation of children in the congregation marrying and having families of their own, with healthy internal growth.
Our Locations and Buildings
It is notable to trace the marvelous providence of the Lord and His provision for us in terms of buildings and locations to worship Him in. As was noted above, the few founding families of the congregation began by worshipping in each others homes. As more and more people joined us in 1997, though, it became increasingly untenable to continue in homes.
We scheduled our first “live” preaching of the Word in late spring, 1997. We knew that many new families who were interested in joining us would do so, and we would have to find a building to rent before then. The leadership committee at that time (we were not yet organized as a congregation) contacted churches all over our area, but to no avail. With only 3 days to go, we had a meeting to pray; we had no answers in ourselves, and we had no place to go but to the Lord. How our God answers prayer! While we were praying, the phone rang. Cornerstone Chapel in Pompton Plains, NJ was calling, saying that they had been in prayer that they could help with a church plant, and that our need was an answer to their prayer – we were welcome to rent their church building for worship! We were taught again what a gracious God the Lord is for sinners! We settled into the Pompton Plains location, with worship services at 1:30PM and 7:00PM, working around the Cornerstone worship times.
Of course, sharing a building with others has its challenges, and we all sorely missed our Sunday morning worship time. So, in 2003, when the Franklin Lakes Reformed Bible Church decided to join with Preakness United Reformed church, we were able to lease their church building Franklin Lakes as the sole users. How thankful we were to have a building that felt like our own. We moved our worship services and Sunday School/Catechism classes to our current schedule (9:30AM Sunday School/Bible Study, 10:30AM Worship, and 3:30PM Worship). The sanctuary in Franklin Lakes was a great size for the congregation, and we were able to make use of a limited number of classrooms for our Sunday school classes.
It was always our prayer that the Lord would provide our own church building, but with a congregation with many young families and real estate being prohibitively expensive in northern New Jersey, it seemed so far out of reach. In 2009 into 2010, the owners of our building in Franklin Lakes indicated that they wanted to sell the building, and gave us the first opportunity to purchase it. Given considerations of location, building condition, classroom space, and price, it became obvious that we would need to move soon.
A Building Search Committee was activated, but no suitable buildings seemed to exist. We knew that the center of the area that our congregants commuted from was in the Pompton Plains, Lincoln Park, Boonton, Butler, Riverdale, and Kinnelon area, but we were unable for some time to find the right building, either to rent or to buy. Then, in early 2010, the Lord in His providence showed us the coming availability of a United Methodist Church in Kinnelon. In early July, 2010, we were finally able to look at the building. What follows was another marvel of God’s provision. The congregation quickly toured the building, held a congregational meeting for approval, obtained a commitment from a bank, and was able to put an offer on the building within 2 weeks, which was accepted by the sellers.
We were able to close on September 20, 2010 – an amazing feat for a commercial transaction! The congregation then rallied to fix up the building, which was done within 5 weeks, and we were able to have our first worship service in this new church on Reformation Day – October 31, 2010. Surely the Lord has done great things for us, whereof we are glad (Psalm 126:3)! The Lord provided us a perfect building with a spacious sanctuary, plenty of suitable classroom space, a beautiful piece of property, and a parsonage for our Pastor and his family on the property. In 2011, the congregation again rallied to fix up the parsonage, and Pastor Serafini’s family moved in, enabling us to sell our previously purchased parsonage in Pompton Plains and paying down a significant amount of our debt.
Looking to the Lord and the Future
As we reflect on the Lord’s mercies in the past, we have so much to be thankful for! The Lord has blessed us richly, and we are thankful every day. But should we stay where we are as a congregation? What now? We realize as a congregation that the majority of the Christian life is not about salvation, but sanctification. We desire, with the help of the Lord, to grow in our love for one another as a congregation. We may have differences of opinion on many things, but we have learned that the gospel of Jesus is the main thing – that when Jesus is our focus, smaller things become smaller things.
We “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Philip. 3:14), desiring to “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). We can’t afford to stagnate, let alone backslide. We desire to be in the word daily, to grow higher in joy and thanksgiving and holiness, to grow deeper in repentance and hatred of sin, and to grow in our knowledge and relationship with Jesus. We strive to shine as lights for Him; holy, thankful, joyful, and caring for and reaching out to the lost around us, that others might know the hope that is in the Lord Jesus.
Our original vision stands until our Lord comes again on the clouds at the end of time. Let us preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all its fullness, lifting Him up. Let us teach our children to hope in God. Let us have a burning desire to have others know the hope of the Gospel, trusting always in the wonderful work of the Holy Spirit: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32). “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost” (Romans 15:13).