The denomination has roots in the Dutch Reformed churches in the Netherlands, but find their true Reformed roots in John Calvin from the Reformation. Together with his wife, other family, and around 40 others, Albertus Van Raalte immigrated from the Netherlands and first settled in what is now Holland, Michigan in 1848.
Its churches are predominately in areas of heavy Dutch settlement, including western Michigan, Chicagoland, British Columbia, Ontario, Alberta and Iowa. The denomination has about 1,000 congregations located in the United States and Canada. Many churches, particularly in more urban areas, are becoming much more integrated. Emerging from its role as primarily an immigrant church, it has become more outward focused. They represent the United States and Canada in the Reformed Ecumenical Council.
The denomination's theology is founded in Calvinism and influenced by the other great reformers, such as Martin Luther. A more recent theologian of great influence on this church was Abraham Kuyper in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Kuyper promoted a belief of social responsibility for Christians to actively engage in improving all aspects of life and society.
Specifically, the theology of the CRC is traditionally defined by the so-called Three forms of Unity, consisting of:
After settling in Holland, MI in 1848, around 130 families broke off from the original union based on the perceived lack of the following factors: doctrine, piety, and sufficient distinction from American culture. Thus, in 1857 the CRC denomination was born.
Other churches later split from the CRC, including the Protestant Reformed Church in America (1924–26) due in part to Herman Hoeksema's rejection of common grace, and the United Reformed Churches in North America (1990s). 
In 1975 the CRC joined a number of other Presbyterian denominations and formed the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC).
In the closing decades of the twentieth century, the CRC exhibited growing numbers of characteristics that were troubling to the more conservative members of its constituency, especially its 1995 decision to allow individual churches to ordain women to ministerial positions. As a result of this decision, the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church broke fraternal relations with the CRC in 1997. The membership of the CRC in the NAPARC, the single largest gathering of conservative Reformed denominations in the United States, was suspended in 1999 and terminated in 2001. This gradual doctrinal shift has spurred more conservative congregations to leave, and a significant number of these have ended up in either the PCA, OPC, or the United Reformed Church mentioned above. 
The Christian Reformed Church belongs to the Reformed Ecumenical Council and the National Association of Evangelicals.
Calvin College and Seminary
The denomination runs Calvin College as well as Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where the denomination's North American headquarters are located. Other colleges associated with the denomination are Trinity Christian College, Dordt College, Reformed Bible College, Redeemer University College, The King's University College, and the post-graduate Institute for Christian Studies.
- Bratt, James H. Dutch Calvinism in Modern America: A History of a Conservative Subculture. Eerdmans, 1984.
- Doezema, Linda Pegman. Dutch Americans: A Guide to Information Sources. Gale Research, 1979.
- Kroes, Rob, and Henk-Otto Neuschafer, eds. The Dutch in North America: Their Immigration and Cultural Continuity. Free University Press, 1991.
- Kromminga, John. The Christian Reformed Church: A Study in Orthodoxy. Baker, 1949.
- Schaap, James. Our Family Album: The Unfinished Story of the Christian Reformed Church. CRC Publications, 1998.