RCN schools and the loss of church identity
There are things happening in the Dutch RCN (GKv)[i] that are clear warnings for church schools, such as our FRCA[ii] schools here in Western Australia. Ours are closed schools; the students must be members of the church (or in special cases in the process of becoming church members). That used also to be the situation in our Dutch sister churches, with whom we have suspended a sister-church relationship. But over the years not only have they opened their schools to non-RCN students and teachers but, as a recent news article shows,[iii] there are moves to open their school associations to parents from outside the Reformed Churches.
A case in point is their GSR,[iv] a Reformed schools association which operates in Rotterdam and Rijswijk. Less than half the number of students at their schools are now members of the RCN, so the board is proposing that the parents of these children be permitted to become association members. But there’s a hiccup: their school constitution, adopted in 1971, doesn’t allow non-RCN parents to be members and it’s in a constitution article that can’t be changed. So they propose to dissolve the schools association and establish a new one which will enable non-RCN parents who have children at these schools to be members of the association. It follows that, as association members, they will also become eligible to be board members and govern the direction of the schools.
How did this come about?
There was a time, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, when RCN schools were established with the clear policy that the church’s schools were for the children of the church, that teachers had to be members of the church, and that school association membership was restricted to members of the church. As Prof. Holwerda once said, ‘life is one’; the antithesis between Israel and Egypt is never limited to the church but affects also the various organisations.[v] Minimising the importance of Christ’s church and the call for everyone to join her (BCF 28) has implications for the school of the church: every student, teacher and association member is duty bound, for the sake of their salvation, to be united in the true faith in Christ’s church.
The historian Niek Scheps, looking back in 1992 at developments within the RCN, said RCN church members used to have a very clear view on the borderline between the true and the false church. The church of Christ in the Netherlands had but one address, namely the RCN, and those who did not join it were seen to be simply disobedient to the Lord and traitors to the cause of His kingdom. Hence members of Christ’s church could not join with them in various organisations. The borderline ran between members of the church of Christ and all others—whether Christians or not.[vi]
However, as the years went by, the schools seemed to lose this perspective and enrolled more and more students from outside the Reformed churches. The GSR eventually admitted, into their school association, parents of two other church federations with which the Reformed Churches felt they had ‘unity in ecclesiastical doctrine’, namely the Christian Reformed[vii] (2003) and the Netherlands Reformed (2010 – formerly ‘Buitenverbanders’). Staff and students are, however, even more widely recruited than from these three church federations.
Restricting the confessional requirements
The newly proposed constitution will say that the school is based on the Bible and (instead of the Three Forms of Unity) will simply have the Apostles’ Creed as its confession. We’ve heard these sounds before from the “Buitenverbanders”, those who left the RCN in the late 1960s and formed the present-day Netherlands Reformed churches with whom the RCN now seek unity. They find the Three Forms of Unity too restrictive. But considering that even Roman Catholics claim to be based on the Bible and Apostles’ Creed one sees how wide open the doors have been set, though the school board says that lessons will continue to be in the ‘reformed tradition’ and the term ‘reformed’ will continue to feature in the name of the new association.
The process of compromise begins when the school is opened to others. Perhaps the number of students from elsewhere is first restricted and the reasons seems laudable: more students make a school more economically viable; or maybe the school is seen as a vehicle for evangelising other students. Perhaps there is a desire for better teachers and therefore they compromise to obtain ‘Christian’ staff from elsewhere. Whatever the reason, invariably it is a loss of the distinctive position once clearly seen and held during those first decades after the church liberation of 1944.
In those days RCN members understood what it meant to be church of the Lord Jesus Christ. In obedience to Christ our Lord they established schools for the church’s children, recognising their obligation to be true to the promises made at baptism. They had promised to instruct their children, and have them instructed, in the complete doctrine of salvation as “taught here in this Christian church”.[viii] Moreover, they confessed that their children, as members of Christ’s church, had been “set apart from all other peoples and false religions”.[ix] Hence they understood that their schools should be church schools where the education was given by the teachers in the church for the children of the church, a church everyone was duty bound to join.
Alas, the RCN have lost that truly reformed perspective so obediently held by their forebears; and the consequences are evident, also in their schools.
It is for us to learn the lesson: to see how it begins with a loss of church awareness, of what we confess about the church and its importance for our reformed organisations such as the school. It’s for us to stand firm against every surreptitious attempt to introduce pluriformity of the church thoughts into our church organisations, knowing that this does not accord with what God’s Word teaches and that it leads to a loss of our distinctiveness as true church of the Lord Jesus Christ, and a loss of its uniquely reformed schools and other organisations. The future, Scripture teaches, lies with those who are small but faithful, trusting in the Lord their God, rather than those who for pragmatic or wrong ideological reasons have the numbers but, in the process, have lost their unique reformed identity.
[i] Reformed Churches of the Netherlands / Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland.
[ii] Free Reformed Churches of Australia.
[iii] Nederlands Dagblad, “GSR van plan schoolvereniging te ontbinden”, 24 Oct. 2017.
[iv] Gereformeerde Schoolengemeenschap Randstad.
[v] De Betekenis van Verbond en Kerk voor Huwelijk, Gezin en Jeugd, Goes, 1958, pp. 126-127.
[vi] Niek Scheps, “Two Towns in Holland: a comparison between the Synods of Assen (1926) and Hoogeveen (1969/70)”, Nijmegen, 1992, p. 4.
[vii] Christelijke Gereformeerden
[viii] Form for the Baptism of Infants.
[ix] Article 34 BCF.