Professor Dr J Douma has left the Reformed Churches (liberated). [i]
That was the news headline on 15 November 2014. It was also unexpected news, because Prof. Douma had never really hinted at a liberation or withdrawal.
He made his decision known on the day distressed church members held a special closed meeting at Spakenburg.
Meant a lot
At his age of 83, this represents a crucial step, even though it followed a long period of concern and objections. In bygone years Prof. Douma has meant a lot for the churches as ethicist and author. He thought deeply about many things, and his publications testified of much study, learning, common sense and insight. In many particularly ethical developments he promoted a responsible Scriptural direction even though there was sometimes a need for critical notes.
It was therefore a big disappointment when around 2000 he adjusted his view on the Sunday rest. Contrary to what he had earlier written in his books on the Ten Commandments, he came to regard the Commandment to rest from daily work on the Sunday as having been dismissed with the coming of Christ.
From around 2009 he was active as co-leader in the unrest within the GKv.
Prof. Douma provided information on ecclesiastical developments within the GKv on internet site www.gereformeerdekerkblijven.nl
He was also one of the initiators of the big appeal in which 1541 signatories drew the attention of the general Synod of Ede to several major objections—something that rightly drew our positive interest.
Prof. Douma gives account of his decision in a small brochure which he published at the time of his announcement under the title Farewell to the Reformed Churches (liberated), published by Heijink of Hardenberg. Many of the objections he lists against ‘signs of decay’ within the GKv can have our agreement. We mention, without being complete, a number of issues.
Prof. Douma has perceptively criticism on the dissertations of two lecturers at the Theological University at Kampen, dr. S. Paas […] and dr. K. van Bekkum, because of their Bible-critical content. He also expresses strong dissatisfaction with the way the GKv [RCN] Synod has taken position supporting Dr Paas.
It is regrettable that in this context Douma does not point to the Bible-critical vision in the book Woord op Schrift (in particular the contributions of Prof. A L Th. de Bruijne and Drs J J T Doedens) and to the Bible criticism within the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken (CGK) from Prof. Dr B Oosterhoff and Dr B Loonstra.
He also does not retract his own statements on Genesis 1 relating to tolerance for the evolution theory, as for example in his book Genesis, following the trail of the Old Testament (2004). Was this tolerance essentially different from what Dr J G Geelkerken proposed in 1926? How good it would be if in this matter a scriptural correction were forthcoming from his side.
Extensive attention is given to the Report of Deputies Man / Woman in the Church, and in particular its treatment by General Synod of Ede 2014. Prof. Douma highlights the conflict between, on the one hand, the disapproving Synod decision on the substantiation of the proposal of this Report and, on the other hand, the decision to strive for unity with the Nederlands Gereformeerde Kerken (NGK). The latter decision was accompanied by the assurance that Synod agrees with the hermeneutics (exegesis of Scripture) in the NGK who already have women office bearers. Synod also observed that the most important obstacle to unity with the NGK – women in office – has been removed. This means that the path to admit women to the offices actually lies open. So it was the decision regarding the NGK that tipped the scale for Prof Douma to leave the GKv.
Other things he mentions are: the tendency to abandon the binding to the Confession; GKv participation in the National Synod; the far-reaching contacts with the Protestantse Kerk Nederland (PKN); the growing number of spiritual songs; the acceptance of other forms of living together, such as registered partnership and cohabiting; the lack of church discipline, for example with respect to homosexuality; and the loss of catechism preaching.
Church vision and decay
Professor Douma also mentions the vision on the church (p 40-42). We were very curious about how he would write about this, especially now that it has been clearly confirmed that a strong link exists between the GKv’s church vision reflected in their open arms approach to others and the decay within the GKv. I refer to my earlier articles From Reformed to secularized churches written in response to last year’s book of Professor Dr G Dekker: The ongoing revolution.
As a brief summary of this link: the church Liberation of 1944 meant for the church a return to Scripture and Confession in many areas, also with regard to the doctrine of the church and the relationship with others. The teachings of Dr A Kuyper on pluriformity and the invisible church, together with their associated practice of widespread cooperation, were broadly rejected. That rejection in turn led to the ‘ongoing reformation’ in which the church of Christ takes a central position in all of life. For it is in the church of Christ that God’s pure Word equips people to shine the light of the gospel in the world. That thinking led people to set up their own newspaper, political party, their own schools and organizations.
Since the nineteen-eighties, however, this ongoing reformation was completely lost as the consequence of increasing cooperation with others outside the church and the associated tolerance of errors. The GKv became a pluralistic church where falsehood gained a growing foothold and inter-denominationalism and secularization are setting the tone.
We had hoped that, together with Prof. Douma’s current extensive portrayal of the decay in the GKv, he would also have identified this causal line of openness and cooperation, especially since he himself played a major role in its creation and promotion (as with the development of the Christian Union). His church vision led to the rejection of the ‘ongoing reformation’ and the so-called ‘liberation-belief’. This is evident from his book How shall we proceed? (2001) and from his letter to the General Synod of Zuidhorn, which currently is still shown on website gereformeerdekerkblijven.nl
At that time he also denounced the thought that in the Netherlands the path of Christ’s work would run via the liberated churches. At this point he even took to the defence of the signatories of the ‘Open Brief’ of 1966.
It is very disappointing that Prof. Douma still appears to maintain his role in the development of openness and inter-denominationalism of the GKv. To do justice to him we quote from p 42 of his current brochure:
I contributed actively to these internal shifts within the GKv. I also took the liberty of thinking differently about the invisible church from how Professor K Schilder wrote about it. It was my joy to meet many non-liberated people with whom – today already ‘visible’ – I felt attached to the invisible church of Jesus Christ.
I am grateful that regardless of the measure of opposition it first generated in our own circles, I contested churchism among us already at an early stage in my theological work.
With ecclesiastical unity Prof. Douma does not want a ‘mixture between iron and clay, between truth and falsehood, white and black’ (p 42). That is a Scriptural position. But how can that be resisted if you are looking for a relationship with churches who by way of tolerating heresy no longer comply with the marks of the true church as we confess these in Article 29 BC? Or if you cooperate on a basis which ignores the doctrine of the church?
Prof. Douma wants to know himself bound to the confession (p 46). But does that not also include Article 28 BC which points to the command of Christ to unite and join with the true church of Jesus Christ in order to serve that unity there under His yoke?
Is what Prof. Douma calls churchism often nothing else than adhering to Scripture and confession on the point of the church? I do wonder whether Prof. Douma’s use of the term churchism is correct. For this term means the absolutizing of one’s own church institution, as is done by staying in a national church or by holding on to the GKv when it no longer has the marks of the true church. You can also speak of churchism if people call themselves the only true church (after article 29 BC) without wanting to take into account the dynamism of God’s church-gathering work.
But also that is something Prof. K Schilder taught us.
We are pleased with the step Prof. Douma takes by leaving the GKv. Because of his connection with so many institutions within these churches, but certainly also because of his age, this will have been a very big step that shows courage. It is also right and courageous to give a public accounting of this. But when it comes to his departure we would have liked to hear more from Prof. Douma.
He does indeed speak about the responsibility that distressed ministers have for their own congregation (p 74). But does he himself not also know of the extra responsibility as minister of the divine Word, even though he does not have his own congregation? Now that he is leaving, does he not therefore also have the duty to call – as much as he can – the other ministers, church councils and church members away from under the wrong yoke of heresy and secularization that lies on them in the federation of the GKv? For in a situation of separation, and certainly for a minister of the Word, can it ever be ‘an individual choice’ because you ‘no longer feel at home’? Is it not so that your decision is justifiable only when you are convinced that it is the Lord Himself who calls you away from there (again see Article 28 BC)? Should the motive for leaving a church federation not be governed by standing up for the honour and rights of God? And is that different for other people in the same church?
Prof. Douma writes on p 72: It’s appropriate to ask whether our decision to leave the GKv ought to be taken also by the other objectors. What we do ourselves, we are often not allowed to impose on others.
Further on (p 73) he is a little clearer in the direction of those who are sincerely distressed: The question should be: how much inconvenience are they willing to put up with, especially if they also have direct responsibility for the education of children, by giving up the luxury (everything is close by) and following Jesus Christ?
All in all Prof. Douma, regrettably, does not come to a resolute call. It merely remains a ‘personal choice’ (p 79).
In a discussion about the different alternatives for objectors, he writes about the choice of guest membership on p 78: I will not condemn the choices someone makes if he or she is looking for Reformed preaching and no longer finds it in their own congregation. But it does seem better to me to look for a GKv congregation than for a church outside the GKv bond.
Where to now?
In the final part of his brochure Prof. Douma also announces his choice of church now that he leaves the GKv. He will join the GKN[ii] at Hardenberg of which Rev R. van der Wolf is minister. He thinks he will feel at home there, and trusts that this church is faithful but also ‘generously reformed’.
About their history and establishment:
One can, of course, believe that everything else is better than joining former schismatics who once again were unable to stop creating yet another schism. But we did not go over to another church because we find that its (short) history is spotless. We sincerely hope that the group which disintegrated again six years after the break in 2003 will reflect on the question whether reunification is still possible.
This sounds mild and helpful on the part of Prof. Douma. But why do we now hear at the same time a different tone in his assessment of the federation of De Gereformeerde Kerken? A ‘radical group’: ‘they broke with the GKv which in their opinion had become a “false church” ’, and ‘persisted in calling themselves “the only true church in the Netherlands” ’ (p 69).
Prof. Douma is not very keen on such labels as ‘false church’ and ‘true church’. But he does not at the same time hesitate in calling DGK a ‘radical group’.
He mentions two reasons: DGK’s judgment about the GKv as false church, and DGK’s judgment about themselves as the only true church in the Netherlands.
Now the qualification of false church and true church is not, by itself, a matter of sticking labels, but application of the confession of faith, namely Article 29 BC. Surely, Prof. Douma, who wants to be true to the confession, cannot object to this. The question that really matters is, however, whether the marks which article 29 BC uses for ‘true church’ and ‘false church’ are applicable.
But before this question is dealt with, clarification is needed about yet another question: Has DGK ever expressed the mentioned qualifications in those words?
If this question is answered in the negative, should the grounds for the qualification of DGK as ‘radical group’ not disappear? I hope Prof. Douma agrees with this.
Now, regarding Douma’s first ground, ‘because the GKv according to them had become a false church’, we can freely assert that those who liberated themselves in 2003 did not formulate it that way. We quote from the document of liberation:
With great sadness we have to note that the Reformed Churches can thus no longer be seen as true Church (Article 29 Belgic Confession).
As to the second ground, the continuing qualification of ‘the only true church’: here too we declare freely that we did not use the term ‘the only’.
This is because we wanted, and want, to keep in mind the dynamic and ongoing church-gathering work our Lord Christ. We saw the liberation of Dalfsen in 2010 and its subsequent unification in 2013 with the bond of DGK as an example of that work.
The accusation from GKN Zwolle that DGK claims to be the ‘only’ true church is refuted in our brochure Rebuttal 2011 (p 64). It quotes part of an article I wrote, addressed to Rev L Heres (at that time still a student), in De Bazuin of 1 April 2009:
We shall also not be allowed to say that the Lord is not busy with them trying to bring them to His one flock. Christ’s church-gathering work is never static: He is not bound to one particular church institute – not to the Reformed Churches of before 1944, not to the Reformed Churches (liberated), but also not to the Reformed Churches (restored).
It would be good if Prof. Douma would read this brochure, on website gereformeerde-kerk-zwolle.nl/File/Weerlegging/WEERLEGGING.pdf
Wish and prayer
All these misunderstandings could have been prevented if Prof. Douma had also talked with DGK. The above corrective remarks will hopefully yet create an opening for this.
We conclude this article with the prayer and hope that the Lord will provide the many concerned members within the GKv with the courage and insight of faith, not only to break with this church because it can no longer be called true church, but also to join the true church of Jesus Christ according to Article 28 BC.
May the Lord give that in making this church choice they investigate the legality of (the establishment of) that church, and of its compliance with the marks of the true church in accordance with Article 29 BC.
May the Lord also give unity in the truth of all who want to serve Him in sincerity, in order that we with one accord may serve and honour the Lord in the communion of the true faith.
The above is a translation of Rev. S de Marie’s article “Professor Douma verlaat GKv”, published in De Bazuin, Vol. 8, No. 37, 3 December 2014.
[i] Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated) – Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (vrijgemaakt)
[ii] The Gereformeerde Kerken Nederland (Reformed Churches Netherlands)(GKN), without the insert ‘in’, is the name given to a small federation of churches established in 2009 after leaving the GKv.