At the end of last season (June 2014) we asked a number of pressing and related questions which in our opinion need to be answered:
- Is Scripture still safe in the GKv (RCN)?
- Does the bond of churches still build up or does it break down?
- Is remaining in this church community still justified?
- If not, what way should we go?
The Synod of Ede has almost finished working through its agenda. Two items remain on the table: matters relating to the theological college and adoption of the Subscription Form.[i] The final balance can then be made up on the direction our churches are taking. But we do not expect that we will still see some fundamental changes in direction.
We are convinced that no one can avoid making decisive and concrete answers any longer. ‘Doing nothing’ is also a choice, a decision. It is obvious that after the meeting in closed session of distressed church members[ii] there is acceleration in the developments. When pastors say farewell to the GKv it works as an example to follow. That is understandable. Yet it would be good if everyone gives account to himself why he takes his decision. Separating (and especially not-separating) must be motivated. ‘No longer feeling at home’ is an inadequate reason and neither is blindly following the leader.
We wish to give an account of our deliberations and the resulting choice in a few articles. That weighs heavily, because it brings with it a certain responsibility towards our thousands of readers who, either with or without approval of what they read, follow our site. It’s a matter that can rob you of sleep: Is the recommended course of action justified before the Lord? Can we boldly call also others to make the same choice? It can weigh heavily on your soul. Peace can be found only in prayerful consideration – praying for the Holy Spirit to point the way to the Word.
Let’s first try to appraise the situation in which we find ourselves in the liberated Reformed churches. If in the process we mention names it is not about them personally but about their beliefs and what they stand for. We are interested in the direction the churches are taking. As we asked ourselves: Is the Word still safe in the GKv, and what is the role of the bond of churches?
On this occasion we will not consider the different matters in detail. Many topics have been discussed extensively on this site. We will refer to them when appropriate. Our concern now is to summarise what we believe is going on in our church communion. We do this point by point without pretending to be exhaustive.
The authority of Scripture
In our opinion it is the authority of Scripture that is at stake. May Scripture truly and directly demand obedience, or is the book really too old to govern our day-to-day life? Over the years we have seen tampering with texts and parts of scripture. There is selective shopping in sermon texts. Speaking about the punishment of sin and God’s wrath in the absence of repentance is avoided or circumvented. All kinds of biblical commandments have been stripped of their authority. Results of the modern bible sciences are being used to deprive concrete historical events of their meaning.
Over against this, searching for the truth and uncertainty about what the Lord concretely asks is glorified. Scoffing at our early history as being tainted with ‘church-ism’ and “when we knew everything without fail” is widespread. Speaking about God’s commandments, even if in sermons, is branded as questionable, put down as rigidity.
The result is confusion. Security in day-to-day living with the Lord has disappeared. People anxiously take flight in the excuse that despite everything we are still one in Christ. Communion is being sought in mutual faith-monologues on privately held truths.
This is what over the years we have observed and documented. The women who via the NGK[iii] backdoor are now sitting in GKv office-bearers’ positions are the most recent symptom. It is a change that is based on trust in people rather than faithfulness to God’s Word.
And this will not be the end, for the church’s anchor in the Scriptures is dragging.
A startling symptom of this is the recently published book Cruciaal in which a TUK[iv] employee criticises the doctrine of reconciliation through satisfaction, as taught by Calvin and others and which forms part of our confession (Heidelberg Catechism).[v]
The Church of all ages always struggles with heresies and difficulties. A church without struggle is something not found in the Old and New Testaments. Our church history provides an almost endless testimony of struggle. Shall we then merrily continue on because there is nothing new under the sun?
If there is one thing that can be clear from the testimony of Scripture it is that the Lord takes rejection of his Word very seriously. It invokes His wrath. He punishes His people if they do not repent. It is an almost recurring refrain in the Bible.
Is there a return; is there repentance of our churches? Is there perhaps a small beginning of recognition that we are walking on the broad road? We do not see it. During recent years we attended three successive synods with intensive interest, always hoping and praying for a turn for the better. But the churches always went further astray—right up to and including the synod of Ede, of which we fervently hoped that it would show a change of course, even if only in principle.[vi] But the opposite proved to be true.
At this synod various foreign churches had lodged extensive objections against our churches, especially focusing on the issue of doctrine and the related conduct of life. Objections which we as church members had also submitted earlier, but which had been rejected. Objections against Bible-critical views of Dr. K. van Bekkum, Dr S. Paas, Drs JJT Doedens, Dr J. Douma, Dr EA de Boer and Dr AL Th. de Bruijne. The sister churches made an extensively motivated, loving and urgent appeal to our community to deal with these teachers because they go against Scripture.
But the churches at their Synod Ede rejected all the objections and decided that this put a full stop to the matter. And to top it all, Dr Paas received even an appointment as professor at our University …
Please note that our deepest problem is not that Dr Paas has been appointed professor, but the fact that objections to his heretical views have been rejected by the churches and are apparently tolerated. We believe that this has everything to do with the lack of respect for the Scriptures, as we mentioned earlier.
The Theological University educates our ministers. That’s where they get their final training.[vii] That’s why the decay in this ‘school of the churches’ is so serious. What is taught there will work its way into the congregations. We demonstrated this several times on this site.[viii] The University is, moreover, becoming increasingly separated from the churches because of the substantial government subsidies and the conditions that come with them. It has gradually become a ‘school of church and state’, by which the churches are in danger of losing their grip.[ix]
The concerns of the churches abroad were not limited to the ideas of the TUK’s teachers. The sister-churches also raised objections against the way the Scriptures are being used with respect to women in office. They object to the union with the NGK, given those churches’ loose binding to the Confession.
But the Synod of Ede did not agree with any of these objections. On the contrary, she was rather annoyed about these sister-churches’ admonitions
GKv members who experienced the forty years following the Liberation as a period of rebuilding, during which much reformed life was developed and supported by various organisations and institutes – think of reformed schools, a reformed newspaper, political, social and economic organisations – are sadly watching all this being rapidly demolished. If anywhere, it is here that the relationship between doctrine and life can be demonstrated. Whereas in the past church members did their utmost to ‘have their children instructed in the aforesaid doctrine’ if only in small institutions, today it bothers no one when their colour turns evangelical or they have to close their doors because of waning interest.
Reformed is out, general Christianity is in.[x]
It also seems that many are proud to see that finally the liberated ‘mini pillar’ is thoroughly broken down. ‘Mini pillar’ is a derisive term used to denigrate what our parents and also the elderly still living among us received as a gift of God’s goodness. Things which in the past prompted people to thank the Lord, are now seen as objects of vile churchism.[xi] And with almost neurotic zeal[xii] the last remnants are removed.
Note well, it is not an unfriendly government or society that causes the disappearance of this reformed life, but own initiative. We as church community have wanted and tolerated this demolition.
How can we ever justify this?
A spirit which regards church unity as the highest good has taken control of our church people. In this pursuit unity of faith, unity in the teaching of Scripture, is of lesser importance. And is it not so that in postmodern thinking everyone has their own (religious) truth? On this basis it is easily explained why suddenly the substantive objections to union with the NGK have melted away. And why there is ecumenical flirting with communities such as the Protestant Church (PKN), where truth and falsehood have equal rights. Joint church services are already being held now and then in several places. In practising this kind of unity a reduced Apostles’ Creed is no obstacle[xiii].
The old Kuyperian doctrine of the pluriformity of churches with its ‘invisible church’ is again being polished up and is for many, also church ministers, the soothing answer to ecclesiastical division. Talk about ecclesiastical withdrawals is actually no longer possible, for don’t these people remain members of that ‘invisible church’? In that way these church deserters, whether they join the Salvation Army or the Free Baptists, are given a well-wishing prayer for God’s blessing from ‘liberated’ pulpits. And in several congregations the Holy Supper table is open for those who are not Reformed. No wonder that, also because of the ever increasing lack of understanding of what the church really is, GKv membership is in decline.
Pluriformity expresses itself also in an enormous push for innovation. Change in the church is for some almost identical with the work of the Holy Spirit[xiv]. Fixed liturgies are out. Each congregation does what is right in its own eyes. Are local churches not independent? This is why the churches meeting in the Synod of Ede desisted from providing direction in this matter. The choice from the new songbook with 1016 (!) songs and yet other bundles is left to the local congregation. There is no directive; at the most a willingness to facilitate whatever is being driven by the spirit of the day. Thus, even before a major assembly of churches has made a decision, the recently published Bible in plain language[xv] is already being used in the pulpits.
For many, the consequence of this is alienation from the church which they love.
It is almost impossible to escape the developments outlined above.
It is an creeping process that affects one’s thinking. Church publications contribute to this in a major way. Ecclesiastical media are more and more being ‘whipped into shape’. It seems that little room remains for orthodox Reformed material. As of 01/01/15 De Reformatie (GKv) and Opbouw (NGK) are combined into the new magazine Onderweg. The Northern and Central church magazines produce unclear sounds. One author writes a clear article but then another breaks it down again[xvi].
Nederlands Dagblad has become completely separated from the churches and regularly spits at the Reformed fountain from which it originated. It is a podium newspaper that likes to play its part in modern culture. Sometimes you get the impression that from page after page you are reading a Roman Catholic paper. Any appreciation of the Reformed churches, their doctrine and history is hardly noticeable.[xvii]
Nader Bekeken is the only magazine that gives a mostly orthodox-Reformed sound. But given the composition of its editorial board and range of contributors, the question is whether also here a clear choice is not going to be required.
How many have not been, and are not being, sucked in by this silent revolution? How can parents still raise their children in this rapidly changing world in a Christian, a Reformed way? How will young people remain standing in a world that is so much at odds with what Reformed faith and living stand for?
It all comes together: waning knowledge of what the church is, spineless sermons, confusing information, schools that lose their reformed character, catechism classes where kids ‘don’t need to learn anything’. Add to this the influence of degeneration. Think for example of the progressive language and ideas of young liberated theologians as Rikko Voorberg and Martijn Horsman,[xviii] the desecration of the Sabbath, cohabitation and divorce.
Leaders in our churches do not combat this with corrective instruction but would rather pander to these symptoms.
The worrying concern is that even as an older member you get used to many things. At first they give you a shock, but all too soon they find a shielded (or not) place in your life. How much more will this be the case for our (grand) children! The question aches: Is it responsible for yourself and for posterity to keep exposing yourself to this? So that, if the trend continues, after two generations, perhaps only one, the bitter question must be asked: where did our youth go? And we have to ask ourselves: have we not been too negligent, too weak, and did we give the wrong example? Have we been unfaithful to the Lord and must we therefore experience His anger in being abandoned to wilful sinfulness?[xix]
The Sunday worship services are the core of our religious and spiritual congregational life. There the Word of God is proclaimed by the church that is the pillar and ground of the truth.[xx] That’s where the fundamental preparation takes place, because God Himself is speaking and His Spirit works in our hearts. If it is well, you will hear: Thus says the Lord. Proclamation with the command to believe and repent. That’s how it was in the now mostly abused history of our churches.
But in many church services it seems that, perhaps with some exaggeration, the preacher pays more attention to beautiful power-point images, internet films and songs that the band can whack, than for a thorough explanation of the Scriptures. Catechism preaching is out. Sunday after Sunday it is not on the agenda, as we have experienced. How then is the doctrine of the church passed on to and impressed upon old and young? While these as well as the other confessions offer so many starting points for living in our secular society and can provide the much needed resistance to numerous pagan beliefs and worldly temptations.
Where is the church that is like a protective sheepfold wherein the sheep live a loving life with the Lord and together are taught and trained to survive the cold chilly life outside?
The above can easily give the impression of being a drawn-out lamentation. And that’s also what it is. It is much like the difficulties and complaints we often receive from distressed brothers and sisters. And many are annoyed by it. We are the people “who always find fault” and “who have no eye for the work of the Holy Spirit”.[xxi]
And it is not nice to give the impression of always being in the opposition. Is a cheerful Christianity not much more attractive? When you respect each other regardless of how and what you believe, and where God accepts and loves you all unconditionally ‘the way you are’? It goes under the name: together one in Christ. Does that not feel much better than all that bickering about a little sentence in a letter from the apostle Paul in the Bible?!
But we will not join in, because that ‘cheerful’ road is a dead end road. All the above mentioned symptoms are indicative of the deeper problem in our churches that the Bible has become an object of free interpretation and argumentation. God’s revelation is lying on the operating table of theological science. As long as you reason bible-wise you are justified, even though it leads to statements that are in direct conflict with the Scriptures.[xxii] Bible criticism has insidiously entered into our churches. Not many see it. There is still so much beauty in our churches, they say.
It is not hard for us to confirm that. We do notice childlike faith, and hear (ir)regularly sermons that preach the full gospel. But we’ve stressed it more often: it’s all about the direction of our churches. The direction in which our churches are moving leads away from God’s Word and from the obedience to it. Bible criticism is like an iceberg tearing the cruise ship open below the waterline. On the surface it is barely perceptible. You really need an investigation to discover that the ship’s deck has become a sloping surface. In the salons meanwhile it can still be massively cheerful, with passengers dancing to happy waltzes and proposing toasts to a safe journey. But the disaster is inevitable.
We have to trust each other, people say. Have trust in the Deputies for Church Unity, for example. Not always that suspicion, that checking up.
However, shall we not still have to ask, admonish and reject each other if deviation from the Scriptures is obvious, provable? In that case the demand for trust is improper, is it not? When an accountant asks trust instead of explaining why there is church money missing, is that not sufficient reason to get the auditors in or even the police? As the old proverb says: ‘First try and then trust.’
We console ourselves with the thought that also the Scriptures are full of lamentations, possibly just as many as hymns. Not only from the almost ‘professional’ lamenter Jeremiah, but also from many other prophets.
And hear also our Saviour, when he laments about spiritual life and about the leaders of His day. He laments even in the deepest and darkest hour of his life on the cross.[xxiii]
Lamenting has a negative connotation. It feels better to sing cheerful songs. But did the preacher not already say, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting? For that is the end of all men, and the living will take it to heart.”[xxiv]
To be continued
(This article was first published 10-1-2015 in Dutch and 7-3-2015 in English on the website www.eeninwaarheid.info. The English version has been slightly edited for this site.)
[i] 16 and 17 January, 2015.
[ii] 15 November, 2014.
[iii] Nederlands Gereformeerde Kerken, a church federation that originated from the GKv (RCN) during the nineteen-sixties because of their unwillingness to be bound by the Reformed Confessions
[iv] Theologische Universiteit Kampen
[v] Dr J M Burger in Crucial. Read about this, on www.eeninwaarheid.info, in section: About the Scriptures.
[vi] At the time of writing there are still two ‘identity-sensitive’ matters to be raised: the interpretation of the NGK and their “M/V” (women in office) decisions, and a new Subscription Form.
[vii] Permanente Educatie Predikanten (PEP)
[viii] Examples: A sermon of Rev GJ Meijer, an interview with Rev M. Veurink, a sermon of Rev TP Nap. For links to these texts see www.eeninwaarheid.info.
[ix] TUK in heavy weather. For link see www.eeninwaarheid.info.
[x] Significant is, for example, the proposal to delete the reference to the Three Forms of Unity in the Foundation of the Christian Union (an organisation evolved from the Reformed Political League), because they are too difficult for Roman Catholic members and the evangelical representatives of the party. Opinion has it that the proposal will command a large majority.
[xi] Also prominent theologians join in with this. Dr Jos Douma qualified our church history on his blog as ‘timid’ and ‘narrow minded’.
[xii] The term originated with Prof. Dr Selderhuis: “The liberated seem to be suffering from a disease, a neurotic soaking up of what is ‘not-liberated’ and a frantic effort to reject their own past.”
[xiii] The Credo at the ‘National Synod’ as an expression of common faith lacks essential parts like Christ’s virgin birth. Prof. Dr J van Bruggen writes: “Between the Credo and the Apostles’ Creed lies a world of difference. The Credo wants to come close to our time and search for order in the chaos. That is wonderful. But what the mouths are confessing is no longer in the line of the Apostles’ Creed…. Credo has essential parts missing and obscures the Apostles’ Creed. I have read it as a confession of destruction. It has disappointed me very much.” (Reformatorisch Dagblad, 23/04/10).
[xiv] Compare the words of Rev. K. van den Geest at the Synod of Ede.
[xv] This ‘Bible’ is made up of only 4,000 Dutch words. As a result, many keywords such as grace, mercy, and justice missed the boat.
[xvi] Look in Kerkbode voor het Noorden for a striking example about women in office; compare the publications of 6/9/14 and 15/11/14.
[xvii] A typical example is that the paper paid no attention to the 70th anniversary of the Liberation, while (it’s on the cards that) a news item about the Pope having burped would be splashed on its front page.
[xviii] See for example Crisis in sanctification. Also R. Voorberg and M. Horsman in Nederlands Dagblad 14/08/14: “The Bible is not a book that prescribes how we should live. Stronger yet: You should write on its cover ‘Do not try this at home.’”
[xix] Compare, for example Proverbs 1: 24-33, Isaiah 30: 15.
[xx] 1 Tim 3:15, “… the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”
[xxi] Rev H. Prins, Hardenberg-C in Kerkbode van het Midden, 02/01/15.
[xxii] A striking example is M/V [Women in Office] decision 2b: “The view that apart from men also women may serve in the ecclesiastical offices should be freely debatable as long as it is argued from Scripture.”
[xxiii] Think of Christ’s words on the cross: My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?
[xxiv] Ecclesiastes 7: 2