In 1944 the Lord liberated His people from synodical hierarchy. Now, it appears, the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands (RCN) have reintroduced synodical hierarchy with the adoption by Synod Ede of a newly revised Church Order. What follows is an urgent letter by Br Bolt to the local churches in that federation not to ratify the Revised Church Order but to stick with the current Church Order of Dort.
The Revised Church Order – Urgent Letter to consistories
To the consistory of the local Reformed Church (RCN)
Drachten, March 21, 2015
As from July 1, 2015, a new Church Order, the so-called Revised Church Order (RCO) or Church Order 2014, will come into force in our churches. The current Dort Church Order (DCO) will then no longer be in force. It was felt that the old Church Order needed linguistic as well as substantive modernisation. A result is that the Provincial Synods no longer exist. On 16th January of this year, the final version of the RCO was adopted by the Synod of Ede. The church councils now have the duty to ratify those decisions, an action that includes their adoption and execution.
The reason we turn to you is that in some respects the new RCO is fundamentally different from the DCO. We mention the following:
In the RCO art. 31 DCO has been amputated in a manner that essentially changes it from a Reformed to a hierarchical Church Order.
- The right of individual believers to guard the doctrine of the church has been drastically curtailed.
We would like to clarify these two points and briefly outline the consequences.
Fundamental differences between DCO and RCO
1 – RCO, a hierarchy-orientated Church Order
Art. 31 of the DCO says:
 If someone believes to have been wronged by a decision of a minor assembly, he may appeal to the major assembly.
 The decision made by majority vote shall be accepted as binding unless it is proved to be in conflict with the Word of God or with the Church Order.
In the RCO, however, the formulation ’unless it is proved to be in conflict with the Word of God or with the Church Order’ has been deleted.
According to such new ideas as have been expressed in the RCO, decisions of major assemblies like the synod, must simply be carried out by the consistories even if they believe that these are in conflict with the Word of God or with the Church Order. If it so happens that leniency is shown, this is a favour not a formally defined.
With this fundamental amputation the character of the church community has changed. The Reformed Church Order (of Dort) guaranteed the autonomy of the local church and gave the consistory the authority not to implement decisions under the given conditions. In the regime of the new Church Order the synod is the supreme assembly that can demand immediate and unconditional implementation of its decisions. It is true that consistories may ask revision at a following synod, but the decision must, meanwhile, be carried out regardless of objections in principle.
With this, Reformed church polity has essentially been exchanged for a hierarchical form of government.
We provide some illustrative examples to show how dangerous this new Church Order is at this point.
Example 1 – Female office bearers
Suppose (and this is by no means imaginary) that the next synod decides to open the offices to women, including a decision that from then on they also have access to the pulpits.
A consistory which objects to this in principle, on the basis of God’s Word, may ask revision at the next synod. Meanwhile, however, this consistory is obliged to implement the decision. If, for example, female elders or pastors present themselves for office they cannot, pending revision requests, be barred from the pulpit or elders’ seats. Such requests for revision may not be used to suspend the decision!
Example 2 – Joining the PKN
Suppose a synod decides by majority that the RCN federation joins the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN). Consistories can try to annul this decision at the next synod. But meanwhile, again according to the RCO, the decision must be carried out and local churches are obliged to cooperate. A congregation no longer has the choice of leaving the federation of churches and taking her possessions along. After all, the synod has the authority and can enforce unconditional implementation.
Recent church history has already shown in the creation of the PKN (2004) that this is not something imaginary. When many ‘Hervormde’ congregations did not come along, but formed the Restored ‘Hervormde’ Church, they lost almost all their church buildings and other possessions. That is how a hierarchical Church Order works, as it now threatens to be introduced in the RCO.
The same situation now looms with the RCO in the Reformed-liberated federation: there is for consistories no longer the possibility to appeal on the rule ’unless it is proven to be in conflict with God’s Word’ to suspend or definitively not implement an unscriptural decision.
2 – Curtailment of responsibility and obligation of church members
Individual church members may object to decisions of their own consistory. The RCO also allows them to appeal to the major assemblies against a decision of a consistory. But asking the synod for revision of unscriptural decisions is excluded. Only if a church member is affected in his direct personal interest, e.g. financial, is his revision request admissible at synod.
With this change the right and duty of church members to safeguard for their part and in their place the preservation of the pure doctrine of the church is being unjustly curtailed.
It can be shown that reformed church polity has always provided an opportunity to lodge fundamental objections against the actions of the major assemblies and to be heard there. The RCO is taking away that fundamental right of individual church members.
Under the currently still valid Church Order of Dort you are as consistory obliged to test whether decisions taken by Synod are in accordance with God’s Word and the Confessions; that is: you may not accept as binding those decisions that are in conflict with Scripture or the Church Order, thereby honouring your task as shepherds of the flock that is entrusted to you.
We are convinced that the Synod decisions, in particular those that were briefly referred to, are not in accordance with the Scriptures but go against the fundamental principles of Reformed church polity. We have illustrated these points in greater detail in the attached document in which many related questions are given a documented answer.
Also attached is an article written by Dr R D Anderson (formerly pastor of the RCN at Katwijk) in which he explains the significance and great importance of the (unchanged) Article 31 of the Church Order.
We wish to add an urgent warning.
According to Scripture the local congregation operates directly under the authority of Christ as King of his church. The consistory in its actions is directly accountable to Him. But under the new RCO ecclesiastical assemblies like synods and classes determine what churches must carry out unconditionally, thereby infringing on the relationship between Christ and his church.
And church history warns us that the introduction of a hierarchical church system is often irreversible!
Call to action
We would personally have preferred to raise these matters directly with Synod. But, as mentioned earlier, the ecclesiastical way has already been blocked for church members. This is why we urge you to formally reject the decisions regarding the RCO in the short-term, that is: not ratify them. This is urgent because in the absence of a formal rejection a decision is automatically ratified: refer to the Introductory Letter in Acts of Synod Ede 2014, dated 25 November 2014, which states that these matters must be dealt with before May 2015.
In this way it remains possible to stay together under the current Church Order in a Reformed non-hierarchical bond of churches in which the scriptural autonomy of local churches is preserved intact.
We wish you the wisdom of the Lord and the guidance of the Holy Spirit in your work.
With warm fraternal greetings,