D J Bolt is the editor of the webpage www.eeninwaarheid.info which for many years has exposed the errors and decline within the liberated Reformed Churches of the Netherlands (GKv). Recently he and his wife took the huge step of leaving the GKv and joining The Reformed Churches – restored (DGK) at Opeinde. They wanted to give an account, justifying this far-reaching decision, to the members of the liberated congregation of Drachten-South-West of which they had been members and published that letter so that it could possibly be of support and profit also to other GKv members distressed at the decline in their churches.
Their decision, they write, elicited a number of responses typical of the ecclesiastical thinking in the GKv. Other church members who left the GKv have experienced similar responses. It is something they wish comment on in a following and final article.
But here, first, is their letter justifying their decision to the brothers and sisters of their former congregation.
D.J Bolt and T. Bolt-Slager, 03-10-15[i]
To the brothers and sisters of GKv Drachten-South-West
Drachten, June 14, 2015
Dear brothers and sisters,
As you may have heard already we had to farewell the congregation of Drachten-South-West. This makes us very sad. It is ten years ago that we joined the congregation. We experienced good things there. Yet after years of struggle we had to decide to leave the liberated Reformed Churches. We would like to briefly justify this decision because the farewell hurts us and we will seldom or never again meet you in a ‘church setting.’
Why did we leave? There is no quarrel, and it is also not that we feel unwelcome in the congregation. The core problem is that we are convinced that the reformed character of the liberated churches is at stake. The developments in these churches cause us no longer to feel safe in respect to ‘faith and confession’. We believe that they are steering a course which increasingly deviates from the Bible and the Reformed Confessions.
Over the years we have given this much attention. We published material, attended and considered many synod meetings, held discussions, attended conferences – even in foreign countries. We submitted many objections against the direction of the churches to the church council, as well as to the Synod when that was still possible. All these years there has never been a response to a single point of objection. Clearly, we live in different worlds where it concerns the use of the Bible and its practical application to Christian life.
Perhaps it is good to mention a few issues here to show where our difficulties lie. We can do that in this letter only very briefly. But we refer anyone who wants to delve a little more into the matter to our letters of objection to the consistory. We indicate at the end of this letter where to find them, along with other material that can help ‘to distinguish what is of significance’.
Use of the Bible
We strongly object to the way in which Holy Scripture is being used in our churches, especially by lecturers at the Theological University in Kampen. We can and will not understand for example that one of the professors can quietly declare that the people of Israel originated from a Canaanite people; that the biblical stories would have been idealistic imaginations of later prophets about how the history of Israel could have happened; that the belief in creation would have original Canaanite roots and may have been influenced by Egyptian religious ideas; and that the stories in Genesis 1-11 contain many myths. It is claimed that it is not history like our history, but only says something about the meaning and the foundations for our existence today.
Another lecturer in Kampen does recognize the historical reliability of the Bible but distinguishes between truth claim and truth value. In simpler terms: it is the difference between what the Bible says and what the real facts are. The true meaning of a text must be determined by, for example, excavations in the Middle East. We have to know much more about ancient story telling conventions; that is, how things were told in ancient times.
Such views have major implications for understanding the Bible. For example, we have known since childhood that David defeated Goliath. But it might well be, it is suggested, that someone else did it. Perhaps it was ascribed to David to make his name greater. That happened more in the world of those days, according to the story.
Another example relates to Joshua. He commanded the sun and the moon to stand still, and they stood still for a whole day (Josh. 10). But doubts have arisen. Should this not be understood symbolically? Perhaps to make Joshua’s victory, as it is told in the one story, even greater by cramming the bible story about the multi-day expedition all into the one day? Especially extra-biblical information must be relied on to provide a definite answer here.
One last example: A professor at Kampen wants freedom for the view that Adam and Eve were not the first humans on earth, but that they were heads of a clan of about 5,000 to 10,000 people who must have had a primitive morality. In that situation they should, however dimly, have been aware of good and evil in the light of God’s commandment.
We have for years been wondering in amazement how the Christian faith can survive if it is undermined in this way. What can parents still tell their children, grandparents their grandchildren, with certainty? Where is the firm belief in the infallible and reliable Word of God that we have been given under the guidance of the Holy Spirit – also when it comes to the Old Testament history?
Extensive objections have been raised against all these views, both in the Netherlands and also by many overseas sister churches. But the Synods have not responded, did not even test the objections on their content. They are of the opinion that the University should have freedom to develop and nurture such ideas. And to our great sorrow the church council of Drachten-South-West goes along with this.
Women on the pulpit
‘Female office-bearers’ is a hot item in the churches. They may officially still not be an office-bearer, but there is ongoing research whether this could still be done. The Synod of Ede (2014/15) at the same time took the decision to be united with the Nederlands Gereformeerde Kerken (NGK). But in those churches female pastors, elders and deacons have been around since 2005! How is this possible?
The Synod declared that we can really trust the brothers and sisters of the NGK in their dealings with the Bible. And that the matter of ‘women in office’ is therefore a matter of practicality. While one person believes one thing the other believes another. The cry is: do not bind each other.
The consequences are unmistakable. Relying on this Synod decision, unification of GKv congregations and NGK congregations with female office-bearers is taking effect in various locations, resulting in joint church services and Holy Supper celebrations and acceptance of each other’s members. In several ‘liberated’ congregations female ‘board members’ have been appointed, including Amsterdam, Assen-Kloosterveen and Maastricht. Meanwhile, the first woman has preached a sermon from a ‘liberated’ pulpit (Haulerwijk, May 31). In GKv Utrecht-NW the decision was taken to officially declare all offices open to women.
We are no longer able to follow this. We believe that God’s Word is clear at this point, see for example 1 Tim 2. For thousands of years the church has reserved the office for men. But while in the GKv there is officially still research being done in this matter the practice is already miles ahead. Incidentally, the majority of lecturers in Kampen are also in favour.
Again, the fundamental question is how we should deal with the Bible. Is it still the authoritative Word of God, or do we see it as an old book with instructions and commands from an ancient culture that no longer can be ours? That spirit is more and more pervasive in the liberated churches. But this manner of dealing with the Bible has major consequences, also in numerous other matters of our relationship with the Lord.
Then it is not surprising that the second church services are massively neglected, also in Drachten-South-West. Then it is not surprising that for various reasons divorce happens almost as often inside the churches as outside, and church councils were directed to have marriages after divorce ecclesiastically solemnised (see 1 Cor 7); that in a growing number of liberated churches ‘cohabitation’ [is tolerated], and gays and lesbians either with or without a ‘marriage’ relation, are silently admitted to the Holy Supper.
In the past we were called Reformed Churches according to Article 31 DKO. This had to do with the great significance of Article 31 in church life. A Reformed federation of churches is principally made up of independent churches who voluntarily exercise communion. According to Article 31, a church can never be forced to implement synod decisions if its council is satisfied that these are inconsistent with the Bible. But now, as from 1 July, a new Church Order has been adopted, the so-called Revised Church Order (HKO). In this Church Order there is no such Article 31 for consistories. So they can now formally be directed to implement decisions unconditionally and without delay even though a consistory may be convinced that they are in conflict with Scripture. For example, if a Synod would decide that local church councils have to solemnise homo marriages there is no excuse: whatever the synod has decided must be done. This is only one conceivable example, but many can be added.
How is it possible that especially our churches with their liberated history have let this pass? And also the consistory of Drachten-South-West agrees with this?!
Reconciliation through satisfaction
The core of the gospel can be summarized as: Jesus Christ bore the wrath of God against our sins. Taking our place he completely atoned for all our sins by the sacrifice of his body on the cross on which He shed his blood. Or to put it even briefer: reconciliation through satisfaction.
But the new lecturer in Kampen University who has to teach the doctrine of the church to prospective ministers has different ideas about this. He noted that in our days a bloody sacrifice elicits revulsion. According to him such distaste, by the way, can already be detected in the Old Testament in Psalm 40. In a recently published book, Cruciaal, he writes: ‘The mindset that Jesus brings a sacrifice by taking our place in bearing the punishment as payment of our debt, and that he in that way gives God the required satisfaction and obtains our salvation’, that line of thinking you do not find back that way in the New Testament.’ Moreover he claims that Jesus ‘death on the cross’ is ‘in the strict sense’ not a sacrifice! Instead, he says, it is Christ’s lifelong devotion to God that is His sacrifice.
We believe that this teaching is an attack on the heart of the gospel as defined in our Belgic Confession, article 21. We asked this lecturer personally to repudiate this passage but he sticks to his conviction.
We submitted this matter also to the consistory, but it sees no problem and will also not protest against it.
How to continue?
We can not continue like this, brothers and sisters. All we want is belong to a church where the Word of God has absolute authority, where the gospel of sin and grace is fully preserved and proclaimed, where there is no ‘open’ Lord’s Supper Table so that we can again participate in its celebration, and where the church is governed on biblical principles – where members may feel safe because faithful men are watching over the souls of God’s children.
Much as we would like it, we can no longer wholeheartedly say this of the churches in which we were born and raised. We believe that there is a spirit that leads to further degradation of the Reformed, Christian character of the churches. Indeed, we see a spirit that threatens and attacks the faith in Christ and His Word.
Our office bearers refuse to have a substantive conversation with us about these things. The ecclesiastical way for distressed church members like us is formally closed.
We are facing a hopeless situation and are deeply grieved to have to leave the churches of which we have been lifelong members, and to which we have always devoted ourselves heart and soul.
But to remain members in this situation is no longer possible and allowed. These churches have become different churches. We leave these churches in order to remain in Christ’s church. We want to continue following the voice of the Good Shepherd. That is also why we call everyone boldly to consider this intensively, and to ascertain whether it is responsible for him or her, and for the (grand) children, to remain in the GKv.
We intend to join the Reformed Churches (restored) at Opeinde.
Finally, we understand that reading the above can be quite upsetting and confusing. If you wish to discuss it with us, you are welcome. You may also email us if you prefer.
With sincere brotherly and sisterly greetings,
Durk Jan Bolt