The Church Struggle of the 1960s (part 3)

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The struggle during the 1960s was a struggle to remain faithful to Scripture, our Three Forms of Unity and reformed church government. Those who saw the Liberation of 1944 as no more than a squabble between brothers lost sight of what the LORD had done for His church. They failed to realise that the LORD had saved us from unscriptural doctrine and unscriptural church government. They were more concerned with patching things up with their ‘brothers’ in the false ‘synodical’ church than with questions of faithfulness to Scripture and confession.

This mentality was reflected in their desire for freedom to tolerate ministers who deviated from the truth in ‘non-essentials’. For example, they wanted to tolerate the views of Rev Telder who published a book which claimed that believers don’t go straight to heaven when they die. But they also tolerated others who deviated from the truth. This article will focus on three of them.

Rev E L Oosterhoff

In North Holland in the early 1960s there was an RCN minister, Rev Oosterhoff, who preached that Christ died for everyone, not just the believers. He disagreed with Lord’s Day 7 where we confess: “Only those are saved who by a true faith are grafted into Christ and accept all His benefits.” Rev Oosterhoff appealed to Romans 5:18 which says that just as through Adam’s fall into sin “judgement came to all men” even so through Christ’s righteous act “the free gift came to all men”. This shows, said Rev Oosterhoff, that Christ died not just for the believers but for everyone. Later he changed his position somewhat and said that the “everyone” applied to all people in the church. Rev Oosterhoff failed to understand that the “free gift” of Romans 5:18 must be understood in the sense that Christ is offered to all men (see Calvin). It doesn’t mean that all men actually receive Him.

Rev Oosterhoff’s consistory admonished him about his heretical views but without success. It realised that if Rev Oosterhoff wasn’t willing to stick to the confessions he could not continue in his office as minister of the Word. Therefore, acting in accordance with the church order, it brought the matter to the classis. But here the consistory encountered the tolerant thinking which was gaining a foothold in the RCN in the 1960s, namely, that because of God’s love for sinners we should tolerate one another despite major differences. Classis decided that, although Rev Oosterhoff preached ideas which were not supported by Scripture and confession, he was still a good minister and did not deserve to be suspended from office. The consistory was not happy with this decision and took its case to the regional synod of North Holland, but here it encountered the same tolerant attitude as at classis. Like the classis, this regional synod agreed that Scripture and confession speak different to what Rev Oosterhoff said. Nevertheless, it decided that he should still be able to remain in office with ‘full rights’. The consistory then appealed to the general synod of the Netherlands. This synod clearly exposed Rev Oosterhoff’s teachings as being contrary to Scripture and confession and should therefore not to be allowed to be taught in God’s congregation.

However, this synod decision was not acknowledged by the regional synod of North Holland, neither by the classis. Nor did they acknowledge the decision when the following general synod of the Netherlands confirmed that Rev Oosterhoff’s views were heretical. This showed that not only were ministers and elders representing churches at the North Holland assemblies tolerant of heretical views, but they despised the decision of the general synods, the broader assembly. Thereby they thumbed their nose at the Church Order and showed they wanted to go their own independent way. They continued to acknowledge Rev Oosterhoff as minister in full rights. In effect they no longer upheld the truth of God’s Word as confessed in the Three Forms of Unity; nor did they uphold reformed church government.

Reverends G Visee and J Mulder

There are three types of laws in the Old Testament. First there are the ten commandments, also known as the moral law. Second, there are the ceremonial laws relating to the temple service. Third, there are the civil laws relating to the daily conduct of Israel as a nation. The last two ceased with the coming of Christ but the moral law, the ten commandments, still apply today (Lord’s Day 33).

Two ministers in the RCN in the 1960s, the Revs Visee and Mulder, however, lumped these laws together. They said that, just as the ceremonial and civil laws had become unnecessary through the coming of Christ, so too had the ten commandments. After all, hadn’t Christ fulfilled the law and weren’t we therefore free of the law? All these laws, they said, had to be interpreted from a New Testament perspective. That is, the ceremonial, civil and moral laws had all had their day and yet they were still somewhat relevant to the New Testament in so far that we should live out of thankfulness according to the ‘spirit’ of these laws.

The result of this teaching was that the ten commandments were left open to interpretation. This applied particularly to the fourth commandment about keeping the Sabbath. Rev Visee wrote that “in the NT period we live in freedom, we are free of the law, also regarding the Sabbath” and we may “thank God that we are not bound by the Sabbath commandment as the church was in the O.T.” because “the Law of the Horeb-covenant has had its day” (quoted in Acts of Synod, Acta, Hoogeveen, 1969, p 208).

Hence these two ministers devalued the ten commandments. What they taught was an attack on Scripture and confession, both of which declare that the ten commandments are to be obeyed faithfully. Consider just a few of the many proof texts:

  • Romans 3:31: Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.
  • Eph. 6:1-3: Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honour your father and mother” which is the first commandment with promise “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth”.
  • James 2:11: He who said, “Do not commit adultery.” Also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.
  • Lord’s Day 33: But what are good works? Only those which are done…in accordance with the law of God…. This law is then identified as the Ten Commandments and explained in subsequent Lord’s Days.

As with the matter of Rev Oosterhoff this matter, too, was brought to the general synod. Synod judged that these ministers:

  • devalued what Scripture said about the ongoing relevance of the law;
  • were wrong in saying that the ten commandments had ‘had their day’;
  • did not do justice to art 25 BCF which does say that the ceremonies, symbols and shadows of the law have ceased but not that ten commandments have ceased;
  • speak about the NT freedom-from-the-law in a way which does not do justice to what the NT says about the need to keep the law as the rule of thankfulness;
  • say, in effect, that we can no longer know our sin and misery from the law.
  • Synod concluded that what these ministers taught was contrary to Scripture and confession.

It was the desire to tolerate these and other ministers who deviated from Scripture in ‘non-essentials’ that characterised the thinking underpinning the Open Letter. As long as one stuck to the fundamentals the authors felt that there was room to deviate from Scripture and Confession. The desire to hold on to one another was given greater importance than remaining faithful to the entire Scripture and confession. This was reflected in their unwillingness to see the Liberation of 1944 as a work of reformation by the LORD. It was reflected in their desire to be less fussy in promoting unity with other churches. It was also reflected in their tolerant attitude towards those who deviated from God’s Word and the confessions. The LORD, who graciously saved us from false doctrine and hierarchy in 1944, also saved us from the false prophets and spirit of toleration in the 1960s. Through the struggle of that decade He preserved our Dutch sister churches in the unity of true faith.

(to be continued)

J Numan