The Church Struggle of the 1960s (part 2)

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The previous article showed that during the 1960s it became evident that there were some ministers and others in the (liberated) Reformed Churches (RCN) who did not see the Liberation as a reformational work of deliverance by the LORD. Instead these people saw the church Liberation of 1944 merely as the result of a squabble between brothers who did not tolerate one another’s views. As a result of this squabble, they said, Schilder, Greijdanus and others faithful people were kicked out by the synod.

They agreed that synod should not have done that. Nevertheless, they said, the ‘synodicals’ who kicked them out, and those who left the synodical church because of what they had done and believed, both say they love the LORD and therefore, they added, we will take it upon ourselves (independent from our church federation) to talk with the synodicals with the aim of ‘healing the breach’. What this group of ministers and others did not do in the discussions with synodicals, however, was to focus on the real issues of truth and falsehood that had led to the Liberation.

By saying that the Liberation was not a work of the Lord but the result of a squabble these brothers created a current of dissatisfaction within the Liberated churches. This was brought to a head when, in 1966, eighteen ministers and a few others signed an open letter (the infamous ‘Open Brief’) in which they stated, among other things, that to see the Liberation as an act of reformation based on article 28 BCF (which says believers are duty bound to separate from the false church and join the true church) is a dangerous ‘ideology’. They wanted to focus on God’s love for sinners which, they felt, should lead us to suppress the differences between the reformed (synodical) churches and the RCN (those whom the LORD had liberated from the synodical hierarchy).

Moreover, they suggested that Christ’s universal church had a much simpler confession than the Three Forms of Unity to which the Reformed churches subscribe and that therefore we should be much less fussy when we talk with other churches about unity. Thus they created a false dilemma by contrasting the Reformed (liberated) Churches with their idea of a ‘world church’ (something in the line of Abraham Kuyper’s ‘invisible church’ and ‘pluriformity of the church’ idea). It was narrow minded, they said, to think that Christ’s ‘world church’ had such a comprehensive confessional basis as the Reformed Churches (liberated) had with their Three Forms of Unity. They sought a simple confession which would accommodate many different churches with different confessions.

However, to try and establish such an all-embracing confession results in a process of continually restricting the confession to accommodate more and more churches. You narrow it down to the Apostles’ Creed or the trinity or, as Rev Schoep (who wrote the Open Brief) proposed, the three words: Jesus is Lord. And you leave more and more room for differing interpretations of God’s Word.

Rev Telder

This became evident in the matter of Rev Telder who was a minister in one of the Liberated churches (RCN) in Holland. He taught that when a believer dies his soul does not immediately go to heaven but that body and soul remain in the earth until Christ’s return. In other words, heaven is empty, no people have gone to heaven and none will go there until the return of Christ when the dead will be raised. This contradicts what we confess in Lord’s Day 22: “my soul after this life [shall] immediately be taken up to Christ, my Head”. Whilst most supporters of the ‘Open Brief’ (Open Letter) would not have agreed with Telder, they nevertheless defended his ‘right’ to deviate from the Three Forms of Unity and to publish his ideas in his book Sterven…en dan? (Dying …and then?).

One sees here that continuing wish to tolerate wrong views, as long as the person concerned believes ‘the basics’. Their argument was that, although Rev Telder had a different interpretation about what happens when a believer dies, he had not deviated from the gospel of grace and redemption in Jesus Christ. He believed that whether we lived or whether we died we are the Lord’s. The line of thinking of the ‘Open Brief’ people was that, since Rev Telder stuck to the kernel of the Gospel, he should not be disciplined but efforts should be made to convince him through ongoing discussion.

It sounds fine: he loves the Lord, we love the Lord; therefore, be tolerant of one another and discuss the differences. In the meantime, however, the Word of God is robbed of its comfort, members of the church become confused, and Rev Telder, along with those who defend his freedom to publish his thoughts, undermine the confession and ignore what they promised in the Form for Subscription of Office Bearers.

In that Subscription Form for Ministers of the Word, Rev Telder, as all ministers must do, had signed that he wholeheartedly believed and was fully convinced that the Three Forms of Unity were in full agreement with the Word of God. He had promised that he would diligently teach and faithfully defend the doctrine contained in them and earnestly reject all errors which conflict with them. He had also promised that if he ever had any reservations about them he would not advocate them but follow the ecclesiastical way of letting the church assemblies (consistory, classis and synod) examine them and that he would submit to their judgements. He had also agreed that if he did deviate from this doctrine he should be suspended from office. Ministers are obliged to sign this Form in order to safeguard the truth of God’s Word and the honour of His Name.

The ‘Open Brief’ supporters, however, said that even though Telder teaches things that are not taught in God’s Word he should still be allowed to remain a minister in the Reformed Churches. Why? Because although he deviates on this point, Rev Telder is still a believer and therefore we should hang on to one another, keep talking things through. After all, talking is better than applying discipline. And they drew a parallel to 1944. During the Liberation, they said, the synod should have tolerated Schilder, Greijdanus and others who disagreed with Kuyper’s theories. Likewise today, they said, we should tolerate Rev Telder, and his supporting congregation at Breda, and others who deviate from the truth. Thus their motto was to keep talking things through.

What they were doing, in effect, was saying that unity is more important than the truth. It is the age-old question of who is to get the honour: God or man? Will we defend God’s Word and thereby God’s honour, or will we chip pieces off God’s Word in order to hang on to one another at all costs? Will we offend God and put stumbling blocks before His children in order to defend man’s right to deviate from Scripture and confession, or will we humbly submit ourselves to Him and the full counsel of His Word, the doctrine of which we confess in our Three Forms of Unity? Will our pulpits be open to the truth and the lie, or will our churches remain ‘pillar and ground of the truth’ (1 Timothy 3:15)?

(To be continued)

J Numan