Klaas Schilder remembered


Today, the 23rd March 2017, it is 65 years ago that Dr K Schilder passed away. Exactly eight years earlier, to the day, he was unjustly deposed from office. That and related events led to the church of our Lord being continued under a new name, the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands (liberated). The Head of the church, our Lord Jesus Christ, liberated His people in 1944 from what had become a false church. What happened is part of our own history, the history of the Free Reformed Churches in Australia and other churches that seek to continue in obedience to the Truth. We owe much to what the Lord gave us in K Schilder. He was an instrument in the hands of the King of the Church to guide His people in the way of obedience in the gathering and preservation of the Christ’s church.

What follows is an article about K Schilder by the late Prof J Geertsema published in Clarion 30 years ago.

J Numan

Dr K Schilder: December 19, 1890 – March 23, 1952

When K Schilder was released from his earthly task, his friend, the Rev J de Waard, wrote in De Reformatie of March 29/April 5, 1952: “He did not want anything but to be faithful to his God, to His Word, to the confession and the Church Order adopted by mutual accord.”

In the same issue, professor B Holwerda, who would soon, a month and a week later, on April 30, follow his colleague to the heavenly rest, wrote the words that follow here. They are part of an article to which he gave the title “Professor Schilder, the PEACEMAKER”.

...Upon this life shines the splendour of God’s providence: God knows those who are His own! But we are here also confronted with the mystery of God’s providence.

It took a long time before this man with such a scholarly mind could go the way that resulted in his promotion. Almost immediately he became professor. About six years later, when had had just started with the writing of his Explanation of the Heidelberg Catechism, it was war, and through imprisonment and going into hiding his work practically came to a standstill. When the time to work again arrived, the struggle in the church came to an explosion, and again his energy and time and attention were occupied by other things than he himself had placed on his program. When, finally, he found time again for his standard work on the Catechism, church life was in such an uproar that he had to make the most of his time in order to be able to continue writing. But in the middle of that work God took him away. God broke off his theological work, in the same incomprehensible style with which He who rules the world had already earlier interrupted that work.

And especially because his work had so many sides, and his talents were far above average, and his place so central, therefore this sudden end seemed to make Schilder’s whole work a torso. For there is no one among us with the same talents, no one who is so many-sided, no one who can replace him. At Greijdanus’s departure we could say: his work was finished. But at Schilder’s grave we realise: his work was, according to our assessment, unfinished. And now we must all believe the providence of God, which is the guarantee that the Lord does not call any of His children and servants to Himself before their work is finished. This “Unfinished Symphony” is finished nevertheless!

God apparently had not chosen Schilder to endow us with a complete Dogmatics, and to write an Ethics. The Lord had planned a different task for him.

Moreover, that has occupied my mind more often these last years, also when there was no worry yet concerning an approaching end. With his sharp mind and broad knowledge and deeply probing criticism, Schilder made us think about a lot of points in dogmatics, as about the church and the plurality of the church. But more important than all his dogmatic remarks and Ansatze has been, in my awareness, the style in which he believed and confessed the church. With respect to ethics, he showed new light on many points; but more important than all this has been his practising of ethics. Not his speaking about the will of the Father, but his doing of that will is in this life the great thing. He was not the theorist who thought and systematized, but he was the scholar who believed, and therefore also stood for what he wrote. He knew the background of national-socialism probably better than anyone else. But his fight against it was not an academic debate: he went into prison for it, and he went into hiding for it when that became necessary. He had thought much about the church, her unity, her pluriformity; he had attached many distinctions. But it was not a theoretical game: when things became bitterly serious, he gave himself with his whole person for the unity of the church and for her true plurality. His whole scientific-theological work was a matter of a living faith. In the world of the scholars he was always the prophet who, as all prophets, was maltreated, and would rather die for his message than deny it… He was in all his work, also in his scholarly theology, the prophet who knew himself called to speak, and who was willing to die for his mission if that was pleasing to God.

Others pointed out that his death came on the very same day on which, eight years earlier, his suspension occurred. And we shall never forget the verdict: schismatic.

If there has ever been a foolish verdict, then it is this one. For eventually he was deposed because of the works of peace which he had done and which he refused to deny. Indeed, Schilder was a polemicist, restless, moved, sharp. Nevertheless, our generation has not known any man who was as much a peacemaker as he; not a peacemaker according to the world or a decadent church; but a peacemaker in the Biblical sense in which it is said of God Himself in the sense in which Christ used it when blessing the peacemakers.

For when Paul, in Ephesians 3, spoke of Christ, who makes peace, then he was thinking of His church-gathering work. He spoke of Him who had broken down the walls of separation through the cross. This peace which He had made, He then also proclaimed in order that the strangers would become fellow-members of the family of God, and in order that there would arise the holy temple in the Lord.

This always again struck me in his writing, also in his praying: he lived out of that peace of Christ that meant church and communion of saints. And as servant of Christ he fought, suffered, and prayed, for the acknowledgement and preservation of that peace. That is why he fought against every binding that was not out of Christ and would become a dividing wall of hostility. But therefore he also acknowledged every binding which Christ’s church had received from Him, and he fought for the maintenance of those bindings which never feel tight.

This is what typified him in all his polemics before the war, and in his struggle against the synod. But this peace of Christ had filled his heart and mind to such an extent that he, during the last years, also in his own circles urged that peace be sought, and asked us to pray for those churches that were in danger of forgetting the peace of Christ.

If I look at him, there is in that life one straight line and an elevated style: to live out of the peace of Christ, and to preserve that peace to the end. Seen in this way, his work is not a torso: it is completely finished.

This man proved himself in his labours a living member of the church, taking everything out of Christ. And therefore now has been fulfilled for him the beatitude: Blessed are the peacemakers, because they shall be called sons of God (Matthew 5).

More than his dogmatics concerning the church is his practical confessing of the church. That is why we should not ask who has to take his place; Schilder cannot be replaced, but, fortunately, he does not need to be replaced either; he served in his time the counsel of God, and that is completely finished. But we all have to ask whether we are not called, now more than ever, to follow his example. For the times are evil, and church life is in motion. But we have the peace of Christ, which has been proclaimed to us; and to us comes the command to preserve that peace in this that it fills also our heart and mind. Fortunately, that does not depend on talents, or enormous energy, or multi-sidedness. For that peace is being proclaimed to everyone who calls himself a member of the church, even when he has only a little place and possesses just common gifts.

Let us do much praying for one another for grace; this grace, that we, now that Schilder has been buried, may keep his memory pure by loving the church in the manner that dominated his life.

Thus far professor Holwerda.

Against zealots and independentism

What follows here has been pointed out before, so I say nothing new. Nevertheless, it is good not to forget it. The struggle for the peace of Christ in the church and in the communion of saints was fought on two fronts. The speech with which Schilder addressed the brotherhood at the “School Day” (the yearly day of the Theological School in Kampen in September, at the beginning of the study year) that was to be his last, had the title “Zelus and Zealots.” Here he placed over against each other two different forms of zeal: a zeal that is from the Lord, holy, and obedient, in love, and a zeal that is not from the Lord. It is a “Zeal that is not enlightened” (Romans 10:2), a zeal without the wisdom of the Scriptural truth.

In this connection Schilder mentioned the matter of the continued reformation (“doorgaande reformatie”). That was in those days quite a debated issue. The question was: must we have only a Liberated Reformed school, political party, social organization, and so on? Or is it still possible to co-operated with others? As I understand De Reformatie in those days, there was a clear direction in these matters: a positive direction. Just as deformation in the church brings along deformation in educational, political, and social organizations, so will reformation in the church bring along reformation in Christian organizational life. Cooperation with those who had first cast others out of the church was not considered possible by most What I say here one can find also in many a sermon of professor Holwerda.

On the other hand, Schilder and Holwerda also warned against condemning those who were not that far yet, and did not see the need for such a continued reformation for all organizations. In his speech about “Zelus and Zealots,” a summary of which can be found in De Reformatie of October 6, 1951, Schilder made the following remarks:

Let us watch for it that we do not chase the people out of the church by our zealotism. The speaker is afraid of such an attitude. God wants to gather us by His Spirit and Word, and He does not want a LITTLE church that we gather ourselves, a gathering of people who consent together (die “elkaar liggen”), who agree with one another and can comfortably talk with each other. The Church is truly ecumenical, as broad as the world is broad, in which we must honour the gathering work of Christ and with joy and self-denial must accept it. The speaker sees it in this way: when we push away the brother or sister, because they do not agree with us in everything, then we can say: go to a nice little church where you feel better at home, but in reality, we push them away from the Church into hell. We must dare say to one another: man, through the grace of God we both have a place in His Church, and therefore remain here for the sake of the LORD; never run away, for outside is the hell. We must never take a difficult brother’s name from our membership lists and let him go to some “other church,” when we confess that there is no other church. Since we do not acknowledge “church pluriformity” we must not, when dealing with people who are not our type, or with whom we cannot speak eye to eye, seek to profit from what we do not acknowledge for the sake of the confession. The speaker pointed out that he did not want to point the finger at any one in particular, no person, no paper, no group. But there are misunderstandings. And all together we first have to see the church in her broadness, according to our confession, so broad that we dare say: here or to hell. This is where the road to restored soundness starts.

This was the one side. The other side with which Schilder struggled for true peace was the struggle against:


In 1951, a general synod had made a decision in an appeal case, pointed at a solution in a difficult situation. The reaction of the consistory regarding that synodical decision was negative. This hurt the peacemaking Schilder, and this conclusion was that now all the churches were hurting and needy churches, in need of help. His suggestion was: a special synod might be needed to supply that help. In that connection Schilder wrote an article in De Reformatie of February 9, 1952, with the title “Needy Churches”. He stressed the blessing of, and the need for, the federation of the churches. Even up to three times Schilder wrote that Christ gave His life also for the church federation.

Reactions followed. They were negative. One minister wrote that if such a synod was called together he simply would not come, and that work in the congregation came before synodical work. The Press Reviews of the last issues of De Reformatie, namely March 1, 8, 15, and 22, gave Schilder’s reaction against this spirit of individualism and independentism, a spirit that eventually would result in the struggle “Binnen Verband, Buiten Verband” of 1966 and following years. It was, indeed, the struggle of Schilder for peace. Not an independentistic peace, but the peace that accepts the binding to Scripture, to the adopted confession and to the adopted Church Order of the churches. Faithfulness here, that was the basis for peace. That is how Schilder fought, and was pictured by Holwerda. May that peace rule our churches.

J Geertsema