A recent speech by Rev Moesker was published on this website in a series of articles titled “Are we following the Decline in the RCN?”. On the 15th May, Br H Ballast held an introduction at a combined men’s club on the same subject in which he traces some of the background to the developments in the RCN. Knowing that “those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it” I pass this on for our instruction.
The RCN: from deformation to Liberation to deformation 1
To find out whether we are following the RCN we need to know two things: first we need to understand thoroughly the developments as they took place in the RCN since 1944 and how these developments arrived at the situation as described by Rev Moesker and, second, we need to do the same for the history of the FRCA, understand our own history, and then see if there are parallels, similarities, clues which possibly could help us map out a course of possible developments in our churches.
Obviously, this is a big task and we are not going to get this done and dusted tonight. Nevertheless, I believe this to be a very worthwhile exercise. It is good to sit back and look at the bigger picture and ask some probing questions: What changes have taken place over time? What are weak points? Strong points? Possible dangers? What are differences between us and the RCN? What are similarities? Recognising winds of change must urge us to become pro-active and, if need be to, re-set our direction. How do we manage current developments in such a way that they serve and promote true faithfulness and do not lead to luke-warmness and deformation?
Rev Moesker’s speech focusses mainly on the developments of the last 20 years as he evaluates the changes happening in our Canadian sister churches. He mentions issues such as woman in office, changes in liturgy, worldliness, ecumenicity of the heart, open supper table, new hermeneutics, etc.
My contribution to this subject is a brief overview of the history of the RCN before and since the Liberation in 1944. I believe that the recent developments within the RCN about which Rev Moesker writes, must be evaluated within their historical context. We need to understand what caused these changed to take effect. So, let’s take a step back in history.
It is August 1944, the war against the Third Reich is still in full swing. The Germans are moving into panic mode and become more oppressive and brutal, as the allied forces further close in. During this physical war with guns and bullets, another terrible war is being fought within the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. A war about doctrines, church-order violations and synod decisions. The Synod of Utrecht had suspended Prof Greijdanus and deposed Prof K Schilder, two faithful theologians at the theological college. Synod then asked the churches to ask the Lord for a blessing over this unscriptural action!
During this political and ecclesiastical turmoil, a meeting was organised for Friday the 11th of August 1944 in the city of The Hague. Telegrams were sent out and people invited to attend. The purpose of this meeting was to formulate a response to these latest synod decisions. This Friday the 11th of August be
came a historical day for the churches. The Lutheran church was full to the brim. Despite poor public transport facilities, due to the ongoing war, people somehow managed to get to The Hague. The turnout was far above expectations.
The chairman of the meeting was Rev Herman Knoop. This is the same Rev Knoop who spent two-years in the notorious concentration camp in Dachau because he’d had the boldness to pray for Queen Wilhelmina…. The Gestapo judged him to be a political activist because of that.
Rev Knoop opened the meeting and then moved on to present an overview of the then current ecclesiastical situation, including an evaluation of general church life of the past 40 pre-war years. How come there was so much tension and disagreement on basic doctrinal, confessional issues? What were the causes of this serious decline and deformation in the churches?
The spiritual decline
It is tempting to quote extensively from his speech but allow me to paraphrase the following observations as to why, according to Rev Knoop, this spiritual decline happened:
- First, looking back, he noted that within the churches there was a spirit of ‘having arrived’. There was an air of satisfaction about the accomplishments over the years, accomplishments in political, social and church life. In those years the church had quite some influence on the Dutch political and social processes. The total membership was around the 685000. There were 775 Reformed churches and 850 ministers. The churches were large as well: Amsterdam had 18500 members and 8 ministers. The city Groningen had 14400 members and Scheveningen had some 8200 members with 5 ministers. The average size of the congregations throughout the country was 750 members. In total these churches made up 8-9 percent of the Dutch population. Altogether, enough to know that the Reformed Churches played an important role in the life of the Dutch people. However, over the years this conglomerate of Reformed Churches had become dull and tired. The zeal and enthusiasm had dwindled. Members just went through the motions, being kept sedated by scholastic orthodoxy. The emphasis shifted from Christ the Saviour to an emphasis on the self and the achievements: our church, our school, our Free University, our political party, our science…
- The second observation Rev Knoop listed was a lack of eschatological awareness. The emphasis in church life was on the here and now, they failed to place life, which is but short, within the perspective of eternity: an eternity of heaven or hell. This robbed life of a sense of urgency and deep seriousness. The gift of the redemptive power of Christ’s sacrifice was overshadowed by a spirit of activism focussed on the comforts of the day.
- His third observation was the lack of persecution. Life was good. Carrying the cross for Christ’s sake was not a painful daily experience. There was no penalty for a half-hearted commitment and cutting spiritual corners; bad choices had little or no consequences. In the realm of freedom there was much tolerance. Persecution for the sake of the gospel was never on anyone’s mind. All this fostered a spirit of worldliness and lukewarmness in the churches.
- Then there was the influence of materialism which contributed to wholesale deformation. Finances were often the most important topics at meetings. There was a striving for earthly possessions which occupied the minds and discussions of the church people. It created its own peer pressures with a very damaging impact on the spiritual life of the members.
Thus far some of Rev. Knoop’s. observations.
(to be continued)