The late Rev D vanDijk, who gave good leadership during the critical events at the time of the church liberation of 1944, was not someone to beat about the bush. He gave straight, principled answers on a variety of subjects. In 1981, a time when there was a new push to engage in social and political action with Christians who were not members of the (true) church, he was interviewed about his position on this. What follows are his responses to the interview questions.[i]
Elsewhere in the world people have a far broader view of the church. Isn’t the reformed view, as held by your [RCN][ii] churches, too restrictive?
Admittedly, we are but a small group in the world, but Scripture has foretold that. Our strength, however, is the Word. We can do no more than proclaim that Word. It is God who, through the ages, has upheld His church. In the Old Testament it was the people of Israel and now it’s the church with its offices and services and sacraments.The church is the pillar and foundation of the truth. God’s revelation has been entrusted to the church and she must take care of it. That is why the church is so important and that is why it is so dangerous when people engage in practices that undermine the church.
That is why I object to the EO [an ecumenical broadcaster of people from various churches]. The spirit of the EO undermines the church, which we must keep pure. Pure, small. It makes me think of that beautiful text in Revelation: I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my Word …
That text grabs me. It’s striking that Christ says this to that little church in that sophisticated cultural city Philadelphia. The Jews there were very antagonistic towards Christ. Then Jesus, the glorified Saviour, says to that small congregation: “you have but little power, and yet you have kept my Word”. And then He gives this promise: I have set before you an open door so that those antagonistic Jews will come and bow down before your feet. Yes, we are but a small group in the world, small in church, small in our political activities. But the important thing is: “you have kept My Word”. That’s the crucial element.
Does that mean you can’t work together with other Christians?
Working together implies a basic unity: a standing together on a common foundation. When that common foundation [of unity in the truth] is not there, you let go of the absolutes and are in danger of going the wrong way. You’ve seen how that goes in practice.
How far do you go in your personal contacts with Christians from other churches?
I have no contact with them, except perhaps for a few acquaintances. Not officially, in any case. This is also because I am a minister and as such don’t meet a lot of other people. I am very much afraid of cooperating in politics and in trade associations with Christians with whom you are not united as church.
So, you can only have contact with Christians who have found the right view of the church by liberating themselves [from the false church]?
Yes, I am very hesitant. Prof. J Douma, writing about isolationism,[iii] mentioned the example of a Hervormde[iv]consistory that had asked one of our consistories to join them in addressing the Government about the evil of abortion.
However, when you start with that kind of thing, you give the impression that, when it comes to political issues, church membership is not important. Yet it is important. As a result of the preaching in such an unfaithful church, and the views they hold, you run the risk that the wrong views they hold poison the political activity.
When it comes to fighting a great evil such as abortion, shouldn’t we mobilise all the forces we can? If you always give priority to the church, don’t you let the church govern too much? That’s what Rome does.
No, I do not let the church govern. But I want those who engage in political and social actions to be taught from the one pulpit. If that does not happen, you will always face the danger that wrong ideas will govern the action… We are small, and I believe that we should never seek power or try to increase our influence by letting go of the view that life can only be governed properly when the people are all governed by the pure preaching.
But can’t you find that pure preaching in some local Hervormde [v] churches?
No, because in none of those churches will you find preaching about the church that is in accordance with Scripture and confession.You must let Scripture completely govern all of life. I don’t want a church political party, as some people mischievously claim. A political party is independent of the church, but its members must be taught from one pulpit [that is, by the true preaching]. Those members can then talk to each other, if there is a difference of opinion, in order to come to agreement in the light of Scripture. The church is not there to create an association or to maintain an organization. The church proclaims the Word, and I must live in accordance with that Word. If I am a shoemaker, and I make a mess of things, and Consistory finds out, then it must reprimand me. And if I do not act well in politics, then the church should speak to me about it and admonish me.
It is hard to pinpoint some of the things I’ve had to contend with in relation to these matters, but I do know that it has always been my desire to be principled in these matters. To be faithful to the Church Order but also and especially to the Confession. Deviation from the Confession almost always leads to wrong views in every area of life. That’s why I’m so afraid of associating with Christians of other churches in a united political party. History has shown where that leads. Just look at what’s happening in the CDA[vi] – no backbone; rubbing out the boundaries for pragmatic purposes. Look at the abortion legislation. They’ve deviated so far as to be united in one party with Roman Catholics… You can never expect them to be principled, not even in practical politics. It’s impossible.
Now it is said that the differences between GPV[vii] and RPF[viii] or SGP[ix] [‘reformed’political parties] are marginal, and only relate to matters of the church. We have 90% agreement but differ on the matter of the church.
Yes, but that’s not right. This spirit [of restricting the faith to some ‘essentials’] is indeed very strong today. Take, for example, everything that is adorned with the name ‘evangelical’. I recently heard the claim that anyone who said they loved Jesus could join the RPF. Look, thereby one reduces the Word to a single sentence. You come across that evangelical idea everywhere nowadays. It boils down to the view that as long as you believe that Jesus is your saviour you can still work together, irrespective of the differences.
But that is not right. You can’t just pick and choose what you like from Scripture and turn that into the “cream of the gospel” … That narrowing of the gospel also occurs when you join forces for political purposes. Basically you become one party.
If you participate in the work in the House of Representatives, that is in itself a form of cooperation, and, if you ever want to carry governmental responsibility, then you will have to work together. According to your point of view, you would have to conclude: I can only witness.
If a bill which you do not object to is tabled in the House, then of course you can vote for it. Then you stay independent of each other. But if you are going to work together [with Christians who don’t belong to the true church] in one party you will let go of the full Word of God. That will always lead to a weakening of what you stand for. It is possible that a parliamentarian who holds to a different world view considers all the angles of an issue and comes to the same conclusion we do, and of course you can support such a conclusion.
But surely that also applies to the RPF. It has pretty much the same election programme as the GPV [a faithful reformed political party at that time, established by RCN members].
But then you are not there yet. When it comes down to it, a certain part of the Word is torn out of context, and you will find that in practice that will happen time and again. Scripture is not only given to us to point the way to heaven but it also shows us the way in which we are to walk in all things, including in politics.
But is that evident in politics?
Yes, you will see that it applies also in politics. One can take a position about a particular issue in a party like the RPF, which has as its members Christians from different religious bodies, yet the preaching these Christians hear and the sphere in which they operate is always going to influence their views. That can stand in the way of making principled decisions. It can go well for a time, but in the long run you will always get a weakening and devaluing of principles.
I do not want to detach church and politics from each other. I go to church to be taught there and to be guided in everything that happens in life and in what we are called to do in life. If you hear a different sort of preaching, you may think: Well, in some respects it is similar to what you hear elsewhere. However, really it is not the same revelation of God. Take for example the social field: I can imagine that at some point a secular labour party, or even a communist, proposes something that I say is good. But that doesn’t mean I can be a member of such a party… Failure to accept the whole Scripture will influence all you do, your whole outlook on life.
I understand those who defend working together with outsiders. If you agree on certain points and, by joining together in one political party, you can possibly get someone into parliament who will defend that point on which you agree, then you feel you have achieved something. I can understand that sort of reasoning. I respect such people, but I say: no. If you start going in that direction you will leave the right path. Let us rather remain small and continue to persevere in the faithful service of the Lord…
When it comes to such issues as, for example, the fight against abortion, can you not say: We are going – temporarily– to work together for this particular purpose in order to ward off that great evil? You would then achieve more than by withdrawing and isolating yourself.
We have, in our own way, always protested against abortion.There have also always been unbelievers who were against it, and I think many still are. But that does not mean that I will join their organisation.
Allow me to give another example: I am very much afraid of joining in with public demonstrations. If believers and unbelievers unite in such a demonstration against abortion you find that different people have different reasons for disliking abortion.
In general, I don’t like demonstrations. They do not seem to me to belong in a well-ordered society. We have our elected representatives and they speak on behalf of the people. So why do you need to go down the street with a big mob of people? And besides, what does it serve? Do you really think the government is going to be influenced because a bunch of people are walking together on the street? Partaking in such demonstrations brings you into the field of revolution, because then it is no longer the God-ordained government that is ruling but the people themselves. I find that very dangerous. I do not believe that I will ever join in such a demonstration. You will find me a weird guy, I know. I hope to persevere in this principle: keep the Church pure and let the pure Word proclaimed there direct all of life.
Keeping the church pure, does that depend on people?
The church was planted by Christ himself, but the members of that church were instructed to preserve that church. Christ has made the church a pillar and foundation of truth. “What advantage has the Jew?” says Paul. “First, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.” In that vast world of people in Old Testament times there is a little nation to whom God gives the glorious Scripture, His revelation. You can believe it or not, but that is what is written there. So, God has entrusted His Word to the church. And that church must keep that Word pure and proclaim the Word and confess it in all kinds of ways in the world. Oh, I see the task of the church as being so great; such a small church — I see in that the wonder of God. Let us be grateful for what we have received in the church and for what we have in politics. And therefore, continue to work enthusiastically!
[i] That interview, which also covered matters not presented in this article, was published, in Dutch, in a book titled Rechte lijnen trekken (Sticking to the principles) in 1981. Where expedient, I (JN) have summarised in order to provide greater clarity. For brevity’s sake, I’ve also deleted segments that I did not consider so pertinent.
[ii] RCN: Reformed Churches of the Netherlands (GKv). At that time, they were still true churches.
[iii] In a book Het vuur blijft branden [The fire keeps burning], a book about the history of the RCN and its activities.
[iv] Dutch ‘reformed’ state church
[v] Dutch ‘reformed’ state church
[vi] CDA – a confederation of the Catholic People’s Party, the Anti-Revolutionary Party and the Christian Historical Union.