Having been granted 100 years in this earthly life, Rev Pieter van Gurp (born 16 September 1921) entered heavenly paradise 26th November 2021. Some older readers may remember him from the nine years he served the Free Reformed Church of Albany (1955-1964). Younger (middle aged) members may remember the months he helped out the fledgling Free Reformed Church of Bedfordale (now Mt Nasura) in 1989. And anyone aware of reformed church developments in the Netherlands will know that he was an instrument in the LORD’s hand to initiate a new liberation in 2003.
That latest liberation followed years of concerns about deformation in the RCN (GKv) and a host of appeals rejected by successive synods. At the heart of this deformation in the RCN was a new way of interpreting Scripture, the ‘new hermeneutics’, whereby God’s commandments, such as those relating to the Sunday rest (4th commandment) and marriage (7th commandment), were compromised in order to make them more acceptable in today’s world. It wasn’t long before the ‘new hermeneutics’ led to changes in church liturgy (a flood of new hymns), broader use of the sacraments (military pastors could allow outsiders to participate), women in office and appointment of synod committee about allowing homosexuals to be office bearers. Eventually even overseas sister churches concluded that developments in the RCN were unacceptable and broke the ties.
For Rev van Gurp the path to the Liberation of 2003 was a lonely road. In the years leading up to this, he’d had the support of various ministers expressing concerns about the developments in the RCN (GKv). But when it came time to bite the bullet and liberate, these fellow concerned ministers left him in the lurch, broke rank and stayed in the deviating RCN. Their reason? It’s too early to liberate. This must have greatly disappointed Rev van Gurp. However, in the spirit of the lonely prophets of old, he battled on. Eventually some 1500 people liberated themselves with him and formed what is now known as De Gereformeerde Kerken (The Reformed Churches) or DGK.
They were but a small group of churches seeking, as Rev van Gurp said, to be faithful to their Lord and God. Scripture has taught us to expect this smallness, and encourages churches to remain faithful and find their strength in the Word of God. Just consider the beautiful passage wherein the Lord praises that faithful little church amidst the sophisticated cultural city, Philadelphia, because although it had little strength it had kept His Word and not denied His name. Hence He rewarded them with “an open door” so that even some of the enemies, those of the synagogue of Satan, would “come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you” (Rev. 3:8,9). Throughout the ages God has kept His church, though at times it was very small, as pillar and ground of the truth. May He keep the DGK and ‘our’ churches faithful to Him and His Word.
Those of us who experienced Rev van Gurp here in Australia found him friendly, helpful (also in understanding Church Order and doctrinal matters), and a gifted preacher of Christ-centred, historical-redemptive sermons. His sermons spoke of the greatness and might of the LORD, of His covenant righteousness, love and grace. All this is not surprising since he had studied for the ministry at the Kampen Theological Seminary under such distinguished professors as K Schilder, S Greijdanus and B Holwerda. He’d also experienced the struggle against Kuyper’s dangerous theories about pluriformity of the church and common grace, and had learned to see the golden line of the antithesis (Gen. 3:15 and Rev. 12) running through history. That was reflected in his preaching and teaching.
Back in the early migrant years, when he was Albany’s minister, he was a great help in seeing the dangers of membership of the secular trade unions. When church members consequently became aware of the godless principles underpinning these unions, and resisted union membership leading to some very public news media reports in the Perth metro area, Rev van Gurp helped give Scriptural direction to the congregation and representation to the government.
He was also appreciated because church members knew where they stood with him. The Word of God was shown by him to be so rich in covenantal comfort, but it also spoke of what was right and wrong, and it was that Word that Rev van Gurp presented as giving clear direction for life with and in the service of the triune God. Reformed Education, of the establishment of our ‘own’ school and other organisations, was also encouraged. They were also seen as fruit of the Liberation of 1944 when the RCN members broke with schools and other ‘interchurch’ institutions that fostered pluriformity of the church.
Having officially retired in 1986, Rev van Gurp remained very active. As EIC of a magazine, Reformanda, he wrote on many topics relating to church life. He continually sought to provide Scriptural direction and to warn against unreformed views that relativised what God had said and commanded, or that undermined what we confessed in the Three Forms of Unity. And then, of course, there was huge activity and dedication in that battle for the truth, and the related tensions, that led to the Liberation of 2003. He remained alert and active till the end. (A short interview with him about events leading to the Liberation of 2003 was published on this website just a couple of years ago.)[i]
Did we always agree with him? There were perhaps reasons to question his enthusiastic involvement in ‘interdenominational’ MERF with its lack of accountability. Likewise, his view that the Westminster Confession is a wholly reformed confession has certainly been challenged, and for good reasons. Perhaps also the fact that the DGK remained a disappointingly small bond of churches led to an insufficiently critical discernment in pursuing church unity with others who left the RCN but who, instead of joining the DGK, established separated churches.
But it’s easier to be critical from afar than to be in his position. Indeed, such perceived ‘faults’ fade in comparison with the theologically sound direction he constantly sought to convey. Moreover, in terms of his prodigious energy and activity in the service of His Master, we’d have to admit that most of us couldn’t stand in his shadow.
And now he has finished the race and entered into the joy of the Lord. The churches in the Netherlands, and we here, have reason to be thankful for what the Lord, the great Shepherd of His sheep, has given to them and us in and through this under-shepherd of the sheep. In God’s strength he sought to lead God’s people in the reformed pastures of God’s Word, to the honour and praise of our Lord and Saviour who, through the way of the cross that stands as the centre of history, gave salvation to us, His people.
Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them” (Revelation 14:12-13 NKJV).