In the preservation of His church our Lord Jesus Christ, who not only gathers but also defends and preserves His church, has from time-to-time moved certain men as instruments in His hand to save His people from false doctrine and lead them back to the Truth of God’s Word and the reformation of His church—men such as Augustine, Luther and Calvin. Their battles were not with physical weapons but with the Word of the Spirit. To that category belongs Klaas Schilder, who was taken up into glory 23rd March 1952 (today 70 years ago), and deposed from office precisely eight years earlier (23rd March 1944). Schilder’s deep love and respect for God and His Word led him to use the power of speech and print to fight against deviation from God’s Word. This involved great self-denial, a crucifying of the flesh, a taking up of the cross in order to follow his Lord and Saviour even at the cost of his position as professor at the Theological University at Kampen; even in the face of imprisonment and death. We do well to remember with gratitude to Christ, the Head of the church, His gift of this man as Christ’s instrument for the Truth and hence for the preservation of Christ’s church. What follows is based on an article by Prof. C Veenhof. [i]
Schilder was born in 1890 and grew up a pauper. He had a great respect for his widowed mother as she struggled to eke out an existence for her son and herself. His career involved, for a while, work as a messenger boy but his teacher had detected in him some sparks of academic ability and stimulated someone to finance his further schooling. His insatiable hunger for knowledge led him to devour the great classics – Goethe, Dante, Nietzsche, Schleiermacher, Kierkegaard and other thinkers. He waded through them as if in a dream world. Although he was a faithful member of the church of his widowed mother, he tasted the godless but inspirational views of the world’s thinkers. Had it not been for the Spirit of God, who led him to become a minister of the Word, Schilder could have joined their ranks as a demonic force in the world because he had a brilliant mind.
However, evidently God planned to use Schilder in the difficult yet beautiful work of serving Christ’s church and kingdom. Just as Christ showed Paul how much he must suffer for the cause of Christ, so Schilder had to suffer much for the cause of Christ. But it was a suffering with the joy and inner peace of mind that comes with knowing that his struggle was for the sake of the Truth, God’s Word, and therefore the cause of God. He grasped the deep significance of texts such as Mt 5:37: “Let your yes be yes and your no, no. Anything beyond that is of the devil”; and Mt 19:12 which calls you to let all the room in your heart and life be reserved for God alone. And especially those simple, powerful words of Micha 6:8: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice and to love faithfulness and to walk humbly with your God.” These and other texts led him, already as a 22-year-old minister, to conclude: God commands; we may not disobey! Our hearts compel us; we do not want to disobey.
As a young minister Schilder had a deep respect for the church leaders and felt like a green newcomer. Slowly but surely however his eyes were opened to things in the bond of churches that were not right, not true, not just. At first he saw them as foolish mistakes but soon came to the bitter realisation that they were symptoms of a destructive deformation. This bothered him greatly and his letters attest to how much sorrow this caused him. Diplomacy, tactics, manipulations and the shunning of those who didn’t toe the line—these all grieved him deeply. It bothered him when information was suppressed and only selective details were presented in order to promote a particular position.
He was unwilling to ‘play the game’, to support organisations that tolerated the lie, to engage in speculations about church pluriformity, or permit growing worldliness by adopting common grace theories and all that undermined a life according to the full Word of God, a living out of God’s grace and according to His Law. With an amazing clarity he saw through the human constructions and unmasked them in order to turn the decline and to return to the beauty of God’s Word and church and the true service of the Lord.
In all things he struggled to be pure, honest and upright before God and the people. He was aware that in the struggle it was not just a matter of what one pursued but also how one does it. He perceived, already in his first years as minister, that things don’t just go wrong when there are heresies but particularly through the absence of a pure, Scriptural lifestyle, through the falling away and disappearance of a sober, practical godliness. And he fought not to be found wanting in that regard. He did not look for battle but did not try to avoid it either.
The Germans invaded Holland during WW2 and what’s worse introduced their idolatry. Schilder had seen it coming, having studied for his doctorate in Germany, and seen firsthand the way this demonic spirit infected the youth. He had lived and worked close to Nuremberg, the centre of Marxist mass-infection and had the courage to speak to a large audience of students who listened with bated breath to his warnings. And when the Germans invaded Holland in May 1940 he was ready with his weapon, his pen, and acted in accordance with what God required of him. After all, God had not given him a magazine and pen for nothing.
Many were awed by his daring or some no doubt saw it as bravado, but Schilder had implored God to grant him to remain a faithful servant of God in those dark and fearful times. That is why the worst and most bitter thing one could do to a man such as Schilder came upon him. He loved the church of his Lord so very dearly and was prepared to sacrifice everything, even his life, for her. All his talents had been devoted to her glory and purity and holiness. And then, during those dark years of the war when he had been sought by the Nazis and forced into hiding, the synod declared him to be a violator of God’s commandments, suspended him (23rd March 1944 – eight years to the day before his death!) and then stripped him of his positions in the churches in which and for which he had never wanted to be anything but a humble servant.
No one can imagine the torturous effect this synodical action had on Schilder; for this had been done to him by those same men who had sat with him at the table of the Lord, eating the one bread and drinking the one wine with him. It was done to him by men to whom he had never been unfaithful, never dishonest or untrue. It was done to him by those who canonised an ungodly view called presumptive regeneration. Yet at the time when everything was so dark for him, Schilder clung to the knowledge that one is blessed only when one holds fast to the Word of God and places his trust in nothing and no one but God alone. And therefore the deepest valley in his life was simultaneously the pinnacle of his life.
Schilder was attacked because his emphasis on upholding the truth of Scripture and confessions posed a threat to the ideological programmes his opponents were pursuing. By exposing Kuyper’s ideas about ‘pluriformity’ and ‘invisible church’ as unscriptural and unconfessional, the false unity promoted by his opponents was hampered. For example, Prof H H Kuyper (who defended Abraham Kuyper’s wrong ideas and who remained in the ‘synodical churches’) claimed that it was wrong to speak of the ‘true church’, for then we could no longer work to become closer to other churches, since, strictly speaking, there would then be no other churches. Such thinking (H H Kuyper felt) represented a shattering of the ‘catholicity of the church’. Schilder called people back to a true unity based on article 28 BCF, that same true unity that had once motivated the fathers of the Secession to depart from the false church. But it was a unity that no longer impressed those who were prepared to sacrifice the truth for a broader unity.[ii]
The Lord graciously liberated us from the wrong synodical actions and teachings and we here in Australia share in the blessings of Christ’s work of gathering, defending and preserving His church. We have much reason to thank the Lord for what He gave us in and through this faithful defender of the truth and, hence, promoter of the glory of the Lord and the wellbeing of his church. Let’s not neglect to be acquainted with and appreciative of the great deeds of the Lord through the history of his church-gathering work. And let’s avail ourselves of the material faithful men have left us. Some of Schilder’s works have been translated into English and reflect a profound insight into Scripture. It would be remiss of us, today, to neglect this rich inheritance. May the Lord continue to work in us all that same love for Him, for the truth of His Word as His churches, by His grace, have learned to confess it, and for His on-going church-gathering work in the truth.
[i] Prof C Veenhof, “Schilder – de strijder” in an In Memoriam issue of De Reformatie, 29th Mar & 5th Apr 1952. Veenhof was one of Schilder’s colleagues in the Theological Seminary in Kampen, the Netherlands, following the Church Liberation of 1944.
[ii] C Trimp, De Reformatie, 30 October 1993, and translated in Clarion 4-11-94 p. 517.