During the World War 2, while Prof. Klaas Schilder was in hiding from the Nazis seeking to arrest him, a synod was in the process of condemning his teachings without him being able to defend himself. Meanwhile, his theological students could see the writing on the wall: the synod would suspend and depose their beloved teacher. Perhaps there would be a schism with all the misery associated with that. And if these students sided with Prof. Schilder, they knew that the future looked very bleak for them. Should they simply do what was right, despite the likely consequences? Would that be acting responsibly? Rev. F.J.Bijzet recently wrote an article about this, saying: [i]
“Which side should they choose? If they had the courage to go against the synod, would there still be a future for them as pastors? Most of the local churches that would break away from the church would probably do so under the vigorous leadership of their own pastor. Would there still be vacant churches that would extend a call to them?”
Since it was impossible to discuss such burning questions face to face because Schilder was in hiding, a few students submitted their difficulties to Schilder in writing. Somehow their letter found Schilder, and he replied likewise in writing. What Schilder wrote is of benefit to us, too; indeed, we may be thankful to the Lord of the Church for guiding things in such a way that also today we can read that answer. And we can learn from it in relation to our church struggle, said Bijzet, in which GKv members are also faced with the need to make radical choices.
The most important advice Schilder gave his students was:
“Not to be afraid, not to be a ‘deiloi’ (the Greek word for cowards; see Revelation 21:8) . . . And above all: not to make standing up for justice and truth dependent on possible consequences. In worldly tactics, the rule is: don’t start unless you’re sure of success. In church, I have heard the same method defended. But Scripture teaches us differently. If we make the struggle for law and order and truth dependent on what we fear might happen—standing alone, or what people might say about you, etc.—then we have forsaken the foundation on which God wants us to stand. And that will lead to decay in the church.”
Schilder also applied this to himself: “If I stopped fighting now for fear of official difficulties, I would leave the foundation which God gives every doer of his will to adhere to, namely that of simply obeying the commandment, for only in this way can one face the future through faith. The commandment does not say: start only when your success is assured, but it says: act according to the law, and if necessary, then willingly take up your cross.” And so Schilder summed up his advice again: “Don’t look at the consequences, if I may advise you.“
Today, says Rev. Bijzet, many in the GKv face a similar choice as Schilder’s students did then. To be sure, there is no threat of suspensions and impeachment. Indeed, everyone can do as he likes; for there is a process going on which calls into question the reliability and normative character of the directives in God’s Word. Opposing views are now permitted to coexist, as long as one appeals to his or her interpretation of the Bible. The binding of all ministers to common confessional writings, intended to guard unity in the faith, has been abandoned. In fact, so openly has the Reformed path been abandoned that the GKv’s foreign sister churches, meeting in the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC), decided with only one abstention to consider the GKv as no longer being member churches.
I know of many concerned, yes, troubled church members within the GKv, said Bijzet. Can they, should they continue in the GKv? Must they now withdraw? How human it is to think about the consequences, he added:
Will you still get your growing children to leave with you? What will your relatives think? Inevitably you will find yourself separated from brothers and sisters with whom you had developed warm relationships for years in the same congregation. What kind of church will you end up in when you withdraw? Just a small group, in a lacklustre building? And if you are a minister in active service and know that you will not get (most of) your congregation to come with you when you leave the GKv, will you still be able to work in a new congregation, in that other church? Will that church federation be able to support you financially?
And so there are undoubtedly more questions regarding the possible consequences. But then, says Bijzet, I also say today with Schilder: “Do not look at future consequences, if I may advise you!”
In his advice, Schilder clearly alluded to the phrase of Rev. Hendrik de Cock, the first pastor who with his church council separated from the Dutch Reformed (state) Church in Ulrum in 1834. He too, says Bijzet, faced an extremely difficult choice. Their Secession would result in them losing their church building – owned by the Dutch Reformed (state) Church. The De Cock family would have to leave the manse. And they could not have known at that time in Ulrum that shortly after their act of faith, seceded congregations would spring up like mushrooms all over the Netherlands and would unite to form a new church federation. All Rev. De Cock knew was this: I must look to God’s command and be blind to the consequences. And so he went down onto his knees, with his congregation, literally(!), and broke ties with the Dutch Reformed (state) Church.
The beauty of Schilder’s advice to his students, says Bijzet, is that Schilder alluded to this attitude of faith of De Cock, but also adapted De Cock’s motto. Where De Cock said that you must look at the commandment and be blind to the future, Schilder made of this: be obedient to the commandment, “because only in this way can one see through faith into the future “. In other words, those who go the way of faith, the way of God’s commandments, do not face an impregnable wall. No, God always keeps a door open to the future for them.
Rev. Bijzet wrote his article for the hesitant GKv members; and it is to be hoped that many will be moved by the Spirit to heed this Scriptural directive. But of course, this Scriptural advice is a maxim for all of life. Daniel’s three friends applied it by refusing to bow to the golden statue, though they knew the fiery furnace awaited them. Daniel applied it by continuing to pray to God, though he knew the lions’ den awaited him. Faithful prophets and other martyrs have applied it and now enjoy paradise. Luther applied it when, at the Diet of Worms, he refused to take back his words, saying: “Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.” Reformed ministers in WW2 ended up in Dachau for continuing to declare the truth from the pulpit; they were welcomed into heavenly glory. And we, ‘ordinary’ church members, are faced with the need to do and speak what is right before the face of our great and holy God, in so many ways, irrespective of the consequences. May God graciously strengthen us to do so, regardless of the fallout, trusting that God opens doorways to the future He prepares for us.
[i] Rev. F. J. Bijzet, “Niet op de gevolgen zien, als ik U raden mag”, Eeninwaarheid, 8-4-2023. Quotes translated by Jelte Numan.