In their report to Synod Baldivis 2015[i], Deputies for Sister Relations submitted two alternative recommendations in relation to the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands (RCN): Alternative 1 was for the FRCA to discontinue the sister relations with the RCN; Alternative 2 was to suspend the sister relations with the RCN. Initial discussions at Synod indicated a general recognition that a strong stand needed to be taken. This was in line with overtures from a number of churches which urged synod to terminate the sister relations with the RCN. After several rounds of discussion the chairman asked the delegates for an indication whether to go in the direction of Deputies’ proposal Alternative 1 (discontinue sister relations with the RCN) or whether to go in the direction of Alternative 2 (suspend sister relations). Eight delegates voted to go in the direction of Alternative 1 whilst 10 favoured the direction of Alternative 2. Thus by a small majority a strong stand, one that would send a powerful message to both the RCN as bond of churches and to the RCN membership, was exchanged for a softer option – suspension – and even this was, during the course of the discussions, substantially softened.
Having chosen to go in the direction of the softer option, Synod appointed a committee to develop and submit a suitable proposal. In recognition that almost half the delegates had voted to discontinue the sister relations with the RCN, the committee was directed to keep the voting in mind, which it did, and therefore initially proposed that during the time of suspension there was to be, a.o.:
- no visiting RCN ministers preaching in our federation, and
- no RCN minister to be called without prior approval of classis, and
- no acceptance of attestations from or issuing of attestations to the RCN, and
- no continuation of sister relations if the next RCN synod in 2017 fails to express and demonstrate repentance from the deviations in the our 2012 letter of admonition.
However, several rounds of discussion saw this committee proposal steadily softened.
The word suspend means “to debar temporarily especially from a privilege, office, or function” (Webster). Suspending a student from school means the student can’t attend school during the period of suspension. Likewise, to suspend an office bearer means the office bearer may not exercise his office during the period of suspension. Indeed, as mentioned by a deputy at synod, this is the comparison deputies had in mind. So one would think that if we suspend a sister relationship with the RCN it would mean that the sister relationship was on hold and, to all practical intents, not functioning. In the course of debate, Synod determined that this was now true only to a very limited degree.
For example, one would expect that a suspended sister church relationship with the RCN would mean that the FRCA does not accept and issue attestations from those coming from and going to the RCN. But the decision now is: “To accept attestations only from those members of the RCN whom the consistory is convinced are faithful in doctrine and conduct, and to issue attestations to the RCN with due care.” In essence this is little different to the decision of Synod 2012 which advised FRCA consistories “to exercise due care with respect to their responsibilities towards those coming from and going to the RCN” (Acts 2012, Art. 142.I.3). Synod’s decision states that visiting RCN ministers may not preach in our pulpits; but since we seldom, if ever, have RCN ministers preach in FRCA churches this is hardly of any practical consequence. As for calling RCN ministers to serve in the FRCA, Synod’s decision ensures that this can still be done provided the call is approved by classis. Moreover, it has decided that “delegates from the RCN will be invited to attend our next synod and be accorded the privileges as per Rules for Synod 6.2” which means that instead of sitting at our synod’s table as sister church representatives they sit as members of churches with whom we have temporary ecclesiastical contact, though in effect there is little difference.
Despite talk of having taken “a big step” one is left wondering just how big, in practical terms, it really is. Perhaps its main potency lies in the decision of Synod to send a letter to the next RCN synod (with a copy and letter to all the RCN churches) informing it of this ‘suspension’ along with the final call to repent so that if there is no change by the time of our next synod our relationship with the RCN will “become untenable”. One is also left wondering whether the decision adequately safeguards the FRCA congregations from negative RCN influences.
It seems most regrettable that the favoured “Proposal 1” in the Deputies Report (to discontinue the sister relations with the RCN) was not adopted. In 2012 several FRCA churches urged Synod Legana 2012 to break sister relations with the RCN because, despite the concerns raised by the FRCA, the RCN continued to deviate from Scripture. Synod Legana 2012 responded to these churches: “Synod cannot decide now to terminate the sister church relationship with the RCN since we first need to know what the response of the RCN will be” (Acts of Synod 2012, Art. 142, ground 8b). Well, we now know what the RCN response was: it has flatly rejected the FRCA admonitions! Hence one would think that, in view of previous synod’s response to those churches urging synod to terminate the relations, Synod 2015 would now do so.
How long must we continue to point out their errors before taking affirmative action to break?
- For well over a decade there have been many appeals to successive RCN synods from among RCN members.
- A number of people, having exhausted the church orderly route, liberated themselves from the wrong teachings in 2003 and formed a bond of churches now known as the DGK.
- Subsequently more ministers (Hoogendoorn, van der Wolf, Heres) and other church members have left the RCN.
- We have repeatedly, synod after synod, expressed concerns via deputies—to no avail. In 2009 we exhorted them and in 2012 sent an official admonition directly to their synod, and we now have their blunt answer.
- Ongoing appeals from among themselves—including public appeals from websites such as “eeninwaarheid” and that of Dr Douma who recently left the RCN—appear to have had no effect. Even the warnings of the ‘synodical’ historian Dr G. Dekker, who on the basis of his research (correctly, as it turned out) predicted decades ago that the RCN would follow the ‘synodicals’ down the path of deformation, seem to have fallen on deaf ears.
Really, given past reactions to our admonitions and many concerns expressed over the years, and to comments by RCN delegates to our synods about not identifying with our views, do we have reason to think that the RCN may yet change their mind? Recent remarks by Rev M. Oosterhuis, general secretary of the RCN Deputies Churches Abroad, give further reason to question this. Responding to our decision to ‘suspend’ relations he replied that the objections of the FRCA have been emphatically judged, weighed and rejected. He doesn’t think, therefore, that their next RCN synod will change its position, adding that we have spoken “hard words” about their university’s chosen path and that a break is inevitable unless there is a change from FRCA side.[ii]
It is further regrettable that, even when the softer option to go in the direction of suspending relations was chosen, the wording of Deputies’ “Alternative 2” proposal was not adopted but was replaced by a proposal of a Synod Committee which, in the course of the discussion, and despite attempts by some delegates to rescue the intent of the proposed suspension, was softened to such an extent that its ineffectiveness was virtually assured and the relationship, albeit with a few ‘safeguards’, in essence continues. Can this really be pleasing to God, who seeks unity in the Spirit (Eph 4:3); that is, the Spirit who authored the Word which He has given as the only basis for true unity? Did not Jesus pray for a unity in the truth when He said: “Sanctify them in Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17)?
Previously the FRCA have shown the RCN over and over how they are deviating from the truth of God’s Word. Is it then not displeasing and offensive to the LORD for us to continue some sort of bond with the RCN when they have for more than a decade tolerated and sought to justify – despite all the appeals, expressions of concern and admonitions – the ongoing departure “in important ways from the Reformed faith in doctrine, church polity, discipline and liturgy”? Would not those FRCA congregations looking to their Synod to uphold the principle of unity in the truth of God’s Word, by breaking the sister church relationship with a federation of churches which alters the Word of God to suit time and culture, have reason to feel that Synod has let them down?
Apart from Synod’s responsibility to safeguard the FRCA bond from wrong influences and to reject those churches that despite warnings do not govern themselves according to the pure Word of God, there is the responsibility to express unity with those churches which clearly show a desire to submit completely to the authority of God’s Word. If Synod had adopted Proposal 1 of Deputies the way would have been open for pursuing sister relations with the DGK, a small bond of churches whose members, in their desire to submit in all humility to the authority of God’s Word alone, courageously broke with the RCN on the basis of the same objections to the RCN’s deviations that our churches have voiced. In a letter to Synod Baldivis, the FRC Byford (one of the congregations which urged Synod to terminate relations between the FRCA and RCN) wrote to Synod the following: “It is the opinion of the FRC Byford’s consistory that after the termination of a sister-church relationship with the RCN, the FRCA ought to seek a sister-church relationship with DGK and duly urges Synod Baldivis to provide the Deputies for sister church relationships with the following mandate: a. To seek the possibility of entering into a sister-relationship with DGK as the legal continuation of the RCN, reporting back to the next synod in regards to this possibility…”. Synod’s rejection of Proposal 1 prevented this request, too, from being pursued.
Are we not guilty of leaving in the lurch those Dutch brothers and sisters whose small bond of DGK churches are in much need of support and with whom we seem to have every reason to express publicly the true unity of the Spirit – as reflected in both their words and actions? They have sent representatives to our last three synods and have been recognised by successive FRCA deputies as appearing to uphold diligently God’s Word as maintained in the Reformed Confessions. Can it truly be right in the eyes of the Lord to let them wait and wait and wait – now yet another three years?
[i] Synod of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia at Baldivis, Western Australia, June 2015
[ii] “Australische Kerken Schorten Band met GKN”, Reformatorisch Dagblad, 27 June 2015. “Ds. M. Oosterhuis, algemeen secretaris van deputaten betrekkingen buitenlandse kerken, zei gisteravond desgevraagd dat de GKV in het verleden de bezwaren van de Australische kerken nadrukkelijk hebben beoordeeld, gewogen en afgewezen. Hij denkt niet dat de synode daar nu een ander standpunt over zal gaan innemen. “Dat zal inderdaad leiden tot een breuk met de FRCA, tenzij er daar een bezinning op gang komt. Er zijn harde woorden gesproken over onze universiteit, dat men het spoor bijster zou zijn.”