Once a church takes steps in a certain direction it is often hard to change course. We see an example of that in the matter of women in office. When our Dutch sister churches, the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands (GKv), appointed a committee to study that issue, the wide media coverage it received prepared GKv members for an outcome that favoured women office bearers. Some congregations even ‘jumped the gun’ by deciding to permit women to the office of deacon before synod’s decision. A decision for women in office was further fuelled by moves by the GKv to unite with the Netherlands Reformed Churches (NRC, formerly ‘Buitenverbanders’), which already had women in all offices. Indeed, immediately after the women-in-office decision, the GKv synod last Saturday took a big step towards unity with the NRC.
Just who are these NRC with whom the GKv are seeking unity? The NRC originated in the late 1960s when a group of ministers and their followers left the GKv. By leaving they became known as ‘buitenverbanders’ (outside the bond of GKv). Why did they leave? Because they did not want to see the Church Liberation of 1944 as a reformational work of deliverance by the LORD. Instead, they saw it as the sad result of a squabble between brothers who did not tolerate one another’s views. This squabble, they said, resulted in the professors Schilder, Greijdanus and others being deposed and excommunicated. But now (1960s) it’s time, they said, that we get together again with a view to ‘healing the breach’. Some of these ministers, off their own bat, went and had talks with the synodicals, and some rejoined the ‘synodical’ churches from which God had liberated them (and us) in 1944. By acting independently from the GKv, they and often their consistories promoted ‘independentism’.
The NRC also wanted room to tolerate ministers whose teachings deviated from the Three Forms of Unity. For example, there was a GKv minister (Rev Telder) who published a book saying that when you die your soul doesn’t go straight to heaven; it stays in your body until the day of resurrection. This contradicts what we confess in LD 22, namely that our soul, after this life, goes immediately to Christ, our Head. Another minister (Rev Oosterhoff) taught that Christ died for everyone and that thereby people could choose for or against sin. Then there were ministers (Visee and Mulder) who said that not only did the ceremonial and civil laws of the Old Testament cease with the coming of Christ, but so did the Ten Commandments. And so, for example, they did not feel obliged to keep the Sunday as a day of rest. ‘Buitenverbanders’ did not want people promoting such heresies to be disciplined, as long as they believed in the Lord.
The LORD graciously spared the GKv from these insidious attempts to destroy these churches which He had liberated from false doctrine and hierarchy in 1944. He gave church leaders in the 1960s who clearly identified the errors and He gave faithfulness to the churches to ward off these errors. The result was that the unreformed Buitenverbanders left the GKv. Despite their tolerance of errors, they held onto the term ‘reformed’, calling themselves the Netherlands Reformed Churches.
Now the remarkable thing is that although there could be no unity between the GKv and these ‘Buitenverbanders’ in the 1960s, today the GKv in various places have combined church services with them and the present GKv synod has taken a big step towards unity.
We shake our heads in disbelief and ask: How is that possible? Well, it is not because the NRC have repented, returned to the truth of the Bible, and are thereby showing the marks of the true church. No, it is our Dutch sister churches, the GKv who have changed. They have adopted the more tolerant views of the NRC, including women in office.
This changed view is openly acknowledged by GKv members. As explained before on this website, one of the GKv professors, Dr Ad de Bruijne (one of the liberal theologians promoting a wrong direction at the GKv’s Theological University at Kampen), claims that there are really two types of being reformed. The first type is to be traditionally reformed; the second type is to be more liberally reformed (his own preference). The GKv used to be of the first type but have now adopted a different way of being reformed in which there is a greater openness to other views.
It’s this second view, said Dr de Bruijne, that characterised the Buitenverbanders (Netherlands Reformed Churches) already in the 1960s and continues to characterise them. In the late 1960s it led to a fierce conflict because the GKv were still of the first type of reformed. That is, they stuck to the confessions from which the second type of reformed people (the ‘buitenverbanders’, later Netherlands Reformed) deviated on certain points. Indeed, the ‘buitenverbanders’, in an Open Letter, suggested that the Reformed confessions did not “coincide” with the foundation of the universal Christian church. This lack of a unity in the true faith led to them leave the GKv bond in the 1960s.
But now there is again unity between the two religious bodies and, observes Dr de Bruijne, it’s not the Buitenverbanders’ (Netherlands Reformed) who have changed. No, this new openness to one another is because the GKv changed. They changed from being the first type of reformed (those adhering strictly to the confessions) to becoming the second type of ‘reformed’ (those with a looser view of the confessions). For example, he says, today’s GKv tolerates views that are not fully in accordance with the confession about such things as justification and sanctification, the place of the law, or the character of God.
He adds that since the GKv have become ‘contextually and culturally’ sensitive, many GKv people find the concerns the GKv used to have about the views expressed in the 1960s’ Open Letter of the ‘Buitenverbanders’ as now being fairly irrelevant. Moreover, GKv members often no longer use the confessions as their starting point in approaching matters, he says. Solid confessional certainties regarding the faith are now regarded as having only temporary and limited value. Views from ‘other traditions’ are more than welcome. And though there are still those in the GKv who express concerns, they tolerate the changes.
In the 1960s the LORD blessed the faithful believers who stood up for the truth of His Word. He graciously rescued His church from false prophets by exposing their heresies.
The lesson in this for us is continual alertness, vigilance and obedience. Is unity with others more important than the truth? Will we defend God’s Word and therefore God’s honour, or will we chip pieces off God’s Word in order to hang on to one another at all costs? Will we offend God and place stumbling blocks before His children in order to defend man’s right to deviate from Scripture and the confessions, or will we humbly submit ourselves to Him and the full counsel of His Word as we confess it in our Three Forms of Unity. Will our pulpits be open to the truth and the lie, or will they remain “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15)?