The RCN: from deformation to Liberation to deformation 3
Having shown how, prior to the Liberation of 1944, life in the churches was characterised by spiritual decline, and how the Liberation caused life to blossom in the service of the Lord, Br Ballast now focusses on the signs of deformation from the 1970s onwards.
The RCN: from deformation to Liberation to deformation 3
Winds of change
The blossoming of life in the churches, not least through the blessing of reformed organisations based on faithfulness to the confessions, was not to the liking of everyone in church. There were those who wanted to promote a broader approach. They were critical of the strong link between church and the various ‘G’ (reformed) organisations. They called it a rather ‘exclusivist’ approach. The other terms they bandied about was ‘church-ism’, meaning there was too much emphasis on the church and the strict church-membership rules.
In the remainder of this paper I’ll briefly talk about this development and I’ll endeavour to show how these changes created a spiritual environment wherein all the symptoms Rev Moesker identified,[i] as mentioned earlier, could germinate and blossom. I must limit myself though, so I’ll use the story of the Reformed Daily newspaper as an example to illustrate this development.
This story starts in 1948. In this year the first Reformed Daily was published. In those days it was called ‘Reformed Family Journal’. A paper which in its commentary sought to give information and analysis based on Scripture. It was nothing short of a miracle that such a small church community managed to publish a newspaper. On the 4th of March 1948 the editor in chief, P. Jongeling, wrote: ‘We intend to publish a paper which will submit itself in true obedience to the Word of God and the Three Forms of Unity, praying that God’s kingdom may come and His church may increase and be preserved’. Note how God’s church gathering work was to take a prominent place in this publication.
This founding principle was still adhered to some twenty years later in 1966 when the then contributing editor J.P. de Vries wrote that despite some changes (e.g. a different layout), the main purpose would remain the same. The Reformed Daily would continue to uphold the call of art 28 BC to join the true church and those who go their own way will act in disobedience to God’s Word. God’s church gathering work remains the focus.
This line of thinking changed in the years following. In 1982 Br E van Middelkoop, a contributing editor of this Reformed Daily, presented a speech about mass media to a group of students. In this speech he argued that to serve a broader readership, to reach a wider circle of readers with the reformed newspaper, it would be necessary to cut the strong links to the church and attract editors from outside the church. In other words, the editorial staff was to include members of a variety of churches.
On the 18th of June 1983 the EIC, J.P. de Vries, the same person who wrote this previously mentioned article in 1966, this time wrote a completely different editorial. The title of his article was: “Where is the Frontline’? In this editorial de Vries argued that in the battle against the increasing secularisation we need to join up with Christians of different persuasions, so we can form a barrier, a barricade against this development. He not only suggested this change of direction for his newspaper, The Reformed Daily, but also for the other political and social organisations of the churches.
This article of EIC Mr de Vries very much represented the winds of change blowing across all the reformed organisations including the reformed schools. The historic link to the church had to be severed and an openness introduced which would allow a joining of forces not based on confessional unity but based on unity in purpose. De Vries wrote: ‘We are in league with those who fight the same enemy. They oppose abortion and homosexuality and Scripture criticism, and they are being ridiculed for that. We want to stand alongside them on those issues and although they don’t belong to the same church they certainly want to serve the Lord Jesus’. This message was very different to what he wrote in 1966. Then he wrote: ‘We need to admonish those erring brothers in different churches and point out to them the errors of their beliefs; only in that way can they be true servants of Christ’.
Again, the winds of change blew across the various church organisations causing many heated discussions, debates and polemics. At home visits, bible study clubs, family visits, public meetings, etc., the pros and cons of these developments were passionately debated.
Church leaders also participated in this debate. Rev W.G. de Vries, Rev de Kok, Rev van Gurp and others strongly warned against this change of direction in their respective regional church bulletins. The concern was expressed that The Reformed Daily would no longer a be reformed paper. Some ministers went to have private discussions with the committee which ran the paper, but… they had made up their mind.
On the 24th of May 1983 several ministers, including Prof J Kamhuis, organised a meeting at Prof Kamphuis’s place to discuss these developments and what to do about them. Prof Kamphuis was very concerned: ‘This turns into a state of emergency; the original character of the paper has been abandoned. The church is not central anymore; it’s all become pluriform. The objective norm of Scripture and confession has been replaced by subjectivism; people do not know their history anymore’.
The remainder of this meeting was spent discussing some options in response to this new development. It was decided to publish a series of little booklets in which authors would endeavour to counter-balance this new direction. Many ministers and other academics were willing to contribute to this series. An association was set up under the name ‘Word & World’. They also needed some money to get the ball rolling. 25,000 guilders was soon collected, also due to a few very generous overseas gifts from some brothers here in WA.
Obviously, the Committee of the Reformed Daily (Nederlands Dagblad) didn’t like this new Association. They accused it of polarising people on the issues. A couple more meetings were scheduled between the two parties but again to no avail. The Reformed Daily continued to explore and develop the broader outlook. They recognised the possibility that this new direction would create some internal tensions but this, they believed, was a small price to pay for the tremendous benefits in joining forces with those who pursue the same purpose and objective.
Note here that this newspaper was subscribed to by a high percentage of the Free Reformed families and that its influence was very strong. The new direction was pursued with a passion and boundaries continued to shift as time went on. Subjectivism has no limits. Once you let go of the objective standard collectively agreed to in the confessions, the human mind becomes creative and continues to find new ways and opportunities. There is no doubt that this paper has had a big influence on the development of church life as noted in Rev Moesker’s speech.[ii] Traditional boundaries about the role of males and females, the accepted liturgy in the church services, conservative attitudes to worldly entertainment and lifestyle, were continually questioned and challenged. Contributing editors from an increasingly wider range of churches and organisations could present their points of view. It was all about diversity and the reader was considered mature and astute enough to sift out the nuggets of truth. The outcome of this changed direction is that today, 2018, very little, if anything, is left in this newspaper which resembles the original objectives set out in 1948 by P. Jongeling.
This story of the Reformed Newspaper is only one aspect of the battle which was waged across many other organisations, political and social, including the drive to open Reformed schools to students from different church federations. All these struggles in those organisations and schools centred around the question: ‘To what extend is the claim that we are the true church still valid in our current Dutch ecclesiastical environment and how should this function in our G- organisations and other work in God’s kingdom? At a deeper level this development reveals a return to the position prior to 1944, wherein the churches went separate ways.
You’ll also recognise this thinking when you read our FRCA synod reports and decisions over the last 15 years with regards to the RCN. The same themes keep coming back.
The situation in the RCN has become such that our forthcoming synod Bunbury is required to make the decision as to whether we can continue our sister church relation with these churches or not. A decision with serious consequences. Allow me to spell out the gravity of this situation: If Synod Bunbury decides to break the sister church relationship with the RCN, we’ll cut ties with 268 RCN churches, 273 RCN ministers and 119,400 RCN church members. That is the consequence of these winds of change in the RCN.
Nothing is as destructive as false prophesy. It has fully consumed a complete bond of churches, bar a few thousand people who broke away since 2003, some 2.00 %. All this happened in less than 70 years.
This history of our sister is a very serious warning for us. It shows us that the devil is alive and well and employs many very clever strategies which can easily lead us astray. That’s why it is good to spend some time together to take stock as to where we are as FRCA. To evaluate, to test our church life on the Word of God and to show courage where things need to change. The LORD has very, very richly blessed us as churches here in Australia and we recognise that this blessing is totally undeserved; we are, in ourselves, no better than our overseas sister. It’s all His grace and goodness, but we need to be vigilant and watchful.
Search me O Lord and know my heart
See if I from your ways depart.
Lord, probe my every anxious thought
and let me by your word be taught.
Help me walk on where you are leading
In everlasting ways proceeding.
[i] See the series on this website titled “Are We Following the Decline in the RCN?” beginning here: https://defenceofthetruth.com/en/2018/03/are-we-following-the-decline-in-the-rcn-1/ .