WATNU’s ‘Open Letter’ to Rev M H Oosterhuis
In the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands (RCN or, in Dutch, GKv) there is, understandably, a group of members who are unhappy with the decision of their synod to allow women in office. They ask themselves: What must we do now? This is reflected in the name they have given their Facebook group: WATNU (What Now).
Evidently, they are acquainted with Rev M H Oosterhuis’s recent speech to the FRCA Synod Bunbury 2018 in which he sought to justify women in office through what is widely referred to as the ‘new hermeneutics’ way of interpreting Scripture. Unhappy about what he said at the synod in Australia, the WATNU group has published an Open Letter to him on their website GKV WATNU. [i]
Here, translated, is that Public (or Open) Letter.
Dear Rev M.H. Oosterhuis,
Jesus Christ is not to be restricted to the past, but also not to be tied to our agenda of the present. He is present, by His Spirit, in the midst of His church. That gives both tension and easing of tension. The theologian who wants to speak about God in Christ Jesus is accountable to Him. Given that the eyes of the Son of God are as flaming fire, nothing is concealed from Him. The theologian who tries to push Him away into the past, clashes with Christ’s judgment in the present. The theologian who tries to bring Him in line with his own agenda in the present, clashes with the salvation facts of Jesus in the past. God has shown in Jesus Christ in the past who He is for us in the present. That is why God’s Word is alive and powerful. But thereby it is very important for the theologian always to examine himself to see whether he trusts firmly in God. He should examine himself by asking the following question: “Is God, in coming down to us through His messengers, unclear or even contradictory? Or do I distort God as unclear and contradictory through my self-elevating theology?”
With this introduction to this letter, we arrive at the reason for writing to you. For we have great concern about your perception of God’s Word and his Spirit as expressed in your speech to the synod of the FRCA Bunbury. The above introductory paragraph is not intended to judge you as a person. But we see ourselves obliged to hold this mirror up to you to examine whether your speaking about God’s Word and Jesus Christ is according to the full revelation of God. In your speech you have shown a great boldness in speaking of God’s Word and Jesus Christ, but was there also a deep awe of God’s Word in your heart while you spoke?
What has caused us pain and dismay when you spoke about our beloved Lord Jesus Christ is how His courage and integrity is brought into question by your perspective on Scripture and hermeneutics. Was He unable or too afraid to take a stand by being different, to bring the “permanently valid yardstick” of creation through “changing historical circumstances” to full revelation and development? Did He not have the ability and courage to succeed, while according to you the RCN (GKv), with its decisions about man-woman in office, does have that ability and courage? Or did you represent the feminist gospel of the present time in this speech? Is the present culture more in line with the creation order and the Gospel, so that Christ and today’s culture can flow together? Or do you share in the RCN’s (GKv’s) identity crisis whereby she seeks too much the world’s approval?
The basic tension lies in the following: Either Jesus agrees with feminist theology but was unable, because of cultural pressure, to achieve His emancipation ideal OR feminist theology slanders Christ and so opposes the agreement of the Triune God to create, maintain and restore the male-female relationship completely differently. In the first case, Scripture is not God’s full revelation in Christ; in the second case, the easy yoke of Christ Jesus is replaced by a theology that ascribes more authority to itself and its ordinances than to God’s Word (see BCF art. 7 and 29). In your speech it seems that you have too much appreciation for today’s culture and the need to conform to it in our thinking. Moreover, it seems that you argue that both the creation order and Jesus’ deepest motivation correspond to the agenda of feminist theology. In the past, however, this has already been exposed as projecting today’s cultural ideals back on Jesus and the Bible.
We will post you this letter because we are concerned about whether you are still in the right house. We therefore do not, in the first place, require you to reply with answers to the above questions. It is our desire that, like the Shepherd, you will lead us with a purified conscience and that you find your roots again.
We desire that the RCN (GKv) again get a realistic self-awareness and seek their identity in the appreciation of Christ for us as His most beloved possession. We yearn for a household in the church, which corresponds to the image of the heavenly dwelling, as the whole Scripture holds up to us. We desire that our house here on earth – though strange to the world – would be fully furnished in accordance with the glory of the Eternal House.
That is why we also wish to encourage you in love with Biblical words from the Revelation of Jesus Christ to John. Know who He is, Jesus Christ, and that he is always present in the midst of his church, his congregations: “Then I saw seven golden lamps standards, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man” (…) “The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches” (Revelation. 1:12,20). Realize that no one can conceal his wrong intentions. Before Him: “all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works” (Revelation. 2: 23b). Realize that not the judgment of the world, but the judgment of Christ Jesus over the Church is decisive: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God” (Revelation 3: 1b-2). Judge for yourself: do the current developments in the GKv help to promote obedience to God’s Word, or to promote obedience to the so-called good intentions of the present time?
With greeting in Christ, in prayerful hope for God’s reforming power for our RCN (GKv) church federation, (and then follow the names of 71 GKv members).
Whilst we can appreciate the concerns and sentiments expressed by the WATNU (What Now) group in the RCN (GKv), they can know from their own confession what they should do. What Rev Oosterhuis expressed to the FRCA synod Bunbury 2018 were not just his own opinions but the official position of the RCN (GKv). In their letter, WATNU alludes to the words of BCF 29 where we confess that the “false church assigns more authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God. It does not want to submit itself to the yoke of Christ”. That is the position of both Rev Oosterhuis and the RCN (GKv) bond of churches.
So, what of WATNU (What Now)? The group and other concerned members are duty bound to leave. As they confess in Article 28 BCF: “all and everyone are obliged to join [the true church] and unite with it … [and] … to separate from those who do not belong to the church”. Otherwise they risk finding themselves in the position of the prophet at Bethel in Jeroboam’s days who wouldn’t show obedience but remained a ‘concerned member’ of the false church.[ii] After a while the protesting runs out of steam, the degeneration sets in and eventually one goes with the flow of continuing compromise and disobedience.
[i] See Open Letter of WATNU at https://eur04.safelinks.protection.outlook.com/?url=www.gkvwatnu.nl&data=02%7C01%7C%7C3c0be7538c934d92101008d5ee408d43%7C84df9e7fe9f640afb435aaaaaaaaaaaa%7C1%7C0%7C636676883374832817&sdata=WrehtK2ZtA1ZMnmhlYIr%2BsF3lCvl7knLFjdCe%2FR60UQ%3D&reserved=0