You may know that in 2003, after years of concerns about deformation in the RCN (GKv), and after concerned members had their appeals to successive synods rejected, some people liberated themselves from the unscriptural teachings and practices that had taken root in the RCN. Rev van Gurp, who served the Australian churches as minister of the FRC of Albany, Western Australia, from 1955-1964, was one of the key figures used by God in the 2003 liberation. Some years later, he was interviewed[i] about these developments and I’d like to pass on, translated, a short segment of his responses because what happened in our former sister-churches, the RCN (GKv), are clear warnings for us. For the sake of brevity and clarity some parts have been deleted or paraphrased.
With regards to the recent Liberation  could you tell us a bit more about the origin of the decline in the RCN?
Yes, I’ve spoken earlier about the erasing of church boundaries in order to be “together at the same front”. The notion of church members uniting with other Christians of different religious bodies in order to tackle secularism at the same battle front is something that has resonated with a new generation of church members who had not experienced the Liberation of 1944. The decline in the RCN began with this practice of ignoring church boundaries.
This erasing of church boundaries became evident when institutions – previously restricted to church members – were opened to outsiders. This happened, for example, when the reformed schools, which had long been a bastion of good reformed education, were opened to others. The same sort of thing happened in relation to the Reformed Societal Bond[ii], which had long been an organization that was accustomed to standing alone. While it stood alone it was in a position of strength because standing alone enables you to keep your principles pure and go forth in the strength of the antithesis. But all that changed.
In various other ways, too, the deformation could be seen to set in. This has been spelled out in the brochure Let us repent, an appeal we distributed amongst the RCN.
Matters came to a head with the issue of the fourth commandment, an issue that struck a chord with church members. People asked themselves: Are we going to lose the way we celebrate the Sunday? Will we lose the Sunday as day of rest? The issue arose when an RCN minister preached a sermon in which he called the hearers to get away from the idea that you had to rest on Sunday. He proclaimed that it was permissible to work on Sunday, as long as you also went to church. Of course, that clashed with the way many people saw the Sunday and obedience to the fourth commandment. That matter was then brought to synod in the ecclesiastical way.
The synod, however, sided with the minister concerned. It declared that no one should be obligated to adhere to the view that Sunday is a rest day and that it was quite acceptable to hold the view that you could work on Sunday. In effect synod made a doctrinal statement; not just an isolated decision about a sermon that happened to be misinterpreted. It was a doctrinal statement that was to apply to all ministers. In future every minister could, based on this synod decision, decide for himself how he would preach about the fourth commandment.
Such a decision turns the church into a ‘pluralistic church’—a church in which yes and no, two opposites, are both declared acceptable in church. In one of the churches, for example, there were two ministers; one preached that you had to rest on Sunday, the other said this was not necessary. But this overlooks the fact that preaching is the exercising of the keys of the kingdom of heaven and that when a minister preaches, he must be able to say with conviction: “This is what the LORD declares to you and you must heed what He says.”
Was interchurch cooperation in organisations and politics the catalyst for the deformation in the RCN, or did that blurring of the boundaries coincide with other deformation?
It’s difficult to say. However, I do think that it became evident with the breaking open of the GPV (Reformed Political Bond – a political party of RCN members that united with other Christian political parties) and with the call to work together with others at the one front. Church members no longer believed that the Word of God bears fruit even if you only witness of His Word with a few members. The people now wanted to see results; they wanted to see something tangible.
This is basically the age-old sin of the past, the golden calf, the idea of having something tangible from the LORD, something you can hold onto. Throughout the ages that’s been the enticement of the devil: the idea that it’s no longer enough to believe; we want to see. That sort of thinking permeates the churches and has a ripple effect.
But wasn’t the RCN renown for sticking to Scripture and confession, and for promoting the idea of ongoing reformation? How was it possible then for this deformation to get a foothold?
I don’t think you’ll ever get a full explanation, but it plays itself out in the realm of God and His kingdom, and the realm of Satan: the realm of darkness. In the course of time the LORD gives Satan the room to come with his enticements. Remember how the Lord said to His disciples, “Satan demanded to sift you like wheat.” Through the temptations of the devil, God’s work also becomes evident.
That’s because those who withstand the devil’s temptations show that the LORD keeps them standing. The Lord did not say: “I’ll make sure that Satan can’t do that” but “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail”. And that’s what the Lord does. But He has also said that things will become more difficult. He said that towards the end of time the days will be shortened, otherwise no-one could be saved because the devil will become increasingly cunning with the temptations. I think that’s what was happening in this deformation in the RCN. But people refused to heed the warnings.
You could characterise those warnings as a prophetic call to return to the LORD. From the history of the prophets it is evident that the false prophets always had adherents, for they prophesied what the people wanted to hear. Meanwhile the true prophets were persecuted. Stephen said to the pharisees and scribes: “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?” They’ve really all been persecuted, and their warnings were dismissed.
This is something we experienced too. For our magazine Reformanda gave warnings. So did a number of ministers in their sermons. But the people did not want to be warned, even though they could have seen how these developments were foreshadowed by past issues: those relating to the Open Letter and the ‘buitenverbanders’.[iii] But church members had already forgotten that. You could say that’s a result of the materialism of the last few decades. People are no longer interested in church history and in what has happened in the past. They read so little good material and hence leave themselves wide open to temptations through the masses. They want to see, instead of believing.
Could they not bear to hear the warnings?
Back in 1985 an organisation was established[iv] that published materials containing warnings. But at the time people were highly offended if you engaged in polemics. I did that, first in the church bulletin and later in the magazine Reformanda. But people did not want to read anything that sounded controversial. The lecturers at the RCN theological university at Kampen rejected that type of journalism. They did not consider it constructive.
But if they’d only thought about it, they could have known
that this was simply in the line of K Schilder. For Schilder always maintained:
“One who does not engage in polemics is not converted.” He always had to endure
much criticism about that. But I was brought up that way. And I’ve seen that
Schilder did this in order to defend the truth and to protect the church
against temptations. But that doesn’t sit well with those who wrongly cry for
peace and harmony, as the false prophets have always done.
[i] Interview published in Dienst aan doorgaande reformatie (Service to continuing reformation) by T M deMarie and E deMarie – deRuig. This 72-page booklet wherein Dr P van Gurp responds to questions about the background to the Liberation of 2003 was published by De Bazuin in 2011.
[ii] Gereformeerd Maatschappelijk Verbond
[iii] This related to the church struggle of the late 1960s when several ministers and others, who considered the truth confessed in the Three Forms of Unity too restrictive, left the RCN.
[iv] Stichting Woord en Wereld (Foundation Word and World)