Within Reformed churches there are groups of concerned Christians who are very disturbed at the inroads of heresy in their midst. There is commonly evident a division between so-called “conservatives” and “liberals.” The Netherlands has seen much of this, too. Recently in the R.E.S. News Exchange, Sept. 6, 1977, a report was given of one proposed solution to this difficulty. The Rev. H.J. Hegger proposes “Huisgemeenten”:
An interesting proposal has been aired in various issues of Waarheid en Eenheid (Truth and Unity), the periodical of the Verontrusten (Concerned) in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN). The proposal, which has attracted considerable attention and discussion, is the brainchild of Rev. H.J. Hegger, who, however, claims to find biblical support for it. Rev. H.J. Hegger became a Reformed minister after having studied for the priesthood; in recent years he has become a leader among those radically disillusioned by developments in the RCN. He has been one of the proponents of the so-called “congregations-in-distress.”
Hegger’s proposal, submitted to the RCN Synod, is that the church order be amended to allow for “huisgemeenten” (literally: home or household congregations). Many of the RCN churches, he argues, are too massive, too impersonal, too juridical; he would like to see the formation within these churches of small groups of Christians with ten to seventy members who would meet together for worship, fellowship, Bible study, prayer and the breaking of bread. He suggests that the formation of these groups be allowed to occur spontaneously, not imposed from above along territorial lines. The larger unit would continue to function, but perhaps Sunday afternoon worship could be done in these smaller “households.” There is also no good reason, continues Hegger, why those who experience Christian communion together in this smaller circle would not be able to partake of the Lord’s Supper together.
Leadership in the “household” units, Hegger argues, need not be created through a formal voting process; elders are supplied by the Holy Spirit and the community itself will intuitively recognize leadership talents in its midst. Such a structure, according to Hegger, would allow for greater participation and involvement, on the principle that every member of the church has been anointed by Christ and is therefore equally responsible. Unity, communion of the saints, church attendance would all be served by such a restructuring.
Hegger admits that there is a danger that the “household” groups would serve to promote the formation of cliques. “Household” congregations, he says, may never be formed to set themselves up against the church as a whole or against other groups within the church. But they may be founded on different attitudes or spiritual emphases that are found in the church. But elsewhere he says: “It is too bad that now Christians with different perspectives, experiences and accents live apart in different churches which often stand over against each other. What an enrichment it would be if all these Christians were united and that through the “household” congregations they could all make their biblical contribution to the one local church.” Hegger’s proposal has generally (and obviously) been seen as a way to create breathing room for those “Concerned” who feel smothered by pastors and consistories which, in their eyes, are exchanging the biblical gospel for a politicized version. But it also seems to go hand in hand with a certain ecumenical vision.
The above represents a strange method indeed of remedying a sorry situation within the churches. This suggests, in effect, a “church within the church.” There would be “communion,” “Spirit-appointed elders” who are apparently not elected nor serve officially in office, one home “worship service” to replace that normally held in church. The whole proposal has a very strange sound—hardly Reformed nor Scriptural it seems to me. Though one hesitates to label such a suggestion, it smacks of “playing church.” Hegger’s “cure” to the ills of the Reformed churches appears to be worse than the “sickness.” These “Concerned” ones ought to take great care not to lead the disillusioned children of God in wrong paths.
Reactions to “social dancing” at Calvin
There was a strong response to the proposal at the C.R.C. to allow for “social dancing in a Christian manner” at Calvin College. One response was found in the Outlook of Sept. 1977 in an editorial by Rev. J. Vander Ploeg. He wrote:
When signals are flashing and bells are ringing at a railroad crossing to the danger of an oncoming, speeding train, a motorist or pedestrian must be blind, deaf, drunk, or bent upon suicide if he fails to take warning. CRC constituents are no less to be pitied if they now refuse to pay attention. Consider then a few of these signals:
1. Signal number one that should come through loud and clear to those who have long supported Calvin is that “onze school” and the C.R.C. have changed radically. The social dance, by a synodical decision of 1928, was branded as being disreputable and a worldly amusement to be shunned. But now it is being advocated as something to be made “Christian” and as having a potential for the fulfillment of “the cultural mandate”. . . .
2. Signal number two in all this is to the effect that as members of the CRC we may be conscience bound to make an agonizing reappraisal of our practice of automatically paying the Calvin quota year after year. . . .
3. Signal number three is the message conveyed by the foregoing to Dordt and Trinity Colleges, to our Christian high schools in the U.S. and Canada, to Calvinist Youth United, and to all young people (and also to those who are older) throughout the CRC. If social dancing is to be acceptable and even encouraged at Calvin by decisions of the Calvin Board and the 1977 CRC Synod, why should it not be allowed now elsewhere and to others? . . .
4. Signal number four, as I see it, is one that comes to the conscientious student who wants no part of what the Board and the Synod now encourage. . . .
5. Another signal—number five—says something to the discerning student who is not misled by the Board’s attempt to justify the social dance as they intend to have it at Calvin. . . .
6. Signal six is a message to godly parents to the effect that they should be aware of the wrong influence to which their sons and daughters will be exposed even when they entrust them to Calvin for their college education. . . .
7. Signal seven—and that should suffice—we profess in our Heidelberg Catechism re the seventh commandment in Lord’s Day 41 that “God condemns all unchastity. . . .”
We will let the sophisticated wiseacre say what he will. However, the born-again, Spirit-filled person cannot feel at home or be assured that he is in the company of the redeemed unless he still follows old-fashioned guidelines like that as it comes straight from the Word of God—the Book by which we still profess both to live and also to die.
Editor Vander Ploeg does state that he will still pay his “Calvin quota,” though under protest. He insists that “at least I will then be able to live with myself and with my conscience.” One might wonder, however, with all of these “signals” whether this action of “support under protest” is sufficient to sooth a conscience which seems to be so very troubled—and troubled with good reason.
Another reaction to the Synodical action appears in the Calvin CollegeChimes, Oct. 7, 1977. There appeared a report, rather factual, of the CRC Synod of 1977. The article suggested that the most interesting subject of Synod was this which dealt with dancing at Calvin. It continues to describe the action taken at Synod. But with the article appears also a picture of couples dancing in the basement of one of the college dorms. Underneath the picture is the “tongue-in-cheek” caption: “Social dancing still in basement.” One could almost laugh—if the whole matter were not so deadly serious.
Response to a “United Reformed Church”
Clarion, the magazine of the Canadian Reformed Church, contains a response to an editorial of Rev. J. Vander Ploeg in the Outlook of July 1977. In theOutlook Vander Ploeg suggested a “United Reformed Church” but conceded that he did not know how that would come to be. The editor of the Clarion responds:
I am . . . a reader of The Outlook, and am usually grateful for what I read. I do not pretend to give the ultimate advice to those “concerned” members of the CRC. But an outside contribution might help, if only as an expression of a sincere viewpoint. I stand to be corrected if I am grossly beside the point.
These matters cannot be left unconsidered:
1. Those involved should not only voice their concern and criticism about the apparent deformation in their Church, but should faithfully examine and clearly promote the way which God has given in His Word to reformation, even if this means inevitable, sad secession. Search the Scriptures and the Creeds!
2. Edifying contact should be relentlessly sought with those churches which by God’s grace are faithful to the Reformed faith, so that when secession becomes real, unity in faith can be pursued without delay. One cannot be content “to remain by himself’ (Article 28, Belgic Confession) but must seek and maintain the unity of the true Church of Christ. The inspiring example still is the Union of 1892.
3. Emphasis should be placed on understanding deformation not as an isolated incident, but as a historical process, resulting from dated derailment. The “concerned” in the CRC should re-examine their stand on the happenings of 1939-1944 and subsequent years and give due recognition to those who in the past—again by God’s grace!—stood firmly only for the Reformed faith.