Members of the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) have a lively interest in developments of the Reformed churches in the Netherlands. From these churches the grandparents or great grandparents of many of us came when they emigrated to the United States. Some of us have close relatives in these churches. More importantly, the PRC have the truth of the Reformed faith through the work of the Holy Spirit in the Dutch Reformed churches in the past.
The present is a time of fearful, almost unrelieved apostasy in the Reformed churches in the Netherlands. Twenty years ago, I could meet in the Netherlands with three leading Dutch Reformed theologians. They represented three of the soundest Reformed churches or organizations contending for the Reformed faith. At the end of our conversation, I asked each of them, “What is the state of the Reformed faith in the Netherlands today?” Although none knew the response of the others, all gave essentially the same answer without hesitation: “Het wordt donker” (“It is getting dark”). Today the darkness is deeper, much deeper.
The outstanding instance of the deep darkness of departure from the Reformed faith is the merger of the Nederlandse Hervormde kerk (Netherlands Reformed Church—NHK), the Gereformeerde kerken in Nederland (Reformed Churches in the Netherlands—GKN), and a Lutheran church, Evangelisch-Lutherse Kerk in het Koninkrijk der Nederland—Evangelical-Lutheran Church in the Kingdom of the Netherlands—ELK). The merger (the Dutch speak of “fusie,” that is, fusion) will result in a new church that will be called Protestantse kerk van Nederland (PKN).
The three churches made a preliminary decision to merge this past June. The final decision will be taken in December of this year. The merger will be the culmination of a long process of uniting known as “Samen-op-Weg” (“Together-on-the-Way”).
With the final decision in December 2003, the NHK, the GKN, and the ELK will be no more. Our interest is the two Reformed churches. The NHK is the continuation, institutionally, of the Reformed church formed in the crucible of the fire of persecution in the Netherlands in the second half of the sixteenth century. This was the church that hosted the synod of Dordt in the first part of the seventeenth century and that drew up and adopted the Canons of Dordt.
The GKN is the denomination of those who separated from the NHK in 1886 under the leadership of Abraham Kuyper and of many of those who had separated from the NHK earlier, in 1834. Both groups broke with the NHK on account of the unfaithfulness and hierarchy of the NHK.
The new church—the PKN—will not have the Reformed confessions as its basis. It will not be a Reformed church even in name and pretense. By its own official statements, it will be a pluralistic church (Dutch: “plurale kerk”). It will be open to many, if not all, conflicting theological viewpoints.
Genuinely Reformed men and women, even entire Reformed congregations, are welcome in the new church. They may maintain the doctrines set forth in the Reformed confessions. But they may maintain them only as their own opinions regarding the truth. The Reformed congregations and believers in the PKN may not confess the Reformed doctrines as the revealed truth of God. Reformed members of the new church must recognize, tolerate, and respect the contrary opinions of all the others in the church.
By official, authoritative decision, the new church will tolerate and embrace both the truth and the lie. It will tolerate the truth (for the time being) on the condition that the truth confesses itself to be mere human opinion and on the condition that the truth itself tolerates the lie. The new church will embrace the lie.
In a powerful defense of their refusal and inability to go along with the merger, five ministers in the NHK give as “the fundamental objection against the fusion [merger]”
that we are not able to accept the pluralistic character of the church—in which truth and lies alike have rights and we must recognize and respect each other. Thus, both by decree and in fact the Reformed nature of the church is abandoned (Vragen nar de weg: een verantwoording in vraag en antwoord van het niet mee kunnen naar de PKN [“Questions about the Way: A Justification in Question and Answer of Not Being Able to Go Along into the PKN”], by Rev. K. Klopstra, Rev. A. Kot, Rev. B. M. Meuleman, Rev. J. H. C. Olie, and Rev. H. Zweistra. Den Haag: Koninklijke Bibliotheek, 2003, p. 37; all quotations in this editorial from this booklet are my translation of the Dutch).
Earlier in this booklet, “Questions about the Way,” the five Dutch Reformed ministers had demonstrated that the pluralism of the new church is due to its refusal to base itself on Scripture as interpreted by the Reformed confessions.
By the merger of the two Reformed churches in the PKN, the apostasy of the NHK and the GKN is full and final. In fact, the two churches have been pluralistic churches for a long time, tolerating and approving teachings and practices opposed to the Reformed faith. By the merger, the two churches make their apostasy a matter of their own official declaration. The gravestone, with its fitting epitaph, is placed upon the corpses. The corpses themselves write the epitaph and put the gravestone in place.
A church that despises sound doctrine invariably corrupts itself ethically as well. The new church in the Netherlands, made up in large part of the former NHK and GKN, will have an article in the ordinances, or rules, of its church order authorizing consistories to bless homosexual unions in the congregations.
Article 4 [of the ordinances of the PKN] declares the possibility that the consistory—after deliberation in the congregation—blesses other relationships of life [alternative life styles] than the marriage of two persons as a covenant of love and faithfulness before the face of God (“Questions about the Way,” p. 24).
The typically clever Dutch theologians speak of “blessing” (Dutch: “zegenen”) homosexual unions, whereas marriage between a man and a woman is to be “consecrated” (Dutch: “inzegenen”).
Behold! The church of Dordt, churches of the Afscheiding, and the churches of the Doleantie: a false church! adulterous paramour of the man of sin!
Perhaps we are too far removed by history and geography to weep. But who does not grieve?
Nevertheless, God preserves a remnant. The five ministers in the NHK who wrote the booklet, “Questions about the Way,” will not go along with the merger. As a matter of conscience, for the honor of God, they will maintain churches that are “exclusively Reformed” in confession and walk. They promise to be faithful to the Word of God as set forth in the Reformed confessions regardless of the cost. They recognize that the cost will be high. Presumably, their congregations will stand with them. The five ministers call on others in the NHK to reject the merger.
Evidently, the faithful are few. Only five ministers in the huge NHK sign their names to the booklet exposing and condemning the apostasy of the merger. I have it on good authority that many of the ministers in the conservative grouping in the NHK, the Gereformeerde Bond (Reformed Alliance), are now willing to go along with the merger and become members of the PKN.
Are there none in the GKN who take a stand for the Reformed faith and speak out at this critical moment?
That the faithful in the NHK and perhaps in the GKN are few comes as no surprise. Always the people of God are a remnant (Isaiah 1:8, 9; Romans 11:5). With reference to these last days, ofwhich apostasy must be a prominent feature according to II Thessalonians 2:3, our Lord asked whether He will find faith on the earth when He returns (Luke 18:8). Besides, the spiritual condition of both churches has been so corrupt both as regards doctrine and life for so long that it is a wonder anyone remains who fears God.
Let us pray for our brothers and sisters in the Netherlands, whom God has wonderfully preserved, that God will strengthen them to their difficult, costly calling on behalf of the dear Reformed church and truth in the Netherlands. They are called to form the church anew on the basis of the Reformed confessions and church order.
It will be an important part of their calling that they repent of their sins and the sins of their fathers. For many years, the godly in the NHK have in fact lived just as the PKN officially prescribes. They have tolerated lies and immorality. The leaders in the movement to merge the churches in the PKN throw this in their face. “Why now,” they ask the five ministers, “do you object to a church that is pluralistic when for years you have willingly lived in the pluralistic NHK?”
Besides, the NHK persecuted the saints of the Afscheiding of 1834 and of the Doleantie of 1886 because of their confession of and discipleship after Jesus Christ. All the members of the NHK are corporately responsible for this persecution of God’s people.
But God is gracious. He will forgive these heinous sins, if those who now want to be faithful to God repent of them.
The deep darkness now falling upon the Reformed churches in the Netherlands is not restricted to the NHK and the GKN. The Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken (Christian Reformed Churches [in the Netherlands]) harbor in their bosom the very same unbelieving criticism of Holy Scripture that destroyed both the NHK and the GKN. This criticism of Scripture is public.
By its doctrine of a conditional covenant with all the children of godly parents, which involves a justification of all the infants, the Gereformeerde kerken in Nederland (“vrijgemaakt”) (Reformed Churches in the Netherlands [“liberated”]) fatally compromise the Reformed doctrines of election and the perseverance of saints. Recent synods of the “liberated” churches have cut the churches’ Sunday loose from the fourth commandment, thus effectively destroying Sabbath observance; revised the marriage form to remove mention of the husband’s headship and the wife’s duty to submit to the authority of the husband; relaxed the stand on marriage and divorce, to allow those divorced on unbiblical grounds and even guilty parties who remarry to be members of the churches; and flooded the songbooks used in public worship with “evangelical,” that is, unreformed, hymns.
The winds of false doctrine are blowing powerfully in the Reformed churches in the Netherlands, as throughout Europe. The spirit of the age—the spirit of the ungodly world, which is antichrist—proves well-nigh irresistible.
We do not imagine for a moment that the PRC are immune.
In the apostasy of the Reformed churches in the Netherlands is a loud, necessary warning to us—to every minister, every elder, and every member who loves God and His truth: “Hold the traditions which ye have been taught” (II Thess. 2:15).
Hold the traditions in light of a work that God is doing in the churches in these last days: sending many a strong delusion, that they should believe a lie, so that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness (II Thess. 2:11, 12).
This is what is appalling about the apostasy in the Netherlands.