In 2 recent issues of the RES Newsletter, three articles appeared concerning developments in the Gereformeerde Kerken. The first one is entitled “Society of Concerned in Reformed Churches in the Netherlands to Become a Modality Group.” It reads:
The Society of the Concerned (“truth and unity” and “Scripture and Testimony”) plan to become a modality (confessionally definable grouping) within the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. The name they propose is “Confessional Reformed Organization.” A number of work groups have already been formed for “confessional” congregations, catechism, youth work, school and university. A testimony is expected to appear in the near future.
The periodical, “Waarheid en Eenheid” (Truth and Unity) stated that the group reached the conclusion after the recent General Synod (Dordt 1971-72) that the Reformed Churches have in fact become modality churches and therefore decided to erect a clear and sturdy organization with which to proceed.
The paper states that the testimony will clearly state the purpose of the organization, namely to oppose those who have denied the confession and are nevertheless tolerated in the church.
The Rev. P. Van Til, one of the strongest opponents of Professor H. M. Kuitert at the recent General Synod, expressed disapproval of the development of a modality group. He feared that the use of the word itself would create an unfavorable climate and that the entire purpose of the Synod’s work in maintaining the identity of the church would be lost. He wanted the Reformed Churches to retain their churchly character and not become a ‘club of the Reformed persuasion.’ “Reformatorisch Dagblad” compared the new organization with the confessional fellowship in the Netherlands Reformed Church which undertakes its own mission program.
Professor B. Nauta of the Free University observed that the Reformed Churches are already in fact a modality church, although not identical in this regard with the Netherlands Reformed Church.
The second article is entitled “Decision to Merge Two Concerned Groups in Netherlands, Augments Conflict,” It reads:
A decision by two groups of concerned Christians within the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands to merge and assume stronger organizational form has triggered a new conflict in the church there. The two groups, ‘Truth and Unity’ (Waarheid en Eenheid) and ‘Scripture and Witness’ (Schrift en Getuigenis) have not yet decided on the name of the new group, but they have determined to become an open force for orthodoxy in the Reformed Churches.
Their plans call for separate catechism teaching, youth work, theological training and the organization of ‘confession congregations.’ The group plans to hold conferences and issue publications that take clear positions on the current issues. The goal is to ‘preserve the identity of the Reformed Churches.’
An ‘alternative’ ministers association, called Calvin, has already been organized and has issued a call for a meeting on 25 April in Amersfoort. The purpose of the new association is to support those pastors who want to preserve the Reformed character of the church so that the Reformed Churches may conform to their calling to be confessing churches in the world.
The editor of Centraal Weekblad, Klass Runia, reacted to the plans for the new organization by asking, “Are we facing a new rift?” He expressed his alarm by pointing out that the realizations of these plans confront the church with an “especially serious situation.”
Runia noted that the reason given. for the new action is the fact that there already are ‘modalities’ in the Reformed Churches, and that this has resulted from the disappointment of the associations of the concerned that the General Synod (Dordrecht 1971/72) did not apply any disciplinary measures in November against Dr. Harry M. Kuitert. Runia expressed his doubt, however, whether these plans would offer a good solution, and feared that they would produce a modality church. He further noted that the plans are in direct conflict with the church order. If the churches do not adhere to these basic rules, it will become a chaos, Runia observed.
“It sounds terrible to speak of a new split in the church,” Runia concluded, “but I believe that if the concerned brothers and sisters continue on this way, it will be almost unavoidable. No local church council can tolerate that in its district alternative services and catechism teaching will be advocated. This will lead to a conflict.”
One of the ‘concerned,’ the Rev. W. van Benthem, wrote a reply to Runia which he could not get placed in any paper, so he bought advertising space in Trouw. He declared that the theology of Kuitert is deadly dangerous and that most of the students at the Free University where Kuitert teaches allow themselves to be pumped full and to bow before Baal. Van Benthem said that the pulpits should be barred to Kuitert and Wiersinga and that disciplinary measures should be taken against them. In this way he thought a new rift could be avoided.
A further reaction came from the Executive Committee (Moderamen) of the General Synod. It issued a call for a special day of prayer and repentance on Sunday, 15 April. In its communication to the churches the Executive Committee spoke not only of the threatening conflict but also of a ‘spiritual crisis’ in the Reformed Churches. It saw a contrast “between our material prosperity and our spiritual poverty. . . We shall have to reflect together concerning this before the face of God.”
A third article reads:
Three professors in theology in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands have engaged in a lively discussion in Centraal Weekblad, Harry Kuitert, Klaas Runia and G. Th. Rothuizen.
Occasion for the discussion was a TV interview by Kuitert. In answering a question on the second coming of Christ, he stated that it could very well happen that all of a sudden we will discover that Jesus is already with us and then the question will be, ‘will the real Jesus stand up?’
Runia objected that the view of Kuitert was in disagreement with what the last General Synod had said concerning the ‘consequent horizontalizing of faith’ and in particular where it said that “the completion of the history of salvation lies beyond our present earthly existence and will occur in the day of Christ.” Runia found the statement of Kuitert to be entirely out of accord with the declaration of Synod with which Kuitert himself had expressed agreement.
The next issue of Centraal Weekblad carried an exchange of letters between Kuitert and Runia. Kuitert could not understand why Runia had as it were “called the church people to arms” against a fellow Christian and a colleague and also that Runia had not spoken with him first, and that he had written before he had the text of the interview in hand. Kuitert did not deny any of that which he had been alleged to say.
Runia replied that he had first showed his written comments to a number of colleagues before publishing them and later checked them with the transcript and found that there was no discrepancy. Runia’s concern was that Kuitert contradicted the testimony of the New Testament which teaches that the appearance of Christ will be from ‘outside,’ not from ‘within.’ Kuitert, said Runia, has not followed the rules of the game. “Is it really necessary to lure problems into the open and disturb the church?”
Prof. G. Th. Rothuizen entered the discussion by putting a few ‘critical questions’ to Runia. In his view Runia holds to an idea of unity that may have been valid some 15 years ago but is valid no longer. He pleaded for ‘alternative forms’ of the church, admitted that modalities do exist, and that this is no cause for shame. He claimed that along with a plurality in theology and in the forms of the church there should also be a ‘poly-interpretability of the Bible.’ “We shall have to learn to live with alternative forms of the church and theology,” he said. He defended what he called a new ‘pluriform unity.’
In reply Runia singled out what he considered to be one of the most far-reaching differences within the Reformed Churches, namely the way in which we read the Bible. When he compared the views of Herman Wiersinga and Herman Ridderbos on the biblical idea of reconciliation, then he could no longer speak of a pluriform unity. Rothuizen had written that Kuitert and the concerned people could not be brought to one common theological denominator. But Runia said that the unity does not stand or fall with a theological unity. “Theology is a science that is surely of great importance to the church, but it is not the binding factor in the church. The binding factor is the confession, and that is quite different from theology . . . The confession is in essence the song of praise in which the church sings its faith in God and in what He has done for us in Jesus Christ . . . . Must we not in last analysis say the same thing, at least when it concerns the central, fundamental aspects of the Christian faith?”
No doubt the editor of our Standard Bearer will comment at length about this matter; but a few remarks are in order.
Our readers should understand first of all, that a “modalities church” is a church in which there is complete freedom of doctrinal teaching so that every member is allowed to hold to his own views with respect to the truth of Scripture. It is also a church which has within it different conceptions of church polity. However, in a modalities church, various groups of like mind join together with in one church federation and hold views concerning the truth and. concerning church polity at variance with other groups. In spite of these differences however, the church continues as one denomination.
The Reformed Churches in the Netherlands have indeed become a modalities church. This is even admitted by some in the articles above. And it, is proved also by the views concerning the second coming of Christ which were expressed by Dr. Kuitert in a recent TV interview in which he flatly denied that Christ would come at the end of time.
This is, of course, a confessional question. There are only two real possibilities therefore. One is simply to ignore the confessions and act as if they have no binding force within the church. The other is so to interpret the confessions that any and every view is declared confessional regardless of whether it is or not. The Reformed Churches in the Netherlands seem at present to be straddling the fence on this matter.
What is interesting however, is the fact that those who are determined to preserve the truth of the confessions are now organizing within the Reformed Churches and on the grounds that they may do this because the Reformed Churches are a modalities church. Hence there is room for their group as well as the supporters of Kuitert.
This is opposed by Runia. This is strange. It is strange that he should become disturbed by this development. It is strange that he should object. He has expressed that the decisions of the Synod which cleared Kuitert were “evangelical.” But now, when certain ones object and desire to press for confessional integrity, Runia is disturbed. In a way this ought not to surprise us. This is always the way it goes with the spirit of toleration. Toleration in matters of the truth is the devil’s weapon. And the result always is that there is toleration for every view under the face of the heavens except the truth. This is true of Runia too. Even his criticism of Kuitert’s views concerning the coming of Christ are not severe. And surely he does not press for Kuitert’s deposition even though Kuitert continues to deny fundamental elements in the truth of Scripture. Kuitert becomes bolder, and Runia, even in his objections, is mild.
And so it is not strange that Runia finally pleads a view which teaches that “the unity (of the church) does not stand or fall with a theological unity.” And in this connection he interprets the confessions as “songs of praise.”
But are the “concerned” correct in seeking organization within Reformed Churches? This is another question. There are some, as appears from the articles above, who are not satisfied with this. And Runia says that this is contrary to the Church Order.
No doubt Runia is correct—although this sounds strange coming from a man who has participated in grossest violations of the church order himself. But when, e.g., Van Til, speaks of the wrongness in forming within the church “a club of Reformed persuasion,” he certainly strikes at the heart of the issue.
The “concerned” are erecting a church within a church. This is never right. And, in the final analysis it does not work. As part of the denomination they are responsible for all that that denomination does. Remaining within it they vitiate their protest. This has serious consequences for themselves and their children. The light is going out in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. The efforts of the “concerned” to keep the light flickering cannot be successful. The cold winds of heresy will blow out that flickering flame in due time. And then the light will also be gone for them and their children.
The only solution, as it has always been throughout the ages, is secession.