The Decline of the GKN
Not long ago a brother from one of our churches wrote me concerning his evaluation of the church situation in the Netherlands after he had visited there for several weeks. In his letter he mentioned several things which I had up to this time not noted in any of the Dutch church papers which I receive on an exchange basis; I refer especially to items concerning the GKN (Gereformeerde Kerken van Nederland), the churches in which most of us have our spiritual ancestry and which have been so frequently in the news because of the rapid doctrinal and spiritual deterioration taking place in them. However, not long after I received the personal letter referred to, I was also able to confirm some of the items mentioned in that letter. For they are mentioned in “Brief uit Nederland” (by Wiebe Feenstra) in De Wachter, November 23, 1982. This article-letter also makes mention of the source of the information, the official organ of the GKN calledKerkinformatie, as well as some comments by a Rev. Kwast in Friese Kerkbode.
Various items concerning the GKN are frequently in the news currently. Recently attention has been drawn especially to such things as the recent report on the nature and authority of Holy Scripture called “God With Us,” which represents a total departure from the Reformed doctrine of Scripture. Besides, there is the decision to admit homosexuals to the Lord’s table and to church membership, as well as the more recent refusal either to retract that decision or even to attempt to furnish Scriptural grounds for it.
But mentioned in the article referred to is something which points to the actual decline of the GKN, namely, a loss of 13,229 members in 1981. That amounts to more than one and one-half per cent of the membership. The Rev. Kwast remarks in this connection that, “Taking into consideration that the decline in the number of members began in 1974 and has gradually become stronger, we can already make a provisional reckoning of the point in time when we will be back to zero.” Now it must be kept in mind, too, (though I have no statistics on this) that much of this membership loss is not through transfer to other denominations but simply through people becoming unchurched and dechristianized. And the Rev. Kwast complains—rightly—that up to now the GKN, while it can be concerned about many other things, shows little concern about this.
Even more disturbing, however, is the news concerning the movement known as “Samen op weg” (literally: Together on the way). This is an official action begun some years ago toward reunion of the GKN and the Hervormde Kerk. For those not so well acquainted with Dutch church history, let me explain that the Hervormde Kerk (Reformed Church) is commonly known as the State Church. It is the denomination from which the present GKN were separated. First there was the Secession of 1834, under Hendrik de Cock and others. Then, in 1886 there was the separation known as the Doleantie under Abraham Kuyper. In 1892 the two movements, Secession and Doleantie, came together to form the present Gereformeerde Kerken van Nederland.
According to Kerkinformatie, it is hoped in connection with this “Together on the way” movement that by 1984, it can be said that this process of reunion must be continued. Mind you, 1984 is the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of the Secession! Further, according to Kerkinformatie, it is hoped that then in 1986 a Declaration can be made in which the synods (of the GKN and the Hervormde Kerk) say that both churches shall be considered to be in a state of reunion. And that date, mind you, will be the centennial of the Doleantie!
And how sad!
What would men like Hendrik de Cock and Abraham Kuyper say?
And what would all the saints who literally suffered persecution in these reformations say?
But this also raises some questions.
In the first place, what will be the reaction to all this in the GKN? There can be no question but that vast segments of the GKN badly desire this union and would feel entirely at home in the Hervormde Kerk—at least in its liberal modality. They have long since abandoned any pretence of being Reformed, even when it comes to such fundamentals as the blood of atonement. But what will the conservative minority of the GKN do in the face of such blatant action? Will they simply go along under protest, as they have so often done in recent years? Or will they try to continue separately as the GKN?
In the second place, what will be the reaction of others to this development? It is a well-known fact that the GKN has been a perennial problem in one way or another for the Reformed Ecumenical Synod, both because of its membership in the World Council and because of things such as its stand on homosexuals. And some of these matters are up for discussion at the next RES. But what if the GKN in effect becomes one, or openly states that it hopes to become one, with the Hervormde Kerk? And what effect will this intention of the GKN have on its relationships—already troubled—with other Reformed denominations throughout the world, all of whom have their roots, to one degree or another, in the Secession of 1834 and the Doleantie of 1886?
In the third place, it is still a question as to what the reaction will be in the Hervormde Kerk. The latter, you will recall, is already a modalities church. In it there are three distinct wings: the ultra-liberal wing (with whom the GKN would feel at home), the group that may be termed middle-of-the-roaders, and those often spoken of as ultra-conservative, a group which is in many respects very Reformed, the Gereformeerde Bond. With the latter the GKN will surely not find favor. But it may also be a question whether the GKN will find favor with others. Eight or nine years ago, when Dr. G.C. Berkouwer and Dr. Herman Ridderbos appeared at the Synod of the Hervormde Kerk with the proposed Unanimous Testimony of Faith (cf. Standard Bearer, Vol. 50, p.318), they found favor with neither the ultra-liberals nor with the Gereformeerde Bonders. Have things changed? Has the way been smoothed for “Together on the way”? Would it not be ironic if the GKN would say, “We want union,” but the Hervormde Kerk would take a negative stance?
Only time will tell what developments lie ahead.
An Appeal for Help With a Large Project
How often, as parents or grandparents, have you wished for a Bible story book that was in every way dependable and satisfactory for use with your children and grandchildren?
The R.F.P.A. Publications Committee is planning—and, in fact, is already deeply involved in producing—just such a Bible story book.
Elsewhere in this issue you will find an exact replica of one of the stories to appear in this book, so that you may see for yourselves—and, frankly, to tickle your appetite for this book.
But let me tell you about this project.
First of all, there will be 198 stories from the Old and New Testaments, varying in length from two to three pages. Each story will also be accompanied by a picture appropriate to the story. The manuscript has already been completed. The art work is in process and is more than half finished.
As to the stories, here is the important data: 1) The author is Gertrude Hoeksema, who has drawn on her many years of experience in teaching young children, and, besides, tested several stories through actual use by several families before proceeding with the whole book. 2) The stories are specifically designed for children from the ages of 3 or 4 to 8 years old. They are characterized by conscious use of simple terms and by the graphic language which appeals to little children. 3) The stories are all dependably Biblical and Reformed. You will be able to trust this book in using it with your young children, and will find that it is unnecessary to edit out non-acceptable elements or to skip unacceptable stories. 4) There is an attempt to establish a continuity in the stories, rather than to tell isolated Bible stories. For example, the Old Testament stories all converge on the coming of Christ. 5) At the conclusion of each story there is a “point to remember” which emphasizes the heart of the story and which serves to stress a spiritual truth. Hence, these are more than just stories: there is in them the element of personal application.
As to the art work, first of all, we are fortunate to have the services of an artist from our Kalamazoo Protestant Reformed Church, Mr. Jeff Steenholdt. His regular work is that of a commercial artist. But from the start of this project he expressed interest in it, and he has become deeply involved in the work, spending many, many hours of his spare time on it. He has been working closely with the author in countless conferences. At this stage, the illustrations for 80 stories have been completed; and the illustrations for the stories up to number 150 are at various stages of completion. Most of the art work will be in half-tones (as in the sample in this issue); but we are aiming to include several full-color illustrations. With regard to the latter, our problem is expense: it costs approximately $1000.00 for the printing of each colored illustration! What is the artist striving for? The following: 1) Reverence. There will be none of the harum-scarum pictures which appear in so many stories. 2) Realism. The illustrations will be as accurate as possible. But also, there will be no frontal views of faces of Bible characters which are simply the product of the artist’s imagination. 3) The artist strives to illustrate the positive element in the story. For example, in the sample story in this issue he focuses on the ram which the Lord provided, rather than on a gruesome picture of Isaac on the altar and Abraham with his knife uplifted. Further, each illustration is being carefully placed in the exact place where it belongs in the text of the story. Those of us who have had the opportunity to see some of this art work are excited about its quality!
Are you interested in seeing this project succeed? As soon as possible? Think of your own children and grandchildren!
The simple fact is that this is the most expensive project which the R.F.P.A. Publications Committee has ever undertaken. It will cost us thousands of dollars to market this book. And we are striving mightily to keep the price within reach, too—approximately around $24.95, not a high price in these times for a book like this.
But we need money! Not hundreds, but thousands! Right now we are at least $10,000 away from being able to publish.
How can you help?
There are two ways.
In the first place, we need several very large outright gifts, gifts of several hundred or a thousand dollars. These, by the way, are tax-deductible. Why not contribute before the end of the year?
In the second place, we need hundreds of additional RFPA Book Club members. Do you know that there are fewer than one-fourth of our Protestant Reformed families who are Book Club members? Let me explain again the advantages of this Book Club. They are as follows: 1) As a Book Club member you automatically receive all RFPA books. And these books ought to be in every Protestant Reformed home! 2) As a Book Club member you receive our books at a discount. And the more members we have, the greater the discount! At present it is only 20%. But if we had a few hundred more members, we could easily make that 30 or 40%! 3) Here is the biggest factor for us. If you are members of the Book Club, you automatically help us with the publication of every RFPA book. For if we have a guaranteed market for a large number of books, it also means that the costs of producing a book are guaranteed in advance.
Will YOU help? For the sake of your children and grandchildren?
The address is: RFPA Publications Committee, P.C. Box 2006, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49501.