Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of the Crete PRC in Crete, Illinois

Who was Johannes Jansen?

Johannes Jansen was born on January 19, 1873, in Varsseveld, Gelderland.1 His father, a farmer, was also named Johannes Jansen, and his mother was Berendina Johanna Rademaker. He grew up as a member of the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk (Christian Reformed Church in the Netherlands), the churches of the Afscheiding.

In 1892, the same year that the churches of the Afscheiding united with the churches of Abraham Kuyper’s Doleantie to form the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederlands (Reformed Churches in the Netherlands), Jansen began his studies for the ministry of the gospel atthe Theological School in Kampen. These were tumultuous times at Kampen, culminating in the departure of two of her professors, Herman Bavinck and Petrus Biesterveld, to join Kuyper’s Free University in 1902.

In 1901, after graduation, Jansen was ordained as pastor of the Reformed Church in ‘s-Gravenmoer, North Brabant. He later served pastorates in Nieuw-Buinen, Drenthe (1904-6); Burum, Friesland (1906-15); Ten Boer, Groningen (1915-1922); Ijmuiden, North Holland (1922-26); and Wierden, Overijsel (1926-1935).

Jansen was married on April 19, 1906, to Geertina Willemina Warringa (1883-1968), and together they celebrated fifty years of marriage.

Jansen died on May 26, 1956, in Veenwouden, Friesland.

In addition to the regular work of a pastor, Jansenspent considerable time researching and writing on the subject of Reformed church polity. Along with his contemporary and colleague Harm Bouwman (1863- 1933), he came to be recognized in the Dutch Reformed churches as a reliable authority on the subject. In 1913, he published his first work, a lengthy explanation of the process of church discipline. In 1917, he published the first volume of what was intended to be a lengthy, multi-volume explanation of the Church Order, but work on this stopped due to the high costs involved. In 1923, he published a brief explanation of the Church Order, entitled Korte verklaring van de kerkenordening (A Brief Explanation of the Church Order). This work was tremendously popular, evident from the fact that it went through three editions during his lifetime.

Why this translation?

What follows here and in the next number of issues of the Standard Bearer is my translation of Jansen’s Korte verklaring on the subject of church discipline (Articles 71-80 of the Church Order).2

The rationale behind the translation was to make available to English readers a bit of the great wealth of material on the subject of church polity that is found in the Dutch language. English speakers are largely dependent on VanDellen and Monsma’s commentary on the Church Order. While VanDellen and Monsma’s work is very worthwhile, the danger is that we are limited to the opinion of only one commentary. By providing a translation of Jansen’s commentary, readers will benefit from having another respected resource on church polity, a resource that in places offers a different opinion than VanDellen and Monsma. (Readers will also be able to see how dependent VanDellen and Monsma were on Jansen.) Hopefully, this provides a greater appreciation for the wealth of solid material left us in the writings of our Dutch Reformed forefathers.

The decision was made initially to translate the section of Jansen’s work on church discipline because of the importance of church discipline in the life of the church, and to promote a deeper understanding of this work both on the part of elders and members in the pew.

[Now follows Jansen’s exposition of the Reformed Church Order’s initial article on church discipline.]

“Ecclesiastical censure”

Article 71: As Christian discipline is of a spiritual nature, and exempts no one from civil trial or punishment by the authorities, so also besides civil punishment there is need of ecclesiastical censures, to reconcile the sinner with the church and his neighbor and to remove the offense out of the church of Christ.

This article deals by way of introduction with the character, necessity, object, and purpose of discipline.

1. The character of discipline. The article states at the outset that Christian punishment is spiritual and exempts (i.e., releases or dismisses) no one from civil punishment. The churches spoke this deliberately to the government. They had asked her for the political approbation (approval) of the Church Order, so that it would acquire the character of a national law for the churches and would exercise more authority. But the government feared that the churches would extend their power beyond their borders over those things which did not belong to them, that is, they would also assume civil power. To reassure her now, and still to obtain political approbation, the churches explained here that discipline bears a spiritual character and dismisses none of her members from civil punishment. Suppose that someone (i.e., one of her members) has committed a sin of theft or murder and, after admonition by the church, comes to sincere repentance and reconciliation with her, this does not release him from civil punishment. A murderer, although reconciled to God and the church, would still have to undergo the punishment demanded by the court, even the death penalty. Church discipline does not eliminate government punishment.

Church discipline is a Christian punishment and bears a spiritual character. It arises from the spiritual power that Christ bestows on His church (Matt. 20:28; Eph. 4:11); is administered by officebearers whom Christ gives to His church (I Cor. 12:28; Heb. 5:4); is practiced with spiritual weapons of conviction, admonition, warning, censure, and cutting off (II Cor. 10:4); and is intended for the salvation of souls, the purification of the church, and the glory of God (Eph. 4:12; 6:10-18). Government power, on the other hand, arises from God as Creator, is administered by the secular government, maintains itself by the power of the sword, and is intended for the maintenance of order and law in the civil state. 

2. The necessity of discipline. This rests on the following grounds:

a. The ban in the Old Testament, whereby the Lord protected Israel outwardly from the seven neighboring Canaanite nations who were cut off at His command (Deut. 7:1-11; 20:15-18); and whereby He sanctified them inwardly, because an idolater (Ex. 22:20), a blasphemer (Lev. 24:11-16), etc., were to be cut off from their midst by the ban.3

b. The discipline of the synagogue, which came into being in and after the captivity to keep the Jewish people in the dispersion from intermingling (Ezra 10:8). It consisted of three degrees, namely the Nidui or lesser degree, the Schamatta or heavier punishment, and the Cherem or cutting off. Also in the New Testament we find some traces of it, namely in Luke 6:22; John 9:22; 12:42; 16:2.

c. The key power of the apostles, which Christ gave first to Peter (Matt. 16:19) and thereafter to all the apostles (Matt. 18:18; John 20:23). It was an extraordinary power infallibly to determine entry into and exclusion from the kingdom of heaven.

d. Discipline in the New Testament church. Proper church discipline in a narrow sense arose from the key power of the apostles. In origin they are indeed one, like root and plant, for Christ is the source of both; but in degree there is a distinction, because the key power is an extraordinary power of the apostles, while discipline has an ordinary or common character. Concerning the key power in a narrow sense, there are only the three texts (Matt. 16:19; 18:18; John 20:23), while church discipline is based on many more texts, such as Rom. 16:17, 18; I Cor. 5:2, 13; I Thess. 5:14; II Thess. 3:6, 14; I Tim. 5:2; Tit. 3:10; Rev. 2:2, 14, 20.

3. The object of discipline. Article 71 says that discipline seeks to reconcile the sinner with the church, etc. The object of discipline is therefore the sinner, i.e., a member of the church who makes himself guilty of a censurable sin. Nothing more than that is said. Further elaboration of the objects of discipline follows:

a. Confessing members of the church, who make themselves guilty of a censurable sin, namely: living persons, no lifeless objects (writings, buildings, countries), no dead ones (false teachers, heretics, systems of doctrine), no mass of members at the same time (innocent as well as guilty).

Furthermore: members of the church; not all baptized both those outside the church and within it (Rome); not those who terminate their membership orally or in writing and persist in it or who actually join another denomination and after admonition remain there, or someone who has left for another church with a certificate and refuses to hand in his certificate there. With regard to members who no longer sympathize with the church, who constantly attend elsewhere, or who edify themselves but in the opinion of the consistory cannot be cut off by excommunication, the Synod of the Hague (1914, Art. 140) ruled that in such cases “the consistory alone may be advised to proceed with admonition of these persons, to keep them away from the Lord’s Supper if need be,” without cutting them off by excommunication. 4

Third: guilty members of the church, who are chargeable; not a multitude of members at the same time, so that the innocent are struck down with the guilty, as was the case with the interdict of Rome; nor madmen, whose words and deeds cannot be imputed and are not sins worthy of discipline.

And finally all members of the church, rich and poor, authorities and subjects; thus also emperors and kings, judges and officers, mayors and notaries, etc. Rome excluded the pope as chief of the church, and the Episcopal and Lutheran churches excluded government officials. But this is contrary to the Scripture. Christ alone is the infallible King of the church. One is your Master, and you are all brothers.

b. Baptized members of the church. Already the baptized children, as members of the church, are objects of discipline. But because they are still incomplete members, the discipline is also incomplete and consists of exhortation, admonition, warning, correction, etc. In case a child of the congregation leads a loose life, visits the pubs, does not come to catechism, etc., it must first be addressed with the parents, because the error may lie in the upbringing. But the children themselves are also objects of admonition and discipline. Paul also directly admonished the children themselves, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right,” (Eph. 6:1; Col. 3:20). Also baptized adults, “who in adulthood through their own fault do not yet come to church confession and commitment,” are objects of discipline. They must be taught earnestly to come to confession of faith. In cases of persistent indifference, they should be admonished head for head. And if these exhortations are ineffective, they must be declared ecclesiastically by way of excommunication to no longer belong to the church. They themselves therefore cease to be objects of discipline.

c. The supervision of Reformed associations. The church also has a calling to oversee associations dealing with the explanation of God’s Word and the confession of the church. After all, she must watch over the public interpretation of God’s Word and the maintenance of her confession. The federation of Reformed youth associations has therefore on the advice of Prof. Dr. H. H. Kuyper at the Bundestag in Leeuwarden (1907) expressly accepted ecclesiastical supervision “as far as matters of religion are concerned, especially the interpretation of God’s Word and the maintenance of the confession.” And with regard to the supervision of the Reformed schools, the Synod of Leeuwarden (1920) has stated extensively and emphatically “that the consistories…must try to obtain supervision both of the suitability of the teachers and the religious content of their education” (cf. Acts of Leeuwarden, 1920, p. 248).5

4. The purpose of discipline, according to the conclusion of the article, is twofold: first, “to reconcile the sinner with the church and his neighbor,” and second, “to remove the offense out of the church of Christ.” Calvin had one more purpose, namely: “to keep the name of the Lord holy.” There are more descriptions. Voetius even mentions seven points. But Calvin’s three purposes are clearest and correct.

1 For much of this biographical information, I depended upon T. B. vanHouten, “Jansen, Johannes,” Biografisch lexicon voor de geschiedenis van het Nederlands protestantisme (Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1988), 3:196-197,

2 For this translation I used Johannes Jansen, Korte verklaring van de kerkenordening (Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1923).

3 The idea of the “ban” in the Old Testament referred to cutting off a person by exterminating them or devoting them to death, as in the passages listed here by Jansen. In the Middle Ages, the idea of the ban came to mean being officially declared an outlaw, thus being expelled from one’s place of residence and losing all one’s rights and privileges. In Reformed church polity, the language of the ban came to refer to one being excommunicated out of the church and cut off from membership. In cases where Jansen uses the word ban in this latter sense, I have translated it as “excommunication” or “cutting off” to avoid any uncertainty as to what he means by the ban.

4 The Dutch original of this minute can be found online here: pdf.

5 These minutes can be found online here: http://www.kerkrecht. nl/sites/default/files/ActaGKN1920.pdf.