All of the news items included in this column this time have to do with events in the Netherlands. The last years have seen swift changes in the Netherlands especially in the Gereformeerde Kerken; and these changes have not been good. The drift is towards modernism; and it is gaining momentum.
The first item of interest is a decision of the Gereformeerde Kerken concerning the “Geelkerken Case.” Our readers will recall that in 1926 at the Synod of Assen Dr. Geelkerken was deposed from office for denying the literal interpretation of Genesis 2 and Genesis 3. He denied that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life was real; and he denied that the serpent through which Satan tempted Eve was real.
Concerning the action of this year’s Synod we quote from the R.E.S. News Exchange:
(Lutheran) The General Synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands decided in its meeting here that the church’s declaration in 1926 (Assen) concerning the literal historicity of
is no longer binding upon the churches. In 1926 the church declared that the tree of life, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and the serpent which spoke must be understood as “sensuously perceptible entities.” As, a result of the decision, thousands of people left the Reformed churches in the late twenties and after the war joined the Netherlands Reformed Church (Hervormde).
While there is now greater freedom in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands in the interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis, the Synod specifically limited the latitude of view to the bounds set by the church’s confession. In its decision the Synod declared:
1. that it shares fully the concern of the Synod of Assen 1926 that the authority of Holy Scripture must be respected by the church.
2. that it does not consider itself competent to form a judgment concerning the specific nature of the scriptural story in
that would be sufficiently well established to continue to follow the exclusive way in which Synod of Assen 1926 expressed itself on the obvious meaning of specific details of this story.
3. that at the same time, that which is articulated verbally in the Confession of the church concerning the origin of sin and the effects of the fall into sin (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Days 3 and 4 and Belgic Confession Articles 14 and 15) clearly expresses the fundamental meaning which the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament (i.a.
attribute to this history and therefore should be maintained by the church as being of essential importance for the proclamation of the gospel.
The decision reads:
“that the declaration of the special general synod held in Assen from January 26 to March 17, 1926:
a. that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the serpent and its speaking and the tree of life, according to the obvious intention of
are to be understood in a real or literal sense and thus as sensuously perceptible realities; and
b. that therefore the opinion of Dr. Geelkerken, that one could render disputable whether these matters or facts were sensuously perceptible realities without coming in conflict with what is confessed in Articles 4 and 5 of the Belgic Confession, must be rejected, is no longer in force in the churches as a doctrinal declaration.”
The Synod reached the decision after two full days of discussion by a vote of 64 to 2 with one abstention. Informatiedienst explained that the difficulty in reaching a decision centered in the fact that while the delegates were of the opinion that it was not correct to consider a single interpretation of
as the only permissible one, (They were agreed that Geelkerken ought to be exonerated, H.H.) they feared a freedom of doctrine that would be too great. For this reason the Synod’s declaration indicates a continuing adherence to the creed.
The Synod appointed a special committee to propose what should be done with those persons who left the Reformed churches as a result of the 1926 decision. (This is indeed, quite a problem, H.H.) This committee will report to the Synod when it reconvenes in January.
This is certainly a strange decision—and a deceptive one. It ought to be clear to anyone that if the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the serpent, and the tree of life are not to be understood in the real and literal sense of Scripture, but only in some mythical sense then the same is true of the fact of the fall of our first parents. It is impossible then to maintain that the Scriptural narrative describing the fall into sin is a real historical event. It is dishonest and a camouflage for the Synod piously to assert nonetheless that it is remaining true to the creeds. The Heidelberg Catechism clearly presupposes the literal interpretation of Genesis 2 and Genesis 3 when it explains that the depravity of human nature proceeds “from the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, in Paradise.” (Lord’s Day 3.) The same is true of Article XIV of the Belgic Confession in which the Church confesses concerning the fall: “But being in honor, he understood it not, neither knew his excellency, but willfully subjected himself to sin, and consequently to death, and the curse, giving ear to the words of the devil. For the commandment of life, which he had received, he transgressed and by sin separated himself from God. . . .”
The door has been opened to all forms of liberalism and modernism by this decision. Of course, it must be remembered that the Synod was forced to face the decisions of Assen by those within the Church who have gone far beyond Geelkerken in denying the truth of Scripture. (Cf. below.) And, in this respect, Synod was at least honest. For if they now tolerate views worse than those of Geelkerken, the least they can do is justify him. The Synod of the Christian Reformed Church ought now to do the same with the decisions of their Synod in the Janssen case.
What now? Will Synod posthumously give Geelkerken a medal of honor and canonize him as a martyr in the cause of the truth? They should.
That Synod was almost forced to justify Geelkerken is evident from the fact that views such as those taught by Dr. H.M. Kuitert are tolerated within the Church.
In a recent issue of Church and Nation Dr. L. Praamsma makes mention of these views of Dr. Kuitert. He discusses a book. by Prof. Dr. H. Van Riessen in which Dr. Van Riessen describes the views of Kuitert and condemns them. Van Riessen points out that Kuitert denies the existence of a Paradise before the fall, maintains the presence of death from the beginning of creation, and insists that the Adam and Eve of Genesis never existed. He explains the presence of these stories in Scripture by saying that Israel knew the myths of its neighbors and reproduced them in Gen. 1-3 which part of the Bible should therefore be called “saga.” Praamsma includes a couple of quotations from Van Riessen’s discussion of Kuitert’s views:
Two conclusions are obvious. This theory, being a scientific theory, starts with the idea that
is a human testimony and not the Word of God. This theory concludes that this part of the Bible does not tell what happened, but is the reconstructed folklore of the neighbors in which only this is reliable that the God of Israel’s covenant is the same God who created the world.
This theology which acts as autonomous science in its relation to the Bible, abandons the authority of Scripture in favor of that of science. It tells us that what is written not is, what it means as we read it, and it does not want to elucidate for us what we read; but it wants to make clear to us that God meant something else than what He cause to be recorded. As a matter of fact Kuitert disclaims the last clause with its serious accusation, because according to his opinion only the writers of the Bible wrote the Bible.
In the theory of Kuitert the Bible as Word of God is altogether out of the question. This part of Genesis is in his opinion the work of the authors of the Bible with the limited knowledge and historical background of men in Israel of the 5th century B.C. who presumably were not interested in the genesis of the world.
Kuitert refuses to say that Scripture is the foundation of the Christian faith; rather, he insists that tradition alone an serve as such a foundation. Shades of Rome! Since Scripture has no authority of its own, this has got to be the case. Van Riessen continues concerning this point:
There is therefore no difference in structure (of revelation) between John, Paul, Augustine and the minister who preached last Sunday. The difference in authority is to be found exclusively in being closer to or more remote from the historical fact at stake. In this order, therefore, authority generally increases: the minister, Augustine, Paul, John.
The Bible is the human confessing response to God’s self-revelation in His contact with the authors of the Bible. As such the Bible is not God’s Word. Therefore the tradition takes the place of the Bible, because God’s contact with men continues; also in the sermon to which I should listen from now on with more reverence than I am accustomed to. But that is an advantage in Kuitert’s opinion, because persons who are not able to handle theology in the proper manner are neither able to read the Bible in the right manner.
Such are some of the theological trends in the Netherlands. And, strikingly, Kuitert has recently been appointed Professor of Systematic Theology at the Free University of Amsterdam.
In another article in the same issue of Church and Nation, Jac. Guezebroek discusses the question raised in a book by Drs. Puchinger entitled “Is de Gereformeerde Wereld Veranderd?” (Did the Reformed World Change?) Among other things he says:
In a very talented way Drs. Puchinger relates to us interviews with 20 people whose names in the Dutch world of Church and Theology have obtained prominence. . . .
While reading this book, one cannot help but notice the very unique situation our Old Country finds itself in. You cannot escape the feeling of having come home again and of being, all of a sudden, in the midst of one large family. A family where all the members talk about a problem; a problem which is familiar to everyone. . . .
A second impression is: time moves fast. . . . And how ridiculously unimportant certain issues have become, while only a few years ago they managed to set whole congregations afire! Families were torn apart and friendships broken because of those issues.
In every issue I read, Prof. Schilder was called one of the greatest leaders and the struggle started by him was deplored by all. And what about Geelkerken? The clash of personalities plays an important role in almost all church conflicts, although we might not want to admit it. . . .
Yes, indeed, the Reformed world has changed1
The way of thinking has changed, the opinions have changed, the attitude towards each other has changed and the relations between the different churches have changed. Big changes have taken place, there is no doubt about it!
. . . While it is still difficult to really assess the developments in the Netherlands, it certainly is a wonderful thing that people can speak so openly with one another and with so much respect for each other’s opinion. Just read the discussion between Dooyewerd and Van Peursen. They disagree from beginning to end, yet, they speak to each other as brothers in an open and Christian way.
We could learn something from them. When I read certain pamphlets which are being circulated in Christian Reformed circles, and when I see how our members are “classified” into different “categories,” I cannot help but remember the times before the war in Holland, when this same situation existed. The people in Holland have changed and are cured from this. Yes, they are completely cured from this! It took some really bad experiences and some very earnest soul-searching was necessary-but the result is gratifying.
I sincerely hope that we will be spared these terrible experiences; but let us start .now with the soul-searching!
So this is the conclusion of the matter. Not a swift and sharp condemnation of these vicious denials of Scripture, Rather a general observation: “How nice it is that brethren can discuss their differences in a fraternal spirit. Would there were more of these in the Christian Reformed Church.”
And this is precisely the spirit of our days of theological apostasy. The truth of God is not important any more. What is important is that differences can be discussed even though men destroy the Word of God. The important thing is that men are sitting down together over a cup of coffee smoking cigars and fraternally discussing the death of God’s truth. How nice to preside over the rush of the Church into modernism and the loss of the heritage of the truth in a brotherly spirit!
God save us from such a fraternal spirit.