NEW SPLIT IN THE NETHERLANDS
A brother sent me a clipping from a Dutch newspaper which describes recent events in the Liberated Churches in the Netherlands. Neither the same name of the paper nor the author of the article were included, although the paper seems to be a daily newspaper, and the article is written by the “Church News Editor,” who is probably a member of the Hervormde Kerk (the State Church).
In this article, the author speaks of recent troubles in the Gereformeerde Kerken (onderhoudende Artikel 31) (the so-called Liberated Churches) which seem tobe leading up to a split in this comparatively new denomination. The issue is return to the Gereformeerde Kerken.
His opening paragraph reads as follows (translated):
In the Netherlands another church split is at hand. In fact, it is already in the making. One must come to this sad conclusion when he has followed the recent happenings at the General Synod of the Liberated Churches in Rotterdam-Delfshaven, the protests and the writings in the paper “Contact” which is the voice of the “Protestants” of the Liberated Churches. The cause of the split is the doctrine that they (the Liberated Churches) are the only true church, which the leaders of the Liberated Churches want to maintain at any cost, while they take an irreconcilable attitude towards the Reformed Churches from which they broke in 1944. The occasion came in the decision of the Rotterdam-Delfshaven Synod to declare worthy of deposition first Rev. J. Vander Schaft of Murmerwoude and last month of Rev. A. Vander Ziel of Groningen-South which was preceded by the suspension of Rev. F. Boonstra of Leens a few years ago, while a new process of deposition seems to be in the making against Rev. J.F. Sollie of Nijega(Sm.). The suspension of Rev. Vander Ziel resulted in a falling apart of the Synod, and many of the Liberated and also Consistories no longer recognize the authority of the “rump-synod”, which, in spite of all protests, continues to meet in Rotterdam-Delfshaven under the leadership of the president, Rev. K. Deddens of Leeuwarden.
A review of the entire history leading up to this split is given in this article, and we shall describe a few of the more important events.
Most of our readers are acquainted with the fact that the Liberated Churches split from the Gereformeerde Kerken (The Reformed Church) in 1942 under the leadership of Dr. K. Schilder. The author of this article describes the issue in this split as centering in the question: “Is a baptized child entirely received into God’s covenant of grace, or must it first be regenerated?” This is, of course, an oversimplification of the problem; and the entire split also involved deep church political differences, chief of which was whether a broader ecclesiastical assembly has the authority to suspend and depose from office. (Cf. our own history as Protestant Reformed Churches in 1924).
The Liberated Churches numbered at that time some 96,000 souls. A few years later, in 1946, the Reformed Church adopted what was called a “Replacement Formula” which was an attempt to heal the breach of 1942. This was rejected by the Liberated Churches with the result that each went his own way as a separate denomination. The Liberated Churches established a. Theological School in Kampen; published their own papers: “De Reformatie” and “De Gereformeerde Gezinsbode”; established their own day schools and churches; and even formed their own political party which was called “Het Gereformeerd Politiek Verbond.”
In 1959 the Reformed Church (oftennicknamed “The Synodicals” because of their position that Synod could depose from office) set aside the “Replacement Formula;” but in 1961 the Synodicals again approached the Liberated with a proposal to work together. Also this proposal was refused by the Liberated Churches at their Synod at Assen.
But there were some in the Liberated Churches who were not satisfied with these refusals. Rev. J. Boonstra supported efforts to seek closer contact with the Synodicals and was suspended from office, after which he returned to the Reformed Church. In 1962 Rev. J. Vander Schaft was also suspended from office. He was minister of two congregations: Murmerwoude and Oenkerk, but was suspended only by the Murmerwoude congregation while he remained minister in Oenkerk. The grounds for his suspension were that he wanted discussions with the Synodicals since it was his contention that the removal of the “Replacement Formula” took away the right of existence from the Liberated Churches. He also returned to the Reformed Church.
In the latter part of 1962 Rev. A. Vander Ziel of Groningen-South established contact with a group of Synodicals in Groningen. Rev. L. L. Vander Vliet also took part in these discussions. He wanted to open new correspondence with the Synodicals in the hopes of healing the breach. In February of 1963 the Consistory of Groningen-South declared Vander Ziel worthy of deposition. But this required the approval of a neighboring Consistory, which was sought; but the neighboring Consistory refused to grant its approval. In June of 1963 Classis Groningen advised the Consistory of Vander Ziel to end procedure against him. However, the Consistory decided that this decision was not “binding” on the basis of Article 31 of the Church Order,—i.e., that the decision was in conflict with the Word of God. So they proceeded with the deposition in spite of the advice of Classis. (This is somewhat reminiscent of the interpretation of Article 31 which the people who left us in 1953 made, namely, that any Consistory has the right to go its own separate way apart from the decisions of a broader ecclesiastical assembly if they so choose.)
More than 60 churches protested this procedure.
The matter came to the Provincial Synod in February of 1964. This Synod decided that the Consistory had acted entirely properly in proceeding with deposition in spite of the decision of the Classis. This action of the Provincial Synod was approved by the General Synod meeting in Rotterdam-Delfshaven in November of 1964. The action of the General Synod brought matters to a head. The Synod met in closed session. Of the 27 delegates that were present, 14voted in favor of the motion to approve of the conduct of Vander Ziel’s Consistory which deposed him; 13 voted against; and of the 13 that voted against, 12 withdrew from the Synod. Only the delegations from Friesland, Groningen, and Drenthe remained intact. The Synod then called the secundi delegates, of which 4 also withdrew.
In the meantime Rev. J. F. Sollie was also suspended from office because he opposed the decisions which deposed Vander Schaft: The Consistory offered to allow him the right to continue preaching if he would submit in silence and not protest, but he refused.
About one-third of the churches were no longer represented at the Synod meeting in Rotterdam-Delfshaven. They met themselves on November 21 and declared the Synod in Rotterdam-Delfshaven. illegal and a “rump-Synod.” In their paper “Contact” they declared the decisions of the “rump-Synod” to be “idiotic” and approved of the meeting of those opposing the “rump-Synod.”
The author of the article speculates that the Liberated Churches of Groningen, Friesland and Drenthe will, for the most part, remain faithful to the Liberated cause, while between one-third and one-fourth will withdraw completely from the denomination. He also suggests the possibility that those who withdraw may seek union with either the Christian Reformed Church in that country or with the Synodicals.
There are several interesting conclusions which the author draws from this history.
1) He is of the opinion that this history points out more than ever the need of an “una sancta,” by which he evidently means a unified protestant church. He speaks of the need for continued efforts to approach the Hervormde Kerk (State Church) and work along with the World Council of Churches.
2) He also finds in this history the impossibility of maintaining (as the Liberated do) the idea of one true church with all the others as false. He speaks of the fact “that the group that continues in this way is getting more and more enmeshed in their own net; a net, the sticks of which were already set up—and that should not be forgotten—in the Secession, the Doleantie and the Liberation.” In other words, his point is that the Secession under De Cock in 1834, the Doleantie under Kuyper in 1886 and the Liberation under Schilder in 1942 were based upon a one-true-church idea, an idea which has caused nothing but trouble. Hence the solution is to return to the Hervormde Kerk. While this may have been true to some extent of the Liberation in 1942, the author is mistaken that this was a chief issue, or even the position of DeCock and Kuyper, in the Secession and the Doleantie.
3) Finally, he says that all this only shows how inhuman, unmerciful, and practically impossible all church discipline really is. And this also fits in with the idea of the author that there should be but one protestant denomination, an idea which obviously precludes the possibility of discipline.
It is difficult to evaluate this history both because the events are sketchy and the reliability of the author is doubtful. We shall therefore leave further comment for some possible future article.
There has been, in religious circles, considerable discussion of late concerning a new organization that has been formed, called the Citizens for Educational Freedom (CEF). We can best learn its purpose from the Constitution of this organization from which we quote the Preamble and Article I which discusses the purpose.
WE, citizens of the United States of America, dedicated to the principles of freedom and democratic government, and convinced of the paramount importance of freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of inquiry, and equality of rights under law. . ., DO, with a profound understanding of the essential importance to a free and open society of freedom of religion in education, of the indispensability in a pluralistic society of diversity in education, of the stifling conformity in thought and belief consequent upon a monolithic state educational system which is inimical to the most basic principles underlying the democratic way of life, of the great national interest in the intellectual and moral development of every American child, and with a keen awareness of the consequences for freedom in education of past parental failures to organize for participation in the democratic processes, HEREBY ESTABLISH the CITIZENS FOR EDUCATIONAL FREEDOM, dedicated to the protection and promotion of the civil rights of parents in the education of their children.
Recognizing that religion is inextricably bound up with every educational process, we seek to ensure that no law shall be made or enforced which would deny to any citizen the right to fulfill his educational task and responsibilities freely, without the interference of the state, in a manner consistent with his own religious convictions. In he pursuit of this freedom, as a nonsectarian organization, we welcome the support, cooperation and participation in our program and organization of any and every citizen committed to the principles of civil liberty and equality under law, irrespective of his own commitment to any particular religion or way of life.
The purpose of this corporation shall be to undertake and promote whatever activities shall contribute to the fair and just treatment of all citizens of the United States of America, including student citizens, in the distribution of governmental tax monies for the purpose of education, with a view to assuring freedom of choice in education to the end that the civil liberties of our citizens shall be secured.
Although the CEF in its Constitution makes an explicit point of neither favoring nor opposing federal aid to education, it is determined that, should such aid be given, parochial and private schools should share in it.
Nor does it explicitly state how it proposes to have these tax dollars distributed for the private and parochial schools, although its defenders have spoken of the desire to have the tax money given to the pupilsrather than directly to the schools. Writing in defense of the CEF in Torch and Trumpet, Edwin Palmer says,
By giving aid to the pupil rather than to the institution, two great advantages are gained. First of all, governmental control over the school is eliminated. The pupil is interposed between the state and the school.
The G.I. bill is a classic example of how billions of dollars went to students at all kinds of independent universities without the universities being controlled in any way by the government . . . . A second advantage concerns the principle of separation of church and state . . . . For the United States, CEF advocates governmental aid to the pupil rather than to the institution. Such aid could come in the form of a check to every American student, regardless of race, color or creed. The amount given would be the average state cost for educating one pupil for one year in the governmental schools. The check could be cashed only at the schools that comply with the state educational laws, such as laws for academic quality and number of teaching hours per year.
Notice, however, that while Palmer says that the “CEF advocates governmental aid to the pupil rather than to the institution,” this is not, as far as I can determine, included in the Constitution. This is an important point. Presumably, if the government would give tax dollars directly to the schools and refuse to give the money to the students, CEF would not disapprove.
We have, at various times, opposed government aid to Christian schools on the grounds that 1) the government has no business in the field of education which is a parental responsibility; and 2) that receiving government aid would be inviting government control. If the aid would be given directly to the students attending schools, the first objection would not fall away although the second would be less likely.
Nevertheless, I am still afraid of such aid. It is well-known that the government is showing an increased interest in gaining control over many areas of life,—and especially over the institutions it supports. And this is also true of the schools. Any government that has a craving for power sets its sights upon the schools, knowing that to be able to control the minds of the children who are to be the future citizens and leaders of the country is the shortest way to gain complete control over all of life. And while aid given directly to the parents or students would make control somewhat more difficult, it would still not be impossible. After all, the government could still withhold aid to children attending schools which are not meeting standards which the government itself sets up. And surely these standards could easily enough include what subjects are taught and how they are taught,—i.e., from what religious viewpoint.
It would still be best if parents who sent their children to private and parochial schools would simply be reimbursed by the state governments for the amount of tax dollars they pay in support of the public school system. There is nothing difficult about that; it would be truly just; it would keep the government out of the business of education,—at least in our own schools; and it would eliminate all possibility of federal control.