Prof. Engelsma is professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
With this article, Prof. Engelsma begins a two-part series on the ecclesiastical scene in the Netherlands. The articles are the fruit of informal presentations given a few months ago to Protestant Reformed ministers in the Grand Rapids area. Prof. Engelsma has made a point of keeping abreast of the rapid deterioration in the Reformed churches in the Netherlands. The editors, convinced that our readers ought to know about the sad state of affairs in the Netherlands, asked Prof. Engelsma to prepare his presentations for printing in the Standard Bearer. He graciously consented to do this. It is possible that more of these articles will be written as occasions for them arise in the future. These articles will not only grieve Reformed believers, they will also serve as a sobering warning and exhortation to all God’s people to “stand fast and hold the traditions which ye have been taught” (II Thess. 2:15).—RJD
In the early 1980s, my wife and I spent almost two weeks in the Netherlands. I had arranged to meet individually, during that time, with three prominent Reformed theologians in three different Reformed denominations. In Apeldoorn, I met with Dr. W. van’t Spijker of theChristelijke Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands); in Kampen, with Dr. J. Douma of the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (vrijgemaakt) [Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (“liberated”)]; in Urk, with Dr. C. Tukker of the Gereformeerde Bond in theNederlandse Hervormde Kerk (the Reformed Alliance in the Netherlands Reformed [state] Church). At the conclusion of our frank conversations, I asked each of these theologians the same question, “What is the state of the Reformed faith in the Netherlands today?” Each responded in the same way, and with almost the same words: “Het wordt donker” (“It becomes dark”).
I attempted also to get to the theological department of the Free University in Amsterdam, in order to speak with a theologian of the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland(Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, GKN). But the students at the Free, who by that time already had abandoned everything Abraham Kuyper taught, including anti-revolutionary principles, except for his doctrine of common grace, had chosen that day for “een ruzie” (literally, a quarrel; in this case a revolution against the authorities of the Free University). The students had shut the Free down in order to show their solidarity with Marxist socialism. Although I pleaded with the ringleader, who looked like one of the wilder sansculottes, that I had come all the way from the United States to visit the theological faculty, he would not let me pass.
This is the university Kuyper founded on “Reformed principles.” The darkness of the churches casts shadows over the schools.
In the past twenty-five years, the darkness has deepened in all the Reformed churches in the Netherlands.
It is the darkness of willful unbelief.
It is the darkness of deliberate departure from the Reformed faith and life of the “Three Forms of Unity,” the church order of Dordt, and the Reformed tradition.
It is the doctrinal and ethical darkness of the falling away of the churches in the last days that the apostle foretold in II Thessalonians 2:3: “That day [the day of the coming of Christ] shall not come, except there come a falling away first.”
Since this darkness is that of those who claim, or once claimed, to be Reformed, since it is the darkness of churches that are the spiritual mothers of many who read the Standard Bearer, and since the other Reformed periodicals in North America, including the magazines of churches that are in sister-church, or other close, relations with the apostate or apostatizing churches in the Netherlands, curiously neglect to inform their readers of the apostasy of the Dutch churches, the Standard Bearer informs its readership of the deepening darkness over Reformed Netherlands.
The Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN)
The Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN) are no more. On May 1, 2004, they committed ecclesiastical and spiritual suicide. With the Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk (the Netherlands Reformed Church—the state church of the Netherlands) and a Lutheran church, they formed a new merger-church, the Protestant Church of the Netherlands (PKN). The new church has repudiated “The Three Forms of Unity” as its confessional basis, as well as the church order of Dordt. It is no Reformed church at all, not even in name. On the contrary, it boasts of being a “pluralist church.” In the PKN, all beliefs are welcome, including the denial of the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith. Even the Reformed faith of “The Three Forms of Unity” is tolerated. The PKN even recognizes “The Three Forms of Unity” as ancient and antiquated symbols of a by-gone faith. But the PKN forbids those who do hold the Reformed faith (and some still claim to hold the Reformed faith) to confess the Reformed faith as the one and only true faith, or to condemn the many other, conflicting faiths in the church as false.
In the constitution of the PKN is an article approving homosexual relationships and practice.
The Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN), which joined in the merger that formed the PKN, had their origins in the reforming movement of 1834 known as the “Afscheiding” (Secession), under the leadership of H. de Cock, and in the reforming movement of 1886 known as the “Doleantie” (Sorrowing), under the leadership of A. Kuyper. Once, these churches were glorious with the light of the Reformed faith and life. For this faith, they were persecuted, and gladly suffered. Over the past half century or so, they fell away from the truth, and thus from Christ. They abandoned predestination; criticized Holy Scripture, beginning with Genesis 1-11; questioned, or allowed their theologians to question, every doctrine of the Christian faith, including the satisfaction of the cross; and conformed their lives to the ungodly world. Now they are no more. They died. Such was their death as true churches of Christ—for this is the nature of apostasy—that they took new form as the whore of antichrist.
Seven congregations—only sevencongregations, out of more than eight hundred—of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN) refused to go along into the PKN. They call themselves the Continuing Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.
The Christian Reformed Church in North America, determined to maintain relations with the departed GKN, now has ecumenical relations with the apostate PKN.
The Reformed Alliance (the Bond)
Very much involved in the merger that formed the PKN was an organization known as the Reformed Alliance (Gereformeerde Bond). The Alliance was a large, structured group within the state church of the Netherlands, the Netherlands Reformed Church (Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk). The Alliance was made up of those in the apostate state church who wanted to be Reformed in doctrine and life, but refused to leave the state church. As leaders of the Alliance were fond of saying, in explanation of their remaining in the corrupt state church, “Mijn moeder is een hoer, maar zij is mijn moeder” (“My mother is a whore, but she is my mother”). Rather than to leave the apostate state church, the Alliance formed itself as an “ecclesiola in ecclesia” (a “little [true] church within the institution of the large [false] church”). Its purpose was to reform the state church from within. The Alliance justified its remaining in the state church by appealing to the fact that the state church still formally acknowledged “The Three Forms of Unity” as its creeds, although the state church paid absolutely no attention to these creeds whatsoever and, in fact, trampled them underfoot.
In the merger of the state church, the GKN, and the Lutheran church to form the PKN, the Alliance in the end decided to go along. The Alliance is now part of a church that has formally renounced the Reformed confessions as the basis of the church, including the church order of Dordt; that permits both faith and unbelief in its congregations and seminaries; and that explicitly approves homosexuality. The Alliance, which once gave a sound witness to the truth, despite its impossible position within the state church, is now swallowed up in a false church. By decision of the Alliance itself!
In this shameful end of the Alliance, there is a judgment of God. The tactic of trying to live as a small, semi-structured, isolated group within the institution of a departing church is not the biblical and Reformed way of opposing false doctrine and wickedness of life in a denomination of churches. Neither is it the way of maintaining the true unity of the church. Therefore, it does not work. The result is never the reformation of the unfaithful institution, but always the eventual destruction of the small, faithful group.
One ray of light shines through the darkness of the demise of the Alliance. Some one hundred congregations associated with the Alliance, under the courageous leadership of forty or fifty ministers, refused to join the PKN. They have felt themselves bound in their consciences before God to maintain the Reformed faith on the basis of “The Three Forms of Unity” and to be governed by the church order of Dordt. This new denomination (which claims to be the true continuation of the Netherlands Reformed Church) has taken the name, Hersteld Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk (Re-established Netherlands Reformed Church). However, on appeal by the PKN against the use of this name by the faithful remnant, a civil court has just ruled in favor of the PKN.
The Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (CGKN)
When Abraham Kuyper in 1892 accomplished the union of his “Doleantie” (Sorrowing) churches with the “Afscheiding” (Secession) churches, to form the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN), a few congregations of the “Afscheiding” tradition remained outside the union. They were determined to maintain the distinctive doctrinal and church political heritage of the “Secession” of 1834. These congregations have become the Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.
These churches are not to be confused with the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Although their names are similar, the two denominations have no relation to each other. The Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands have a sister-church relation with the Free Reformed Churches in North America.
The Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands have for a long time countenanced three distinct theological mentalities, and virtually three distinct groups, within the denomination. The right wing is mystical and experiential, concentrating on one’s spiritual experiences rather than on sound doctrine and the faith that knows and trusts the sound doctrine of the gospel. The left wing is liberal—always questioning and subtly undermining the doctrine and life of the Reformed faith. The center is made up of what the Dutch call the “middle orthodoxy.”
Today, the left wing of the Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands has become aggressive and bold. Theologians publish books criticizing Scripture, beginning (as unbelieving criticism of the word of God in the church always does) with Genesis 1-11. It is well-known that higher criticism, that is, unbelief with regard to the inspired word of God, is entrenched in the Christian Reformed seminary at Apeldoorn, and has been for a long time. Already in 1981, a synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (“liberated”) admonished the Christian Reformed Churches for tolerating the higher critical views of Scripture of Prof. B. J. Oosterhof and Prof. J. P. Versteeg. More recently, the prominent Christian Reformed theologian Dr. B. Loonstra has published a spate of books that effectively deny that all Scripture is God-breathed, as Scripture claims to be (II Tim. 3:16).
In demonstration of the truth that false doctrine results in depraved ethics, indeed, probably has depraved ethics as its purpose, the same Dr. B. Loonstra has just published a book approving homosexual relationships and advocating that the Christian Reformed Churches welcome such practicing homosexuals as members of the churches. The title of the book is Hij heeft een vriend. Homorelaties in de christelijke gemeente (English translation: He has a Friend: Homosexual Relations in the Christian [Reformed] Congregation). In the book, Loonstra contends that “homosexual relationships in love and faithfulness are lawful” (my translation of the Dutch).
God’s giving of members of the Christian Reformed Churches over to a reprobate mind, as the apostle describes the thinking that approves homosexuality in Romans 1:28, extends beyond the individual theologian. A Christian Reformed consistory in Zwolle has publicized its decision that homosexual members of the congregation who live together with someone of the same sex are to be recognized as brothers and sisters “in full rights [of church membership].” According to explicit consistorial decision, this includes that these practicing homosexuals may partake of the Lord’s Supper.
There is no discipline. Under pressure, Loonstra deemed it prudent for the time being to “withdraw” his book. This satisfied the opposition. The heretic is not deposed. The consistory at Zwolle was merely advised to “recall” its decision. It was not required to repent of its sin of publicly calling that which God inRomans 1:26-28 calls “vile affections” and “shameful” behavior, godly desire and practice.
If a leading theologian in a Reformed denomination dares to publish his approval of homosexual practice, and has no hesitation to urge his denomination to approve this depravity, and if a consistory is bold publicly to welcome practicing homosexuals to the holy supper of the Lord, the denomination is far gone in its departure from Jesus Christ.
(Next: The Reformed Churches in the Netherlands [“liberated”])