Prof. Engelsma is professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary. Previous article in this series: July 2006, p. 420.
The Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (“liberated”)
The most precipitous and dramatic falling away from the faith of “The Three Forms of Unity” is that of the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (“vrijgemaakt”) (Reformed Churches in the Netherlands [“liberated”]). This is the denomination that separated from the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN, “synodical” churches) in the early 1940s under the leadership of Dr. K. Schilder. It was the conditional covenant theology of these churches, embraced and preached by some ministers in the Protestant Reformed Churches, that occasioned the grievous schism in the Protestant Reformed Churches in the early 1950s.
In former years, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (“liberated”) were staunch defenders of the faith and life of “The Three Forms of Unity,” always excepting their covenant doctrine of universal, resistible grace in the generations of believers. No longer! In recent years, these churches have undergone radical changes—changes that often originated in their seminary in Kampen, changes that are officially adopted and defended by their synods, and changes that constitute departure from the “old paths” marked out by the confessions and walked in by Reformed believers and their children for ages.
The Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (“liberated”) apostatize in their public worship. A new style of preaching is in vogue, promoted by the seminary in Kampen. Preachers now tell stories about their own experiences, or the experiences of others. These stories are only remotely connected to the text. This “narrative method” of preaching replaces the traditional exposition and application of the doctrine of the text.
In the brochure, “Laten wij ons bekeren” (“Let us Repent”), in which those who have been compelled to separate from the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (“liberated”) issue a stirring call to the apostatizing denomination to reformation, the very first evil mentioned is the debasing of sound, Reformed preaching. Because this corruption of the preaching signals and effects the falling away of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (“liberated”), because this gutting of the preaching of the gospel is popular elsewhere today, and because the abandonment of doctrinal, expository preaching is the destruction of Reformed worship at its heart, I quote at some length from “Let us Repent” the complaint about preaching in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (“liberated”). The translation from the Dutch is mine.
No longer is the starting point for the making of a sermon careful exegesis, the careful determination of what God’s word exactly teaches, in which the text itself is used and Scripture is compared with Scripture. Our theological students are rather taught that the preacher must first of all begin with a personal meditation about the text. That the point of departure of preaching is found less and less in the calling of the preacher as servant of the word to preach that word is expressed in the so-called narrative preaching. In this storytelling “preaching,” the content is no longer entirely governed by God’s own words in Scripture. Rather, the preacher tells a story, frequently fantasy, about something the Lord in His wisdom has not revealed to us in the Bible. That means that the preacher thinks that we do not have enough in what the Lord has included in His word. It means that in the sermon we have to hear a certain message of the preacher. Thus, it happens that there are sermons in which the Scriptures are hardly opened any more. One’s own stories and related figures replace the glorious gospel to the people of the covenant. Thus, it happens that in many congregations there is a poverty of the living preaching of the word: the content of the preaching of the Sender is adjusted according to the hearers and according to the creative thinking of the preacher. Sometimes, a text is sought for a message in which the Bible merely furnishes some illustrative material. Specifically, this happens in the so-called theme services. Thus, we have to hear a sermon on the Netherlands Bible Society. Exegesis and depth [of preaching] are frequently forced out [of the preaching] by aiming for “simplicity.” The people may not be turned off. In this way, treasures in God’s word are allowed to go unused. Things have become so bad that there is an “infantilizing [making childish]” of God’s word: a strong tendency to bring everything [in the preaching] to the level of little children. Or, one directs the preaching entirely to outsiders, whether or not any is present. In this way, the Scriptural address concerning the responsibility of the older members does not receive attention.
Behind this shallow, preacher-centered, and audience-centered (rather than God-centered) method of preaching is a determination, indeed obsession, to evangelize the lost at the public worship services of the congregation. One of the theological professors has written that “the Church must focus completely on evangelism.” He criticized the Reformed churches for their past emphasis on inward growth and on the defense of the faith. Those who promote the new style of preaching (which is no preaching of the gospel at all) reject the Reformed view of the congregation as believers and their covenant children, who must be built up in the faith.
The lament concerning the preaching in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (“liberated”) continues with the charge that more and more frequently Christ does not appear in the sermon. There is also refusal to preach the law of God and to warn sharply against disobedience to the law. Such preaching is condemned as “legalism.” “The word and concept, ‘antithesis,’ is not much used any more.”
Apostasy in the public worship takes place in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (“liberated”) also by the introduction in the past few years of more than a hundred “evangelical” and other “spiritual songs.” Not only does the addition of these hymns drive out the singing of the Psalms, in a denomination of churches that always prized the Psalms, but the hymns are also unbiblical. They contain all kinds of false doctrine and errors. Significantly, the first false doctrine charged against the “evangelical songs” in “Let Us Repent” is “the doctrine of common grace.”
This introduction of “evangelical songs,” with their message of a God who is only love and who loves all without exception, represents a radical departure of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (“liberated”) from their sound beginnings. One of the main reasons for de Cock’s separation from the state church in 1834 was that church’s singing of Arminian hymns. Kuyper too advocated singing only the Psalms in worship. One of his grounds was that the introduction of hymns invariably leads to the singing of Arminian hymns.
The seminary in Kampen promotes the apostasy, rather than to spearhead the fight against it. Professors deny the inspiration of Scripture. They challenge the historicity of Genesis 1-3. One has publicly criticized the decision of the Synod of Assen (1926) that condemned Rev. Geelkerken for denying the historicity ofGenesis 3. Thus, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (“liberated”) head down the same broad road of unbelief into the abyss that the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN, “synodical” churches) traveled before them. Deliberately, they head down this road. As A. M. Lindeboom has demonstrated in his book,De Theologen Gingen Voorop: Eenvoudig Verhaal van de Ontmanteling van de Gereformeerde Kerken (English translation:The Theologians Led the Way: A Simple Account of the Dismantling of the Reformed Churches [in the Netherlands, GKN]), the destruction of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN, “synodical” churches) began with criticism of Scripture. The criticism of Scripture began with the opening chapters of Genesis.
As is invariably the case, apostasy regarding doctrine is accompanied by departure from the law of God in the life of the members of the church. A synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (“liberated”) has recently approved the teaching that the Christian church’s observance of Sunday has no basis in the fourth commandment of the law of God. According to this synodical decision, Sunday observance is merely a good practice of the New Testament church. A certain Rev. D. Ophoff preached that the members of the Reformed Churches must “let others notice how much that day is worth to you. As far as I am concerned, not on grounds of an absolute, divine command, but certainly because it is good together to enjoy one day of rest in a week, according to the example of Israel’s sabbath.” In answer to a protest against this teaching, the synod decided that “the view of Rev. D. Ophoff, that the Sunday as day of rest is not based on a divine command, is not to be condemned.”
Heretical synods, like heretical preachers, throw a smoke screen over their false teaching in order to deceive the people. The synods of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (“liberated”) have been doing this regarding the decision abolishing the Christian Sabbath, as have their defenders in North America. In response to the alarm of the people over the synodical decision nullifying the fourth commandment, they have been praising Sunday observance to the skies. Reading their reports, one would think that the observance of the Lord’s Day has no greater champion in all of Christendom. But denial that our observance of the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week, is based on the fourth commandment of the abiding law of God is the death of the Christian church’s Sunday observance. This denial is the official decision of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (“liberated”).
Ophoff’s sermon and the synod’s decision reflect, and justify, widespread Sabbath desecration by many members of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (“liberated”). They do business on the Lord’s Day, use the sabbath days especially of the summer for recreation, and fail diligently to frequent the church of God.
Another synod of these churches has recently decided to approve membership in the churches of those who divorce for any reason, and remarry. Even the guilty party—the adulterer, who has destroyed his own family and the family of his illicit lover—may now be member in good standing in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (“liberated”) with his new wife. There they sit at the communion table with the adulterer’s first wife and with his adulterous new wife’s first husband, and probably with the covenant children, scattered around in the congregation or denomination, of both the families they have destroyed. About this decision, that brazenly opposes the seventh commandment and everything that Jesus and His apostles teach about marriage, divorce, and remarriage in the New Testament, I wrote several years ago in my editorial, “The Sad Case of Bert Zandstra” (Vol. 74, p. 53).
The result of the apostasy of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (liberated”) is a split in these churches. Beginning in 2003, some 1,200-1,500 members in all parts of the nation have liberated themselves from these churches and have formed a new denomination. Their charge is that the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (“liberated”) now take on the marks of the false church. Since they claim to be the true continuation of the denomination from which they have separated in a “new liberation,” they have adopted the same name, adding only the word, hersteld (re-established).
The Canadian and American Reformed Churches in North America have a sister-church relation with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (“liberated”). The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the United Reformed Churches, and other reputedly conservative Reformed and Presbyterian denominations have close ecumenical ties with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (“liberated”) in the international ecumenical organization, the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC).
It has become very dark in the Reformed Netherlands.
What explains this? What explains that the light of truth and holiness goes out among the people of the glorious struggle for the freedom to worship God according to the Reformed faith in the sixteenth century? in the country of the Synod of Dordt? in the churches of Gomarus, de Cock, Van Velzen, Kuyper, Bavinck, and Schilder?
There are a number of contributing causes, which might well be examined.
But the fundamental explanation is the fulfillment in the Reformed Netherlands of the apostle’s prophecy in II Thessalonians 2:3: “that day [the day of the coming of Christ] shall not come, except there come a falling away first.” The word translated “falling away” is, in the Greek original, apostasy. As the following verses teach, the spirit of antichrist works the apostasy, in order to ready the world for the man of lawlessness and his beastly kingdom. The church people allow themselves to be carried away with apostasy, because they do not love the truth and because they have pleasure in unrighteousness.
Sovereign also over the apostasy of the churches, God is realizing the apostasy of the Dutch churches. In His awful providence, He sends the churches strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, and be damned. The judicial ground of this dreadful, but perfectly just, blinding act of God upon the churches is that “they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (II Thess. 2:10). They received not the love of inspired, holy Scripture. They received not the love of the Reformed faith as set forth in the “Three Forms of Unity.” They received not the love of the gospel of salvation by particular, sovereign grace, which has its source in the eternal decree of election. They received not the love of an antithetical life in opposition to the ungodly life of the unbelieving world. In this way, they received not the love of Jesus Christ Himself, who is the truth.
Over the years, their love for the truth, and thus for Christ, cooled.
By this time, they have come to despise the truth, or to allow the despising of the truth in their midst, which amounts to the same thing.
And God, who loves His truth, because it is the truth about Himself, the truth that He has revealed by the gift of His own Son, and the truth that is the power of salvation, sends these despisers and haters of His truth “strong delusion, that they should believe the lie” (II Thess. 2:11).
Let the Protestant Reformed Churches beware!
The pressure builds on these churches also.
Observing, and trembling at, the deepening darkness over the Reformed Netherlands—motherland to many in the Protestant Reformed Churches—let the Protestant Reformed Churches respond as II Thessalonians 2:15 calls the true church to respond to the sign of apostasy: “Stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught.”
In the hope of the coming of Christ.
His coming is near.