The separation from the State Church brought about by the Doleantie was not a small one. It could be argued, of course, that in comparison with the large State Church of some two million members at that time, the Doleantie was relatively small—about five per cent at first. But in comparison, say, with the beginnings of the Christian Reformed Church in 1857 or with our Protestant Reformed Churches in 1924-25, the Doleantie was a very large movement; and from this point of view it may be said that the Doleantie had a very good and encouraging beginning (although some historians claim that Abraham Kuyper was disappointed at the eventual size of the separation, having optimistically expected the reformation to sweep the church and even to bring about internal reformation, without separation, in the State Church).
The church of Amsterdam was a single, citywide organization, with 28 ministers, a single general consistory for the entire city of 136 ministers, elders, and deacons, and a total membership of 165,000, with 10 sanctuaries and 4 chapels. When the Doleantie came about in Amsterdam, it involved 75 officebearers of the Amsterdam Consistory (well over half, therefore) and 7,000 members of the Amsterdam Church. [There were a few congregations elsewhere in the Netherlands which separated a little earlier than did Amsterdam. But the Amsterdam Church was the first large church involved; besides, there is no doubt about the fact that the leadership of the entire movement came from Amsterdam. The initiative for the 1883 Conference (cf. Sept. 15 issue) came from Amsterdam. And it was the Amsterdam Consistory (of the reform group) which called the Conference of January, 1887.] Shortly after the conference just mentioned, the Doleantie counted some 200 congregations and a total membership of 100,000 who had left the State Church. These few statistics will furnish some idea of the proportions of the Doleantie.
It must not be imagined, however, that as a reform movement the Doleantie was a simple, peaceful transition which involved no trouble, no suffering, no persecution. For that was not the case. All the trauma so often involved in the process of reformation was involved in the Doleantie also. Reproach for the sake of the truth, bitterness and separation across family boundaries, name-calling (the “Kuyperianen”), and loss of church properties (Though there were long legal processes, the new churches eventually lost all the church properties and had to begin anew.)—all these, and more, were the portion of the churches and people of the Doleantie.
Nevertheless, the movement grew and became well established. In fact, the Doleantie was in this respect different from the Secession of 1834. It was a good many years before the churches of the Secession became a well-organized and unified denomination. We need not enter into the reasons for this now. But the Doleantie was from the very beginning well-organized and unified. Basically, this was due, of course, to the fact that the Lord Himself preserved and raised up at that time a remnant who loved the Reformed faith. But along with this it was due, no doubt, in part to the fact that the Lord provided His church with capable leadership at that time. The name of Abraham Kuyper, Sr. is best known in this connection. But there were others—men such as Rutgers and Lohman, for example. It was partly due to the fact that considerable planning and communications took place already long before the actual separation. It was partly due also to the fact that there were many ministers and elders throughout the country who were involved in the Doleantie. The latter was in this respect different from the Secession. The Secession, especially in its early years, was plagued by a severe shortage of ministers of the gospel, so that its few ministers were overwhelmed by demands for their preaching. This was considerably different in the case of the Doleantie. It was partly due undoubtedly to the fact of the influence of Kuyper’s prolific writings inDe Heraut (The Herald), as well as in numerous tracts, which served as a mighty means of instruction in the truth for God’s people throughout the Netherlands in those years. It is a rather peculiar fact of this history that Dr. Kuyper at the time of the Doleantie had long since left the active ministry and was a minister emeritus. He had become involved in the establishment and promotion of the Free University, where he had become one of its first professors of theology. Besides, he had become deeply involved in the Dutch political scene and in the Antirevolutionary Party. But though he was no longer in the active ministry, he exercised a strong influence through his many writings; and he was widely read, both by friend and foe, throughout the Netherlands. The result of all this was that the Doleantie became a well-established, well-organized, and flourishing movement at an early date. Already in June of 1887 a Synodical Convent was held at Rotterdam. There were preliminary Synods of Utrecht in 1888 and 1889. And in 1890 and 1891 there were Synods at Leeuwarden and The Hague, respectively.
The question may be raised, especially in the light of the fact that in 1834 there had already been reformation: did the Doleantie qualify as genuine reformation? And if so, on what grounds and in what respect? This question, of course, is also important for us and for our churches: for our own Protestant Reformed churches are historically related to the Doleantie, and many among our membership are descendants of the Doleantie.
First of all, there can be no question but that the Doleantie was a reformation because it constituted a return to our historic Reformed confessions, the Three Forms of Unity, and thus to the truths of the Word of God. This is the very essence of reformation. The State Church had departed, both in doctrine and in discipline, and that, too, in its official acts as church. The Doleantie changed this. Already at the Conference of 1883 it had been decided “to admit no one to the ministry in their churches unless and until such person(s) had signed the three Forms of Unity, with declaration of hearty accord.” And the insistence upon such subscription by officebearers was characteristic of the Doleantie as a reformation movement.
In the second place, the Doleantie was a return to the truth from the point of view of the offices and government of the church. The State Church was collegialistic. There was one church, and the various congregations were branches of that one church, the whole being governed by hierarchical boards and synods. The Doleantie insisted that the local congregation constitutes the church, and the denomination is a federation of autonomous churches which has agreed to function together according to a set of rules and usages and on the basis of a common confession. In accord with this, the offices of minister, elder, and deacon reside in the local congregation; and the powers of those offices likewise reside strictly in the local congregation. Only that local congregation, through its officebearers, can and may preach the Word, administer the sacraments, exercise discipline, and administer the mercies of Christ. This, in fact, became the fundamental principle of church government of the Doleantie and, eventually, of the Gereformeerde Kerken—the principle for the maintenance of which especially Dr. F.L. Rutgers was famous. It is also the reason why the GKN were called “Kerken (Churches)” rather than “Kerk (Church).” And it is the reason why our denomination today is called Protestant Reformed Churches (not “Church”). It is also the reason why the Christian Reformed Church, until it departed from this principle, formerly called itself the Christian Reformed Churches of North America.