The General Synod of the Gereformeerde Kerken, which has almost become a continuing body through its bad habit of recessing and reconvening, was scheduled to reconvene in the month of October in order to deal with some 200 protests on its agenda, dealing for the most part with the doctrinal departures which have come to be known by the name “the new theology.” Those who have followed our occasional reports on the ecclesiastical situation in the Netherlands will know that for a long time already all has not been well in the Dutch churches and that there has been an increasing conservative-liberal polarization there. It seems as though the churches have been moving from crisis to crisis, and each time moving farther in an apostate direction. There is hardly an issue of the Dutch paper, Waarheid en Eenheid, which does not carry some new ill tidings about the utterances of some theologian or the false ecumenical tendencies of some congregation.
But it would almost appear that the present crisis must somehow be the last of the series.
First of all, it appears that the doctrinal issues by which the Synod is confronted are not doctrinal issues which are peculiar to the Reformed faith (such as, for example, sovereign predestination and the covenant of grace), but issues which may be characterized as broadly fundamentalist. In the broadest sense, it seems, the question has become whether theGereformeerde Kerken are going to remain at all evangelical or whether they are going to turn officially in the direction of liberalism.
This is plain from the nature of the issues themselves.
It is well-known, for example, that one of the underlying issues is that of the doctrine of Holy Scripture, its inspiration and authority. This was emphasized by Dr. M. J. Amtzen, of the Netherlands, in a recent lecture in Grand Rapids. It is also emphasized in an earnest letter of appeal directed to the Synod jointly by the Society of the Concerned and the Press Association “Waarheid en Eenheid.” In this letter one finds the following characterization of the crisis (translation mine): “For we are deeply convinced that the scriptural character of our churches is being assailed, and that, if things continue thus, another gospel will be proclaimed in our churches, a gospel of which Paul says that it is accursed, even though it be preached by an angel from heaven.”
In detail, such matters as the historicity of Adam and Eve; the order of creation, fall, and grace; the denial that death is the punishment of sin; the error of denying that the coming of Christ belongs to the hereafter and teaching that His coming belongs to this present time and this present world; the denial of everlasting punishment; the denial that Jesus was aware that He was the Christ in the sense that the church later confessed Him to be; the denial of the relevance of the question concerning our only comfort in life and death; the denial of the relevance of the doctrine of justification by faith; and even the denial of the virgin birth and the resurrection of Christ;—such matters are at issue, according to reports.
It is plain, therefore, that unless the Synod takes a clear-cut and firm stand on the basis of the Word of God, the Gereformeerde Kerken will indeed have lost their evangelical character even in the broadest sense of the term.
In the second place, it is highly doubtful whether the tide of liberalism will be stopped. For one thing the Dutch. Synods generally in recent years and the current Synod in particular have not distinguished themselves by their strong and clear-cut stands on any issues. For another, it is contrary to the lesson of history that when once the church has proceeded so far down the path of apostasy, she eirer returns as a denomination. When things have reached such a sad estate, there simply is not the doctrinal and spiritual strength and will to return; besides, the numerical strength at this stage has long been on the side of liberalism and apostasy. It is simply too late for the:Gereformeerde Kerken to return to the Reformed faith’ in purity; and unless they return; and return all the way, they will inevitably go over the brink. It would seem that the only hope of reformation in the Netherlands is that of reformation by separation.
In the third place, I, for one, sincerely hope that the General Synod will not take one of those miserable, two-faced decisions which will only serve to prolong a tenuous external unity, a decision which throws a sop to the conservatives while it really justifies and protects the apostates. According to my observations, the movement of the concerned is none too strong as it is. And perhaps the memory of past ecclesiastical miseries already serves as a deterrent to reformation by separation. Nor does the conservative movement appear to be very strong numerically. And therefore the best cathartic—unless the General Synod wants to return to the old paths—would be a show-down decision. I am afraid that unless the crisis is soon reached and passed, all hope will be gone.
Time will tell.
Meanwhile, there is a lesson in this situation for the churches in this country, both Reformed and Presbyterian. The lesson is that those who hope to preserve the Reformed faith for themselves and their generations must not make the grave mistake of waiting too long and of fostering a vain hope that they can reform the church from within. The effect of such delay is usually detrimental. And perhaps the greatest detriment is that while the older generation may succeed in holding fast the faith, their children and their children’s children through the delay and hesitation of their elders are lost for the faith. I am frequently reminded of a statement which the late Prof. Ophoff made rather often in connection with departures from the faith or failure to follow up the calling to reformation. “Remember,” he said, “when you take a step, you take that step not only for yourselves, but for your children and your children’s children!”
That is indeed a thought to ponder!