Slabbert Le Cornu is married to Dorothea, and they have three daughters: Joanette (6), Hannelie (3) and Doret (1). He is fourth-year theological student at the Reformed Churches of South Africa’s Theological School, in Potchefstroom. They are members of the Reformed Church, Potchefstroom-South. Slabbert is the founder and director of Die Esra Instituut (‘The Esra Institute’), which is a teaching ministry to advance the biblical-reformed faith and worldview in the world today. He is also the editor of the magazine Die Esra Verslag (‘The Ezra Report’). For further information, he can be contacted at: email@example.com
efore we try to understand the current crisis as mentioned in the introduction, we need to answer one very important question: was the schism of 1859 justified on biblical, confessional, and church order principles? Without doubt the answer is in the affirmative. To support this answer, I will start with a quotation of Calvin:
If it be inquired, then, by what things chiefly the Christian religion has a standing existence among us, and maintains its truth, it will be found that the following two not only occupy the principal place, but comprehend under them all the other parts, and consequently the whole substance of Christianity, viz., a knowledge, first, of the mode in which God is duly worshiped, and, secondly, of the source from which salvation is to be obtained.1
For Calvin, according to the Scriptures, how we worship God and how we obtain salvation are central to the Christian religion. That is why the Reformed confession clearly states:
We believe that those Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe unto salvation is sufficiently taught therein (the second point made by Calvin—SLC). For since the whole manner of worship which God requires of us (the first point made by Calvin—SLC) is written in them at large, it is unlawful for any one, though an apostle, to teach otherwise than we are now taught in the Holy Scriptures: nay, though it were an angel from heaven, as the apostle Paul says. For since it is forbidden to add unto or take away anything from the Word of God, it does thereby evidently appear that the doctrine thereof is most perfect and complete in all respects….2
Therefore, the true Reformed church worldwide would confess the absolute sovereignty of God in our salvation and worship of Him, obedient to God’s Word (Ex. 20:1-6). Just as God is sovereign in election and reprobation, so He is and must be in our liturgy and services. His Word through the Spirit, and not the ‘commandments of men,’ must govern our worship of Him. This we also confess in Article 32 of the Belgic Confession: “And therefore we reject all human inventions, and all laws which man would introduce into the worship of God, thereby to bind and compel the conscience in any manner whatever,” and in the Heidelberg Catechism, “Q 96: What does God require in the second Commandment? A 96: That we in no way make any image of God (Deut. 4:15-19; Isa. 40:18, 25; Rom. 1:22-24; Acts 17:29), nor worship Him in any other way than He has commanded us in His Word (I Sam. 15:23; Deut. 4:23-24; Deut. 12:30-32; Matt. 15:9; John 4:24).”
The reason for emphasizing our worship of God is that most Reformed churches today have forgotten about this most important issue of our Reformed faith. They suggest that it is only about salvation by grace through faith alone, although Calvin, following Scripture, says that both matter.3 If God is not confessed as sovereign in His covenant of grace, then He will not be sovereign in His law of worship. Jesus Christ came to save us from our sin of idolatry and false worship, to worship Him in Spirit and in truth (John 4:24), according to “all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19).
This was, consciously or unconsciously, exactly what was at stake for the Dopper reformers in 1859. In the deformed churches of the Cape, and later in the Free State and Transvaal, the doctrines of sovereign predestination, sovereign grace and election, and God’s sovereign right to be worshiped as He commanded (and not according to the emotionalism of methodism) were under severe attack. Both central doctrines, salvation and worship, were attacked most heavily with the introduction of hymns. The second professor of the GKSA theological school, Prof. Jan-Lion Cachet, explained the central importance of church singing as follows: “What we sing, we believe … and if false doctrine is found in the church song, then it will inevitably lead to the false doctrine spreading in the congregation.”4
This last point is very important in understanding the current crisis in the GKSA. We will return to this issue.
This is a very important question, because later church historians tend to differ on this matter. Some historians simply answer that the problems were not with the hymns as such, but only with the content of some hymns and the way they were introduced and, in fact, forced onto the churches (binding of consciences). Thus, they wanted to reduce or simplify the church schism to a doctrinal issue only, or to a church government matter, and not to a worship issue as such. In fact it was a matter of all three issues that were at stake. Dr. GCP van der Vyver writes:
It is clear: they (the Doppers—SLC) were convinced that the Hymns carry a false Gospel.5 … The Synod (NG Church of 1847—SLC) distinguishes between two sorts of complaints, i.e., those of the concerned members who refused to sing the Hymns, which points towards a complaint against the Hymns as such, and secondly, … those who have a problem with one or other of the Hymns, which points to doctrinal complaints against certain Hymns.6
The introduction of Hymns placed them on an equal standing with the inspired Word of God. Referring to article 7 of the Belgic Confession, they accepted the Word of God as perfect and sufficient, to which nothing should be added. They regarded the acceptance of the Hymns along with the Psalms in the worship services, as such an addition.7
It is thus clear that the Doppers supported the sola scriptura principle of worship (also called the ‘regulative principle of worship,’ or ‘the second commandment’ principle of worship), following in the Reformed tradition of Calvin, Knox, the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Confession, the Dordt fathers, and so on.
Even after the NH Church decided not to make the singing of hymns binding on the churches, the GKSA did not return to this state church, nor to the NG Church, because they believed:
That our differences were not obstinacy, but for the sake of conscience, not to build on human decrees, but on God’s Word and the example of the well-tested Reformed Church of the old days; and that we wish also to serve God according to His Word without hindrance in this country, even if we are in the minority.8
A Reformed pastor of the GKSA, the Rev. LS Kruger, also posed the question in his well-known book on the GKSA, “Why are you a member of the Reformed Church?” He stated that if we add anything to the singing of the Psalms, we accuse God’s Word of being insufficient, and therefore we actually reject the teaching of Article 7 of the Belgic Confession.9
But the hymns were also used to sing heresies into the church. Many of the hymns were liberal, Arminian, and Romish in spirit. The reality is that when one tends to be weak in doctrine, this will eventually lead to false worship. The NG and NH churches in the nineteenth century rejected, in one way or another, the Canons of Dordt, which deal expressly with God’s sovereignty in salvation, by election and reprobation:
No wonder (then) that the doctrine of universal atonement, which underlies many of the Hymns, was not detected and opposed. In line with this, the doctrine of election was openly rejected from some pews in the Cape church and suppressed in many others.10
Here I would briefly like to mention a conversation in those days between Gert Steenekamp, a Dopper Calvinist, and the Rev. Taylor, a liberal pastor, which the former narrates as follows:
I talked to him about Election. He said to me you can work out your salvation yourself according to
“work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Yes, I answered him, but what do you make of the next verse: “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” The answer which I received to this, was: “That is why I cannot work with you Doppers!”11
Amongst the Doppers, there was a great thirst for Calvinistic preaching. What did they mean by this? It meant that they wanted preaching according to the doctrines of “election and reprobation.”12
It was also the time of the well-known preacher and teacher the Rev. Andrew Murray, whose books are still in print today and sold worldwide. Unfortunately he was not a consistent Calvinist, as many thought he was. Murray felt that the Canons of Dordt were documented in such a way as to leave them open to interpretation for those who “preached openly that Christ had died for everyone, and that God wants and sincerely desires the salvation of all (people).”13
Dr. van der Vyver replies to Murray’s heresy in the following most important excerpt:
That the calling should, and must go out to all nations, is correct, but the grace in Christ is only established in the hearts of “the elect.” Murray has, with these words, made himself guilty of grave heresy under the banner of the Canons of Dordt. (H.D.A.) Du Toit comes to the conclusion that the Scottish preachers did accept predestination, but that they held it back on the pulpits, yet still claiming that they were “Calvinists.” To allege that someone is a “Calvinist,” however, and to suppress the election on the pulpit, is a contradictio in terminus,14 and not in line with Calvin, who called predestination the cor ecclesia.15 Suppressing simply means forsaking, and in its deepest essence is the disregarding of the Reformed confession. Liberalism did not only show itself in the sermons of the outspoken liberals in the Cape Church, but also in the way that the confessions in the sermons of so-called orthodox preachers, were disregarded and rejected.16
Today we could say there are many evangelical Calvinists who disregard the cor ecclesia and the Reformed confessions by not preaching on Romans 9. This brings us to the twentieth century, up to today, the year 2004 of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, in the twentieth century, especially after the Second World War, the GKSA itself became more worldly and materialistic. This could be because of a lack of the biblical antithesis (Gen. 3:15; II Cor. 6:14–II Cor. 7:1), and also because of a too close relationship between church and state from 1948, when the Afrikaners became the governors of South Africa, implementing in the next few years the much-hated policy of apartheid (separation).17 Like the Israelites of old, the Afrikaner Calvinists also wanted to become more like the world, especially in academics and theology (1 Sam. 8). This, among other reasons, such as the change of government in 1994 to an anti-Christian ANC government that does not favor “Christian Higher Education,” finally led to the demise of the only Christian university in South Africa. The PU for CHE officially died in 2003, and was “buried” on 31 December 2003. The name of the new university, in its place, is the Northwest University, operating since 1 January 2004. In my estimation, the main reason for this was not political, but religious, namely covenant disobedience. For many decades there have been faithful Reformed believers from all of the Afrikaans churches, who have fought and struggled for the survival of Christian private schools, where covenantal education in obedience to the Form of Baptism could be offered.
In the history of the Afrikaner people, however, it has been a tiny minority—like today—that takes this command seriously. Even today, when the state schools are forbidden from teaching only and exclusively the Christian faith, most parents belonging to the Afrikaans Reformed churches still send their children to such humanistic religious schools. This has been the sad story of the twentieth century, and it seems not to be changing, no matter how much deformation there is in the state schools. An even more sad case is that many of the private Reformed schools use the humanistic framework of the “Outcome Based Education” and then only “baptize” it with a Christian “sousie,” proclaiming to the world that they are busy with consistent antithetical “Reformed education.” For a growing group of Reformed Dopper parents, Reformed home schooling seems to be the best solution available today. Reformed home schooling brings the family into contact with each other again, and also with like-minded Reformed home schoolers, so that the heartfelt calling to obey the Form of Baptism in the education of the covenant children can be followed. These Reformed people also obey the calling to receive the blessing of covenant children, praying to God for a great prosperity.18 In this sense, they are true to the heritage of the original Doppers, who as families and as church members gathered, worked, and lived around God’s Word and the confessions antithetically in the new age, in the postmodern anti-Christian South Africa. This can only be done by God’s grace.
… to be concluded
1.Tracts relating to the Reformation by John Calvin, translated by Henry Beveridge, vol.I (Edinburgh: T&T Clark), p. 116.
2.Belgic Confession, Article 7.
3.See his commentary on Lev. 10:1; Lev. 22:32; Num. 15:39;Deut. 4:1; Deut. 12:32; II Sam. 6:6-12; Is. 29:14; Jer. 7:21-24; Jer. 7:31; Jer. 19:4, 5; Jer. 26:2; Matt. 15:1, 9; Col. 2:22, 23. See his Institutes: I.XII.I; I.XII.3; II.VII.5; II.VIII.17; IV.X.1, 8-11,16-18, 23, 24, 26.
4.G.C.P. van der Vyver, ibid., p. 203.
5.Which they also rejected with an appeal to Gal. 1:9.
6.G.C.P. van der Vyver, ibid., p. 206.
7.G.C.P. van der Vyver, ibid., p. 204, 205.
8.G.C.P. van der Vyver, ibid., p. 335.
9.L.S. Kruger, ibid., p. 143.
10.G.C.P. van der Vyver, ibid., p. 284.
11.Ibid., p. 285.
12.Ibid., p. 285. See especially footnote 528.
13.Ibid., p. 285.
14.A contradiction in terms.
15.The heart of the church.
16.G.C.P. van der Vyver, ibid., p. 286.
17.I am not going to go into the whole issue of apartheid, but can only recommend readers to the biblical-critical articles and studies of Dr. Mark R. Kreitzer on South Africa. Some of it can be found at the Contra Mundum website: www.contramundum.com
18.Concerning ‘calling,’ Totius has written this excellent comment in one of his articles: “The Remonstrant has a choice, the Reformed has a calling!”