(About 20th Century Dutch Church History and the involvement of Dr. Klaas Schilder & De Reformatie)
by P. Jongeling
[the author under the pen-name of Piet Prins of the Scout books]
The following are two articles which Mr. Jongeling wrote shortly before he died. They were originally published in Dutch in Nederlands Dagblad and revised and translated (1985) by John De Vos with permission of P. Jongeling and published in Reformed Perspective of February and March 1985. Except for a few typos no editing has been done to the text.
Then and now
A small group of people, we sat and talked and talked and sat. We talked about everything under the sun, but it soon narrowed down to "church-state-society." And, sure enough, the matter of the radical change that has taken place in the (synodical) Reformed Churches in The Netherlands during the last few decades, also came up. These churches have become "open forum" churches, where the most far-reaching modernism is no longer opposed with any degree of effect. One said then: "It wouldnt be all that simple to trace the connection between the incessant apostasy and the doctrinal decisions of 1944 and the related church hierarchical condemnations from which, we declared, we freed ourselves. "
It was one of those remarks, made as an aside, that soon drowned in the topics of conversation which bounced back and forth between the lively talkers in the room. But it stuck like a hook in my memory, and it kept coming back: Is there a relation between the synodical decisions involving doctrine and the consequent exercise of discipline in 1944 and the present rapid slide toward total modernism? The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that there is indeed a connection.
Why the struggle?
What was at stake in the period from 1942 to 1945? What was the struggle all about? "Oh, uh, about the covenant and about baptism," one promptly answers. That is indeed true, but it is not the entire truth. Some people may even remember that the synodical deputees had been given six topics for examination. Those topics were: Common Grace, The Covenant of Grace, Immortality of the Soul, Pluriformity of the Church, The Unity of Christs Two Natures, and Self-examination. Some of these topics were later quiety dropped from the list. But even if we leave that list complete, we still have not come to the real crux of the matter. Those topics were the tips of the iceberg, visible above the water. The rest, true to the nature of an iceberg, was hidden below the surface.
About the fallen angels the church confesses in Article 12 (Belgic Confession) that "The devils and evil spirits are so depraved that they are enemies of God and every good thing; to the utmost of their power as murderers watching to ruin the Church and every member thereof, and by their wicked stratagems to destroy all . . . ." That is not just a little slice of dogmatics; it is a horrendous reality. Christ gathers, defends, and preserves His church (Heidelberg Catechism, Lords Day 21). That is the only reason why the church will stand firm to the end. But during all that time, she will be engaged in a relentless struggle with Satan. The world ruler and his henchmen have gnashed their teeth each time God intervened to bring this apostate church back to reformation, and wherever possible they have attempted to destroy such reformational work.
The devil has an excellent knowledge of the weak spots of the church and her members. Just think of the time following the Secession of 1834. What a lot of infighting and quarreling took place! It seemed as if the reformation was going to drown in quicksand. It was nothing short of Gods grace that it did not go that far and that peace and the unity of faith could be restored, so that the church flourished again.
A second reformation came, the "Doleantie" of 1886, but then also the enemy of Gods church did not look on passively. He knew the weak spots!
Dr. Abraham Kuyper, a man of great genius, was used by the Lord as a means to bring about reformation in 1886. A very gifted man, with an exceptionally sharp mind, he radiated great spiritual strength. But in his defence and explanation of the Biblical doctrine, he did betray a tendency toward scholasticism. Scholasticism in its extreme application uses human reason to obtain as clear an insight into Biblical truths as possible. Philosophical means, mainly those of Aristotle, are applied to mold the doctrine of faith into a methodical system, to analyze it, to defend it, and to make it acceptable to human perception. Scholasticism, allowed to go rampant in the Roman Catholic Church, has caused untold damage and created a growth that choked out the true gospel. However, scholasticism gained considerable ground also among Protestants, even shortly after the great Reformation. It has tended to enhance the decay in the churches of the eighteenth century.
In his extensive writings, even Kuyper, with his bright mind and his philosophical training, living in the century of rationalism, was not always free from borrowing weapons out of the scholastic arsenal. His teachings on covenant and baptism are examples of a preference for logical constructions at the expence of an obedient exegesis of Biblical texts. His attempt at expounding the doctrine of common grace was more a philosophical discourse along the lines of natural law than a painstakingly careful summary of Biblical givens.
Kuypers writings became food and drink for the Reformed people, and soon his works were being used as the final argument to settle any dispute. He had a sparkling wit, used the most picturesque similes, and could write so convincingly and yet so simply that the uneducated masses had no problem following him. But very few dared to correct him, and hardly anyone was a debating match for him.
The Reformed people owed so much to this man. He had taken the "lowly folks" and given them a voice and influence in state, church, and society. His word became law. If one wanted to know anything about the Reformed doctrine, all one needed to do was to look it up in E Voto Dordraceno, Common Grace, or any other Kuyperian treatise, and . . . ready was the answer! And on the pulpits . . . , the greatest damage was done by those ardent followers who turned off their critical faculties in admiration of the great master. Gradually the preaching became more and more emaciated.
There were also sociological factors which had their impact on the life of the churches. World War I began. This terrible war which raged through Europe, narrowly bypassing our borders, did not fail to have an effect on the life of our nation. It totally blocked any ordinary development. It also made many young people mobile, bringing them into alien surroundings and often very tempting situations. Black marketeering flourished and the possibility of financially benefitting from the war became dangerously attractive for too many. Reformed ethics received dents and bruises. Old certitudes seemed to falter.
The student youth of those days was confronted with new spiritual movements. High did they raise the irenic-ethical banner with its slogan: "Doctrine divides, but the Lord unites!" This movement found its organizational form in the Dutch Student Christian Movement (DSCM), where matters of dogmatics and questions of doctrine were relegated to a secondary position, while all attention was focused on what was called the "Christ experience." Any student could become member, regardless of his religious background. This organization soon also counted many Reformed students among its members. The theory of "pluriformity of the church" supplied a handy stepping stone. All too soon Bible criticism crept in through this door, but that was not considered all that critical. The main thing was that you were steadfast in holding on to Jesus Christ as your Savior. He was the heart of the gospel. Yes, He Himself was the Word-become-flesh. The other things were only peripheral. That is how apostasy made its entrance into the Reformed churches.
Some warning voices were being heard here and there. At the synod of 1914 in The Hague, Dr. de Moor asked some very pertinent questions, from which it became apparent that there was every reason for serious concern. At the next synod, three years later, the Rev. Landwehr formulated his concern in much stronger terms. He noted that there was a general malaise, a lack of awareness of the churchs meaning, and that ignorance and indifference were on the increase, if you could refer to it that way, and that a dangerous adaptation to the spirit of the times was becoming prevalent.
Another three years, and another synod convened, this time at Leeuwarden. The synod issued a strongly formulated warning against membership of the DSCM. However, by then membership had become an accomplished fact. Consequently, not everyone agreed with that synodical warning. In 1919 there were 57 theological students who held membership in this perilous organization, 33 from the Free University and 24 from the seminary in Kampen. Furthermore, 25 Reformed ministers, two professors of the Free University and one of the Kampen school were contributing DSCM alumni. Many ignored these urgent warnings and retained their membership.
The consequences were not long in being felt. In 1919 the churches had been confronted with the "Netelenbos" issue. In 1926 they faced the "Geelkerken" matter, in which the final results of Bible criticism as it was tolerated and practiced within the DSCM had come to light. Geelkerkens opinions were condemned by the Synod of Assen.
It was a tremendous struggle. Geelkerken himself and a few of the ministers who supported him instituted the "Restored Union." Twenty years later this denomination ended up in the bosom of the Dutch Reformed (State) Church. But there were no less than seventy ministers who had been in agreement with Geelkerken. They quickly turned their coats inside out and decided to remain inside the Reformed churches.
Barthianism and Socialism
A few more words about the DSCM. It became the breeding ground of the dialectical theology in The Netherlands. Karl Barth wielded great influence within that organization. Via Barthianism, many ended up in the socialist camp, among them some very gifted students like Buskes and Stufkens, who came from Reformed circles. Dr. Ruitenberg, in his dissertation about the rise of the Socialist Labor Party in Holland, makes specific mention of the DSCM and the propagation of Barthianism within that organization as the bridge that made many believers cross over to socialism.
A new awakening
The Reformed churches were being threatened from without as well as from within, but the majority of the people was unaware of the seriousness of the situation. The believers felt confident in the familiar Kuyperian armor. Kuyper had called his Reformed people "lowly folks," but he had made them great and prosperous. They played a leading political role and controlled a host of organizational power centres. With it came a sense of accomplishment which turned into smugness. The awareness that the need to reform is a continuous one began to wane. That, in rough outline, was the state of affairs among the Reformed people at the beginning of the thirties.
A new spring
There was the old, stolid Kuyperian way and there was the volatile new movement which leaned in the ecumenic direction. But then there appeared indications of a spiritual revival. It began with a renewed emphasis on careful and faithful exegesis, which eventually resulted in the publication of the series Korte Verklaring der Heilige Schrift, Bible explanations which found their way into many Reformed homes. [When these articles were published it included the footnote (when this series was mentioned in the second article): "Presently an English translation of this valuable work, entitled Bible Students Commentary, is being published by Zondervan Publishing House. Four volumes have been completed: from Genesis to Numbers." A few more volumes have appeared in English in the late 80s: from Deuteronomy to Ruth, Isaiah, and Matthew. All of these are now out of print.] A new draft of young ministers reporting for duty had rediscovered the beauty of the Reformed confessions and the richness of the covenant in its true Biblical meaning. It heralded a new awakening, a springtime that gave hope for the future. About that next time.
In our previous issue I described some of the spiritual upheavals which rocked the Reformed churches between the two world wars. In brief, it amounted to the following:
The enormous influence of Dr. Abraham Kuyper, church reformer, formidable journalist, orator, and statesman, had made a clear mark on the life of Reformed people. But the great Kuyper also had his weaknesses, one of them being his tendency to use a somewhat scholastic approach towards reasoning, which sometimes influenced his interpretation of important Scriptural givens. This became most obvious in his views on the covenant and baptism, his teachings about "pluriformity," and his theory of "common grace." Uncritical acceptance of these teachings led to a certain meagerness in the preaching of his followers.
After World War I the "younger generation movement" came up with what was in essence a renewal of the irenic-ethical movement which had influenced the Dutch Reformed (State) Church in the nineteenth century, and against which Groen van Prinsterer had to fight tooth and nail in his days. This movement, under the motto "Doctrine divides, but the Lord unites," placed great emphasis on the "Christ experience" and looked disdainfully at the precision of our confessional documents. The result: ecclesiastical indifference. One of the organizational realizations of that movement was the DSCM, the Dutch Student Christian Movement, which counted many Reformed students among its members. Through this door, Bible criticism entered the churches.
Fortunately, the thirties also witnessed the first stirrings of a new beginning. It began with a renewed emphasis on faithful exegesis. Several scholars working together produced a masterpiece, the Korte Verklaring der Heilige Schrift, exegetical commentaries on the Bible, published by Kok and Bottenburg in fifty-seven volumes. This set of commentaries became very well known and found its way into the homes of many believers.
A new draft of young preachers reported for duty. They had rediscovered the beauty of the Reformed doctrinal documents, the Three Forms of Unity, and they saw again the riches of the covenant within its Scriptural context.
A man who became renowned for his painstaking exegesis was Professor Dr. S. Greydanus. Others joined him in his work. The best known of those was Dr. K. Schilder, but besides him we can mention men like Van den Born, Holwerda (author of Scriptural Principles for Explaining the Scriptures), Kapteyn, Vant Veer, D. van Dijk, J. Dam, A. Janse; they all contributed so much to the growing treasure of Reformed renewal.
The Scriptural view on the covenant of grace and baptism was deepened. Amidst the widespread practice of "exemplary preaching," there was a beginning of preaching from the perspective of the history of salvation. Very necessary corrections were made to Kuypers "common grace" ideas, and his theory of the "pluriformity of the church" was proven to be in conflict with the clear words of the Belgic Confession.
Schilder became editor of the weekly magazine, De Reformatie. On its pages he waged a relentless battle against the advancing impact of Barthianism, against the continuing erosion of the churches boundaries, and against the upcoming national socialism (Nazism) which, particularly in its beginning, was not understood well enough. His polemics was untiring, but it was also very much needed. And it was wide open.
Thousands of Reformed people rejoiced. This was what they had longed for: fresh, truly Scriptural preaching and clear Reformed language.
But not everybody was equally pleased. There were those who still believed that Dr. Abraham Kuyper had spoken the final word on any conceivable issue and that attempted corrections of his views were nothing short of heresy. They were very displeased with the enthusiasm of those "beardless young men."
Even more displeased was the "irenic-ethical" movement, which had made flirtatious overtures in the direction of the Dutch Reformed (State) Church.
Schilder fought openly and without reserve for the Reformed churches, with only one intent: that they, while being threatened by the spirit of the times, might hold on to the solid foundation of the Bible and the Reformed confessions. Looking through the documents of those days, one cannot come to a different conclusion. Schilder was sometimes very sharp in his polemics, but he always remained businesslike and courteous, attacking issues, not persons. That cannot be said of his opponents. Professor Dr. H.H. Kuyper, using innuendo, made some very vicious personal attacks. Professor Dr. V. Hepp did the same. And they were certainly not alone.
There is no need to deal extensively with the further developments in the struggle in the Reformed churches. There is lots of literature available on that. I only want to point out the connection between the events of 42-45 and the disaster unfolding in the synodical churches today.
The synodical decisions, binding consciences to the doctrine of presumptive regeneration, and the disciplining of those who refused to cooperate, were clearly aimed at routing out the Reformed renewal of the thirties. By the grace of God this did not succeed. But, when those who had been thrown out went their own separate way in 1944-45, the churches that remained under the synodical bondage had rid themselves of much fresh reformational blood.
Kuypers epigones, who had canonized his weaknesses, while neglecting his sound church political insights, falling far short of his reformational zeal, which was never vindictive, had indeed booked a victory. But it was a Pyrrhic victory. Today they no longer play a role of even the slightest significance.
The proponents of the other direction, those who lust after a wide and broad ecumenicity, who put question marks behind the confessions and are not averse to Biblical criticism, are clearly in the saddle. During the prewar period they had tried to sneak in, but, when discovered, they had usually been strongly opposed. All the excesses of advanced modernism now coming into the open were already latently present during that prewar time. The Netelenbos case, the Geelkerken crisis, the DSCM, the Federation of Calvinists they were all symptomatic of what was taking place behind the scenes, but the churches could still muster the strength to oppose them.
But then came 1942-45, and the reformational renewal movement was banished. With its eviction went the strength to resist modernism. And the flood of un-Reformed, un-Scriptural influences could no longer be held back.
The condemnation of Geelkerkens views has now been annulled, and much farther than Geelkerken went the synodical committee.
Bible criticism is acceptable today.
Protests against the acceptance of homosexuality by references to Romans 1 are shrugged off: "Paul was only a child of his own time and he could not see beyond his own horizon."
Kuitert, Wiersinga, and many others can vent all manner of modernistic ideas, but their office or position within the church is never in danger.
The Reformed churches are "on the road together" with the Dutch Reformed Church. The intention is to declare soon that they are in "a state of reuniting." But among the Orthodox Dutch Reformed people there is concern about the dire consequences of such a reunion. How have the positions been reversed! The Act of Secession of 1834 contained the promise to return to the Dutch Reformed Church if the latter would return to the Reformed confession. The presently contemplated unity is based on exactly the opposite.
Without a doubt, there are thousands of people within the synodical churches, common folks as well as scholars, who are deeply saddened by this development. There are societies of concerned Christians and associations of opponents of various degrees of seriousness. There are distress congregations and there are congregations in distress. There is no end to the protests and the conferences. But there is no indication of a return to the old Reformed ways.
We had hoped and prayed so much that, just as the Secession was followed by the "Doleantie" in the previous century, so also our century would witness a second reformation after the "Liberation." It hasnt taken place thus far. We must continue to hope and pray, but we must not lose sight of reality. We live in an age when everything in the national and the international world moves much more rapidly now than in the slow nineteenth century when the electronic communication media, the many books and magazines we are familiar with, didnt exist yet, when the current rapids in the flow of life were as yet unknown. Now everything moves much faster, and that includes the spread of apostasy.
There have been some who came to the (liberated) Reformed Churches, people who could no longer live with the ongoing decay, but it never became a stream, it remains a trickle. The majority of the concerned people stay put, their protests varying in loudness. Meanwhile, new classes of young ministers have graduated, saturated with the un-Reformed doctrinal propositions of present modernism. Consequently, a generation is growing up in the synodical churches where there is not even the slightest awareness of what the classical Reformed doctrine is all about.
And what are we to do, we who by the grace of God escaped? We must keep one thing in mind: holding up other peoples dirty laundry doesnt make ours any cleaner. We should take to heart the happenings in those synodical churches and be warned by them. But we may never be smug about it. Self-congratulation leads to doom.
There are thousands who initially marched along with us in the Liberation who later fell by the wayside. Satan continues to prowl around like a roaring lion, seeking his next victim to devour. But we need not fear being ripped apart by his claws, now that the Liberation is already more than forty years behind us. Christ gathers, defends, and preserves His Church "for Himself." He does so from the beginning of the world until the end. With Him it is safe travelling.
But that is not all. Those who have been blessed so richly and who have obtained so many good things from the Liberation have only one calling: in grateful obedience to the King of the Church, to continue to work. The rich source of prosperity, the Bible and the confessions, are nowhere near exhaustion. Children of the church can continue to draw living water from the fountains of salvation, while rejoicing in the Lord. When God constructs a dike, He does so to hold back the flood which a sweeping storm may send to swallow up, if possible, all the land around us. The initial signs of that impending storm are already coming into sight. And our children, much more than we, will find themselves living first in a de-Christianized, and later in an anti-Christian world, as a small minority; first taunted and later hounded. Let us train them for the battle and teach them how to use the proper weapons in this warfare, while there is still time!
Safely in Gods hands
Thinking about the future can sometimes cause us to break out in a cold sweat. But we know: no one will be able to snatch Gods children out of His hand.
In Revelation 7 John sees how the stormy winds of wickedness are being kept in check until all Gods servants have been sealed. They, too, belong to that complete number: one hundred and forty-four thousand.
And then the judgments are unleashed! Death and destruction everywhere! Satan has been released. The dragon, the beast emerging from the sea and the beast from the earth, pursue the woman to make war with her and with the rest of her offspring. Who would remain standing under such an avalanche of violence and seduction?
John saw the answer in Revelation 14: "Then I looked, and lo, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with Him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had His name and His Fathers name written on their foreheads."
Not one is missing!
This is what John got to see:
Lamb of God, standing though slain,
Who from His Father power did gain
To govern over all the earth.
And, with Him, those who by the worth
Of His atoning blood were bought:
Twelve times twelve thousand, Godly throng.
The King of ages praise in song.
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