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In the footsteps of the synodicals 6

without confession

 

D.J. Bolt 
29-06-13

 

During the last weeks we spent a lot of time with prof. G. Dekker’s book ’The ongoing revolution’ and the speeches that were given at the book launch in TU Kampen. 

We will now finish this off. 
 

In this final article we will show just once more how people these days try to demolish the reformed character of our churches. We will focus on the significance of the Reformed Confession and what it means to be bound by it.


New theology

 

“It’s happening here!” prof. Harinck said. Indeed it is happening in the GKv.  Firm control (professionalisation) in these churches is assembling quite a number of movements and streams: Bonhoeffer and Barth, Anabaptist theology, New Calvinism, Kuyperianism, missionary visions. And from all these spiritual ingredients a Newer Kampen Theology and Practice is professionally being manufactured.

 

This raises the question: do we in this way still remain reformed?

There are discussions in the churches about what exactly is reformed. Some distinguish at least three kinds, with one of them being useful to absorb non-reformed beliefs [1]. But let’s for now just define ‘ordinary reformed’ as a sincere  faith in the Bible which we profess with certainty and firmness in our Confessions. After all, do they not every time start off with we believe? Simply and directly, all that God has revealed in His Word as it has been summarised in the Reformed Confessions. Full stop.

So one may expect that in the carousel of discussions and ideas, things are always tested against the summary of our common faith. But in all the stories we published in recent weeks any reference to the Confessions figures prominently by its absence. 
Is it true that we still want to be reformed in confession and practice? Is it for many in the congregation actually not passé (history), and does Reformed Church not mean much more to them than a postal address on a nameplate? This is certainly true for many young people, see Van Bekkum's story about the youth who is unable to distinguish between his religious left- and right- hands. And listen to Te Velde in his flirtation with evangelicalism.

It is significant that instruction in the Confessions of the church is visibly decreasing. It can happen, as in Drachten-Zuidwest, that there is no Catechism preaching for weeks. And then if all forces are then mobilised for an interactive teaching service with a privately chosen theme in which the congregation will be taught in today’s context - because anything else in this modern age does not have its interest -  the service is even emptier than usual. And this congregation is not an exception.

 

The Confession seems to have become an old venerable little book. And not only for the ‘Joe Bloggs’ believers – the crowd that does not know the Confession, but also for influential ministers in our churches. 

As an example, here are two publications of such ministers.

 

Rev. Wim

 

Reverent W. Van der Schee, or reverent Wim as he lets himself be called, dedicates on his website [2] also a review to Dekker’s book.  He tears it to shreds. And his conclusion: “a hopeless misser.”
We will not discuss his article here. Rev. R. Visser and prof. J. Douma are trying on website gereformeerdekerkblijven.nl to start a decent conversation with him. And that turns out to be hard enough. 
But here my interest lies in how this liberated minister of Amsterdam looks at our church and in particular at its Confession. Well, in the past there was not much of value in his church:

 

“It seems to me undeniable that with the GKv in the years 1970 to 1990 we are dealing with a sect in more than the sociological sense. () The GKv have right from the beginning been the church of the radical mediocrity, with an additional restart after the brain drain of the sixties.”


Just pocket that, reverent ministers! While Dekker was still talking about a sect in strictly sociological sense, according to pastor Wim we have actually crossed the line between church and sect. And that has had an impact. Van der Schee figured that as a consequence, since 2000 more than 40,000 people swapped the GKv for other churches where “at least life is possible.” The cause:

 

“... the church leadership in synods and church councils, which year after year are letting themselves be thwarted and blackmailed by noisy conservatives and fall back on endless fence-sitting delaying tactics by which the doors to relevant developments are kept closed.”

 

That’s frustrations for you! But things are going to turn out well! For according to this minister, the quest for serious answers to questions that belong to the 21st century has got under way at almost every level in the churches. In this search it was discovered by Bonhoeffer (as well as by Herman Bavinck, according to Van der Schee) that “a considerable amount of Holy Spirit can be working in the spirit of the age.” Discoveries and developments can be “simultaneously a step towards heaven and a step towards hell”:

 

“This is totally valid for the development towards more autonomy of man and world. This (autonomy) is a blessing, also for church and faith. You shall, and should, have to again and again acquire your faith yourself. The era of adhering to Confessions and Church Orders has inescapably run out. It is at the same time an undeniable curse that makes people unnecessarily lonely and afflicted.”

 

Van der Schee’s anonymity has definitely lapsed. All over the world is allowed to hear it. The era of upholding Confessions and Church Orders has inescapably run out. Actually we suspected this already about Amsterdam’s liberated community. But now it is being aired openly and candidly.

Are we still in the same church? In a reformed church? A while ago we reported on a visit to a church service in Van der Schee’s Amsterdam’s Tituskapel [3] where a totally open Supper is practised. But it appears that the reformed Confession and Church Order have now also been farewelled.

 

You may well shrug your shoulders about it, since we have read more strange things coming from these parts [4]. But this minister does teach church law at TU Kampen! And isn’t that actually inconsistent when one has such convictions? What do you teach students, prospective ministers(!), about reformed church law if you yourself want nothing to do with it?

In the meantime we wonder whether there is not really a handful of ‘normal’ reformed delegates in classis Amsterdam who are willing and able to call this minister to order. Or should we conclude that de facto also church discipline is no longer maintained among them?

Enough of this. We wish to draw attention to a more important airing of dissatisfaction with the reformed Confessions.

 

Prof. dr. E. A. de Boer

 

In magazine De Reformatie [5] prof. dr. E. A. de Boer, lecturer at the TUK (as well as at the Faculty of Theology of the Free University) published an article under the headline: The unifying power of confessing (bold of De Boer). 
Anyway that seems a powerful reformed start, even though there’s a little tickling question whether it would be better to speak of confession. Because the history of the Hervormde and synodical-reformed churches has taught that this well-meaning formulation gullibly offers openings towards all kinds of religious adventures. But his subsequent story should clarify De Boer intentions.

 

De Boer is “still searching for the contemporary usefulness of the reformed Confessions.” Following a brief outline of their historical development, the professor laments that over the course of time the natural initial possibility to change the text of the Confession has disappeared. Office bearers, church leaders and teachers at the university must now put their signature to “an ecclesiastical-juridical text of a Subscription Form.” There is however the possibility of gravamen, so that there is “a balance between binding and freedom.”

But Kampen’s teacher does have questions about it. In our days that balance is gone, he reckons. After all, the Confession is never reviewed and revised as appropriate. And the way of gravamen is “impassable.” But fortunately, the professor argues, the absolute priority of Scripture continues to apply, whereby the three writings of the confession of the Reformation continue to form the conceptual framework for our thinking. For despite the crisis of the sixties we have not become “confessionalists.”

 

“... And yet, it’s becoming more and more oppressive,” De Boer continues. He regards as a major drawback of the current situation that “the reformed churches have for centuries forgotten to re-articulate the doctrine in the current context.” And besides, he puts forth, “the Canons were originally not a Confession, but explication to the Catechism and the Confession.” 

And so

 

“AD 2013, I consider that it is time to ask the question: are the three Confessions, which we call ‘confession-documents’, still suitable as an expression of unity and touchstone of orthodoxy? Is it fair to ask younger office bearers to sign on the dotted line that in the Three Forms of Unity ‘all things are wholly in accordance with God’s Word’? I am quite able to explain the term ‘in accordance with’ so that it reduces the tension. The fact remains that the formulation suggests an identity with an older hermeneutics. These days we do not, for example, derive the three offices as directly from the Bible as Article 30 of the Belgic Confession does, saying that “this true church must be spiritually governed in the manner the Lord has taught us in His Word”, a manner that is explained in its following sentence, and in which we are not even offered a helpline to attach the service of women.”

 

We, too, have kept pace with our postmodern times, according to professor De Boer. And that means:

 

“We can no longer derive the doctrines from the Word that comes to us through narration and history. I believe that the teaching method of the Confessions befits a bygone era, and that it can no longer be revised such that it becomes suitable for today’s situation. We have to make room for a fundamental re-think that starts off from the active practice of confessing. This practice stems from a word like 1 Peter 3:15 which tells us: “Acknowledge Christ as Lord and honour Him with all your heart. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
This Bible text was printed on the title page of many confession documents from the 16th century. However, in The Netherlands of the 21st century the format of such justification is totally different from the manner in which the 16th century confession texts do it: different in asking questions (for example: does God really exist?), in construction (more out of the Word that speaks easily), and in formulations (‘only comfort’?).” 

 

In this respect de Boer believes himself to be in good company. Because “every theologian has his occasional questions about an Article or Lord’s Day.” And he mentions Article 36 of the Belgic Confession and Lord’s Days 9 and 10, as well as the (not) free will in the Canons of Dort as examples. 
So, the confessions in the waste paper bin? No, not really:

 

“Their content is too precious. They document our ancestors’ way of faith and thinking. I did sign them without reservation – well aware of their (and my) limitations. Yet I believe that the time has come to talk about the significance of signing and binding. Can we, without losing the content while maintaining the goal, find a new way to preserve the sound doctrine of the gospel and be thereby preserved?”

 

The professor desires that “the lines of the Reformation are not cut off, but rather be extended.” He says:

 

“I do not know whether a new text is the way of defining what we confess. The communication culture of AD 2013 is not one of a written text that will be fixed for an indefinite period of time. Our networking society does not cover itself with ecclesiastical meetings.”

 

In what direction is this TUK-teacher then thinking?

 

“I am looking for a way of retaining the Three Forms of Unity as a doctrinal ‘reservoir’, while working towards a new format that will serve both instruction in the church and testimony to the people. Preservation of unity in the faith and doctrinal instruction ­ can regain the place it had during the early Reformation, namely in the regular meeting of ministers of the Word in the same district. The classis began in its earliest form with exegesis or theological conversation for the mutual development and testing as colleagues. That is a primary form to speak about the binding-together of the confession rather than a binding to the confession,

The practice of confessing binds office-bearers together as they busy themselves interpreting the Word on the basis of the Scriptures, so that a new common instruction model develops. Actual and competent and active confessing unifies!”

 

We experience as shocking what almost casually is being promoted here by a professor at our TUK in De Reformatie, and apparently also prior to this in private magazine Pro Ministerio of the liberated minister’s association.

Let’s just make a list: 

  • Our Confessions are no longer useful in our 21st  century.
  • They represent the faith and thinking of the fathers.
  • To bind to the Confession is to bind to an older hermeneutics.
  • Every theologian has occasional questions about the Confession.
  • They (the Confessions) can now be put away in a ‘reservoir’ for consultation.
  • The significance of the current binding and subscription to the Confession should be re-considered.
  • We need a new, active and fundamental practice of confessing, not in the form of a written text because that does not suit this age of communication culture.
  • Doctrine can not be deduced from the stories that played in Bible times.

This spells the end of the reformed faith and lifestyle. Just cut the ties with the reformed Confession of the fathers and store it in the freezer. A new hermeneutics without deducing the doctrine from the Bible. We may as well abolish Articles 5-7 (and others) of the Belgic Confession.

This shows that the title was deliberately chosen to use the term confessing and not confession.  It openly questions not only the foundation on which we as churches are living together, but also the subscription to the reformed Confessions. And all this is being replaced by a quest for ‘a new [form of] confessing’ [6]. Don’t we also recognise here part of the spirit that is haunting the faculty of Theology at the Free University in Amsterdam, where De Boer and two of his Kampen colleagues teach as well? [7]. A university that is more and more losing its christian character. 

This is not a suitable moment to develop that further. We hope to do that later. But the connections are unavoidable [8]. See also article Grondslag (1) in the section Ethiek.


There are many objections under way against teachers of the TUK. Meanwhile, after the Australian letter of admonition there is now also one from the Canadian Reformed Churches [9]. The latter does not as yet raise objections against the views of these two university teachers, De Boer and Van der Schee. However, it will be apparent that the objections against them are not less weighty – rather the opposite - and therefore shall have to be addressed as well. It is about the integrity of our reformed churches and the training at the university. Don't we have a Supervisory Board / Board of Trustees for that purpose? And if that fails (again), a general synod that has the duty to straighten things out?

No one wishing to remain reformed can continue to ignore this.

 

Core


The observant reader will have noticed that the word hermeneutics was mentioned again, in De Boer's story. The content of our Confessions should be something “of the older hermeneutics.” I believe that this is where we find the root cause of the overall development in the liberated-reformed churches. The discussions with and the letters of admonition from the overseas churches also keep returning to this concern. 

In short (again): how we see the Scripture? What is the nature of the authority of Scripture? What does the context of the Bible’s stories mean for their significance for today? These questions are the main ones. The confusion in, and disintegration of our churches are not primarily caused by the actual secularisation however influential that may be, but by the valuation and treatment of Scripture.

Here again we see a confirmation of Dekker’s conclusion: as churches we are following in the footsteps of the synodicals. In the above mentioned writings De Boer and Van der Schee are busy developing themselves into synodical theologicans. They want to separate themselves from those ‘tight’ reformed Confessions and the ‘narrow’ Subscription Form. Adulthood and autonomy are the new basic attributes of our (post) modern Bonhoefferian theologians who are going their own way [10], who are developing private ideas and theology, and organise ‘quests for the truth.’ Just as in the synodical churches at that time. Not knowing for sure, which is arrogant, but searching and feeling around, in all modesty. Modesty being the new ultimate-pious virtue. Just watch how often that combination of words appears.

 

I am convinced that this is where the decisions will be made. Or have already been made, as can be observed with these brothers. If our churches do not unequivocally and whole-heartedly reject the line ‘De Boer - Van der Schee c.s.’ a break is unavoidable. For regardless of the depth of sadness, we will then no longer be standing together on the same foundation of the Scripture and the Confessions.   

We can no longer avoid it.

 

Cowardice? 
 

While observing these developments in our churches, my big question is why isn't there a revolt of reformed ministers and church members? Do we allow all this to just happen? Doesn't it cry for a loud and public protest? Isn't it a matter of remaining reformed and reformed church? A reformed church which is a reliable Mother for us and our (grand)children. Not a prima ballerina who on every street corner of the church-city offers her false ecumenical services, but a pure Bride who is adorned for her Husband, and feeds and cares for her children. How long will we accept the stones that are given to us for bread? How long will we allow the ongoing corruption and contamination of the training at the university? Do we accept that in this manner it will perhaps be over and out with the liberated-reformed churches within a single generation?

 

Where do we stand, all of us together? Yes, we do not sit still. People are writing their fingers blue. We conference annually to encourage one another. And we will possibly repeat the lecture circuit of the past ten or fifteen years. But in the meantime the high-speed apostasy-train is roaming around unchecked, leaving all those well-meaning stop trains far behind.

 

Paul writes to Timothy that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind [11]. I wonder, and include myself, is it not the spirit of fear that has to some extent taken a grip on us? How is it that so many reformed ministers (from 200) and so many reformed people (from 123,012) seem to have given up? Seem to have surrendered the battleground to the wreckers of the churches – see the above? Why do reformed churches, church councils and congregations not say: thus far and no further?! Have we together become cowardly?

 

Many have been made to feel lonely in our churches. They do not see a way out and just allow things to come over them without protest. They have no expectations from websites gereformeerdekerkblijven or ééninwaarheid or verontrustengroepen. Things have already been said so often. New stories confirm the direction. The brakes are off according to prominent church leaders.  
Is it not genuine reformation, that is, widespread return to the Word that can still save us from the threatening demise of the churches we love so much?

In the cited word Paul speaks of a spirit of power, of love and of a sound mind received from the Spirit.   
Spirit of power, that means: uphold your confession, with your back straight and no shaky knees. Go forward in God’s name, undaunted. Not with the courage of despair, but with the courage of faith, seeing the command, and leaving the outcome to God.

Spirit of love, that is, act in love for the Lord, in love for Christ’s church, in love for the brothers and sisters. Have compassion with so many, the sheep and lambs who are getting lost because they have evil shepherds. 
Spirit of a sound mind, that means consider together how to proceed in practice. Not with mad heads, but in consultation and with prayer.

Thus no spirit of fear. For the cowardly are mentioned in the same breath with the unbelievers, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars who “shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: which is the second death [12]. That, too, is a ‘loving’ piece of New Testament gospel, which can get you quite excited and flush.

 

Where do we stand? Shall we let ourselves be captivated by a richly adorned prima ballerina? Will we, together with the TU follow her further on the synodical path? 
Or do we desire to belong to that other woman:

 

Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made ​​herself ready; and to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen: for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints [13].

 

Kyrie eleison.

 

 

NOTES


[1] Nederlands Dagblad 04/09/12, see also Stroomversnelling in section: Kerkverband

[2] www.wimvanderschee.nl

[3] Flits 35 - Vesper in Amsterdam, in section: Liturgy and Worship.

[4] A few years ago Rev Van der Schee, under the pseudonym Henk Jasperse, caused great upheaval in the churches with Heppian ‘threatening deformation’ language.

[5] De Reformatie, 31/05/13

[6] See article Randloze kerk? in section: From the churches (this week), where also Rev Jos Douma of GKv Zwolle-Centrum seems desirous of starting a quest.

[7] The professors dr. E.A. de Boer, dr. G. Harinck, and dr. S. Paas.

[8] Last week (07/06/13) radio Kerknieuws / IKON / RKK announced a pamphlet written by dr. RR Ganzevoort, professor of Practical Theology at the Free University of Amsterdam and direct colleague of professor De Boer at the Faculty of Theology at the same University. The professor posited: “People no longer have need for theologians who have a monopoly on the truth, but for theologians who are able to identify old and new spiritual sources. We need theologians who dare to step outside the safe frameworks of churches and religious traditions. Theology will otherwise disappear in the margins of society.” According to Ganzevoort most people, even churchgoers, have withdrawn themselves long ago from the authority of church and christianity. “Apart from religious traditions they derive meaning from movies, soap operas and pop music; from high culture, like the film Breaking the Waves by Lars von Trier, but especially from expressions of low culture like She believes in me and Dreamland. Our secular society is in need of religious trend watchers.” Is something of this spirit also not observable in the aspirations of De Boer?

[9] See Canada admonishes GKv, in section: Kerkverband.

[10] Read also the story Much attention for Bonhoeffer, in section: Uit de kerken, which can show how in a period of just twenty years the spirits in our university have been reversed.

[11] 2 Timothy 1:7

[12] Revelation 21:8

[13] Revelation 19:6-8