The article below represents the text of a speech to a combined meeting of Men, Women and Young People’s Societies of the Canadian Reformed Church at Chilliwack, B.C., prepared by a team of young people and delivered in April 1989.  When reading this article, one must keep in mind the historical context in which it was prepared.  At that time the Churches at Blue Bell and Laurel had recently been admitted to the Canadian Reformed Church federation.  General Synod Burlington 1986 had confirmed the current wording of the Forms for the Public Profession of Faith and Baptism (see Acts, Article 144).  This same General Synod had also determined that a certain minister’s teachings, concerning the confession about the church, the plurality of the churches, and the confession about the communion of the saints, were not in harmony with the Scriptures and the Three Forms of Unity (see Acts, Article 184).  During this same period there was considerable discussion of these matters in Clarion, a Canadian Reformed publication.  It is from this perspective that concerned young people had prepared a study of:

The Events in our Sister Churches

in the Netherlands of the 1960’s

Each event in the history of the Church of Christ testifies of His continuing work in defending, preserving and promoting His Church.  Yet no sequence of events has received so little attention and so little analysis as those which have occurred within our sister churches in the Netherlands of the 1960’s.  Current Canadian publications discuss at length the issues of confessional membership and the Church as they affect our relations with those outside of our circles, yet little attention is paid to the lessons we may learn here from our Dutch brothers.  In our discussion we will first attempt to summarize the historical events themselves, then we will attempt to deal with some confessional and church political issues which arose as a result, and finally we will consider the implications these events have for a proper understanding of the Church.


To properly understand the significance of the events in the Netherlands in the 1960’s it is necessary first of all to consider the events of the preceding 70 years.  Trouble in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands arose shortly after the Union of 1892, concerning the teachings of Dr. Abraham Kuyper, most notably those concerning presumptive regeneration, common grace and the pluriformity of the Church.  At the Synod of 1905, opponents of Kuyper’s teachings tried to show the heresies involved in these ideas.  Unfortunately, the vast majority of delegates chose to come up with a proposal which did not condemn the Kuyperian theories, but rather attempted to reconcile them with current doctrine.  After much controversy it was agreed that for the sake of church unity the ideas of Dr. Abraham Kuyper were to be neither condemned nor made binding.  However this was merely a stopgap measure and disagreement simmered for years.  The matters were not raised again until the 1936 Synod of Amsterdam, where a committee was formed to study and deliver a report to the next Synod.

The next Synod convened at Sneek in 1939, almost in conjunction with World War II.  The war disrupted normal life totally, many prominent people were in hiding, transportation was difficult, and generally it was extremely hard to hold a meeting.  As a result, this Synod continued in session, meeting irregularly, until 1942.  This fateful Synod decided that the Kuyperian teaching of presumptive regeneration was to be the current teaching of the Church, which meant that it was to be accepted as a doctrinal standard.  Immediately petitions were sent to the next Synod of Utrecht, held the following year.  This Synod rejected all petitions sent in, which set the stage for further errors.  All ministers and candidates were required to adhere to this Synodical decision.  However many ministers and their consistories rightfully disagreed.  To quell any disturbances this Synod took upon itself the totally unlawful step of suspending any and all ministers who spoke out against it.

On August 11, 1944, a meeting was called by those who objected to this Synod’s decisions regarding doctrine and polity.  After much deliberation, yet at the same time with thanks to God for His preservation, they officially liberated themselves from the churches under the synodical hierarchy.  The Liberated churches swelled quite dramatically and formed a federation of Reformed Churches (maintaining Article 31).  This severe split, involving almost 100,000 members, was viewed with alarm in the Synodical churches.  Many people wished for talks to be held to try and repair the breach.  However, although the Synodical churches wanted contact, they would not back down on the decisions of Synods Sneek and Utrecht, so the Liberated churches refused to have contact.  Seeing the seriousness of the split, the Synodical churches set up a committee to come up with what they termed as “replacement formulae.”  At first glance and without careful reading, these resolutions seemed to repeal the acts of the Synod of Utrecht.  In reality they sounded pious, but were far from it.  Two of these “replacement formulae” were drawn up in 1946 and 1949 and were partially successful as members began to trickle back to the Synodical churches.  Already in the 1950’s several ministers, after meetings with representatives of the Synodical churches, went back.  Although by the late 1950’s and early 60’s the Liberated churches stood quite firm in membership, the old question of contact never quite died down, but continued to simmer beneath the surface.

At this time problems also began to arise in the Liberated churches concerning various aspects of doctrine.  A prime example of this is the situation involving the Rev. Telder.  In 1960 this minister had published two books, arguing that upon death a person dies completely, body and soul.  The consistory of the church at Breda, of which he was a minister, did nothing to discipline him, not even after warning letters were written by other churches in the federation.  When the matter appeared on the agenda of Regional Synod South this Synod ruled that Rev. Telder had broken the promise made when he signed the Subscription Form.  Even then the consistory of the church at Breda did nothing either to comply with Synod’s judgement or to appeal to General Synod.  Instead it simply ignored the Synod’s decision.  A second doctrinal issue arose in the church at Beverwijk where a minister continued to teach a doctrine of universal atonement.  This error was subsequently refuted by the Synod of Amersfoort-West in 1967.  A third doctrinal difficulty was experienced in the Church at Kampen, where it was taught that eternal life did not begin until after the resurrection at the last day.  This error, along with many others, were properly dealt with and refuted by means of Holy Scripture in the relevant ecclesiastical assemblies.  However in many situations, until after the Synod of Hoogeveen of 1969-70, the decisions of these major assemblies were ignored and the errors continued to be tolerated among the churches.

At the same time as the rise of all of this doctrinal confusion, there arose an increasingly vocal group who sought reunification with the Synodical churches.  Pre-eminent among this group was the Rev. A. Van der Ziel of the Church at Groningen-South.  This minister, against the express wishes of the consistory, initiated contact with the Synodical churches.  Despite a lack of support from the consistory of the neighboring church, Rev. Van der Ziel was suspended, contrary to the stated provisions of the Church Order.  However instead of appealing, Rev. Van der Ziel along with a number of his supporters, withdrew themselves from the Church and set up a separate congregation which became known as the “Tehuis Congregation.”  At the Synod of Rotterdam-Delfshaven, held in 1964, the grounds for this consistory’s actions were confirmed.

Soon after this separate congregation was set up it became clear that many people objected to the fact that there had to be such a dramatic reaction.  In 1966, the “Tehuis Congregation” received encouragement from within the Liberated churches.  A group of people, including 19 ministers, drafted the “Open Letter,” wherein they stated that the Rev. Van der Ziel and his group did no wrong in seeking contact but should not now join the Synodical churches.  This letter was very damaging, because it also stated that the Liberation [in 1944 – editor] was merely a quarrel between bretheren which ought to be reconciled.  They also asserted that the desire for contact with the Synodical churches was actually a responsibility, for the continuing separate existence of these churches appeared to go squarely against Scripture, which calls for unity.  To compound the problem this “Open Letter” was published throughout the Liberated churches.  At the next General Synod held at Amersfoort-West Rev. Schoep, one of the signatories of the “Open Letter,” was not received since it was considered that this signature placed him in violation of the promise made when he signed the Subscription Form.  Instead a strongly worded statement came out against the “Open Letter” and its authors.

Since the majority of the conflict was in North Holland, many churches there did not agree with either this Synod’s or the previous one’s decisions.  These churches simply wished to, they said, remain Reformed with all the rights but not be bound by Synod.  Of course not all the North Holland churches were like this, so it raised some very strange and sad scenarios.  What happened was that in some regions there were two different Regional Synods involving the same group of churches.  It all came to a head at the General Synod of Hoogeveen in 1969-70 when two different groups of delegates from North Holland came to General Synod, each declaring themselves to be duly selected representatives.  These delegations had been selected by two opposing Regional Synods in this area, consequently the first decision Synod Hoogeveen had to make was which delegation to accept.  Leaving the delegations from North Holland out of the voting, Synod considered that the delegates chosen by Regional Synod Wormer had violated the promises made when signing the Subscription Form and neither maintained the ecclesiatical fellowship nor the Church Order.  Therefore the delegates chosen by Regional Synod Ijmuiden were accepted.  What followed was that the rejected delegates and their churches withdrew from the federation, declaring themselves to be the true Church.


The Reformed churches confess their faith as summarized in the Three Forms of Unity.  Since the Synod of Dort office bearers in the Reformed churches have declared that they heartily believe that the doctrine contained in the Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dort is in complete agreement with the Word of God.  In the 1960’s our sister churches in the Netherlands had to deal with crises caused by certain ministers and congregations who did not consider themselves bound to the Three Forms of Unity.  Those who no longer wanted to be bound to the confessions regarded the struggle to preserve the true doctrine as confining and peace disturbing.  They had the attitude that as long as we do not go against the 12 articles of the Apostles Creed it is all right.  However, as Rev. Kok states, “saving faith and the confession of the Church can not be separated, for if they are, nothing remains.”(1)

Those who no longer wanted to be bound to the confessions accused the Liberated churches of putting the Three Forms of Unity above Scripture by calling her office bearers to be bound to the confessions.  However these people failed to consider that the confessions are only a faithful summary, and therefore do not add to or take away from God’s Word.  Because the confessions are a faithful summary they are able to derive their authority from the only norm of God’s Word.  Those who disagreed with various points of doctrine as summarized in the confessions did not wish to appear to be in disagreement with Scripture itself.  Therefore the only way they could legitimize their position was to deny that the confessions are scriptural interpretations of Scripture.  This denial of the character of the confession, as confession based upon the Word of God, makes it unnecessary to change it if some part of it is proven contrary to the Word of God.  [In other words, if the confessions are only considered to be man-made opinions, then there is no real imperative to have them changed, even if it is believed that a portion is contrary to the Word of God – editor].

The direct consequence of the above confessional difficulties for our sister churches in the Netherlands was the failure to properly apply and adhere to the Subscription Form.  It was determined already at the Synod of Dort that this Subscription Form was to be signed by ministers of the Word, elders, deacons, professors and even school teachers.  This requirement has been incorporated in the Church Order under Article 26.  The Subscription Form is a document which every office bearer upon taking office must sign, containing the following essential ingredients:

  1. a clear declaration that the doctrine of the Three Forms of Unity in every respect conforms with the Word of God;
  2. the solemn promise to teach this doctrine and to faithfully promote it.  To reject, refute, and resist all errors contradicting it, without teaching or writing openly or secretly, directly or indirectly, against it;
  3. the clear promise that if one would conceive any thought or feeling against the aforesaid doctrine or any point of it, this will never be openly or secretly presented, promoted or written, but that it will first be submitted to the consistory, classis and synod for examination; and
  4. the promise, if consistory, classis or synod would for important reasons deem it proper to demand more explicit explanation, to be willing to give them, knowing that a refusal would result in immediate suspension from office.(2)

The Subscription Form came under attack already with Rev. Telder.  Telder believed that when a child of God dies he or she dies completely, both body and soul.  This is clearly against Luke 23:42 and 43 where Jesus promises to the one criminal hanging beside Him that that very day he would be with Him in paradise.  This is also against Lord’s Day 22 of the Heidelberg Catechism, where it states that immediately after death the soul of a believer is taken up to Christ in heaven.  Rev. Telder went against the promise he made when he signed the Subscription Form by failing to have his beliefs examined, not only by his consistory, but also classis and synod.  The ministers at Beverwijk and Kampen also failed to abide by the promise made at the signing of the Subscription Form, when they did not first submit their beliefs to the consistory, classis, and synod before publicly teaching them.

In addition to the failure to properly use the Subscription Form, there was also evidence of failure to properly maintain and apply Article 31 of the Church Order.  With the Liberation of 1944, the Liberated churches rejected synodical statements and actions which were in conflict with the Word of God and the Church Order.  In the 1960’s Article 31 was ignored again.  This article states “If anyone complains that he has been wronged by the decision of a minor assembly, he shall have the right to appeal to the major ecclesiastical assembly.”  The churches vow to consider the decisions made by major assemblies to be settled and binding, unless proven to be contrary to God’s Word.

The consistory at Breda, where Rev. Telder was minister, went against Article 31 when the consistory did not comply with the decisions made by Regional Synod South.  They refused to consider the decisions made as settled and binding but at the same time also refused to appeal these decisions.  Rev. Van der Ziel of Groningen-South also ignored Article 31 after being suspended by the consistory of which he was a part.  Instead he and several members of the congregation separated themselves from the supervision of the consistory.  In doing so they ignored the process of appeal found in Article 31.  They did not present to Synod an appeal concerning the supposed wrong done to them, instead they separated themselves and so created a schism.  The authors of the “Open Letter” also failed to consider Article 31 and their responsibility to the federation.  Rather than appealing the decision made by the Synod of Rotterdam Delfshaven they wrote against it publicly, thereby widening and lending credibility to the schism.

After the 1967 General Synod of Amersfoort-West, important decisions made by that Synod were completely ignored by some of our sister churches, especially in the area of Regional Synod North Holland.  Their attitude was “We don’t care about Synodical decisions.  We don’t even want to recognize this Synod as the Synod of the Reformed Churches, but we will simply remain in the Federation.”(3)  As a result the churches of Regional Synod North Holland did not even file an appeal at the General Synod of 1969 in Hoogeveen.  Article 31 of the Church Order was rendered worthless.  These disaffected churches had gone to the other extreme of what had happened in 1944.  They wanted nothing to do with an organized federation bound by the Church Order of Dort.  They were filled with an independentistic spirit which allowed for deviation from God’s Word.

The rise of independentism in the Liberated churches in the years after 1944 was therefore made evident in the failure to maintain Article 31.  This independentism was felt in that many ministers defended a “right” to maintain doctrines which were not in keeping with the confessions.  The defense of this so-called “right” resulted in an outright rejection of the basic purpose of the Church Order, as it had been accepted in the federation, because the local churches were seen to be independent of each other.

Against this independentism Prof. Kamphuis writes, “the churches, which in offices and institutions stand over against each other independently, are never loose from one another, because Christ gathers one Church, which, on the one hand is being gathered locally through the service of the offices, but, on the other hand, must know and experience its unity in the only universal Bishop of the Church.”(4)  This is clear from 1 John 1:3 where John writes “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us.”  Colossians 4:16 where Paul requests, “and when this letter has been read among you, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea,” also shows the unity among the churches.

Articles 29 – 49 of the Church Order show the manner in which this unity among the churches is to be maintained.  Article 29 distinguishes between the four ecclesiastical assemblies: the consistory, the classis, that regional synod and the general synod.  Although the consistory is the only ecclesiastical assembly mentioned in the Bible, classis and synods are maintained so that separate congregations can keep informed about what is happening in the neighbouring churches and so the Biblical unity of the federation is maintained.  For this reason also in Article 44 it is stated “The President shall ask whether the decisions of the major assemblies are being honored.”  In this way it becomes possible for decisions of the major assemblies to be either ratified [ie. accepted – editor] or appealed.

During the 1960’s many consistories failed to either ratify [ie. accept – editor] or appeal the decisions of Synod.  They refused to acknowledge the decisions made in the ecclesiastical assemblies, yet they wished to remain within the federation.  Instead of being bound to the confessions and the Church Order they demanded tolerance of the various interpretations they had on the basis of a lack of understanding.  This demand was in itself a denial of the clarity of divine revelation to man.  This call for toleration of interpretations actually took away from the Biblical truth since it allowed for an unscriptural tolerance toward errors which were creeping into the Church.  It should be noted that the Reformed churches have always made a clear distinction between scriptural patience in case of lack of understanding and unscriptural tolerance of false doctrine.(5)

Unscriptural tolerance in the 1960’s was seen in the “Open Letter” where the authors ignored the doctrinal differences in the Liberation of 1944.  They felt that the Liberation was a necessary but painful split involving brothers of the same house.  They reject the idea that by the Liberation of 1944 the Lord executed a new work of Church reformation.(6)  The authors of the “Open Letter” felt that the Liberated churches were wrong when they considered reunion with the Synodical churches to be a step backward.  However reunion was possible only in the manner that individual churches leave the Synodical federation and join the Liberated churches.  This firm stance, although considered schismatic by some, was necessary in order to maintain the truth over against error.  We should therefore be thankful that this stance remains a witness as to what is a firm foundation, not only to those who remain in the ranks of the Synodical churches, but also to all who have contact with them.


The issue of the definition of the Church has appeared in nearly every situation where a schism or succession [ie. secession – editor] has occurred or threatened to occur.  It also appeared among the issues which troubled our sister churches in the Netherlands in the 1960’s.  The origin of these difficulties lies primarily in the tendency to misapply two aspects of the Church as we confess them in Articles 27 through 29 of the Belgic Confession.  In Article 27 we essentially profess the existence of one catholic or universal Church throughout world history.  In Article 28 we essentially profess the responsibility of each and every believer to join with and maintain the unity of the Church.  In Article 29 we further define this responsibility by outlining the marks by which the true and the false church may be discerned.

It is precisely in this area where the writers of the “Open Letter” to the “Tehuis Congregation” go astray.  They accuse those who believe that the Liberation was a Reformation, of using Article 28 of the Belgic Confession to give the Liberation confessional authority.  They fail to pay attention to the marks of the true and the false church as described in Article 29.  Therefore they fail to accept the responsibility to maintain the unity of the Church.  As a result these failures have led to the denial that the Synodical churches had indeed become a false church.

Further it should be noted that a false reasoning has been created in their use of Articles 27 and 28.  In the attempt to undermine the idea that the Liberation of 1944 was a new work of Church-reformation, the authors of the “Open Letter” effectively transfer the responsibility of joining with and maintaining the unity of the Church from man to God.  This error parallels the Kuyperian error found in some covenantal teachings, for Dr. Abraham Kuyper in his teaching on the covenant started with a covenant established with the elect only, instead of a covenant visibly established with all who are called saints.(7)  Similarly the writers of this “Open Letter” start with a Church comprised of the elect only, instead of a local Church which is visibly established and provides a proper basis for the communion of called saints.

The emphasis on election, as opposed to an emphasis on the covenant, as the means employed to gather, defend and preserve His Church, is in conflict with what our Lord Jesus states concerning the Church in Matthew 16:18 and 19.  There He states, after Peter’s confession of faith: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.  I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  As can be seen from this quote the presence of the established congregation is clear evidence of the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth.  As Dr. Geerhardus Vos writes, “That Christ is King in this Church and all authority exercised within any Church-body derives from Him is an important principle of church government.”(8)  We also confess this aspect of the Church in Q.A. 54 of the Heidelberg Catechism, where we read of a “Church chosen to everlasting life.”  Therefore Christ as King over this Church gives it the responsibilities of the pure preaching of the gospel, proper administration of the sacraments, and appropriate exercise of church discipline.  These responsibilities, of necessity, can only be carried out by the local congregation of true Christian believers.

The writers of the “Open Letter” have also launched a serious assault on the basis of the unity of the Church, namely the doctrine of the Word of God, summarized in the confessions.  In their expressed desire for unity on the basis of Jesus’ words “that they all may be one” the authors do not discuss or deal with the price of this unity.  Do we have the right to bargain away the binding aspects of various points of doctrine, as if they are ours to bargain with, to achieve or maintain what appears to be a united Church?  Are we to consider the Church then to be pluriform?  The writers of this “Open Letter” have reduced the Liberation to being one’s preferred opinion over another.

In order to properly resolve this dilemma it is necessary to consider the biblical norms for a true Church as outlined in Article 29 of the Belgic Confession.  “It governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all thing contrary to it and regarding Jesus Christ as the only Head.”  As Paul writes to the Corinthians “According to the commission of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and another man is building upon it.  Let each man take care how he build upon it.  For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”  The authors of the “Open Letter” have attacked this position.  In arguing for greater confessional freedom in certain points of doctrine they have made the pure Word of God dependant on their own interpretation.  In this way argument can be made for unity with others with whom we do not completely agree, since man has no right to force his own opinion over others!  Using this line of reasoning it becomes easy for the writers of the “Open Letter” to push forward their call for a reunion.  The end result of restoring the unity with the Synodical Churches has now justified the means employed to bring about this unity.

The authors of the “Open Letter” also refuse to bind themselves to a relationship with the members of the “Tehuis Congregation.”  They state that “applications can change according to a change in the situation in which God’s commandment applies.”  They speak of a Church which “building upon that foundation in a manifold style, seeks for the boundaries of its ecclesiastical fellowship.”(9)  Can this be interpreted to mean biblical norms are now dependant on human perception?  That is, can we permit the introduction of a subjective interpretation of Scripture by going as close to the “border” as we can?  Or shall we, as ethicly fallen man, remain subservient to the Scriptural interpretation of Scripture as it is maintained in the confessions?  Let us remember that in following the means laid down for us in Scripture we already achieve the objective, namely the glorification of His Name.

Finally, reference is made to other churches which appear to gather God’s children.  They ignore the fact that many of these children are in the grip of wolves.  The existence of confessional forms is seen here as being something in addition to Scripture and therefore an impediment to ecclesiastical unity.  In fact their role is to summarize Scripture and maintain the unity of the true faith.  In this sense the confessions interpret Scripture systematically, that is on the basis of what Scripture teaches as the sum of Christian doctrine.  When the writers question the role of our confessional forms within and outside the Church, they do so out of the belief that we have added something to Scripture as a prerequisite for membership in the true Church.  However the result of this thinking is to subtract from Biblical truth by admitting subjectivistic interpretations, disunity of faith, and a pluriform Church.  The end result makes man the ultimate judge over how Scripture is to be interpreted.

Throughout all ages Christ has gathered, defended and preserved His Church.  That fact is also evident from the events in the Netherlands of the 1960’s.  Our continued existence, apart from those who in the Dutch Reformed Churches have left us, remains a witness for them to come back.  Let us also remember then with thanksgiving the magnitude of His wonderous work in preserving His Church in the unity of the true faith.


  1. Rev. K. Kok, “Presbyterian or Reformed” Shield and Sword, Vol. 21, No.5, (Nov/Dec 1988 issue) p.5
  2. For a translation of the Subscription Form that was adopted at the Synod of Dort see Clarion Vol.37, No.11 (May 27,1988 issue), p.235
  3. Prof. J. Kamphuis, “The Short Meaning of a Long Story:  The Schism Unmasked” translated by Rev. W. Pouwelse, Lux Mundi, December 1988 issue, p.6
  4. Prof. J. Kamphuis, “Verkenningen II, p.82, quoted by Rev. Cl. Stam, “Liberated … also today” Clarion, March 26, 1977, p.129
  5. Prof. J. Kamphuis, “The Short Meaning of a Long Story:  The Schism Unmasked” p.5
  6. Open Letter to the “Tehuis Congregation” in Groningen, translated by Rev. W.W.J. VanOene, p.3
  7. Dr. J. Douma, Infant Baptism and Conversion, p.19
  8. Dr. Geerhardus Vos, The Kingdom of God and the Church, p.87
  9. Open Letter, p.8