Deformation in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands:


Is having women in office the appropriate reason to break the sister church relationship?

At the forefront of the ecclesiastical press in the CanRC in the last number of months has been the decision of General Synod 2017 of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (liberated – also known as the GKV) to admit women to all the offices in the church. This decision has resulted in suspension of the GKV from the International Council of Reformed Churches.

This decision is also front and centre in the discussion of the CanRC's relationship with the GKV. But why is this particular decision of such concern and importance to the sister church relationship? Is not this decision only the tip of the iceberg? Were the problems in the GKV prior to this decision on women in office not significant? For example, did not the change in the method of interpreting Scripture in the GKV prior to 2002 lead to the decision to open all the offices to women?

More importantly, what led the brothers in the DGK (De Gereformeerde Kerken, also known as RCR – Reformed Churches Restored, or GKH – Gereformeerde Kerken Hersteld) to liberate themselves from the GKV in 2003?

General Synod Smithers 2007 was the first synod of the CanRCs to receive documentation about this liberation. The Committee on Relations with Churches Abroad (CRCA), which was charged with making recommendations on relationships with other churches, received five important documents that were prepared by former members of the GKV. These five documents are “Let Us Repent,” “Call to Reformation,” “Deed of Liberation and Return,” “Do not take words away from this book of prophecy” (a response to the GKV’s brochure “Not Beyond What is Written”) and an English translation of Article 25 of the Acts of DGK Synod Marienberg 2005. Interested readers can access PDF-files containing these five documents from links which have been placed at the end of this editorial.

The CRCA acknowledged receipt of these five documents in its Report to Synod 2007. However the CRCA did not interact with the contents of these documents. The documents point out a number of Scriptural, confessional and church orderly problems within the GKV and provide the reasons for the liberation of the DGK in 2003. Without this necessary interaction this committee recommended to Synod 2007 not to accept the DGK’s request to acknowledge them as sister churches (Acts, Article 143, Recommendation 5.2).

Synod went further by speaking of this liberation of the DGK as “schism” (see consideration 4.2 of Article 143 of the Acts of Synod 2007). This manner of speaking was maintained by the next General Synod (see Articles 107, 108 and 155 of the Acts of Synod 2010). Both Synods admitted that the CRCA did not give the details in their report which led to their conclusions (see Consideration 2.2, Article 107 of the Acts of Synod 2010).

Why did the CRCA not provide the grounds which led to its conclusions? And why did the Synods not consider that the CRCA had neglected to complete its mandate by not providing the grounds which led to its conclusions?

For it was General Synod 2013 (see Acts, Article 190) that finally acknowledged that, “the RCR [=DGK] had already, before Synod Smithers 2007, outlined for the CRCA the concerns which the subcommittee addressed in its report to Synod Carman 2013” and “the CRCA did not study that RCR brochure before Synod Smithers 2007” therefore the CanRC “did not take their expressions of concern seriously enough” (see Consideration 4.8).

Despite all the documents which were made available to the committees and to the general synods, along with numerous requests, no general synod has dealt with the scriptural, confessional and church orderly legitimacy of the liberation of the DGK in 2003.

Were the CRCA and the CanRCs not aware of the extent of deformation in the GKV prior to 2003? Had members of the CRCA not made any attempt to evaluate what was occurring in the GKV during those years?

We note the address of the CRCA delegate from the CanRC to GKV Synod Zuidhorn 2002 and the impressions of two members of the CRCA committee, as reported in the 2002 year end issue of Clarion, pages 612-616, that indicate that there were serious concerns.

We read that delegates believed they “were witness to a regression and not a progression,” they suspected the Dutch churches “to be relying on the same practices the Christian Reformed Churches in North America embraced fifteen or twenty years ago,” they noticed “a fear of being identified as a type of church which holds exclusive truths,” and “the Reformed character [of the church] is almost unrecognizable” (page 614). The delegates concluded that, “The Dutch churches are attempting to reinvent themselves in hopes of establishing an identity” (page 614).

In the address of the CRCA delegate to the GKV Synod 2002 concerns were raised about changes in the marriage form, deviations from the Reformed basis, the Word of God and the Three Forms of Unity, centralization in church life, increase in number of hymns, shifts in the Theological University, and a neglect to inform churches abroad of a major change to the church order (see page 615). The concern was expressed that, “the decision of Synod Leusden [1999] has effectively changed the character of the Sunday, and will as such have a deep impact on the development of the churches” (page 616).

As a result the CanRC General Synod Chatham 2004 had expressly given the CRCA the mandate “to seek clarity into the legitimacy of the recent ‘Vrijmaking’ …” which had occurred in 2003, while at the same time the CRCA had “To make more thorough study of the concerns mentioned in its Report to determine whether the CanRC should approach the sister churches in The Netherlands in accordance with Rule 1 of the rules for ecclesiastical fellowship with the warning that they are deviating from their Reformed basis in the Word of God and the Three Forms of Unity” (Recommendations 5.4.4 and 5.4.7, Article 44, Acts of Synod 2004). At the same time the CRCA was told to judge the GKV only “on the basis of its official documents” (Consideration 4.9 of this same article) without considering the evidence of its actual practices. It is not clear why the CRCA was prevented from considering the evidence of actual practices in the GKV.

The CRCA would have had access to the Acts of Synods 1996, 1999 and 2002 of the GKV, all of which contained answers to the appeals which had been sent in by concerned members and which were referred to in the five documents noted above.

Based on the above evidence is it not reasonable to expect, that if the CRCA had diligently fulfilled its mandate, they would have come to a different conclusion regarding the deformation in the GKV and the legitimacy of the liberation of the DGK in 2003 at Synod Smithers in 2007?

Considering the above history, rather than focusing on the decision to admit women to all the offices in the church as the reason to break the sister church relationship, and in accordance with the acknowledgement of Synod 2013, should not the CanRCs be focussed on the fundamental reasons for the deformation in the GKV and the liberation of the DGK in 2003?

J. Vantil

Please note that PDF-files for the five documents referred to above can be accessed as follows:

1. Let Us Repent

2. Call to Reformation

3. Deed of Liberation and Return

4. Do not take words away from this book of prophecy

5. Article 25 of the Acts of Synod Marienberg 2005