What is the basis for true unity in the church of Christ?  This is not a new question, but one that has been wrestled with many times over the ages.

In the December 31, 2002 issue of Reformed Polemics, Rev. D.G.J. Agema writes about some notes written by his father at a consistory meeting where Prof. K. Schilder had been invited to speak about seeking unity with the Free Reformed Church.  This meeting took place in the years following 1945.

The issue of concern was the Union of 1892 between the church of the Secession of 1834 and the people of the Doleantie of 1886.  In 1892 some ministers and members of the secession church voiced their objection to this union because of the teachings of Dr. A. Kuyper regarding the covenant of grace and his view of the church.  They could not agree with his views and therefore did not go along with the union.  They continued on their own in what is today called the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken in the Netherlands and known to us as the Free Reformed Churches of North America.

Is church history important?

According to the notes of Rev. Agema, Prof. Schilder stated, concerning those who did not go along with the Union of 1892, “That generation will have to give account before the Lord regarding these matters.”  He also points to the Liberation of 1944.  Those who did not go along with the Liberation from the Synodical churches in 1944 also have to give account before the Lord regarding these matters.  However at the same time Prof. Schilder stated that, “the coming generation will not be asked what they think of 1944, they will only be asked ‘what do you confess?’

In the end of his article Rev. Agema connects this view of Prof. Schilder to the present efforts of union between the Canadian Reformed (CanRC) and United Reformed (URC) Churches.  He does not believe that it should be required from the URC that they agree on what was at stake in the Liberation of 1944.   According to Prof. Schilder and Rev. Agema we should only ask:  “What do you confess?”  It all sounds very simple, but is this interpretation of church history a good basis for union between the CanRC and the URC?

The Lord has given us church history in order for us to look back and learn where mistakes were made and where requirements should have been made.  Reformations and church unions take place in different ways.

However, the aim is always the same – a return to the Word of God and a seeking of the unity of all true believers.
For us the Liberation lies more than 60 years behind us and we may learn from it that in all our ecumenical striving the truth must be maintained at all costs.

When Prof. Schilder spoke “about seeking unity with the Free Reformed Church”, he spoke in his time and about a different church situation.  To use his words today to support union between the CanRC and the URC would be incorrect.   Some have suggested that the union between these two churches should be like the Union of 1892.  However, the Free Reformed Churches did not go along with the Union of 1892 and Prof. Schilder spoke with these churches in mind.

Should therefore the Union of 1892 be a model for the union between the CanRC and the URC?  Should the CanRC only ask from the URC, “What do you confess?”

A closer look at the history before the Union of 1892 will give us some answers to what we should be looking for today.

Background to 1892

The Synod of the Christelijke Gerformeerde Kerk in The Netherlands held at Assen in 1888 decided:
         “that they (the Dolerende, G.K.) the Secession from the afore mentioned
              Society (Nederlands Hervormde Kerk, G.K.) as it took place in 1834,          
           acknowledge that it was done in obedience and in conformity with the
           Word of God, and therefore also the local congregation of the Christelijke
           Gereformeerde Kerk is the legitimate revelation of the body of Christ.”1)

Here we see that Synod maintained the principles of the Secession in accordance with Scripture and Confession.  This decision was passed by Synod with a majority vote of 30 out of 40 votes.  The next synod, Leeuwarden 1891 also maintained this principle of the Secession although it did not require acknowledgement from the Dolerende churches.2)  What was the reason for this change?

Dr. Kuyper had made some objections.  He could not agree that the Dolerende churches would have to admit that the congregations of the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk (the Secession churches) can legitimately claim to be the body of Christ, for it would mean that the Dolerende churches were living in sin for not joining the Christlijke Gereformeerde Kerk in accordance with article 28 of the Belgic Confession.3)

It is well-known that Dr. Kuyper disagreed with the Secession of 1834.  He would not call it a reformation, but a standing aside for the time being.  His idea of reformation was to remain in the false church and to reform it from within.  For this reason his views on the doctrine of the church dominated the discussions prior to the Union of 1892.

It is important that in our drive for unity we do not lose sight of that which should be foremost in our mind, namely the norm which the Head of the Church, Jesus
Christ has taught His church and what she maintains in her confession in Articles 27-29 B.C.  Since these articles are based on Scripture, everyone who is called to reformation is not only duty bound to join the true church but is also called to recognize the reason for secession from the false church. 

Dr. Kuyper refused to recognize the Reformation of 1834.  From this it is clear that he did not want to be bound by the teachings of Scripture and the reformed confessions regarding the church.  He also taught that at baptism we are to presuppose that the child is regenerated until when it grows up the child shows otherwise.  Anyone who did not believe this could not with a clear conscience remain a member of the church.  It is clear that also in this Dr. Kuyper deviated from Scripture and confession.4)

If today Dr. Kuyper would be asked with regards to the Union, “What do you confess,” no doubt the answer would be, “Scripture and confession.”
According to Rev. Agema that would be a sufficient reason for the Union, even with these deviations from Scripture and confession.

The consequence of 1892

It is clear from church history that due to the wrong teachings of Dr. Kuyper on baptism, the Union of 1892 came apart in the Liberation of the church in 1944.  No one will deny that this wrong teaching of Dr. Kuyper caused much trouble in the church.  Already Synod Utrecht 1905 was forced to deal with the concerns of many people in the churches, concerning Dr. Kuyper’s teachings.  The conclusions of Synod on this point served as an attempt to reconcile those for and those against these teachings by permitting both views to be taught in the churches.   This unscriptural decision laid the groundwork for more trouble in the churches, which resulted in the Liberation of 1944.

Should the mistakes of 1892 be repeated again today by ignoring the work of Christ in the return to Scripture and confession of His church in the Liberation of 1944?  The temptation to accommodate and to compromise can be so great, because the goal is the much desired union.  The danger is that the call for union based only on “Scripture and confession” will become a hollow phrase. 

If in its striving for union the church neglects the work of Christ in the reformation of His church, it will lose the true union in Christ.  The statement in Rev. Agema’s article, “then we make the church into a gathering of intellectuals, or rather, of church historians,” misses the point completely.  If that were true, we could dismiss the Belgic Confession of 1561 as a document or statement “of intellectuals, or rather, church historians” and that it has nothing to do with what we today believe regarding the church.  At the same time we could argue that because it was written in 1561, why should the man in the pew know about that? 

We said already that we should learn from church history.  Ignorance is no excuse.  We should learn from warnings given in the history of the church.  Also today those warnings are there when we consider the attempts for union between the URC and the CanRC.  Let us again consider what we should be looking for with regard to these two churches.

Standpoint of the Christian Reformed Church

When in the early days of 1946 requests came from the Liberated Reformed Churches in the Netherlands to the Christian Reformed Church to send representatives to their synod to be held in Groningen on April 1946, synod accepted the recommendation of its committee “in disallowing” the request.

The same committee requested that Synod approve of sending a delegation to the extraordinary synod of the Synodical churches in the Netherlands held in Utrecht on January 22, 1946.  Synod approved the request and two delegates were appointed.5)  Here we see the Christian Reformed Church deciding against the Liberated churches and in favor of the Synodical churches.

In addition some Liberated members from Holland who had joined the Christian Reformed Church also sent appeals to that church, but to no avail – every appeal was denied.6)

Since 1962 the CanRCs have sent appeals and serious warnings to the general synods of the Christian Reformed Church to urge them to deal with the issues about the Liberation of the church in 1944 in the Netherlands.  The Christian Reformed Church refused to do so.  Instead she continued to retain the Synodical  Churches in the Netherlands as its sister church.  Contact between the CanRC and the Christian Reformed Church was eventually discontinued in 1977.
We see here that the Christian Reformed Church refused to heed all the warnings and admonitions from the side of the Liberated Reformed Churches in The Netherlands and the CanRC.  The Christian Reformed Church refused to repent from endorsing the sinful ways of the Synodical churches in the Netherlands.  The Christian Reformed Church refused to repent from denying the work of God in the reformation of His church in the Liberation of 1944.  Where there is no repentance there is also no confession of guilt.  That guilt remains and  continues to bring deformation and destruction.

Deformation began immediately in the Christian Reformed Church, with the outcome that many people have left that church.  In 1995 a meeting was held in Lynwood, Illinois where it was decided to establish a new federation of churches.  The new church was called The United Reformed Churches of North America (URC).
Standpoint of the URC

Was it a secession from the false church as confessed in article 28 of the Belgic Confession?  Was there a declaration of secession from the Christian Reformed Church expressing guilt for having been part of that church when it was called to repentance? Can guilt just fade away over time?

We said already that we must learn from church history.  Church history is written by God not by man.  He will hold the sins of those who refuse to repent against them, no matter if it is an entire church or a member of the church.  Starting a new church does not absolve the URC of guilt.  The URC, having been warned and informed, also refused to repent and continued in the old ways of the Christian Reformed Church as it showed in its 2nd Synod held at St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada in October 1997.  The Church Relations Committee brought the history of the CanRC before Synod.  This committee was very knowledgeable about the history of the Liberation of 1944 in the Netherlands.  After listening to the report of this committee, Synod received the report but refused to endorse it.7)

Here we see again the refusal to acknowledge the work of God in the reformation of His church in the Netherlands in 1944.   Here we see that the guilt of the Christian Reformed Church continues in the URC who refuse to call the Christian Reformed Church a false church.

As we saw before, reformation is always a return to the Word of God and repentance from the former evil ways.  In Daniel 9 we read:

                  “O Lord, great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant
                  and mercy with those who love Him, and with those who
                  keep His commandments, we have sinned and committed
                  iniquity, we have done wickedly and rebelled, even by
                  departing from Your precepts and Your judgments.” (NKJV)  

Daniel includes himself in the sins Israel has committed.  He knows what happened in Israel.  He calls to mind the sins of the kings and “our princes and our fathers.”  Daniel includes himself in the guilt of all Israel.   

What about the CanRCs?  Do they maintain the true union of the church by honoring the work of God in the history of His church?  Have they called on the URC to acknowledge the work of God in the reformation of His church in 1944?

Seeking union today?

According to Rev. Agema there must be no talk about the Liberation of 1944 when we are seeking union with other churches.  The only question that should be asked is what we and they confess, and union can take place based only on Scripture and confession.

But we have seen already that seeking such union is not Scriptural.  How can one sit with those on the same Lord’s table who deny the work of God in the reformation and Liberation of His church?  How can one join, for the sake of union, with those who deny the work of God in saving His people from destruction?  The destruction – a result of deformation as we have seen in the Synodical and Christian Reformed Churches – is a witness against all those who deny God’s work in the reformation of His church.
It is a warning also to those who have escaped!

We can learn from church history that church deformation, time and again, begins when the leaders in the church become hierarchical, while often church reformation starts with the lay people, the ordinary church member who is called to action when confronted with deformation in the church.  Time and again we see in the history of the church that it is the man in the pew who recognizes and answers the call to reformation even though the leaders in the church refuse to listen.

It was on April 7, 1857 in the village of Graafschap, Michigan that a small church of 113 members wrote a declaration of secession from the Dutch Reformed church which they had joined some years before.  One of the reasons why this church seceded was that in the Dutch Reformed Church people refused to acknowledge the work of God in the reformation of His church in 1834 in the Netherlands.  The secession of this small church in Graafschap, Michigan, from the Dutch Reformed Church in America, was the beginning of the Christian Reformed Church in 1857. 8)

Rev. Agema may consider that the statements by Prof. K. Schilder are a self-evident fact for union with the URC.  However, the truth of the matter is that after the Liberation of 1944 the Synodical churches made continual efforts to re-unite with the Liberated churches, but time and again they were reminded by Synods of these Liberated Reformed Churches that union could not be accomplished without repentance and confession of guilt by the Synodical churches.

Prof. Schilder voices his opinion in the same manner:
         “Concerning the way between the church and her members:
         the church itself may never undo the bond (in discipline)
         because of a once committed sin, but only because of obstinately
         persisting in sin.  So also can one church from her side never
         wish to be apart from the other church because of a sin
         once committed, but only because of obstinately persisting
         in that sin and firmly remaining in that which is wrong and
         persisting in taking it for one’s own responsibility.”9)  

Since the synod of the United Reformed Churches in 1997 refused to endorse its own committee report on the Liberation of 1944, the Canadian Reformed Churches have not made any effort to sharply and in no uncertain terms require from the URC that it declare the truth of the work of God in the Liberation and reformation of His church in 1944, since that is the first and foremost condition for union.


In 1959 at the Theological College Schoolday of the Liberated Reformed churches in Kampen, The Netherlands, Prof.J. Kamphuis held a speech regarding the attempts of the Roman Catholic Church in 1536 trying to re-unite with Martin Luther and his followers.  Prof.Kamphuis said the following with regards to the conditions for church union:

            “Therefore it is important, especially in times when the call to re-unite
              Christians echoes from all sides, for everyone to first of all recognize
              the cause of the disunity”.

             “Therefore, in our days, we conclude and request attention to the fact
             that true unity work is to sharply and frankly point out the true cause
             of disunity”. 10)


True Unity!

In conclusion, we started our article with the statement made by Prof. K. Schilder in 1945 and repeated by Rev. Agema in 2002.  We also would like to draw the attention of our readers to another statement made by Rev. Agema 15 years earlier.  In 1987, in the “Family Post”, bulletin of the Canadian Reformed Churches of Attercliffe and Smithville Ontario, on the occasion of Reformation Day, we read that:

            “We do not delight in split-ups and divisions, on the contrary.  But we
            do see in these split-ups of the past, for the sake of God’s Word,
            God’s work, and we praise Him for this because we do not deserve it.
            At the same time we pray for and work for unity, but a unity which
            also recognizes  the history of God’s church as His work.  If we want
            to be one again with so many which have left us, in the 16th century, in
            1834 or 1886, in 1944, then that can only come about if we maintain
            that what happened then was God’s work.  Otherwise our unity is a               
            deceptive unity and God’s work in the past is denied.”

A deceptive unity indeed, when God’s reformational work in the liberation of His church is denied!




 1)  Handelingen van de Synode der Christelijk Gereformeerde Kerk in Nederland te Assen, Aug.1888  Art.63,  
       Voorstel 2 tweede gedeelte pg. 49.
 2). Handelingen van de Synode der Christelijk Gereformeerde kerk in Nederland te Leeuwarden, Aug. 1891
      Voorstel Bavinck, Art.160 pag. 87.  Art.167, pg. 92.
 3)  Secession, Doleantie, and Union: 1834-1892 H.Bouma, transl.T.Plantinga pg. 108
 4)  Secession, Doleantie, and Union: 1834-1892 H. Bouma, transl.T.Plantinga pg.201
 5)  Inheritance Preserved, Rev. W.W.J. VanOene, M.Th. pg 229 Appendix 1
 6)  Inheritance Preserved, Rev. W.W.J. VanOene, M.Th. pg. 233,238
 7)  Clarion, The Canadian Reformed Magazine, 02-20-1998 Vol. 47 #4
 8)  Dr. A.C. Van Raalte, Levensschets by Rev. Henry E. Dosker 1893 pg. 266
 9)  Prof. K. Schilder, Verzammelde Werken, De kerk, II pg. 413
10) Prof. J. Kamphuis, Verkenningen II Kerk en Kerkgeschiedenis pg. 17