Pastoral Q & A: What If I Can’t Be Welcoming to Visitors?

It’s often stressed how important it is for our churches to be outward looking and, as part of that, to be friendly to visitors.  When you see a visitor at the worship services, be kind and welcoming.  But what if it’s taken everything in your power just to get to church?  What if you’re having an awful day and not feeling particularly friendly?

Let’s first recognize a few factors.  There’s a great difference between being or feeling unable to be welcoming and not wanting to be welcoming.  If someone doesn’t see the importance of being friendly and welcoming, that’s a more significant problem.  Hebrews 13:2 says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”  If that’s true of our own homes, then it certainly it ought to be all the more true when we gather as God’s house for worship.  God’s house, his church, should also be a place of hospitality – a warm and welcoming environment.  If we’re going to reflect our Saviour Jesus, then we would want to be friendly and kind to visitors.  If someone doesn’t want to follow Christ in that regard, then that’s a spiritual problem that calls for repentance.

But that’s different than being or feeling unable to be welcoming.  There can be different reasons for that.  Sometimes it’s just a temporary thing.  You had a fight with your spouse that morning and, when you left for church, things were still unresolved.  Or maybe it was your children.  You arrive at church and you’re feeling less than friendly.  It happens.

There can also be more chronic challenges.  Sometimes there are mental health issues like anxiety or depression.  When these are ongoing, it can be a huge hurdle just to get out of bed and find the energy to go to church.  Arriving at church, you may not feel like talking to anyone, let alone to a complete stranger.

Last of all, people have different personalities.  Some are naturally more introverted and shy.  I count myself in that category.  I don’t like socializing in big crowds and find it difficult to strike up conversations with strangers.  I was once a missionary, but I’m the most unlikely person to be one.  When your character is more reserved, it can be hard to push yourself out there.

So, how do we deal with these real challenges?  We have to bring this down to what it really is.  It’s God’s will that we should be friendly and welcoming to visitors.  But, for whatever reason, it seems difficult or even impossible for us to follow God’s will.  We can’t do it.  The temptation here is to rely on our own wisdom and just walk away feeling absolved.  That temptation has to be resisted.  Instead, we need to ask:  what’s the biblical answer to this problem?  It’s to remember that God is sovereign over everything, including our hearts, our wills, and our energy.  When we say God is sovereign, we mean that he rules over it all.  He is the one who can change it.  Since that’s true, we’re called to pray to the sovereign God and ask him to change it.

Let’s put it into practice.

For the one who’s had family conflict on Sunday morning, pause and pray:  “Father, even though I’ve had a rough morning, help me not to take it out on anyone else.  If you bring a visitor across my path, please help me to be friendly and kind.”

For those dealing with the chronic health challenges, including mental health, pray regularly:  “Father, I’m struggling, but help me to look outside myself.  Despite my struggles, please help me to reflect the loving heart of Christ to those you bring across my path.”

If you’re shy and introverted, pray: “Father, even though I want to run away, help me to be bold.  Please help me to get out of my comfort zone and if there are visitors, help me to love them and say the right words to welcome them.”

If you pray along these lines, things will change.  The sovereign God works to change things through our prayers brought to him through the intercession of Christ.  God will begin helping you to overcome your circumstances and follow his will.  I’m not saying that change will happen all at once.  But persistently praying in this way will, in due time, have an effect.


Klaas van der Land’s Liberation Story (3)

See here for part 1 and here for part 2.

It seems my Opa harboured anti-synodical sentiments for a while.  He evidently didn’t keep them to himself, either.  In October of 1945, he was called on the carpet before a consistory meeting in Marum.  He tells the story briefly in a document from the archives of Reformed Church (Liberated) in Marum.  The translation is mine:

Declaration of br. deacon van der Land regarding his suspension

I was asked whether or not I could perform my office.  To this I answered that I was chosen by God and the congregation to the office and I hoped to perform it to the end of my term.

And that I would no more recognize a consistory which agrees with the binding of the Synod, for, as I see it, the Synod was not entitled to do this.

Further, I was asked whether I knew that I had placed myself under the discipline of the church, which I had promised at my installation as an office bearer.  To this I answered that I cannot place myself under them, when they have condemned ministers of the Word and office bearers who bring the Word according to the sense and meaning of the Holy Spirit.  They could not understand that I certainly could not continue in the communion of saints with them, nor celebrate the Lord’s Supper with them.  To this I replied that I could not find rest with the idea of sitting at the table with brothers who condemn me in their hearts — after all, when they condemn the concerned, they condemn me also.  Those who are concerned have always been my brothers.

Consequently, they decided to make this announcement:  “We announce to the congregation gathered here present this afternoon that van der Land has withdrawn himself from the discipline of the church and with this he has ceased being a member of the Reformed Church.”

The announcement about his withdrawal was made on Sunday October 21, 1945.

There are a couple of interesting things from this statement.  First, it appears that prior to this meeting he had already been suspended as a deacon.  So he was under discipline as an office bearer.  Second, it’s unusual that the suspension didn’t proceed to deposition.  Instead, they went the easy way and announced him as having withdrawn.  The process of discipline was short-circuited.  I wonder if they would have followed that route if their pastor had been at the helm.

Following the announcement, Klaas van der Land sent two letters.  The first (dated October 25, 1945) was sent to the consistory.  He complained that their decision was unjust.  He respectfully asked them to rescind their decision.  They didn’t.

After hearing that they would not back down, Opa sent a letter to all the members of the Reformed Church at Marum.  He informed them of what had transpired.  He told them that, from his perspective, he had not withdrawn from the church.  He had not abandoned his office.  He called the other congregation members to join him in liberating themselves from the unscriptural binding being imposed on them.

On Sunday October 28, 1945, the first gathering of Liberated believers took place at my Opa and Oma’s house in Nuis.  There were five present — three brothers and two sisters.  Rev. H. Bouma from Niezijl read with them from Romans 9:1-13 and led in prayer.  He explained the struggle in the churches.  They decided to distribute literature and then organize an information evening.  The meeting concluded in prayer.

The next gathering was on Sunday November 11, 1945, again at Opa and Oma’s house.  This time thirteen were present — ten brothers and three sisters.  Both Rev. Bouma and Rev. Woldring were also present.  They gave encouragement to those present.  They made further arrangements for another information evening.  After that evening (which took place on November 22), they would begin worship services at the Community Hall in Marum under the supervision of the church in Kornhorn.   That’s what happened.

Opa and Oma only stayed in the Marum area for a few more years.  In 1951, they immigrated to Canada.  First settling in the Peace River area in Alberta, eventually they found their way to Edmonton.  There they found a whole new bunch of church struggles amongst the Liberated immigrants.  But that’s a completely different story…


Klaas van der Land’s Liberation Story (2)

Klaas van der Land at his home in Edmonton.

I hated church history in school.  There were reasons for that — one of them was the textbook, another was the teaching style.  One day I came home from school and Opa and Oma were visiting.  Opa asked me about my day.  I told him straight up that it was terrible.  He asked why.  I said, “We had church history.  And I hate church history!”  That was one of the few times I’ve seen Opa blow his top.  There was fire in his eyes as the words shot out, “Vat do you mean you hate church history?  Dat is zo important!”  He reamed me out, but to little effect.  I continued hating church history through my school years.  I didn’t understand until later why Opa got so passionate about this subject.

As mentioned yesterday, my Opa van der Land experienced a momentous event in church history, the Liberation of 1944.  In his small corner of the Netherlands, he was a leader in this event.  Sadly, I didn’t realize that until after having a meaningful conversation with Opa became impossible.  His last few years saw him struggling with worsening dementia and by the time I cared about church history, he couldn’t talk about that, or much else of anything for that matter.

Eventually, some of his personal effects relating to this period came into my possession.  With these items, I can piece together a little bit of the story.  For example, how did Opa come to his Liberated convictions?  There are a couple of clues.  One is a booklet by Dr. Seakle Greijdanus.  It was published on cheap wartime paper in 1944.

From the postmark, we learn that it was sent to him in 1944, probably from the city of Groningen.  Someone peeled off the stamp, so we don’t have the full name of the place of origin, nor the full date.  It was sent to Klaas van der Land the store keeper in Nuis via the post office in Niebert (a village next to Nuis).  But who sent it and the background behind its sending is a mystery.

The pamphlet itself was written by Greijdanus, a close colleague of Klaas Schilder at the seminary in Kampen.  The title comes from Acts 7:1,2 “Are then these things so?  And he said….listen now.”  However, it’s not an exposition of Acts 7:1,2 but an explanation of the events surrounding the suspension of Klaas Schilder and what happened with the autocratic synods.  I would imagine that this pamphlet was influential in my Opa’s thinking about these things.

There were also two local ministers who appear in the documents I have.  As I mentioned yesterday, Marum’s pastor was underground hiding from the Nazis and so out of the picture.  He wasn’t supportive of the Liberation anyway.  However, to the north of Marum was the village of Kornhorn.  Rev. E.H. Woldring had been serving there since 1922.  It was his first congregation.  By 1945, he was 61 years old — a veteran pastor who followed the Liberation.  Some 20 km to the northeast of Marum was Rev. H. Bouma in Niezijl.  Niezijl was his first congregation and he was just 28 years old in 1945.  He too became Liberated.  He would later author a book translated into English as Secession, Doleantie and Union: 1834-1892.  The veteran pastor Woldring and the greenhorn pastor Bouma supported my Opa and the other Liberated believers in Marum.  After the Liberation happened, Woldring and Bouma took turns leading the worship services for them.  I’m inclined to think that these pastors probably had something to do with shaping my Opa’s convictions as well.  Especially with the absence of Marum’s pastor, it’s quite conceivable that Woldring and Bouma occasionally led the services in the church there before the Liberation — and that’s likely where the connection was forged.

More tomorrow…


Klaas van der Land’s Liberation Story (1)

In my last post, I concluded with a brief reference to my maternal grandfather’s involvement in the Liberation of 1944 (75 years ago).  I’m going to follow up and explore that a little further in a couple of blog posts.  I have a few primary source items in my possession that shed some light on what happened with the Liberation in a sleepy corner of the province of Groningen.

Marum is where my mother was born.  It’s right on the border with Friesland — in fact, my Opa was fluent in Frisian.  I visited there in 2004.  My grandparents owned and operated a small shop in the neighbouring village of Nuis.  However, they attended the Reformed Church in Marum.

I have a 1977 Yearbook from the Liberated Reformed Church in Marum.  It came into my possession after my grandfather died.  I believe he received it in the course of some correspondence with Rev. W. Scherff.  He was apparently doing some research about the Liberation in Marum (the church he was serving at the time) and wrote to my grandfather in Canada.  This Yearbook contains an outline of the history of that church.  Please note the entry for October 21, 1945:

Translation:  “Deacon Klaas van der Land liberates himself.  Different people do that after him.  They find ecclesiastical shelter in Kornhorn [another village to the north of Marum].  Church services are started (in the community hall) under the oversight of the consistory in Kornhorn.  The church here was re-instituted on January 12, 1947.”

You might be wondering how a deacon ended up leading the Liberation in this small church.  For example, where did the pastor stand?  The pastor was Rev. S. van Wouwe.  Because of the Second World War, he was out of the picture.  He was what they called an “onderduiker.”  The Nazis had a keen interest in arresting pastors critical of the Third Reich.  Van Wouwe must have been one of those.  He was forced “underground.”  However, even after the war, he didn’t go with the Liberation.  In fact, none of the other office bearers in Marum did either.  Klaas van der Land was completely on his own in terms of leadership.  I don’t know what the size of the congregation was at that time, but we do know that it was a mere 15 communicant members who went with the Liberation in Marum.  According to the 1977 Yearbook, the Marum congregation had grown to 153 members total.

More next time…


The Liberation of 1944

This year we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of 1944.  If you have no idea what that is, you’re in good company.  I remember hearing about it for the first time in my Christian school and my thoughts went right away to the Canadian soldiers liberating the Netherlands during the Second World War.  It’s at the same time, but this is a totally different event, something from church history.

The story begins in the early 1800s.  The Reformed Church in the Netherlands was in a bad way.  Scripture-denying theological liberalism was in the ascendancy.  God brought about a Reformation known as the Secession of 1834.  Later, in 1886, under the leadership of Abraham Kuyper and others, another Reformation happened.  This was called the Doleantie, literally, “the Grieving.”  In 1892, the Secession and Doleantie churches were united together in one federation.  This happened through the herculean efforts of influential figures like Herman Bavinck (from the Secession churches) and Abraham Kuyper (from the Doleantie churches).

United, but…   

By 1921 both Herman Bavinck and Abraham Kuyper were gone.  The Union of 1892 was something that lay almost 30 years in the past.  In those thirty years, there had been tensions.  It took time for Secession and Doleantie churches to learn to live with one another.  That took place on a local level.  Many Dutch towns and villages had both a Secession church and a Doleantie church.  Now they were both in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.  The old Secession church was known as the ‘A’ church, and the Doleantie church would be known as the ‘B’ church.  In some places eventually they merged into one congregation, but in other places they continued their separate existence.

Yet deeper problems existed.  The question of Abraham Kuyper’s theology continued.  He had some peculiar beliefs, especially about baptism.  He believed in presumptive regeneration.  Kuyper argued that we baptize on the presumption that the child being baptized is born again or regenerate.  If it turns out later that the child is not regenerate, then it wasn’t a real baptism.  There were other doctrinal concerns as well, but it’s especially the doctrine of baptism and the covenant that becomes a matter of controversy later on.

In 1905, a Synod was held in Utrecht.  This synod was asked to deal with the theology of Kuyper.  It did this by means of what has come to be known as the Conclusions of Utrecht.  It’s also sometimes called “the Pacification Formula” because it was meant to pacify the churches.  It was meant to lay all the concerns to rest about what could and could not be taught in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.  On the point of baptism, they came up with a compromise statement.  It mildly rejected some of Kuyper’s formulations, while allowing for others.  So Utrecht said that children “must be held to be regenerated and sanctified in Christ, until upon growing up they should manifest the contrary in their way of life or doctrine.”[1]  However, Utrecht also said that it is “less correct to say that baptism is administered to the children of believers on the ground of their presumed regeneration, since the ground of baptism is found in the command and promise of God.”[2]

Three Streams in the RCN

So Kuyper and his followers were gently chastened by this synod.  Nevertheless, this chastening had little lasting effect.  Kuyper’s followers became increasingly insistent about his formulations as time went on.  They formed one stream in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands as we get into the 1920s and 1930s.

There was another stream, however.  This stream originated with an organization known as the Dutch Christian Student Union.  This was a broad organization that involved people from all kinds of different backgrounds.  It started off with the Apostles’ Creed as its doctrinal basis, but this was soon abandoned.  A statement of purpose was developed which mentioned the Trinity and this also was deemed too restrictive.  Soon this organization settled on this purpose:  “to introduce and build up the Christian life and worldview, which is grounded in the Bible and which, linking up with the historical development of Christianity, takes account of the needs and demands of the present time.”[3]  Seminary students from both the Free University and the seminary in Kampen were involved with this organization; some were even leaders.  Even ministers and seminary professors were involved.  This was an organization that included the same kind of liberal thinking that had earlier led to the Secession and the Doleantie.  It seemed that some people had forgotten their church history or just didn’t care.  In 1920 in Leeuwarden, at the synod of the Reformed Churches, a warning was issued against membership in the Dutch Christian Student Union.  However, it was just a warning.  It didn’t really have any teeth.  It didn’t stop further developments.

One of the developments out of this stream was the Geelkerken case.  In a catechism sermon Rev. J. G. Geelkerken stated that it’s possible that there was no literal snake speaking in the Garden of Eden.  The case ended up at the Synod of Assen in 1926.  The Synod decided against Geelkerken; his views could not be tolerated in the Reformed Churches.  However, they went further:  they suspended and deposed him.  His views were wrong and unbiblical.  But this synod did something that contravened the agreed-upon church order.  Only a local church can suspend and depose ministers and other office bearers.  Still, Synod Assen went ahead and usurped the rights of the local church.  This set a bad precedent for years to come.

As we come into the 1930s, a third stream was developing in the Reformed churches.  These were mostly younger ministers who rejected the Dutch Christian Student Union, but also found that some of Kuyper’s views didn’t stand up to biblical and confessional scrutiny.  Among these ministers was Klaas Schilder.  Schilder began critiquing some of Kuyper’s views and this caused controversy.  Kuyper’s devotees accused this Reformational stream of deviating from the Reformed faith.

The Unravelling

That brings us to a series of key Synods at which weighty decisions were made.

The first one is Synod Amsterdam 1936.  This synod received a communication from a classis about the doctrinal disputes regarding Kuyper’s views.  It wasn’t clear what the classis was asking or proposing.  The synod decided to appoint a study committee made up of people from both sides.  However, after the synod was over and the committee got to work, it quickly became evident that there were deep problems.  One of the people in the committee (Prof. Valentine Hepp) started throwing around accusations with no proof.  This behaviour drove out three of the eight other committee members, the three who were on the side of those concerned about Kuyper’s theology.  The result, of course, would be an imbalanced report to the next synod.  However, those concerned members also wrote their own report.

The next synod was Sneek 1939.  It is usually referred to as Sneek/Utrecht and this synod actually ended up lasting until 1942.  This was the synod that would deal with the doctrinal differences.  The political situation comes into play here.  It was tense.  When the synod opened, it was the eve of the Second World War.  In 1940, the synod was still on and the Germans invaded the Netherlands.  It was a time of national crisis.  Proposals were made to the synod to postpone dealing with the doctrinal disputes until there was more stability in national life in the Netherlands.  Despite such pleas, the synod plowed forward.  The majority report from the study committee was received – it made accusations that some ministers and professors, including Klaas Schilder, were deviating from Scripture and the Confessions.  The synod continued through 1940 and 1941, periodically meeting.  At the end of 1941, a decision was made to move the synod to Utrecht and reconvene there in May of 1942.  The following month a decision was made regarding the doctrinal differences.  The Kuyperian stream had scored a victory.  The views of Schilder and others were declared out of bounds.

The next synod was the following year.  Notice how synods here follow one upon the other.  The Reformed Churches in the Netherlands had become top heavy with synodical hierarchy.  Synod Utrecht 1943 received proposals and submissions requesting a reconsideration of the decision of the previous year.  However, these were all rejected.  This synod also maintained the position of the previous one:  Schilder and others would have to fall in line or face the consequences.  Synod Utrecht 1943 continued into 1944.  When it became evident that Schilder would not surrender and fall in line, the Synod first suspended him and then later deposed him.  They did the same with many other office bearers.  According to the Reformed Church Order, this was an illegal action.  Only local consistories could suspend and depose office bearers.  A synod again usurped this authority.  It was another classic example of ecclesiastical hierarchy.

On August 11, 1944 a meeting was held at the Lutheran Church in The Hague.  It was supposed to be a meeting for all those concerned about the developments with regard to Schilder and others.  Hundreds of people showed up, despite the ongoing war (the Allies had only liberated the southern part of the Netherlands) and the challenges with regard to transportation.  At the meeting, after some speeches, Schilder read an “Act of Liberation or Return.”  This document was modelled partly on the Act of Secession from 1834.  With this Act in hand, people returned to their local churches and the Liberation (Vrijmaking) was underway.  Many people freed themselves from the synodical hierarchy.  Those who were liberated claimed to be the true continuation of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.  They called themselves Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated) or Reformed Churches maintaining article 31.  Article 31 refers to an article of our Church Order which states that decisions made by synods and classes shall be considered settled and binding unless they are proven to be in conflict with Scripture or the Church Order.  The Liberated believed that the doctrinal decisions of 1942 were in conflict with Scripture and the suspensions and depositions in 1944 were in conflict with the Church Order.

Reflections

The Liberation is a fairly recent part of our church history.  Shortly after the Liberation, post-War emigration brought many Liberated church members to both Canada and Australia.  They were the ones who started the Canadian Reformed Churches and Free Reformed Churches of Australia.  It’s a significant part of our heritage.

It’s sometimes said that the “past is the parent of the present.”  For example, if you want to know why our churches are so particular about our Church Order and its principles, you have to understand the Liberation of 1944.  If you want to know why the first Dutch immigrants to Canada and Australia didn’t join with other Reformed believers, it’s related to the Liberation.  If you want to know why there’s often antipathy towards Abraham Kuyper in the CanRC and FRCA, again it’s 1944.  Whether we’re aware of it or not, this event has profoundly shaped the character and culture of our churches.

My Opa Vanderland was a local leader in the Liberation in his church in Marum.  For him, as for many others, this event was deeply personal and any discussion of it would be emotionally charged.  He was scarred by the Liberation, as well as by the Nazi occupation happening at exactly the same time.  Then he immigrated to Canada.  That too was a life-changing experience with hardships we can hardly comprehend.  It’s easy to take a triumphalistic view of the Liberation.  It’s easy to view it simplistically as an act of God to liberate his people from ecclesiastical wickedness.  Yet, as time goes on, we need to also see the extensive personal pain and trouble involved.  We can start to see how an intense ecclesiastical conflict like this, however necessary, can shape individuals and churches, and not always in good ways.  We always have to remember our constant need for God’s grace, for the gospel, for our Saviour Jesus.  After all, a “Liberated” church is still far from a perfect church, both in the past and the present.

[1] Van Oene, Patrimony Profile, 230.

[2] Van Oene, Patrimony Profile, 230.

[3] Van Reest, Schilder’s Struggle, 33.