Tag Archives: 1944 Liberation

The Nine Points and ’44: History Repeating Itself?

Yesterday I described various views regarding the Liberation that happened in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands in 1944.  In the CanRC community, ’44 is often held forth as an important lesson in what goes wrong when too much power gets invested in synods and when synods make binding doctrinal statements.  So, when Synod Schererville 2007 gave its “pastoral advice” on matters pertaining to Federal Vision, many alarm bells went off among CanRC folk.  The Nine Points were like 1944 Redivivus.  It’s time to start reassessing that.

In this regard, three important things happened at the URCNA Synod in London.  First, the Nine Points were reevaluated and reaffirmed.  The Nine Points stand.  Second, the Justification/Federal Vision study committee report was adopted received — apparently with unanimity.  The question is:  what is the status of these two items?  That’s where Overture 14 comes into play.  This overture sought clarification on the meaning and status of doctrinal affirmations, pastoral advice, and adopted received committee study reports.

From the reports I’ve read (here and here) there was extensive discussion about this matter, but no conclusion.  It appears that the matter was committed to the Synodical Rules Committee.  I assume that they will report back to the next Synod.  But let’s see what the advisory committee recommended regarding the definition of pastoral advice (which is what the Nine Points are):

2. Pastoral Advice: Pastoral Advice is the application of the Scriptures and the Confessions in response to particular circumstances in the churches.
2.1 Pastoral Advice expresses the collective wisdom of Synod to guide the churches in their pastoral care. It may not serve as grounds in matters of discipline.
2.2 Pastoral Advice should be received with reverence and respect. It would be unwise to contradict or disregard Pastoral Advice in preaching or writing.
2.3 Pastoral Advice may be appealed as outlined in Church Order Articles 29 and 31. (Regulations for Synodical Procedure 3.4 and Appendix B)

I would especially call your attention to 2.1.  Pastoral advice (such as the Nine Points) “may not serve as grounds in matters of discipline.”  That was the direction the advisory committee wished to move in — it was not adopted by Synod 2010 (at least not that I’ve seen reported).

Now that direction is something quite a bit different than what we saw yesterday with 1944 and the events leading up to it.  For instance, K. Schilder was deposed by a Synod for refusing to teach the Kuyperian doctrine that had been imposed on the Reformed churches.  Now aside from the question of a Synod carrying out discipline of office bearers, we can see that in that situation there was a binding that was regarded as grounds for discipline.  That’s something different than where we see the URCNA apparently going with “pastoral advice.”

Of course, it could happen that the URCNA Synodical Rules Committee turns around and recommends that “pastoral advice” should be grounds for matters of discipline.  Maybe the next Synod will even adopt it.  But I doubt it because, believe it or not, there are historical sensibilities in the URCNA.  It was evident in how the Synod chairman spoke in regards to Overture 14.  He warned that schism could result if this matter is not handled carefully.

Here’s the thing:  we in the CanRC can’t see the spectre of Abraham Kuyper and his epigones (I always wanted to use that word!) behind nearly everything the URCNA does.  When it comes to covenant theology and baptism, most of their (vocal) theologians are not drawing on Kuyper, but on sources far earlier.  I’ve heard no one arguing for baptism on the basis of presumed regeneration!  When it comes to church polity, the historical circumstances leading up to 1944 were entirely different, involving, for instance,  a world war.  As I recall, collaboration with the Nazis was a factor in the Liberation.  Schilder and those who became Liberated were entirely opposed to National Socialism and its anti-Christian agenda.  Some of those who opposed Schilder were less than stalwart in their opposition to Nazism.  That muddied the waters of church politics.  To see our URCNA brothers as the “synodicals” come back to life is not historically justifiable.

To be sure, there are some concerning trends in the URCNA and the way it does church polity.  I’ve written before about the length of URCNA Synods.  The idea of representatives rather than delegates who deliberate on behalf of the federation  is foreign to historical Dortian polity.  The notion of a permanent “stated clerk” could be seen as hierarchical.  We often see language that makes it sound as if the classis is some kind of permanent body in the URCNA (although that language is increasingly used in the CanRCs too).  I could go on.  They’re a young federation and still growing together and we can cut them some slack.  We don’t have it all together either — not anywhere close.  However, to see the Nine Points as 1944 all over again does not do justice either to the URCNA or to what our forefathers experienced in the Liberation.  The similarities are superficial at best.


Liberation From What?

In the comments on a previous post, somebody wrote that the ecclesiastical Liberation of 1944 was not just about being freed from binding to wrong doctrine, but from the wrong doctrine itself.  To support this, the author (“Marnix”) appeals to this statement of Prof. J. Geertsema:

“As far as I can see, our conclusion must be that in 1944 the churches liberated themselves not just from the synodical BINDING to wrong decisions containing a wrong doctrine but also from the WRONG DOCTRINE ITSELF.”  (The Liberation: Causes and Consequences, 93).

Prof. Geertsema said this in response to the speech of Dr. N. H. Gootjes, “The Church in the Act of Liberation.”  Later on, Dr. Gootjes responded to Prof. Geertsema:

The first question of Prof. Geertsema was where was the emphasis on?  Was the Liberation a freeing from the wrong doctrine or from the enforcing of the wrong doctrine?  I think that you can prove from history that the real point indeed was the binding and enforcing, for the doctrinal statement itself had been around since 1905.  In 1905 the Synod had made a compromise statement on baptism and regeneration.  It had not gone over very well.  The Synod had wanted to reject a teaching of Dr. A. Kuyper, but in a gentle way.  Later Prof. S. Greijdanus analyzed the whole statement and said it was contradictory.  That is probably true.  It was a compromise statement and a balancing act.  But, the churches lived with this statement for 40 years.  It kept things together and avoided excesses.  It had its own function.  In 1942, a one-sided quotation was used in the doctrinal pronouncement by Synod.  The Liberation, however, did not take place in 1942.  The Liberation took place when the binding came and no one was allowed to teach anything but the lopsided version of 1942.  Then Prof. Schilder was deposed not only as professor but also as a minister because he was unwilling to teach and preach according to this doctrinal pronouncement.  Moreover, candidate H. J. Schilder who said at classis that he could not agree with this statement was not allowed into the ministry because every minister had to preach this and to teach this.  So it was indeed the binding that did it.  (100-101)

So, according to Gootjes, the Liberation was not about wrong doctrine per se, but about binding to a wrong doctrine.

But someone might say, Gootjes is writing way after the fact, so perhaps he’s misunderstanding.  He didn’t live through the Liberation.  Well, true enough, but then listen to what Dr. J. Faber said:

Let me say that indeed we have always said that the binding to those statements made the difference.  There were ministers such as the late Rev. K. Doornbos in Noord-Holland, the province where I experience the Liberation.  This Rev. Doornbos was a Kuyperian who had studied at the Free University.  He thought that Kuyper’s view of things was the most acceptable.  But he could not accept the binding to those statements and he could especially not accept the hierarchical order that was imposed upon the churches.  He was also a student of Kuyper and Rutgers in the church-political aspect.  He, therefore, liberated himself.  He has never been in a position that his doctrinal views were attacked.

[…]

If a candidate is Reformed in exegesis, Reformed in dogmatics, but has certain theological conceptions that I do not agree with, I will debate them forcefully but I will never attack his position within God’s church. (21-23)

So, there you have the considered opinion of a late CanRC professor who experienced the Liberation first-hand.  To insist that the Liberation was about doctrine per se is one-sided at best.  There were many people who took part in the Liberation who didn’t see it that way.  Now, of course, there are those who did and who still see it in those terms.  But I think the inclusion of ministers like Doornbos tells us that theirs was likely a minority opinion.

There’s more to be said on this, especially in relation to the Nine Points and what the URCNA did with them at Synod London.  But that will have to wait until tomorrow…