ACT OF SECESSION OR RETURN (1834) - (translated by J. Smith)
A Brief Introduction to the Act of Secession or Return (1834)
We, the undersigned Overseers and members of the Reformed Congregation of Jesus Christ at Ulrum, have for a considerable time noticed the corruption in the Netherlands Reformed Church, in the mutilation or denial of the doctrine of our fathers founded on God's Word, as well as in the degeneration of the administration of the Holy Sacraments according to the ordinance of Christ in his Word, and in the near complete absence of church discipline, all of which are marks of the true church according to our Reformed Confession, Article 29.
By the grace of God, the congregation received a Pastor and Teacher who introduced us to the pure doctrine of our fathers according to the Word of God and who applied it, both in its particular aspects and as a whole. As a result, the congregation became more and more motivated to be guided in confession and walk by the rule of faith and of God's Holy Word (Gal. 6:16; Php. 3:16), and also to distance itself from that worship of God which is according to human precepts, since God's Word tells us that this is vain (Mat. 15:9), and at the same time to guard against the desecration of the signs and seals of God's eternal covenant of grace.
Through this, the congregation was living in peace and quiet. However, this peace and quiet was disturbed by the extremely unjust and ungodly suspension of our Pastor and Teacher who was loved and respected everywhere. This was because of his public testimony against false doctrine and polluted public worship services. So far the congregation with their Pastor and Teacher have behaved quietly and calmly. Several most reasonable proposals were made, both by our Pastor and Teacher and by the rest of the Overseers of the congregation. More than once, an investigation and a judgment on the basis of and according to God's Word was requested. But it was all in vain.
Classical, Provincial, and Synodal Boards of the Church refused this most reasonable request and instead demanded repentance and sorrow without showing wrongdoing from God's Holy Word, as well as unqualified submission to Synodal regulations and prescriptions without showing that these are founded on God's Word in every respect.
By doing so, this Church Board of the Netherlands has made itself like the Papal Church which was rejected by our fathers: not only is the aforementioned corruption being noticed, but, on top of that, God's Word is being rejected or rendered powerless through ecclesiastical laws and decisions (Mat. 15:4; 23:4; Mark 7:7,8), and she persecutes those who want to live devoutly in Christ Jesus according to his own prescriptions recorded in his Word (Mat. 2:13; 5:11,12; 10:23; 23:34; Luke 11:49; 12:12; John 5:16; 15:20; Acts 7:52; 9:4; 22:4,7; 26:11,14,15; Rom. 12:14; I Cor.15:9; Gal. 1:13,23; 4:29; Php. 3:6; I Thess. 2:15; Rev. 12:13; Mat. 5:10; 13:21; Mark 10:30; Acts 8:1; 13:50; Rom. 8:35; I Cor. 5:12; 2 Cor. 4:9; 12:10; Gal. 5:11; 6:12; 2 Thess. 1:4; 2 Tim. 3:11,12), and the conscience of the people is bound. Finally, a teacher of the Church who is widely known among us, Doctor H.P. Scholte , Reformed teacher at Dovren and Gindren  in the land of Heusden and Altena, in the province of North Brabant, was forbidden to preach the Word of God by authority of the Provincial Church Board. Also, the communal gatherings of believers which were held openly were punished with fines.
With all of this put together, it is abundantly clear that the Netherlands Reformed Church is not the true but the false Church, according to God's Word and Article 29 of our confession, wherefore the undersigned declare in conjunction with these that they secede from those who are not of the Church, in accordance with the office of all believers (Article 28), and thus do not wish to have fellowship with the Netherlands Reformed Church anymore, until the latter return to the true worship of the Lord.
At the same time they declare that they wish to exercise fellowship with all true Reformed members and that they wish to unite with every assembly that is founded on God's infallible Word at whatever place God has brought them together, testifying with these that we abide by our time-honoured Forms of Unity in all things, that is, the confession of faith, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of the Synod of Dordt held in the year 1618-1619. Our public worship services will conform to the time-honoured liturgy of the Church, and as regards worship and government, for the time being we will abide by the Church Order drafted by the aforementioned Synod of Dordt. Finally, we hereby declare that we continue to recognize our unjustly suspended Preacher as our lawfully called and ordained Pastor and Teacher.
1. <RETURN > Translation of "Acte van Afscheiding of Wederkeering". My source for the Dutch document: G. Keizer, De Afscheiding Van 1834: Haar Aanleiding, Naar Authentieke Brieven en Bescheiden Beschreven (Kampen: Kok, 1934), 575-576. Keizer also includes a lithographic reprint of the handwritten original, dated 14 October 1834, with signatures of the elders, deacons, and members of the congregation at Ulrum, which has slight variants from the first printed copy (which was dated 13 October!). I have shortened many sentences, and paragraph division is mine -trans.
2. <RETURN > The Dutch here has "de WelEW : Zeer Gel : Heer H.P. Scholte". The adjective "weledelzeergeleerd" is used to address one who holds a doctorate degree -trans.
3. <RETURN > I.e. "Doeveren" and "Genderen" -trans.
This document is one of the most important from the Secession (Afscheiding) of 1834. The Secession took place because of the influence of modernism in the Netherlands Reformed Church (Nederlands Hervormde Kerk).
To get an idea of how rotten things were in the Church at that time consider this: Hendrik de Cock (minister of Ulrum) had not read or heard of Calvin's Institutes until after he was a minister. He had subscribed (albeit very loosely) to the Canons of Dort, but he had never seen a copy. A modernist minister remarked, "I would sooner hang myself than read the Canons of Dort." The deformation was rampant, but the LORD did not forget His people.
In the midst of this, He raised up faithful men such as Hendrik de Cock, H.P. Scholte, S. VanVelzen and many others. These men protested the influence of modernism in the Netherlands Reformed Church. They objected to the modernist preaching that was foisted upon them by the state church. They objected to the hymns that were introduced into the worship of the church. They objected to the lack of church discipline in many of the churches. They objected to the desecration of the sacraments -- one modernist minister even mocked the Lord's Supper at the celebration thereof! They wanted a return to the Confessions, a return to Dort. In 1834 this resulted in the deposition of Hendrik de Cock in Ulrum.
On October 14, 1834, the church at Ulrum decided to separate from the Netherlands Reformed Church. The reasons for this separation are outlined in the Act itself. This was not an isolated action, many other churches soon followed. This separation would come to be known as the Secession (Afscheiding) of 1834.
The Canadian Reformed Churches trace their heritage back to this Reformation. A majority of the churches of the Secession would later join the Union of 1892, from which the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands (Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland) would arise. It was this federation from which the Liberated churches emerged in 1944.
It is clear that we have a special interest in the Act of Secession or Return. It is our heritage. It calls us back to see what our forefathers did and why they did it -- out of a passionate love for Christ and the purity of His bride.
A brief note about the translation: this is the first time that the Act of Secession or Return has been translated in full. Parts have appeared here and there, but this is the first full English translation. It appears courtesy of the diligent efforts of John Smith, a fourth-year student at the Theological College of the Canadian Reformed Churches in Hamilton, ON.