The Liberation of 1944 - W. W. J. VanOene
From the Clarion Volume 43, No. 15/16 July 29, 1994
An Historic Meeting
As the number of survivors of those who attended the wellknown meeting held on August 11, 1944 in the Lutheran Church in The Hague is dwindling, it seemed good to publish as yet a witness report from notes taken at that meeting.
The meeting we are referring to is the gathering of concerned brothers and sisters who came from all regions to discuss what must be done with respect to the situation in the Reformed churches in the Netherlands. A wave of suspensions and depositions roared over the country, suspensions and depositions by broader assemblies that did not have any right to take such measures.
I do not recall how I was informed of the scheduled meeting, but I am happy that I did keep my notes taken at it. What follows is a summary of these notes. I express the wish that I shall be able to convey some of the emotions that filled our hearts.
In spite of danger
Especially during the last period of the Second World War we were happy to see the flyers of the Royal Air Force in their Mosquitoes and Spitfires in the skies over the Netherlands. They came in unexpectedly to strafe the German convoys or single vehicles. When we heard them zooming in on a German transport, we sometimes took shelter, sometimes just stayed outside, trusting that they would aim precisely and hit their quarry only. The whistling of the bullets was music in our ears, even though at times they came dangerously close.
Not only the trucks and other vehicies were targeted. There were also the relatively few trains that were still running. When a steam engine could be hit and perforated, this meant one fewer instrument of war, and so the German transportation system was wrecked even more. For the protection of the engineers and the fireman the engines most times carried a small concrete shelter in which they could hide in case of an aerial attack.
Yet, in spite of danger and inconveniences hundreds of church members travelled to The Hague on August 11, 1944. For what purpose?
Word had been spread that a meeting would be held in that city of all who were concerned about the situation in the Reformed churches in the Netherlands. Matters had come to a head.
Pronouncements had been made by the general synod of 1939-1943 which were called "doctrinal pronouncements."
Initially it was hoped that they would be regarded as a compromiseformula, just as the one of 1905 was. But gradually the noose was pulled tighter until it was made clear that, according to the general-synodical claim, anyone who taught anything that was not in full accordance with these doctrinal pronouncements was guilty of breach of promise, since he allegedly violated the promises made when he signed the Form of Subscription.
From the one thing came the other. The still continuing general synod dared to suspend and depose ministers of the Word, wholly contrary to the adopted Church Order. It dared to send some of its members away because they expressed their disagreement with the pronouncements and the "disciplinary actions." Entire consistories were deposed, except those ministers, elders, and deacons, of course, who sided with the general synod and its hierarchical practices.
What to do?
There was hardly any ecclesiastical press left by means of which the membership in general could be kept informed. The war-time conditions made communication difficult, although not completely impossible. A meeting was scheduled for August 11, 1944. That was the reason why hundreds of church members travelled to The Hague, for there the meeting would be held. In fact, so many came that the venue had to be changed. The Lutheran church building was large enough to contain the crowd.
Many of those present there were lonely "soldiers," sometimes the only office-bearer in a whole consistory who was concerned and could not accept the synodical pronouncements and actions. Sometimes there were several off ice-bearers from one church. But there were not only office-bearers. On the contrary, the majority of those present were "common" members, but they were people who had the interest of Jerusalem at heart and wanted to hear from others what they thought to be the course most pleasing to the Lord, thus they arrived in The Hague.
There was no "hurray mood," no spirit of revolution, no rejoicing because of the situation, although there was genuine joy when brothers and sisters from other parts of the country were recognized and when it was discovered that they, too, had the same concerns.
The meeting itself
The Rev. H. Knoop of Rotterdam Deffshaven called the meeting to order. Psalm 68:16 and 17 were sung. This is stanza 12 of our rhymed Psalm. Then the first eight verses of Micah 6 were read. The Rev. Knoop gave the opening address. It deserves to be known by many.
He began by relating how that various faithful office-bearers were suspended and deposed in the trail of the general synod's actions in this respect. We remember them, he said, asking "Lord, vindicate me!" From all the actions of the general synod and its followers it is evident that they want a schism. No pleas for caution and patience were heeded. What are we to do in this situation? Today we shall try to answer that question.
Two things have become clear in these days: the deterioration of the Reformed life in general and that of the Reformed ecclesiastical life in particular. This is not something in itself, but it is connected with the deformation of the Reformed life in all its aspects.
We realize that we all are guilty of these things, and we shall have to confess our personal and communal guilt.
There are two things to which I want to draw your attention: the great flourishing condition of Reformed life in general and the dangers to which this life was exposed and still is exposed.
Concerning this flourishing condition we see that "the Reformed" occupied an important place in our life as a nation. The men of the Secession found rest in isolation. They had little influence. Kuyper brought them out of the isolation and after 1892 the Reformed churches flourished. The Reformed confessors had a dominant influence in many fields. The secret behind this activity was the awareness that Christ has a right to be recognized and honoured everywhere. They wanted to be fellowlabourers with God.
But there were all sorts of dangers that were very acute here.
In the first place there was the feeling of having arrived. We were successful and expanded more and more. We also began to think in categories of power: small church - big church, church - synod. Yes, Synod, that is it! Then there came an aversion against any reformation. We were Reformed, were we not?
Reformation means labouring, confessing, sacrificing. The successful struggle was accompanied by a spiritual impoverishment. There was a lack of eschatological awareness, and we forget that carrying the cross after Christ is an integral element in the life of a Christian. Materialism took over. Finances were often the most important thing. The antithesis was increasingly replaced by a shutting ourselves up within our own circles. There also came a distance between "clergy" and "laity."
Then God intervened. He brought us into the ordeal of the occupation. Did we fail?
In many instances we did not act honestly, as prophets who had to confess the Name of the Lord everywhere, as priests who knew about compassion, as kings who fought for their Lord. We tried to save our lives and therefore are in the process of losing it.
First and foremost we must confess our common unfaithfulness and repent, otherwise we are hopelessly lost'
How did the church present itself? Our first calling is to be church and to form a strong front over against the outside. But we tried to save our life: in their broadest assembly the churches gave only spineless pieces of advice. There were ministers on the pulpit who did all they could to remain free from imprisonment. Instead of being a front against the outside, the front was turned against those inside. The churches came under a synodical yoke, a theological-scholarly yoke, which is harder than that of Christ. The rights of the Lord have been violated by the short-term disciplinary actions. The churches have been pushed into the direction of the sect. This is the way of dissolution.
Thus our strength towards the outside has been broken. The Reformed churches are stuck. Perhaps the eyes have been held in order that seeing they should not see. 0 God of the covenant, have mercy on us. If, showing no compassion, Thou shouldst our sins record ....
The Reformed churches cannot proceed in this manner. Micah told us what the lord demands of us.
We must arise and shake off the yoke that is not the yoke of Christ. If God had not blown the trumpet in 1834 and 1886, the church here would have gone under. Where we take the reformation of the church to hand, we show our faithfulness to God.
May the almighty, faithful God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ help us in this through His Holy Spirit, Amen.
Psalm 130: 2,3, and 4 were sung.
One whom by far the most of us had not expected to see there was Dr. K. Schilder. Had he not gone "underground" (in hiding) when the Germans were after him to arrest him again? And was he not thereby prevented from attending the sessions of the general synod?
A few days before the meeting official word had reached his brother that the German Security Police would not impede his freedom of movement in any way and that there was no reason why he should remain in hiding any longer.
Herein, too, we acknowledged the good hand of our God upon us in that precisely at this crucial stage this official word was received.
Dr. Schilder began his address with saying that, when in June 1942 he gave his last lecture at the Seminary, he could not presume that that would be the last time he could do it on behad of the Reformed churches. (He then had to go into hiding, and on March 23, 1944 he was suspended by the general synod of 1943-1945, and deposed on August 3rd, VO) We must acknowledge the hand of the Lord in what happened, and we are to see to it that the next step is done only in total obedience to the revealed Word.
Describing the situation and the development, Schilder stated that, although the circumstances differ, and the method is not the same, yet there is hierarchy: a lording it over the churches of Christ. This is the third hierarchy. The first one was that of Rome; of the second one, the one of the Netherlands Reformed Church. the brothers spoke in 1886 in Frascati. Nowadays office-bearers are suspended and deposed without any regard for the local church.
What to do with respect to the recognition of the decisions of general synod? God is a God of order, and synodical decisions must be honoured in the churches, as long as these decisions are in accordance with the order. We have a powerful weapon against all hierarchy: Article 31 of the Church Order. Lately the Lord permitted that precisely at this point the churches fell short.
The "unless" of Art. 31 was changed into "until." It was made into "until the following synod has changed it." Thereby the church has been poisoned.
There are other things as well, particularly the doctrinal pronouncements. Would I could say that it is a matter of doctrine. Then I would have been suspended because of heresy. But sin has penetrated so far that the question of doctrine has become a matter of hierarchy. Dr. Greijdanus was suspended not because of heresy but because he attacked the pronouncements.
The church is never allowed to bind on earth unless it knows with certainty: our binding on earth is God's binding in heaven. Attacking pronouncements as such may never be a ground for suspension and such like.
Hierarchy is the great sin of our days. And one of the most serious stumbling blocks that satan puts in our way is: trying to compromise, to give and take, but woe to him who no longer binds the church to her own words in order to guarantee his own rest. The church has been violated as church when her documents are devalued and her oaths are regarded as no longer being oaths.
By the binding to the pronouncements not only the way to the pulpit is blocked but also an impediment has been placed in the way towards union of all who would unite on the basis of the Three Forms of Unity.
We recognize the right of the church to say: This is the truth, and that is not. it is her obligation to do so as well. She did so in 1926. But if the church does not dare to say: "This is from beginning to end the Word of God," then every pronouncement is a stumbling block for union.
What must we do now?
It is never allowed angrily to stalk out. We may never be accused of unnecessarily having caused a schism or having aggravated it. The schism has been caused by the general synod and it is there in every sermon, at every baptism, every celebration of the Lord's Supper. We are not allowed to aggravate it, but neither are we permitted to act as if it were not there. The possibility of healing should not be cut off, but neither are we allowed to linger on for another three years.
Dr. Greijdanus speaks
After an intermission Psalm 89: 7 and 8 were sung. After this the elderly Dr. S. Greijdanus appeared in the pulpit.
He began with saying that it was not necessary for him to tell the whole story, as he had written about it. But the whole course of events had saddened him greatly. No, you don't have to pity me, he said, but you must grieve because of the course that the ecclesiastical life took.
With the deposition of Prof. Schilder the final decision was made. Before that there was still a slight hope that there would be a turn for the better. Now the tear has been made.
In all my labour I have always tried to bind people to God's Word and not to my own person. Also during my active ministry it was my endeavour to bind the congregation to Christ in order that it should not perish with me.
Now we are faced with the question whether we must take for our account what the general synod did to Prof. Schilder. Can we not justify this before the Lord? Then we must make it known.
There are various possibilities. The one is an office-bearer, the other is not; an office-bearer may stand alone, or there may be more. But whatever the situation is: all have to state clearly that they cannot recognize the injustice done.
If a consistory judges this, either in its entirety or in majority, it may invite a suspended or deposed office-bearer (such as Dr. Schilder) to conduct services. Members can request their consistory to do so. They will get into trouble, we know that, but we must leave the further development in the hands of the Lord.
We must, as much as we can, investigate what the Lord has revealed and then accept the consequences.
The Act of Liberation or Return
At this meeting Dr. Schilder read the Acts of Liberation or Return. its style was derived from three sources: in the first place from the Act of Secession of 1834, secondly, from documents drawn up by Dr. A. Kuyper and Dr. F.L. Rutgers, and thirdly from the Confessions and the Church Order.
This Act is too long to insert here. if our readers are interested in seeing it in its entirety, I am wholly prepared to publish it in my own translation. For the time being I have demanded your attention long enough.
A few words by the Rev. H. Knoop and the Rev. D. van Dijk concluded the speeches. The gathering was closed after the singing of Psalm 27:7.
Thus we went home, aware that there were many in the country that shared the same concerns and wanted to remain faithful to the Lord.
The meeting of August 11, 1944 was not a rally where campaign strategy was drawn up. It was a meeting where thoughts were exchanged and the call for faithfulness to the Lord was heard, irrespective of the consequences.
We had to think of what we read in Acts 28: 15: "On seeing them Paul thanked God and took courage."
We all took courage, and we needed it.
And following the ways the Lord showed, we were not put to shame.