From the ‘Reformatorisch Dagblad’, we gleaned two noteworthy developments among the churches in The Netherlands:
The liberated Reformed Churches (the ‘GKv’, sister churches of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia) and the Dutch Reformed Churches (‘Nederlands Gereformeerde Kerken’ (NGK))decided to have a combined meeting of the two synods on Saturday, the 11th of November. After this meeting a worship service will be held and there is a special song written for this service (see the Reformatorisch Dagblad).
There is even a website dedicated to this process of unity, which gives more information about this combined meeting: www.onderwegnaar1kerk.nl.
The quest for unity with the NGK has been one of the concerns mentioned by many of the sister churches of the GKv, because this unity is not based on the unity of faith. Differences are being ignored or glossed over. The NGK had made the decision to open all offices for women. Recently also the GKv made the same decision, taking away one reason against unity. However, as is expressed by many concerned members in the GKv as well as in sister churches, a closer relationship between GKv and NGK as a result of this will make it harder to appeal the decision of the GKv to open all offices for women.
2. Church Split
Within ‘The Reformed Churches’ (‘DGK’, a federation of churches which left our sister churches in 2004), another split appeared. In September, a part of the church in Marienberg – a few dozens of members – decided to come together under the leadership of Rev. M. Dijkstra for worship services in the ‘Sionskerk’ in Marienberg. The rest of the consistory with about a hundred members meets in ‘De Ark’. This group suspended the relationship with classis North-East and sent an appeal to the synod. The synod was convened early to deal with this matter and met on Saturday. The synod decided to appoint a committee to investigate this matter.
Rev. Dijkstra called the congregation away from under the supervision of the consistory, because of some difficulties. It is said that the matter of the education of the children of the congregation is a reason, although the clerk of the consistory, br. J.D. Plaggenmars, disagrees with this assessment. He is reluctant to give more information and refuses to talk about the other reasons for the split.
The committee will investigate this matter and will meet with those involved in this sad situation.
The Reformed Churches (restored) have about 1200 members, over 11 congregations. There has been some communication between these churches and the Reformed Churches The Netherlands (another group of churches that left the GKv), but so far this has not led to any progress towards unity.
We confess in the Belgic Confession article 28, that no one ought to withdraw from the holy congregation and assembly of the true Christian believers, but all and everyone are obliged to join it and unite with it, maintaining the unity of the church. We also confess that it is the duty of all believers to separate from those who do not belong to the church and to join this assembly (of the true church) wherever God has established it.
Separate from those who do not belong to the church, join the holy congregation and assembly of the true Christian believers. One command, which works in two directions: Separate and unite.
Where churches join together in true faith, that is reason for thankfulness, because this is obedience to God’s command. However, where churches join together, but this outward union is not accompanied by a unity in faith, there is reason for alarm, because this is disobedience to the same command.
Where churches are being rent asunder, as a result of fight against heresies or other pervasive sins in the church, there may be thankfulness for God’s work in protecting and preserving His Church (as we saw in the time of the Reformation). But where churches split for other reasons, there is disobedience to the command of Christ and the apostles to be one of faith.
“I am of Dijkstra”, “I am of Plaggenmars”?
“I am of Paul”, or “I am of Apollos”?
Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:13).
Unity in the Body of Christ
Let us not judge them harshly. If we are called to judge at all, let us do so in the knowledge that we also should watch that we do not fall in the same trap of the devil. Christ has called us to unity. That is first: unity with Him, and then also: unity with each other.
Unity with Christ means unity in the true faith. We can’t be one with Him if we don’t listen and submit to His Word. Therefore, the true preaching is of utmost importance for the church. At the same time, we should not neglect the unity with our brothers and sisters. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul admonishes the congregation of Corinth because of this absence of unity. “For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you …”. In verse 22 Paul says about this: ” Or do you despise the church of God …?” And in verse 29: “For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” Paul is writing here about the congregation as the body of Christ. And he connects it with the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper as the signs of the body and blood of the Lord. If you do not discern the unity of the body of the Lord, you despise the signs of the body and blood of the Lord.
Where true unity of the church should be based on obedience to God’s Word (the first mark of the true church), there continued division, strife, disunity within the church or between churches which stand on the same basis, desecrate the celebration of the Lord’s Supper (the second mark of the true church).
Our brothers and sisters in The Netherlands urgently need our prayers. In this situation of sinfulness, they need the power of the Holy Spirit to break the pride in human hearts. But let us not forget that we also need to pray for our own churches in Australia, that we may be one with Christ. One in faith; but also that we do not let different opinions divide the churches, and never stop striving to reach unity with all those who stand with us on the same basis: “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.” (Ephesians 2:20).