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The Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated)

1. The Reformed Churches in The Netherlands (Liberated) (RCN (L)).

The Reformed Churches in The Netherlands (Liberated) (RCN (L), in Dutch, the “Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (Vrijgemaakt),” are a federation of orthodox, Reformed churches in The Netherlands which hold to the Bible as God’s Word.

The RCN (L) consist, at the beginning of 2013, of some 276 local congregations, 288 ministers serving congregations, and about 123,000 members, including children, of whom about 79,000 are confessing members.

The RCN (L) maintain and seek relations with Biblical, Reformed church federations in The Netherlands and around the world. As an expression of that intention, they are members of the International Conference of Reformed Churches (ICRC).

2. Origin and History

The RCN (L), existing by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and built on the truth of Scripture, have been shaped by the great Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. John Calvin in particular had a deep influence on the reformation of the church in The Netherlands, as well as other European countries.

Our churches hold to the three ancient ecumenical creeds, the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, and to the Belgic Confession (1561), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), and the Canons of Dordt (1619) as their confessional standards.

Because of the spiritual decline of the state Protestant church, the “Nederlandse Hervormde kerk,” due to liberal, unbiblical theological teachings, in the course of the 19th century orthodox Reformed believers seceded to form what were first called “Secession Reformed” churches. Eventually the majority of the Secession churches joined together in 1892 to form the “Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland,” the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands.

In the 20th century another church secession took place. In 1944 the General Synod of the Reformed Churches attempted to force all members to officially accept the view that the children of believers are to be regarded as being regenerate prior to their baptism as infants, the teaching known as “presumed regeneration.” This view was regarded by Dr. Klaas Schilder, professor of Dogmatics at the Theologische School (seminary) in Kampen, and others, as not being in agreement with the Word of God. He, other theological professors, a significant group of ministers, and some 90,000 church members refused to comply with the Synod’s demand, and were forced to leave the federation.

This church movement was called the “Vrijmaking,” that is, the Liberation of the church from unbiblical synodical demands, and thus the churches got the nickname “Gereformeerde Kerken (Vrijgemaakt),” or Reformed Churches (Liberated).

The churches which complied with the Synod’s demands got the nickname “Synodaal” (Synodical), and in 2004 they merged with the “Hervormde Kerk” and the small Lutheran Church to form the Protestant Church in The Netherlands, in Dutch, the “Protestantse Kerk in Nederland.” In 2013 this church has about 1.7 million members and is a theologically pluralistic body.

The RCN (L) support true, Biblical ecumenism, and therefore we have and are seeking more contact in The Netherlands with Biblical church federations which have their historical roots in the 16th century Calvinist Reformation and in the Secessions of the 19th century. These are currently the Christian Reformed churches (the “Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken”), with some 74,000 members, and the Netherlands Reformed churches (the “Nederlands Gereformeerde Kerken”), with about 33,000 members. Both of these church federations have the same confessional standards as we do.

3. Basis

The foundation of the RCN (L) is our Lord Jesus Christ, as He reveals Himself in God’s holy Word, the Bible, which proclaims the Person and saving Work of Christ. Our confessions, faithfully summarizing the Bible’s teaching, are the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of Dordt. These “Three Forms of Unity” also include the three historic, ecumenical creeds, namely, the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed. All office bearers in our churches (ministers, elders, and deacons) promise that they will not teach anything that goes against these confessions.

4. Structure of the Churches and Church Federation

We believe that each local congregation is fully a church and competent to conduct its own spiritual affairs, depending on the Lord. Christ is the Head of the Church, and under Him each church council (consistory) is called to give spiritual leadership to the congregation. At the same time we believe that local churches are not to live independently, but are called to fellowship and cooperate with each other. Church cooperation is a Biblical demand, and therefore we work together regionally and nationally as a church federation. Ecclesiastical assemblies, moving from the church councils to regional classis meetings, and finally the General Synod every three years, have the authority to make decisions which are in agreement with the Word of God and the Church Order, and to call the congregations to comply to such decisions, of course with room for possible Biblical objections.

Our Church Order, going back to the Synod of Dordt of 1618-19, helps our church life to be organized and orderly, for the sake of the purity and peace of the church. A number of churches in a region form a classis; a number of classes form a regional synod. Four delegates from the nine regional synods come together once every three years and form a General Synod. Deliberation is going on to create a new Church Order, which should take effect starting in 2014.

5. Reflection on Liturgy

During the last few years there has been a development of liturgical practice in our churches, approved by General Synods, in which not only Psalms and traditional Hymns are sung, according to our tradition, but also contemporary spiritual songs, accompanied by more instruments than the organ. It is not uncommon for there to be a “Praise Band” accompanying worship in some services.

Further, our traditional liturgical forms for baptism, personal profession of faith, the Lord’s Supper, and for marriage ceremonies have been modernized.

We use a modern Bible translation as a rule in our church services, the New Bible Translation (the “Nieuwe Bijbelvertaling”), a version produced by the Dutch Bible Society, which is true to the original languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), but in current, common Dutch. It is comparable to the NIV version in English.

The use of the “beamer” (projector) projecting the liturgy, the songs to be sung, and the texts to be read, has become quite common. Photographs and films are sometimes projected.

It is now common for church members, other than the minister, to do the Scripture reading.

We want to be Biblical, orthodox, living Reformed churches, valuing our tradition, but also seeking to make use of contemporary language, methods and techniques, and of the various gifts of the congregational members, to celebrate our salvation in Christ, spread the Gospel, and glorify the Lord.

6. Church Life

Each Sunday, two church services are held. In one of them the central doctrines of the Word of God are proclaimed and explained as they are confessed in the Heidelberg Catechism. The children of confessing members are baptized in a church service shortly after their birth. The Lord’s Supper is celebrated at least four times a year. Professing members are invited to attend, as well as guests from sister- and contact-churches, and other guests (usually after a talk with the church council about one’s faith in Christ). The congregation is under the spiritual guidance of the church council (consistory), which consists of ministers, elders and deacons.

One aspect of spiritually building the congregation up is the yearly home visit, brought by the elders at least once a year to all members. The youth of the congregation from 12 years and up receive catechetical instruction, often by the minister, but sometimes by others who have the gifts to teach.

Congregations have small neighbourhood gatherings and Bible-study groups for adults and young people. The congregations seek to reach unbelievers in the community by various forms of evangelism. For home missionary projects, churches in a certain region combine forces. Thus home missionaries are stationed in areas such as South Limburg, North Holland, and Rotterdam and its surroundings. Church planting activities are being carried on in Amsterdam.

Foreign missionaries and lecturers in theology are sent out to countries such as Indonesia, India, South Africa, Congo, Benin, Ukraine, Curacao and Brazil. In order to coordinate the foreign mission work and diaconal aid on mission fields, a church organization has been set up, “De Verre Naasten” (Faraway Neighbours) for mission, mission aid and training, working with sister- and contact-churches in the world. There are as well regional organizations focusing on mission projects in Indonesia, India, South Africa, Benin, other African countries, Brazil, Venezuela, Curacao, Ukraine, Belarus, and organizations involved with helping churches in Europe, and “closed areas.”

The churches maintain the Theological University in Kampen for the theological education of future ministers and teachers.

7. Various Activities of Church Members

In many places Reformed day schools have been set up for the education of our children at both elementary and secondary school level as well as at the college level. This education is subsidized by the government, but we retain the freedom to make sure the content of curricula is not contrary to Reformed principles.

There are also Reformed social organizations as well as organizations for helping the handicapped, the terminally ill and the elderly.

Many of our members read the Christian daily, the “Nederlands Dagblad” (the Dutch Daily News), which presents itself as: “a Reformed newspaper for Christians in the Netherlands.” There are also various church magazines and other publications.
In the political arena, Reformed people are active in the Christian political party, the “Christen Unie” (Christian Union), and support for broadcasting on radio and TV is carried on together with other Christians via the “Evangelische Omroep” (Evangelical Broadcasting Association).

8. Relations with Foreign Churches

The RCN (L) have sister-church relationships with some 30 Reformed and Presbyterian churches in foreign countries. Thus, for example, church attestations of members of those churches are accepted by the RCN (L), and ministers of those churches are allowed to preach in the RCN (L) congregations, and vice versa.

The RCN (L) have a contact-church relationship with some 18 other Reformed and Presbyterian churches in foreign countries. With these churches it is not yet possible to have a full sister-church relationship, although many contacts are growing and deepening. Together with 29 other Reformed and Presbyterian churches the RCN (L) is a member of the ICRC, the International Conference of Reformed Churches. In the Netherlands, the “Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken” are also members of the ICRC.

9. Maintaining the Relations

The General Synod of the RCN (L) appoints deputies to maintain and deepen the relations with the foreign churches. These are called deputies for the “Betrekkingen met Buitenlandse Kerken” (BBK) (Relations with Foreign Churches). They do this work by carrying on correspondence, visiting the churches regularly and receiving delegates from those churches, and participating in conferences. At the ICRC, they represent the RCN (L) in dealing with matters of common interest with other churches.
The overall purpose of maintaining relations with Reformed churches throughout the world is to encourage one another to remain faithful to Christ and God’s Word, as we confess our faith in the Reformed confessions.

The English-language magazine Lux Mundi, appearing four times a year, also seeks to be of service to our ecumenical calling. Its purpose is to publish articles which are relevant and helpful for readers, worldwide, on theological, ecclesiastical, and practical subjects having to do with the Reformed Faith. Writers are drawn not only from RCN (L) theologians, but also from writers in sister- and contact-churches in The Netherlands and the world.

10. Aid to Foreign Churches

Where necessary and possible, aid is given to benefit the development of Reformed church life elsewhere in the world. Aid in the form of personnel is given through the education of ministers and office bearers. Financial and material aid is given, among other things, for theological libraries and for the building of churches. This help is given through the organization “De Verre Naasten” (Faraway Neighbours), through the various regional organizations mentioned above, and through initiatives coordinated by the “Platform Hulp in Buitenland” (Platform Help in Foreign Countries).

Concluding remarks

We are happy and thankful to be able to present our churches on the internet in this way. We invite responses and questions. Our e-mail address: bbk@gbouw.nl