Bible Study: Free Reformed Church History (6)
LESSON 6: THE DOLEANTIE OF 1886 AND THE UNION OF 1892
BIBLE READING: John 17
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During the 1800’s the Dutch Reformed Church was more or less a liberal church. There were still orthodox and sound ministers present. There were however also very liberal ministers who openly taught false doctrine in this church. Both kinds of ministers were allowed to preach and to present their views. Overall, there was no real contention for the truth and authority of the Scriptures. This all contributed to the development of the Secession, as we saw in the previous chapter.
Not all orthodox members left the Dutch Reformed Church. Many who were also concerned about the errors of the Dutch Reformed Church remained in this state church. They did not go along with the Secession. They thought the seceders were too strict and too narrow minded. However many of these people, who were still within the Dutch Reformed Church, later did leave this church in 1886. The leader who organized this second exodus from the Dutch Reformed Church was Abraham Kuyper.
Abraham Kuyper lived from 1837-1920. He was at first a very liberal minister, but in his first congregation as a minister he had talks with pious members of his church. They explained to him what was meant by the true fear of the Lord. Kuyper began to study the confessions of the church and the Institutes of John Calvin. This caused a change in his preaching. He began to protest against the unscriptural teachings within the Dutch Reformed Church.
Kuyper was a great organizer. He was a highly gifted man. During his life he was a minister of state, a prime minister, and a professor of theology. He established a new church and a new university. He was highly talented.
He organized a second secession from the Dutch Reformed Church which took place in 1886. The first secession took place, as we know, in 1834. This second secession took place in 1886. It was not actually called a secession. It was called a doleantie.
THE “DOLEANTIE” OF 1886
The word “Doleantie” means weeping or mourning. These people grieved and mourned about the sad situation of the Dutch Reformed Church. So they left this church in 1886.
How did this take place? Kuyper became a minister in Amsterdam. There were other Reformed ministers present in Amsterdam. Some were very liberal and modern. Kuyper accused these ministers at synod meetings, but the synod did not respond to these accusations. The consistory of Kuyper’s church then declared that when liberal ministers would have to preach in their church, they would not be present. Many church people didn’t attend church then either. So, when these liberal ministers preached in Kuyper’s church, they would have to preach to a very empty church.
Eventually there were other struggles relating to the acceptance of members who had done confession in liberal congregations. Kuyper and his consistory could not accept them because the confession of faith required by a liberal minister was much different than the confession required by Kuyper. In 1886, he and his consistory and many other consistories within the Dutch Reformed Church separated themselves from the main church organization. They mourned about the sad situation of the Dutch Reformed Church and they called themselves the Doleantie church. Abraham Kuyper became the great leader of this new denomination.
THE UNION OF 1892
In 1892 the two secession churches, called the “Christian Reformed Church”, coming from the Secession of 1834 and the Doleantie churches merged. They together formed the church that we in North America know as the Christian Reformed Churches.
However, some congregations of the Christian Reformed Churches coming from the secession of 1834, didn’t want to join in with this merger. In the Netherlands they are called the “Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken.” In North America they are called: “The Free Reformed Churches.” The reasons why they did not want to merge with the Doleantie churches of Kuyper were :
The whole idea of Kuyper regarding presumptive regeneration. This was the greatest concern. Abraham Kuyper had constructed a strange idea that we should view all children of believers to be born again unless later on in life it would become clear that they were not regenerated. This implied that in principle, the whole baptized congregation was considered to be saved. The whole congregation was considered to be true sheep of the Lord Jesus. Thus the call to conversion was no longer needed. Kuyper thought that preaching the need for a new heart from the Lord was not really needed. Many of the Doleantie ministers followed him in this respect. Kuyper was so vocal, outspoken and dominant that many of the Secession Church people could not really stand up to him. They more or less gave in to the dominant leadership of Kuyper. Kuyper envisioned a great and powerful new church of reformed persuasion if the Doleantie and the Secession could merge. This idea appealed to many. So they did not stand up against his false doctrines. Many thought it would not be that bad. But a few churches maintained their grave concerns against the doctrinal viewpoints of Kuyper concerning the strong link between baptism and regeneration.
The fact that the Doleantie did not consider the Dutch Reformed Church to be a false church but only a sick church.
The fact that this merger had not taken place on the local level but had been imposed on the church members from the top down.
There was not enough love between the two churches to merge at this time.
There were members of the Doleantie church who had joined without having been properly examined by that church.
Two ministers, Rev. F.P.L.C. van Lingen and Rev. J. Wisse, appealed to the last synod of the Christian Reformed Church before the actual merger. This was of no avail. The concerns were not really addressed. When the merger was a fact, these two ministers who the courage with three congregations to remain what they had always been, namely Secession Christian Reformed Churches. These three congregations did not join the merger of the rest of the Christian Reformed Church with the Doleantie church, but chose to continue on, as a separate denomination. This small denomination is now known in the Netherlands by the name of “Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken” and in North America by the name of “Free Reformed Churches of North America”. These last two mentioned churches have close ties and are in full correspondence with each other.
Already in 1892, immediately after the merger, several other ministers and congregations withdrew from the newly established federation of the Christian Reformed Churches and joined Van Lingen and Wisse. In 1893 there were already 17 congregations. Their number would multiply quickly in the following years.
The Union of 1892 was railroaded. It was imposed from the top down. All of a sudden church members heard on Sunday morning that they had been made members of a combined Christian Reformed Church.
Many strongly disagreed with this change being imposed upon them. In various places in Holland they joined the “Free Reformed Churches”. They wished to abide by the old doctrines of the Christian Reformed Church coming from the Secession. They greatly feared Kuyper’s ideas about regeneration. They stressed the necessity of personal regeneration and conversion. Within 10 years, there were many little churches all belonging to the “Free Reformed Churches” throughout the Netherlands.
These churches now have about 70,000 members in the Netherlands. In North America they number around 4000 members (2017 update: 5000 members).
“A” AND “B” CHURCHES
How did things go in that large church which resulted from the union or merger of 1892? The local congregations of the two mother churches were unacquainted with each other. Although officially one, many of them retained their own separate congregational life.
The churches of the Secession called themselves the “A” congregations. The followers of the Doleantie called themselves the “B” congregations. Each reserved the right to call the minister of its choice, and this choice depended on the minister’s doctrinal leaning and on the school which he had attended: Kampen which was a strong “A” school, or the Free University of Amsterdam, which had been founded by Kuyper, the leader of the “B” group.
It took many years before these two merged churches became functionally one church. But questions regarding the covenant views of Kuyper and his teaching of presumptive regeneration caused much turmoil. There were major disagreements and this all eventually resulted in the “liberation” of various churches in 1944. Several churches of this Christian Reformed Church left the denomination and formed the Liberated, (in Dutch: “vrijgemaakte”) churches in the Netherlands. They now have around 120,000 members in the Netherlands. In Canada they are called the Canadian Reformed Churches.
The present Christian Reformed Church in the Netherlands has around 750,000 members. The Dutch Reformed Church has around 2,500,000 members.
There were all along still various congregations of the Secession churches who had never officially joined up with the Christian Reformed Church in 1869. They had always stayed on their own. Around 1907 there was a certain minister named G.H. Kersten, who organized these independent congregations into a church formation, which we know as the Netherlands Reformed Congregations. They now have around 120,000 members in the Netherlands.
In the course of the 20th century, many people emigrated to North America. Also many church people came to this new country. They brought along their own convictions and planted churches here in the North American scene. That is why we now have so many different kinds of Reformed Churches in Canada and the United States.
How does Christ in heaven, pray for His Church? (Compare with Hebrews 7:25)
What is the principle of church union?
When will the unity of God’s people be fully manifested? (See Revelation 7:9-10)
Describe and analyze presumptive regeneration.
What is the role of the church? (John 17:14-17)
* This Bible Study was produced by the Youth & Education Committee of the Free Reformed Churches,1997, under the title, “Church History.” It is aimed at a Senior Young Peoples level.
Click on the tag “Bible Study: Free Reformed Church History” below for more lessons in this study.