Bible Study: Free Reformed Church History (8)
LESSON 8: The Testimony of 1953
BIBLE READING: John 15
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It may be useful, as we study the principles of the Free Reformed Churches, to consider an official document made up by the Synod of 1953 of the Free Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken). Due to concerns raised about spiritual decay and spiritual declension entering the churches, and concerned about the needs of the rapidly changing society of the Post-World War II years, the churches issued this declaration. It had to be read from the pulpits on the following Lord’s Day. This declaration also shows what we consider to be essential within the Free Reformed Churches. A translation of the text of the “Testimony” is as follows:
TESTIMONY GIVEN BY THE GENERAL SYNOD OF THE FREE REFORMED CHURCHES OF THE NETHERLANDS INTENDED FOR ALL THE CONGREGATIONS.
ADOPTED AT THE SYNOD OF 1953.
“The General Synod, deeply impressed with the seriousness of the present spiritual situation of our churches and concerned about the generally evident signs of backsliding, superficiality, and at times even resistance to the practice of godliness, feels called to issue in all love and earnestness a testimony to the churches: The modern religious climate of the world is characterized by an increasing departure from what has been in the past and has been historically established. Though this departure may be combined with an adoption of religious confessions, yet there is at the same time a watering down or even an abandonment of their contents. Our churches also exist in the spiritual climate of secularization. This calls for some very serious reflection. Even more so as we sadly discern signs of spiritual decay, which fill us with serious concern. Among these signs we want to mention, for an example, the sometimes evident weakening of seriousness when dealing with the souls who have been entrusted to our cares. Therefore first of all, we call everyone, in the pulpit, in the pew and in all official work, to be deeply impressed with the temporal and eternal blessings and woes, of the converted as well as of unconverted. This concern should be manifested in such a way that especially the discriminating and uncovering, subjective and experiential element in the preaching, catechizing and family visitation etc. be strongly emphasized. At the same time we must emphasize no less the perfectly sufficient riches and fulfillment of life which there is in Christ, so that by means of this awareness souls may be lured to become jealous and by the applicatory work of the Holy Spirit may come to know Christ in such a way that they trust in Him and live through Him so as to manifest the joy of faith and a spiritual life to the glory of God. To start with, we should have as our point of departure, as the Form for Infant Baptism teaches, the fact that man by nature lies in the midst of death under a broken Covenant of Works. In this way man must come to understand the necessity and the rich content of the Covenant of Grace. We then understand that salvation is a miracle and we do not loose sight of the necessity of being born again by the Holy Spirit. In this way we will also be kept from a superficiality, which easily can lead us to become conformed to the world. This conformity to the world is manifested in the fact that nowadays the question is heard more and more: “How far can we go in enjoying ourselves?” instead of asking the question: “How close should we live to God?” Here lies especially the duty of the elderly to be a good example to our young people and to display, more than is currently done, what soul-filling riches there are in the true fear of the Lord and in communion with God. At the same time we would also point out that God’s converted people often do still experience darkness and lack of spirituality. The basic cause for this, appears to be that God’s people desire to live increasingly out of their own conversion and not out of the Fountain Himself: The reconciled and very gracious Triune Covenant-God. We therefore have to be more and more “converted” of our “self-complacent convertedness.” With deep earnestness we want to appeal to all our ministers, professors, elders and leaders to become well acquainted with practical godliness. Nor can it be denied that especially the concept of the Covenant of Grace at times degenerates into a mere superficial religious experience, as if it were sufficient that we by birth have been brought under the dispensation of the Covenant, or that we without the inner regenerating work of the Holy Spirit can appropriate, and can become partakers of the blessings of this Covenant. In the context of the Covenant of Grace, faith and repentance are still necessary, but always in such a way that we do not lose sight of the fact: these are completely God’s gracious gifts promised in this Covenant; meanwhile keeping in mind, regardless of how miserable we may feel in ourselves, that on account of this Covenant, we have a right to believe. In order that we may make use of that right, it is necessary that we come to know in an experiential way, that we have lost God and by nature are bound by a broken Covenant of Works, dead in sins and trespasses and that only by a true faith we can become partakers of Christ and of all His benefits, to which also the Covenant of Grace opens for us the blessed way. With such a presentation of the Covenant and its experience the admission to the Lord’s Supper shall also be restricted as well as opened on proper grounds. Furthermore we also bring to your attention the example given in the Acts of the Apostles, that the first church was not characterized by the desire to take the earliest opportunity to produce unbiblical divisions, but proceeded on the principle that the Church of God is instituted to manifest the undivided body of Christ. And let us understand that the Church as institute is no less a fruit of the activity of the Holy Spirit than the invisible aspect of the Church. In the New Testament epistles, in the context of the existing clashes, issues and differences, we never find the recommendation to break up churches without a Divine command. Finally, as current issues regarding our youth increasingly call for our consideration, we urge you to exercise extreme caution. In this connection let us avoid making use of those means in youth work, which in fact are borrowed from worldly customs and arise from carnal motives, which are simply covered with a religious veneer. Those who want to keep the young people by using the means of the world, or means appealing to sinful lusts of youth, will lead the young people even faster into the arms of the arch enemy of our youth, Satan. To be more precise, we would like to mention: youth involvements in plays, more serious and obnoxious are those plays which take on a certain religious theme to make them more acceptable. At the same time we must absolutely condemn weekend youth camps in which the Lord’s Day is desecrated. Beloved brothers and sisters, young and old, the entire Church and all the members individually, we hereby urge, in the Name of the Lord, that we humble ourselves before the Face of God on account of all these breaches of the Covenant, not to grieve the Holy Spirit but to make a deliberate effort to walk in the fear of the Lord. We live in fearful times. Everything points to the fact that Christ’s return is approaching rapidly. This shall be “the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jer. 30:7), because “judgment must begin at the House of God” (1 Peter 4:17). We hear the cry in the distance: The Bridegroom cometh. This urges us more than ever to “seek the things which are above and not the things which are on the earth.” Watch and pray, for the hour of temptation, which shall come upon the whole earth, is at hand. Therefore Church of Christ, be prepared to meet the coming Judge; be ready so that in that day and hour He may find you watchful, faithfully doing your duty; be adorned with all the spiritual ornaments on the day of His power, so that you will be able to meet your glorified, heavenly Bridegroom with “Hosannas” on your lips and He will give you, who are conquerors in His Name a crown of life.”
In what way are the concerns expressed in the “Testimony” similar to our situation now?
What is of the greatest importance for the church according to this “Testimony”?
What lessons can we learn from this “Testimony”?
How can we be a fruitful branch in the Lord Jesus?
What privileges and what responsibilities do church members have?
What is the secret of Christian love?
How should the church be a witness for Christ?
How do we personally become a witness for Christ?
* 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.