What led to the Liberation? - Prof. J. Geertsema

From the Clarion Volume 43, No. 15/16 July 29, 1994

After the Union 1892 - 1905

In 1892 the Union took place between the churches of the Secession (1834), who had followed Rev. Hendrick de Cock and other ministers, and the churches of the "Doleantie" (1886) who had followed Dr. Abraham Kuyper. De Cock and those with him had been deposed from office or were not allowed to become minister by the Synod of the Dutch Reformed church. The basic reason was that Rev. De Cock and the others wanted to return to the truth of God's Word as this was confessed in the Three Forms of Unity of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. The people of the Secession also wanted to shake off the yoke of synodical hierarchy as this had taken hold of the Dutch Reformed church and go back to the Reformed Church Order of the Synod of Dort 1618-1619.

Kuyper and his followers, too, wanted to return to the Reformed doctrine and free themselves from the corrupt yoke of hierarchy of the Dutch Reformed church and return to the Church Order of Dort for their church life.

Two differences between the Secession and the Doleantie are the following:

1. The Secession leaders were a number of ministers together, not one great and dominating leader as Dr. Kuyper was in the "Doleantie."

2. The Secession placed relatlively more emphasis on the confession than on the Church Order. Kuyper and his fellow worker, Dr. F.L. Rutgers, placed great emphasis on a return from a hierarchical church government to the Church Order of Dort, although the return to the Reformed confession was not unimportant for them. However, Kuyper worked more with the socalled "Reformed principles" and doctrinal constructions.

An example is that Kuyper based the Free University, established in 1880, on these "Reformed principles" rather than on the confessions of the Reformed churches, the Three Forms of Unity. The confession was for the church and church life, while the "Reformed principles" were to serve as basis for kingdom projects as education in Christian schools and political organizations. Leaders of the Secession churches raised objections against Kuyper's adoption of "Reformed Principles" as basis for the Free University instead of the confession.

How and when are children regenerated?

The Union took place in spite of a number of objections of people of the Secession against certain teachings of Kuyper. In 1896 and 1905 some objections were brought to the General Synod of the united churches. One of those objections was against Kuyper's idea that regeneration must be presumed to have taken place in a baby and is the basis for its baptism. Kuyper reasoned further that, therefore, regeneration is worked by the Holy Spirit im-mediately, that is. without the means of God's Word. When (im-mediate) regeneration as fact that has happened in the baby is basis for its baptism. it can also be reasoned that, thus. the covenant is truly made only with the regenerated (and elected) children of believers.

One of the leaders opposing these ideas of Kuyper was Prof. L. Lindeboom in Kampen. Another opponent was Rev. T. Bos. They stated that the basis for baptism is not a (presumed) regeneration, something in the heart of a child, but God's covenant promises which are for the believers and their children and the command of God therefore that these children must be baptized. I may refer here to the Heidelberg Catechism, L.D. 27, Q.A. 74. The Synod of 1905 tried to maintain the peace in the churches with a pacifying declaration. It can be found in Art. 158 of the Acts of Synod 1905, p. 84-86. Part of this declaration reads:

With regard to the point of the "immediate regeneration, the Synod judges, that this expression can be used in a good sense, insofar our churches have always confessed over against the Lutheran and Roman church that regeneration does not take place through the Word or the sacraments as such but through the almighty and regenerating activity of the Holy Spirit; that, however, this regenerating activity of the Holy Spirit must not be divorced from the preaching of the Word as if both were separate from each other; for even though our Confession teaches that we should not have any doubt regarding the salvation of our children who die in their infancy although they have not heard the preaching of the Gospel, and further regarding the manner in which this regeneration takes place with these and other children nowhere in our confession a pronouncement is made, that nevertheless on the other hand it is an established fact that the Gospel is a power of God unto salvation for every one who believes, and that with the adults the regenerating activity of the Holy Spirit accompanies the preaching of the Gospel ... (emphasis added. J.G.)

We notice in the first place that the Synod tried to combine the teaching of Kuyper ("the expression immediate re generation ... can be used in a good sense") with the views of his opponents by, at the same time, restricting Kuyper's teaching. In the second place we see that the basis and starting point for the teaching of an immediate regeneration, apart from God's Word, is the reasoning that children of believing parents who are taken away in their infancy are saved (Canons of Dort, 1, 17). Even though the Canons do not speak about regeneration in this context but only about election and salvation, Kuyper reasoned that if they are saved they must have been regenerated. Kuyper's conclusion was: if this regeneration takes place in such children that die in their infancy, regeneration can and must take place in all children in the covenant, that means, in all those children whom God has elected. Since we do not know who are elected, we presume that these children have been regenerated. In this way Kuyper could reason that (presumed) factual regeneration in the child is the ground for baptism.

With regard to this point of the presumed regeneration the Synod declared

that, according to the Confession of our Churches, the seed of the covenant must be taken for regenerated and sanctified in Christ until the opposite shows when they grow up; that it is less correct, however, to say that baptism is administered to the children of believers on the ground of their presumed regeneration because the ground for baptism is the command and promise of God; that further to the judgment of love with which the Church takes the seed of the covenant for regenerated certainly does not mean that therefore each child truly would be regenerated because God's Word teaches us that not all belong to Israel who are descended (seed) from Israel, and that through Isaac, it is said, your descendants (seed) shall be named (Rom. 9:6-7), so that the preaching must always insist on selfexamination, since only those who have believed and have been baptized will be saved. Further, the Synod maintains with the Confession that "the sacraments are not void and meaningless so that they deceive us," but that they are "visible signs and seals of something internal and invisible, by means of which God works in us through the power of the Holy Spirit" (Belgic Confession, Art. 33), and that especially baptism is called "the washing of regeneration" and the washing away of sins," because God "will assure us by this divine pledge and sign that we are as truly cleansed from our sins spiritually as we are outwardly (bodily, L.D. 26 Q.A. 73) washed with water;" for this reason, in the prayer after Baptism, our Church "gives thanks and praise to God that He has forgiven us and our children all our sins through the blood of His beloved Son Jesus Christ and has adopted us as members of His only begotten Son and thus as His children and that He seals and confirms this with holy Baptism;" so that our confessions clearly teach that the sacrament of Baptism signifies and seals the washing away of sins through the blood and Spirit of Jesus Christ, that is, justification and renewal through the Holy Spirit as benefits which God has given to our seed.

In the meantime, the Synod is of the opinion that the thesis that each elected child therefore must be regenerated already as a fact before its baptism cannot be proved either on the ground of Scripture nor on the ground of the Confession, since God fulfils His promise according to His sovereign power at His time, either before or during or after Baptism, so that the demand is to speak about this point in a careful way without wanting to be wise above what God has revealed to us (italics added).

It is again clear that the Synod made a compromise. Its statements and quotations from the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism can be read and interpreted in the way of Kuyper's theological construction, as if baptism signifies and seals the fact that we have been regenerated. But in the whole of the declaration this is not possible. For the last paragraph states that it cannot be proved from Scripture or Confession when God's work of regeneration occurs, or rather, when God fulfils His promise to regenerate. That here is spoken about the promise to regenerate means that the declaration cannot be read in this sense that regeneration as a fact that has happened already is sealed. It must mean that the promise of (forgiveness and) regeneration is sealed, that is, the promise of what God inwardly does in the heart and which is pictured with the outward washing with water.[1] It is important to see this point. Not a factual regeneration, not something that has happened in the child, but the promise of God regarding what he gives in Christ as signified and sealed in baptism was the issue here for Lindeboom and those with him. This what they wanted to be maintained.

From 1905 - 1936

Because of Kuyper's intense influence on the Reformed churches, it is not amazing that in the following years the voices with criticism on what he taught lost their impact and were hardly heard or read anymore. This counts also for the critical corrections of the Synod of Utrecht 1905 and the writings of Lindeboom and Bos. The adoption of the theology of Kuyper characterized the Reformed churches. The consequence was that the difference between the practical and concrete language of the Scriptures on regeneration, baptism and the covenant (maintained by the men of the Secession) and the theological construction of Kuyper was not clearly seen anymore. [2]

After Kuyper's death in 1920, Rev. K. Schilder became known. With others he published articles in De Reformatie which would become "his" weekly paper. In this period much attention was given to exegesis and many commentaries were published within the Reformed circles. Through all this the eyes of many were opened for the correctness of much of the criticism against parts of Kuyper's teaching. Schilder became one of the leaders. His aim was not to reject Kuyper's teachings, but to continue in Kuyper's line. However, in order to do so in faithfulness to Scripture and Confession, Schilder saw that corrections were necessary. These corrections were in line with the criticisms from the side of the men of the Secession.

However, Schilder's arguments and conclusions were rejected. Dr. H.H. Kuyper, son of Dr. A. Kuyper, suggested at the Synod of Amsterdam 1936, that the situation for the Reformed churches was very dangerous because of opinions deviating from the generally accepted teachings. In response, the Synod decided that it should deal with the "differences in doctrine." The Synod made this decision on its own authority, which is un-Reformed since the major assemblies can only deal with matters which the churches put on their table. They cannot themselves add matters to their agenda. To do this is a form of hierarchy and lording it over the churches.


Leaving out details, we give only the main points of what happened. A majority and minority report about the "doctrinal differences" were prepared. The Synod of Sneek/Utrecht (29 August) 1939 - (29 April) 1943 decided on 26 May 1942 to deal with the "differences in doctrine," in spite of requests from two regional synods, twenty-one classes and sixteen consistories (representing about two-thirds of the total membership of the churches) not to do so because of the difficult war situation. On 8 June 1942 the synod adopted doctrinal decisions, among others, regarding common grace and the covenant of grace and self-examination. These are the relevant decisions regarding the covenant of grace:

1 . that the covenant of grace is of such a fundamental importance for a life in faith that both the preaching of God's Word and every other work of the church has to take its starting point in it, and that every presentation or practice must be avoided that would not do justice to the importance of God's covenant;

2. that the Lord promises undoubtedly in the promise of the covenant to be the God not only of the believers but also of their seed (Gen. 17:7); that, however, He no less reveals in His Word to us that not all who descended from Israel are Israel (Rom. 9:6);

3. that, therefore, - according to what the Synod of Utrecht 1905 has declared - "the seed of the covenant must be taken for regenerated and sanctified in Christ in virtue of the promise of God until the opposite shows when they grow up; even though the synod (1905) correctly added that this "does not mean at all that therefore every child truly has been regenerated;"

5. that it is in conflict with the truthfulness of God to assume in Scripture such a duality that it says regarding the same task both yes and no and on the one hand teaches the perseverance of the saints and on the other hand those who are regenerated can fall away and perish;

6. that it is no less wrong to make a false contrast between an eternal covenant and a dispensation of the covenant in time; and to understand the manner of speaking of Scripture when it calls the members of the church in general believers in such a way that all church members are believers, but this in the sense of "believers-in-time" and therewith not yet "in God's eternal council;" this is in conflict with Scripture which also addresses the church members in general as "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father (1 Pet. 1:2, see Col. 312, Eph. 1:4-5).

The reference to the Synod 1905 took the fear of many away, even though the 1905 declaration was quoted onesidedly. For the 1942 declaration quoted only the Kuyperian teaching that the children in the covenant must be "taken for regenerated." It did not quote the "corrections" from the Secession brothers.

However, the fear came back when the synod issued an Explanation on 6 October 1942 in which it declared that this doctrinal declaration on the covenant should be understood in accordance with the view of Kuyper.

This Explanation says, for instance, "that the covenant of grace is not just an offer of grace but that it gives the grace" (p.1 2, 1 6f); and that it is incorrect "to identify the special position which all those baptized have with the covenant." It speaks of "the unconditional promise of salvation to the elect which is the special contents of covenant and sacrament" (p.21).

In other words, the sacrament of baptism does not signify and seal the promise of salvation, including regeneration, but it seals regeneration as already having taken place and, per consequence, the covenant is truly only made with the elect, the regenerated, and not with all the children of believing parents.

The next Synod of Utrecht (22 June) 1943 - (14 August) 1945 had to deal with about seventy appeals against the doctrinal decisions. They were rejected. This synod issued a document called "Prae-advies" (Pre-advice) in which it maintained the decisions and Explana tion of the previous synod. This synod also rejected a "Verklaring van Gevoelen" (Declaration of Opinion) dated 2 November 1943 and signed by six ministers. It follows here:

We believe on the basis of Holy Scripture and confess in accordance with the Three Forms of Unity and the liturgical forms:

1 . that all children are conceived and born in sin and are therefore subject to all sorts of misery, even to condemnation itself (Form of Baptism);

2. that God, in Christ, has established His covenant of grace with the believers and their seed (Gen. 17:7; Gal. 3:14, 29);

3. that therefore all the children of believers are covenant children (Acts 3:25);

4. that all those children are holy (1 Cor. 7:14) or sanctified in Christ (1 Cor. 12, Form of Baptism);

5 that therefore the covenant promise of salvation is for all those children (Acts 2:39);

6. that for all those children the administration of baptism is a signifying and sealing to them of the covenant of grace or this promise of salvation (Gen. 17:11, 13-14; Form of Baptism);

7. that, for this reason, all those children are called with great seriousness to accept this promise of salvation with a true faith (Hebr. 4:1);

8. that so many of those children who accept this promise with a believing heart, they do this through the grace and power of the regenerating Holy Spirit, according to God's eternal election (Jer. 24:7; Ezek. 11: 19; 3 6:2 6-2 7);

9. that the children who do not accept this promise from the heart, because of this being breakers of the covenant, will receive a heavier judgment (Lev. 26:15, cf. 44; Deut. 31:20; Rom. 11:28-30; Hebr. 12:25, cf. 10:28-31);

10. that constantly the admonition must be kept in mind to take heed that not with any of those who share in the heavenly calling there is an evil and unbelieving heart to deviate from the living God (Hebr. 3:1, 12).

Not only did this Synod Utrecht 194345 reject appeals but it also forced its doctrines onto the churches. Ministers and consistories were to adhere to the doctrine as adopted and maintained by the synods. Candidates had to declare their agreement at their classical examination.

Besides doctrinal objections, many also seriously opposed hierarchical actions of the Synod. The Synod began to use disciplinary actions. Prof. K. Schilder and Prof. S. Greijdanus were suspended as professor and minister in the Reformed churches. Other ministers, elders and deacons followed. According to Reformed Church Polity discipline is not in the province of a major assembly but only in the province of the consistory of the local church. However, Kuyper epigones thought they had to preserve and maintain the ideas and constructions of Kuyper. In their positions of power in the churches, as professors and ministers, they used their authority in the way of giving the General Synod a hierarchical power over the churches in order to maintain their positions and Kuyperian ideas. But in this way they denied and deviated from the strongest point of the Doleantie which was its emphatic return to the truly Reformed church polity of the Church Order of Dort 1619, in which hierarchy is so very much opposed.

All this led to the meeting on August 11, 1944 in the Lutheran Church in Den Haag where the Act of Liberation and Return was read and adopted. People liberated themselves from a binding to doctrinal statements they could not agree with, seeing these statements in conflict with Scripture and confession, and from a developing hierarchical governing system that obviously deviated from the Reformed Church Order. it was a return to Scripture, Confession and the Reformed Church Order.

Some literature

In the Dutch Language:

R.J. Dam, B. Holwerda, C. Veenhof, Rondom 1905, Terneuzen: Littooij, 1945. G. Janssen, De Feitelijke Toedracht - Tien jaren Kerkstriffi, Groningen: De Jager, 1948.

J. Kok and C. Van der Waal, Van Striid en Zegepraal, Goes: Oosterbaan & Le Cointre, 1954.

In the English language:

P.K. Keizer, Church History, English tansl. by T.M.P. VanderVen, Neerlandia: Inheritance Publications, 1990, p. 181-205

G. Van Dooren . . . and we escaped, Burlington, ON: Golden Jubilee Committee, 1986.

W.W.J. Van Oene, Inheritance Preserved, rev. ed., Winnipeg: Premier, 1991, p.35-47. Rudolph Van Reest, Schilder's Struggle for the Unity of the Church, English transl. by Theodore Plantinga, Neerlandia: Inheritance Publications, 1990.

H. van Tongeren, Mandate Maintained, English transl. by Janette Veenema, Grand Rapids, 1965.


[1] I may here refer to chapter 4, "Waardeering en effect van 1905'," in Rondom 1905 by Dr. R.J. Dam, Rev. B. Holwdera, and Rev. C. Veenhoof, Terneuzen: Littooij, 1945.

[2] See Rondom 1905, p. 125.