Australia and the BBK
Recently there appeared on the website  of Deputies for Relations with Foreign Churches (BBK) a remarkable press release. Its message received also the (summarised) attention of ND (see Appendix A).
Press release from BBK (GKv) (translated from Dutch)
Concerns admonition by Australia
Zwolle, 17 January 2013
The Free Reformed Churches of Australia (FRCA) appointed a Committee for the preparation of an admonition to the next Synod (in 2014) of the Gereformeerde Kerken (vrijgemaakt). This admonition registers objections against the developments in doctrine and conduct of these churches which should endanger the sister-church relationship. Late last year (2012) the FRCA sent a letter which sets out the points of objection.
Last summer, a delegation of the GKv visited the Synod of the FRCA in Armadale (Western Australia). That Synod was for the major part dominated by a report about the GKv that had been prepared by the Australian deputies for external relations. The Dutch delegates had prior to that Synod placed their objections to the conclusions in that report on the table. Also during the discussions at Synod they were allowed to freely express their opinion. But the Synod still decided to appoint a Committee charged with the preparation of an admonition against the developments in the GKv. The final text of the admonition is to be adopted in an extended session of the Synod, to commence April 22, 2013. The critical report, and now this admonition are the outcome of a discussion over many years within the FRCA on the sustainability of the sister-church relationship with the GKv.
In which matters are the GKv to be admonished? The letter mentions hermeneutics (Bible explanation), ethics, the sacraments, ecclesiology (doctrine of the Church) and Church Government. The criticism in these areas is often not based on official documents or General Synodical decisions, but often also on personal experiences or on information from all kinds of (Dutch) websites, which write very critically about what is happening within the GKv. The deputies have asked the FRCA to change that approach. It is not fruitful to put all kinds of local issues under the magnifying glass, while one does not know what the church council, the classis or the Synod decided in the matter.
Deputies do not deny that at times there is reason for concern about (local) developments within the churches. It happens that in practice things are done contrary to the decisions of the bond of churches. But a foreign sister-church should adopt a reserved position until the Synod has taken a decision. Deputies of the GKv will continue to critically observe any publications within the FRCA about the GKv and again remind them of this if necessary.
The FRCA will have to restrict themselves to the decisions made by the Synod. Deputies believe that this will leave sufficient material to talk about, which should also be useful for the FRCA. Constructive thinking will then be useful for all the churches concerned.
It is precisely for this reason that the GKv desire to invest in the sister-church relationship with the Australian churches.
In a letter Deputies BBK presented the Australian Committee with their conclusions of the visit to the synod. This letter has also been published on the GKv website, so that these views are accessible to everyone. Read here  the letter to the Australian sister churches.
Where do we go from here? The GKv desire to continue dialogue about her religious choices. The Synod decisions remain the starting point. For now we await the admonition that was announced.
In spring of 2014 a Conference on hermeneutics will be organised together with the Canadian sister-churches, to which also the FRCA has been invited. There the delegates can question each other about how the Bible is used today. 
The press release anticipates a decision taken last year by the Australian sister-churches, the Free Reformed Churches of Australia . Deputies obviously did not like that. Let us first take note of the decision.
Decision of the Free Reformed Churches of Australia (FRCA)
On 19th July 2012, following many discussions extending over a period of several years, the churches in this part of world took the following decision:
Article 116 – Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (Refer Art 29, 30, 40, 43, 57, 76, 94, 114)
1. To present to the RCN an official admonition stating our concerns.
This admonition will be a statement of weighty objections with respect to the doctrine and practice of the RCN in line with the rules for sister church relations.
2. To appoint an advisory committee consisting of brothers chosen by synod to formulate the admonition paying special attention to items that have had deputies’ special attention such as:
e. Church government
The committee is to take into account the responses already received from the RCN. This is to be done in consultation with the Canadian Reformed Church deputies CRCA according to Article 86, Synod Burlington 2010 and the DRCA of the FRCSA according to Article 19.4 of Synod Pretoria 2011.
3. The advisory committee is to report to synod delegates by 1 March 2013.
4. Synod is to reconvene on 22 April 2013 so that this official admonition can be tabled for adoption and so that synod can formulate its decision on how to proceed with our relationship with the RCN.
1. Over time the FRCA synods and deputies have clearly expressed their concerns and called upon the RCN synods and deputies to remain faithful. The present deputies have presented evidence that the RCN does not reject all errors contrary to the word of God.
2. The seriousness of these concerns requires an official admonition that will have consequences.
3. The RCN have clearly communicated to the FRCA:
a. that they don’t recognize themselves in the image described in the Acts of Legana 2009;
b. that they request substantiated reasons supporting our concerns; and
c. that they are willing to listen to them.
4. Our rules for sister church relations require mutual assistance, encouragement, exhortation, and care.
Although the deputies report as well as previous synod decisions and reports to synod have substantiated many of our concerns it is important to go the extra mile to ensure that our concerns are accurately and properly formulated and understood, particularly when our Dutch sister churches are requesting this.
5. The RCN have clearly communicated to us that they would like communication of official concerns to be addressed directly to their synod, as is the intent for the official admonition.
6. We need to ensure that our concerns are clearly and carefully formulated in the form of a weighty document, making use of the expertise in our churches, and existing work done.
7. Other sister churches share these concerns and have decided to work in consultation with us. (See article 86 of Synod Burlington 2010: Consideration 3.10 “The fraternal delegates of the FRCA and the OPC at Synod Burlington-Ebenezer requested that our deputies work together with theirs in reaching out to the RCN.” Decision 4.4.5: “To work in consultation with the deputies of the FRCA and the OPC.”)
It is clear that these immigration churches which originate from the Reformed Churches (liberated) in the Netherlands are very concerned about them. That concern is not of recent date, but was raised already at quite a number of their synods. It is also clear that in this matter the FRCA do not stand alone. They share their objections to the developments in the GKv with Reformed Churches in South Africa (the VGKSA) and the Canadian Reformed Churches (CanRC).
From the latter we published just recently the reports stating their elaborately substantiated concerns. These churches also tried to engage in an in-depth conversation with our churches. But our BBK declined. They expect more from bilateral discussions. The reason is obvious.
Synod of Harderwijk also did not succeed in getting into a substantive in-depth discussion. The letter from the Canadian churches was accepted but not dealt with. It is easy to imagine that this has raised a degree of irritation with those who wrote it.
It is obvious that with time the Australian churches have adjusted to the negative and evasive manner of our deputies and synods. They have great difficulty with quite some facets of liberated church life, as is evident from their list of topics. It is these they want the GKv to deal with in-depth. But not only that. They have arrived at the stage of a public official admonition to our churches. An admonition at the level of: turn back, or better: repent!
That is what shall have to receive the undivided attention of the churches. There is no longer a way around it!
During the second half of April 2013 the text of the Australian admonition should be officially adopted in an extended session of Synod. Our BBK obviously did not want to wait for it, and thought it necessary to already fire a warning shot. They sent the Australian churches the following letter:
Zwolle, December 6th 2012
It has been some months now since we, representing the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands (Liberated) (RCN(L)) visited your Synod, this past July. We would like to thank you again for your openness and hospitality. We felt welcome, and we appreciated you giving us the opportunity of attending not only the plenary meetings, but also the various subcommittee meetings dealing with delicate and sensitive subjects. While we must say that we felt wrongly criticized at certain points, the open discussions during the subcommittee meetings helped us gain insight into your attempt to see a balanced way forward regarding the matters at hand. We sensed sincere intentions on both sides of the issues, seeking to achieve progress in dealing with the issues under discussion.
It was good to that that a number of other sister-churches were present at the Synod, and that they were willing to support you and be involved in the serious discussion of the relevant matters.
Obviously the step taken by your Synod to formulate an "admonition" to our church puts severe pressure on our relationship. For example, the issue of how we can celebrate the Lord's Supper together in the light of this admonition is now very relevant, but has not yet been addressed.
The decision to admonish us, and its connection to the subjects under discussion, moves us to ask the following question. Isn't it true that the issues at hand have led to an internal FRCA discussion, as well, about the matters which concern is expressed about? Shouldn't that discussion be allowed to follow its course at the level of your Synod before you come to admonish a sister-church? Further, are your churches sure that you are treating all your sister-churches in the same way as you are treating us? Could it be that the RCN(L) are being scrutinized more intensely because of the historical connections between our churches? Could it be that our churches have developed in a certain direction, somewhat different from yours, but not necessarily unreformed or unbiblical? We feel that the fact that we are very close to each other, historically, has led to a more intense relationship.
This has been often good and beneficial, but it makes our relationship one which is also more liable to irritations and critical reactions. The closer the relationship, the more difficult it is! Because of this, BBK would like to ask the FRCA to study closely the RCN(L)'s last General Synod's statements on the issues under discussion. We feel that our Synod has made careful decisions, based on Holy Scripture, but also in connection with the rapidly changing context in The Netherlands. We would appreciate more sensitivity to what can occur at the local church level in The Netherlands, some of it experimental, as being part of the sometimes unwise response to this emerging context. We would appreciate your careful appraisal of our developments in the light of this. We need to seek God's help in reaching wise responses to our new historical situation. We of the RCN(L) believe that your churches, as well, will be faced with similar challenges in your own, changing context.
It is important that the FRCA make use of good sources of information about our churches in order to make a proper judgment about our churches. We strongly recommend that the deputies of the FRCA should limit themselves, primarily, to the the RCN(L) General Synod's official decisions and documents relating to the subjects under discussion, making use of information about what has occurred in various local churches only as examples of incidents which can take place in a fast changing context—one that is apparently changing faster than that of Western Australia.
In the appendix to this letter, the recommendation of BBK are given, based on our visit to your Synod. We would appreciate your comments about them.
Finally, in your letter dated November 19th 2012 you stated that you would be sending us the admonition in full detail on March 1, 2013. We would appreciate receiving the letter with the admonition at an earlier date, so that we can ascertain its admissibility by our coming General Synod.
Yours in Christ,
- That the deputies BBK express their appreciation for their good reception at the FRCA Synod and the opportunity given to speak at plenary and committee sessions.
- That the deputies BBK ask the deputies of the FRCA to provide us as soon as possible with the basic content of their admonition, including the conclusions, and the grounds for them. Then it will be possible to help make the admonition admissible and able to be handled by the coming General Synod.
- That section 4 of BBK, being responsible for the contacts with the FRCA, not hesitate to see the analogy between this admonition from the FRCA and church discipline at the local church level.
- That the deputies BBK persist on insisting to the deputies of the FRCA that the latter focus on the official decisions and documents of the RCN(L)'s General Synod.
- That the deputies BBK persist in following how the FRCA press writes about our churches, independent of the issue of the admonition. Where necessary, the deputies BBK, by means of section 4, will signal to the deputies of the FRCA when it is felt that press remarks are not accurate or fair.
- That the deputies BBK communicate to the Australian deputies their thankfulness for our sister-church relationship, but also that we feel that the FRCA continuing its contacts with churches which have separated from us (calling us false churches in the process) is not in accord with the church order.
The letter on the website of BBK is not signed. But given its content and the Acts of the Australian synod it is probably a letter that was written by the deputies who last year visited the FRCA, namely the brothers J.H. de Jong, rev. P.K. Meijer en K. Wezeman. The attached recommendations would then be directed to BBK as a whole and in particular to section 4.
We consider this action of the deputies remarkable. What do they really want? The moment that was chosen to bring this press release and the letter out into the open raises suspicion of an attempt to somewhat neutralize the forthcoming Australian admonition. For isn’t it strange not to wait patiently for the letter of admonition? Especially since, apart from a few local minor deviations from General Synod’s line, 'there is really not much wrong', as deputies would have us believe. Why then is the alarm raised already now, before a single letter has been received?
In the Netherlands, efforts to play down the unfaithfulness of the churches have been going on already for years. Many serious objections are declared inadmissible, or formally dealt with. Under the new church rules, church members have almost no possibilities left to submit objections at synod level. Those who do not conform to the mainstream are ignored, sidelined.
Is that why the Australian churches are feared, now that they, with the support of churches on different continents, loudly and clearly make known their objections in a public admonition at ‘the highest level' of the Dutch churches? And now that it can become clear to everyone in the Dutch ecclesiastical world what are the real 'sins' in the GKv?
It seems to us that the action of these deputies is also unspiritual. They urge BBK not to hesitate in regarding the admonition as comparable with discipline in the local congregation (recommendation 3). But if that is correct, should the attitude not be one of receptiveness and humility? Then we must anyway, as churches together, listen sincerely to what the brotherhood has to say? And then consider it. And, if it is correct, take it to heart.
But what the deputies are now doing is setting terms and conditions to an admonition in preparation. Is that not just as unspiritual as a brother who, prior to receiving an admonition visit, writes to the office bearers what they are and are not allowed to say, and which source of information is and is not acceptable to him. Why this convulsive attitude? Why so hypersensitive to criticism from abroad on the developments in the GKv, like it was also noticeable during last year’s synod meetings? Is there fear for what will be raised in public?
Sources of Information
It seems that there is indeed quite some fear for what the concerned brothers and sisters are reading on some websites.
For the Australian criticism would "... often not be based on official documents or General Synodical decisions, but often also on personal experiences or on information from all kinds of (Dutch) websites, which write very critically about what is happening in the GKv. The deputies have asked the FRCA to change that approach. It is not fruitful to put all kinds of local issues under the magnifying glass, while one does not know what the church council, the classis or the Synod decided in the matter. “
This story is consistently being raised by BBK deputies when foreign churches voice fundamental criticism. And then not only at the address of the Australian churches, but equally at the Canadian and other sister-churches. We heard it at the Synod of Zwolle-Zuid, we heard it again at the synod of Harderwijk, and we know from personal contacts that this is always the song BBK strike up as soon as they are confronted with questions about the various deviations in the churches.
There are two websites operating within the GKv, gereformeerdekerkblijven.nl and this site, eeninwaarheid.info . Brothers in DGK  have a website werkenaaneenheid.nl which also gives a variety of relevant information about ecclesiastical developments and events. Everyone can see that the editors of these websites do their utmost to provide documented information. Reference is always made to the sources from which the information has been drawn, which everyone can verify. If there are errors, correction is made promptly. The websites honour that responsibility.
Let us speak for ourselves. We have attended a number of synods full time. In doing so we tried to report the discussions accurately, reproduce the decisions from concept to final version, and publish speeches either in full or in summary. Only once did we have to make a correction on request. And when there are important announcements in the press from congregations, classes and deputyships etc., we report these and mention the subject. Everyone can check whether we have been successful in that respect, for the source is always mentioned.
Of course, deputies who stand virtually uncritical behind the running of our churches will often not agree with our analyses and comments. That is OK.
However, to neutralise the submitted information by way of discarding their work is not very brotherly and rather weak. Is BBK afraid that the foreign churches are too much looking over their shoulders into the church kitchen, and that they themselves no longer have the control over information entirely in their own hands?
BBK suggest that the foreign churches are not accurately informed about the real situation in the GKv. They ought to focus solely and primarily on what has been officially dealt with and decided at synod level, and disregard whatever reaches them from other information channels.
This sounds reasonable. The churches in general are answerable for what they have jointly agreed on and stand for. All local disorderliness, let alone religious troublemakers should not determine its overall image. It is, for example, not right to write off our churches because of their 'true Church’ and 'church-ism’ history on the basis of a few extremist views of individual brothers. Which, by the way, is becoming an increasingly popular sport in ‘liberated’ circles.
The remarks of BBK are at the same time quite suggestive. Those who have read the reports of the delegates of, for example, the Canadian Churches, cannot but come to the conclusion that they did their work with great care. They base themselves exclusively on official documents and decisions, and offer their criticism and comments on them! There is, as we have experienced, no question of them having relied only on some ‘loose’ information. These churches know what they are talking about. It is only to be applauded that they orientate themselves widely, and did not want to limit themselves to whatever information BBK was pleased to offer. We expect that the Australian churches will show to be not less well and officially informed.
Doctrine and conduct
There is still something else. For, although it is certainly important for the official direction of the churches to check carefully what the churches decided 'with the most votes, and which is to be considered settled and binding’, the issue does indeed regard doctrine and conduct. Whatever is being stated officially in beautiful decisions, streamlined right down to full-stops and commas, should also be in harmony with what the churches are actually doing. And that’s exactly where there are many difficulties that cause much unrest in our churches.
For the difference between what the churches formally decide at the 'major’ level and life on the church floor is growing. In synod meetings of recent years one could hear and see that ‘ordinary’ church members are virtually no longer interested in these ecclesiastical meetings. "It is dead", someone says. "Just let them go”, says another. Local churches with their councils go their own way. It can happen that a minister on a home visit crudely observes that he has nothing to do with the provisions of Amersfoort-Centrum with respect to admission to Holy Supper. In our churches you can easily get involved in a situation of a completely open Lord’s Supper  to mention just one example.
The press release of BBK recognizes "that at times there is reason for concern about (local) developments within the churches. It happens that in practice things are done contrary to the decisions of the bond of churches.” We are happy that BBK’s are opening to this. But is it only a matter of incidents?
Those who have followed the discussions on the new Church Order at the Synod of Harderwijk see a certain trend. There is an acknowledgement of growing independentism. Several eloquent delegates stated that Synod should not prescribe but follow. The most important task of the major assembly is to facilitate and support the developments in the churches. Compare, for example, the adjustment of the Church Order on the point of the Sunday worship services: as a rule there shall be two church services, according to the ‘Werkorde’. Not a convincing justification from Scripture was decisive here, but the desired practice in some congregations. In the meantime we notice a growing custom of attending only one church service.
A synod should rightly anticipate new issues that arise. Rigid conservatism leads to spiritual death. But the point at issue is whether we form a church community in which we together agree on certain rules and also maintain them, or that the bond of churches means little more than an association of a number of autonomously operating ‘free’ congregations, who set their own course and, if necessary or desirable (can) still call on (financial) assistance from the federation. Anyone desiring to have an example: look at GKv Amsterdam and surroundings.
Perhaps the fundamental problem here is the maintenance of ecclesiastical discipline. Postmodern feelings allow everyone to nurse their own variety of doctrine and conduct. This conflicts with mutual admonition and correction, not to mention ecclesiastical disciplinary measures. That spirit of the age seems to have penetrated also our ‘liberated’ church life. Could that also be causing the problem with an official admonition from Australia? And the near-saturation of deputies’ letter with ‘look at yourself’?
Should we look only at synod decisions and reports? In the current ecclesiastical situation (by the way: when not?) very much will escape our attention. Then you're missing an important part of the view on actual church life and the real direction of the churches. For that reason we counsel the foreign churches to continue taking note of what is on offer apart from the official information channels.
It's a strange world. The Australian churches decided to admonish the GKv. Deputies in turn now place them under supervision. They want BBK to critically observe the press in Australia and sound the alarm when remarks are not accurate or fair.
Well of course there is nothing against that. It helps to increase the reliability of information and preserves good relations. Thus far we get very few reports that our information 'is not accurate and fair', which must lead to the conclusion that there is little or nothing wrong with it and we therefore are also a good source of information for the rest of the world … Or would the foreign press be subjected to more rigorous probing and the Dutch websites criticised only behind closed doors as we have felt on occasion.
There is yet another point at which the FRCA is being 'admonished' from the Netherlands. The Australian brotherhood is counseled to no longer "continue contacts with churches who have separated themselves from us (and who call us false churches in the making)". It is "not in accordance with the Church Order", say deputies.
You rub your eyes when reading this. In the liberal climate that prevails in the GKv, where in reality everything is possible in the field of ecclesiastical contacts and religious coexistence, the decree is issued to have no contact with separated brothers!
Just this week it was in the news that Deputies for Church Unity decided to accept a request to have a discussion with the Protestantse Kerk Nederland (PKN). Note well, a church community consisting of reformed and liberal people, believers and atheists. And there is widespread contact and growing cooperation with the Council of Churches in various places. A Council that is made up of absolutely everything that presents itself as church. Also growing are the contacts with the Roman Catholic Church. Full of enthusiasm, preparations are being made for the next National Synod, fired up by the ‘liberated’ professor dr. B. Kamphuis.
But when the churches in Australia talk to the brothers who have only recently separated themselves, and who truly are and want to remain Reformed, then it is: shame on you! Yes, and the main reason is that they say that the GKv are ‘false churches in the making.’
Well, it is true, isn’t it? That qualification is correct, isn’t it? For a good while now this website has posited that the Reformed Churches (liberated) in the Netherlands no longer in all respects satisfy the marks of the church as we confess them in the Belgic Confession of Faith. This has been demonstrated with many arguments. The GKv is indeed on its way to a false, i.e. no more legitimate Church of Christ. A church in which you and your children no longer are edified and no longer are safe.
Up till now no one in our churches has admonished us about this, let alone applied discipline . Holy Supper is open for us as for any other church member.
Why then condemn the brothers in distant Australia?
We can imagine that ‘liberated’ deputies do not simply enjoy crossing paths with separated brothers at the synod in far away Australia. It could at times create quite some tension, especially when it concerns the developments in the churches. But it won’t do to just decide from the Netherlands who is welcome in Australia? If this concerned liberal people one could understand, but these are soundly reformed brothers.
We look forward to the admonition from the Australian churches. They stand outside of the circle of influence from our churches. Strange eyes that probably observe with greater clarity than we ourselves are capable of. Just let them in all Christian honesty, along with the other foreign churches, send us their fraternal admonition. We are not afraid that their concerns and objections stem from their somewhat 'underdeveloped' spot on earth which has not yet fallen into the grip of the bustling life here in the Netherlands . Perhaps they are just in the right position to discern clearly what matters. And they can show us how far the decay in the reformed churches has progressed. In the interests of the well-being and blessing of the churches and their unity.
Appendix A – Press statement in Nederlands Dagblad
Author: editorial church and religion
Liberated-reformed deputies for Relations with Foreign Churches want the Australian sister churches to deal differently with their criticism of the Dutch situation.
This is what they write in yesterday’s press release, in response to the news that the Free Reformed Churches of Australia (FRCA) have appointed a committee which during the coming months has to draw up an official admonition. This exhortation is addressed to the next synod of the reformed churches (liberated) in 2014. That the Australian churches – formed during the 1950s by ‘liberated’ emigrants – took up this plan, was already known.
The Dutch deputies note that the Australian criticism ‘often is not based on official documents or General Synodical decisions, but often also on personal experiences or on information from all kinds of (Dutch) websites, which write very critically about what is happening within the GKv.’ According to them it is ‘not fruitful to put all kinds of local issues under the magnifying glass, while one does not know what the church council, the classis or the Synod decided in the matter.’
Deputies agree that there is at times reason for concern about developments ‘but a foreign sister-church should adopt a reserved position until the Synod has taken a decision.’
Also then there will be plenty to talk about, they write.
The concerns of the Australian sister-churches have for many years already been in discussion and touch on such themes as Bible explanation, ethics, the doctrine of the Church and sacraments. As far as deputies are concerned, the churches can continue in conversation about the available choices. For that purpose the decisions of synod remain the starting point.
 bbk.gkv.nl; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
 Its text has been included on following pages
 I seem to remember that the plan was to convene the Conference this spring. Is 2014 really not much too late? In the beginning of that year the next GKv Synod (in Ede) would have started already. Any conclusions and actions will then (again) not be possible because synod’s incoming mail will have closed. So, why not sooner?
 Acts of the 2012 Synod and Reports to the 2012 Synod of the
Free Reformed Churches of Australia, Armadale, Western Australia, 9 – 20 July 2012.
 There were several (not publicly accessible) meetings outside of the synod meetings, including with the TUK. But that is ‘offline’. Objections to doctrine and conduct of the churches should be dealt with in Synod meetings.
 Previously gereformeerdblijven.nl or eeninwaarheid.nl
 DGK stands for De Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland
 For clarification: where there is no official check on whether the participants are entitled to join in the celebration.
 Deputies’ text reads: "calling us false churches in the process".
 We do not enter into a discussion here about the question whether that is right or wrong. That is not the issue at the moment.
 The situation in the Netherlands is, according to deputies, in “... a fast-changing context – one that is apparently changing faster than that of Western Australia.”