Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated)

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Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated)
Classification Protestant
Orientation Orthodox Reformed (Neo-Calvinist)
Polity presbyterian
Associations International Conference of Reformed Churches
Origin 1944
Separated from Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (now part of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands)
Separations 1967 Netherlands Reformed Churches; 2003 New Reformed Churches
Congregations 270[1]
Members 120,000[2] members
Ministers 288 [3]
Schildwolde Reformed Church
Katwijk Reformed Church (Liberated)

The Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated) (Dutch: Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (vrijgemaakt)) are an orthodox Reformed, Protestant federation of churches. This church body arose in 1944 out of the so-called Liberation (Vrijmaking), when many pastors and members refused to go along with the General Synod's demand to hold to "presumed regeneration of infants" at their baptism. Prof. Dr. Klaas Schilder played an important role in the Liberation. There are currently 270 affiliated local congregations with a total of about 120,000 members in 2016.


After the Liberation the church maintained that they were the legitimate continuation of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands and thus adopted that name (Dutch Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland). However, because the denomination from which they had separated continued using that name, the addition "liberated" was used colloquially, although never officially, to distinguish the new denomination. Members of the Liberated church referred to the denomination from which they separated as the synodical church, which signified the remaining members' adherence to the rulings by the National Synod against which the Liberated churches protested. An older name for the Reformed Churches (Liberated) was Article 31 Churches in reference to one of the articles in the Church Order at the centre of the dispute between the two groups.[4]

Organisation and government

The Reformed Churches (Liberated) have a structure which combines congregational and presbyterian polity, with strong emphasis on the authority vested in each congregation. Local congregations are ruled by a church council or consistory, made up of the pastor(s) and the elders. The church council rules and organises the congregation. Most meetings of the church council are open to the members, except when matters of church discipline are discussed. All congregations also have a number of deacons who assist the church council with more practical matters. Elders and deacons are elected for limited terms.

Nationwide the Reformed Churches (Liberated) are organised as follows. [5] A group of local congregations are organised in a classis. There are currently 31 classes in the denomination.[6] Decisions by the local church council can be appealed to classis. A number of classes are grouped together in a regional synod (Dutch particuliere synode). The highest body is the national or general synod, which convenes every three years. [7]

Doctrine and practice

The Reformed Churches (Liberated) are an orthodox (Neo-)Calvinist Protestant denomination. They subscribe to the infallibity of the Bible, to the Nicene Creed, the Apostles' Creed, the Athanasian Creed and the Three Forms of Unity (the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dort).[8]

As Calvinists, the Reformed Churches (Liberated) practise infant baptism for the children of believers (as well as adult baptism for adult converts). Children are taught the tenets of the faith and encouraged to publicly profess their faith (usually in late teens), by which they become professing (and voting) members of the church. The Lord's Supper is typically "closed", meaning that only professing members are permitted to participate, although many congregations will allow guests to participate if prior notice (through the use of so-called communion letters [avondmaalsbriefjes]) or satisfactory proof of a living faith is given. Children who have not professed their faith are excluded from participation in the Lord's Supper.

The Reformed Churches (Liberated) are conservative in doctrine and practice. They do not allow women to hold special offices (elders, deacons, pastors), but in the 1990s they did approve women voting in church elections. They reject so-called "Higher Criticism" of the Bible. Liturgically, they favour the use of the Genevan Psalter in their worship services, although in the last decade a number of classical hymns has also been approved for use in the worship service. In recent years evangelical influences have become stronger (e.g. a more contemporary style of the worship, including new songs and hymns and the use of a praise band). A minority of the members and ministers are questioning some traditional doctrines, and are asking for a different approach on issues like the ordination of women, homosexual relationships, etc. A large middle group, however, wants to hold on to classical Calvinism.[9]


The Reformed Churches (Liberated) came out of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. By the early 20th century, disputes were starting to arise within this denomination, especially about Abraham Kuyper's view of the covenant. These came to a head during World War II, when the general synod ruled in favour of Kuyper's view that essentially questioned the inclusion of children of believers into the covenant. A number of theologians and pastors disagreed with this ruling, arguing that it contradicted the plain facts of Scripture, and attempted to appeal the decision. The general synod enforced this view strictly, demanding among others that new licentiates (recent graduates from the theological seminary seeking a call) subscribe to the Kuyperian view. The protesters also objected that the general synod was abusing its authority by remaining functional for longer than the three years allowed under the rules of the Church Order. In 1944, when a number of protesting pastors and theologians were defrocked by the general synod, a large number of local congregations separated from the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, led by Prof. Dr. Klaas Schilder among others, to form their own denomination, an event referred to as the Liberation (Vrijmaking). No serious attempts at reconciliation were ever made by either side.

Liberated church in Hoek, Zeeland.

The first decades after the Liberation were marked by a considerable inward turn. The Reformed Churches (Liberated) shunned outside contacts. They formed their own cultural, societal and political organisations. In these early years, there was a powerful radical wing that supported the view that the Liberated churches were the "only true Church" in the Netherlands. This view led in part to the schism of 1967, when a group that formed the Netherlands Reformed Churches broke away. The "only true Church" movement soon waned in influence, though it remained in existence until the start of the 21st century. By the 1990s, serious attempts to connect with like-minded orthodox churches were being made. Currently there are close contacts with the Christian Reformed Churches and the Netherlands Reformed Churches, at the local level even including a few complete mergers and many close collaborations.

In 2003, a small number of members separated from the Reformed Churches (Liberated) to form the New Reformed Churches out of protest against recent rulings by the general synod. This schism was instigated largely by the Reformanda movement, a continuing element of the radical wing of the church, which still held to the "only true church" view. This movement objected to what it saw as liberalising tendencies within the denomination, in particular to the introduction of hymns (Reformanda approves only the Psalter) and the synod's decisions regarding the Fourth Commandment (keeping of the Sabbath) and remarriage after divorce. Reformanda alleged that in these areas the Liberated churches were violating Scripture and the movement urged local congregations to refuse to confirm the synod's Acts. Only a few congregations followed this call. The objectors decided to secede.

Until 2004, the Reformed Churches (Liberated) enjoyed slow but steady growth. However, in the years since, the denomination has seen a reversal. In 2004, nearly 800 members left, in 2005, the church lost 340 members. Most departing members of 2007 joined the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, while many left for the Netherlands Reformed Churches, the Christian Reformed Churches and evangelical churches.[10]

In 2015 there were 120,688 members in 277 congregations.[11]

Societal organisations

After the Liberation, a number of church-related political and cultural institutions were founded. The daily newspaper Nederlands Dagblad originated within the Reformed Churches (Liberated) and, although it now serves a wider Christian and Reformed audience, still has strong ties to the denomination.

A political party, the Gereformeerd Politiek Verbond (GPV) was organised as well. Traditionally, this party was always a small conservative party with roughly 2 out of 150 seats in the House of Representatives. In the 1980s and 1990s, the party became more progressive. This party often collaborated with the RPF and the SGP, two similar political parties of comparable size, organised by other orthodox Reformed denominations. In 2001, GPV merged with RPF to form the ChristenUnie. In the 2006 elections this party gained 6 seats in parliament as well as a pivotal role in the resulting coalition government. Former GPV politician Eimert van Middelkoop became Minister of Defence.

Educational institutes

The church runs 129 schools: 124 elementary schools, four comprehensive high schools, and one college.[12] These private schools enjoy special protection by Royal Decree, which means that they cannot be forced to accept pupils from backgrounds that are incompatible with their Reformed views. Partly as a result of this Royal Decree, they can only employ staff who are members of the Reformed Churches (Liberated), although they will enroll pupils from families willing to comply with the Reformed doctrines.

It has a theological institute in Kampen, the Theological University of the Reformed Churches.[13] It offers the Bachelor of Theology,[14] the Master of Divinity.[15]

International relations

The Reformed Churches (Liberated) are a member of the International Conference of Reformed Churches.[16] They maintain strong relations with many foreign Reformed and Presbyterian churches, and sister church relations exist with dozens of churches around the world.[17] Their relationships with the Canadian Reformed Churches and Free Reformed Churches of Australia have been particularly strong in the past, seeing as these federations were founded shortly after World War II by Dutch immigrants who had come out of the Liberation. However, in 2012 the FRCA expressed concern at what they perceived to be a "liberal way of interpreting Scripture" present in the RCN, and in June 2015 decided to suspend the sister-church relationship.[18] The Canadian Reformed Churches decided at Synod Dunnville 2016 that accepting RCN attestations and allowing RCN ministers on the pulpit would no longer be automatic.[19]

The Liberated Churches are very active on the mission field and collaborate closely with other Reformed and Presbyterian churches.

See also


Further reading

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