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Wide support anticipated for ratification in three church groups

Dutch church union process nearing completion

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

UTRECHT - The union process between three groups of churches is nearing its end. On December 12, the synods of the mainline Netherlands Reformed Church (NHK), the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKNs) and the Evangelical-Lutheran Church (ELK) plan to meet separately for the final ratification vote. In anticipation of approval of the final vote, a special thanksgiving church service already has been scheduled.

The tension over the outcome of the ratification sessions of the synods was removed when unofficial surveys in each group confirmed that support for the union was holding beyond the required basic levels. Opposition to the union has long been the most vocal in the NHK but the survey suggests that the required two-thirds majority easily will be met. In the NHK with 75 classes (regional groups of congregations), 58 approved the union, four were neither for or against while thirteen oppose it.

An advisory committee has concluded that most opposition arose over wording of the new church order. This constitution identifies the confessions the new Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN) plans to uphold. Because the PKN subscribes to additional confessions to accommodate the small lutheran group, opponents of the union have suggested that these documents conflict on a number of basic points with NHKs Reformed confessions, the Canons of Dort, the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism. There seems to be general agreement that the PKN will be a pluralistic denomination which the NHK only was in practise. Many of the NHKs orthodox and confessionally Reformed office bearers have warned against changing the confessional basis of the church.

The level of support in the GKNs long has been the greatest although over the past two years doubt has risen about the legal ramifications for the local churches within the future Protestant Church in the Netherlands. GKNs churches have the legal right to secede with property from the federation which they forego after a grace period in the PKN. However, once part of the PKN there are certain conditions on a secession before the end of the grace period. The same opponents also largely object to a plural church. Nearly 520 of the GKNs 862 churches approved the union, 49 declared themselves against, another 40 gave a conditional response, 10 were unclear while the others failed to indicate their choice.

The support level among ELK churches is nearly 70 procent.

Particularly office bearers in the NHK in recent months have expressed frustration and sorrow over the prospect of splits over the union in their congregations.