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Delegates from merging churches select moderamen of first PKN synod

Opposition to union in NHK underestimated

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

WAGENINGEN / UTRECHT, the Netherlands - The emerging united Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN) has convened its first synod. Delegates voted Rev. J.G. Heetderks of Oosterhout, North Brabant who also chaired the last synod of the GKNs as preses. Elected vice chair were Rev. G. de Fijter of Kampen and Rev. I. Fritz of Amsterdam. Dr. B. Plaisier continues as Secretary General, a role he also had in the NHK and the pre-merger joint synod Samen-op-Weg (SoW). Other members of the new synod’s moderamen are elders J. Van Heijst, H.H. de Haan-Verduyn and H. Hoogenhout. Three each belong to the merging Gereformeerde Kerken in Ne-derland (GKNs) and the Nederlands Hervormde Kerk (NHK), one to the Evangelisch Lutherse Kerk (ELK).

As the new synod was instituted, the separate, closing synods of the GKNs and the NHK wrapped up remaining issues regarding the church union. Particularly in the NHK, opposition now is acknowledged to be far more divisive than the leadership had expected. Passionate pleas from the orthodox wing in the NHK (the constituency generally identified as the Gereformeerde Bond, Reformed Alliance) over pastoral concerns for division in congregations and families were all but dismissed. The last-minute concessions were deemed as in-sufficient.

Many of the congregations which have decided against joining the merger, are seeking a judicial declaration that they have the right to make such a decision. NHK’s synod portends it is their jurisdiction to decide such matters for the entire denomination. Inherant in that question are the rights to property and other assets, do they belong to the denomination or the local congregation? Over a century ago, following the dr. A. Kuyper-led Doleantie (1886) the courts ruled in favour of the NHK. The denomination adopted a new church order (constitution) in 1951 which has not yet been tested on this particular question.


Meanwhile, the union-opposing NHK consistories have joined a convent, a temporary council which is organizing emergency classes. These classes are expected to call for a emergency synod in May.

The issues for the union-opposing churches in the GKNs are markedly different. Following the Doleantie, when seceding churches eventually lost all their property and assets to the NHK, the churches since then guarded their independent status through a federative model which defines classis and synods as broader assemblies instead of higher ones. Consistories, which hold the highest authority in the GKNs, can withdraw from the federation without any penalty which one congregation did in 2003.

GKNs consistories also obtained the right to withdraw from the PKN for a predetermined period which for some may remove the pressure for an immediate decision. Although PKN sceptics in the GKNs seem to focus on the independency issue, their organization, the confessional council, over the years has opposed modernist views but failed to stop them. The union opponents are still awaiting the outcome of their final appeals which have been submitted for a ruling to a committee.