Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Welcome to the Netherlands Reformed Church. Got Assurance?

How do you know if you are a Christian? For the Arminian folks, it boils down to the question, how do you know if you really and truly accepted Christ as your personal Lord and savior? The Reformed though have to grapple with whether or not Christ has died for someone particularly. That is, how do you know if you’re actually one of elect?

Over the past few years I've engaged people in conversation about the assurance of salvation. In my own circle, it's because I've come into contact with people from the Netherlands Reformed Church, as well as people who've come into contact with people from the Netherlands Reformed Church. The NRC is a small denomination (one website claims there are only 26 congregations in North America), yet in my area, if you're Reformed, chances are you've come into contact with these folks.

Trying to track down online information specific to this group can be a little tricky. If you rely on the such things like Wikipedia (shame on you!) you could easily be confused by the entries on Netherlands Reformed Churches and Netherlands Reformed Congregations. The former claims of these churches, "Some are very traditional; others are more heavily influenced by contemporary evangelical practices, having replaced traditional Dutch organ music with praise bands. Also, the synod of the Netherlands Reformed Churches have recently allowed women to serve as deacons, elders and pastors, although most local churches don't allow this." The later entry says, "Most of the member churches have services two or three times per Sunday.... During worship the congregation remains silent and respectful. Women wear headcoverings in accordance with 1 Corinthians 11." My comments here are in regard to the later described Dutch churches. I can assure you, the NRC I'm describing wants nothing to do with praise bands or allowing women to serve in church leadership.

In what follows below I'm going to state upfront that I don't really have anything positive to say about the NRC other than this: her members appear to be very hard-working honest (predominantly) Dutch people that show an outward respect for the Christian faith.

First Encounters With the NRC
I first came into contact with NRC kids back in high school. There were two large NRC families in my town. Both were involved with farming and agriculture, Where I live, this is like putting Little House on the Prairie in an area headed towards Hill Street Blues. Some of the NRC families were in my area when it still had farming and agriculture, so their businesses have been around a long time, as relics from a previous era.

In school, the NRC kids were typically like everyone else. There was nothing noticeably different about them except for one thing: they didn't watch TV (nor did their families admit to owning TVs). So, if they were to come over your house, chances are, they would be glued to your TV. Nowadays, the NRC kids in my area do not have to exclusively attend public school because they've built their own private NRC school. They also have smart phones and computers to bypass the TV restrictions if they so chose.

One of my first jobs as a teenager was stocking shelves in a large fabric shop. I was warned by the kid vacating the job to be careful around the manager, a "religious" woman named Priscilla, especially in regard to language. For instance, I learned that saying something like  "jeez" or "gee wiz" was a blasphemous way of saying "Jesus Christ." The woman was one of the meanest people I recall interacting with as a kid. There was never a smile, and however I did the job, it was never good enough. When she found out I was from a Christian family, it didn't make a dent. This woman was from the NRC.  

Another thing I recall about the NRC folks was that they were strict sabbatarians. My mother used to do weekend arts and crafts shows with an NRC woman, and like Chariots of Fire, this woman would never do a show on a Sunday. From my teenage perspective, these Dutch folks were strict and little weird, but other than that, I never gave them much thought.

Fast forward a number of years later to when as an adult I joined a Reformed church. Like many people with convert-zeal, I was ready to slay anything that even remotely smelled like Arminian or Roman Catholic theology. There was a "getting to know you" church luncheon I attended. In conversation with one of the long-time church members, she explained she did not take communion. Startled, I asked her if the church had strict closed communion practices.  It didn't. As we went back and forth, I explained how the Reformers went to war with Rome so people could take both the bread and the cup. Now here was an old Reformed woman who told me she took neither. Turns out, she was an NRC refugee. Even though she had left the denomination, she still had not escaped from the theology of the denomination. She had been raised with the notion that communion was taken only when one had assurance of salvation, otherwise one is partaking in an unworthy and damning manner. This woman did not have assurance of salvation, even after being in a Christian church her entire life.

The NRC Sunday Service
Fast forward again to last summer. After some badgering from a friend, I actually attended an NRC Sunday morning service. I sat in one of the first pew rows up front, which was a mistake (I did not pick the seat). It was unfortunate I ended up so close to the front because part of the experience of visiting a church is seeing how the people respond to the liturgy. Are they sleeping? Are they on the edge of the pew waiting for God? I've been told by a few ex-NRC folks that many of the people attending the services are mentally checked out. Perhaps they are, I don't know. The people around me didn't really display any noticeable emotions. Even their young children did not make a sound during the entire service. I didn't see anyone carry a Bible into the church (I brought mine).

The people attending were dressed sharply, with the women all putting on what only can be described as a hat fashion show. I had not realized how fashionable and different women's hat-wear could be. I was informed by my friend that a shirt and tie was fine, suit jacket not required. Yes, it turned out I was one of the only people not wearing a suit jacket. So there I was, without a suit jacket, carrying a Bible. I might as well have worn a Led Zeppelin t-shirt carrying a Hello Kitty lunchbox.

You walk into a completely quiet church. No one made a sound, not even in the foyer.  When the service starts, the elders and minster walk out from a side door at the front. All the elders stand in the front row while the minister approaches the pulpit, gets on his knees, and begins praying. The elders appear to be praying as well, and one by one they sit down, and the minster steps up into the pulpit. This sort of respect for a church service can either be positive or negative depending on your perspective. For those who see it as a positive, it's refreshing to see the leaders of a church praying (apparently for the service). On the other hand, for those who see it as a negative, such behavior could show a spiritual elitism. In other words, the men in charge of the church have assurance of salvation and have had their prayers heard by God- unlike you, the sinner in the pew, who hasn't really repented of sin and achieved assurance of salvation.

The minster went into the pulpit and leads the services, hymns and prayers. Then he read from the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 2:

Q. 3.Whence knowest thou thy misery?
A.Out of the law of God.

Q. 4. What does the law of God require of us?
A. Christ teaches us that briefly, Matt. 22:37-40, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and the great commandment; and the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Q. 5.Canst thou keep all these things perfectly?
A.In no wise; for I am prone by nature to hate God and my neighbor.

I thought that this reading of the Catechism was simply a part of the liturgy. Yes it was, but I had not realized it was the entrance into the sermon. It turns out that every week the sermon begins with a reading of something from the Heidelberg Catechism, and then for the next hour, the Catechism reading is expounded on.  That's the sermon. The context for the sermon is the Catechism, not a passage of Scripture.  For the next hour, the minster expounded on the depravity of man, rarely mentioning Jesus, rarely mentioning even a Bible verse. I saw no one around me crack open a Bible or even the Heidelberg Catechism. In fairness to the congregation, there really wasn't a need to. Bible chapters were not be expounded upon, nor were verses being pastorally exegeted.

The point made over and over again in this Catechism sermon was how depraved we all were, and how now is the time to cry out for God's mercy. If I were to just type my previous sentence one hundred times, that was the sermon in essence. At one point, my mind began wandering and I started looking up at the lights above me. The minister said something like, "This message is making some of you uncomfortable, and you're looking around." Yep, he caught me. I was uncomfortable for sure, but it was the discomfort of getting the point and being a bit bored.

NRC and Church Membership
After the service,  everyone leaves as quietly as they came in. No one approached us as visitors as we were leaving. Certainly the whole "seeker-sensitive" movement can go overboard, but these folks took it in an entirely different direction. It turns out that simply visiting from another church isn't necessarily a good thing. As I understand it, the NRC folks are not to visit other churches while a member of the NRC. So by extension, that I was a member of another church and I was simply visiting shows that neither me nor my church was as serious as the NRC.  On the one hand, one can't help but have some respect for people that take church membership so seriously. On the other hand, they appear to take it too far. While I'm not sure of the pedigree of the following information from this ex-NRC member, he states interestingly:
The practical implications of this vow are immense. If one makes a public Confession of Faith it means that they can never become a member of another church or denomination for the rest of their life. Even if a stronger, healthier church in your area existed that better fulfilled the spiritual needs of you and your family, it would not matter. In order to fulfill the vow that you made before God you are bound before Him to remain within the NRC fold. Furthermore, a single person desiring to get married either must find another person within the church who also has said the vow or someone outside the church who is also willing to make the vow. If there is no agreement in this area then the relationship must end no matter how compatible the two individuals are.   
And also:
After dialoging extensively with one NRC pastor about the vow, he shared one very revealing comment that shed a great deal of light on the issue. One of the reasons why the vow is necessary, he said, is that “People change churches as often as they change clothes.” I fully agree with this pastor that ‘church hopping’ - moving from church to church often for superficial reasons - is a lamentable characteristic of our day. The lack of commitment and devotion to one church body and a fetish for unbiblical elements in a church (coffee bars, entertainment of various sorts, etc.) often drives people from church to church seeking the latest thrill. This must break the heart of all who know and love God’s Word. The purpose of the Confession of Faith vow, according to this pastor, is to help instill a degree of devotion to the NRC church family as well as a measure of spiritual life.
Given my interactions with the NRC and her former members, I wouldn't be surprised that these statements are true. I know one former NRC person who married an Italian woman, but as I recall, she began to attend the NRC before they were married. The bottom line for me is that I respect their desire to have people committed to their church membership, but it goes a bit too far for me. The NRC gives off the impression of claiming to be the real church while other congregations simply pretend to be real churches.  

The NRC and Assurance
So with that background of personal experience, let me try to explain what I think is going on. These folks do exhibit outward piety and reverence for God. They appear to be very concerned about the holiness of God and the sinfulness of sin. Kudos to that.. in theory.

In order to have assurance of salvation, their lives have to display holiness (so as to be evaluated by the church leadership) and they also have to have an inward testimony of God's Spirit assuring them of their salvation. If one of these is missing, you're not entitled to assurance of salvation. From a website I quoted previously, an ex-NRC member explains two characteristics of "true" NRC conversions:
Experiential Calvinism - This phenomena can also be described as “experimental religion”, “experimental faith”, or “experimental divinity”. All refer to the same thing and have a long history in Reformation theology. In a nutshell, these terms point to the importance of feelings and emotions in a genuine expression of faith in God. One author describes it as “examining or testing (from experiri) experienced knowledge by the touchtone of Scripture…” Counterfeit faith, on the other hand, either leaves emotions out (intellect only), or, if emotions are present, bases them upon false knowledge. The NRC views itself as one few remaining denominations preserving this essential truth handed down from the Reformation. 
Presumptive Regeneration - This is closely related to experiential faith. This phenomena refers to the danger of falsely assuming that one is saved when in fact they are not. The NRC is deeply grieved over the superficial nature of contemporary evangelicalism that so often has a false peace and joy growing out of a low view of sin and salvation. Many, according to Alexander Comrie, become Christians “with a skip and a jump” often resulting in multitudes of unconverted people joining the church. Dr. Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) is widely considered to be a leading figure introducing presumptive regeneration into the Dutch Reformed church. His view of salvation was related to his view of infant baptism. “[Kuyper] taught that God can and often does regenerate his elect as infants” and that “covenant parents are to presume that their covenant children are regenerate until they give prolonged and conscious evidence in their mature years that they are unregenerate.” Unfortunately, this leads many into a false sense of assurance regarding their salvation.
What some will probably consider mean-spirited, I refer to this sort of conversion description as a cosmic meatball experience. That is, one necessarily has to be hit with some sort of supernatural experience that produces an immediate feeling. Who determines if the experience and feelings are true? Why, I assume it's the leadership of the NRC. The thing is, for all their emphasis on the sinfulness of sin, the NRC cosmic meatball paradigm is fraught with practical problems, particularly for someone who really takes the sinfulness of sin seriously. That person realizes that even their best efforts are tainted with sin, that all their experiences are tainted with sin. This person can scrutinize in a such a way that the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man is a chasm that can never be crossed and every experience doubted. Sin is so insidious. Even for such people that continually scrutinize themselves, this itself can become sinful. Louis Berkhoff stated long ago,
There are always large numbers of serious seekers after assurance in our churches, who are tossed to and fro by doubts and uncertainties. Some of them appear to be chronic doubters, who occasionally create the impression that they take a secret delight in their doubts and regard them as a mark of special piety. [Berkhoff, L. The Assurance of Faith (Grand Rapids: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1939, Electronic edition].
 Second, the cosmic meatball paradigm sets up the same sort of problem that Pentecostals have in regard to plain ol' regular Christians and "Spirit-filled" superior Christians. In those circles, there are the elite Christians speaking in tongues and prophesying, and then there are the regular Spirit-less folks praying to have the same sort of experience. Now, the Spirit-less folks are doing what? Coveting to be Spirit-filled like the "real Christians." Similarly with the NRC paradigm, spiritual elitism has to necessarily follow. There must be some people who wish they could be a Christian like the person hit by the cosmic meatball experience. In other words, the very paradigm being used leads to a sinful elitist spirituality. I would say it probably produces jealousy (or even anger) in the have nots, and pride in the haves.

The problem with outward displays of works and holiness as a determiner for NRC assurance also has some problems. Certainly, there is a balanced way in which Christians behave and act a particular way that is to be expected from someone wishing to have their life conformed to the image of Christ. On the other hand, if I scrutinize my best works, guess what I can find? Sin, and lots of it.

Possible Answers on Assurance
As far as I understand my own Reformed heritage, there have been tendencies to see works as the assurance of faith. I've sat though sermons that are more law than Gospel, sometimes thinking, where is the Gospel? Is the Gospel just... try harder? On the other hand, the last thing I want is blatant antinomianism. Balance, balance, balance: An easy word to say, but not always an easy ideal to achieve.  I'm a simple guy at church: I need to be convicted of sin, comforted by the Gospel, and admonished to be daily conformed to the image of Christ. If any of these three aspects is missing, balance, for me at least, has not been achieved.

Obviously the entire thrust of this blog entry is that the NRC is off-balance. In dialog with ex-NRC members or those struggling with assurance, here's the basic answer I give. If someone is looking inward at themselves and outward at themselves, well, I think a truly honest look will lead to despair and lack of assurance of salvation. This may get me in trouble with some of my Reformed brethren, but if there's anything I've concluded from my Luther studies, it is that assurance of salvation primarily comes by looking outward toward Jesus Christ. When I look inward, I see my best efforts tainted by sin. When I look outward, I see my best efforts tainted by sin. When I look outward towards a perfect righteousness that is not my own, I find comfort in the cross and the righteousness of Christ, producing an inward experience of assurance that however it is I feel, or whatever it is I've done, the promises are those coming from God. In my worst moments of unbelief (and yes, I have them), I pray simply to be covered in Christ's righteousness because therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.  I say the Westminster Larger Catechism is entirely correct when it says of assurance that it "may have it weakened and intermitted, through manifold distempers, sins, temptations, and desertions; yet are they never left without such a presence and support of the Spirit of God as keeps them from sinking into utter despair."  In my moments of "utter despair" I remind myself that I am covered in a righteousness that's not mine, and I hold God to his word: What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God- through Jesus Christ our Lord!  


Wendy Vlietstra said...

As an ex-NRC person, you hit the nail on the head with this article. Doubt is a badge of honor. No self-respecting "communicant member" even really will say they have assurance of their salvation. My Grandmother, for example, has taken communion for years in the NRC. But, she will say, "Sometimes I wonder if it really is right with me!" They can't even say "saved." For instance, one of the NRC preachers (Peter Bazen, I refuse to call ANY man Reverend) was telling a story of speaking to a lady (probably during the dreaded house visitation), "How is it with you?" The lady said I believe I am a little one in grace. The preacher then went on to berate her that she WAS NOT a little one in grace, because a little one in grace would say "I'm such a sinner, I'm going straight to hell." He was all proud that he set her straight!! I believe God has many children in NRC congregations, but they don't understand or even acknowledge their salvation, because they are afraid of being berated by one of the spiritual elite. I grew up in the NRC church in Waupun, WI. It isn't quite as unfriendly as the churches in Rock Valley, IA or New Jersey. But, the churches are very similar. They have you brain washed to believe there isn't any salvation outside the NRC. It is VERY HARD to leave. Even after I was very convicted about infant baptism not being biblical and some other things, it took me about 2 years before I had the courage to leave. I have now been out of it for 5 years. I have been baptized and joined a primitive baptist church in Missouri. I would not go back to the NRC for any sum of money. The people are in such terrible bondage. I feel bad for them, and I try to witness to them of the finished work of salvation. Christ paid the price for his children and we rest in that finished work of salvation. When Christ sat down at the right hand of God, His redemptive work was finished! We don't have to have years and years and years of misery and then wait for lightning to strike us and have some sort of religious experience before we can know we are saved. One NRC preacher said that any of God's children if awaken in the middle of the night should be able to recite the verse that saved them! My grandfather (one of the NRC spiritual elite...elder for many years) said, "All God's children don't have the same experiences. But one experience that EVERY one of God's children will have is staying up all night and crying for the entire night because you're going to hell." They put a very large emphasis on misery and that a mark of being a child of God is having a time when you realize your misery so deeply that you are sure you are headed for hell. Essentially, one of their worst fears is that a goat might think they are a sheep and if they think they are a sheep and aren't then they can't be saved until they realize they are a goat headed to hell. I could go on and on. I am so thankful to God for rescuing me out of the NRC! It's interesting to hear an outsider's opinion and I thank you for your time and energy in exposing the NRC for the errors it has!!

James Swan said...

Hi Wendy,

I've been away, so my apologies in not responding sooner.

I greatly appreciate your comment and sharing your experience with the NRC. I've been in contact with a number of ex-NRC people, ranging from atheists to nominal Christians, to healthy Christians.

One of the saddest stories I heard was from a guy who left the NRC who related an NRC pastoral visit to his mother who was on her deathbed. The same sort of questions you related in your comment were asked, and when the woman responded with doubt about her eternal state, the minister shook his head from left to right, and left it at that.

Again, thank you so much for taking the time to post your comment.


Anonymous said...

I feel terrible reading this blog.
I am originally from Mexico and now I am a NRC member (Which you probably will notice because of my English, sorry). This article makes me very sad. People who are mentally checked out? Terrible to say that. I dont have any experience with that. I attend a quite large congregation, probably the one which you also attended, and I do not know any person who is 'mentally checked' out, in your article it almost looks like you want to say: it is a sect.

First of all: I wish that some more Reformed churches would still let their members think, for example at a Holy Supper service: "Am I really converted?". Not to make them doubt, but to make them think about their own spiritual state, thats also very Reformed! It would be a problem when a sermon would really be off balanced and would make people think it is natural to be unconverted. I am sure that is not the case in the NRC preaching at all.
Personally, coming from Mexico, being a member of a baptist church and thereafter a CRC church, for me the NRC theology is not off balanced. Therefore it is sad that you used the NRCRWS website. That is a site which is quite detailed, has some truths, but also a lot of mistakes.

Please: Go to the NRC sermonsite: , then listen some sermons of recent (still alive) ministers, for example Rev. Van Ruitenburg or Rev. Vergunst. Can you point me what is unbalanced (yes, it is orthodox and very reformed, but is it unbalanced?)

And Wendy Vlietstra, I didnt want to respond to your post, every denomination and every church on this earth has members who are ex-members and have the most terrible stories and they place it on the internet everywhere.
You say it is: very hard to leave? : They use the normal reformed tradition, and a good tradition, when you ask your membership papers to transfer to another church first a minister or an elder will visit you to talk about why you are leaving. I wish all churches would do that, I could leave the CRC church by only one (!) telephone call. Thats not the Biblical way, thats not a communion of Saints.

You say people are brainwashed: Listen, or read, to one of the sermons I mentioned. There is no brainwashing. They are orthodox, they are experimentally reformed, but brain washing? No.

"lightning to strike us and have some sort of religious experience before we can know we are saved", You say that would be the NRC way of converting? Well, I can tell you (because I may belief myself that I am a saved person) that is not true at all.

This blog post makes me sad, first of all because I have (as an outsider!) different experiences, but also because not everything is true, while this is a Reformed blog, isnt it?

James Swan said...

Hi Leonardo, Thank you so much for leaving a comment on this old blog entry from April 2015. I'm going to work through your comments:

1. I feel bad that I made you feel "terrible" and "sad." My intent was never to hurt someone by what I wrote. As I read back over my post, there is a hint (or more) of sarcasm in some of my comments. This is probably due to the fact that at the time of writing it, I was in dialog with a close friend quite smitten by the NRC. She has since moved away from embracing them. Turns out, they were unfair to her, treating her more like an outsider than a fellow Christian. Then there's the people I know that are ex-NRC members, and I've heard quite a number of terrible stories about what they went through. The worst was my friend's mom on her deathbed was visited by her NRC minister. As she lay dying, the minister asked, "Have you heard from the Lord yet?" She sadly said no. He then shook his head left to right, and gave her no words of comfort that, even though she had led a Godly and Christian life, she had no assurance of her salvation.

2. "People who are mentally checked out? Terrible to say that."

In the context of my blog article I said, "I've been told by a few ex-NRC folks that many of the people attending the services are mentally checked out. Perhaps they are, I don't know. The people around me didn't really display any noticeable emotions. Even their young children did not make a sound during the entire service. I didn't see anyone carry a Bible into the church (I brought mine)." I was actually quoting ex-NRC people. I followed it up with "I don't know" in regard to their claim. What I meant was not any sort of stupidity, but rather that they appeared to be going through the motions of a dry well-entrenched tradition. No one besides me had a Bible with them, and no one I saw cracked open a pew Bible. That to me is very suspicious of people not paying attention. Do you bring a Bible to your NRC church?

3."I attend a quite large congregation, probably the one which you also attended, and I do not know any person who is 'mentally checked' out, in your article it almost looks like you want to say: it is a sect."

Well, the congregation I attended was in New Jersey. So, if you're in New Jersey, maybe it was. As to sect: I had an NRC father and son do some work on my house. The son informed me that the NRC was the "true" Reformed church in the USA, and every other "Reformed" church split off from them. That's simply not true historically, and it sounds very sect-ish.


James Swan said...

4."First of all: I wish that some more Reformed churches would still let their members think, for example at a Holy Supper service: "Am I really converted?". Not to make them doubt, but to make them think about their own spiritual state, thats also very Reformed!"

Well, in the NRC I'm familiar with, I've been told that very few people take the Supper. And, it's more shocking when someone does. As I stated in my article, if one really looks inwardly and they really are honest, they will find enough sin to keep them from the Supper. How much sin is repugnant in the sight of a Holy God? Any amount. The NRC is off balance, going to far.

5."It would be a problem when a sermon would really be off balanced and would make people think it is natural to be unconverted. I am sure that is not the case in the NRC preaching at all."

I sat through this very sort of sermon when I visited the NRC (as described in my blog article).

6."for me the NRC theology is not off balanced. Therefore it is sad that you used the NRCRWS website. That is a site which is quite detailed, has some truths, but also a lot of mistakes."

Simply because I cited that web site doesn't mean I embrace everything it posts. I posted only a few pieces of information from that website. If those things I posted from the website are in error, please cogently explain why and provide documentation.

James Swan said...

7."Please: Go to the NRC sermonsite: , then listen some sermons of recent (still alive) ministers, for example Rev. Van Ruitenburg or Rev. Vergunst. Can you point me what is unbalanced (yes, it is orthodox and very reformed, but is it unbalanced?)"

Given some time in the future, I'll try to do this. I will say this, the NRC minister in area is indeed unbalanced. Every sermon I've heard from him has been so. I've not heard of either of these men.

8. I'm not going to respond to your comments directed towards Wendy. They were for her, not me.

9."This blog post makes me sad, first of all because I have (as an outsider!) different experiences, but also because not everything is true, while this is a Reformed blog, isnt it?"

Yes, I'm Reformed: a member in good standing in an URCNA congregation. Speaking of being "Reformed," why do I know NRC people who have to sneak into my church on Sunday evening and hope the NRC doesn't find out? That doesn't sound "Reformed" at all, but rather a little off-balance at best, or cultish at worst.

10. Do you take the Lord's Supper?

Anonymous said...

Yep, I came to be a member as an outsider in NJ, bought in and eventually checked out.... This is a cult, I propose an nrc challenge - every member should leave for 6 months and go to a proper reformed Church that places Jesus and the promises of God above all else.... Their eyes will be opened to the unfaithfulness of the nrc

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jerrold Lewis said...

I am the pastor of the Free Reformed Church of Pompton Plains, New Jersey. Many of my members came from the NRC, or are related to members in the NRC. Eight of my 10 children attend the local NRC school (which we love), and the remaining 2 are too young to attend. It's true that Free Reformed Churches and the Netherlands Reformed Congregations do not agree on everything. There are some instrumental disagreements (2 vs. 3 covenants, and perhaps the place of the Free Offer as spelled out in the Canons, Heads 3 & 4, Articles 8 and 9), yet our two congregations have shared the same school for many, many years in wonderful peace. Some of our differences are cultural, and a bit sectarian at times, according to our unique heritages, but all in all, there is far more that we agree on than disagree. Let me list the common ground:

First and foremost is the need to be born again. Far too many in our North American "Christian" culture believe that if you simply soak long enough in a pew, have been baptized, raided in a Christian home, and are faithful in church attendance, that one ought to assume one is a child of God. This thinking is rampant in our culture, and is pervasive in many Reformed denominations. The NRC is correct in emphasizing the "one thing needful" above all else. I do the same. I would rather have a preacher tell me the truth about my heart, than be lulled into a false sense of security. I would challenge the readership of this blog to compare the old writers of the British and Dutch Second Reformation's to the stuff-and-fluff of today, and see whom, exactly, reflects the Puritan and Reformed tradition the best. I dare say that Jonathan Edwards himself (though we love to throw his name about) would not be able to sustain a ministry in most Reformed Churhes, due to his emphasis on discrimination and experience. Same goes for the other Puritans. Death in Adam and life in Christ is the key features of the NRC's preaching, and our own as well.

Second is their emphasis on the life of grace. The precious doctrines of our Three Forms of Unity, as reflections of the infallible Word of God, are not just meant to be information. Knowledge alone does not salve. These things must be experienced. Both the NRC here locally, and our own FRC, believe this is vital to a true walking with God. Teaching doctrine is the imperative foundation, but experiencing the application of that doctrine is to the saving of the soul.

Third is a high esteem for the Word of God and the preservation of it. We appreciate all the ways that our 3 local congregations can work together in promoting the Trinitarian Bible Society.

Fourth, a commitment to Psalm singing and head coverings. Some of our ladies wear scarfs, and some wear hats. Point being, both the NRC and FRC here, desire to follow the Word of God as our forebears followed it.

Fifth, a life that is contra mundum, against the world. The NRC rightly teach that conformity to this perishing world is the death of any church by generations. The more the world and its God hating philosophy enters the church, the further compromised the church becomes. Eventually, there is no difference in life or doctrine between the two. Welcome to 2015 Christianity in the USA.

Is the NRC the perfect church? No. Neither is the FRC, believe me. But to take up space on a blog, trying to point out the defects of the NRC is, in my opinion, of zero help to anyone. It impacts .0001% of the reformed world. It seems "ax-to-grind"-ish. Without question I could get the name and denominational affiliation of the writer of this blog's church, and demonstrate some substantial defects within her.

There are only 2 or 3 North American denominations that I would consider being a part of IF my beloved FRCNA did not exist. A place where "Ye must be born again" is preached, and hungry souls can find bread. The Netherlands Reformed Congregations would be among them.

Kind regards,
J.H. Lewis

James Swan said...

Rev. Lewis, I likewise had my comments blocked on the PB while in the middle of posting them. Similarly, I wrote the moderator, but I don't appear to have been given the same dispensation as you. Ah well. I rarely post on the PB, I only became aware of the thread because of the traffic back to this blog. There appears to be no end to online controversy, so perhaps closing that thread was a good decision.

You mention in your comment that my entry "take(s) up space on a blog, trying to point out the defects of the NRC" and is "of zero help to anyone." It "impacts .0001% of the reformed world". This entry seems "'ax-to-grind'-ish." There is some truth here. Blog entries are some of the noise of cyberspace. Simply, I write because I enjoy writing, not because I'm hoping to become an online superstar. If no one reads what I write, that's fine. This is a hobby, nothing more. I probably impact even less than 0000001% of the Reformed world, so I'm actually not sure why you saw the value in commenting here.

In the comment section here as well as over on the PB, I mentioned I admit to using sarcasm in this entry, and also to being mean-spirited. The whole "NRC" experience I went through a few months ago eventually led to this entry. It was a frustrating experience and is expressed in my tone. Probably if I wrote it now, it would be penned differently. The "experience" (for lack of a better word) was fresh in my mind when I wrote it. That's the thing with experience. It ebbs and flows. If you base things on experience, sometimes you have deep feelings about something, sometimes those same feelings pack a little less punch down the road. They're real nonetheless. I still feel that the NRC is off-balance.

But as to "zero help to anyone," ironically, from comments, emails, and even the recent PB thread, it appears I've moved beyond zero. So, perhaps you were writing your comments in the same sort of polemical way I wrote mine: my shoes fit your feet, so to speak.

The thrust of this entry was on the NRC's severe emphasis on sin and assurance. I strongly advise people to stay away from the NRC. Just a few months ago I sat down with a total stranger that had been assailed by the NRC on assurance. The poor guy was a wreck.

My close friend (who provoked this entry) and I quibbled about assurance in one of the standard NRC systematic theology texts that was given to her son in an NRC school. She vehemently defended the NRC author saying, [I]"Nowhere can I find that it says you cannot be assured of your salvation once you come to faith[/I]." But that's just it! The NRC folks I've encountered rarely admit to having the [I]experience[/I] of coming to faith! The ex-NRC folks I've talked to all say the same thing: they sought this experience but never felt like they really had it.

How many members are in the NRC church you know of? How many of them take communion? How many of them are assured of their salvation? I tend to be scrupulous. I can locate sin in the best of my efforts. If I had to wait to till I "felt" it, well, like them, I would be just like the Romanists of old hoping to make peace with an angry God.

Thank you for your comments.


Jerrold Lewis said...

Thanks for your reply.
As I see it, almost everything presented here is anecdotal, including my own comments. I know many in the NRC that are not colored with the broad brush painted within your post, and the subsequent comments that follow. I even know at least one of the people in the comment section, who, if not for the NRC, may still be in the malaise of Roman Catholicism! So indeed the Gospel is preached there.

To properly understand the NRC one needs to go back to the Creeds and supporting documentation to get an official understanding of exactly what they believe regarding assurance and the Lord's Supper. For that we go to the Three Forms of Unity and probably G.H. Kersten's systematic theology (2 vols.). Being familiar with both, nothing demonstrable emerges which would inform the reader of the error you suggest is present. And that is where it should be left. How many people go the the Lord's Supper in an NRC church, or in the FRC church is really no ones business than the local consistory. To judge a church by it is nothing more than uncharitableness. It would be akin to saying that because so many attend the LS in your church, that your denomination teaches presumptive regeneration. Some might, but I'd be careful of painting with such a broad brush, especially in public.

BTW, the NRC is a soft target on the Internet, and that is precisely why I felt compelled to write. The vitriol against the NRC is always painted in caricature. I know this because I know for a fact that much that is written is not true, having daily experience in their circles and being very familiar with their teaching. I think your entry is a nay-saying entry, and opened up for more nay-saying comments from former NRC'ers. If you call that helpful, then we probably have different definitions.

Further, to understand the NRC, and their unique present struggles, one needs to understand how Kerseten united the Churches Under the Cross, and the Ladaberians in Holland. The subculture is still greatly influenced by it. There is a whole way of thinking involved in this uniting that can not be separated from present circumstances, or from properly understanding their practice. Most have never bothered to research the underpinning of certain ways of thinking pertaining to the Lord's Supper and assurance connected in this way, but have no problem writing against them. Instead of bearing one anthers burdens, and letting kindness, love, and understanding take hold, “drive-by” posts are floated that seem incisive, but prove to be nothing more than hurtful to a federation that truly seeks to bring the message of the cross to the hearts of its member.

I just don't find it helpful. And that is the beauty of free speech; you can write, and I can disagree. You have an open comment section, and for that I thank you.


Anonymous said...

After a long and intense debate, the Marrow men concluded that their opponents had fallen into the opposite error of neonomism or new legalism. Neonomists believed that the New Testament requirements for salvation were easier than those of the Old Testament law. These requirements or conditions were basically two: repentance and faith. Neonomists maintained that before Christ can be received by faith, the sinner has to mourn over and forsake sin, whereas the Marrow Men taught that true sorrow for sin and the power to flee from it is possible only as a direct result of the believer’s union with Christ.
This was by no means a new teaching. union with Christ is a doctrine to which all Reformed Christians subscribe. While all who call themselves Reformed hold to this doctrine, not all understand its meaning the same way. Much depends on how one sees the role or function of faith. The opponents of the Marrow Men viewed faith and repentance as conditions to be met in order to qualify for grace. The latter, however, taught that both must be seen as fruits of grace bestowed on sinners at the moment of their regeneration by the Holy Spirit. ~ The Influence of the Morrow Men...., The Messenger , frcna

Anonymous said...

@ James
1. You state: “Then there's the people I know that are ex-NRC members, and I've heard quite a number of terrible stories about what they went through”.

I said I was from Mexico (sorry for my English once again) and afterwards I came to the USA. I have an experience with many evangelical/baptist/reformed churches. There are many CRC members who have left that church and have terrible stories, there are also FRC members (sorry Rev. Lewis) who have terrible stories, also there are ex-NRC members with a kind of trauma. The problem is that every denomination on this earth has terrible stories on the internet. To me it is unfair that this article is one of them.

2. You said: “I didn't see anyone carry a Bible into the church (I brought mine)”.

Could be true because some have their Bible in their pews, and there are also a few Psalter editions with a Bible within it (if I’m not mistaken), so maybe that’s why you thought no-one carried a Bible? In my congregation everyone is reading along the scripture reading, and also while the minister is preaching some people open their Bible, who want to read along.

3. Cult/sect

The NRC is in nowise a cult or sect. It is orthodox, it is very reformed (like all reformed churches were in the past). From : “The NRC is one of the many Reformed churches. We do not presume to be the only church, but, nonetheless, a church that, with God’s help, seeks to be faithful to the Holy Scriptures and to preserve the right inheritance of our fathers. The membership of a church itself does not save us. We must be born again (John 3:3). We must learn to flee to Christ as the sin bearing Lamb of God. We must seek and find salvation in His work alone. He is a perfect, complete Saviour Who did not only merit salvation, but also applies it by the work of the Spirit in the hearts of sinners. More than ever we need this work of the Spirit, Who leads to Christ and glorifies Him in the hearts of sinful people who were enemies of Him. The NRC churches are not perfect. They have their failures and shortcomings, but we may believe that God has left His truth among us. We welcome you to join us and it is our hope and prayer that a blessing may be received as we gather in God’s house each week.” So, a sect? No. A cult? Not at all!

4/5/6/7: As in the NRC it is, (which is a reformed tradition), there is a distinction between true saving faith and that which is counterfeit religion and presumed religion. That means that not everyone does attend the Lord’s Supper. In my congregation quite a lot of people do attend the Lord’s Supper. But thats ofcourse different in each congregation, which does not have anything to do with unbalanced preaching. Further: when you have time, please listen to those sermons of Rev. A.T. Vergunst or VanRuitenburg. I don’t think the NJ minister is unbalanced, he has a special (the oldstyle) way of preaching. Also URCNA ministers used to preach in quite such a manner years ago.

10. Yes, I take the Lord’s Supper. Why?

@ Rev. Lewis

Thanks for your additions to this blog. Orthodox Dutch Reformed Churches for outsiders can be a bit sectarian maybe, but for me that was not really the case. You could say: they (NRC/FRC/sometimes HRC) are very calvinistic, where other churches have gone off that, true, Reformed path. The NRC is more focused on the Dutch Further Reformation than the Puritans. Is that a problem, or does that lead to unbalanced preaching? No, I don’t think so. When I was in NJ I also visited your congregation. Yes, there are differences between FRC and NRC (but thats also because the NRC minister is an old (respectable!) man, who preaches in the old style. So in the way of preaching there are differences, but in the message? Not much! Unbalanced? Not at all. Its great that you can work together with the NRCS-school: “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it”.

Anonymous said...
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James Swan said...

Rev. Lewis,

Thanks again for taking the time to comment here on this blog. I agree that I made anecdotal comments in my entry, at least in the first half of the entry (especially in describing my visit to the NRC. Consider the comments musings of an outsider- like someone visiting a foreign country. Were those people in that country warm-hearted? Friendly? Were they cold, or indifferent? Etc. The entire experience of visiting the NRC was something I had never experienced before. I've been tempted to return to simply see if what I witnessed was a fluke.

As to painting with a broad brush in public- keep in mind, I've not used any names or exact locations, and I don't plan to. The "vitriol" against the NRC that you think I'm embracing consists of nothing more than relating my experiences with her former members and visiting the NRC church. "Soft target on the Internet"- I could find little on the NRC when I wrote this entry, so if there's a horde of people attacking the NRC, I certainly couldn't find it, and I'm not actively looking for it.

Certainly you probably know more NRC people than I do- most of those I come in contact with are ex-NRC members that have heartbreaking stories. I painted what I've seen and heard. Those that I actually know in-person do not talk about the NRC unless I bring it up. I can't think of one ex-NRC member I personally know that actually wants to talk about their NRC experience.

Over and over again, those former members I've been in contact with bring up assurance of salvation (the thrust of my blog entry). Above I mentioned my friend's comment: "Nowhere can I find that it says you cannot be assured of your salvation once you come to faith." This conversation with my friend was directly in regard to Kersten's Reformed Dogmatics (Yes, I have both volumes). There Kersten says, "Not all of God's children attain this full assurance of faith. Comrie already wrote that in his days there were but few" (II.403). "[Comrie]... explained that confidence and assurance certainly belong to the essence of faith, but that not all, indeed only few come to the conscious confirmation of their state in Christ" (II.404). It doesn't appear to me that Kersten is disagreeing with Comrie. The ex-NRC folks I've talked to all say the same thing: they sought this experience but never felt like they really had it, and these are indeed Christian people with the obvious marks of God's grace on their lives. The story I related above about the Christian woman on her deathbed was told to me by her son who witnessed it firsthand. It's a heartbreaking story, and I hope it's the exception. I hope the Free Reformed don't minster to the dying like this. This woman was a Christian- but her NRC mindset and scrupulosity left her in a perpetual state of doubt, and her NRC minister would not give her a kind word that she would see the Lord shortly.

You say, "nothing demonstrable emerges which would inform the reader of the error you suggest is present." A very good friend who spent most of his life in the NRC told me that very few in his church took communion, and it was shocking to the others when someone actually did. You may respond saying this is anecdotal evidence: but your previous comment appears to be right in line with it: "How many people go the the Lord's Supper in an NRC church, or in the FRC church is really no ones business than the local consistory." Enough said. Assurance and the Supper are linked.


James Swan said...


All I can think of is the parallel with Luther's testimony:

Thus I, too, lived and believed when I was a pious monk. And if any monk should be regarded as holy, then I, too, was holy! Nevertheless, if—after I had prayed most diligently every day, had confessed completely, had gone to Mass, and had done my best—someone had asked me: “Are you convinced that you have the Holy Spirit?” I would have had to join others in replying: “God forbid! How could I be so presumptuous? I am a poor sinner. To be sure, I have done this and that; but I surely do not know whether it satisfies God.” Thus I and everyone else went along in unbelief.

Living in this perpetual state of doubt: this was not what Luther had in mind when he fought against Romanism. He fought against living in a perpetual state of doubt! You guys simply go to far with this stuff- you set up a neo-spiritual elitism, which has the possibility (if not probability) of causing the "less-assured" to covet or fall into even greater doubt.

James Swan said...

AJ Castellitto: I would appreciate it if you left names and places out of your comments. Feel free to talk about your experiences and concerns- but
I would appreciate it if you would delete your comment above (5:00 PM, October 13, 2015), edit it, and then re-post it.

And one other thing: I'm grateful that Rev. Lewis took the time to dialog here on this blog. Whatever our differences, the hardest job in the world is "Minister of the Gospel." That he's taken the time to interact here is extremely gracious. Even though we may disagree with him, I think we both need to treat him with the respect he deserves. I would say the same if an actual NRC minister showed up in this comment box.

Anonymous said...

I agree, let's focus on the crux of the matter in the biblical sense, although I think Pastor Lewis started bringing my personal background into the forefront... Which grieves me. But I guess he feels its warranted.

Anonymous said...

Dear Pastor Lewis,

I mentioned before that I have mixed feelings which I've made known and many I will always hold in high regard. But there is much more I can say of people and even children who have been really hurt. A people whose Church has left them spiritually dry and morally stunted. The NRC has the misery down but to leave it there is dangerous..... and unfaithful.... But you are not a congregant so your defense is a bit out of hand I'd say and highly disappointing. I'd say you are sitting on the fence ..... Which is fine but one day you may fall. I'm for setting things straight. There are offenses that continue. I could never be a child of God in that church and neither could the majority that remain there and at the end of the day that is the offense.... When presumption turns to indifference and an ultimate turning away then Satan is well served.

Jerrold Lewis said...

The vitriol was not directed at you but some posters. However the drive-by comment was :-)
You were kind enough to approve my comments, so it tells me you are a stand up guy. We will have to agree that we can't agree on this and leave it at that.
Love the name of your blog btw.

Kind regards,

Anonymous said...

My final thought is this, churches like the NRC believe that it's better to be discouraging against false presumption since God's electing decrees cannot be thwarted but what they fail to understand is that it may very well be they who are an instrument of Satan to leave people hopeless and indifferent. What if it is both they and those to whom they withhold grace that will ultimately suffer a grave consequence? Heresy and deception can come in various forms, including faux piety and denominational pride. The gospel message is too vital and sacred to be twisted of all its spiritual and life giving content....

Jamie Learn said...

Isn't the evidence of regeneration simply presently trusting in Christ for our righteousness as opposed to trusting in our experience? It seems the "regeneration experience" is the "new law" which needs to be satisfied in stead of merely and presently and simply trusting in Jesus for the remission of our sin and the restoration of our righteousness. I too struggle with assurance and often doubt. When I look at myself and what comes out of me, it only makes my assurance less. When I chase assurance, it's like trying to catch the proverbial butterfly which will land on us when we stop chasing it. Assurance comes when we obey the Gospel by looking at and resting in Jesus, not our experience. Jesus is the living water which hydrates the heart so that the flower of assurance can grow. Looking to the flower as its own source will kill it.

James Swan said...

Hi Jamie!

Great to hear from you again. I think what happens with these issues is that churches (or theologians) go to either one extreme or the other. "Balance" is an easy word to say, but actually achieving it can be a bit tricky at times.

This brings to mind something A.W. Pink wrote long ago on a related subject:

The words "food in due season" should ever be before the servant of God. What is needed, primarily, by one congregation, may not be specifically needed by another. If called to labor where Arminian preachers have preceded, then the neglected truth of God's sovereignty should be expounded—though with caution and care, lest too much "strong meat" be given to "babes". The example of Christ in John 16:12, "I have many things yet to say unto you—but you cannot hear them now", must be borne in mind. On the other hand, if I am called to take charge of a distinctly Calvinistic pulpit, then the truth of human responsibility (in its many aspects) may be profitably set forth. What the preacher needs to give out is not what his people most like to hear—but what they most need, that is those aspects of truth they are least familiar with, or least exhibiting in their walk.

I think the NRC folks have focused to much on specific things, causing them imbalance. The evidence is in their taking of the Supper and issue of assurance.

Anonymous said...
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Chris said...

I just found your website and am extremely disappointed that you feel it necessary to blog your doubts so negatively about the NRC via your limited view of the NRC and the many ex-NRCers that have contributed to your understanding of what the NRC teaches. I have come to the conclusion that you and Mr. Johnson from the NRCRWS must be threatened by the doctrine as it is taught in the NRC. Why else would you both think it necessary to try to negate our beliefs?

Heartfelt thanks to Rev. Lewis and Leonardo Brazil for your defense!

The doctrine as taught by the NRC is the unadulterated truth as it is taught in the Bible. It's not an doctrine for the flesh. Flesh wants to contribute towards your own salvation. You quoted Arthur Pink. Read his books on The Doctrine of Election and The Sovereignty of God as a beginning.

We teach death in Adam and life in Christ. You cannot preach Christ to a sinner without first preaching Adam. Therefore all sinners have to know their death state and know they must pass from their death state unto life! Sinners must be quickened for by nature we are all dead in sins and trespasses and are dead to the anything spiritual. You can preach Christ and accept Him as your Saviour with your mouth until the cows come home but you will go to eternal life with a lie in your hand. Your eyes have to opened to see that you are not only a sinner but a lost sinner. When the Lord opens your eyes Jamie it does NOT/NOT begin with Christ. Your conscience is opened and then you come to know how depraved mankind really is and that you yourself have to acknowledge that you are the most depraved of all. Therefore the HC Lord's Day 2 you quoted in your article becomes the comfort for God's people because their heart is declared. When your [soul's] eyes have been opened you come to know that you are unconverted and as it states in Ephesians without God in the world. The unrest in you is almost unbearable but the Lord in His sovereignty will never make you bear more than you can handle. Your soul tells you that you must be converted and you don't even realize the sweet tears and anguish is a hunger and a thirst after God and His righteousness. That comes much later. It is a time of knowing who you are by nature. During that time any preaching about a Redeemer and a Saviour goes over your head. You must be reconciled with God! And you don't know how. It's only after your sorrow has brought you to a repentance that is not to be repented of that you come to agree with God that He is just in casting you away, for you become Adam! It's no longer Adam's sin, it becomes your sin that you can no longer be redeemed because your heart/soul knows that you turned your back to the Lord, never to return. Only then is room made for Christ. The Apostle Paul learned that and much, much more in 3 days....most of God's poor creatures don't learn that in their whole life time. They stay unconverted and their depravity is why they often doubt their state. If the Lord speaks unto the soul, the soul sings and admires and adores Christ for all His unspeakable mercies towards such a depraved individual. Those are sweet times but they don't last or we would have heaven on earth and that's impossible. And that's why these poor communicants (and some never have the freedom to attend) often doubt their salvation. They know of a change that they didn't make themselves but they can't taste it any longer. /2

Chris said...

I hope the Lord will open your eyes Jamie for we only get one chance to live and be converted. You may believe you are converted but does the Lord know of you? Or have you begun with Him. It's a question that I live with. As the well-known John Newton said in one of his poems
"T'is a point I long to know
Oft it causes anxious thought
Do I love the Lord or no
Am I His or am I not?"

I don't expect you to agree with me because I've kind of bared my soul here but the bottom line is that the doctrine as it is in the Holy Bible is taught truthfully in the NRC and one sermon of every Sunday is using the Heidelberg Catechism which expounds on the Bible---if you look at it you will see all footnotes are references to the Bible. We don't need to walk in with a Bible or the Psalter---they are in the all the pews.
page 2

Not one of God's children will do something against themselves because of despair, they actually might "storm the heavens with violence" for an answer to their despair. It's impossible that a child of God will end his/her life. He may come close because the Devil is mighty but the Lord will preserve and at His time, which is the best time, give a solution.

Chris Heerschap

James Swan said...

Hi Chris,

Despite your disagreements, thanks for your comments. There's really not a whole lot for me to respond to since the majority of what you said was feelings and opinion.

FWIW, I plan on visiting my local NRC again. I think the NRC has a lot of significant truth but is imbalanced, especially for sensitive souls. Read some Luther, you'll see what I mean.

Regards, James

Chris said...

Hi James, sorry for calling you Jamie. My mistake.

Unfortunately I often feel like the Apostle Peter, very impulsive. I should have spent more time on my reply.

However I am replying that because we do teach the Bible in a balanced way, it creates animosity towards God's sovereignty. Our human nature always wants to be someone and although we deny it we want to have something that makes us suitable in God's eyes. What you're saying is that we are hard on the sensitive souls. You are wrong. We teach them an "honest" way of salvation. To you its feelings and opinion but it's God's way, read Ephesians, Romans 7. What you are hearing from ex-NRCers (which by the way I was one myself at one time) that they have convictions and desires and hopes and we counsel that convictions and desires and hopes are not enough with which to meet God. And that is biblical. What they have is an historical faith: repent and believe they say. We say that has to become your guilt that you can no longer repent and believe! That we are so depraved that we can not think a good thought if it wasn't for God's common grace and His restraining grace. we must be horn again! This is not feelings or opinions it is His Word!
Maybe you're difficulty comes from reading Luther. We are Calvinist's nor Lutheran's. Read Arthur Pink on Regeneration or the The New Birth. That's actually the book I meant when I said Doctrine on election. He wasn't NRC but he was a Calvinist. Everything he writes is well documented with Bible texts.
Could we be friendlier to strangers in our churches. Absolutely. Sorry we haven't learned the courtesys we should be extending. I do believe we are trying.
Chris Heerschap

Chris said...

Hello again James,
I’ve often thought about your blog about the NRC and debated whether it was worth responding, and finally decided I would. I am deeply concerned at the misinformation and the fact that much of your blog is biased, based on one church visit, many disgruntled ex-NRCer’s and one website of someone who attended the NRC for a short time but is Baptist. Therefore it is my wish to address/respond to some things you mention.
First the NRC stands for the Netherlands Reformed Congregations. Don’t mistake us for the Reformed Congregations of North America (RCNA) or the Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregations (HNRC). Both of these latter two are churches that have broken away from the NRC, the RCNA in 1953 and the HNRC in 1993. The RCNA has perhaps become even more strict in their teaching while the HNRC have become more liberal in their teaching. All three church’s profess the same doctrine and each have one sermon (usually Sunday morning) that’s called a free sermon…it takes a text from the Bible and expounds on that one text. All three churches teach from the Heidelberg Catechism (HC) in the evening service. That Catechism was commissioned in Heidelberg, Germany, in the early 1500’s to secure harmony in Protestant teaching and to facilitate the Reformed faith. This was during the Great Reformation. It was broken up into 52 Lord’s Day’s to be expounded on once every Sunday. I suspect the Lutherans used this Catechism extensively for several hundred years as well. The 129 questions and answers are an “echo of the Bible” and divided into 3 parts patterned after the book of Romans, questions 3-11 consider the experience of sin and misery (Romans 1-3:20), questions 12-85 are connected with redemption in Christ and faith (Romans 3:21-11:36), questions 86-129 stress true gratitude for God’s deliverance (Romans 12-16). I suspect you know I have taken this from the introduction to The Heidelberg Catechism but I think it’s beneficial to your readers who perhaps don’t know this. Most if not all Reformed churches with a Dutch background teach out of this HC at least once a Sunday except for the Sunday’s set aside for Easter, Pentecost, Communion.
Therefore, your allegation when you referred to Lord’s Day 2 as having no reference to Scripture is completely wrong. The HC is referenced all the way through with footnotes that refer to Scripture texts. It is not a teaching that’s just been taken out of the air! It’s all based on Scripture. The comment that the majority of the congregation is zoned out is also unfair. All mankind since the fall in Paradise is of carnal heart and mind, dead in sins and trespasses and are zoned out to the fact they are totally depraved, filthy, corrupt and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12) and are not just going lost but are lost. Not just a little bit depraved but totally depraved! That is the message you heard from Lords Day 2 and it can’t be expounded enough(!!!) because our carnal mind is dead, totally dead and our ears are closed!

Chris said...

However the opposite is true. And that goes for all of us. We want to be converted our way. We want to choose for Christ, not the way God wants it (with a broken heart and a contrite spirit) but our way. We want to be able to contribute to our own salvation! Not be stripped of all our self-righteousnesses. That self-righteous “I” that is always on the throne! We are Adam!
That is why a person can spend their whole life faithfully attending church twice every Sunday and hearing this same message thousands of time and still remain unconverted. B.e.c.a.u.s.e they didn’t h.e.a.r the message! Being born again is the work of a sovereign Triune God and nothing of man can come into the equation. See Mark 4 about the Sower and the seed and the Lords sovereignty in who shall see and who shall understand. Read about the Great Potter Who has the power to make one vessel unto honor and another vessel unto dishonor (Romans 9:21). Yes that is what we teach! “Without Me ye can do nothing!” God everything, man nothing. It’s all Biblical, e,g, the Bible says in John 15 “ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you,…” and numerous other references that refer to election.
However, our doctrine doesn’t just teach God’s sovereignty but also man’s responsibility. God demands of us that we serve Him with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our soul. In other words, with our whole being. The fact that we are unable to do that and to choose for Him in our own strength is because we turned our backs to God in Paradise and in Adam we have become carnal creatures, enemies of God. We can no longer choose for Christ…and that has to become our guilt. That we have created that breach between God and us, and it is so great that only a wonder of sovereign grace can overcome it. If we go lost it is not God’s fault, it is our fault for we would not and did not want God to rule over us. In Paradise we lost our free will and our will is now in bondage. Read Martin Luther’s book “The Bondage of the Will.” The fact that we became enemies showed in Adam when he blamed his wife for eating of the forbidden fruit, and his wife blamed the serpent…the devil. And through all generations we blame God if we are not converted! Or we blame the NRC! 
Yes the dress and hats often come across as a fashion show. I admit it. However on the other hand it begs the question of Who are we hoping to hear about, Who do we hope will make His presence felt? Who do we hope will come into our midst? We would dress up to meet the Queen of England, should we not dress up to meet the King of kings?
Another point. I have never in all my 60 plus years with the NRC (less some rebellious years away) known or even heard of our ministers getting on their knees before the pulpit. Are you sure you were in an NRC church? That is definitely not something that would happen in an NRC church any more than the praise bands or women in the consistory would happen in the NRC. When the consistory comes into the church and an elder has walked the minister to the pulpit, the whole church prays, not just the men in the consistory benches. We all pray and ask the Lord to help our Pastor, for it is not the Pastor’s work, it is God’s work. The Pastor needs our prayers, that the Lord will remember him in mercy and grant him what he stands in need of to preach to a dead people. That He will bless these labors. That He will open ears and hearts. That He will convert what is unconverted. And that it may all redound to His own honor and glory and our salvation. It has nothing you do with a spiritual elitism or assurance of salvation. You perceive incorrectly and therefore you publish incorrectly.

Chris Heerschap

Chris said...

Church membership. What a distorted view of what church membership means. I read the statement with amazement but first checked out your link. He’s a Baptist and therefore he believes believer’s baptism is the only way you become a member of a church. It doesn’t compare. We do encourage our professing member to find a girl/boyfriend of the same faith…it doesn’t always happen but most often it does. Believe me the Baptists encourage their followers to do the same. As do Lutherans, as do Mormons, as do Jehovah’s Witness, as do Roman Catholics, etc.
When our young people become members they say yes to the fact that they agree with what the NRC teaches and believes as it is in the Bible, that they will be members in good standing, baptize any children they receive, and raise them accordingly, agree that the church leaders have oversight of you and agreeable to being admonished if necessary. This Phil Johnson who made these comments that you quoted has issues with members agreeing to those things. It is not true that members of the NRC don’t go elsewhere. Of course they do. Some leave the church for good and don’t go anywhere else, poor souls, some go to other churches, some even come back many years later.
And now we come to assurance of faith which is what outsiders, e.g., you, feel that it makes us unbalanced in our teachings. Because you took so much of this information from this same Phil Johnson I’m not going into it. His understanding is skewed. We are far from being perfect, very far, and there may be several outward things that could be changed, one of which is to welcome strangers more cordially, but our church leaders (just as yours are) are answerable to God for how they teach the people His truths. It’s a serious and responsible office they have. They don’t decide if a member has assurance of faith by their display of holiness, however commendable that is. They can’t read their heart! Faith and assurance of faith is personal. They are fully aware that often there is only faith. Assurance of faith is another step in grace and full assurance of faith is yet a further step in grace.

Chris Heerschap

Chris said...

To be a communicant, however, they do expect to hear a testimony of the inward workings of the Lord’s Spirit in their life. Have they been discovered to themselves (i.e., quickened/blind soul’s eyes opened), to their miserable lost state. That they are unconverted, having no hope and without God in the world. They listen to hear if they are a missing people. Has the Lord taken away their rest? Have they learned to hate what they used to love (the world and all its worldly attractions), and to love what they used to hate (the Bible, church…). That they don’t know the way back to the Father heart…in their lost state they experience a sorrow after God that leads to repentance. They come to know that they are totally undeserving of the least of God’s blessings. Frequently these people don’t talk to church leaders about their change in the beginning because it is a time of such unrest and confusion that they can’t understand their own state. But it is a sweet time of seeking in prayer and tears, beseeching God to forgive their heaven high sins. By the time they do say something to the leaders years may have passed. With the vast majority of God’s children, it could take years before they are pointed to Christ through the operation of the Holy Spirit. Then it takes your breath away when you see Him through the lattice of His Word. You desire, admire and adore Him; your heart longs for Him! In fact, you fall in love with Him! Our leaders see the transformation in the fruits. At His time, the Lord will bring them to His Table and sup with them.
This is faith. It is not yet assurance of faith. Seeing is not yet possessing!
Have you ever read Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. Hopefully you have. It is a Christian allegory from This World to that Which is to Come, delivered under the similitude of a dream. At the end of the allegory when Christian has to cross the river Jordan he almost doesn’t make it. His doubts and his unbelief drag him down. But Hope holds his head above water and encourages him and in the end Christian makes it. There he is given to see that right next to the Gates of Heaven there is a door that leads straight to hell. And many of those poor true communicants believe that they will end up being thrown in there, being shown up for the hypocrite they were always so afraid of being in this world.
I believe ex-NRCer’s are distraught because they have no such testimony. Instead of going to the Lord with empty hands and waiting on Him, they go away with their hands full and in the meantime they denigrate the NRC.

Chris Heerschap

Chris said...

The criticisms about the number of attendants to the Lords Supper in the NRC churches is also skewed. There is always the danger of putting too much emphasis on the Lord’s Supper, and of course vice versa, too little emphasis. The Lord’s Supper is for the strengthening of faith. Has any of these ex-NRCer’s ever spoken to you about the value of the administration of baptism to you? Baptism signifies the washing away of sins by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, and without blood there is no remission of sins. Sad isn’t it but we place so little emphasis on that! That we speak so little of the need to washed in His blood!
You mentioned you thought you would attend the NRC again sometime. By all means James, you are most welcome! However, attending here and there will never give you the right understanding of our teachings. I hope what I’ve written here will give you some idea. There is so much more to learn than the few words I’ve said here.

Chris Heerschap
..sorry I forgot to add my name to the first submission
Just fyi I'm not a member of a consistory and never have been. I'm a female. A female who frequently tries to thank the Lord that her lot in life was to grow up within the NRC and that He so graciously brought me back under His truth which I wholeheartedly believe is taught in the NRC.

James Swan said...

Hi Chris,

Super-busy at the moment, but I posted your comments. I had intended to only post them when I had the opportunity to respond to them- but it may take some time for me to get back to you- obviously you've posted a lot of comments- so to get through them in any sort of meaningful way will take some time, and I will be away from this blog for a bit.

A. Castellitto said...
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A. Castellitto said...
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A. Castellitto said...

James, here's a good video in which the hypercalvinism of the NRC is called out by name

A. Castellitto said...

I will just say this one last thing, because you sound like a nice, sincere person, and I become very frustrated on this...the NRC confuses justification with sanctification by place their own peculiar conditions on the believer

James Swan said...

I haven't been involved with NRC issues in a long time. At the initial time of writing this post, I had a close friend smitten by the NRC. That friend has since left their NRC leanings behind. She moved on from the NRC, so it left my field of vision. It was interesting to watch her try to be accepted by the NRC folks, and not making the cut, so to speak.

Looking now back at all of this, I never responded to Chris Heerschap's lengthy comments because it appeared to me to be an example of defense by excessive text, and some of that text came off to me as belittling and condescending. For instance in one of these responses from Chris on 9:42 PM, September 13, 2016, I was provided with a history lesson of the NRC, including such things as "That Catechism was commissioned in Heidelberg, Germany, in the early 1500’s to secure harmony in Protestant teaching and to facilitate the Reformed faith" I happen to be belong to a Reformed church (for quite a long time now), I happen to be very familiar with the Catechism (at one point I had memorized the first 20 Lord's Days (Q and A), by word-for word). I can appreciate passion for one's beliefs, I can appreciate one wishing to defend one's beliefs, I can appreciate one wishing to dialog on one's beliefs, but I don't have the desire or time these days to respond to someone text-bombarding me with their opinions.

In retrospect, I still concur with what I posted back in 2015: The NRC is off-balance. I would not go so far as giving them cult status or saying her members are brain-washed. I did appreciate the interaction above with Rev. Lewis (even though he was not exactly NRC). I would not in any way say that Rev. Lewis is a cult leader or is brain-washed.

I've noticed that this blog entry does get some traffic, so I suspect the dialog, however fruitful or unfruitful... will continue...

A. Castellitto said...
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A. Castellitto said... add, I would say JL would admit repentance is not a prior condition but part of having faith and hope in Jesus Christ. In the NRC, repentance is just one a slew of conditions and extra burdens placed on the convert, hence they are denied Grace.... JL can't have it both ways and he needs to be clear on this very vital point.... I think he is purposely vague as not to be labeled hypercalvinist and legalist bordering on Pharisees which NRC obviously are... Or at least greatly resemble

Unknown said...

Sorry, Anthony, you are not correct. As I have said to you before, "The FRC and NRC are kissing cousins in many ways historically". That is our connection. If there are intersections in our way of thinking, it is because of our common past, if we differ, it's because we are not the same denomination. I don't play both sided as you accuse. My original post simply pointed out our common ground and how easy it is to speak of things we do not understand. I don't know why you bring my name into this and then uncharitably impugn my motives in public? My sermons are online and one can judge easily where I stand on each and every one of these subjects. Just listen to my last sermon on the Leaven of the Pharisees.

A. Castellitto said...
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A. Castellitto said...

Well, I will say no more. I listened to an nrc sermon a few days ago on cassette and it made me very agitated now being able to reflect on my experience with some further clarity.... My nature is to call out things... If you've read my blogs, it helps me getting all these things off my chest... Sorry, I've tried to change... Its who I am. I hope you make some inroads....

A. Castellitto said...

What we really need is a debate... OPC minister maybe, FRC and NRC... In churches like the NRC they don't listen to the concerns of the layperson. We all need to be challenged to see if what we affirm can withstand the light of scriptures....

instead of standing up and saying we are the truth... Stand up to the scrutiny of God's word. And your fellow man.... You intersect with people much more than most outsiders .... Sorry, just thinking out loud

A. Castellitto said...

Sorry, James brought you up again... Sorry you've become a target of my ire.... Really, who am I anyway? God Bless. I'm out

James Swan said...

A. Castellitto said...Sorry, James brought you up again... Sorry you've become a target of my ire.... Really, who am I anyway? God Bless. I'm out

In context, I stated previously:

"In retrospect, I still concur with what I posted back in 2015: The NRC is off-balance. I would not go so far as giving them cult status or saying her members are brain-washed. I did appreciate the interaction above with Rev. Lewis (even though he was not exactly NRC). I would not in any way say that Rev. Lewis is a cult leader or is brain-washed."

This comment was not intended to be an invitation to discuss Rev. Lewis. I did not intend it to be interpreted in a such a way. In fairness, I can understand why someone with a passionate zeal against the NRC would be inclined to present a contrary viewpoint and think that my words were a license to make personal comments directed towards Rev. Lewis. The fault lies with me, even if unintentionally for stirring the pot. My apologies to both of you.

I believe inter-Reformed debate can be a healthy means to strengthen the church. In my years online, I have rarely seen unmoderated online discourse provide meaningful results. Simply looks above in the comment section here. On the other hand, I think moderated debate can be useful. I've been in written moderated word-count situations that (I believe) can provide meaningful results. Moderated in-person encounters can also be useful. I'm not the person to debate the NRC in a moderated situation, but I certainly support the idea.

My suggestion to Mr. Castellitto would be to look for a constructive encounter with an NRC advocate. Note the debate format of this link:

This link is a record of a moderated written debate I had with a defender of Rome. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and I appreciated the format. Why not seek a similar situation on a topic relevant to the NRC? I'm suspect the Puritan Board would allow such an encounter.



James Swan said...

I'm suspect the Puritan Board would allow such an encounter.

should be... " I suspect the Puritan Board would allow such an encounter."

PuritanAudioBooks said...

This whole thread "Got Assurance" has been very interesting. I am actually a Reformed Baptist but have narrated puritan and reformed works for 32 years. I live in Grand Rapids, MI. So I am somewhat familiar with the history. I wanted to read testimonies of some who were in the NRC churches and especially if anyone sat under the ministry of W.C.Lamain. There is one lady attending our church who did. I was also interested in why the Heritage Reformed Congregation split off from the NRC. I know people who can detail this history. I was interested in why Dr. Joel Beeke was and still is ostracized by the NRC and even members in his own congregation to this day. Interestingly enough his doctrinal dissertation was on Assurance of Salvation and the 2nd Dutch Reformation. I talked to people who lived in the same complex with W C Lamain's widow who admitted she had little affection for Dr. Beeke. But why am I here today reading this blog? I am lecturing on Pilgrim's Progress and this week I discuss "Little Faith." So I am interested in this history in my own city. It isn't just the NRC churches that appear imbalanced on this subject. So are certain Strict Baptists, one 86 year old pastor in this area for sure. Also, the bent of the ministry and publishing of International Outreach Ministries and William Nichols appears imbalanced as well. In combatting one error, false conversions, the pendelum swings to an opposite error. I am not too interested in getting into a debate here with those who are defending the NRC. I am more interested in their doctrine of assurance and the rarity of conversions. Years ago I wrote a 60 page paper on what I know of this subject, for 35 years I have tried to find the balance of truth.

James Swan said...


Thanks for your comments. Interesting point about the "Strict Baptists." Some years back I was invited to a picnic and ended up having a conversation with a few people with NRC leanings. I'm not sure exactly how it happened, but these folks were saying Baptists couldn't really be "Reformed." I ended up defending the baptists (I'm not a Baptist). It was an interesting evening. Fast forward a few years to when I had some work done at my house, and I inadvertently hired someone who was NRC (great work by the way). This person argued somewhere along the lines that the NRC was the real Reformed church here in the United States, and all the others were simply split-offs from the NRC. To me, both of these stories further point out imbalance, particularly imbalance within a Reformed worldview.

This blog entry simply details the experience I had with the NRC. The "Dutch" are not my main area of interest, so I don't spend a lot of time with the issues related to that particular tradition. At the time I wrote this entry, I had a close friend smitten with the NRC, and she was trying to assimilate into their world, which never happened. In fairness to the NRC, I only attended one service, and that hardly constitutes a fair sampling of the NRC worldview. I'm actually going to go back for a second visit at some point.

I can think of one particular person though that would probably give you helpful and accurate answers in regard to Rev. Beeke: Dr. Cornelius Venema. I studied Dutch church history under him at one point. I do recall going over the J. Beeke situation briefly.

Kevin Brandon said...

As someone from the Dutch 'branch' of the NRC (de Gereformeerde Gemeenten) I have read this post with great interest. I recognize many of the imbalances you pointed out. Here in The Netherlands the churches struggle with the same problems. In many churches, especially those on the Veluwe a soft form of hyper calvinism is all too present.

People are encouraged to look to themselves, instead of looking to Christ. I have compared many of the sermons with this experience: Imagine being very, very hungry. You go to a bakery to get bread and the baker keeps telling you how hungry you must be and in what way you must experience the hunger. And in what way you must come to be hungry. And how many other people also have been hungry, and that they were so hungry they almost died. The baker keeps asking you whether you know for sure you are hungry enough, and whether you know that you are truly hungry. And says you need to know the moment you first became hungry, and says you need to know that you have been hungry for long enough. (I think you get my point by now) He then says he only sells bread to people who are hungry enough and fulfill all the conditions he first expounded. He then shuts the door right to your face.

(I think you get the application to preaching)

This kind of preaching is, I think, more present in the North American churches, than in the Dutch churches. All this to say: the gospel is still preached in the NRC, not all sermons are like the one I just described. In Holland there are still quite a number of preachers who don't preach like that. (although sometimes I fear they are becoming rare) Even in North America there are some who still preach the free and well-meant offer of the Gospel to all, indiscriminantly. Most notably the Rev. A.T. Vergunst. I would say that our denomination is a real mixed bag, you never know what you're going to get.

When I first got converted I really struggled to know whether my conviction of sin was great enough, and whether my hunger for Christ was sincere enough. It took me a great while (3 years) to come to actually believe that the gospel offer was sincere, and that it was free and indiscriminant. I think it was because of the preaching I heard back then (the pastor has since accepted a call to another church).

Funny to see PuritanAudiobooks commenting here, his lecture on "Little Faith" caused me to do a Google search in English, which led me to this blog. The lecture was very well done and edifying, by the way.

James Swan said...

Hi Kevin,

Your analogy of the bakery is a perfect description of the problem- a far better description than anything I wrote in this entry. Now in retrospect, now that I'm not in the heat of the moment, the entire thing with the NRC and assurance.. is just heartbreaking. I'm not sure if I mentioned this above in a previous comment... but I'm going to relate a story told to me by an ex-NRC member:

He told me that his elderly mother was on her deathbed. She had been in the NRC her whole life, and had raised her entire family in the NRC (I think she had at least 7-10 children). She was by all accounts, a woman who had lived a dedicated Christian life. Her pastor came to visit her while she was dying. He asked her, "Have you heard from the Lord yet?" She responded, "no." He looked back at her and just shook his head left to right. That was it. That was the comfort of the Gospel that this man gave to a dying woman. I was told that story about ten years ago. It still angers me to this day.

Chris said...

Hi Brandon,

I read your comments with sadness Brandon. I think it’s sad that an active NRC member is saying that some NRC churches have become hyper Calvinist.

I think the opposite is true. More and more we are moving towards an easy believism doctrine where a rich Christ is preached, and sinners aren’t poor anymore. If you feel your former Pastor was questioning the depth of sorrow, hunger and thirst a communicant should experience (i.e. and made you question that in yourself), he was likely trying to impress upon the congregation that the sorrow after God goes so deep that you abhor yourself and justify God. Such an abhorrence that it is a wonder the Lord allows you two feet on this earth. It teaches you that to “repent and believe” is something you are unable to do and you learn that “without Me ye can do nothing!” It becomes your guilt, “Lord I believe, help Thou mine unbelief!” An historical faith goes far…common convictions and grace that can reflect the experiences of a child of God but they miss the spiritual experience of becoming a depraved and lost sinner. 1 Cor 2: “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

I’ve had these discussion with my son. He tells me he doesn’t understand the Bible at all. I tell him that’s the wonder of free grace, of God’s sovereignty. However, the Lord says that we must seek Him with our whole being (heart, mind and soul) and we don’t do that. If we really did I firmly believe “those that seek Me in truth shall find Me.” He then gives “ears to hear and eyes to see” and the whole world is a new place.

It’s true that all ministers should preach a balance of separating preaching: God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, and I too have noticed that it doesn’t always happen. They either lean too far to God’s sovereignty or too far to man’s responsibility. More and more they tend to go to man’s responsibility as if carnal man has the ability to repent and believe. The bottom line is everyone of those minister will have to account to God for how they led and taught their congregations. Therefore, the example James gave of a minister [sadly] shaking his head when he asked an old member if the Lord had spoken to her and she said no, is the way our ministers should handle it. He cannot offer comfort of eternal happiness if there has never been a quickening from our natural death state to being made alive. Conversion is not because you have lived an exemplary life….it just means you will not have to pay for the sins you never committed.

You know the wonder of our new Rev. Al-Chalabi in the Netherlands. Have you ever heard his life story; how he was pulled out of this world (a world of evolution, hard rock music, etc.) and went to many churches in Holland but ended up in the NRC because they declared what was going on in his heart. He was here in America last summer and he spoke about Jonah in the whale and experiencing the Lord’s justice. You should contact him Brandon. His Dutch is impeccable, and his English is very, very good. So you would understand each other.

Just as an added note, has the poem of John Newton never become your poem? This is the first verse:
T’is a point I long to know
Oft it causes anxious thought
Do I love the Lord or no
Am I His or am I not?

Chris Heerschap

PuritanAudioBooks said...

Kevin said "Funny to see PuritanAudiobooks commenting here, his lecture on "Little Faith..." Thanks for your testimony Kevin. I didn't share my name. Puritan Audiobooks dot net is my site, my name is Tom Sullivan and tomorrow I will be teaching on "Mr Fearing" from Pilgrim's Progress Part 2. Since I started my studies for "Little Faith" {Pilgrim's Progress} and came across this site, I found this helpful new site where a brother who is also a Reformed Baptist wants to provide help for those coming out of the N R C churches.
I remember years ago reading a testimony from someone who was in the N R C. She would talk about David, in the Psalms, using the word "righteous." She thought that the Psalm did not apply to her because she never saw herself as "righteous." Most of the testimony was about the aim of one day convincing the elders to allow her to be a "communicant" member. Sad.

Kevin Brandon said...

Hi Chris,

I have read your comment, and I appreciate your concerns. I agree that easy believism is a very dangerous doctrine, which sends many people to destruction with a false hope of heaven.

However, the NRC has overreacted to this problem. Some of the pastors have taken one sign (which certainly in Gods people will not be absent), namely grief over sin, and made it THE all important sign, which is an imbalance. This imbalance has lead to the kind of preaching I described in the analogy of the bakery. Next to that, I don't think ministers should look for signs of regeneration at all, when it comes to the preaching of the Gospel. It should be preached freely, openly, indiscriminantly and in a well-meaning manner to all creatures. (Mark 16:15)

Certainly, experiential preaching is very important. It can be a great comfort to come to church and to hear the preacher as it were describe what has been going on in your heart that week. But at the end of the day, what is it? When I am a poor, needy sinner, I don't care about that anymore. Even if a thousand pastors said all the things that had been going on in my heart for years on end, I would still be a poor, needy, wretched sinner. Because those experiences are not Christ! I want Christ to be exalted in the preaching! I want Christ to be 'pressed into my hands' when I go to church. I want the promises of the Gospel to be declared to me. I cannot take Christ for my own of my own strength, He has to be given offered to me, in the preaching, in the sacraments.

When a sinner sees Christ, showed to him in the Gospel, then his heart has something to hold onto. Then his faith has an Object. Then he can mount up with wings as of an eagle! Because all is finished! All his needs are fulfilled, because he now sees Christ, Who is put before him by the preaching of the Gospel promises. Never has a more fitting Saviour been found for child of Adam's fallen race.

This is also experiential. This is the experience sinners need. Not endlessly focussing on the depth of their own sinfulness, because in it only death can be found. It grieves me that this preaching of the gospel is so often lacking in many of our churches.

You said: (...) He cannot offer comfort of eternal happiness if there has never been a quickening from our natural death state to being made alive. (...) I do not want to start a whole discussion about these things here, but I have to disagree. Can you find a thing more fitting to a dead sinner than the Gospel? Does God Himself not promise that, when the gospel is preached, He Himself will quicken dead people? What else can a minister offer but Christ? This situation is THE situation in which the Gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation, MUST be preached. What else can we do, if we do not have the Gospel, we are undone. To neglect to preach the gospel in this situation, I am sorry to say, looks a lot like hypercalvinism.

The Rev. Al-Chalabi has also preached at our church. I have also heard his testimony (in Dutch), it is certainly miraculous how he was drawn out of the darkness, into the light of Christ!

If you speak Dutch I would advise you to read the book: 'De prediking van het Evangelie - Het aanbod van genade' of Ds. C. Harinck (he will be preaching at our church this evening, by the way). It is a very wonderful book in which he voices my concerns better than I ever could. The reactions to his book haven't been too kind from some people in the more 'hyper calvinist wing' of our denomination.

Kevin Brandon said...

Hi James,

Those stories are all too common. I can also become quite angry with the way the Gospel is obscured behind all kinds of systems and preconceived notions. Many people believe that they will never be converted and live just passively waiting for God to convert them. In some (soft) hypercalvinist churches, pastors who preach from verses like 2 Cor. 5:20 "Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God." are immediately viewed as suspect. The Gospel is not to be preached that freely, in their view.

It grieves me greatly to know that the youth in those congregations often live in great fear that they will never be converted. In the end, they often turn away from church alltogether. Then they become hardened to the truth, because they think the Gospel is not for them. They dare not think about the things of God anymore, because their conscience pains them too much with the thought that there is no escape. I know someone who starts hyperventilating when he has to go to church or when the Bible is read. Another boy said he thought it was a shame he was baptised as an infant. Because it would only, in his view, lead to a deeper place in hell, when he went there having been baptised. I'm typing this with tears in my eyes.

Fortunately this is not the case in most congregations, but I'd say 15% of congregations come dangerously close (and judging from your experience and the percentage in North America is higher). This is where hyper calvinist theology leads. I hope and pray that God will be gracious to my denomination. We are in great need.

Kevin Brandon said...

Hi Tom,

I will certainly be listening to that! The website I also have checked out, a lot of great information on there. Especially the warnings to the churches by J. C. Ryle. As long as my congregation doesn't go the hyper calvinist way I don't really intend to leave. I would say that in the Netherlands we have more balance in numbers (around 100 congregations), so I think that would explain the differences. The American congregations of our denomination are over here often seen as very extreme in their views.

If I'm not mistaken the Dutch congregations also sided with Dr. J. R. Beeke in that controversy back in the day.

James Swan said...

Chris said...More and more we are moving towards an easy believism doctrine where a rich Christ is preached, and sinners aren’t poor anymore.

Here is a perfect example on the imbalance of the NRC. I've come across folks from the local NRC church around here, and they think the Reformed church I belong to is "easy believisim," which is simply pharisaical nonsense. The gist is, if it isn't "NRC believism" then its "easy believisim." The NRC is not the standard of piety.

Chris said... Therefore, the example James gave of a minister [sadly] shaking his head when he asked an old member if the Lord had spoken to her and she said no, is the way our ministers should handle it. He cannot offer comfort of eternal happiness if there has never been a quickening from our natural death state to being made alive. Conversion is not because you have lived an exemplary life….it just means you will not have to pay for the sins you never committed.

What you've missed is that by all accounts, the woman I described was a genuine follower of Jesus, but the false NRC imbalanced assurance paradigm she was trapped in never allowed her to experience the comfort being in Christ.

Chris, since you've been posting comments here for a few years now, your most recent comments present an opportunity for the following questions:

1) Do you have the "comfort of eternal happiness" because you've had a "quickening" from your "natural death state to being made alive"? If so, how do you know?

2) Do you take communion?

3) How many people in your NRC church take communion?

James Swan said...

PuritanAudioBooks said...

From Kevin's comments above I went and tracked down what he had listened to from your site. It appears to have been this:

I listened to it last night, and found it quite useful. Thanks so much for this presentation... perhaps Chris could take a listen to it as well.

One book you may find useful is the text Dr. Venema made me read while I studied under him: Bratt's Dutch Calvinism in Modern America

Based though on listening to your lecture, you may already have this book.

Also very useful in understanding the CRC branch of the Dutch church is to track down their Acts of Synod volumes. You'll find overlap with the other Dutch churches in the controversies these texts document, like the "Common Grace" controversy.

It's quite an irony for me to be part of church with a distinctly Dutch heritage. MY father was Dutch, but I was not raised in either a Dutch or Reformed church.

James Swan said...

Kevin Brandon said.... It grieves me greatly to know that the youth in those congregations often live in great fear that they will never be converted. In the end, they often turn away from church alltogether. Then they become hardened to the truth, because they think the Gospel is not for them.

Yes. I know one of these people. She was raised in a large Dutch family from a town called Prospect Park New Jersey. This town had a large Dutch population at one time. The Dutch settled here way back when...I assume this woman is now in her mid-60's. The times I've spoken to her about her upbringing in the NRC are heartbreaking.

PuritanAudioBooks said...

James: Thanks for mentioning Venema's book. I will look for it. Since I have narrated Puritan and Reformed Books going on 33 years, I have read the most searching books in the history of the church in English. From Touchstone of Sincerity, Flavel to Sincere Convert and Parable of the 10 Virgins by Shepard and even rare books on this subject like Jacob Helffenstein ... Self-deception. A W Pink, Thomas Boston on and on. Let me use an illustration. A rare biography of Jonathan Edwards by Alexander Allen states that if you can read Jonathan Edwards's Treatise on the Religious Affections and still believe in your conversion, you may well have the highest assurance of your faith's reality. I narrated that book years ago. A friend of mine took the audio cassettes and started listening to them. He actually listened to them 4 times in a row! Of course he was in the doldrums, almost no assurance left. I explained to him his error. But if I was a pastor and I told him that not only must he read that book often, he also must show the marks of being brought to Christ as detailed as David Brainerd's conversion, or Asahel Nettleton's conversion, or his own conversion is suspect: and he heard this message year after year and embraced it tenaciously, what would be the result? If on top of that we explained that God's converting work of His Spirit is very various and Sarah Edwards never went through such a law work conversion, what are we to think if someone told us we were in error? I have a dear friend who is a well known retired pastor who taught 4 Sunday Schools entitled, Counseling Your Awakened Children. I will post the link. An old Baptist pastor - about 86 - cannot mention Albert Martin without referencing his disagreement with the second lesson. Why? Because Al Martin says not all children have the same type of conversion, if perhaps they grew up in a Christian home. (not a conversion, for example, that is detailed in almost all storied in James Janeway's A Token For Children. This pastor believes that Martin was in error and any other conversion, besides what we label as a "crisis experience conversion" is erroneous. So what are we to think? You can guess the result. He is the pastor I made reference to is my teaching on Pilgrim's Progress "Little Faith" whose daughter - my age - has never had assurance and doesn't know if she is converted!

James Swan said...

Hi Tom:

Thank you so much for sharing your insights into the assurance subject. You've studied it a lot more than I have! Some years back, I tried to grapple with the Reformed perspective on this subject. I put together this brief blog post:

The major flaw of this post is that I'm not well-read in Edwards. If you have a moment to look it over, I'd appreciate any insights you might have.


Chris said...

Hi Kevin,

[“Kevin said: …Certainly, experiential preaching is very important. It can be a great comfort to come to church and to hear the preacher as it were describe what has been going on in your heart that week. But at the end of the day, what is it? When I am a poor, needy sinner, I don't care about that anymore. Even if a thousand pastors said all the things that had been going on in my heart for years on end, I would still be a poor, needy, wretched sinner. Because those experiences are not Christ!”]

Absolutely those experiences are not Christ! But it’s precisely that miserable depravity that drives you out and makes you hunger and thirst for the righteous of Jesus Christ! And for sure there is death in those experiences: death in Adam (who you are in Paradise, an enemy!), life in Christ (Who He is for an enemy!) Without that reminder of where we come from (in the open field “…polluted in thine own blood…” Ezekiel 16) we have no need for a Redeemer. Adam niet geleerd, Christus niet begeerd. Even after grace received we remain proud high-minded individuals and are in great danger of becoming rich and wealthy in our own righteousnesses and “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” Don’t think too lightly Brandon of being reminded of your miserable depravity for the self-righteous Pharisee is alive and well in all our hearts. We leave our first Love more than we leave our own vain interests. “He must increase and I must decrease.”

[“Kevin said: …I want Christ to be exalted in the preaching! I want Christ to be 'pressed into my hands' when I go to church. I want the promises of the Gospel to be declared to me. I cannot take Christ for my own of my own strength, He has to be given offered to me, in the preaching, in the sacraments.”]

Three things:
1. You need to “storm the heavens with violence” to ask the Lord Jesus to come into your heart, not the ministers. The mandate of our ministers are to teach and explain the Bible as it relates to Law and Gospel. Without the Law and knowledge of our misery we have no need for the salvation offered in the Gospels. The Law condemns which makes the Redeemer so precious. The Lord Jesus Christ didn’t press or push Himself onto any of His followers. He taught and preached but many left Him for they could not handle His preaching (that He was the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Door, the Bread etc.) and He did not follow after them and press Himself on them “for He knew what was in man.” Any more than you don’t like the Pastor to press your misery upon you, he also cannot press the Lord Jesus onto you. That is the work of the precious Holy Spirt Who applies the “foolishness of preaching” to a sinner’s heart. It is the Lord Jesus Who has to take you by heart and hand. That is not the responsibility of the minister.
2. I’m sorry you find that Christ isn’t offered to you in the preaching and in the sacraments. When I think of how I never heard His name in my unregenerate state, I now find I hear it all the time and by grace may sometimes see Him in all His beauty. The wonder never gets less that He is so willing to have dealings with an unwilling and unfaithful people.
3. Preaching has to be separated. It has to address all the hearers, i.e., those that come out of custom, those that are there because their parents say so, those who are old and unconverted, those who are young and unconverted, those who have come with questions and hunger and thirst, even those that sleep or for whatever reason. Not everyone is at the same place. We have to be given ears to hear. The preaching has to be for all who are under the call of the Gospel not to only a particular people. That would be a huge imbalance if they didn’t do that.

Chris Heerschap

Chris said...

page 2

As for the woman on her deathbed, do you honestly not think the pastor didn’t read a portion from the Bible. I’m surprised that you say that. When we turned our backs to God in Paradise, there came a “great gulf fixed” (a book title) and what value is Christ to a dying person if they have never experienced that “they are without God in the world!” Ephesians. The promises are yay and amen to a lost sinner but it is a dead letter to a dead sinner. I am sure the pastor’s heart was sad for the condition of this woman and that he prayed that the Lord would yet speak to her heart. We are so quick to condemn but every time we point a finger, three fingers are pointing back at ourself. And that applies to me too.

But I gotta run so will leave it like this for now.
Chris Heerschap

Chris said...

Sorry Kevin, didn't mean to call you Brandon in my response.

Chris said...

Hi James,

First I apologize if I have offended you. Topics like religion and politics are sensitive topics and the written word is offen less compassionate than the face to face. So I'm sorry. I had no idea that you followed the HC in your faith as I didn't look further into your website.

Second, thank you for allowing this conversation on your website.

I will try to address some of your comments and questions:
[James said: What you've missed is that by all accounts, the woman I described was a genuine follower of Jesus, but the false NRC imbalanced assurance paradigm she was trapped in never allowed her to experience the comfort being in Christ.]

Nothing in your comments indicated that she was more than a nominal Christian (one who attends church and raises his/her family in the church and teaches them about the Bible, sends their kids to their Christian school, leads an impeccable outward life, lives and professes a very conservative lifestyle). I believe you said a dedicated Christian. If she had testified of the Lord's work in her soul previously, she would still have been asked if the Lord had spoken to her. They ask to hear if the Lord visited them on their sickbed. And our pastors definitely preach that regeneration does not happen outside of your conscience (e.g. in your subconscience), and it has to happen on this side of eternity. The bottom line (to take away some of your anger I hope) is that the Lord needs to know of us, not a human being. If the Lord knew her but she had no liberty to speak about her spiritual struggles, then He will most definitely gather her into His heavenly home. Then it doesn't matter what anyone else says or does.

[Q1) Do you have the "comfort of eternal happiness" because you've had a "quickening" from your "natural death state to being made alive"? If so, how do you know?]

It's a very personal question and I've given some indication in previous comments about what I experienced. Straight answer: when faith is active, I have no doubts about "eternal happiness" and I long to be with Him where He is; when faith is not active and I have to cringe when some of the most horrible thoughts come up into my mind and spirit and almost out of my mouth, then I doubt my salvation and think about the Word which says "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." As you know it is not what goes into the mouth but what comes out of the mouth.

You put the word quickening in quotes. At the risk of offending, you do realize that it states in Ephesians 2 "And you hath He quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins" right? And in 1 Cor 15 "for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive?" In John I believe "It is the Spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing..?" Then the answer is Yes I do believe the Lord quickened me from my death state. It happened under a sermon and was life changing. What I used to love (the world and all it had to offer, as in makeup, reading material, dress, prayer!, etc.) I hated, and what I used to hate (God, the Bible, our Pastors, church) I loved!! (Just to qualify, I didn't know I hated God or the Bible but when I first starting reading the Bible because I hungered to read it, it condemned me; it offered no comfort! And that stripping of our own self-righteousness was and is painful but it was necessary... I had to learn nothing of me was acceptable to God. The path He leads you on is a straight path from His side, but from my side I have deviated repeatedly (to my sorrow!). The Bible says, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me," and in that beginning life it was easy to do. Now after many years, denying myself and picking up my cross is hard to do! I'll be the first to tell you that I have given the Lord a lot of work in "drawing me out of darkness into His marvelous Light!" .../pg 2

Chris Heerschap

Chris said...

page 2
Assured of my salvation? Sometimes. Many times I can relate to the church in Laodecea about "being lukewarm" and the Lord says He will "spue" you out. Yes this is my inner spiritual conflict and why we can have assurance of faith but often not full assurance of faith.

[2) Do you take communion?]
I'm sure I don't need to answer this.

[3) How many people in your NRC church take communion?]
I believe I answered this in a previous comment. Not to say numbers because I personally don't believe numbers mean anything. I feel we are in danger of either over estimating the Lord's Supper or under estimating it. And that goes for Holy Baptism too. Holy Baptism signifies the washing away of sin but most of us think very lightly of the significance of that sacrament.

I hope I've answered some of your questions. Once again I'm sorry if I have offended you in my overzealous responses.

Chris Heerschap

Chris said...

Hi James,

Was reading from Baca's Vale this morning. Thought I would share today's portion with you.

February 13
“O send out thy light and thy truth: let them lead me; let them bring me unto thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles.” Psalm 43:3

A living man cannot, in his right mind, bear the idea of standing still, that is to say, standing still so as to have no spiritual work going on within; and still less can he bear the idea of going backward. He wants to go forward. He is often dissatisfied with his state; he feels how little he knows; he is well certified of the shallowness of his attainments in the divine life, as well as of the ignorance and the blindness that are in him; and therefore, labouring under the feeling of his own shortcomings for the past, his helplessness for the present, and his ignorance for the future, he wants to go forward wholly and solely in the strength of the Lord, to be led, guided, directed, kept, not by the wisdom and power of the creature, but by the supernatural entrance of light and truth into his soul. The mercy-seat is continually covered with clouds; God hideth himself, and he cannot behold him; the truth seems obscured so that he cannot realise it. He often cannot find his way to Christ; he cannot perceive the path of life, nor whether his feet are in that path. He sees so few marks of grace in his soul, and feels so powerfully the workings of sin and corruption; he finds so few things for him and so many things against him, that he often staggers, and is perplexed in his mind, and seems almost to come to a feeling in his heart, that he is destitute of the grace of God altogether, that the secret of the Lord is not with him, but that he is a hypocrite in Zion, who has never had even the beginning of wisdom communicated to his soul.

This explains better than I can what happens the reason for doubts when faith is not active.

Just wanted to share with you. No doubt you have this volume yourself.

Unknown said...

There are some positive things about Netherlands Reformed Congregations, but great opportunity for renewal if a few people would: greet their members and guests warmly with Jesus's love and say, "Hi, How are you?" and mean it; internalize the statement "Jesus accepts me" and believe Bible verses that talk about having an assurance of salvation; receive Communion regularly as a testimony of Jesus' kindness; develop wisdom in majoring on the majors of Christian teaching and promoting unity. Would you do this in your congregation? I hope you will, as you're extremely important.

Anonymous said...

Chris is totally drinking the NRC koolaid and sounds insane

Anonymous said...

As far as I can see, one thing is left out of all of these posts and that is that it is God who will judge the soul in the end and not ANY human being. The Bible states, "Judge not, lest ye be judged." That being said, how can any elder or any other person judge the heart of the believer?

A. Castellitto said...

"It's a very personal question and I've given some indication in previous comments about what I experienced. Straight answer: when faith is active, I have no doubts about "eternal happiness" and I long to be with Him where He is; when faith is not active and I have to cringe when some of the most horrible thoughts come up into my mind and spirit and almost out of my mouth, then I doubt my salvation and think about the Word which says "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."

I think there are many who can relate to this.... Thank you for sharing that. But to have active faith you must be a genuine believer. I don't believe the NRC promotes active faith outside true, saving faith. So, sometimes I wonder if we can become to 'me' focused, not in an Antinomianism sort of way, but the other extreme... I'm a big fan of Paul Washer and on some days he sounds like a man who would be welcome to preach in an NRC church. I think when we are weak and Jesus is strong and that is pronounced and celebrated, no matter how weak or afflicted we may be, God is honored by such sentiments/testimonies. There is no shame in claiming our utter need and dependency... We needn't keep it to ourselves. Unless we fear the judgement of men.... But I do believe the road unto salvation is narrow