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 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 probably 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 (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.

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 probably aren't in public school anymore because they've built their own private NRC school. They also probably have smart phones and computers to bypass the TV restrictions.

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. I have a faint memory that 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, she 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!  

34 comments:

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.

James

Leonardo Brazil 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: Sermonweb.org , 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.

-continued-

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: Sermonweb.org , 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?

AJ Castellitto 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

AJ Castellitto said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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.

James

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.

Blessings,

AJ Castellitto said...

Neonomism
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

Leonardo Brazil 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 http://www.nrcpicturebutte.ca/what-does-nrc-mean/ : “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”.

AJ Castellitto said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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.

-continued-

James Swan said...

-continued-

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.

AJ Castellitto 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.

AJ Castellitto 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...

James,
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,

AJ Castellitto 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.

AJ Castellitto said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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
Canada

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.