REFORMED CHURCHES OF NEW ZEALAND

(Originally published in the Ordained Servant)


New Zealand is a country, which prides itself on being "GODíS OWN COUNTRY"!

When we came to this fair land in the early fifties, we were warmly welcomed and asked what we thought of "Godís Own Country". What could we say in response?

With our membership certificates from our home-churches in our pockets, we sought true and faithful churches. Most commenced worshipping in Presbyterian churches, while others sought fellowship in Methodist and Baptist churches. In time, as we improved our understanding of the English language, we realised that their claim to be "Godís Own" was not quite correct!

We found a liberal Presbyterian Church, which denied the truth of Godís Word. We were told that the Bible IS not Godís Word; it CONTAINS Godís Word.

We called Rev J.W Deenick, to give spiritual leadership to the Dutch Protestant Community and asked him to investigate the ecclesiastical situation in this land of adoption. He spoke with many churchmen, theologians, even professors at Knox College and eventually advised us to establish Reformed Churches to safeguard our heritage in the Calvinistic Reformation of the 16th century.

In a 55-page booklet "Will Presbyterianism Survive in New Zealand?" he questioned the validity of the claim that the N.Z. Presbyterian Church represents the historical faith of the Reformation. His conclusion was that it had become a vaguely Protestant Church.

We called to the Presbyterian Church to wake up and return to the Biblical teaching and discipline that originally had been their practice. Until this happened, we would have to stand separately "for conscience sake".

The present position, allowing women in office and permitting homosexually orientated men to seek the ministry in their churches has caused a serious division in their denomination. Recently their General Assembly has appointed a "Commission on Diversity" to find a "peaceful" solution in order to prevent a split in their ranks.

In 1953 the first Reformed Churches were established in the three main centres, Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. A "Protocol" was signed by all those willing to support the establishment of this new denomination in their midst. This document included among others the following statements: "As the basis of this Church we accept with a faithful heart the Holy Scripture as the infallible Word of God and the Confession of Faith in accordance with that Word as the Churches of the Reformation have formulated them in the Confession Belgica (Dutch: "Nederlandse geloofsbelijdenis"), the Heidelberg Catechism and the canons of Dort, besides which we also accept the Westminster Confession of Faith, only with certain reservations concerning some points mentioned in an end note.

We will maintain this basis through exercising Christian discipline concerning doctrine and life, in accordance with the Scriptures and our Confession of Faith, and according to the Church Order of Dort, which we accept for the present as an agreement of church life."

Initially, there was strong opposition from several sides within the Dutch communities and also in the wider NZ religious community, so much so that an approach was made to the government of the day to discourage the Dutch community from establishing their own churches. The in-word at the time was integration into the New Zealand society, strongly promoted by the authorities! In later years this country has become more and more a multi-cultural society.

Within months, God provided us with the unbelievable! A lotto ticket won by an elder in one of the Presbyterian Churches, caused quite a furore in their midst when their session disciplined the office-bearer. However, it found no support in their Presbytery. A group in that church, led by their pastor and some elders, then sought membership in our churches as a congregation. This event hastened our integration into the NZ society. Our NZ brethren challenged certain "Dutch" habits, such as smoking and drinking. The joke was that if they saw a smoker in the street, they reasoned that he or she was either a local heathen or Dutch.

However, they urged us to study the character of our churches and also anglicize our liturgy and organisation and have it streamlined according to NZ standards.

We immediately commenced studying the Westminster Confession of Faith with the wish to adopt it as one of our Confessions. Its study commenced in 1953 and concluded at the 1965 Synod; some minor modifications were introduced.

One of our churches presented a "gravamen" at that Synod (1965), objecting that the Sabbath (the Lordís Day) is a law of nature. This matter was concluded by 1971 when the gravamen was not sustained. That same Synod (1971) also made a declaration

"That subscription by office bearers is understood in the following way:

  1. That the person making subscription subscribes to ALL the doctrines set forth in the confessions, as being doctrines, which are the teaching of the Word of God.
  2. That the subscriber, so subscribes to all these doctrines, be they understood in the eyes of men as being MAJOR or MINOR doctrines of the Christian faith, without any reservation on his part, and that he confesses these doctrines to be his own understanding of the teaching of the Word of God, desires to maintain such, and rejects all other teachings which would contradict the same.
  3. That the subscriber DOES NOT by his subscription declare that the statements of these doctrines are formulated in the best manner, or with the use of the best words, or that the Confessional Standards of our denomination cover ALL the teaching of the Scriptures on the matters confessed, or that every teaching of Scripture is dealt with by the Confessional Standards, or that the Confessional Standards of our denomination refute all the heresies that now exist.
  4. That only the doctrines intentionally conveyed are binding, and not such allusions, or incidental remarks, or propositions which can be derived from the Confessions, are binding. Nevertheless no one is free ultimately to decide for himself or for the Church what is and what is not a doctrine contained in the Standards. If such a question shall arise, the Form of Subscription itself specifies quite clearly that it is the decision of the Court of the Church that shall be sought, reached, and acquiesced in, in every case."
Reaching out into our communities has never been a comfortable priority. Although we had a denominational Home Mission and Church Extension Committee, throughout the years of its existence it mainly operated as a financial lender to assist churches for their building projects. However, Synod 1986 adopted an extensive report on "Home Mission Principles", which was followed by another report on Home Mission Strategies at the next Synod of 1989. We admit to our shame that its decisions were never made a reality!

However, ten years later, Synod gave the Home Mission Committee a new mandate and additional personnel to motivate the churches once again to reach out into their communities with the Gospel of Salvation!

On the Ecumenical scene, at our very first Synod, immediately after we had established the first three churches in the main centres, we applied for membership in both the International Council of Christian Churches (ICCC) and the Reformed Ecumenical Synod (RES), now known as the Reformed Ecumenical Council.

In our "isolation", there was a strong sense of a need of identity and a sense of wanting to "belong" to a world-wide Reformed Circle. But, after much internal strife and debate we pulled out of the I.C.C.C. in 1969 and twenty years later our churches resigned from the R.E.C. when this body refused to expel the GKN from their membership.

With much thankfulness we may now belong to the world-wide body of the International Council of Reformed Churches, which endeavours to remain faithful to the Word of God and the Confessions.

We still are the Church Militant, always remaining on our guard against the wily devil, who constantly tries to side-track us into the miry clay of falsehood and deception.

Our small denomination consists of three Presbyteries (Classes), seventeen churches and two preaching posts with a total membership of nearly 3,300 members.

To conclude let me say that, having come almost to the close of the 20th century and been in existence over half a century, we have, by the pure grace of God, remained faithful to His Word and the Confessions. We have known temptations and struggles but God has been faithful to be a witness in an increasingly godless society.

Dick G Vanderpyl
 
 

Back to the Article Index 


Faith in Focus /NZ Reformed Church / gmilne@ihug.co.nz / revised July 1999 / Copyright 1999