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The final (published) version of the Acts of Synod 2006 is available as a single PDF file here.
The Acts available in HTML format are an "Approved Draft", and contain spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and typos.
These draft acts are being retained online for convenience and ease of access. Quotes should not be taken from these draft acts.
Address by Reverend J Plug
on behalf of the Committee on Relations Abroad of the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland
Tuesday 11th July 2006, Synod West Kelmscott, Western Australia, 2006 (Acts Article 27)

Brothers and sisters in our Lord Jesus Christ

My mother has changed, in the past decade. She has learned to say 'I love you'. I don't want you to misunderstand me. She always loved me. And I never doubted it. Those of you who remember her will know what a wonderful person she is. A life of devoted, hard work, with a very clear view of the Lord who called and enabled her, proves it. But she has continued to grow, as I like to think I have. Perhaps it has something to do with her diminishing ability to do things for others. But she has learned to express in words what she used to show, primarily, in deeds: 'I love you.' And that change signals, to my mind, a shift in our relationship. There's something more balanced about it. When I was young, I measured who I was and whether that was good enough, largely by what she did, by what she thought. There were times that I especially sought her approval to be sure that I was okay. There were also times when I measured who I was by what I did, by what I thought, differently than her. Those times have passed. I think that's called growing up. She'll always be my mother. And I'll always be her son. But our relationship has also grown up. There is now something of a sharing. As equals. Of this thing called love. Learning to say it to each other. For us that's relatively new. But also really, really important. There's a reciprocity in our relationship which means a lot. Even though we see each other rarely.

Reciprocity. That concept has been surfacing often in discussions within our deputyship for relations with churches abroad (BBK). You will be aware that those relations have expanded exponentially in the past decades. My section, for instance, one of three within BBK, now manages relations with 23 churches in countries from the Middle to the Far East, from Pakistan through Indonesia and the Philippines to Australia and New Zealand. In many of those relations financial and other aid has been a significant factor: largely one-way traffic flowing from the Netherlands to countries with developing churches. In others the traffic flow has been a little more complicated. With yourselves, for instance. There has been, on the one hand, a sharing of resources in joint mission projects. There has been cooperation, to some extent, in areas of common interest. But it seems to me that the relationship has been fairly one-sided on the level of what we mean to each other: marked from your side by a level of apprehensiveness, of concern about developments you question, and the quite explicit expression of that concern. Your deputies have done an excellent job of managing that traffic flow, they have come to our synods well-prepared, and as their report to you indicates, their input has been welcomed and put to productive use. In that respect I think it would be fair to say that we truly see and treat you as sisters, as equal and valued partners in a family relationship. We would very much like that relationship to continue, and I think it goes without saying that we believe it should, not under stress, but under the thankful recognition that it is a gift of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named. Sister-church relations are not something we establish or call into existence. We can only recognize and acknowledge and honour and apply to his glory and our mutual benefit what He has given us.

But that mutual benefit demands more than the formal exercise of relations, cooperation in areas of mission and aid, and correspondence on issues and developments which have - rightly or wrongly - raised concern among you. It demands true reciprocity, an expression of love in a mature relationship which accepts that we need one another to be whole, but that we do not need to be identical, that our growth and development are and must be from Him, through Him and to Him, but not necessarily according to the same pattern. We are family. We are sisters. But we are not identical twins.

I believe that means two things. First: we should always seek to understand before being understood. We would like to compliment your deputies' report and their majority recommendation in that respect. They have worked hard at understanding what the churches have been saying, and why they have been saying it. And we trust that your synod will recognize the validity of their conclusions and act accordingly. If our input during your deliberations will help to supplement their work: that is why we are here.

Second: you, our sister, should consider sharing with us more openly the challenges facing you. And in that respect, I suggest, our relationship has been somewhat lopsided. Not deliberately, we are convinced. But does it not call for a rethink when you consider how much of our time and energy in our mutual discussions for the past ten years has been devoted to 'developments in the Netherlands', and how little time and energy has been devoted to 'developments in Australia'? I'd like to challenge you today to consider whether that lop-sidedness is justified.

It could be. The simple answer might be, and probably some of you would give that answer, 'the Dutch have changed, we haven't', 'there is reason for concern there, our biggest concern here is that we don't get infected by what's happening in Holland,' or even 'I'm okay mate, you've got the problem.'

In my experience, the simple answer, while attractive, is usually inadequate. Yes, the Dutch have changed. There have been developments there. No question. And we thank you for being among those who continue to bring that to our attention. It compels us to reflect on those developments. Constantly to be monitoring them. Applying Scripture and confession to see whether those developments are valid. But I would suggest to you that reciprocity is a two-way street. And that it involves you, our sister, sharing with us the challenges you are facing, the worries you have about yourselves, the concern that you yourself may be more influenced - in other ways than we are - than you realize, by the circumstances in which you find yourselves. If you more openly share with us those things, you may find that we can help: we may have been there, and found a way of dealing with it. You may sometimes find that we haven't the foggiest idea of what you're talking about. You may find that we are facing some the same challenges, but hadn't realized it until now. You will definitely find that we are willing and able to listen, and what is more, to bring your needs concretely before the throne of God's grace. That's what sisters do.

Some of you may be thinking: but where do we begin? May I offer a few observations to get you on your way. In love. But also in all honesty.
  1. As a church federation, you are unusually issues-oriented. My memory of church life here goes back only to the 1980's, but since then at least it seems to have been that way. Church matters, but some church matters matter more than most, it seems. They get a disproportionate amount of attention in the church press and elsewhere. Don't get me wrong: the issues are real. And they need discussion. But they sometimes seem to take over. To overshadow the simple life and joy of faith. And they are discussed in ways which are not necessarily to the edification of the reformed way of life. Which leads me a second observation.

  2. There is sometimes an unusual vehemence to your discussions. I'm not talking about the firmness with which people hold to their convictions. But about the apparent assumption that when others hold different convictions, there is something wrong with them. As I read the church press, and as I listen to discussions, I sometimes sense a harshness, a bitterness which really, really concerns me. I may be oversensitive. You may not recognize what I am describing. But if you do, have you considered reflecting on why this is so? And whether this is the way you ought to be church? And this leads me to a third observation.

  3. People in the FRCA often say to me: what do you think of the situation in Holland? Isn't it hard to live with such division in the churches? And then I just don't know what to answer. In my experience - and I've been minister in a small village in Overijssel, an inner city congregation in the most cosmopolitan city of the Netherlands, and now in a large working class, by all accounts conservative, congregation just to the east of Groningen - there is such a deep felt consensus about what it means to be Reformed churches in an secular world. I may be wrong, I hope I am, but you seem to be much more at risk of polarization. Unusually so. Do you recognize this?

  4. A fourth observation: you are struggling, I think, to define your relationship with the world around you. Recent discussions on 'friendship with the world', on the right and duty of ordinary church members to evangelize, on the 'antithesis', are indicative. A, to my mind, interesting phenomenon: you are determined not to be known as a 'Dutch church'. Rightly so. But when you speak of 'Australians' as in: 'she married an Australian', what do you mean? Are you reflecting, deeply, and Biblically, on what you are, as church and as individuals: 'in the world, but not of the world'?

  5. A final observation. You will agree with me that if anyone, it is the youth of the church which are in the front lines, when it comes to that contact, who need to be equipped to make their way in an increasingly complex world. It strikes us, as we visit the schools, that you are light-years ahead of us in some respects. But out of the schools: how are the churches engaging those youth in their struggle to live as Christians? And particularly: as Reformed Christians? Are you ensuring that the discussions here on the Synod floor and in the church press are truly relevant to them, and that they are also perceived to be such? Your most involved young people are buying their Christian reading at Koorong Books. This is creating a whole new set of expectations among them. Are you reflecting on how you need to respond to these? If I may refer to the Dutch experience for your benefit: I am convinced that much more than the issues which have led to the new liberation, the battle lines for the next decade and beyond are on the cutting edge of Reformed and Evangelical/Charismatic. And your young people are going to be involved in that process, if they are not already.
Talk to us about that. Tell us about what's happening. And how we can help each other. Is that not what the Lord is calling you to: to struggle together with us, in very different circumstances, but with the same goal and the same intention? To seek out the will of God in a mutual sense of vulnerability? In true reciprocity?

Brothers and sisters: I need to come to a close. You've changed. We've changed. Change is a sign of life. Not all change is good. Some change is necessary. But we're bound together in a covenant relationship with a faithful God, the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. On behalf of your Dutch sister we greet you and we look forward to sharing with you every spiritual blessing. We join in your prayers for God's blessing upon your deliberations here at Synod, and upon your life as churches. And we are learning to say what in Christ can never be said enough: 'we love you', we truly do.

last updated 21 Jul 2006
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