From Dort to Today (12): The Development of the Reformed Faith – The Secession of 1834


The Reformation Church must constantly be a reforming Church.

The reason for this is obvious. Basically the reason is to be found in the fact that not all the children of the covenant are the elect children of God. The lines of election and reprobation run through the line of the covenant. The result is that apostate seed rises within the Church. This has been true since the day that Adam and Eve turned away in sorrow from the murderous Cain who killed his brother Abel.

There are always those in the Church—born within the Church’s walls, nourished by the Church in the truth, granted outwardly the privileges of the household of faith, who are spiritually allied with Satan and who consequently have as their goal the destruction of the Church. Satan is implacably opposed to the cause of God. He never rests in his vicious attempts to obliterate this cause from the world. Seemingly, how convenient then to him that there are those born within the Church who really agree with him and who are dedicated, as he is, to the annihilation of the saints.

He may use various methods to accomplish his goal. Sometimes in his fury against the Church he is aroused to persecution. He attempts to destroy the Church through the cruel methods of butchering the saints. But he has tried this many times and always “the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” He knows as a general rule (and history proves this) that persecution is seldom successful. This does not mean that he will not resort to it again if he becomes furious enough; but it is a kind of a last resort.

There is another approach which he prefers. This approach is to persuade the Church to keep within her walls these apostate children of the covenant. If the Church does this, he is also successful. He has not obliterated the Church then; rather he has succeeded in making the Church his own ally. For this apostate seed introduces false doctrine in the Church, condones and encourages worldliness among the members and gradually changes the character of the Church so that it is no more a witness of the truth of God’s Word, but a partner of the wicked world, cooperating with the world, agreeing with wicked men, adopting evil policies and principles and loosing the precious heritage of the truth.

It is really not surprising that the devil prefers this method. It is easier; it is generally more successful; it can be done without bloodshed; it has far more favorable consequences for him. The enemy in any battle would far prefer to have his opponent come over to his side and join him rather than have to shoot him.

But all the efforts of Satan to destroy the Church can never be successful. This is because of the remarkable and miraculous work of the Spirit of Christ in His Church. The Church is always preserved and safely kept no matter how fierce and vicious the attacks may be; no matter how subtly the devil seeks to undermine the Church’s one foundation.

By the power of the Spirit and in defense of itself, the Church has recourse to two types of action.

The first is the formal exercise of the keys of the kingdom. This simply means that when evil men within the Church threaten the purity of doctrine with all kinds of heresies, the Church condemns the views of these men and casts them out of the fellowship of the Church. The truth is preserved through discipline. The Church is kept pure through the use of the keys of the kingdom entrusted to her. Defense of the city of God is made through locking the gates of the city with the keys against all evil men who attempt to lead the inhabitants into the camp of the enemy.

This is what took place at the Synod of Dordt.

But this type of action is not always possible. This course of action presupposes that the Church as a whole is strong enough to expel these evil members. There must be spiritual strength sufficient to do this. The true people of God must be in the majority within a given denomination. And they must have control of the institute and the ecclesiastical assemblies.

There are times when they lose this control. Those who maintain the truth are no longer in the majority and the spiritual strength of the people of God has waned.

There may be various reasons why this happens. Sometimes the people of God are sleepy; and in their sleepiness they do not notice how serious the situation is until it is too late. By the time they are sufficiently aroused to fight, they are outnumbered and the wicked have a stranglehold upon the Church. Then there are not the means available anymore to do anything about heresy.

But there are other factors. Sometimes the rise of the evil element is so rapid that, as it were, overnight, the wicked have seized control. Sometimes the relation of the Church to the State is of such a kind that the strong defenders of the Reformed faith are stymied. This was the case with the Roman Catholic Church prior to the Reformation. This was the case before the Secession of 1834. The State stretched a benevolent hand over the heretics and the faithful were helpless to do anything.

Under these circumstances, there is only one avenue to follow—the avenue of secession. Those who are faithful must leave the institute that nourished them. They must forsake the Church that was their mother. They must go out to establish the Church once again.

Usually however, they do not simply walk out. Nor is this their calling. As a rule, they prefer to make every effort to reform the Church to which they belong. They raise their voice in protest against all the evil that is destroying the Church. They continue to do this as long as it is possible. But, unless the Church does actually reform, those who are bent on continuing their evil way will not tolerate the presence of protesters indefinitely. They will not allow the thorn of godly men to continue to prick their conscience. They will finally cast out those who maintain the truth, or at least silence them in one way or another. But the faithful cannot be silent. They have their calling. And so they must establish the institute of the Church anew.

They have no choice. Before God this is their calling.

That is what Luther did when he burned the papal bull in the fire of Wittenberg. This is what happened in our own Protestant Reformed Churches. This is the history of the Secession of 1834.