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As my understanding of the Netherlands Reformed Church grew there were a number of passages in the New Testament that were continually in the back of my mind and helped further shape my thinking about the denomination. All verses are taken from the NKJV.
¡°Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through our knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue...¡± (2 Peter 1:2-3) Please note the underlined word. The gospel is completely sufficient to both justify and sanctify a lost sinner. Nothing beyond the gospel is needed. Within the NRC, however, you frequently hear that the Confession of Faith vow is necessary to help drive the church away from worldliness to a life of purity and holiness. In this passage the apostle Peter says something very different. Through the gospel a person is not only able to be reconciled to God (justification) but also delivered from worldliness (sanctification). The apostle Paul says the exact same thing in Titus 2:11-14. Scripture is very clear that the gospel is completely sufficient for all that God has called us to be in Christ.
¡°How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?¡± (John 5:44) The Pharisees were more concerned about what their family and friends thought of them than what God thought of them. Not wanting to displease their peers they were unable to arrive at conclusions that were contrary to what they believed. Jesus said to them that it was impossible for them to believe because to come to true saving faith in Him it would have meant that a Pharisee would have had to have turn their back on the beliefs of their peers. The Pharisees were simply unwilling to do this because their relationship with their friends and family was more important than their relationship with God. Social pressure (the fear of man) can, and often does, cement false beliefs in place and prevents people from coming to true faith in Christ.
Just recently I came across a very powerful illustration of this verse. On November 18, 1978 the Rev. Jim Jones led 908 people to commit suicide in Jonestown, French Guiana. He convinced his church to drink Cool-Aide laced with cyanide because he believed that his church could not endure the persection that he thought his church was about to face. However, not everyone within the Jonestown community perished. One of the survivors was Stephan Jones, the son of Jim Jones. Almost 30 years after the Jonestown tragedy Stephan Jones reflected on why so many church members trusted his father and committed suicide:
¡°There were a lot of reasons I think that people ended up taking the poison. ...I think more than anything it was out of loyalty to everybody else there. In my case, if I had been there, I know I had a strong will to live but I think it was so important to me to know how I was perceived by the people of my community... that it might have taken me to my death.¡±1
Obviously, the NRC is not another Jonestown. However, there is one common characteristic. I fear that the motivation that drove many Jonestown members ("loyalty to everybody else there"), tragically, mirrors the motivation of many NRC members. The desire to be pleasing and accepted in the eyes of their family and friends motivates many to adhere to NRC beliefs and practices. This false motivation is not unique to the NRC. In Islam and Mormonism, for example, the social pressure to remain within the fold is so powerful that many would never consider questioning the tenents of their faith. Following Jesus Christ is very different from this. In order to follow Jesus in a way that is pleasing and honoring to Him, love to God and the fear of Him must be the supreme motivation for all of life. Sometimes this results in being ostracized by family and friends who do not share that same love for Christ. Many Mormons and Muslims who trusted Christ can testify to this. Although they endured great persecution they faced it with joy because they knew they had a "better and an enduring possession... in heaven" (Hebrews 10:34). Jesus often warned those who sought to follow him to be aware of motives that compete with that one supreme motive: "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me." (Matthew 10:37-38)
"He said to them 'All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you make keep your tradition. For Moses said, 'Honor your father and mother¡¯; and, ¡®He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.¡¯ But you say, ¡®If a man says to his father or mother, ¡®Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban¡¯ (that is, a gift to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, making the Word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.¡± (Mark 7:9-13) For many Pharisees, what was not in the Scripture overruled what was clearly revealed in Scripture. The same thing is true in the NRC. A man made, human tradition not found in the New Testament (Confession of Faith vow) allows people to join a church without showing clear evidence of being born again. The doctrines of sin and salvation are clearly revealed in the Word of God and formed the foundation for membership in the early church in the book of Acts. Regarding how a person becomes a member within the NRC, what is not found in the Scriputre overrides what is found in Scripture.
¡°For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.¡± (Galatians 6:15) All religious ceremonies make absolutely no difference in a person¡¯s relationship with God. External changes are irrelevant. The only thing that matters is an internal change of heart by the power of God. I think a fair application of this verse would be: ¡°For in Christ Jesus neither making the Confession of Faith vow nor not making the Confession of Faith vow avails anything, but a new creation.¡±
¡°Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!¡± (Matthew 23:24) Notice how often in the New Testament Jesus confronts the religious leaders of his day about their inability to make good sound decisions (see also John 7:21-24; Luke 13:15-16; Matthew 22:29). Their judgment was warped and twisted. They took something small in Scripture and blew it way out of proportion. They put great emphasis upon minor, even insignificant areas than what was warranted by Scripture. However, the more significant areas were minimized or ignored.
¡°When you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay to pay it; for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and it will be a sin to you. But if you abstain from vowing, it shall not be sin to you. That which has gone from your lips you shall keep and perform, for you voluntarily vowed to the Lord your God what you have promised with your mouth.¡± (Deuteronomy 23:21-23) If you were baptized as an infant in the NRC you are not in any way ¡°obligated¡± to make a Confession of Faith vow when you become an adult. The Scripture can not be more clear: ¡°But if you abstain from vowing, it shall not be sin to you.¡± Further, it is highly unreasonable to say that a person is bound by something that was done to them when they were 10 days old.
¡°It is a snare for a man to devote rashly something as holy, and afterwards to reconsider his vows.¡± (Proverbs 20:25)
1Stephan Jones quoted in "Jonestown: Paradise Lost" AE Television Networks, 2002.