LESSON 5: THE SECESSION FROM THE DUTCH REFORMED CHURCH IN 1834
BIBLE READING: Ephesians 2:1-10
HENDRIK DE COCK
The name of Rev. Hendrik de Cock is closely connected with the Dutch Secession of 1834. He was the first minister to secede from the official Dutch Reformed Church.
Hendrik de Cock was born in 1801 and was brought up in a very liberal way. He studied to be a minister and became a very liberal one. He believed that man was in essence good and that man had a free will. He did not accept the truth of God’s Word. He was ordained and preached in a very modernistic way just as many others. Then in 1829 he entered his third pastorate in a little village called Ulrum in the province of Groningen, in the northern part of Holland.
There Hendrik de Cock had various spiritual talks with a very simple labourer, who received catechism instruction from Rev. De Cock. This man was Klaas Pieter Kuipenga. He complained to Rev. De Cock about his indwelling sin. Kuipenga complained that he was inclined to all kinds of wickedness, but De Cock thought he was exaggerating. De Cock stated that man was quite able to do good and to overcome sin. Then the simple labourer, who had been instructed by God said: “Reverend, if I have to add one sigh to my own salvation, I will be lost forever.” These words struck Hendrik de Cock deeply. He could not understand what Klaas Kuipenga meant.
A spiritual struggle erupted in De Cock’s heart. He had no peace. He saw that Kuipenga had something and knew things that he knew nothing about. Hendrik de Cock’s wife was also a converted woman and spoke to her husband of the necessity of receiving spiritual life from God.
Then an old woman from the congregation brought him a copy of the Canons of Dort which had been ignored for many years now. These articles against the Arminians were like a revelation to him.
Then, while visiting a neighbouring minister, he borrowed from his colleague a copy of the famous work of John Calvin, called: The Institutes of Christian Religion. That book was the means of a change in his heart. He was converted. He understood what grace was all about. He saw that salvation is all by God’s grace alone. Now he understood what Kuipenga had meant.
From that time on, De Cock preached differently. He preached about man’s sin and that the only way to salvation was by the grace of God, through Christ Jesus. He preached the necessity of regeneration. His preaching changed radically. People heard of this change and many flocked to hear this changed minister. The church in Ulrum became too small. People were gathered outside listening to his sermons. Now they heard something that they didn’t hear from other ministers. They heard the old truth again. Many rejoiced in this.
His fellow ministers became jealous. This jealousy was aggravated when De Cock even baptized the children of parents who officially belonged to other congregations but who always came to hear his preaching. His colleagues accused him before the board of directors of the Reformed Church.
The accusations became more severe when De Cock also wrote a pamphlet against ungodly books written by liberal ministers in which they mocked the creeds. De Cock sharply criticized their writings. For this he was also accused before the directors of the church. The result was that De Cock was suspended from his office. He was no longer allowed to preach or to administer sacraments. Some years later he was completely deposed from his office.
THE ACT OF SECESSION
The people of Ulrum, however, gathered around him. They still wanted to have him as their minister. Then the consistory of Ulrum pressed their minister to secede from the Reformed Church. At first he did not want to do that. His people were adamant, however. The result was that on October 13, 1834, many members of the Reformed Church in Ulrum drew up an “Act of Secession or Return”.
Thereby they seceded from the Reformed Church which had become a deformed church by allowing truth and deceit to be both preached and taught. These people wanted to secede and at the same time to return to the beliefs of the Reformed Church as stated and affirmed at the Great Synod of Dort. They wanted to re-adopt all the decisions of that synod, since many of them had been changed or dropped throughout the years. They also declared that they still accepted Hendrik de Cock as their own lawful minister.
On the first Lord’s Day after the Secession, De Cock preached on Ephesians 2: 8, “For by grace are ye saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.”
This text deals with free grace, which was typical of the main motive of the seceders to withdraw themselves from the Dutch Reformed Church. They missed this kind of preaching within the Reformed Church.
When the Secession had become a fact, then many more groups of people throughout the Netherlands did the same. They also seceded from the official Dutch Reformed Church. They formed the Secession Churches in the Netherlands, which were present in many villages and towns throughout Holland. Around 1847, that is about 13 years later, the Secession Churches had about 47,000 members.
Other Secession ministers were H.P. Scholte, A.C. van Raalte, S. van Velzen, A. Brummelkamp and G.F. Gezelle Meerburg.
The seceders did not agree with the official Reformed Church on various issues. Their concerns were as follows:
- The Authority of the Creeds. The church should abide with her official confessions and act in agreement with them. Accordingly only the Gospel truth was allowed to be preached and taught and no false doctrines were to be tolerated.
- The Preaching of Free Grace. The church should maintain the preaching of free and sovereign grace. That is to say, the preaching should deal with the sinfulness of man and the Blood of Christ which alone can cleanse from sin and provide a full salvation. It could be said that the “slogan” of the Secession was: “free grace”.
- The Authority of the local Church. The church should not be governed by means of a hierarchy, but the local consistory is to have the highest authority in church life.
- The Singing of Psalms. The church should not indulge in the singing of hymns in the worship services but sing psalms exclusively.
The first years were very difficult for Hendrik de Cock. Immediately after the Secession, soldiers came and occupied the village of Ulrum. De Cock and his wife were forbidden to leave their house. De Cock was accused of revolution and had to pay 150 Dutch guilders, which was a large amount. In our currency that would be $15,000. De Cock was also sentenced to spend three months in jail.
The seceders had to suffer persecutions, and imprisonments and pay heavy fines. They were forbidden to assemble. There was a Dutch law that prohibited any gathering in public of more than 20 people. Often there would be more present at worship services. Then the local police officer could disturb the meetings and impose fines upon the attendants.
The seceders were mocked and laughed at by the people on the streets. They would be harassed. Rev. De Cock was also confronted with mockery. On one occasion, in the Dutch city of Groningen, there were students who tried to trample him with their horses. One of the elders of De Cock’s church, being a strong man, stepped forward and the students didn’t dare continue their assault.
It happened that people from the streets would disturb the worship services of the seceders. They would smash windows, or climb over walls and over hedges to disturb the meetings which were held in the open air. They would shout and even throw firecrackers in the middle of these gatherings. The police did not do anything to stop these rioters from disturbing the worship services. Labourers lost their jobs because they had joined the Secession churches.
Several politicians in the Netherlands opposed these persecutions, and eventually, after 1840 the situation started to improve. Yet they were still not able to organize schools for their children. They still did not have the full liberty they desired.
EMIGRATION TO AMERICA
Besides this, the majority of these seceders were very poor. The economic situation was bad in those days. In 1845 and 1846 there were major crop failures which were considered to be a punishment of God upon the nation. Poverty was aggravated. All these things together led many people to consider the possibility of emigrating to America.
In 1846 Rev. A.C. van Raalte and 47 people emigrated to Michigan and founded the town called Holland. In 1847 Rev. H.P. Scholte emigrated with 800 people to Iowa and founded the town called Pella. Initially, they joined the existing Reformed Church of America. Later they left the Reformed Church of America and formed the Christian Reformed Church.
In the Netherlands, the Secession church was plagued with many strives and disputes. Eventually, the church became stronger. There was a great shortage of ministers. In 1854 they instituted a theological school in the town of Kampen. Around 1868, there were already 220 ministers at work within the Secession churches.
There was still not a thorough unity amongst these Secession churches. They were more or less independent of each another. In 1869 many of the Secession churches joined together under the name “Christian Reformed Churches”. But there were still various Secession churches which remained independent. They were present throughout all of the Netherlands.
- Explain how a sinner is saved by grace alone?
- Why is the confession of salvation by grace alone of fundamental importance to the church?
- How is faith worked in our heart and life?
- Discuss what the central concerns of the secession churches were.
- What kind of harassment can the churches now expect in the future?
* This Bible Study was produced by the Youth & Education Committee of the Free Reformed Churches,1997, under the title, “Church History.” It is aimed at a Senior Young Peoples level.
Click on the tag “Bible Study: Free Reformed Church History” below for more lessons in this study