In this article, Hélène Evers DD, LL M, shows us that Paul Scholten gave his talents and and knowledge as a professor of law not only for the discipline of law in general, but also for a specific part of law namely church law.
Scholten demonstrated that church law is genuine law. His thinking followed his accustomed approach, by going back to the fundamental questions. What is the essence of Law and What is the essence of church? The answer to these questions led him to rebuilding a church order for the church of his day, the Dutch Reformed Church. His reasoning and solutions are still relevant.
When Scholten discovered that his own church was very weak for lack of a proper base to act and speak out in her calling to be a witness and a force for justice, he put in years of work (1931-1945) to change this. Acting entirely within the given – weak – system, he was the main force to prepare and defend a reorganization of church law, which in the end was crowned with success. As the article shows, this was quite a difficult process which demanded stamina and commitment.
Scholten’s personal faith in God was characteristic for him, and relevant to his view of the law. The question why law has authority for all people in a community, and why ultimately a judge’s decision must be obeyed, is a philosophical and ethical one.
This was one of the subjects Scholten had thought deeply about. God was not a philosophical or theoretical force for him – he believed in the reality of God in Christ, and bowed to that authority. He was convinced that only the authority of the Person of God behind the person of the judge and the system of law, entitled the judicial system to function.
His faith also gave him the strength to resist the Nazi authorities in the Netherlands during WWII, in spite of banishment and internment. It brought him high esteem both in his university and his church.
The Church cannot be subject to any human law, not even the law of the land, she has another Lord –Scholten1
Prof. Paul Scholten LL.M. (1875-1946) is generally known in the legal profession as a great Dutch law scholar, with wide influence and significance, especially for the theory of Dutch Law. Much less known is his influential role in the development and reorganization of the church law of the Dutch Reformed Church and its church order of 1951 – and therefore on the church order of the present Protestant Church in the Netherlands.2 In this article we shall discuss Scholten’s engagement with the Dutch Reformed Church and his significance for its church law.
First we must describe his change of mind about the Christian faith and his increased engagement with the church. Then we can go on to his activities from 1931-1939 in the area of the reorganization of reformed church law. And finally, we will discuss Scholten’s influence within his church and on its church law during the years of the German occupation, 1940-1945.
Originally, Paul Scholten had no church connection. Of his family it is only known that his grandfather and great-grandfather had held responsible positions in the church of a mostly financial nature, both having been treasurer-general of the Dutch Reformed Church. Scholten had no memories of any faith on the part of his parents, who died when he was very young. His stepfather, elder brother of his father, was a liberal Christian. Paul Scholten married Grietje Fockema, who had been raised in a Remonstrant family, a liberal type of church, with hardly any relationship with churchgoing. Scholten did not belong to any church when he married.
2.1. The Christian Faith
Yet Christianity was to play an increasing part in Scholten’s life. He did not remember his parents’ faith and his stepfather’s did not appeal to him. But he did have an impression of a warm life of faith from his grandmother Ledeboer-Adriani and of his Baptist uncle and aunt De Hoop Scheffer-Ledeboer.
He came to the Christian faith step by step. His son G.J. Scholten writes that this was a process of much reading, thinking and attending church.3 The church as organization was only a thing in the background at first. During World War I Scholten became a convinced Christian and often attended services of a Baptist friend. Later he came into contact with the NCSV, a Dutch Christian student union. Only later did the Dutch Reformed Church become a very important element in his life. Around 1940 he was called to be an elder in the Reformed Church in Amsterdam. He would certainly not have accepted this earlier in his life, thinking he could use his time and talents better for other tasks. But in the preceding years he had discovered that such objections are not permissible, and he acted on this new insight. He literally told his son:
It’s wrong to have no time for church work, the church is entitled to part of your time. Your work is not so important that you cannot spare some time for this. 4
Scholten’s wife went along with her husband, but she did not join the church until after his death. About their religious upbringing Scholten‘s younger son Y. Scholten writes the following:
We were not brought up in what was considered the normal Christian pattern in those days. E.g. bible-reading after meals or saying grace came much later. We were not taught a religion with strict rules or prohibitions, but when I was ten or twelve years old, on Sunday we heard a weekly bible story, a sharing of what Christ could mean for your life. 5
His conversion at thirty-eight did not remain unnoticed. His Jewish colleague Meijers6 says that since 1913 a great change came over Scholten’s spiritual life. Instead of a lukewarm attitude to the Christian faith, he became a convinced Christian. It may of course be called remarkable that a university scholar becomes an active Christian as an adult. And it is characteristic that the change was noticeable for a colleague, and that he writes about it freely. Scholten’s conversion was part of all he thought and did.
2.3. Law and conviction: the Person behind the law
When one reads Scholten’s philosophical writings in chronological order, it is striking how he increasingly considers Christian faith and Christian love as the only and necessary foundation for every idea of justice:
Man cannot be autonomous in creating obligations for himself; behind every command, every authority there must be a person.
Therefore according to Scholten the authority of the law cannot be understood without taking the relationship of man to God as the starting point.7 In his article ‘Recht en Levensbeschouwing’ (Law and philosophical conviction) of 1915 Scholten writes about the relationship between these two8:
The law has value in itself. Order and security demand obedience to the law. Even a person who believes its decision is not correct, whose sense of justice is upset, must follow it. Yet this obedience has its limits. The law is not the highest value (…). If the law is treated as the highest justice, it becomes injustice. What my conscience says I may not and cannot do, I will not do even if the law requires it. God is to be obeyed more than man (…). Freedom of conscience is the basis and the limit of the law. It cannot be abolished by the power of the law (…). Our convictions differ too much, the intuitively accepted values and ideals are too diverse, for anyone to accomplish entirely what he would wish (…). Hold fast to your convictions and values, but do not try to force them onto others through public laws. If you win the public to your views they will certainly filter through into the law. On the other hand, do not hide them when you take part in forming the law. A shyness is understandable here, to keep one’s delicate inner values and religious convictions private, and not to share them in society, but to ignore them when working on the law will inevitably damage those values themselves. Whoever believes he can divorce his legal ideas from his personal convictions, will damage both (…). He prevents his convictions to permeate his life, the tree cannot spread its branches in all directions and will be hampered in its growth.
At the end of this article Scholten writes:
If one has understood anything at all of the truth that is revealed in the gospel, one knows that endless riches are to be found Christianity. May that reawakening be given to us. 9
So Scholten became a Christian, and in his thinking the relationship with God became the starting point and the love of Jesus Christ became the central idea. This has influenced his view of law, including church law. Besides, he believed he should share his Christian faith. He did this in many articles.
2.4. Church commitment
His conversion and growing faith drew Scholten towards more commitment in the Dutch Reformed Church. Interestingly, this happened mainly at the national level. It started in 1931, and soon he was one of the leading figures within the organization. It was not long before he held a prominent position in the field of reorganization of the Reformed Church. From 1936 he was seen as a committed and non-partisan churchman. His increasing prominence led to his being asked as a spokesman to represent his church during WWII in discussion with A. Seyss Inquart, the Reichskommissar of the Third Reich in the Netherlands (Seyss Inquart was found guilty of crimes against humanity at the Nuremberg trials, sentenced to death, and executed). This discussion was planned for February 1942 but never took place, because Scholten was banished to the countryside, away from all university and church activity, by the occupying authorities.
3. Scholten's activities for the reorganization of reformed Church Law 1931-1939
Church discipline is an evil, but it can be a necessary evil – no Christ-professing Church can allow herself to be endangered by admitting views or practices that threaten her identity as Church of Christ. But then it must be certain that the aberration threatens the Church, that she must reject what is aiming to damage its essence. Such judgment can only be given by the Church as Church.10
Church discipline is a way to censure members whose conduct or publicly expressed views are clearly contrary to the rules or confession of a church. It is a difficult matter because there is always discussion as to what constitutes a grave enough offence or infringement of the rules to demand censure. Much wisdom is needed to apply such discipline justly. But almost all believers are agreed that it is necessary to censure or even expel ministers of the church who publicly damage the church. It became a hot issue in the Netherlands just before WWII, when some ministers joined the NSB, the political party that was later to collaborate with the German occupation authorities. In that case even the most liberal church members agreed that something needed to be done, not just by individual Christians, but by the Church.
3.1. The General Rules of 1816
When Scholten joined the reorganization society Kerkopbouw in 1931, the Dutch Reformed Church was badly divided and frustrated. One of the main causes of this was the increasing resistance against the way things had been organized in 1816, when King William I had pressed the church to accept the General Rules.
Since the Reformation, this church had functioned according to the 1619 church order of Dordrecht for two centuries, with the name Gereformeerde Kerk der Nederlanden (1813). After Napoleon was defeated, William was the first Dutch king of the new Kingdom of the Netherlands of 1813. He organized the churches by having his new Department for Reformed and other church services design rules for the government of several denominations. This created unity and clarity from the Government’s point of view. The majority of church members initially accepted these General Rules and their character with resignation.11 But in the eyes of a concerned group this change of church law led to increasing division in the life of the church, and a situation that damaged the identity of the church.
In 1816, the Government changed the name of the church from Gereformeerd to
Below we will discuss the main objections against the General Rules and Scholten's part in the reorganization of the church. We will see how Scholten has witnessed the beginnings of the new church order and church structure, in 1945.
So on the one hand there was a group of church members who were quite happy with the new church structure and views of King William I. Many of them appreciated freedom in the teaching of the church and liberalism in religious matters. On the other hand, there were several groups who were very dissatisfied, mainly the more orthodox members.
Taking the history of the Dutch Reformed Church from 1816 all in all, we may conclude that all division and splitting up that followed was closely linked with the hampering of the life of the church by the General Rules. Churches that split off from the main church immediately re-adopted the Dordrecht church order.
But not all dissatisfied church members chose to start a new church, as others had done in 1834 when the Secession produced the
3.3. Objections against the General Rules of 1816
Those who stayed saw four main objections to the General Rules. One was the strongly hierarchic arrangement of the supervision of the church according to these Rules. The names of the different bodies were the same as those of the old church assemblies at different levels, but their tasks and arrangements differed. The system of representative assemblies of elders had disappeared. (I.e. the presbyterian system, common in Calvinist churches, where local churches choose their own office-holders, who have both a spiritual and an organizational responsibility. These in turn choose office-holders of all higher assemblies, including the General Synod. It is a democratic (bottom up) system whereby local congregations are informed on all proposals before the Synod, and have some influence on the result).
The highest authority in the church was now given to the Synod, which had become a small governing body. It is immediately clear that this is an instance of top-down thinking. The hierarchic order even had the character of a command structure. The highest authority was held by the king: all decisions of any importance, both of the general Synod and of provincial and regional assemblies, needed his approval.12 This hierarchic structure was a residue of ideas about the state that stemmed from the days of the French revolution and the Napoleonic period.13 A second main objection was that the church was given no freedom even to discuss the content of the faith and was allowed no tools to maintain orthodox doctrine. Under the earlier Dordrecht church order these tasks had been central to the activities of the church assemblies.14 A third objection was the fact that the church order had been imposed by the Government and had not originated with the church. And finally, the fourth main objection was the poor idea of church offices of the Rules. Holding a church office had become a duty to apply the rules, instead of a responsible position. Moreover, it was an obstacle that people who had not been appointed by the church could hold office and rule within the church. Below we will show how each of these objections has been taken away by the 1951 church order, and partly already in the Working Order of 1945. But first we will describe the role of Paul Scholten in this process.
3.4. Paul Scholten gets involved in reorganizing the Dutch Reformed Church
Since the introduction of the General Rules in 1816 there had been many proposals for reorganization , but none of them made it. The church had become divided into many streams, each with a different view of the character of the church and of reorganization.
In 1927 the
Confessionele Vereniging (Confession Society, a union of church members to promote church loyalty to the Confession) tried again. They asked the Synod to establish a committee for reorganization according to presbyterian principles, in harmony with the Confession15. The proposal was approved and the committee worked on a draft church order that described not only a form of spiritual church discipline, but also the sensitive theme of administrative disciplinary measures to enforce it. In 1930 the General Synod rejected the proposal with ten against nine votes. This led to so much unrest that another reorganization society with the name
There was another association, named Kerkopbouw. They also wanted to make the Confession less of an isolated document, making it bear on the contemporary situation and be more understandable, but their main object was to make the church function more smoothly. Scholten got involved in this process and joined Kerkopbouw in 1931.Kerkopbouw did not aim to maintain the Confession by a judicial form of dogmatic discipline, like the first society Kerkherstel wanted. They appointed a reorganization committee for a new church order. Scholten was asked as chairman, and in 1933 they published a draft.
This draft-1933 disregards the 1816 Rules and builds on the presbyterian church order with its offices and church assemblies. In two striking first articles it describes the starting point and task of the church and its relationship with the Confession. Art 1: “The Dutch Reformed Church, being part of the One Universal Christian Church, built on Jesus Christ as its only foundation, aims to proclaim the Word of God in accordance with its historic Confession.”16 This sentence rings with faith content, very different from purely administrative and organizational rules. Kerkherstel denied that such a phrase belongs in a church order. They considered this unnecessary because it is already contained in the confessional writings. Secondly, these theologians considered that a law text should not contain points of faith but only principles of church organization. The two societies were passionately divided on this point and fought each other’s proposals. This had to do with different views of the church, the Confession, the approach to diversity and unity and the application of church discipline. Yet they shared an ideal: to give the church a new order and free it from the old system. The positive side of this continual dispute was that it led to an increasing understanding of the organizational difficulties.17
The above discussion will recur in later years. In the end the new church order of 1951 will contain a definition of what church is in the opening articles. Today, in 2018, the Protestant church order still starts with a confessing article. So here we see the birth of this development. As we saw, Scholten began his involvement by joining one of the two societies, one voice in the choir of voices, but soon he grew to the respected stature of impartiality. This shows one of his important qualities, his ability never to forget the ultimate good of the church as a whole and not to get lost in partisan interests. Besides, he made this clear to all by taking differing viewpoints into account and expressing them verbally in church order articles and drafts. As president he tried to bring differing views together in such a way as to create a new unity, without turning the whole endeavor into a disjointed compromise. The result was that under his leadership Kerkherstel and Kerkopbouw came to an understanding. Together they chose him as president for a new committee to reach an agreement on a church order draft.
In 1936 this resulted in the Synod appointing a new reorganization committee, with the task to take the agreement between the two societies as a serious basis for church order reform. Subsequently, Scholten was appointed by the General Synod to preside this Synod committee, and in 1937 it produced a report that was presented to the Synod as the draft-1938.
In this draft, the determining articles 1 and 2 from the Kerkopbouw draft were left out, but a presbyterian church structure was assumed. Scholten defended showing the spiritual reality in a church order text. We can recognize important elements that have found their way into the church order of 1951. It is striking that because of Scholten’s influence during the war, an article 1 that is comparable to the one in the 1933 draft, was included in the new church order of 1951 and subsequently in the present church order of 2004. It was a great disappointment to many people that the 1938 draft was rejected in 1939, as mentioned above, with a fatal ten against nine votes. Some weeks later World War II broke out.
3.5. Defining Church
The draft of 1938 united a large segment of the middle of the church. But the Dutch Reformed Church had “left” and “right” wings, both more or less organized, and these wings had various objections against reorganization. Their background was as follows. The left wing consisted of various liberal groups. G. Horreüs de Haas, minister in Zwolle, represented a very left-liberal view, so he wished to keep the General Rules. He believed the church should be organized to give maximum room for all religious views to develop in their own way.18
In the years that reorganization was discussed, it appeared that the word volkskerk (volk, nation; kerk, church) was interpreted in two very different ways.19 The word had become a technical term, but what did it mean? To the liberal believer, the nation is determined by historical events, and the volkskerk is the church to which all nationals with a protestant background belong. Living in peace together, they determine broadly what the church believes, however various their ideas. The word volk is the determining factor. In the volkskerk all shapes of belief that develop and stir in the nation would be reflected.
The right wing was mainly organized in the “Gereformeerde Bond” (Reformed Union). To those more orthodox believers, the kerk is the determining factor. They were of the opinion that the Dutch nation had been given its identity in Reformation times by the preaching of the Word. God had given the Dutch a covenant of grace. That is why they said that children of believers should be baptized, even before they can understand the rite, because baptism is for believers and their seed. God’s promises lay claim to the whole family, the whole nation. The kerk determines the faith, and the volk must be baptized and taught to believe according to the Confession. “These two interpretations exclude each other and cannot be reconciled in the long run.”20
And in fact, the two views cannot be harmonized. In the draft of 1938 Scholten defends the orthodox idea of the volkskerk. The church should profess Christ to the whole nation. In the end the church order of 1951 has followed this choice, and it is also the view of the church taken in the present church order of the Protestant Church.
3.6. The relationship of the church to the Universal Church of Christ
During the years of reorganization struggles, different groups in the middle of the Dutch Reformed Church found themselves more in agreement about the definition of church, although they had been far apart before. Another factor that gave the Dutch Reformed Church a broader base was the view that the visible church is closely bound up with the invisible, worldwide, One Holy Christian Church. The two belong together as two aspects of the same entity, indivisible, although they can be distinguished. This broader base implies a greater concern for the visible Dutch Reformed Church: she should become more what she (invisibly) is.
The search for an organizational form that fitted the character and calling of the church achieved one objective, the acceptance of church discipline by Kerkopbouw. They too agreed that the church should address points of faith in all assemblies, and discipline is part of that. It was a real step for Kerkopbouw to have added a special extra paragraph for church discipline in their church order draft of 1933. This made an opening to more cooperation with Kerkherstel.
In liberal circles some change occurred as well. We see a shift from their 1923 conception of the church as a religious society with many views, towards a more professing church. The defender of the 1923 concept, Horrëus de Haas, became more and more isolated in his defense of this principle during the thirties. These several theological shifts among different groups were an important factor in achieving reorganization in the end.
3.7. Karl Barth and the German Church struggle
These Dutch developments in the thinking about the character and calling of the church can be seen in the frame of international developments. The German Church struggle between the Deutsche Christen (“German Christians”, who cooperated with the Nazi changes in the Lutheran Church) and the Bekennende Kirche (“Confessing Church”, i.e. holding to the Confession and the freedom of the church to be itself and not a branch of the state) greatly influenced theologians in the Netherlands.21 In Germany there were national socialist plans to introduce a State-appointed Archbishop (Reichsbischof), which was to fulfill a governing position in the church in total subjection to the Führer. In the Barmen Declaration of 1934 Barth and the Bekennende Kirche rejected “the false teaching that the church might entrust the form of her message and church order to arbitrary notions.” And on the idea of a State-appointed official they wrote: “You know that the rulers of the gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant. (Matt. 20:25, 26.) The various offices in the church do not establish a dominion of some over the others; on the contrary, they are for the exercise of the ministry that is in fact entrusted to and enjoined upon the whole congregation. We reject the false doctrine, as though the church, apart from this ministry, could and were permitted to give to itself, or allow to be given to it, special leaders vested with ruling powers.”22
The developments in Germany alerted the Dutch to the fact that the form of the visible church should have a close relation with the character of the holy invisible church. All this led to increased interest in the Netherlands from those concerned with the institutional side of the church, and the matter of reorganization became central.
Another point that became acutely urgent was the question what attitude the church should take towards the ideas and practices of church members who favored the Nazi-friendly Dutch National Socialist movement NSB. This put the question of church discipline squarely on the agenda. A ‘functional’ church order which would be concerned only with the administrative side of church could not be the answer to that.
3.8. International contact gave Scholten a worldwide view on the church
The beginning of the twentieth century saw a revival of interest in worldwide mission, and was marked by several breakthrough international mission conferences.23 This brought people into contact with Christians outside their own denominations, and of other nationalities. Dutch missiologist Hendrik Kraemer took part in the 1938 mission conference in Tambaram, near Madras, India, in a world context where peace was increasingly threatened by fascist-type regimes.
There were also visits from other countries. Karl Barth visited the Netherlands several times to give lectures. Personal contacts across national and church boundaries have meant a great deal in developing Scholten's view of the church. Scholten participated in an Ecumenism Conference called ‘Life and Work’ in Oxford in 193724, which made a great impression on him. It strengthened his faith and clarified his view of the calling of the church, and he was able to communicate this to others.
Scholten's influence during the thirties was immense. As we saw in 3.4, he was acceptable to many groups as chairman of meetings because he was such a good moderator and impartial chairman. He fulfilled this role during the war in the two committees for the church order, where he succeeded in bringing people with different views together, reaching a form of agreement and formulating it for a church order. The importance of this cannot be overestimated, especially for a jurist among theologians.
He also managed strategically to avoid matters that would be stumbling blocks for the desired agreement, by putting them aside or leaving them out. In much of his writing Scholten shows his great interest in ecclesiological and other theological issues. It is remarkable that we can study so many theological insights of a jurist, while these are often hardly known in the case of theologians.
4. Scholten's influence on the Church Law of the Dutch Reformed Church
The character of the church order, of church law, is the recognition that Jesus Christ is Lord, Head of the Church, which is his body.25
At the outbreak of WWII Scholten is a prominent churchman. His chairmanship of several committees has proved his worth as an impartial member of the church and a fine law scholar among theologians. In 1940 he is chosen as elder in Amsterdam, his first church office. He became a member of a Synod committee that functioned as executive when the Synod was not in session, Kerkelijk Overleg26. Many people realized that church consultations were urgent because of the war situation, among them Hendrik Kraemer. Kerkelijk Overleg put several committees to work, Scholten being a member of a crucial one on leading the church through the hard times. He chaired two of the workgroups, one was Kerk en Overheid (Church and Government), and in 1942, another on Principles of Church Order. It is this last committee under Scholten's leadership that found a way towards a new church order for the Dutch Reformed Church, in the years 1942-44. The workgroup was followed by an official Committee for Church Order, which worked out the new church order in detail from 1945-47. This draft was accepted by the Synod. Scholten was chairman of this committee until his death in May 1946.
4.1. Reorganization in a new contextThe issue of church reorganization took on an different aspect under the threat of Nazism and the outbreak of war in 1940. The quarreling church parties were confronted with a common enemy, characterized by racism and persecution of the Jews. German theologians had warned the Dutch, and had shown up the heresies of theDeutsche Christen in the Barmen Declaration. People realized that in a new misleading situation, the church must defend the old truths in new ways. The church must profess what she believes for today, not just repeat the words of venerable creeds.
After the shock of the German invasion, the Dutch Reformed Church was one of the first to arise from the paralysis that had the Dutch in its grip. A week after the invasion the secretary of the Synod, rev. K.H.E. Gravemeyer sent a message to all church councils (May 17, 1940). It was a message of comfort and witness and a cry for God’s mercy on the church and the nation, in just a few faltering sentences, hastily written. But the surprising and new thing was that the church suddenly gave guidance for all local churches, and that she did this by referring to the Bible. For the first time since centuries the Dutch church was willing to speak, driven by great need.27
4.2. Church protest against the occupying authorities
The workgroup Kerk en Overheid under Scholten’s chairmanship initiated several forms of protest against the German authorities. It gave advice and determined the course of the church with various government departments. In October 1940 the protestant churches unitedly put in a protest against the anti-Jewish rulings: they are contrary to Christian compassion and hurtful to the people from whom the Savior of the world was born. It was the first time that it was announced from pulpits everywhere that the churches had spoken to the occupying force. The nation was deeply impressed.
Suddenly, there were not six protestant churches, but one holy, universal, Christian church, the Church of the Lord Jesus,” dr. J. Koopmans wrote.28
The workgroup prepared the first pastoral message of the Synod, which was sent to the local church councils in September 1941. The needs were increasing and the occupation became more severe. Open battle between the church and the Nazi regime was becoming inevitable. The churches request an audience with Reichskommissar Seyss Inquart in January 1942, with Scholten and Gravemeyer for the Dutch Reformed Church, and Mgr. de Loo for the Roman Catholic church. They wish to speak about the lack of rights for the people. In the preparatory talks, Scholten is not accepted as a spokesman. When the audience finally takes place, in February, Scholten is not there. The regime had recognized that he not only played a leading role in the university, but also in the church. The man had become too dangerous, so he had been sent away to the Catholic south of the country. This is not only far away from all universities, but also away from the more protestant parts of the Netherlands and the leadership of the church, so he was isolated.
In the following months the Germans hit back at the church. In May 1942 a large number of leading Dutchmen are interned as hostages in a monastery near St Michelsgestel, south of ‘s Hertogenbosch. Among them are Gravemeyer, who was (correctly) seen as the core of the church resistance, and Kraemer.
4.3. The Committee for the Principles of Church Order (1942-1944)29
Before these internments, the workgroup Gemeente Opbouw under the inspiring leadership of prof. Hendrik Kraemer,30 had given a tremendous impulse to the local churches to let the church be church again. It is not surprising that this workgroup, with its great spiritual powers, which wanted the church to arise and give real spiritual leadership, ran into the obstacle of the 1816 General Rules again and again. For that reason, they instituted a subcommittee of leading churchmen31 to study the principles of church order and to prepare a new church order. In February 1942 the Committee for the Principles of Church Order was started.32 It met mostly in secret.
As mentioned before, P. Scholten was appointed chairman. Because of his exile, first in the south and later near Nunspeet, all meetings were held somewhere around Nunspeet, a very wooded area east of Amersfoort. This caused travel difficulties for some members, and another obstacle was the internment of Gravemeyer. So their first real meeting was not until February 1943.
Nevertheless, during 1942 Scholten was able to write a paper with his views on reorganization, including a concrete proposal. The work of the committee gave an important impulse for reorganization, especially their call for a broadly representative General Synod in which all church offices meet, and not just ministers. Such a General Synod could organize the drawing up of a new church order. This led to the emergence of a ‘working church order’, and finally in 1951 to the New Church Order and a successful end to the reorganization struggles.
The occupation has played an important formative role in all this. It showed the church that she must speak, she must own up to what she believes and show that she has a message for a nation in distress, and a word of protest against heathen enemies. And thanks to a new spirit in the church, she has spoken and arisen. On the other hand this made it quite clear that a new church order was needed and that the church could not truly be herself under the old strangling rules. This was the background to the efforts of the committee for the Principles of Church Order.
4.4. Scholten's concrete proposal
Scholten's concrete proposal gave an important impulse to the Committee for the Principles of Church Order. It included a rough draft for a limited change in the organization of the Dutch Reformed Church.33 He wants the committee to discuss church order principles, but preferably with some concrete plans as basis. His starting point is the desire for reorganization in the church, both before and since the occupation. On the one hand he realizes that the present time is not suitable for immediate reorganization. He fears that disagreements might flare up again and miserably divide the church, when she ought to be as united as possible.
On the other hand, he notes that the new developments under the leadership of Kerkelijk Overleg and the spiritual battle that the church is involved in, have shown the necessity of reorganization all the more. He is thinking of the protests of the church through pastoral letters, pulpit pronouncements and talks with the occupying regime, in which he had been active himself. Scholten points out that the organization of the church was not adequate for this task, because the Synod had no mandate to speak in the name of the church as a whole. He wrote some crucial words that illustrate the relationship between the laws and ordinances of the church and the Person who stood behind these laws:
In 1940, the war found the church divided along party lines. And yet she quickly needed to declare her witness as one church. She has not done this thanks to her church order, but in spite of it …. It was necessary that the church, according to her calling by Christ, spoke a witnessing word to the government, to the world, to her own congregations … but according to the General Rules, though the Synod can represent the church in all things regarding the administration of the church, she lacks the authority to bear witness in the name of the church. Where was the leadership to find that authority? And yet, because Christ urged his church to speak, and there was no other body except the Synod, she had to do it. She had to do it in an absolute sense, even when not covered by the Rules.34
This shows us the heart of Scholten's objections against the organization of the church under the General Rules: the general Synod was not a real church-representing Synod but just an administrative body. He then describes his preference for the technically simplest possibility, that is to let the regional assemblies (classes, singular
So in Scholten's plans the classes have a crucial role. They are each to send one representative. The position of the classes had been a point of disagreement during the preceding years of struggle. Kerkopbouw thought they did not function very well and so wanted to diminish their importance, but Kerkherstel wanted to restore them to their proper function, as proposed in the 1929 draft.
Scholten's upgrading of the classis assemblies has two motives. The first is that it is the simplest solution. In the existing situation the classes were the only official gathering of more than local scale. At the level of the Provinces the General Rules knew no assemblies, only administrative boards. Another reason was the compatibility with the method used by Gemeente Opbouw, which had sent delegates from each classis to the local church councils to explain their views.35
4.5. Scholten's starting points: how he sees the church
Scholten's paper shows us some basic points about the church and the church order. It is remarkable that he starts with the view of the church that had grown among the supporters of the agreement and the 1938 draft (see 3.4). For Scholten, the visible church is unthinkable without the invisible church, and therefore the invisible church must somehow be recognizable in the visible church. There is a difference, but they cannot be seen apart from each other. He works towards reorganization because he believes that the visible church is an essential part of the One Holy Church of all times, and that is why she needs as good a church order as possible.
The empirical church must be what she really is, and so she must speak about content, about confession and discipline, Scholten says. But then “it must be the church that speaks, that must take a stand.” Scholten sees a close relationship between the essence of the church and its organization; that explains his scathing judgment of the ecclesiastical organization under the General Rules. As long as the 1816 rules obtain, it is not the voice of the church that is heard. An organization may be known as a church, but that does not mean it automatically has the essence of church.
4.6. A Confessing Church
In his 1942 paper Scholten discusses the developments in the church and her struggle to realize that she has to speak and act in the present day. “This brought to light the weakness of the General Rules more clearly,” he writes. So first of all she needs to reform her church order, and the change must include a spiritual renewal. Not only the form, also the content must be renewed; the place of the Confession must be restored. Scholten also declares that the church must formulate her views on Confession and discipline. She must be a confessing church, and therefore she must say what the place of the Confession is, but to do that she needs an organ that can speak for her. So the first thing that is needed is to form a representative body. Scholten mentions discipline in passing, but does not fill in what he thinks it should be, leaving this to the church.
When Scholten defends the 1938 draft he explicitly declares: “The task of the church is to proclaim the Word of the Lord. This includes confessing – putting into understandable words – what has been revealed to her, that she testifies to the truth she has been granted, that she preaches her message in all directions, seeks the lost, testifies to the truth.”36 Scholten here restricts himself in describing his views about the Confession; his paper aims to create the conditions to establish a Confessing Church. But this restriction does not mean that his views have changed.
4.7. Scholten on church law
The fact that Scholten works towards a church order for the Dutch Reformed Church shows that he values church law: as long as the church is part of this present imperfect world, she needs church law. He does not explain the relationship of church and law in his paper, but it will play a role in the later discussions of the committee. As early as 1917 he had written an article “Thoughts on power and law.”37 It contains one paragraph38 about the need for church law, saying that the church as community of believers will break down if she excludes all forms of law. There is no community without law. He refers to the ideas of the German law historian Rudolph Sohm (1841-1917), who considered church law to be a contradiction in itself. A famous dictum of his is:
Das Kirchenrecht steht mit dem Wesen der Kirche in Widerspruch 39 (Church law is a contradiction of the essence of church).
Scholten admits that Sohm is right to say that church and law exclude each other, but nevertheless it is also true that a church will break down if she wants to have nothing to do with any rules or refuses to maintain laws. In 1917 he considers it the tragedy of the church that she cannot do without rules.
In his philosophy of law writings, Scholten often discussed the essence of law40. He describes law as the ordering of the relationship of the individual with others with whom he lives in a community; law obtains for a more or less defined group or community.41 In the same article he refers to the community of the church. The church has a special significance, but insofar as she is a community of believers she needs law to order their interaction.
“The church order is a real form of law; theologians who deny this do not realize what law is.”42
4.8. Scholten’s view of church and state and the Dutch people
The necessity for the church to speak out was an important background to Scholten's paper. His proposed changes are meant to give the church a mouth to speak, not only to her own members but also to the state. In his view the relationship between church and state is a special one, and the church has a special task towards the state. Each is given by God, with different assignments and their own responsibility before God. The power of the state towards the church especially, is limited, because the church is the only body that has any authority to speak to the state as an equal. Both church and state define the limits of their authority, therefore conflict is inevitable.43
Scholten commences with: The church proclaims the gospel. This message must be entirely free, only defined by the church and not by any other authority. The church confronts the state because she claims the liberty to speak the Word of God, at such time and place as the church believes she should. She must reject state interference.
If the state claims otherwise on the grounds of its sovereignty, that claim must undoubtedly be limited for us as Christians by the fact that we are first Christian, and secondly citizens of the state. The church has the primacy. 44 (italics PS)
For the Dutch situation, Scholten sees a special connection between the church, the state and the people.
It is clear that the Dutch people came into being as a nation in the struggle against Spain, and that it was born in the late 16th century. This implies that this nation began in a religious struggle and that the Christian faith of the reformed, Calvinist type has given shape to this nation and was of decisive influence for the spirit of the nation. I do not use the words reformed and Calvinist in any narrow sense, in the way they are now in use to identify certain churches and a certain political attitude, but in a broader sense, to include other groups also. I count myself as part of this, without reserve. I said this was clear, but it needs to be explained. The 16th century revolt against Spain was a religious struggle, and it has greatly influenced the shape of the Dutch identity - the facts are so clear that it is difficult to deny them – but what I mean is that the faith was the decisive factor, that it shaped the spirit of the nation.”45 (italics PS)
Scholten was of the opinion that the Roman Catholic Church did not have such nation-shaping power.46
It was during the 16th century, during the revolt in the Low Countries, that the proclamation of the Word by the church of the Reformation proved to have this nation-shaping power. For Scholten, this means that the reformation church is specially charged to speak out, because such speaking will appeal to the Dutch nation in its specific being, its Christian citizenship and therefore its core identity.47 This view is an important background for Scholten's work on the reorganization of the Dutch Reformed Church. It influences both the speaking of the church and the unity of protestant Christianity: the church of the Reformation is divided, partly because of her church order, and ought to be reunited. It is also the background of the distance that Scholten has always felt towards the Roman Catholic Church and which remained in the later years of the work of the committee.
4.9 Reactions of the committee members
During the first year the committee can do little. Scholten’s paper (as described in 4.3 – 4.6) is sent to all members. In 1943 the committee meets a few times under its vice-chairman Berkelbach van der Sprenkel, who keeps Scholten abreast of things by letter. He writes that the committee has reached an impasse because of hopeless division: “People want such heterogeneous things that little is to be achieved. The only thing that resulted is that your concept paper is taken seriously…. Members try to instruct one another but no-one will be a student, because all are teachers.” He thinks the gentlemen must first come to a certain exhaustion before serious discussion can start. He is extremely relieved when Scholten says he is willing to take over.
In October 1943 things start up again because the secretary, prof. Wagenaar, contributes a new paper in which he changes his mind about the task of the committee. He consents to Scholten's concrete proposal to convene a new church-representing body, and works this out further. In four following meetings Wagenaar’s ideas are expanded, which leads to the Working Order in March 1944.
This Working Order prepared for the assembling of a large Synod. In this way one of the objections against the General Rules was taken care of. The Working Order was approved in 1945, and provided the basis for calling together the Dutch Reformed Church in general Synod on October 31 1945, a thing that had not been seen since the Synod of Dordt in 1618.
So the committee has not designed a new church order, as its name shows, because it did not consider itself as having the authority to do so. It did however ask the General Synod to take up this task.48
4.10 The Working Order
Looking back on the process of reorganization we may conclude that the Committee for the Principles of Church Order has taken a sort of middle road between the starting points of the two pre-war societies for church reform, Kerkherstel and Kerkopbouw. First there was a measure of spiritual renewal , which most members of the committee considered a necessary condition to get out of the impasse. This movement can be seen as a hesitant start of the discussion about truth, before starting a reorganization, as Kerkopbouw wished. On the other hand, the choice to start with an interim Synod shows respect for the views of Kerkherstel, “first reorganization, then confession” because this interim Synod was seen as necessary for creating a definitive church order, in which decisions about the Confession, about discipline and other content can find expression.
This was exactly Scholten’s starting point: only the church herself has authority to take decisions about her own affairs. Reorganization was necessary to create a real Synod that would enable the church to speak about the truth. So the steps were as follows: a new spirit (renewal movements) – limited reorganization (Working Order) – truth (church decides in General Synod) – new church order. In these steps we can recognize an amalgamation of the ideas of Kerkherstel and
An additional article I in the Working Order opens with the words that provide the central point of the proposal: The Dutch Reformed Church assembled in General Synod. The eight following articles, given Roman numbers by Wagenaar, constitute this General Synod. The structure of the Synod is defined by describing the functions of Representatives in the Synod, Advisers to the Synod, a General Synodal Committee which is to take up important tasks, and besides this a circle of Supporting Bodies.
4.11 Confessing Church
The Working Order settles the point that the church is to be a confessing church. The minutes of the meeting of November 1943 show that the committee considers it not enough only to ask the new Synod to put together a new church order; the new Synod should be given guidelines that will direct and regulate this task. 49 “Form and content cannot be separated,” the vice-chairman of the committee, Berkelbach van der Sprenkel tells the committee. The task of the Synod in making a new church order is to fulfill the commission and calling of the church.” That includes the untainted ministry of Word and Sacrament, and maintaining order. Just as in his papers around this discussion, he here quotes the 16th century Confessio Belgica of Guido de Brès, which has functioned as a national Confession document in the Netherlands for centuries, and still does.
Berkelbach notes that there is anarchy in the church and that this should be combated by bringing order, also on the fundamental issues of preaching and administering the sacraments. Others agree that the task of the Synod must be seen against the background of all that has passed, and that background is the historic confessing church. They decide to formulate this explicitly, as Scholten says: “We must explain that the goal is to let the church be church again. When she speaks she must do this with authority on the basis of her Confession, not just as a protest or an advice.” Berkelbach quotes art. 29 of the Confessio Belgica:
According to the pure Word of God, rejecting all that contradicts it, holding on to Jesus Christ as the only Head of the church.’ We must declare this again, otherwise the new Synod might formally be a new body, but in fact remain what she is at present.
Other members refer to the Confession as basis for ecclesiastical discussions, because even a sick church is still based on the Confession. Not that the Confession should be used to throw people out, but it should be the basis for discussion.
Finally, Gravemeyer finds the words for linking the church to the Confession. He suggests the declaration
in obedience to the Holy Scriptures and standing on the basis of the written confessions. 50
The committee accepts the above suggestions51, and the last quote will be literally taken over in the new church order. Summarizing, article I of the Working Order assigns four specific tasks to the Synod. She is to prepare the church order and approve it; to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to the government and the nation, together with the church in all her members; to provide leadership and structure for the work to which the church is called in all areas of life and finally to obey the calling of the church to unity in the worldwide Christian community.
4.12 Implementation of the Working Order
The Working Order, as a provisional document, needed to follow the procedures for changing the rules that were described in the 1816 General Rules.52 As a first step, on April 24, 1944 an extraordinary meeting of the General Synod was called, which accepted the proposal unanimously, with a few small alterations. Thus the first stage of the Working Order was agreed to. Two months later, after the committee members have discussed the contents of the Working Order with representatives of different groups in the church, the Synod accepted the content and structure of the Working Order unanimously. This was in great contrast with the procedures during the reorganization struggle before the war, when the 1938 draft was only just rejected and all reorganization was frustrated by the discord in the church.
The next step was the approval by the provincials boards. Because of the war this final voting occurred a year later. This was the last time that the members of the provincial boards could use their right of veto. With an unprecedented majority of 62 against 2 votes, the Working Order was approved. During the next General Synod on August 3, 1945, the secretary Gravemeyer celebrated this historic event. He symbolically covered the book of the 1816 General Rules with the Bible, with the prayer “
The Working Order contained instructions on how to implement the process for convening a Synod and preparing the church order. Accordingly, the first meeting of the General Synod was held on October 31, 1945, a symbolic date (Reformation Day). It met in Amsterdam in the Nieuwe Kerk, which is a large historic church in the center of the city, used for royal and national events. The classis assemblies sent their representatives, synodal Advisers were present, but before the work started, a prayer meeting was held as the Working Order prescribed. After that, the work was taken in hand, which in December led to the creation of a Committee for Church Order.
4.13 Paul Scholten's influence on church law
Scholten's influence on the church law of the Dutch Reformed Church may be called very great. Both in the area of content as in procedure he has played a large role. His outstanding ability as chairman in the reorganization process can hardly be exaggerated. He brought different factions together, he was able to translate theological views into rules of law, and his concrete proposals kept the process itself going.
In a conversation with his son G.J. Scholten I wondered what made his father such a good chairman, who got disagreeing groups to agree and found a way out of the deadlock into which the reorganization of the church had maneuvered itself. It is difficult to say, this ability was made up of several factors. One was that Scholten listened to all parties. He formulated their views in such a way that everyone felt understood and honored. As a non-theologian he described theological points in a fresh way, which made the old and outworn phrases new, and more easily acceptable. And finally, his fine chairmanship was thanks to his great insight in the material.
Where the material is concerned, we see that Scholten's view of church law, as known from his writings on the philosophy of law, is also the basis of the Working Order. His fundamental thinking about of the essence of law, about the church as community, about her permanence and about the rejection of Sohm’s ideas of church, are to be found almost literally in the notes on the Working Order.
Scholten's view of man as sinful and imperfect is important here. This goes for believers too; although God may count them as holy because of their faith in Jesus Christ, they have not yet attained holiness in practice. This view forms the basis of Scholten's opinion that a church order is a necessity, because the church is a human community. She needs some form of law to function with any continuity. The purpose of law is to make possible the existence of community, however imperfect.
As Scholten adds in his notes, Law is a gift of God to man.
1 Scholten wrote this about the church’s own form of organization, in Het reorganisatie-ontwerp verdedigd, Nijkerk 1938, p.3-4. (Defense of the reorganization draft) This article can also be found in VG II p. 256
2 In 2004 the Dutch Reformed Church united with two other protestant churches to become the Protestant Church of the Netherlands. In the church order of this last body the view and structure of the Dutch Reformed Church was preserved.
3 G.J. Scholten, ‘Vader en Leermeester’(Father and Teacher), Weekblad voor Privaatrecht, Notariaat en Registratie 5314 (1975), 477-480: 479.
4 Scholten ‘Vader en Leermeester’ 479
5 Idem, 482
6 E.M. Meijers, ‘Herdenking van Paul Scholten’, (In Memoriam Paul Scholten) Weekblad voor Privaatrecht, Notariaat en Registratie 5314 (1975), 471-476:474
7 Meijers, ‘Herdenking’, 471
8 DG 178/VG I 161
9 DG 178/VG I 161
10 Het Reorganisatie-ontwerp verdedigd, p. 9
11 H. Oostenbrink-Evers, Beginselen en achtergronden van de Kerkorde van 1951 van de Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk, Zoetermeer, 2000, 32. (Principles and backgrounds of the church order of 1951 of the Dutch Reformed Church).
12 Beginselen, 30
13 Roijaards characterizes this structure as aristocratic: “But the democracy of our earlier form of church, where all ministers, besides elders, representing the local congregations, acted in church assemblies, has disappeared.”
14 The newly appointed state Commissioner-General for church affairs formulated the basis of the new church organization as follows: “The church of course remains entirely free, according to its nature; yet in the external ruling of the church the Government exercises a necessary control. This general rule, one of the main principles of Protestantism, is the basis of everything.” Quoted from the speech of the Commissioner-General Repelaer of Nov. 13, 1815.
15 H. Oostenbrink-Evers, Paul Scholten en de Commissie voor beginselen van Kerkorde 1942-1944), the author’s senior thesis in theology, 1991, p. 42 (Paul Scholten and the Committee for principles of church order 1942-1944).
16 Beginselen, 53.
17 Paul Scholten en de Commissie, 43
18 Beginselen en Achtergronden, p. 59
19 In 1932 the general meeting of the liberal wing accepted a declaration that the their aim was “to keep the Dutch Reformed Church together in its Protestant unity, so as to save its character of volkskerk. This character presupposes freedom of belief for different religious convictions, a freedom that should be expressly stated in the church rules.” From
Dutch volkskerk is not to be confused with the meaning of volkskerk in South Africa.
20 Haitjema, a leader in the more orthodox Confessionele Vereniging.
21 Hitler had come to power in 1933 and many believed he supported Christianity. In those first months of confusion and illusion, Barth wrote his brochure Theologische Existenz heute (Theological existence today), in which he points out that only the Word of God remains forever. A.J. Bronkhorst, Karl Barth, een levensbeeld, ‘sGravenhage, 1953, 60.
22 These words are found in the text of the third and fourth article of the Barmen Declaration, see www.sacred-texts.com/chr/barmen.htm for the complete text.
23 A number of worldwide mission conferences have been very influential here. The Edinburgh conference of 1910 under the leadership of John Mott was aimed at helping protestant mission organizations work together, so as to increase the tempo and allocate the spheres of work. As a result, in 1921 the international mission council started its work. The second conference was convened by Mott in Jerusalem, in 1928. The third was in Tambaram, India, 1938.
24 This conference was later followed up and finally led to the founding of the World Council of Churches in 1948. In Oxford Scholten had worked together with the Swiss Max Huber, who had been president of the Permanent Court of International Justice, and the Swiss theologian Emil Brunner. One of the things they discussed was what to do about the – reprehensible – absence of the German Lutherans from the conference.
25 From Scholten’s notes on the Working Order p.176.
26 It is remarkable that initiatives for the church to speak and act did not originate with the Synod but came from Kerkelijk Overleg, a few leading figures in particular. It led to a spiritual revival, later known as Gemeente Opbouw (Building Church). (H.C. Touw, Het verzet der Hervormde Kerk (The resistance of the Dutch Reformed Church).
27 Touw, p.40
28 Touw, p.49
29 All minutes of this committee have been published in W. Balke and H. Oostenbrink-Evers, De Commissie voor de Kerkorde (1945-1950).
30 See note 26 (35)
31 Prof. mr. P. Scholten, prof. J.N. Bakhuizen van den Brink, prof. dr. S.F.H.J. Berkelbach van der Sprenkel, dr. E. Emmen, ds. K.H.E. Gravemeyer, ds. A.A. van Ruler, prof. dr. J. Severijn, dr. H. de Vos, dr. H.M.J. Wagenaar.
32 Contrary to what is generally thought, it was not the Synod that established this committee, as the minutes of the Synod over 1942 prove. It was Gemeenteopbouw itself. Few people knew of the existence of the Committee for the Principles of Church Order.
33 All information here given about the work of the committee can be found in Balke and Oostenbrink-Evers, see note 29.
34 Scholten’s notes on the Working Order p.177.
35 See section 4.3 (nieuwe noot, om terug te kunnen vinden wat Gemeente opbouw was)
36 Scholten, ‘Het reorganisatieontwerp verdedigd’, VG II p.256.
37 “Gedachten over macht en recht” in Onze Eeuw 1917, IV 321. Also in DG 205/VG I ff.
38 DG 208/ VG I 192. Scholten writes: “It is the tragedy of the history of the church that no lasting community of any substantial size can survive without polity. If anywhere, then in purely spiritual things, domination should be excluded: the power of one person over another should be banned. Nevertheless, church history teaches us that every community – if she does not want to fade or evaporate and thereby dissolve itself – needs outward boundaries and inward regulations and hence a law and upholding of that law by appointed people. Rudolph Sohm is entirely right when he announces that ‘church’ and ‘law’ exclude each other, but it is equally true that a church, if she is serious in excluding every law and all maintenance of the law, will inevitably break down.”
39 R. Sohm, Kirchenrecht, Leipzig 1892, I, 1.
40 These writings can be found in DG and VG I and II.
41 From “Kenmerken van recht”(Characteristics of law), par 14, Het volk, VH I 72.
42 G. J. Scholten, ‘Vader en Leermeester,” 479.
43“Over de rechtsstaat” (About the constitutional state), speech to a theologians’ conference in 1935, VG I 382-394.
44 VG I 392.
45 ‘Het geloof in het Nederlandse volksleven”, (The faith in the life of the Dutch), speech of 16 May 1941, VG II, 304.
46 Idem, 308.
47 Idem, 317.
48 The work of the Committee for the Principles of Church Order and a description of its members is discussed fully in two papers by H. Oostenbrink-Evers: see Cie. Kerkorde,  VII-      VI for “De weg naar de Kerkorde van 1951” and
49 Scholten’s notes on the Working Order p.48-53.
50 The Dutch Belijdenisgeschriften, a collection of Reformation writings that is part of the DNA of Dutch reformed churches.
51 Scholten’s notes on the Working Order p.50-51.
52 The General Rules can be changed, according to the final rule after art. 74 of the General Rules. After taking note of the considerations of the provincial and classical boards, this change needs the agreement of at least two thirds of the combined members of the provincial church boards, after these have heard the classical boards in their province.
53 See 3.5.
54 The great commission refers to Christ’s command in Matthew 28:19-20: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”