Soest Conference, 4-7 November 2008 - Proceedings

European Conference of Reformed Churches Proceedings

Session 1 - Tuesday morning, 4 November

1. Opening

Rev. Ruud ter Beek welcomed delegates and opened the conference. Rev. Dr Peter Naylor led in prayer.

Introduction to the conference.

The first conference, in March 2007, saw that the sixteenth century reformation transcended national borders in Europe. The immigration of Muslims provides us a stimulus to preach the gospel. Since then, Europe has experienced a financial crisis - mammon has fallen face downwards. This also encourages the world to sober up and us to proclaim the gospel. Today the United States will elect a new president and, it seems, adapt to a new balance in world economics. Europe is in a modest position. This is not negative for the gospel. In March 2007, we reached three points of agreement: 1. to meet regularly once every two years; 2. as a priority, to join our efforts to proclaim gospel in Europe; 3. to have joint theological reflection. The seven organizing churches in Spain, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands (who are members of the ICRC) reported to their synods or general assemblies, which approved these points. Therefore, (1) we meet in Soest and plan to meet in Edinburgh in 2010; and in preparation for Edinburgh, (2) we shall focus on church planting in Europe's major cities (Wednesday's topic); and (3) discuss plans for a theological conference, which the Theological University in Kampen has offered to organize (Thursday's topic). So our two focal points are: first, combined evangelistic effort; in a living connection with the Christian history of our continent; and second, the theological foundation, which is needed by the evangelists. The seven ICRC churches are making a serious effort to join forces and share their European networks.

Singing: 'Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the king of creation.'

2. Introduction of the Reformed League of the Protestant Reformed Church by Drs. C Blenk

The 'Reformed League' represents the orthodox wing of the national Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN), a merger of the Dutch Reformed Church and the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands three years ago. When the national church became liberal, many left. We stayed because the official confessional basis was retained and we were free to stand on it (like evangelicals in the Anglican Church). After 1834, we formed a confessional union. We are about 400 out of 1800 congregations. We have professors in the main university faculties. Drs Blenk described the mission concerns of the league. We have a league for home mission (IZB) and another for foreign (GZB): invite them next time. League for foreign works in Antwerp, Budapest, France etc.

3. Introduction of the Romanian Evangelical Church (Biserica Evanghelica Romania) by Rev Ioan Botgros

We hold similar doctrine: we rely completely on God's Word and preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified. This church was formed almost ninety years ago in 1920. It came out of the Orthodox Church when a priest discovered the truth, repented, received Jesus Christ, stopped teaching the traditions of the church and began to preach the gospel. It has grown to 20,000 members in 240 congregations. Present concerns: 1. To intensify evangelization (e.g., an evangelization tent which is moved around 29 villages); 2. To defend against false teaching which threatens division (e.g., there is a trend for people to decide to worship at home with their own Bible and a CD). Some preachers do not address the need of the hour but preach generally. The freedom to preach enjoyed during the last twenty years of democracy has been a blessing. They have decided to pray more: a four hour prayer meeting on the last Friday of each month. The BER has been a sister church of the CGKN since last year.

4. Devotions: Rev. David Miller

Singing Psalm 146.

Reading: Jeremiah 7:21-26; 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2.

Jer. 7:25 (NIV is poor). God has been dedicated to this sending his prophets early: this is God's focus. In 2 Corinthians, we are God's fellow-workers, working along with God. Every believer is drawn into this task: the ministry of reconciliation. We must not go out on our own. It is God's focus and we are part of his work, a privilege. Mission should be part of our identity.

Singing: Ye servants of God, your Master proclaim.

Greetings received by email from John Goris (New Zealand; ICRC Missions Committee).

Session 2 - Tuesday evening, 4 November

5. Lecture: The Missionary Zeal of Calvin, by Professor David Mackay

5.1 Lecture

Prof. Mackay presented his paper. David McKay, ‘The Missionary Zeal of Calvin’ (4 Nov 2008).

5.2 Discussion

Discussion covered the following matters. 1. What kind of people were in France when Geneva sent pastors there? 2. Mission in the Middle East: in the nineteenth century, when Anglicans and Americans found it difficult to convert Muslims, they turned their attention to the Orthodox, but was this really missionary work? 3. Why did Roman Catholics (Jesuits) go into the Middle East two centuries before Protestants? Is this historically accurate? Was it that Protestant mission was linked to commercial expansion? 4. Did Calvin consider that mission work was completed by the Apostles? See his comments on Matthew 28. 5. Some doubt about the paper was expressed, feeling that it identified reformation with mission: Calvin was seeking to reform the existing church in France not undertake mission to the nation.) How can we explain the absence of mission in Holland and Scotland, and in the Confessions and Church orders? In definitions of the true church, we do not have mission (but we do have preaching of the gospel). Were Calvin and Luther still caught up with the idea of Christendom? Calvinistic churches today do not have a clear theology of mission: letting Arminians and Pentecostals convert people and then the Calvinists teach them.

Rev. ter Beek thanked Prof. Mackay.

6. Closing Devotions

Rev. C J den Hertog.

Singing: Psalm 100

Reading: Psalm 65

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the Netherlands. Psalm 65 after drought, he looks at the harvest growing again and is filled with joy at the Lord's goodness. Striking point: all these blessings come because of God's forgiveness. They were overwhelmed by sins (the reason for drought). God hears sinners' prayer. Consequently, the ends of the earth see God's salvation. This connects with our conference: people today need food and to know the Lord.


Hymn: Great is Thy Faithfulness.

Session 3 - Wednesday morning, 5 November

7. Opening devotions Rev Reinder van Wijnen (GKNV; BBK for British Isles)

Reading: Genesis 8:6-14

Reflection on Noah's life and ours (1 Peter 3:18 compares baptism and the flood). Life before the flood: abundance but sin. Noah walked with God but did not have a successful life: late in having children; the period of building the ark. The flood cleansed the earth of sinners. But the new world afterwards still contained corruption and death. Noah brought along his old nature. (Raven and dove: unclean and clean. The hope signified by the dove, sent out after one week.) Life is a gift from heaven for him who waits for what God has promised. Believers may miss the boat in this life but they can expect God's blessing.


Singing: 'I sing the mighty power of God'

8. Lecture: Heading for Edinburgh 2010 (Church planting and evangelism in Europe's Cities in the 21st Century), by Rev David Robertson

8.1 Lecture

Rev Robertson presented his paper. David Robertson, ‘Heading for Edinburgh 2010: Church Planting and Evangelism in Europe’s Cities in the 21st Century.’ (5 Nov 2008)

Reading Acts 16:6-10. Prayer.

As a church in Europe, some questions: Where are we? How did we get here? Where are we going?

Statistics (Europe including Russia): 23m km2; 725m population; 290 languages. Religion: 71% claim to be Christians); 23% non-religious; 5% Muslim. Of Christians, 33% catholics (one in ten don't go to church); 14% Protestant. Only 1% are Calvinistic reformed.

The reformed churches have problems: 'geeks' - small-minded; parochial, petty; living off the past; delusions of grandeur; unable to communicate; busy but ineffective; spiritually asleep; irrelevant; not numerically significant in Europe. What influence do we have on Europe? Compare that with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands in the 17th century; e.g., Rembrandt deeply affected by the reformed faith in his culture. If we were better communicators, our churches would not be in the state they are. We are the 'train-spotters' of the 21st century.

How did we get here? The development of distinct nations; post revolutionary decline; the 20th century secularization. Europe hasn't had a major war for 60 years. Communism collapsed: peace, prosperity; technology; transport; vacuum in danger of being filled by manipulative politics etc.

Why? Understand the broad picture: failure to stick close to Jesus Christ; pietism; failure to recognize our sinfulness.

Where are we going? Islam is an opportunity and threat: don't fear it. Postmodernism is the new atheism. A new religion is being developed by Christians (Brian Maclaren). Elements of society include sexuality, materialism, mass-media, statism. There is Christian chaos and confusion.

How to cope? Not by assimilation, isolation, pietism, pride and power.

Biblical strategy (Acts 19): cities first; churches which practice freedom and diversity within a confessional unity; create Christian communities that transcend man-made barriers; take the best of the past and create new wineskins; educate; preach, pray, sing and live the Word; passion of Christ. Calvin's Institutes are still a model apologetic. Translate into the modern culture.

Aims for Edinburgh 2010:

  • 100 new churches in cities by 2020
  • A centre for public Christianity - apologetics, evangelism and church planting
  • Develop a European apologetic
  • Uniting the body.

(Calvary, California is the most successful church planting group in America. Terry Virgo is remarkably successful, one principle is teamwork)

Books recommended.

8.2 Discussion

1. The vision for 100 new churches: every one to live within half and hour's drive of a good, contemporary Calvinistic Church.
2. The idea of educating young children: John Knox said that where you have a church, you should have a school. The church in the UK needs to prove public use: perhaps the best way is to help educate, especially the poor. School level and university (support lecturers, student movement).
3. Strategy. Start in cities. Cities are international. Do I reach local people? Country too? If you reach the cities, everyone will be reached: better strategy than going round all the villages.
4. How do you avoid the sexuality trap? Think about who you are speaking to. A genuine question or an accusation (i.e., you are a homophobic bigot who should not be tolerated)? Question them first: Tell me your position?. Can you tell me of any form of sexuality that is wrong? Go back to more fundamental matters: what makes me a human being? Claim the right to hold a personal position! Will you condemn me for that? Tolerant? Never answer directly. Why so hung up on sexuality? Useful book: Straight and Narrow, Thomas Schmidt (IVP).
5. National boundaries are meaningless. We should get rid of them. I would like to see a European Reformed Church. It's not going to happen because we fight among ourselves. Co-ordinating without control.
6. Church planting. Working with other churches. The world and church is messy. We should work with any group who holds to basic fundamentals of the faith. If a Baptist church near us, don't plant - support them. Not so for a liberal church. In Dundee, our greatest draw is in this order: charismatics (often wounded); catholics; pagans.
7. Biggest enemy: the devil, Spiritual warfare. What is the devil's strategy for Europe. Leave the church alone: it is doing a great job of destroying the gospel. The biggest detriment is the state of the church. If we start really living for Christ, we'll be attacked viciously. Prayer. Looking to Christ. Stop Christians seeing Jesus - they won't show others Jesus.

9. Introduction to Stadshartkerk, Amsterdam, by Tim Vreugdenhil and Theodoor Meedendorp

This church planting work is connected with three networks: the reformed churches of Amsterdam in partnership; a national network of church planters, mostly young in their 20's and 30's in all the big cities of Holland, but also in villages; global network organized by Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York, which has a vision and has created a church planting centre in NY.

The churches in Amsterdam are of three main types: Catholic (big buildings, poor attendance), Reformed (about 30 congregations, mixed condition), and Charismatic (these are the most healthy).

Examples of church planting projects: e.g., Hope for the North.

Plea for replanting of churches. This is a spiritual phenomenon. God created ex nihilo but he brings about new things by restoring the old (resurrection). Replanting is the process in which one or more people, in a situation of existential crisis, try to create a significant change, not to take over but to inspire the old community and build her up to give birth in quantity and quality. Churches should not die. It is a hard path, but the hardest path should never be overlooked.

The importance of young church planters, without which churches would die.

The needs. In Amstelveen, most people have enough money. Behind that, there is a spiritual interest; loneliness is behind the façade; children have problems with their parents.

Approaches. Not one size fits all. small groups; a talk in bookshop etc. Redeemer (NY) will pull out soon. They suggest we create a church planting centre.

10. Introduction: Our Position and mission in relation to Israel

Gerard Geerds spoke about the work of the Bat Tsion Committee (Ommen, Netherlands) and provided information about a work in Jerusalem, the KolHaMidbar congregation of Rev. Tony Simon.

11. Closing devotions

Rev William Traub.

Singing: the church's one foundation 135.



Workshop Meetings and Business Committee

3:00-4:00 and 4.30-5.30


Service in the Shelter Congregation in Soest

Session 4 - Thursday morning, 6 November

12. Opening devotions

Rev Todd Matocha

Reading Genesis 15:1-11.

Abraham's doubt and need, as yet unfulfilled promise: at this point God makes a covenant, assuring him of his promises. We participate in the same covenant. Some of its promises are more relevant to us today than they were to Abraham. (Blessing of the nations.) God's plan for Europe? Struggling churches here. God does the impossible! Remember how the apostle Paul was turned around. The church does not exist for itself: it always has a missionary mindset. God carries out his plans in his own time. Persevere. Don't change the way we 'do church': stick with the ways that God has given us - preach the gospel.


Singing: Psalm 121

13. Panel Discussion on Theological Co-operation in Europe

Panel: Prof. John Macintosh (Edinburgh); Prof. David Mackay (Belfast); Rev. Alvis Sauka (Ukraine); Rev. Cor Harryvan (Kiev); Rev. Ad de Bruijne, (Kampen); Rev. Vasil Pilipenko (Kiev).

Refer to the paper given at the ECRC 2007 by Prof. Maris is in Lux Mundi. Four areas for discussion.

1. Do you share the opinion of Prof. Maris on joint reflection upon theological issues as a way to apply the unity of the reformed churches?

Yes. Comparing different approaches stimulates thought. The main goal is practical, to prepare men for the ministry. (Some seminaries cater for more than those training for the ministry.

The Dutch tradition is strong on exegesis, languages, and a specific tradition from 19th century revival of reformed theology. This conference helpfully provides knowledge of each other. In Kiev, PCA and Dutch co-operate in the seminary. Two churches have unity in seminary and in mission. Help for local churches. Identity. What does reformed mean? Liberal doctrine is in the Ukraine now. Need to discuss with students if called? Some don't go into the ministry. A good technical university are up-to-date. We should be the same.

2. Do you agree to the selection of issues that Maris presents?

The six points are:

  1. The status of the present Israel in the history of salvation.
  2. The Perspective of the Kingdom of God and the mission of the church.
  3. The issue of Millennialism.
  4. The Charismatic Influences many reformed churches are facing.
  5. The questions regarding creation and the scientific challenges to the article of faith.
  6. Our ecological responsibility.

Additional points offered:

Education: the practicalities. Missions: approach to non-Christian religions etc. Relevant Worship. What is the basic identity of reformed theology.

3. How would you practically set up such a joint reflection and discussion?

Regular conferences, with the aim to reach a definite conclusion. Caution: many conferences already.

Website. Internet connection among the seminaries.

A journal. Need to be clear about the level of participation. Caution: involves much work. A website would be more effective.

Exchange of students, researchers, teachers. Comment: the seminaries in the west do not understand the needs of the seminaries of the east. Their level; libraries; without accreditation. Send professors?

Interact with the Third World.

But we have too many seminaries. Our seminaries are not part of the mainstream. They don't connect with our people. How do we get our theology back to our people. Theology is for ordinary people. They are reading: The Shack by William Young and Maclaren.

4. What do you consider the front lines for reformed theology?

Eschatology (Calvin did not reflect on this).

Reformed hermeneutics is foundational. You cannot open your Bible without this. The Redemptive-historical view is forgotten.

Church History: third century; reformation. They produced contextual confessions. We have passed modernism. There is a need to have a new reformed confession for today.

Take the other religions seriously. New paganism.

Emerging Churches. What is the reformed way of thinking about the church?

Salvation history - a good alternative to Muslim salvation history.

Whole of life scope of our faith.

Vision on Israel.

Secularization makes us seek a new way of being the church. It causes a new hermeneutical problem, church structures, etc., and demands a new way of doing reformed theology.

14. Introduction: Akademie für Reformatorische Theologie Hannover, by Dr Victor d'Assonville

ART moved from Warburg a few years ago. Three full time teachers and many guest lecturers. Students mostly come from free churches in Germany. Website: Supported by the confessing churches, mainly Lutheran, but not part of the state church. 'The Reformation back to the land of the reformation' was the slogan used by Dutch churches who support our seminary.

15. Introduction: IRTT by Rev. Cees Haak

We work with churches all over the world, providing training, in a post-modern culture. This is mainly English language; but French language programme has also started. We recently developed a statement on the charismatic movement: Very recently we have worked on a dynamic view of reformed ecclesiology.

16. Introduction: Evangelical Reformed Church in Russia by Rev Valerian Ten

Evangelical Reformed Church in Russia re-established. It existed more than 400 years ago. Under communism, the church was destroyed. This year, 10 October, seven congregations held the first synod. This began our activity as a reformed church in Russia. To be beaten or not to be beaten. Russian empire's right hand is the eastern orthodox church, the left hand the communist party. Russian protestants have been very oppressed by the orthodox church. There were two kinds of protestants: Evangelical Lutheran and Evangelical Reformed. We restore the latter on a legal basis.

17. Protestant Reformed Church of Croatia by Rev. Jasmin Milic

In 2001 we separated from Reformed Christian Church because it was episcopal, it used Hungarian not Croatian (the vernacular), liberalism, women's ordination etc. Started church planting and mission, and have begun in Serbia. We have published about 35 reformed books (Berkhof, Confessions etc.). We organized a small reformed theological institute.

18. Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Ireland by Rev. Dr Andrew Woolsey

The Irish Presbyterian Church's roots were in the Scottish Reformation. The EPC emerged in 1927 as a reaction against the liberalism in the main church. This came to a critical point in the heresy trial of one Professor Davey, who denied the doctrines of the Trinity, Inspiration of Scripture, Imputation etc. He was not disciplined and the protestors were silenced.

Rev. James Hunter and several others withdrew and formed the Irish Evangelical Church, renamed after as the EPC. Loyal to the Word of God, the Westminster Confession and Catechisms are the subordinate standards. Nine congregations, five in Belfast, the rest spread out. The political troubles of the past thirty years or so led to great population shifts in the country. E.g. Crumlin was 99% protestant before; today it is 90% Roman Catholic. This has forced us to look at mission to the Roman Catholic community.

19. UERC, by Oleksander Pavliuk, Ukraine

We are Baptist but have been on a journey of discovering truth. We are studying the Heidelberg Catechism and most of our people want to baptize their children. But we continue to pray because we want to take all our people along with us. (Douglas Wilson, To A Thousand Generations. He was once a Baptist.) We have various ways of educating our people: conferences, seminars, a family conference; camp for children with special needs. We are developing our knowledge of the covenant.


Workshop Meetings and Business Committee

3:00-4:00 and 4.30-5.30

Session 5 - Thursday evening, 6 November

20. Lecture: Calvin Addressing Europe, by Prof. Erik A de Boer

Singing: O God our help in ages past (vv.1-3).

20.1 Lecture

Prof. De Boer presented his paper. Erik de Boer, ‘Calvin Addressing Europe’ (6 Nov 2008)

1. Calvin addressed the kings and leaders of the state. 2. He regarded the nations from the perspective of the Old Testament prophets (e.g., his sermons on Ezekiel 25-32). 3. He had a vision of the reform of the churches in Europe, not to institute here and there his own church, as we today are inclined to do. (Francesco Spiera's history: Calvin's preface.) 4. His prayers following his addresses were for grace 'to all peoples and nations of the earth etc.' ... 'leading all poor untaught people from the captivity of error and darkness ...' and then, for kings and rulers. This was prayed as a formula every day.

Rev. ter Beek thanked Prof. De Boer.

20.2 Discussion

Questions of fact about Geneva's liturgy, Calvin's approach to church and state and how it impacted on evangelization. Calvin had no view of heathen nations to be reached because all have sinned and the catholics needed to be saved. They had not heard the gospel, only a false gospel, and that's the problem. Islam was the enemy that threatened the church of God. Some enlightened reformers did study the Koran, but it was humanist interest. In their small world - Europe - there was darkness and God was pouring rays of light into it. If you live in a country where you are not free to serve God, you flee and go to where the light is. How were Calvin's letters to kings received? Not known if Francis I ever acknowledged reception of the Institutes. Before published, diplomatic enquiry (would it please you to be addressed), so the answer came in advance. Did Calvin regard himself as a successor to Ezekiel in addressing judgment to the nations. Much debated. How much of a prophet was Calvin? (Unmarked grave, like Moses?)

Questions of application. How should we address our nation nowadays? Confronted with Islamic ideal of theocracy. Muslim scholars address leaders with this programme and aim for the implementation of Sharia Law. Should we go back to Calvin's approach or do the opposite? (Seek Christian state; or separation?) The Lord is leading humanity through various times and cultures and the opportunities vary from time to time. The sixteenth century context made it possible to address a whole city but this is not a pattern for us. Belgic Confession Article 36 (short version): is it outdated? Does the state have a duty to protect the church and resist all forms of heresy and false belief? It reflects the times in which it was written. But the short version even now is too much.

21. Expression of thanks, by John Scott on behalf of the convening committee

Thanks to the staff of the BBK, for organization behind the scenes. Mrs. Gretie Enter and the ladies of the church. Thanks to Rev. Ruud ter Beek for his chairmanship and his contribution to the planning work, his creative talent, consistency and helpful humour.

22. Closing devotions, by Rev Philip de Coster

Reading: Psalm 19.

Who is God? A personal question rather than a philosophical one. Psalm 19 answers with a picture in three stages. 1. Globally, creation shows us much about God. 2. Close-up of Scripture, the Law of the Lord. 3. An x-ray of our heart (v.11ff). Consider your own relationship with God. The Psalm zooms in: in vv.1-6, the Lord's name is mentioned once; in vv.7-10 six times; vv.11-14 David calls him my redeemer. This is how Psalm 19 zooms in!


Singing: Abide with me.

Session 6 - Friday morning, 7 November

23. Opening devotions, by Rev. James Maciver

Reading: 2 Samuel 5:1-3, 17-25.

First, the enemies of God's people were stirred up, seeing David newly crowned. We too can expect newly stirred up opposition. Leaders, at the forefront of the engagement, need to maintain themselves in peak spiritual and moral condition. Give fresh attention to Paul's command to Timothy to guard himself and the doctrine. Second, prayer and planning go together. The Lord's strategy was not the same each time. In your home churches, commit part of the prayer time to the conference in 2010 and for the Lord to open a way for us in Europe. Our aim is to win hearts and minds for the Lord by his Spirit, rather than to win arguments. Third, it was important that David had support from all the tribes at this moment. We must be one, engaged in concerted evangelism, our minds and resources united. It is important that we commit ourselves to this.


Singing: Thy hand, O God, has guided thy flock in every age.

Singing by the brothers from Ukraine.

Recess for Business Meeting.

24. Evaluation, perspective, statement

Mission Statement. This will go onto the websites of the BBK and ICRC. Take it and publish it on your own church web sites. It will be in Lux Mundi. This will be the witness of this conference.

Minutes. These will be sent to all members and participants.

Comments. (Comments can also be submitted to the committee by email.)

In response to questions: David Miller will gather information about church planting in Europe, will submit to the committee and will prepare proposals for the 2010 conference. Consultation on theology has also started. Three men will take the first steps. The ideas raised in this conference about a centre for evangelism, and a theological conference, web site or journal, will be discussed and brought forward by the three men appointed.

It is hoped that the next conference will be around March-April 2010.

Constituency. Who qualifies to be members and who may be invited? The seven members are free to invite whoever they like: not only churches, but also organizations.

Looking ahead to the conference 2012, we hope to hold it in Central or Eastern Europe.

25. Closing devotions, by Rev David Fallows

Singing: Psalm 146.

Reading: 1 Kings 19: 9-18.

Elijah's victory at Mount Carmel had left much unchanged: Ahab and Jezebel were still in power. What God showed Elijah. First, Ahab and Jezebel would not be there for ever; Jehu would be anointed. So now God will deal with the enemies of his gospel in his time. Second, God's cause would not die out with Elijah: anoint Elisha. Third, that Elijah was not alone loyal: 7,000 remained;. And we are not alone in the work of the Lord. Fourth, God works in different ways: he does not have to do things our way. Don't go through life thinking that the whole future of the church depends on you. It depends on the Lord Jesus Christ: he did not run away from the cross and he will never fail. He will use all kinds of men as his servants.


Rev ter Beek closed the conference.