Reformed Advance in New Zealand

We have been here now almost two years, though so much has happened in this time that it seems much longer. In Hamilton here, our church has been blessed with steady growth over the years since its founding in November of 1953. I shall not dwell upon the local situation, however, since you will be interested in the broader picture of our churches as a whole here in New Zealand. Suffice it to say, we are but one of almost a dozen young churches of this denomination faced with the problems of obtaining adequate pastoral leadership, building church halls, integrating with the New Zealand environment, providing for an adequate religious education program for our growing children—in a word, these and other growing pains are ours as an immigrant Church.


The ten churches of our denomination (plus several preaching points which we hope will eventually become churches, too) are for the most part made up of Dutch immigrants who, after World War II, settled in this young country which is rich in agricultural and other job opportunities, having but two and a half million people in a land area almost the size of the combined six New England states plus the state of New York.

The original intention of these immigrants was not to found another denomination here. Being of Reformed persuasion, they felt that adapting themselves to the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand would be an easy adjustment. But the early immigrants, having worshipped for some time in this large and well established Church, meanwhile learning the language weIl enough to understand the message of the worship service, became aware of the fact that all was not well, theologically speaking, in the Presbyterian Church. As a matter of fact, quite some time before, in the year 1901, it too had reached a crossroad of decision with the problem of growing Modernism within its ranks. Rev. J. W. Deenik, the first pastor of our denomination, summarizes the situation in his booklet, Will Presbyterianism Survive in New Zealand? He wrote: “The Presbyterian Church in New Zealand had arrived at a crucial point in its history. There were two ways open. The Church could have re-examined its doctrinal standards in the light of the Word of God, to see whether perhaps a revision was needed on the points concerning which the difficulties had arisen. Such a revision would have been perfectly in order as long as it was a revision demanded by the Scriptures. The alternative was to leave the standards untouched—if the Church was persuaded that no revision was necessary—and to maintain their authority within the body of the Church.

“But that would have meant that the Church had to discipline its dissenting office bearers.

“The Presbyterian Church did neither.

“Instead, the General Assembly published an ambiguous doctrinal statement that must have raised more theological problems than it solved and further declared: ‘that while diversity of opinion is recognized in this church on such points in the Confession as do not enter into the substance of the Reformed faith therein set forth, the Church retains full authority to determine in any case which may arise, what points fall within this description and thus to guard against any abuse of this liberty to the detriment of sound doctrine or to the injury of her unity and peace.’ We believe that by this last declaration the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand principally and practically abolished its subordinate standards as the standards by which the faith and life of the Church were to be regulated and judged. From this time on the Westminster documents were never to be applied again as standards and rules for faith and life, seeing that the Church would have to decide from case to case whether an essential part of the Reformed Faith was involved or not” (pp. 10–11).

As a result of the above, these immigrants found the Presbyterian Church not only of a mixed theolOgical character, but a Church upon which the inroads of Modernism and lack of discipline had had its effect throughout. Here and there an evangelical minister, it is true, may still sound forth in a Presbyterian Church, though in the neighboring Presbyterian churches of the same, or next, town rank Modernists are in the large majority and, moreover, are free to spread their unbelief without molestation. In this situation—just to mention some of the more prominent evils little or no discipline can be exercised in the administration of the sacraments; catechism classes for children are virtually unknown; lodge membership is rife in high places and low throughout the denomination; and the only Presbyterian seminary is firmly in control of the Modernists.



What to do? Slowly and painfully the inevitable conclusion was reached that it would be necessary for a new start to be made, and thus the denomination of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand was born some ten years ago.

The early years have been difficult, as is usually the case in all beginnings. Being immigrants, none of the members were, nor are they yet, endowed with an abundance of this world’s goods. At the beginning, when the Auckland Protestant Community (it could hardly be called a church at that time) called the first minister, Rev. J. W. Deenik, from Holland, it had just enough on deposit in the bank after his arrival to pay his first month’s salary. But the story of that church, along with that of all of our churches, is a record of Cod’s sustaining grace, so that today we now have seven ministers, one of whom is an evangelist, and one a licentiate in our churches. More· over, two more ministers have lately accepted calls from our churches: Rev. P. VanderSchaaf, a minister of the Re· formed Churches of Australia—a sister-church in that land -who accepted the call of Christchurch; and the Rev. G. I. Williamson, lately of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Fall River, Massachusetts, who has accepted the call of the Auckland congregation after the departure of Mr. Deenik last year to the Reformed Churches of Australia.


Now for some inside information on the life, character. and activity of our churches as may be seen from the actions of our Synod. We will be selective, mentioning only a number of those items which, we trust, will be of interest to you.

An item of continuing concern at the present time is the matter of what the character of our churches is to be. Our membership is made up largely of people of a Dutch Reformed background. But the Reformed and Presbyterian traditions are closely related, and it is only with this latter that New Zealanders are familiar, even going so far as to regard the word “Reformed” as strange and foreign unless identified in some qualifying way with the Presbyterian tradition. Our churches have shown an awareness of coming to grips with this problem in a number of ways, especially since one of our ten churches is made up, for the most part, of New Zealanders who with their pastor separated from the Presbyterian Church and joined our denomination almost at its very beginning. The question, therefore, to be resolved is: Should Our churches seek to maintain the Dutch Reformed tradition as has been true, for example, in the case of your Church in America, the Christian Reformed Church? Or, is there a place with us for the Presbyterian tradition as well? Our churches have sensed the opportunity that is theirs to fuse those two traditions, much as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church has done through Westminster Theological Seminary, though with us it is natural to suppose that the Reformed tradition will nevertheless remain dominant However, our churches have looked for leadership, not simply to Holland, but to the Christian Reformed Church and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in America as well. At present, our churches are being helped by the able services of two Christian Reformed ministers on loan, Rev. R. J. Venema and Rev. S. Cooper, who are also active in connection with the radio program, “The Back to God Hour,” which our churches, along with Australia, help to support in this part of the world. And with the coming of Mr. Williamson, a second pastor with an Orthodox Presbyterian background will take up his labors here.


But to return to the matter of the character of our churches. This last Synod considered a report by a previously erected committee on this subject, dealing with such problems as the authority of the presbytery, membership by the minister in the presbytery or in the local church of which he is the pastor, life tenure of office or term tenure of elders and deacons, plus matters of Christian liberty such as fermented or unfermented wine for the Lord’s Supper, smoking, etc., along with further matters relating to the local New Zealand scene. This was an important report and Synod sent it down to the churches for study, charging a committee to bring the results of our churches’ study to the next Synod for further action.

Also closely related to this subject was the matter of a name change which, as the result of a separate overture, was considered by Synod. Since “Presbyterian” is so often needed and used by us unofficially in making clear to others what our ecclesiastical position is, it was thought that a name with “Presbyterian” in it would be more realistic as well as useful. It was decided, however, that a decision such as this would be too momentous to be made from the top down, so the matter was given into the hands of the local churches to decide by referendum, the results to be submitted to the next Synod for final action.

Still related to the above subject, the matter of what hymnal to be used in our churches was also considered. At present, we use the Christian Reformed Psalter Hymnal. But there arc some among us who would prefer a more Presbyterian hymnal, such as the Trinity Hymnal of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Still others feel that we should also have a hymnal of our own. Perhaps this would be ideal. But such a solution is rather a long way off, both from the standpoint of preparation and finances. In the meantime, the Trinity Hymnal will be used in at least one of our churches—that of the New Zealanders.

With an eye to the increasingly important catechetical needs of the large percentage of children in our denomination, Synod appointed a catechetical program committee charging it to locate the best catechetical materials, and to draw up a suggested catechetical program for use by our churches. To date, our churches have leaned heavily upon both the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Christian Reformed Church for the supply of catechetical and Sunday School materials. It is welcome to note that the Christian Reformed Church is at present engaged in the production of new catechetical materials. And we are also awaiting the Sunday School materials now being written under the direction of the Christian Education Committee of the O.P.C., for inspection and evaluation with respect to fulfilling the mandate of our Synod.

In the field of overseas affairs, Synod also took several important actions. One was to reaffirm our stand as a constituent member of the International Council of Christian Churches (I.C.C.C.) upon the three following grounds: our Reformed position is not thereby compromised; in the I.C.C.C. we have a platform from which to voice our Reformed convictions; and there is no other organization of conservative churches which, for reasons of conscience, have refused to join the W.C.C. Synod also expressed an awareness of the negative tendencies too often found in the I.C.C.C. pronouncements and publications, and directed its Committee on Relations with the I.C.C.C. to write a letter to its Executive Committee, expressing the concern of our churches with this fact, plus their keen disappointment over the 5th Plenary Congress’s failure to act upon their proposals to the Congress that the I.C.C.C.: (1) express it· self in support of Biblical Church unity wherever this can be achieved by now separated denominations. and (2) express itself in a positive way on the matter of race relationship. In all fairness to the I.C.C.C., it was felt that had the proposals of our churches come to the I.C.C.C. a bit earlier than they did. so that matters could have bad time to “ripen,” as it were, things might well have turned out differently. As it is, we are still in hope that our proposals will eventually be adopted by the I.C.C.C. May we also humbly add that in our opinion other Reformed bodies, if they were part of the I.C.C.C., might immeasurably strengthen this agency of conservative Churches into one having a more positive program.


Undoubtedly the high point of Synod was the decision to accept the joint invitation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Christian Reformed Church to join them in the mission work of Formosa, their aim together being the establishment of a Reformed Church on this strategic island of the Orient. Synod decided to send financial sup· port at present, with a view to sending a missionary from our churches as soon as he may be found. With this decision, all at Synod felt that the first momentous step by our churches had been taken in fulfilling the continuing mandate given by our Lord to his Church in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19–20. Our churches are already active in the work of the World Home Bible League Bible distribution, feeling that this work gives us much opportunity for fulfilling our home mission responsibilities. In fact, it is to this work that our evangelist devotes a major portion of his time. But now, with the decision by Synod to enter the foreign missionary field, all were agreed that this was a step of major importance in the life and development of our Reformed witness in the world as a part of the body of Christ.

Since our churches are also a member of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod. our Synod appointed two delegates to this Reformed body which met in Grand Rapids during August. A proposal of our Synod to the R.E.S. was also made; namely, that the R.E.S set up a Federated Reformed Missions Council which would be able to coordinate the work of Reformed missions throughout the world. This action was undoubtedly stimulated by the fact that our churches had decided to enter the Formosa mission field where three Reformed denominations will now be working together with a common aim and purpose. A Federated Missions Council could undoubtedly foster and implement the realization of more of this work elsewhere throughout the world.

Thus Christ builds his Church. And it is with profound gratitude that we see evidences of his gracious handiwork here. May he continue to bless and use both your and our humble efforts together in the respective places of his appointment in the harvest field which is the world.