The Trial of Klaas Schilder

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Preparing for the ministry in Holland was not for the faint of heart. For nineteen-year old Klaas Schilder, it would begin in 1909, when he entered the Theological College of the Reformed Church. Over the course of the next five years, he would pass his preliminary exams in the summer of 1910, followed by the two parts of his candidate exams in 1912 and 1914. Although he graduated cum laude, the exams were far from over. Now it was the church’s turn.

The pastors he would eventually serve with would conduct two full ecclesiastical exams to insure that Klaas had not only the academic training necessary to teach God’s people, but the heart of a pastor, as well. In the language of the Heidelberg Catechism, true faith is evidenced not only by a “certain knowledge” but a “hearty trust.” Convinced that Klaas evidenced a call to the gospel ministry, his brethren installed him to pastor the flock at Ambt-Vollenhove. On June 21, 1914, he married Anna Johanna Walter, and a week later, in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, Gavrilo Princip would gun down Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, plunging the world into war.

While the dogs of war were unleashed on every side, the Dutch were able to maintain their neutrality. Some years after the war, Schilder would travel to Germany to complete a doctoral degree in 1933, graduating summa cum laude. He returned to Holland to assume a professorship at the Theological College at Kampden. As storm clouds gathered once again over Europe, a theological war was also brewing. Schilder’s lectures put him squarely on the opposing side from Swiss theologian Karl Barth. While Barth argued for a return to the Bible and to the historical creeds of the church, Schilder realized what many at that point did not, that when Barth used the words of evangelical Christianity, he gave those words entirely new meanings.

Klaas-Schilder
Klaas Schilder

A young Cornelius Van Til would travel to the Netherlands about this time and return to America sharing Schilder’s distrust of Barth. Van Til’s book “The New Modernism” would shape the thinking of a generation of American evangelicals. Francis Schaeffer wrote to Van Til, “You have pointed out for all the world to read that Barth’s theology [was] wrong at its core, and not just in the details.”1As quoted in Bruce McCormack’s Karl Barth and American Evangelicalism (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011) That would change, and by the next generation, many American evangelical leaders and seminaries had fallen under the Barthian spell.

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Dutch volunteers of the Waffen-SS (Netherlands) marching on the streets of the Hague August, 1941.

Not content to air his differences with Barth, Schilder went further, also criticizing the beloved Abraham Kuyper’s theology at several points, and earning the scorn of H.H. Kuyper, son of the famed former Prime Minister and theologian. While Schilder was himself largely Kuyperian in his theology, there were many who would truck with no criticisms whatsoever of the legendary Kuyper. Ironically, some who chose the “Kuyper” side would prove to be the weakest theologically when National Socialism swept Holland. H.H. Kuyper’s own son Willem joined the SS and died on the Russian front fighting on the side of the Nazis.

Schilder was an early and vocal critic of National Socialism, a fact which was seized upon by some of his opponents, who likened his criticism of the Nazis to Daniel pulling the tails of the lions in the den. When the Nazis arrested Schilder in 1940, many of these same critics believed that he had brought it on himself. The Nazis closed down Schilder’s publication “The Reformation.” The article which prompted the “pulling the lion’s tail” comment contained these words by Schilder:

 “Authority and power, fortunately, remain two different things. Eventually the antichrist shall keep the latter and the church the former. And after that, the day of the great harvest comes. Come, Lord of the harvest, yes come quickly, come over the English Channel and over the Brenner Pass, come via Malta and Japan, yes, come from the ends of the earth, and bring along your pruning-knife, and be merciful to your people; it is well authorised, but only through you, through you alone, at your eternal good pleasure.”2Thomas, Geoff, “Banner of Truth,” January 15, 1999. http://banneroftruth.org/us/resources/articles/1999/learning-from-the-life-of-dr-klaas-schilder-part-ii/

While Schilder was writing words like these, those who had split from “The Reformation” paper, published “The Calvinist,” containing what turned out to be a fraudulent interview with Mussolini, this,

“deeply religious man whom we now know as the Duce … May God grant this great man, who realises his personal dependence on Him, as we all must do, and who always has a Bible lying within reach, the wisdom to carry out his awesome task, namely, to see to the material and spiritual welfare of his millions of people, and also to co-operate with other heads of state to seek the welfare of our poor confused world.”3Van Reest, Rudolph, Schilder’s Struggle for the Unity of the Church (Neerlandia, AB: Inheritance Publishers, 1990)

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Right text: “The Waffen SS calls you. It also protects your homeland.”
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Dutch recruiting posters for volunteers for the Waffen SS, 1941. Top reads: “Waffen SS. Join at 17 or older.”;

Although he was released four months later, the orders to refrain from publishing or engaging in political activity insured that Schilder would spend most of the war in hiding. After his release in 1940, he continued to teach at the Kampden Seminary until orders for his arrest once again came down in 1942. Sadly, much of the formal church structure had servilely opted to avoid conflict, and hence, criticism of the Nazis. As the pursuit intensified, Schilder eventually ended up in a remote area accessible only by rowboat. One can only imagine his shock to eventually learn that he had been deposed from the ministry by his enemies at a trial at which he could not possibly have attended. This was too much for many Hollanders, who broke ranks with their denomination leaders and founded the Liberated Re-formed Church, which continues to the present day.

Endnotes

Endnotes
1 As quoted in Bruce McCormack’s Karl Barth and American Evangelicalism (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011
2 Thomas, Geoff, “Banner of Truth,” January 15, 1999. http://banneroftruth.org/us/resources/articles/1999/learning-from-the-life-of-dr-klaas-schilder-part-ii/
3 Van Reest, Rudolph, Schilder’s Struggle for the Unity of the Church (Neerlandia, AB: Inheritance Publishers, 1990