Pretoria Conference on Church and State a Major Disappointment

24 August 2022

All three lectures held during this week’s conference on church and state held by the Reformed Church East-Moot was a major disappointment. The first speaker, Erik van Alten from the Free Reformed Church Pretoria went on about how damaging the narrow relationship between church and state as found in the symbiotic practice of Eastern Orthodoxy is. He criticizes the “symphonic” relationship between church and state, especially in Russia, as a step away from the ideal of “a secular constitution, which in principle leaves room for any religion.” Van Alten then also most peculiarly succeeds to deconstruct and re-interpret article 36 of the Belgic Confession in such a way that he would have it imply that civil government should allow complete freedom of religious practice. For him, the idea of restricting any false religious practices “cannot be found in Scripture.” One can only wonder what Bible Van Alten reads, or rather, doesn’t read, in order to come to this conclusion. 

Given the zealotic mood of Van Alten’s lecture, its most predictable part by far was the apartheid-cliché with which he concluded. He noted that while Eastern Orthodox countries “might seem far away to us ... I wonder if this is truly that far away.” And so right there he concludes his lecture by showing off his woke-credentials in getting in a few more kicks to the stomach of the dead horse that is apartheid. Moreover, anyone who, in 2022 still refers to the ANC-regime as “this new dispensation” lives a life separated from reality. 

Dr Victor d’Assonville junior remarkably managed to spend quite a large chunk of his lecture lamenting how little time he has to discuss his subject “Calvin on Church and Civil Government.” Given his experience as public speaker, this can only be attributed to his desire to say as little as possible on a reformer to whom he wants to appeal for legitimacy, but without having to go into any details about the practical implications of his ideas. D’Assonville does mention that Calvin believed that government has the duty to uphold the ten commandments, but only mentions this as a brief comment, immediately adding that he has received a lot of criticism for this fact from those whom d’Assonville wrongly describes as “Reformed theologians.” Towards the end of his lecture he even goes as far as to ascribe the Enlightenment heresy of egalitarianism to Calvin as well as its accompanying idea of social justice—something which Christian philosophers have repeatedly shown to be completely at odds with Biblical justice. Neither of his claims are backed up by primary sources. 

As expected, dr Gerhard Meijer from the Reformed Church East-Moot emphasized his denomination’s revision of article 36 of the Belgic Confession so that fighting idolatry would not be understood as the duty of civil government, but only the result of its protection of the church. What he fails to mention is of course the fact that there are many denominations in which this article has not been revised. 

The most shocking part of the entire conference, however, was when Meijer had to answer a question relating to the forced closure of church services during the lockdown. He answered: 

“If the authorities stopped services. Well, I don’t know if that is the question. The authorities did say that there is a serious disease and that we should be careful. But I don’t know if government ever said that people are not allowed to hold services. This isn’t written in any law ... I don’t think one can jump from health regulations to conclude that this is a ban on church services.” 

This is nothing short of a blatant, outright lie. If Meijer’s elders are worth their salt, they should immediately start the process of disciplining him. During the French Revolution Christians were murdered in the name of public safety. During the Russian Revolution Christians were murdered in the name of equality and justice. It is utterly absurd for Meijer to claim that policies are not tyrannical on the basis of the narrative justification of tyranny on the part of the tyrannical government itself. 

At the end of the conference all three speakers re-iterated that they support the idea of complete religious freedom—something that is at odds with both Scripture and the Reformed Confessions. While the renewed interest in this topic is encouraging, it remains immensely disappointing that Reformed scholars such as Van Alten, d’Assonville and Meijer clearly identifies with a humanist approach to the relationship between church and state. 

The Pactum Institute strongly condemns this humanist perspective as at odds with Christian orthodoxy and as a view which inevitably leads to the divination of the state. RJ Rushdoony rightly describes the heresy promoted during this conference as follows: 

The Enlightenment shifted the center of interest from God to man, and from the Church to the State … Man was now the measure of all things, and it was man’s will that needed to be done … Enlightenment humanism began with the ‘moral baggage’ of its context, Christendom, but, in practice, it steadily stripped off all morality in favor of self-enjoyment. At the same time, being at war with God, profanation became a prized pleasure … One of the quiet goals of the Enlightenment was the disestablishment of Churches and of Christianity... A first step in this process of disestablishment was to reduce Christianity to an option for man, a matter of choice, not of necessity. The realm of necessity was held to be the civil government. Freedom came to mean deliverance from the Church to the State, from supernatural mandates and laws to 'natural' and statist laws. The Reformation had said plainly that Biblical faith requires belief in God's predestination, in God's sovereign choice... This was reversed by the Enlightenment, and then by Arminianism. Sovereign choice was transferred to man. Man, it was held, has the option to choose God or reject Him, to declare God to be elect or non-elect.[1]


[1] Rousas John Rushdoony, To Be as God: A Study of Modern Thought since the Marquis de Sade (Vallecito, CA: Ross House, 2003), 9-10, 17.