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Liberated Protestant Reformed Churches

Two clippings from two issues of the Canadian Reformed Magazine (Liberated) were sent to me recently by a friend and brother who suggested that we might like to make a few comments in our department of the Standard Bearer. This we gladly do because both of the clippings will be of interest to our PR people since they not only reflect on our churches, but also on the schismatic group that recently left us. 

Under the above title we treat the material contained in the first clipping which was taken from the May 3rd issue of the Canadian Reformed Magazine and which was an editorial in that issue, written by the Rev. G. Van Dooren, minister in the Canadian Reformed Church (Liberated). 

We shall not translate verbatim his entire article but merely give the reader the gist of the editorial and then translate only that part which, we deem pertinent to our purpose. 

It appears that the Rev. G. Van Dooren had written in an earlier issue of his magazine (April 6, ’55) concerning the request of a group of Liberated people living in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who had requested the Canadian Liberated to organize them into a Liberated church. In his previous article the Reverend had spoken of this request as a sign of happy growth. In fact he had titled his article “Verblijdende Groei!” which title was concluded with an exclamation point (!). However, evidently some of his readers, it appears, criticized that (!) and asked whether it would not have been more proper to have used a question mark (?) instead. The critics were wondering whether it was necessary or even possible for this group of Liberated people in * Grand Rapids to be organized into a Liberated church. It should not be necessary, so the critics concluded, because there is a Liberated Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, and it should not be permissible since not to recognize the Liberated PRC is not to gather with Christ, but would be a scattering of the sheep. 

In the May 3rd issue of the CRM the editor comes to the defense of his exclamation point. In our opinion he offers a rather weak defense. He seems to agree with his critics, while at the same time he attempts to defend his former article. 

The Rev. Van Dooren writes that he is in sympathy with the “Vrijgemaakte PRC” i.e., Liberated Protestant Reformed Church. By the latter he refers no doubt to the schismatic group in Grand Rapids that left First Church under the leadership of H. De Wolf. That he calls them “Vrijgemaakten” is quite significant. Whether the De Wolf group will be pleased with this appellation, we do not know, but it is significant that the Liberated in Canada recognize their kind in the United States. Birds of a feather will flock together, you know. It is quite impossible for us to believe that the Canadian Liberated would call the United States Liberated “Liberated” if they did not ‘recognize any similarity. 

Now Rev. Van Dooren does not want his critics, on the one hand, to criticize his article in which he spoke of the possible organization of this group into a Liberated Church as “happy growth.” On the other hand, he does not want his critics to conclude from his article that it would be sin for this group to join with the Liberated PRC. Lest they come to the latter conclusion, the Reverend would remind his critics of two things. And now I translate freely. 

“In the first place, that group, (of Liberated in Grand Rapids who left the PRC before the split—MS.) as was said, is to be seen as a projection of what earlier was undertaken in Grand Rapids, and already since May 1953 had convened regularly their own meetings. That means to say: what happened in Grand Rapids dates back to before the split in the PRC, it dates from the time when, first semiofficially and then officially the PRC accepted the Declaration of Principles, by which they bound where God did not bind, and cast out those who would live holily according to God’s Word. Thereby the PRC scattered the sheep of Christ and gave evidence therein of the ear marks of the false church. It was at once impossible for brothers and sisters who would remain Reformed and who hungered after the lively preaching of God’s Word there to keep company. 

“And in the second place: really since that time there has been some change. In the PRC a separation has taken place. And our sympathy is with those who have set themselves against the pressure of Rev. Hoeksema and his associates. And our Synod (Liberated of Canada—M.S.) decided to give deputies a mandate to investigate the possibility of correspondence, i.e., an acknowledgment on our part of the Liberated PRC as the true churches of Christ. And we gladly agree, it can have the appearance that the one does not jibe with the other. But more than appearance, according to our way of thinking, it is not. Because no one can at present run ahead of the matter of correspondence. That will take a few years before the matter is settled, however it may be. That the Synod (Liberated of Canada—M.S.) expressed it thus, namely, to investigate the possibility of correspondence (italics mine—M.S.) (and thus not: to effect correspondence) says plainly that the churches are not yet finished with this matter. Some of the brothers perhaps have already done this (i.e., in their own mind—M.S.). Now that is their personal conviction which I understand and respect. But an official ecclesiastical decision it is not. And so long as there is no such decision, no one can build on a decision which does not exist: 

“Well then, we cannot require of the brothers and sisters in Grand Rapids that they wait for that decision. They are brothers and sisters of us, who with us in every respect would exercise communion. ‘Of one Spirit’ are they in the good sense of the word. But—apart from that—they are sheep, which must be bound together to the sheep-fold. They cannot, seeing that it may take years, wait still a couple of years for the official service, the administration of the Word and Sacraments. 

“I have well-founded hope that those in the circle of the PRC understand all this, and I would deduce from this that they will not qualify this as contradictory: namely, while we investigate the possibility of correspondence and at the same time say to our brothers and sisters there: Go forth in the work of the Lord. 

“Therefore I would maintain the exclamation point, and not exchange it for a question mark.” 

In answer to the question, whether the establishment of a Liberated church composed of immigrants will make the matter of correspondence with the Liberated PRC difficult to carry out, the editor writes as follows: 

“I believe this: if a true unity of faith comes to revelation between the Liberated PRC and our churches, then that unity of faith also in Grand Rapids will lead to a joyous amalgamation of two churches which have learned to know each other as true churches of the Lord.” So far Rev. Van Dooren. 

I call attention to two or three things. In the first place, it nauseates me to see how those Liberated like to prate about themselves being the true church, while they are so ready to condemn our churches as false. 

In the second place, I believe it should be understood clearly by this time how potently that Declaration of Principles has done its intended work. It not only delivered us from those who never were Protestant Reformed, but it also spared us from the misery we surely would have experienced if those Liberated immigrants had come into our churches and taken over, as they do everywhere. 

In the third place, I believe that the Rev. Van Dooren has inventoried the schismatic group that left us correctly. That’s exactly what they are: “Liberated”, i.e., liberated from the Protestant Reformed truth. In that respect, they are to be pitied. 

The Reformed Guardian.” 

The other clipping from the Canadian Reformed Magazine, above referred to, appears in the June 1st issue of this magazine under the above title. In this brief article the Rev. Van Dooren reflects on “The Reformed Guardian” the first issue of which he had just received. I translate his article as follows: 

“The paper ‘Concordia’ (of the Liberated PRC) has made room for another paper the first issue of which we received today. ‘The Reformed Guardian’, published by ‘the Reformed Guardian Publishing Association, pres. Rev. H. De Wolf. 

“We quote: ‘This magazine is dedicated to disseminate, guard and apply the Reformed Principles of Faith as set forth in the Scriptures, summarized in the Reformed Standards, and maintained by the Protestant Reformed Churches of America! It appears every two weeks, costs $3.00 per year, and is to be ordered at box M-931, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA.’

“Without entering into the contents itself, we could leave it with this announcement. Only we note that the contents are embracive: editorials, Scripture interpretation, political observations, a youth corner, a small child’s corner, an article respecting the question ‘Is Preaching effective?’ and a serial on dogmatic subjects. 

“Whoever follows closely what moves and develops in the circle of these PRC’S can for a small sum do himself this service (namely, to subscribe—M.S.). According to our way of thinking it is a duty, to have and to show this interest. 

“The more so because in this periodical a departure has been taken from the well-known (and now famous!) speech about ‘our beloved Protestant Reformed truth’, and in place of this again and again ‘Reformed’ without more is spoken of. This comes out plainly in this part of the editorial in this first issue. 

‘The Reformed Guardian stands committed to complete loyalty to the inspired Word of God as authoritative and normative for our faith and practice. We also stand committed to the Three Forms of Unity: the Heidelberg Catechism, the Confession of Faith, and the Canons of Dordt. We shall seek to take cognizance of all that the Reformed fathers from Calvin on have written and thought. Personally I hope we do more justice than in the past to the writings of the heyday of the Reformation, particularly to Calvin’s. Of course, we shall also carefully note what Reformed thinkers have thought and written during the past half century and more, as well as to what those true to the Reformed heritage in our own day are saying and writing. But we shall acknowledge the opinion of no theologian, living or dead, as binding. Binding shall only be what the Scriptures teach and our Confessions express either directly or by implication. 

Whoever starts out thus, starts out well! 

“Format and execution is easy and exquisite.” So far the quote. 

The reader will note: 

1. The editor of the RCM is happy that the group that left the Protestant Reformed Churches has repudiated “our beloved Protestant Reformed truth.” Evidently he as well as the schismatics has felt nauseated by this expression whereby we have always designated our peculiar distinctiveness. In other words, he is glad that the schismatics have demoted themselves to just plain “Reformed.” 

2. It is to be noted, however, that the editor’s rejoicing in the schismatics’ demotion was occasioned by what the editor of the Reformed Guardian himself had declared concerning their relation to the Protestant Reformed truth. The editor of the RCM is therefore not to be so severely criticized for his evil joy as the Rev. P. De Boer who gave him occasion to so sneer at the Protestant Reformed truth. 

3. Moreover, it is to be noted also that both the Rev. Van Dooren (Liberated) and the Rev. P. De Boer (Liberated PRC) and their papers, both want generalities. They must have nothing of peculiarities. Well, I guess that is peculiar, i.e., peculiar to those who leave the sound basis of the truth to embrace the error of Arminianism. Arminius said he was Reformed too, just plain Reformed (?) 

M.S.