After reading Rev. Koole’s response to a letter written by Rev. Nathan Langerak, a letter printed after the response instead of before it, I was puzzled and my curiosity aroused.
Was what I read a true response? Was what I read really an answer to a charge?
I found in the response an explanation for the article which Rev. Langerak addressed, an article that appeared earlier in the Standard Bearer [Oct. 1, 2018]. I read of some reasons offered for which that article was written, offered by the author. I also read of his wonderment that Rev. Langerak should present the thinking that he did.
Is that all?
A criminal may have his motives for robbing a bank. To be sure, he would lay his hands on money that belongs to the bank, to have it for his own. But he also may crave the reputation of being a successful bank robber. Suppose he is caught robbing the bank, and over the course of his trial, the motivation is brought out that he craved the reputation of being a successful bank robber. He answers that he is puzzled by such a charge. He answers that he wanted the money badly. Did he really and truly answer the charge? Has he cleared himself of the motive of seeking a reputation?
Similarly, I do not find in Rev. Koole’s response any clear answer to Rev. N. Langerak’s charge. Does Rev. Koole support the decision of Synod 2017 clearing the aggrieved brother of the charge of antinomianism? Does Rev. Koole agree with the decisions of Synod 2018 that overturned decisions of a church’s consistory and Classis East’s support of them?
I find no indications of support for Synod’s decisions in the response offered in the Standard Bearer. That is telling. And it is troubling. Until I can read of such support for Synod’s decisions, I cannot come to any conclusion that Rev. N. Langerak’s charges have been answered.
Rev. Martin VanderWal
Wingham PRC, ON
Ordinarily, the SB does not print letters that are responses to previous SB letters or to their responses. Of the writing of such letter-exchanges there might be no end.
But in this instance the editors have decided to make an exception. The issue referred to in your letter is an issue stirring up unnecessary debate in our circles, one that needs to be laid to rest. As well, your challenge of my November 15 response to another brother’s letter critical of my October 1 editorial (a challenge, by the way, that also indicates a mistaken reading of my October 1 editorial) deserves response for clarification to all and sundry. Evidently, others also want to insist on reading the editorial in the same way—as a roundabout, surreptitious way to disagree publicly with decisions of our recent synods.
So, first, we state once again, the October 1 editorial does not indicate any disagreement with the decisions of our recent synods. That is something that some, you among them evidently, have insisted on reading into the article. There is no reference to disagreement with decisions made by our synods as they touch on doctrinal declarations or exoneration of men’s names.
We state once again, the editorial in question dealt with an issue that was before the Synod of Dordt (1618-19), namely, a charge the Arminians leveled against the truly Reformed theologians for the Calvinistic doctrines they emphasized—the first being the total depravity of natural man (his complete spiritual disability—denying his having a free will); the second being God’s sovereignty in salvation, and in particular, the irresistible character of His saving grace—grace invariably overcoming the resisting, obstinate will of sinners where the Holy Spirit so wills, so that those who are to be saved have no more say-so or choice in their second birth (regeneration) than they had in their first. The charge leveled was that such a doctrine of salvation turns men into “stocks and blocks,” mere puppets on strings. Why even bother with the call of the gospel to repent and believe? No man could respond in obedience anyway. And if one did repent and believe, it would be due to God not only working salvation for a man and in him, but God, for all intents and purposes, by Christ’s Spirit in us, doing the repenting and believing for us as well. After all, how else could God be said to receive all the praise (according to you Calvinists)?
The charge of antinomianism.
With such the fathers of Dordt were charged, and such they refuted in the Canons’ Head IV of Doctrine. “We are not of an antinomian persuasion, not of any shade or form. And our emphasis of the apostolic doctrine that salvation is all of God’s sovereign grace, full, free, and irresistible does not imply that, in response to the gospel call, those who are saved do nothing at all, but are simply dragged into salvation and Christ’s kingdom like pieces of dead wood. And only then is grace magnified.”
As if that is true-hearted Calvinism.
That is why Head IV goes to such pains to declare that, where irresistible grace works, the will of a man is set free, enabled to be spiritually active and to respond obediently to spiritual commands and admonitions.
As the Canons, having set forth the wonder of regeneration, put it: “Whereupon the will thus renewed is not only actuated and influenced by God, but in consequence of this influence becomes itself active. Wherefore also, man is himself rightly said to believe and repent by virtue of that grace received” (III/IV, Art. 12—emphasis added).
Read Head IV and you will discover this truth (as a response to the Arminians) is set forth again and again.
And this brings us to what is the nub of your concern, namely, that you find no indication in my November 15 response that I agree with decisions of our recent synods—one that cleared an aggrieved brother’s name, the other that overturned doctrinal decisions of other of our assemblies.
The reason you found no declaration of my agreement with our synod’s recent decisions is quite simple—the editorial in question was not about our synods’ decisions. It was about the Synod of Dordt’s refutation of the charge that true Calvinism is inherently antinomian in perspective, which refutation is found in Head IV.
There was, therefore, no need publicly to express such agreement.
That said, it is evident from your request to have this letter printed in the SB that you desire to use it as a forum to ask the denomination, “Does Rev. Koole support the decision of the Synod of 2017…?” And, “Does Rev. Koole agree with the decisions of Synod of 2018…?” And what? If one does not publicly declare “I concur,” his orthodoxy is to be questioned?
Let our readers understand, the SB is not required to give you such a forum. It is a question whether your letter should be printed. Strictly speaking, if you as a colleague have evidence that a writer is not abiding by the decisions of our synods, then you should either approach him privately with your concerns or go the proper way of charging him with not abiding by decisions of the broader assemblies, perhaps even being guilty of agitating against them. That is Church Polity 101. Not raising suspicions about another publicly.
But I have decided to answer this publicly and use it as an occasion for the instruction of our members. And so, Brother VanderWal, you have been granted your public forum.
Let us be clear here—what I and every other PRC officebearer (and minister in particular) are governed by is the “Formula of Subscription.” There we read,
We declare, moreover, that we not only reject all errors that militate against this doctrine [confessional truths] and particularly those which were condemned by the above mentioned synod [Dordt], but that we are disposed to refute and contradict these, and to exert ourselves in keeping the church free from such errors.
Notice, the reference is to “doctrines” (and by implication, also decisions that pertain to defining those doctrines in times of controversy). The reference is not to all decisions, as for instance, those that occur when matters of discipline are adjudicated by our broader assemblies. Against such decisions one may not agitate, but must acquiesce. Meaning what? Not necessarily that one is fully convinced of them, but that one will not militate publicly or agitate privately against said decisions.
So, here follows my response.
First of all, regarding decisions of our broader assemblies that touch upon doctrines: Brother, you may be sure if I have any difficulty with a doctrinal position taken by our broader assemblies (recent ones included) or with decisions that I am convinced impinge on the freedom of biblical preaching, our broader assemblies will hear from me. It would be my sacred duty. This coming synod should indicate how I assess the doctrinal judgments of our recent synods.
If nothing is there, you may come to only one conclusion.
As for the other matter your raise, a decision of the 2017 synod exonerating a brother’s name, freedom of conscience is reserved, that is, about whether one is in full agreement with synods’ decisions or is not.
This is how it has always been, and must continue to be.
Those with experience on our broader assemblies should know that.
One that comes readily to mind, as stated above, would be approval of increased censure that consistories have brought to the assemblies. I can recall more than one instance in which the delegates disagreed on whether censure should be increased (and even whether the charge should have been made to begin with!). And the assemblies’ final decisions were not unanimous. Now the question: did those who dissented have to indicate their agreement? Was this required? Should it have been? As for those of whom this was not required, and as of yet have not indicated their agreement, what shall we do with them? Question their standing as officebearers? Since when?
Further, a number of controversial issues dealt with by our broader assemblies over the past few decades could also be presented. One of recent memory is the controversy that arose over the interpretation of Article 21 of the Church Order (having to do with consistories promoting good Christian schools), particularly the implication of the phrase “according to the demands of the covenant.” As you well know, there were two entrenched schools of thought on that issue. Decisions of Classis East were protested and appealed by officebearers. The appeals were not upheld. I was a delegate at both synods. Not all the officebearers present agreed with our synod’s final decisions.
And now the point: those who protested or who as delegates voiced their dissent were not required to declare whether they agreed with the decision. Whether they were (or are to this day) convinced of the judgment of our churches in this matter was left to their individual consciences. Regardless of where they now stand on the matter, they have acquiesced and not agitated. They remain officebearers in good standing to this day.
That must not change. It would violate our Church Order, Article 31. According to our interpretation of Article 31, decisions are settled and binding unless synod changes them. This means that there is allowance for freedom of conscience in non-doctrinal decisions, as long as one acquiesces, and does not agitate against them. In addition, we have never adopted the view that some take—that all decisions taken by the broader assemblies must be taken back to the local councils and all the officebearers go on record as expressing agreement with them. This has never been the Protestant Reformed view or practice.
Are we now to change that stand? If we did, it would appear we have quite a backlog of business to take care of as churches. And any number of our officebearers must be viewed as being under a cloud of suspicion.
I trust this is not where we are heading.
And so it is with the case referred to in your letter, Brother VanderWal.
How I (and perhaps others) assess the perspective of a brother whom the synod has exonerated must be left to my freedom of conscience. I need not tell you or our churches whether I think the synod’s judgment was correct or not. But if I remain unconvinced of synod’s judgment (and note that “if”), I may not agitate so as to cast aspersions on the brother’s cleared name, but must deal with the brother as a member in good standing—just as some have had to do in other discipline cases that ended in decisions with which they have disagreed.
Notice, I do not say that I disagree with our recent synod’s verdict. But even if I did, I would not be required to tell it to the churches.
Let us, therefore, have an end of this business of raising suspicions based on men’s silence, and go forward as committed to the same confessional truths.
Yours for the cause of God and truth,
Rev. Kenneth Koole