Our readers will recall that our June issue carried an editorial entitled “A Realistic Response To ‘A Dream'”—a reply to an editorial by Rev. John Vander Ploeg in The Outlook. As you were informed in an earlier note, The Outlook promised to reprint my editorial, and Rev. Vander Ploeg promised a reply. I was informed by letter that both my editorial and Rev. Vander Ploeg’s reply are scheduled to appear in the September issue of The Outlook, which, as of this writing, has not yet appeared. Rev. Vander Ploeg graciously furnished me an advance copy of his reply; and so the Standard Bearer is able to carry his reply and my comments in this issue. I give first place in our editorial columns, therefore, to Rev. Vander Ploeg. My reply follows his article.
“The church”, Calvin says in his Institutes, “is called ‘catholic’, or ‘universal’, because there could not be two or three churches unless Christ be torn asunder—which cannot happen!”
But where is the visible manifestation of this?
The lack of this is a cause for deep sorrow.
And to be comfortably unconcerned is sin.
Of course, this is no plea for that counterfeit and unscriptural ecumenism which is the idol of modern churchmen. Churches riddled with heresy may try to recoup their waning fortunes by one merger after another; but ultimately they will produce nothing else than the great Babylon of apostate Christendom. To this we must be and remain unalterably opposed.
But we must also be positive.
Reformed Christians are to be in the forefront among the advocates of inter-church fellowship, cooperation, and also church union—but only when this can be achieved on the basis of Scripture. For this we are not only permitted but we are also obligated by our Lord to hope and pray and work.
And now let’s face it!
When we think of how little we are doing to pursue and to promote a truly Scriptural ecumenicity, can we deny that we have done little more than merely scratch the surface, if we are doing anything at all?
We are opposed to affiliation with the NCC and the WCC. We have our serious misgivings about our continued relations with the Gereformeerde Kerken in the Netherlands; even though we may think that we have taken ourselves somewhat off the hook by the use of a different name for the relationship since the CRC Synod of 1974. And so we remain opposed to ecumenical ventures that are of a dubious nature or even worse.
Fine! But we must also be positive.
It is because of that conviction that, in my judgment, it was justifiable when recently I proposed that, as conservatives of various denominations, we join together in fostering an ecumenical undertaking that should, we hope, be able to stand the test of Scripture.
A Dream—To repeat in its entirety what I wrote last May under the title, “I Too Have a Dream”, is not necessary because a resume’ of it appears in the editorial by Professor H. C. Hoeksema in the June issue of The Standard Bearer—which we have reprinted, and to which I am taking the opportunity to reply. Briefly and simply, there were three things in my dream and these may bear repetition.
First, it was proposed that we call together a Congress of Conservatives, that we meet for a day or two, and that we ask spokesmen for various groups or bodies to address the gathering on what each one would envision as “The Path to Unity”.
Second, it was suggested that possibly a working organization might be brought into being withConservatives United as a possible name for such a body.
Third, the thought was thrown out, that eventually, by the sovereign grace of Him Whose guidance we will implore, that the outcome of all this might even prove to be a United Reformed Church in the United States and Canada.
A Response—There were several responses to what I had written, largely favorable. However, Professor H. C. Hoeksema’s editorial was the only published response and it is for that reason that it is being acknowledged by our reprinting of it, by making some comments about it, and also by adding a request.
1. First, let me express appreciation for the brotherly spirit in which his editorial has been written and for the consideration he has given and is further willing to give to what I have attempted to say. The approachable stance he evinces encourages me to believe that fraternal discussion should be possible and also that it ought to be pursued.
If anyone is wondering about my delay in replying to Professor Hoeksema’s editorial, let me say, what I have already relayed to him in correspondence, that the Reformed Fellowship board wished to see my reply before it was published. Lest there be any misunderstanding, let me add to this, however, that not once has the board ever tried to tell me what to write editorially and what not to write. However, if the Congress of Conservatives proposed is to be a Reformed Fellowship venture, it makes sense that the board and the editor should be agreed on a plan of action in as far as possible.
2. Professor Hoeksema makes an alternate proposal. He writes: “I believe I have a better plan. To put it in your words, Editor Vander Ploeg, I can honestly say that I know a better way to do it.” He adds: “I propose a conference (as long as necessary) of concerned (or conservative) Christian Reformed brethren and Protestant Reformed brethren (We are, of course, all ‘conservative’)”. About this let me now offer the following observations:
a. It would be unfortunate indeed if this proposal of Professor Hoeksema would sidetrack us from getting together with conservatives from other denominations. The danger is that we together might exhaust our time and energy and efforts in a futile effort to resolve a controversy that is of fifty years’ standing.
If PRC and CRC brethren do meet for discussion, can we do this with the assurance that a possible failure to remove our mutual differences of long standing will not stymie our further efforts to get together with conservatives of our churches? Frankly, I do not welcome any prospect of coming to an impasse only to find ourselves on a dead-end street with respect to what we originally had in mind.
b. Will our PR brethren, if we come together, have anything new to say to us, anything different from what they have been saying to us since 1924? Lest this be misunderstood, let me add that I honestly respect the doctrinal convictions of our PR brethren as well as their perseverance in adhering to them regardless of what the cost may be.
But is there absolutely no possibility for those who affirm the so-called doctrine of “common grace” and those who deny it to live in closer church fellowship and union? Is this difference so basic and serious that it is impossible for us to tolerate each other as we seek to join hands in trying to promote the union of all who have so much more in common with us than our difference at this particular point?
c. Are we willing to meet with our PR brethren as Professor Hoeksema proposes? Definitely yes! Like Calvin we must be willing to cross seven seas (or did he say ten?) to unite the church. We are willing to meet according to the plan that Editor Hoeksema proposes. Of course, we can meet only as individuals and not in any official CRC capacity.
And, in view of the fact that Professor Hoeksema has proposed this plan, we now leave it up to him and his colleagues to take the initiative and to make the arrangements. Although we would prefer to have this get-together subsequent to the proposed Congress of Conservatives, we are willing to accept the time our PR brethren prefer to meet. Our understanding is, however, that this is not to be a substitute for the Congress of Conservatives now being planned.
A Request—Professor Hoeksema has addressed a proposal to us and, as already stated, we have decided to comply. Now we in turn make a request to him and his colleagues, and it is our hope and prayer that they also may find it possible to comply with our request.
The request is this: that, as we approach each other, they may find it possible and also signify a willingness to view our common battle for the historic Christian faith in a broader perspective than just the “common-grace” controversy and the record of 1924.
As conservatives we wish to assure our PR brethren that we are as wholeheartedly and adamantly committed to the Scriptural teachings on the Antithesis and Sovereign Grace as they obviously are to a denial of “common grace.” We may also grant, in as far as comparisons can be made, that in our Reformed structure of theology the former is more basic than the latter. And it is also possible that as CRC conservatives not all are necessarily committed to the teaching of “common grace” as we are to the conviction that the Antithesis and Sovereign Grace are clear as broad daylight in the Bible.
Professor Hoeksema entitled his editorial, “A Realistic Response to “A Dream.” Allow me now to be just asrealistic in repeating and underscoring a request. It is this: that we do not make mutual agreement on 1924 a sine qua non or a fixed prerequisite for further progress toward a meeting of minds and closer fellowship among ourselves. Can you, Professor Hoeksema, see any possibility of moving toward a healing of the breach or a closing of the gap between us in spite of certain difference that may remain with respect to our evaluation of 1924?
Professor Hoeksema’s loyalty to the PR Church and his aversion to schism are understandable because of his convictions. However, it does seem to me to be premature or much too early in the day to make accusations of schism. To cherish the vision or goal of having all those who are Scripturally conservative or genuinely Reformed in a United Reformed Church hardly calls for an indictment or an apology. As prophets, priests, and kings, are we not all entitled and also obligated to cherish and also to pursue such an ideal, even though we do it unofficially?
Is there not sufficient evidence in Scripture that such an ecumenical goal is fully warranted? And that it is our right as well as our duty to seek this, to work. for it, and also to pray for it?
True, our efforts may lead to an impasse and to frustration. But let’s venture forth together in this ecumenical undertaking—guided, of course, by Scripture and our Reformed confessions. Editor Hoeksema, what do you say?
This is our request.
Hopefully and prayerfully, we ask you to proceed with us in this way.
We are looking forward to meeting with you at a mutually agreeable time and place and according to an acceptable plan we are asking you to propose.
We are confident that as we mutually draw closer to our Lord we will also draw closer to each other for the welfare of His church and for the honor of His Name!
We gladly give the same permission to The Standard Bearer to reprint these lines as was accorded to us in reprinting the editorial of Professor Hoeksema.