Rev. Woudenberg is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go.
Schilder was clearly angry. He had received Hoeksema’s first response to the extended series of articles he had been writing about our Declaration of Principles, and he didn’t like it. He said:
The fact that I now provisionally stop finds its reason in an article from the Standard Bearer of February 15, 1951, which I received by airmail. In this article colleague Hoeksema begins to write something about my series of articles concerning the Brief Declaration. All right.
If he had dealt extensively with them, or had announced that he would, we would probably have continued and given an overview of his answer with a response from our side.
But what appears now?
This is what happened: colleague Hoeksema says, “several points of Schilder’s articles are not to the point,” which means that they do not touch the point in question.
I am not at all angry about this…. But in this case I feel like saying, “All right, if that is what you think, I had better stop.”
He denied it; but clearly it was so. He was angry, and we discover that it apparently was not that much out of character for him, as he went on to point out:
Let me speak for myself in answer to this. From certain sides, they try to create the impression that the undersigned is a kind of prelate in the church who just sticks to his own point, who gets angry when contradicted, and only wants to have things his own way. Such nonsense makes me angry. I prefer to say clearly that I think it is a venomous attack when they say: “K.S. gets angry when they don’t share his opinion, and he does not want to hear people say that it is not binding.”
Here was a side of Klaas Schilder we had not seen before. He could be very short with those who did not agree with him. This came out more as this last, or what he called his “Provisional Closing Remarks,” brought his exchange if not his friendship with Herman Hoeksema to an end.
In a way this has to be surprising.
For months Schilder had been writing; and, as renowned as he was for his scholarship, what he wrote did not demonstrate that. First written, it would appear, as a series of articles in De Reformatie (The Reformation), the theological weekly paper of which he had been editor for years, his articles represented themselves as a critique of the Protestant Reformed Brief Declaration of Principles drawn up at our synod the preceding spring, seemingly with the purpose of preventing the final adoption of the Declaration the following year. They had this value, that they constituted Schilder’s first effort to address the differences which had always been there between Hoeksema and himself, the Protestant Reformed and the Liberated churches.
In 1939, during Schilder’s first visit to America, Hoeksema had developed a deep affection for Schilder. Here at last was a competent theologian willing to take him seriously, and to work with him in developing theological thought as friends. But the Second World War came and stopped that, forcing him to wait until it was ended. At that point Hoeksema sought to take up where they left off, and with that in mind invited Schilder again to the States — at which time his own sudden illness intervened and prevented any meaningful discussion between the two of them from taking place. At his departure, however, and in large part at the insistence of Rev. Ophoff, Schilder promised to address the matter of our differences when he got home. But that did not happen until, at the late date of 1950, the Declaration of Principles appeared on the scene.
This Declaration of Principles, of course, was the occasion; and by that time relationships had become severely strained, to the point where the possibility of a calm and friendly discussion had all but disappeared. Still, it was something; and what Schilder wrote in De Reformatie was followed with a great deal of interest by all who could read the Dutch language, and especially so, one can imagine, by Rev. Hoeksema himself. It was his intention to wait until the series was finished, and the thinking of Dr. Schilder was clearly laid out, before he gave answer. But Schilder’s articles were often brief — one consisting of no more than two brief sentences — written as though off-the-cuff with whatever fleeting thoughts happened to strike Schilder’s mind. Still, there was always that sense of anticipation that in the end something of substance would come.
If there was a first, primary approach Schilder took, it was in criticism of the Declaration’s composition. It was so poorly written, he claimed, as to be unworthy of official adoption — while, ironically, his own criticisms were often so obscure that even today one can hardly follow what he was trying to say, as, for example, when he wrote:
To receive a dogmatic statement is not sufficient for me. I don’t want a statement but an address. Therefore the big question is: what do we receive at our baptism?
There we are. How can we sail the Pacific (I quote Twissus, somewhat mischievously)? No, of course, you don’t read that in Twissus. He tells the Arminians (in Corv. 257a) that they with their doctrine of a foreseen faith as ground for election, can as easily philosophize as they can organize a sailing trip on a calm sea, a mare pacificum. A pacific sea is of course not the Pacific Ocean. Still, we have to cross all the oceans of time … till later; until the horizon is reached and we arrive at that gate on which God has written: salus (which Twissus called the terminus; salus means eternal salvation at the end of the track). Whatever our course of life is, the Pacific or the Atlantic Ocean, the all decisive question remains how did I get on that ship? Was I put there with a beautiful, philosophical, dogmatic, orthodox statement that salvation is only for the elect, because: a) …, b) …, c) …, d) …, and so on? Or am I placed on this ship with a promise, an admonition, a threat, a stipulation here, and a stipulation there? How do I sail?
To Schilder, no doubt, this may well have made good sense; but for those reading his writing, it was certainly difficult to comprehend. And it came from one who accused others of obscure writing.
That was only the start. As Schilder went on, he spent considerable effort eliciting quotations from famous supralapsarian theologians of the past who made use of the word “condition” in what they wrote, anticipating apparently that Hoeksema, being a supralapsarian himself, would be impressed and drop his objections to the use of that term in the present controversy with them.
Meanwhile, through the whole of his series there ran a persistent, misconstrued presumption as to what the Declaration of Principles was all about. In actuality it had been set forth as a simple and welcome opportunity to answer the questions of those immigrants who were thinking of joining our churches as to whether we had a specific view of the covenant which could be expected to be heard from our pulpits, and under which our members are expected to live in accord with Article 31 of the Church Order; and it consisted in the end of nothing more than a pointing out of the confessional principles which are to be recognized and observed. Schilder, however, persists throughout his articles in considering it as a new creed, and a test of those who might join our churches.
But more serious than all this was Schilder’s persistent avoidance of grappling forthrightly with the doctrinal problems that divided us. Only superficially were they touched on, and often condescendingly, as though there is something wrong about taking doctrinal considerations seriously. Yet it was something, and it seemingly raised for Hoeksema the hope that serious discussion of our differences might still come to pass.
So finally, in February of 1951, Hoeksema decided he could wait no longer. Schilder’s thoughts were developing so slowly, and he had gone on so long, that readers were beginning to ask if any response to them was going to be given, while some were even suggesting that, if Hoeksema would not, they would try to respond to what Schilder was writing themselves. At that point Hoeksema decided to break with his intent to wait, and lay out at least some starting approach to the most significant things that Schilder had brought up.
Bypassing Schilder’s repeated disparagements, Hoeksema simply and graciously remarked, “Much of what Dr. Schilder wrote is not to the point, and we, therefore, can safely eliminate it from our discussion” — taking note of the fact that this included his remarks about supralapsarianism, Heyns, and Schilder’s quotations from the past — after which he went on to focus on those few points with which our differences were actually concerned. First, he pointed to Schilder’s criticism of the Declaration for stating, “election … is the sole cause and fountain of all our salvation.” It had been Schilder’s contention that election is actually the ground of our salvation and not its cause or fountain. But Hoeksema pointed out that what the Declaration said was taken directly from the Canons of Dordt, holding creedal authority in all Reformed churches. And then he turned briefly to Schilder’s treatment of the term “condition,” pointing out that he had failed to give one of its definitions, and precisely that one which our differences were about.
His remarks were brief, and were meant to be preliminary, but clearly a sense of satisfaction on Hoeksema’s part. At last, and even though belatedly, there was the beginning of a discussion which he had sought after for so many years, as he said:
O, how sorry I am, that all these things were not discussed between us as deputies for correspondence, rather than to confer, behind our back, with the Revs. DeJong and Kok, who were not authorized, neither, judging from the letter of Prof. Holwerda, capable to speak for our churches! The Lord willing, we are coming next summer, if the world situation permits. We have reservations on the boat for the twenty-fourth of June and plan to remain in the Netherlands till the beginning of September, that is, if they still want to see us, and if they still desire correspondence in spite of our doctrinal differences. Otherwise, they better let us know, and we will cancel our reservations.
Hoeksema had always believed that matters of faith and conviction are best dealt with openly and with mutual concern between Christians, and not avoided and covered up as had been done with him in 1924, and with Schilder in 1944.
When, however, these remarks came to Schilder’s attention, having been sent to him by special airmail, the result was to arouse Schilder’s notorious sense of anger. Evidently quite oblivious to how condescending his own attitude toward Hoeksema and the Protestant Reformed Churches had been, he was infuriated when Hoeksema told him that some of the things he had written were not going to be taken seriously, as we noted above.
Still, when it came down to it, it would appear that there was more here than just a personal affront. Schilder was not happy with the direction in which Hoeksema was going — that is, toward a doctrinal exchange of thought. He wasn’t interested in that; for his concern was far more immediate and practical, as he went on to say:
The point in question is only this: may you dare to break a church apart for a dogmatic formula of Schilder which Hoeksema can attack, or one of Hoeksema which Schilder can attack, while indeed both in good conscience subscribe to the Three Forms of Unity….
For me the point was this … take now, just once, as an example, one of the deputies for contact with Churches abroad, who has objections against making the Brief Declaration binding and has made it very clear that he could not possibly be convinced to promise not to teach or to propagate anything which does not totally agree with the Brief Declaration. He would also refuse to promise this if he would perhaps move to America. This is the fine point: would he — seeing this refusal — be accepted as a member of a Protestant Reformed Church…. Could he become member, yes or no? … Only take the bare fact that one of us would not subscribe to the Brief Declaration (arguments don’t count) or in any case would refuse to promise not to work against the Brief Declaration. Can they become members in full right, yes or no? That and that only is the point.
If you say, “No” … all right, then we are finished.
This was Schilder’s concern. He was interested in getting his own people into the Protestant Reformed Churches who would be free to challenge the teachings of Hoeksema and introduce their Liberated views in their stead. Although supposedly he had accepted his ejection from the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands because of doctrinal principle, when it came to his relationship to us, that was not his concern. And least of all was he interested in understanding and evaluating the teachings of Hoeksema on these points to see if they were correct. His interest was in finding a base in America upon which his churches could be established, and from which his views could be propagated. And, if that was not to be allowed, his interest in us was finished.
There was one thing more. Hardly had Hoeksema sent off his response to Schilder than he received an issue of De Reformatie, written actually some time before (the boats carrying mail traveled slowly in those days), with an article on the very thing he had just written about, that the Declaration’s expression, “election is the cause and fountain of our salvation,” was actually taken directly from the Canons of Dordt. If there was ever a situation which called for an acknowledgment of error and an apology, it was this; but not for Schilder. Instead he boldly claimed that he had known this all along, and accordingly allowed that this expression might be used in this way, while in fact he had been very insistent that a statement such as that was not “theoretically precise, accurate, scholarly terminology.” He had in effect denied the accuracy of what the Canons said. But then he went even further than that, claiming that although “it says fountain or spring (fons), if you want a more precise distinction, it means something different than cause.” If there had been one thing that had always drawn Hoeksema and Schilder together, it had been their mutual respect for the confessions in a day when so many dealt with them only lightly and were even casting them aside. These they had agreed were the standards by which it was to be determined what is truly Reformed; and for that reason the Declaration of Principles had been written so carefully in terms of what the confessions said. But now Schilder was ready to declare that not what was written, but what he thought, was what the confessions actually meant. And with that Hoeksema knew, well before Schilder’s angry reaction to his article was written, that their relationship was for all practical purposes done. As he ruefully concluded, “Instead of admitting that he erred, and that he never thought of the confessions, he makes things worse by depriving the terms of the confession of all objective meaning. A dangerous business.”