Involuntarily I began to write this editorial in the form of a friendly letter to you, when I received and read the copy of the article you intend to publish in the Reformatie, and which you sent to me by airmail. I had another editorial all prepared, mainly directed to Prof. Holwerda, and which, in the nature of the case, was less friendly in tone than I hope this one will be. But when I read your article, and imagined your smiling face behind it, I somewhat melted, and decided to rewrite the editorial in the form of a friendly letter to you. You must not take this to mean that my first editorial was written in a hateful spirit, offensive to Prof. Holwerda, nor must you expect that, for the sake of friendship, I will camouflage the truth, for that would neither be true friendship, nor would it be salutary to the church of God in the world. But, nevertheless, there is considerable difference between writing to a friend, with whom I can have an honest difference of opinion and of conviction, even on such an important and fundamental issue as the covenant, and a man like Prof. Holwerda, who is so intolerant that, evidently, he cannot even conceive of correspondence with our churches unless we first adopt the liberated conception of the covenant, and who advises his people never to join the Prot. Ref. Churches, as long as the view of Rev. Hoeksema is binding.
In a way, amice, I wish that Prof. Holwerda himself had written about the conference you had in Kampen with the Revs. De Jong and Kok. I mean that he should have expressed his impressions of that conference publicly in the Reformatie, and I still wish that he would do so. For, after all, I feel that in your article, which will appear in the Reformatie, you do not squarely face the issue between him and us, but try to smooth things over. You will forgive me the expression. I will explain what I mean.
First of all, you deny that the Revs. De Jong and Kok spoke for our whole church. And that is true, of course, as far as their official capacity is concerned. But it is not true as regards the contents of what they said, and as regards the impression they left of the stand of our churches upon your committee of correspondence, and that impression was, undoubtedly, false as I hope to explain presently. You write, that you invited them to come to Kampen and to meet with your committee of correspondence because “we (you) thought it nice, not to design a letter which we (you) as deputies for correspondence had been commissioned to write, without profiting from their (the Revs. De Jong and Kok’s) presence in our country.” But, in the first place, amice, don’t you yourself think it somewhat strange that, a year after the Synod of Amersfoort, our committee of correspondence, never yet received a single word from your committee, so that we would not even know what your Synod had decided in the matter except from the papers and from a personal letter from Prof. Veenhof? Is that your customary way of doing the church’s business, amice? We think it very strange, and upon us it naturally leaves the impression that, after all, you are not very eager to start correspondence with us. And, now, in the second place, must you gain information unofficially, ignoring our committee of correspondence, before you can even write a letter to us? Don’t you think, amice, that it would have been far more proper to correspond with us directly, or even to come over to us (you ought to know from experience how loyally our people entertain strangers), or invite us to come over to your shores? We, on our part, certainly think so. But by this time I am sure that the Revs. De Jong and Kok certainly left a false impression with your committee of the stand of our churches. I am sure, that is, from your own article.
But to return to the smoothing over of Prof. Holwerda’s letter, which was published in the Standard Bearer, and the “smoothing over” process of which I was going to explain.
First of all, amice, you try to cast reflection on the authenticity of the letter of Prof. Holwerda. From the printing errors by our printer, you seem to draw the conclusion, that the Holland text as found in the Standard Bearer will probably not be authentic (“wel niet origineel zal zijn”). But that argument is very flimsy. The Rev. Ophoff was very painstaking in copying the letter, and although he found it very difficult to copy it, because the script of Prof. Holwerda is very fine, he assures me that it is a faithful copy. Besides, cannot Mr. Koster of Chattam, who possesses the original, check up on the authenticity of the copy? No, there can be no reasonable doubt about the fact that the letter in the Standard Bearer is a true copy of the original.
Then you doubt that it was good to publish the letter, “because one would involuntarily make a different choice of words when one is mindful of publication, than when one thinks innocently: this is, in haste, a letter for a man that asks me something. The main thing is, and that I consider very fine, that Prof. Holwerda seems to have advised someone (the matter concerns an immigrant): just join the Prot. Ref. Churches.”
Now, amice Schilder, this argument cuts both ways, and it rather favors the contention that in his letter Prof. Holwerda wrote the truth without reservations, both as to his own attitude to us and to our churches, and as to what the Revs. De Jong and Kok Said at the conference. He states exactly what he meant, without being careful of his choice of words. And as to his advice to the immigrant you may consider that very fine but I do not, for it certainly must be read in the light of one of the last statements in Prof. Holwerda’s letter: “If Rev. Hoeksema’s conception was binding, I would say: Never join.” But about this I will have more to say presently.
Amice, the letter of Prof. Holwerda has greatly disturbed our people. And about this I cannot but be glad. For on the majority of our people it will have a salutary effect. It will wake them up. It will make them ask the question: what is going on in our churches anyway? Where do we stand if two of our ministers can report about our churches as they did?
But all the more reason there is, amice, why we must know the exact truth of just what was said at that conference in Kampen. About this you do not inform us in your article. You do, indeed, inform us of the great respect the Revs. De Jong and Kok evinced for the persons of the Revs. Ophoff and undersigned, but in this we are not at all interested. We are interested in the truth. To only one statement in the letter of Prof. Holwerda you give the lie, the statement allegedly made by the Revs. De Jong and Kok that, in their opinion “most (of the Prot. Ref.) do not think as the Rev. Hoeksema and the Rev. Ophoff.” And this, viz., that the two ministers made that statement, is not merely an impression of the Rev. Ophoff, but is literally quoted from the letter of Prof. Holwerda. On this point, therefore, you give him the lie. For the rest, you contradict none of the things Prof. Holwerda alleges that the Revs. De Jong and Kok reported.
But we must know much more.
Did the two brethren report, for instance, that the conception of the Rev. Hoeksema regarding election is not the doctrine of our churches? That would, of course, leave room for the denial that the covenant is established only with the elect, although there, are, indeed, reprobate under the dispensation of the covenant as it runs historically in the line of the continued generations of believers. If that was the meaning of the statement allegedly made by the Revs. De Jong and Kok (and I cannot see what other impression it can have made upon liberated ears and minds), they reported falsely of our churches.
Is it true that, with evident approval on their part, they reported that “some are emitting a totally different sound”? It seems very probable that some such statement was made, for it is a fact that recently a somewhat strange sound is heard, foreign, it would seem, to our Protestant Reformed tradition. I am referring, of course, to the writing in Concordia by the Rev. A. Petter. To him, no doubt, the statement made at the conference in Kampen also refers, and to him you, amice, must refer in your article when, indirectly, you try to defend the proposition that faith is a condition to enter and remain in the covenant of God. Besides, that the statement refers especially to the Rev. Petter is evidenced also by a letter I received from one of your liberated ministers, who appeals to the fact that the Rev. Petter is not put under discipline for his writing as evidence that there is room in our churches for the liberated conception of the covenant.
Now, about that conditional theology (of which I must have nothing, as you, amice, well know), and about the Revs. Fetter’s position in our churches, I will write presently. I am now concerned with the question just what the Revs. De Jong and Kok reported concerning the stand of our churches at the conference in Kampen.
Did they state there, amice Schilder, that the sympathy of our churches for the covenant conception of the liberated is great, and did they leave the impression that the Protestant Reformed churches left ample room for their conception? Thus Prof. Holwerda states in his letter to Mr. Koster of Chattam.
But I cannot possibly believe this; for in that case they would be guilty of deliberate fasehood. The Revs. De Jong and Kok are both well acquainted with our work in Canada and the very specific nature of that work. It is certainly true that our churches are very much interested in the work in Canada. They sacrifice themselves, both in labor and money, for the Canadian immigrants. And we find some excellent people among them. I give the people that I met in Hamilton my personal testimony that I find them to be spiritually earnest-minded, eager to find and to join themselves to the true church, and willing to hear from us the truth, and to learn all about our Protestant Reformed truth in distinction from the liberated view of the covenant. True, they are not all theologians, and it is saying nothing deprecatory in regard to them when I say they cannot be made “ministers just like that”, as one innocent enthusiast, according to the letter of prof, Holwerda, must have reported. (Was it, perhaps, the enthusiast that, according to the way you describe him in your article, went to Hamilton by submarine and returned in an airplane?). But they are good people and we are very much interested in them.
But, amice, you must not receive the impression that our work in Canada consists in gathering groups of liberated immigrants and organizing them into a church. That is not our way of working. On the contrary, before we organize them into a church we thoroughly instruct them in our Protestant Reformed truth, teach them to discern, as clearly as possible, the difference between their conception of the covenant and ours. And only those that become convinced of the truth of our conception are received into our fellowship.
And must you not yourself admit that this is the only proper and scriptural way to work in and for the Church of Christ?
But to return to the point, the Revs. De Jong and Kok were well aware of all this. They knew that our Mission Committee always worked along the line indicated above, and that they always guarded against opening the door of our .churches for the Heynsian view of God’s covenant. How, then, can they possibly have stated, or even have left the impression, that there is great sympathy and ample room for the covenant conception of the liberated in the Protestant Reformed churches? As I say, that would make them guilty of a deliberate falsehood, and this I positively refuse to believe. And I certainly would wish that Prof. Holwerda (for he is involved) would admit that he misrepresented or misunderstood the statements made by the Revs. De Jong and Kok on this point.
But this letter is becoming too long, not for you, of course, but for our readers; and as I have much more to say, I will now say: So long till the next issue of our Standard Bearer!