A Realistic Response To ” A Dream”

In the May, 1974 issue of The Outlook, Editor Vander Ploeg writes of his “dream” of a “Congress of Conservatives called together from across denominational lines.” Near the end of his editorial, he writes: “Smile if you will, ridicule this if you must, criticize and tear it all to pieces — but please don’t give up on the idea and bury it unless you can honestly say that you know a better way to do it.” And again: “Won’t you let me hear from you? And please let me know whether your letter may be used for publication or not.” 

Well, this is a response—- not in the .form of a letter, but in that of an editorial. It may indeed be used for publication by The Outlook. In fact, I shall send Editor Vander Ploeg a typewritten copy in advance of publication in theStandard Bearer. Furthermore, I will not smile. I will not ridicule. Nor will I “tear it all to pieces.” I will indeed offer criticism, but not merely negative criticism. And I will welcome further discussion, whether in print or in face-to-face meeting. Purposely I am prefacing these remarks in this way, so that The Outlook may know our attitude from the outset. And I take it that since Editor Vander Ploeg mentions the “Protestant Reformed brethren” in his “dream,” he also includes us in his request, “Won’t you let me hear from you?” 

First of all, what is this “dream” of the Rev. Vander Ploeg? 

Briefly, it is as follows: 

1) The Rev. Vander Ploeg proposes a “Congress of Conservatives” which shall “meet together for a full day or even two.” 

2) Included in this meeting are to be “many concerned and interested persons from the CRC. And, if it could be under joint leadership, I would hope also from the RCA and the OPC.” Further, Mr. Vander Ploeg asks: “Would our Protestant Reformed brethren and those of other Reformed bodies be willing to come so that with them also we may be able to talk together?” But the list is left open for additions. 

3) Apparently the basis and motivation of the proposed “Congress” is as follows: “We really do have so much in common, and we need each other more than we may realize. Let’s not allow the liberals to have a corner on ecumenical ventures.” In this connection, appeal is made to Christ’s high-priestly prayer in John 17, “. . . that they may all be one . . .” And the suggestion is made that obstacles could be removed to make that prayer of our Savior realized, even to the extent of a visible, external organization. 

4) As to execution of the above suggestion, a “planning session” is proposed, to be “attended by representatives of the various elements, groups, or churches interested in exploring the possibility of and the working out of such a “Congress of Conservatives.” Moreover, it is suggested that at such a Congress, one spokesman for each group or body might address the gathering on what he would envision as “The Path to Unity.” And “An evening mass meeting could be held at which the thinking expressed at such an all-day or a two-day session might be summarized.”

5) Finally, the suggestion is made that such a “Congress of Conservatives” could give rise to: a) “possibly a working organization (being) brought into being that might be called Conservatives United. ” b) “and eventually, by the sovereign grace of Him whose guidance we will implore, also a United Reformed Church in the United States and Canada!” 

That, briefly, is the “dream.”

Let me try to respond realistically.

First of all, I wish to stress that we of the Protestant Reformed Churches are, and always have been, willing to discuss. We have said this again and again over the years, especially to the Christian Reformed brethren; but no one ever seems to take us seriously. On only one occasion, in 1939, was there an attempt (in the so-called Pantlind Conference) to engage in any discussion. That attempt ended in abortion, but notbecause of our unwillingness. But let me say it again: whether in official, ecclesiastical conference or in an unofficial gathering of Protestant Reformed and Christian Reformed men, we are willing to confer. This does not mean, however, that we are willing to confer with everyone at the same time. This could only lead, I believe, to chaos and, ultimately, to failure. The discussion would be so varied and wide-ranging, especially in a one-day or two-day conference, that nothing definite and constructive could be accomplished. If “obstacles” are to be gotten out of the way, as the Rev. Vander Ploeg suggests, then let us get those obstacles removed systematically and one at a time. Besides, is it not true that there are different obstacles between the Christian Reformed brethren and us, than, say, between the Christian Reformed brethren and RCA or OPC brethren? But I will have more to say about this a bit later. 

In the second place, if the avowed and preconceived purpose of such a Congress is an eventual “United Reformed Church,” then I, for one, would consider it an act of schism on my part to participate. It would imply some kind of dissatisfaction on my part with the Protestant Reformed Churches while I nevertheless continue as a minister and professor who has not even made known any such dissatisfaction to consistory, classis, or synod. It would be different, for example, if I would be appointed as a representative of our Synod to confer on possible merger with another denomination. But this is not the nature of this “Congress.” And let me make it crystal clear: I have no such dissatisfaction with our Protestant Reformed Churches as would move me to work toward a new church formation. And I am a bit surprised that in the admitted conservative-liberal cleavage in his own denomination the Rev. Vander Ploeg makes this public suggestion of what, from an official Christian Reformed point of view, would have to be considered schism. But let that be. As an individual Protestant Reformed member and office bearer I could conceivably work toward some kind of non-ecclesiastical organization of “conservatives,” just as, for example, I can quite properly be a member of the non-ecclesiastical Reformed Free Publishing Association. But I could not work toward a new church formation, that is, reformation through separation. I happen to believe that Rev. Vander Ploeg can and should do that vis a vis his denomination, and that he should do so now, not eventually. But I cannot and may not do that with respect to my denomination. 

But, in the third place, if you would remove this element as the avowed intent of your “dream,” for my part I would be willing (with a colleague or two) to attend a meeting <i<=”” i=””>of a conference such as you suggest. I see endless problems. Who are to be invited? Who determines who are “conservatives” for the purpose of this meeting? In fact, what is a conservative? What will be the basis of the conference, and how will that basis function and be enforced? What will be discussed specifically? Who will “umpire” the discussion? How can two groups who have very real and serious differences between themselves, differences which do not directly concern others, gather in a general meeting of conservatives and join in a general discussion of conservative union while their specific one-to-one differences are not ironed out? But I will at least attend an exploratory session, if invited, and raise my problems and make suggestions, without committing myself beyond that exploratory session. If thereafter we should conclude that such a “Congress” is not for us, we will also try to explain our reasons.</i

But 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. 

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.”). 

Here, briefly, is the plan: 

1) Let us have a planning session by a committee of six. I suggest the Rev. Vander Ploeg, the Rev. Leonard Schalkwyk, and the Rev. Jerome Julien from the Christian Reformed side; I am sure my two faculty colleagues would join me from the Protestant Reformed side. Or the Rev. Vander Ploeg may name his own colleagues and any two of my Protestant Reformed colleagues. We can hold this planning session at our Seminary Building. 

2) The subject proposed by the Rev. Vander Ploeg could very well serve: “The Path to Unity.” I volunteer to prepare a thorough paper on this subject; and I suggest that a Christian Reformed “conservative” also present a position paper on this subject. 

3) After these papers are presented (and they should preferably be distributed in mimeographed form to all who attend), there is to be full and open-hearted discussion as long as necessary. If this should require repeated meetings, so much the better. 

4) The fundamental basic of the gathering is to be Scripture and the Reformed confessions. All other ground rules will be agreed upon by the planning committee of six. 

And here are my reasons for this proposal 

1) We should begin to realize Rev. Vander Ploeg’s “dream” closest to home. And the Christian Reformed brethren and we Protestant Reformed are from a historical and a doctrinal point of view closest to one another. 

2) Almost nine years ago, when he was still editor ofThe Banner, the Rev. Vander Ploeg wrote of his desire for “reconciliation” with respect to us. You see, in some respects this “dream” has been a long time in the making. Since that time the conservative-liberal cleavage in the Christian Reformed Church has grown sharper; and I take it that the Rev. Vander Ploeg himself realizes this. We of the Protestant Reformed Churches remain the same “conservatives” today as we were then; and as a denomination we have no conservative-liberal cleavage, nor any of the problems which are causing the concern of the concerned Christian Reformed brethren. But already nine years ago I wrote of our willingness to discuss things and to try to get “obstacles” removed — whether in official or unofficial conference. The Rev. Vander Ploeg never responded then. We are still willing to have discussion, if only it is thorough and pertinent and frank discussion.

3) I believe that we Protestant Reformed have something very pertinent to say to the Christian Reformed brethren with respect to the very matters which are troubling them in their present church connection. It is no secret that I believe that all of their troubles are related — historically, doctrinally, church politically, and ethically — to 1924. They may not believe it, and they may not agree. But I would like the opportunity to demonstrate this and to discuss it, as well as the opportunity to be enlightened by them and proved wrong if I am wrong. Can we not discuss? Need we be afraid of discussion, even if we may seem at first to be poles apart? 

Rev. Vander Ploeg, are you serious about the fundamental idea of your dream? 

I also am serious. 

When do you wish to meet with us for a planning session?