Madison, South Dakota
January 29, 1951
The Standard Bearer
The Rev. H. Hoeksema, Editor
May I kindly request a bit of space in a few issues of the Standard Bearer to express myself around and about the Declaration of Principles? I would like to consider the Declaration both from a formal and material point of view and will attempt to show that we should not adopt it or, positively, that we as Churches should abide by our own tradition of officially standing upon the basis of the Scripture and the Three Forms of Unity alone. This does not mean that we may not and do not have a distinctive interpretation of these Confessions, but rather that the Confessions themselves should be sufficient to maintain our position.
The addition of an official declaration would be a departure from the official status quo and the official tradition of our history not only, but also a departure from the official position of the historically Reformed Church of the past 300 years. Our very name, Protestant Reformed, declares that we stand in that Reformed line of the Protestant Reformation, which line has always officially stood only upon the basis of Scripture and the Three Forms of Unity since their adoption in 1618-19. In 1924 the Christian Reformed Church adopted a corrupted addition to these confessions and we as Churches continued the traditional official Reformed line. At that time too, it was suggested that the protesting Churches officially draw up a Scriptural contra the Three Points of ’24, but over against this it was maintained that Scripture and the Confessions were sufficient to combat heresy. Hence, the adoption of an official interpretation or declaration is a serious departure from the status quo and should be rejected.
However, in this introductory article I would like to discuss some of the arguments that have arisen around the Declaration. It has been stated that the Declaration simply expresses the truth of Scripture and the Confessions, and that if this is not so it should be pointed out that the Declaration expresses untruth. Hence, the argument is, that since it is the truth we should declare it. I maintain that this cannot be a ground for adopting the Declaration and that the argumentation itself is incorrect.
In the first place, this argument may be turned with greater force against adopting the Declaration. If the Declaration is simply the clear teaching of Scripture and the Confessions it is superfluous to add to these and depart from the official status quo and historical tradition. Hence, it may just as well be argued that since the Scripture and Confessions clearly teach the truths expressed in the Declaration, we have no need for it.
But, in the second place, the argumentation is incorrect. It does not necessarily follow that because a thing is true it must or should be declared. It is even possible to declare an objective truth and present the lie. Or again the objective truth may be declared in circumstances and conditions which cause it to be misconstrued and misunderstood. So, for example, one can read on a highway bill-board the objective truth of Scripture when a given text is quoted. Yet in the mind of those who placed it and in the circumstances and conditions in which it is read, it presents the lie of Arminianism. Now mark well, I do not maintain or state that this is also true of the Declaration but only mean to show that this argumentation is not valid. Granted that the Declaration means to, and actually does, express the truth, this in itself cannot serve as a ground or reason for its adoption. The question still remains why should we declare it, why is it necessary and why should we depart from the official historical position?
For, in the third place, the result of this argumentation, is that it lays the burden of proof at the door of those who maintain that the Declaration is not necessary. However, since the official adoption of the Declaration would be a departure from the status quo the burden of proof that we should adopt it rightly belongs to those who maintain that it is necessary and expedient. Once again, granted that what the Declaration expresses is the truth of Scripture and the Confessions, the burden of proof to show why it is necessary to declare this beyond the expression of Scripture and the Confessions certainly lies with those who maintain it should be adopted.
It has also been stated that those who believe the Declaration should be adopted are concerned about maintaining our Protestant Reformed heritage and, on the other hand, those who do not favor its adoption would open the doors of our churches to Heynsian heresy. Once again I maintain that this argument is invalid and derogatory. This argument would declare that the only alternative is: the adoption of the Declaration or the introduction of Heynsian heresy. Now, unless one wishes to judge the mind and motives of those who oppose adoption, it certainly must be granted that these brethren have honest convictions and are not motivated by the desire to introduce heresy. It is even possible to oppose the adoption of the Declaration without necessarily opposing the Declaration itself. In the first place, therefore, this argument is invalid for it certainly lies within the realm of conceivable probability that there may be other and valid reasons for rejecting the adoption of the Declaration.
In the second place, this argument is unworthy since it discredits those who oppose the adoption and stigmatizes them as being desirous of introducing Heynsian heresy. Therefore, it is also derogatory in that it presents an unwarranted alternative:—the Declaration or Heynsian heresy. If this were true the Synod need never have sent the Declaration out for discussion but could have decided immediately. Or, perhaps better still, a case should be made pending against those who would introduce heresy. But the result is that this argument discredits and denies the right of that very discussion which Synod invited when it sent the Declaration out for discussion.
In the third place, the end of this argument is again that it would place the responsibility for the burden of proof at the door of those who oppose adoption of the Declaration. Once again rather, the burden of proof to show why, rests with those who maintain that we should adopt the Declaration. It might also be pointed out here that we as Churches were freed from Heynsian heresy already in 1924 upon the basis of Scripture and the Confessions alone and since that time have been instrumental in quite successfully turning others upon that same basis.
Now I realize that these arguments are not all that is said but are the general conclusions from various grounds that are presented as to why we should adopt the Declaration. Next time, therefore, we hope to examine some of these grounds.