An Open Letter to Rev. G.I. Williamson

Dear Rev. Williamson: 

Your recent article in Faith In Focus entitled “A Visit With Profs. Hoeksema and Hanko” has come to my attention. Needless to say, I was rather surprised to read a public report concerning a private visit which you and the Rev. Gillard and the Rev. Kroon held with the Rev. Cornelius Hanko (not Prof. Hanko) and myself at the residence of the Rev. Kroon last June 27. On my part, I had resolved not to report in the Standard Bearer concerning private visits of this kind, especially not when they were visits which involved disagreements. Now, however, you have chosen to write publicly about these matters; and thus you have compelled me to reply and to set the record straight. And then I must add that not only am I surprised at your article, but also deeply disappointed and offended. I could understand that you might present a factual report concerning our discussion and our disagreement. I am deeply offended at the fact that your article is far from being a factual report. It is full of misrepresentations, half truths, and downright lies. I can hardly recognize our visit in your report. I consider such misrepresentation and such a vitriolic attack to be unworthy of a Christian, and especially of a minister of the gospel. I ask you to apologize and to correct all of your misrepresentations. It would be proper for you to publish. my article in Faith In Focus, although I do not expect that you will do this. Nevertheless, I assure you that my rebuttal will reach New Zealand and will be distributed to many whom you seek to deceive. 

In the first place, you write that it has “never been offensive to us to read criticism of our New Zealand churches in ‘The Standard Bearer’. To the contrary, we have also profited from the candid statements in this paper of the Protestant Reformed Church.” I cannot understand such a statement. For all that was stated in your hearing at the home of Rev. Kroon last June 27 was also stated in the Standard Bearer. I refer you particularly to the reports concerning your Synod of 197 1 and concerning the subsequent events which appear in Volume 48 with complete documentation. How is it, I ask, that the very things which were not offensive to you to read became so thoroughly offensive to you in the Rev. Kroon’s home? I did not change my position one iota since I wrote that critique. Have you changed? You left the Reformed church of New Zealand before the Runia matter reached its climax—reportedly with the statement that the situation in the Reformed churches of New Zealand was hopeless. While others were fighting the battle, you were sojourning in America. Now you have returned—after the battle. Are you now desperately attempting, perhaps, to justify your participation in a denomination which was derelict in its duty and which has never remedied its wrong-doing? 

In the second place, you do not present correctly either the course of our discussion last June or the course of events at the synod of 1971. 

As far as the former is concerned, let me point out the following: 

1) You failed to point out that it was you, not Rev. Hanko and I, who initiated the entire discussion about your churches and the Runia matter. Neither Rev. Hanko nor I had the slightest inkling that afternoon that this was the purpose of the meeting. If we had known this, we certainly would have been better prepared than we were, would have reviewed the history in advance, and would have taken ample documentary proof along with us. Instead, I had to rely suddenly on my memory of a rather complicated chain of events of a few years ago; and fortunately, on a couple of occasions the Rev. Kroon kindly confirmed what I stated from his memory and from the Acts of Synod of 1971 over against your claims. And, by the way, let me remind you that neither Rev. Hanko nor I throughout our tour of New Zealand ever initiated any discussion of the Runia matter. In my lectures I never so much as mentioned it. In our cottage meetings, as well as in meetings with individuals, I never talked about any of these matters unless others brought them up. Everyone who heard us in New Zealand will have to confirm the truth of that statement. Yet you leave the impression in the last paragraph of your article that we went about sowing discord in New Zealand. You write: “They are encouraging people to forsake these Churches, in direct conflict with our Reformed Confessions. And we are compelled to call this a destructive work. It is not helping the cause of the Reformed Faith in New Zealand, but separating brethren who ought to strive together for that cause.” This is not true. We were positive in all our work. We always sought unity: unity in the truth. We never went anywhere or spoke anywhere except by invitation. And I am firmly convinced that those who heard us will give us the testimony that we conducted ourselves circumspectly in all our meetings. 

But let me remind you, Rev. Williamson, that our discussion began with an inquiry on your part as to the purpose of our coming to New Zealand, and that I replied that it was our purpose to contact as many people and churches who were likeminded as to the Reformed faith as it was possible for us to contact, Thereupon, it was you, not we, who brought up the matter of the Runia case. It was you, not we, who brought up the matter of the so-called attempts at reconciliation with the brethren van Herk and Koppe on the part of the Sessions of Silverstream and Wainuiomata. Do you not recall, too, that I stated that I did not care to discuss the personal cases of the brethren van Herk and Koppe in their absence? And do you not recall, further, that I pointed out: a) that these brethren, as well as brother van Rij, had walked the ecclesiastical way to the end and had not obtained satisfaction? b) that they therefore had no choice but to separate, seeing this was a fundamental doctrinal issue? c) that neither of the two sessions has as yet made any attempt to resolve that doctrinal issue and to bring about reconciliation? d) that later in the conversation you even suggested that a statement could be made on the Runia matter at the level of the Session? e) that I pointed out that this resolution of the matter had to take place at the synodical level, seeing that the case had been at synod, and that the Rev. Kroon agreed with me on this point? f) that all three of you conceded that such a synodical statement could not be obtained in your churches? 

2) You misrepresent matters when you write: “The only problem (that is for Rev. Hanko and myself, HCH) is that Synod fell short of what they see as a consistent line. This is due to the fact that one question posed by the 197 1 appeal was not answered. That question was this: ‘Will the New Zealand Churches continue to support Geelong College with Dr. Runia as one of its teachers?'” This is not our position, and you know it. The brethren Koppe and van Herk in 1971 knew that they could not seek the discipline of Dr. Runia. They knew that Runia was not under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the New Zealand churches. The question was that of Dr. Runia’s errors. It was a question of your churches’ supporting and endorsing the Reformed Theological College at Geelong in the light of those errors. It was a question of doctrinal discipline. And the appeal in 1971 was for synod to act in defense of doctrinal purity and to act in condemnation of doctrinal deviation, especially since these matters of doctrinal purity and doctrinal deviation involved a crucial aspect of the churches’ work, namely, the theological education of their future ministers. And let me now add, by way of emphasis, that when you study the Acts of your Synod of 1971, it becomes very plain that there was a studied attempt at that synod to avoid saying anything about the specific errors in the specific case concerning Dr. Runia’s teachings. The fact of the matter is that your synod would not even recognize that there were any errors being taught by Dr. Runia and being supported by men in your churches. Even in the doctrinal statement which you praised so highly, and which was after all nothing but a political maneuver (as I shall presently point out) the synod refuses to recognize the existence of any errors. They inserted in their so-called reaffirmation the emphatic phrase, “IN SPITE OF CERTAIN ALLEGATIONS.” 

3) You made much of the matter of “due process” in connection with Dr. Runia. Now, first of all, it did not take any pressure (as you write) whatsoever to make me admit that no man could be declared a heretic in our churches without “due process.” And why, pray, do you twice speak of “under pressure” when you “looked forward to meeting” us? Let me assure you that I need no pressure to admit the truth. However, you-failed to state: 1) that we stated again and again that there was no case at synod concerning Dr. Runia personally, nor any attempt to condemn Dr. Runia as a heretic. This was impossible. Runia was not under synod’s jurisdiction. 2) But it was indeed a case of the churches’ responsibility with respect to the errors, theheretical teachings, of Dr. Runia. 3) We did also make the claim—and the appeal of Koppe and van Herk is evidence—that there was indeed documentary proof of error, and that these brethren cited specific references in Runia’s writings and specific items from Scripture and the confessions, but that your synod failed to treat these matters item by item. To all this you paid no attention in the course of our conversation.

4) It is indeed true that you stated that “at the time of this 1971 Synod everyone knew that Dr. Runia was about to depart from Geelong. The question posed by the appeal therefore was anachronistic.” But what you failed to state is very significant. I recall vividly that the Rev. Hanko asked you whether your churches did not have a moral obligation to warn the churches in the Netherlands, their sister churches, against the errors of Dr. Runia. And I am sure that you recall this; too. This also, by the way, is in harmony with what I wrote in December of 1971 (p. 124): “The New Zealand churches have fraternal relations with both the churches in Australia and in the Netherlands. It surely is not very brotherly to take the attitude, as it were, ‘Well, we’re rid of Runia and therefore rid of the problem; let the other churches wrestle with it if they want to.'” 

5) You also misrepresent matters when you state the following: “A matter of particular condemnation from these men was the fact that a letter of thanks was sent to Dr. Runia on behalf of our Churches at the time he left Geelong.” And you misrepresent by failing to state the point which we made. You know very well that we did not merely speak in general of a “letter of thanks,” but that we referred specifically to the fact that in this letter your churches officially called Dr. Runia a “champion of the Reformed faith.” You know very well, too, that it was pointed out that when this letter was sent by your synodical Stated Clerk in the name of your churches, there was only one session in your denomination which took exception to this letter. About this also I wrote in December of 1971 in one of those articles which you did not find offensive: “. . . The New Zealand churches gave the lie to their own decision. After declaring that they would take no action about the errors of Dr. Runia, they nevertheless did take action—in another way. They sent Runia a very commendatory farewell letter in which, among other things, they called him a ‘champion for the Reformed faith.'” And I went on in that article to state: “A man may deny reprobation. He may openly contradict the confessions. He may contradict the doctrine of Holy Scripture. When confronted by a concrete case, the Synod says, ‘We will say nothing about it; the man is leaving for the Netherlands.’ But when the concrete case is safely shunted aside, then turn around and praise such a man publicly as a champion of the Reformed faith! This is anything but honest; and it is anything but Reformed!” 

At the time of our conversation in Rev. Kroon’s home, as I said, neither did I have the opportunity to prepare for the discussion, nor did I have any documents at hand. Now that I am home and have access to the necessary documents and information, let me also remind you that Dr. Runia understood the letter sent by your synodical stated clerk, D. G. Vanderpyl, very well. I reported this in the Standard Bearer at the time as follows: “And Dr. Runia got the point. For here is his response, as quoted from the bulletin of the Reformed Church of Christchurch, New Zealand: ‘I cannot tell you how much Mrs. Runia and I have appreciated this letter. In the past some New Zealand brethren have issued serious accusations asserting that my theology was a great danger for the Reformed Churches in Australasia. As you may remember, last year I sent a letter to all the sessions repudiating these accusations. I am very happy indeed that before we leave Australia you have expressed your confidence in me and your appreciation work.'” 

From all this it is very plain that this letter of glowing tribute to Dr. Runia at that time was, in effect, a complete exoneration of him; it is very plain, too, that he thus understood the letter; and it is very plain that this letter gave the lie to the positive assertions of your Synod of 1971 and shows that the Synod did not at all intend in any way to condemn the errors which Runia taught on the various matters touched on in the Appeal of Mssrs. Koppe and van Herk. The Reformed churches of New Zealand are still wide open for all who teach and defend the same errors which Runia taught. Moreover, this is not theory, but fact. For you still have in your denomination those who would defend Runia and who agree with his doctrinal position. 

6) You also misrepresent matters when you write the following: “At one point in our afternoon of discussion Prof. Hoeksema said that we are apostate. But then, under the pressure of our defense he softened this to say that we are ‘semi-apostate.'” And again: “It was naturally our desire (the three Reformed ministers) to know precisely why we are supposedly ‘semi-apostate.’ The sole answer was the fact that we have not taken a strong enough stand. We have not been sufficiently consistent.” What you write here is far from the truth of the matter. It is certainly true’ that I stated that your churches are apostate. The rest of your statement is not true. The truth is that you were attempting to force me to explain that word “apostate” as meaning that you are the false church in the absolute sense of the word. This I would not say, and this I did not say. And when my use of the term “apostate” came up again toward the end of our conversation, I explained it, not by changing it to “semi-apostate,” but by changing it to “apostatizing.” And, moreover, it is not true that “our sole answer was the fact that we have not taken a strong enough stand. We have not been sufficiently consistent.” We made it abundantly plain in the course of our conversation that the problem lay in the failure of your churches to exercise doctrinal discipline, that is, to condemn doctrinal deviation when plainly confronted by it in the life of the church. Instead, your churches gave to one who was obviously heretical the glowing tribute that he was a “champion of the Reformed faith.” 

7) In your article, Rev. Williamson, you also make much of the fact that Dr. S. Woudstra has been relieved of his duties at Geelong “even though many of the same allegations that have been heard against his teaching are those that arose concerning Dr. Runia’s teaching.” Again, however, you failed to point out certain significant facts. In the first place, there is the fact that Dr. Woudstra could have been and should ‘have been properly barred from Geelong before he ever arrived in Australia. It was clear already in 1972 that his position was heretical, as the Standard Bearer made plain. To his credit, the Rev. Kroon wrote to this effect at that time in the magazine of your churches known as The Reformed Journal. But neither Geelong nor the Reformed churches of Australia nor the Reformed churches of New Zealand took any action. In the second place, the initiative for the removal of Dr. Woudstra did not come from the Reformed churches, but chiefly from a student from the Free Presbyterian Church of Eastern Australia, Mr. John Cromarty. But, in the third place,—and this is more serious—Dr. Woudstra is now a minister in good standing in the Reformed Church of Australia, a sister denomination of your churches. And if I understand the sister relationship correctly, this means that he could also be allowed in the pulpits of the Reformed churches of New Zealand. 

8) In your article you omit completely something very significant which I called to your attention. You had made a point of the fact that your Synod of 1971 had urged that there be reconciliation between the sessions and the appellants. Do you not recall that I told you in that connection that the last word of the Session of Christchurch to Mr. and Mrs. W. van Rij was that they had to apologize to Dr. Runia? Let me now refresh your memory from the record. In a letter to Mr. van Rij before the Synod of 1971 the Session of Christchurch charged that Mr. van Rij had falsely accused Dr. Runia, and further required of him to retract and apologize for “all such writings as infer that: 1) Dr. Runia denies the sovereignty of God with respect to reprobation. 2) Dr. Runia denies the historicity of Genesis 1, 2, 3. 3) Dr. Runia is an unbeliever” (something which Mr. van Rij neither stated nor implied, HCH). After the Synod of 197 1 that same Session of Christchurch showed no inclination whatsoever to reconcile in the sense of retracting and apologizing for their heavy charges of gross sin. In the case of Mr. van Rij, on the contrary, the Session continued to maintain its charges and to insist that the apologizing had to be done by Mr. van Rij. Now this is serious. It may have sounded pious that the Synod urged “all concerned to seek reconciliation.” The fact of the matter is, however, that the Synod was confronted by concrete cases of gross injustice over against the three appellants, Koppe, van Herk, and van Rij. The fact is, too, that the Synod did not adjudicate those appeals, but trampled truth and justice. The fact is that justice was perverted by the churches in the case of the very men who called the churches to doctrinal purity and to doctrinal discipline. The fact is that discipline was used to persecute those who sought to maintain the truth of the confessions. And the fact is that by its failure to treat these appeals the Synod became co-responsible for the injustices committed by the various Sessions against these men. Remember, the abuse of discipline is a mark of the false church! 

But there is another matter. Your presentation of the course of events at the Synod of 1971 is not correct. In your article you present the various actions of Synod as coming as a result of the appeals of Mssrs. Koppe and van Herk. This, however, is not correct. The fact of the matter is that there was some political maneuvering at that Synod. At the very beginning of that Synod there was an item brought up which was not even on the Agenda. Article 15 is simply entitled “General Discussion” and reads: “It was moved and accepted to start on deliberations with a general fraternal discussion on our own Confessional position quite apart from outside interest. It was ruled that this discussion take place upon motion from Dunedin before dealing with matters relating to the Confessions.” Art. 38 was a motion by Rev. P. Berghouse, the pastor of Dunedin, who is still today a defender of Dr. Runia, as we learned when we visited him at Dunedin. That article reads: “Rev. Berghouse moved motion (seconded) that Synod consider making statement on Confessional position of our churches.” Now it must be kept in mind, remember, that Rev. Berghouse certainly had no intention of making any statements which would condemn Dr. Runia. The contrary was true: he was seeking to avoid a forthright statement by Synod condemning Dr. Runia. Then we turn to Art. 43, which is entitled “Confessional Standing.” This is the article which you characterize as one of the several strong steps in the right direction which your churches have taken. It appears to be rather strong upon first reading; but read in the context of the situation at that time, it was a deceptive political maneuver. The article reads: 

“The Reformed Churches of New Zealand hereby unanimously re-affirm, IN SPITE OF CERTAIN ALLEGATIONS, that they maintain the Doctrine of The Infallible Scripture as summarized in the Confessional Standards. This includes: 

a. That we maintain the historicity of the details AS THEY ARE RECORDED IN GENESIS 1:3, e.g. creation, Adam and Eve as the first created man and woman, the Fall through disobedience, and the subsequent promise of Divine Redemption in Christ. 

b. Furthermore we maintain that the WHOLE TEACHING of the Canons of Dordt (including Divine Election and Reprobation) IS in complete agreement with the Infallible Word of God. 

Consequently we require ANYONE who speaks or writes, teaches, preaches, or counsels on behalf of these Churches to do so in accordance with this statement.” 

Now, in the first place, it must be noted that the plain suggestion of the words “in spite of certain allegations,” which this article emphasizes so strongly, is that these allegations were not true. But they weretrue: for there were many who were taking the side of Dr. Runia at that time. In the second place, it should be noted that the article speaks of “anyone who . . . teaches . . . on’ behalf of these Churches” being required to do so in accordance with the above statement. Yet Dr. Runia was at that very time teaching contrary to the above statement. Moreover there were ministers and sessions who were defending Dr. Runia and attacking those who opposed him. This statement, therefore, was plainly hypocritical. 

What happened later at this same synod—much later? In Article 103 the appeal of Mssrs. Koppe and van Herk is treated. In that appeal the synod was confronted by the specific instance, with abundant references to proof, of Dr. Runia’s teaching contrary to the statement of Article 43. And what did synod do? Did they apply this allegedly strong article to the concrete case of Dr. Runia’s teachings? By no means. They simply referred the appellants. to the statement of Article 43 without so much as hinting at a condemnation of the specific errors of Dr. Runia. In other words, the maneuver had succeeded. And the supporters of Dr. Runia by this maneuver had prevented synod’s making any statement which specifically condemned the teachings of Dr. Runia. 

This is the realistic and the correct presentation of the events at the Synod of 1971. In this light it can also be understood that shortly after this Synod Dr. Runia was paid the glowing tribute that he was “a champion of the Reformed faith.” 

In the light of all this, Rev. Williamson, it was impossible for us to say to you what you have suggested. We could only say that the Reformed Churches of New Zealand had apostatized and are continuing on that track. We could only tell you, as we did, that proper rectification with respect to the Runia matter is still necessary. 

But I say again: we did not go up and down New Zealand talking about these matters. We did speak the truth. We did warn against departure from the Reformed faith. We did urge God’s people to maintain and to seek the Reformed faith. And we did encourage the brethren of the Orthodox Presbyterian Churches of New Zealand whenever and wherever we came into contact with them, and shall continue to do so. 

You have done the cause of the Reformed faith and the cause of truth and justice damage by your article. And you have done your churches a disservice by your silence about the wrongs which I have mentioned. I respectfully call upon you to make rectification and to change your ecclesiastical course. Then your conscience will be clear, and then you will do the cause of Christ in New Zealand a service. 

Yours for the Reformed faith, 

H. C. Hoeksema