I write this open letter to the Liberated in the Netherlands in order, if at all possible, to counteract the influence of the very evil and slanderous letter signed by the “familie Klaver” of Hudsonville, a letter which was written, however, as is evident from the contents, by Mrs. Klaver, who evidently is prophet, priest, and king in that family,—a letter which was mimeographed and distributed by the hundreds, among the Liberated people in the old country.
Not only this, but the Reverend Van Raalte quotes from a similar letter, evidently written by the same woman, who appears to be a very busy gossiper, in the Gereformeerd Kerkblad voor Overijssel en Gelderland.
From that letter he quote the following:
That is in English: “Esteemed Rev.: A distress signal! That’s what I put above this, because it is that indeed. We have come here this spring and belong to the Protestant Reformed Church. . . But now they make it difficult for us to attend the Prot. Ref. Church also.”
Following this the Rev. Van Raalte writes in the above mentioned paper that the woman continues to write about the covenant question. Of this she mentions more than one example, but he, the Rev. Van Raalte, wants to point to just one of them. That example is the following, written, of course, by the same woman: (the reference is to the Rev. Vos of Hudsonville) (DUTCH REMOVED) That is, as I translate it: “On a Saturday he said to our Paul, who is twelve years old, in catechism: Who receive the genuine baptism? Well, Paul failed to answer him and after that he must repeat it after the minister: the elect. Now we certainly did not become liberated in order for the second time to have our children educated in the synodical doctrine, did we?”
The Rev. Van Raalte adds in an explanatory paragraph: (DUTCH REMOVED) That is, and I translate: “That minister was not the Rev. Ophoff, nor the Rev. Hoeksema, but another one. That is, with one single exception, the doctrine of all the ministers there (the exception is the Rev. Petter, and he is being described as a heretic in the Standard Bearer). Both the ministers that were here in the Netherlands belong to the moderate, but principally they entertain the same view.”
Well, I’m glad that according to Rev. Van Raalte there is unanimity of opinion among the ministers here, with, according to him, the single exception of the Rev. Petter. Nor do I think that the Rev. Petter was ever described in the Standard Bearer as a heretic. But whether he wants to be classified with the Liberated, as the Rev. Van Raalte evidently classifies him, is up to him. He is well able to explain himself.
But I am somewhat off on a tangent, and I want to return to that letter of Mrs. Klaver that was distributed and quoted in the Netherlands, not in order to criticize the letter as such (it is below my dignity to do so), but rather to call attention to the thoroughly unethical method of distributing such a letter and of quoting it as a trustworthy testimony against us in the papers.
Against such tactics, brethren, I must protest most vehemently, and that on the following grounds:
1. Mrs. Klaver (and in her name the whole family Klaver) is backbiting and slandering too. And, you might have concluded from the letter itself that she is a very untrustworthy witness. Do you take the word of one single woman for gospel truth, without even informing us or investigating whether that particular woman is speaking the truth or slandering right and left as she does? Immediately upon the receipt of that letter, which was sent to me by airmail, I went to the Rev. Vos in Hudsonville and asked him whether he really treated his members and catechumens in the fashion described by Mrs. Klaver and spread by her upon the report, at least as far as the incident in the catechism class is concerned, of a boy of twelve years old. And the Rev. Vos assured me that the woman lied. He never treated the boy that way in his class. Nor did Mrs. Klaver ever inquire of the Rev. Vos whether he did treat him in that fashion. And certainly it is not Protestant Reformed language to speak of “genuine baptism”. None of our Protestant Reformed ministers would use that term. It is very evident that Mrs. Klaver herself put the term into the mouth of her boy. The same gossipy woman writes that the Rev. Vos will be very glad that he will be rid of such “rotten heretics”. That, too, is a downright and very evident lie. If anything is “rotten”, it is the gossipy, slanderous letter written by her to the Netherlands. She further writes in her letter to the Netherlands that we always send a certain class of ministers to Canada (that must be ministers like Hoeksema and Ophoff, I suppose), and avoid or pass by the others. That too is a downright lie, and nothing else. That certain ministers are sent to Canada and others are not is simply a question of language. Some of our ministers cannot very well handle the Dutch. For the rest, all our ministers are appointed in order by the Classis. And I myself have been to Canada, to Hamilton, only once. And let me say in parentheses that I enjoyed myself very much there and consider the people in Canada a very spiritual class of people, who are deeply interested in the Reformed truth. That, therefore, is another lie of Mrs. Klaver. She writes too that in the Men’s Society of Hudsonville her husband has been in debate with the Rev. Vos three successive meetings, and that he, the Rev. Vos, always avoided the issue and beat about the bush. That too is a plain lie. I do not doubt that the Rev. Vos has been in debate with Mr. Klaver on the Men’s Society, but he certainly would not be afraid to tackle the problem, and he would certainly not avoid the issue. That lie was evidently reported by Mr. Klaver himself to his wife when he came home from the Men’s Society. Another lie is that the Rev. Vos preaches very onesided sermons. Now I know better. Of course, the Rev. Vos would not preach the Protestant Reformed view of the covenant and that of the Liberated; if she means that by one-sided sermons, I can admit. But for the rest, the Rev. Vos preaches the whole Word of God. Of that I am sure. That too is slander. Further she writes that the Rev. Vos in his sermons denies the responsibility of man. Again, I can very well understand that the Rev. Vos probably has a different conception of that responsibility from that of Mrs. Klaver; but that he denies the responsibility of man is again a downright lie. Finally, she writes that the Rev. Vos always aims at her husband and has it in for him. Now, I can understand that members like the Klaver family are not special friends of the Rev. Vos, for he is not a friend of gossipers and probably is inclined to stay away from them. But the fault is certainly not with the Rev. Vos, but with the Klaver family, and, I dare say, especially with Mrs. Klaver, whom I consider a dangerous woman in any congregation, as is evident from her letter to the Netherlands.
2. Apart even from the very unethical method of basing your judgment of our churches and of the Rev. Vos personally, on the testimony of one single woman, you might have drawn the conclusion from the letter itself that she is a very untrustworthy witness. In the first place, can you not see that she intentionally avoids the proper ecclesiastical way of voicing her grievances? If the Klaver family were so maltreated by the Rev. Vos, should they not have lodged their protest with the consistory, and if necessary, turned to the Classis, and from the Classis to the Synod? Do you not agree with me that such is the only proper way for a Christian, and that it certainly must be condemned to go the way of public slander and insinuations? Secondly, did you not notice that she herself testifies that she does not even attend the church where she belongs and that at the time when she wrote her letter she had not been in church for seven successive weeks? To this I may add that the Klavers have not been in church and that their children have not been in catechism for the last four or four and a half months. Would you justify such behavior? We do not. And therefore, let me inform you here that they are under censure, not for any disagreement on the covenant question, but simply for continued and total neglect of the means of grace.
3. They evidently belong to a class of immigrants with which we are well acquainted, that can see nothing good in America and boast of everything in the Netherlands. Just listen to the following quotation: “How often do we now think of that privileged Netherlands, which the Lord has blessed so signally above many other countries; then it is different here, nothing but spiritual poverty, in school and in church.” Or listen to this: “Fortunately we still have the Word of God and our own sermons and the sermons of the Rev. Tunderman, which certainly are fine. But how rich you people are still in the Netherlands now with your reformation.” It is evident that the family Klaver constitute a very dissatisfied class of immigrants. And the sooner they go back to the Netherlands the better for them, and, for us.
4. Now, they were well aware of the differences between the Liberated churches and ours. They knew that before they ever joined our churches; at least, they could have and should have known it. But they were received in our congregation in Hudsonville in spite of their views; nor did we ever trouble them. But they were the ones that were not satisfied with our view. They did not want to hear the preaching of the Rev. Vos. And they did not want their children educated in the doctrine of the Protestant Reformed Churches. They want to make propaganda for the view of the Liberated. And they want to make trouble about that. Now, I ask you: who is to blame in this case? Are we as churches, who have never changed our stand on the covenant question? Or are the Klavers, who were well aware even before they brought their papers to us of the stand of our churches, but who afterwards were evidently very much dissatisfied? Let me assure you that not all the Liberated that immigrate to this country are as dissatisfied as the Klavers. We, too, in our own congregation of the First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids have members that came from the Liberated Churches of the Netherlands. I find them to be very nice people, and I assure you that they can testify that they were well received and were royally treated by our people.
5. And therefore, brethren, I cannot but be amazed at your methods. I think them very unethical. Why not, instead of judging us on the basis of such a slanderous letter as Mrs. Klaver wrote and which you distributed in the Netherlands and quoted in your papers, turn to a source like the congregation in Hamilton? They can tell you how we labored among them and what we taught. Let them testify whether we are the true church or not, here in America. And let them witness how they were received by us and how they were treated. I am sure that they will testify that they are glad that they joined the Protestant Reformed Churches. And I hope that the Consistory of Hamilton will send a testimony to the papers in the Netherlands and that that testimony will be received.
Brethren, you knew the stand of our churches on the covenant question before you advised your people to join out churches here in America and before your Synod of Amersfoort decided to seek correspondence with us and to open your pulpits for our ministers. Dr. Schilder knew all about it. Mr. Van Spronsen has visited all our churches and attended our Synod. He can testify how we preach and what we teach. And both Dr. Schilder and Mr. Van Spronsen can also tell you how they were received by our people in spite of our differences. In the conferences which we had with Dr. Schilder we, on our part, plainly and clearly expounded our view on the covenant and defended it. I prepared several propositions for that purpose, and they too were published in the Standard Bearer. Besides, even before Dr. Schilder visited us, our Mission Committee published and distributed several hundred copies of my “De Geloovigen en Hun Zaad” in the Netherlands. On your part, therefore, there can be no doubt about the stand of our churches on the covenant question. We never camouflaged the truth at all.
I have still a little more to write about this matter, but that may wait until the next issue.
But, brethren, I think it is high time that instead of all this wrangling in the papers back and forth, your committee of correspondence visit us, or our committee be sent to the old country and meet you face to face.
Then we can talk, and perhaps come to a better understanding.