An Open Letter to The Outlook And The Reformed Fellowship

Dear Rev. Vander Ploeg:

It has now been several months since our last public exchange of thoughts concerning a possible Protestant Reformed—Christian Reformed conference about removing obstacles to unity. You last wrote in the September, 1974 issue of The Outlook. This editorial I published in our Standard Bearer of October 1, 1974. In that same issue I responded to your “A Dream, A Response, And A Request” in the same frank and open manner in which I wrote originally. I also gave you permission to publish my response in The Outlook and sent you an advance copy of my article. For some unexplained reason you never published my response, and, in fact, never publicly wrote again about a possible conference. Instead, you and the Board of the Reformed Fellowship chose to make a private response.

It was with some misgivings that I allowed myself to be engaged in private correspondence about this matter since that time. I now realize that this was indeed a mistake on my part. What was begun in public should have been continued in public by both of us; and we should have continued to publish one another’s editorials. But that is now “water over the dam.” I shall return to the public method.

And then, first of all, let me bring my readers up to date, and at the same time remind you, of what has taken place since last October.

On October 21 you informed me that the next board meeting of The Reformed Fellowship would be held on November 8, and you wrote me: “I believe that my reply, also in this case, should be submitted for approval at that meeting before it appears in print. This will occasion another delay but I trust that you will understand.”

However, no reply from you ever did appear in print, for a reason which was never stated. In fact, there never was a reply from you with Board approval. Instead, I received the following letter over your signature “for the Board of Reformed Fellowship,” dated Nov. 23.

Dear Professor Hoeksema:

Having read and given careful consideration to your editorial, “Analysis and Response”, in the October 1, 1974 issue of The Standard Bearer, as a Board of Reformed Fellowship we have decided to make the following reply:

We are ready to accept the invitation to meet with you and your colleagues if we can be agreed in advance on the following:

1. That it be recognized as a matter of fact that such a meeting was not proposed by us mutually but rather that the initiative for this proceeded from you in your editorial of June 1, 1974. My proposal was for calling a meeting of conservatives from various churches.

2. That for the duration of our meeting (or meetings) we refrain from publishing anything in The Standard Bearer or The Outlook about the progress or results except for a statement (or statements) on which we may be agreed in advance.

3. That, as the party taking the initiative in such a meeting (or meetings), you will now propose a suitable time and place for our coming together.

Please be assured of our sincere desire for having closer fellowship with you and also for our Lord’s richest blessing on any meeting or meetings that may be held.

With all good wishes to you for God’s richest blessings, I am


This was, to be sure, not the simple Yes or No answer which I requested in my October 1 editorial. It was a Yes-but. And it did not even contain any private reply to the pertinent remarks which I had frankly, but courteously made in my editorial. Nevertheless, I wrote you as follows, on December 5, 1974:

Dear Rev. Vander Ploeg:

I am in receipt of your letter of Nov. 23, containing the response, of the Board of Reformed Fellowship to my October 1 editorial.

It is not my purpose to carry on a protracted correspondence about this matter, and I do wish, as soon as possible, to inform our readership as to the outcome of our exchange. However, I am in need of some clarification of your letter.

1. When you speak of being “ready to accept the invitation to meet” and in sub-2 and sub-3 of “meeting (or meetings)” are you referring to the preliminary, planning meeting (of 3 of your men and 3 of our men) which I proposed, or are you speaking of the full conference which I hoped a planning committee could arrange?

2. If the former, will you please inform me who your representatives will be? As I recall, you rejected the two names which I suggested in addition to yourself.

3. If the latter (the full conference), is it the intent of this letter—even as in your previous editorial reply—to leave the planning to us?

4. Do you, or do you not, intend to publish in The Outlook anything at all in connection with my “Analysis and Response” and your Board’s letter of November 23?

I am not publishing anything at all in our December 15 issue, except for a brief note that I have received a letter on which I need clarification, and that pending receipt of clarification I will not divulge anything of the contents of that letter.

I trust that my questions are clear, and that you can reply to them personally, without the delay which would be entailed in another meeting of your Board. Pending your reply, I will not express myself in reaction to the Board’s decision.

Cordially, in Christ,

To the above letter I received the following reply from you, Rev. Vander Ploeg, under date of December 12, 1974:

Dear Professor Hoeksema:

Having received and considered your letter of December 4, I wish to reply to your questions in order as follows:

1. In saying that we are “ready to accept the invitation to meet” and of “meeting (or meetings)” I believe that the Board of Reformed Fellowship understood this to be a meeting of three of your men and three of ours.

2. Since our three men have not yet been selected, I am unable to say who they will be.

3. This too I am unable to answer because the Board gave no consideration to any meeting beyond that of six men.

4. It was decided by the Board that The Outlook would not publish your editorial on “Analysis and Response.”

It may be added that the Board intends to proceed with the “Congress of Conservatives” to be held, the Lord willing, in 1976.


After this clarification, in which it was made plain that the reference to any publicity referred only to the preliminary planning committee, I sent the following letter, dated January 28, 1975, fully expecting that this would open the way to the long-delayed first meeting:

Dear Rev. Vander Ploeg:

Please excuse my delay in answering your last letter. An out of town trip and the press of my work prevented an earlier reply. In response to your letters of November 23 and December 12, the following.

1. It is the consensus of my colleagues and me that although you state no reason for the conditions you wish to attach to my simple proposal for a preliminary joint planning session, we should not allow the addition of these stipulations to stand in the way of a meeting.

2. In the light of your reply of December 12 to my questions, I understand:

a. That after the planning session, I am at complete liberty to write what I wish about the meeting.

b. That I am also at liberty to report without any restrictions the exchange of correspondence following my last editorial on this subject. In explanation, I wish to emphasize not only that I do not want the Standard Bearer’s freedom of press restricted by an outside organization, but also that our people are both interested and vitally concerned in these matters, and therefore have a right to be informed fully.

3. In the light of your disappointing failure to publish and to respond to my “Analysis and Response” and your previously stated reluctance to discuss that which separates us, i.e., the Three Points of Common Grace and related matters, I wish to repeat that the sole purpose of the proposed meeting of six is to plan and to lay down the ground rules for just such a conference. I believe this was made abundantly clear in my two editorials, but I wish to have this clearly understood. Otherwise there is no point in having the proposed meeting.

I propose that the preliminary meeting of six be held, D.V., on February 28, at 2:00 P.M., in our Theological School Building, 4949 Ivanrest, SW. My seminary colleagues, Prof. Herman Hanko and Prof. Robert Decker, have agreed to join me.

Please respond at your earliest convenience, and also inform me of the names of your representatives.

Cordially, in Christ,

After I had taken the trouble to inquire carefully as to the meaning of your letter of November 23, and after I had agreed to the stipulations of that letter according to your own interpretation of December 12, the Board of Reformed Fellowship begins to “hedge.” This is very plain in your letter of Feb. 6, again sent over your signature “for the Board of Reformed Fellowship.” The letter is as follows:

Dear Prof. Hoeksema:

Unfortunately your letter of January 28 was not delivered to my home address (to which you addressed it) but rather to the Reformed Fellowship business office. As a result I did not see the letter until the time of the board meeting, which allowed me only a limited opportunity for consideration of it.

However, action was taken at the board and I was asked to relay the decision to you. It was decided that we call your attention once again to what was stated in our November 23 letter to you which read in part as follows:

“We are ready to accept the invitation to meet with you and your colleagues if we can be agreed in advance on the following:

“. . . That for the duration of our meeting (or meetings) we refrain from publishing anything in The Standard Bearer or The Outlook about the progress or results except for a statement (or statements) on which we may be agreed in advance”.

Obviously, this is a condition on which you are not ready to agree. However, it was decided that we do not proceed with a meeting or meetings unless we can go with the assurance that nothing will be published except “a joint communique” on which we must first be mutually agreed. Precisely how long this condition is expected to be observed I am unable to say because that was not decided in advance. I assume that this also is something on which we would have to be mutually agreed at some given point in our discussion or meetings. Premature publicity in our journals could easily defeat the purpose of our meeting (or meetings) if our aim is to try to resolve our differences and to promote unity between us.

We are looking forward to hearing from you about this. Meanwhile no representatives were appointed and the meeting you propose must be held in abeyance.


That brings things up to date.

And that, to my mind, also marks the end of a possible conference unless you change your mind.

It has become abundantly plain to me that you really are not interested in having the conference which I proposed. This is plain from:

1. Your extreme reluctance as expressed in your article “A Dream, A Response, And A Request.”

2. Your conditional reply to my “Analysis and Response” in your letter of November 23. You would not even give a simple Yes or No answer to my proposal to have a mere planning session for such a conference.

3. Your failure to publish and to reply in public to my “Analysis and Response.”

4. Your obvious hedging and change of position in your letter of February 6. I agreed to your condition of November 23 as explained by you in the letter of December 12. Now you obviously want to extend this condition of silence, except for a mutually agreed upon “joint communique,” to all the meetings and indefinitely. Who knows, but what you would never agree to lifting this limitation, according to your letter? You cannot even say how long this condition is expected to be observed. To this I will never, never agree; and neither will my colleagues agree to this, so they have advised me. Why not? In the first place, the condition is altogether too vague. In the second place, your reason is not valid. How in the world can it harm or defeat the purpose of our meetings if our people are informed of what is taking place? I had, in fact, fully intended to publish my position-paper in the Standard Bearer, even as I published my address at your Calvin Seminary. And I would also publish gladly any position-paper produced by you. In the third place, I am of the firm conviction that to hold these meetings secretly would be contrary to the office of believers. Our people have the right to know what is going on. And they would have the right to be gravely suspicious if these things were done in secret. These matters of doctrine and of doctrinal agreement or disagreement are their matters. In the fourth place, I will never agree to have the Standard Bearer restricted in this manner. Our magazine has from its inception been a free paper, not a closed one. We established it originally because The Banner and De Wachter were closed to our leaders. We will not allow it to be closed by you, not even muzzled. We have nothing to hide, and you should have nothing to hide about these matters—either from us or from your own readers. Finally, I detect in the reason for your condition an element of distrust. I am not afraid of your writing anything about the meeting or meetings. As far as I am concerned, you may write as you please. But I want the same liberty. I will write frankly. I will report honestly and factually. But there must be open agreements (or disagreements) openly arrived at. There were far too many secret works of darkness in 1924!

So there matters stand. We are back at home plate, if you will. That is, we are back to my original question, to which I must have a no-strings-attached answer. Do you want to meet, or don’t you?

Frankly, I am disappointed. I had first seen a ray of hope for a conference. But this is not the first time such contact has been refused. It has twice been refused by your Synod. It was refused at the time when Dr. Schilder was here in 1939. It was refused by you, Rev. Vander Ploeg, when you were Editor of The Banner. Nor is this the first failure of Reformed Fellowship. Several years ago The Outlook (at that time Torch and Trumpet) first asked my father, among others, to write on the subject of God’s Grace. But when he complied, Reformed Fellowship after all decided not to publish it.

Most of all I am disappointed, however, not for myself and for our Protestant Reformed Churches, but for you. I warn you as earnestly as I can that there is no hope for your Christian Reformed Church, nor even for the conservative segment of the Christian Reformed Church, as a Reformed denomination unless and until you repent and return from the path you chose in 1924.

And if you want a Congress of Conservatives at which you mutually say, “I’m Okay, you’re Okay,” forget it! “Can two walk together except they be agreed?”

Sincerely, in Christ,

H.C. Hoeksema