An Open Letter to the Reformed Churches of New Zealand

Dear Brethren and Sisters: 

It has come to my attention that Prof. Dr. K. Runia has addressed to the Sessions of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand a rather lengthy letter in which he attempts to discredit some of the criticisms which have been directed against his views by the brethren of the Reformed and Presbyterian Fellowship of Australasia and their paper, the Reformed Guardian. Now apart from the fact that I find this method of a secret answer to public writings about public matters highly unusual, to say the least, I am greatly perturbed about Dr. Runia’s blatant misrepresentations concerning three articles which I wrote in the Standard Bearer and which were reprinted (with our permission) by theReformed Guardian

First of all, let me quote what Dr. Runia has written in his letter to your Sessions: 

“Added to this issue of the Guardian is ‘Documentary Evidence from the writings of Professor Dr. K. Runia’. It starts with the reprint of three articles from the ‘Standard Bearer’, the publication of the so called Hoeksema church in the U.S.A. In an article in ‘The Banner’ I had used the Rev. Hoeksema Sr.’s view of the decree as an example. In the three articles this is rebutted by his son, Prof. H. C. Hoeksema, who in defense of his father’s and his own position accuses me of existentialism, etc.—But is this proper evidence? Hoeksema’s view on the decree and his ‘Supralapsarianism’ have always been rejected by Reformed theologians. Therefore, if one disagrees with Hoeksema, this is no evidence that one is no longer Reformed. On the contrary, it is rather proof that one defends the Reformed position. Yet, by adding these articles as ‘Documentary Evidence’ the impression is created that I am a heretic indeed. Perhaps I may quote here from the lengthy review of the Rev. Hoeksema’s ‘Reformed Dogmatics’ by Dr. C. van Til in the Westminster Theological Journal: ‘In his great desire to do full justice to God’s final, controlling counsel, Hoeksema fails to do justice to the genuine significance of history. When the present writer (Dr. van Til) called attention to this by using Calvin’s distinction between ultimate and proximate causes, Hoeksema replied that this position was tantamount to maintaining that there is a change in God. (By the way, this is the same accusation Prof. Hoeksema in the three articles levels against me, K.R.). . . . With all our great admiration for Hoeksema as a preacher and as a teacher of theology we must, none the less, maintain that however true he was to the idea of the sovereignty of the grace of God, he did not advance its proper form of expression in his works on theology’.” 

Thus far the quotation from Dr. Runia’s letter to your Sessions in so far as it concerns my articles. 

In reply to the above, let me call the following to your attention: 

1) The articles to which Dr. Runia refers were first printed in the Standard Bearer in September and October of 1969. These three articles, entitled “Topsy-Turvy Joy from ‘Down Under,'” reflected on an article by Dr. Runia in the Christian Reformed magazine The Banner, entitled “The Joy of Systematic Theology.” At the time when I wrote these articles, I was not even aware of any differences of opinion in the Reformed Churches of New Zealand. In fact, at that time I had never had any contact with anyone from New Zealand. I knew little about your churches and little about Geelong Theological College. In fact, I knew very little of Dr. Runia’s theological position. But it is the practice of theStandard Bearer to reflect on various significant theological items. And thus it came about that I also reflected on Dr. Runia’s article which appeared in The Banner. Now this is, I think, significant for this reason, that it means that as far as your situation in New Zealand is concerned, I had no “ax to grind.” The fact of the matter is that it was only after these articles were published that an American reader of the Standard Bearer called them to the attention of some of the brethren in New Zealand, and that thus, providentially, I began to have contact with the brethren, who eventually asked for permission to reprint my articles because they considered them pertinent in their situation. Besides, it means that I arrived at my conclusions in those articles entirely independently of the controversy in your churches. 

2) It is neither accurate nor kind of Dr. Runia to speak of us as the “so called Hoeksema church in the USA” We are neither “so-called” nor “Hoeksema” churches. We are the Protestant Reformed Churches in America, a small (like your own denomination) and vital and faithfully Reformed denomination. Our origin dates to 1924 and the so-called common grace controversy in the Christian Reformed Church. We acknowledge the infallibly inspired Scripture as our only rule of doctrine and life; and we acknowledge the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dordrecht as our subordinate standards. Our Standard Bearer is not a denominational paper, but a free, society-published magazine, which has also been in existence since 1924. Our churches operate a small seminary. We have a radio ministry. We are engaged in mission work, both at home and in Jamaica. Our people are devoted to covenantal education, and we operate several of our own Christian schools. In other words, though small, we have a full-orbed denominational life. 

3) In the paragraph quoted, Dr. Runia blatantly misrepresents the content of both his article in The Banner and my three articles. As far as my articles are concerned, any of you who have read the reprint published in New Zealand would be hard pressed, I am sure, to recognize my articles from Dr. Runia’s description. 

In the first place, it is not true that Dr. Runia used as an example in his article Rev. Herman Hoeksema’s view of the decree. It is not even true that the subject of God’s decree was discussed at great length either by Dr. Runia or by me. Dr. Runia used as an example in his article the Rev. Herman Hoeksema’s description of the attribute of God’s immutability, or unchangeableness. About this he wrote at length, and about this I wrote at length in reply. And in that connection, in my first article I accused Dr. Runia of literally teaching that God changes. I stand by that accusation. 

In the second place, Dr. Runia wrote at length, and I wrote at length in reply, about his understanding of what constitutes systematic theology and about his “dynamic-relational” method over against what he chose to call our “static-ontological” method of theology. And with respect to Dr. Runia’s method, I had several grave reservations and criticisms.

In the third place, it was only in my third article that I wrote one paragraph about the subject of God’s decree in connection with Dr. Runia’s reference to Romans 9-11. It was in this connection that Dr. Runia himself referred to theology as being “existential.” It was in this same connection that I expressed regret that “Dr. Runia does not make positively clear what he understands to be the meaning and the task of dogmatics.” And it was in this same connection that I did not make an accusation, but asked the question: “Is there a tinge of Barthian existentialism and dialecticism in his ideas? Who can tell?” These are simple facts. It is certainly true that Dr. Runia’s view of God’s decree is erroneous and that he openly criticizes the Canons of Dordrecht in the book Crisis in the Reformed Churches. But about this I was not writing at that time. It is only recently that I criticized Dr. Runia’s view of God’s decree of predestination at length in several articles in the Standard Bearer. I hope that the Reformed Guardian will also reprint these articles: for in them I show beyond a shadow of a doubt that Dr. Runia openly contradicts the Canons of Dordrecht and agrees with those who do so in the Netherlands. I invite you to read those recent articles; they are enlightening. 

4) Dr. Runia injects the matter of Supralapsarianism into the discussion as follows: “Hoeksema’s view of the decree and his ‘Supralapsarianism’ have always been rejected by Reformed theologians.” Let me point out, in the first place, that supra- or infralapsarianism has nothing whatsoever to do with this matter. It was not so much as discussed or mentioned in the articles referred to. Let me also add immediately that it has nothing to do with my recent criticisms of Dr. Runia’s views of the decree of predestination in Crisis in the Reformed Churches. The fact of the matter is that in that book Dr. Runia is not even a good infralapsarian, but denies the eternal decree of reprobation and militates against the Canons. Dr. Runia is using “Supralapsarianism” as a bogey-man. 

In the second place, I freely admit that the Rev. Herman Hoeksema was a supralapsarian. So am I. However, it is not true that supralapsarianism has always been rejected by Reformed theologians. The fact of the matter is that it has always been officially allowed by Reformed churches. There were supralapsarians at the Synod of Dordrecht; and they also subscribed to the Canons, by the way! Reformed Churches have always allowed the supra- view under the infra- confessions. 

In the third place, as far as God’s decree is concerned, our churches recognize and subscribe to the infralapsarian, Canons of Dordrecht. Infra- is soundly Reformed. More than once I have said to my students: “When it comes to the doctrine of God’s eternal and sovereign decree, over against Arminianism, give me a good infra- any day!” I stand by that statement. But I insist that Dr. Runia is not even a good infra-. His writings contradict the Canons. 

5) Dr. Runia uses this matter of Supralapsarianism as evidence that we are really not Reformed and that he is Reformed. In the first place, this is not correct in the light of what I have just written. In the second place, he tries to leave the impression that Dr. C. van Til is on his side. Let me point out that Dr. van Til does not say in that quotation that Hoeksema is not Re.formed. To my knowledge, he has never said this; and, though he may speak for himself, I doubt whether he would say this, even though he has frequently disagreed with us. In the third place, no one besides Dr. Runia has ever suggested that we are not Reformed. In fact, when our original leaders were cast out of the Christian Reformed Churches in 1924, they were given the testimony that they were “fundamentally Reformed, with a tendency to one-sidedness.” 

But why, instead of writing in secret and instead of blatantly twisting the facts and dishonestly attempting to discredit his critics,—why does not Dr. Runia address himself to the issues? Why, if he is wrong, does he not admit it? And why, if he is convinced that he is right, does he not show this from Scripture and the Confessions? On my part, I hold no personal grudge against Dr. Runia. How could I? I do not even know him personally. I am interested in only one thing: Scripture and the Reformed Confessions. But this one thing is of the utmost importance to me and to the Protestant Reformed Churches. And it ought to be of the utmost importance to Dr. Runia and to the Reformed Churches of New Zealand. 

In conclusion, brethren and sisters, let me address a very earnest word of warning and exhortation to you. I sincerely hope you will receive it. Through reading and through correspondence, especially during the past year, I have made it my business to become as thoroughly informed as possible about the matters which are troubling your churches. I want to tell you, in the first place, that I see these as very, very serious matters which concern your very position as aReformed denomination. These matters must be settled, and that, too, without compromise. Otherwise you will lose your Reformed distinctiveness as churches, as is happening all over the world in our times. In the second place, you must not be afraid of healthy controversy. I do not enjoy controversy for controversy’s sake. Neither, I believe, do the brethren of the Fellowship and the Guardian. But if that controversy involves our Reformed heritage, then, before God, we may not shirk our calling. In the third place, there are certain things that I find difficult to understand. I cannot understand the bitterness against the Fellowship. I cannot understand how elders can be disciplined for having a part in the Fellowship and in the publication of the Guardian. What is grossly sinful about this? What is sinful about their public discussion of the doctrines which are the common possession of the churches? What is sinful about their defense of those doctrines over against the public writings of Dr. Runia? I cannot see this. It is not my intention to discuss in detail Dr. Runia’s attempts in his letter to discredit the Fellowship. I only want to point out that while these brethren may have their weaknesses, and while they may have made some mistakes in their writing efforts, nevertheless they have, in my opinion, done the churches a favor by sounding the alarm in Zion and by calling attention to the dangers which threaten. As I see it, the criticisms published by the Fellowship are fundamentally correct and sound. As I see it—and I am willing to discuss these matters with anyone—the churches ought to take warning and face up to the issues. The churches in New Zealand must not go down the path followed by the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.

Finally, it is my hope and prayer that you may have grace to stand in defense of the heritage of the faith once delivered unto the saints. 

Yours in the cause of the truth, 

Homer C. Hoeksema