First of all, I want to express my thanks to Rev. Vander Ploeg and The Outlook for reprinting my editorial response to Rev. Vander Ploeg’s proposal to call a Congress of Conservatives, as well as for his words of appreciation concerning my “brotherly spirit” and “approachable stance.” In my opinion, it is at least a step in the right direction when we can have an editorial exchange such as this; and I hope that this can be continued, so that this matter of a possible meeting may be resolved. For that reason I again invite The Outlook to reprint my editorial, and I invite Rev. Vander Ploeg to reply. And let me say from the outset that if I express myself forthrightly in this response, this must not be understood as implying that my spirit is any less brotherly, nor my stance less approachable. I believe that clarity and forthrightness are essential in understanding one another, lest either party should be disappointed in case of a future meeting, due to the fact that the meeting does not live up to what he had expected of it.
In the second place, frankly I am rather disappointed atThe Outlook’s reply to what I thought was a clear-cut proposal, a very open-hearted proposal, and a positive proposal. I had hoped that by this time at least the preliminary meeting on arrangements for a conference might have been held. But in the hope that my proposal may still meet with acceptance from Reformed Fellowship, I make the following analysis and response.
Permit me briefly to mention what I consider to be key elements in Rev. Vander Ploeg’s reply. They are as follows:
1. Editor Vander Ploeg says that we must be positive. cooperation, and also church union—but only when “Reformed Christians are to be in the forefront among the advocates of inter-church fellowship, this can be achieved on the basis of Scripture.” On this I agree completely. Only that basis should be defined a bit more precisely by adding: “and the confessions.”
2. About my proposal Editor Vander Ploeg makes some observations which seem to me to be rather grave reservations:
a. He fears that the effort to resolve a controversy that is of fifty years’ standing will be futile.
b. He fears that an impasse in a possible CRC-PRC conference will stymie efforts toward a Congress of Conservatives.
c. He asks whether we will have anything new to say at a conference, as also whether there is no possibility of those who affirm and those who deny common grace living in closer church fellowship and union.
d. He agrees to the meeting which I proposed, BUT with the important reservation that I and my colleagues make the arrangements. And again: “We are looking forward to meeting with you at a mutually agreeable time and place and according to an acceptable plan we are asking you to propose.”
3. Finally, under the heading A Request Rev. Vander Ploeg makes some more observations connected with his request:
a. He claims that he and his conservative fellows are “as wholeheartedly and adamantly committed to the Scriptural teachings on the Antithesis and Sovereign Grace as they (the PRC) obviously are to a denial of ‘common grace.'”
b. He is willing to grant that “common grace” is not as basic to the structure of Reformed theology as are the antithesis and sovereign grace. He suggests the possibility that not all CRC conservatives are not all necessarily committed to the teaching of “common grace.”
c. He takes exception to my objection against the last element of his “dream,” i.e., that of working toward a United Reformed Church.
d. And Rev. Vander Ploeg’s request is: “that we do not make mutual agreement on 1924 a sine qua non or a fixed prerequisite for further progress toward a meeting of minds and closer fellowship among ourselves.” He poses the direct question: “Can you, Professor Hoeksema, see any possibility of moving toward a healing of the breach or a closing of the gap between us in spite of certain difference(s?) that may remain with respect to our evaluation of 1924?”
Response and Comment
1. Permit me to answer that last question first. My answer is No. My reasons are as follows:
a. Rev. Vander Ploeg himself spoke in his first article of the possibility of removing obstacles (The Outlook, May, 1974, p. 8). It was in that same spirit that I proposed a CRC – PRC conference. I want obstaclesremoved, not ignored or stepped over or stepped around.
b. The differences of 1924 were considered of such importance by the Christian Reformed Church in 1924 that common grace was elevated to the status of official church doctrine, binding upon all officebearers and members, so that we were expelled on account of refusal to subscribe to this doctrine. In 1959-’62 this same position was maintained when certain ministers and churches which left us sought affiliation with the CRC.
c. This is obviously contrary to my proposal in the June issue of the Standard Bearer. I proposed the subject, “The Path to Unity.” And in point 3 under my reasons I wrote: “It is no secret that I believe that all of their (the CR brethren) troubles are related—historically, doctrinally, church politically, and ethically—to 1924. They may not believe it, and they may not agree. But I would like the opportunity to be enlightened by them and proved wrong if I am wrong. Can we not discuss? Need we be afraid of discussion, even if we may seem at first to be poles apart?”
d. My position with respect to CRC-PRC relations is essentially the same as that which you stated in an editorial about the CRC-RCA “budding romance” inThe Outlook of November, 1972: “What’s wrong with this budding romance? The same thing that is wrong with a boy and a girl who are head over heels in love and go blissfully on with their courtship while they close their eyes to their basic religious differences or sweep them under the rug for the time being as if sometime, somehow, somewhere these differences will resolve themselves.” And again: “What’s wrong with this budding romance? Amos hit the nail right on the head: ‘Shall two walk together except they be agreed?’ ” I would not want to have written—and you, too, would not want to have written—about any possible “budding romance” of CR and PR brethren what you felt impelled to write in The Outlook of February-March, 1973, pp. 8, 9: “With no interest in discussing the real issues that have kept the CRC and the RCA apart, everything at the meetings was sweetness and light with a budding romance as a likelihood and hardly a cloud in the sky. At least for the time being, sticky issues were comfortably set aside.” Or again, (The Outlook, Nov., 1972, p. 4): “Well, where do we go from here with all this? Refuse even to talk together? Of course not. Just turn our back on any and every ecumenical suggestion or venture? Not that either. It was John Calvin, to the best of my memory, who said he was ‘willing to cross seven seas’ to promote the unity of the church. And, although we should shun counterfeit and unscriptural ecumenicity like the proverbial plague, we too should be willing to do no less. But to follow the primrose path of walking and working together before we are agreed on the basics is shortsighted and irresponsible. (italics added) ‘Timid,’ someone says. Don’t you believe it; this is realistic.” With these thoughts I agree. Perhaps—and some of your comments seem to indicate this—you do not think that our differences about common grace belong to the basics. We do not agree. But at a conference you would have the opportunity to demonstrate that they do not belong to the basics, and that, too, on the basis of Scripture and the confessions. We believe—and we shall continue to believe and teach until you show us to be wrong—that the Three Points strike at the very heart of the truth of our Reformed confessions. Or, as my late father put it in one of his brochures: they are a triple breach in the foundation of the Reformed truth.
2. You have not accepted my proposal. That is, you accepted it with the important reservation of leaving the planning to us. This is not acceptable to us. And here are my reasons:
a. This venture, if it is to succeed, must be mutual from the outset. We—you and I and our colleagues—must agree together to call a conference to remove the obstacles which separate us. If we are not agreed on this, and agreed to act jointly, there is no use in making a beginning. Besides, I am afraid that the outcome of a unilaterally arranged and called conference will be that we are accused finally of attempting to foment schism in your churches; and I will not give occasion for such an accusation.
b. How can the meeting be “at a mutually agreeable time and place and according to an acceptable plan” unless it is mutually planned and arranged? Besides, I proposed that this joint planning committee should also take care of the “ground rules” for the conference.
c. If I may put it rather bluntly, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. In your dream you called for joint planning, as I understood you. I also am calling for joint planning. And I gave you full liberty to name the Christian Reformed and the Protestant Reformed representatives on the planning committee, if you wish, besides you and myself.
Rev. Vander Ploeg, I would like a simple Yes or No answer to the complete 4-point plan which I proposed, together with the 3 reasons which I adduced. You quote John Calvin as willing to cross seven seas for the sake of the unity of the church. My proposal is much more simple: you need only cross the city of Grand Rapids to 4949 Ivanrest Avenue.
3. You ask whether we will have anything new to say. And you express fear that a conference will be futile. My reply is:
a. I could reverse the question: will you have anything new to say? You see, brother Vander Ploeg, questions like this are premature. Let us confer on the basis of Scripture and the confessions. We claim that the Three Points are an essential denial of the antithesis and of sovereign grace. You claim to hold to both, and even to hold adamantly to the antithesis and to sovereign grace. Let us try to resolve that difference.
b. There has never really been either a written discussion or a face to face conference about these matters. For years your leaders would not so much as answer what we wrote. And the one attempted conference (at the Pantlind Hotel in 1939) was a dismal failure for two reasons: 1) None of your men were prepared, although Rev. Hoeksema came with a thoroughly prepared position paper. 2) None of the Christian Reformed men would discuss, although both our men and Dr. Schilder implored them to discuss. I was only 16 years old at that time, but I can still remember Dr. Schilder coming to my father’s door on the evening of that day and saying in utter disgust, “‘k heb de smoor in. (I’m thoroughly annoyed, or exasperated.)” Hence, I propose that we should do what for fifty years has not been done.
c. And to your fears of futility I answer: let us bepositive. Let us not talk about futility before we even plan to confer. Do you claim to stand on the basis of Scripture and the confessions? So do I. You convince me on that basis, or allow me to convince you. I assure you that if I prepare a position paper for such a conference I will conscientiously document everything that I say. I would expect the same of a Christian Reformed position paper. And if we openly meet on the basis of Scripture and the confessions, and do so prayerfully and in dependence upon the Spirit Who leads His people into all the truth, laying aside any prejudices, cannot such a conference succeed—even as that which you propose? I would say that it mustsucceed.
4. Finally, you inquire whether I will agree to a broader conference even if the conference which I proposed would not succeed, or even before the conference which I proposed. My answer is as follows:
a. I will not commit myself beforehand to a broader conference. I want to know what the nature of that conference will be, who will be present, who are to be counted as conservatives, how the conference will be conducted, etc.
b. I did express willingness to attend a preliminary planning session such as you suggested. And I promised to raise my questions and make my suggestions. I am a man of my word. To that promise I will stick—provided I and one or two of my colleagues may have full opportunity to speak.
c. I am of the firm conviction that we Protestant Reformed and Christian Reformed conservatives should walk together to the broader conference which you propose agreed. For how can two walk together except they be agreed?
d. I am open to conviction with respect to the idea of working toward a “United Reformed Church.” To me, it would be schism. What it is for you, I leave to your conscience and judgment. You see, brother Vander Ploeg, for me as of this moment a United Reformed Church would have to be a Protestant Reformed Church. Such is my deepest conviction!
Again, you have my permission to reprint this in The Outlook. And I look forward to your reply.