The Question &Answer department of The Banner is anonymous. This holds, first of all, for those who send in questions. Instead of the name of the questioner being printed, he is simply identified by the place where he lives, such as “Indiana.” And while such anonymity for questioners in such a department has its advantage and is not as such wrong, it also requires prudence and journalistic ethics on the part of the department editor in placing these anonymous questions, in case they contain unproved and unethical and unverifiable claims about others. Meanwhile, questioners are encouraged by the little statement occurring in this department each time it appears: “Confidentiality is assured.”
What is worse, however, is the fact that the answers to questions are also anonymous. The Rev. W.D. Buursma is the department editor, and I suppose he will ultimately have to be held responsible for the contents of the department. But I recall that when a change was made some time ago in this department of The Banner, it was stated that various Christian Reformed men would be furnishing the answers. Hence, the reader is unable to detect who is the author of any given answer; it may be one of several persons. Perhaps this also has its journalistic advantages; I do not know. Personally, I think that when a person takes a stand on a matter in print—especially when what he writes may be open to difference of opinion—he ought to be enough of a Christian gentleman to sign his name.
All the more amazing to me it was, therefore, when the following appeared in The Banner of July 30, 1984:
Q. My Protestant Reformed friends make it clear that they believe they have the purest and truest interpretation of the Scriptures. Although they don’t condemn me as a member of the Christian Reformed Church, they also don’t acknowledge me as a true believer. What are the differences in our beliefs? Why do they make me feel like I’ve missed the boat?
A.The differences lie more in emphasis than in actual beliefs. Both denominations accept the ecumenical and Reformed creeds. People who founded the Protestant Reformed churches rebelled against, among other things, what they believed to be an undue emphasis on common grace within the Christian Reformed Church. They believed that the implications of that doctrine in the life of Christian Reformed church members justified separate existence.
Alas, some members of the Protestant Reformed Church do, indeed, make other Christians feel “inferior.” Don’t allow this unfortunate attitude to deprive you of the joy and contentment of fellowship in your own denomination.
I’m glad that many Protestant Reformed people today, though thankful for their denomination, have the grace to realize that not all Christian people will think precisely alike on minor points of the faith. We must acknowledge that in our own denomination we, too, have had people who have been elitist and who have conveyed to people in other churches an air of superiority.
As churches mature and as individual Christians grow in grace, they are less and less likely to emphasize “superiority” and more and more apt to confess that not only individuals but also churches are saved by grace alone.
Now, first of all, as far as the question is concerned, it should be noted that the questioner makes statements about his “Protestant Reformed friends.” Are these facts, and do they state things which his “Protestant Reformed friends” actually stated? Or are theyconclusions which the questioner reached, and which he may very well have reached incorrectly? Did they tell him that he isn’t a true believer? Did they tell him that he missed the boat? Did The Banner consider the possibility that the questioner might be misrepresenting his “Protestant Reformed friends?” Or did it just assume as gospel truth that these “Protestant Reformed friends” were elitist and that they made the questioner feel inferior by conveying to him “an air of superiority?” I have no idea who these Protestant Reformed friends are, though I would guess (in the light of the fact that the questioner is from Indiana) that they are from our South Holland congregation. But it sounds highly unlikely to me that they would tell him that he isn’t a true believer merely because he is Christian Reformed.
Secondly, the answer seriously misrepresents the facts and is slanderous of our Protestant Reformed Churches. I call attention to the following items:
1) It is formally true that both denominations accept the ecumenical and Reformed creeds. But this is not the issue. There are many who accept these creeds. The question is: do they abide by these creeds in their preaching and teaching, and do they uphold these creeds in their discipline?
2) It is totally untrue that “People who founded the Protestant Reformed churches rebelled against, among other things, what they believed to be an undue emphasis on common grace . . . .” This statement is slanderous. For no one may separate from a church merely because of a difference of emphasis. The truth is that there was fundamental disagreement on thedoctrine of common grace. The truth is that the CRC elevated common grace to the status of binding doctrine in that denomination by the adoption of the Three Points in 1924. The truth is that ministers and consistories were deposed and cast out because they would not subscribe to the Three Points; and they were cast out with an appeal to the Formula of Subscription. The truth is, therefore, that it was the CRC which considered the Three Points of Common Grace essential. The truth is that in the early 1960’s, when the De Wolf group returned to the CRC, the Three Points were still considered essential and that more than one minister was required to declare agreement with them in his colloquium doctum at classis. The truth is that by this time the differences are so great—differences which stem from 1924—that there is no comparison between the two denominations. Think of the general atonement case, the reprobation case, the movie issue, the union issue, the dance issue—all related to the common grace controversy. These are the things Rev. Anonymous should have told his questioner.
Thirdly, Rev. Anonymous seems to know much about Protestant Reformed people. He knows that “some members of the Protestant Reformed Church do, indeed, make other Christians feel ‘inferior.'” He seems to know that “many Protestant Reformed people . . . have the grace to realize that not all Christian people will think precisely alike on minor points of the faith.” Just how many Protestant Reformed people does he know and has he surveyed? I dare say I know most of our Protestant Reformed families. I don’t know of those who make others feel inferior. I don’t know of those who are “elitist,” that is, who pride themselves because they are the “select or choice part . . . socially superior.” I know many Protestant Reformed people who believe that our churches, judged by the marks of the true church, are the purest manifestation of the church on earth and who believe that it is therefore their duty to belong to the PRC; but they are also humbly thankful for this grace, and acknowledge that what they are and have is by the grace of God, while they have nothing to boast in themselves. Indeed, churches are saved by grace alone!
But how sad it is that Rev. Anonymous does not instruct his questioner concerning the marks of the true church (Art. 29, Confession of Faith), and how sad that he does not instruct him concerning the CRC’s deviation from those marks. And how sad that he does not instruct his questioner about his duty to join himself to the true church! (Art. 28, Confession of Faith) If he had done so, and then made it crystal clear that the CRC maintains those marks while the PRC has departed from them, he might have helped his CRC questioner. But this he does not do; and he does not do it because he cannot do it.