The here following article is not a continuation of my last editorial on the above mentioned subject but, although it is related to this subject, is, nevertheless, a digression.
The reason for the digression is that I wish to call the attention of our readers to the correspondence which the last schismatic Synod had with the last Synod of the Christian Reformed Church.
A letter was composed and adopted by the last schismatic Synod and immediately sent to the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, and the latter was kind and gracious enough to prepare an answer and send it to the schismatics. Both of these letters are in our possession now. I will quote from the letter of the schismatics and the letter of the Christian Reformed Synod I will present in full.
In the former, the letter of the schismatics, the schismatic Synod first of all express their appreciation for the willingness of the Christian Reformed Synod to seek contact with the schismatics. “We are grateful for your recognition and confidence in us as well as your spirit of Christian charity and statement ‘to do all that is possible to effect a reunion.’” Then they say: “We do not wish to reopen the case and history of 1924 for we realize that differences exist, and will continue to exist, both in your communion and ours regarding the judgment of history and the matter of common grace. We therefore do not desire to maintain the Three Points, or any new formulation or interpretation, as necessary for a Church to stipulate and insist upon for unification of Churches.”
Here I make my first remark.
How, I ask, is it possible for truly Protestant Reformed Churches to reunite with the Christian Reformed Church without discussing the history of 1924? Fact is that several officebearers were deposed from office because they could not subscribe to the Three Points. Now, either this deposition from office was justifiable and, in that case, any Protestant Reformed man, whether officebearer or common member, must confess that he sinned when he refused to subscribe to the Three Points; or the Christian Reformed Church must confess that it was sinful to depose officebearers, in 1924, on the basis of their refusal to subscribe to the Three Points. Besides, the Synod of 1924 had finished the matter of “common grace” for the matter had been addressed to Synod in the proper ecclesiastical way of consistory-classis-synod. But the Synod of 1924 had not advised discipline, nor demanded that anyone must subscribe to the Three Points. In fact, although the committee of preadvice in the matter had urged discipline in the matter in case the accused ministers should refuse to subscribe to the Three Points, and although the two accused ministers plainly expressed on the floor of the Synod that they would not and could not subscribe to them, yet the Synod never advised discipline but deliberately left out that part of the report of the committee of preadvice that demanded it. I claim that when a Synod finishes a matter, no classis has the right to take it up again except in the legal ecclesiastical way of protest. Yet, this is exactly what the two classes, Grand Rapids East and West did. I claim, therefore, that the deposition of officebearers in 1924 was wholly illegal, was sinful and, therefore, must be confessed, before any reunion can even be discussed.
How, then, can the schismatics say, “We do not wish to reopen the case and history of 1924”?
This is all the more serious when we consider the main thrust and contents of the letter of the schismatic Synod. It is expressed in the question: “May we urge you, therefore, to consider the Three Points of Common Grace as without any further binding force?” Notice that they do not say that the Three Points never should have had any binding power because they are neither Scriptural nor Confessional but they ask that they may be considered as “without any further binding force.” Till the present time they had binding power. And, because of this binding power, they could accomplish their evil work by casting out officebearers that were, according to the testimony of the very Synod that adopted the Three Points, confessionally Reformed. But this the schismatic Synod, evidently, does not mind. All this is implied in the statement of the schismatic Synod: “We do not wish to reopen the case and history of 1924.” For thirty-six years the Christian Reformed Church has been walking in sin. But this the schismatics do not mind, if they only are received in the Christian Reformed Church. However, if they join the Christian Reformed Church, they deliberately choose to walk in the same sinful way. Then they assume full responsibility for the deposition from office, in 1924, of the Revs. Danhof, Ophoff and undersigned and of their consistories. And what is true of the schismatic Synod is equally true of all that follow them in this thoroughly evil way.
The schismatics also furnish grounds or reasons for the request that the Three Points be no longer considered binding. The first is that the term “common grace” does not occur in the Bible or in the Confessions. This is a poor ground. For, as to the first, namely, that the term does not occur in the Bible, the fact is that we use all kinds of terms in Dogmatics and Theology that cannot be found in Scripture. And for the contention that the term is not in the Confession, this is not true: the term does occur in the Canons, although it is put in the mouth of the Arminians. The second ground is that the term “common grace” should not be established or denied by ecclesiastical decisions that go beyond our creeds. This is undoubtedly true. But this ground is itself in need of proof, for the Synod of 1924 claimed that the Three Points were based on the Confessions. The third reason or ground is that the forcing of the selection of terms for theological thinking by ecclesiastical decision must be avoided. Yet this has been done time and again in the history of the Church, especially in times when the truth is attacked and that, too, quite properly so. The fourth reason is that the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands avoided to establish ecclesiastical terminology in their reference to “common grace.” This may be true but is no reason why the Christian Reformed Church in 1924 could not do so. And the final reason is that the well-known Conclusions of Utrecht had the desired effect of peace in the Churches. Well, the Christian Reformed Synod in their answer to this letter of the schismatics, claim the adoption of the Three Points had the same salutary effect.
On the basis of all these grounds, the Synod of the schismatics urge the Christian Reformed Synod to relinquish the binding force of the Three Points.
In a further paragraph, after they have stated that they believe in the responsibility of man, the schismatics state the following:
“We appreciate the efforts that you have so far made toward better understanding and relationship with us. We no longer wish to be responsible for the charge of Arminianism and Pelagianism in the adoption of the Three Points which we have made against you as Christian Reformed Church in the past.”
And in the next paragraph:
“Although we do not charge that the Three Points are Arminian and Pelagian we continue to regret they were formulated in 1924 . . .”
All this, the reader may notice, is negative: the Three Points are not Arminian or Pelagian.
But, I ask, what are they then?
Are they nothing? Are they mere harmless declarations? By implication the schismatics state that they are Reformed. For they declare something about the grace of God. And, therefore, they must be either-or, Arminian or Reformed. It is Reformed to teach that the grace of God is particular, and that God is gracious to the elect only, not to the reprobate; it is Arminian to claim that the grace of God is general and for all men. There can be nothing in between.
This is all the more serious because the Christian Reformed Church in 1924 when they attempted to declare something about what may be called the Kuyperian common grace and tried to base the Three Points on the Confessions (which never speak of a grace for all men) lapsed into the error of Arminian common grace and made the preaching of the gospel grace for all that hear it.
Thus it is very evident that the schismatic Synod, by stating that the Three Points are not Arminian or Pelagian, claim that they are Reformed. And they subscribe to them.
But why then urge the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church to declare that the Three Points will have no further binding force? What wrong is there in making something binding that is Reformed? If the Three Points are Reformed the Protestant Reformed Churches are not. And those that left us in 1953 should beg the Christian Reformed Church to receive them in their midst unconditionally.
Why, then, don’t they do this?
I can only guess at the answer to this question, but I am quite confident that my conjecture is correct. It is this: for the sake of the people.
Not all the people that followed the schismatics in 1953 agree with them. Not all of them want to return to the Christian Reformed Church, especially not if by doing so they are required to put their neck under the yoke of the Three Points. Not all the people among them, especially those that have knowledge of the Reformed truth, want to do this. Not all that followed the schismatics in 1953 would subscribe to the statement that the Three Points are not Arminian and Pelagian. And the schismatic Synod knew this very well. Hence, in order to take as many of their group along to the Christian Reformed Church as possible, they ask that let the Three Points, although they are not Arminian and Pelagian, although they are Reformed, be declared as having no further binding force.
Such is my guess.
The letter of the schismatic Synod continues as follows:
“We regret . . . that classis Grand Rapids East and West of the Christian Reformed Church took the action they did subsequent to 1924. It is not our purpose to raise again the issues of 1924 and succeeding years for the purpose of self-justification. Rather our purpose is to make unification possible in an honest way; thereby assuring further efforts toward unity of believers in Jesus Christ.”
This part of the letter we already discussed in the preceding part of this editorial.
And then the letter continues as follows:
“In that effort it is ever the calling to lead Christ’s flock with pastoral love, being careful in bringing charges and applying penalties. This care, we believe, was not always exercised in the oft times bitter struggle during the years of our mutual controversy. On our part we humbly confess that there should have been a proper appeal to the Synod of 1926 and that we should not have proselytized during such an appeal in our communion as ‘Protesting Christian Reformed Churches.’ On the other hand, for the sake of Christian charity and freedom of conviction allowable under the Word of God, we cannot concede to any implication or charge of heresy and schism against us, unless through persuasion and conviction from the Confessions or the Word of God.”
About this we still have something to say.
But this must wait till next time.