There is one more item in the letter by the schismatic Synod to the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church to which we must call attention. I am referring especially to the following words: “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 your 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.”
Now, in the first place, there is a flagrant contradiction between these two sentences. For, either we did not make a proper appeal to the Synod of 1926 and then our action of temporarily organizing as “Protesting Christian Reformed Churches” was an act of schism; or we did make such a proper appeal and then it was perfectly proper that, after Classis East and Classis West ignored our appeal and deposed the officebearers of Eastern Ave., Kalamazoo, and Hope, we organized as “Protesting Christian Reformed Churches.” The letter of the schismatic Synod takes the former standpoint: our appeal to the Synod of 1926 was not a proper appeal. But in that case we were certainly schismatic. Hence, there is a plain contradiction in the two sentences quoted above from the letter of the schismatics.
But in regard to our appeal, whether it was proper or not, consider the following:
1. It is evident that the Synod of 1924 did not advise discipline in case the Rev. H. Danhof and undersigned refused to sign the Three Points. Although in the only speech I was allowed to make on the floor of the Synod I clearly expressed my disagreement with the Three Points; and although the Rev. H. Danhof offered a protest against the Three Points which was read and received by the Synod; and although the committee of pre-advice had clearly expressed that disciplinary action should be taken if the two ministers would refuse to abide by the doctrine of the Three Points; yet, the Synod did not adopt the advice of its committee and, therefore, clearly refused any disciplinary action.
2. The case, therefore, was finished. The matter of “common grace” had come before Synod in the proper way: from consistories, through classes. And the Synod had decided upon the matter. The case was, for the time being, at least, closed. If anyone did not agree with the decision of Synod, he would have to protest, not against the two accused ministers, but against the decisions of the Synod of 1924. Also such a protest must, of course, go through the legal channels of consistory-classis-synod.
3. However, Classis East took up the matter as if the Synod of 1924 had demanded or advised discipline and proceeded to discipline the Consistory and the pastor of Eastern Ave. on its own authority or rather on its assumed authority.
4. It was against this action of Classis East that, first the Consistory of Eastern Ave. and later also the pastor, protested and appealed to the Synod of 1926. In its first answer to Classis East which demanded that they must place their pastor before the question whether or not he would abide by the Three Points of 1924, they state: “For all these reasons the Consistory is convinced that the Classis, in its decision to demand of the Consistory that they place their pastor before the question whether he fully agrees with the three points, goes beyond the decisions of Synod. The Classis has no right to do this. The Consistory appeals for this opinion to the decisions of Synod of 1924. The Consistory, therefore, kindly and urgently requests Classis not to abide by its decision. If Classis should nevertheless maintain its decision the Consistory must protest and appeals against the decision of Classis to the next Synod.”
In reply to another communication of Classis East the Consistory of Eastern Ave. concludes as follows:
“Therefore be it resolved by the Consistory of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church:
“a. To appeal for the interpretation of said decisions of Synod 1924 in re protests against our pastor, Reverend H. Hoeksema, as set forth by said Consistory in the above communication to Classis Grand Rapids East, and against the interpretation of these same decisions of said Synod 1924 as set forth by Classis Grand Rapids East in the communication of said Classis to said Consistory of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, dated November 24, 1924.
“To request Classis Grand Rapids East to defer any and all action said Classis might contemplate against the Consistory of said Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church until such time as Synod shall have acted the appeal of said Consistory and rendered final decision in the matter.” After this communication of the Consistory of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, Classis decided now to place the pastor of that Church directly before the questions which the Consistory had refused to ask of its pastor. The latter composed a written reply. But before this answer was delivered to Classis, the Consistory composed another written protest in which they stated: “The Consistory decides to protest against the action of Classis, whereby, disregarding the appeal of the Consistory to Synod, it placed its pastor directly before its question.”
And for this it produced the following grounds:
“a. The action is wholly against the Reformed Church Polity and that according to the very communication of Classis dated Nov. 24, 1924, to said Consistory of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, in which communication Classis declares that any form of discipline must be exercised by the ecclesiastical bodies in the order of Consistory, Classis and Synod.
“b. It is a form of discipline applied by a broader gathering directly to an officebearer of a congregation and proceeds from the assumption that Classis has superior authority, a certain guardianship over churches, yea, over the very persons of the churches. This is still worse than Collegialism. It is popish.
“c. Because the action was taken in spite of the fact, that the Consistory had appealed to Synod, as is evident from its communication to Classis Grand Rapids East, dated December 8, 1924.”
I will not quote here the answer of the pastor of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church. This is not necessary. All I wish to prove in this connection is that also he appealed to Synod against the action of Classis Grand Rapids East even at this time and not only after he was deposed from office. He did this in the following paragraph:
“That undersigned, therefore, also appeals to Synod against the interpretation Classis Grand Rapids East offers of the decisions of Synod 1924; this appeal to take place in the same manner as that of the Consistory of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, as contained in said communication of said Consistory of Classis and dated Dec. 8, 1924.”
Now, why do I write all this?
Simply to prove that our appeal to Synod was not made after my Consistory was deposed from office and I was suspended and, when I did not submit to my suspension, also deposed, but much earlier, and that it was directed against the illegal actions of Classis Grand Rapids East. I had hopes that after my protest and appeal Classis would not continue with our suspension and deposition but would wait until the Synod of 1926 had expressed itself.
But in this I was disappointed.
It is true that, when the Classis had finished their evil work and had deposed my Consistory and myself, the case became virtually hopeless. It may be said that we should have submitted to our deposition pending our appeal. But this was impossible. How could my Consistory have cast the Congregation to the wolves of Classis East, a Congregation of five hundred families and that, too, for a year and a half? The Congregation stood virtually as a man behind the Consistory. Besides, the Classis had made no provision for such a contingency. They had not provided for pulpit supply nor for the election of new officebearers. And, therefore, my Consistory and I remained in office in spite of the action of Classis East. And, in order to have some form of church life, in the meantime, pending our appeal, we, i.e. the congregations of Kalamazoo, Hope, and Eastern Avenue organized as Protesting Christian Reformed Churches.
It was the only thing we could do. And only after the Synod of 1926 had rejected our appeal did we adopt the name of Protestant Reformed Churches.
This rather lengthy criticism of the document which the schismatic Synod sent to the Synod of the Christian Reformed Synod of 1960 we deemed necessary in order to show that the appeal we made to the Synod of 1926 was the only proper appeal we could make at the time. Any other form of appeal was made a practical impossibility by Classis East.
But now we must consider the answer of the Christian Reformed Synod to the letter of the schismatics.
I quote it here in full:
“To the Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“We thank you for the fraternal and cordial reply to our Synod’s letter to you in June 1959. In reply to this, your communication, we wish to observe that we appreciate the general tenor of this document, which indicates that there is on your part a sincere desire for reconciliation and unification with our church.
“Addressing ourselves to the main thrust of your letter (paragraph 4, page 1) ‘May we urge you, therefore, to consider the Three Points of common grace as without further binding force?’ we conclude that this question is the heart of the matter which you present to our Synod. You are asking our Synod simply to set aside or discard, without any restrictions or qualifications, that which was done by our Synods of 1924 and 1959. This is evident from your statement (second part of paragraph 3, page 1) ‘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.’
“Synod may on occasion be compelled to make emergency decisions which serve a definite purpose in a given historic moment. Such emergency decisions are dated and may in time become inactive because they have served their purpose and are no longer needed. Reflecting however on the synodical decisions of 1924 respecting the Three Points, we believe that an outright and official setting aside of them is unwarranted for the following reasons:
“a. The serious situation in 1924 which called these Three Points into being.
“b. The salutary effect of these Three Points in producing peace and rest in the churches.
“c. The fact that such setting aside of the Three Points would run counter to and nullify a large measure of agreement which had been achieved.
“We are of the opinion that such a simple discarding of the Three Points, as well as the elucidation and interpretation of those given in a letter of our Synod of 1959, is not desirable. We would rather point out to you a more positive basis upon which we may seek for unification. This positive approach is not to be sought by requesting our Synod virtually to discard what it deemed to be necessary to state in 1924 and what is still necessary to maintain at the present time; nor in demanding of you an expression of total agreement with the Three Points as formulated in 1924, and further elucidated in 1959, but rather by accepting a basis on which we can unite.
“It is our considered judgment that in as much as both your denomination and ours subscribe to the Word of God and the Three Forms of unity, unification of our churches could be effected:
“a. if you will agree that the Three Points are neither Arminian nor Pelagian; that in the light of the official interpretation given by our Synod of 1959, the objection that the Three Points are in conflict with Scripture and the Forms of Unity is not valid; and that you will agree not to agitate against the official interpretations.
“b. if we do not require submission in the sense of demanding total agreement with the Three Points; we recognize and bear with scruples which you may have, in the expectation that we together may come to a better understanding of the truth; and not bar those who have certain misgivings or divergent interpretations as long as they refrain from making propaganda for the interpretations.
“As to the method of effecting such a union we suggest that:
“a. If this is to be worked out on a denominational basis, a committee of your church be appointed to confer with a committee of our church, or,
“b. if this is to be worked out on a local basis, this is to be left to the individual consistories and classis in which such attempts towards union would be made.”
This document was signed by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church through its clerk R.J. Danhof.
Discussion of this letter in the next number of our Standard Bearer, the Lord willing.