Classical Jurisdiction (continued)

We made a statement last time to the effect that the Classis in 1924 assumed jurisdiction over the Synod by going beyond the decision of the Synod in attempting to bind upon the consistory and its pastor what Synod had not intended and had even refused to do. 

If this is true, it is evident that Classis violated the rule of Article 36 of the Church Order, dealing with the matter of proper jurisdiction of ecclesiastical bodies. 

This, therefore, we must now further determine. 

The Synod of 1924 disposed of the various protests that were lodged against the Eastern Avenue consistory and pastor and that had to do with the common grace question. It is unnecessary to cite the entire decision of the Synod since much of it has no direct bearing upon the matter of jurisdiction with which we are at presently concerned. We may limit ourselves to those parts particularly that deal with Synod’s treatment of the accused involved since the question is whether or not the Classis later had the right to demand of the consistory that they impose censure upon the pastor for refusing to answer directly to various questions concerning the Three Points as advanced by the Classis? And, further, whether Classis had the right to depose from the office when these demands were refused? 

The Synod, as is customary, was advised by a committee of pre-advice. This committee advised Synod as follows: 

“(1) To seriously admonish the brethren with respect to their departures and demand of them the promise that in the future they will abide by the Three Points declared by Synod. 

“(2) To urge the brethren Danhof und Hoeksema that they refrain from making propaganda for their dissenting views regarding the three points, in the churches. 

“(3) To point out to the brethren, that if it should appear either now or in the future, that they will not abide by the decision of Synod, the latter to its profound regret will have to make the case pending with the consistories.” 

Strikingly this advice of the committee was rejected by the Synod and instead, in the final decision of Synod we find the following: 

“Synod expresses that several statements in the writings of the Reverends H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema cannot very well be harmonized with what Scripture and the Confession teach us regarding the above mentioned three points. Synod also judges that the pastors referred to, in their writings, use some strong expressions, from which it is evident that in their presentation of the truth they do not sufficiently adhere to the way in which our Confessions express themselves, especially Point I of the Utrecht Conclusions. 

“On the other hand, synod declares that these ministers in their writings, according to their own repeated declarations, do not intend or purpose anything else than to teach and maintain our Reformed doctrine, the doctrine of Scripture and the Confessions; and it cannot be denied that they are Reformed in respect to the fundamental truths us they fare formulated in the Confessions even though it be with an inclination to one-sidedness.” 

Apart now from the contradiction ‘and untruth in this decision of the Synod, it should be plain that especially the last part is far removed from the position that one must express agreement with the Three. Points or be deposed from office. Synod did not even take that position with a view to a still later part of its decision. There it declared: 

“With a view to the deviating sentiments of the Reverends H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema regarding the above mentioned Three Points, and with a view to the controversy that arose in our Church regarding the doctrine of Common or General Grace, synod admonishes the two brethren to abide in their teaching and writing by the standpoint of our Confession regarding the Three Points that were discussed, and at the same time she admonishes the brethren and the Churches in general to refrain from all one-sidedness in the presentation of the truth, and to express themselves carefully and with sobriety and modesty. 

“On the other hand, in as far as the pastors H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema in their writings warn against worldly mindedness, synod judges that there is, indeed, reason for such warning with a view to a possible misuse of the doctrine of Common Grace and therefore, synod considers it its calling to send the following testimony to the churches.” 

From all this, as well as from the final decree of Synod concerning the matter of common grace itself, it is evident that the Synod intended no disciplinary action against the brethren Danhof and Hoeksema. Classis Grand Rapids East acted in direct conflict with the decision of the Synod. They over ruled the Synod. They assumed a greater prerogative than the Synod and proceeded to act in the matter that Synod had rejected. This was a serious violation of Church Order, particularly Article 36, in deposing a consistory and suspending its minister for refusing to maintain decrees of the Synod which the latter never, made. 

The final decree of the Synod was the adoption of the following interesting resolution. 

“In connection with the overtures that would urge Synod to express itself on the doctrine of common grace as such, or to appoint a committee to study the matter, Synod decides as follows: 

“a. At the present to formulate no statement relative to the standpoint of the Church regarding the doctrine of general or common grace in every detail and all its implications. Such a statement would presuppose that this doctrine had already been thoroughly considered and developed in all its details, which certainly is least of all the case. Preparatory study, necessary to this purpose, is almost entirely wanting as yet. Consequently, there is in the Reformed Churches as yet no consensus of opinion at all in this case. 

“b. Neither to appoint a committee to devote itself to the study of this matter, in order to reach the formulation of a dogma concerning this matter, which eventually may be received as part of the Confession (Overture Muskegon). 

“1. Because dogmas are not made but are born out of the conflict of opinions, and, therefore, it is desirable that the establishment of a certain dogma be preceded by a lengthy exchange of opinions. Participation in such a discussion must be as general as possible and must not be limited to a single group of churches; 

“2. Because a certain truth must live clearly in the consciousness of the Church in general, or in the consciousness of a particular group of churches, before the Church is able to profess such a truth in her Confessions. It cannot be said, that this indispensable condition exists at present or will exist after two or four years. 

“c. But to urge the leaders of our people, both ministers and professors, to make further study of the doctrine of Common Grace; that they give themselves account carefully of the problems that present themselves in connection with this matter, in sermons, lectures and publications. It is very desirable that not a single individual or a small number of persons accomplish this task, but that many take part in it: Grounds: 

“1. This will be most naturally conducive to a fruitful discussion of the question of Common Grace, and such an exchange of thoughts is the indispensable condition for the development of this truth. 

“2. It will be instrumental to concentrate the attention of our people upon this doctrine, will serve to elucidate their conception of it and to cause them to feel its significance, so that they become increasingly conscious of this part of the contents of their faith. 

“3. It will, undoubtedly, in the course of a few years, lead to a consensus of opinion in this matter, and thus it will gradually prepare the way in our churches for a united confession concerning Common Grace.” 

That these decrees of the Synod of 1924 are not above criticism is plain to all who can intelligently read them. We do not enter that aspect of the question but only present them in order to have before us the background of the Classical hierarchy. 

Another revealing aspect of the treatment of this matter by the Classis is the fact that the consistory of Eastern Avenue, after presenting in a lengthy document all its reasons why it could not acquiesce in the demands of the Classis, it informed Classis that it would appeal its interpretation of the decisions of 1924 to the Synod of 1926 and, further, urged the Classis to defer any and all action which it might contemplate against the consistory until such time as Synod shall have acted upon the appeal and rendered a final decision in the matter. This was completely ignored by the Classis. Instead they attempted to do what they had demanded of the consistory, viz., place Rev. Hoeksema before the two questions we have mentioned before. Against this action the consistory of course protested. Nothing ever came of this protest, however; Classis never treated it. At the same time, Rev. Hoeksema, under protest and reserving his right to appeal to Synod, submitted to Classis a written answer to its questions. That answer was as follows (pertinent part): 

“a. Considering that the Synod of 1924 interpreted our Confessions in such a manner, that no one needs to agree with the Three Points adopted by Synod 1924 (cf. Acts of Synod 1924, p. 145 ff.) in order to be fundamentally Reformed in the basic truths as formulated in our Confessions, therefore, undersigned hereby declares that he always was and still is in harmony with the Confessions as interpreted by Synod 1924; 

“b. Considering that Synod admonishes the leaders of our Churches to make serious study of the problems recently brought to the foreground, in preaching, lectures and writings, undersigned promises that he especially will heed this admonition of Synod and will co-operate in brotherly spirit in order to reach a solution of the afore-mentioned problems. 

“c. Undersigned, as long as he is an office bearer in the Christian Reformed Churches, submits himself gladly to any decision of the Synod of these Churches. 

Respectfully submitted, 

H. HOEKSEMA.” 

How, in the light of all this, a Classis, under the name of Reformed Church Polity, could proceed to depose a Consistory and suspend its minister, will remain an unanswered question. But, more important is the fact that even apart, from the doctrinal issues of 1924, these facts clearly justify the origin and existence of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America, notwithstanding the contention of a few malcontents and schismatics to the contrary! 

—G.V.D.B.