As I have said, I write no official report.
I do not have all the documents to write such a report. In order to be complete, such an official report must needs include the complete report of the Classical Committee in re the Chatham case, the letter from Chatham addressed to Classis, and the reply of Classis to that letter.
But I am not in possession of these documents. And as I merely write impressions, I do not need them. For these impressions I rely only on my memory, trusting that, if my memory should fail me, someone will be good enough to correct me.
If, then, my memory is correct, the letter of Chatham, addressed to Classis, which was also addressed to all our consistories, exhorts our churches to liberate themselves from the sins of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
The question is: which are these sins to which the Consistory of Chatham refers?
From the letter that was addressed to Classis by Chatham this is not clear. It refers, if I remember well, only to the Declaration of Principles. But, if we also consult the report of the Classical Committee, the sins of the Protestant Reformed Churches are chiefly: 1. That they adopted the Declaration of Principles. 2. The censure case of the First Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids against the two Dutch students, H. de Bolster and H. de Raad. 3. The case of the Consistory of Randolph, that refused to baptize the child of a member that was of Liberated convictions. 4. The refusal of the Committee of Correspondence of the Protestant Reformed Churches to get into contact with the Netherlands.
These are the so-called sins of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
All this left upon me a very strange impression.
In the first place, it left the impression that the brethren in Chatham were very eager to separate themselves from our churches, the fundamental reason being that they did not agree with the truth of our Confessions as maintained by these churches. My impression is that the fundamental reason being that they were not Protestant Reformed, they now looked for an excuse to separate themselves. And they finally did “liberate” themselves without any regard to the Word of God, the Confessions, and above all, the Church Order.
Leaving for the moment the question of the Declaration of Principles alone, what are these sins of the Protestant Reformed Churches? Suppose it were a sin of the First Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids to censure the two above-named students, which it certainly was not—could this be called a sin of the whole denomination of Protestant Reformed Churches? This, of course, is nothing short of ridiculous. And suppose the case of Randolph, according to which they refused to baptize a certain child, had been a sin of that Consistory, can that sin be laid at the door of all the Protestant Reformed Churches? Also this is ridiculous. And again, suppose it were true that the Committee of Correspondence refused to go to The Netherlands or get into contact with their deputies of correspondence, and suppose this were sinful of that Committee of Correspondence, could that attitude of the Committee be called a sin of the Protestant Reformed Churches? The reader knows better. All these alleged sins are simply flimsy excuses to cover up the real reason why the Consistory of Chatham decided to “liberate” themselves, and separate from the Protestant Reformed Churches. And that real reason is simply that they did not agree with the Protestant Reformed truth. If only the brethren had freely and openly acknowledged this fact and informed our churches that they had been in error when they were organized as a Protestant Reformed Church, no one would have blamed them. But now it is quite different. For now they separate themselves on the basis of such flimsy excuses, and moreover, make a futile attempt to create a schism in our Protestant Reformed Churches, they expose themselves as revolutionaries and schismatics.
But let us look at those three alleged sins of the Protestant Reformed Churches a little more closely.
First of all, the case of the First Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids in re the censure of the two students. In the first place, it is very evident that the Consistory of Chatham, like a certain Mr. Land that wrote a letter in the Reformatie, is guilty, in this case, of the sin against the ninth commandment, which the Catechism explains as follows: “That I bear false witness against no man, nor falsify any man’s words; that I be no backbiter, nor slanderer ; that I do not judge, nor join in condemning any man rashly, or unheard; but that I avoid all sorts of lies and deceit as the proper works of the devil, unless I would bring down upon me the heavy wrath of God.” Of this the Consistory of Chatham is evidently guilty.
For they evidently based their judgment only upon the testimony, written or otherwise, of the two students that were censured themselves. They never consulted the Consistory of the First Protestant Reformed Church. Still less did they send a protest to that Consistory against that censure. And therefore, it is certainly true that they were guilty of backbiting and slander and of judging the Consistory of the First Protestant Reformed Church rashly and unheard. Secondly, I want to reiterate that this action of the First Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids is not to be denominated a sin. These two students were not put under censure because of their Liberated views, but because they refused to promise that they would not make propaganda for their views, and because they finally threatened in the presence of the whole Consistory that if they were put under censure, they would make propaganda for their views in all our churches, and thus try to make a schism. Nor did these students walk in the ecclesiastical way and appeal to Classis, but immediately separated themselves, together with a few others, and assembled on the sabbath in a separate group. If this is not schismatic and revolutionary, I confess that I do not understand the meaning of those terms.
Secondly, there is the case of the Consistory of Randolph, Wisconsin. Again, I have the same objection as I had in the case of the two students that were censured by the First Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, namely, that the Consistory of Chatham made themselves guilty of the sin against the ninth commandment. They were guilty ‘of backbiting and of rashly condemning the Consistory of Randolph, Wisconsin, without being heard. I do not know on what basis the Consistory formed their own judgment of that case, but I do know that they never consulted the Consistory of Randolph nor made any protest against that Consistory, but based their opinion on mere hearsay, probably of the party involved. In as far as that “sin” of Randolph is concerned, also in this respect the Consistory of Chatham is in error. It is true that they refused to baptize a baby of one that was of Liberated convictions. But, in the first place, it is also true that said party would not and could not answer the second question of the Baptism Form, “Whether you acknowledge the doctrine which is contained in the Old and New Testament, and in the Articles of the Christian Faith, and which is taught here in this Christian church, to be the true and perfect doctrine of salvation?” Moreover, if I remember well—and I think I do—said party refused to partake of communion in the proper way, but insisted to have his baby baptized nevertheless, so that he demanded of the Consistory of Randolph to make separation between the two sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Such is the information which I have; and if this is not correct, the Consistory of Randolph can set me straight. But I am positive that if the Consistory of Chatham had appealed to the Consistory of Randolph, and if they had not been satisfied, had protested against that Consistory to the Classis, they would have had no case whatsoever. But instead of walking in the ecclesiastical way, they rather have recourse to slander and backbiting and judging rashly and speaking of the sins of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Finally, there is that alleged refusal of the Committee of Correspondence of the Protestant Reformed Churches to go to The Netherlands or to get into contact with the deputies for correspondence of the Liberated Churches in The Netherlands. Also this is not true. The Committee has never refused to go to The Netherlands, even though their visit has twice been postponed for reasons of which they can give account if necessary. The fact is that we are still attempting to get contact with the Reformed Churches (Art. 31) of The Netherlands, as is evident from the fact that at a recent meeting the Committee has decided to send a letter to The Netherlands, asking them whether they still desire correspondence in spite of the adoption of the Declaration, and informing them that if they should desire a colloquium, we would be willing to meet them in The Netherlands, or else to receive them here in our own country, assuring them of a brotherly and hospitable reception. But again, I say that the Consistory of Chatham is guilty of the sin against the ninth commandant. They have never consulted the Committee of Correspondence, and therefore they have judged them rashly and unheard.
But of all these sins they make no mention in the letter that was addressed to Classis, and which also was addressed to all our Consistories.
In that letter they made mention only of the specific sin of adopting the Declaration of Principles.
But again I say: suppose that the Declaration of Principles is not the truth as expressed in our Reformed Confessions, which it certainly is and which has never been contradicted? The act of “liberating” themselves from the Protestant Reformed Churches at this time was nevertheless schismatic and revolutionary. The Consistory of Chatham certainly could have sent a protest through Classis to our next Synod with grounds to prove that the Declaration of Principles is certainly not the expression of the Reformed truth as found in the Three Forms of Unity. We would not have blamed them if they had done so. Nor would we, in the meantime, pending their protest, have held them responsible for the adoption of the Declaration by our last Synod. Thus we understand Article 31 of the Church Order of Dordrecht. And if after our Synod of 1952 had reached a decision and had maintained the decision of the Synod of 1951, the Consistory of Chatham could not conscientiously have acquiesced, they always would have had the liberty to separate themselves from the Protestant Reformed Churches. Now, however, their act is that of schismatics and revolutionaries. But as I say once more, that Consistory never was in sympathy with the Protestant Reformed truth. And that is the deepest reason why they separated from our churches.
The Classis decided to send a reply to the letter of Chatham.
This letter was not addressed to any Consistory, still less to the Consistory of the Protestant Reformed Church in Chatham, which they were not, but dimply to those who call themselves the Consistory of the Protestant Reformed Church of Chatham.
In that letter they state that they have no desire to enter with them into a discussion of the Declaration of Principles, seeing that they have forfeited the right to such a discussion by not walking in the ecclesiastical way.
Secondly, they earnestly exhort and admonish the brethren in Chatham that sent the letter to repent from their evil and schismatic way, in which they cannot expect the blessing of the Lord, but only wrath and misery.
And finally, they reminded them of the fact that at the occasion of the organization of the Protestant Reformed Church in Chatham they had been earnestly and strongly admonished not to organize unless they could answer the second question of the Baptism Form concerning the doctrine which is taught here in this Christian church. And knowing all this they had organized nevertheless.
This business of Chatham was the main dish at the meeting of Classis, January 9, 1952.
After this there was not much business to transact. The main item on the agendum was the election of delegates to Synod. But the names of these will be published in the official report of Classis.
And hereby I close my meditation on the impressions I received at the meeting of Classis East.