Before I continue, I wish to refer back to the argument of Bellflower that Synod failed to honor the request to consider the necessity of adopting the Declaration of Principles.
I ask: was this necessary? Was it necessary for Synod to point out that necessity? Should it not have been evident to all, in the light of what happened before the Declaration was adopted, that it was indeed very necessary to adopt a document of this kind?
Did not the Mission Committee have a request from the Liberated in Canada that they might be organized into a church without subscribing to the distinctively Reformed conception of the covenant which is always maintained in the Protestant Reformed Churches?
Was there not a report by Prof. Holwerda concerning the testimony of the Revs, de Jong and Kok?
That report was circulated among the immigrants in Canada.
According to that report the Revs, de Jong and Kok had presumed to do the very work in the Netherlands which properly belonged to the Committee of Correspondence. I understand that they did not presume to do so in any official capacity. But the effect was the same. I will grant that they met with the Committee of Correspondence of the Reformed Churches (Art. 31) in the Netherlands on their invitation. Fact is, nevertheless, that the brethren of the Reformed Churches (Art. 31) in the Netherlands received their testimony as a true picture of the stand of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America.
What was their testimony?
We do not have their own report, which indeed we should have had, but only the report of Prof. Holwerda.
But we may nevertheless gather what was the contents of their testimony not only from the letter which Prof. Holwerda wrote to the immigrants in Canada, but also from the effect which their testimony produced among the Liberated brethren in the Netherlands whom they met. It is evident that they did the work of the Committee of Correspondence in such a way that even the most pronounced opponents of the Protestant Reformed truth, such as van Dijk, van Raalte, Holwerda and others, were satisfied, were very willing to have full correspondence with us, even so that they considered further discussion quite unnecessary. The effect of their testimony was such that the Rev. de Jong, upon his return to this country, had a letter in his pocket asking for full correspondence.
Judging by this effect, which their testimony had upon the brethren of the Liberated Church in the Netherlands, we may, even, apart from the report by Prof. Holwerda, certainly conclude: 1. That they denied the distinctively Protestant Reformed truth, and left the impression that there was since 1924 no distinctive explanation of the Three Forms of Unity in opposition to the Three Points and in opposition to the Liberated and Heynsian conception of the promise of the covenant binding in our churches. 2. They gave the impression that our churches stood wide open for the Liberated and their doctrine. This is evident from the very fact that the same brethren, such as van Dijk, van Raalte, and Holwerda, who after they heard the testimony of the Revs, de Jong and Kok were entirely ready, without further discussion, to enter into correspondence with us, now, after the Declaration of Principles was adopted, in which the distinctively Protestant Reformed truth of the promise of the covenant is set forth, will have nothing to do with us anymore.
Moreover, this is very clearly evident from the letter which Prof. Holwerda sent to the immigrants in Canada.
Let it not be said that this letter is not true. For, in the first place, it is the only report we have of the discussions between the brethren in the Netherlands and the Revs, de Jong and Kok. They never offered a report of their discussions. In the second place, the report by Prof. Holwerda was never contradicted. Although we have repeatedly asked the two brethren to give Prof. Holwerda the lie and to offer their own report, they never did. In the third place, as I have already stated, the report by Prof. Holwerda is corroborated by the effects. The opponents were willing to have correspondence with us on the basis of the testimony of the Revs, de Jong and Kok, but changed around again when they discovered that our churches were after all Protestant Reformed, and not Liberated, and adopted the Declaration of Principles.
Now what did Prof. Holwerda write to the immigrants in Canada? I quote the following:
“His (the Rev. Hoeksema’s) conception regarding election etc. is not church doctrine. No one is bound by it.” What does this mean? What impression must this have left upon Liberated ears? The only impression it can have left is that their view in relation to the covenant, that is, the Heynsian view of election, has just as much right in the Protestant Reformed Churches as the view of Rev. Hoeksema, which is that the covenant is established only with the elect, although the reprobate are under the dispensation of the covenant. It also implies that the view of the Liberated concerning the promise as being for all that are under the dispensation of the covenant has a place in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
“Most (of the Protestant Reformed people) do not think as the Rev. Hoeksema and the Rev. Ophoff.” This is nothing less than a schismatic statement. It is the same as the other statement which made, according to Prof. Holwerda, that an entirely different sound was heard in the Prot. Ref. Churches.
“Sympathy for the Liberated was great, also in the matter of their doctrine of the covenant.” And again: “For the conception of the Liberated there is ample room.”
Let this be sufficient. From all this it is very evident that in the Netherlands the Revs, de Jong and Kok denied the clear-cut Protestant Reformed conception of the covenant and of the promise of God, and that they gave the impression that the door of the Prot. Ref. Churches was wide open for the Liberated and their view. It is evident that they sold out our churches to the Liberated, and denied that there was anything distinctively binding in our churches as far as Prot. Ref. truth is concerned.
Now I ask: in the light of all above, must Bellflower and Classis West still ask the question why it was necessary that we composed and officially adopted the Declaration of Principles, in which is set forth the distinctive conception of the promise of God as only for the elect, and as unconditional, as this conception is clearly based on the Three Forms of Unity, the confessions that are believed and maintained in the Protestant Reformed Churches?
Excuse me for saying it, but the opposition against the Declaration of Principles by Classis West leaves upon me the impression that they are no longer interested in distinctive Protestant Reformed truth, but that they rather support the “entirely different sound” that is recently heard in our churches.
But I insist that it was very necessary indeed that we as Protestant Reformed Churches officially declare to the whole church what is our conception of true Reformed doctrine.
The Declaration of Principles should have been adopted long ago.
The next ground which Classis West adduces for its contention that the Synod of 1951 “in adoption of the Declaration of Principles, violated Article 30 of our Church Order which states that ‘ecclesiastical matters shall be transacted in an ecclesiastical manner, ” is found in the protest of Pella, the closing paragraph, pp. 19, 20 of the Classical Agenda. There we read: “Now we believe that since synod submitted the Declaration to the churches for their approval and thus asked for objections, synod owes it to our consistory to honor our objections with an answer before it proceed to ask us to accept the Declaration. We believe that Scripture requires such procedure among brethren and the churches, and Art. 30 D.K.O. speaks of an ‘ecclesiastical manner,’ of doing to the Lord’s work.”
The objections to which this paragraph refers concern especially three matters, according to the protest of Pella.
The first is stated in the protest itself as follows: “In Acta 1951, page 131, we objected to the fact that Synod made a Declaration of Dogma, with rejection of errors, when we, and the Churches in general were not conscious of any errors.” This objection I would answer as follows: 1. It is hardly true that Synod made a Declaration of Dogma, with rejection of errors. What it did do is make a Declaration of Principles which were clearly enunciated in our Confessions, in the Three Forms of Unity. It did not make a new dogma. And until now no one has ever even attempted to prove that the Declaration of Principles is not based foursquarely upon our Reformed Confessions. 2. The Declaration of Principles was not motivated by the supposition that there were errors within our churches, but by the danger, which was very real, that errors would creep into our churches from without, namely, through the organization of churches. 3. The Synod did not adopt the Declaration of Principles for our churches, but for the use of the Mission Committee, with a view to the organization of churches. In doing this the Synod of 1951 violated no article of the Church Order whatsoever. For according to Art. 30, to which Classis West appeals partly, those matters which belong to the churches in common may be decided directly by the synod. And certainly, according to Article 51 of the same Church Order, mission matters belong to the churches in common and are regulated by the general synod. All these matters were thoroughly discussed at the Synod of 1951, and therefore Pella brings nothing new.
The second objection to which Pella refers is briefly expressed in the following quotation from the protest of Pella: “While we expressed that we were not pleading for the ushering in of the term ‘conditions’ and likewise expressed that we were in agreement with the essence of the Declaration, we nevertheless felt that if Synod so simply declared all conditionality to be heresy, we were not being serious about what the Fathers taught, and we stood to alienate ourselves to them.” To this I answer as follows: 1. It is not true that Synod condemned all conditionality, although it would be a good thing if in the proper way our churches would come to a definite conclusion about this matter. The Synod, however, dealt with the question of a conditional promise for all, or the unconditional promise for the elect only. And on the basis of the Confessions it decided for the latter. 2. The Synod was not concerned about what our Fathers taught, but only with the Confessions. If we want to make a study of what the Reformed fathers taught, much more must be said than the simple statement that they taught conditions. But it must be admitted that the Confessions certainly never speak of conditions, except to condemn them. And this is what the Declaration of Principles maintained in regard to the promise of God. But also this matter was thoroughly and elaborately discussed at Synod, and there is nothing new in the protest of Pella.
The third objection to which Pella refers in the above statement is found in the following quotation: “And we also notified Synod that we objected to a definition of the promise which practically set aside the definition of Canons 2, 5, which the Reformed Churches have always acknowledged and used.” To this I can only answer that this accusation is not, true. All the brethren will remember, and Pella can find it in my elaborate report of Synod 1951, that this matter was discussed again and again; that we never set aside the so-called definition of the promise found in Canons 2, 5, but maintain it; and only contended that we would make a mistake if we would appeal only to Canons 2, 5 for a complete definition of the promise. But as far as the “ecclesiastical manner” is concerned, this certainly was not violated whatever by the Synod of 1951. If a thorough and elaborate discussion for days on end, concluded by legal decisions by a majority vote, is not ecclesiastical manner, then I do not know what it is.
The next reference to which Classis West points as a ground for its contention is to the protest of Oskaloosa (Rev. Howerzyl), point II, page 22 of the Classical Agenda. I will quote the entire paragraph from the protest of Oskaloosa, which was presented by the Rev. Howerzyl:
II. I wish also to protest against the action of the Synod of 1951:
a. In adopting the Declaration of Principles in spite of the well-grounded protests and objections to the contrary.
b. And its hierarchical action in departing from the true ecclesiastical character of an advice-giving body. In proof of the above I offer the following:
1. That Classis West came to Synod with a Protest. As far as its Protesting was concerned Synod simply ignored Classis West. I know Synod made a motion to adopt the protest of Classis West which motion was defeated by a very close vote.
But the point is this, that as an ecclesiastical broader gathering, conscious of its calling according to Articles 30 and 36, and especially in the strained situation, Synod was obligated to (answer the arguments of Classis West and give light on the matter. This she failed to do, but hierarchically went on to other phases of the Declaration after defeating the motion to adopt the protest of Classis West.
2. This hierarchical action is all the more glaring in view of:
a. The advice of the Committee of Pre-advice I-B which exactly advised Synod to enter into the arguments of Classis West and declare positively and with grounds that the action of Synod 1950 was leg?*l and correct. This advice Synod refused to adopt in a substitute motion, Article 211. Now I do not believe that the arguments of Committee I-B were convincing but it pointed Synod to the proper way, which she refused to follow.
b. This hierarchical attitude becomes even more evident when one of the delegates of Classis West pleaded with the Synod to express its reasons for its actions and asked to have them justified, Art. 254. This request was simply ruled out of order by the president, but may I point out that this very fundamental question was again called to Synod’s attention and Synod simply went on in its hierarchical way.
c. This is evident once again when the question was raised as to the necessity of the Declaration, Art. 255. The motion lost by a tie vote, but the point is that here the Synod refused to express or to discuss the necessity of the Declaration, but even their reminder was not enough for Synod to do so, for neither then not later did Synod ever express the reason for its action, nor the necessity for it as a. search of the Acta of 1951 very evidently reveals.”
What shall we say about all this?
The Rev. Howerzyl and his Consistory evidently have the accusation “hierarchical” on the tip of their tongue. They speak of “the Synod’s hierarchical action in departing from its true ecclesiastical character of an advice-giving body.” They claim that Synod failed to answer the arguments of Classis West, “but hierarchically went on to other phases of the Declaration.” They say that “this hierarchical action is all the more glaring” in view of other matters which their protest mentions. And they say: “and Synod simply went on its hierarchical way.”
I begin to doubt whether the Rev. Howerzyl and his consistory understand what the terms hierarchy and hierarchical mean. I understand by hierarchy a form of government in which the broader gatherings assume the power of higher courts and lord it over the consistories. Of this, certainly, Synod in 1950 and Synod of 1951 were not guilty, and could not be guilty, simply because the matter of the Declaration of Principles concerned the churches in common. And I find it very strange that the Rev. Howerzyl, who in 1950 was a delegate to the Synod in Hull, and certainly voted in favor of adopting the Declaration of Principles, now speaks so repeatedly and emphatically of hierarchical tendencies and hierarchical actions. Nevertheless, also about this part of the protest of Oskaloosa, which was adopted by Classis West for its own, I wish to make a few remarks.
1. First of all, a remark about the statement, “Its hierarchical action in departing from its true ecclesiastical character of an advice-giving body.” Principally this objection is absurd. The Declaration of Principles does not concern the Synod as an advice-giving body whatsoever. And therefore, there was not and could not be any hierarchical action involved. The Declaration of Principles was not in the nature of an advice, given by the Synod to any particular consistory, but concerned a matter that belonged to the churches in common, which, therefore, could not possibly come in the way of consistory, classis, synod, nor could assume the nature of an advice, but was a definite decision which the Synod had the right to make, on the basis of Articles 30 and 51 of the Church Order. This has been stated so often that its repetition becomes positively tiresome.
2. As to the contention that the Synod of 1951 simply ignored Classis West and its protests, everyone knows that attended the sessions of Synod-1951 in June and September, that this is simply not true. Synod did not ignore anything at all that Classis West presented, but elaborately discussed their protests, both as to the legality of the Declaration and as to its contents. Surely, Synod was conscious of its calling according to Art. 30, and therefore was quite conscious of the fact that the Declaration of Principles was a matter pertaining to the Mission Committee, and therefore belonging to matters that concern the churches in common. What Art. 36 has to do with the matter, I fail to understand. This, in fact, is an article which we are discussing in connection with the revision of the Church Order in the Netherlands, because if any article of the Church Order, this one is liable to misinterpretation in a hierarchical sense. It speaks of “the classis” having “the same jurisdiction over the consistory as the particular synod has over the classis, and the general synod over the particular.” Surely, Synod defeated the motion to adopt the protest of Classis West. But it did not do so hierarchically, but in the way of a long discussion, day after day, in which the Synod defended its right with an appeal to Articles 30 and 51 to adopt the Declaration of Principles.
3. The same is true of the argument under “2”, an argument which I already answered in connection with the protest of Bellflower. Certainly, after Synod had rejected the advice of the Committee of Pre-Advice I-A, it was no longer necessary to discuss the contents of I-B. By rejecting the contention of Classis West that the Declaration of Principles was illegally adopted, it automatically adopted, or rather reaffirmed, the legality of the Declaration. Synod dealt with protests, but certainly did not have to establish positively its legal right to adopt the Declaration of Principles and offer grounds for this.
4. What Oskaloosa states under 2-b is not quite correct. It states that the request of Classis West that Synod “express its reasons for its actions and asked to have them justified….was simply ruled out of order by the president.” The reference by Oskaloosa is to Article 254 of the Acts of Synod 1951, which reads as follows: “Rev. Doezema requests Synod to state definitely the reasons why it expresses the previous motion (Art. 247) and asks that this request be recorded and that Synod’s answer be recorded. The chair rules this request out of order. Grounds: The procedure to express that the Declaration is in harmony with the Confession properly belongs to the business of Synod. Synod of 1950 placed this matter before the churches, convened in Synod of 1951.” Now, in the first place, it is not correct of Oskaloosa to state in general that Classis West “pleaded with the Synod to express its reasons for its actions and asked to have them justified.” For the action of Synod referred to in Art. 254 of the Acta applies only to the motion in Art. 247 of the Acts, “that the Synod declare that point II of the Declaration as amended by Classis East is the expression of the Three Forms of Unity, with regard to certain fundamental principles, as these Confessions have always been maintained and interpreted by the Protestant Reformed Churches.” And secondly, the contention of Oskaloosa that the president simply ruled this out of order is also not true. For according to Art. 254 of the Acts, the president produced grounds for his ruling. And what all this has to do with the accusation of Oskaloosa that Synod acted hierarchically is a mystery to me.
5. As to the necessity of adopting the Declaration, I do not have to repeat what I already wrote in connection with the protests of Bellflower and Pella.