At the last session of Classis West there were no less than five protests against the Declaration of Prin­ciples : from Sioux Center, from Bellflower, from Pella, from Oskaloosa, and from Rev. W. Hofman.

The committee that was appointed to advise Clas­sis in re all these protests reported as follows:

Regarding this material we advise:

  1. That Classis West express to Synod that we cannot be sat­isfied with Synod’s treatment of the Protest of Classis West since Synod did not answer said protest by positively indicat­ing the legality of the Declaration with well-motivated grounds. Classis therefore maintains its original position that it consid­ers the Declaration to be illegal. (This last statement was an amendment to the committee’s advice, made on the floor of the Classis. H.H.)
  2. That Classis West express that the Synod of 1951, in its 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.” This violation is clearly proven by the various grounds given in the documents of: Bellflower, grounds 1 and 2, page 13; Pella, the closing paragraph, page 19 and 20; Oskaloosa, point 2, page 22; and Rev. W. Hofman, grounds under B, page 28. (These grounds were later quoted and adopted as Classis’ own grounds for this second proposition. H.H.)
  3. That Classis West express that the contention of both Rev. J. Van Weelden and the Consistory of Pella, that the definition of the promise as given in the Declaration is not ad­equate to express all that our Confessions teach regarding the Promise of the Gospel is correct and therefore this definition must be rejected as a complete definition.

Elder Leep feels that the promise is adequately defined es­pecially in the light of the (Declaration part 3, B.

4.  A. That Classis express under 2 of Rev. Van Weelden’s protest, page 7ff, that he has not proven that the declaration expresses that “The promise of the gospel is not conditional” and “faith is not a condition.”

B. That Pella has failed to prove that “Synod simply declared all conditionality to be heresy.” Page 18 and 19, No. 2.

C. That Classis West express:

a. That, while we are not pleading for the ushering in of the term condition, Synod was obliged to give account of its use of the terminology in view of the fact,

1. that the terms, condition, conditional, and conditioned, have been used at least from Calvin on down in Reformed circles, by theologians, by the framers of the Confessions, by ministers in our history in which we were engaged in a fierce struggle to defend free, sovereign, and particular grace against denials of it in the “well-meant offer.”

2. The promise is put in conditional form in the Confessions.

3. An amendment was made, and proven upon request, to prove that there are conditions in the Bible. Synod was ob­liged to disprove in discussion and writing before it failed to adopt this amendment.

b. That Synod did not substantiate the document from Scrip­ture. It is inadmissible for the Church to declare a doctrine without reference to Scripture.

1. For it separates the Confessions from their derived and inseparable context, Scripture.

2. It omits what the Church has done in its formulation and use of the Confessions.

Now I understand that Classis West adopted the first part of this advice, the part regarding the legal­ity, or illegality, of the Declaration, but that they re­fused to adopt the second part, regarding the contents of the Declaration. Into the contents they did not en­ter. I understand that their argument was that the Declaration was not legal anyway, and it certainly was not proper for the Synod, no more than for the Clas­sis, to discuss an illegal document. Hence, all that will be brought to Synod as far as Classis West is concerned, is the contention that the Declaration is illegal.

Frankly, the Standard Bearer cannot understand the church polity of Classis West.

It seems to emphasize very strongly that “eccles­iastical matters shall be transacted in an ecclesiastical manner.” This is based on Article 30 of the Church Order: “In these assemblies ecclesiastical matters on­ly shall be transacted, and that in an ecclesiastical manner. In major assemblies only such matters shall be dealt with as could not be finished in minor assem­blies, or such as pertain to the churches of the major assembly in common.” And Classis West seems to be of the conviction that the Synods of 1950 and 1951, in adopting the Declaration of Principles, violated this fundamental principle of the Church Order.

To this we will refer presently.

But now let me point out that the ecclesiastical manner of Classis West manifests a strange mixture of indepententism, on the one hand, and hierarchy, on the other.

Let me explain.

The decision of Classis West is indepentistic in relation to Synod. Although the Synods of 1950 and 1951 took the stand that the Declaration of Princi­ples was legally adopted, and although it maintained this stand even after all the protests of Classis West had been considered, nevertheless Classis West now not only again protests against the adoption of the Declaration as being an illegal act,—which, of course, is its legal right, provided it can show new grounds, that have not been considered by Synod,—but Classis West positively declares that the adoption of the Dec­laration of Principles by Synod was illegal, and acts upon that declaration. For it refuses to recognize the protests of the consistories that asked to enter into the contents of the Declaration, and it does that on the basis of the supposed fact that the Declaration is not legal. Evidently the position of Classis West is that the Declaration is not legal, and that no matter what Synod may decide, it will continue to take that stand.

That is pure independentism!

On the other hand, however, the church polity which Classis West follows is hierarchical. The Clas­sis lords it over the consistories.

Mark you, there were legal protests by the con­sistories, not only against the illegality of the Dec­laration, but also against the contents. The consis­tories, therefore, intended to have the contents of the Declaration discussed at the Synod. But the Classis hierarchically decided to mutilate and to split, these protests, so that only the part that treats of the il­legality of the Declaration shall come before Synod. This is purely hierarchical. No Classis has the right, and can possibly have the right, thus to mutilate and to divide protests that are presented by the consistor­ies. Classis, of course, can act unfavorably on those protests, or on part of them. And even then the con­sistories can still appeal to Synod, and demand that their entire protests be sent through to Synod. But the Classis certainly cannot have the right arbitrarily to decide that only part of the protests by the consis­tories shall be presented to Synod.

In my opinion, the Synod simply ought to ignore this part of the decision of Classis West, and also en­ter into that part of the protests by the consistories that treat of the contents of the Declaration.¹

But how about the question of the legality or illegality of the actions of Synod of 1950 and 1951 in adopting the Declaration of Principles?

At the Synod of 1950 there was no question about the legality. The Declaration was almost unanimously adopted, that is, I believe, with one dissenting vote. And no one certainly raised an objection against the right of Synod to adopt such a Declaration for the use of our Mission Committee and upon its request. Even the delegates of Classis West at that time raised no objection against the legality of adopting the Declar­ation of Principles.

The objections were raised in Classis West and overtured to Synod in 1951.

Now, in the Acts of Synod, 1951, Article 200, p. 182, we read:

The motion of Article 128 “That the action of the 1950 Synod in reference to the Declaration of Principles is contrary to our Protestant Reformed way and regulations and to Reformed principles of ecclesiastical actions,” together with the ground 1, 2, and 3 is put to the vote. The motion is defeated 9 to 7.

In Art. 128 of the same Acts of Synod, to which Art. 200 refers, we read:

Reporter reads advice of Committee, divided into Committee A and Committee B.

Committee A

I. We advise Synod to heed the protest of Classis West found in the Agendum, p. 47, point 1 of the overture, and to declare:

That the action of the 1950 Synod in reference to the Dec­laration of Principles is contrary to our Protestant Reformed way and regulations and to Reformed principles of ecclesias­tical actions for the following reasons:

1. Because this document concerns confessional material, is classified in the same category as interpretations, regulations, declarations, explanations, elucidations, and any decisions of Synod which bind with respect to doctrinal material. It is material which, with respect to its official formulation as basis, is beyond the present basis, which we have. It goes beyond quotation. Even mere quotations may modify by virtue of their being extracted.

Such material does not belong under the scope of the mis­sion committee. The mission committee according to clear statements in its constitution and according to the very nature of the case cannot deal with nor suggest to have Synod deal with any other than that which pertains to its activity such as field of labor, and other regulations for its work.

2. Its message is only the same message as based upon the Word of God and the Three Forms. That message is the same as the Reformed message of our historic past as it has its root in the Reformed Creeds of the reformed fathers, and in Cal­vin, Augustine—to Christ and the prophets. The mission committee does not have authority over the content of the message or the preaching in any way. According to our Reformed Prin­ciple, the Church preaches the word; the living organic body of Christ through its instituted offices. Therefore we place that in a servant of Christ, a missionary—sent out by the cal­ling church. To have any other principle is to fall into the error of boardism, so prevalent in our modern American Church­es. We must emphasize the missionary as our representative sent by Christ with His Word to those outside of us, with that very particular emphasis that the world is held accountable to the lively preaching of the Gospel. Therefore he is sent by a local church.

If this message is in any way brought directly to the Mis­sion Committee-Synod, that is so that Synod initiate its consideration. This is a serious error. Synod can only treat that sort of material which belongs to all our churches in common by way of instruction from our Churches. Other material that belongs to our churches in common which synod may treat upon its own initiative is that which has been delegated to it and regulated by Synodical standing committees and constitutions.

3. We wish to call attention to our history as Prot. Ref. Churches, how we have always emphasized these principles more than anyone else. We have emphasized, moreover, more than any present day Reformed group that we always must have a clearly defined, concrete case before we take action. This action regarding the Declaration lacks the essential elements of this principle. We really only have a general call for help on the question what is binding, without a concrete error presented. To do this what we have done admits a. the inadequacy of the status quo basis, and b. will fail of effec­tiveness.

We call attention to our method pursued in our Holland case, the giving of infants for adoption. From a concrete case, there was presented a protest. And Synod very wisely advised to put into the hands of a study committee.

Let us also see how Scripture in its historical instances and utterances teaches us to wait for the occasion God causes to arise, and gives us wisdom and insight at that particular time. Consider how Saul was commanded to wait seven days according to the command of Samuel. Let us wait according to our tried and tested ways to be most effective in our peculiar times.

This motion, together with its grounds, the Synod rejected. And by the rejection of this protest the legality of the Declaration still stood.

Now, does Classis West in its renewed protest against the legality of the Declaration produce any new grounds which Synod will have to consider?

The decision of Classis West in this matter refers as grounds, first of all, to the overture of Bellflower, grounds 1 and 2, on page 13. There we read the following:²

Synod of 1951 failed to answer the protests of Classis West, and Bellflower, and rejected the advice of the committee of pre-advice A, without motivation.

This is contrary to Church Order, article 30, which states that ecclesiastical matters shall be transacted in an ecclesias­tical manner. J. Jansen in his commentary distinguishes this manner from political, military, judicial and other manners which are characterized by command and force. He correctly points out that the ecclesiastical approach is characterized by conviction, persuasion, instruction and guidance. So he also points out that all decisions should be motivated and founded upon God’s Word.

This failure of Synod which invalidates the action taken was further maintained in a failure to honor a request to consider the necessity of adopting the document before proceeding to adopt it.

  1. The decision “to adopt…to be used only by the Mission Committee and the Missionaries….” (Acts, Art. 248) is a decision not worthy of a church. To limit an expression of doctrine to mission work and not to use it for office bearers in churches already organized is very strange and annuls itself.

Now certainly, in “1” there is no new ground fur­nished by Bellflower against the legality of the Dec­laration. What Bellflower here protests against is not the legality of the Declaration, but rather against the fact that the Synod furnished no grounds for its re­jection of the advice of the Committee of Pre-advice A, Point I, with its grounds 1, 2, and 3. But I reply:

  1. That it certainly was not necessary for Synod to furnish such grounds. Classis West and the Con­sistory of Bellflower protested against the legality of the Declaration of Principles. Synod considered their grounds for this protest, argued about them at length in its June session, 1951, thoroughly went into the matter, allowed all the delegates of Synod to argue at length about it, and finally found the protest and its grounds wanting. By the rejection of this advice and of this protest and its grounds, it stands to reason that at the same time the Declaration was considered le­gal and legally adopted. Classis West and the Consis­tory of Bellflower certainly exerted all their influence to show that the Synod of 1950 committed an illegal act, contrary to church polity, when it adopted the Declaration of Principles. It therefore accused Synod of a violation of the Church Order. Synod was not found guilty of the matter of this accusation, and therefore was found innocent. Now certainly, Synod does not have to produce special grounds to prove its innocence. After the protest of Classis West and Bellflower was rejected, the Synod at the same time and by that very rejection decided that its adoption of the Declaration of Principles in 1950 was entirely according to Church Order, and therefore legal.
  2. Does that mean, however, that the rejection of the protest of Classis West and Bellflower was decided upon without any grounds or motivation, although they were not expressed verbally and literally? Of course not. I well remember how the Synod argued in defense of the legality of adopting the Declaration of Principles. It pointed out that the Declaration was meant for the Mission Committee as a basis for the organization of churches; that the Mission Com­mittee was a synodical committee; and that as such it could only appeal, as well as report, to Synod di­rectly; that therefore the matter of the Declaration could not originate in the consistories and be overtured from consistory to classis to synod. It pointed out that, moreover, the synodical Mission Committee had a very concrete case in regard to the organiza­tion of churches from the Liberated; that Article 30 does not characterize as ecclesiastical matters only those matters that come to the major assemblies from the minor assemblies because they could not be dealt with in the latter, but also matters that pertain to the churches of the major assembly in common, in this case, therefore, of the Synod. It appealed to Art. 51 of the Church Order, which reads: “The missionary work of the churches is regulated by the general syn­od in a mission order.” It is certainly not true, there­fore, that the rejection of the protest of Classis West and Bellflower was entirely unmotivated, even though the Synod was not obliged to furnish grounds for the legality of its own actions.
  3. Also the argument of Bellflower, that Synod failed to honor a request to consider the necessity of adopting the document before proceeding to adopt it, is certainly not a ground of protest against the legal­ity of the Declaration of Principles. Or may Synod only adopt what is strictly necessary? Besides, the very fact that the Mission Committee applied to Synod for some such document as the Declaration of Princi­ples, and that Synod honored its request, is sufficient proof that there was need of such a Declaration.

4. I fail to understand the force of ground 2 in this protest of Bellflower. If Bellflower means to argue in favor of the adoption of the Declaration of Principles in general, without limiting its force and value to the Mission Committee, I have no objection. We should have had some sort of Declaration when we organized as Protestant Ref. Churches, a positive declaration over against the Three Points adopted by the Synod of 1924, Kalamazoo. But Bellflower is begging the question when it simply states, without any proof or motivation, that it is wrong for a church, that it is not worthy of a church, to declare to the outside and as a basis for organization of churches, what we as Pro­testant Reformed Churches believe to be the expres­sion of the truth of our Reformed Confessions. Nor is there in this ground a protest against the legality of the adoption of the Declaration by Synod.

H.H.


¹ I was in doubt about this part of the report. Hence, I inquired about it. It now appears that the classis merely decided (a) that as far as they are concerned they synod cannot go into the contents of the “Declaration” because it is illegal; (b) that they, nevertheless, send the entire protests through to synod for this body to determin whether or not they will discuss the contents.

² It must be remembered that the grounds belong only to 2 of the report quoted in the first part of the editorial, and con­cern, strictly speaking, only the alleged violation of the ec­clesiastical manner.”