Rev. J. Howerzyl
In my last installment I was occupied with your “little difficulty” regarding my statements on written and unwritten creeds. As you see it what I wrote on pages 62 and 63 of the Standard Bearer for Nov. 1, 1949, contains contradictory statements. The statements are these: 1) The Christian Reformed synod
of 1924 officially declared in the first of the Three (famous) points that the preaching of the Gospel is grace for all including the reprobate, thus declared virtually that the promises of God are given to all, elect and reprobate alike. Our three original consistories officially decided to allow themselves to be deposed rather than subscribe that doctrine, and thereby certainly and this of necessity officially decided to adhere and maintain the logical contrary of that doctrine, which is, that the promises of God are given only to the elect. This decision was written in the official minutes of our three original consistories. 2) As yet no one—consistories or common members through their consistories—has appeared on our synod with a written statement to the effect that the promises of God are given only to the elect, and overture synod to adopt that written creedal declaration. Nor is this necessary, I believe. For virtually it already has been done, as I have just made plain. This last sentence, the one written in italics has reference to the action of our original three consistories described under 1).
I can see no conflict between 1) and 2). And I don’t see how there can be conflict. And the reason is simple. The statement under 1) sets forth a fact. Likewise the statement under 2). It sets forth a fact. How can there be conflict between two statements each of which sets forth a fact. This is impossible.
Perhaps the conflict that you discovered in my writing on the pages specified has reference to my saying almost in one breath that “this creed”—the doctrine that the promises of God are given only to the elect and are unconditional—is written and unwritten. I removed the conflict by explaining what I meant in stating that “this creed” is unwritten though written, namely that as yet no one has appeared on our synod with a written statement to the effect that the promises of God are given only to the elect, and overtured synod to adopt that written declaration. And what I state here is true, isn’t it?
Fact is, however, that it is better to refrain from speaking of “this creed” as unwritten. Such speaking can only lead to confusion. And the reason is obvious. “This creed” is written indeed,—This creed”, the doctrine that the promises of God are given only to the elect and are unconditional. This doctrine, creed is written. It is the literal teaching of our Confessions. It is written therefore. And the fundamental significance of the rejection of the Three Points by our original three consistories is exactly that implicit in their action is the declaration to the effect that “this doctrine” is the literal teaching of our Confessions and therefore written. And so these three consistories must not be accused of adding points of doctrine to our Confessions. For they did nothing of the kind. What they did, rightly considered, is to make a statement about our confessions. What they did is to declare that our Confessions teach “this doctrine”. And so of necessity they declared that the logical contrary of “this doctrine” is in conflict with our Confessions.
Now upon that declaration of our original consistories we, as a communion of Protestant Reformed churches, take our stand, must take our stand. If we refuse, we thereby deny the very reason of our existence as a communion of Protestant Reformed churches. If we refuse, we find ourselves under the moral necessity of pronouncing our break with the Christian Reformed churches an act that took its rise in sinful flesh, also on our side.
And right here, I believe, I have hit upon the real issue in the present controversy. It is this: Is it true, as our three original consistories declared, that “this doctrine” is the literal teachings of our Confessions? One may deny that it is true and take an opposite position. But that one should then realize that the position he occupies is contrary to the official position of the Protestant Reformed churches; and second, that he must prove with the Confession that his stand is right and that the official stand of our churches is wrong. He must prove this with the Confessions, I say. Why do I not add: And also with the Scriptures. I do herewith add: And with the Scriptures. But let there be no misunderstanding. Certainly, in our disputations on points of doctrine it would be thoroughly unethical for us to by-pass our Confessions and make our appeal directly to the Scriptures. And this for two reasons. 1) Our Confessions are documents the doctrine of which we believe to be the truth of God’s Word. That is what we as officebearers declare in subscribing the Formula of Subscription. Furthermore, we promise, by the aforesaid subscription, “diligently to teach and faithfully to defend the aforesaid doctrine, without either directly or indirectly contradicting the same, by our public preaching or writing.” We declare, moreover, that we not only reject all errors that militate against this doctrine and particularly those which were condemned by the above-named synod—synod of Dordt—but that we are disposed to refute and contradict those, and to exert ourselves in keeping the church free from such errors.”
So then, by-passing in our controversies our Confessions we repudiate as unscriptural the very doctrine that we declared to be the doctrine of the Scriptures and that we promised to teach and to defend.
Here you have my more complete answer to the following question contained in your letter, “Is our covenant theology (that is, the teaching to the effect that the promises of God are given only to the elect and are unconditional. That is what I understand and we all understand by our covenant theology. G.M.O.) something additional to the Three Forms of Unity? Or do I correctly reproduce your thought when I state that which always has been my own personal position, That only Scripture and the Three Forms of Unity are binding in our churches and nothing more.” What is binding in our churches is the Scriptures and the Three Forms of Unity and what our three original consistories said about these Forms some 25 years ago. They said, let me remind, that these Forms teach that the promises of God are given only to the elect and are unconditional. Also this latter is our official stand.
You continue, “And therefore we exactly have nothing else that is binding, neither do we need anything further until it becomes evident that the Three Forms are capable of being interpreted in another, unscriptural manner. If this latter (which I do not believe possible) were ever done then we would need and obtain an additional creed interpreting officially the parts in our Three Forms not plain. I ask again, ‘Do I reproduce your though correctly?” My reply to this is as follows. If I understand you aright, you bring up a matter here that I never once touched on in all my writings. It is this: What is to be done with an ambiguous, equivocable statement or statements that might be found in our Confessions? My answer is this. If all the people of the reformed world could get their heads together and agree on a clarifying statement, that would be fine. Producing such a statement, the Reformed would not be making a creed additional to our existing and official creeds, as you seem to imagine—the expression “additional creed” appears in this excerpt from your pen—all they would be doing is producing a clarifying statement.
Herewith, I believe, I have replied to all your questions.
G. M. Ophoff