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I just finished the “All Around Us” article on the CRC and the FOS. The last paragraph on the first page mentions a misquoting of the creeds and the classes’ abuse of the FOS going back to 1924, allud­ing, I assume, to the deposing of Herman Hoeksema, George Ophoff, and Henry Danhof. I would be in­terested in reading about that abuse in more detail. Is there an article in the archives of the SB or a book that relates those events?

Thank you,

Sharon Gordon, Wanaque, NJ

Response

The best book about the history of the adoption of common grace by the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in 1924 and the abuse of the formula of sub­scription (FOS) by the classes that deposed Hoek­sema, Ophoff, and Danhof is the firsthand account written by Herman Hoeksema, The Protestant Re­formed Churches in America. Herman Hoeksema wrote this book already in 1936. Anyone who is in­terested in that history must read this book. The book has been out of print for a long time and is difficult to find. Easier to find substitutes are Ready to Give an Answer, which deals with the doctrinal issues of 1924, A Watered Garden, which includes a treatment of the history of 1924; and For Thy Truth’s Sake, a doctrinal history of Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) that has a section on 1924. The Reformed Free Publishing Association publishes these three books.

I also take this opportunity to point out a few details relating to the charge of misquoting the creeds in 1924, the subsequent abuse of the FOS in the deposition of faithful officebearers, and why this is the historical root of developments in the CRC today.

First, the outstanding example of the synod’s mis­quoting the creeds is the use of the Canons of Dordt III/IV.4 to support the third point of common grace. The third point taught that by virtue of God’s common grace the natural man is able to do civic good. To estab­lish that doctrine from the creeds the synod quoted the first part of Article 4: “There remain, however, in man since the fall, glimmerings of natural light, whereby he retains some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the difference between good and evil, and discovers some regard for virtue, good order in society, and for maintaining an orderly external deportment.” Her­man Hoeksema said about the quotation: “a superficial reading of the first sentence of this article leaves the impression upon the minds of the imprudent and inexperienced that it actually teaches that the natural man is able to do good works, as the third point would have us believe” (Protestant Reformed Churches, 350).

To its shame, however, the synod did not quote the second part of the article that refutes the very point that it attempted to establish: “But so far is this light of nature from being sufficient to bring him to a sav­ing knowledge of God, and to true conversion, that he is incapable of using it aright even in things natural and civil. Nay further, this light, such as it is, man in various ways renders wholly polluted, and holds it in unrighteousness, by doing which he becomes inexcus­able before God.”

What Herman Hoeksema said about another creed­al citation by the synod applies to them all: “I would say that synod must have been desperately looking for anything that would have a semblance of proof in the Confessions” (Protestant Reformed Churches, 386, 387).

The synod’s use of the creeds will stand to the ever­lasting shame of that synod. By it the synod bore false witness against the truth in a theological controversy of enormous proportions, a controversy involving the heart of gospel truth, the continued faithfulness of that denomination to Reformed orthodoxy, and the ecclesiastical life of three of her ministers, their respective consistories, and their congregations.

Second, regarding the subsequent abuse of the FOS in the deposition of faithful officebearers, the synod of 1924 refused to discipline Herman Hoeksema and Henry Danhof for their opposition to common grace. The demand to discipline both Hoeksema and Danhof was before the synod and was settled by the synod. This was a point that Herman Hoeksema insisted on. Indeed, not only did the synod refuse to discipline, but it also refused even to administer a rebuke to the men for opposing common grace, and commended the doctrine to the churches for further study. The synod also gave the testimony about Hoeksema and Danhof that they were “Reformed in the fundamental truths as formulated in our confessions.” It matters little that the synod added that they tended to “one-sidedness.” The testimony stands. They were Reformed according to the confessions. That was the testimony that they were faithful in keeping the promise that they made when they signed the FOS.

After the synod, two CRC classes deposed these men on the ground that they violated the FOS. The question here is not whether those actions of the classes were legal. They were completely illegal. Classes have no right to depose officebearers. The question here is not the justice of those actions. They were grossly unjust. They treated the men with disdain, and all decency and order was lacking in those decisions. The issue is how the classes deposed them: with the FOS as the main ground. Hoeksema called this appeal to the formula in his deposition “mistaken” (Protestant Reformed Churches, 214).

The actions by the classes were an egregious abuse of the FOS. The FOS places the officebearer under the solemn obligation to promote and defend the truth of the creeds. The classes used the FOS to cast out three faithful ministers and their consistories that did exactly that. Indeed, they deposed men about whom their own synod said, not six months earlier, that they were “Reformed in the fundamental truths as formulated in our confessions.”

A denomination that will so misuse the creeds to establish false doctrine and so abuse the FOS to depose faithful officebearers has fundamentally departed from the creeds already and from the proper attitude that a Reformed man, church, and denomination must have toward the creeds as expressed in the FOS. Such a denomination can only expect that there will be a fit judgment of God on those actions. This is what we see today. Using the formula to cast out the faithful, she is full of the unfaithful. Misusing the creeds, she loses the creeds. Having abused the formula, she now boldly replaces it.

Third, Hoeksema’s actions in that gripping history were by him—and should be by us—understood in terms of the FOS. Speaking of the promise that Clas­sis Grand Rapids East attempted to extort from him not to speak against common grace before it deposed him, he said: “He was convinced that it was absolutely impossible to preach and teach in his own congregation, without touching upon and contradicting the principles expressed in the Three Points. And he also felt that it would be a breach of promise on his part if he should refrain from publicly warning the churches against the false doctrines adopted by the Synod of Kalamazoo. For, when he signed the Formula of Subscription he promised that he would maintain and defend the Re­formed doctrine as expressed in the Formulas of Unity” (Protestant Reformed Churches, 205). Ophoff and Danhof had similar convictions. They were being faith­ful to their promises.

So likewise must we. This was—and still is—the main contention of the PRC against common grace: the doctrine is not Reformed because it is not creedal. It cannot be maintained or tolerated in a Reformed church because it is contrary to the creeds. The con­troversy over common grace that the PRC have with other Reformed churches who either have not repudi­ated those decisions of the CRC, who tolerate them, or who defend them to this day is a creedal controversy. It is a controversy that can be settled on the basis of the creeds alone. On that basis it is our conviction that the formula requires the Reformed officebearer to repudi­ate common grace as not Reformed and as militating against the truth of the creeds.

—NJL