Our readers will recall that ever since the Synod of Sneek, 1969-’70, the matter of the views of Dr. Harry Kuitert has been pending in the Gereformeerde Kerken of the Netherlands. There has been discussion between him and a committee, with no final decision until now. Now, apparently, the discussion has been ended, and a decision has been reached. A lengthy report appeared in the RES News Exchange of December 5, 1972. Before offering our explanation and comments, we will simply reproduce this report from the RES News Exchange in full. It is as follows:
The General Synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands decided November 23 that the views of Professor H. M. Kuitert do not deviate from the confessions to such a degree that special measures have to be taken. The Synod and the professor together expressed their agreement in a ‘further testimony’ which will be sent to all the congregations. When the final decision was taken, only one negative vote was cast. As one member of Synod expressed it, the boat of Professor Kuitert has safely been piloted through the storm of unrest in the Reformed Churches.
The agreement was reached on the basis of a decision taken earlier by the Synod in January 1972. In that session the Synod requested its commission to consider the relationship between Kuitert’s theological ideas and the confession of the church and to advise whether Kuitert’s ideas regarding a ‘consistent horizontalization of faith’ and the ‘latent kingdom’ as a fruit of the ‘anonymous word of promise’ do not need correcting and deepening since these ideas do not sufficiently express the incomparable ‘overvalue’ of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord.
From this statement of the Synod two discussion terms were distilled: (1) the humanity of man as an expression of the full saving acts of God and (2) the realization of the Kingdom of God within earthly reality.
The commission and the teaching staff of the Free University submitted to the Synod a consensus statement which contained the following five points:
1) The meaning of history is determined by God’s saving acts for the redemption and renewal of this world. In this man is involved in his full human responsibility. Therefore the church calls all men to faith and repentance.
2) The completion of the history of salvation lies in the period prior to our present existence. In this connection the following of our God and Saviour up to the consummation of the messianic Kingdom bears the mark of a pilgrimage.
3) The revelation of God’s salvation does not occur outside our earthly knowledge and world of experience; and yet not in such a way that God and his salvation are limited thereby.
4) It is true that in our life in our world we have to suffer deeply under evil. This meaninglessness in our existence puts our faith to the stress of temptation. But God tells us that He one day will triumph powerfully over all the forces of darkness. He will cause the fullness of salvation to dawn and so we are able nevertheless—without acquiescing in evil, or succumbing to fatalism—to persevere in our struggle to attain salvation.
5) Over against the dark power of evil, we encounter also in the world outside the church the phenomenon of ‘humanity’ that often shames us all. We believe that this fragmentary human goodness is in some way related to the saving acts of God. This however does not deny that the Gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, that is entrusted to the church, is the only way in which the whole world must be saved.
The commission added what they called a ‘common conviction of faith’: that various related questions should be thought through in a scientific way as a “service which theology should show to the church and to human society.”
An ad hoc committee of the Synod reported after studying the consensus statement that it appeared that Professor Kuitert, in regard to the questions-that had arisen from his publications, finds himself completely in accord with the confessions of the church. There was no complete unanimity in the ad hoc committee, however, the Rev. P. Van Til submitted a separate report in which he granted the thrust of the ad hoc committee report but asked, “What answer shall we now give to those who had objections and asked concrete questions on specific passages in the books and articles of Professor Kuitert?” Some delegates called the consensus statement a ‘curtain of smoke.’
At the close of the debate Synod issued the following statement:
The synod has ascertained that the continuing discussion has brought clarification regarding the theological thought processes of Dr. H. M. Kuitert in regard to the question about Genesis 2 and Genesis 3 in the following points: a) his firm rejection of the thought that sin is a necessary phase in the development of man, b) the fact that he does not want his views on Genesis 2and Genesis 3 to be characterized as being only an illumination of the present existence of every man, c) his acceptance of the reality that from the beginning man has turned away from God and therefore is fully responsible for the guilt of his sin, d) the fact that he—although he considers the attempt to localize in time or in one or other way to describe precisely, the fall of man from God’s intention is not a matter of church confession but of a theological conception—views this willful disobedience of man as a core element of the confession that may not be relinquished.
The Synod judges that in view of the debate in the meeting its discussion on this matter should be terminated at this time.
The Synod decides:
2) in agreement herewith to issue the following ‘further testimony’ to the churches: as the church of Christ, listening reverently to what the Holy Scriptures reveals in the first chapter of Genesis we declare:
a) that God created the world good;
b) that man, who was also created upright, has turned away from his God in willful disobedience;
c) that this fall and disobedience of our first parents, as this event is revealed in Genesis, occupies a fundamental place in Scripture and the confessions and is of essential importance for the proclamation of the Gospel;
d) that man can be liberated from this guilt only through the redeeming saving acts of God in Jesus Christ, the second Adam, His Son and our Lord,
3) to communicate this statement to all churches with the expectation that all office bearers will take serious account hereof in the fulfillment of their official work.
The Synod requested of the theological faculty of the Free University that in order to avoid needless misunderstandings in making known the results of their theological inquiry, they keep in mind the necessary concern for the churches. The Synod also asked the commission that confers with the theological faculty to continue its discussion in order to promote the fruitfulness of the teaching and activity both in word and writing for the confession of the church in the present time. These talks will occur within the framework of the normal discussions between the commission and the faculty