Developments in Gereformeerde Kerken

We have already reported that the Synod of theGereformeerde Kerken in the Netherlands has refused to take action against two representatives of the new theology at the Free University of Amsterdam. Neither against the notorious Dr. Kuitert nor against Drs. Baarda would the Synod take action. Instead, while allowing these men to continue in good standing, and thus to continue to do their evil work in the churches, the Synod has chosen the course of referring these matters for discussion. 

We may also report that the Synod rejected objections against Prof. Dr. G.T. Hartvelt, of Kampen. More than one complaint was registered against him in connection with his view of the alleged human factors in Holy Scripture. But the Synod judged, according to a report in Friesch Dagblad, Jan. 14, 1972, that Dr. Hartvelt had not gone beyond the confessions. 

There is still another case before the Synod. This is probably the most crucial case and the most blatant case of heresy before the Synod—if, at least, one may speak of bad, worse, and worst cases in this connection. I refer to the case of Dr. H. Wiersinga, who in a doctoral dissertation has denied the vicarious atonement of Christ. 

At this writing we have received no report of Synod’s action in the case, although by this time the case must have been treated by Synod and a decision reached. But we wish to give the reader some idea of the seriousness of this case. Much has been written about it in various Dutch papers, and many a sound criticism has been made. The question is, however, whether any ecclesiastical action will be taken against Dr. Wiersinga. That ecclesiastical action should be taken is, it seems to me, hardly debatable. For one thing, Dr. Wiersinga published his dissertation, in which he flagrantly contradicts the confessions, without having filed a gravamen. This in itself is sufficient ground for de facto suspension from office, under the Formula of Subscription. But if- this were not enough, the material of Dr. Wiersinga’s doctoral thesis offers plainly sufficient grounds for the charge of heresy. To give the reader some idea of the nature and the blatant character of this heresy we will refer to a few items that are mentioned in a protest addressed to the consistory of Amsterdam, the Classis of Amsterdam, and the General Synod of theGereformeerde Kerken by representatives of three conservative organizations in the Netherlands. This protest was published in the paper Waarheid en Eenheid. The document is too long to quote in its entirety; but it is a well-written protest, with ample proof from Scripture and the Confessions of the fact that Dr. Wiersinga is guilty of a plain, forthright, conscious denial of the important and central truth of satisfaction and of the heart of the biblical doctrine of atonement. So clear is this protest that it is amazing that the case ever had to reach the Synod and was not immediately disposed of at the consistorial level. 

One instance of Dr. Wiersinga’s denial of Christ’s vicarious satisfaction for sin concerns Galatians 3:13, one of the classic passages of Scripture used to prove this doctrine. There we read: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree.” You might, ask: how is it possible for anyone to deny that this passage teaches vicarious atonement? According to the protest, Dr. Wiersinga writes as follows concerning this text on page 35 of his book: “Christ has redeemed from the curse of the law, but is that, without anything more, the curse of God? Yes, indeed, Christ suffered under the curse of the law. He was made a curse. But by whom was Christ cursed? The authorities, the defenders of the law, cursed Him. Paul does not say here that God cursed him.” And a little later Dr. Wiersinga writes in the same connection explicitly that Paul does not venture to say here that the crucified Jesus is One Who is accursed of God. 

On page 87 of Dr. Wiersinga’s dissertation, according to this protest, he explicitly denies that the biblical history of the passion of Jesus ever speaks of a satisfying of the righteousness of God by Christ. And he makes the point that “also of an actual bearing of the punishment (of sin) by Christ there is nowhere explicit mention.” On page 158, according to this protest, Dr. Wiersinga discusses Isaiah 53. This is, of course, another classic passage of Scripture concerning the atoning suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ. There you read language such as the following, in verses 4 and 5: “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” Yet Dr. Wiersinga is of the opinion that in Isaiah 53 there is no mention of a transfer of guilt from us to Christ. He maintains that, like a sacrificial animal, the Servant of Jehovah bears the burden of many: sicknesses and griefs, the punishment, the iniquities and the sins; but this bearing does not have to be understood in the strict substitutional sense. The Servant of Jehovah, according to him does not take over our burden, does not take away our burden from us, but bears it with us. According to Wiersinga, there is reference in Isaiah 53 only to a “solidarity” of the Servant of Jehovah with us, but no reference to a substitutionary bearing of guilt. 

Examples of this kind could be multiplied. Passages of Scripture which have always been understood in Reformed Churches and in our Reformed Confessions as teaching Christ’s vicarious satisfaction for sin are simply twisted and corrupted by Wiersinga in such a way that they do not teach atonement through satisfaction for sin at all. And examples of Wiersinga’s denial of the atonement similar to these can be multiplied. Moreover, according to published reports in the Dutch papers, Wiersinga admits that his views are not those of our Confessions; and he maintains that the Confessions are wrong.

But I say again: it is simply amazing that one who so blatantly denies Christ’s atonement through satisfaction for sin could even survive as long as this in a church which calls itself Reformed. This only goes to show how far the Gereformeerde Kerken have already fallen. 

It is also amazing that the Synod of theGereformeerde Kerken has taken so much time with the Wiersinga case. Perhaps our readers will recall that when the present Synod first began to meet, it issued a testimony to the churches concerning this case, trying to assure the churches that the Synod still held to the Confessional position, but at the same time saying that this case required careful and extensive study before. any pronouncement could be made. This I simply cannot understand. After having read various published criticisms of Wiersinga’s position, I can only come to the conclusion that the case is so simple that it could be decided almost immediately by anyone who is at all acquainted with the position of our Confessions. Moreover, in the very protest from which I quoted the above examples, there is extensive proof from the Confessions and careful and extensive proof from Scripture that Dr. Wiersinga is altogether wrong. I do not have the space to quote this part of the protest. But my own opinion is that any decision concerning the doctrinal position of Dr. Wiersinga could be taken almost literally from this protest. 

As I said at this writing the decision of the Synod is not yet known. But I do not have high expectations. In the first place, the Synod has given no evidence of doctrinal steadfastness up to this point; and it has not had the courage to condemn any of the representatives of the new theology. If they would now condemn Wiersinga, they would certainly be guilty of measuring with two measures. And, in the second place, behind Dr. Wiersinga stands the Theological Faculty of the Free University, which conferred on him a degree on the basis of this heretical dissertation. Condemnation of Dr. Wiersinga, therefore, would automatically render the orthodoxy of the theological professors suspect also. And it would seem to call for ecclesiastical action against them as well as against Wiersinga. 

In the light of past performances, therefore, and in the light of the ramifications of the Wiersinga case, and in the light of the general decadence prevalent in the Gereformeerde Kerken, it is almost too much to expect that the General Synod will take any forthright and condemnatory action. At this point in time, it would almost be a shock calculated to rock the entire denomination if the Synod would begin to exercise any real doctrinal discipline. 

This does not change the fact, however, that this is a crucial case. For it is plain to any right-thinking child of God that the denial of atonement through vicarious satisfaction constitutes a denial of the very essence of the gospel. When this happens in a denomination, that denomination must without any debate be classified as in the camp of the false church. For where there is no atonement, there is no salvation! Where there is no. atonement, there is no Christ! And where Christ is not, there the church is not!