Deviation Breeds Deivations

In the anniversary year of our Standard Bearer, each writer of this magazine has been asked to devote one article which relates the anniversary to the general theme of his rubric. It has been my task in various articles to remind ourselves of the signs of the times about us. One of these signs is apostasy—and with it, doctrinal deviations of every sort. In this connection it is not difficult to remind again our reading public that theStandard Bearer came into existence to combat doctrinal deviation, or, more bluntly: heresy. It can be shown, too, how the effects of that deviation are seen in current developments within the Christian Reformed Church (and others) both as this has been related to walk and also to doctrinal positions. I am aware that we are accused of relating each step of departure from the truth in our “mother” church to common grace. And perhaps there have been times in which we were overly inclined to blame every deviation we have observed in the C.R.C. to their adoption of that deviation of common grace. Certainly there are other factors which do enter into the problem of doctrinal apostasy. 

However, it has also been true within our “mother church” that many have closed their eyes and minds to the real and dreadful effects of the common grace theory within their denomination. Those who are even still aware that there was a common grace controversy would usually relegate the claims of the “P.R.’s” to the realm of religious fanaticism. 

Recently, in the News Bulletin of the Association of Christian Reformed Laymen (Aug. 1973), these brethren, it seems, relate all of their current problems in the C.R.C. to the Report 44 on the “Nature and Extent of Biblical Authority” adopted by the Synod of the C.R.C. in 1972. They write:

Dear Christian friends, the Christian Reformed Church is desperately S-I-C-K unto DEATH. The ACRL has pointed out for a long time definite symptoms of the disease. Now it must be said — and said very plainly — that the above-mentioned symptoms are rooted in the deep-seated internal CANCER of REPORT 44/B which the CRC is UNWILLING TO ERADICATE.

Now, that is an extremely serious charge. I would remind these brethren, too, that if they are truly convinced of what they write (their church is “S-I-C-K unto DEATH”), they ought to read carefully Rev. 3:14-22. God’s Word there clearly prescribes the course they are obliged to follow. However, my point in giving this quotation is to show that there is no reference at all to the “common grace issue” in their diagnosis. I would not have expected the writers to have done this, of course. Yet, this failure has distorted their diagnosis and suggests, at best, only a partial prescription for cure. These would allow the root-problem to remain. 

It is refreshing, therefore, to read from some of the leaders in the C.R.C. the recognition of a clear relationship between the common grace controversy and the present-day Report 44 controversy. Recently, some have done this in the Banner. Though the two articles I read on this subject represented thoughts of men on the “opposite side of the fence” concerning Report 44, these made some pertinent comments which deserve also our notice — for both recognized a close tie between Report 44 and common grace. 

For our information, I could state that Report 44, which treats the “Nature and Extent of Biblical Authority,” was presented to and approved by the C.R.C. Synod of 1972. Within C.R.C., this report has commonly been presented as having an “A” and a “B” side (supposedly two sides of one coin). Concerning this Report 44 with its two sides, Editor De Koster of theBanner wrote a series of articles (before the Synod of 1972 approved the report) emphatically maintaining that “oil and water do not mix.” Part “A” of this report presumably presents the traditional and Reformed position that the Bible is, in its entirety, the infallible Word of God. About part “B”, how ever, there is much continuing controversy. Presumably, part “B” presents “biblical revelation” as “an exclusively saving revelation” (cf. Banner, June 8, 1973, p. 22). Perhaps this gives a bit of an idea of what the C.R.C. constituency has had to face. And it is this point “B” segment which, it is claimed, opens the door to the denial of Scriptural inspiration and introduction of many heresies. 

Concerning the relationship between Report 44 and the common grace issue, an interesting article is to be found in the Banner, Aug. 24, 1973, by Rev. “Lionhearted” Verduin, entitled, “Will the Real C.R.C. Please Stand Up?”. In substance, Verduin insists that the C.R.C., if it is to remain consistent, must “either repudiate Report 44 or repudiate 1924” (common grace). He is in favor, of course, of repudiating Report 44 and maintaining 1924. His reasoning may seem rather strange, yet he has a point. He writes:

At about the time I was in training for the ministry in the C.R.C., that church declared that “over and above” (the Dutch original has behalve) the redemptive grace of God there is a non-redemptive grace, known as “common” grace. This declaration, so said the C.R.C., it had derived from the Scriptures. Although the C.R.C. did not at that time make this declaration part of its “Forms of Unity” if was very serious about it; it expected people in pulpit as well as pew to abide by it. Some honest souls, unable to abide by it, thereupon withdrew, to form a secession church. It was seriously meant. (Did these “withdraw”, Rev. Verduin, or were they put out through suspension and deposition from office? G.V.B.) 

Now, at the end of my ministry, the same C.R.C. has declared that the authority of the Scriptures extends as far, and no farther, than its message of redemption. This it declared in accepting the so-called “Report 44,” on “The Nature and the Extent of Biblical Authority.” 

These declarations cannot both be true, cannot both be biblical. If the Scriptures do indeed teach that there is a non-redemptive grace, a grace that is “over and above” the grace that issues in salvation, then the Scriptures speak authoritatively on at least this non-redemptive theme. If so, then in Report 44 the C.R.C. has plunged itself into an inner contradiction.

May I humbly suggest, Rev. Lionhearted, er, I mean, Verduin, that the “inner contradiction” you have detected in the C.R.C. is really not (as you claim) between Report 44 and 1924. The inner contradiction for the C.R.C. is to be found in 1924 itself. Report 44 represents a long step in the wrong direction towards resolving that contradiction (a step Verduin evidently does not want to take). The contradiction of 1924 was that it posited the two-level grace (special and common). Report 44 has, as Verduin detects, dragged even that “special” all the way down to the common. Of this inevitable consequence of 1924 we had warned the C.R.C. from the beginning. To resolve this “inner contradiction,” Verduin must not merely advocate return to the two-level grace theology. That would only be a half-way cure which retains the inner contradiction. The C.R.C. must repudiate the two-level grace theory and return to that Scriptural and Reformed truth of a single, absolutely Sovereign (special) grace of God only. Then, I am convinced, it will have the answer to much of its present difficulties. And it is our sincere desire that this should happen, too. On the other side of the fence stands Dr. James Daane. He is a man well acquainted with Rev. H. Hoeksema’s teachings and the stand of the P.R.C. In the past, he has taken many opportunities to repudiate that position. He, too, recognizes a relationship between Report 44 and 1924. Those who oppose Report 44, he insists, are really opposing 1924. In the Banner of June 8, 1973, under “voices” (pp. 22, 23), he writes:

If the 1973 Synod alters or rescinds its 1972 position on the exclusively saving nature of biblical revelation in order to make room for a Bible whose nature and intent is to both save and to damn, then its very next decision should be the extension — with considerable apologies — of a hearty invitation to the Protestant Reformed Churches to come back home. . . . 

The contention that biblical revelation is not exclusively saving but also damning, is a grave and fundamental error. If the 1973 Synod honors these overtures (which request repudiation of Report 44 – G.B.V.), the theology of the Christian Reformed Church goes back to pre-1924 days. Such action would not only remove all ground for what 1924 meant by common grace and the well-meant offer of the gospel, it would also violate the very nature of biblical revelation, and with that the nature of the gospel itself. . . . 

The issue with which these two overtures confront the 1973 Synod differs in no essential way from the issue with which Herman Hoeksema confronted the 1924 Synod. The 1924 Synod disposed of Herman Hoeksema, but the deepest motifs of his theology were not wholly eradicated from the Christian Reformed Church. The 1973 Synod has the opportunity and obligation to reject them again.

The C.R.C. Synod of 1973 upheld Report 44 by rejecting overtures against that report. The Synod, evidently, heeded Daane’s advices to further “eradicate” the “deepest motifs of Hoeksema’s theology” in the C.R.C. 

Though Daane’s conclusions appear the direct opposite of Verduin’s, yet Daane has indeed touched upon the heart of the issue. He recognizes that the “well-meant offer of the gospel” of the first point of common grace necessitates ultimately a Report 44B. A “well-meant offer” to every man head-for-head, must imply a biblical revelation which is ‘”exclusively saving and totally redemptive.” If one casts out that idea in Report 44, he must logically and consistently cast out the idea of the well-meant offer too. That same “well-meant offer,” a few years ago, led Prof. H. Dekker to the conclusion that such could only be based on a love for all men. Deviation indeed breeds deviation. 

The hope and solution for the C.R.C. is not to rid itself of Report 44, or of its decisions regarding homosexualism, or of its removing this or that professor from his office — that would only represent cosmetic changes. No; rather the C.R.C. ought to get at the heart of the matter: to root out that deviation which has bred all these recent deviations — even if this means “considerable apologies and a hearty invitation to the P.R.C. to come back home.” Would that not be wonderful?