Two successive issues of Clarion, The Canadian Reformed Magazine (Jan. 14 and Jan. 28, 1983) have carried a transcript of an address by the Rev. D. DeJong to a Christian Reformed Elders Conference in Lethbridge, Alberta. The address is entitled “A Canadian Reformed View of the Christian Reformed Church.” As the title suggests, the Rev. De Jong is a Canadian Reformed (Liberated) minister. According to his own testimony in the course of the address, he came to Canada and to the so-called Liberated Churches there in 1963. The occasion of his address to the afore-mentioned Elders Conference was the 125th anniversary of the Christian Reformed denomination.
It was rather natural, I think, that simply in general I would be curious as to a Canadian Reformed view of the Christian Reformed Church. But more specifically I was inquisitive as to what he might say about the history which led to the formation of the Protestant Reformed Churches. I figured—and proved to be correct in this—that sooner or later the speaker would have to say something about 1924 and its events and decisions, seeing that the latter certainly played a significant part in the 125-year history of the Christian Reformed denomination. And sure enough, eventually the speaker arrived at the point of making a parenthetical reference to 1924. Let me give a little background. In the preceding section of his address the Rev. De Jong, speaking of the Canadian Reformed and the Christian Reformed, states: “And yet, how much could we have done together and profited from each other’s history and experiences and talents, if living together in the unity of the true faith as Church of Jesus Christ in the same country and on the same continent would have been preferred. . . over stubbornly clinging to the wrong course taken in the beginning” (when the Christian Reformed Church repudiated the Liberated and cast their lot with the Synodicals of the Netherlands, HCH). Then, after pointing out in what respects the Canadian Reformed might have profited, the Rev. De Jong goes on to state:
But the same things apply to you even more. It is remarkable that those among you who strive for a redemptive-historical approach in preaching find most of their inspiration in the writings of those professors and ministers who played a role in and after the Liberation of the Churches in Holland in 1944. How much, and how much earlier, could the whole of the Christian Reformed Church have profited from this, also by learning to recognize and to avoid the dangers of conservatism on the one hand and liberalism on the other hand, just as in the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands the two even went hand in hand when it came to a monster alliance against those who went back to the Scriptures and to a better understanding of the Reformed Confessions in the light of the Scriptures.
Now it is not my purpose to comment on the above assessment of Liberated preaching and of the history of the Liberation in 1944 and following years, though much could be said about it. I only quoted this paragraph for background. Now follows the paragraph in which reference is made to 1924:
It was the stubborn defense of scholasticism by a conservative wing which imposed upon the churches in The Netherlands a doctrine of a God who gave unconditional promises to the elect (the same doctrine which you find in the Protestant Reformed Church and which was rightly rejected by the Christian Reformed Church in 1924). Unconditional promises to the elect as contents of the preaching easily leads to a boasting of your being elect, or to a growing worldliness in your lifestyle, because it takes away the seriousness from the preaching of God’s Covenant promises and threats.
Now, first of all, is it not remarkable that the only reference to 1924 in this entire address is a parenthetical remark? For anyone who knows anything at all about the Christian Reformed history is certainly aware that 1924 and all that stands connected with it was anything but a parenthesis. Not only was 1924 a major crisis in that history, but the decisions and events of 1924 have influenced the Christian Reformed Church ever since. Nevertheless,’ one could perhaps allow a mistake of this kind on the part of a Canadian Reformed observer to pass on the ground that, not having had any direct experience of the things involved, he was not in a position to evaluate properly their significance. Meanwhile, of course, it remains true that a little study might have gone a long way toward a proper perspective.
But, in the second place—and this is much worse—the statement that is made about 1924 has absolutely no basis in fact. It is a complete distortion of history and fact, so complete that one who investigated the facts and the history even superficially would be amazed at the Rev. De Jong’s statement. Consider the fact (and the record will show all of this to be true) that the Christian Reformed Church in 1924 rejected nothing, emphatically nothing, much less “a doctrine of a God who gave unconditional promises to the elect.” The Synod of 1924 actually did not even adopt any pronouncement concerning the views of Henry Danhof and Herman Hoeksema. It did not in so many words reject any of their views. It even gave the two men the testimony that they were Reformed in the fundamentals, though with a tendency to one-sidedness. It did not even advise that discipline be exercised with respect to them, though it had the opportunity to do so in the form of a proposal from the advisory committee. The Synod of 1924 did not even have before it anything at all concerning “unconditional promises to the elect.” And all this the Rev. De Jong might have discovered if he had done his homework—if not in the abundant literature about the period available from Protestant Reformed sources, then at least in the Acts of the Christian Reformed Synod of 1924. But no! The Christian Reformed Church in 1924 “rightly rejected” a doctrine of “a God who gave unconditional promises to the elect.” Distortion of fact and history! Were there any knowledgeable men present at that Elders’ Conference who perked up their ears at a distortion of that kind?
In the third place, this distortion of fact and history led to a further distortion by way of what it failed to recognize and to mention. For in 1924 the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church did indeed adopt and elevate to the status of binding church doctrine the Three Points of Common Grace. And while the Christian Reformed Church did not reject anything in 1924, the Protestant Reformed Churches have ever since that time indeed rejected something. To put it in the language of our Declaration of Principles, they reject the following erroneous teachings of the Three Points: “A. That there is a grace of God to all men, including the reprobate, manifest in the common gifts to all men. B. That the preaching of the gospel is a gracious offer of salvation on the part of God to all that externally hear the gospel. C. That the natural man through the influence of common grace can do good in this world.” Again, if the Rev. De Jong had had his facts and history straight, he might have had a far better understanding of the history of the Christian Reformed Church and, consequently, a far different address to that Elders’ Conference.
In the fourth place, if he had done his homework, the Rev. De Jong would certainly not have distorted the facts by referring to us as “the Protestant Reformed Church.” We are not a “Church” but “Churches.” This may seem minor and insignificant to some, but it is not. For involved in this seemingly insignificant difference is the very important difference in church polity to which the Rev. De Jong refers in his next paragraph. Still speaking of “the stubborn defense of scholasticism by a conservative wing” in the Dutch controversy in the mid-1940s, he writes:
Remarkably, it also led to a church polity which demanded unconditional obedience to church assemblies, because it had no understanding for the covenantal character of both God’s Word and the Church.
Leaving aside that matter of the alleged lack of understanding for the covenantal character of God’s Word and the Church, I would remind the Rev. De Jong that already in 1924-1926, the Christian Reformed Church opted for the hierarchical view of church government according to which it is the prerogative of a broader assembly (in 1924 it was the Classis, with the later stamp of approval of the Synod of 1926) to suspend and depose officebearers. We went through that battle long before the Liberated Churches in the Netherlands had their beginning. In fact, it was partly our sympathy for the Liberated with respect to church polity which led to our churches’ granting of a sympathetic hearing to the late Dr. K. Schilder in 1947. We are a federation of autonomous churches, not a single church with various branches or subdivisions.
Now it seems to me that there are but two possible explanations for distortions of this kind. Either the explanation lies in ignorance, in which case the problem can be readily remedied and correction made. Meanwhile, such ignorance should not break out into print. Or the explanation lies in deliberate distortion, which, of course, is far more serious—especially when such distortion is public and when it concerns matters of the church and of the truth of God’s Word. Then one can only admonish and warn that repentance must take place.
Why do I write about this?
I write because in my experience such distortions about the Protestant Reformed Churches have come from the direction of the Liberated rather frequently, especially ever since the rather heated controversy concerning the Declaration of Principles which eventually led to a parting of the ways between the Liberated and us.
Not many months ago a similar distortion appeared inDe Reformatie. Professor-emeritus L. Doekes made some reference to the Protestant Reformed Churches. In that reference he made the claim that we hold to the doctrine of presupposed regeneration—a claim that has frequently been made by the Liberated over the years.
Now I am well aware that the mere mention of the Declaration of Principles to the Liberated is like waving a red flag before a bull. And in a way, I can understand this—both because of the history and because in the Declaration we repudiate the doctrine of a general, conditional promise. But what no one seems to want to recognize or acknowledge is the fact that the very same Declaration of Principles also repudiates the doctrine of presupposed regeneration. In section “III” of the Declaration we find this statement: “We repudiate: 1. The teaching: . . .b. That we may presuppose that all the children that are baptized are regenerated, for we know on the basis of Scripture, as well as in the light of all history and experience, that the contrary is true.”
And yet some continue to shove in our boots the doctrine of presupposed regeneration.
This is another distortion of fact and of history.
We reject it!
And it is time for some to pay attention to the facts!