The confessional basis adopted by the First Ecumenical Synod is rather comprehensive. No less than nine confessions are mentioned. Although this is not very clear from the conclusions that were adopted with respect to this matter, we suppose that the meaning is, not that all the churches which, in the future, are to send delegates to similar synods must subscribe to all these confessions, but that those churches are to be invited that subscribe to and stand on the basis of one or more of these reformed symbols. Thus, I presume, we must also understand the statement that “all delegates to the Synod will have to express their adherence to the confessions of the Reformed faith and to the aforesaid statement.”
This last statement does, indeed, declare that all the delegates will have to express their agreement with all the confessions that are mentioned under “1”. But this would be a practical impossibility. Not only would such a provision require that all the delegates be acquainted with all the confessions, something which, I am bold to say, was not true even of the delegates to the First Ecumenical Synod, and can hardly be expected of elder delegates to future synods of a similar nature; but would also be impossible, with respect to detail at least, because these confessions do not agree in all respects. To mention only one item, the Helvetic Prior has it that all heretics, that reject the admonitions of the church, and become hardened in their evil way, shall be punished by the magistrates: “sollen durch die oberste Gewalt gestraft und unterdriikt werden” (the Latin has: coercendos per magistratum). The provision made by the First Ecumenical Synod in regard to this matter will have to be taken, therefore, cum grano salis, i.e. with a grain of salt.
We would put a question mark behind the closing statement of the first paragraph of these conclusions, that a return to the Scriptural truth can. . . . “effectuate the sorely needed renewal of the world.”
What did the Synod mean here by the term “world”? And what is meant by the “return” of the world to Scriptural truth? Did the “world” ever embrace the truth of the Word of God? And again, what is meant by the “renewal” of this “world”? Did the Synod take this word seriously, i.e. in the Scriptural sense of regeneration and conversion? Or did it speak rather loosely and generally? Does the Synod expect a renewal of the “world” without regeneration and conversion? If not, does it expect that the “world” will be regenerated, and embrace the gospel? It might have given rise to a very interesting discussion had the Synod given itself definite account of its own words.
But we will pass this up.
Of more interest to us is the decision of Synod with regard to invitation of delegates to future ecumenical synods.
The Synod decided that “all Churches which, in the judgment of Synod, profess and maintain the Reformed faith will be invited to participate in the Ecumenical Synod, on the basis mentioned above.”
Frankly, I think this is a serious error. I refer particularly to the phrase “in the judgment of Synod”. As was stated in our previous issue, this decision was not carried out, but so altered that the individual synods represented in the First Ecumenical Synod will determine what churches shall receive an invitation. In our country, for instance, the Christian Reformed Synod will determine the matter with respect to delegates from churches in the United States.
A mistake I consider this for several reasons.
First of all, if this decision is carried out, it will put the delegates that will be invited to future synods in the position of those that have been judged and approved in relation to the different synods as the judges. And this is not an enviable position. The invitations that will be sent out to other churches in our country, will now have to assume the following form: “The Synod of the Christian Church(es), having investigated whether your church professes and maintains the Reformed faith, and having reached a favorable verdict, invites you to send delegates to the next ecumenical synod.”
Secondly, what makes it worse, is that the Synod also adopted the suggestion of its committee that “All Churches. . . . will be kindly requested to express their explicit agreement with it (i.e. with the confessional basis that was adopted, H.H.), and all delegates to Synod will have to express their adherence to the confessions of the Reformed faith and to the aforesaid statement.” To this we have, of course, no objection. But the trouble is that by the first part of its decision in regard to this matter, i.e. by the decision that the individual synods shall first sit as judges, the Synod virtually declared that it did not and would not trust the declaration by the churches themselves that they agreed with the Reformed confessions. The Synod virtually declared: “Your own word and declaration that you agree with the basis we adopted is not to be trusted; hence, we will first assure ourselves that you are going to speak the truth.”
Thirdly, I seriously doubt that the individual synods are capable of carrying out this decision, and will have the courage of their conviction. Will the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church(es), for instance, have the courage to sit as judge over the Reformed Church of America, and express a fair and true, and well-motivated judgment? Will it have the courage to answer the question whether this church “professes and maintains” the Reformed faith, in all its pulpits, and in its schools? We will see.
Fourthly, I am afraid that, instead of fairly judging whether or not a certain church “professes and maintains the Reformed truth,” it will be strongly tempted, to say the least, to be guided by other considerations that are quite irrelevant to the matter, but that are rooted in recent history. Thus, for instance, with regard to the situation in The Netherlands, it may be considered questionable whether the Synod of the Reformed Churches will let itself be guided purely by the question concerning adherence to and maintenance of the Reformed faith, when it faces the question whether or not it shall send an invitation to the Reformed Churches (maintaining Art. 31) or the “liberated Churches.” And as to the situation here, will it not be extremely difficult for the Christian Reformed Churches) to permit itself to be guided only by the question concerning the “profession and maintenance of the Reformed faith” in determining whether it shall invite the Protestant Reformed Churches?
Fifthly, and finally, if the various synods fail to judge purely on the objective basis of the confession, and permits other considerations to enter in and to determine their decision in this matter, the result will be that the future ecumenical synods will be mutual admiration societies, the membership of which is determined by personal likes and dislikes rather than by the Reformed character of its constituency.
Hence, I believe that this decision is an error.
It would have been quite sufficient to establish the confessional basis for future synods, demand that all participants express agreement with it, and leave the decision as to whether they would join the movement and send delegates to the Churches themselves, with this provision that invitations be limited to those churches that officially stand on the basis of the Reformed faith.
However, as matters now stand, if the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church(es) faithfully carries out the decision of the First Ecumenical Synod, and judges the Churches that are to be invited to future ecumenical synods strictly on the basis of the question whether they profess and maintain the Reformed faith, she will have to send an invitation to the Protestant Reformed Churches. If she fails to do this, she is motivated by other considerations. This may be said without fear of contradiction.
For the Protestant Reformed Churches stand on the basis of the Three Forms of Unity, pure and simple and unadulterated.
And they maintain this confession in all their preaching and teaching, as well as in their church polity and discipline.
And the Christian Reformed Churches themselves are convinced of this.
Even in 1924, when a desperate attempt was made to brand us an un~Reformed, the best the Synod of Kalamazoo could do was to formulate three points of doctrine that are evidently not in the Confessions, neither based on it; and judge us in the light of those points rather than in that of the Three Forms of Unity. But even so, that same Synod was compelled to declare that we were Reformed in regard to the fundamentals as contained in the Confessions.
That decision still stands. It was never retracted. Anyone may read it in the Acts of Synod 1924.
Moreover, the Protestant Reformed Churches now have a history of more than twenty years behind them, a sufficiently long period to determine whether or not they maintain the Reformed faith. They preached and taught openly. They wrote and developed their views in papers and pamphlets and books that were spread over the entire United States and in the Netherlands as well. And there is abundant proof for the contention that everywhere they gained the reputation of being Reformed.
The Christian Reformed Churches are not ignorant of these facts.
Hence, we claim without boasting, and without fear of contradiction, that, on the basis that was adopted by the First Ecumenical Synod, the Synod of the Christian Reformed Churches will have to invite our Churches to send delegates to the next Ecumenical Synod.
Mark you well, I am not soliciting or begging for the honor.
Nor am I suggesting that we should or would accept such an invitation. This would be a matter for discussion at the proper time.
But I do state that, on their own basis, they cannot avoid to send the Protestant Reformed Churches an invitation.
We will see what happens.