An Urgent Suggestion

As you might have learned from the news in our August I issue, we made a little tour this summer to Australia and to Singapore. The tour was a private venture, mainly in the nature of a vacation. But along the way we had occasion to renew acquaintances with many friends whom we met five years ago and to make many new friends, as well as to savor the exciting work in Singapore. Several readers have already asked whether I intend to share some of my experiences in these columns. Probably I will do this after I have had an opportunity to catch up on work which piled up during my absence and to let my thoughts and judgments concerning the trip jell a bit. 

There is one suggestion, however, which I wish to bring to your attention immediately. 

We spent a very enjoyable eight or nine days in Singapore as guests in the apartment-home of Rev. and Mrs. den Hartog and had much opportunity to talk with them about the work and about their new and foreign style of life there. 

In the course of our conversations it became plain that there is especially one cloud in the sky of their personal and family situation in that faraway place. What is it? The fact that they receive so very few letters from the home churches! The folk of their former congregation in Wyckoff are an exception; but for the rest, they receive very few letters. 

When I learned this, I promised to try to do something about it. I think few of us can fully understand what it means to be—as the den Hartog family is—strangers in a strange land, and far from the folk of the home churches. Nor can one grasp, unless he has been on the scene, the sacrifices they are making. This is not to say that they are unhappy or that they consider themselves martyrs. Far from it! They are busy in the Lord’s work and among the Lord’s people, and they are deeply engrossed in the work there. Moreover, there is a thrill and an excitement about the work in Singapore which is hard to convey by mere telling. 

Nevertheless, those letters from home mean so much! It only costs 22¢: for an aerogram, and it only costs a half hour of your time. Even if you don’t know the den Hartogs personally, write them. Write about yourself. Write about events in your church. Just let them hear! It means so very much! 

By the way, Rev. den Hartog promised me that we will be hearing regularly from them in the Standard Bearer; if you don’t get a personal reply to your letters, consider that he writes to all of us by that means. 

Here, once more, is the address: 

Rev. & Mrs. A. den Hartog, 

Block C, 32-D, Pacific Mansion, 

River Valley Close, 

Singapore 0923 

 Reactions To The CRC Decision On The Boer Gravamen

As might be expected in the light of The Outlook’sevaluation of the Study Report on the Boer Gravamen, the reaction to the synodical decision on that matter was also favorable. It appears on page 5 of the August issue in a “Report on Synod 1980” from the pen of the Rev. Harland Vanden Einde. He writes as follows:

The entire morning session on Tuesday was devoted to a consideration of the Confessional-Revision Gravamen of Dr. Harry Boer relative to the subject of reprobation. The advisory committee requested that Dr. Boer be given an opportunity to address the synod, and that privilege was granted by voice vote. Dr. Boer indicated that his strong plea before us would be directed to urging us to put off a decision on this issue for at least one year to give the churches an opportunity to study the report of synod’s committee. He ardently declared that synod would be radically changing the basis for the teaching of reprobation by adopting the recommendations of the study committee, and would be, in fact, acting in a hierarchical way. There was considerable discussion of this issue, as expected, and there were a few speeches pleading for a delay of decision as Dr. Boer had requested. But we were also reminded, and rightly so, that we were being asked to adjudicate a gravamen, not adopting a study report. As the hour approached noontime, the vote was taken on recommendation number one, and it was passed with less than a dozen negative votes. The recommendation basically stated that “synod do not accede to the request made in Dr. Harry Boer’s Confessional- Revision Gravamen.” 

A second recommendation, that “synod refer report 30 to the churches for elucidation of the teaching of the Canons on election and reprobation” was also passed, with the point being made that this report was not intended to be for further study or debate, but for “elucidation.” Throughout the discussion, there was a good spirit, and we can be grateful that our confession and its teaching re: election and reprobation was so significantly upheld by the synod.

Comment on this report and evaluation may be brief. I am sorry that it is necessary to say this, but say it I must. The “good spirit” referred to—another way, I suppose, of saying there was no sharp conflict—was not of the Holy Spirit. He was not present, or the outcome of the whole matter would have been different. In the second place, Rev. Vanden Einde’s gratitude is without foundation. For it is simply not true, as we have abundantly shown, that the confession teaching concerning election and reprobation was either “significantly upheld” or upheld at all by the synodical decision. The contrary is true. Just how many delegates were aware of the fact that the Study Report tore away all the Scriptural support in the Canons for the doctrine of reprobation and that the Report radically reinterpreted the Canons I cannot say. But some were surely aware of it and said so, and all—if they had studied the Report—could have been aware. 

Meanwhile, one wonders whether the Rev. Vanden Einde is whistling in the dark or whether this is a case of the ignorance that is bliss. 

Thus far I have seen no, written reaction to the synodical decisions from the pro-Gravamen side. In a personal conversation I was assured that the synodical decision was certainly not the end of the matter, and that the very decision to refer the Study Report to the churches as an “elucidation” of the teaching of the Canons on election and reprobation surely opened the door to further debate: in other words, the pro-Gravamen forces are not willing to concede that the Report is an acceptable elucidation. I. would expect—even though fundamentally Boer gained almost all that he wanted to gain—that objections from the Boer camp might center on one or more of the following points: 

1. The recommendations adopted by Synod give the appearance of condemning the Gravamen and upholding the Canons while the body of the Report in every major respect upholds the Gravamen and condemns the Canons, be it in a very devious manner. 

2. The Study Report definitely reinterprets the Canons, and that, too, in an altogether untenable manner. Along with that, it cuts away the very Scriptural underpinning of the Canons which Boer criticized. A two-pronged attack could be make here: a) Demonstrate that this new interpretation is indeed untenable. b) Raise the question how the Canons can be maintained when their underpinning has been removed. After all, though the Report itself was not treated and adopted, the Synod nevertheless recommended the report as an “elucidation.” 

3. In all probability the pro-Gravamen forces will attack the Study Report’s use of the notion of “deficient causality.” In a very weak attempt somehow to maintain the appearance of upholding the doctrine of reprobation, the Study Report made some use of this idea. In the Report it speaks of this in connection with the alleged teachings of Beza in connection with preterition, as follows: “The sovereign will and good pleasure of God which is the efficient cause of election functions, however, as a deficient cause in reprobation in the sense of preterition. The secondary, mediating, or historical cause for the execution of the decree of reprobation understood in the sense of condemnation is man’s actual sin and unbelief.” In a footnote the following explanation is given: “Deficient causalityoccurs when a person who does not make a given thing happen could, nonetheless, have prevented it from happening but does not—when, not making a child fall off his bike, I could nevertheless have prevented him from falling off, but do not do so.” (Agenda, p. 347). The Study Report later makes use of this notion in a couple places. On p. 365 we read: “Reprobation is the passing over of some for the gift of faith, the consequence of which is the consignment of them to destruction on account of their sin and unbelief. But the Canons teach that this passing over is not a cause of their unbelief and impiety, except in the sense of a ‘deficient cause.’ ” Again on pp. 372, 373 the Report argues that the Canons say what Boer thinks ought to be said concerning the cause of unbelief: “It’s true that God, from the mass of unbelieving humanity, singles out some for the gift of faith. And when it is asked, ‘What about the others?’ it can be said of them that God is the ‘deficient cause’ of their unbelief. So far as ‘deficient cause’, is concerned, however—and Boer seems clearly to be working with this concept of cause—they themselves are the agents of unbelief. By contrast, God is the ‘efficient cause’ of faith. And that is surely what lies behind the famous denial of ‘in the same manner’ (eodem modo) of the Conclusion.” Men like Dr. Boer and Dr. Daane will surely not be satisfied even with these weak statements, but will insist that every notion of divine causality in connection with reprobation be condemned and eliminated from the church’s vocabulary. 

4. If they are alert, the pro-Gravamen men will surely attack the way in which the Study Report tampers with the translation of Canons I/15, something which significantly affects the meaning of that article.

In conservative circles the only Christian Reformed voice raised against the synodical decision thus far is that of the ACRL (Association of Christian Reformed Laymen). In their News Bulletin dated July, 1980 they lead off with an article entitled “Synod Thanks Boer.” They voice their criticism as follows:

Synod decided in Recommendations #5: “that synod express its appreciation to Dr. Harry Boer, and to the study committee, for their sincere efforts to help the church in coming to a clearer understanding of the Scripture and the creeds with respect to this difficult doctrine.” Yet Dr. Boer in his gravamen said “I do not believe, and I refuse to entertain, that my election ‘ipso facto’ requires a corresponding reprobation of others.” 

Even though synod maintained its public facade of orthodoxy and did not tamper with the official text of the Canons as you have it in the back of your Psalter Hymnal, it most certainly altered forever for the CRC, its binding and clearly expressed doctrine when it says this in Recommendation #3: “that synod recommend report 30 (Committee Report on Harry Boer’s Confessional Revision Gravamen) to the churches for elucidation of the teachings of the Canons on election and reprobation.”

The ACRL then proceeds to cite several pertinent excerpts from the Study Report. What they have underlined we have italicized. The excerpts are quoted respectively from pp. 380, 386, 387, 389, and 389 & 390 of the Agenda. They write: “We reproduce for you just a few excerpts of the committee report which are now an elucidation (literally a making clear the meaning) of the Canons of Dort. Underlining indicates objectionable teachings.”

The second question Paul answers with a theological argument. The sovereignty of God, which defines God as God, grants him the right to deal with his people as he pleases. This sovereignty, however, must not be construed in a crass or despotic way. Rather, two considerations must be kept in perspective regarding this: (1) God’s selection is an act of grace and love; and (2) those not selected have disqualified themselves through their sins. On the one hand, God could exercise his sovereignty as a potter exercise control over the clay he manipulates. In fact, God even did so in the history of Israel in his use of Pharaoh. However, this gives man no occasion to challenge or blame God. On the other hand, in all of his dealings with mankind, both with the elect (vessels of mercy) and the nonelect (vessels of wrath), he exercises great long-suffering and mercy.

As was shown earlier, the salvation-history or Heilsgeschichte approach to

Romans 9-11

is a valid and preferred interpretative framework for these chapters. Furthermore, the focus on the historical and limited dimension of “hardening” which Boer suggests is a proper interpretation of this concept, as indicated in the interpretation of

Romans 9-11

given above. Hence, it is improper to cite “having mercy” and “hardening” as “firmly decreed” in

Romans 9:18

, as is done in the Rejection of Errors, I, 8. 

To cite

Romans 11:33-36

as referring to the “mysteries” of election and reprobation is improper. This doxology is an expression of faith and hope for the believer as he reflects upon his election. 

It must be observed that the Canons rightly use

Romans 9:11-13

in I, 10 to substantiate the doctrine of election. It is also noteworthy that this passage was not used elsewhere in the Canons to substantiate the doctrine of reprobation. Boer rightly objects to a popular use of the Esau reference to support reprobation. 

Some may question Boer’s emphasis upon the corporate meaning of Jacob and Esau in the Malachi passage quoted in

Romans 9:13

. Recent exegesis has also focused on this collective sense. However, this collective sense need not negate the individual and personal element in election. In conclusion,

Romans 9:13


Malachi 1:3

) clearly displays God’s great displeasure regarding Esau. The passage does not motivate this attitude of God, but from the context it is clear that God’s attitude is a consequence of the unbelief and rebellion of the sinner (Esau) and is not due to an eternal decree. On the other hand, the context clearly indicates that God’s love for the elect (Jacob) is motivated by his grace and kindness, not by the actions of the individual.

Alongside the above quotations from the Report which is now recommended as an “elucidation” the ACRL adds the following sharp comments:

These statements reflect the very ideas that the Synod of Dort convened to condemn and now these statements (and more like them) are officially recommended to the CRC as an elucidation of the Canons. The conservatives who were so jubilant in their “victory” at synod ’80 will undoubtedly have time to be sorry. And Harry Boer, like other heretics that have been tested and emerge exonerated in the CRC, is not only in the clear but officially thanked! It’s sickening! 

The attitudes of CRC officialdom are backwards. The heretics are praised and the concerned ones barely escape official admonition. We can’t help but remember how the synod of 1979 was asked by its study committee to “caution it (Dutton CRC) not to continue to make unwarranted and unsubstantiated charges against Dr. Verhey.” It’s a matter of record.

We can only commend the ACRL for their discernment. They at least recognize the fact that the Study Report is a contradiction of the Canons and essentially an upholding of Boer. Now they should take another step, and recognize that all of this roots in the First Point of 1924!