Last month a special, meeting of the schismatic synod was called for the purpose of determining whether or not they, the schismatic churches, should return to the Christian Reformed Church. This, of course, was occasioned by the last letter they had received from the synod of that church in which the latter specified the conditions under which such a reunion could be accomplished.
We will not give a detailed report of all the actions of this special synod. But some items are of sufficient interest to our readers to report them in our Standard Bearer. On the whole, all the actions of this synod reveal that the schismatic churches are fast disintegrating. There are, evidently, groups that are ready to join the Christian Reformed Church whether or not the latter maintain the Three Points; others rather remain independent and stay by themselves; still others apparently would join the Christian Reformed Church on condition that the Three Points be no longer considered as having binding force; while, finally, there is also a group that now feel that they were deceived by their schismatic leaders and would like to return to the fold of the Protestant Reformed Churches, something, however, that can be done only in the way of confession of their sin of ever having departed from us and of having created a schism in our churches.
In a way, it is amazing that the disintegration of the schismatics comes as fast as it does: only about seven years after their separation from the Protestant Reformed Churches they already fall apart. But in another way, it is not surprising at all for, after all, the group that departed from us did not do so for the sake of principle but, especially as far as their leaders were concerned, from entirely different motives. It is by this time very evident that they never loved the Protestant Reformed truth. And no church can maintain and has the right to maintain a separate existence except on the basis of the truth and of definite and distinctive principles. This certainly was the case with the Protestant Reformed Churches in 1924, but with those that left us this was not the case at all. Hence, their fast disintegration cannot surprise us.
As far as this special synod is concerned, the following items are of interest to us.
1. A motion was made to request the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church to reconsider the removal of the Three Points so that reunion can be affected only on the basis of Scripture and the Three Forms of Unity or the Reformed Confessions. According to our reporter three grounds were furnished for this motion, namely: a. The removal of the Three Points and their binding power would serve the cause of ecumenicity. b. The various stipulations in the letter of the Christian Reformed Synod have different interpretations among us. c. Discussion should take longer. (I take this to mean that, after the reunion, there should be opportunity and time to discuss the Three Points.) This motion was discussed and then tabled.
2. Then” there was a motion to adopt the advice and decision of Classis East. This classis had decided immediately to join the Christian Reformed Church on the basis of the letter sent by the synod of that church to the schismatic synod. An amendment to this motion was made to insert the words “in substance” so that motion would read: we reply to the Christian Reformed Synod by adopting in substance the overture of Classis East. This amendment was adopted. But the amended motion failed by a vote of eight to eight.
3. The motion that had been tabled (see under 1) was now taken from the table and was adopted. The vote was nine to seven. It was decided to appoint a committee to draw up a letter to the Christian Reformed Synod to explain the motion that had just been adopted. We have a copy of this letter and we publish it here:
“To the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church.
“We herewith desire to continue our conversations with you regarding union of our two denominations. Please accept our sincere thanks for the prompt and kind letter embodying your answer to our communication of our Synod of June, 1960. We are happy for this evidence that you, with us, are seeking to fulfill the prayer of Christ, ‘that they may be one.’
“In this letter to us you suggest that ‘an outright and official setting aside of them (the three points) is unwarranted’ in response to our request ‘to consider the Three Points’ of ‘Common Grace’ as ‘without any further binding force.’ You also suggest ‘a more positive basis’ as being: ‘a. If you will agree that the Three Points are neither Arminian or Pelagian; that in the light of the official interpretation given by our Synod of 1959, the objection that the Three. Points are in conflict with Scripture and the Forms of Unity is not valid; and that you will agree not to agitate against official interpretations. b. If we do not require submission in the sense of demanding total agreement with the Three Points; we recognize and bear with scruples which you may have, in the expectation that we together may come eventually to a better understanding of the truth; and not bar those who have certain misgivings or divergent interpretations as long as they refrain from propaganda for their interpretations.’
“We have given serious consideration to this suggested basis on which to unite and our Synod has not been able to concur in the judgment that this is the better way. Therefore we would approach you to ask that you consider again that our churches unite on the basis of Scripture and the Three Forms of Unity. We ask this, not out of a stubborn insistence on our own position, but because the calling of the Lord toward unity is better served in this way. We would ask you to consider the following in addition to that which was advanced in our letter of last year.
“1. That while the matter of a basis for union is one that concerns your church and ours first of all, it nevertheless has its impact upon and will have influence upon the ecumenical striving as we reach out to other manifestations of the body of Christ. We believe that the results of our striving toward unity will make a wholesome contribution toward and give impetus to the true ecumenical desire which is to be found in many areas of the Reformed world. For the fostering of this ecumenical spirit, the broad and royal basis of the Scripture and the three historic creeds is sufficient.
“2. By this action you would serve us and enable us to practice this unity with far less danger of splintering in our churches. We reiterate our stand, expressed in our letter of 1960, that we no longer charge the Three Points with being Arminian and Pelagian, nor are we pleading for freedom to agitate and to cause turmoil and strife in the churches. We are opposed to agitation, propaganda or any, unseemly or revolutionary action in the church. We are sorry for such actions of the past as we have pointed out in our letter of 1960. But we do plead for full prophetic liberty according to the Word of God. as bound by the confessions. We will not hide from you that some of us feel that this is not the case. In order that we may unite as a whole, rather than dividing our churches, we make this request again.
“3. May we also offer for your consideration the declaration, which, we believe, both your delegates and ours make at the opening of our Synodical sessions: . . . ‘All the congregations of these churches believe all the books of the Old and of the New Testaments to be the Word of God and confess as the true confession of their faith the Thirty-seven Articles of the. Reformed Churches of the Netherlands, formulated by the Synod of 1618-’19, together with the Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of the Dordrecht Synod against the Remonstrants (Arminians).
“‘In conformity with the belief of all these congregations, we, as members of their Synod; declare that from the heart we feel and believe, that all the articles and expressions of doctrine, contained in the three above named confessions, jointly called the Three Forms of Unity, in all respects agree with the Word of God, whence we reject all doctrines repugnant thereto; that we desire to conform all our actions to them, agreeably to the accepted Church Order of Dordrecht, 1618-’19, and desire to receive into our church communion everyone that agrees to our confession.’
“We realize, brethren, the many and serious matters with which you will be busy and hope that you will not consider us presumptuous in addressing you once again. Believe of us that we feel strongly the injunction of the Lord to seek the unity of the church and it is out of the conviction that you too seek it that we feel free to address you again.
“As far as the matter of procedure is concerned, if you can accede to our request, we will state that we prefer this as outlined in point ‘a’ under in your letter of 1960 and ask you hereby to appoint a committee to consummate such union.
“In any event, we may inform you that we have set the date of our Synod of 1961 so that it will meet after your sessions of June, 1961, so that we will be able to consider any communication you may address to us.
“Assuring you of our desire and pledge to serve the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the unity of the church, we submit this for your consideration and await your reply.”
Thus far the letter.
We just wish to make a few comments.
1. First of all, the schismatic synod declared and now declares again that the Three Points are not Arminian or Pelagian. Do they not realize that this is a mere negative expression and that this is not sufficient? They confront the question: if they are not Arminian or Pelagian, what are they then? Let us not forget that the Three Points are dealing with one of the most fundamental principles and doctrine of our faith: the grace of God. This has been the main question of the Church in the world throughout the ages. It was the question of Augustine against Pelagius: It was the question that was before our fathers at the Synod of Dordrecht. It is the chief question of the church today. More specifically expressed, it is the question whether the grace of God is particular or general, whether God is gracious to the elect only or to all men. Now, the question which the schismatic synod must answer is, not only whether the Three Points are Arminian or Pelagian, but what, if they are not Pelagian or Arminian, are they then? Are they Reformed? Why, then, do they object to sign them, as did Van Weelden, De Boer, and Sebastian Cammenga before them?
I assure you that no Arminian will refuse to subscribe to the doctrine that God is gracious, in the preaching of the gospel to all that hear. And again, I am convinced that no Pelagian will have any objection to the doctrine that the natural man can do much good through the “common grace” of God.
But no truly Protestant Reformed man will subscribe to these false doctrines.
More about this next time, the Lord willing.