In a very ably written article, Mr. Willis Kooienga writes an article in Concordia in which he attempts to prove: 1. That those who condemn conditional theology, and who condemn the term “condition” as, recently, the attempt was made to introduce it in our Protestant Reformed Churches, must regard Ursinus, one of the “Reformed fathers” and co-author with Olevianus of the Heidelberg Catechism, as a heretic. 2. That the condemnation of the Rev. De Wolf and his suspension from the ministry of the word in the Protestant Reformed Churches was unjust and even an ungodly act.
We congratulate Mr. Kooienga for his able attempt. Both his style and argumentation reveals that he is an able writer. Moreover, he reveals that he is a man of study. At least, from a certain viewpoint and with a certain purpose in mind, he studied rather thoroughly the commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism written by Ursinus. These things are commendable. I could wish that Mr. Kooienga had used his God-given talents for a better purpose than to combat the Protestant Reformed truth.
But because Mr. Kooienga is, evidently, such an able writer, and because his argumentation may probably deceive many readers, therefore, I will try to expose the fundamental fallacy of his entire article.
I can put the reasoning of Mr. Kooienga in the form of syllogism as follows:
1. Ursinus speaks rather freely of conditions.
2 The Protestant Reformed Churches condemn conditional theology.
3. The Protestant Reformed Churches regard Ursinus as a heretic.
This appears, on the face of it, very logical. Yet, it is not at all. Though the major and minor premise of this syllogism are both true, the conclusion does not follow at all. It reminds me of another syllogism of the sophists which ran as follows:
1. This is your dog.
2. This dog is a mother.
3. This dog is your mother.
Instead I propose another syllogism as follows:
1. A heretic is one who opposes one or more fundamental tenets authorized by a particular church of which he is a member or minister.
2. Ursinus was never a member of the, Protestant Reformed Church which officially declared that the promise of God is unconditional and that faith is not a condition.
3. Hence, although Ursinus was in error when he spoke so freely of conditions, he was not a heretic.
Let me explain.
It is true, of course, that in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, Ursinus speaks rather freely of conditions. He speaks of a conditional covenant, of a conditional promise, of faith as a condition. Today, we regard this as erroneous in the Protestant Reformed Churches and rightly so.
However, although this is true of his commentary, there is not one trace of that conditional theology in the Heidelberg Catechism of which he is one of the authors. There he does not speak of a conditional covenant. The Catechism does not speak of faith as a condition, but on the contrary, always refers to it as a means whereby we are ingrafted into Christ which the Holy Spirit works in our hearts. In the Catechism Ursinus knows very well that the promise is unconditional, for otherwise he could not have taught that redemption from sin by the blood of Christ and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to little infants, who certainly cannot accept any conditions, as well as to the adults. Ques. 74. And in his commentary on this question and answer, Ursinus shows that he knows very well that faith is not a condition but a means whereby they are ingrafted into Christ for, according to him, even little infants actually possess all the benefits of Christ by a living faith which, in them, certainly cannot be a condition. And this Reformed line, and not his conditional theology, runs through the whole of his work. And this certainly is true of the Heidelberg Catechism.
Now, would we call Ursinus, who lived in the middle of the sixteenth century, who was a Reformed man that erroneously spoke of conditions, a heretic?
We would not!
Why not? And why do we call those that created schism in our churches with their conditional theology heretics nevertheless?
The reason is plain. A heretic is always one who opposes one of the fundamental tenets authorized by the church of which he is a member. In other words, he is one that opposes the official confessions of his church.
That could never be said of Ursinus in the sixteenth century. In fact, in those days, although there certainly was Reformed faith and doctrine, this had never been officially expressed and adopted in a confession of the Church. It is true that certain articles like the Sixty Seven Articles of Zwingli, the Ten Conclusions of Berne, and the First Helvetic Confession had been composed, but they had, at best, a mere local authority. Ursinus was not bound by it. Hence, the worst that can be said of Ursinus commentary is that it erred in the matter of conditions. But he was not a heretic.
Different this is for a person that subscribes to the Three Forms of Unity, and is bound by it. Different this becomes more specifically for a person that is member of the Protestant Reformed Church that, in 1924 rejected the errors of the “Three Points” and in 1950 and 1951 adopted the Declaration of Principles.
One that teaches conditional theology opposes the Confessions authorized by the Protestant Reformed Churches and, if he is a member or minister of those churches, is a heretic.
This is the case with the Rev. De Wolf. Deliberately he opposed from the pulpit the Three Forms of Unity and the Declaration of Principles, and supported the Three Points of 1924.
This I will make plain.
As to the Three Forms of Unity did it never strike you that, although even at that time many of the Reformed fathers spoke of conditions, the term never occurs in the Confessions and, when they came face to face with the Arminians they strongly condemned it?
That is simply a fact.
The positive part of the Canons of Dordrecht never speak of conditions, not even in II, 5 as those that want to maintain their conditional theology allege. On the contrary, they emphasize that the application of our salvation in time flows from and is wrought in harmony with the election of God, which leaves no room for conditions.
But the negative part of the same Canons very definitely condemn conditions and prerequisites unto salvation. Of this I can furnish many proofs by direct quotations.
Thus in Canons I, B, 2 we read of the subterfuge of the Arminians according to which they like to distinguish election into “incomplete, revocable, non-decisive and conditional or complete, irrevocable, decisive and absolute.” By this distinction they mean, of course, that God’s election becomes complete as soon as the condition: faith, obedience, and perseverance is fulfilled. O, the lovers of conditions say, we believe in unconditional election, we only believe in conditions as far as the application of salvation in time is concerned! But this is also a mere subterfuge for the simple reason that the latter is exactly according to the former: God has chosen us in Christ, and according to that election He blesses us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places. If faith and obedience and perseverance are conditions in time they do appear as such in God’s election. But all this is literally condemned in the Canons. Election is unconditional and therefore the application of election is unconditional.
Again in I, B, 3 we read of the error of the Remonstrants that God did not choose certain persons but rather “out of all possible conditions . . . the act of faith . . . as a condition unto salvation.” If faith is not a mere means but a condition unto salvation in time it also occurs as such in the eternal election of God. This our fathers condemned.
In I, B, 4 the Arminians teach that “in the election unto faith this condition is beforehand demanded that man should use the light of nature aright.” Of course, one error leads to another. If in the election of God man occurs as one that must fulfill the condition of faith, he cannot, in the same order of election, occur as totally depraved. It is for that reason that the lovers of conditions have invented the subterfuge that God alone fulfills all the conditions. They not only know that this is nonsense but in their actual preaching they present conditions as prerequisites which man must fulfill. It is exactly because they love to preach this that they are so fond of conditions. Only then they can maintain the responsibility of man!
Again in I, B, 5 the Remonstrants teach “faith, the obedience of faith, holiness, godliness and perseverance are not fruits of the unchangeable election unto glory, but are conditions, which, being required beforehand (prerequisites! H.H.) were foreseen as being met by those who will be fully elected.” As De Wolf had it, and all that support him teach: “Our act of conversion is a condition or prerequisite to enter into the, kingdom of heaven.”
Hence, as far as assurance of election is concerned, the Arminians teach “that there is in this life no fruit and consciousness of the unchangeable election unto glory, nor any certainty, except that which depends on a changeable and uncertain condition.” And the lovers of conditions believe and teach the same thing. All comfort for the people of God is gone. I, B, 7.
According to the Arminians, perseverance is not a fruit of election or a gift of God, but a condition which man must fulfill to attain to decisive election. V, B, 1. And in this connection it is noteworthy that the Arminians voice the same objections against perseverance as a fruit of God’s election as the conditional theologians that attempted to lead the Protestant Reformed Churches astray always bring against us. For in V, B, 6 they claim “that the doctrine of the certainty of perseverance and of salvation from its own character is a cause of indolence and is injurious to godliness, good morals, prayers and other holy exercises.” This note is forevermore heard in the camp of our opponents. Ex ungue leonem, from the claw you recognize the lion.
Hence, I maintain that De Wolf c.s. and all that willfully follow Him, also Mr. Willis Kooienga, are heretics because they oppose the truth that was officially adopted by our churches.
But there is more.
You may probably remark that other churches that call themselves Reformed subscribe to the same Three Forms of Unity and yet they believe in conditions.
But do not forget that the Lord God Himself, in the past, so directed our way that we are Protestant Reformed. We are not Christian Reformed, still less are we Liberated. We cannot be. We do not want to be. Before God, we may not be.
The reason is our history. Many, perhaps also Willis Kooienga, do not know that history anymore and do not care about it. But it is very important, nevertheless, to be thoroughly acquainted with it. Why are we Protestant Reformed? Because the Christian Reformed Church in 1924 cast us out because we refused to subscribe to the “Three Points.” This is not the place to discuss these Three Points in detail. I advise Willis Kooienga to make a thorough study of them. Then he will discover that the Rev. De Wolf in the first of his heretical sermons which he preached from the pulpit of First Church supported the First Point of 1924 in its worst form. That First Point, taken in connection with its proof, teaches that the preaching of the gospel is grace for all that hear because it is a well-meant offer of salvation, on the part of God, to all the hearers.
The Rev. De Wolf made it worse. He did not speak of a well-meant offer, nor of the preaching, of the gospel, but he preached “God promises every one of you salvation, if you believe.” In 1924 we repeatedly published the question to all the Reformed world: “What grace does the reprobate receive in the preaching of the gospel?” Now we must ask the very pointed question: “Does God seriously promise salvation to the reprobate?”
Our churches condemned this doctrine in 1924. Now De Wolf c.s. proclaim it again. Therefore, they are heretics.
Finally, our churches officially adopted the Declaration of Principles. In that Declaration they emphatically declare that the Reformed Confessions maintain that the promise of God is unconditional and for the elect alone; and that faith is not a condition but a means of God unto salvation.
Very deliberately, I am convinced, the Rev. De Wolf contradicted this Declaration when he preached in two different sermons which were bad throughout:
“God promises to every one of you that, if you, believe, you shall be saved.”
And “Our act of conversion is a prerequisite to enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
The conclusion, therefore, is:
1. That Ursinus is not regarded by us as a heretic for the simple reason that he did not oppose any particular doctrine authorized by the church of which he was a member. If Ursinus lived in our day and was a member of the Protestant Reformed Church, he would be taken to task for his erroneous expressions and if he refused to retract them, would be considered a heretic.
2. That De Wolf c.s. are heretics because:
a. They oppose the doctrine of the Protestant Reformed Churches as contained in the Three Forms of Unity.
b. They support the Three Points of 1924 condemned by our churches.
c. They contradict the Declaration of Principles, officially adopted by the Protestant Reformed Churches.
And if Willis Kooienga still calls the suspension of De Wolf an ungodly act, this can only be because he himself does not understand and love the Protestant Reformed truth.