Implications of the Kuitert Decision

Thus far we have not noticed much comment—either critical or favorable—about the Kuitert Decision in the religious press on this side of the Atlantic. It would seem to us, however, that not only comment but also decisions will have to be forthcoming sooner or later. This is due to the fact that the Gereformeerde Kerkenof the Netherlands occupy a place among Reformed churches and stand in so me kind of relationship to many other denominations of the Reformed community. For one thing, they are members of the RES, along with many other Reformed churches. Besides, there is a relation o f correspondence, and in some cases a full sister-church relationship, between the GKN and other denominations. 

Sooner or later, therefore these churches will have to take a stand as to the decision in the Kuitert Case and consequently as to their attitude toward the GKN. And in taking such a stand such churches will necessarily have to reveal, it seems to us, their own attitude toward the doctrinal issues at stake in the Kuitert Case. And not only is this true for various denominations; it is also true for the RES, which at its recent meeting in Sydney, Australia avoided a showdown on the matter of theGereformeerde Kerken and their membership in the RES.


In our October 15, 1972 issue we reported and editorialized on the question of the membership of the GKN in the Reformed Ecumenical Synod and on the decision of the RES on this matter. 

Permit me to refresh your memory. 

First of all, the decision of the RES itself was a very bland one. It really decided nothing. It was a neat way of declaring that it would not take a stand on matters concerning the GKN while, in effect, it declined overtures of member churches requesting it to take a stand. It welcomed concern on the part of member churches. It declared that it was the business of the RES to be concerned about the spiritual welfare and the Scriptural government of the churches. And, as far as the subject under discussion is concerned, it expressed its “deep concern about the theological views of Dr. H. M. Kuitert and some other theologians.” And while the decision did not in so many words state this, apparently the reason for the RES’s failure to take action lay in the statement that the RES “accepts the assurance of the delegates of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands that their churches are giving their serious and continuing attention to these views.” 

For the sake of argument, let us accept that last statement of the RES for a moment, although, of course, even that statement represents a bad decision from every viewpoint. If it is a good faith statement, then it only bespeaks the fact that the RES was tremendously naive as to the true nature of that “serious and continuing attention” of the GKN to the views of Kuitert and others. How, in the light of all that happened and all that was decided even prior to the latest Kuitert Decision of the GKN, could anyone accept such assurances as are mentioned? Mind you, Kuitert’s views had already been under discussion for a long time! Nor had there been any indication that the GKN, in spite of all its “serious and continuing attention,” intended to censure either Kuitert or his views. On the contrary, there was every indication that room would be made officially for Kuitert’s views. I fail to understand how anyone could put any stock in the assurances of the Dutch delegates. One would have to be as naive as was Chamberlain at Munich. 

But this is not the worst. The very decision of the RES to accept these assurances was itself a bad decision: for it accepted the failure of the GKN to exercise doctrinal discipline instead of engaging in “serious and continuing attention.” This was exactly part of the problem brought up in overtures by member churches of the RES. 

But for the sake of argument, let us accept the statement. 

Then the question is: what now? 

The die is cast. The GKN has officially terminated its ‘”serious and continuing attention” to the Kuitert matter. And the termination has left Kuitert, in spite of his admittedly anti-confessional views, in good standing in the GKN. 

And the GKN remain members in good standing in the RES! 

In the interim before the next meeting of the RES some years hence, the GKN can continue as members, continue to participate in RES activities, continue to have a place in the Interim Committee and in various study committees, and continue to exercise what can only be a bad influence. And nothing can be done, I fear, to prevent this. 

Yet—although this is looking far into the future—it would seem that eventually the RES is going to be forced to face the issue which it failed to face in 1972. This time, it would seem, there will have to be a showdown—unless the powers that be are again adroit enough to steer clear of it. 

However, even before the next RES is convened, various member churches will have to face the issue. 

And the latest decision of the GKN on the Kuitert matter only serves to underscore this necessity, it would seem. 

You will recall that there were some specific overtures from member churches concerning the Gereformeerde Kerken

From the Orthodox Presbyterian Church there were two communications. One had to do with the dual membership of the GKN in the World Council of Churches and in the Reformed Ecumenical Synod. But the second had to do specifically with the Kuitert case. It raised the question whether the GKN were not in conflict with the confessional Basis of the RES. And it stated specifically: “It is difficult for us to understand how the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands can on the one hand declare that Dr. H. M. Kuitert’s ‘negation of the historicity of the fall of man’ is not in agreement with the confessional’ statement of the Scriptural truth which ‘must also be. maintained as authoritative by the church as having importance for the proclamation of the Gospel’ and then on the other hand proceed to resolve that ‘the unity of the confession of the church is not so much threatened that special decisions would be necessary.'” And in an attached letter this OPC overture, adopted by the Thirty-eighth General Assembly, refers directly to the declaration of the Synod of Sneek-1970 concerning the letters of protest against Dr. Kuitert’s views. 

Also, you will recall, the Reformed Churches of New Zealand asked for action on this matter at the 1972 meeting of the RES. Specifically the resolution of the New Zealand churches was as follows: “That the Reformed Ecumenical Synod consider whether the resolutions adopted by the Synod of the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland, in its meeting of 5 November 1970, regarding the teachings of Dr. H. M. Kuitert and others, who share his convictions, do not conflict with the requirements for membership as set out in Art. IV of the Rules and Standing Orders of the R.E.S. . . ., and b. that the Synod should it find that there is conflict, request the Gereformeerde Kerken to withdraw from the R.E.S. or alternately make provisions for the exclusion of these Churches from the membership of the R.E.S. in order that a situation in which the basis of the R.E.S. becomes ambiguous be avoided.”‘ 

Both of these member churches of the RES, therefore, are now confronted by this set of facts: 

1. The R.E.S. utterly failed to take the action requested in their overtures. Presumably this failure was based in part on the assurance by the Dutch delegates that the GKN were still dealing with this matter and were; doing so seriously. 

2. The Gereformeerde Kerken have now terminated the discussion of the Kuitert Case, have maintained the position of the Synod of Sneek, have refused to find any grounds for; further action against Kuitert and thus justified him, and therefore remain in conflict with the confessional basis of the RES. 

If, as I wrote earlier, these churches were faced by the necessity of taking a stand as to their own continuing membership in the RES, this is certainly doubly true now. The GKN have taken their stand. There is no longer the excuse that they are giving “continuing and serious attention” to this matter: they themselves have declared the case to be terminated. But the conflict with the confessional basis of the RES remains. At best, these two member churches can make their continued membership in the RES contingent upon RES condemnation of the stand of the GKN. 

They would do better, in our opinion, however, to follow the example of the Hapdong Presbyterian Church of Korea. This denomination was not represented at the 1972 session of .the RES; and the General Assembly of the Hapdong Church, we are reliably informed, took a decision in September, 1972 to withdraw from the RES. As yet we do not have the details of this decision. But undoubtedly the decision was influenced/ in part by a published Critique of the RES by Rev. Sang Ghan Lee, a critique which, among other things, exposed the sad situation in the Gereformeerde Kerken.

In our opinion, the RES has not shown itself to be worthy of consideration as an ecumenical option for Reformed churches. 


The Christian Reformed Church has shown great reluctance to take any definitive action with respect to the GKN thus far. 

Their delegates to the RES went to Australia in 1972 with synodical, instructions “to oppose any definitive action by the RES re termination of the membership of the Gereformeerde Kerken at RES Australia 1972.” And the grounds were that “The situation is still in flux in the churches of the Gereformeerde: Kerken, and the matter is being dealt with by the Synod of Dordrecht (1971-1972),” and that “An evaluation of trends cannot be completed until it is clear which trends will prevail and which positions will finally be adopted.” 

However, there is more involved. 

In 1970 the Christian Reformed Synod addressed a letter of admonition to the GKN concerning these matters. And although, in our opinion, the letter was extremely mild and not sufficiently specific in view of the serious situation in the GKN, nevertheless it did serve to call these matters to the attention of theGereformeerde Kerken. Besides over the years there have been various overtures before the Christian Reformed Synod concerning doctrinal developments in the GKN. 

Moreover, in the debate about Report 36/44 (The Nature and Extent of the Authority of Scripture), it was claimed—as one of the arguments in favor of adoption of this Report—that although the report did not mention the views of Kuitert by name, nevertheless it excluded the possibility of Kuitert’s views and of his approach to Scripture. 

But now the GKN have taken their stand. 

What will the CRC do about this? 

It is to be hoped that the CRC will now be moved to take “definitive action” concerning their sister-church relationship with the GKN. Failure to take resolute action will certainly mean that the doors of the CRC are officially wide open to the same errors and the same doctrinal liberty which plague the GKN. Personally, however, I have little expectation of such a resolute stand. My reasons? They are several. But here are some: 1. The Christian Reformed Church has shown no inclination in recent years to take a resolute stand on doctrinal matters. 2. Already when Dr. Kuitert spoke in this country a few years ago, there were not a few among the Christian Reformed clergy who agreed with him and who were ready to defend him. 3. The Christian Reformed Church has refused to take action with regard to Dr. Willis de Boer, whose views of Genesis are at least in some respects—if not altogether—in harmony with those of Dr. Kuitert. 4. To take a clear stand on this matter would involve the CRC in a doctrinal controversy within the denomination, the kind of controversy which it wan to avoid. 

But time will tell.