This editorial is not meant to be a report. It surely is no official report.
The official report will, D. V., appear in the Standard Bearer. The trouble, however, with such an official report is that it usually is so very official. It confines itself to bare facts and decisions. It does not publish the discussions, nor the reports of the various committees, or the letters that were presented to Classis. It presents a mere skeleton, without flesh and blood.
This article does not mean to be such a report. It only wants to relate a few of the main happenings and transactions of Classis East and my personal impressions of them.
I do not even have notes. I write from memory on the evening of the same day that Classis met, the ninth of January, 1952.
One of the first thoughts that entered my mind as I attended Classis, not as a delegate, but as an onlooker, though with advisory vote, was of Classis West.
You think this strange?
(Let me explain then.
In a way I was envious of Classis West in the quiet and peaceful prairies of Iowa and Minnesota, in the beautiful plateau of Manhattan, Montana, with its grand scenery of snow-capped mountains round about, and in sunny California, with its orange and walnut groves, its partly snow-covered mountains and beautifully-hued desert. The people in Classis West seem to be so far from the madding crowd! They know nothing of the troubles the churches have in the east and of all the unhappy, yea, miserable experiences they have with the Canadian Liberated immigrants. O, it is true, they read a few reports and articles in the papers, and perhaps shrug their shoulders. But by experience they evidently know nothing of our troubles in the east. In that respect I dare say they are blissfully ignorant. And as I sat as an onlooker-with-advisory-vote at the last sessions of Classis East and meditated on this mentality of blissful ignorance in Classis West, I began to understand, I thought, in part at least, why many in that Classis took the attitude that the Declaration of Principles was not necessary. They did not know, they did not understand, they had not the experiences we in the east had and still have. They live in blissful ignorance, . . .
Another impression I received at the Classis today was that if the Declaration of Principles had been up for discussion today, Classis East would again undoubtedly have adopted it with overwhelming majority, virtually without opposition.
But it was hardly mentioned, in fact, not at all except by Chatham and in connection with its case.
Chatham, you say? Did they not leave the fellowship of our churches?
And yet, the case of Chatham, and partly also that of Hamilton, occupied nearly all the time and attention of Classis this ninth of January, 1952.
The case of Hamilton was disposed of rather easily and quickly.
A group of brethren there of our former congregation in that city, that still call themselves Protestant Reformed, had addressed a letter to Classis, a reply to a letter from Classis East addressed to them, I believe, in April, 1951. Also on the Classis in April the same brethren from Hamilton had a letter in which they claimed that they were still Protestant Reformed, but in which at the same time they directed certain charges against Classis East. At that time, if my memory does not fail me, the Classis repudiated their charges, and urged them to repent and return from their evil way. And since the letter that appeared on the table of the present Classis by the same brethren virtually was of the same contents as their former letter, Classis made short work of it. It replied in the same vein as to their former letter. There were a few voices heard, at Classis that favored sending a committee to these brethren to speak to them face to face, but they found no support. And the decision to send them the proposed letter was without a dissenting vote.
The case of Chatham required more time.
This was not because there was a single delegate of Classis that attempted to defend the erring and revolutionary brethren in the Chatham group. No one defended them, because it was very evident to all that this would be a hopeless case. But their case involved the treatment of several documents. And this, of course, took time.
These documents were the following: 1) A letter from Chatham to Classis, which also all the consistories received, not only in Classis East, but also in Classis West. 2) A report by the Classical Committee, that met with the Consistory of Chatham shortly after they had already separated themselves from our churches. 3) A report from the Rev. Petter, who had been summoned from Lynden to explain his part in the history of Chatham. 4) A, letter from Mr. Scheele, formerly clerk of the former congregation in
Chatham, the only true and faithful member of our church there, who moved to the far northwest and now belongs to our congregation in Lynden, Washington.
Let me remind you again that I do not write a report. I am only meditating and give you my impressions.
And then I must say, in the first place, that those people in Chatham represent the cause of the Liberated in The Netherlands most poorly and most miserably.
They not only impress me as revolutionary and without any sense of responsibility, but also as very untrustworthy.
You ask how I received those impressions?
I will relate a few facts that caused them.
The first impression I received of their deceitfulness and falsity was from the letter of Mr. Scheele mentioned above. In that letter he related the experience which he had with them concerning the books and archives of the church in Chatham. As I said, he was clerk of that congregation and of the consistory. And at the time when they had declared themselves “liberated” they demanded that he would hand over those books and archives to them, the newly appointed consistory. This Mr. Scheele refused to do, on the basis that not they, but the Rev. Petter and himself represented the original Protestant Ref. Church of Chatham. The justice of this refusal is, of course, very evident. Besides, at the time he asked advice of the Classical Committee, and they corroborated his stand and position. As I mentioned, he left Chatham, and moved to the far northwest, to become a member of our congregation in Lynden. He made this move in order to be in the neighborhood of a Prot. Ref. Church, and became member there. There, however, he received a letter from the Consistory of Chatham in which they asked that he would send to them the books and archives of the former congregation in Chatham as a temporary loan to them. They promised that they would copy those books and return them, I believe, in two weeks. But when Mr. Scheele did not hear from them, he wrote them a letter in which he requested that they return the books and archives before the meeting of Classis, January, 1952, because he had to deliver them to this body. Then Mr. Scheele, according to his own report at the Classis, received a very ugly letter, in which the Consistory of Chatham accused him of being a thief, and in which they insisted that the books were not his, but theirs, and that they would never return them. Do you wonder that I received the impression that the men of the former consistory in Chatham were very deceitful and untrustworthy? They had only asked Mr. Scheele to loan them the books, and they faithfully promised him to return them to him. But this evidently was only a deceitful trick, to gain possession of the books and archives.
Another item that gave me the impression that they were untrustworthy was found in the report by the Classical Committee to Classis. It concerned a financial matter. The former Consistory of our church in Chatham had asked Classis for permission to ask for a collection in all our churches for the purpose of acquiring a parsonage for their minister. That request was granted them. Several churches had already collected for them. And in all they had received approximately $1,500. Remember that the purpose of this money was definitely to buy or build a parsonage for the Rev. Petter. But they never did anything with that money. At least, they made no attempt to acquire a parsonage for their pastor. I understand that they had an opportunity to rent a parsonage for $60 a month, which, of course, was very cheap, considering the times. But they considered that this rent was too high, and they would not pay so high a sum for a parsonage for their minister. They rather let their minister and his family live in a small, two-room apartment, in which they slept on a mattress on the floor in the same room where during the day the Rev. Petter had his study. But let that be. When the Classical Committee met the newly appointed consistory in Chatham, they called their attention to the fact that they had collected $1,500 from our churches, and that they had never used it for the purpose for which it was given. And they, the Committee, demanded that that money should be returned to the churches. They could have easily given the Committee a check for that money at the same meeting, because it was still in the bank. But they did not. I do not remember whether at that meeting they promised to return the money. But at any rate, to date they never did. And the Classis today had to make a decision to demand of them that they return this money to our treasurer. If they ever comply with that request, I will inform the reader faithfully. But at any rate, that item in the report of the Classical Committee was another cause of the impression I received, of those people, that they cannot be trusted.
One more fact I must mention to explain to you the source of my impressions.
In the letter they addressed to Classis, the same that was addressed to all the Consistories in our churches, they leave the impression that the passing of the Declaration at our last Synod was really the cause and the reason of their separating from us. Now, this may have been the occasion, although, of course, even if this were true, their act of schism was very revolutionary. The Classical Committee pointed out to them that they could have protested the decision of Synod at our next Synod, if they so desired; and if, after that, they were not satisfied, they could always separate and refuse to abide by the decision of our churches. But more than a pretext this certainly was not. For in the letter by Mr. Scheele that was read at the Classis quite a different story was told. And also from the report by the Rev. Petter I received a different impression. They simply did not like the Rev. Petter and his preaching, although before he accepted the call he informed them that they must expect Prot. Ref. preaching. But it was very evident that the Rev. Petter, when he preached in the Prot. Ref. way, was not wanted. They did not want the Prot. Ref. truth. That, and not the passing of the Declaration as such, was the cause why they “liberated”, separated themselves from our churches. All this in spite of the fact that in my sermon at the organization of the church in Chatham I definitely and emphatically warned them that they must never organize if they could not affirmatively answer the second question in baptism concerning the doctrine that is taught here in this Christian church. Also this explains my impression that those people in Chatham are very untrustworthy.
(to be continued)