By this time it is hardly possible to be shocked any longer by news of deviations from the Reformed position in the Gereformeerde Kerken (synodical). It seems only to be a question of which truth will be the next victim of free-thinking assault — first by some learned individual or committee, and then by the official decision of a synod.
And yet when such a characteristically Reformed doctrine (and practice) as infant baptism is bartered away in the interest of ecumenism, it makes one sit up and think — or, it ought to do so — and weep! For when something like this takes place, does it not become plain that nothing distinctively Reformed is held sacred any longer? And does it not become plain, too, that once a denomination sets foot on the path of error and of doctrinal-freedom, the end can only be the denial and forfeiture of the entire precious heritage of the faith, and that, too, with pious phraseology and pompous ecclesiastical pronouncements — all, mind you, in the name of the very Christ Who will only spue such a church out of His mouth.
We had not noticed reports of this development in any of the American periodicals which occasionally carry news about the Dutch churches. But in De Reformatieof September 22 the lead article is a report and critique concerning this latest departure. [De Reformatie is a paper of Gereformeerde Kerken(Liberated) in the Netherlands.] The article is entitled, “Infant Baptism — Yes or No?”
Here is the sad tale, the facts of which we have gleaned from De Reformatie. There has been a joint commission of the Hervormde Kerk, the so-called State Church, and the Gereformeerde Kerkenpreparing a “Concept Pastoral Advice About Infant Baptism.” Those who have followed developments in the Netherlands will know that the Gereformeerde Kerken are busily courting the Hervormde Kerk, from which they separated in 1834 and 1886, under De Cock and Kuyper respectively. The leadership of the GKN is hot-bloodedly seeking to consummate a remarriage with the Hervormde Kerk. A joint synodical meeting of sorts has already been held, and in various ways the two denominations are working together — all with a view to eventual reunion. The joint commission on the matter of infant baptism is part of this movement toward reunion. Meanwhile, it should not be overlooked that there is something radically wrong when synodical commissions prepare and synods hand down “pastoral advice” on various subjects. The pastoral function belongs with the local consistory and in the local congregation. Synodical “pastoral advice” is a high-sounding phrase for usurpation of power, a euphemism for “hierarchy.”
On this joint commission, according to De Reformatie, the GKN were represented by J.P.C. Boodt, Rev. H.A. van Bottenburg, Dr. O.C. Broek Roelofs, Prof. Dr. J. Firet, and Prof. Dr. G.P. Hartvelt.
And what does the learned commission declare?
This: “A church which is really church of Christ in this world must have the strength to accept in her midst as officebearers also those who have serious objections against the baptism of little children.”
True, the commission is also reported to have testified, “that we must also emphatically defend in our time the good right of the baptizing of the little children of the congregation.” But this “good right” amounts to nothing more than that “little children may be baptized and on the ground thereof may all their life be exhorted unto obedience.” (italics added)
As De Reformatie points out, the report tries to be even-handed in its proposed pastoral advice. For it also pleads the good right of objections against infant baptism. It claims that such objections arise out of the fact that such people take seriously the Scriptural injunction to conversion and sanctification of life on the part of the congregation and the individual. And it asserts that the criticism which is made of a careless practice of baptism, in which often all who are presented for baptism are baptized, is not only completely understandable but also justified from the Scriptures. It fails to point out that a wrong practice of infant baptism does not justify abandonment of the principle of infant baptism; and it fails to point out that the solution to this problem of a careless baptismal practice is the proper exercise of discipline in the churches, discipline of leaders and of members. Instead it takes under its protection the rejection of infant baptism. And it advises that the churches should accept with full rights of membership those who thus reject infant baptism. And they must have the strength even to accept such persons as officebearers.
This, mind you, is the duty of the church “which is really church of Christ in this world.”
It should hardly be necessary to point out that in Reformed churches infant baptism is not optional, but mandatory, and that those who make it optional literally forsake their Reformed basis. According to our Baptism Form, covenant parents acknowledge “that although our children are conceived and born in sin, and therefore are subject to all miseries, yea, to condemnation itself; yet that they are sanctified in Christ, and therefore, as members of his Church oughtto be baptized.” (italics added) The 74th Answer of our Heidelberg Catechism states the same mandate: “Yes: for since they, as well as the adult, are included in the covenant and church of God; and since redemption from sin by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult; they must therefore by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, be also admitted into the Christian church; and be distinguished from the children of unbelievers as was done in the old covenant or testament by circumcision, instead of which baptism is instituted in the new covenant.” The Netherlands Confession of Faith, Article 34, teaches the same: “. . . therefore we detest the error of the Anabaptists, who are not content with the one only baptism they have once received, and moreover condemn the baptism of the infants of believers, whom we believe ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant, as the children in Israel formerly were circumcised, upon the same promises which are made unto our children. And indeed Christ shed his blood no less for the washing of the children of the faithful, then for adult persons; and therefore they oughtto receive the sign and sacrament of that which Christ hath done for them. . . .” (italics added in both quotations from our confessions)
Plainly, therefore, and in the literal sense of the word, this is a departure from our Reformed basis.
And it is not a minor departure!
For implied in this denial of infant baptism in the abandonment of what has always been recognized — along with the truth of God’s sovereign grace — as one of the chief characteristics of the Reformed faith: the truth of God’s eternal covenant of grace.
If the GKN, therefore, had not previously lost the right to the name “Reformed,” they have done so now.
But, you say, this is only the advice of a commission.
This is correct. However, in the first place, this should not be minimized. For this advice represents the view of those who are officebearers, among them some who are theological professors. Do you not see that the GKN are lost as Reformed churches when it is possible that such advice can even be conceived, much less proposed, by those whose responsibility it is to train future ministers? This simply means that the course of liberty of teaching and the course of neglect of doctrinal discipline has been followed to the bitter end. It is now possible for officebearers openly and officially to propose that the churches forsake their confessions and to flout a key truth of the Reformed faith. This is much worse than the errors of men like Kuitert and Wiersinga, who individually and in their own name proposed heretical views. It means that this cancer has reached the ecclesiastical vitals.
And, in the second place, I do not hesitate to predict that sooner or later this advice will also be adopted. It may undergo some changes — to mollify the feelings of those who will have objections. And it may pass through a lengthy ecclesiastical process; this is but part of the method in the madness of the liberals. It is part of the strategy of the liberalizing process. But sooner or later — and couched in learned words that are smooth as butter — the position will be adopted.
And why not? The GKN as a denomination no longer care about being Reformed! If the minority of Reformed dissenters are ever to move toward reformation, it is high time!
Meanwhile, what ecclesiastical hypocrisy! A few decades ago, in the 1940s these same churches ruthlessly cast out officebearers in a controversy about the covenant of grace and about the meaning of the baptism of infants. Today it can be proposed officially to abandon infant baptism by making it a mere option both for members and for officebearers — and with it to abandon the entire idea of the covenant of grace.
Is this not the judgment of God for the ecclesiastical injustices perpetrated at that time?
And is it not ironic, too, that in these same GKN there should be at present a renewed attempt to gain ecclesiastical restoration to honor for those who were so shamefully treated in the 194Os, the late Dr. K. Schilder and the late Dr. S. Greijdanus? Would not our Lord rebuke the GKN for building the tombs of the prophets whom their fathers have slain—- except for the fact that some of the perpetrators of those injustices are still living?
But there is a lesson in all this. Let no one imagine that there is a stopping of the tide of liberalism, once a denomination has set this course for itself. Let no one imagine that any given wrong decision is going to be the last one, or that it is possible for a church federation to exist in a half-Reformed and half-non-Reformed status. There is, no stopping until the cancer of liberalism has ravaged the entire body and the whole structure of the churches’ confession. Nor are any half-way measures of reformation possible. Reformation is an all-or-nothing matter. It involves a complete and wholehearted return to the faith of our fathers — no matter what the cost — or it cannot possibly succeed.
This is the lesson of history in general.
This is the lesson of the sad history of theGereformeerde Kerken.
This is the lesson which the “concerned people” in the Christian Reformed Church and other denominations in our own country must learn to understand.
This is the lesson which none of us must ever forget!
Let us be always vigilant! And let us guard our heritage with our lives!