And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off: for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter.
Yea, truth faileth: and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey: and the Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no judgment.
In a commencement address to this year’s graduates of Calvin Seminary, the Hon. John Feikens, Judge for the U.S. District Court, Detroit, spoke on the subject, “‘Is It Fair? Is It Just?” (cf. The Banner, June 29, 1973, pp. 14-16) Though Mr. Feikens is considered ati expert in the realm of civil justice and jurisprudence, he was not, however, giving of his expertise in this area; he purposed to admonish the graduates to seek and to practice ecclesiastical justice and to bring about improvement in their denomination’s ecclesiastical assemblies as far as rules for good order, and thus as far as fairness and justice, are concerned.
This is in itself a good goal. And, I suppose, the occasion of graduation could be considered a proper occasion for thus admonishing a class of future ministers. With this we have no quarrel. We will not even quarrel with the fact that one who sits on the federal bench was chosen to speak to the graduates—although, as my experience has taught me, a civil judge does by no means necessarily have the knowledge and qualifications which enable him to render advice in things pertaining to Reformed church polity and ecclesiastical justice. We will pass that by: it is entirely possible that as a son of the Christian Reformed Church Judge Feikens is qualified to speak on things ecclesiastical.
However, Mr. Feikens was critical of his denomination. He made the claim that a few years ago the Synod turned down an opportunity to bring about good order and proper rules of procedure and due process. And he made the claim that “this problem has been with our church for a long time.”
To bolster this claim, Judge Feikens makes reference to two cases of fifty years ago: that of Dr. Ralph Janssen and that of the Rev. Herman Hoeksema. And this is the point at which Mr. Feikens begins to err, and to err very seriously.
In connection with the Janssen Case, Judge Feikens writes as follows:
Fifty years ago the case of Dr. Ralph Janssen, a professor of this seminary, rocked the denomination. In an excellent series of articles in the Reformed Journal, Harry R. Boer has written about this case. Issues regarding Dr. Janssen’s teachings, his view of Scripture, inspiration and miracles, had twice been brought before Calvin’s Board of Trustees, and each time the complaints against him had been denied. But in 1922 it again took up the matter when further complaints against Janssen were made. When the case reached the Board, a motion was made to hear Dr. Janssen, so that he would have an opportunity to defend himself. This motion was defeated.
The Board of Trustees then proceeded to judge his case even though Dr. Janssen was not present and even though he had not been given an opportunity to be heard; Dr. Boer suggests that the argument made against inviting Dr. Janssen to the Board was that he would not come anyway. In a split decision, the majority of the Board then recommended to the Synod that Dr. Janssen’s teachings were not satisfactory and that he should be dismissed.
It is not inappropriate to say to you at this juncture that in a civil proceeding or in a criminal proceeding in a United States Court, no judgment may be made against a defendant who is not present in court and who has not been given an opportunity to present his case personally or to defend himself.
The Janssen case then went from the Board of Trustees to the Synod of 1922. When Dr. Janssen was invited by an advisory committee of the Synod to meet with it, he did so. At the committee meeting, he stated in writing that the only circumstances under which he would appear would be if Synod took up his case in a proper ecclesiastical manner. He wanted Synod to vacate the ruling of the Board of Trustees and then to hear his case in its entirety. He took this position because he had not been given an opportunity to appear and to defend himself before the Board. In that way the refusal of the Board of Trustees to permit Janssen to come before it and to defend himself in person became a threshold issue at Synod.
But Synod did not face and decide this issue. It did not criticize the Board of Trustees for its denial of this basic right. On the contrary, it took up the Majority Report of the Board of Trustees and found against Dr. Janssen by adopting it. In so doing, Synod condoned and ratified the action of the Board of Trustees, and thus an individual Christian’s basic right to be treated justly was ignored.
This was not good order. This was not basic fairness. Justice and the appearance of justice demand that decisions and judgments made in this manner be declared invalid; they are not sound judgments at all. The right to face one’s accusers and to be present in person and with counsel before the tribunal which makes a judgment is an unalienable right. It is a right which the church no less than the state must guarantee to an individual who is under investigation and attack.
Now, in the first place, I would suggest that Judge Feikens is himself guilty of a procedural error here. He apparently accepts hearsay evidence, or, at least, not the best evidence. When I read this version of the Janssen Case, I can only come to the conclusion that it is a much oversimplified and twisted version which is itself based on the twisted version of Dr. Harry Boer in the Reformed Journal. As a civil judge and as a lawyer, Mr. Feikens certainly knows something about rules of evidence. And the best evidence would certainly be: 1) The ecclesiastical records themselves, including: Acts of Synod, 1920; the Majority and Minority Reports and the Acts of Synod, 1922; and the Acts of Synod, 1924, with its detailed treatment of the protest of the Rev. Q. Breen concerning the Janssen Case, in which many procedural objections were (again) raised and answered. 2) The testimony of the participants themselves, as recorded in many brochures and articles in religious periodicals of the day.
Incidentally, I have the distinct impression that Dr. Harry Boer in his articles in the Reformed Journalaims in part at a post mortem rehabilitation, or restoration to honor (eerherstelling), of Dr. Janssen—somewhat in the fashion of the rehabilitation of Dr. Geelkerken in the Netherlands a few years ago. We have not yet commented on Dr. Boer’s presentation because we wished to wait until he finished his series; a third and final article has not yet appeared though the second article of the series was published in January. Perhaps it may be added that such post mortemrestoration to honor is at least consistent, both in the light of the decisions on the Nature and Extent of the Authority of Scripture and in the light of the fact that today errors such as Janssen’s are tolerated in the Christian Reformed Church.
In the second place, the misrepresentation of the Janssen case by Feikens-Boer is merely their opinion, as it was the opinion of Janssen himself and of many of his supporters in by-gone years. And it should not be overlooked that the various elements of alleged unfair and unjust treatment of Janssen were all considered at the time the case was before the churches; these allegations were considered by the Board of Trustees and by the Synods of 1920 and 1922, and they were found by ecclesiastical decision to be without validity. Yet Janssen and his supporters, even after 1922, refused to accept these decisions as settled and binding, but kept on bringing up the same old arguments, even as Dr. Boer has in his articles. Now it is entirely possible, of course, that those synods were wrong; but as a jurist, Mr. Feikens should have much better grounds than he here adduces before he makes bold to say (fifty years later) that the ecclesiastical courts were guilty of unjust and unfair treatment. In the third place, without going into all the ramifications of the case, I believe it can be shown from the record:
1) That in 1920 Dr. Janssen was given ample hearing by Synod. If my memory of the record serves me correctly, he was allowed more than an afternoon session to speak. Would it not be strange if the same Dr. Janssen would be refused the opportunity two years later?
2) That when the Board of Trustees appointed an investigative committee in the interim between the two synods, Dr. Janssen refused to cooperate with this committee. He wrote that he did not “care to be responsible in any way for what may involve the violation of our Reformed Church polity.” In other words, he would not even submit under protest.
3) That it was both in the light of the preceding refusal of Janssen and in the light of the fact that the sole subject before the Board of Trustees at the time of their alleged refusal to give him a hearing wasJanssen’s teachings as reflected in the Student Notes (not Janssen’s person or words or personal notes, which he refused to submit) that the Board did not hear him.
4) That Dr. Janssen was not interested in discussing or defending his teachings or in submitting to investigation. Whenever he had the opportunity, he tried to bring up alleged violations of church polity and alleged un-Christian conduct and heretical teachings on the part of his opponents. Let it be pointed out that Janssen had the perfect right, of course, to register protests against the conduct or the teachings of his colleagues; what he did not have the right to do was to try to confuse his case by making these counter-charges. This is a favorite device of defendants, of course: “the best defense is a strong offense.” And certainly, what Janssen did not have the right to do was publicly to accuse his colleagues without preferring charges against them; and the latter Janssen did not do. Moreover, even after 1920, when this matter had been synodically decided, Janssen continued to claim that in the beginning of the case the four professors should have gone the way of Matthew 18.
5) That at the Synod of 1922 Dr. Janssen had the opportunity to appear before the advisory committee and to defend himself, but he refused to do so. Now it is fine for Judge Feikens to write that in the civil court no judgment may be made against a defendant who is not present in court and who has not been given an opportunity to present his case personally or to defend himself. But let him not forget: 1) That Janssen had such opportunity. 2) That an ecclesiastical court cannot bring a. man before it in irons as can a civil court. In the church, if a man refuses to appear, nothing can be done about it.
In the fourth place, Judge Feikens overlooks a major point. In 1922 the Reformed truth of our confessions triumphed. Truth did not fall in the street. This, surely, is “fair” and “just.” And I believe—and the assemblies of Mr. Feikens’ church believed—that truth did not triumph at the expense of equitable procedure and personal justice.
But then Judge Feikens turns to “another instance, the Hoeksema case.”
I will not quote the several paragraphs which Mr. Feikens devotes to this case. His material is drawn from the Rev. Herman Hoeksema’s book, The Protestant Reformed Churches in America. The chief example of injustice and of the necessity of better rules of procedure which Feikens cites is the failure of the Synod of 1924 to give Hoeksema the full right to defend himself before the advisory committee and before the Synod.
And on the fact of this failure as such Mr. Feikens is, of course, correct.
However, in the first place, if Judge Feikens imagines that some rules would have prevented even that single injustice, he is utterly mistaken. I ask: did not the Synod know? Had they not given Rev. Bultema a hearing in 1918? Had they not given Janssen a hearing in 1920, and the opportunity for a hearing in 1922? Did not the very Synod of 1924 give to the Rev. Q. Breen—who was a protestant, not a defendant—full opportunity to shed light on his protest before Synod? Did they notknow that a defendant should have a hearing, should have the full right of self-defense? In such a situation rules would make no difference.
That my last statement is correct, in the second place, is evident from the fact that the rules which Synod did have were trampled ruthlessly; An example of this is the fact that all the materials of the case which came from Classis Grand Rapids East were admitted for Synod’s consideration contrary to the rule which set the deadline for the Synodical Agenda at May 1. I ask again: did they not know?
In the third place, let me remind Mr. Feikens that there were more important “rules” at stake in the case of 1924 than mere rules of good procedure and of fair treatment. There were rules of long standing at stake, rules which belonged to the heritage of Reformed churches ever since the Great Synod of Dordrecht. I refer to the “rules” of the Church Order of Dordrecht—such rules especially as Articles 36 and 84 of the (old) Church Order. And these fundamental principles of right order in the churches were ruthlessly trampled by the churches. It was in 1924 that the collegialistic and hierarchical misinterpretation of the Church Order gained the field; and it has held the field in the Christian Reformed Church ever since,—let alone the fact that all the terrible injustices of that black page in the history of the Christian Reformed Church have never been undone!
“And judgment is turned away backward, and justice standeth afar off . . . and equity cannot enter.”
No, Mr. Feikens, do not engage in building the tombs of the prophets and garnishing the sepulchers of the righteous!
And what is more important, in the fourth place, in 1924 in the case of Herman Hoeksema and Henry Danhof—in distinction from the Janssen case—there was no denial on the part of the defendants of the doctrines of Scripture and the confessions. There was no “doctrine” of common grace for them to deny, only a theory and a current opinion. The very opponents of Herman Hoeksema at one time said among themselves that they wanted him put out of the church, but that this could not be accomplished with the confessions. And the Synod of 1924 itself gave these men the testimony that they were Reformed in the fundamentals.
“. . .truth is fallen in the street.”
“and equity cannot enter.”
“Yea, truth faileth; and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey.”
Such is the situation today in the Christian Reformed denomination. Witness, for example, the Dekker Case, when again truth and justice were trampled; or the Sweetman Case, in which no justice was done; or the case of Willis De Boer, in which it was impossible to get justice done.
“And the Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no judgment.”
To all of the above, this is probably in the nature of a footnote. In the course of his address Mr. Feikens says in reference to the case of 1924: “Today perhaps we would view such division between believers differently than our fathers did. We live today in an age of ecumenicity. We seek today for the areas in which Christians can agree. Hopefully, as individuals, while not denying our doctrinal standards, we stress more our identity as Christians and we are happy for the places where we can meet on common ground.”
I wish to point out two items:
1. The Christian Reformed Church has never manifested this sweet spirit of ecumenicity toward the Protestant Reformed Churches. Officially it has twice refused even to discuss what holds the two denominations apart.
2. Recently I have heard testimony from our home missions laborers that the attitude of the Christian Reformed Church is quite different than is described above. People may be absent from the services for weeks; they may attend no church at all or churches of other denominations. In some cases they are even advised, in case of dissatisfaction, to attend another church. Admonition or discipline for neglect of the means of grace are absent. But let there be an inkling that they are attending or thinking of attending Protestant Reformed services! Then there are warnings and hints of discipline. Then there is slander of the Protestant Reformed Churches as schismatic and as troublemakers. All spirit of ecumenicity vanishes as the morning mist! “And the Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no judgment.”