Letters

Recommended Works on Eschatology

I thank you for your good work in producing The Standard Bearer. I look forward to each issue and read it cover to cover. Could you send me a copy of the Belgic Confession? In addition, could you advise me as to the best books, publications, etc. that you would recommend on defining and defending the amillennial position in eschatology?

(Mr.) Jim Pierson

Maryville, TN

Response:

Receive with our compliments a copy of the Belgic Confession, as well as a copy of the Heidelberg Catechism and of the Canons of Dordt – the confessions of the Reformed churches.

The following are recommended works on the amillennial doctrine of the last things.

* Herman Hoeksema’s commentary on Revelation, Behold, He Cometh!; Herman Hoeksema’s chapter on “The Millennium” in his Reformed Dogmatics and Herman Hoeksema’s short pamphlet, “The Millennium Period.” These are available from The Reformed Book Outlet, 3505 Kelly St., Hudsonville, MI 49426.

* George C. Lubbers, The Bible versus Millennial Teaching: An Exegetical Critique (privately published, 1989). This book is also available from The Reformed Book Outlet.

* William Hendriksen, More than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation (1939).

* O.T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1964).

* Anthony A. Hoekema, “Amillennialism,” in The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views, ed. Robert G. Clouse (Intervarsity Press, 1977).

A careful study of the Reformed creeds that we are sending you will show that amillennialism is the official teaching of the Reformed churches, and why.

– Ed.

An “Election Theology” of Covenant: Beautiful and Comforting

Let me express how much I enjoy your editorials, “An ‘Election Theology’ of Covenant,” in its six installments (thus far). Who could ask for anything more beautiful and comforting than a covenant with us and our children that is controlled by God’s sovereign election? You have proved this biblically beyond all doubt. Canons I:9 speaks of “men being chosen to faith, and to the obedience of faith, holiness, etc., therefore election is the fountain of every saving good.” A view of the covenant that does not proceed upon unconditional election as to its surety and scope is not a biblical or Reformed view of the covenant.

Let us continue to be insistent, yet patient, with those who cannot distinguish between faith as “a condition” and as “the way,” between “seed” and “in their generations” (Gen. 17:7), between the children of believers in general and “as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39), and with those who are content with an unkept, general promise of God rather than a particular promise sworn to with God’s own oath (Heb. 6:13-18). And how can one make these biblical distinctions without using such a term as “sphere of the covenant”?

Have no fear that these articles have wearied the reader. They are instructive and refreshing, and give great comfort to covenant parents.

(Rev.) D.H. Kuiper

Lacombe, AB, Canada

The Covenant, Election, and Article 31 of the Church Order

We want to respond briefly to two articles recently published in The Standard Bearer. We do not want to interfere in the discussion between Prof. Engelsma and Dr. DeJong which is carried on in The Standard Bearer and Clarion, but it seems good to set the record straight on two matters.

1. In Volume 67, no. 20 (Sept. 1, 1991), Prof. Engelsma spoke of “the ‘Liberated’ problem with election,” and “the ‘Liberated’ hostility to election” (p. 462). These statements are wrong. Rejection of what is seen as a wrong view on the relation between election and the covenant is not the same as hostility to the doctrine of election itself. From his viewpoint Prof. Engelsma could think that an inconsistency exists between the doctrine of election and that of the covenant in “Liberated” (if you insist on this word) theology. But he cannot say that the “Liberated” are hostile to the doctrine of election. These churches maintain this doctrine as it is confessed in Article 16 of the Belgic Confession, Lord’s Day 21 of the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort.

2. In the next issue (Sept. 15, 1991), Engelsma mentions that Schilder wrote to all the consistories that he would not be bound by certain dogmatic decisions of Synod 1942- 1944, and would write against them. The article continues: “This violated Article 31 of the Church Order of Dordt. The Liberated Churches have incessantly referred to synodical authority as ‘synodocracy,’ as though there is no legitimate authority of synod over the consistory” (p. 487). But a) Article 31 of the Church Order gives the right to reject decisions of a Synod, if they are proven to be in conflict with the Word of God or with the Church Order. Thus Schilder did not violate the Church Order when he wrote the consistories. b) Schilder did not refer to synodical authority as “synodocracy.” He called it “synodocracy” when Synods went beyond their mandate. c) Schilder’s articles in which he stated that Christ had shed his blood also for the church federation again disprove Engelsma’s allegation. Schilder wrote these articles to oppose an independentistic tendency within the” Liberated” churches.

(Prof.) N.H. Gootjes

Theological College of the Canadian Reformed Churches

Hamilton, ON Canada

Response:

I charged that “imbedded deeply in the very heart of ‘Liberated’ covenant doctrine is a fatal weakness regarding God’s eternal election” (see my editorial in the September 1, 1991 issue of the Standard Bearer). Whether I proved this charge must be determined from the series of editorials (“An ‘Election Theology’ of Covenant”) that I wrote in response to the letter from Prof. Dr. J. DeJong that appeared in the March 15, 199l issue of the SB. In weighing Prof. Gootjes’ denial of this charge, the reader is directed to the six editorials in the March 15, April 1, April 15, May 15, August 1, and September 1, 1991 issues of the SB.

The second point in Prof. Gootjes’ letter is his defense of the “Liberated” interpretation of Article 31 of the church order of Dordt. I questioned the “Liberated” position on the authority of the synod as their position is described by Rudolf vanReest in the recent book, Schilder’s Struggle for the Unity of the Church (Neerlandia, Alberta, Canada: Inheritance Publications, 1990). I wrote this:

But if vanReest is correct, that it is the church polity of the “Liberated” Churches that for a decision of synod to be considered settled and binding the decision must first be ratified by the consistory, the “Liberated” have abandoned Reformed church government for independency (see my editorial in the Sept. 15, 1991 issue of the SB, “A Belated Contribution to the Schilder Commemoration”).

I now quote in full the paragraph in which vanReest gives the “Liberated” view of the authority of the synod and by implication the “Liberated” explanation of Article 31 of the church order of Dordt (“. . . whatever may be agreed upon by a majority vote shall be considered settled and binding,” etc.):

I have already indicated that when Schilder took this step (namely, “not submitting to the synodical decisions and . . . advising the churches not to do so either” – DJE), he was only doing his duty. According to Reformed (Gereformeerd) church order, the synod is not some sort of “supreme college” of church leaders but a gathering of delegated representatives of the consistories. In the nature of the case, the delegating bodies must stand above those whom they have delegated. The delegates are responsible to the consistories that have issued them their credentials. And so the consistories would have to ratify what was done (Schilder’s Struggle for the Unity of the Church, p. 330).

Against this, it seems to me, Reformed church government raises three, grave concerns. First, even if it be true that a consistory is permitted to resist and oppose synodical decisions throughout the denomination (which I deny), surely this is not permitted to the individual member, including the individual theologian. Defending the action of Dr. Schilder, vanReest appeals to the alleged rights of consistories.

Second, if decisions of the synod have authority in the denomination only when and inasmuch as the individual consistory ratifies these decisions, the synod has no real authority over the consistories whatever. Such a view of the authority of the synod does not differ from the view of the independent churches. They too will observe the decisions of their broader associations, if the local congregation decides that it approves of these decisions. Otherwise not. This is not Reformed (Presbyterian) church polity. Article 36 of the church order of Dordt ascribes (real) jurisdiction over the consistory to the major assemblies.

Third, the implicit explanation of Article 31 is that decisions of major assemblies “shall be considered settled and binding” by each local consistory (if not by each individual member) only on the condition that each consistory (if not each member) ratifies the decisions. This is not what Article 31 says. This is not what Article 31 means. Indeed, this explanation of Article 31 has the dubious distinction of standing the article exactly on its head. It contradicts the spirit and letter of the article. Now no decision of a major assembly is considered settled and binding in the denomination. Only if the consistories ratify the decisions are they considered settled and binding, and then because of the consistorial action. The only decisions that are, in fact, considered settled and binding are those of the consistory (or, very possibly, those of the individual member of the congregation). No Reformed denomination can live and work, as a denomination, if this interpretation of Article 31 is actually implemented. I dare say that the “Liberated” Churches themselves do not live and work this way either.

– Ed.