Rev. Gise Van Baren
Standard Bearer Editorial Office
4975 Ivanrest SW
Grandville, MI 49418
Dear Rev. Van Baren:
I was hurt and grieved by your allegations in the October 15 issue of the Standard Bearer in which you say (without documentation) that the church which nurtured me and which I love “already holds many positions contrary to Scripture and the creeds” (p. 41). I presume you have in mind common grace, women deacons, and the like. You give the unmistakable impression that when we are faced by these issues we ignore the Bible and our doctrinal standards and take positions either arbitrarily or under pressure of the times. Such is far from the case. We take the Bible and the creeds very seriously and all of our positions that we take are based upon them. It is true that we read them differently than do you. But what warrant does that give you for claiming that we take positions contrary to these standards? We could as well say the same of you. But that would be unparalleled arrogance. Since the Lord has seen fit to give neither of us infallible interpretative powers we do well to listen to John Calvin, the prince of exegetes when he says in the preface to his commentary on the Romans, “God never designed in such a way to exercise liberality towards His servants as that each should be endowed with a full and perfect understanding on every point, and doubtless in this respect, he intended in the first place to keep us humble, and next of all to keep up and maintain the desire and the exercise of brotherly love and communion.” It seems to me that the cause of Christ would be better served if we kept this salutary advice in mind.
w/s/ John Bratt, Th.D
Religion and Theology Department
P.S. I would appreciate placement of this letter on your page.
Dr. John Bratt
Religion and Theology Department
Grand Rapids, MI
Dear Dr. Bratt,
I would express appreciation and thanks to your response to my article, and especially since it gives me an opportunity to elaborate on the brief statement to which you objected.
I would also state that I am sorry to have made any statement to hurt or grieve you. That was not my intent. For me, it was a matter of grief to have made the claim I did—for I would wish and pray it were not true. But in light of the history of the past 20 years and more, the reader (who knows this history) can judge whether the claim is correct. I would dare to say that thousands of voices arise from within the C.R.C. itself crying, in sorrow, “Amen” to the statement found offensive by you.
I appreciated your quote from “Uncle John” (as yourBanner editor prefers to call Calvin). And I would express a wholehearted agreement with that. Nor was it my intention to leave the impression that I had a “full and perfect understanding on every point.” I have learned increasingly how incomplete and imperfect my understanding is. But, Dr. Bratt, are you not wrongly applying Calvin’s statement to my claim? It was not in my mind a question of two who have differing, but Scriptural, interpretations of certain texts of the Bible. If it were, the quote would have been pertinent. The question at issue is whether two can have different, opposing, views of a certain passage—yet ignore such difference under the guise of being endowed with but imperfect understanding. Can one call a color “black,” while another calls it “white”—yet claim that the, difference in viewpoint is due to lack of complete understanding? Can two with equal validity claim that women may and at the same timemay not serve as deacons—on the basis of the same Scripture? I think you know well that such was never Calvin’s position. In fact, the paragraph just before that which you quoted, states, “And if it be deemed a great wickedness to contaminate anything that is dedicated to God, he surely cannot be endured, who, with impure, or even unprepared hands, will handle that very thing, which of all things is the most sacred on earth. It is therefore an audacity, closely allied to a sacrilege, rashly to turn Scripture in any way we please, and to indulge our fancies as in sport; which has been done by many in former times.”
You mention that the offending phrase is without documentation. I am certain that I can provide that if it is necessary. In the meantime, I have but to remind you that the Standard Bearer has repeatedly pointed out on many occasions the “positions contrary to Scripture” adopted by your various Synods. I also refer you to various of the issues ofOutlook magazine where writers who were nurtured also by and are members of the same church as you are, have made charges similar to mine—and with documentation. If you wish, I’ll give you specific references where these can be found. You have probably perused the bo6k, “A Handbook of C.R.C. Issues,” published by the A.C.R.L. (Box 1303, Grand Rapids, MI., 49501; cost: $7.95). Abundant documentation for these “many positions contrary to Scripture and the creeds” can be found there—prepared by members of the same church which nurtured you.
You bring up the issue of “common grace.” I did not mention that in the article. But since you did, may I ask: can God’s position be one of favor and of wrathagainst the wicked at the same time? Can God have a free offer of salvation to all who hear the preaching, and at the same time NOT give such a free offer? This, briefly, represents the difference between us. The views on these issues are mutually exclusive. And the church which nurtured you, did so judge too in 1924 and 1925. Call it, if you will, “unparalleled arrogance,” but the fact is that judgment was made. Ministers and consistories were required to submit to this judgment. When, for conscience’ sake some could not, they were suspended and deposed from office. “Unparalleled arrogance”? Perhaps. But certainly there were the conflicting, contradictory views—both of which could not be right at the same time.
You are aware of the other issues. There is that of women serving in the office (for the time being, as deacons without privilege of rule—whatever that may mean). Formerly, the C.R.C. (together with most of the church over the past 2000 years) said that women may serve in no office within the church. We still say that. Now your churches say that the woman can serve in at least one office—on the basis of the very Scriptures which were used to condemn the practice before. You would say that for 2000 years the church did not understand Scripture? Now suddenly it does? That smacks of “unparalleled arrogance” it seems to me.
I won’t burden you with extended treatment of other points. Briefly, I would remind you of the changed position on divorce and remarriage of the guilty party. Formerly, the C.R.C. (and we with them) maintained that the guilty party, when remarrying, was living in continual adultery. Now the C.R.C. insists that this represents but a single act of adultery which does not require severance of the new relationship. Similarly, you have your “Report 44” on the nature and extent of Biblical Authority. There is your altered stand on worldly entertainment: the movie and the dance especially. Along this same line, you know well the agitation within your church to allow lodge members to become church members. You know well of the attempt to extend the “women in office” idea even to that of the ministry. You know well that many within your churches interpret Genesis 1-11 contrary to the common and traditional interpretation of your church in the past. You know of the conflicting views within your church on the extent of Christ’s atonement. You know well of the recent writings about election and reprobation which are admittedly contrary to the position of the creeds and earlier teachings within your church. All of this represents not equally legitimate Scriptural interpretations, but deviations from that which was maintained in the past. The views are conflicting ones. It is not a question of “limited understanding” as you know. Either your church was in conflict with Scripture and the confessions in the past—or it is now. It simply can not be correct both then and now.
At the risk of being accused again of “unparalleled arrogance,” I would maintain that our P.R. churches are far more like the C.R.C. of a generation ago than the present C.R.C. is. I think this is why some within your church (though with you, nurtured by her in the past) are turning to our churches to receive that kind of spiritual nurture for themselves and for their children to which they were accustomed in years gone by. And unless there should be a split in the C.R.C. soon (which I personally do not foresee), I would dare predict that more will find a welcome home within the P.R.C. in the future.
We have surely no “full and perfect understanding on every point,” but we do continue to insist that “white” can not be at the same time “black.” Nor ought you to suggest that.
I do hope that all this does not further “hurt or grieve” you, but I believe that I must answer sincerely to that which so troubled you in my earlier article.
G. Van Baren