The reader may recall that in the February 1st issue ofThe Standard Bearer we called attention to the first of two articles written by Dr. R. Danhof in The Banner in which he told of the “Renewed Attempt at Merger in the Netherlands.” Dr. Danhof informed his readers that the Christian Reformed Church in America assumed a “lay hands off” policy with respect to the Netherlands situation. It was in connection with this revealed policy that we made the following statements:
“It would stand to reason that the Christian Reformed Church would assume a ‘lay hands off’ policy, because they had already placed themselves in the precarious position of jumping in the frying pan or to the fire. They would maintain the friendly and sisterly relation of long standing with the Gereformeerde Kerken (Synodicals), while at the same time they were busy swallowing up the Dutch immigrants from the Liberated Churches into their own church which came to this country or to Canada. It would not do for the Christian Reformed Church to show partiality to either group.”
When we penned the above quoted paragraph the thought was in our soul that there might be readers ofThe Banner who, after reading Dr. Danhof’s articles, would nevertheless feel that partiality was being shown. That our suspicion was not unwarranted is plain from a letter addressed to the Editor of The Banner in the department “Voices in the Church,” in the March 11th issue.
Rev. Harold Hollander of Orangeville, Ontario, who Dr. Danhof informs us is Stated Clerk of Classis Toronto, comments on the articles of Dr. Danhof, and the latter makes his reply.
Rev. Hollander, it appears, feels that Dr. Danhof may have left room for misunderstanding “between the ‘Liberated’ people (both in Holland and U.S.) and “ourselves.” By “ourselves” he means the Christian Reformed Church. Rev. Hollander remarks that the articles of Dr. Danhof “although intended to be factual, and perhaps purposely vague as to the problems involved, contain a statement which is liable to promote further misunderstanding . . .” To elucidate, Rev. Hollander continues:
“To understand this, we must remember that the controversy revolves especially around the promise of the Covenant. Does the covenant promise made to the children of believers contain also the promise of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, or doesn’t it? How is it to be explained that among the children of believing parents there are the Ishmaels and Esaus and others who received the sign and the seal of the covenant, but in whom, to all appearances, the covenant is not realized?
“The majority of leaders in the Gereformeerde Kerken were of the opinion that this problem can best be solved by distinguishing between the outward andinward aspects of the covenant. All children of believing parents are outwardly in the covenant, but only the elect children are inwardly (and really) in the covenant.
“There was a minority of leaders who had objections against this view. For, this would mean that baptism did not have the same meaning for children of believing parents. This minority preferred to believe that the covenant promises are the same to all the children of believing parents. They preferred to explain the problem of the Ishmaels and Esaus by pointing to faith and repentance as the condition upon which the promise would be realized. They believed that this was a Reformed view, and pointed to Lord’s Day 45 which says that ‘God will give His grace and Holy Spirit to those only who with hearty sighing unceasingly beg them of Him and thank Him for them.’
“Thus there were two views in the Gereformeerde Kerken, even since 1905 when the Conclusions of Utrecht had been drawn up. The Conclusions of Utrecht had straddled the issue. But in 1942 the Gereformeerde Synod declared that the view of the minority might no longer be taught. Ministers who failed to fall in line were deposed for insubordination. Many serious minded people, alarmed with growing ‘covenantal complacency’ in the Gereformeerde Kerken, went along with their ministers to form the ‘Liberated’ Church.
“Although the Christian Reformed Church calls the Gereformeerde Kerken a ‘sister church’ as before, and although we have never applied that term as yet to the ‘Liberated Churches,’ we have never made a pronouncement as to who was right. We still have the Conclusions of Utrecht which allows both positions; we leave never adopted the formulations which were made in Holland in ’42 and ’46.
“I regret that Dr. Danhof states that the Gereformeerde Kerken did not adopt a new doctrinal position in ’42.Although no new doctrine was added, the doctrinal position was changed in that the minority view might no longer be taught.
“I hope that the statement of Dr. Danhof will be taken as the opinion of one man (although he happens to be the Stated Clerk of Synod) and not the official position of our church.”
To this Dr. Danhof makes the following reply:
“Brother Hollander introduces matters in his document which I purposely avoided in my brief historical review of the split which occurred in the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands and the repeated attempts to effect a merger. The problem raised by him concerning the ‘Ishmaels and Esaus’ in the covenant of grace, and the distinctions such as ‘outward and inward’ aspects of the covenant were not within the scope or purpose of my articles. To discuss the dogmatic distinctions raised by him would require a series of articles.
“The statement to which brother Hollander offers objection is against my contention that the Synod of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands in 1942added no new doctrine (Italics mine). For the historical accuracy of this I refer him to Acts of 1942, Art. 158, dealing with the doctrine of the Covenant of Grace, ‘. . . overeenkomstig hetgeen de Synode van Utrecht uitgesproken heeft.’ When the Synod of 1946 once again undertook to reformulate the decision of 1942 it is again stated ‘. . . dat de zakelijke inhoud der betreffende uitspraken van 1905 en 1942 . . . niet prijsgegeven mag worden’ (Acts 1946, Art. 197).
“The chief objection of brother Hollander is expressed in the words, ‘Although no new doctrine was added, the doctrinal position was changed in that the minority view might no longer be taught.’ The Synod of 1942 undertook, because of much agitation against point 4 of the Utrecht Conclusions adopted in 1905, to reformulate a decision in agreement with the content and spirit expressed by th synod of 1905. The decision of 1942 was declared binding. It meant that all office bearers were expected to submit to this decision of synod. A minority was unwilling to submit to this decision, and as a consequence suspension and deposition from office followed. Does brother Hollander mean to infer that after the synod of 1942 made a decision a group opposed to the decision should be permitted to propagate their own views? The Form of Subscription and Article 31 of our Church Order prescribes the proper method of appeal for a minority group in disagreement with a decision of a Synod.
“The closing paragraph of brother Hollander seems to imply that my position as stated clerk has some undefined relation to the articles which I submitted. I can assure him that this is not the case. I did not speak for the denomination but for myself. I assume he did the same, though he is stated clerk of Classis Toronto. However, as stated clerk of the church, I can assure him that the decisions of the Synod of 1908 are the official position of our church and are binding upon all office bearers.”
From Dr. Danhof’s answer to Rev. Hollander we draw the following conclusions:
1. That he handily avoided an answer to Rev. Hollander’s request that he express who was right in the Netherlands controversy, and also whether the Liberated Churches should be considered sister churches. This he did by informing Rev. Hollander that the problems involved, would require a series of articles. The thought came to us that two articles on a certain subject is already a series. Would it have been too much to write one or two more articles? Especially where he might properly enlighten his readers in the doctrinal issues involved? It would be interesting to know what Dr. Danhof would reply to the question: How is it to be explained that the Christian Reformed Church continues to call the Synodicals sister churches, while the Liberated Churches have not been so called? It would be interesting, too, tread Dr. Danhof’s answer to the question: Which doctrinal position do you sustain, that of the Synodicals or of the Liberated? And again, in view of the fact that many in the Christian Reformed Church are under the influence of the Heynsian conception of the covenant, how is it to be explained that the Synodicals and the Christian Reformed are called sister churches, whereas the Liberated Churches hold to the Heynsian conception?
2. That he correctly points Rev. Hollander to the Reformed principle that the decisions of synod are settled and binding, and may not be militated against except through the legal way of appeal. This principle is often forgotten, especially when a church is in the throes of a controversy; but a principle, nevertheless, which must be religiously adhered to lest the church be cast into a state of chaos and anarchy. When the minority group becomes unwilling to submit, it stands to reason that suspension and deposition must follow. If, on the other hand, the synod refuses to honor appeal, and deposes those who raise their voices in opposition to the decision of synod, the church becomes hierarchical. We have the impression that in the controversy of 1942 both groups in the Netherlands made themselves guilty; the one, by refusing to go the legal way of appeal; and the other, by hierarchically deposing ministers and their consistories, much like the Christian Reformed Church did to our leaders in 1926.
3. That, if we have understood his answer correctly, Dr. Danhof also gives Rev. Hollander warning that as office bearer and stated clerk in the Christian Reformed Church he had better remember the above stated principle lest his defense of the Liberated bring him into trouble. Very diplomatically he reminds Rev. Hollander of the decisions of the Synod of 190s. This must mean decisions of the Christian Reformed Church under whose jurisdiction Rev. Hollander also stands. Should Rev. Hollander in his defense of the Liberated militate against the position of the Christian Reformed Church, he can only expect his church to impose proper discipline upon him. That seems to be the implication of Dr. Danhof’s closing remarks.
4. That Dr. Danhof certainly gives evidence that his articles written on the church merger in the Netherlands were written with a definite purpose not to become involved in the Netherlands controversy. This, we believe, was also on the side of diplomacy. As we stated in our former article, we believe that because of circumstances it would not be a point of wisdom for Danhof to commit himself or his churches to either side in the controversy. He could not do it with respect to the Synodicals, lest he evoke the ire of the Liberated who are being swallowed up by the Christian Reformed. Church both in Canada and the United States. He could not do it with respect to the Liberated, lest he spoil the sisterly relation subsisting between the Christian Reformed Church and the Synodicals.