More Light On The Woudstra-Geelong Affair

There continues to be much ignorance of the facts concerning the dismissal of Dr. S. Woudstra from the Reformed Theological College at Geelong, Australia; and, as a result, there is not little confusion in the situation. This is not a subjective judgment on my part, but is an objective fact. As of the date of this writing no one “down under” has done anything to inform the churches and the people specifically as to what has taken place. This is not due to the fact that what has taken place is of a private nature. For it concerned Dr. Woudstra’s public labor as professor at Geelong. Nor is it due to the fact that the churches and people are not entitled to know what has taken place at Geelong. For whle it is true that the Reformed Theological College is operated by an association, it nevertheless remains true that it is from this college that the Reformed Churches of Australia and New Zealand receive their candidates for the ministry. Moreover, the college is under the supervision of synodical deputies from these churches. Hence, it is very plain that the churches have a real stake in the college, and therefore they are entitled to be adequately informed.

Yet they have been kept in ignorance. Neither the Board of Directors of Geelong nor the synodical deputies has seen fit to shed light on the situation.

And there are complaints about this. Thus, for example, in a little paper published by Classis Queensland (Church Review, December, 1974) a Mr. A. Tigchelaar writes under the title “Quo Vadis?” and complains about this lack of information: “An Editorial in the November issue of ‘Trowel & Sword’ and a Statement by the President of the Board of Directors of the Reformed Theological College at Geelong, the Reverend Mr. J. J. van Wageningen, have finally broken the long period of official silence surrounding the dismissal of Dr. S. Woudstra from his teaching position at the R.T.C. Both the Statement and Editorial are an apologetic intended to clarify and justify the dismissal. Both fall very, far short of the mark as neither article really comes to grips with, or justifies the action taken, by submitting properly documented evidence that the dismissal was indeed justified or even stating that such evidence exists. This is particularly puzzling with, respect to Mr. Deenick’s Editorial since he is one of the Synodical deputies who recommended to the Board of Directors of the R.T.C. that Dr. Woudstra be dismissed.”

It is not clear whether the writer is for or against Woudstra. But that is not important in this connection. What is clear is that he is complaining about being kept in ignorance. He is rightly critical of the same editorial in Trowel and Sword which I earlier criticized. He criticizes the Rev. Deenick for making indirect and oblique accusations against Woudstra when he (Deenick) refers to “the theological confusion in the (Dutch oriented) Reformed communities.” And he goes on to state: “In summarizing the Editorial in T & S, my general reaction is one of puzzlement. I cannot understand that ,the author, who was so closely and intimately associated with the events at the R.T.C. as, a Synodical Deputy, wrote such a vague and uninformative article dealing with the event. One gains the impression that the editorial was intended to soothe rather than inform.” And I can certainly agree with this: “What the Reformed Church of Australia community now needs is some clear, unambiguous answers to the questions that have been raised by the recent events at the R.T.C.”

Meanwhile, as of this writing those clear, unambiguous answers have not been forthcoming. In this country, The Banner simply carries an announcement that Dr. Woudstra has accepted a call to Hobart, Tasmania (the island state south of mainland Australia), without reference to his having been at Geelong and certainly without any reference to the fact that he was dismissed from Geelong. Yet it should be remembered that Dr. Woudstra is on loan to Australia from the Board of Foreign Missions of the Christian Reformed Church. In Australia, no one has furnished adequate information thus far. Also the Rev. van Brussel is a synodical deputy. But he sheds no light when he writes under “Australian Gleanings” in the December, 1974 issue of Trowel arid Sword. He only adds to the confusion by writing: “There is some considerable confusion round the decision of the Board of Directors of the Association for a Christian University to bring Dr. S. Woudstra’s term of ministry as a professor at the Reformed Theological College to a close. Many members and even sessions are not quite informed on the official rules for such a decision. Some are also wondering about the consequences for Dr. Woudstra’s ministry in connection with all this. It was a helpful initiative of the Geelong session (where Rev. Deenick is pastor, HCH) to request a special meeting of Classis Victoria to consider Dr. Woudstra’s position as a minister in the Reformed Churches. This meeting has been held on November 16.

“After a long and open interview with Dr. Woudstra on several points of doctrine, the classis concluded that from its thorough discussion with him the churches were satisfied that Dr. Woudstra’s ministry in the church was faithful to the gospel. Since this decision was not fully unanimous and since Dr. Woudstra’s ministry in the church and his position as professor at the college are two different matters the classis decided to postpone to its meeting of November 30 a decision on the question whether an approach should be made to the board of the theological college.”

Again, no light!

Besides, it should be kept in mind that while from a formal point of view Woudstra’s ministry in the church and his position at the college are two different matters, from a doctrinal point of view they are not. Both positions require the same doctrinal allegiance to the Reformed confessions. And if the synodical deputies, Revs. Deenick, van Brussel, and van Dam, took the stand that Woudstra should be dismissed for doctrinal reasons, they should never tolerate his being cleared in Classis Victoria and his being allowed to accept a call to the congregation of Hobart.

Yet this has now happened.

To compound .the confusion and ignorance, it is being noised abroad now that there is nothing wrong with Dr. Woudstra’s preaching, but that it is the teaching which was at fault—as though it were possible to be a faithful Reformed preacher, but a doctrinally unsound teacher, unfit to teach future ministers. It is even being suggested that it was not so much the content of Woudstra’s teaching, but the method of approach to his students which was at fault. And it is also suggested that if the college was supported by the Reformed Churches only, there would not have been any problem. This last statement, by the way, is probably true. It appears that Dr. Woudstra could have been retained at Geelong only at the expense of losing support from the Free Church and—even more—only at the expense of losing from the faculty the services of Prof. Harman, the newly appointed Old Testament professor, and Prof. Barkley. Nevertheless, if this is true, it puts the synodical deputies in a very uncomfortable position, as we shall see: for they very definitely condemned Dr. Woudstra on doctrinal grounds, and that, too, on doctrinal grounds which are confessionally valid also in the Reformed Churches. And therefore the question may well be asked whether they were acting merely from expediency (because it was either Woudstra or Harman and Barkley), or were. they acting from principle?

Further to compound the confusion, Dr. Woudstra is now remaining on the Australian scene, having accepted the call to Hobart, Tasmania. This gives him the opportunity to continue to curry the favor of the Reformed clergy and people—among whom he is already said to be popular—and to enhance his popularity. It will also give him the opportunity—and this possibility has already been talked about—of eventually seeking reinstatement at Reformed Theological College. Apparently there can be no further action in the case until the next Synod in 1976. But should there be a change in the Board of Directors of Geelong by that time, and should Woudstra’s condemnation get the Synod’s disapproval, it can readily be understood that the attempt might be made to get Prof. Woudstra back into the college. However this may be, even the fact that Woudstra remains on the Australian scene as a pastor—ousted from, Geelong for serious doctrinal errors, but approved by Classis Victoria because his “ministry in the church was faithful to the gospel”—adds to the confusion of the situation because of its obvious, inconsistency. For how, pray tell, can a man’s ministry be called faithful to the gospel when he is guilty of serious doctrinal error? To put it bluntly, Dr. Woudstra is a heretic! And a heretic is not faithful to the gospel; he is the very opposite.

All this would be plain beyond a shadow of a doubt if only the facts concerning Dr. Woudstra’s dismissal were made known. I can assure the readers on the basis of unimpeachable evidence that if the facts concerning this case were made known, it would become plain:

1. That Dr. Woudstra deviated from the confessional position of the Reformed Theological College with respect to the truth of the authority of Holy Scripture, and that, too, in such a way that he opened the way for a distinction between reliable and unreliable aspects of Scripture, between the core of the truth and the periphery which may be erroneous. This, by the way, is quite in harmony with our earlier report that Woudstra was hiding behind the Christian Reformed Report 44 on the Nature and Extent of the Authority of Scripture.

2. That Dr. Woudstra deviated from the confessional position of the Reformed Theological College with respect to the doctrine of predestination, specifically with respect to the doctrine of eternal and unconditional reprobation as taught in the Canons of Dordrecht, I, 6 and 15.

3. That there were reasons for suspicion with respect to Woudstra’s views on Church government and the principle of Presbyterianism, rule by elders.

4. That Dr. Woudstra by his teachings had fomented considerable doubt and concern among the students of Geelong with respect to his views on Scripture and on predestination.

If the above is incorrect—and I assure you that it is not—then let either the Board of Directors or the synodical deputies show this from the official record.

Now there are important implications in all this.

In the first place, this simply confirms what I wrote and predicted before Dr. Woudstra ever arrived in Australia in connection with a sermon which he preached in the Borculo Christian Reformed Church, a sermon in which he plainly questioned the authority of Scripture. Geelong might have avoided the present problem if they had heeded my warning at that time. And I know that they had the evidence at that time.

In the second place, everyone will recognize that the matter of Scripture and that of reprobation are the very same problems with which Geelong was confronted in connection with the teachings of Dr. Runia. At that time, you will recall, there were official complaints against Dr. Runia on these matters. The Standard Bearer commented on these matters, as did also the little paper published at that time in New Zealand, the Reformed Guardian. And at that time the objections against Dr. Runia were rejected. And while I maintain that Dr. Woudstra is now quite properly dismissed from Geelong, the question may well be asked whether they measure with two measures at Geelong. Today Dr. Runia belongs to a denomination which has set aside the binding force of Canons I, 6 and 15 and which openly tolerates the denial of the authority of Scripture. It would be interesting to know whether he would still be received at, Geelong and whether he would be given access to the pulpits in the Reformed Church of Australia, especially in the light of the fact that Runia’s erstwhile defenders have now condemned Woudstra’s doctrinal deviations.

In the third place, it is obvious to everyone that calling Woudstra’s ministry faithful to the gospel is flying in the face of facts. In the light of the grounds for his dismissal is this possible? I ask this not only because the confessional standards of the Reformed Church of Australia, the same as those of Geelong, have been violated. But I ask it, too, in the light of the nature of these doctrinal errors. They go to the very heart of the preaching! How can one’s preaching be faithful to the gospel if he denies the authority of the very Scriptures which he is supposed to proclaim? Impossible! And how can one’s preaching be faithful to the gospel if he denies what our fathers called “the heart of the church”—predestination? Impossible!

In the fourth place, it is nice to philosophize about keeping Geelong and the Australian churches from being identified with developments in other Reformed communities. As I said before, this is really impossible in today’s world. And the thing to do is not to attempt such divorce, but to take a correct and sound stand with respect to those developments and to strive to keep the churches free from the evil influences of false doctrines and false teachers. But, surely, if this is to be done, then Geelong had better stop importing teachers from the Christian Reformed Church and/or the Gereformeerde Kerken. It seems as though they do not realize in Australasia that the likes of Runia and Woudstra in this country and in the Netherlands are very common.

In conclusion, the churches “down under” had better wake up. If they do not, then they will very quickly go the way of many others in the Reformed community today, the way of apostasy. The hour is late!