But there is more to this sequel.
Involved, as we have pointed out before, are the Reformed Churches of New Zealand as supporting churches of Geelong College. They were involved in the Runia matter, but they declined to exercise any doctrinal discipline in that matter. Meanwhile they officially re-affirmed the doctrine of Scriptural infallibility (as summarized in the confessions) and the historicity of the details of Genesis 1-3. This statement also included the maintenance of the doctrine of election and reprobation as taught by the Canons. Moreover, they took the stand that they “require anyone who speaks or writes, teaches, preaches, or counsels on behalf of these churches to do so in accordance with this statement.”
Now, since Geelong is officially supported by the New Zealand Reformed Churches, the teaching of Dr. S. Woudstra also comes—albeit somewhat indirectly—under this pronouncement of their Synod: And therefore, in view of the statement of the Board of Directors of Geelong, the Reformed Churches of New Zealand are very actually confronted by the issue of maintaining or not maintaining their officially declared position. Will they now allow Dr. Woudstra to teach on behalf of their churches, or will they not?
That is the issue.
Geelong, unless it does an about-face on this matter, is accepting Woudstra as their Old Testament professor in spite of his literally heretical statements. That seems to be settled.
But what will the New Zealand Churches do now? Will they enforce their decision, repudiate Woudstra’s teachings or professions of ignorance, and therefore withdraw their support of Geelong? Or will they also gloss over the matter, hide behind the “explanation” of the Board of Directors of Geelong, and thus back down from their avowed adherence to the confessions?
One voice of dissatisfaction with the statement by the Board of Directors is already being heard. The Rev. G.H.W. Kroon, of Wellington, writes in the same issue of the Reformed Journal:
It is on the request of the Board of the Association for a Christian University in Geelong (Vie.) that we reprint its letter that was sent to the sessions of our churches on the 15th of May 1972.
From this letter it is evident that the Board has been in correspondence with the Far East Secretary of the Christian Reformed Board of Foreign Mission (CRBFM) only. Seemingly there has been no direct contact on the matters involved with Borculo session nor with Dr. S. Woudstra himself, otherwise the Board would have informed us.
The College Board does not go into the subject matter itself in its letter to the Sessions. Seemingly it agrees with the pronouncement of Borculo Session that the sermon was edifying and not heretical. The Board however has taken into consideration the circumstances under which this sermon was preached, and has discussed the statements made in the sermon. The Board must have been disturbed seeing it took up contact with the CRBFM, but the answer from the Far East Secretary that Borculo session had cleared the sermon was seemingly enough reason for the Board to inform our sessions that no further attention to the matter is required. It should be clear by now that the clearance by a session, presbytery or a Synod for that matter does not necessarily mean that the matter has been cleared.
Take e.g. the Baarda/Hegger case. Rev. Hegger complained to Synod through the ecclesiastical channels of the church about Baarda’s book, which is regarded as in conflict with Bible and confession. Yet Rev. Hegger was reprimanded by the Dutch Synod and Baarda cleared. Here a faithful minister who followed the ecclesiastical way in regard to this public book was reprimanded for not following
which by the way refers to personal matters.
As we see it, the Rev. Kroon has 20/20 vision on this issue. He himself is not prepared to accept the say-so of the Far East Secretary of the Chr. Ref. Board of Foreign Missions, nor of the Borculo Consistory. He understands clearly that the mere statement of a consistory, of a classis, or even of a synod does not necessarily settle things.
Moreover, the Rev. Kroon has understanding of the times. He seems to be well aware of the seriousness of the issues involved in the Woudstra matter, and of the fact that in these times those issues ought not to be glossed over. For he writes:
We would like to inform our readers as to the circumstances under which the sermon was preached.
The Churches of Reformed persuasion are at the moment involved in a most serious discussion, which deals with our basic belief, namely the extent and nature of the authority of Holy Scripture. This in itself gives already reason to be alarmed and concerned because it shows that the last remnant of the Reformation is no longer sure as to the absolute and final authority of Scripture even though everyone proclaims this to be true, yet in fact puts immediately a question mark behind it. (But, Rev. Kroon, you will have to exclude the Protestant Reformed Churches from this accusation. H.C.H.)
The Christian Reformed Church in the USA is plagued with the same issues as the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. This month there is a report coming up at its Synod (report 36) which deals with the nature and extent of the authority of God’s Word. The main thrust of this report is that the Bible has only authority in regard to the redemptive events. This report is being met by great opposition. (Opposition which, for the most @art, “fizzled.” H.C.H.)
The Editor of the Outlook (Torch and Trumpet) rightly put the question. “what about the other events?” For this report I also refer to the letter to the Editor of the Banner by Rev. R. J. Venema (formerly of Lunedin and Bucklands Beach) and reprinted elsewhere in this issue.
The Christian Reformed Church in the USA has also been involved in a discussion on the extent of the atonement of Christ. These things together with the family circumstances of Dr. Sierd Woudstra (which are well known to us all) are the circumstances under which the sermon was preached. These circumstances must be taken into consideration when we now look at the passages quoted from the sermon. Some have argued that the whole sermon should be considered, but this argument does not hold because the statements cannot have been taken out of context and they speak for themselves.
At this point the Rev. Kroon quotes the passages from Dr. Woudstra’s sermon which were quoted in our March 1 issue. Then he goes on to say: “We would like to comment on the statements. In doing so we refrain from commenting on or taking into consideration any criticism from any other quarter, just like the Board of the College states in its letter to the sessions.” Again, we will not comment on this refraining from comment on what we wrote. We are interested in issues. And the Rev. Kroon sees the issues. For after quoting the stand of the 1971 Synod of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand to which we already referred and which we also quoted in our March 1 editorial, he goes on to point out:
But Dr. Woudstra maintains not to know the correct interpretation of the first eleven chapters of Genesis. Further comment would be superfluous.
In regard to the question of how great is the love of God, we must keep in mind that this has been a point of argument (limited atonement) in the Christian Reformed Church for some time. But again, Dr. Woudstra does not know the answer. (Small wonder! The Christian Reformed Synod did not know the answer either: they once knew it, but they lost it principally in 1924. Hence, all they could say was that Prof. Dekker’s doctrine of universal atonement was “ambiguous and abstract.” H.C.H.)
Yet, we can say and describe how great God’s love is. It is infinite. It is so great that God loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him (the elect, limited atonement) should not perish but have everlasting life. So
does adequately convey the greatness of God’s love. (Sound language! H.C.H.)
As far as the infallibility of God’s Word is concerned, Dr. Woudstra does state that God’s Word is infallible, yet does not know what it precisely means.
But we do, don’t we? It is the Truth. It is God’s own Word. It is absolutely reliable and absolutely trustworthy from beginning to end, one can trust it completely and have full confidence in it.
And also in regard to the second quotation from Dr. Woudstra’s sermon, the Rev. Kroon insists that we must state that God does not change.
In all this, we say again, the Rev. Kroon has 20/20 vision. He speaks sound language.
But there are two things which we cannot understand, in view of this sound language.
The first is this: why did not the Rev. Kroon insist upon doctrinal discipline in the Runia matter in 1971, when the same issues were very clearly at stake?
The second is this: why does the Rev. Kroon conclude his otherwise good comments so weakly? For he concludes as follows:
We must come to the conclusion that the future professor of Old Testament at the College has many questions and problems, which indeed raises the question why the Board has taken no further action than to inquire from the Far East Secretary of the CRBFM.
It is of course true that the College Board is dependent on the Christian Reformed Church Synod via the CRBFM for the loan of Dr. Woudstra and the financial matters involved, but that does not take the responsibility of the Board away in regard to the acceptance of the appointment.
Neither does it take away the responsibility of the Board for going into the subject matter itself and taking up personal contact with the future professor.
In this day and age where the whole Reformed community is thrown into turmoil around the basic question: What is the extent and nature of the authority of God’s Word? we desire teachers, be they professors, ministers or elders who give straight forward answers with no buts and ifs.
The Board of the College is responsible for its task. We do know that the Board desires to maintain a sound Reformed position. Well the Board ought to show it. In case the Board has worked under pressure of the financial consequences let it be known that many, if not all in our denominations, are quite willing to raise an additional amount of money to maintain a sound, straight forward Reformed chair of Old Testament at the College.
Dr. S. Woudstra will be most welcome in our midst as long as he is willing to teach in conformity with the infallible Word of God and in conformity with the summary of it as we have it in our Confessional Standards.
We expect the Board to see to it and make proper investigations in its own behalf.
This conclusion I characterized as weak. Why?
In the first place, because, as Rev. Kroon himself has pointed out, Dr. Woudstra has by his literal statements made it plain that he is not in conformity with the infallible Word of God and in conformity with the summary of it as we have it in our Confessional Standards. The Rev. Kroon may not welcome Dr. Woudstra UNLESS and UNTIL he retracts those statements and gives full satisfaction as to his conformity with the confessions.
In the second place, because the Board has already refused to make proper investigations in its own behalf, as Rev. Kroon also pointed out. So the Rev. Kroon’s expectation on this score is vain. He should have demanded that the Board reconsider, and that it now do what it failed to do previously in the case of Dr. Woudstra.
In the third place, because it is now the Reformed Churches of New Zealand, not the Board of Directors, who are directly confronted by the issue of maintaining their declared position, and therefore, of refusing to accept Dr. Woudstra and to support Geelong in its acceptance of him; or of repudiating their adopted position and of accepting Woudstra and supporting Geelong. It is either . . . or! The Rev. Kroon should have concluded by calling upon the Reformed Churches of New Zealand officially to face up to this issue. And he would do well not only to do this, but to initiate action by way of his own Session and Presbytery to implement the decision of 1971 and to refuse support to Geelong or acceptance of its graduates as long as Geelong accepts Dr. Woudstra.
To postpone taking a stand and to say that Dr. Woudstra must be and will be watched from now on will be fatal. The Rev. Kroon ought to know this, in view of his apparently rather thorough acquaintance with events in the Netherlands.
Or is it, perhaps, too late already—in view of the Runia debacle?