Non-Functional by Editorial Decree?

Whether you agree with him or not, the Editor of The Banner writes some interesting editorials. Partly, I think, because of a somewhat abrasive style, those editorials tend to capture the attention of the readers, as is evident, too, from the sample of responses which appear in “Voices.” Attention, of course, does not necessarily imply agreement; but also those readers who do not agree with Editor Kuyvenhoven nevertheless pay attention to what he writes. 

I do, too. 

And when I read the editorial in the issue of October 26, 1981, I must confess I rubbed my eyes in disbelief. 

In a Reformation Day editorial, the Rev. Kuyvenhoven writes on the subject of “the Church and the Churches.” In the course of his remarks he also deals with the subject of the true and the false church, after having pointed to the fact that, according to him, “the great disadvantage of the Reformation has proved to be the splintering of the church,” and that while “the church had an artificial unity before” the time of the Reformation, “it has suffered a genuine disunity ever since.” Concerning the subject of the true and the false church, Editor Kuyvenhoven writes as follows:

Two of our confessions date back to the time of the Reformation. Therefore they reflect the Reformers’ belief in the one universal church that has always existed in the world and shall always continue to exist, because this holy assembly has an eternal King. The Reformers, and our confessions, do not think of the one holy and universal church as a thing that is hidden from human eyes and known to God alone. L No, they said that the one true church was visibly present. There is also a false church, they said. And they meant the Roman church. Believers don’t belong in it, they warned. It is our duty to join ourselves to the true church (“and outside of it there is no salvation”). Nor is it impossible to discern the difference between the true church and the false church: where the true gospel is preached, where the sacraments are rightly administered and discipline is exercised, there is the church. There is no excuse for those who have the Bible and who say they cannot find the true church. “These two Churches (the true and the false) are easily known and distinguished from each other.” (See Belgic Confession, Articles XXVII-XXIX and Heidelberg Catechism, L.D. 21.)

So far, so good. Though very brief, the above is a fairly accurate summation of the Confession. 

But then the Rev. Kuyvenhoven continues:

The views of the Reformers are no longer ours. And the kind of thinking about the church that is recorded in the Belgic Confession is no longer functional in the Christian Reformed Church. How could it be! If we took it literally, we would not only have to confess that our own little church is the true church, but that all other churches are false. All Christians in the United States and Canada would be in default for not joining our church, because it is Christ’s church. None of us makes such claims. To be sure, there are a few, even smaller Reformed churches, that on” the basis of the Belgic Confession declare every church except their own a “false” church; but such reasoning under today’s historical conditions leads to “extreme arrogance, ” as Calvin would say.

It is especially the first couple of statements in the above paragraph which moved me to rub my eyes in disbelief when I first read them. “What is the Editor saying?” I asked myself. “Is he really saying what I think he is saying?” I even went to others to ask their opinion, lest I should be reading into these sentences something that is not there. But these others assured me I was reading correctly.

Notice, in the first place, the Editor—and he speaks not only for himself but also for his church—parts ways with the Reformers and their views concerning the true and false church. Now that, of course, is his good right. The views and statements of the Reformers are not necessarily correct in every instance; and they certainly do not constitute binding doctrine in any Reformed church. Nevertheless, to part ways with the Reformers is a very bold and audacious step to take. It should not be taken lightly, and certainly not without careful study and examination. But here no grounds are even offered. We have simply the bold statement, “The views of the Reformers are no longer ours.” 

But the second statement is terribly serious: “And the kind of thinking about the church that is recorded in the Belgic Confession is no longer functional in the Christian Reformed Church.” 

That this “kind of thinking” is no longer functioning in the CRC, for the most part, I could well believe. This would mean that many do not believe and actually maintain what the Confession teaches on this subject. Probably there are many who do not know or care. Ignorance of the creeds today is simply appalling! 

But the Rev. Kuyvenhoven does not say that. He says that the kind of thinking recorded in the Belgic Confession is no longer “functional,” that is, serving a function, in his denomination. By editorial fiat he simply writes off an entire segment of the Confession, and he does so not only for himself but for the entire Christian Reformed Church! 

I ask: how can this be? 

In the first place, how can this be in the light of the fact that the Rev. Kuyvenhoven has undoubtedly signed the Formula of Subscription? Does that subscription mean anything, or is it an empty formality? 

In the second place, is the procedure of gravamen no longer necessary? I am aware of the fact that a few years ago there were some changes made by the Synod of the CRC in the gravamen procedure. But certainly the Synod did not declare open season on the confessions without any necessity of a gravamen procedure whatsoever. 

But, in the third place, not only is the procedure of gravamen passed by; but the matter is simply decided—without procedure, without study, without synodical decision. Simply by editorial decree! 

I think Calvin would call that popery! Let alone “extreme arrogance!”

Meanwhile, I would call attention to the fact that even Calvin himself was not guilty of the kind of absolutist thinking about the true and the false church which is ascribed to him and to others sometimes. Editor Kuyvenhoven does not name the few Reformed churches of whom he says that on the basis of the Belgic Confession they declare every church except their own a “false” church. The so-called “Liberated” churches, both in the Netherlands and in Canada, sometime seem to entertain that idea. Other than that, I do not know who holds that view. I recall that a Liberated spokesman in the time of our differences concerning the Declaration of Principles once flatly called us the false church. The strange thing was that several years later the same man told me in conversation that he could very well go to the Lord’s table with me, but not with those ministers who had left us for the Christian Reformed Church. However that may be, Calvin himself does not unqualifiedly and absolutely write off the Romish Church. This is plain from the following paragraph in the Institutes, Book IV, Chapter II (Allen Translation):

XII. While we refuse, therefore, to allow to the Papists the title of the Church, without any qualification or restriction, we do not deny that there are Churches among them. We only contend for the true and legitimate constitution of the Church, which requires not only a communion in the sacraments, which are the signs of a Christian profession, but above all, an agreement in doctrine. Daniel and Paul had predicted that Antichrist would sit in the temple of God. The head of that cursed and abominable kingdom, in the Western Church, we affirm to be the Pope. When his seat is placed in the temple of God, it suggests, that his kingdom will be such, that he will not abolish the name of Christ, or the Church. Hence it appears, that we by no means deny that Churches may exist, even under his tyranny; but he has profaned them by sacrilegious impiety, afflicted them by cruel despotism, corrupted and almost terminated their existence by false and pernicious doctrines, like poisonous potions; in such Churches, Christ lies half buried, the gospel is suppressed, piety exterminated, and the worship of God almost abolished; in a word, they are altogether in such a state of confusion, that they exhibit a picture of Babylon, rather than of the holy city of God. To conclude, I affirm that they are Churches, inasmuch as God has wonderfully preserved among them a remnant of His people, though miserably dispersed and dejected, and as there still remain some marks of the Church, especially those, the efficacy of which neither the craft of the devil nor the malice of men can ever destroy. But, on the other hand, because those marks, which we ought chiefly to regard in this controversy, are obliterated, I affirm, that the form of the legitimate Church is not to be found either in any one of their congregations, or in the body at large.