Esteemed Prof. H.C. Hoeksema
Editor-in-Chief of the Standard Bearer
Greetings in the Lord, Jesus Christ. It would please me much to be granted a little space in the S.B. to state my considered opinion concerning your “editorials” on “Baptism On The Mission Field.” Thanks!
Let me come directly to the point. I believe that you have not addressed yourself to the document written by Rev. R.C. Harbach to the Mission Committee, dated May 23, 1975. (Acts of Synod, 1976, page 111) Instead you. have gone rather far afield to show that baptism may only be. administered in Christ’s Name in an organized church. However, Rev. Harbach, holding to that point, asked the question, underscoring it, “May the sacrament of baptism be administered on the Mission Field in an unorganized congregation, but under the auspices of the Consistory of the calling church?” Your editorials do not address themselves to this point.
It seems to me that this cardinal point should not be glossed over nor lost from view shall the discussion be fruitful, meaningful. The illustrious authors which you quote (Bavinck, Calvin, Hodge, Berkhof) don’t address themselves to the point raised by Rev. Harbach at all. They were writing their “Dogmatics” and not principles and guidelines for the Mission field in a given situation!
One thing more. My name has been mentioned in your Editorials, in passing, in quoting the decision of the Synod of 1956. Ironically as it may seem, the baptism referred to by the 1956 Synod took place in an organized congregation, under the auspices of the Consistory of Loveland, where I was Missionary, and in a sense, “on loan.” The Congregation at Loveland, a Reformed Church, was received into our fellowship in Classis West, without being re-organized and a new Protestant Reformed Consistory being chosen. They were received finally into our church by the fiat of the Synod of 1958. (Acts of Synod, 1958, pages 86-99) Incidentally, Mr. Editor, you were on the Committee of Pre-advice to receive Loveland as a congregation!
No one seeks to maintain a baptism apart from the organized church. Perhaps this point has not been sufficiently stated by the Committee which you have been criticizing at such great length.
Your brother in Christ,
Rev. G. Lubbers
Thank you for your letter. My reply is as follows:
1. I believe that in dealing with the Study Report in my editorials I have also touched on every point brought up in Rev. Harbach’s document to which you refer.
2. As I pointed out in one of my editorials there is a fundamental flaw in Rev. Harbach’s thesis. An “unorganized congregation” is, to me, a non-entity—what the Dutch calls an onding. If it is unorganized, it is not a congregation; and if it is a congregation, it is organized.
3. If you will take the time to review what I have written, you will discover that what you say of my thesis is not correct: I do not take the position that baptism can only take place in an organized church. Ido take the position that we may not baptize before the Lord makes a missionary’s work fruitful unto the gathering of a church, as the Form puts it. The concrete issue is whether baptism may take place on the mission field long before there is organization or any hope of organization, and even where possibly there will be no organization. That was the concrete case at Houston, I remind you, when this question arose. My position, as I trust I have made clear, is that baptism on the mission field may indeed take place—and this is more necessary on the heathen field than the home field—when the work has progressed to that point that a congregation is ready to be formed. At that point especially, adults are baptized into the congregation that is formed.
4. I am well aware that most of the men I quoted in my separate articles on “Reformed Thought On Baptism” were writing their dogmatics. I will insist, however, that: a) Dogmatic principles may also be valid with respect to mission work, and may also be applied to it. b) That in several instances these quotations dealt directly with Scripture passages at stake in this discussion. c) That in at least one instance (Dr. Bavinck) direct reference was made to the question of baptism on the mission field. d) That we must be careful that we do not dogmatically create a cleavage between the home church and the mission field. Dogmatic principles (if they are true) are valid any time and anywhere.
5. Indeed I was present both at the Synod of 1958 and that of 1956, and thankful that I had a part in them. I promised that I would discuss the decision of 1956 which the Study Report rejects. I must reserve that treatment, however, for the June 1 issue.
Cordially, in Christ,