Our First Synod

It is not our purpose to discuss in detail the various decisions taken by our first Synod. All the decisions will be published in the Acta, which all that are interested may purchase and study for themselves. Only to some of the more important matters we wish to call the attention of our readers.

To these belongs, no doubt, the address which our Synod decided to send to the Synod of the Christian Reformed Churches.

Here it is:

Grand Rapids, Mich.

May 27, 1940.

The Synod of the Christian Reformed Churches, assembled at Grand Rapids, Mich., June ____ 1940.

Esteemed brethren in the Lord Jesus Christ:

It is now sixteen years ago that your Synod, then assembled in Kalamazoo, Michigan, adopted three doctrinal declarations, known as “The Three Points,” which, briefly expressed, teach:

That there is a favorable disposition or attitude of God, not only to the elect and the righteous, but also to the reprobate and ungodly in this present world.
That the preaching of the gospel, conceived as a well-meaning offer of grace and salvation on the part of God, is grace to all that hear this preaching.
That there is a gracious operation of the Holy Spirit upon all men, outside of Christ, and not regenerative, by which sin in man is restrained and the natural man is improved, so that he is not so depraved as without this restraining operation he would be.
That by virtue of this influence of God upon the natural man he is able to do good works in this world, so-called civil righteousness.

The Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches admonishes and begs you herewith to rescind these doctrinal declarations. It urges you to do so on the following grounds:

1. They are contrary to the Word of God and to our Reformed Confessions, which latter both you and we profess to be the basis of our fellowship. We will not at this time ask too much of your attention by supporting this statement by adequate proof from Scripture and the Confessions. We consider it sufficient for the present to refer you to all that has been written on this subject on our part in books and pamphlets and in “The Standard Bearer”.

2. There was, even from the viewpoint of the Christian Reformed Churches, no need of these doctrinal declarations to preserve the unity of the Reformed faith and doctrine. This is clearly proven by:

a. The fact that the very Synod that adopted the “Three Points” declared that it could not be denied that those who were declared to be in conflict with the three doctrinal declarations were Reformed in the fundamentals as set forth in the Three Forms of Unity.

b. The fact that the Protestant Reformed Churches in their history of sixteen years of separate existence have furnished ample proof that one can very well remain Reformed while he rejects the “Three Points”.

c. The testimony of several Reformed theologians in the Netherlands, several of whose statements can be quoted in proof of our contention under 2, if so desired.

3. Yet, by adopting these doctrinal declarations, to which the Protestant Reformed Churches cannot in good conscience subscribe, your Synod of 1924 caused the breach now existing between your churches and ours, thereby transgressing the commandment of God, that we shall endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:3.

We, therefore, brethren, now the Lord has blessed us these several years,, and we might complete our ecclesiastical organization by instituting a synod, feel that we are conscience bound to admonish you concerning your error, committed in adopting the said three doctrinal declarations, and in the love of Christ earnestly implore you to remove this stumbling block, the cause of the dissension and separation between your churches and ours. We consider this the indispensable and primary condition for the restoration of a Christian fraternal relationship between you and us.

II. In inseparable connection with the preceding we also beg and admonish you, in the name of Christ, the King of His Church, that you repent of the acts of injustice, upon which your Synod of Englewood, Chicago, 1926, set its seal of approval, perpetrated by the Classis Grand Rapids East and Grand Rapids West, whereby faithful officebearers, ministers, elders and deacons, were presumably deposed from their respective offices, and whole congregations were expelled from the fellowship of your Churches. In furnishing grounds for this exhortation, we will eliminate for the present the formal, church-political question, whether or not a classis has the right and power to depose a consistory. And we will wholly confine ourselves to the material side of the matter as follows:

1. In the light of the facts in the case, there can be no dispute about this statement, that the ground of the deposition of said officebearers was their disagreement with the “Three Points” and their refusal to subscribe to their doctrine. Hence, if the “Three Points” are not in harmony with the Reformed Confessions, it follows that the deposition of these officebearers was an act of gross injustice.

2. In deposing these officebearers, the Classes and Synod could not with justice appeal to the Formula of Subscription, as they, nevertheless, attempted to do. For:

a. The Formula of Subscription definitely mentions the Three Forms of Unity as the standards to which all officebearers in the Christian Reformed Churches subscribe.

b. We ourselves declare in good conscience before God and the Churches that we wholeheartedly subscribe to these Confessions, and, therefore, are in a position to affix our signature to the Formula of Subscription without any reservations.

c. But what is more, we have your own synodical testimony that we are in fundamental agreement with the Confessions mentioned in the said Formula of Subscription, which neither directly nor by implication makes mention of the “Three Points” adopted by your Synod of 1924.

3. Yet, the two classes mentioned above deposed the said officebearers from their respective offices, as a result of which congregations were expelled from your fellowship and they were deprived of their properties valued at many thousands of dollars.

This deposition and expulsion we consider acts of gross injustice by which we are deeply grieved. We, therefore, are constrained to request you earnestly that you will look into this matter, that you will reconsider it, and that you will confess before God and us that you committed an act of gross injustice against us, when you set your seal of approval upon the acts of Classes Grand Rapids East and Grand Rapids West.

III. Brethren, it is no carnal desire to be the greatest and to humiliate you that motivates us in addressing you thus, and calling you to repentance. On the contrary, we declare with a free conscience that we are constrained by the love of Christ. Accordingly:

1. We feel assured that the blessing of the Lord cannot rest upon your Churches, as long as you maintain the erroneous “Three Points” and continue to assume responsibility for the acts of injustice committed against us in 1924-1926. And we believe that, what the Holy Scriptures teach us, viz., that the sinner who repents shall receive mercy, is applicable to churches as well as to individual sinners. Being, therefore, sincerely interested in the wellbeing of the Christian Reformed Churches, and heeding the exhortation of Holy Scripture, that we shall consider one another and provoke one another to love and unto good works, to exhort one another, so much the more as ye see the day approaching, Heb. 10:24, 25, we urge you to reconsider this matter and to repent.

2. Besides, we believe that it is the calling and solemn obligation of all that confess the same precious faith with us, to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and, therefore, to seek to restore that unity and harmony wherever they have been disturbed and disrupted. It is this unity which we desire and seek on the basis of our Reformed Standards, the Netherland Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dordrecht. And it is our deepest conviction that the “Three Points” are the fundamental cause of the present breach.

3. While, therefore, we on our part gladly confess that we are far from having attained to perfection, and hereby express our willingness to receive and consider whatever admonitions you may deem proper to give us either with regard to our doctrine or to our conversation, we are, on our part, fully assured that you yourselves caused the existing breach between your churches and ours by adopting the “Three Points” and by the perpetration of the subsequent acts of injustice against us of which we made mention above. And for the restoration of unity and of a fraternal relation between us, we consider it paramount that you undo as much as in you lies what was done wrong in 1924-1926.

IV. Finally, if on the basis of the foregoing you can conceive of a possibility of restoring harmony and unity, we hereby invite you to a colloquy on all these matters with our Churches, a colloquy that is to be conducted strictly on the basis of Scripture and the Reformed Confessions only. We ask you, therefore, to appoint a committee for this purpose to meet with a similar committee appointed by our Synod at any time convenient to you and to us. For your information we state that our Synod appointed a committee of seven for this purpose.

May the Lord of His Church so guide you by His Spirit that you give this matter your prayerful and sanctified consideration.

Adopted by the Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches, May 27, 1940.

At the time of this writing the Synod of the “Christian Reformed Churches” already met and closed its sessions.

The communication we sent to them was read. And their answer was already received by our Stated Clerk, the Rev. D. Jonker. Our churches, no doubt, are interested to know about this reply. And, therefore, we here copy it:

To the Synod of the Protestant Reformed Church,

Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Dear Brethren:—

Our Synod has read your communication with its accompanying invitation and request.

We desire to inform you that no official colloquy is possible on the basis you refer to in your letter, since our Synods have expressed themselves definitely on all matters to which you refer. These expressions of our Synods are available to you in the Acts of our Synods.

For the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church,

Daniel Zwier, Clerk

Let us consider for a moment the meaning and implications of this brief reply.

We are addressed as “Synod of the Protestant Reformed Church.” This is rather gratifying. The Rev. Zwier who signed this reply as clerk of the Synod frequently tried to brand us as a mere sect. The Synod of the “Christian Reformed Church” now officially acknowledges that we are a “Church.” For this we are grateful

However, an error crept into the address, due, no doubt, to the different church-political conception favored by the Christian Reformed Church, different, that is, from ours. We prefer to speak of “churches,” in the plural, they speak of their entire denomination as a “church.” We believe in the autonomy of the local churches, and these local churches are represented by our Synod, without losing their autonomy. Hence, the address should have been: “To the Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches.”

But this is, of course, a minor matter.

We are more interested in the actual content of the reply to our communication.

The reply contains an answer to the latter part of our address only, to that part, namely, in which we invite the Christian Reformed brethren to an official colloquy. This invitation they not merely decline, but they specifically state, that such a colloquy would be impossible on the basis we laid down in our address. And the ground of this declaration, that such a colloquy on such a basis is not possible, is that the Christian Reformed Synods have already definitely expressed themselves on all the matters we mention in our address. And we are referred to their Acta further to inform ourselves on these matters.

Now, we notice first of all that the answer of the Synod is entirely negative. They only inform us that on the basis we suggested no colloquy is possible. On their part they suggest no basis on which they conceive it possible that such a colloquy might be held.

The Synod of the Christian Reformed Church merely says: No!

They turn to us the cold shoulder.

And that is not a Christian attitude. One might expect an answer of this nature from the world, but surely not from the Church of Christ. Surely, it would have been quite impossible for the Synod to introduce this reply to our churches by the well-known words from the fifteenth chapter of Acts: “It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us.” We approached them in a Christian spirit. As the party against whom they have sinned, and sinned grievously, we called their attention to the erroneous and sinful actions of their Synods of 1924 and 1926 against us. We asked them to reconsider these acts. We admonished them to repent. We invited them to a colloquy. We expressed the desire for unity. And they merely say: No!

Suppose that it were true what they state, that a colloquy on the basis we suggested to them is not possible for them, was it not their duty before God to suggest another basis on which it would be possible for them to meet us? Suppose that they were convinced that we are wholly in the wrong (and 1 do not believe that they are), that they were quite right in all they perpetrated against us, that their acts whereby they expelled us from their fellowship, and whereby they deprived us of our property were quite justifiable in the sight of God, were they, then, as Christians not in duty bound to admonish us?

They never did in the past.

There is not one among them that ever addressed to us even one word of admonition.

Nor did their Synods ever admonish us in any way.

Was it, then, not their obligation before God now to do so? Instead they reply to our communication by a mere and cold: No! I do not state too much when I say that this answer to our communication is positively unchristian.

Besides, the answer is begging the question.

We begged the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, assembled in Grand Rapids June 1940 to review the acts of their Synods of Kalamazoo, 1924, and of Chicago, 1926.

And we invited them to a colloquy if they could but conceive of a possibility of reunion on that basis suggested.

And they answer: impossible, for our Synods have spoken!

But of course, their Synods have spoken! If their Synods had not spoken as they did in 1924 and in 1926 the breach now existing would never have been made! It was exactly in regard to what their Synods had declared and decided and enacted against us, that we addressed the Synod of 1940! It was with regard to those decisions that we admonished them to reconsider and repent. And in answer to these admonitions they reply: impossible, for our Synods have expressed themselves!

And that is begging the question!

The Synod of the Christian Reformed Churches, June, 1940, did not consider the decisions and declarations and acts of the Synods of 1924 and 1926 at all. They did not look into the matter. They gave no heed to our admonitions to reconsider and repent. We asked them: please, reconsider what you did in the past! They answer without any consideration of the whole matter: impossible, for what we did in the past is done!

Or is the implication of the reply of Synod that their Synods are infallible?

That is, of course, another possibility. We cannot meet you on the basis you suggest, they say, because our Synods have spoken! That would seem to imply that the Synod of 1940 may not and cannot review and reconsider what the Synods of 1924 and 1926 have decided, because the decrees of their Synods are considered infallible.

If that is the implication the answer smacks of Roman Catholicism.

From whatever point of view one may look at this reply of the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, it certainly is very poor!

This is the second time we on our part have revealed our willingness to meet the brethren of the Christian Reformed Church face to face in a colloquium to discuss with them the differences that keep us apart.

The first time was occasioned by the visit of Dr. Schilder. This esteemed brother from the old country was sincere in his belief that the breach of 1924 should never have been made, and that it could be healed. It was he, no doubt, that inspired the attempt to organize a conference between brethren from both sides, where the differences might be discussed in a brotherly spirit. He really saw the possibility of a reunion, and seriously labored in that direction.

That first conference was a failure.

Surely, it cannot be said that the Protestant Reformed brethren were the cause of the failure. They cannot be blamed. Undersigned delivered a paper before that conference in which the entire situation was clearly set forth, and he invited the brethren to discuss the matter. Our ministers that were present at that conference urged the Christian Reformed brethren to discuss the “Three Points.” But they refused. They absolutely refused to discuss anything essential. They had nothing to say. And they bitterly disappointed Dr. Schilder. I can assure the brethren that the professor received a bad impression of them at that conference.

But now we made a second attempt.

One of the excuses some of the brethren made for not being able to cooperate in the matter of the conference in the Pantlind Hotel was that this meeting was not official. The matters that were to be discussed there were official declarations of the Synod of the Christian Reformed Churches. And such matters. could not be properly discussed in unofficial gatherings.

Well, this time we invited the Christian Reformed Church to arrange for such an official gathering, in which the differences might be threshed out in an official manner.

We suggested that such a conference be held on the basis that they on their part could conceive of the possibility of having erred and of reconsidering their actions.

This time we are told that such an official conference on that basis is impossible because the Synods have expressed themselves!

A non-official colloquy was not permissible because the Synods had spoken. And an official colloquy is impossible for the same reason!

Once more we failed.

And once more the responsibility for the failure is wholly with the Christian Reformed brethren.

And this time they leave a bad impression upon me.

Frankly, the impression is that they are well aware of their own weakness and have not the moral courage to meet us face to face!

For, they cannot make me believe that they are serious when they state that it is impossible for them to conceive that they have erred and to meet us in conference to discuss synodical declarations and acts, because the Synods have spoken!