Our last Synod decided to send delegates in the capacity of visitors to the Reformed Ecumenical Synod that meets this year in Edinburgh, Scotland. The meetings are scheduled for August 4 to 13. At the same time our Synod instructed the delegates also to get in contact with the committees of correspondence with foreign churches in the Netherlands. They have to contact the committees of the Reformed Churches, of the Reformed Churches (Art. 31), and of the Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.
At the last meeting of Classis West, however, it was decided to protest against this decision, and to instruct Synod to cancel the whole matter.
The Standard Bearer advises Synod not to heed this protest.
Let me briefly review the history of this matter.
In 1950 our Synod received the following invitation from the Reformed Ecumenical Synod:
On behalf of The Reformed Ecumenical Synod, in session at Amsterdam from 9-19 August 1949, the officers of this Synod have the honor to invite The Protestant Reformed Church to participate in the next Reformed Ecumenical Synod, which, the Lord willing, is to meet in August 1953 in Edinburgh. Receiving church will be The Free Church of Scotland.
The officers include a copy of the basis for proposed Reformed .Ecumenical Synod, as it has been set up by the Reformed Ecumenical Synod of Amsterdam; and express their confidence that the Protestant Reformed Church will agree with this basis, and may be willing to participate in the Reformed Ecumenical Synod of Edinburgh upon it. She is requested to appoint three delegates to this Synod, who are expected to agree personally with the Reformed Confession of faith and with the basis mentioned above.
The officers kindly request a favorable reply at the earliest possible date, and if suitable, likewise the names of the appointed delegates, at the address of the second clerk, Dr. P.G. Kunst, Victorieplein, 31a Amsterdam-Z.
Committing the Protestant Reformed Church to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and praying for the Lord’s particular blessing,
The officers of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod of Amsterdam,
(w.s.) G.Ch. Aalders, Chairman
P.G. Kunst, Second Clerk
At the Synod of 1950 it was decided to table the matter of participation in the Ecumenical Synod until Synod of 1951, and that in the meantime the Committee of Correspondence with Foreign Churches be charged to investigate the matter more thoroughly and to report at the next Synod.
The Committee of Correspondence was to investigate especially a certain clause in the Basis of the Ecumenical Synod. The clause referred to reads as follows:
It has to be emphasized that only a wholehearted and consistent return to this Scriptural truth of which the gospel of Jesus Christ is the core and apex, can bring salvation to mankind and effectuate the so sorely needed renewal of the world.
I may add here that the entire Basis for the Reformed Ecumenical Synod reads as follows:
The foundation for the Ecumenical Synod of Reformed Churches shall be the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as interpreted by the confessions of the Reformed faith, namely, the Second Helvetic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Gallican Confession, the Belgic Confession, the First Scotch Confession, the Second Scotch Confession, the Westminster Confession, the Canons of Dordt, the Thirty-nine Articles. It should be understood, that these Scriptures, in their entirety, as well as in every part thereof, are the infallible and ever abiding Word of the living Triune God, absolutely authoritative in all matters of creed and conduct, and that the Confessions of the Reformed faith are accepted because they present the divine, revealed truth, the forsaking of which has caused the deplorable decline of modern life. It has to be emphasized that only a wholehearted and consistent return to this Scriptural truth of which the gospel of Jesus Christ is the core and the apex, can bring salvation to mankind and effectuate the so sorely needed renewal of the world.
Because of the diversity in the forms of government of the Reformed Churches, uniformity of church polity cannot be stressed as a fundamental requisite, except in so far as the principles of this polity are contained in the Reformed Confessions, as for example the headship of Christ and the marks of the true church: the pure preaching of the gospel, the Scriptural administration of the sacraments and the faithful exercise of discipline.
In 1951 our Committee of Correspondence addressed the following letter to Dr. P.G. Kunst:
Dear Dr. Kunst:
Last year our Prot. Reformed Churches received a communication from you which was an invitation to participate in the next Reformed Ecumenical Synod which, D.V., is to meet in August, 1953 in Edinburgh.
In behalf of our Committee of Correspondence with Foreign Churches I have the honor to reply to said communication. Our Synod of 1950 did not make a definite decision with respect to this matter. However, it was decided to ask for a little more light and information about the Reformed Ecumenical Synod. We do not know just exactly what participation in such a meeting would imply, and what commitments we would make if we should decide in favor of participation. And whereas our Synod meets annually it was felt that a final decision with respect to the invitation could wait a year.
I will now quote from the minutes of the “Acts of Synod 1950” the following decisions:
Art. 91 “A substitute motion is made to table the matter of participation in the Ecumenical Synod until the Synod of 1951, and that in the meantime the Committee of Correspondence with Foreign Churches be charged to investigate the matter more thoroughly and to report at the next Synod.”
Art. 92 “An amendment is made to add to the motion these words: especially the objectionable clause in the basis. (This objectionable clause refers to the following sentence from the Basis of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod: ‘It has to be emphasized that only a wholehearted and consistent return to this Scriptural truth of which the gospel of Jesus Christ is the core and the apex, can bring salvation to mankind and effectuate the so sorely needed renewal of the world.’)
“This amendment carries.
“The substitute motion, together with the amendment, carries.”
I think from the above quoted articles it becomes quite plain what our Synod had in mind. We would greatly appreciate hearing from you at your earliest convenience so that our next Synod, which meets the first part of June, may be able to make a final decision with respect to the invitation.
With Christian greetings in the name of the Committee of Correspondence with Foreign Churches,
(w.s.) John D. De Jong, Clerk.
To this we received the following reply, which I will translate for the convenience of our readers:
Dear Rev. De Jong:
Hereby I wish to thank you kindly for your communication of March 9 in the name of the Protestant Reformed Churches, regarding the Reformed Ecumenical Synod, which the Lord willing, will be held in August 1953 in Edinburgh.
In answer to your letter I inform you that the condition for participation in this Synod is the acceptance of the basis. The decisions which will be taken by this Synod will be binding for the participating churches when and in so far as these adopt them.
In regard to what you remark about the Acts of Synod of your churches held in 1950, I would remark the following. In our opinion it is certainly not the idea that the gospel will bring salvation to mankind in general: in the gospel lies the way to salvation, and therein alone () but this does not mean, that all will accept this gospel, only those who are chosen by God and regenerated by the Holy Spirit.
I would appreciate further information from you after the Synod of your churches has met.
With kindly regards,
(w.s.) Dr. P.G. Kunst
Our Synod of 1951 once more considered this matter. Regarding this we read in the Acts of the Synod of 1951, Art 180:
Motion made and supported that we send delegates to the 1953 Reformed Ecumenical Synod.
A substitute motion is made that we refer this matter back to the Committee of Correspondence in order that they may give us a well-motivated advice on this matter at the next synod. This substitute motion carries.
At our last Synod, 1952, the Committee of Correspondence advised Synod as follows:
Esteemed and Worthy Brethren:
In re the question whether as churches we should accept the invitation to attend Ecumenical Synod of the Reformed Churches to be held in August 1953 at Edinburgh, your committee for correspondence comes with the following advice:
- That we attend this Ecumenical Synod as visitors.
- To become members of the organization provided we are allowed to make exception to the statement in the basis for the Reformed Ecumenical Synod (to which objection has been raised already in our synodical gathering), or if the organization at our request should withdraw said statement.
The following grounds were offered for the proposal of the Committee of Correspondence:
- We have an invitation to attend. Unless there be principal and weighty reasons why we should not even attend as visitors, and report to Synod of 1954, D.V., we should accept the invitation.
- We should be willing to fulfill our calling to witness of the truth wherever the Lord calls.
- We do not bind ourselves to anything by attending the sessions of the Ecumenical Synod as official visitors from our churches.
- It will be a healthful experience to rub elbows with others of the Reformed persuasion.
- We agreed to do preliminary work for the International Reformed Mission Council.
- We agreed to cooperate with other Reformed churches in the revision of the Church Order.
- We seek correspondence with the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands.
Then, in the Acts of Synod, 1952, Art. 152, we read:
A motion is made and supported to adopt the advice of the Committee of Correspondence to attend the next meeting of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod upon the grounds advanced by the committee. This motion is carried.
And in Art. 153 of the same Acts the following is added:
A motion is made and supported that those who attend shall present to the Reformed Ecumenical Synod:
- Our thanks for their invitation.
- Our appreciation for their concern for the Reformed truth.
- Questions concerning their basis and the implications of the idea of their Ecumenical Synod.
- Kindly request from them an answer for our next Synod.
This motion is carried.
Now to complete this bit of history, we must remember that we also had an invitation to participate in the International Reformed Mission Council, that was also to meet at Edinburgh, simultaneously with the Reformed Ecumenical Synod. Before this we had had an invitation to cooperate with the preparation of such a council, and that invitation we had accepted. And now we received an invitation to participate in the council itself. The Committee of Correspondence also advised to act favorably on this invitation, and that too, on the following grounds:
- We are invited to attend, and such attendance involves no obligation to join the proposed I.R.M.C.
- We already decided at our Synod of 1951 to cooperate in doing preliminary work for the proposed I.R.M.C.
- One of the purposes of the proposed I.R.M.C. is the study and dissemination of the Reformed mission principles. Your committee feels, not only that it is our God-assigned calling to witness and participate in the discussion about those principles, but that we cannot but benefit by participating in such discussions.
- The proposed I.R.M.C. may assist our churches in finding a mission field of our own.
The Synod of 1952 decided to adopt the advice of the Committee of Correspondence with the grounds given. See Acts of Synod, Art. 155.
Moreover, Synod also decided:
That the visitors to be chosen to attend the Reformed Ecumenical Synod shall also seek contact and confer with the representatives of the Gereformeerde Kerken in the Netherlands (both Synodical and Ant. 31), and the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken in the Netherlands.
All this Classis West proposes to Synod that it shall be rescinded, that no delegates be sent as visitors to the Ecumenical Reformed Synod, nor that a delegate be sent to the International Reformed Mission Council, nor that the three delegates appointed to be visitors to the Ecumenical Synod shall visit the Netherlands to seek contact with the Reformed Churches there.
There were before Classis West three protests on this matter, namely, the protest of Sioux Center, the protest of Redlands, and the protest of Oskaloosa.
This matter, as also all the other matters presented to Classis West, was given into the hands of a committee.
In regard to the protest of Oskaloosa, the following advice was given by the committee and adopted by Classis West: (quoted in part).
- Our Committee feels that it is true what Oskaloosa implies that there ought to be weighty reasons for a thing, especially a matter of this nature as the Ecumenical Reformed Synod, the more so since the invitation was not at all to attend as visitors but as full-fledged participants.
- Also in regard to grounds 2 and 3 (what is meant is the grounds proposed by the Committee of Correspondence in favor of participating as visitors in the Ecumenical Synod, for which see above, ELH.), it should be borne in mind that we were not asked to visit but to participate, hence though we ought indeed always to be ready to witness where God calls us it is still a question whether God calls us to participate in such a Synod, and besides it is questionable to say the least whether in the capacity of visitors we would be accorded any opportunity to witness.
- In regard to ground 4 (again what is meant is the grounds proposed by the Committee of Correspondence, see above, H.H.), it is true that rubbing elbows is a healthful experience though we can hardly call this a justifiable reason for a trip of three men to Scotland, and that in the capacity of visitors.
- In regard to ground 5—We feel that the things mentioned here also fail to furnish a well-motivated and well-grounded basis for sending these men as visitors to the Ecumenical Synod.
Another ground which the committee also adopts from the protest of Oskaloosa is that concerning the expense involved. It is as follows:
As to the objection of the expense involved, our Committee believes that since our men would be going as visitors and not as participants, that it has not yet been determined whether we ought to take part in the Reformed Ecumenical Synod, and because our questions can as well be answered by letter we are also of the opinion that the $3000.00 or more involved is hardly warranted, though we would not necessarily consider it a useless expenditure in every way.
On the basis of the foregoing the Committee advised that Oskaloosa’s protest be sent on to Synod as requested, together with the answer of Classis as advised above. Moreover, the Committee advised that
We as Classis join Oskaloosa in asking Synod to recall its decision to send delegates as visitors to the Ecumenical Synod, and that we ask Synod to appoint a committee to study the entire matter of ecumenicity in the light of Scripture and the Confessions, and that Synod send a letter to the Ecumenical Synod convening in Edinburgh expressing the four things with which the Synod of 1952 charged the delegate visitors.
Virtually the same stand “was taken by the committee and also by Classis West in regard to the protests of Sioux Center and Redlands. From the advice of the committee appointed in re the protest of Sioux Center we quote the following:
That cancellation of the projected visit and study of the entire matter of ecumenicity before we go on as Synod any further is indeed “the better way” in view of the fact that our delegates would only be visitors and as such have no invitation to attend nor to take part in any of the deliberations of that body met in Edinburgh, and in view of the fact that there is good reason to investigate the entire matter of ecumenicity before we proceed.
And from the committee’s advice in re the protest of Redlands we quote the following
1. That though the “unrest” in our churches complicates any work our churches may do, especially toward the outside, we do not admit that this is a sufficient ground to cancel the projected visit.
2. That since our delegates would go only in the capacity of visitors and the question regarding the advisability of affiliation must be determined before we can go as participants, we do feel that this visit, entailing so much expense, can as well be cancelled.
Moreover, in this connection the committee also advised the following:
- That in regard to the attendance of the International Council of Missions (that should be: the International Reformed Mission Council, H.H.) by one of the delegates, we express that this also be cancelled if the other is cancelled. Grounds: The Ecumenical Synod was the matter of chief interest, and this secondary.
Although the reports that I have do not mention this, I am nevertheless quite certain that Classis West also cancelled the visit of the three delegates to the Netherlands to seek contact with the Reformed churches there1.
This whole advice was adopted by Classis West and sent on to Synod.
Once more I say that the Standard Bearer advises Synod not to adopt this advice of Classis West. And for this the Standard Bearer has the following grounds:
- The talk about the expense involved is worse than ridiculous. The committee and Classis West themselves evidently felt this, because they express themselves very cautiously by saying: “We are also of the opinion that the $3000.00 or more involved is hardly warranted.” Strictly speaking, therefore, they say that it is warranted. Have we become so small, and I mean mentally and spiritually small, that we are of the opinion that $3000 is too much to seek contact with other Reformed groups, while we spend as much and more for the support of a single one of our needy churches? This ground, I am sure, the Synod will never adopt as its own.
- If Synod should adopt this advice of Classis West, it would mean that we forever slam the door in the face of any contacts with other Reformed groups. This does not only refer to future participation in the Ecumenical (Synod, but also to participation in the International Reformed Mission Council, if at least it should meet,—which, by the way, is still a question,—as well as to contact with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, Synodicals, Liberated, and Christian Reformed. Remember that we have an invitation to attend. It is only a matter of courtesy to follow up this invitation as far as possible, unless we can produce grounds upon which it is impossible for us to attend. Hence, we should be courteous enough to accept the invitation. We should not forget that it is only a comparatively short time ago that we were still considered un-Reformed on the basis of the fact that the Christian Reformed Churches in 1924 had cast us out. This invitation to attend the Reformed Ecumenical Synod, as also the invitation which we received to cooperate with other Reformed churches in the revision of the Church Order, shows plainly that by this time we are considered Reformed. And we should not insult the other churches by refusing to accept their invitation to attend the Ecumenical Reformed Synod.
- Classis West argues that we can just as well send a letter. Now, in the first place, a letter is a very poor substitute for personal presence. If we really are interested to find out whether or not it is possible for us to participate in the Reformed Ecumenical Synod, we certainly should present our objections in person, and argue them, and report our findings to the Synod of 1954.
- That we decided to attend as visitors is certainly not a ground against the decision of 1952, but in favor of it. For this means that we do not bind ourselves to anything by attending the sessions of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod.
- It is argued that since we do not intend to participate as official delegates to the Ecumenical Synod, it is no use to attend, for we will have no opportunity to speak and to participate in the deliberations. This I deny. In the first place, I am positive that we will have the opportunity to present our objections against the Basis of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod and to argue our objections. But in the second place, although I cannot guarantee this, I am quite positive that the delegates to that Ecumenical Synod that appear as visitors will be given an advisory vote. I am rather sure that this has been done before. And besides, I am perfectly positive that the brethren convened at that Synod are courteous. And I would consider it a matter of courtesy to give to the visitors advisory vote.
- Classis West would make our churches a laughing stock to all the Reformed churches. Consider that already a good deal of preliminary work has been done to prepare for this visit of the delegates of our churches to Scotland and to the Netherlands. I had correspondence with the calling church of Scotland. They expect us, are preparing to receive us, and already placed us officially on the agenda of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod. Moreover, the Rev. Vos, who expects to go in my stead as my alternate, has tried to contact the various committees of the different Reformed churches in the Netherlands. And I happen to know that he received a very courteous and friendly letter from Dr. Aalders. That brother, immediately upon receiving the letter of the Rev. Vos, contacted the other members of the committee of correspondence of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, arranged a very definite meeting for September 11 at 10 o’clock in Baarn, and informed the Rev. Vos to that effect. Moreover, the same brother upon my request sent material which I desired to have relating to their decision in regard to the unconditional promise. Also this material he was very prompt to send. Within ten days from the date of the letter sent by the Rev. Vos we received a package by airmail on which was 33 guilders postage. All this shows to my mind that the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands are certainly willing to seek contact with us. We asked for it. We decided to send delegates at our Synod of 1952. We let the brethren across the ocean know that we were coming. And shall we now, in 1953, simply reverse all this without any valid ground or reason, and let them know that we are not coming? I would say again: we would make ourselves a laughing stock to all the Reformed churches.
Besides, do not forget that other preparations have been made. Reservations have been made on the boat to the Netherlands. Perhaps by the time the Synod meets the tickets have been issued and paid for. Arrangements have been made for passports and vaccinations, and shall the Synod now make fools of the delegates they themselves appointed?
I have more confidence in our Synod than to fear that they will commit such a blunder.
¹ The very fact that one of the grounds concerns the spending of three thousand dollars implies this.