By the term “crisis” in this connection, I mean not merely a crucial point, a turning point, in general. But I am using the term in the sense of one of its root meanings according to its Greek derivation, that of “judgment.” When I speak, therefore, of “a church in crisis,” I refer to a church standing in judgment, before the bar of justice, on trial.
Secondly, I refer not to a civil court and to some judicial procedure, a criminal trial or civil lawsuit, before one of the courts of our land, before a civil magistrate. But I refer to the bar of the Judge of heaven and earth, the only righteous Lord, Who has revealed Himself in His Word.
In the third place, I refer specifically to the fact that the Christian Reformed Church is on trial before the bar of divine justice. That denomination is on trial before the bar of divine justice in connection with the fact that it is confronted by the Boer Gravamen against the doctrine of reprobation as taught in Articles 6 and 15 of the First Head of Doctrine of the Canons of Dordrecht.
In the fourth place, the question in that trial is: what think ye of the Reformed faith, the truth of the Scriptures? Do ye love it and confess it? Or do ye hate it and deny it? More specifically, what think ye of the very heart of the Reformed faith, the truth of divine predestination? Do ye love and confess it, or do ye hate and deny it? Still more specifically, what think ye of that aspect of the truth of divine predestination which has always been especially attacked and hated by others, the truth of sovereign reprobation? And even more specifically, what think ye of that truth of sovereign reprobation in the light of the fact thatyou as a denomination have given much reason in the past for men to believe that you also hate and deny it?
Let me explain.
In the first place, at the Synod of 1980 the Christian Reformed Church will reach the climactic moment of a trial before the bar of the Judge of heaven and earth. In a sense, of course, it is possible to say that the Canons will be on trial before that Synod, or even that they are at present on trial before the churches to whom the Boer Gravamen has been referred for study and reaction. In a sense, too, it may be said that Dr. Harry Boer and his views are on trial—although he was really tried and exonerated a couple of years ago in his home classis. Nevertheless, Synod of 1980 will apparently have to pass judgment and either approve or disapprove of Boer’s thesis. Perhaps in a sense it may be said that the Synod and the officebearers of the Christian Reformed Church will be on trial before the constituency of the Christian Reformed denomination, who are involved and who will be watching to see what stand the Synod takes. Possibly it may also be maintained that the Christian Reformed Church will be on trial before the rest of the ecclesiastical world, and specifically in the mind of the rest of the Reformed community, and possibly even more specifically before its fellow churches in the Reformed Ecumenical Synod. There will certainly be those who will be watching concernedly what direction the CRC follows with regard to this crucial issue.
But in the deeper sense of the word the Christian Reformed Church is and will be on trial before the bar of divine justice! Always, of course, it is true in general that churches in their ecclesiastical assemblies are called to make their decisionscoram Deo, before the face of God, and that they must give account before Him of all the decisions which are made. Always it is true, too, that as surely as our God is the sovereign Lord of history, He always by His providential government brings a church and ecclesiastical assembly to; face certain questions and decisions in the course of its history. But this is obviously and specifically the case in this instance. It is so, first of all, because for anyone who knows the history and who can read history, it is plain to see that for more than fifty years the Lord our God has been leading the Christian Reformed denomination step by step and inexorably up to this point. It is true, secondly, because of the very nature of this matter. It is a matter of the creed. There is no more basic, no deeper, no more crucial issue for a church than that. You might say it concerns the very constitution of such a church. It concerns what such a church believes. It concerns the truth of God over against the lie, and it does so not merely indirectly and by implication, but directly. Thirdly, it is true because in the matter of a gravamen, and particularly the Boer Gravamen, the church will apparently be compelled to furnish a plain Yes or No answer. To some of these matters we will return in another connection.
In the second place, while the specific confessional doctrine which is the issue in this trial is that of sovereign “reprobation, as it is specifically taught in Articles 6 and 15 of Canons I, let no one labor under any illusions as to what the fundamental issue really is. It is not the issue of one unpopular doctrine in isolation, as though the rest of the Canons and the rest of the Reformed faith will be left unaffected and outside of the scope of this trial. It is not the issue of merely two articles which could be excised from the Canons while leaving the Canons otherwise whole and sound. It is necessary to emphasize this. For there are those who would like: to deceive people into thinking that it is possible to hold to the Reformed doctrine of sovereign election while denying the Reformed doctrine of sovereign reprobation. This is the philosophy of James Daane, for example, who tries to maintain that the logic of election is not the logic of numbers—something which no one, including himself, can possibly understand. But notice the following: 1) The heading of Canons I is “Of Divine Predestination.” If it were “Of Divine Election,” one might perhaps argue that reprobation could be excised from the First Head without affecting its main contents. But this is not possible: divine predestination includes both election and reprobation. 2) Consider the matter technically and as far as the very language of the articles of Canons I is concerned. It is safe to say that in addition to Articles 6 and 15 there are at least six more articles in Canons I, A and B which either would not have been written at all or would not have been written the way they were if it had not been for Dordrecht’s adherence to sovereign reprobation as set forth in Articles 6 and 15. 3) Do not overlook the fact that Articles 6 and 15 themselves do not consider reprobation as a separate decree from that of election, but as part and parcel of the one decree of which election is also an aspect. This is the reason why these articles speak of God’s “decree” in the singular, rather than of God’s decrees in the plural. 4) It is safe to say from a historical point of view that the Canons would never have been written and would have never been necessary if the Reformed had not insisted on the doctrine of sovereign reprobation. It was the doctrine of reprobation more than any other which the Arminians hated and against which they always launched a frontal attack. This was true throughout the history of the Arminian controversy, and it was true at the Synod itself, as the record plainly shows. Men like Dr. Boer are in bad company when they hate and attack the Reformed doctrine of reprobation. 5) Remember that the doctrine of predestination, including both election and reprobation, is the key to the entire Canons of Dordrecht. It is this doctrine which pulsates through, the entire body of the Canons. 6) More than any other doctrine in our creeds, it is that very doctrine of predestination (including both election and reprobation) which is a characteristically Reformed doctrine. It is, therefore, no minor doctrine which is at stake in this trial. But our Reformed confession as it comes into focus in its most characteristically Reformed doctrine is at issue.
Sovereign reprobation as taught in the Canons, or not?
Sovereign predestination as taught in the Canons, or not?
Reformed according to the confessions, or not?
The truth of Scripture, or not?
Those are really the questions by which the Christian Reformed Church is and will be confronted of God, the Judge, in connection with the Boer Gravamen.
There is, of course, a history connected with this trial. No one is brought to trial, after all, without an indictment and without an alleged crime. That history goes back more than fifty years, to the Synod of 1924. At that Synod the Christian Reformed Church began to teach officially that God is gracious to all men in His common grace and also that God desires to save all men to whom the gospel is proclaimed. We—our leaders and our churches—said: that is principally a denial of sovereign predestination, specifically of sovereign reprobation. How can God be gracious to and desire the salvation of those whom He has sovereignly appointed unto damnation? Those were the days of Berkhof, Heyns, Keegstra, Zwier, H. J. Kuiper, and also the days of Hoeksema, Danhof, and Ophoff. What was the answer of the Christian Reformed Church to that alleged crime of denying the doctrine of sovereign predestination? They said: we adhere to the Reformed confessions and the doctrine of predestination, but we maintain a double-track theology. You see, the denial of reprobation wasimplicit in the Three Points, but not explicit.
Then some winds of change began to blow in the CRC. The 1960s came. Prof. Harold Dekker went farther. Not only did he teach that Christ died for all men. Do not forget that his main thesis was that God loved all men, and that, too, redemptively. Dekker did not frontally attack the Canons themselves, however. In fact, he claimed to be in accord with the Canons—believe it, or not! In the course of the discussion and debate about Dekker’s thesis, 1924 and the First Point of Common Grace repeatedly came into discussion. But more and more there were those who emphasized that there is but one love or grace of God, and that the one love of God was universal and saving. Reprobation came under discussion also. I remember distinctly that in connection with the Dekker Case, Dr. Henry Stob wrote openly that God hates no man. A blatant denial of reprobation, just as blatant as Harry Boer’s. But still there was no frontal attack on the creed. The issues were there—all the issues of today. But the CRC was able to avoid the issue by making a totally non-doctrinal, non-confessional, non-Scriptural declaration which was not worthy of an ecclesiastical assembly: Dekker is ambiguous and abstract in his teachings!
More has taken place in recent years. Dr. Boer himself denied reprobation, but was never found guilty. Dr. James Daane openly denies reprobation in his The Freedom of God, but no one takes him to task ecclesiastically.
Now, however, God, through Harry Boer’s Gravamen, is placing the Christian Reformed Church foursquare before the question: Do you believe with all your heart the doctrine of sovereign reprobation, or not? Do you believe and confess the doctrine of sovereign predestination, or not? Do you maintain that the Reformed creeds are the expression of the truth of Scripture, or not? Are you Reformed, or not?
The Christian Reformed Church has accepted Boer’s Gravamen as properly before it. The CRC has agreed to answer the Boer Gravamen in the light of Scripture.
Although recent CRC synods have been adept at sidestepping knotty questions and difficult cases, it is difficult to see how this question can be avoided.
What will the answer be—coram Deo?