Twice in recent months the claim has been made that Dr. Harry Boer’s gravamen is not a legitimate gravamen. The argumentation is that the Boer gravamen is a “prove it” gravamen, that it is simply a request for the Christian Reformed Church to give Scriptural proof for the doctrine of sovereign reprobation, and that the Synod is not a kind of “question-box” and cannot be called upon to render proof for the various doctrines set forth in the creeds.
The Rev. Nelson Kloosterman made this claim in The Outlook (February, 1979). After writing rather confusedly about the nature of a gravamen, he continues as follows:
“It is important to note the possible results in the life of the church from here on if Boer’s gravamen and its suggestions are accepted. His strident demand for ‘the express testimony of Scripture’ will, no doubt, be repeated in the years to come by those seeking indubitable proof texts which command the practice of infant baptism, seeking incontrovertible biblical evidence for the doctrine of the tri-personality of God, and asking for unquestionable proof for the correctness of the Heidelberg Catechism’s interpretation of the necessity of Christ’s burial (“To prove thereby that he was really dead,” Q. 41). And on and on . . .
“You see, if the terms of the debate are set so narrowly, in fundamentalist, biblicist style, calling for explicit biblical proof of that sort, we are bound to flounder about in a kind of confessional abyss ’til the Lord returns. And that because the high-sounding expressions, ‘just the Bible,’ or ‘just tell me what the Bible says,’ are not as simple or 3s innocent as they might seem.” (pp. 3, 4)
Editor Lester De Koster has made the same claim in The Banner, asserting that the Boer Gravamen is not a legitimate gravamen and that it should be marked “Return to Sender.” In The Banner of April 6, 1979 Dr. De Koster repeats this assertion. Among other things, he writes:
“This suggestion (call it a well-meant offer?) was not intended to be tricky or cute. I think I speak for many of you in repudiating the notion that any of us may put the Mother of Believers to a ‘prove to me’ test. To those who claim to find Biblical doctrines better expressed than her confessions express them, the Church owes a ready ear; but to those who would put her on trial to ‘prove’ to their satisfaction what she confesses over the centuries, the Church should be deaf. She knows, in advance, that in fact no ‘proof’ is likely to satisfy this kind of challenge.
“She should be deaf, I noted, not only out of self-respect, but equally out of determination to keep good order. One confession involves another. . . .”
A little later De Koster suggests that the door might be opened to whole series of “Grove it” gravamina and that “One ‘show me’ gravamen could follow hard on the heels of another.”
Now, in the first place, it would seem a bit tardy to begin talking about the legality of Boer’s gravamen. Has not the Synod of 1977 received the gravamen as properly before the churches? In fact, did not the Synod of 1975 already declare of the notorious Boer “Letter” about reprobation that Boer raised a matter of legitimate concern? Further—although I would certainly disagree with the manner in which the Synod of 1976 tampered with the Formula of Subscription and with the methods of filing and dealing with gravamina—is it not true that the Boer Gravamen is fully in harmony with those newly adopted rules? Still more, has not Synod given its committee the mandate “to study the gravamen in the light of Scripture, and to advise Synod of 1980 as to the cogency of the gravamen and how it should further be dealt with by Synod,” saying nothing at all about studying or advising on its legitimacy? And, finally, following the decisions of 1975, 1976, and 1977 has there been any protest raised about this aspect of the Boer Gravamen? It would seem, therefore, that while this might, to some, be a neat way out of a knotty problem, it is rather late to raise this point now.
But, in the second place, the question arises whether this is a correct representation of Dr. Boer’s gravamen, or whether it is a gross over-simplification and under-estimation of his gravamen. I trust that I hardly have to state that I disagree with Dr. Boer’s position on reprobation. At the same time, however, I do not think that Dr. Boer is so simple or so naive as to think that anyone can simply call on the church to prove the doctrines set forth in the confessions. If this were true, of course, there would be “open season” on the confessions for gravamina; and it would indeed result in an intolerable situation. It has been suggested that the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of infant baptism could then be challenged and a demand for proof of these put on Synod’s agenda. Maybe there is even more fact than imagination in such a suggestion.
However, the Boer gravamen is far more serious than a simple demand for proof. It is true, of course, that Dr. Boer demands of the Christian Reformed Church to furnish him “the express testimony of sacred Scripture” (the language of Canons I, 15) in support of the doctrine of reprobation as set forth in Articles 6 and 15 of Canons I. On the surface of it, therefore, this would seem to be a mere “prove it” gravamen. However, Boer is no fool. He knows very well which are the Scriptural proofs that the Canons offer and which they call “the express testimony of sacred Scripture.” Hence, the largest part of Boer’s gravamen is devoted to his attempt to demonstrate that the Scriptural proofs offered by the Canons do not prove what the Canons claim they prove. In other words, Boer claims to have given the lie to the Canons’ words, “the express testimony of sacred Scripture.” He then proceeds to state that he himself knows of no other Scriptural proof. And only then does he demand of Synod to furnish such proof. It seems to me that while it is negative, the Boer gravamen is nevertheless a perfectly legitimate gravamen in itself. And if the Christian Reformed Synod agrees with Boer’s exegesis, there is only one conclusion to which the Synod can come, namely, to declare Articles 6 and 15 of Canons I null and void. This is the same conclusion to which the Synod of the Gereformeerde Kerken in the Netherlands was forced: the language of Articles 6 and 15 is not in harmony with the Scriptural givens.
The alternative is for Synod’s committee and the Synod of 1980 to show conclusively that Boer’s exegesis of the Canons’ proof-texts is incorrect and that the Canons do indeed furnish the express testimony, of sacred Scripture in support of the doctrine of reprobation. Then, of course, Dr. Boer would be faced by the alternative of either bowing to the decision of Synod or saying farewell to the Christian Reformed Church because he can no longer sign the Formula of Subscription.
For many reasons it is to be hoped, too, that the Christian Reformed Church will not be misled by this propaganda about the legitimacy of the Boer gravamen, but will forthrightly face up to it and deal with it. Chief among these reasons is that of ecclesiastical honesty!