It was with this conviction that I accepted an appointment to be on a committee to work out plans to have a conference in southern California. This invitation was extended last August and since that time up to the present there have been approximately five meetings held by this committee. It was composed of ministers of four denominations of California.
The problem that appeared was the problem to have speakers suitable to all for the program which was tentatively set for July 1945. The minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church objected to having any ministers of the Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A. for the obvious reason that they differed with them doctrinally. It was my suggestion to have speakers from each denomination. This, however, was strongly opposed by the ministers of the Christian Reformed Church, although it was agreeable to the men of the Reformed Church and the Orthodox Presbyterian. The argument given was that such a conference at which all Churches would be represented on the speaking program would only result in a conference bringing out doctrinal differences instead of presenting a united and positive front to the world. The Christian Reformed men would have agreed to have speakers other than from their Church to avoid this. It was my opinion that this could be avoided. I agreed to have them choose the subjects for the program and assign them to whichever speaker they saw fit and even to eliminate the period of discussion after the speeches, but that we ought to have speakers from all our churches.
Because of differences of opinion it seemed advisable to me to present my view in writing. This was read by all except the minister from the Reformed Church. The minister from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church showed this to his colleagues and to his presbytery, and replied by letter that his presbytery felt that if they were going to have a public program we should present a united program. However, that they also were in favor of a conference of ministers to discuss doctrinal differences.
At the last meeting it was decided to have a conference which would not air our doctrinal differences but which would present a united program. A list of speakers was suggested and included were speakers from the Reformed Church, Orthodox Presbyterian, and Christian Reformed. There was none from the Protestant Reformed.
It became apparent to me that further effort was in vain, and so I informed them of my future absence from their meetings.
I had given the promise that should they have a speaker from our Church, he would not criticize the Christian Reformed Church nor bring up any personalhistory but would speak his convictions as based upon the Word of God.
This is probably of interest to readers of the Standard Bearer. The following is a copy of my view presented to them. May other Calvinists express themselves.
“This writing is occasioned by the problem which appeared in our attempt to work out a program for a Calvinistic Conference. We are ministers of four denominations in Southern California—Christian Reformed, Reformed, Orthodox Presbyterian, and Protestant Reformed—appointed out of an initial meeting of more ministers of the same groups to work out a program upon the basis which was subscribed to by all present at the first meeting. As far as I remember, the original motion was to support a Calvinistic Conference which would defend and propagate our Reformed Creeds.
The first move in Southern California to have such a Calvinistic Conference came from the Ministers’ Conference of the Christian Reformed Churches of Southern California. They followed the movement which appeared in other parts of the country. Beginning with the first Calvinistic Conference in America held in Paterson, N. J., in June 1939, the movement continued and the second Calvinistic Conference was held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in June, 1942. And recently a local Calvinistic Conference was held in Jackson, Mississippi. The Ministers’ Conference of the Christian Reformed Churches appointed a committee which sent out invitations to all possible Reformed groups to attend such a proposed meeting to discuss the desirability and possibility of arranging such a conference in California. This first meeting was held in August of 1944. The problem of really getting together as different denominations already appeared at this first meeting. Nevertheless, a motion was made and subscribed to by all present to have a Calvinistic Conference which would defend and Propagate the Reformed Creeds.
The same problem appeared upon the different meetings of the committee appointed to work out such a Conference. The problem is to arrange subjects and speakers which will meet with the approval of all the committee and which will agree with the original basis and aim of the Calvinistic Conference.
Because I am interested in a Conference and concerned in the discussion that has taken place I wish to set forth my ideas in writing.
First of all it is necessary that we consider the situation. It is this. We are from denominations with differences of doctrine. Especially is there the difference between the Christian Reformed Church and the Protestant Reformed Churches. While both subscribe to the three forms of unity, the three creeds of the historic Reformed1 Church of the Netherlands, there is a very fundamental difference at least in the interpretation of them as officially declared by the Christian Reformed Churches in their Three Points, It is maintained by the Protestant Reformed Churches that these three points are not an interpretation but a departure from the Reformed truth as expressed in the three historic creeds. There is also a difference between these churches on the one hand and the Reformed Churches on the other. The Reformed Churches do not take as positive a stand as to these three creeds and refuse to recognize the part of the Canons of Dort which is called the rejection of errors. The Orthodox Presbyterian denomination does not have the same Dutch background as the three mentioned above. It, however, has adopted the historic Calvinistic Greed, the Westminster Confession. It remains to be seen in how far they stand firm in their defense of historic Calvinism and in how far they agree with the tenets of the Reformed Churches of the Dutch tradition. (This last is merely my personal opinion; I am not thoroughly acquainted with the background of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and am open to correction.)
In the second place, we must realize that such a conference of these four groups has never been undertaken. There have been attempts at a conference among Christian Reformed and Protestant Reformed but these were not successful. There have been two American Calvinistic Conferences but these were not representative of all groups who adhere to historic Calvinism. If it is our desire to merely have several Calvinists speak and deliberately ref use a voice to those who desire to make a contribution, it is no longer a conference. We may speak of it as a series of lectures sponsored by some Calvinistic Churches. A true Calvinistic Conference implies that all distinctive Calvinistic groups, those who are committed to the defense and propagation of the historic Calvinistic creeds, confer together about the distinctive issues of Calvinism. Again it can be said, a conference of this type has never been attempted in America, that is, a conference which placed the issues of Calvinism squarely before itself to see whether Calvinism could long endure.
Concerning this situation it has been the answer of some that we do not wish to arouse denominational wars, but we wish to present a united front. But it seems to me that it ought to be seen that it is impossible to present a united front, when there are differences which show lack of unity. These differences are not because of different fields of labor, nor because of some minor misunderstanding. These differences are confessional. Because they are confessional we can no longer speak of ignoring them when we seek to have a Calvinistic expression made to the world. Before a united front can honestly be presented to the world a united front has to be made. You may imagine that we can unite on cardinal points and so be silent as to our differences. But then you do not see the reality. If you mean by the cardinal points, the expressions simply given of early Christianity as expressed in our Apostolic Creed you have denied the spirit and truth of Calvinism. You have ignored the cardinal points as they are interpreted and maintained in the Calvinistic Confessions. We are a group supposedly united to defend the Calvinistic creeds and not to become vague or soft in our endeavors. To maintain such a position in these days of difference among Calvinists, that is, to say that we can go back to primitive Christianity and present a united front, is to show one of two things: either a lack of understanding, or a desire to dim the torch of the Reformers.
My position is not that a conference is not desirable, nor that a conference is impossible. On the contrary, my position is that a conference is obligatory and possible. It is possible if we as ministers of different churches have the spirit and truth of Calvinism and the will and desire to have others see the light. If we make a basis of unity for the conference and an aim toward which we work, which is subscribed to by all, we ought not to have any further suspicions or objections as to the question who participates. Furthermore, we ought to welcome and afford opportunity as open-minded, intellectually honest, firm believers in the truth of our own position, to all who differ with us in the same avowed adherence to the historic Calvinistic creeds. Such a natural implication of a serious attempt at a conference first of all implies that each of the churches here represented at this committee be welcomed wholeheartedly to the speaking and discussion program. It appears that these are all that had the zeal to proceed with us. However, if there are yet others, we should afford them opportunity also.
It appears to me that this is not the opinion of all of our committee and therefore I sincerely beg you all to consider this point, that this position about the nature of a conference is the only natural implication of any conference. It is the position of our basis already subscribed to. It was the basis and aim of the first American Calvinistic Conference in 1939. Allow me to quote from the publication of their proceedings. “The basis of fellowship is that of historic Calvinism as expressed in its classic creeds.” “The objective of this conference is to rally positive Calvinists to state, to defend, and to propagate historic Calvinism in this, our age.”