What we have to say on this subject, strictly speaking, does not belong to this department. We are supposed to write on matters that have to do with that which is “All Around us.” I am departing from the rule this time due to the peculiar circumstance in which I find myself at the time another article must be sent in to fill my department. I am in the throes of moving, if you know what that means. My study at this moment is a dismal place. All my books and periodicals which I need to read to obtain material, are packed away in boxes and ready for shipping. All that is left and in its usual place is my desk and typewriter and a few pictures which still need to be taken down and stowed away somewhere.
Among the latter are some panoramic pictures of Young People’s Conventions of the past, some single snapshots of a few personal friends, a group picture of a conference held several years ago with the Germans at Hull, Iowa, and also a group picture of a Protestant Reformed Theological Conference which was held in Grand Rapids, November 6, 1947.
It is this last picture which I call a pathetic picture, and to which I refer in this article.
No doubt many of our readers have seen the picture and maybe also have one in their possession. It was taken at the time of the Schilder Conference, when the late professor from Kampen visited our Churches and even preached and spoke in some of them in the late summer and early fall of 1947. I counted forty-two likenesses on this panoramic picture. These included the late Dr. Schilder, and a young man who has since then entered into the ministry of another denomination. The picture also includes the likenesses of two laymen who since then have gone to their eternal reward. The remaining likenesses are of the twenty-three ministers (some of whom may have been students in our seminary at the time. I do not remember exactly) and fifteen laymen, some of whom were elders in our Churches, while others were just visitors. And these thirty-eight we may again break down into two groups namely, of those who remained faithful to the Protestant Reformed Churches, and those who have gone from us by way of schism. Of the group that is with us, I count ten ministers and ten laymen; and in the other group that has now left us I count thirteen ministers and five laymen.
All pictures, if they have any significance at all, arouse sentiment and emotion in those who possess them. And I confess that though I am generally speaking not easily affected by faces or the likenesses of them, I nevertheless was deeply moved as I studied that picture above referred to once more in the light of the history that has been made since 1947 and that conference.
In the center of it and on the foreground are the likenesses of the Revs. G.M. Ophoff and H. Hoeksema, and the late Dr. Schilder. Looking at the latter and right below him, printed in white letters, the date of the conference, the thought could not be suppressed: Was this not the day, when you, the late Dr. Schilder, assembled with us in conference, that all our sad history of the past years began? O, to be sure, there were no apparent evidences of schism and strife then, for all on the surface appeared to be one. Or, at least, it appeared that all were striving for the same thing. The purpose of the conference, as I remember, was to seek unity and correspondence on the basis of the truth. For us who perhaps at that time did not understand the points of difference too well, there seemed to be unanimity and agreement. And all around the picture I see the likenesses of those who attending the same instruction I received had always left the impression with me that they were in thorough agreement with that instruction. But as I look at the history now made, I am inclined to believe there was no solid agreement then, and some of those present at that conference then were sure at that time that there never would be agreement. But be that as it may, it has now become very plain that from that day, November 6, 1947, to the present two manifest groups began to form in our churches; the one pulling for a closer association with the Liberated Churches of the Netherlands and Canada, the other, always determined to maintain our Protestant Reformed distinctiveness.
All of us know the schedule of events as they took place after this conference. The late Dr. Schilder returned to the Netherlands where he evidently fought hard to persuade his churches to seek closer affiliation with ours. Though several of his colleagues were suspicious of us, he apparently influenced them to break down their opposition. Not only did he work on his own people, but after the Declaration of Principles came to the fore in our churches, he even tried by way of pamphlet to remove this obstacle which was intended to show our people and those outside seeking to come in, how impossible a final union of us with the Liberated was. Then you have that incident of the visitors from America traveling to the Netherlands in the guise of representatives of the Protestant Reformed Churches, men of whom we have every reason to believe now were bent on selling our churches to the Liberated. When these men returned, the actual formation of two parties in our churches began to take on reality. This movement was agitated no doubt by what we thought at the time was the untimely warning of the Rev. Ophoff (we see now that it was exceedingly timely) who published a certain letter of the late Dr. Holwerda which had been sent to the Canadian Liberated.
Then followed the sad history in the two Canadian Churches, Hamilton and Chatham. We need not repeat what has been written in many pages of the Standard Bearer relating the history of our Canadian experience. But when this occurred we believed the eyes of our people would open to not only the kind of people we were dealing with but more particularly their doctrine. But it seems to us now that the two groups which were forming in our churches became more solidified through this Canadian debacle.
Then came the meeting of Classis East and West that were to consider adopting the Declaration of Principles. This was in 1951 that Classis West also by majority vote (the faithful were few) voiced objection to it. And it soon became apparent that the group objecting to the Declaration and favoring closer affinity with the Liberated in Classis East began to be more outspoken in their opposition to all that smacked of being Protestant Reformed. It was about this time that the Rev. Kok began to write vigorously in opposition to the Declaration while supporting conditional theology, all the while endeavoring to deceive our people, urging them to believe that the Rev. Hoeksema and Ophoff in their writings taught conditional doctrine. It was also at this time that the Rev. De Wolf made the first of his heretical statements which clearly evinced not only his hatred for the Declaration but also his love for Liberated conditional doctrine.
Then came that wonderful Synod of 1951 that shall go down in the annals of the Protestant Reformed Churches as still strong enough to sustain the truths declared in the Declaration. That was the Synod where more than ever before it became evident that those who favored closer collaboration with the Liberated and their doctrine were determined to split our churches if necessary to gain their objectives. O, to be sure, they had not planned, like the Liberated Church of the Netherlands and Canada had planned it, to swallow up all our churches, excluding, of course, the Revs. Hoeksema and Ophoff and maybe a handful of ministers and the people that might stick with them. And thanks be to God! they were foiled in their plan. The separation came before they could carry out their purpose.
And not I look at that picture again. I see the likenesses of these men and in my imagination others with them not on the picture. And I say again, What a pathetic picture. There they stand, right behind and all around the leaders God in His great mercy gave to us to lead us all the years of our denomination existence. There they stand as those who were in full agreement with the instruction they like us had received, while already then the thoughts of forsaking that instruction was taking form in their hearts. There they stand scattered throughout the picture next to men who have remained faithful by the grace of God. So close they are to them that their likeness cannot be blotted out without destroying theirs.
All sentiment, you say? Too much opinion? Perhaps. But let me assure you that as far as I am concerned the picture is spoiled. It shall not be placed on the walls of my study again, at least not until the day that you who have caused us so much heartache shall repent and return to us in sincere sorrow for the awful sin you have committed while you were still members in our churches.
More conferences? Yes, there will be more of them. More pathetic pictures? Yes, there can be no doubt that there will also be more of them. And until the day come when we shall be able to confer without sin and schism, we will continue to fight the good fight while we weep and pray.