From Mr. John Meninga of Kalamazoo, Mich., we received a protest which he had filed w&h his consistory, the former consistory of the First Protestant Reformed Church of Kalamazoo, with the request to publish it together with; the answer he received from that former consistory.
This we propose to do, at the same time offering our comment on the answer.
The protest is father brief but, in comparison, the reply is very lengthy. We deem it preferable, therefore to publish the material in installments, and let each installment be followed immediately by our criticism.
Here, then, follows the first installment of the protest and its reply:
“Protest to the Consistory of the First Protestant Reformed Church of Kalamazoo, Michigan.
“The undersigned protests against the consistory of the Prot. Ref. Church of Kalamazoo, Mich.
“That our delegates to Classis East which was held on Oct. 8, 1953 were not instructed that they had to stay by the truth, namely, by the word of God, by the Confession, by the Church Order, and by the Declaration of Principles which give us an interpretation of the Protestant Reformed truth and of the confession, in the matter of the doctrin4 dispute in the case of the Rev. De Wolf.”
The answer of the consistory to this part of the protest reads as follows:
“A. In reply to your assertion that our delegates to the Classis held at Fourth Church in Grand Rapids on October 8, 1953 “were not instructed that the delegates had to stay by the truth and the church order in the matter of the doctrinal dispute in the case of Rev. De Wolf,” the consistory would call your attention to two things:
1. That our delegates were instructed to do the very thing which you mention, namely, to stay with the truth and the church order.
a. The Classical credentials which are given to the delegates read as follows: “The Consistory of the . . . . . . . . . . Protestant Reformed Church, has appointed the brethren ______________ and elder ______________. We hereby instruct and authorize them to take part in all the deliberations and transactions of classis regarding all matters legally coming before the meeting and transacted in agreement with the word of God according to the conception of it embodied in the doctrinal standards of the Protestant Reformed Churches, as well as in harmony with our church order.”
b. That, however, in the very Church Order itself, provision is made, on the basis of settled conviction that the classis or synod has erred or is proceeding on a course contrary to the word of God and the Church Order, for those same delegates to differ with the decisions of a classis or a synod without denying the truth or the church order. Article 31 of the Church Order reads: If anyone complain that he has been wronged by the decision of a minor assembly, he shall have the right to appeal to a major ecclesiastical assembly, and whatever may be agreed upon by a majority vote shall be considered settled and binding, unless(underscoring by the consistory _____________ this “unless” in the article does not bind everyone to a decision of classis “until” it be proved contrary to the word of God and the Church Order, but allows disagreement and unconformity with a decision without violation of the truth or the Church Order) it be proved to conflict with the word of God or with the articles of the Church Order, as long as they are not changed by a general synod.”
2. That when the delegates of the consistory disagreed with the classis in seating schismatic and improper delegates they did not leave the truth and the Church Order, but were exercising the right given them by the Church Order as it was their conviction that the Classis was doing the wrong thing as stated in their motivated negative vote.”
1. Indeed, the mandate of the delegates from Kalamazoo, according to the classical credentials, was that they should “take part in all the deliberations and transactions of classis.” But I am amazed that the delegates from Kalamazoo, through their consistory, had the sad courage to refer to this part of their mandate, for this important part of their mandate they never heeded At least, as often as I was present at the sessions of classis, neither Rev. Knott nor his elder took part in the deliberations and discussions on the floor of the classis. They hardly opened their mouth at all. The Rev. Knott was member of the committee that produced the well-known majority Report in the De Wolf case. But I never heard from him one word in defense of his own report. As far as taking part in the deliberations was concerned, the Rev. Knott and his elder might just as well have remained in Kalamazoo.
Hence, I say once more that I am amazed that those delegates, through their consistory, have the sad courage to quote this part of the classical credentials.
They were unfaithful to a very important, part of their mandate. For deliberations and discussions on the floor of the classis always precede and form the basis of the final conclusions.
2. The consistory’s answer to the protest of Mr. Meninga also refers to Article 31 of the Church Order. This has become quite a habit of late. It seems that, according to the interpretation of this article given by some, also by the consistory of Kalamazoo (what was the consistory), would leave a Father large loophole for the introduction of anarchy in the Church of Christ.
Let me quote the article:
“If anyone complain that he has been wronged by a decision of a minor assembly, he shall have the right to appeal to a major ecclesiastical assembly, and whatever may be agreed upon by a majority vote shall be considered settled and binding, unless it be proved to conflict with the word of God or with the Articles of the Church Order, as long as they are not changed by a General Synod.”
Notice that in this article:
a. Mention is made of cases of appeal. Say that one has, been wronged by a consistory. He then appeals to classis. The decision of classis is to be considered settled and binding. But suppose that the wronged one still considers himself wronged and cannot agree with the decision of classis. Then, he can still appeal, this time to synod. If the synod agrees with the decision of classis, the matter is definitely “settled and binding.”
b. But, you say, there is an exception to this rule of a decision being “settled and binding, for Article 31 itself states very definitely that the matter shall be considered settled and binding “unless it be proved to conflict with the word of God or with the Articles of the Church Order.” That is true. The question now is: when, and before whom is this proof to be submitted? The only possible answer to this question is: at the time when the minor and major assemblies meet and before them. Just consider once more the concrete case of an appeal. One considers himself wronged by a consistory. What will he do? Will he simply say that he is convinced that the consistory is wrong? Of course not. He will write a protest based on Scripture, the Confessions and the Church Order. In other words, he will furnish sound proof that he is right and the consistory is wrong. If his proof is not accepted as valid by the consistory, he will appeal to classis. The classis will examine his protest and its proof. If the classis also finds that his protest is not based on sufficient grounds and, therefore, agrees with the consistory, and the “wronged one” is not satisfied, he may appeal to synod and, present his proof there. And if also the synod does not agree with him, he is at the end, and can either submit or leave the church.
One more question. What must one that considers himself wronged by a, minor assembly do in the meantime, while his case is pending. May he go his own way, refuse to submit to the consistory, follow his own head and make open propaganda for his case in the church? By no means. That would be anarchy indeed. In that case, he would become the proper object of discipline. While he presents his proof, in the meantime, he must walk orderly and abide by the decisions of the ecclesiastical assembly concerned. This is the meaning of Article 31 and the proper way of appeal.
You say, perhaps, that we violated this very way and principle in 1924 when we refused to abide by the decisions of Classis Grand Rapids East? This is not true. Our case had been finished by the synod of 1924. They never condemned me, still less advised discipline, nor demanded that I sign the “Three Points.” They declared me Reformed. Hence, Classis Grand Rapids East could not possibly have the authority to demand that I express agreement with the “Three Points.”
c. So much about Article 31. But what about the interpretation by the former consistory of Kalamazoo? It exactly violates this article. It is anarchical. This is evident already from the introductory sentence: “That, however, in the very Church Order itself, provision is made, on the basis of settled conviction that the classis or synod has erred or is proceeding on a course contrary to the word of God and the Church Order, for those same delegates to differ with the decisions of a classis or a, synod without denying the truth or the church order.”
Note the clause: “on the basis of a settled conviction that the classis or synod has erred.” This surely is anarchy. It is surely in violation of the Church Order. One may differ on the basis of a settled conviction? That is pure subjectivism, individualism, Pelagianism. That surely is not Article 31. It does not speak of a “settled conviction” but of proof from the word of God and from the Church Order. And proof is something for more objective than a “settled conviction.” It is not something vague but very concrete. It is something that can be put black on white. It is something that can be submitted to the judgment of others, that can be accepted or rejected. And this is what Article 31 demands.
This is the same corruption on which Kok has been acting for years and which always wrought havoc in the churches. I refer, offhand, to the case dealing with the Rev. H. Danhof, to the case of Byron Center, and, last but not least, to the case of his and De Jong’s dealing with the Liberated in the Old Country. It is this same corruption which he tried to defend in the Superior Court in Grand Rapids.
This corrupt interpretation of Article 31 is also evident from the sentence in the above quoted part of the answer by the former consistory which is put in parentheses: “This ‘unless’ in the article does not bind everyone to a decision of classis ‘until’ it be proved contrary to the Word of God and the Church Order, but allows disagreement and unconformity with a decision without violation of the truth or the Church Order.” Note the intentional implication of this sentence. Classis or, in fact, Synod has made a certain decision. No one has ever proved, or even attempted to prove that such a decision is contrary to the word of God or the Church Order. But “until” this is done or not done, nothing is settled and binding. Every one may go his own sweet way. Perhaps, someone has a “settled conviction” that the decision is wrong, but has as yet no proof for such a conviction. Perhaps, later he will try to find and produce proof. In the meantime, he may not be bound by such a decision. In fact, he may violate it “without violation of the truth or the Church Order” according to the answer of the former consistory!
We have still more about this part of the answer by the consistory.
But this must wait till our next issue.