In his article entitled “An Aroused Laity” (Torch and Trumpet, April, 1965) Prof. R.B. Kuiper concludes his description of the situation which he claims is bothering a considerable segment of the Christian Reformed “laity” as follows:
“In consequence of the foregoing a truly disturbing situation obtains in the Christian Reformed Church. I shall describe it in simple terms. Every once in a while I am consulted by elders of churches which are in the process of calling a pastor. Frankly, often I find such interviews annoying, and I am sure that often the elders concerned find me annoyingly uncommunicative. I have a way on such occasions of skipping censure and confining myself to praise. However, one fact has struck me and remained with me. Almost invariably the chief concern of the elders is not the likelihood of securing a pastor soon, nor the talents of their pastor-to-be, nor yet his personality, but his doctrinal soundness. Now about that there is indeed something disturbing. Time was, not many years ago, when the complete doctrinal soundness of practically every Christian Reformed minister was taken for granted by the entire denomination. Exceedingly sad to say, that is not the case today. To put the matter mildly, many of our laymen think there exist among our ministers—for that matter, among our professors too—differing degrees of doctrinal soundness.”
In the first place, it should be noted that the issue in this paragraph is not doctrinal soundness or differing degrees of doctrinal soundness, but doctrinal unsoundness. This is the plain implication of the “differing degrees of doctrinal soundness,” which implies, of course, differing degrees of doctrinal unsoundness: where there is less than the desired soundness, there is some degree of unsoundness. This is also clear from Kuiper’s mention of the concern of the elders who seek his advice. Moreover, this doubt of doctrinal soundness and suspicion of doctrinal unsoundness extends, according to Kuiper, to the professors as well as the ministers.
In the second place, Kuiper is certainly correct when he speaks of this as a “truly disturbing situation.” In my opinion, this is putting it mildly, especially in the light of the extremely serious suspicions which Kuiper presents as living in the minds and hearts of the “laity,” to which I called attention in my previous editorial on this subject. In fact, I would not hesitate to call this animpossible situation. As a minister, I would certainly refuse to live in such an atmosphere of doubt and suspicion; that is killing for all fruitful labor. As an elder or layman, I would also find such a situation impossible. How, as an elder, could I ever vote to extend a call to any minister while I harbor such suspicions in my soul concerning men of whom the synod and the classis (by way of examination) and the transferring consistory (ies) (byway of a ministerial certificate of testimonial and dismissal) all declare or are ready to declare that they are sound in doctrine? Moreover, how can I, under such circumstances, have any confidence in all the ecclesiastical machinery for government and discipline? Still more, how can one sit under the preaching of the Word harboring such suspicions? Besides, how can consistories and congregations live together in true peace and unity in such an atmosphere of doubt? Can they not trust each other? Can one consistory not trust the other to exercise discipline if its minister is not sound in doctrine?
In the third place, however, I seriously question the ethics of Kuiper’s conduct both in the incident he relates and in his relating of it in the public press. As far as the latter is concerned, he mentions no names either of the elders concerned or of the ministers and professors whose soundness, according to him, is called in question by these elders. Hence, this may involve any one of many Christian Reformed elders and ministers. This sort of story can only serve to arouse mutual suspicion among elders and ministers. The ministers must needs think to themselves (if they listen to Kuiper’s story), “I wonder if so-and-so is one of those elders who secretly went to R.B. Kuiper to get an opinion about my doctrinal soundness. I wonder, too, what ‘R.B.’ said about me.” And the elders must needs begin to wonder about all the ministers and professors, “I wonder if he is one of those about whom R.B. Kuiper was approached and to whom he refers in ‘Torch and Trumpet.'” This is indeed a suspicion-rousing sort of thing. And what about Kuiper’s reply to these inquiring elders? He is “annoyed,” he tells us. Is that all? It seems to me he is making himself a party to gossip and rendering ministers in good standing suspect by lending an ear to these inquiries without condemning them. Nor does he avoid this by “skipping censure and confining myself to praise,”—in other words, by ignoring the doubts and suspicions. What should he tell such elders? For one thing, that if they have doubts, they should have good reasons for their doubts. For another thing, that they should present those doubts to their consistory and their moderator. And, depending upon the judgment of the consistory, they should make those doubts known to the minister concerned and to his consistory. Certainly, if there is reasonable doubt concerning the doctrinal soundness of a minister, he must not be called. But if there is such reasonable doubt, it is just as wrong to allow a sister consistory and congregation to suffer from his doctrinal unsoundness and in the meantime to keep silence. I ask in all seriousness: what becomes of the order and unity of any communion of churches and what becomes of the communal responsibility of the churches in common unless such basic procedures are honored in the churches?
Professor Kuiper also has some advice to offer as to “What the Situation Requires.”
This advice concerns the proper attitude to be assumed by the “Church, particularly . . . its leaders, to our disturbed laymen.”
Negatively, Kuiper pleads that these disturbed laymen must not be ignored. Neither must they be scorned; nor must their sincerity be judged.
My comment on this is that Prof. Kuiper omits one very fundamental item. It is this: these laymen,—as far as Kuiper’s article is concerned, known only to him and to themselves and to God,—must speak out. They must be willing and ready to speak out ecclesiastically. This is not only their right, but their Christian duty, also under the Church Order. It is all very well to speak of an aroused laity and to plead for sympathetic treatment of them. But as long as they themselves do not make known their being disturbed, together with the reasons for it, and that too, to the proper persons and assemblies and through the proper channels, they simply do not exist ecclesiastically speaking. The church and its leaders cannot take cognizance of that which does not exist or which is not willing to make its existence known and felt in the proper time and place. Such can only be ignored. That is stark realism in the church. And if then this supposedly aroused laity loses out through its failure to speak out, they lose by forfeiture. Moreover, if they insist on being disturbed and creating disturbance in the churches without acting according to good order ecclesiastically, they are indeed trouble-makers and schismatics, and make themselves guilty of gossip and slander besides. Personally, I have the greatest respect for any member of the church who has a grievance and who walks the orderly way with that grievance. Then there is a hopeful possibility of resolving the grievance if the aggrieved person is wrong. And if his grievance is a just and proper one, then there is hope for the church concerned to live up to the principle that the truly Reformed church is always reforming. But I have nothing but the utmost contempt for the supposed grievances of those who are unwilling to walk the orderly way with their grievances. Hence, my question to an aroused “layman” who asks advice in regard to such important grievances as Kuiper suggests in the first part of his article would be, first of all: what are you personally willing to do about your grievance? Are you willing to walk the orderly way with it? If not, then keep still: you have neither a moral nor a church political right to say you are aggrieved!
For the rest, I can agree, in the main, with Kuiper’s advice: 1. That “laymen” may well need guidance. 2. That we must never strive for peace at the expense of truth. 3. That the church should heed a lesson of history and be “slow to dismiss as groundless, fears on the part of the laity concerning the matter of doctrinal soundness,” and should remember that the “laity” often has highly sensitive “voelhorens.”
I can also agree with Kuiper’s advice that the “troubled laity,”—and I would add: the entire membership of the church,—”must always be dealt with in honesty so complete and so evident that there is no room for suspicion.” I agree also with the following: “That means, among other things, that, in case a minister or a teacher comes to the conclusion that the doctrinal standards of the Church are in error on a point of any significance at all, he must adhere strictly to the promise made by him when he signed the Form of Subscription.”
However, Kuiper then goes on to cite concrete I instances of such disagreement with the doctrinal standards of the Church. He mentions the instance of professors in the Netherlands who call into serious question Canons I, 6 and 15. And then he goes on to attack the Christian Reformed Church’s own Dr. James Daane, whom he accuses in a rhetorical question of violating the Formula of Subscription in his writings on the Dekker Case by open violence to the very heart of the Canons—particular grace.
In the first place, I am in agreement that Daane is in violation of the Formula of Subscription. I would add: the same holds for Professor Dekker and for Dr. Harry Boer, who now openly attacks the Reformed doctrine of reprobation. It is not my intention to enter into the material issues of these cases in this article.
In the second place, however, I doubt whether Professor Kuiper or anyone else in the Christian Reformed Church could successfully maintain this charge, for the simple reason that Daane, Dekker, and Boer can appeal to the First Point of 1924. Kuiper gives a hint that he knows this too: for he makes mention of 1924, and even suggests that it is not in every instance serious to contradict a Synod. What he fails to mention is that the Synod of 1924 itself connected the “general offer of the Gospel” with the First Point. He also fails to mention that in the only place in all our confessions where common grace is mentioned, it is ascribed to the Arminians.
In the third place, Kuiper must not imagine that it is right and proper, under the Church Order and the Formula of Subscription, to put the shoe on Daane’s foot. He is certainly correct in stating that Daane, if he disagrees with the doctrinal standards of the CRC, is duty bound to be honest and to follow the Formula of Subscription. But suppose that Daane considers himself in agreement with the Canons; or suppose that Daane knowingly and willfully is making public propaganda for a doctrine that militates against the confessions; and suppose that R. B. Kuiper is fully aware of this,—as he claims to be in the article under discussion. Can he, nay, may he let the matter rest at that? Does he have the right to charge Daane publicly with violating the Formula of Subscription and merely saying that Daane ought to follow that Formula? By no means! It is certainly Kuiper’s solemn duty before God and the church to make the case pending against Dr. Daane. And if he does not, he is guilty of public slander. Dr. Daane has every right to say to Kuiper: prove it to the ecclesiastical assemblies, or apologize publicly.
Moreover, Kuiper would have done well, as I have repeatedly pointed out, not to confine himself to advice to the church and to the leaders, but to give the “aroused laity” some sound advice, namely, that they exercise their right of reformation, under the Church Order, and speak out officially wherever and whenever necessary. This advice he should follow himself, and thus set the “aroused laity” a good example.
In conclusion, I cannot possibly agree that the advice of Gamaliel, which Kuiper wants to apply to the present church situation, was excellent advice in Gamaliel’s time or today. But let the reader look it up for himself inActs 5:35-39. I believe it was godless and utilitarian advice, not fit to be followed by any church council.