THE CHRISTIAN REFORMED SYNODICAL AGENDA
The Agenda of the Synod of the Christian Reformed Churches is a large book of 550 pages this year. We give here a brief summary of some of the matters of interest which are coming before the Synod.
Perhaps the three items of greatest interest to our readers are: The Dekker Case; The Question of Evolution; The Christian Reformed Churches’ position on the World Council of Churches.
THE QUESTION OF EVOLUTION
Our readers will recall that last year’s Synod gave the material on evolution to a committee which was charged with the mandate of recommending a committee to study the question and of formulating a specific mandate for this committee. The present committee recommended a committee of eight to study the question; and it recommended that this committee be given the following mandate:
To serve Synod with a study of the problem of origins, as it confronts the Christian community today, which will assist pastors, ecclesiastical assemblies, and the whole body of Christian believers in dealing with this problem in Biblical perspective.
Specifically, the committee is asked to address itself to such matters as the following:
I. Matters of Perspective:
A. The proper role of the church as community of believers, and the specific role of the church as ecclesiastical organization, in dealing with the problem of origins.
B. The Christian evaluation of the cultural context in which the question of origins has arisen among us as a problem.
C. The proper function of Scripture and of General Revelation in the development of a Christian understanding of the origin of the universe and of man.
D. The nature of the sciences (natural, anthropological, theological, etc.) from the Christian perspective, and an evaluation of their consequent contributions to our knowledge of the origin of the universe and of man.
II. Matters of Specific Concern:
A. What is the nature of the Divine revelation in
B. What is the essential teaching of
regarding the origin of the universe and of man.
C. In the light of these considerations, how should we deal with the questions of detail such as have arisen among us?
In this same connection a protest against the decision of last year’s Synod will have to be considered by this year’s Synod. This protest is a very well worked out protest which questions “the decision of the Synod of 1966 to appoint a committee to recommend a committee” to study these matters of evolution. The well-grounded protest (grounds from Scripture itself and the Confessions) reads in part:
I. Specifically we protest the consideration of certain matters which the Synod of 1966 seems to regard as legitimate for discussion such as:
1. The possibility that
, and 3 may be viewed as being symbolic or poetic rather than historical and literal.
2. The possibility that sub-human creation may have developed gradually from lower to higher forms of existence under divine direction by way of theistic evolution.
3. The possibility that Adam may have developed gradually from some lower form of animal under divine direction by way of theistic evolution.
II. Specifically we are concerned about the following:
1. “Theistic evolution” is being embraced and espoused by many present and future leaders in our church.
2. The time factor and the element of indefiniteness involved in appointing a committee to recommend a committee to study this problem.
3. The considerable emphasis placed on “the present status of scientific studies” and the necessity of having members on the committee who possess scientific competence, making these requirements almost equally as important as theological competence and the ability to interpret the Reformed Confessions.
4. The seeming disregard for the perspicuity of Scripture and the competence of the average member to exercise spiritual discernment in understanding by faith such matters as creation, the fall and redemption.
III. In the light of the above, we respectfully overture the Synod of 1967:
1. To reaffirm the Biblical and traditional Reformed view of the historicity of
and 3 and of creation by divine fiat: â”€ “by the word of His power.”
2. To remind Classes, the Board of Trustees, School Boards, Consistories and all in positions of teaching and leadership that this is the official position of our church which signers of the “Form of Subscription” are obligated to endorse, which they promise to diligently teach and faithfully defend and which they will in no way contradict either by proposal, preaching, teaching or writing unless there is an official change of position.
POSITION ON THE WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES
The committee appointed to study the position of the Christian Reformed Church in relation to the World Council of Churches was asked to do this especially in the light of the decision of the Gereformeerde Kerkenin the Netherlands who had gone on record as seeing no reason why membership in this body was to be opposed.
The committee split into a majority and minority element. The majority report is a very lengthy but extremely well-worked out report which ends with recommendations to Synod advising Synod to express her disapproval of the World Council of Churches; and advising Synod to send a copy of the report to theGereformeerde Kerken.
The minority report while also recommending that Synod decide “not to commit the Christian Reformed Church to membership in the World Council of Churches at this time” nevertheless also asks Synod to declare that there is nothing in the basis, nature and purpose of the World Council of Churches as defined by the Constitution which makes membership impossible.
There is also one overture sent to Synod from Classis Wisconsin petitioning Synod not to join the W.C.C. and to advise the Gereformeerde Kerken not to affiliate with this body.
THE DEKKER CASE
It is not surprising that material concerning the “Dekker Case” constitutes a large part of the material coming before Synod.
There is first of all a lengthy document from Prof. Dekker himself which is a defense of his position which he has taken on the atonement. This document alone is 27 pages long.
Further the committee which has studied the Dekker Case for two years comes with a report to Synod covering 84 pages to which is attached an appendix of 8 additional pages. In general, the report of the committee is much the same as last year’s report. However, some changes have been made in the recommendations with which the report ends. Along with extensive grounds which we cannot quote, the recommendations read:
We therefore propose that Synod do not make isolated extra-creedal statements, but that it deal with the theological problems involved, by adopting the following recommendations:
I. In the light of Scripture and the Confessions a distinction must be maintained between God’s general benevolence toward all His creatures; His love of compassion for every sinner; and His unique love for His own (the elect). It is therefore unwarranted to speak of one love of God which is redemptive in nature for all men distributively.
II. In the light of Scripture and the Confessions it must be maintained that, although there are certain universal and undeserved benefits accruing to all men from the death of Christ, the atonement of Christ, as expressed by the Biblical terms: obedience, expiation, satisfaction, propitiation, reconciliation, and redemption, is definite and particular (limited). It is therefore unwarranted to state that “the atonement itself is inherently universal” and “there is neither need nor warrant for retaining the concept of limited atonement, as it has been traditionally used among us.”
III. In the light of Scripture and the Confessions it must be maintained that the atonement is efficacious and that there is no disjunction, but essential unity in the work of the Triune God concerning our salvation. What God the Father willed in sovereign love for the salvation of those elected in Christ; was effectually merited by Christ through His death on the cross; and is being savingly applied through the work of Holy Spirit. It is therefore unwarranted to state, “Redeeming efficacy lies neither in the love of God nor in the atonement as such, but rather in the redeeming work of the Holy Spirit.”
IV. In the light of Scripture and the Confessions it must be maintained that the particularism of redemption, historically applied in the lives of believers, is the fruit of a definite and particular (limited) atonement, since the Holy Spirit Himself, who applies that redemption, is a gift which Christ has merited for His people through His death. It is therefore unwarranted to “insist on a universal atonement, in the sense that . . . Christ died for all, and a particular redemption based on God’s decree to save only the elect,” and incompatible with the statement: “At the same time I recognize . . . that the redeeming work of the Holy Spirit is a fruit of and is dependent upon Christ’s atonement.”
V. In the light of Scripture and the Confessions it must be maintained that when we preach and confront men with the Christ of the Scriptures we are not dealing with them as elect or non-elect, nor yet as those whose eternal destiny is an accomplished fact; but we are dealing with them as sinners who must be pleaded with to be reconciled to God in the way of repentance and faith. It is therefore unwarranted to state: “We may say to every man individually . . . ‘Christ died for you”; or to state: “When I say ‘Christ died for you’ to any man, I mean to say that Christ has actually suffered for his sins and has in that sense expiated his guilt. If, however, the word ‘expiate’ is intended by definition to include the idea of effectuation, . . . I would not want to use the word expiation to describe what Christ has done for all men.”
VI. In the light of Scripture and the Confessions the Church must maintain that the atoning work of Christ is the basis for the universal and well-meant offer of the gospel in missionary preaching, the heart of its message, and the guarantee of its fruitfulness. And this is an incentive to mission spirit and activity. It is, therefore, unwarranted to state that “the doctrine of limited atonement, as commonly understood and observed in the Christian Reformed Church . . . tends to inhibit missionary spirit and activity.”
There are also various overtures coming to Synod dealing with this same case. Although these overtures overlap somewhat, they do express also a certain difference of opinion in the churches. Two overtures ask for a continued discussion of the atonement using the material thus far presented to Synod as a guide. Five overtures ask for a decision which is in harmony with the Doctrinal Study Committee’s recommendations, three of these five also asking for enforcement of the Formula of Subscription and treatment of departures from the view of the committee according to the Church Order and the Formula of Subscription. Two overtures specifically request that the views of Prof. Dekker be condemned and one asks that measures be taken to insure that these views of Prof. Dekker no longer be taught in the Seminary.
OTHER MATTERS OF INTEREST
One overture is coming to Synod requesting once again that a study committee be appointed to seek ways to bring Calvin College under society control rather than ecclesiastical control.
One overture asks “that those who are teaching in Calvin College and Seminary contrary to Holy Scripture as we of the Christian Reformed church as a denomination believe Scripture ought to be interpreted, viz.: in harmony with our accepted Forms of Unity (Heid. Catechism, Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dordt) be forbidden from the promotion of such views.”
There is an overture protesting the Catechism material published by the Synodical Committee on Education. There is also an appeal against Dr. Kromminga’s participation in the “interfaith ecumenical service” last November. This appeal is against the decision of the Board of Trustees which upheld Dr. Kromminga’s action.
All in all, matters coming before this year’s Synod are important for the maintenance of the Reformed faith in the Christian Reformed Church. It is our sincere hope that the Christian Reformed Church will maintain the truth of Scripture and purge herself of the errors which now trouble the church deeply â”€ errors which to a considerable extent go back to the basic error of common grace adopted now some 43 years ago.