WHAT HAPPENED IN 1924?
“Church and Nation,” a periodical of the Canadian Reformed Churches, recently quoted a decision which committed the Church to contact with the Christian Reformed Church. The decision reads:
Regarding contact with the Christian Reformed Church the Regional Synod decides upon the following: The Regional Synod, considering
a. that in accordance with Scripture, unity must be sought with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity,
b. the fact that the churches sent an appeal to the Christian Reformed Church in 1962,
C. the decision of the Synod of 1964 of the Christian Reformed Church, to appoint “a special contact committee to enter into communication with the Canadian Reformed Churches with a view to establishing a relationship with these churches,”
decides to send an overture to the General Synod 1965 that deputies be appointed to seek contact with the “Special contact committee”, appointed by the Synod 1964 of the Christian Reformed Church, that deputies be instructed to discuss those things which previously have hindered the unity according to the Word of Cod and those things which presently hinder this unity, that in this way all obstruction may be removed.
Evidently the main obstruction which hinders this unity is the decisions of the Christian Reformed Church on common grace. For there is an article appended to this decision written by Rev. H. De Bolster which deals with the matter of common grace. We are not as concerned, at present, with the article itself as much as we are concerned about the description by Rev. De Bolster of the history of our Protestant Reformed Churches. The pertinent part of the article we quote.
Why, you may ask, did the Synod of 1924 make these decisions? What is the history behind it all? In the years around 1924, two ministers in the Christian Reformed Church began to write about the subject of common grace and denied that there was such a thing as common grace. They accused particularly the Kuyperian thought of common grace, “gemene gratie” and pointed out that grace is that which we have in Jesus Christ, and that kind of grace is not common, not for every man, but for the elect only. The consequence of the writings of these two ministers was that they stated unhesitatingly, that Cod loves only the elect and He hates the reprobate and the very unfortunate part in it all was that without more they concluded that Cod only spoke in His Word to the elect and for the reprobate there was only a proclamation of damnation. You can guess that these writings of the Revs. H. Danhof and H. Hoekema (should be “Hoeksema”—H.H.) caused some stir in the Church. For who is to say who are the elect, and the reprobate? In this way there was no room for the promise of the gospel as it is expressed in Canons of Dordt II, 5: “Moreover the promise of the gospel is. . . .”
As I said many questions were raised, and since these ministers continued their writings stressing that anyone who did not believe as they did was not reformed, the matter was brought to Synod, via protests from several consistories and classes. Some of these protests required strong expressions on the matter, some went too far in the opposite direction and defended common grace to such an extent, that one would almost believe that common grace is the same thing as special grace. And that is of course just as unreformed, if not more so. (Yet this is precisely what is being taught by some today in the Christian Reformed Church.—H.H.) It was in that atmosphere that the Synod of 1924 expressed itself as carefully as possible and limited itself to the three points. To say it in a few words: the first point deals with a find (should be “kind”—H.H.) of grace which Cod shows to all men, the second point deals with the restraints of sin and the third speaks of civil righteousness.
Around the issue of common grace a split occurred in the Christian Reformed Church and the brethren, which could not go along with these three points, organized themselves as the Protest ant Reformed Churches.
Now, I am well aware that much more could be said, but we want to give you at least an impression about 1924 and the existence of the Protestant Reformed Churches. Much could be said about the existence of these Churches, but I wiI1 limit myself by telling you that due to the consequences of the thoughts of Rev. Hoeksema many in these churches could no longer agree and when it was tried to make Hoeksema’s thoughts binding in the Churches through the adoption of a “Declaration of Principles,” a split occurred in that Church in 1953, when about two-thirds of the Protestant Reformed Churches broke away from Hoeksema and continued their existence. These Churches were known as “De Wolf group.” This latter group opened discussion with our Church in 1957. Of course, 1924 was discussed in all details, and in 1959 our Church gave further explanation of the three points.
After quoting the decision of the Christian Reformed Church, De Bolster goes on:
Our Synod did all it could do to take away the impression as if the word grace was meant in the special sense in which we know it in Jesus Christ. The Synod grants that false impressions might have been created, but it was ready to admit this and changed it. The final result of this expression has been that in 1962 the two Churches, the Christian Reformed Church and the Protestant Reformed Churches (De Wolf group), reunited and have been one again. It was a miracle. How often does that happen? Let us hope that in due time we may rejoice again when two Churches unite, because that (should be “they”—H.H.) agree as to the truth.
This is a very shoddy description of the whole history. It is inaccurate in its presentation of the history itself; it is equally inaccurate in its presentation of the doctrinal issues involved and of the doctrinal position of the Protestant Reformed Churches. But, since we cannot go into all this now, what is of special importance is the fact that those who left the Protestant Reformed Churches in 1953 did so because they wanted to maintain a general and conditional promise to all those who are baptized. By adopting this position they themselves made union with the Christian Reformed Church possible for they adopted a position essentially the same as the common grace of the Christian Reformed Church—especially the common grace of the first point which speaks of a general offer of the gospel. All this De Bolster omits in his article; but all this is (or ought to be) of special interest to the Canadian Reformed Churches.
We would advise the Canadian Reformed Churches to pay a little closer attention to the history and the doctrinal issues than the article of De Bolster allows. If this history is pertinent to union (and there is no doubt but that it is) they ought to have some clearer idea of that history than can be gained from De Bolster’s distortions.
OPPOSITION TO THE “CONFESSION OF 1967”
The United Presbyterian Church, when it was still the Presbyterian Church in the USA, departed several decades ago from the historic faith of the Westminster Confessions and began the long, weary march down the road to modernism. The troubles of this denomination have steadily increased since that time. At present the troubles have centered about a group of ministers and professors who, while promising at their ordination to uphold the confessions, have lied, for they disagreed with the confessions on fundamental points while they were promising to uphold them. This has created an intolerable situation. One might reasonably expect that the solution to this problem would be found in dismissing these lying officebearers and insisting on adherence to the creeds which form the doctrinal basis of the denomination. But this solution has not yet seen the light of day in this denomination. Rather the solution proposed (and exactly by the officebearers who cannot maintain the Westminster creeds) is to adopt a new confession called the “Confession of 1967” in which all the basic truths of the Westminster Confessions are denied or ignored. This proposed confession was brought to last year’s General Assembly and will come again to this year’s assembly with possible revisions and amendments. After the decision of this year’s General Assembly, should the revision pass the confession will be submitted to a vote of presbyteries. Then, if two-thirds of the presbyteries approve, formal adoption will take place at the assembly meeting of 1967.
The new confession differs radically from the Westminster Confessions on all points of doctrine. But the controversy has swirled about several points. The new confession omits references of any kind to Christ’s deity; it not only omits, but, by implication denies, the infallibility of Scripture; it emphasizes rather reconciliation—but a reconciliation of society, which, in turn, becomes the basis for a social program of the Church.
Evidently the confession, if and when adopted, will not be adopted without a fight. Opposition to the new confession is growing. Most recent opposition is to be found in a two-day meeting which was held in Chicago. This meeting was organized by “Presbyterians United for Biblical Confession,” a conservative group who are concerned about the loss of the doctrinal heritage of the Church.
According to Christianity Today, the main question at Chicago was whether the new confession is so hopelessly heretical that conservatives ought to fight to destroy the whole thing, or whether the confession can be salvaged by amendments. The issue is not yet, evidently resolved. And, regardless of the outcome of this problem, the conservatives will still have to face the problem of what to do with officebearers and professors who have promised to uphold the doctrines of the Westminster Confessions but who deny all these doctrines consistently. Anyone who has read the new “Confession of 1967” ought to know that there is absolutely no point in trying to salvage the thing through amendments. It is indeed too hopelessly heretical. If any semblance to the heritage of the truth is to be maintained, it will have to be thrown out.
But the whole point is that the new confession is being proposed by liberals who are intent on getting rid of the Westminster Confessions. The adoption of this new confession is merely a ploy to soften the blow of destroying the binding force of the great Westminster creeds. What needs to be done therefore is to return to the Westminster Confession, firmly reaffirm its truth, and insist that all officebearers and professors adhere strictly to it upon pain of dismissal from office. Short of this there is no hope for the conservatives who are trying to retain the heritage of the faith.
Is there still strength enough in the United Presbyterian Church to do this? Only time will tell.
A brief note as to how far the Presbyterian Church has gone in some instances: The 157-year-old Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church recently featured a concert of sacred music starring Duke Ellington, jazz pianist and his orchestra and Bunny Briggs, a dancer. The latter sang a Christmas carol especially written by Ellington. A sample of the lyrics of Ellington’s “Genesis, In the Beginning Cod.” was: “In the beginning. . . / No mountains, no valleys,/ No bottom, no topless,/ No symphony, no jive,/ No Gemini 5 . . .”
Can there be hope of reform under these circumstances?