Pierre Courthial’s Dream
It was a year ago that the Standard Bearer (Oct. 1, 1974) referred to a dream of the editor of The Outlook. In this dream the editor dreamt of a Congress of Conservatives. Rev. John Vander Ploeg was very willing that this conference would also be attended by representatives of our Protestant Reformed Churches. However, the editor was afraid of one thing, namely, that time and energy and efforts would be exhausted in a futile effort to resolve a controversy that is of fifty years’ standing. He referred, of course, to the Three Points of 1924. We, however, believe that this controversy is fundamental. Until now we have heard nothing of such a conference. And, as of now, under present circumstances, one can hardly visualize the presence of Protestant Reformed representatives at such a conference.
Well, it is in connection with this dream of the editor ofThe Outlook, that Pierre Courthial, Academic Director of the Faculty of Reformed Theology at Aix-en-Provence, France, also has a dream. We read of this dream in the August, 1975, issue of The Outlook in a letter which this brother sent to Rev. J. Vander Ploeg; it appears on page 21. His dream is of a renewal of the very old dream which was that of John Calvin.
After calling attention to the dream of John Calvin, in which the reformer of Geneva had written that he would cross, if necessary, ten seas in search of true ecumenicity, Pierre Courthial also mentions our churches in his letter to the editor of The Outlook. When he quotes from Calvin’s letters to show that the reformer of Geneva favored and strongly desired a conference which would deal only with “fundamentals” and not with secondary matters, I remind the brother that John Calvin was an uncompromising champion of the sovereignty of God and that he opposed any and every denial of this truth with all the power at his command. This can be shown. However, we now refer to the following in his letter to the editor of The Outlook:
It is a historical evil placed under the judgment of God that the Reform ended in “national” churches and not in the re-formation of a “universal” church (“catholic” or “ecumenical”).
Our Reformed vision of the churches of God (or the church of God) ought to be “de-nationalized,” “de-particularized.” It is normal that there be local churches, expressions of the holy universal church, and that there be regional and national synods. But would it not be normal that there be regularly universal “catholic,” “ecumenical” synods?
You state very well: “The danger is that we together might exhaust our time and energy and efforts in a futile effort to resolve a controversy that is of fifty years standing”—the controversy between PRC and CRC.
But an ecumenical congress would oblige us all to surmount all secondary and quite relative historical problems in order to seize again (to use the words of Cramner) the principal points of the ecclesiastical doctrine and to search for “the path of unity of all the confessing reforms throughout the world. Our too-narrow points of view, too much drowned in local controversies would be enlarged. Thanks to God, we would go to His Word and to His Spirit:
1. Toward the establishment of an ecumenical Reformed confession of faith;
2. Toward the establishment of a common ecclesiastical discipline crowned by the regular institution of a Reformed ecumenical synod;
3. Toward the extension of a Reformed evangelization in the entire world.
“Like Calvin we must be willing to cross ten seas (he says ten) to unite the church.”
“To cherish the vision or goal of having all those who are scripturally conservative and genuinely Reformed in a Catholic Reformed Church hardly calls for an indictment or an apology. As prophets, priests and kings, are we not all entitled and also obligated to cherish and also to pursue such an ideal, even though we do it unofficially?”
Such is my dream. Such is my appeal, Such is my prayer.
Expressing to you my gratitude and devotion in Christ, I am sincerely yours,
It would be interesting to read the answer of the editor of The Outlook to this letter and dream of Pierre Courthial.
One also wonders what kind of a Reformed congress this brother from France envisions. He speaks of “too-narrow points of view, too much drowned in local controversies”, which would be enlarged. He also speaks of a “Reformed evangelization being extended in the entire world.” One wonders what his opinion may be of the fathers of Dordt and of the Canons of Dordrecht. What is his appraisal of that great Synod of Dordrecht and of the efforts of this great synod to set forth the error and heresy of the Arminians in all its detail, declaring that Arminianism is a heresy that has its origin in hell? Does the editor of The Outlook agree with this French writer when the latter speaks of secondary matters we should surmount? Did not the Rev. Vander Ploeg speak of the danger of exhausting our time and energy and efforts in a futile effort to resolve a controversy that is of fifty years’ standing? Is it true that our differences, as Protestant Reformed Churches, with the Christian Reformed Churches are secondary matters? If these be secondary matters, then it must also be true that the issues which confronted our fathers at the great synod of Dordrecht were also secondary matters. What are these primary matters as in distinction from the things that are secondary? We will indeed maintain that the so-called secondary matters of 1924 are the destruction, eventually, of all primary matters. Is not the terrible condition of the Christian Reformed Church today a tremendous testimony to this effect? One can never separate this condition from 1924.
So, the issues of 1924 are secondary matters! Is it a secondary matter to speak of the love of God as universal rather than particular? Is it a secondary matter to teach that God would save all men and must be satisfied with the salvation of a few, rather than teach that He saves whom He wills? Is it secondary that the preaching of the gospel is merely an offer instead of the power of God unto salvation? Is it secondary to teach that the natural man is not wholly corrupt but can do much good before the living and perfectly righteous and holy God? These departures from the truth of the infallible Scriptures are not secondary. They are primary and vital. Until now, the Christian Reformed Church has consistently refused to discuss these matters with us. We have been ready and willing to do this; we are ready and willing to do this today.
I am not about to quote from the July, 1975, News Bulletin of thy ACRL, the Association of the Christian Reformed Laymen. I assume these quotations to be correct and just. This association also makes the fundamental error of refusing to associate the very alarming conditions in the Christian Reformed Church today with 1924. So, they, too, are simply “whistling in the dark.”
Our readers undoubtedly know that Dr. Boer requested the synod of the Christian Reformed church last June to produce scriptural grounds in support of the doctrine of reprobation as set forth in our Canons of Dordrecht. Instead of appearing at the synod with a gravamen, protesting against the teachings of the Canons (which would have required of him that he walk the proper ecclesiastical way and in the meantime refraining from making any propaganda for his views), he requested of the synod this scriptural evidence, and this in spite of the very clear scriptural references set forth in the Canons.
Well, on pages 6 and 7 of this bulletin we have a copy of the Rev. L. Doezema’s speech delivered at that synod. We quote:
I think we all should appreciate the concern of Dr. Boer here . . . I think everyone who has worked with the Canons especially in connection with the Conclusions of the Canons will realize that this 17th Century document creates real problems . . . And certainly we shouldn’t just take the Canons as clear in this respect either and as we go on and are farther away from that point we increase as we are farther away from the original authors of this document. We increase in our problems especially with the complexity of our day, changing in philosophical presuppositions . . . And who doesn’t have agony with the decrees of God . . . If there is not a possibility to show clear Scriptural proof, then we have maintained that the Canons are expressing something above and beyond the Scripture. . .
We must bear in mind that Dr. Boer was requesting the synod for scriptural proof for the doctrine of reprobation as taught in the Canons. So Rev. Doezema, formerly a minister in our Protestant Reformed Churches, declares that all should appreciate the concern of Dr. Boer. I would therefore conclude from this that this concern of Dr. Boer is a legitimate concern. Notice, Rev. Doezema speaks of the Canons of Dordrecht as a 17th Century document. I would remind this minister of Classis Kalamazoo that this document happens to be one of our creeds, the product of the Church of God and of Christ, even as that church was led and directed by the Spirit of Christ in harmony with Christ’s own promise that He would lead His church into all the truth. I would also remind this minister, formerly of our churches, that this “17th Century document,” instead of creating real problems, speaks a language that is clear as crystal, and that it creates problems only for those who are in disagreement with it. And I would finally remind Rev. Doezema of the fact that the scriptural proof Dr. Boer requests for the doctrine of reprobation is contained in these very Canons, specifically the First Head of these Canons. It is true that the fathers do not refer to any Scripture when they set forth God’s double decree of predestination in the positive part of this Head in connection with the doctrine of reprobation. However, the positive part of Head I is full of scriptural proofs as far as the doctrine of election is concerned. And, of course, the doctrine of election presupposes the doctrine of reprobation. And, as far as the doctrine of reprobation is concerned, that part of Head I which deals with the Rejection of Errors does refer to the Word of God in support of its doctrine of reprobation.
We will return to this report of this association in our following article. We would conclude with the very mild remark that the Rev. L. Doezema would not have spoken this language, either before 1953 or during 1953. I refer, we understand, to the time when the De Wolf element left our churches because they would maintain a conditional theology with respect to the promise.