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DID CHRIST ATONE FOR SIN? 

One has come to expect almost anything in the way of doctrinal deviation from the Netherlands. Another example of this is to be found in the February 23 issue of the R.E.S. Newsletter under the title “Doctoral Dissertation On Reconciliation Arouses Concern In Netherlands.” We quote it here in full.

On January 15 the Rev. Herman Wiersinga, student pastor of the Reformed Church in Amsterdam, was granted his Doctor’s degree in theology at the Free University of Amsterdam. His printed dissertation is entitled, “Reconciliation in Theological Discussion” (De verzoening in de theologische discussie). 

The contention of the book is that the Bible teaches that Jesus’ sacrifice was not directed to God but to man. In the author’s view the sacrifice of Christ is not a gift to God that makes God gracious or provides satisfaction but rather God’s great gift of salvation to man by which he reconciles, delivers and converts man. The blood of Jesus Christ speaks of our liberation from a ‘blood-shedding existence’. The blood of Christ was not offered to God but was a saving, cleansing, and renewing gift of God to man. 

Several reactions to the dissertation and its departure from the generally held view of the atonement have appeared in Dutch periodicals. Prof. J. van den Berg said in Centraal Weekblad that he could not escape the impression that the traditional doctrine of reconciliation has much more Biblical content than Dr. Wiersinga allows for. Only as a complement to the teaching of the confessions, but not as a substitute for it, can he accept the new view. Prof. van den Berg stated also that in his opinion the entire idea is too complicated to warrant a protest (gravamen) against the creeds. 

The Rev. L.H. Kwast wrote two articles on the dissertation in de Friese Kerkbode. His reaction was that the new book touches the heart of the matter which the church must believe and teach. “The church—and not alone the Reformed churches—has through the ages held a reconciliation through satisfaction.” Mr. Kwast claimed that far more is at stake in this issue than was the case a few years ago when a gravamen was brought against certain passages in the Canons of Dordt. “That which has been considered theologically and confessionally in the Reformed churches up till now, as well as that which cost the Synod of Sneek much time and trouble last year, has all been put in the shadow by Dr. Wiersinga’s contribution,” he said. 

Prof. J.H. Velema wrote in Koers that in his view also Dr. Wiersinga’s view touches the heart of the Gospel. “This dissertation is actually an attack upon the reformational doctrine of reconciliation. Here the heart of the Gospel is cut out. . . . This dissertation offers the theological foundation to the idea of human solidarity; the one-sided struggle against discrimination; the politics of appeasement toward Communism; disarmament, and the refusal to bear arms.” 

Prof. Herman Ridderbos reflected in Centraal Weekblad upon the significance of the ‘serious objections’ of Dr. Wiersinga to the traditional teaching on the atonement for the church. He disagreed with Prof. van den Berg that the complexicity (sic) of the entire doctrine made a gravamen unnecessary for that is ‘unrealistic’. Bringing the dissertation into connection with the change in the Basis article of the Free University, Prof. Ridderbos asked, “Does this mean that from now on in the faculty (of theology) also that can be defended which directly contradicts the Reformed confessions?” Ridderbos saw in the issue far-going implications for the relation of church and theology. All staff members of the theological faculty at the Free University are ordained in the Reformed Churches. “Therefore they carry not only a scientific but also a churchly responsibility. The same applies to a minister who writes a doctoral dissertation. He does not write as an office bearer but he cannot split himself in two and attack in theology what he promises to defend in the church.” 

Ridderbos took serious exception to the “noiseless revolution” that he sees occurring in the churches, for that is in conflict with the veracity of the church. “I am of the opinion that we have reached the point in our church life where more clarity must be found. Many sense that we are entering a fog . . . The book (of Dr. Wiersinga) is a kind of test case for what we in the future intend to do in regard to what we will or will not maintain.”

It is not our intention to comment at length about the views of Dr. Wiersinga as outlined in his doctoral thesis; partly because they are only sketchily presented in this news release. But it seems clear from the brief resume given and from the criticisms which have been leveled against the book (particularly those of Prof. Ridderbos) that the views of Dr. Wiersinga are intended to be a theological foundation for a social gospel. By denying that the atonement of Christ was directed to God, Wiersinga indeed denies the satisfaction of God’s justice which was accomplished on the cross and denies the vicarious nature of Christ’s suffering and death. It was not made, according to this view, to accomplish redemption through satisfaction, but was made as a gift to man. This sounds like the old shop-worn theory of the atonement first proposed by the Arminians of the 16th Century which defined Christ’s death as an example of what God could do to man if He chose, and of what God will still do to man if man does not repent of sin and accept Christ. True, the view is clothed in some new terminology, but the idea still seems to be there, lurking in the background. But the chief idea is certainly that the cross is some kind of power of universal reconciliation, not between the elect and God, but between men and men. And this is precisely what has been proposed as the Christian basis for a social gospel. It is some such view as this which is supposed to give the Church the calling to seek solutions to the pressing social problems of the world. It is, no doubt, because of this that Prof. Ridderbos, in connection with his criticism of these views, speaking of his dissatisfaction with the “noiseless revolution” which is taking place in the church. 

Prof. Ridderbos thinks that the point has finally been reached with this book when the Church will have to make up its mind whether it wants to remain Reformed and Scriptural or whether it wants to go the whole way towards liberalism. It seems to us however, that the Church has reached this point at an earlier date, has decided to abandon the Reformed faith, and therefore will find itself powerless to deal with this latest heresy. It would be reason for gratitude to be proved wrong; but even if the issues are so forced by this book that those in the Church who still want to maintain the Reformed faith are prompted to engage in serious Church reformation, the result would still be worthwhile.

STATE AID TO SCHOOLS IN THE NETHERLANDS 

Those who favor state aid to private, and parochial education in this country shrug off objections that state aid means state control with the airy remark that the danger is a bogey-man of which no one ought to be afraid. In support of this position reference is often made to the Netherlands where state aid is a customary thing and where the state has never interfered with education in any way. 

A recent article in Liberty magazine contradicts this. The author of the article, Watford Reed, himself traveled to Netherlands and there studied the situation first hand. He found that the aid of the government had had a profound effect upon schools in that country and that many educators are so deeply concerned that they would like very much to get away from such aid if at all possible. The fight for state support to religious schools began in 1848, but did not pass the legislature until 1917. It was then part of a political deal: the liberals yielded on financial aid to religious schools in exchange for support of a voting law which gave the vote to everyone over twenty-three years old. What has been the result of over fifty years of government aid to religious schools? 

In the first place, the proportion of public schools to religious schools has decreased. In 1850 there were 2,446 public primary schools and 831 private schools, mostly Catholic. At present there are 2,475 public primary schools, 2,341 Protestant schools, 2,884 Roman Catholic schools and 151 others. This is partly due to the fact that the religious schools get more money than the public schools because parents who send their children to religious schools pay fees on top of government support. Hence, the religious schools have better facilities, better paid staffs and a lower teacher-pupil ratio. The fact is, of course, that many children from non-religious homes attend religious schools for there can be no control of the enrollment. “Many public school buildings are fifty to one hundred years old, but many religious school buildings are new.” But in both public and religious schools there are extremely crowded conditions and the teaching staffs are badly overworked. 

In the second place, the school aid budget of the Dutch government is higher than any other part of the budget. 26% of the budget or 7.2% of the national income goes for education. 

But, in the third place, and more important than anything else, there is mass confusion over the nature of the religious instruction to be given. We quote from the article.

Higher costs are not the only tariff imposed by the Dutch system. Bewilderment over religious teaching is another. When the church and the school teach different versions of the faith, whom does a boy or girl believe? 

The solution seems obvious. The church can replace the teacher with one who is orthodox. But this cannot be done in the Netherlands. 

When a Roman Catholic school teaches the Catholic faith in a way the bishop does not approve, he can either keep still or complain. He cannot force the school to be orthodox.

When a Protestant school teaches religion in a way the minister or sponsoring denomination does not like, the minister is out of luck. He can only teach his version from the pulpit or to his membership training class. 

Why are church authorities helpless? Because the salaries of teachers and the cost of buildings come from the public till.

The article cites an interview with one principal of a Roman Catholic school whose views differed from those of the church. He told the interviewer quite frankly that no one could do anything about his teaching because the school was run by a board. 

The result of this has been that fathers and mothers who do not approve of the education which their children receive can only take their children out of school and find another school which is more in harmony with their own views. This has repeatedly happened with the result that, as the enrollment drops, aid to the school is lowered, and, in some cases, schools have had to close entirely. 

The point of all this is precisely that government aid to schools has amounted to some form of government control; and the religion taught in a school can no longer be controlled and determined by the parents. 

Many educators think the only solution to the problems of government aid is to return to privately financed religious schools. But they frankly admit that this is almost impossible. As one former member of the Dutch parliament expressed it to the author of the article: “We learned from America too late.” 

This ought to be a stern lesson to promoters of government aid to private and parochial schools that they cannot receive government aid without endangering the religious character of the schools. And it ought to be warning to us that the temptation to receive such aid must be resisted at all costs.


A reader of the Standard Bearer has graciously sent me some newspaper clippings of the latest developments in parochiaid in the state of Colorado. There recently the latest parochiaid bill was voted down by the House Committee of the Legislature. The result has been that the bishop of the diocese which includes Pueblo has decided to close all twelve schools in his district for lack of funds. And now the issue has become a state-wide issue because other Catholic schools are threatening to close and the state is wondering where to get the additional funds necessary to absorb these students into the public school system. Many fear that this is a power-play on the part of the Romish Church to force the state legislature to reconsider the issue and, hopefully, to pass some form of parochiaid. The same drama is being enacted in various other states about the country.