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LATITUDE IN TEACHING FOR THE GEREFORMEERDE KERKEN

After the concluding decisions taken by the General Synod of the Reformed Churches (Gereformeerde Kerken) in the Netherlands on the so called “new theology”, the question arose whether these decisions have allowed for latitude in teaching within the denomination. In his editorials, Prof. Hoeksema has quoted these decisions and discussed them. Our readers can consult these articles as background. The latest edition of the RES Newsletter contains an article on the discussion which is presently taking place in the Netherlands with respect to this issue of latitude. We quote it here.

After the General Synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands issued a declaration on the new theology taught by certain theologians, a discussion began concerning the question whether the Reformed Churches now allow latitude in teaching and thus have departed from their time honored position.

At the meeting of the Synod, Prof. G.C. Berkouwer, as reported in Trouw, asked the question: “Is there room in the Reformed Churches for persons—and I reckon myself among them—who at this stage of the reflection have great hesitations concerning the historicity of Adam?” Apparently the Synod gave no direct definitive answer to this question.

The Rev. A. Vroegingdeweij expressed his opinion on the issue in Gereformeerd Weekblad by writing: “That the Reformed Churches, which have come out of the Secession and the Doleantie have now also officially accepted latitude in teaching and thereby have let go of the bond with Scripture and Confession is a handwriting on the wall.”

Prof. J.H. Velema wrote in de Wekker concerning the consequences of the declarations of the General

Synod by saying, “The Reformed Churches have taken an important step in the direction of the Netherlands Reformed Church in that they tolerate latitude in teaching in fact and in the declaration. This entails that the Reformed Confessions are no longer safe with the Reformed Churches which a half century ago swore to hold the heritage of Kuyper.” 

Dr. J.J. Buskes wrote in Hervormd Nederland: “I do not agree with Kuitert’s and Lever’s views on

Genesis 1-3.

These chapters provide more than a teaching model, more than an anthropology. It is a testimony concerning pre-history and therefore not concerning history in the usual sense of the word; but one may not separate this testimony from its connection with the history of Israel.” 

The Rev. G. Visee wrote in Opbouw that “the Synod has degraded the Scripture to a difference in human opinion. It has put the matter in the refrigerator.” 

A retired minister in the Reformed Churches, Dr. C.J. Goslinga, noted that on one day of the session the Synod stated that the previous Synod’s statement (1966, 67) on the teaching of the Confessions and Scripture concerning the historicity of Adam must be maintained and then the next day declared that no disciplinary action would be brought against Professor Kuitert, who denies the historicity of Adam. He asked whether the Synod did not in fact hereby rescind the decision of the former Synod. “Does this not mean that at this point a certain latitude in teaching has been allowed, which the Synod precisely wanted to avoid?” 

In reply to this question concerning latitude in teaching, Professor Herman Ridderbos wrote in Gereformeerd Weekblad and agreed that the most recent Synod did not rescind the decision of the previous Synod and that it at the same time declared the views of Prof. Kuitert not to be in agreement with the previous Synod. “But,” he continued, “this in my opinion does not mean that one can say: there is therefore a latitude of teaching at this point. It does mean that the General Synod was not ready to apply sanctions. But all that is not actively prevented is not thereby declared free or permitted. Gradations are necessary, also in ecclesiastical judgment, if it concerns the consequences. The Synod has thus judged in this instance and has given the reason that the continuing agreements, also in the issue that is at stake, are too great to take further decisions at this time. It should be added that for many the position of Professor Kuitert is too untransparent to draw definite confessional conclusions from it.” 

Ridderbos denies that everything is now permitted in the Reformed churches: “To say that the action of the Synod implies a general freedom in teaching is an unwarranted conclusion.” 

The Rev. J. Overduin wrote in Centraal Weekblad concerning the future of the church in regard to the new theology: “As long as the guilt-character of evil and the necessity of a gracious redemption in Christ Jesus is unequivocally recognized and confessed, the church can reject all sorts of ideas concerning the origin of sin without directly considering applying disciplinary measures. 

“We fervently hope that all members of our churches will pray and work to proceed in the right path, that is, not in the way of subjectivistic latitude in teaching and deconfessionalism and not in the way of formalistic and rabbinic confessionalism. That is the difficult way. It is much easier to choose either for a church without confession or for a church which attributes to the confessions practically the same authority as to the Word of God.” 

The entire problem is still being studied, including the meaning of the earlier Synod’s statement. It has been observed that perhaps no definite answer to the question of freedom in teaching in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands can be given until action is taken on the forth-coming report which the study committee will submit to the next General Synod.

Thus the whole question of “latitude of teaching” hangs open until the next meeting of Synod. And the question of latitude is really this: Shall the Churches permit teachings in the Seminary, in the pulpits and in church papers which are declared by Synod to be contrary to the Confessions? This point ought to be clear. The whole question is not really whether there is to be permitted certain differences of opinion in the churches on non-confessional subjects. The issue is whether the confessions themselves are binding on the members of the Church—particularly the leaders. 

And, of course, this involves the question of the Scriptures themselves. For it is still the official position of the Gereformeerde Kerken that the Confessions contain the truth of the Scriptures. 

In the quote from the RES Newsletter there are differences of opinion on precisely what the Synod meant. In a certain sense these differences of opinion are understandable, for the decisions of the Synod were ambiguous and vague. On the one hand it is true that the views of Kuitert were condemned. But on the other hand, these views were condemned rather halfheartedly and weakly and no disciplinary decisions were taken. The result is that, while Synod expressed some disapproval of Kuitert’s views, it did so with a very weak voice and did not do anything which would prevent Kuitert from continuing to propagate these very views which Synod disapproved. 

It is hard to make any sense out of such a position; i.e., if one looks at it from the point of view of principle. After all, Kuitert is either in conflict with Scripture and the Confessions, or he is not. If he is, Synod must specifically show that he is and condemn these views and ask Kuitert to confess his sin and repent. If he is not, then Synod can only demonstrate that Kuitert is in perfect agreement with the Scriptures and the Confessions and that the charges brought against him were false. 

But apparently Synod took the position of expediency. Synod weakly condemned his views, but did nothing about Kuitert. And, in Synod’s own words, this was because there were so many in the Church who agree with Kuitert. This is not principle; this is expediency. 

But at the same time, because Synod took the way of expediency, the only conclusion that one can come to, at least for the present, (the next Synod will have to make further decisions) is that there is room in the church for differences of opinion on matters which are taught in the Confessions. That is, the Confessions are no longer binding. Men may teach what they please without regard for what the Confessions teach. Even though the majority of those present at the Synod may not think that these views are right, men who hold them may continue to teach them nonetheless. No other conclusion is possible. 

This is sad. Even from a historical point of view it is sad. It was precisely this same issue (the issue of the binding character of the confessions) which led to the reformations in the Netherlands called the Afscheiding and the Doleantie. (One of the correspondents quoted in the RES Newsletter also refers to this.) Then too there were those in the Hervormde Kerk who wanted liberty to teach views contrary to the confessions. This was permitted within the Church. This was what finally led to the break under De Cock and Kuyper. But now this same denomination, the Gereformeerde Kerken, a denomination which traces its history directly back to the Afscheiding and the Doleantie, is going to do the same thing the Hervormde Kerk did. 

Will there be another reformation? Will there be now too, as there was in the days of De Cock and Kuyper, an element in the Church which considers loyalty to the confessions (as the truth of the Word of God) more important than false ecclesiastical unity? Is the courage of the fathers of the Gereformeerde Kerken to be found yet among some of the sons? 

It is difficult to tell. There are many in the Gereformeerde Kerken who are deeply alarmed by all these trends in their Church. Whether their alarm is great enough and their courage strong enough to bring about reformation is another question. We hope and pray that it is. For this is necessary if .the Reformed faith is to be preserved in the land of our fathers. 

DRUGS ON CAMPUS 

Newsweek recently carried a brief article which documented the sharp rise in the use of drugs on the campuses of the nation. We quote the article.

In the spring of 1967, when the Gallup poll first asked U.S. college students whether they had ever tried marijuana or LSD, only 5 percent said they had smoked grass and just 1 percent admitted they had dropped acid. Last month, asking the identical question of 1,063 students at 61 campuses, the Gallup organization confirmed a stunning increase in drug use that many campus observers have long suspected: 42 percent of all college students now concede that they have experimented with marijuana and one in seven has tried LSD. 

The new Gallup poll, which was released this week, found that about half of the students who have sampled marijuana and LSD were regular enough users to have tried them within the previous month. A slightly smaller percentage of those who had experimented with amphetamines and barbiturates were classified as regular users. . . . 

The Gallup poll also discovered that College students are not much worried about the possible harm that marijuana might cause them. Nine out of ten among the regular users insisted that pot was neither harmful to their health nor likely to lead to harder drugs. And the mere fact that they admit to using marijuana—which is against the law everywhere and a felony in many states—indicates that college potheads are not troubled, either, about the ostensible criminality of their behavior.