What has been happening in New Zealand? Do you ever hear anything from the brethren of the Reformed and Presbyterian Fellowship of Australasia? Has there been any progress on their part, and have they succeeded at all in their struggle against the errant views of Dr. Runia?
Questions of this kind are directed to me every now and then. And so I thought it was about time that our readers be informed of developments there.
We have maintained correspondence by letter, tape, and exchange of magazines. Not long ago I prepared a recorded talk for the annual meeting of the Fellowship. In fact, when I wanted some “instant answers” to a few questions, I even had telephone contact with one of the brethren. But it is a bit difficult in our limited editorial space to keep our readers abreast of everything that transpires on the ecclesiastical scene nowadays.
As to the New Zealand situation, the readers will recall that the personal center of the controversy, Dr. K. Ruina, of the Reformed Theological College at Geelong, Australia (which is also supported by the little Reformed denomination in New Zealand) left last summer to accept a chair at Kampen, the Theological School of the Gereformeerde Kerken. As we shall see, this has indeed had an effect on the situation in New Zealand, though it should not have had the effect which it had. At the same time, however,—and I am glad about this—it served the purpose of making it crystal clear that the brethren of the Reformed and Presbyterian Fellowship were not concerned in their controversy about Dr. Runia’sperson. If the latter had been the case, it is simple to see that the controversy would now be ended: for Runia has departed. And if the latter had been the case, their controversy would have been wicked, even as some of their accusers (including Runia himself) said it was. Personally I was never of this opinion; otherwise I would not have helped these brethren. Nevertheless, I am glad about Runia’s departure at least for this reason, that it makes it clear that the concern and struggle of the brethren was not personal, but doctrinal. And if I may say so, for the benefit of our New Zealand readers and for the benefit of those who are still opposing these brethren, this one fact ought to speak very loudly concerning the uprightness of their cause. These brethren have been severely criticized and even persecuted in their own churches because they publicly opposed Dr. Runia’s false teachings in theirReformed Guardian. And though it begins to look as though this will never take place, the Reformed Churches in New Zealand should instead bethankful that these men sought to alert the churches. I have never been of the opinion that one may not write publicly about public and non personal matters which are of general concern to the churches, especially doctrinal matters. Particularly am I of the conviction that when errant views are aired in the ecclesiastical press, it is the right, if not the duty, of anyone to air his opposition in the press. And this is precisely what the brethren of the Fellowship have done. Moreover, I have followed all that they have written in their little magazine; I believe I have not missed anything in any issue of the Reformed Guardian. And never did I find anything that could be construed as apersonal attack. It stands to reason that the name Dr. Runia was mentioned; after all, the views being criticized were his views. But it was his false doctrines, not his person, which were the object ofattack. Once again I say that it is high time that this be recognized “down under.”
However, I am also of the firm conviction that within a given church communion one must do more than publicly criticize and warn. He is also duty bound to protest, and, if necessary, to appeal all the way to the broadest assembly in the denomination. If he fails to do so, he gives the lie to the very concern and alarm to which he gives public expression in his writings. Such protest and appeal is not only the right, but the moral duty of members and officebearers in the church. One may bemoan the hopelessness and futility and frustration of this course of protest and appeal. And, indeed, if the situation—by actual test—is so hopeless that protest and appeal prove utterly futile, then there is but one course to follow: reformation by separation! But one thing is certain: to remain within a church communion and publicly complain about false doctrine, but do nothing about it ecclesiastically, is wrong!
But let me hasten to add that in New Zealand this course of protest and appeal was indeed followed. And we can best trace the course of developments in New Zealand by tracing this appeal and the actions of the Synod of the Reformed Church of New Zealand with respect to this appeal. Through the courtesy of Mr. Wm. van Rij I received a copy of the Acts of that Synod, which met in Wellington in August, 1971; we can follow the official record, therefore.
Although the document is rather detailed and lengthy, we can get a picture of the issues by quoting the “Letter of Appeal” sent to Synod by the brethren J, Koppe and B. van Herk (both members of the Fellowship and active in the publication of theReformed Guardian), members and officebearers of the churches of Wainuiomata and Silverstream. Most of this material is self explanatory, and it will at the same fine serve to refresh our memories concerning all the issues in the controversy about which we reported about a year ago. Perhaps the very first point of the Appeal will not be clear to some of our readers. This concerns the question of the binding force of what the Westminster Confession of Faith (one of the creeds of the New Zealand Church) teaches about the Sabbath. This also, by the way, was a matter on which Prof. Dr. Runia agitated the churches by his writings—although Runia himself, being from Australia, was not bound by the Westminster Confession. For the rest, the Appeal makes mention of matters on which reported earlier; and we will allow the document to speak for itself. It is as follows; Section C 1, pp. 1 4,Acts of Synod, 1971, of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand:
As members of a local church of the denomination of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand, who are vitally interested in our denomination’s continued maintenance of our confessional standards as being wholly in agreement with the teaching of Holy Scripture, we would desire to address this appeal to you, and we would request your prayerful and Scriptural evaluation of the same, and furthermore, if constrained by finding this appeal to be in agreement with Holy Scripture, we would request of the Synod 1971 an answer to the following questions:
1. That whether or not Synod 1971 considers that satisfactory reports etc. are forthcoming from the committees appointed by Synod 1969, this Synod 1971, clearly declare:
a. That the teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 21, sections 7 and 8, is or is not in complete agreement with the teaching of the Word of God.
b. That our Confessional Standards are, or are not in their entirety the system of doctrine to which office bearers of the Church make wholehearted subscription upon entering office, and which is to be the subordinate confessional standard of the denomination.
GROUNDS: That for ten years our churches have been “studying” the Scriptural authority for the statements of the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 21, sections 7 and 8 and has received at every Synod since that date, reports in favor, and which did not favor the continued binding character of this confessional statement. We believe that our denomination must now declare “YEA” or “NAY” to this statement of our confession, since it has been under question within the denomination for now, ten years.
During the last twelve years of our denomination’s existence these sections of the Westminster Confession of Faith have been a part of the official subordinate standards to which our churches have subscribed, and have never been declared not binding, despite allegation raised against them. Furthermore, the content of these sections are clear teaching of Scripture, and of our other subordinate standards, (Belgic Confession of Faith, Art. 25 and Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 38), and other sections of the Westminster Confession of Faith (Chapter 19) and as such should without reservation be confessed by our churches.
2. That in the light of the disunity that exists within our denomination at this time, over writings and teachings of Prof. K. Runia, and those who would support those writings and teachings, that Synod clearly declare that this denomination,
a. does, or does not accept the historicity of the Genesis account of the creation, and man’s fall into sin, in all the Scripturally recorded details, (the tree, the snake, Adam and Eve as the first created man and woman, the garden and the forbidden fruit).
GROUNDS: Prof. K. Runia has in his writings in ‘Trowel and Sword’, a paper whose Editorial Board is subject to the Synod of our New Zealand Churches, as well as the Synod of the Reformed Churches of Australia, (Acts of Synod 1965) questioned the historicity of some aspects of the Genesis account of Creation, and up to this time no action has been taken by the Reformed Churches of New Zealand to demand a retraction of these writings or act in Christian discipline toward the Editorial Board, to whom Dr. Runia is responsible.
Dr. Runia has questioned the historicity of the Genesis account in the following issues of ‘Trowel and Sword’: August 1969 and November 1969.
Furthermore, Scripture itself is clear that we are to accept the Genesis account as being a record of historical happenings, and all those things associated with this account to be received as being real, and historical in the sense of the word.
OUR CONFESSIONAL POSITION: Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 6, section 1; The Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 3, q.a.7.
b. That the teaching of the Canons of Dordt, regarding Reprobation, Art. 6 and Art. 15, 1st head of Doctrine, is or is not in complete agreement with the infallible Word of God.
GROUNDS: Prof. K. Runia has written in the book ‘Crisis in the Reformed Churches’ under the chapter title “Recent Reformed Criticisms of the Canons” questioning the Scriptural authority for the statements made in the Canons of Dordt, re Reprobation. (Canons of Dordt, Art. 6 and 15, 1st Head of Doctrine), see pages 161-178.
The Word of God clearly teaches that God is sovereign and that therefore” without ascribing to Him as author the sins of men, the Bible teaches that it is God Who saves by His grace, and it is God Who in His infinite wisdom and justice chooses to pass by others and leave them to the just dessert of their sins.
This is taught also in our other Confessional Standards: Belgic Confession of Faith, Art. 16.
c. That this denomination is, or is not prepared to continue the full support and endorsement of the Reformed Theological College at Geelong, Australia, in the light of the teachings of the Rev. Prof. Dr. K. Runia on the Sabbath,
Reprobation, and the infallibility of Scripture, and
d. Is, or is not prepared to have its future ministers trained under Dr. Runia, as long as he continues to question certain of the confessional statements of our denomination and casts doubts upon t he absolute historicity of all the details of the Genesis account of man’s fall into sin, and therefore the verbal inspiration and absolute inerrancy of Scripture.
GROUNDS: That to this time, although appeal has been made thereunto, the Board of Directors of the Reformed Theological College at Geelong, Victoria, Australia, has refused to admonish and proceed to discipling, Dr. Runia for his questioning and rejection of the clear teachings of Holy Scripture, and the Subordinate standards of that institution.
SCRIPTURE requires of faithful servant of the Lord the following:
e. That this denomination declare itself willing or not willing to accept as of sufficient binding authority, the present form of subscription made by those who enter the Faculty of the Reformed Theological College as it is interpreted by the Board of Directors of the College.
GROUNDS: That the interpretation given the term “System of Doctrine” by the Board of Directors, is a radical departure from the traditional meaning of this term, and as such is both confusing and deceptive. Furthermore, the acceptance of such as being of sufficient binding, will be a radical departure from the subscription required within our own denomination up to this time, such subscription made by office bearers binding them wholeheartedly to “diligently” teach and “faithfully defend the aforesaid doctrine, without directly or indirectly contradicting the same by our public preaching or writings”, in “all the articles and points of doctrine contained in the Confessions and Catechism of the Reformed Churches, together with the Canons of Dordt, being convinced that they do fully agree with the Word of God.”
We believe that our Synod and our denomination must give a clear answer to all these questions to clear away any form of misunderstanding or ambiguity that now exists in the minds of many of the members of our denomination.
B. Van Herk—Wairmi o mata.
J. Koppe —Silverstream
Thus far the Appeal.
We may point out two facts, in conclusion. In the first place, whatever formal shortcomings one might find in the above Appeal, it certainly places Synod squarely before the issues, important issues. And, in the second place, essentially this was an appeal for the exercise of doctrinal discipline. True, the Jehovah’s name!
O my soul, bless that name!
And remember, O my soul, when you bless Jehovah’s name, you bless Him!
For Jehovah is His name, and His name is Jehovah!
These two are inseparably connected. They are mutually inclusive. You cannot, O my soul, bless Jehovah without blessing His name; and you cannot bless His name without blessing Jehovah.
The name of Jehovah is the revelation of Jehovah, and Jehovah is pleased to reveal Himself through His name. Outside of His revelation, O my soul, Jehovah is the unknowable. But He, O my soul, Who is in Himself incomprehensible, indefinable, never to be circumscribed within a definition, the infinite, eternal God, has come down, O my soul, to make Himself known unto thee.
And notice, O my soul, that the Word of God here does not simply exhort you to bless God. But very carefully it urges you to bless Jehovah.
Jehovah is your covenant God! In that name Jehovah, He is pleased to reveal Himself to you as to no others. The everlasting, unchangeable, infinite, covenant making, and covenant keeping God, has known you in love, and sovereignly chosen you, O my soul, to be united in an unbreakable covenant relation to Himself, and to His people. And the central revelation of His name, my soul, He has given to you in the Person of His Son, incarnate, the Lord Jesus Christ. He has told you again and again, O my soul, in the Holy Scriptures, that the one having seen Him has also seen the Father. He is indeed the revelation of Jehovah’s holy name.
That Jehovah’s name is holy, O my soul, means that it is incomparable, infinitely perfect, separated from all other names, as an object of your reverence and worship. In the name of Jehovah, O my soul, Jehovah, your covenant God looms before you in His majesty and glory, in His sovereignty and dominion, in His impeccable holiness, before Whom you are to bow, and exalt with praise.
Bless His holy name, O my soul!
To bless, O my soul, means literally that you get on your knees, and kneel before Him. And when you have so humbled yourself, O my soul, that you are in the dust before Him, you are to raise your hand, O my soul, and point to Him as the adorable and praiseworthy God, your benefactor.
O my soul, you must do that with all that is within you!
For you see, O my soul, if Jehovah’s name is to be truly blessed by thee, there must be nothing in thee that exalts in self, or in any other creature. Thou must as the seat of my life cause my whole being to be laid as an offering before Jehovah’s face. And when you are on your knees, O my soul, only then are you in the proper spiritual attitude to bless and to praise, and to thank Jehovah’s name. Don’t you see, O my soul, that the lips have nothing to say, and the hand has no power to point to Jehovah, if you do not first bless Jehovah with all that is within you? Praise and thanksgiving are outward expressions that arise from your innermost being. Jehovah delights not in the power of your hand, nor in the praise of your lips, unless these are motivated by the right spirit which is within thee, O my soul.
Forgetting none of Jehovah’s benefits!
That is how you are to bless Him, O my soul!
Jehovah’s benefits are those deeds of lovingkindness which He has showered upon thee, O my soul. O, to be sure, He has shown His lovingkindness unto many souls, and they are all to bend the knee in acknowledgment of Jehovah’s benefits. But right now, it is not your immediate concern what other souls are doing. I am primarily interested for the moment in you, my soul. When you bless Jehovah’s name, be sure that you do not forget any of His benefits! It is so natural for you, O my soul, to forget. Naturally you are bent on seeking your own praise and glory. When your way is easy and prosperous, it is so easy for you to put Jehovah out of your mind. When your way is fraught with fear, sorrow, and pain, it is so easy for you to grumble and rebel, and in your judgment you so often put Jehovah on the background. You must not do that, O my soul! You must remember that it is exceeding sinful of you, my soul, to forget how in prosperity and adversity Jehovah was blessing you, how He made all things to work together for your good. To forget none of Jehovah’s benefits, therefore, means—
To remember all of them!
This must be a conscious act on your part, O my soul! It will not do to have these benefits stored away in your sub consciousness. Should you do that, O my soul, you may very easily not remember them at any given moment. They must be always before your consciousness, so that you can speak of them continually, in the home, and by the way. Always, O my soul, Jehovah’s benefits must be on your lips, so that you can sing of them while you are at work or play.
All of His benefits must be before you, so that you do not mention only one or two, giving preference to some and not to others. You are to mention each one, calling them out by name, counting your blessings, and naming them one by one. As eternal treasures, you are to point them out, to count and recount them. And because Jehovah’s name is stamped on each one, as you count your blessings His name will be called out, and so you will be, blessing Jehovah’s name. It is a gracious exercise, O my soul, to keep on counting Jehovah’s benefits to remember them. Little children, O my soul, are taught to remember by constant repetition. So you, too, O my soul, should count and recount the blessings Jehovah, your God, has heaped upon you.
You can do that, O my soul, for you see you are the soul of the child of God and the recipient of His sovereign and elective grace.
The wicked, O my soul, cannot bless Jehovah’s name, because they are without grace. O, indeed, Jehovah showers many gifts upon them also. He fills their barns with plenty. He gives them wealth and power. He gives them health and strength. He gives them many things in this world. But His grace is not in things, nor in the abundance of material prosperity He gives them. Jehovah’s grace is never common, O my soul, but very particular. That is why, O my soul, you must not be disturbed as the psalmist Asaph was, when he saw the wicked prosper, while the Lord gives you to suffer poverty and oppression. You must remember, my soul, what the Lord revealed to Asaph when He brought Him into the sanctuary; that He had set the wicked on slippery places when He gave them riches and honor, that they might slide swiftly to their destruction. And remember, too, my soul, how the Bible always describes the wicked, as being unthankful, whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.
Not so, O my soul, has the Lord dealt with thee
Besides all His benefits, He has given unto thee also His grace. That is what distinguishes you from all the wicked. Because of that grace, O my soul, you are able to bend your knees and bow mi the dust, acknowledging before Him that you are most unworthy of all His benefits. By grace you are enabled to see your sins and confess them, your depravity and deplore it. By grace you are enabled to lift up the hand and to point away from yourself to Jehovah as your Benefactor. And by grace with that same hand to point to all of His benefits so graciously bestowed upon you, By grace, O my soul, you can read Jehovah’s name as it is emblazoned on all His works, and to adore and praise His name as each benefit passes before your view.
O, to be sure, my soul, you will bless Jehovah’s name with much difficulty. For you must confess that you have but a small beginning of the new obedience. With much imperfection you must admit, my soul, are you able to count Jehovah’s mercies to you given. You must do that enclosed as it were in carnal flesh which never has any delight in the God of your salvation: which has no eyes to behold Jehovah’s benefits. That old nature often stands in your way, so that you cannot always do the good that you would, and it often makes you do the evil which you would not. That old nature often darkens your eyes, O my soul, so that you cannot always see all the lovingkindness of your God. Nevertheless, O my soul, by the grace given unto you, bow down now, holding your flesh in subjection, and begin to count His benefits, and each day anew begin to name them one by one.
And look, first of all, O my soul, at those spiritual benefits He has bestowed upon you. How He forgave all your iniquities, and healed all your diseases. How He redeemed your life from destruction, and crowned you with lovingkindness and tender mercies. How he delivered you, my soul, out of the horrible pit, and set thy feet upon a Rock. How He showed you that your name was written in the Lamb’s book of life. How He promised never to leave nor to forsake you. How He would make all things to work together for your good, not only the good, but also the evil. How He has chosen you from the foundation of the world, to incorporate you into His everlasting covenant; and ordained that you for a while should be a stranger and a pilgrim in the world, while your real citizenship is in heaven. How He sent His Only Begotten Son into the world to suffer and die in your stead and to make an atonement that could satisfy His justice and declare you righteous. O my soul, this is only a start in enumerating all the manifold spiritual benefits He has bestowed on you.
Then consider, O my soul, how that daily He lades you with benefits, all of which you did not deserve. He has never allowed you, O righteous soul, to suffer want, or your seed to go about begging bread. Not only did He supply the bare necessities of life, but He allowed you often to bathe in luxuries. Don’t you see, my soul, that even eternity will not be long enough to recall and recount all His benefits?
But because, my soul, it often is so difficult for you to remember all of them, it is so urgent that you be reminded that this is your part in the covenant of God,—to love the Lord your God with all your being, and to glorify and praise Him for all His benefits, not forgetting any of them.
For this, my soul, you need not a special Thanksgiving Day, or a special service in God’s house; though it is well also on such a time to bless His holy name. But let that be your constant activity, O my soul. And remember, too that though now you do this with much imperfection and weakness, the day is at hand when you shall do it with all that is within you in heavenly perfection.
Then you, my soul, shall be united perfectly with all of the souls of the redeemed to praise and magnify Jehovah’s name forever more!
What a Thanksgiving Day that will be!
O my soul!appeal does not as such seek the discipline of any person: not even of Dr. Runia, for the simple reason that Runia was not under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the New Zealand churches. Nevertheless, it is an appeal for Synod to act in defense of doctrinal purity and to act in condemnation of doctrinal deviation. And these matters of doctrinal purity and doctrinal deviation, as the appeal makes plain, involved a crucial aspect of the churches’ work, namely, the theological education of their future ministers.
Of the outcome of this Appeal we will write next time, D.V.