From time to time The Standard Bearer has called attention to the doctrinal tensions “down under” in the Reformed Church of New Zealand and the Reformed Church of Australia—tensions which center about various doctrinal expressions of Prof. Dr. Klaas Runia, of the Geelong Theological College. The Standard Bearer intends to reflect on this conflict “down under” in detail and to give its attention to the various doctrinal issues involved. We shall write on these matters in greater detail in coming issues. There has been organized a Reformed and Presbyterian Fellowship of Australasia, with its headquarters in Christchurch, New Zealand. Briefly, the purpose of this organization—somewhat akin in its origin and purpose to our RFPA—is to defend the Reformed faith over against the doctrinal aberrations which are appearing in the churches there. To this end, as was mentioned in another editorial, the Reformed and Presbyterian Fellowship of Australasia published a little paper called the Reformed Guardian, so that it may have a literary voice over against Trowel and Sword, which, it is claimed, has closed its columns to those who attacked Prof. Runia’s views.
As mentioned before, we intend to furnish our readers with some background information about the churches “down under” and to give an account of the controversy. But at present we have on hand an item which is worthy of immediate attention. The opposition of the Fellowship to the doctrinal positions taken by Dr. Runia has become known in the Netherlands and in America. Recently Dr. Runia visited in the Netherlands and in this country, apparently in connection with a meeting of the RES Interim Committee; and he took the occasion to express himself, both orally and in writing, concerning the objections registered against his views by the Fellowship. This also was done in both the Netherlands and in America. A recent issue ofDe Wachter carried an editorial on the subject and also carried an account of Dr. Runia’s reactions to his opponents’ attacks. It is the opinion of the Reformed and Presbyterian Fellowship—and we agree with them—that Dr. Runia has not presented a correct and fair picture of the situation. Moreover, for the most part, instead of treating the issues he engages in belittling his opposition. The Fellowship has issued a press release in which they correct the false impressions left by Dr. Runia. We have not observed as yet whether any publications who carried Dr. Runia’s remarks have taken up this press release in their columns. However, we believe that the Fellowship has a right to be heard on these matters. And because of our interest in their struggle and our mutual concern for the defense of the Reformed faith, we will present in our columns this press release, which was issued in the Dutch language and which we translate. This will at the same time serve to give our readers a little information about the issues at stake “down under.” At a later date we hope to fill in some of the details of the picture and to give our judgment of the pros and cons of the dispute.
First we present the cover letter accompanying this press release from the Reformed and Presbyterian Fellowship of Australasia. It reads as follows (we translate):
“Some time ago Prof. Dr. K. Runia defended himself in the Netherlands press and on television, as well as in the American “Wachter,” against the objections which have been brought against his theological position.
“The professor thought to minimize those objections and thought to explain them from the influence of Dr. Carl McIntire, the president of the I.C.C.C.
“To anyone who is acquainted with the situation, this last must indeed sound laughable.
“Over against this twisting of the facts, we do not believe that we may remain silent. And we would appreciate it if your publication would present the accompanying clarification.
“Sincerely, for The Reformed and Presbyterian Fellowship of Australasia
W. Van Rij, President
B. van Herk, Secretary”
Then follows the explanation itself (we translate):
“The ‘Reformed and Presbyterian Fellowship of Australasia’ is sorry that in the Netherlands press incorrect information is furnished with respect to the source and the content of the critique of various expressions of Prof. Dr. K. Runia, professor at the Reformed Theological College at Geelong, Australia.
“As to the source of the critique, reference was made to a ‘small group of men who came together in Wellington’ (Friesch Dagblad, Aug., 1970). However, let the following serve as an introduction:
“The Reformed and Presbyterian Fellowship is a fellowship of those who are unreservedly committed to the authority of Holy Scripture, the Bible, as well as theArticuli Fundamentales as these are found in the rich spiritual heritage of the Calvinistic Creeds, namely, the Belgic Confession of Faith, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dordt, and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechism.
“The sad necessity of proceeding to constitute this Fellowship is likewise the consequence of the fact that Prof. Runia in Trowel and Sword, the only ‘Reformed’ publication in Australasia, by an untimely cessation of correspondence cut off those who for conscience sake could not agree with his viewpoint.
“According to the professor, ‘These men have misunderstood a number of expressions of mine and have upon their own conclusions built further conclusions’ (De Rotterdammer, Sept. 17, 1970).
“When the Fellowship called into being the publication ‘The Reformed Guardian,’ this meant a blow to the prestige of the ‘Reformed’ hierarchy. When one is accustomed as professor to dominate both in the theological faculty and in the paper Trowel and Sword and in the synodical gatherings, then it becomes difficult not to see this step as insubordination. The evidence published in The Reformed Guardian whereby the members of the Reformed Churches are confronted by the direction taken by Prof. Runia came as a shock to many.
“Already some years ago Prof. Runia published a series of articles in Trowel and Sword on the subject EVOLUTION, which was the occasion for the entire ministers’ conference at Wellington to request him to stop ‘this kind of writing.’
“In his book Crisis in the Reformed Churches (1968) under ‘recent Reformed criticisms of the Canons’ you can find Prof. Runia’s criticism of God’s decree with respect to ‘reprobation.’ In spite of the fact that this article is of great fundamental importance, the professor does not consider it necessary to file a gravamen.
“In Trowel and Sword, August 1969, we read—’the Apostle Paul appears to take all the details of the first chapters of Genesis literally,’ and further: ‘The last word has not yet been spoken about this, for it seems that it appears to scholars that Paul held to “Rabbinical methods of interpretation and quotation”.’ [Note: I do not have at hand the original English quotation here; this is a retranslation to English of a Dutch translation of the original statement of Dr. Runia, and I cannot vouch for its exactness. HCH]
“The Fellowship judges that a holy God did not move ‘holy men of God’ (II Peter 1:21) to write myths and legends. ‘All scripture is given by inspiration of God,’ inclusive of Genesis 1-3. According to Prof. Runia ‘Assen’ [The Dutch synod of 1926 in the Geelkerken Case and its declarations. HCH] is a deadend street, and he is glad that Lunteren (The Synod of 1967/68, HCH) let go of Assen. In one of his ‘Australian Letters’ to Centraal Weekblad he wrote: ‘It can indeed also not be denied that the history as it is recorded in Genesis 2 and Genesis 3, including the “speaking serpent” (quotation marks of the professor!), may very well have happened that way.”
“The material cited above is sufficient proof that Prof. Runia has forsaken the original Reformed position. The general tendency is now that the Geelong men reflect the weak position of Prof. Runia. In Palmerston-North, classis already rejected a candidate after having examined him! In spite of all this, Prof. Runia dares to explain in Holland that we have quoted him ‘out of context,’ that our conclusions are ‘incorrect,’ or that we have ‘misunderstood’ him. We desire to have men of God in our pulpits of the ‘Thus saith the Lord’-caliber; and we reject those who are apologetically oriented in their presentation.
“As ‘Reformed and Presbyterian Fellowship’ we feel ourselves under the necessity of ‘blowing the trumpet in Zion’ in the hope that hereby a return may be initiated, so that the training of our future ministers will, among many other things, guarantee the literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3.
“Our help is in the Name of the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.
“In the name of the Reformed and Presbyterian Fellowship of Australasia
W. van Rij, president
B. van Herk, secretary”