The letter from Manuel Kuhs together with Professor Dykstra’s reply I found thought-provoking (SB, October 1, 2018). Please permit me to address something in the reply I found confusing.
The professor believes that one’s statements can be “out of harmony with the Reformed confessions” yet not contradict the confessions. The statements judged to be “out of harmony with the Reformed confessions” and that consequently compromised the doctrine of justification by faith alone, in his view, do not contradict the confessions. He writes: “If the teaching went farther and the logical conclusions were completely drawn out, it would eventually contradict these doctrines as set forth in the confessions….” “Nevertheless, the statements did not explicitly contradict the confessions….” “While the statements did not contradict the confessions, they were not ‘in harmony’ with the confessions’ teaching on the place and function of good works” (12).
I do not find this position tenable. If, as synod declared, the statements in question are out of harmony with the Reformed confessions, then they stand in a relation of opposition to the confessions. That is the meaning of the phrase “out of harmony with.” And if the statements stand in such a relation of opposition, by definition they contradict the confessions.
There is one other point about which I am confused and would ask the professor to explain. He cites with approval synod’s declaration that the statements of the minister are “out of harmony with the Reformed confessions.” Later he says “these were statements on matters that the confessions had not spelled out.” It seems to me one cannot have it both ways. If the confessions do not spell out the doctrine on these matters, then how can one be said to contradict them?
Grand Rapids, MI
The language “compromise” and “out of harmony with” are the terms used by the PRC Synod of 2018, as I reported in July 1 Standard Bearer. Subsequently, a reader wrote and inquired about the meaning of these terms, to which I gave my explanation. Brother Rainey expresses a different understanding, namely that these terms must mean that such teaching necessarily “contradicts” the confession. I am not convinced. I maintain that there is an important distinction between the words used by synod and “contradicting” the confessions.
The word “contradict” is from the Latin contra-dicto which means “I speak against.” A teaching that contradicts the confessions is an explicit denial of (a speaking against) what the confessions teach. For example, the confessions teach that Jesus is very God. To teach that Jesus is not truly God is a contradiction of the confessions. Again, the confessions teach that God created all things out of nothing. A contradiction of that is: God did not create Adam. A minister who taught these contradictions would be teaching heresy.
In the case before the Synod of 2018, the body condemned certain teachings. Synod did not declare that this or that statement was a contradiction of a specific teaching of the confessions. This does not take away from the reality or the seriousness that synod declared the teachings to be doctrinal error. However, synod did not label them “heresy.”
So the brother creates a false dilemma when he concludes that his view on “contradict” is the correct one, and then asks, “If the confessions do not spell out the doctrine on these matters, then how can one be said to contradict them?” That is exactly the point. Synod did not say “contradict.”
Nonetheless, the significant point that must not be lost in our discussions is the importance of synod’s decision. After a lengthy process of protest and appeal on the place and function of good works, Synod 2018 faced the matter directly. Certain teachings on the place of good works were rejected as doctrinal error. Synod set forth some very helpful distinctions that are, in my judgment, fully in harmony with the teaching of the confessions. I believe there was development in doctrine and clarity given in areas difficult to explain. More discussion of these doctrines will be profitable for the churches. Let us also take note that the minister, consistory, and classis whose teachings or decisions were condemned by the Synod of 2018—all of these have expressed agreement with Synod 2018. No one is undermining these decisions, and no one may.
Prof. R. Dykstra