Most of you will know by this time that our Seminary is giving training to three students from the Free Reformed Church of North America (formerly known as the Free and Old Christian Reformed Churches in Canada and the U.S.). This relatively small denomination, which has most of its congregations in Canada, traces its ecclesiastical ancestry to the denomination known as the Christian Reformed Churches of the Netherlands. Late last year inquiry was made by representatives of the Free Reformed Church as to our willingness to train their students. Our Theological School Committee informed these representatives of our readiness to give seminary training to their students, with, of course, the clear understanding that this instruction would be on our basis and from our Protestant Reformed viewpoint. During the summer the Synod of the Free Reformed Church of North America adopted a proposal to have three of their students enter our seminary. It is in this connection that an article appears in The Messenger, (Sept., 1974) the paper of that denomination, explaining that decision and introducing our denomination to the readers. The article is written by the Rev. C. Pronk.
Now, of course, we have no objection to the fact that the Rev. Pronk introduces us to his readers and explains to the readers of The Messenger their decision to ask us to train their students. That makes good sense, and the members of his denomination even have a right to know where and how and by whom their future ministers are being trained. Not only that, but we like to have the Protestant Reformed Churches introduced to others. However, we like to be correctly introduced. This, I think, is quite understandable. An individual who is introduced to others certainly likes to be correctly presented. This is also true of our denomination. Besides, it is good for the Rev. Pronk’s readers also that we be correctly introduced to them, so that they indeed know us as we are and know who are training their students. But the Rev. Pronk’s article of introduction falls short in this respect. There are several inaccuracies in his article, some less important and some more important. And besides, there are some items which, to say the least, require clarification. This accounts for my editorial. I wish to call these items to the Rev. Pronk’s attention, and I request him to make correction and clarification. I am doing so not in the spirit of debate and polemics, but simply in the interest of accuracy and clarity.
First of all, let me point out some inaccuracies in said article of introduction.
1. Our name is not Protestant Reformed Church (singular), but Protestant Reformed Churches (plural) in America. This may seem a matter of little importance, but it is not. This name expresses that we are a federation of autonomous congregations, and thus expresses our aversion toward the collegialistic view of church government and our opposition to all hierarchicalism.
2. Although it is, of course, true that the name of the Rev. H. Hoeksema is inseparably connected with our origin, I am afraid that the picture drawn by Rev. Pronk here is very scant. True, in one instance he mentions “Hoeksema and others.” But his readers will certainly not receive the impression from his account that the struggle in 1924 originally involved three ministers, three consistories, and three congregations. It is certainly less than accurate to write, as he does, “Hoeksema thereupon formed a new denomination, the Protestant Reformed Church.” Rev. Pronk’s article, whether he intended it or not, tends to leave the impression that the Protestant Reformed Churches are followers of a man, Hoeksema; but nothing could be farther from the truth.
3. The Rev. Plonk writes correctly that “Hoeksema and others could not in good conscience subscribe to these declarations and were consequently deposed from office.” And while this is true in itself, it is only part of the truth, and therefore inaccurate. For one thing, a study of the history of 1924 will reveal that this deposition from office was unjust. For another—and this is important—Rev. Pronk neglects to say that those who were deposed were deposed hierarchically, in a manner contrary to the Church Order and the principles of Reformed church government. Both in Classis Grand Rapids East and Classis Grand Rapids West, the Classes assumed powers of discipline which belonged only to the consistory. And besides, this discipline was imposed in spite of the fact that the Synod of 1924 had refused to advise discipline at all. In fact, the Synod of 19 24 had ‘not even specifically “condemned Hoeksema’s views,” as Rev. Pronk writes. And besides, the Synod of 1924 had given Revs. H. Hoeksema and H. Dzihhof the testimony that they were fundamentally reformed.
4. Although, perhaps, this is not so important, it is nevertheless not accurate: “Dr. K. Schilder from the Netherlands soon joined in the debate between Hoeksema and the leaders of the Christian Reformed Church. Schilder even crossed the ocean several times to meet with Hoeksema, for whose intellect he had the greatest respect, and with whose views on common grace he agreed, at least in part. While in America Schilder tried to bring about a reunion between the Christian Reformed Church and Protestant Reformed Church, which almost succeeded.” Let me make the following corrections: a) Dr. Schilder did not join the debate to any great extent until about the time of his first visit to this country in 1939. After that he devoted considerable attention to the Three Points of common grace, as a result of the so-called Pantlind Conference. b) Dr. Schilcler did not cross the ocean several times to meet with Hoeksema. Dr. Schilder came for the first time in 1939, and then not to meet with Hoeksema. If I recall correctly, his trip in 1939, which was to be in the nature of a preaching and lecture tour, was sporisored chiefly by Mr. Wm. B. Eerdmans, Sr., and a Mr. Hamstra. At that time Dr. Schilder was boycotted by the Christian Reformed Church, but cordially received among us, even though we had no reason to believe that he agreed with our position on common grace. c) Dr. Schilder was here only twice, in 1939 and 1947. Also at the occasion of his second visit, after the Liberation, the ‘purpose was not to meet with Hoeksema. The so-called Liberated Churches were seeking a hearing with the Christian Reformed denomination, first of all. At that time, although we had no relation of correspondence with the newly formed Liberated Churches, we did receive Dr. Schilder, and even opened our pulpits to him. Again, we were well aware that we were in disagreement with Dr. Schilder—this time on the matter of the covenant. But we wanted to give him a hearing. d) It is not correct that the attempt at reunion in 1939 “almost succeeded.” The truth of the matter is, as I wrote also recently, that the conference was a total failure, due to the fact that the Christian Reformed brethren who participated did not and would not really confer. And this is a matter of no little importance. For if the efforts at reunion had “almost succeeded,” then it is a pity that those efforts were not vigorously pursued, in the hope that they would succeed. The truth of the matter is, however, that while we of the Protestant Reformed Churches have always shown our willingness to confer and to try to get the difficulties removed, whether by way of an official or an unofficial conference, those of the Christian Reformed Church have never shown any willingness to pursue these matters with us.
I believe, therefore, that it is in the interest of accuracy that the Rev. Pronk should make some corrections on the above counts.
But there are also certain items in his article which, to my mind, require clarification—again, for the sake of his readers as well as for our sake. Permit me to enumerate them.
In the first place, after pointing out that the differences between us and the Liberated concerned especially the covenant, the Rev. Pronk writes: “The Vrijgemaakten believed (as we do) that God addresses His redemptive promise to all children of believing parents, including those whom God foreknows as covenant breakers and as reprobates.” This statement is less than clear and accurate. It certainly fails to define the issue between us and the “Liberated.” What does the Rev. Pronk understand by “addresses” in this statement? This makes considerable difference. Our differences with the Liberated concerned the matter of a general, conditional, promise to all children of believing parents. We saw in the Liberated position—and correctly—a repetition of the views of Prof. Heyns with respect to the covenant, and, therefore, principally nothing else but the error of the First Point of 1924 applied now to the covenant. Not only were we “deathly afraid that such a view of the covenant would inevitably lead to Arminianism,” but we unhesitantly characterized this view as Arminianism applied to the covenant. But I am also asking for clarification because I am interested in knowing whether the brethren of the Free Reformed Church of North America hold to this same idea.
In the second place, after pointing out that we maintain that God promises His grace only the elect seed of the covenant (again, not a wholly adequate description of our position) the Rev. Pronk writes: “In this respect Hoeksema’s views are quite similar to those of Kuyper and Kersten, although there are important differences too.” This also requires clarification. For one thing, it is not correct that Kuyper unequivocally taught that God promised His grace only to the elect seed of the covenant. His view concerning the heirs of the covenant was very seriously compromised by this theory of presupposed regeneration. In fact, if the Rev. Pronk will investigate, I think he will discover that our view of the covenant is widely divergent from that of Kuyper, that it differs fundamentally in more respects than it agrees. And the same is true of Kersten. I have discovered that there is some misunderstanding on this score, whatever may be the source of it. But I would recommend that the Rev. Pronk compare our view, as set forth in much of our literature and especially in Believers and Their Seed, and that thereafter he clarify this statement.
In the third place, there is need of clarification with respect to what Rev. Pronk writes concerning the “free offer.” He writes: “Needless to say, we also have our differences with the Protestant Reformed Church, especially in connection with the ‘free offer.’ We wholeheartedly preach the Gospel overture of free and sovereign grace to all sinners indiscriminately, and we maintain that this does not make us Arminian.” In the first place, I wish that the Rev. Pronk would define what he means here by “Gospel overture.” That term “overture” does not occur in our confessions, and, as far as I know is not a commonly used term in Reformed dogmatical parlance. Hence, please define it. It is entirely possible, in my opinion, that the position which Rev. Pronk sets forth in the above statement is quite Reformed. But then it is also true in that case that there is no difference between our denominations on this subject. That remains to be seen. In the second place, while the Rev. Pronk speaks of “differences,” he fails to state what our Protestant Reformed position is with respect to the preaching of the gospel. I shall not take the time and space to set forth that position now. It may very readily be learned from our literature, to which the Rev. Pronk has access. In the third place, however, the Rev. Pronk in this paragraph fails completely to touch on the essential issue in connection with the “free offer.” The question is: is the preaching of the gospel, that is, the general proclamation of a particular promise, grace also to the reprobate who come under that preaching? And, if so, what grace do the reprobate receive in the preaching? This is the fundamental issue in the matter of the “free offer.” This was the fundamental issue in the First Point of 1924. If the Rev. Pronk wishes to speak of differences, then let him clarify those differences with this fundamental issue in mind. And let me warn him in advance that he must not do as so many have done, namely, try to shove “hyper-Calvinism” into our shoes. As is being made abundantly plain in the Rev. Engelsma’s current series of articles, we completely repudiate the hyper-Calvinist position.
In conclusion, I repeat: the Rev. Pronk in the interest of introducing us to his people correctly, as well as the interest of being fair to us, should make correct and clarification on the above points. Besides, perhaps we can have some fruitful and enlightening discussion in the way of such correction and clarification.