In the December 1 issue we wrote about the issues confronting the General Synod of the Gereformeerde Kerken in the Netherlands. The crucial session dealing with many protests about the so-called “new theology” has been held. A decision has been reached. At this writing we are not acquainted with reactions to this decision in the Netherlands. But, as we feared, the Synod attempted to straddle the issues, rather than to face them; and the result was that the Synod reached a decision which can only be bad, very bad, for theGereformeerde Kerken. Whether the “concerned” (verontrusten) in the Netherlands will be somewhat appeased by this decision, or whether they will detect that it actually represents a victory for the “new theology” and its adherents—this remains to be seen.
Because of its importance and interest, we will quote the decision as it was reported in Calvinist Contact(Nov. 26, 1970). Our translation is as follows:
“The general synod of Sneek in its session of Nov. 4, 1970 has expressed and decided the following with respect to the protests received which give evidence of growing concern about the development of Reformed church life in general and (protest) against a number of more specific matters in particular:
“A. With regard to the so-called concern in general.
“Synod wishes to express, in the first place, that in everything which brings about unrest, uncertainty, and concern in the church in our days not fear, but faith must be our guiding star. For our mutual relationships this means that as long as we know ourselves to be united in the one faith and the one hope, we will also continue to embrace one another in love, and under no condition may withdraw ourselves from our common responsibility over against God and the world, but no less over against one another. That therein sometimes mutual tensions and—sometimes serious—differences of opinion come to light must in itself not surprise us too much, when we take note of all the questions by which the churches in general and their members in particular find themselves confronted in every respect, and when we are mindful that all of us know only in part and prophesy in part. This obligates all of us to propriety and moderation of judgment over against one another, also when we think we must differ in view from one another.
“From this point of view synod is of the opinion that concerning various subjects which are under discussion among us a more balanced and differentiated, and with a view to persons frequently also a more fair judgment is in place than that which is manifested in many missives to synod and in various publications. For her part, the synod will gladly help to further the molding of such a judgment (see sub B.).
“While synod gives this priority, she does not wish, on the other hand, to hide the fact that she notes with anxiety the increasing influence of living and thinking which is worldly and alienated from Scripture, and which threatens the faith of the church, her conduct toward those outside, theology, and the preaching. Especially is she apprehensive of this influence of the efforts to relate the meaning of the person of Christ, of the kingdom proclaimed by Him, and of his resurrection from the dead to the modern consciousness in such a manner that that which the apostle Paul calls the offense of the cross is removed therefrom.
“Synod is therefore of the conviction that the churches also in these times must seek their strength and unity above all in the preaching of the unabridged gospel of Jesus Christ and in being consciously bound to the confession of the Christ of the Scriptures, of justification by faith only, of election and the atonement, of the infinite worth of the. Lord’s sacrifice for the life of the world as this (confession) comes to expression so powerfully and unambiguously in the Reformation creeds.
“While synod deeply realizes that neither she herself nor any ecclesiastical gathering, but only the Word and the Spirit of Christ Himself can lay hold upon the hearts of men, she wishes at the same time to exhort the churches to see to it that in dependence upon and in the Spirit of their Lord, both for their own unity and for their calling in the world, they build upon no other foundation than upon that of the apostles and prophets as it is delivered to us in the Scriptures.
“B. With regard to the pro tests filed with synod with respect to the honoring of the authority of Holy Scripture, the interpretation of the first chapters of the book of Genesis, so-called horizontalism and the Christian expectation of the future, the being bound to the creeds, the nature of the preaching, and others,
“1. seeing that in the requests for the retraction of the decision the synod of Amsterdam 1967/68 (Acts, art. 209) by which the binding character of the declaration of the synod of Assen 1926 concerning the paradise-account was removed, no arguments are adduced which were unknown or not fully weighed at that time, not to accede to these requests;
“2. in harmony with the content of the report filed by the committee to send to all the churches a pastoral letter in which
“a. the intention of the decisions of Amsterdam 1967/68 concerning the setting aside of the doctrinal decisions of Assen 1926 is more precisely set forth;
“b. the nature of the authority of Holy Scripture as standard for doctrine and life is more precisely elucidated in connection with that which is under discussion in the churches at present and which arouses unrest,
in this sense, that, on the one hand, the task of the church to make the gospel understandable for modern man is fully honored, and, on the other hand, the danger is guarded against that it either can or can not be believed as revelation and either does or does not require our obedience.
“c. with respect to the so-called horizontalism, the content of the Christian expectation of the future as well for this life as for the future life is maintained over against one-sided conceptions,
in this sense, that, on the one hand, the full emphasis is laid upon our calling, (living) out of the promise that Jesus Christ makes all things new, believingly, to pursue in this world life and world renewal, and, on the other hand, the idea is repudiated as though the kingdom of God is only to be expected as the result of human activities during this present dispensation;
“d. clear position is taken both against a formalistic handling of the confession and against tendencies which relativize the confession in such a way that the door is opened for doctrinal liberty (leervrijheid).”
“1. that the protests filed have a fragmentary character and as such have little evidential force (conclusive force, cogency, bewijskracht);
“2. that the synod nevertheless must affirm that the denial by Dr. Kuitert of the historicity of the fall as man’s turning away from his God at the beginning of human history is not in harmony with that which the synod of Amsterdam 1967/68 has indicated in its declaration sub 3 (Acts, art. 209): ‘that meanwhile that which is expressed in the confession of the church (Lord’s Day 3 and 4 of the Heidelberg Catechism; Art. 14 and 15 of the Netherland Confession of Faith) about the origin of sin and the results of the fall clearly sets forth the fundamental meaning which Scripture in the Old and New Testament (among other passages, in Romans 5) ascribes to this history, and therefore also as being of essential importance for the preaching of the gospel by the church must be maintained as authoritative;’
“3. that meanwhile it has appeared that Dr. Kuitert also at synod does not stand alone-in his opinions;
“4. that in this situation, however unsatisfying this may be with respect to the mutual unity, it may nevertheless also be asserted with joy that all the members of the synod hold fast to the confession that God created man good and for the fellowship of love with Himself, but that man in willful disobedience refused and refuses to live in this fellowship, that all of humanity is alienated from God, is fallen into the slavery of sin, and can only be saved by God’s gracious intervention;
“5. that she (synod) therefore judges that the unity of the ecclesiastical confession must not be considered to be at issue in such a manner that at present more specific decisions ought to be taken concerning this;
“6. that she appoints a committee to carry on the discussion (consultation) in this situation, in an earnest seeking after mutual unity, also in those matters in which clear difference of opinion has been manifested.”
Commentary on the above decision is hardly necessary.
It is evident that this decision fulfills our worst fears, as expressed in our earlier editorial on this subject. The decision is one of those miserable, compromising, “although . . . nevertheless” decisions which aims at preserving the outward unity and peace of the Gereformeerde Kerken by reproving everyone to some degree, by leaving the impression of maintaining the confessions and frowning upon views which depart therefrom, which apparently attempts to satisfy everyone somewhat, but which can actually satisfy no one, whether liberal or conservative.
It would seem to us that Dr. Kuitert can hardly be satisfied with a decision of this kind. For though he goes scat free as far as any discipline is concerned, he is nevertheless ticked on the fingers.
And it would certainly seem as though the protestants cannot be satisfied with this decision: for though they are justified to an extent, their protests are nevertheless not maintained.
But the simple fact is that when all is said and done, the synod has decided nothing which is ecclesiastically conclusive. The decision is obviously an attempted compromise. As such, it is full of ecclesiastical contradictions, the chief of which is: we recognize that there is heresy among us and that there are heretics present at this synod (i.e., those who, according to our own decision of 1967/68 propagate teachings contrary to the confessions), but we refuse to do anything about it.
The synod presents the sad picture of an ecclesiastical body which stands helpless to express anything at all with finality, though confronted by a dreadfully serious situation.
And yet by the very fact that it takes no clear-cut decision and refuses to exercise or to advise doctrinal discipline the synod has nevertheless left the door open for the very doctrinal liberty against which it purports to warn in this decision.
The decision is nauseating.
It is a decision worthy of Laodicea, the church nauseating to the Lord Who is in the midst of the candlesticks.
My only hope is that there are still those in theGereformeerde Kerken who will pay attention to the knocking Lord, Who calls His church to repentance and reformation!