The General Synod of the Gereformeerde Kerkenhas been busy for some months already in another one of its protracted sessions. This time, ironically, it is called the Synod of Dordrecht! The reader should bear in mind that in recent years the synod has fallen into the evil habit of functioning as a kind of super-church, or super-consistory. It meets for a few weeks, then recesses, then meets again; and thus one synod is hardly finished for the year before another must begin to meet.
But one could almost overlook this evil if the General Synod would make some sound and salutary decisions and would make some real effort to put a stop to the corruption-process which has been going on in the Dutch churches for some years already.
But this, it seems, is too much to expect. On the contrary, by its actions the General Synod is aiding this corruption-process, sheltering and playing into the hands of the adherents of the so-called “new theology” in the Gereformeerde Kerken, and thus, I fear, leading those churches inevitably toward that sad and dreadful point in history when Christ shall remove the light from the candlestick. This is dreadful to contemplate. In fact, it is almost unbelievable to think that this could ever happen in the Dutch churches, which have been recognized for centuries as the stronghold—if not the cradle—of Reformed theology. But with ever-increasing speed and boldness those churches are being taken down the broad road of apostasy.
Some time ago Prof. Hanko reported that they were tampering with the Formula of Subscription. In a way it is the honest thing to change that Formula: for it is merely legalizing what is already-reality in the Dutch churches. There are many professors and ministers who pay absolutely no attention to the solemn vow they have made in the Formula of Subscription. Moreover, it has become virtually impossible in the Netherlands to get an ecclesiastical assembly to do anything about these blatant violations.
A clear example of this was the Synod of Sneek-Lunteren. This Synod itself declared that Dr. Kuitert was in conflict with decisions of the Synod which involved the confessional position of the church after Assen-1926 was retracted. Yet, recognizing that there were many more than Kuitert who were guilty of the same thing and who were present at the Synod, they declined to take any disciplinary measures. Instead, the Synod decided to send out a pious pastoral letter to the churches, the try to pour oil on the ecclesiastical waters and to smooth some ruffled feathers—and to lull Zion to sleep.
But as long as there are some conservatives in the churches, the same problems continue to crop up. And thus it is that the Synod of Dordrecht-Lunteren is also confronted by some of the same problems which have been plaguing the Dutch churches for several years. And apparently this Synod is busy at the same old strategy.
Here are some samples which I have gleaned from various Dutch papers and news clippings which have been sent to me.
On the table of the Synod was a protest by Rev. H.J. Hegger against a lecturer in New Testament at the Free University; Drs. Tj. Baarda. I do not know the exact content and form of the protest. From news reports it appears that the protest was sharply worded; and knowing Rev. Hegger (a converted priest and editor of In De Rechte Straat) from his writings, I can well believe this. And I can also understand it. And I can also believe that his sharp language was not out of place. In the Netherlands nowadays they are forevermore complaining—and the theological professors of Kampen and Amsterdam are foremost in this—that the “atmosphere” for theological discussion is being spoiled. Translated into plain English, this means that someone has had the courage to call heresy by its right name, to expose it, and to demand that discipline be exercised. This the leaders do not want. They want discussion. They want dialogue. Preferably they do not want the discussion on the floor of synod. It must really not take the form of debate. There must be “trust” of one another. There must be no sharp words spoken. There must be no accusations of heresy. Translated, this all means that the adherents of the “new theology” must be given free rein. And if anyone dares to say or to write anything which in any way can be interpreted as disturbing this wonderful theological atmosphere of “trust,” then he becomes a black sheep who is not even worthy of being admitted to the discussion.
But let me return to my report. The protest of Rev. Hegger concerned Drs. Baarda’s view of Scripture, particularly of the gospel-narratives. Drs. Baarda has in writing questioned the trustworthiness of the gospel-narratives. For one thing, Rev. Hegger accused Baarda, according to a report in Trouw, Jan. 12, ’72, of “‘monkeying’ (knoeierij) in the words of God’s Son.” And even the deputies for contact with the Free University questioned whether in his intensive attention to the “humanness” of Scripture and to the historical-cultural limitations of the time in which the gospels came into existence, Drs. Baarda had in his writings sometimes too little taken into account the concern of others for the indispensable stress of the preaching upon the “Thus saith the Lord” which Scripture repeatedly vindicates. (The latter is a free translation of a statement by the deputies.) Hence, while we do not have the exact contents of the protest, we can readily guess what it was all about. It concerned the views of Drs. Baarda to which he also gave expression in his book about the trustworthiness of the gospels.
But what did the Synod decide? First, they decided that there was no reason to hold that on the points on which Rev. Hegger had attacked him Drs. Baarda had gone beyond the bounds of the confessions. Well, that is the end of the protest. At the same time, however,—for, after all, there is something to discuss—the Synod decided to refer the questions at stake to the deputies for contact with the theological faculty of the Free University for further discussion. The Dutch have an expression for it: Op de lange baan geschoven! Meanwhile, according to the report of Trouw which quoted much of the discussion on this matter, Rev. Hegger is the goat. There were voices of accusation raised against him that .he “had made fruitful discussion of this matter impossible.” There were even voices to the effect that he should be pastorally admonished. One lady-deacon (yes, they have these at the Synod!) expressed displeasure that a protest of a minister against the publication of a Lector could grow into a “Baarda Case.” But Baarda goes Scot-free; and Rev. Hegger’s name is blackened because he had the courage to protest.
Also the Kuitert-problem was before the Synod again. This is becoming perennial. And Kuitert himself seems to be like Gallio, who “cared for none of these things.” It seems he goes his brazen way and continues to make his shocking pronouncements—all very deliberately, by the way—no matter what anyone says or thinks. But the Synod had a long discussion about what to do about the Kuitert matter. They really did not discuss the views of Kuitert very much. They discussed rather the question what to do about it. Moreover, the question really did not center much on the advisability of exercising any discipline. Yes, there was discussion of this. But the possibility of discipline was not really in the running. The question was rather how long the discussion should continue between the deputies for contact with the Free University and Dr. Kuitert. Again there were many incensed remarks—especially by theological professors—about how the atmosphere for discussion was being spoiled by anti-Kuitert forces. In fact, it was even proposed that putting any kind of deadline on the discussion would also spoil the atmosphere. What was the outcome? The discussion will be continued. True, the deputies must bring a report before the end of Synod in November; but Synod did not decide that November would end the discussion. In the discussion the entire theological faculty must participate. And what must they discuss? In plain language, Kuitert’s social-gospel concept of the Kingdom of God and his horizontalism. Yes, the Synod couched all this in polite language. For after all, the atmosphere must be kept pure for healthy discussion. But that is what it comes down to.
There is more coming. The Synod must still decide on the case of Dr. Wiersinga; and at this writing, I have no further report on that case. I do, however, have a protest against Wiersinga; and from it I will reveal the kind of blatant heresy taught by him. But I have little hope that the Synod will do anything definitive. How can they measure Wiersinga with a different measure than that with which they measure Kuitert and Baarda? And if they condemn Wiersinga, what must they say about his teacher and promoter, Dr. Berkouwer? But more about this next time, the Lord willing.