Elsewhere in this issue our readers will discover the name of one who has not written for our Standard Bearer heretofore. And this requires an introduction and an explanation. I am referring to the Featurearticle from the pen of Dr. John Richard de Witt.
My personal acquaintance with Dr. de Witt goes back several years, to the time when I visited with him at my father’s home not long before the latter’s death. Prior to that time, I knew of him from his writings in connection with an ecclesiastical battle in the Reformed Church in America, when he was pastor of the Sixth Reformed Church of Passaic, New Jersey, about the historicity of the first chapters of Genesis. Over the years we have become better acquainted with one another through correspondence and through following one another’s writings. A few years ago Dr. de Witt sojourned in the Netherlands and in England while studying and doing research for his doctor’s degree. His doctoral thesis was a study of “The Westminster Assembly and the Divine Right of Church Government,” which we reviewed at the time of its publication. An interesting historical footnote is the fact that while he was in England, Dr. de Witt served as assistant pastor of Grove Chapel, where the late Rev. Henry Atherton (of the Sovereign Grace Union) had been pastor, and where the late Rev. Herman Hoeksema once preached.
At present Dr. de Witt is pastor of the Williamsburg Presbyterian Church, Kingstree, South Carolina. This accounts for my reference to an insider’s viewpoint. Because the crisis in the Southern Presbyterian denomination is very much in the news and has received much journalistic attention since the announcement of an organized movement for a “continuing” Presbyterian Church (Prof. Hanko has repeatedly called attention to Southern Presbyterian developments in “All Around Us”), it was thought that an informative and critical analysis from a reliable “insider” would be instructive and helpful to our readers. Knowing Dr. de Witt as a man who is devoted to the Reformed faith and also as one who is sympathetic toward our Protestant Reformed position, I requested him to write on this subject for our Standard Bearer. When I sent him this request, I emphasized that our magazine is free, i.e., free from any ecclesiastical binding and open to the expression of Reformed opinion, and that he should therefore feel free to express himself frankly. Dr. de Witt has graciously consented to write for us, and, I believe, has acquitted himself well in so doing. His interesting contribution will appear in two consecutive installments. I would suggest that if Last time we called attention to the fact that the Synod of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand was derelict in its duty to maintain purity of doctrine when it deliberately declined the proper request of the Appeal to express disapproval of the doctrinal errors of Dr. Runia. The Synod did this, you will recall, on the excuse that Dr. Runia was leaving for the Netherlands.
This was, remember, a very crucial point of the Appeal. And it was—and this is more important—a very crucial test for the Reformed Churches of New Zealand.
The real test for a church is not so much whether sheseems to give approval in a positive sense to certain truths. Especially if the language is careful enough, there are many who will assent to various truths even though they are not in actual agreement. Undoubtedly there often is a degree of mental reservation and dishonesty in such assent. And frequently the language of ecclesiastical decisions is broad enough and vague enough to afford room to those who are not really in agreement. But whatever may be the reason, this is not the point now. The real test comes when a church is confronted by the necessity and the calling to condemn errors repugnant to the truth. This is undoubtedly also one of the reasons why the Formula of Subscription requires of officebearers that they themselves reject error and that they are “disposed to refute and contradict” errors and “to exert ourselves in keeping the Church free from such errors.”
This was all the more crucial in this particular instance because it was a known fact that there were those in the Reformed Churches of New Zealand who were in sympathy with Dr. Runia’s views and who had defended them. They would, of course, have been “on the spot” if Synod had addressed itself directly to Runia’s errors.
It was a political maneuver, therefore, when the Synod passed the motion to by-pass that issue on the alibi that Dr. Runia was departing.
But we suggested last time, too, that the Synod did not really fail to declare itself on these matters and that it is not true that the Synod took no position, or even a neutral position. For over the signature of the Stated Clerk, D.G. Vanderpyl, and in behalf of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand, there was sent to Dr. Runia not only a warm letter of farewell, but a letter of glowing tribute. Here is some of the language of that letter, which I received by tape-recording: “We thank the Lord for having given you to us, for what you have been to our churches as a teacher of so many who now serve our churches as ministers of the Word and sacraments, as editor of Trowel and Sword, as proclaimer of God’s Word in Christ, and as a champion of the Reformed faith in the evangelical world of Australasia. We thank you for your clear and forthright work. There have been misunderstandings. There has not always been wholehearted agreement on all points. But we wish to say that we are convinced that you have tried to serve our Lord according to His Word.”
And Dr. Runia got the point. For here is his response, as quoted from the bulletin of the Reformed Church of Christchurch, New Zealand: “I cannot tell you how much Mrs. Runia and I have appreciated this letter. In the past some New Zealand brethren have issued serious accusations asserting that my theology was a great danger for the Reformed Churches in Australasia. As you may remember, last year I sent a letter to all the sessions repudiating these accusations. I am very happy indeed that before we leave Australia you have expressed your confidence in me and your appreciation for my work.”
It is very plain, therefore:
1) That the Reformed Churches of New Zealand were unwilling to condemn the teachings of Runia.
2) That the Reformed Churches of New Zealand do not consider that Runia has taught anything which would prevent them from calling him a champion of the Reformed faith.
3) That in spite of any positive decisions taken by the Synod, the Reformed Churches of New Zealand are wide open for all who teach and defend the same errors which Runia taught on the various matters touched on in the Appeal.
In addition to this, as we shall see next time, D.V., the Synod very unjustly refused to do anything about the discipline cases of three officebearers who opposed Dr. Runia and who belong to the Reformed and Presbyterian Fellowship of Australasia. In other words, the Synod is guilty of persecuting men who defend the truth and oppose the lie.
And this is very serious in the light of what our Confession teaches about the marks of the true church.until the second article has appeared.
I do not think I am breaking any confidences if I quote a few lines from a personal letter from friend de Witt. He wrote me in a letter accompanying his articles: “I have gone a good deal further than a mere reporting of the situation, and on that account I have hope that this material may be of interest to your readers. Certainly we should value your prayers, and the prayers of your people, for us in our present struggle.” And again: “The first article gives the broad lines of the battle; the second attempts an analysis. You will see that I have been quite frank. Some of my brethren might possibly find what I have to say too open and too frank. But nothing is to be gained by hiding the facts. And our great interest must be the furtherance of the gospel.
We wish to assure Dr. de Witt that our prayers certainly arise to the throne of grace in behalf of all God’s people as they “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.” We also take this opportunity to express our sincere thanks for his contribution on the “Crisis in the Southern Presbyterian Church.”