What has been happening in New Zealand? Do you ever hear anything from the brethren of the Reformed and Presbyterian Fellowship of Australasia? Has there been any progress on their part, and have they succeeded at all in their struggle against the errant views of Dr. Runia?
Questions of this kind are directed to me every now and then. And so I thought it was about time that our readers be informed of developments there.
We have maintained correspondence by letter, tape, and exchange of magazines. Not long ago I prepared a recorded talk for the annual meeting of the Fellowship. In fact, when I wanted some “instant answers” to a few questions, I even had telephone contact with one of the brethren. But it is a bit difficult in our limited editorial space to keep our readers abreast of everything that transpires on the ecclesiastical scene nowadays.
As to the New Zealand situation, the readers will recall that the personal center of the controversy, Dr. K. Ruina, of the Reformed Theological College at Geelong, Australia (which is also supported by the little Reformed denomination in New Zealand) left last summer to accept a chair at Kampen, the Theological School of the Gereformeerde Kerken. As we shall see, this has indeed had an effect on the situation in New Zealand, though it should not have had the effect which it had. At the same time, however,—and I am glad about this—it served the purpose of making it crystal clear that the brethren of the Reformed and Presbyterian Fellowship were not concerned in their controversy about Dr. Runia’sperson. If the latter had been the case, it is simple to see that the controversy would now be ended: for Runia has departed. And if the latter had been the case, their controversy would have been wicked, even as some of their accusers (including Runia himself) said it was. Personally I was never of this opinion; otherwise I would not have helped these brethren. Nevertheless, I am glad about Runia’s departure at least for this reason, that it makes it clear that the concern and struggle of the brethren was not personal, but doctrinal. And if I may say so, for the benefit of our New Zealand readers and for the benefit of those who are still opposing these brethren, this one fact ought to speak very loudly concerning the uprightness of their cause. These brethren have been severely criticized and even persecuted in their own churches because they publicly opposed Dr. Runia’s false teachings in theirReformed Guardian. And though it begins to look as though this will never take place, the Reformed Churches in New Zealand should instead bethankful that these men sought to alert the churches. I have never been of the opinion that one may not write publicly about public and non personal matters which are of general concern to the churches, especially doctrinal matters. Particularly am I of the conviction that when errant views are aired in the ecclesiastical press, it is the right, if not the duty, of anyone to air his opposition in the press. And this is precisely what the brethren of the Fellowship have done. Moreover, I have followed all that they have written in their little magazine; I believe I have not missed anything in any issue of the Reformed Guardian. And never did I find anything that could be construed as apersonal attack. It stands to reason that the name Dr. Runia was mentioned; after all, the views being criticized were his views. But it was his false doctrines, not his person, which were the object ofattack. Once again I say that it is high time that this be recognized “down under.”
However, I am also of the firm conviction that within a given church communion one must do more than publicly criticize and warn. He is also duty bound to protest, and, if necessary, to appeal all the way to the broadest assembly in the denomination. If he fails to do so, he gives the lie to the very concern and alarm to which he gives public expression in his writings. Such protest and appeal is not only the right, but the moral duty of members and officebearers in the church. One may bemoan the hopelessness and futility and frustration of this course of protest and appeal. And, indeed, if the situation—by actual test—is so hopeless that protest and appeal prove utterly futile, then there is but one course to follow: reformation by separation! But one thing is certain: to remain within a church communion and publicly complain about false doctrine, but do nothing about it ecclesiastically, is wrong!
But let me hasten to add that in New Zealand this course of protest and appeal was indeed followed. And we can best trace the course of developments in New Zealand by tracing this appeal and the actions of the Synod of the Reformed Church of New Zealand with respect to this appeal. Through the courtesy of Mr. Wm. van Rij I received a copy of the Acts of that Synod, which met in Wellington in August, 1971; we can follow the official record, therefore.
Although the document is rather detailed and lengthy, we can get a picture of the issues by quoting the “Letter of Appeal” sent to Synod by the brethren J, Koppe and B. van Herk (both members of the Fellowship and active in the publication of theReformed Guardian), members and officebearers of the churches of Wainuiomata and Silverstream. Most of this material is self explanatory, and it will at the same fine serve to refresh our memories concerning all the issues in the controversy about which we reported about a year ago. Perhaps the very first point of the Appeal will not be clear to some of our readers. This concerns the question of the binding force of what the Westminster Confession of Faith (one of the creeds of the New Zealand Church) teaches about the Sabbath. This also, by the way, was a matter on which Prof. Dr. Runia agitated the churches by his writings—although Runia himself, being from Australia, was not bound by the Westminster Confession. For the rest, the Appeal makes mention of matters on which reported earlier; and we will allow the document to speak for itself. It is as follows; Section C 1, pp. 1 4,Acts of Synod, 1971, of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand:
As members of a local church of the denomination of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand, who are vitally interested in our denomination’s continued maintenance of our confessional standards as being wholly in agreement with the teaching of Holy Scripture, we would desire to address this appeal to you, and we would request your prayerful and Scriptural evaluation of the same, and furthermore, if constrained by finding this appeal to be in agreement with Holy Scripture, we would request of the Synod 1971 an answer to the following questions:
1. That whether or not Synod 1971 considers that satisfactory reports etc. are forthcoming from the committees appointed by Synod 1969, this Synod 1971, clearly declare:
a. That the teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 21, sections 7 and 8, is or is not in complete agreement with the teaching of the Word of God.
b. That our Confessional Standards are, or are not in their entirety the system of doctrine to which office bearers of the Church make wholehearted subscription upon entering office, and which is to be the subordinate confessional standard of the denomination.
GROUNDS: That for ten years our churches have been “studying” the Scriptural authority for the statements of the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 21, sections 7 and 8 and has received at every Synod since that date, reports in favor, and which did not favor the continued binding character of this confessional statement. We believe that our denomination must now declare “YEA” or “NAY” to this statement of our confession, since it has been under question within the denomination for now, ten years.
During the last twelve years of our denomination’s existence these sections of the Westminster Confession of Faith have been a part of the official subordinate standards to which our churches have subscribed, and have never been declared not binding, despite allegation raised against them. Furthermore, the content of these sections are clear teaching of Scripture, and of our other subordinate standards, (Belgic Confession of Faith, Art. 25 and Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 38), and other sections of the Westminster Confession of Faith (Chapter 19) and as such should without reservation be confessed by our churches.
2. That in the light of the disunity that exists within our denomination at this time, over writings and teachings of Prof. K. Runia, and those who would support those writings and teachings, that Synod clearly declare that this denomination,
a. does, or does not accept the historicity of the Genesis account of the creation, and man’s fall into sin, in all the Scripturally recorded details, (the tree, the snake, Adam and Eve as the first created man and woman, the garden and the forbidden fruit).
GROUNDS: Prof. K. Runia has in his writings in ‘Trowel and Sword’, a paper whose Editorial Board is subject to the Synod of our New Zealand Churches, as well as the Synod of the Reformed Churches of Australia, (Acts of Synod 1965) questioned the historicity of some aspects of the Genesis account of Creation, and up to this time no action has been taken by the Reformed Churches of New Zealand to demand a retraction of these writings or act in Christian discipline toward the Editorial Board, to whom Dr. Runia is responsible.
Dr. Runia has questioned the historicity of the Genesis account in the following issues of ‘Trowel and Sword’: August 1969 and November 1969.
Furthermore, Scripture itself is clear that we are to accept the Genesis account as being a record of historical happenings, and all those things associated with this account to be received as being real, and historical in the sense of the word.
OUR CONFESSIONAL POSITION: Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 6, section 1; The Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 3, q.a.7.
b. That the teaching of the Canons of Dordt, regarding Reprobation, Art. 6 and Art. 15, 1st head of Doctrine, is or is not in complete agreement with the infallible Word of God.
GROUNDS: Prof. K. Runia has written in the book ‘Crisis in the Reformed Churches’ under the chapter title “Recent Reformed Criticisms of the Canons” questioning the Scriptural authority for the statements made in the Canons of Dordt, re Reprobation. (Canons of Dordt, Art. 6 and 15, 1st Head of Doctrine), see pages 161-178.
The Word of God clearly teaches that God is sovereign and that therefore” without ascribing to Him as author the sins of men, the Bible teaches that it is God Who saves by His grace, and it is God Who in His infinite wisdom and justice chooses to pass by others and leave them to the just dessert of their sins.
This is taught also in our other Confessional Standards: Belgic Confession of Faith, Art. 16.
c. That this denomination is, or is not prepared to continue the full support and endorsement of the Reformed Theological College at Geelong, Australia, in the light of the teachings of the Rev. Prof. Dr. K. Runia on the Sabbath,
Reprobation, and the infallibility of Scripture, and
d. Is, or is not prepared to have its future ministers trained under Dr. Runia, as long as he continues to question certain of the confessional statements of our denomination and casts doubts upon t he absolute historicity of all the details of the Genesis account of man’s fall into sin, and therefore the verbal inspiration and absolute inerrancy of Scripture.
GROUNDS: That to this time, although appeal has been made thereunto, the Board of Directors of the Reformed Theological College at Geelong, Victoria, Australia, has refused to admonish and proceed to discipling, Dr. Runia for his questioning and rejection of the clear teachings of Holy Scripture, and the Subordinate standards of that institution.
SCRIPTURE requires of faithful servant of the Lord the following:
e. That this denomination declare itself willing or not willing to accept as of sufficient binding authority, the present form of subscription made by those who enter the Faculty of the Reformed Theological College as it is interpreted by the Board of Directors of the College.
GROUNDS: That the interpretation given the term “System of Doctrine” by the Board of Directors, is a radical departure from the traditional meaning of this term, and as such is both confusing and deceptive. Furthermore, the acceptance of such as being of sufficient binding, will be a radical departure from the subscription required within our own denomination up to this time, such subscription made by office bearers binding them wholeheartedly to “diligently” teach and “faithfully defend the aforesaid doctrine, without directly or indirectly contradicting the same by our public preaching or writings”, in “all the articles and points of doctrine contained in the Confessions and Catechism of the Reformed Churches, together with the Canons of Dordt, being convinced that they do fully agree with the Word of God.”
We believe that our Synod and our denomination must give a clear answer to all these questions to clear away any form of misunderstanding or ambiguity that now exists in the minds of many of the members of our denomination.
B. Van Herk—Wairmi o mata.
J. Koppe —Silverstream
Thus far the Appeal.
We may point out two facts, in conclusion. In the first place, whatever formal shortcomings one might find in the above Appeal, it certainly places Synod squarely before the issues, important issues. And, in the second place, essentially this was an appeal for the exercise of doctrinal discipline. True, the appeal does not as such seek the discipline of any person: not even of Dr. Runia, for the simple reason that Runia was not under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the New Zealand churches. Nevertheless, it is an appeal for Synod to act in defense of doctrinal purity and to act in condemnation of doctrinal deviation. And these matters of doctrinal purity and doctrinal deviation, as the appeal makes plain, involved a crucial aspect of the churches’ work, namely, the theological education of their future ministers.
Of the outcome of this Appeal we will write next time, D.V.