THE OUTLOOK is going to carry in a future issue our editorial, “A Realistic Response To A Dream,’ ” together with an editorial response by the Rev. John Vander Ploeg. In a letter from Rev. Vander Ploeg, he wrote : “Your editorial reply was presented to the Board of Reformed Fellowship at its meeting on May 31. It was decided to reprint your editorial together with my response to it in THE OUTLOOK. However, this is not to be done until the Board members are first given an opportunity to consider carefully what you have written and also to give consideration to my reply. This will mean some delay because the Board will not meet again until the end of July.” We are happy to see that THE OUTLOOK intends to carry the editorial and to reply, and we look forward to their reply. We shall refrain from further comment on this subject until the reply appears.
PUBLICATION NEWS. The RFPA Publications Committee has some big plans for publishing books during the coming year. By the end of the summer there should be at least five or six books on the way. One book already in the process of being published is a book on child training by Gertrude Hoeksema; it is entitled Peaceable Fruit. Hopefully, this book will appear some time before the first of next year. Another will be a paperback reprint of my In The Beginning God . . . A third will be a reprint of Rev. Herman Hoeksema’s God’s Eternal Good Pleasure; this reprint will include the chapter which was inadvertently omitted from the first edition. From the pen of Rev. D. Engelsma is coming a fine volume on Christian marriage. And from the pen of Prof. H. Hanko is coming an expository volume on our Lord’s parables. And in time for the 50th anniversary of our denomination there will be published a beautiful and worthwhile commemorative volume which all our people will want to get. We have more projects under way; but the above should be enough to tickle your appetite!
ADVANCE NOTICE. In our September 1 issue we hope to carry (complete in one issue) a transcript of a lecture by Prof. H. Hanko on the subject, “The AACS and the Kingdom.” There is rather widespread interest in this subject, and it is just possible that you will want extra copies of the issue which will carry this lecture. If so, write to our Business Office promptly; if there are many such requests, we will have to print an extra supply of the September 1 issue.
Due to a surplus of copy, some of our regular departments do not appear in this issue. If there is a similar surplus for the September 1 issue, it is possible that your editor will take a l-issue vacation from his writing chores. Don’t be surprised!
At long last the Synod of the Gereformeerde Kerkenhas made a decision in the Wiersinga Case. This case goes back to before October, 1971. Dr. H. Wiersinga, of Amsterdam, who works as a pastor among students, denied in a book on the atonement the central truth of the Reformed faith that Christ vicariously bore the wrath of God against the sins of His people. In October of 1971 the Synod issued a kind of pastoral letter to the churches in which they exhorted the churches not to be disturbed, because the Synod firmly maintained this truth of our confessions. Since that time the case has been in the hands of a committee which was engaged in extensive discussion with Dr. Wiersinga. Now, at last, the committee has reported, and Synod has reached a decision which was, to me, not unexpected. After all, this decision follows the pattern of previous decisions and failures to exercise doctrinal discipline. And to find some degree of comfort in the decision which the Dutch Synod has taken can only be classified as a grasping for straws.
What follows first is our translation of the synodical decision as it appeared in De Wachter, July 2, 1974. Next, we quote the report which appeared in the RES News Exchange. And finally, we will make a few comments on this important, but sad, decision.
The GKN and the Wiersinga Case
The synod has taken note of the report of the deputies for the conversation with Dr. Wiersinga.
The synod considers:
1. The conversation of the deputies with Dr. Wiersinga has given further clarification on various points, so that it may be considered that there is agreement with a view to the following:
a. that on the cross of Christ, the one sent by God, our sinful existence, which is under God’s judgment, has been slain, so that it no more has a future;
b. that Christ fills the office of the substitute, the office of the One, who has died and risen again for the many.
2. Dr. Wiersinga has, with others, correctly pointed to the ongoing power of victory of Christ through his Spirit in a life of faith, conversion, and sanctification as one of the aspects of Christ’s work of reconciliation.
3. According to the message of the gospel Christ has borne the judgment of God, in our place, and therefore this constitutes an essential element of the doctrine of reconciliation of the confession, so that a denial thereof would fall short of the proper preaching of the gospel of reconciliation.
4. Also the aspect pointed out by Dr. Wiersinga touches the heart of reconciliation, and therefore ought no less to have a central place in the preaching and the pastoral care of the church and in the life of the congregation.
5. There is difference of position between the synod and Dr. Wiersinga with relation to the manner in which reconciliation is brought about; for:
a. Dr. Wiersinga holds that this reconciliation is attained through the fact that Christ, as the new man given by God, breaks through the power of sin and guilt, and through the Spirit opens for us the way along which we too can enter into the new life.
Only by taking into consideration what follows under b. can the synod express agreement with this formulation:
b. the synod confesses that this reconciliation is attained through the fact that Christ has borne the judgment of God in our place.
6. It is clear to the deputies that Dr. Wiersinga wants to be led by Holy Scripture with respect to the doctrine of reconciliation.
7. Dr. Wiersinga has not been able to convince the synod from Holy Scripture of the fact that his objections against the doctrine that Christ has borne the judgment of God in our place find support in Holy Scripture.
8. The discussion of the deputies with Dr. Wiersinga has furnished further clarification on various points. However, further discussion is desired concerning texts which are central for the understanding of reconciliation in Scripture — namely, concerning the Scriptural givens which received a place in the synodical message of October 6, 1971 — and concerning the manner of their explanation;
concerning the meaning of the sacrifice of Christ;
concerning the nature of the salvation given in Christ and concerning the relation between this salvation and the working of it in an ongoing history;
concerning his fear that the unity of God’s being and work are breached by the fact that the Suffering Son is placed over against the Father;
and concerning the bearing of the judgment of God by Christ.
9. Also for Dr. Wiersinga is of force what is of force for every minister of the Word with respect to the bond to the confession of the church, but there are in this instance sufficient reasons to continue the discussion with him further.
The synod expresses:
she abides by the confession of the church with respect to the nature of the substitutionary work of reconciliation (atonement) of, Christ, also as the bearing of the judgment of God.
The synod decides:
1. To make an earnest appeal to Dr. Wiersinga that he will listen to the judgment of the synod and in connection therewith urgently to beseech him to reflect carefully upon the question whether his confessional and theological choice of position is not in need of revision, and to do so in the expectation that in his official work he will not contradict this confession of the church.
2. to mandate the deputies for church and theology to take the present question under discussion and to involve Dr. H. Wiersinga in the discussion and to report on this to the following synod.
3. To exhort the churches in preaching and pastoral labor not only to emphasize the forgiving power of Christ’s sacrifice, but also a living by the atonement, in which the victorious power of Christ through his Spirit comes to application in faith and conversion and sanctification.
4. To thank the deputies very sincerely for the work accomplished;
5. To communicate this decision to
a. Dr. H. Wiersinga of Amsterdam;
b. The church of Amsterdam;
c. The deputies for ecclesiastical work among students.
In the RES News Exchange of July 2, 1974 there appeared the following account of synod’s action and of the reaction of some of the Dutch leaders to synod’s decision :
DUTCH SYNOD HESITATES IN DEALING WITH WIERSlNGA
The Synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN) meeting in Lunteren took all of June 6 and part of the next day to come to a decision on how to proceed in the disciplining of Dr. H. Wiersinga. No one at Synod defended his position which denies that there is any element of satisfaction of God’s righteousness or justice in the substitutionary death of Christ. But the overwhelming majority of the Synod shocked back from instituting the traditional discipline procedures against heresy.
The previous Synod had charged six deputies to meet with Dr. Wiersinga in order to come to a clear understanding of his position and to discuss solutions to the problems which the publication of his works have caused in the church. The deputies met with him a total of 70 hours. Their report pointed out that Wiersinga’s views were patently in conflict with the confessions. Wiersinga rejects the notion of Christ undergoing the judgment of God in our place. God, he asserts, did not turn against Christ. Although this is a very important departure from the confession, the deputies said, it occurs “within the context of a fundamental agreement that salvation is not a possibility which has to be realized by us, but that it is a reality which is given us by God in Christ, given and sealed in the death and resurrection of the Lord.” Dr. Wiersinga came to his conception of the reconciliation, it was pointed out, because he wished to sponsor a more effective view of the reconciliation. He, therefore, has eyes only for that aspect of Christ’s reconciling work where we too can be said to participate. That part of the reconciliation which involves Christ’s taking our sins upon Himself in order to bear God’s wrath for us is completely denied by him. Christ died for us to involve us in a life of victory over sin through his Spirit. The deputies reported that although Wiersinga had not relinquished his position, progress had been made during the discussions. They, therefore, recommended that Synod affirm the stance of the confessions, but that it take no disciplinary action. Instead, Wiersinga should be called upon to reflect on the rightness of his confessional and theological position.
A minority of the synodical committee concurred wholly with this report. But the majority advice to Synod was stronger. It characterized Wiersinga’s views as a “serious abbreviation of the Gospel.” It also pointed out that an effective doctrine of reconciliation could more convincingly be built upon the traditional view of reconciliation. The advisory committee, accordingly, recommended that Wiersinga be asked to uphold the confessions in the work of his office, but that in theological discussions he be allowed to present his views. Further discussion, they suggested, should focus on Wiersinga’s exegetical method (manner of explaining the relevant texts).
The resulting discussions brought several motions and amendments to the floor. The fear was expressed that if Wiersinga’s views were tolerated any longer, the confessions would be undermined and complete doctrinal freedom would result. This would inaugurate an essential change in the nature of the church: it would become a “dialogue church.” Both Dr. B. Wentsel and Dr. K. Runia proposed to limit the time of discussion with Wiersinga to three months.
Dr. J. Verkuyl pleaded that Wiersinga be given room to develop. After all, he argued, slighting man’s participation in the reconciliation was a heresy too, but no one was disciplined for that. Someone else pointed out that the heresy of racism, which was much more serious, was not dealt with under a deadline of three months. Years ago, theologians considered above suspicion already raised questions regarding the way in which the doctrine of reconciliation is stated in the confessions, Dr. G. C. Berkouwer reminded the Synod: continued discussions will give us a chance to come to greater clarity. Again and again, the fear was voiced that if the Synod proceeded on the road of traditional discipline, a mass exodus would result, especially of the youth. Dr. D. Nauta warned against letting this fear of discipline rule the discussion. Then a large part of the church order might just as well be crossed out, he said. Dr. John H. Stek, a delegate for the Christian Reformed Church, reporting back to his own synod, wrote : “I felt that FEAR hung in the air as thick and oppressively as the clouds of smoke from numerous pipes and cigars.”
Another committee was finally formed to work out a new proposal. The final version once more affirmed the confessions and pointed out Wiersinga’s deviation from them. But it also emphasized that Wiersinga expressed a willingness to be led by Scripture. The committee, therefore, saw sufficient reason to continue the discussion with Wiersinga. Some objections were raised because this version omitted the phrase, “serious abbreviation of the Gospel” with regard to Wiersinga’s conception. It was explained that if this phrase were retained, further disciplinary measures would be unavoidable.
Writing on Synod’s decision, Dr. K. Runia pointed out that what the Synod had done was clearly a form of discipline. But he also expressed the fear that further disciplinary measures had been made extremely difficult, if not impossible. He emphasized that the way must remain open for discipline due to deviation from sound doctrine. In this regard, he said, the decision of Synod had revealed a serious weakness, not just in Synod, but in the body of the whole church.
Dr. H. N. Ridderbos was even more critical in his commentary. Despite all of its exertions, he said, Synod has virtually left matters as they were. Not only did Synod refrain from pronouncing judgment on Wiersinga himself; it also refrained from pronouncing judgment on his teachings. The first advisory committee (majority) had recommended continuing the discussion in the context of leading Wiersinga away from his “seriously abbreviated” Gospel. The adopted form, Ridderbos laments, merely makes Wiersinga a partner in a theological study committee which has been commissioned to report on the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice. The question has thereby been moved to a wholly different plane: from a confessional level to one of theological discussion. In Ridderbos’ opinion this means that the question of Wiersinga has been put into cold storage for a considerable number of years. Meanwhile, the Synod expects (not: asks) Wiersinga to refrain from contending against the church’s confession regarding the reconciliation. A realistic expectation?
We certainly cannot agree with the evaluation of Dr. K. Runia, as reported above. How he can opine that what Synod did was “clearly a form of discipline” is difficult to understand, except from the point of view that Runia seems always able to find some good in everyone and everything — except, that is, among those who want to adhere strictly to the Reformed faith. I can well understand, by the way, that he is the kind of man whom the Dutch Synod would want to appoint to represent them at the next meeting of the World Council of Churches, as they have done.
Nor is the evaluation of Dr. H. Ridderbos, also reported above, correct. It certainly is not true that Synod left matters virtually as they were. It is some three years later! A decision was supposed to be made. A solution was supposed to have been furnished. Protests should have been adjudicated. It is true that what Synod has done is negative. It is definitely not true that matters were left virtually as they were. The Synod has failed dismally to discipline someone who certainly should be disciplined for heresy. That is not leaving matters as they were; on the contrary, it is but one more step in the direction of ecclesiastical disaster, another step in the direction of the false church! And remember, it is not a little step! For this case concerns the central truth of the gospel, the vicarious satisfaction for our sins through Christ’s bearing the wrath of God. If this truth can be denied with impunity in the GKN, then the whole of the gospel of our salvation is forfeited! And the Synod of the GKN officially decided in this decision to allow such denial with impunity. Moreover, even Ridderbos himself admits that things were not left as they were. For his opinion is reported to be that “the question of Wiersinga has been put into cold storage for a considerable number of years.” Meanwhile Wiersinga is not even ordered to refrain from propagating his false doctrine!
It ought to be plain that the Synod of the GKN spoke loudly by its action — its refusal to discipline — much more loudly than by its words.
On the one hand, the Synod gave lip-service to the precious truth of Christ’s vicarious satisfaction for His people. I say intentionally “lip-service.” For I do not believe, in the light of Synod’s decision and in the light of the fact that this is one of the most precious truths of the gospel, that it was any more than that. Yes, indeed, the Synod claims to maintain the truth that Christ has borne the judgment and wrath of God against our sins in our stead.
But does the Synod give any evidence that it holds this truth precious?
It tries to find something good to say about Dr. Wiersinga’s views. This was not the Synod’s business. Synod’s business was only to judge concerning Wiersinga’s heresy. It claims that Wiersinga wants to be led by Scripture. But this is begging the question. It remains to be seen whether Wiersinga wants to be led by Scripture. Every heretic has always claimed this; and if he did not claim this, but said plainly that he denied Scripture, he would get no following in the church. And if Wiersinga denies the truth of the atonement as plainly taught by Scripture, then it is not true that Wiersinga wants to be led by Scripture.
If refuses to discipline Wiersinga — not even mildly. It will not even say that Wiersinga severely abbreviates the gospel — though it has advice to do so. It will not flatly forbid Wiersinga to propagate his views — though it knows that those views are contrary to the Biblical and confessional view.
Deathly dialogue! On-going dialogue with heretics — until the church is poisoned and dies!
That is the synodical action, which speaks louder than its lip-service to the truth of Scripture and the confessions.
And the sad part of it is that this is supposedly motivated by a desire to save the church. Many at the meeting of the Synod were afraid that if Wiersinga were condemned and disciplined, a large segment of the church would be alienated and the GKN would be split. And if such condemnatory and disciplinary action would not be taken, the GKN could be saved.
But this, you see, is a myth.
The church is not dependent on numbers. Nor can the GKN retain or regain their true identity as a Reformed denomination by coddling heretics, though they may retain thousands of members. Nor can the lie or the toleration of the lie save the church!
If a church would retain its identity as church and save itself when threatened by enemies from within, then it must maintain the truth of the Word of God without compromise, must exorcize the lie and false doctrine, must expel unrepentant heretics. This is the only salvation of a church, any church. For the chief mark of the church is the pure preaching of the Word!
And if this can only be done at the expense of numbers, yea, at the expense of the vast majority of a church’s membership, so that only a remnant, a tenth, is preserved, — well, so be it, then. It is better, infinitely better, to be small but faithful than to be large but corrupt!
This is a lesson which many should learn, both in the Netherlands and in our own country.
And it is a lesson which we as Protestant Reformed people should never forget!