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Mistaken on All Counts

In De Reformatie (May 23, ’81) there is a report by the Rev. G. Van Rongen concerning the activities of the General Synod of the Reformed Churches (maintaining Article 31 of the Church order), populary known as the Liberated Churches of the Netherlands. In the article mentioned he writes concerning the report of their deputies for contact with foreign churches, and in the course of his comments on various contacts makes mention of contact with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church of New Zealand. He mentions this in the category of “a third group of churches… with which we do not yet have sufficient knowledge in order to establish first a provisional and possibly later a firmer relation.” After having made mention of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand, he states the following concerning the O.P.C. of New Zealand: “. . .an off-shoot of the Reformed Churches (of New Zealand) because men thought they detected Scripture-critical sounds emanating from the theological college of Geelong, which is maintained jointly by the Reformed Churches of Australia and of New Zealand. This O.P.C. of New Zealand maintains close ties with the Protestant Reformed Church in the United States, also called ‘the Hoeksema church,’ which has declared binding a purely Kuyperian doctrine of the covenant.. . .” 

It is not clear to me how much of the above quotation is to be ascribed to the Rev. Van Rongen and how much to the deputies mentioned. 

But one thing is clear: the “information” is mistaken on all counts. 

1. It is not true that the OPC of New Zealand is an off-shoot of the Reformed Church of New Zealand. Most of the members of these churches never had any ties with the Reformed Churches of New Zealand, and many came from the large Presbyterian Church of N.Z.

2. Nor is it true that the occasion of the start of the OPC was the so-called Runia case at Geelong. To my knowledge, only one family currently in the OPC (of Christchurch) was directly involved in the Runia controversy at Geelong and in the Reformed Church of N.Z. 3. It is not true that the OPC of New Zealand the OPC “maintains close ties” with our Protestant Reformed Churches. The fact is that there have at no time been any formal ties between the PRC and either the OPC of New Zealand as a denomination or the OPC of Christchurch. It is true, of course, that at one time the PRC gave help to the Orthodox Presbyterian congregation of Christchurch, at the latter’s urgent plea, in the form of ministers-on-loan. It is also true that even this has ceased when the OPC of Christchurch bluntly rejected the assistance proffered by our Protestant Reformed Churches.

4. The fourth mistake in these lines is that we are “the Protestant Reformed Church in the United States.” Our denomination is not a “Church” (singular), which suggests a collegialistic and hierarchical view; but we are a federation of “Churches” (plural). And our official name is the Protestant Reformed Churches in America. Moreover, it should be below the Christian dignity of the Dutch churches to add: “also called ‘the Hoeksema church,’ ” with its overtones of a sect. The late Dr. Schilder himself repudiated that expression when he first became better acquainted with us in 1939. Besides, Herman Hoeksema died sixteen years ago; and the Protestant Reformed Churches are alive and well without him! 

5. The biggest mistake is the claim that we declared binding “a purely Kuyperian doctrine of the covenant.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. The fact is that in the very Declaration of Principles to which reference is made here, it is declared binding that we repudiatethe Kuyperian notion of presupposed regeneration, just as we repudiate emphatically the Liberated notion of a general, conditional promise for all who are baptized. Permit me to quote from the Declaration of Principles itself to substantiate my claim. In III-A of the Declaration of Principles we read:

III. Seeing then that this is the clear teaching of our confession, 

A. We repudiate: 

1. The teaching: 

a. That the promise of the covenant is conditional and for all that are baptized.

b. That we may presuppose that all the children that are baptized are regenerated, for we know on the basis of Scripture, as well as in the light of all history and experience, that the contrary is true. 

Now I know that the Liberated brethren, both in the Netherlands and in Canada, have long maintained and propagated this fiction about the Protestant Reformed Churches. They seem to think that there are only two possibilities when it comes to the doctrine of the covenant—their own view of a general, conditional promise and the Kuyperian (synodical) view of presupposed regeneration. But this is simply not true, and it is a fact that we repudiate both ideas. 

I have little expectation that this will convince the Liberated; after all, we have tried again and again to get through to them on this, but always met with failure. 

However, I am concerned to emphasize this for the sake of other friends and brethren, also overseas. We of the Protestant Reformed Churches emphatically do not want to be known as holding to any form of “automatic grace.” And for that reason we do not want to be known as holding either to the idea of presupposed regeneration or to the idea of a general, conditional promise. 

We would appreciate correction on the part of whoever is responsible for the statements in De Reformatie. 

What View of Scripture’s Inspiration and Authority?

Several issues back we made the remark that Report 36/44 of the Christian Reformed Church concerning the Nature of the Authority of Scripture was child’s play in comparison with the recent Dutch Report/Decision on this same subject. We still believe this, though this by no means implies satisfaction on our part, of course, with the position taken by Report 36/44. 

Whether the actual attitude assumed toward Scripture in the CRC is any better than that assumed in the Netherlands, however, is another subject. 

For one thing, thus far there has been very little attention and criticism of the Dutch Report/Decision in the American church press. On the part of some there has been considerable hue and cry about the Dutch churches’ stand on homosexualism; and there ought to be, indeed. Yet, while I disagree with and condemn with all my heart and find repulsive that stand on homosexualism, I believe that the Report/Decision on the Nature of the Authority of Scripture is much more important, for the simple reason that it goes to the very basis of every stand which the Dutch churches may take, whether on things doctrinal or things practical. Is this lack of criticism indicative of a lack of concern, perhaps, or even indicative of agreement in principle? 

For another, there are concrete indications from time to time that the attitude of some toward the inspiration and authority of Scripture is far from sound and is, in fact, not basically different from that in the GKN, the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands. I have in mind specifically two such indications from two different pens in the Meditation department of The Bannerrecently. 

The first is from the pen of the Rev. Michael De Vries, of the Harderwyk CRC, Holland, Michigan (The Banner, June 22, 1981). His meditation is on the familiar passage of Psalm 139:19,23. In the course of his meditation he quotes vss. 19-21a, which I here quote from the KJV: “Surely Thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men. For they speak against Thee wickedly, and Thine enemies take Thy Name in vain. Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate Thee?” Rather significantly, I think, he fails to quote vss. 21b and 22: “and am not I grieved with those that rise up against Thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.” Notice especially the Psalmist’s statement: “I hate them withperfect hatred. ‘ ‘ 

Concerning this attitude of the Psalmist the Rev. De Vries writes in part: “Second, this outburst is alsoappalling to me. In his zeal to be a loyal follower of God, this psalmist became, however temporarily, areligious fanatic, (italics added). He is ready to slay the wicked. He wants to call down fire from heaven on anyone who is less religious than he is. He seems to know with accuracy who the wicked are and what they deserve.” The Rev. De Vries goes on to say in this connection: “One of the great tragedies in the history of the church has been the intolerance, the injustice, the oppression, and the violence practiced with religious sanction. These ‘hate’ verses of Psalm 139 are a stark reminder that a believer can so easily be gripped by this seething hatred and that none of us is immune to it.” 

Now apart from the totally specious exegesis implied in the above quotation, notice where this leaves one with respect to the question of inspiration and authority of Scripture. Either the psalmist was infallibly inspired by the Holy Spirit to be, “however temporarily, a religious fanatic,” which is, of course, unthinkable and blasphemous. Or—and to a Reformed believer this is equally unthinkable and blasphemous—the psalmist thought and wrote these words on his own, without the infallible inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And do not overlook the fact, by the way, that these words are part of a prayer, addressed directly to the Lord! 

The second is from the pen of a minister emeritus in Rehoboth, New Mexico, the Rev. Rolf L. Veenstra (The Banner, July 6, 1981, p. 19). He writes on Psalm 119:97, but in the course of his brief meditation goes rather far astray from his text, which allows him to introduce his errant notions. First he furnishes a thoroughly erroneous explanation of inspiration, meanwhile neglecting the truth concerning inspiration and its consequent authority: “One thing that we should always remember is that the Bible alone is inspired, which means simply that it is alive (like our voices) and it, in turn, can transmit life, like a candle passes on flame,” (italics added). Is this the meaning of the truth that the Bible is inspired? To ask the question is to answer it. He goes on to explain: “And when John said you do not need anyone but the Writer himself to teach you, he meant that only you can answer such questions as, What is God saying here for me? What does this passage mean for my life?” Pure subjectivism! 

Where this takes one as far as Scripture is concerned becomes plain in the next paragraph: “So don’t come to the Bible with a lot of preconceptions. Be open to God. You will be in for some delightful surprises that have escaped a lot of us for a long time.” Among these “delightful surprises” are: 1. Hezekiah’s prayer for the extension of his life was “peevish.” The Rev. Veenstra writes: “Jacob’s romantic marriage to Rachel was one of his many mistakes with centuries-long penalties, as was Hezekiah’s peevish prayer for extension of an already ‘full’ life.” Yet this “peevish” prayer was heard and answered by the Lord. 2. Job teaches the very opposite of what Job himself confessed: “Job teaches us that the Lord giveth, and Satan taketh away.” 

Basically, of course, this sort of thing is no better and no worse than things that are found in the Report/Decision of the GKN. 

The office of The Banner ought to be flooded with negative mail about things like this, and there should be a huge outcry in the CRC against such tampering with Holy Scripture. Yes, and the authors of such writings should be brought to ecclesiastical account. But that day is past, I fear. Only it is measuring with two measures to bar a man from candidacy for errant views on Genesis 1-3, but then to tolerate such writings in the CRC’s official press. 

Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches 1981 (report concluded)

It certainly cannot be said of Synod 1981 that it was hasty in its decision. For a synod which did not involve any student examinations, this was a rather lengthy synod, which did not conclude its sessions until Monday evening, the 15th of June. 

By the time this appears in print, it will not be long before the printed Acts of Synod appears, and therefore we will not enter into detail about the items not covered in the first installment of our report. 

We make mention of three significant items not covered in the July issue. 

In the first place, synod had before it a report from the committee appointed to propose a new liturgical form for use at the occasion of public confession of faith. This report proposed not only a new form to be used in conjunction with the questions currently asked at the occasion of public confession of faith, but it also proposed a new set of questions. It was chiefly this aspect which led synod to reject the report. It was pointed out that this was contrary to the committee’s mandate and also contrary to the original proposal brought by our Lynden congregation in 1977. 

In the second place, synod had before it a rather lengthy report concerning a subject which has been before our synods more than once in recent years, that of the idea of a “minister-on-loan.” This report was occasioned by a protest brought to synod in 1980. In substance, the Study Report agreed with the protest, but it was much more detailed. The issue itself, of course, has become moot: our churches are no longer concretely faced by this question, due to the fact that the OPC of Christchurch, N.Z. no longer desires such a minister-on-loan from us. Nevertheless, synod gave rather lengthy and careful consideration to the Study Report on its own merit, and then rejected it by majority vote.

In the third place, Synod of 1981 was confronted by the question concerning the institution of the church in Singapore. It will be recalled that Synod of 1980 upheld the policy initiated by the calling church and the Foreign Mission Committee to the effect that such institution must take place on the basis of the Three Forms of Unity. This year there was a protest against that decision from our missionary, Rev. den Hartog; and there was also a lengthy letter of objection from the GLTS, which synod took into consideration. In addition, synod granted to our visiting seminarian from Singapore, brother Lau Chin Kwee, the privilege of the floor to speak in behalf of the GLTS. There was lengthy discussion of this matter, and the views were not unanimous. Nevertheless, synod maintained the decision of last year. In addition, synod adopted an explanatory statement (too lengthy to include in this report) which was also to serve as the substance of the message which our emissaries were to convey to our missionary and to the GLTS. As of this writing, our emissaries, the Rev. D. Engelsma and the Rev. M. Kamps, are already in Singapore. While, along with several others, we had our reservations regarding this decision, we nevertheless sincerely hope and pray that the decision will be well received and that in due course the institution of the church in Singapore may take place. It is high time! 

This concludes our report. May the Lord add His indispensable blessing to the decisions reached by our Synod of 1981!