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“Report of the Doctrinal Committee”

A Critical Study

(2)

The Committee and the “Offer”

BACKGROUND 

It was to be expected that the element of a “general, well-meant offer” would occupy a large part in the Report of the Doctrinal Committee. 

This is true for several reasons. 

In the first place, there is the broader historical reason of the First Point of 1924 and the place which that First Point has had in the thinking, the theology, the preaching, and the motivation of the preaching (both at home and on the mission field) ever since 1924. I refer, of course, especially to “het puntje van het Eerste Punt,” the general grace doctrine of the First Point, which must not be confused with the original proposition of the First Point proper, or the common grace doctrine. It is safe to say that if that general grace doctrine had not been inserted into the First Point of 1924, there would have been no “Dekker Case” at present. The latter is simply a development — a necessary development, let me add, — of the former. This is not to say that there was no Arminian tendency in the Christian Reformed Church prior to 1924, and that therefore there would have been no development of Arminianism later. For fact is that one of the concerns of the men of “The Witness” was the threat of Arminianism; and one of that group (who, however, later supported 1924) complained long before 1924 that the churches were full of Arminianism and feared that the battle was already lost. And if there had been no Arminian tendency present in the churches, “het puntje van het Eerste Punt” (literally: the little point of the First Point) would, of course, never have seen the light of day. 

There is another factor involved in this picture, of course. That factor is that the Christian Reformed Church adopted and from then on attempted to follow a double-track theology; and the two tracks were divergent, — the Arminian and the Reformed track. The theology of the CRC became like the two-faced idol, Janus. It was but inevitable that in due time someone would press the inconsistency of the divergent tracks to its logical consequence, and say to the churches, “Let us follow the Arminian track consistently, or at least more consistently than the men of 1924 did.” This is what Prof. Dekker said in effect when he came out for universal atonement. Or, to return to my other figure, he chose for the Arminian face of Janus. 

In the second place, there is the fact that Prof. Dekker and those who agree with his position (like James Daane and Harry Boer and Dr. Henry Stob) injected the First Point of 1924 into the picture. Daane pointed up the issue rather well, I think, by a question like this: “How can such a non-saving grace come to expression in the preaching of the gospel that preaches only saving grace?” The same is true of the following statement of Daane: “To this day no one has been able to make clear to anyone that the well-meant offer of salvation is an instance, not of saving, but of a qualitatively different non-saving common grace.” 

In the third place, the Christian Reformed Synod automatically injected the question of the well-meant offer into the picture for its Doctrinal Committee by mentioning two items, both directly related to the First Point of 1924, among the specific items to which the Committee was to give its attention. The first was: “a. Whether the nature of the atonement and the decree of election allow for the validity of making a qualitative distinction between the general love of God and His special love for the elect.” This obviously has reference to the common grace doctrine of the First Point. And the second item was: “b. Whether there is Scriptural evidence that the universal love of God includes any intent to bring about the salvation of the non-elect or to perform any redemptive act on their behalf.” This, while it does not mention the term “offer” and does not speak directly the language of the First Point, unmistakably refers to the general grace doctrine of the First Point. 

Let me insert at this point the suggestion that the Synod might have pin-pointed the Committee’s mandate in connection with the First Point if they had used Daane’s language. They might have very well assigned the committee this problem, to decide “Whether the well-meant offer of salvation is an instance of saving, or of a qualitatively different non-saving common grace.” For it must be remembered that while the First Point contains two doctrines (common grace and general grace), the element of the so-called general offer of salvation was supposedly adduced as proof for the main proposition of the First Point, namely, a supposedly common, non-saving grace. As I have said repeatedly in the past on this point, Daane is right (though he is principally dead wrong on the whole matter of God’s grace) when he says, “To this day no one has been able to make clear to anyone that the well-meant offer of salvation is an instance, not of saving, but of a qualitatively different non-saving common grace.” And I will add to that the fact that history has shown him to be right. The Christian Reformed Church has taught and followed, on the one hand, the antithesis-devastating doctrine of common grace and applied to the whole realm of things commonly subsumed under the term “culture.” But the Christian Reformed Church has more and more followed the Arminian, general grace line in its preaching. When they adhered to the line of the general, well-meant offer, they were not really dealing in the realm of common grace whatsoever. That offer is an offer of salvation according to them. As such it is preached, and surely not as, an offer of common grace, nor with the intent of bringing about any so-called common grace benefits, nor with the intent of leaving any other impression on the hearers than that God well-meaningly wills the salvation of all who hear. If you follow the well-meant offer idea, you preach just like any Arminian evangelist preaches. 

But the Committee in this connection, especially in connection with point “b” quoted above, was faced by the problem of trying to maintain a two-track theology and of trying to give some kind of yes-no answer, without saying “yes” so emphatically that they justified Dekker and Daane, and without saying “no” so emphatically that they denied the First Point of 1924. 

That is a rather large order, I would say. And I would also suggest that the Committee sensed this. This lies at the root of the confusion in the Committee’s report. Over against Dekker’s position, they try somewhat to “soft-pedal” the offer-idea; but in the meantime, because of the First Point and its history they dare not “soft-pedal” the offer to the point of silencing it. 

In the meantime, a year has elapsed since the Report was first issued. 

And the problem is still there. 

In fact, Synod of 1966 added a couple of problems through its committee of pre-advice, items which show plainly that the Report is not satisfactory on this crucial problem. For among the observations of Synod and the additional problems referred to in the 1966 postponement-decision you find this: “There are related problems which arise out of this context which need theological clarification and precise statement, such as the following: . . . . .b. The relationship between election and the sincere (“sincere” or “well-meant”? The two terms are not the same. H.C.H.) offer of salvation . . . ..d. The universal implications of the atonement.” 

In addition, the Committee now has no small number of statements from consistories and classes reflecting on the Report. And my educated guess is that a number of these reflect dissatisfaction with the committee’s confused work on the offer-problem. In fact, I know that Classis Grand Rapids West had a committee report which proposed a statement dealing with this problem.

In addition to this, the Reformed Journal has begun, figuratively speaking, to club the Committee over the head with its own report. 

Hence, the problem is becoming more difficult. 

I do not know what the outcome will be. 

But I can predict confidently that even though the original conclusions of the Committee would be adopted, the problem would still be there. For 1924 would still be there. And even if the CR Synod should affirm the doctrine of definite atonement, 1924 would still be there. And as long as it is there, no Reformed denomination which still numbers among itself those who would like to be truly Reformed, can have peace. 

With this background furnished, I will begin next time, D.V., to survey the Committee’s confused meanderings and findings on this important subject. 

In Support Of Movies

That title looks incongruous on the cover of theStandard Bearer, does it not? 

Have no fears! The Standard Bearer has not taken to the support of movies or of movie attendance. The title was, however, intended to catch your attention. For this editorial intends to call attention to a recent article in support of movie attendance which illustrates, among other things, the dangers inherent in the course which the Christian Reformed Synod of 1966 chose with respect to the “film arts” (more bluntly stated: the movie issue). 

My reference is to Dr. John H. Bratt’s little article inThe Banner, February 10, 1967, p. 11. Writing under “Postscript” he attempts to marshal biblical support for following what he calls the “principle of discrimination” with respect to Hollywood movies. Writes he: “In fact, I think that the tenor of Scripture is strongly geared to making discerning Christians, that is, those who judge and evaluate and choose that which is right and good.” Dr. Bratt then makes several references to Scripture. He concludes these references as follows: 

“The Apostle John advises us to prove (test) the spirits’ (I. John 4:1). 

“Such biblical counsels mean to me that rather than taking such film productions as Sound of Music, Old Yaller, Snowhite and the Seven Dwarfs, Doctor Zhivago, and so on, and throwing them into the caldron of blanket condemnation, we ought to weigh and evaluate them on their own merits or demerits, and act accordingly.” 

Now I do not believe that any of the texts cited by Dr. Bratt proves his so-called principle of discrimination with respect to Hollywood movies. For: 1) I believe that drama is not legitimate art, but the perversion of good gifts of God. 2) Apart from the preceding, I do not believe that Hollywood offers a choice of “good” or “bad” such as is necessary to practice discrimination. When it is all bad, then choice is impossible. 

But Dr. Bratt’s flippant quotation of a few words from I John 4:1 along with the application which he makes of these words is to me nothing less than shocking. My point ought to be clear to any discerning Christian if I let Scripture speak here by quoting the entire passage of I John 4:1-3: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit-of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.” 

In the first place, of course, such misquotation of Scripture is not worthy of a student of God’s Word. And it is misleading. I do not say deliberately misleading; but it is misleading, nevertheless. That little snatch of a text might sound rather pertinent to the unsuspecting. 

In the second place, it seems to me that this text, quoted in full, “proves” too much for Dr. Bratt. For the basis of the “good-movies-are-legitimate” decision is supposed to lie in the realm of “common grace” and a “restraint of sin.” But the text in First John (quoted in full, of course) certainly does not know of any “gray area” between light and darkness. There is, of course, no text in Scripture that does know of such a gray area. But it seems to me that such a plainly absolute statement as that of I John 4:1-3 would be about the last which Dr. Bratt would cite in this connection. Or is the doctor now suggesting that the spirit of such Hollywood movies as he mentions might possibly be “of God” and breathing a “spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh?” 

But, in the third place, for those who are tempted by the movies (whether in the neighborhood theater or in your own living room on TV), — and this I write not only for our Christian Reformed brethren, but for anyone whom the shoe fits, — Dr. Bratt, in spite of his intentions to the contrary, suggests a very good antithetical test. For notice: 

1) This passage admonishes us to try, prove, test, the spirits with one question in mind: are they of God, or are they not of God? A third possibility there is not. It is either…or! 2) This passage provides us with a very simple, antithetical test. The one side of the test is this: “Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God.” Apply that test once to the “very best” that Hollywood has to offer. Apply it to the movies mentioned by Dr. Bratt. If you are busy indulging in the movies in your local theater or in your home, — and mark you well, I do not say that you should; but if you are of those who yield to this temptation, — at the very moment while you are watching and listening, apply this test: is the spirit breathed by this movie a spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh? And is it therefore of God? 

I know what the answer will be. 

And so do you! 

The other side of the test is this: “Every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.” 

Apply that test once to Hollywood’s productions. Ask yourself the question: is the spirit breathed by this movie a spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh? And is it therefore not of God, but the spirit of antichrist? 

Again, you and I know what the outcome of the test will be! 

3) But then the question will not be downed: how can you as a Christian be entertained by the spirit of antichrist? 

Perhaps for some this test is too “simplistic” or “absolutistic.” 

For me, however, it is simple and absolute. 

And it is Scriptural! 

The trouble is, of course, that this antithetical test is vitiated by the common grace theory. And while I have great sympathy for those in the Christian Reformed Church who are genuinely troubled by the “movie problem” and by the decision of 1966 (I know that there are such; and I know of a consistory that counseled its congregation to “total abstinence,” in spite of the decision of their Synod), nevertheless I warn again that they fight a losing, — if not a lost, — battle on the common grace basis. The real solution lies in a repudiation of 1924 and a return to the sound Reformed principle of the absolute antithesis. 

Did You Know?

Did you know that John Calvin held to the view that (in his day) creation was little more than five thousand years old? 

The great reformer makes only passing reference to this idea, and that too, not in his writings on creation, but in his writings on predestination. This very manner of reference, however, emphasizes that with Calvin this was an accepted idea. Recently I came across this statement while reading the “Institutes” with another purpose in mind. The quotation is from Book III, Chapter XXI, Section IV (page 174 of Volume II of the Allen Translation). I will quote enough of the section to furnish the setting of Calvin’s statement:

Profane persons, I confess, suddenly lay hold of something relating to the subject of predestination, to furnish occasion for objections, cavils, reproaches, and ridicule. But if we are frightened from it by their impudence, all the principal articles of the faith must be concealed, for there is scarcely one of them which such persons as these leave inviolate by blasphemy. The refractory mind will discover as much insolence, on hearing that there are three persons in the Divine essence, as on being told, that when God created man, he foresaw what would happen concerning him. Nor will they refrain from derision on being informed, that little more than five thousand years have elapsed since the creation of the world. They will ask why the power of God was so long idle and asleep. Nothing can be advanced which they will not endeavour to ridicule. Must we, in order to check these sacrileges, say nothing of the Divinity of the Son and Spirit, or pass over in silence the creation of the world? In this instance, and every other, the truth of God is too powerful to dread the detraction of impious men….

This quotation is worthy of attention, not because we must slavishly follow everything that Calvin says, but because: 1. It should furnish some food for thought to some who are very quick to appeal to John Calvin for all manner of pseudo-Calvinistic ideas, but who in our day are catering to evolutionistic theories and their notions of a very old earth. 

2. It demonstrates that the idea of a comparatively young earth is not to be ascribed to Archbishop Usher for its origin, as is frequently suggested. This quotation at least suggests that in the history of dogma the idea of a young earth was rather commonly accepted at Calvin’s time. At least, the reformer does not present it as a new and unheard of idea. But Calvin’s “Institutes” were written before James Usher was born. Usher was born in 1580, and his rather famous chronology belongs to the period from 1650-1654. The widely held idea that James Usher is responsible for the idea that the earth is about six thousand years old must, therefore, be fiction. 

3. This puts the much maligned James Usher, who is frequently pictured as some kind of freak, but who was actually a scholar of considerable note, in fairly good company. Those who enjoy ridiculing Archbishop Usher should save a few of their barbs for John Calvin. Or better: they should dispose of their barbs!