Consistency, Thou Art A Jewel!
Although the statement that forms the caption of this editorial may not always be true (as, for example, when consistency involves being consistently wrong), it will nevertheless serve to express something of the intent of this editorial. For inconsistency one would not characterize as a jewel, — especially not inconsistency in ecclesiastical and doctrinal matters. And recent utterances in the official papers of the Christian Reformed Church betray an inconsistency which is far from commendable. One can have a degree of respect at least for the consistency of one who is consistently wrong. And one must certainly hold in high esteem and admiration the consistency of one, who is consistently right. But how sorry is the sight of one who is inconsistent, who halts between two opinions, who attempts to straddle a fence, who talks double-talk.
On page 7 of The Banner. (Nov. 25, 1966) Dr. John Bratt uses his department to sing the praises of Billy Graham, who “is a great man of God who is doing a magnificent work for Christ.” Dr. Bratt supposedly does not want to minimize differences. But he justifies his support of Graham as a taking “seriously the words of our Lord in Mark 9:40: ‘He that is not against us is for us.’ ” Meanwhile he asserts that he dissents “vigorously with those conservative Christian leaders who have recently denounced Billy Graham in sharp tones.” And about this denouncing of Graham he writes: “That, to my mind, is doing despite to the cause of the gospel.” Of course, if he were mindful of the full meaning of “doing despite to the cause of the gospel,” he might just as well have applied to “those conservative Christian leaders” that other word of the Lord Jesus: “He that is not for me is against me.” For this is surely the implication.
Meanwhile, Dr. Bratt does minimize the differences. If he did not do so, he would have to come to the conclusion that Billy Graham is indeed against the Christ of the Scriptures in his basic theology; and he would have to accuse Graham of “doing despite to the cause of the gospel.”
For the editor of The Reader Asks states, first of all, that “it is true that Billy Graham does express himself at times in an Arminianizing way.” Then he goes on, very speciously (because Arminianism is not necessary to emphasize true responsibility), to excuse Graham’s Arminianizing expressions by suggesting that these are only to make sure that man faces up squarely to his own duty and responsibility. In the second place, Dr. Bratt quotes some statements out of context to show, supposedly, that Graham can also express himself Calvinistically. He further alludes to Graham’s view of total depravity, of Scripture, of Christ’s divinity, of Christ’s vicarious atonement, and of Christ’s resurrection to show that “there is an affinity with us that is striking and encouraging and we can only conclude that he is a mighty man of God doing great things for Christ in our time.”
Now either the doctor is not able to discern Arminianism when he reads it, — and he gives some evidence of this, judging from some of the quotations, — or he is deliberately playing down Graham’s Arminianism for reasons best known to himself. For anyone who has read “World Aflame” knows that the one, underlying, recurrent theme in Graham’s theology as set forth in that book is the false doctrine of Arminianism. To say the least, Bratt’s statement about Graham expressing himself at times in an Arminianizing way would win first place as the understatement of the year! But when Bratt speaks of an affinity with us that is striking and encouraging, then one almost gets the impression that he tries to make Graham out for a staunch Calvinist. Graham’s position on every one of the Five Points of Calvinism is that of thoroughgoing Arminianism. That he seems to maintain the doctrine of Scripture, of the deity of Christ, or of Christ’s resurrection — this is nothing but broad-based Fundamentalism. And what, after all, does such Fundamentalism mean when its fundamental tenets are in practice denied by its other teachings? What does the doctrine of Scripture as inspired and infallible mean when one contradicts the plain teachings of Scripture? What does the doctrine of Christ’s deity mean when this Christ Who is the Son of God is presented as impotent to save the sinner unless that sinner first asks Him?
But it was not my intention to debate about Graham’s doctrine at this time: in my recent exchange with Dr. Jerome De Jong I demonstrated Graham’s Arminianism rather in detail, especially with respect to the doctrine of total depravity and regeneration.
We were speaking of consistency and inconsistency.
I submit that Dr. Bratt’s position in the article referred to is inconsistent with his vow in the Formula of Subscription to reject particularly the errors condemned by the Synod of Dordrecht and to be disposed to refute and contradict these and to “exert ourselves in keeping the Church free from such errors.” Instead, of doing the preceding, Bratt praises Graham highly and by implication denies that Graham is a heretic who does despite to the cause of the gospel. Dr. Bratt’s position is also inconsistent because the doctor happens to be on a committee which (for a Christian Reformed committee) rather severely condemns the rank Arminianism of Prof. Harold Dekker. It rather goes beyond me when Graham is praised to the skies and Dekker, in Dr. Bratt’s own church, is opposed.
But The Banner is also inconsistent.
For in the same issue of The Banner in a book review of “Billy Graham — The Pastor’s Dilemma” I read: “This book will in no wise leave the reader complacent, but will help in rethinking our stand toward the Graham crusades and toward the ecumenical movement as a whole. Because of the ecumenical climate that prevails, we are so easily egged on to doctrinal compromise with the danger of making void the heart of God’s Word: God’s irresistible grace alone in the salvation of men. Is not this doctrine, so richly perfused in the Bible and also propounded by the Reformers, contradicted by Graham’s emphasis on man’s ability to make the right decision with regard to the kingdom of God?”
Certainly, the “perplexed Michigan couple” who sent their questions to Dr. Bratt must have been still more perplexed if they also read the book review by Jochem Vugteveen. In the face of such inconsistency, who must be believed?
Finally, the situation is complicated by The Banner’seditorial for that same week, wherein Editor VanderPloeg, in connection with Bishop Pike’s heresies, editorializes about “A heyday for heresy” and warns about sweeping differences under the rug and concludes: “Heresy may be having its heyday right now, but let’s make no mistake about it: the church that wants this heyday is sure to find that tomorrow will be its doomsday.” To be sure, the editor does not refer in this connection to Billy Graham. But it fits. Translated it could read: “A Reformed church which supports the teaching and preaching of Billy Graham is committing ecclesiastical suicide.”
But the following week’s issue of The Banner further complicated the inconsistency.
For in it there is an article (scarcely a report) by the Rev. Henry J. Evenhouse about the World Congress on Evangelism, attended by several Christian Reformed ministers. To borrow an expression from Editor Vander Ploeg, that Congress was “a heyday for heresy,” judging from the position papers published inChristianity Today. Especially the position paper by Dr. Harold Ockenga on “The Basic Theology of Evangelism” was thoroughly heretical. But about that World Congress, at which no soundly Reformed man should have felt at home, and which had as its leading lights such neo-evangelicals as Billy Graham and Carl Henry, there is no word of criticism in The Banner. The article is filled with high praise.
And Editor Haverkamp in De Wachter, (Dec. 6, 1966) adds to the inconsistency by means of a very deceptive statement. He also writes about the World Congress, and reports on “an interview” with “two of the representatives of our mission and evangelization work; namely, Rev. Henry Evenhouse and Rear. Wesley Smedes.” Just as in The Banner, so also inDe Wachter there is not actually a report of what took place in this congress. In this connection — although Editor Haverkamp does not relish unsolicited advice, — I would give him the friendly advice that he could serve his readers better by giving a report on and a basic critique of the theology that prevailed at the World Congress, as exemplified in the position paper of Harold John Ockenga. But what disturbs me is the underlying assumption that this Congress was interested in the pure preaching of the gospel. This assumption appears in Rev, Haverkamp’s article. For he writes: “In vevband met het bovenstaande moet ook vevmeld worden dat stevke nadruk gelegd werd op de noodzakelijkheid van het paren aan zuiveve vevkondiging van het evangelie, het beleven van het evangelie in leven en dienstbetoon.“. (In connection with the above, it must also be mentioned that strong emphasis was laid upon the necessity of accompanying the pure preaching of the gospel with a witness of the gospel in life and service.) You see, the assumption in this statement is that the Congress stood for the pure preaching of the gospel. Mind you, for the most part the Congress means by the pure preaching of the gospel simply the gospel of Arminianism, and surely not the gospel purely preached according to the Reformed standards.
And thus, you have this picture. One warns against heresy’s heyday. Another sounds off in favor of Billy Graham. Still another recommends a book critical of Graham, and suggests that “our stand toward the Graham crusades” needs rethinking, characterizing Graham’s gospel as making void the heart of God’s Word, namely, God’s irresistible grace alone in the salvation of men. Still others have high praise for a World Congress on Evangelism which was under Arminian leadership, and even suggest that said congress was interested in the pure proclamation of the gospel.
What a hodge-podge of inconsistency!
And how can the sheep who are supposed to be led by these shepherds be anything but confused?
And how could a synod possibly condemn the Arminianism of one of its seminary professors, — even supposing that a future synod will be strong enough to take such a stand, — except at the expense of hypocrisy?
Indeed! Consistency, thou art a jewel!
But in the case of the Christian Reformed Church that consistency is sorely lacking; and it has been lacking ever since the First Point of 1924 was adopted. That, after all, is the basic inconsistency in the entire hodge-podge of inconsistency pictured in this essay!
Willing To Come To Grips?
In The Banner editorial, “A heyday for heresy,” the Rev. J. Vander Ploeg makes a statement which reminds me of some unfinished business.
The statement is: “An honest and thorough heresy trial can clear the air for those willing to come to grips with accusations that are made in good faith.”
The unfinished business of which it reminds me is the matter of reconciliation of the Christian Reformed Church and the Protestant Reformed Churches, about which Editor Vander Ploeg wrote shortly after the death of the late Rev. Herman Hoeksema. At that time he suggested a reconciliation based upon the idea that “what we have in common is so much greater than that which is keeping us apart.” I suggested in reply that this was not genuine reconciliation, but compromise. I wrote, further: “That genuine efforts at reconciliation must honestly look at the causes of the breach and remove them. For such reconciliation the Protestant Reformed Churches have always been, and are today, ready. For we love the Reformed faith, and we stand opposed to any departure there from.” (cf.Standard Bearer, Nov. 1, 1965) To this the Rev. Vander Ploeg never replied.
Now, though in another connection, he writes as above. But although the connection in which he writes above is different, the principle, it seems to me, is the same. In fact, with a slight change, the statement could be applied to the matter of reconciliation of the CRC and the PRC: “An honest and thorough official conference can clear the air for those willing to come to grips with accusations that are made in good faith.” What is the difference between that and my statement: “That genuine efforts at reconciliation must honestly look at the causes of the breach and remove them?” I take this opportunity to remind the Rev. Vander Ploeg that this is not only his personal unfinished business, but a very serious item of unfinished business of long standing for his denomination. Let me remind him in this connection:
1. That the principals in 1924 never received an honest and thorough heresy trial, but were nevertheless cast out as heretics.
2. That in 1939, upon the initiative of the late Mr. Wm. B. Eerdmans, Sr., and the late Dr. Klaas Schilder, an unofficial conference was held at the Pantlind Hotel, in which the Protestant Reformed brethren were fully ready to discuss matters, in which Rev. Herman Hoeksema delivered a position paper, but in which the Christian Reformed brethren were unprepared, and, moreover, refused to discuss issues.
3. That the first Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches in 1940 asked the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church for an official colloquy in the interest of coming to grips with accusations made in good faith. The reply of the Christian Reformed Synod at that time was: “We desire to inform you that no official colloquy is possible on the basis you refer to in your letter, since our Synods have expressed themselves definitely on all matters to which you refer.”
4. That at the time of your centennial Synod in 1957 we again invited your Synod “to seek official contact with our churches to rehearse the entire history of 1924-’25, in order that, though the two churches may not amalgamate into one, the brotherly relations may be restored.” Your Synod passed the unjustified pronouncement in response: “The tone and contents of the letter are not such as give promise of fruitful discussion.”
5. In 1958 we expressed our grief about the above ungrounded conclusion, and we reiterated that we were willing to discuss the differences that have separated us at any time. Again, however, your Synod ruled out any discussion of differences by declaring: “. . . we judge these discussions must not be polemical rehearsals of past history, but should recognize a common Reformed basis, and should point toward a fuller expression of our oneness in Christ.”
6. In 1959 our Synod replied as follows: “Brethren, we sincerely regret that you refuse to discuss with us the history that gave rise to our separate existence as Protestant Reformed Churches. It is indeed our desire that we labor together toward a fuller expression of our oneness in Christ.”
You will most certainly agree, however, that such an expression of oneness must be rooted in truth and righteousness. Whatever was wrong in the sight of the God we serve must, if at all possible, be rectified in the way of God’s Word. Brethren, neither for you nor for us can there be blessing and spiritual peace in the way of sin. In all our preaching we exhort those who have made themselves guilty to repentance and conversion. The same calling and will of God applies to us as churches.
“We earnestly invite you, therefore, to a conference with a committee from our churches, wherein may be discussed the entire history of 1924-’25 as well as the doctrinal issues at stake between us, in order that, though our churches may not amalgamate into one, brotherly relations may be restored.”
There the matter stands.
I am certain that Editor Vander Ploeg cannot show a lack of good faith on our part.
But then he faces the question whether he and the Christian Reformed Churches are “willing to come to grips with accusations that are made in good faith.”
An honest and thorough conference characterized by such a willingness “can clear the air.”
I repeat: we of the Protestant Reformed Churches have always declared ourselves ready for such a conference. For genuine efforts at reconciliation must honestly look at the causes of the breach and remove them.
But we cannot and may not and will not sweep our differences under the rug.