We are sometimes not as quick to encourage and commend our covenant young people as to criticize them. And this ought not to be.
I therefore take this opportunity to congratulate them on a highly successful Twenty-fourth Convention. And I do not say too much if I add that others who observed the convention will agree with me.
The host society (Hope) and its committee worked hard to have an interesting, an instructive, and well-organized convention. The Federation Board also did its part. And our young people, who attended in goodly numbers from many of our churches, far and near, cooperated beautifully and evinced becoming Christian conduct.
The theme, “Be Ye Holy,” was carried out well in program and in practice.
Congratulations, Protestant Reformed young people!
And, above all: Thanks be to God!
And now we look forward, the Lord willing, to the Silver Anniversary Convention in South Holland.
Diagnosis From The Young West
The Reverend Jan Karel Van Baalen, whose name is well-known to anyone acquainted with the history of the origin of our churches, now resides in Lynden, Washington. I suppose this accounts for the fact that the department for which he, writes in De Wachter is headed, “Uit Het Jonge Westen,” (Out of the Young West). At any rate; this is the only connection I can find between his writings and the title of his rubric.
The Reverend Jan Karel Van Baalen is also a man of many facets. Circa 1924 he posed as a champion of common grace and a vigorous prosecutor of the deniers thereof, although he was never exactly eager to face those whom he accused. He also has some reputation as an expert on various sects and cults. He even was known among some of our older generation as a fancier of good cigars,—especially the La Palina brand.
But in De Wachter of September 1, 1964, p. 10, he poses as a doctor and a diagnostician, writing a first installment on the subject “Krank in den Levenswortel,” (Sick in the. Life’s Root). I cannot discern from this first article whether he has completed his diagnosis and whether the next article will furnish the prescription for this disease, or, perhaps, advise surgery. But the doctor’s diagnosis is worthy of note in as far as he has given it. And about it I will make a few observations.
The patient who is ill is the Christian Reformed Church.
And the illness, according to “Doctor Jan Karel Van Baalen, is indeed a serious one. For it affects the “life’s root” of the patient. Thus he gives his verdict literally: “Our Christian Reformed Church is ‘sick in the life’s root.'”
But the question is: what is the nature of this illness?
When it comes to this question, “Doctor” Van Baalen seems rather vague and uncertain.
I suppose the “doctor” in this case intends to furnish a “medical history” of his patient. At any rate, in a brief, two-column article he rambles all the way from Dr. Abraham Kuyper’s talents and his judgment of the “Afgescheidenen” down through the immigration in Van Raalte’s time (the mid-nineteenth century), thence through the period of the second generation of Christian Reformed leaders, and finally to the present. He takes in his sweep the period of. Americanization. He also includes the rise of Religion and Culture andThe Witness, magazines of the 1920’s in the picture; but in one brief paragraph he mentions along with the former the present day Reformed Journal and Torch and Trumpet. He even takes in an alleged incident in the Christian School from his days in Munster, Indiana.
And then he concludes: “Out of this sick life’s root have come forth the theology of H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema, the vague yes-and-no theology of C. Van Til; and not long ago a voice in The Banner which disapproved of membership in the National Geographic Society as being world conformity. Farther it cou1d hardly go. Pietistic separation: world-flight; an inveterate (really: cancerous) aversion to all true civilization—those are the detrimental fruits of a sick life’s root. All that is not ‘of our own’ is worthless. ‘Separation,’ Dr. Van Raalte once said, ‘is in our people’s blood.'” (translation mine, H.C.H.)
Here, at last, he lets the cat out of the bag.
Earlier in his diagnosis the “doctor” makes mention of Dutch class distinctions and of the fact that most of the earlier immigrants came from the lowest class of the people, while Dr. A.C. Van Raalte was a man of culture. He also makes mention of an alleged lack of social background and lack of university training among the second generation of Christian Reformed leaders. He complains that there were those in the church who cried, “Hold fast that which ye have,” and who wanted to build a wall about the church; and he even brings up the old “language question.” He still scolds the “arch-conservatives” of The Witness for rising up against Religion and Culture. In parentheses let me say that the reader must remember that not only did the party that gave birth to The Witness include names like Danhof and Hoeksema, but also such respected Christian Reformed names as L. Berkhof, Y.P. De Jong, and S. Volbeda. Moreover, the “doctor” by implication reproaches those who publish Torch and Trumpet for allegedly refusing to cooperate withThe Reformed Journal.
Finally, while the poor patient’s head must begin to whirl at the mention of all these symptoms and ailments, the “doctor” reveals what he believes to be the real nature of the ailment. Or, at least, he gives himself away: That theology of H. Danhof (now deceased) and H. Hoeksema! That is really the fruit and the symptom of the ailment that has stricken the very life’s root of the Christian Reformed Church! And poor Dr. Van Til must take his share of the blame too! Yes, and the voice that was critical of membership in the National Geographic Society in The Banner is the occasion of this long ecclesiastical diagnosis.
How silly . . . .
If it were not so dreadfully serious!
For the reader must remember,—as the Reverend Jan Karel Van Baalen undoubtedly does,—that to Van Baalen the outstanding characteristic of the theology of Hoeksema and Danhof is the denial of common grace. And already before 1924 the Reverend Jan Karel Van Baalen took the position that the denial of common grace was Anabaptistic. He even wrote a Dutch pamphlet on the subject, “Denial of Common Grace, Reformed or Anabaptistic?” And Van Baalen has evidently never advanced beyond that pre-1924 diagnosis.
Yes, there can be no question about it: “Doctor” Van Baalen really means to say that the Christian Reformed Church is afflicted in its very life’s root with the disease of Anabaptism, though for some reason he does not mention the disease by name.
And what is to be said of this?
I will pass by his rambling, inaccurate, and confused, “medical history,” in order to make the following remarks on his diagnosis of the ailment:
1. The Rev. Van Baalen indeed makes a serious charge when he writes that the Christian Reformed Church is sick in its life’s root. If the patient has only a scratched finger, or even a broken finger, the trouble is not so very serious. But to be sick in the life’s root? That is dangerous! The patient might die! And in that case the diagnosis of the ailment had better be correct, in order that the proper cure may be prescribed.
2: The Reverend Jan Karel Van Baalen makes an untrustworthy doctor, however. For though he presumes to be the doctor, he is nevertheless by virtue of his Christian Reformed membership and office the patient. In fact, he is very close to the “life’s, root.” He is therefore himself afflicted with this disease about which he is concerned. And especially in case of illness it is poor policy for the patient to act as his own doctor.
3. “Doctor” Van Baalen’s diagnosis certainly is not accurate. For, in the first place, he ought not to forget that his own synod, in 1924, declared the theology of Hoeksema and Danhof to be rather healthy. They declared these two ministers whom they nevertheless deposed to be “fundamentally Reformed.” And, in the second place, did not the “doctor” in 1924 assist at a very painful operation in which this Anabaptistic “cancer” of the denial of common grace was cut out?
4. And does not the good “doctor” know that the whole Christian Reformed Church (the brethren of Torch and Trumpet, as well as those of The Reformed Journal) are fundamentally agreed on common grace, and therefore opposed to his alleged Anabaptistic tendencies? Did it, in fact, not become very evident in all the writings about the Dekker case that no one,—emphatically no one,—dared even to hint that the First Point of 1924 might be wrong? Did not exactly this emasculate every Christian Reformed attempt to contradict Professor Dekker’s teachings?
5. Yet there is a ray of hope as long as the patient at least realizes that he is ill. That holds for Van Baalen himself also. But let not the ill patient function as his own doctor. The result will be tragic!
But is the Christian Reformed Church sick? And is it sick in its life’s root?
Indeed it is! And the ailment is serious. In fact, I am afraid that eventually it will be fatal,—unless its progress is arrested.
The Christian Reformed Church,—and let it be recorded that I write this in all earnestness and brotherliness,—is afflicted in its very life’s root with the cancer of the common grace-general grace theory of the Three Points of 1924.
Here are some of the symptoms:
1. The seminary and the churches are shot through with Arminianism. I could mention the current instance of Prof. Dekker. But Dekker is not by any means alone, though he is perhaps more consistent and insistent.
2. The inspiration question of a few years ago, which, I venture to say, is still really not settled. And by the way, let it be remembered that the Janssen case of 1920-’22 was inseparably connected historically with the common grace controversy of 1924.
3. The Divorce and Remarriage Decision of a few years ago, along with its devastating effects,—a matter which is after all at bottom a case of world-conformity.
4. The battle against separate Christian organizations (witness recent numbers of the Reformed Journal) and the church’s official stamp of approval on membership in so-called neutral, but really worldly, labor unions. This is simply another instance of world-conformity.
5. The perennial problem of worldly amusements, movie attendance, and the like, which has plagued the Christian Reformed Church ever since 1924 especially, and which was again the subject of at least one overture to the 1964 Synod. This too is essentially a problem of world-conformity which cannot possibly be treated successfully with a world-and-life-view based on common grace.
These are but some of the major symptoms. And all these symptoms point inevitably to the fact that the CRC became afflicted with the deadly cancer of the common grace theory in 1924.
Hoeksema and Danhof warned of these things from the start.
There will be no end to these symptoms as long as the denial of the antithesis persists.
The Protestant Reformed Churches have always warned of these symptoms and their cause.
And, by the grace of God, we will continue to do so.
I say again: there is at least hope if the patient begins to be aware of his illness. Then perhaps he will seek the only cure: radical surgery on the cancer of common grace, and large, health-giving doses of the truth, the pure, Reformed truth.
Not Totally Depraved?
Of late it seems that the common grace theory, of the Three Points is being brought more and more to the foreground and into the open. There was a time when it seemed as though even the Christian Reformed Church would rather keep silence about the subject. Of course, even then the witness and warning of the Protestant Reformed Churches was always that the common grace theory was an evil leaven “that would work through and corrupt the whole lump of Reformed doctrine and life. Today one, can see the operation of this leaven of common grace more and more.
A very blatant example of this may be found in the writings of Dr. John H. Bratt, The Banner, August 25, 1964, in the department “The Reader Asks.” Of course, we have .always maintained that the Second (and Third) Point of 1924 was a denial of the Reformed doctrine of total depravity. But the exponents of common grace denied that this was so, and they frequently tried to camouflage the real meaning of the Second Point and its theory of the restraint of sin by the Holy Spirit. In fact, there was such an attempt at camouflage made only a couple of years ago by the Contact Committee in its conferences with the De Wolf group. People are sometimes fooled by this camouflage; but they should not be. Neither does Dr. Bratt say in so many words that man is not totally depraved. In fact, he uses the term total depravity. But he very bluntly deprives that term of all its historic Reformed meaning, and that without a single appeal to Scripture or the confessions.
I will let the reader judge.
Dr. Bratt is answering the question, “What effect does regeneration have on the total depravity of man?” And his approach to this question is certainly correct. For he writes: “Perhaps it would be well to remind ourselves of the meaning of total depravity.” Now this is a sound approach. One certainly cannot understand the meaning and effect of regeneration if he does not know what is involved in total depravity. And unless total depravity is put in a true light, the radical change of regeneration as a wonderwork of the Spirit, wrought in us without our aid, cannot properly be understood. The result is that Bratt’s explanation of regeneration is also woefully weak, to say the least. But let that be. What does Dr. Bratt say of total depravity? I will quote him:
“It does not mean that man is devilish in his entire being. It does not imply that all a man is and does is undiluted evil. But it means that every part of his being has the infection of sin. No phase of his being is exempt from it.
“In unregenerate man, that depravity is conditioned by the common workings of God’s Spirit. In his common grace, sin is restrained and the common virtues tire practiced.”
I do not intend to wage a lengthy polemic against this uncamouflaged denial of total depravity. Of course, Bratt might just as well have said in plain words, “Total depravity is not really total depravity,” or, “The Christian Reformed Church does not believe the doctrine of total depravity.”
But allow me to make a very brief and literal comparison between Dr. Bratt’s statements and Scripture and the confessions. No exposition is even necessary for even a child to see that Bratt contradicts both.
Dr. Bratt says: “It (total depravity) does not mean that man is devilish in his entire being.”
Scripture, John 8:44, says: “Ye aye of your father the devil, (literally: “out of your father the devil,” according to the Greek), and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.”
Dr. Bratt says: “It (total depravity) does not imply that all a man is and does is undiluted evil.”
The Heidelberg Catechism, Question 8, says: “Are we then so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness? Indeed we are; except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.”
And with the above our Confession and our Canons fully agree.
If Dr. Bratt wants to instruct his questioning readers, he should instruct them in the truth of Scripture, and the confessions. Instead he goes out of his way to deny the truth of total depravity, to substitute for it the philosophy of the Three Points, and that without so much as a reference to Scripture and our Reformed creeds.
I would expect that his questioner was left very unsatisfied.
And I sincerely hope that readers of, The Banner will some day begin to realize that a little leaven is leavening the whole lump.
(Note: I wrote this editorial without knowing that Rev. H. Hanko would also write on the same subject in his rubric. However, since our articles are different in approach, I will publish mine as well as his. H.C.H.)