Apparently this is the end of the Kuitert matter as far as the Synod of the Gereformeerde Kerken is concerned. True, there will be on-going talks. But these will take place “within the framework of the normal discussions between the commission and the faculty.” And this means that there is no more Kuitert case as such. There is a standing commission for contact between the Synod and the faculty of the Free University, due to the fact that the Free University (of which Kuitert is a faculty member) is not an ecclesiastical school, while its theological faculty nevertheless prepares candidates for the ministry in the Gereformeerde Kerken. Hence, these on-going talks will be nothing extraordinary; there is always a certain amount of discussion between the synod’s deputies and the faculty. Besides, the Synod “judges that in view of the debate in the meeting its discussions on this matter should be terminated at this time.” Hence, this is plainly the end of the Kuitert matter as far as Synod is concerned. The Synod has apparently spoken its last word on the matter. Moreover, it has spoken with a large degree of unanimity. There was only one negative vote cast when the final decision was taken. And according to a letter from the Netherlands by W. Feenstra in the Christian Reformed De Wachter (Dec. 19, 1972, p. 15), even one of the members of the editorial staff of Waarheid en Eenheid, a Drs. Meeder, was happy with the decision. On the other hand, it is difficult for me to imagine that Waarheid en Eenheid and the verontrusten (concerned) can be satisfied. In fact, in private correspondence from the Netherlands I was told that one of the concerned complained, “Mother has forsaken me,” referring, of course, to mother church, and that one of the influential leaders in the Netherlands had given advice that “nood-gemeenten” (emergency congregations) be established. If this is true, and if this advice is followed, it could conceivably mean a split. However, it could also mean only the further polarization of the liberal and conservative wings in the GKN, wings which will ultimately agree to live together in a modalities church, such as the Hervormde Kerk already is. Time will tell. At any rate, this seems to be all that we may expect from the GKN on the Kuitert case.
In the second place, it seems evident that Kuitert is justified, that he goes Scot-free that he is at liberty to continue to teach all that he has been teaching. It is not clear from the report in RES News Exchange whether it was a literal decision of Synod “that the views of Professor H. M. Kuitert do not deviate from the confessions to such a degree that special measures have to be taken,” or whether this is simply an interpretation of the implications of Synod’s decision. The report in De Wachter, rather strikingly, makes no mention of this. While we have the impression that the Synod actually declared this, it nevertheless makes no real difference whether they did so or not. Kuitert is cleared. The Synod of Sneek had declared that Kuitert deviated from the decision of Amsterdam, and therefore also from the confessions; but Sneek had refrained from any disciplinary measures, recognizing that if they disciplined Kuitert, they would have to discipline many more who agreed with Kuitert even on the floor of Synod. Now the Kuitert case is ended. No disciplinary measures have been taken. It is perfectly plain—whether Synod literally decided this or not—that the Synod does not consider that Kuitert deviated from the confessions sufficiently to warrant any special measures.
In the third place, it is perfectly plain in this light, too, that officially, by Synodical decree and Synodical default, there is “leervrijheid” (doctrinal liberty) in the Netherlands as of 1972—if there was not already before this date. Again, the correspondent in De Wachter rejoices that Synod avoided both extremes, that of “doctrinal liberty” and that of a split in the GKN. But he is simply dreaming. What else is it but doctrinal liberty when a man can teach that which according to a Synod’s own-decision is contrary to the confessions (Lord’s Days 3 and 4 and Confession of Faith, Articles 14 and 15) and can do so without being disciplined? And no synodical testimony to the churches mitigates this in any way. In the first place, the content of the Synodical testimony (compare the two as they appear in Editorial No. 1 and Editorial No. 2) is not different from what the Synod of Sneek already declared in point 4 of the 1970 decision. In the second place, the decision is obviously vague enough and general enough that the pro-Kuitert forces, including Kuitert himself, can live under it. And the ad hoc committee of the Synod also reported, in connection with the so-called consensus statement, “that Professor Kuitert, in regard to the questions that had arisen from his publications, finds himself completely in accord with the confessions of the church.” Hence, we may cast the entire situation in the form of the following propositions, which show conclusively that there is “doctrinal liberty” in the GKN:
2. Prof. Kuitert did not retract one word of his teachings, but asserted that he finds himself completely in accord with the confessions of the church.
3. The Synod of the GKN literally declared that Kuitert’s teachings deviated from the confessions, Sneek-1970.
4. The Synod of the GKN, Dordrecht-1972, while maintaining the decisions of Sneek-1970, nevertheless refused to take any disciplinary measures with respect to Prof. Kuitert’s deviations from the confessions.
5. The Kuitert Case is ended.
6. Prof. Kuitert (and any others like him) are free to propagate in the GKN their views which deviate from the confessions.
If this is not “doctrinal liberty,” then I do not know the meaning of that term.
In the fourth place, now that the Kuitert matter is supposedly finished, the picture of the dilatory dialogue-tactics of the liberals is complete. One must almost admire these liberals for their firm adherence to their game plan and for the large measure of success that they achieved. Here is a clear illustration of the devastating effects of this process of delay-and-dialogue, of two steps forward and one step backward, of upholding heresy and leaving the impression on the churches of still adhering to the confessions. The liberal forces have obviously been completely victorious. Kuitert has admitted no wrong. He has come through smelling clean as a rose. Mind you, there was only one opposing vote! Indeed, the remark reported by the RES News Exchange is correct: “The boat of Professor Kuitert has safely been piloted through the storm of unrest in the Reformed Churches.” It took a few years. But the liberals adhered to their game-plan. And their perseverance has been rewarded.
There is a lesson of history to be learned here. Simply stated, the lesson is that no church can afford to tolerate heretics and heresy—no, not for a moment. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump! Let him who will learn take heed!
Finally, there is a lesson in the history of doctrine to be learned here. In our graduation address on “New Theology and Old” we proposed that the root of the new theology as there described is to be found in the Kuyperian theory of common grace. This claim is substantiated by the report in the RES News Exchange. True, common grace is not literally mentioned. But did you notice point 5 of the “consensus statement” of the commission and the teaching staff of the Free University? This is obviously “common grace.” There is “fragmentary human goodness” in the world outside the church! Note the statement: “Over against the dark power of evil, we encounter also in the world outside the church the phenomenon of ‘humanity’ that often shames us all. (How glorious is the fruit of common grace! It even shames the people of special grace, the church! HCH) We believe that this fragmentary human goodness is in some way related to the saving acts of God. (“latent kingdom” and “anonymous word of promise”—HCH) This however does not deny that the Gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, that is entrusted to the church, is the only way in which the whole world must be saved.”
Common grace and its “good that sinners do” is inseparably related to the new theology. The latter is the outgrowth of the former.
We have often asserted that common grace is still theissue, and that there can be no real reformation here or in the Netherlands unless and until common grace is relinquished, eradicated root and branch from the thinking of Reformed people.
Let those who have eyes to see (also, for example, among the “concerned” in the Christian Reformed Church) learn this lesson! Before it is too late!
And it is, indeed, later than you think!