My reference in the above title is not to the fact that Dr. Boer is wrong in his denial of reprobation. He is that, indeed. But this is not now my point.
Nor is my reference to the fact that Boer himself, though he insists that the issue in his gravamen is an exegetical one, does not always stick to that one issue. As I have already pointed out, even in his gravamen, Dr. Boer does not stick entirely to this issue, partly because he cannot refrain from venting his gall against the Reformed truth. But he also allows himself to be deterred by the writings of his opponents and thus to be tempted into discussing subjects apart from that central issue of exegesis.
And when he does so, he only succeeds in making plain to any discerning reader how wrong his position on reprobation is.
In the same article in “Voices” to which I have already referred Dr. Boer attempts to answer some of the non-exegetical arguments of the Rev. L. Mulder. In so doing, Boer again makes reference to the Heidelberg Catechism’s alleged failure to make reference to the doctrine of reprobation. Writes he:
It may be demurred that holding to election without reprobation is hardly Reformed. I would counsel such thought to be careful indeed. One can preach the whole round of Reformed doctrine according to the fifty-two Lord’s Days of the Heidelberg Catechism without a single reference to reprobation, and yet be wholly faithful to that most important and influential creed of the CRC. There is not the slightest reference either in the answer to Question 54, “That the Son of God . . . gathers . . . a Church chosen to everlasting life . . .”, or in the rest of the Catechism to reprobation. In contemporary fact, that is virtually the only way that the doctrine of election .is being preached and taught in the CRC. Rev. Mulder’s ominous pronouncement, “In case the one supporting pillar of reprobation is knocked down the other pillar (election) goes with it,” has hardly been validated by history. I fully believe that the doctrine of election is being muted in the CRC, but this I conceive to be caused by the theological and religious encumbrance with which it is burdened through its intimate association with reprobation.
At this time I am not so interested in the claim Boer makes in the latter part of the above paragraph. There is, of course, a different explanation of the fact that the doctrine of election is being muted in the CRC. That explanation is that in 1924 the CRC principally denied the doctrine of reprobation in its First Point of Common Grace. Because it principally denied reprobation, it also principally denied sovereign election. And ever since 1924 the doctrine of election has been increasingly muted. This explanation is historically correct.
But I am especially interested in Boer’s claim that it is possible faithfully to preach “the whole round of Reformed doctrine according to the fifty-two Lord’s Days of the Heidelberg Catechism without a single reference to reprobation, and yet be wholly faithful to that most important and influential creed of the CRC.”
In this claim Dr. Boer is altogether wrong. He bases his claim, of course, on the fact that there is no literal mention nor any definition or explanation of reprobation in the Heidelberg Catechism. The fact is true. The inference drawn from that fact is false. And it is fatal: for it is exactly one of the purposes of Catechism preaching to insure that the whole body of Reformed doctrine be preached.
Why is Boer’s inference false?
It is false, in the first place, because it is contrary to the Formula of Subscription. The Formula of Subscription conceives of our creeds as one and as belonging together. They are—and we commonly refer to them by this terminology—the Three Form of Unity. Besides, according to the Formula of Subscription, the Canons are an “explanation of some points of the aforesaid doctrine, made by the National Synod of Dordrecht, 1618-’19.” The “aforesaid doctrine” in this statement refers to the doctrine contained in the Confession and the Catechism. Still more, ministers who sign the Formula of Subscription vow that they “reject” and that they are “disposed to refute and contradict” not merely all errors which militate against the doctrine of the Catechism and Confession, but “particularly those which were condemned by the above mentioned synod.” (italics added) In that light, I would like to know how in the world it is possible faithfully to preach the Heidelberg Catechism without a single reference to reprobation. Dr. Boer creates a false disjunction among our Reformed creeds. And I make bold to say that anyone who preaches on Question and Answer 54 of the Catechism without reference to sovereign reprobation is NOT faithfully preaching the Catechism, but deliberately muting the truth. I know, it is extremely difficult to deal ecclesiastically with a minister for what he doesn’t say; but remember that this failure to say certain things is often deliberate and is frequently the forerunner of explicit heresy. We learned something of this by experience in the troubles our churches endured prior to 1953.
In the second place, Boer’s inference is false in the light of Ursinus’s own explanation of the Heidelberg Catechism, Qu. 54. I shall not repeat what I wrote earlier about this subject. Let me remind the reader that Ursinus deals at length with the subject of reprobation in his commentary on Question and Answer 54. And what, pray tell, could be more Heidelbergian than the commentary by the chief author of the Catechism? And if Ursinus found it necessary arid proper to refer to reprobation extensively in connection with Question and Answer 54, who is Harry Boer to say that one can be “wholly faithful” to the Catechism and yet not make a single reference to—let alone explanation of—reprobation?
In the third place, Dr. Boer’s inference is false in the light of the Catechism itself. After all, when Ursinus (and others) speaks of reprobation in connection with Question and Answer 54, he does not pull this out of thin air. He does not say to himself, as it were, “Here I refer to election, and so I’d better speak of reprobation, too.” No, there is a reason for this in the 54th Answer. Of course you cannot see this reason when you quote the 54th Answer as Boer quotes it above, with those ellipses. Then it appears indeed as though there is no reference to reprobation. And I would imagine that Harry Boer must in his own mind have read the answer just as he printed it above when he preached on it without reference to reprobation. But read the 54th Answer in full: “That the Son of God from the beginning to the end of the world, gathers, defends, and preserves to himself by his Spirit and word, out of the whole human race, a church chosen to everlasting life, agreeing in true faith; and that I am and for ever shall remain, a living member thereof.” Notice that phrase: “out of the whole human race.” There is distinction made. Some are gathered, defended, and preserved out of the whole human race. Some are not gathered, defended, and preserved. Why are some gathered? They constitute “a church chosen to everlasting life.” Why are some not gathered? The answer is plain: they are not chosen. Call them in typically infralapsarian language the “not chosen” or the “non-elect.” But there you have the implication of the doctrine of reprobation. And there you have the reason why Ursinus and other commentators do not fail to speak of reprobation in this context. And there you have the reason why a Reformed man who faithfully preaches the Heidelberg Catechism will surely not by pass the doctrine of reprobation.
Dr. Boer is wrong, dead wrong.
But I fear nevertheless that he is a faithful son of the Christian Reformed Church. What his church adopted implicitly in 1924 Boer is now pleading that it adopt explicitly fifty-five years later: the denial of sovereign reprobation!