“Curiouser and curiouser!”
This was Alice’s response to developments in Lewis Carroll’s topsy-turvy world, Alice’s wonderland.
This, likewise, is our response to Rev. Jelle Tuininga’s fantastic presentation of relations between his Alliance of Reformed Churches (ARC) and the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC).
The more this world unfolds in Rev. Tuininga’s article, “Future Federation and Ecumenical Relations,” in the December 26, 1994 issue ofChristian Renewal, the “curiouser” does it become.
Upside Down Church History
The Rev. Tuininga proceeds to turn church history upside down. With some vehemence, and no little sense of injury, he declares:
I could live in a church where there was freedom to disagree about common grace, but if I have to deny common grace in order to be a member of the same church, then the game is over. And that is even more the case with the well-meant offer of the gospel. I, and I’m sure the -majority of independent churches, simply are not going to do that.
In the wonderland, a church is forming. The PRC are involved. They demand that the Rev. Tuininga adopt their doctrines of particular grace in the preaching, the total depravity of the unregenerated sinner, and the work of the Spirit producing good works only in the elect believer. Since Rev. Tuininga is an ardent defender of the doctrine of common grace, the PRC are excluding him from the church that is forming. They say to him: “(You) have to deny common grace in order to be a member of the same church.”
Jelle in a church-historical wonderland!
Let us cut for a merciful moment to reality—reality as it is etched in history, as it stands before the Reformed churches in North America, and as it will be (and already is being) judged by the reigning Christ.
We ignore here the fact that the PRC are in no way involved with the ARC in the forming of a new church, and are, therefore, in no position to make demands upon Rev. Tuininga or anyone else in the ARC. This was pointed out in the previous editorial.
In 1924, the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) synodically adopted three points of doctrine affirming that Christ is gracious in the gospel to everyone who hears, that by a work of the Holy Spirit within him the unregenerated sinner is only partially depraved, and that reprobate unbelievers are able by the grace of God to perform good works. This was, and is, her doctrine of “common grace.” The CRC declared that this doctrine is confessional. She made it a confessional issue with then CR ministers Herman Hoeksema, George Ophoff, and Henry Danhof and with their consistories, demanding that they subscribe and submit. The CRC made this doctrine binding. Because Hoeksema and the others could not and would not accept this doctrine of common grace, the CRC deposed them from office and set them outside the church.
Pleading for his ecclesiastical life and, as he was convinced, for the life of the CRC as a truly Reformed body, Hoeksema besought the CRC that no binding decision be taken, but that there be freedom of teaching, discussion, and study. To no avail. Those who then were forced to begin the PRC were put out, stripped of office, membership in the church, property, and, not insignificantly, name.
Now for Rev. Tuininga to suggest, with some indignation, that it is the PRC who are to be criticized for demanding that the independent CR churches deny common grace, under penalty of being excluded from some (imaginary) church, is not so much wrong as it is fantastic. It is a feature of a world that rivals Alice’s wonderland.
Add to this that Rev. Jelle Tuininga, as a minister in the CRC, was for more than 25 years contentedly responsible for all the decisions and actions of his church expelling those who then formed the PRC. Indeed, there is no reason to think that he does not remain responsible to this day. That this man can become indignant, apparently sincerely, with the PRC for binding a denial of common grace upon him defies comprehension.
Jelle in wonderland.
The Issue of Grace Remains
Playing in the background of Rev. Tuininga’s indignation with the PRC (if there is any sense in his wonderland at all) is the notion that the departure of the independents from the CRC should be reason enough for the PRC forthwith to abandon their long-held convictions concerning the one, sovereign, particular grace of God in Christ Jesus and to cast in their lot with the independent CR churches.
Truly, Jelle is deeply in his wonderland.
Why, pray tell?
Why should the leaving of the CRC by certain ministers and churches over issues of women in office, evolution, and even the fallibility of Scripture affect the PRC whatsoever? Our controversy with the CRC, forced on us by the CRC, has never been, and is not now, women in office, evolution, or even the fallibility of Scripture, although we are convinced, and have demonstrated, that every one of these recent errors in the CRC arises, at least in part, from the doctrine of common grace adopted by the CRC in 1924.
Louis Berkhof and the others who created and made binding the three points of common grace were staunch advocates of infallibility and creation, and, I would imagine, stalwart opponents of women in office. They were those who would today be considered the “conservatives” in the CRC, not those who are being called “liberals.”
The controversy between the PRC and the CRC has always been, and is today, the sovereign particularity, or the particular sovereignty, of the grace of God in Jesus Christ the Lord in the gospel. Our controversy concerns the heart of the Canons of Dordt and, therefore, the heart of the Reformation, the heart of Augustinianism, and the heart of the gospel of salvation by grace alone.
What does objection to women in office have to do with this fundamental issue? Pelagian Rome opposes women in office. Multitudes of free will fundamentalists restrict office to males, champion creation, and defend inerrancy.
In comparison with the issue of particular grace versus the common grace of the three points adopted by the CRC in 1924, the issue of women in office is relatively unimportant. I write foolishly for a moment (working in the atmosphere of a wonderland has this effect). If I were marooned for a Sabbath in a place where there is no PR congregation, say, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, and had to choose to worship in a church where the male minister proclaims that God in the gospel loves, is gracious to, and sincerely, but ineffectually, desires to save every human without exception (that is, the theology of the “well-meant offer”) or in a church where a female minister expounds that God in the gospel loves, is gracious to, sincerely desires to save, and effectually does save the elect in Christ alone (that is, the gospel of sovereign grace), I would be found in the church with the female (my eyes being tightly closed).
The independents in the ARC are CR churches that dislike women in office, evolution (although I like to hear from them once how they explain the “day” of Genesis l), errors in the Bible, and synods. But they maintain, strongly, the doctrine of common grace adopted by the CRC in 1924. Rev. Tuininga frankly tells the entire Reformed world in North America, in his article in Christian Renewal, that he embraces common grace and, especially, the well-meant offer; that he judges the PRC to be “dead wrong” in their confession of particular grace; and that he is speaking for the majority of the independent churches.
To suppose that the PRC should join with these independent CR churches, no questions asked and no issues addressed, is nonsense. It is the nonsense of Jelle’s wonderland.
We have a standing controversy with our mother, the CRC.
It is church political: major assemblies exercised the keys of the kingdom that Christ gave to the local, autonomous church, by disciplining officebearers and others.
It is ethical: the CRC cast out of the church men and women, acknowledged by her to be Reformed in the fundamentals, because these men and women confessed the truth of sovereign grace.
It is practical: the teaching that the elect church and the reprobate world share the grace of God works the worldliness of that institute and its members where this teaching prevails.
It is above all doctrinal: Common grace, especially the “well-meant offer,” is the denial of irresistible grace.
The Rev. Jelle Tuininga holds with the CRC in this controversy. He holds with the CRC, and against the PRC, openly and vehemently: “I consider our Protestant Reformed brothers to be dead wrong on these matters.” This is not surprising in the least. He is a Christian Reformed theologian who happens to be outside the CRC.
But it should be obvious to him that the PRC, then, have a controversy with him and his likeminded alliance, and that he has a controversy with the PRC. This is the same controversy that the PRC have with the CRC, and the CRC with the PRC. Rev. Tuininga must not entertain the odd notion that the mere fact of his being outside the CRC has changed anything as regards this controversy. He certainly must not become indignant when the PRC respond to his invitation to participate in his alliance by asking for time to discuss the “real issues” between us.
The controversy between the PRC and Rev. Tuininga does not mean that there can be no contact, just as the controversy between the PRC and the CRC does not mean this. We can talk The PRC have always been willing to talk. But we must discuss the issues. If the ARC, like the CRC, refuses to do this, responsibility for the separation lies with them. And the PRC are perfectly ready to go on by themselves alone, manifesting themselves as true churches by the marks laid down in Article 29 of the Belgic Confession, maintaining the gospel of free sovereign, unconditional, particular grace that has ever been the hallmark of the Reformed church in the world, and developing the truth in various, important: ways.
If only God will go with us—yes, if only God in mercy will go with us, also in our generations.
One other feature of Jelle’s wonderland deserves notice. It is the mention of “federation” and “ecumenical relations” and the implied rebuke of the PRC for sin against these expressions of the unity of the church of Christ. Rev. Tuininga speaks of the “Protestant Reformed brothers . . . join(ing) in federation” and of “work(ing) together toward federation.” The heading of the article in which he sets forth his wonderland description of the relations between the PRC and the ARC is “Future Federation and Ecumenical Relations.”
The context of Rev. Tuininga’s reference to “federation” is the present refusal of the congregations of the ARC to band together synodically, the virtual decision of the ARC that any future association will repudiate the authority of the major assemblies as expressed by the phrase “settled and binding” in Article 31 of the Reformed Church Order of Dordt, and Rev. Tuininga’s own dismissal, in this very article, of any biblical basis for classes and synods. Tuininga writes: “one looks in vain in the Scriptures for what we know as classes and synods. It simply isn’t there…. It’s a far fetched conclusion.”
Here things become serious in the wonderland of Jelle Tuininga. Things become deadly serious. For words are given a new and different meaning. Crucially important words are given a new and different meaning. Specifically, the words “federate” and “ecumenical relations” are given a new and different meaning.
This is where things become serious in Alice’s wonderland. All of a sudden, the smile fades from the reader’s face.
“I don’t know what you mean by glory,”‘ Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!'”
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,”‘ Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty ‘said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
In a wonderland, words mean anything that the master of wonderland wants them to mean.
In the solid, biblical, creedal, and church political world of the Reformed faith, words mean what the standards define them to mean.
In the real world of the Reformed faith, “federation” means congregations uniting in the bond of a synod whose decisions are “settled and binding, unless it be proved to conflict with the Word of God or with the articles of the church order.” “Ecumenical relations” means relations between ecclesiastical bodies.
In the wonderland of Rev. Tuininga, “federation” comes to mean an association of independent churches apart from the Reformed synod. “Ecumenical relations” now is connection with the ARC.
By remaining aloof from the ARC, the PRC are guilty of disregarding “federation” and “ecumenical relations.” They are sinning against the unity and catholicity of the church of Christ. So it is suggested in wonderland.
“Ecumenical relations,” with what? The ARC? The ARC is not an ecclesiastical body according to Article 29 of the Church Order of Dordt: “Four kinds of ecclesiastical assemblies shall be maintained: the consistory, the classis, the particular synod, and the general synod.”
“Federation,” how? By associating with independent congregations that neglect or repudiate major assemblies with the authority of “settled and binding” decisions? This is condemned as independency by Articles 29, 30, and 31 of the Church Order of Dordt, and independency is the opposite and enemy of Reformed federation.
Independency chides a Reformed denomination for lack of interest in “federation.”
Only in a wonderland.