Children know the strange world of “Alice in Wonderland.” Lewis Carroll created this world in two books, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderlandand Through the Looking-Glass. It is truly a wonderland. It is not that this world is wrong but that it does not make sense. It is a world of “sentence first—verdict afterward”; a world in which the “sun was shining on the sea” in the “middle of the night”; a world in which one believes six impossible things before breakfast.
Premises are absurd in this world; conclusions, solemnly drawn, do not follow. Alice’s reaction to a remark is that she “felt dreadfully puzzled…. The Hatter’s remark seemed to her to have no sort of meaning in it, and yet it was certainly English.” Triumphantly, the Mock Turtle exclaims, “Well, I never heard it before, but it sounds uncommon nonsense.” To the wonderland itself applies the bewildered response of little Alice to a speech, “If any one of them can explain it, I’ll give him sixpence. I don’t believe there’s an atom of meaning in it.”
It is a world of non-reality.
As it unfolds, things become “curiouser and curiouser.”
Such is the world of the Rev. Jelle Tuininga, by all accounts a leader in the Alliance of Reformed Churches (ARC), as regards his presentation of the relation of the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) to the independent churches associating as the ARC.
Behold this wonderland in the Rev. Tuininga’s account of the PRC and the ARC in the December 26, I994 issue of Christian Renewal under the title, “Future Federation and Ecumenical Relations”:
Honesty—we need that too in our ecumenical endeavors. Let me be specific. The Protestant Reformed Churches informed the Alliance that for them to attend as fraternal delegates they would have to “lecture us” on common grace and other matters that divide us. Here I say: let’s be frank and honest with each other. If the Protestant Reformed brothers think that we must adopt their position on common grace and the well-meant offer of the gospel in order to join in federation, then forget about it. That simply isn’t going to happen. 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. Well then, let’s be honest and not pretend that we are going to work together toward federation. The door to that is closed. I consider our Protestant Reformed brothers to be dead wrong on these matters, and if they won’t even consider the possibility that they could be wrong, then talking together is a waste of time. We have better things to do. (This is not to deny that I count them brothers in Christ.)
Jelle in wonderland!
The wonderland of the Rev. Jelle Tuininga is not his doctrinal errors. It is not even his factual errors. The PRC did not, of course, inform the Alliance that they would have to “lecture” the independent churches on common grace or on any other matter. Admittedly, this is a fine idea. The PRC would, I am sure, be willing to give such lectures at a meeting of the ARC. Many churches in the ARC would benefit from good, solid lectures on the issue of particular or common grace based on the Bible and the Reformed creeds. Listening and responding to such lectures might even be as profitable to the ARC as some of the other items on its agenda. But the PRC were not so presumptuous as to stipulate this, or even offer it. Their decision was this:
That synod authorize the Contact Committee to send observers to the ARC … provided that the ARC gives our observers the time to address the real issues between the ARC and the PRC (“Acts of Synod of the PRC 1994,” Art. 59)
Nor did the synod of the PRC authorize the sending to the ARC of “fraternal delegates.” The synod authorized the sending merely of “observers.” Of all of this, synod informed the ARC in clear language. The Rev. Tuininga has it wrong.
But errors do not yet a wonderland make.
The wonderland begins to appear in the definite impression given by Tuininga that the PRC, burning with desire to federate with the independent churches, are aggressively pursuing the churches of the ARC. The ardent suitor, however, insists that the marriage be on PR terms. The PRC insist that the churches of the ARC adopt the position of the PRC on common grace.
Jelle in wonderland!
Reality is that the independent churches have approached the PRC, inviting this denomination to attend their meeting. The independent churches have made plain that a purpose of their association is some kind of “federation,” not only of the independent churches but also of the Reformed denominations whom they invite to their meeting. ,In response to another, likely invitation from the ARC, the PRC have informed the independent churches: if we attend, we request the right to lay before you the doctrinal, ethical, and church political issues that separate us.
A completely reasonable, candid, and desirable, if not expected, reply to the invitation from the ARC, one would think.
The PRC have made no demands upon the independents, indeed are in no position to make any demands; are not, and never have been, working, or pretending to work, toward any “federation” with the independents; and have expressed no particular interest in any “federation.”
The PRC are interested in all developments in the sphere of the Reformed churches. Nothing Reformed is alien to them. They have a special interest in the current conflicts in the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) inasmuch as they see in them the out-workings of the doctrinal and church political decisions and actions of the CRC in connection with the controversy that resulted in the formation of the PRC. But the history of the churches of the ARC is not their affair. Nor have they ever evinced any ardor for union with the churches of the ARC. They have behaved -themselves with utmost decorum. The recent widow has not been pestered by an ardent admirer. She invited a neighbor to stop by.
Jelle’s wonderland takes further wondrous form in the charge that the unreasonable PRC insist on imposing their doctrinal views on the independents. The PRC would “lecture” the churches of the ARC. .After their “lecture,” there will be no opportunity for discussion, much less for debate. Probably, they will not even allow for questions.
Oh, those hardnosed PRC!
Jelle in wonderland!
The invitation by the ARC to, the PRC to attend its meeting involved some desire for “ecumenical relations,” if not for “federation.” The ARC made known that this was the nature of the invitation. This requires talking together. The conversation must be more than a five minute speech by the PR observers extending greetings from their denomination. By their synodical decision, the PRC have responded to the ARC invitation, “Let us discuss the real issues between the PRC and the CR churches that have left the CRC, We will present these issues according to our convictions based on Holy Scripture, the Reformed confessions, and the Church Order of Dordt.”
How do churches proceed with ecumenical relations, much more “federation,” otherwise?
Of course, the PRC do not think that they are wrong. If they did, they would send a delegation to the next synod of the CRC confessing their sins.
But they are perfectly willing to discuss and debate, hearing and considering the reply to their presentation, as well as the arguments in favor of common grace by such champions as the Rev. Jelle Tuininga.
In response to an invitation that carries with it implications for ecumenical relations and even “federation,” the PRC have said, in perfect honesty, “Let us discuss the issues.” The churches of the ARC declined to permit this to happen. No invitation was forthcoming to the PRC from the ARC to its meeting in 1994. The reason, evidently, was that the ARC was unwilling to have the PRC open up the real issues in a discussion. And the Rev. Jelle Tuininga announces to the readership of Christian Renewal, “they (the PRC) won’t even consider the possibility that they could be wrong.” Because of the intransigence of the PRC, “talking together is a waste of time.”
What must a sensible man or woman make of this?
One has the sense of utter bewilderment.
This is a strange and different world.
It is not that statements are wrong, but that the whole presentation is non-reality. With the Mock Turtle of Alice’s wonderland, one says, “Well, I never heard it before, but it sounds uncommon nonsense.”
(installment two to follow)