In Prof. H. Hanko’s article “Synod’s Authority and the Believer’s Conscience” he writes, “I agree with the basic thrust of the letter which De Jonge criticizes.” I would summarize his position as follows. If a child of God sees leaders in his Church take the denomination down roads of apostasy, he must do all he can to turn the Church back to the truth. However, he is limited to appeal, and any other action leads to dissension, anarchy, rebellion, and schism. Further, if he would attempt reformation of his Church, he must first leave his Church. As an example Luther is mentioned.
I would first note that we are here dealing with a Church whose leaders are attempting to corrupt the Church. This is the position Luther was in. However, this is the only similarity, for Luther used many other means to attempt reformation in the Church. He never left the Church, but was cast out. To show his contempt for his censure by apostatizing leaders, he publicly burned his excommunication papers. He said he would never be bound by the decisions of councils, unless they were proved by the Word of God.
Thus it has been with many reformers. They testified against apostatizing leaders until they were cast out. This was the case with Huss, De Cock, and also Rev. H. Hoeksema. The apostatizing leaders are rebellious, not those who testify against them. If God’s servants are faithful to him, may we call them rebellious?
When the apostles Peter and John .were confronted with apostatizing leaders, they said, “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.” (Acts 4:19)
In conclusion shouldn’t we say to Rev. De Jonge, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; . . . For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine.” (II Timothy 4:2, 3)
I take it that Mr. Elzinga’s objections to the position I took in the article to which he refers are objections based exclusively on historical precedents. In a way this is too bad because the issue is really one which centers in the meaning of Article 31 of the Church Order. Article 31 describes the method of expressing disagreement with ecclesiastical decisions with which one disagrees and which one maintains are contrary to the Word of God and the Church Order. In the whole of the Church Order this is the only method of expressing such disagreement. If the ecclesiastical assemblies decide against one who so protests, these decisions must be considered settled and binding.
Mr. Elzinga speaks, as I did, of circumstances in the Church which lead ecclesiastical assemblies to decide things contrary to the Word of God. What must one then do who is faithful? It is my position that his only option, if all appeal has failed and he cannot submit, is to leave the Church in which he has his membership to seek the fellowship of the saints elsewhere. This is not only the clear implication of Article 31 and the whole Church Order; this lies in the very nature of the Church Federation. One’s membership in the Church Federation is of his own choosing. By joining himself to such a federation of Churches, he willingly places himself under the Church Order, the Confessions and the decisions of the ecclesiastical assemblies. If he becomes, in the course of time, convinced that this Church Federation no longer manifests the unity of the body of Christ, he has the choice of leaving. But he may not, in good conscience, agitate against ecclesiastical assemblies when he has, by joining the federation, submitted himself to their decisions.
Nor can I imagine why he would want to do this. It seems to me that should an issue which separates an individual and the assemblies be of such magnitude that the individual becomes convinced that that Church departs radically from the Word of God, he will want to say to these assemblies: “Brethren, we can no longer agree. We must part ways. You and I disagree on fundamental questions of the Word of God. I am convinced of the justice of my way. You are, apparently, convinced of the right of your’s The time has come for us to part.” This is, by the way, precisely the position which Van Dellen and Monsma take in their Commentary on the Church Order. Cf. e.g., p. 146.
But let us turn to the historical figures which Mr. Elzinga refers to in support of his contention.
He refers first of all to Martin Luther. This is hardly an adequate example. Nor did I refer to Luther in this connection. I referred to Luther, not as an example of the proper way to protests evils in the Church, but by way of illustrating the difficulty of coming to a decision whether to submit to the Church or to leave. The fact is that Luther lived within the hierarchical Roman Catholic Church. No door was open to him to appeal any decisions whatsoever. The principle enunciated by Article 31 is a Reformation principle. It was born in the fire of the Reformation. It was not a principle of the Romish Church. Luther had no alternative but to protest evils in the Church with which he disagreed in the manner he did. He was seeking the reform of the Church—a reform of abuses which had crept in through the general spiritual and moral decay of the Romish institute since the days of Augustine. He worked in a context of reform as well. For many years, individuals, councils and organized groups fought long and hard for reform. For the most part their efforts were successfully resisted by the entrenched papacy. Rome recognized Augustine and had canonized him. Luther appealed directly back to Augustine and voiced his agreement with that great Church father.
The same was true of Huss. Huss was born in 1396, 150 years before the Lutheran Reformation began. There was no avenue of appeal open to him. He went to Constance under a safe-conduct granted him of the king and with the promise that he would be given opportunity to state his case. This was denied him. He was tried, condemned without being given opportunity to say one word and burned at the stake.
But with De Cock it was different. His Secession dates from 183 But Mr. Elzinga is mistaken in his analysis of De Cock’s actions. The chief issues facing De Cock were confessional unfaithfulness and liberalism in the State Church. This unfaithfulness and liberalism had not come about through ecclesiastical decision. It was the direct fruit of dead orthodoxy and rationalism which swept Europe and the Reformed Churches. Against these De Cock protested in his preaching and writing. But he did not agitate against ecclesiastical decisions. In fact, at one time disciplinary proceedings were started against him, but were not sustained because De Cock was in no violation of ecclesiastical decisions. At another time he was suspended from office for two years to which suspension he submitted. But when finally the breach came, it was brought about not by De Cock being expelled by the Church, but by an Act of Secession drawn up by De Cock and his Consistory on October 13, 1834. By this Act he separated himself from a Church which had begun to walk the road of apostasy. For details, cf. “The Christian Reformed Tradition”, by D.H. Kromminga, pp. 79-93.
The same was true of Rev. H. Hoeksema. There are several points which illustrate this. For one thing, the Synod of 1924 which drew up the Three Points of 1924 specifically rejected a motion to begin disciplinary action against Rev. Hoeksema even though it had such a motion before it. In the light of Rev. Hoeksema’s opposition to the Three Points and in the context of Synod’s own call for continuing discussion of the whole subject, this could only be interpreted as meaning that there was room in the Church for the position which Rev. Hoeksema took.
When Classis Grand Rapids East nevertheless went ahead and deposed him and his Consistory, Rev. Hoeksema was well aware of the fact that to continue to preach would mean a separation between him and his Church. Why he chose to continue to preach is discussed in “The History of the Protestant Reformed Churches.” That he was aware of the fact that this meant separation, even though the decisions of Classis were as wrong as they could be, is evident from the new name given the congregation: “Protesting Christian Reformed Church”. It is true that a protest was still sent to Synod which men every two years. But little hope was held that it would be heard. And, indeed, it was rejected on the grounds that the protestants had left the denomination.
Finally, there is given the example of Peter and John. But this too is hardly analogous. The Sanhedrin formed the political and ecclesiastical tribunal in Israel because it belonged to the dispensation of shadows. In matters political its authority was sharply curtailed by Rome. But obviously, Peter and John could not recognize the authority of the Sanhedrin in matters of preaching the gospel. Nor was their statement of obedience to God rather than man an act of defiance against ecclesiastical decisions within a federation of Churches. Such a situation simply did not exist.
In conclusion then, the proper way of protest is the way outlined by Article 31 of the Church Order. There is no other.