SEARCH THE ARCHIVE

? SEARCH TIPS
Exact phrase, enclose in quotes:
“keyword phrase here”
Multiple words, separate with commas:
keyword, keyword

The above is an apt idiomatic Dutch expression which describes what has been done with the so-called Dekker Case in the Christian Reformed Church. The expression means “shuttled to the long track” and is used to convey the idea of maneuvering to delay the treatment of an issue or a troublesome problem in order to postpone or avoid a showdown. 

The issue is the rank Arminianism which came to expression in Prof. Harold Dekker’s writings in 1962, in which he defended the notion of a redemptive love of God for all men and, at the same time, the heresy of a death of Christ for all men. Both of these doctrines are key elements of the Arminian position. In 1963 an attempt to counteract these errors of Prof. Dekker suffered shipwreck on legal grounds. In 1964 an overture resulted in the appointment of a study committee. This study committee took two full years to “study” these simple issues. The fruit of this study was a 70- page report to the 1966 Synod,—a report which, though very weak and inconsistent, principally because it attempts to maintain the First Point of 1924, nevertheless came to the conclusion that Prof. Dekker’s doctrinal position was wrong. 

And now the 1966 Synod of the Christian Reformed Church has once more avoided a showdown on this matter by recommitting the report to the Study Committee for further reflection and improvement. This I learned from personal correspondence and from published reports. Although the official decision is not yet available in full, there is a rather detailed report of this matter in “R.E.S. News Exchange,” Vol. III, No. 6, p. 216. This report was furnished by Prof. Martin Woudstra (of Calvin Seminary). I quote it in full:

The 1966 Synod of the C.R.C. considered a report concerning certain writings of Professor Harold Dekker of Calvin Theological Seminary. (see R.E.S. N.E., May 1966) The advisory committee of Synod reported that it deemed the report to express “substantially the Reformed tradition in the areas discussed.” It also judged that the grounds of the recommendations fail to reflect adequately the Biblical and confessional support found in the report. It furthermore pointed out that there are related problems which arise out of this context which need theological clarification and precise statement. Among these were mentioned: the relationship and distinction between the love of God and the grace of God; the relationship between election and the sincere offer of salvation; the specific role which each person of the Trinity has in the atonement and its effectuation in the lives of men; the universal implications of the atonement. 

The advisory committee made a serious attempt to reformulate adequately some of the Study Committee’s propositions and to support them with adequate Scriptural and confessional grounds, but this proved to be impossible in view of limited time and research facilities available. 

The Synod therefore recommitted the report to the Study Committee for further reflection and improvement, taking into account the above observations, and asked the committee to report in 1967.

Any kind of decision in this crucial matter, therefore, has simply been postponed until 1967. Moreover, there is no guarantee whatsoever that there will be a satisfactory decision at that time; in fact, the possibility is very real that there will either be further reasons for postponement or an indefinite postponement (as theReformed Journal has proposed), or even a turning of the tide in favor of Professor Dekker’s position. For: 1) lf the Study Committee could not produce a satisfactory report in two years, what reason is there to believe that they can do so in one more year? 2) Additional problems have been assigned to this committee, some of them, as, for instance, the one concerning election and the sincere (why not well meant?) offer of the gospel, knotty problems. It is indeed likely that when this committee reports on these additional problems, thereby lengthening,—and further confusing,—its already long report, there will be more problems and further disagreement, with the attendant necessity of postponing a decision for another year. 3) There is a very vocal segment of the Christian Reformed Church that has already expressed itself as in favor of the propositions of Dekker and as opposed to any binding decision along the lines of the committee’s recommendations. In other words, there is radical disagreement as to the recommendations themselves. If this be true,—and it is a disagreement that reaches into the seminary faculty itself,—then no amount of clarification and reformulation will avoid the necessity of a showdown decision. Such a showdown decision, if its consequences are accepted, will require either cleavage or a complete retraction on the part of Dekker and those who agree with him. Neither of the two can I envision in the Christian Reformed Church. The alternative is the course followed up to the present time: postponement, or “op de lange baan schuiven.” 

Apart from the above, however, how plain it is that the Christian Reformed Church has been impotent to follow any course but that of postponement. 

Consider the situation. 

Here is the case of a seminary professor,—and others with him,—who has openly violated the Formula of Subscription. Moreover, he has militated publicly against two cardinal doctrines of the Reformed faith. The issues involved were settled clearly and with finality three hundred fifty years ago at the Synod of Dordrecht. And now a Reformed denomination takes years to debate and decide the issues at stake, Meanwhile Prof. Dekker, and others, are free to instruct future ministers of the Christian Reformed Church in these false doctrines; and ministers and professors are free to propagate these errors in theological journals. 

The latter, of course, is always the danger of postponement. It allows time for false doctrine to be propagated in the churches. The final result is that the false doctrine is adopted into the official stand of the church, and the entire denomination officially departs from the truth.

And what, we may ask, is the reason for this impotence? How can it happen that a denomination which officially stands on the basis of the Canons of Dordrecht can for already four years not prevent the error of general atonement and the error of the universal, redemptive love of God from being taught?

The answer lies in 1924.

On the one hand, Prof. Dekker, Dr. Daane, and others, have done nothing but carry the position of the First Point of 1924 to its logical consequences. 

On the other hand, the Study Committee (and others in the Christian Reformed Church) do not want to go so far. Meanwhile, they wish to hold on to the First Point and to its traditional explanation. 

This places them in the impossible position of agreeing in essence with the position of Prof. Dekker and yet attempting to condemn his position as contrary to Scripture and the Confessions, and to do this without at the same time condemning the First Point. That this is true is evident from the Study Committee’s long report, which I hope to criticize in detail later. But it is evident that the entire report was written with one eye on the First Point: by all means, the committee had to avoid agreeing with the Rev. Herman Hoeksema’s criticism of the First Point of 1924. At the same time, however, the committee agreed on two fundamental elements with Dr. Daane, namely: 1) That the nature of the atonement is not limited; and, 2) That grace is not an attribute of God. 

And how, then, can they ever condemn Prof. Dekker’s doctrinal position in good conscience and in a satisfactory manner? No amount of postponement will enable the Study Committee to do the impossible! 

And what is the price that must be paid? 

It is a high one: the loss of the Reformed truth of the sovereign, particular, elective love of God; and the loss of the Reformed truth of particular and definite atonement. 

I write this not in glee, but in sadness. 

There is but one way out for the Christian Reformed Church. That is this: renounce the First Point of 1924, and return to the unadulterated Reformed truth. 

Let those who still love that truth raise their voices in protest against its denial. But let them not emasculate their protests by holding to the First Point at the same time. And if their protests go unheeded, or if it already has become hopeless to protest in this fashion, let them take their stand with us. For by the grace of God we hold to the Reformed position without compromise.