A year ago I commented in these columns about a communication to the Christian Reformed Synod by Dr. Harry Boer. He, himself called this communication a request that Synod furnish “the express testimony of Sacred Scripture” which Canons I, 15 asserts is available to establish the doctrine of reprobation. Not only did Dr. Boer address this communication to the Synod, but he also published it in the Reformed Journal. In an editorial on this subject I pointed out that this was actually a gravamen in disguise.
The Synod of 1975 received that communication as being properly before the Synod, and treated it in part. Synod recognized this as a communication which purported to be neither an appeal nor a gravamen. Nevertheless the Synod declared “that Dr. Boer has raised a legitimate concern to which the church should express herself.” This was the only substantive decision which the 1975 Synod of the Christian Reformed Church was able to reach on this matter. Obviously the matter was not finished yet. And after the rejection of various other recommendations, the Synod decided to appoint a committee to advise the Synod of 1976 on two items: “a. The status of communications like that of Dr. Harry Boer which purport to be neither appeals nor gravamina. b. The proper method for Synod to deal with them.” Thereupon the Synod of 1975 also decided to postpone a further answer to Dr. Boer until this committee would report.
The report of this committee is now available (Report 45, 1976 Agenda For Synod, pp. 479-483) The committee (Rev. Clarence Boomsma, Rev. William P. Brink, and Dr. John Kromminga) presents the following recommendations:
“1. That Synod declare that any communication, though it may purport to be neither an appeal nor a gravamen, which does in fact express doubt about any expression or teaching of the confessions of the church should be dealt with as a gravamen.
“2. That Synod declare that the communication of Dr. Harry Boer to Synod of 1975 (No. 4) is essentially a gravamen and must be received by Synod as such.
“3. That Synod declare that the request of Dr. Boer be open for public discussion and study in the churches.
“4. That the Rev. C. Boomsma be given the privilege of the floor when this report is under consideration by Synod.”
In substance, therefore, the committee has reached the same conclusion which I reached last year, namely, that this “request” of Dr. Boer is a gravamen, that is, an objection raised against an article of our Confessions. And although the entire report of the committee also shows that they recognize very plainly that this is a disguised gravamen, as I pointed out, the committee nevertheless does not include this in their recommended description of the status of Dr. Boer’s communication. If they had advised the Synod to declare that Dr. Boer’s communication was “a gravamen in disguise,” they could not have recommended that Dr. Boer’s request also must be received by Synod as a gravamen. They would have been compelled to advise Synod that Dr. Boer’s request was not legally before the 1975 Synod and that it could not properly be treated either in 1975 or 1976. They would have been compelled to declare, further, that Dr. Boer had violated the provisions of the Formula of Subscription, both by addressing his communication to Synod, instead of to his Consistory, and by making known publicly his objections against the Canons, instead of keeping silence and making them known only to his Consistory. And they would have been compelled to advise Synod to declare that Dr. Boer is de facto suspended from office.
Now, however, the 1976 Synod of the Christian Reformed Church is confronted by a strange situation. Dr. Boer insists that his communication is not a gravamen. Dr. Boer’s consistory and Classis Chicago South also insist that it is not a gravamen. But the committee says, “Yes, but it is a gravamen and must be treated as such.” If the Synod of 1976 accepts this recommendation, it will mean, in the first place, that any office bearer can flagrantly violate the provisions of the Formula of Subscription, publicly agitate against the Confessions, escape any discipline, and then succeed in getting his case before the Synod. In the second place, it will mean that an office bearer can express objections against the Confessions without offering Biblical proof—something which is incumbent upon anyone who presents a gravamen, as the committee also recognizes in its report—and then transfer the burden of proof to the churches and the Synod. Moreover, since the report of the committee, in harmony with the mandate which they received, concerns not only the communication of Dr. Harry Boer but also “communications like that of Dr. Harry Boer which purport to be neither appeals nor gravamina,” this will mean that from now on there is open season in the Christian Reformed Church on any article of the Confessions about which anyone chooses to bring a communication “which is neither a gravamen nor an appeal.”
Still more: the committee recommends that this request of Dr. Boer be open for public discussion and study in the churches. This will certainly mean that there will be open season in the Christian Reformed churches on the doctrine of reprobation. Everyone will be free to speak and to write anything he chooses concerning this item of our Canons, and that, too, without danger of becoming subject to discipline. The committee offers no grounds for this recommendation, even as they fail to offer grounds for any of their recommendations. It is plain to see, however, that this would be a matter of simple fairness. After all, Dr. Boer could publicly express objections to the Creeds without penalty and without filing a gravamen; it is fair that everyone be accorded the same privilege and be free to express himself without fear of discipline.
I do not know, of course, whether the 1976 Synod of the Christian Reformed Church will accept these recommendations of Report 45. If they do, the following could be the results:
1. The churches will avoid a heresy trial, and one more step will be taken toward becoming a modalities church. This is undoubtedly the desire of some.
2. The Formula of Subscription will not be worth the paper it is written on. The Christian Reformed Church could better discard the Formula of Subscription altogether. This would at least be honest.
3. The moment of truth of which I wrote in my editorial a year ago could be reached, and it could be a public moment of truth. The Christian Reformed denomination would then be squarely confronted by the question whether it wants to keep or to discard the Reformed doctrine of reprobation. The whole procedure could very well result in the official death of the doctrine of reprobation in the Christian Reformed churches. A ready-made formula for this is already available from the Gereformeerde Kerken of the Netherlands, who have declared that the doctrine of reprobation as expressed in Canons I, 6 and canons I, 15 is not in accord with the Scriptural givens.
Time wiil tell. But do not forget that the 1975 Synod has already declared “that Dr. Boer has raised a legitimate concern to which the church should address herself.” And do not forget that it is this declaration of the 1975 Synod which has already served as the wedge for lifting the suspension of Dr. Boer in Classis Chicago South.