As we all know, Rev. Petter’s section heading for his contributions in the “Concordia” is “Among Our Treasures”. Under this heading the “Concordia” for October 12 (Number 16) contains two articles from the pen of Rev. Petter. The second half of the first of these—it bears the title “Temptation”— reads as follows:
“Should anyone have questions or desire a Biblical discussion on the conditions in the Bible, that could, of course, be instructive and edifying, no doubt. In the meantime, I will reassert that I maintain everything that I have written about conditions. And I also maintain that the earlier writings of Rev. Hoeksema, in which he taught conditions, faith as a condition, conversion as a condition, repentance as a condition’ to receive forgiveness, and conditions in the Confessions, condemn his present position and attitude against me. Without gloating I am very thankful that the Lord has deposited these materials in his earlier writings, whereby his present attack is so effectively put to shame. A so-called apology does not in the least affect the validity of my use of those writings to condemn his position.”
Here Rev. Petter is telling us what he does with our position, that is, our teaching to the effect that in the covenant faith is not a condition but an instrument. In the above excerpt he openly condemns that teaching, which is equivalent to pronouncing it a heresy. To this teaching he opposes his own doctrine to the effect that faith is a condition. And judging from the language that he employs, we are driven to conclude that he speaks and writes from conviction. He declares, does he not, that he will maintain everything that he has written about conditions. He declares, too, that he is thankful to God that in his earlier writings Rev. Hoeksema “taught conditions”. That, says he, was the Lord’s doings whereby He put to shame Rev. Hoeksema’s present position, teaching, doctrine; and he concludes with telling us that it is right for him to use “these materials” to condemn Rev. Hoeksema’s present position. This certainly is the language of conviction. It is language that Rev. Petter can use with a good conscience before God only if he be convinced in his heart that he writes and speaks the truth.
If Rev. Petter is now openly condemning our teaching, we, too, take and all along have been taking a definite stand publicly in the Standard Bearer regarding his teaching—we: Rev. H. Hoeksema, Rev. H. Veldman, and the undersigned. We hold and declare and all along have been arguing the point that the teaching of Rev. Petter runs contrary to the true doctrine of the Scriptures and of our Creeds.
What it means is that there is a controversy in progress between brethren of the same household of faith, that is, of the communion of churches that bears the name Protestant Reformed. The brethren involved are Rev. Petter on the one hand versus Rev. H. Hoeksema, Rev. H. Veldman and the undersigned on the other hand.
Mark you well, I say controversy and not discussion. A discussion in our case would be a debate in which the four of us took part for the sake of arriving at the truth regarding the matter in dispute through the investigation of the Scriptures.
On the other hand, the controversialist (contra opposite and versus pp of vertere to turn, hence controvert to turn against), the controverting church, has arrived—at the truth. She has seized the truth. The truth stands out clearly in her mind against the background of the lie, the heresy. Being thus spiritually equipped, she controverts: she exposes without mincing words the lie in all its fearful ramifications. She sets forth the truth, declares in the hearing of all men what she believes to be the truth of the Scriptures. And she opposes the truth to the lie. That is her calling. Woe unto her if she walks not worthily of it. And therefore I cannot subscribe what Rev. Petter in his second article says about controversy. He calls it a necessary evil. But controversy is not an evil. It is preaching the Gospel as Christ wants it preached. It is therefore a work necessary and good which God hath before ordained that His people—the church of the elect—should walk in it. Should we then be afraid of controversy? Should we not by all means refrain from calling it an evil? The church that will not controvert has lost its savor and is good only for being cast on the dunghill to be trodden by men. What we should fear is not controversy but that which always wants to disqualify a Christian man for controversy, namely his sinful flesh.
Rev. Petter in that second article writes more things with which I cannot agree. For example this: “For it, controversy, presupposes a difference of opinion and thus an imperfection in our understanding of God’s words.” But controversy as a good work of the church of the elect is born of conviction not of opinion. What it presupposes is the clearest understanding of the Scriptures on the part of God’s believing people. For the controverting church has arrived.
Rev. Petter has arrived. Whether he has arrived at the truth, whether, in other words, he is the true controversialist among us, is quite another question. Be this as it may, he has arrived. If not, how could he openly and publicly and apparently with such conviction be condemning our position. Verily, the brother has arrived. Hence, he has no more need of discussion on the points at issue in our dispute. This is so plain also from the following statement from his pen: “Should anyone have a question or desire a biblical discussion on the conditions in the Bible, that could of course be instructive and edifying, no doubt.” Let us take notice. What Rev. Petter deems instructive and edifying is discussion on conditions in the Bible. The question whether or no the Bible actually teaches conditions has ceased to be a question for him. He is convinced that it does. Hence, what he would welcome is that we discuss the matter with him as occupying his position and accordingly as being motivated by the felt need of being grounded in his position. Very unwelcome therefore would be to him a discussion for the sake of testing his position. For he has arrived.
This is significant especially in the light of the following statement from Rev. Petter’s pen: “And there is especially an urgent need of discussion with the Liberated churches and people of the Netherlands. There are many points on which we must clearly set our conceptions as we understand them in comparison with theirs whatever they are, and then discuss them through to the end.”
I must comment first on the clause, “whatever they are.” I believe Rev. Petter should have kept these words in his pen. For as appears from all his earlier articles he is thoroughly conversant with the conceptions of the Liberated, definitely with the two thought pillars of their peculiar theology.
Second, let us take notice of this too: Rev. Petter wants to compare our conceptions with those of the Liberated. What conceptions please? I ask because Rev. Petter has arrived—at the position that faith is a condition. He thus embraces as truth exactly one half of liberated theology, if this theology allows being split into halves. And therefore his wanting to discuss with the Liberated causes me to ask: What for, please? Not of course that I am opposed to discussing with the Liberated.
Rev. Petter continues: “And woe to us if we create an atmosphere that makes discussion practically impossible, and we become guilty of obstructing and impeding the shepherding and church-gathering work of Christ in this world of tangled relations.
“Therefore it is necessary to discuss the new Declaration.
“It may be possible that the embarrassing fruits of misunderstanding are already appearing in Canada.”
These sentences, too, set me to thinking. I studied them long and hard. Let us first concentrate on the statement: “Therefore it is also necessary to discuss the new Declaration.” Rev. Petter intends doing so in a series of articles to follow. But seeing that he has arrived, seeing that, according to his solemn conviction, faith is a condition and the contrary doctrine heresy, he shall have to discuss the new Declaration for the sake of condemning it and urge the churches to do likewise. For the essence of the new Declaration is that faith is not a condition, that it is solely an instrument, and that therefore the promises of God to His people are unconditional and unfailing. And that, according to Rev. Petter, is heresy. I repeat, Rev. Petter shall have to condemn the new Declaration; and that, certainly, he intends to do, must do. For a man, certainly, may not trample his convictions.
But Rev. Petter has still another reason for wanting the new Declaration condemned. The new Declaration impedes the shepherding and church-gathering word of Christ, that is, it excludes, Rev. Petter means to say, all such who hold with Rev. Petter that faith is a condition. And Rev. Petter wants these persons admitted. But supposing now that it were his rock-bottom and unshakable conviction that faith is not a condition but solely an instrument, and that the contrary view is heresy, would he then also be complaining that the new Declaration obstructs and impedes the shepherding and church-going work of Christ? Would he then be urging the churches to condemn the new Declaration? How could he? For that would be equivalent to urging the churches to open their doors to heretics, wouldn’t it? Well, we are of the conviction that the doctrine to the effect that faith is not a condition but solely an instrument is the teaching of the Scriptures and our Confessions. Certainly, Rev. Petter can’t blame us therefore, if we defend the new Declaration and urge its adoption. He would do the same, he would be compelled to do the same, if only he shared our convictions. So you see the attitude we take toward the new Declaration, must depend solely on our convictions. And this is but another way of saying that the sole question confronting each and every one of us regarding the new Declaration is: Is it true? Does it, yes or no, set forth certain points of doctrine contained in our Confessions? If so, and if that is my conviction, I am in duty bound to adopt it, and urge the churches to do likewise. If not, and if this is my conviction, I am in duty bound to reject it, and to urge the churches to do likewise. For certainly I may not reject a document that, according to my firm conviction, sets forth the truth on the ground that its adoption would be untimely. How, I would like to know, could our owning, and championing the truth and our opposing the truth to error ever be untimely? Can our walking worthily of our calling as churches ever be untimely?
Let Rev. Petter act according to his convictions regarding that new Declaration. And we will do the same. And let him by all means and on his own responsibility, of course, persist in maintaining that faith is a condition, if that is his conviction. And let him persist in opposing his doctrine to our position. But let him remember that we, too, have our convictions. Let him remember that we, too, have arrived. It is our firm belief that his doctrine is unreformed, and that our stand, teaching, regarding conditions, is the true doctrine of the Scriptures and of the Confessions. We shall therefore continue to expose Rev. Fetter’s doctrine for what we believe it to be, namely an error. And we shall continue to set forth our doctrine in all its glory and oppose it to be that error. That, of course, will spell continued controversy within the bosom of our communion of churches for as long a time as necessity will dictate. And, our people must not be averse to controversy. For the true church controverts. Controverting, it preaches, as was stated, the Gospel as Christ wants it preached, that is antithetically. Rev. Petter, therefore did wrong in stating that he can feel for those readers who have a distaste for “this controversy” and who would keep it out of our papers and the eyes of the public; that he will not brush their feelings aside; and that he trusts that it is voiced by people, Christian people, who try to gather edification from our papers. His stating that he can feel for those readers who have a distaste for “this controversy” is really equivalent to his stating that he can feel for readers who have a distaste for preaching the Gospel as Christ wants it preached. Besides, Rev. Petter should bear in mind that it was he and not us who started “this controversy” in our circles. I know, in one of his articles he denies it, throwing the blame on the Liberated. But that is wrong. The Liberated may have started the controversy between us and themselves, but not, certainly, between Rev. Petter and us (Rev. Hoeksema, Rev. Veldman and the undersigned). That was solely the work of Rev. Petter.
And now the controversy is on. And our people must want it and follow it closely—very closely and studiously—for the rest of its duration. That is their solemn duty. And they shall have to choose sooner or later between Rev. Petter’s doctrine and ours. What is their choice going to be? Are our people, at least the great majority of them going to choose Rev. Potter’s doctrine? Or will they cleave to the doctrine that has been preached among us from the beginning of our existence? God only knows. And He will reveal it. In the meantime we will continue to war what we believe to be His warfare.
Let not our people say that essentially Rev. Petter and we agree, and that it is only a squabble about words. That certainly is as little Rev. Petter’s view of the matter as it is ours. Rev. Petter has openly condemned our position, hasn’t he?
But I believe we should by all means take to heart these words of Rev. Petter: “I want to maintain that altogether too often controversy borders on the unchristian, the unbrotherly.” That, alas, is only too true. Let us henceforth see to it that this cannot be said of us. Let us not be fanatical in our reaction but let us remain calm and brotherly and in a spirit of meekness wage this controversy through to its end.
Rev. Petter’s second article contains more such warnings and admonitions to brotherly conduct in controversy. He says for example, “And woe unto us if we create an atmosphere that makes discussion practically impossible.” That of course would be terrible. But I was just wondering whether Rev. Petter directs this and similar speech only to us and not also to himself. He leaves that impression as in the statement, “And the present approach of the Standard Bearer does not lend to edification.” He should not have neglected to make this clear; and certainly he should not have by-passed the Concordia, which he does. The way he treated Rev. R. Veldman is certainly calculated to make discussion practically impossible. And there is no excuse for his latest attack on Rev. Hoeksema. More could be mentioned.
But in fine: Let us without ceasing pray God for the grace that is needed to wage this controversy in
a spirit clearly bespeaking that what we seek is not ourselves but the truth.
ONE MORE REMARK.
As far as the undersigned is concerned this controversy could end right now. For he, too, (the undersigned) has arrived. To him it has become as clear as the sun in the heavens that, according to the Scriptures and our Confessions, faith is not a condition in the covenant. The matter is remarkably simple. One of my earlier writings contains a definition of the term condition, taken from the Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia of the English language, a work of fen volumes. But Rev. Petter did not like that definition. He called it border-lined. So he presented in the Concordia for July 21, 1949 what to him is the proper definition of the term in dispute. “The simple dictionary definition,” he wrote, “is perfectly valid, namely, an event, fact, or the like that is necessary to the occurrence of some other, though not its cause; a prerequisite.”
But this makes faith a “condition required beforehand” (the part of this sentence enclosed in parenthesis was taken from my dictionary) and therefore a virtue that man must supply, provide, originate, if God is to save him. Certainly, such a conception is strange to the Scriptures and our Confession. This is plain and thoroughly understandable. It is not true that the matter in dispute is bafflingly intricate, involving us in innumerable difficulties and problems the solutions of which will come to us only after years and years and still more years of intensive and sustained study and discussion. It is simply a matter of Armnianism versus the truth—the true conception,—thus verily a matter that was settled, wasn’t it? Some 331 years ago on the synod of Dordt, 1618-T9, by our Reformed fathers. And the conclusions at which they arrived they laid down in a number of canons known as the Canons of Dordt.
Allow me to quote from these Canons:
“We reject the errors of those who teach—that Cod chose the act of faith as a condition of salvation.”
“Wereject the error of those who teach that faith, the obedience of faith, holiness, godliness, and perseverance, are conditions and causes without which the unchangeable election to glory does not occur. . . .”
“We reject the errors of those who teach that. . . . there is in this life no fruit and no consciousness of the unchangeable election to glory, nor any certainty, except that which depends on a changeable and uncertain condition . . . .”
(Rev. Petter found fault with me for stating that, according to the dictionary, the essential characteristic of conditions is their changeableness. This characteristic was included in my definition of conditions—a definition that Rev. Petter brushed aside as claiming that it was border-lined. He will take notice of the expressions occurring in the above Canon: “changeable and uncertain conditions).
“The synod rejects the errors of those who teach that….the perseverance of the true believers is not a fruit of election, or a gift of God, gained by the death of Christ, but a condition of the new covenant, which (as they declare) man before his decisive election and justification must fulfill through his own free will.”
The question is being put to me time and again, now by this one then by that one: “But doesn’t Rev. Petter declare that faith is a gift of God and that salvation from beginning to end and in all its phases is solely God’s work in man?” Indeed this is also his teaching. But in defending among us the proposition to the effect that faith is a condition, he draws a line of thought in conflict with and thus exclusive of the true doctrine. It means that he has introduced in our communion the double-track theology of the Christian Reformed Churches.
Neither Rev. Petter nor anyone else must take it ill of me that I say these things publicly in the Standard Bearer. For, like Rev. Petter, we, too, have arrived. He is openly defending his position and condemning ours. This places us under the necessity of openly exposing his teaching. It compels us to set forth our doctrine and oppose it to what we believe to be his error. In a word, there is being waged in our midst a controversy, which was started by Rev. Petter, and meaning that he and we have arrived.