Prof. Holwerda is the incumbent of the chair of Church Polity in the seminary of the Liberated Churches. In Canada dwells a certain immigrant who came to these shores about a year and a half ago and settled in Chatham, where we have a mission station. Though this immigrant attends our meetings for public worship, he was at a loss to know whether to affiliate with us or join the Christian Reformed Church in Chatham. He wrote Prof. Holwerda for advice. The professor gave advice. His letter to the immigrant found its way into my hands. I felt it my duty to publish it, which I herewith do, for reasons that will be obvious to all who read.
The professor wrote: (DUTCH REMOVED)
Here follows the translation of this missive:
“I received your letter yesterday, and a direct reply per airmail is in order. Day before yesterday we held a meeting with Rev. Kok and Rev. De Jong, the purpose being mutual discourse. We had a wholly openhearted exchange of thoughts. ‘They said this: Indeed, we have much to be grateful for to Rev. Hoeksema. But his conception regarding election etc. is not church doctrine. No one is bound by it. Some are emitting a totally different sound. Their opinion was that most (of the Prot. Ref.) do not think as Rev. Hoeksema and Rev. Ophoff. And sympathy for the Liberated was great also in the matter of their doctrine of the covenant. They do accentuate differently in America, considering their history, but for the conception of the Liberated there is ample room. And from other quarters I heard that Liberated in the Chr. Ref. churches run into difficulty, if they hold their position.
They, that is, Rev. Kok and Rev. De Jong, also reported what is being done in their churches for handling the spiritual care of the Liberated. I must honestly say that thereby much of my fear has been removed. I still consider the method of the Amersfoort decision regarding correspondence with the Protestant Reformed Churches unfortunate. But now I see the thing thus: First, the Prot. Ref. church is the true church, be it that the lay (of conception) regarding election, etc. is somewhat different, considering their wholly different history. However, I am not entirely agreed. Second the Protestant Reformed Church proves to be the true church also herein that she truly seeks the immigrants from Holland and consciously allows all room for their conception. In this situation I believe that joining the Prot. Ref. church is calling. And let them then as Liberated preserve their contact with Holland by all means, and also .spread our literature. Our Liberated would be doing a fruitful work, if they labored in the Prot. Ref. churches to remove misunderstanding and to deepen insight. Rev. Kok said, We can still learn much from each other. The communication that Rev. Hoeksema, who first was skeptical of the immigrants, paid them a visit, and returned enthusiast, struck me as remarkable; and another must have said, ‘Those are strong men, who know what it is all about. You could make them all ministers, just like that’. If Rev. Hoeksema’s conception was binding, I would say, Never join. Now I believe, however, that accession is calling; and then so that the Liberated also help to disseminate the dogmatical wealth of Holland in the Prot. Ref. Churches.”
This is an astounding letter, especially the statements in it that bear on the doings of Revs. De Jong and Kok in the Netherlands and on the state of affairs in our own communion of churches.
Do I have the right to publish this letter and thereby make it the property of all our people? I do have that right. Let us consider the following:
a) Prof. Holwerda’s letter partakes of the nature of a report of the acts of a conference that was open to the public certainly. Any interested person could have attended that meeting. It was not held behind locked doors. Fact is then, that I am not by my doing revealing things that were meant to be kept secret, or that from their very nature are secret and therefore ought to be kept secret. The deliberations of that conference in the Netherlands are being spread far and wide among the Liberated in the Netherlands and among the immigrants in Canada. Our people, too, have a right to know.
b) Revs. De Jong and Kok, be it as self-appointed ambassadors—they were not sent by the Protestant Reformed—were speaking for all our people. Hence, every man, woman and child of our communion has a right to be made acquainted with the content of the professor’s letter.
I not only have the right to publish the professor’s letter, but I am persuaded that it is my solemn duty, and this for the following reasons:
a) The deliberations of that conference in the Netherlands vitally concerns all our consistories, all our churches, all our people. Our whole movement is at stake, if the statements contained in the letter are true.
b) The difficulties in which the professor’s letter, report, involve the brethren De Jong and Kok cannot be settled to my satisfaction alone; they cannot be settled to the satisfaction of the consistories of Holland and Creston alone; they must be settled to the satisfaction of all our consistories, of all our churches, of all our people. For, as was just stated, the deliberations of that conference vitally concerns all our churches. This—the fact that the aforesaid difficulties must be settled to the satisfaction of all our people—demanded the publication of the professor’s letter and will certainly also demand the publication of the brethren’s explanations of the statements that they are reported to have made, if they can have any.
c) If the report of the professor is true, the brethren De Jong and Kok involved most of our people including the clergy. For the report states that most (of the Protestant Reformed) do not think like Rev. Hoeksema and Rev. Ophoff. This was said to the leaders among the Liberated in the Netherlands. It is being broadcasted far and wide. Certainly every minister, elder and deacon in our communion, and every common member must receive the opportunity of expressing himself regarding that statement, and regarding all the other statements occurring in the letter as well. This demanded the publication of the letter.
d) The Rev. De Jong has been called to labor among the immigrants in Canada as the missionary of all our churches. He can be allowed to accept that call, certainly, only if he succeeds in dispelling the thick cloud of suspicion under which he has been brought by Prof. Holwerda’s letter again to the satisfaction not only of the calling church—Fuller Avenue—but to the satisfaction of all our churches. This again demanded the publication of the professor’s letter.
There is still this question. Why all the haste? Why not have waited with the publication of the letter until the brethren De Jong and Kok have spoken. I ask in turn, why the delay seeing that for all the reasons stated above the letter would have to be published even though the brethren succeeded in clearing themselves. The seriousness of the case rules out all delay. There will not be another issue of the Standard Bearer until Sept. 1. Rev. De Jong cannot be allowed to accept that call without our people being informed and the difficulty settled. Postponing publication of the letter would not be making things any easier for the two brethren. The possibility that Prof. Holwerda fabricated the statements that he attributes to the Revs. De Jong and Kok is remote. Certainly, the man didn’t fabricate those statements. If Rev. De Jong and Rev. Kok succeed in exonerating themselves their reputation will not have suffered at all on account of the publication of the letter. In view of all these considerations what would be the sense of postponing the publication of it? How could that be right?
As was said, according to the professor’s report, the brethren De Jong and Kok made some astounding statements on the meeting of that conference. Rev. Hoeksema’s conception regarding election, etc., is not church doctrine? None are bound by it? Some are emitting a totally different sound? How these statements are to be taken is hard to say. The brethren better explain.
Then these statements, “And sympathy for the Liberated was great also in the matter of their doctrine of the covenant. They do accentuate differently in America, considering their history, but for the conception of the Liberated there is ample room.” This is plain language. It comes down to this: The Protestant Reformed Churches, as to the bulk of their membership have repudiated the covenant-theology of Rev. Hoeksema and embraced the covenant-theology of the Liberated in the Netherlands. But that covenant- theology of the Liberated is false doctrine. I would not be using language too strong should I characterize it as a damnable heresy. As I intend to treat this theology in a brief series of articles to appear in the Standard Bearer, I shall now limit myself to presenting its principal tenets, which are two in number: 1) The promise of the covenant is unto all the baptized, reprobate and elect alike. It can also be stated this way: All have a legal right to Christ and all His benefits. Now what have we here? The Arminian doctrine of universal atonement pure and simple, the teaching that God called all men, reprobate and elect alike, His sons and reconciled them to Himself through Christ’s cross. Such is the teaching also of the Christian Reformed as appears anew from Rev. Ghysel’s meditation in The Banner for July 15. The meditation contains this statement, “Being children of the covenant they—the reprobated—have the right—mark you, the right—to the blessings of the kingdom. At the present time baptism assures them of that right just as circumcision did in the olden time. But baptism does not assure them of the actual—mark you, actual—possession of the blessings of the covenant.” This is Heynsianism through and through. It is Arminianism. It is the covenant-doctrine of the Liberated.
This doctrine involves those addicted to it in a problem. It is this: If God calls all His sons, if all have a right to Heaven, how is it to be accounted for that many perish? What is the answer of the Liberated and the Christian Reformed? It is this (the second of the two principal tenets of the covenant theology of the Liberated). 2) God places the benefits of Christ’s cross in the actual possession of men, including the reprobated, on the condition of (op voorwaarde van) faith and repentance. That can mean but one thing, of course, namely, that man’s will is free in the Pelagian sense, that God, on that account, stands powerless over against man’s corruption and that, if he is to be saved, he must originate faith in him, Here we have the absolute proof that the condition (voorwaarde) in the covenant-theology of the Liberated is indeed a circumstance that limits, prevents God; an efficient cause,—thus at once a circumstance that induces God to be gracious unto all such who of their own sovereign will choose to be saved. Such is the covenant-theology of the Liberated and of the Christian Reformed.
But one will say, Do not the Liberated confess the doctrine of sovereign election and reprobation and that faith is God’s gift in man? They do. But these beliefs have strictly no place in their covenant theology, which is thoroughly Arminian. They are excluded, are these tenets, by the very logic of that theology. Certainly, the idea that man originates his own faith excludes the idea that faith is of God, doesn’t it? And in their covenant-theology man does, necessarily must, appear as originating his own faith, for the simple reason that though all have the right to the blessings of the kingdom many nevertheless perish. All these points will be fully explained in my series.
What, then, is that covenant-theology? It is a heresy of the first magnitude. And to think now that the Protestant Reformed Churches as to the bulk of their membership have embraced that covenant-theology. If that is true, we, Protestant Reformed, are but another communion of Arminian churches. And in that case why sacrifice the way we do to maintain ourselves as a separate and distinct communion of churches? Why send out missionaries? Why preach on the radio? Why found and maintain our own Christian schools? What right have we to call ourselves distinctively reformed, if we have embraced that covenant-theology, of the Liberated? We should close the doors of our churches; nail them shut with long spikes, and return to the mother-church that cast us out, if we have embraced that covenant-theology of the Liberated. For in that case we walk in a vain show, and all our activities and ventures are vanity, a waste of money, time, and effort.
But I don’t believe that it is true. I can’t believe it. I am certain that our people still hold the foundation that was laid among us twenty-five years ago; still believe with the heart and confess with the mouth that God calls not all but some only His sons in Christ; that these sons and none others have the right to be saved, they being justified in Christ,—saved by grace and by a faith that is God’s gift in them, and that the promises of God, given unto these sons, and to them only, are on that account unconditional and unfailing. This was the covenant-theology of the Protestant Reformed twenty-five years ago; and I believe that with rare exceptions it is still the covenant-theology of our people. It is a thoroughly Scriptural, and on this account strictly logical covenant-theology, and therefore so easy to grasp. A child can understand it. Can it be that we were so foolish as to exchange this beautiful truth for that rotten heresy of the Liberated? I can’t believe that we have been that foolish.
Prof. Holwerda wants, to see us converted into a communion of Liberated churches. He tells his correspondent that the Liberated in Canada by all means should make that their aim. They shall go about their task by spreading the literature of the Liberated among our people. And they have the opportunity. For the conceptions, the covenant-theology, of Rev. Hoeksema is not binding. The Protestant Reformed even allow ample room for the covenant-theology of the Liberated. If it were otherwise, his advice would have been, Never join. But the situation being what it is they must affiliate with us and get to work. Can it be that we here hit upon the fundamental purpose of that visit to the Netherlands,—the purpose, namely, to show the irreconcilable leaders among the Liberated that they need have no scruples about advising their people who come to these shores to affiliate with the Protestant Reformed? But to get their way with them, the Revs. De Jong and Kok had not only to repudiate in their hearing the covenant-theology of Rev. Hoeksema but had also to assure them that sympathy among us for the theology of the Liberated was great. And according to the report of the professor they did just that. And so the professor is now convinced that we too are the true church as well as they. And why are we now in his eyes the true church? Because in our great love of the theology of the Liberated, we repudiated the theology of Rev. Hoeksema; and, second, because we allow their people to hold fast their theology as members of our communion. Let us not feel honored.
According to the report of the professor, the Revs. De Jong and Kok had the habit of speaking of the covenant-theology of the Protestant Reformed as the theology of Rev. Hoeksema, as if it were his private conception and personal possession and therefore not binding on the churches. In fact according to the professor’s report the two brethren explicitly stated that it was not binding on the churches. But that is not true. It is the covenant-theology of the Protestant Reformed, their unwritten creed, officially adopted, and therefore binding indeed. Consider the following. We are all familiar with or at least aware of the existence of the Three Points or doctrinal deliverance of the Christian Reformed Synod of 1924. The doctrine contained in these propositions includes also the covenant-theology of the late Prof. Heyns. The Revs. H. Hoeksema and H. Danhof and the undersigned with their consistories were placed before the choice of subscribing these points—thus placed before the choice of subscribing the covenant-theology of Prof Heyns—or being ejected from the communion of Christian Reformed churches. These consistories officially decided not to subscribe the aforesaid points or propositions; and by that decision they officially pronounced also the covenant- theology of the Liberated, heretical; and its logical contrary—the covenant-theology of Rev. Hoeksema—scriptural. This certainly amounted to an official adoption of that theology. That theology is therefore binding indeed. And when the Revs. De Jong and Kok allowed themselves to be inducted into the office of ministers of the gospel in our communion, they declared by that act before God and man, “We subscribe the covenant-theology of the Protestant Reformed, and promise to be bound by it in our preaching and teaching.
One more thing. We must all be agreed, certainly, that it is high time that we as churches take an official stand in the matter of the covenant-theology of Heyns. It is high time that we as churches officially pronounce that theology heretical and its contrary—the covenant-theology of the Protestant Reformed—Scriptural and true. This has, already been done, as was explained. But let us do it again, that all may understand that we do have a covenant-theology that is binding, and that we allow no room at all in our communion to its contrary—the covenant-theology of Heyns and of the Liberated. Those who will not allow themselves to be bound should then leave; and I have reference here in the first instance to our clergy. Why should any of them want to be occupying our pulpits, if they are agreed with that very heresy the official repudiation of which twenty-five years ago constitutes the very reason of our separate existence as Protestant Reformed churches? What right have they in our pulpits, if they are agreed with that heresy and are thus opposed to its very contrary—that only covenant-theology which is according to the Scriptures ? No right whatsoever either legal or moral. If it is true what Rev. De Jong is reported to have said, if the opponents of our covenant-theology are in the majority, no action as that just suggested will be taken, and that will prove that what Rev. De Jong is reported to have said is only too true; and that therefore there is absolutely no sense to me continuing my labors in our communion of churches. For then all is vanity indeed.