Some time ago a report of the decision of the Christian Reformed Synod in regard to the so-called “Dekker Case” was given in the Standard Bearer. At that time I did not have the “Acts of Synod 1964,” and was unable to furnish much more information than the decision itself, quoted from The Banner. Even now I do not have all of the background information; but from the Acts I can glean whatever information is pertinent and significant and worthy of further discussion. Nor did I offer any comment or criticism of the said decision.
Now, however, the Dekker case is astir again, at least in the Reformed Journal, the October issue of which carried two articles (by Dr. James Daane and by Dr. Harry R. Boer) on the matter. I would expect that the very fact that the Reformed Journal has renewed the discussion, and will continue in the future to reflect on the issues concerned, will bring a reaction from other quarters. This would be according to the pattern in the past, when Prof. Dekker first began to write on the subject of the Love of God to All Men; and presumably this pattern will continue. At least, it ought to. At any rate, the Standard Bearer will reflect on these matters, as it has also in the past.
It will be profitable, however, first of all, to get the background of the case as it was dealt with by the Chr. Ref. Synod, and also to criticize the decision itself, both from a material and a church political point of view.
Those who followed the Dekker Case from the beginning will recall that at the 1963 Synod there was an overture from Classis Orange City which was ruled to be insufficient on technical grounds, and, rightly or wrongly, was not treated by that Synod. This year two classes, Orange City and Wisconsin, were involved in the matter as it became part of the synodical record. In parentheses, let me note that Prof. Dekker makes mention in an address to Synod of three classes but only two appear in the proceedings in this year’s Acts. Classis Wisconsin had the matter under consideration, and ended by addressing to the Board of Trustees (of Calvin College and Seminary) a “communication of concern in which they request the board to make an inquiry of Professor Dekker concerning his doctrinal views.” Acts, 1964, p. 52. Meanwhile, although the details of this action are not in the Acts, two consistories of Classis Wisconsin, Racine and Delavan, addressed overtures (Nos. 37 and 38 in the printed Acts) to Synod on the matter. Both of these overtures were ruled to be not legally before Synod, on the ground that the matters contained in them are still in process of consideration in a minor ecclesiastical assembly. This evidently refers to the fact that Classis Wisconsin had at that time not brought the matter to a conclusion with the Board of Trustees. Apparently this was from a church political viewpoint a proper decision, at least as in as far as I am able to judge from the available data.
In the meantime, Classis Orange City had the matter sent back to them in 1963. Things evidently went a little differently there. Let me quote from the report of Synod’s committee of pre-advice to give you this history:
“The actions of Classis Orange City in this matter appear to have been concluded in their April 1964 session. A previous session had appointed a study committee to bring a report in regard to Professor Dekker’s doctrinal expressions. In the April session a recommendation of a minority report was adopted. This report recommended, ‘That classis do not overture Synod until it has fully evaluated the position of Professor Dekker (,) making a definite judgment on his views with ground to support its position.’ A further motion, ‘That classis hold in abeyance for the time being further ecclesiastical action,’ was tabled. The study committee was then dismissed and thanked for their labors.”
From this account it would appear that Classis Orange City is finished with the matter, at least for the present. Again, I do not have sufficient data to tell you why this is the case. I can only guess that perhaps they were willing to wait and allow Professor Dekker the opportunity to develop his views further without being suspected or charged with doctrinal error. This seems, I say, to be the intent of the decision they took on the matter. However, all were not satisfied with this classical decision, as is evident from the remainder of the resume of the committee of pre-advice:
“Following this action the delegates of the Hospers, Iowa consistory registered their negative vote in regard to this decision. In its meeting of May 19, 1964, the Hospers consistory prepared a document concerning the views of Professor Dekker. This document they forwarded to the Board of Trustees with request for an answer. In the same April session of Classis Orange City the minister delegate of the consistory of the First Christian Reformed Church of Orange City also registered his negative vote in regard to classis’ decision. Subsequent to this the consistory of First Orange City drew up and forwarded to this Synod Overture No. 45.”
While Overtures No. 37 and No. 38 (from Racine and Delavan) were declared not legally before Synod, the overture from First Orange City was legally before Synod, according to Synod’s decision. It was particularly this Overture No. 45 that resulted ultimately in the decision which the Synod made. To the content and treatment of this overture I shall return presently.
Meanwhile, the Board of Trustees also played apart in this action. In the first place, they themselves initiated action at their meeting of February, 1964. This action consisted in appointing a committee that was to draw up a set of questions to serve as a basis for a doctrinal discussion with Professor Dekker at the May meeting of the Board. In the second place, by the time of the May meeting they also had before them the communications from Classis Wisconsin and from the Hospers (Iowa) Consistory, whose delegates had registered their negative vote at the April session of Classis Orange City. And at the May meeting of the Board a doctrinal discussion with Prof. Dekker was conducted. Cf. Acts, 1964, p. 52.
The Board of Trustees reported as follows (cf. Acts, p. 259):
“b. The board informs Synod that it has had a discussion with Professor Dekker concerning certain points which he has raised in his recent articles relating to the love of God and Limited Atonement. After the discussion the board concluded that there are issues worthy of further inquiry and it trusts that future exchanges of research and opinion on these issues will be profitable to the church. The board expresses its gratitude for Professor Dekker’s interest in the principles, motivation and activity of missions, and its confidence that Professor Dekker will continue to have the love and welfare of the church at heart.”
Hence, as far as the Board of Trustees was concerned, they certainly did not intend to have Synod treat the matter, nor did they express in their report any criticism of Prof. Dekker, nor did they request any action by Synod on the matter.
Now let us return to the overture from First Orange City. In the introductory part of this overture we find: 1/ A reference to Prof. Dekker’s first article (December, 1962) and quotation of Dekker’s statement about the commonly held doctrine of limited atonement impairing the principle of the universal love of God and tending to inhibit missionary activity. 2/ A brief summary of Prof. Dekker’s contrary position about the atonement. 3/ An assertion that First Orange City holds to the commonly understood view, but that if the latter is in error, it should be corrected, while, if Dekker’s position is in error, it should be corrected. To allow both positions will disrupt the unity of the Church. Then follows the overture proper: “Therefore, the consistory of the First Christian Reformed Church of Orange City, Iowa overtures Synod to appoint a committee to study, in the light of Scripture and the Creeds, the doctrine of limited atonement as it relates to the love of God, giving special attention to the issues raised by Prof. Dekker in The Reformed Journal; and to subsequently declare its position relative to this matter.
“1) If the position commonly held by the Christian Reformed Church is erroneous, this error should be corrected.
“2) If Prof. Dekker’s position is faulty it should be altered.
“3) The present variation of opinion and position in the Church is productive of a confusion which will disrupt the unity of the Church and weaken the Church’s doctrinal position.”
To complete this brief account, I mention the following:
1) At first the committee of pre-advice proposed what they called a “doctrinal discussion” with Prof. Dekker, to be conducted by the Synod. We need not discuss this proposal in detail, nor even present it, because it was never brought to a vote at Synod. There was considerable discussion of it, most of it opposed to the advice; and the result was that the committee itself asked to have the entire matter recommitted for revised recommendations. This was done.
2) Then, at a later session, the decision to appoint a study committee (the decision quoted in an early issue of the S.B.) was taken by Synod. I will not cite this decision now, but will refer to it as the need arises.
3) From the Acts of Synod we learn that Prof. Dekker later addressed Synod in reaction to this decision. This address is entered in full in the printed Acts; and it is a rather significant address, in my opinion. It is too long to quote in full, but I will refer to it and quote from it as the need arises.
The above is a brief account of the goings on at the 1964 Synod of the Christian Reformed Church.
There is no room in these columns for my comments at this time. But in conclusion, I want to call attention to one item. One of the grounds for Synod’s decision was: “A mandate to study these matters will allay much of the unrest which prevails in the churches.” That there was unrest could hardly be denied. Synod itself was (both in its decision and in the discussion preceding it) rather concerned about this unrest, and evidently hoped to quiet it by a mere mandate to study. Notice, that the reference here is not to the study itself or to the results of the study, but merely to the “mandate to study these matters.” This was evidently intended to quiet things down. Prof. Dekker in his speech minimizes the unrest and expresses that he is rather baffled by it. He also states that he will continue to study and to write about these issues. And now Doctors Daane and Boer break out in print with some rather significant articles on the issues involved.
I venture to say in the light of the above that the synodical decision of 1964 on the Dekker Case will not succeed in allaying the unrest, but will, on the contrary stir up more. To put it mildly, I believe that there is serious reason for unrest. To put it more succinctly: there is cause for alarm!
But the rest of my comments must wait until the next issue, D.V.