The study committee appointed by the Chr. Ref. Synod of 1964 in connection with the so-called! “Dekker Case” was not only given a general mandate to study the doctrine of limited atonement as it relates to the love of God, and to study the doctrinal expressions of Prof. H. Dekker; but they were also enjoined by Synod to study. specifically the following:
“a. Whether the nature of the atonement and the decree of election allow for the validity of making a qualitative distinction between the general love of God and His special love for the elect.
“b. Whether there is Scriptural evidence that the universal love of God includes any intent to bring. about the salvation of the non-elect or to perform any redemptive act on their behalf.
“c. Whether the nature of the atonement as satisfaction reveals the universal love of God.
“d. Whether the teachings of the Canons of Dar; warrant the use of such concepts as universal atonement and limited redemption.
“e. Whether tie efficacy of the atonement is determined by the good pleasure of God in distinction or abstraction from the love of God.
“f. Whether, the doctrine of limited atonement as commonly understood and observed in the Christian Reformed Church impairs the principle of the universal love of God and tends to inhibit missionary spirit and activity.’ (Note: This is a statement quoted from Prof. Dekker’s first article on John 3:16. H.C.H.)
“g. Whether it is consistent with the genius of the New Testament evangelism to say to each and every man, ‘Christ died for you,’ and whether this statement is productive of confusion and misunderstanding in this generation of universalism and Arminianism.” (Note: This is also, of course, a direct reference to Prof. Dekker’s first article. H.C.H.)
Such is the mandate of the committee of Synod.
Now much could be said about this mandate.
For example, to anyone who has followed the history of this case this mandate leaves the distinct impression that while Professor Dekker is not accused by anyone and is in no sense of the word on trial ecclesiastically, nevertheless someone is trying to “get at” Dekker’s teachings. If this is not the case, why should there be a study committee at all? Why not leave the entire matter of Dekker’s teachings to the free discussion carried on in the various journals? Now, however, every one of the seven points of this mandate is going to require some kind of judgment, determination, in regard to Prof. Dekker’s views, although no one has to this date had the courage to bring charges against Dekker ecclesiastically. I consider this a very insulting and unfair treatment of a professor of theology in good standing in the churches. Do those who attacked Dekker in the journals expect this study committee to do what they themselves failed to do, i.e., come with irrefutable proof from Scripture and the confessions that Dekker is wrong?
Secondly, the mandate is, after all, rather vague in more than one respect. This is partly the fault of the committee and partly the fault of Prof. Dekker. For example, what is “the doctrine of limited atonement as commonly understood and observed in the Christian Reformed Church? What is meant by “missionary spirit?” What is meant by “impairs” and “tends to inhibit?” And, in point “g” of the mandate, what is meant by “confusion and misunderstanding?” Supposing that Dekker’s teachings are found to be productive of confusion and misunderstanding? Are they then to be condemned, excused, or perhaps pitied? Admittedly confusion and misunderstanding are not desirable, especially not in a professor of theology. But you cannot discipline for confusion and misunderstanding, though you might perhaps disqualify him. Yet Prof. Dekker was recently given permanent tenure in the seminary, implying that both in his doctrine and his ability to teach he was deemed well qualified to instruct future ministers for the rest of his life.
Thirdly, it is perfectly obvious that this mandate was composed with the First Point of 1924 in mind. This is evident already from the very first item of the mandate. The First Point (although with its teaching of the general, well-meant offer of the gospel it denied this qualitative distinction in the love, or grace, of God) has always been interpreted by its defenders as maintaining a two-fold love of God: a special, saving grace to the elect and a common, non-saving favor of God to all men. Utterly inconsistent and confusing though this was, especially because no one could ever answer the question what grace the reprobate received in the “offer of the gospel” if it was not a saving grace, this distinction has nevertheless been maintained and it is still maintained by the opponents of Dekker today. It is the protection of the First Point and of this traditional but inconsistent explanation of the First Point that is at stake in point “a” of the mandate. One can hardly help speculating what would become of the First Point if the study committee should agree with Prof. Dekker. Would it be revised, and would the doors then officially and frankly be opened for this Arminianism?
Point “b” of the mandate involves the First Point of 1924 no less. Has not the matter of “intent” always been one of the crucial issues in the idea of the well-meant offer of the gospel to all? And did not the honesty of the well-meant offer of the gospel exactly hinge on this question of God’s intent, and that too, in the light of His predestinating intent not to save the reprobate? And as far as the performing of “any redemptive act on their behalf” is concerned, was it not always one of the gross inconsistencies of the general, well-meant offer of the gospel that it purported to offer to the reprobate something which God did not have for them, due to the fact that Christ died only for the elect?
And if point “e” is studied, will not the study committee have to face up to the fact that the Three Points, as well as Dekker’s views, attempt the foolishness of abstracting the favor of God from His good pleasure? For how else can one ever speak of favor or love to the reprobate,—whether, to use Dekker’s terms, that is a redemptive or a non-redemptive love,—than by-separating that love or favor from the eternal good pleasure of the predestinating God?
In the fourth place, one may stand amazed at the fact that a church which stands officially on the basis of the Three Forms of Unity, and especially on the basis of the Canons of Dordrecht, must investigate matters such as are mentioned in this mandate. Is it indeed aquestion whether our Canons warrant the use of such concepts as universal atonement and limited redemption? Must this be synodically studied and decided? Is it a question,—can it be a question in a Reformed church,—whether the nature of the atonement as satisfaction reveals the universal love of God? Can it actually be a question in a church that is officially and confessionally Reformed whether it is consistent with the genius of New Testament evangelism to say to each and every man, “Christ died for you?” It seems to me that anyone, also in the Christian Reformed Church, in whom beats a heart that loves the Reformed truth must needs stand aghast that the Synod could ever find it in its conscience to put a question-mark behind these matters? If these things can be synodically questioned, then one is warranted in changing Prof. R.B. Kuiper’s question to a statement, and to say, “Ichabod! The glory is departed!”
And let it be said with tears!
But let it also be said that there is one fundamental error that underlies this entire mandate.
That most fundamental error is that Synod begs the question exactly on the one issue of the so-calleduniversal love of God.
Notice, please, that the orthodoxy of a doctrine of universal divine love (that is, love of God to all men) is nowhere challenged or even questioned. It is simply assumed. This is known in logic and debate as the error of begging the question, i.e., assuming that which ought to be proved. We all know, of course, that this idea of the universal love of God is the most fundamental of Dekker’s tenets. He began with this idea in his first article, “God So Loved—All Men.” But the Synod in its mandate not only does not question this; it assumes the reality of a universal love of God throughout. It only questions the validity of distinguishing this universal love as general and special, the validity of a universal intent to save and perform a redemptive act, etc.
But this is fundamental. After all, the essence of Prof. Dekker’s position lies not in his doctrine of a universal atonement, but in his doctrine of a love of God for all men. And this means that the whole case lies not in the domain of Canons II (the death of Christ), but in that of Canons I (divine predestination).
And this fundamental error was committed, principally, not in 1964, but in 1924. If you stand on the basis of the Three Points, you have embraced the error of the universal love of God. Prof. Dekker has only followed the error of the First Point with greater consistency and boldness. The Synod of 1924 in the First Point said, “A.” Prof. Dekker has said the “B.” Apparently he does not want to say “Z” yet; for he claims, though inconsistently, that election and reprobation are still sovereign and that ultimately the decree of election is carried out. But the “Z” that necessarily follows from “A” ultimately is the doctrine of full-fledged universalism. Until this fatal error of a universal love of God is seen and acknowledged and repudiated, I can foresee no salutary results from the labors of Synod’s study committee. I can indeed foresee that they will be compelled, for consistency’s sake, to justify Prof. Dekker.
And in that case, I could see a ray of hope. For perhaps then the eyes of some will be opened to the heinous error that was adopted principally in 1924 and which has now made the Christian Reformed Church the victim of rank Arminianism.
May God grant that it may yet be so!