4. What was the substance of the minority report which was adopted by Classis East in May of 1953 with respect to the two statements of the Rev. H. De Wolf?
The main thrust of their report, as adopted by Classis East, is contained in the following paragraphs:
“We, the undersigned, members of the committee appointed to study the protests of the Rev. Hoeksema and the Rev. Ophoff against their consistory in re its action with the Rev. De Wolf cannot agree with the necessity nor with all the contents of the long document which precedes the advice given by the other members of our committee. Neither can we sign the advice that they have drawn up. Instead, as our minority report we present the following:
“1. We cannot agree that the Consistory should maintain its former stand that the statement ‘God promises everyone of you that if you believe you will be-saved’ is not a concise statement of the truth. In our opinion both the statements which the protestants condemn are literally heretical regardless of what the Rev. De Wolf meant by them, regardless of how he explains them. We take this stand:
“a. because the protestants have clearly shown from the Scriptures and the confessions that the literal statements are heretical.
“b. and because we believe this is necessary for us to state in the light of our past experiences and history with the Liberated churches who use these Arminian expressions.”
5. What was the final and complete form of the decision of Classis East as it was transmitted to the Consistory of First Church?
That “Decision re the Hoeksema, Ophoff-Fuller Case” was very lengthy and thorough. But because of its importance we quote it in its entirety:
“1. In our opinion both the statements which the protestants condemn are literally heretical regardless of what the Rev. De Wolf meant by them, regardless of how he explains them because:
the first teaches a general promise of God unto salvation to all that externally hear the preaching of the gospel, head for head and soul for soul, limited by a condition which man must fulfill, while Scripture and our confessions plainly teach:
1. That, indeed, the proclamation of the gospel comes to all to whom God in His good pleasure sends it.
2. That, however, in our proclamation of the gospel, we may never say that God promises salvation to everyone of the hearers, on condition of faith, for the promise itself is particular, unconditional, and only for the elect; for it is an oath of God which He, in His everlasting mercy and grace, swears by Himself to His beloved elect; which He, by sovereign grace, fulfills only to and in them, without any condition or prerequisite to be fulfilled by them; and which promise implies that, by His Holy Spirit, He causes them to receive and appropriate salvation by a true and living faith.
the second teaches that our act of conversion is a prerequisite to enter the Kingdom of God, which means that we convert and humble ourselves before we are translated from the power of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son, while Scripture and the Confessions plainly teach:
1. That the whole work of our conversion, regeneration in its narrower as well as in its wider sense, in virtue of which we humble ourselves, is sovereignly wrought by God, by His Spirit and Word, through the preaching of the gospel in His elect.
2. That this entire work of conversion is our translation and entering into the kingdom of God. Hence, it is not, cannot be before but THROUGH our conversion that we enter the kingdom. We humble ourselves IN the light, never IN darkness; we humble ourselves, whether initially or repeatedly, IN the kingdom, never OUTSIDE of it. Hence, our ACT of conversion is never antecedent to our entering in, but always is performed IN the kingdom of God, and there are no prerequisites.
a. the protestants have clearly shown from Scripture and the confessions that the literal statements are heretical.
b. we believe this is necessary for us to state in the light of our past experiences and history with the Liberated churches who use these Arminian expressions.
“2. Classis advises the Consistory of the First Church:
a. to demand that the Rev. De Wolf make a public apology for having made the two statements in question.
b. that the Consistory also publicly apologize for having supported the Rev. De Wolf with respect to the two statements in question.
“Grounds in re the first statement:
b. Confessions: Heid. Cat. 20, 65; 66; Confession 22, 33-35, Canons I, A, 6, 7, 10; I, B, 2, 3, 5; II, A, 5, 8.
“Grounds in re the second statement:
b. Confession: Heid. Cat. 8, Canons III, IV, 1-3, 10-12; v. 6-8.
“3. Classis further advises the Consistory of First Church:
a. that in case the Rev. De Wolf should refuse to apologize, which our God graciously forbid, the Consistory proceed to suspend him from the office of the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments, according to the pertinent articles of the D.K.O. (Note: “D.K.O.” is a Dutch abbreviation for “Church Order of Dordrecht.” HCH)
b. that in case any elder or elders should refuse to submit to the proposed action as stipulated under No. 2, b, which God graciously forbid, such elder or elders be disciplined according to the articles of the D.K.O. pertaining thereto.
Grounds: Art. 79, 80, D.K.O. (Note: These are the articles of the Church Order concerning the discipline of ministers, elders, and deacons. HCH)
“4. That Classis appoint a delegation of three ministers and two elders to personally acquaint the Consistory with the above decisions and advice at the earliest consistory meeting:
a. Almost all the elders of the First Church are absent from Classis meeting and thus are not aware of the five days of deliberation which preceded the above advice.
b. The matter is one of great magnitude and importance.
c. We owe the mother church of our entire denomination such courtesy and respect.
d. We should spare no efforts on our behalf, under the blessings of our Covenant God, to save the dear brethren involved.”
For the sake of clarity it is necessary to insert some historical notes at this point, especially for those readers who did not live through this history.
It was the above decision of Classis East which precipitated the so-called split in our churches. Or, if you will, it was the above decision which constituted a kind of declaration of Reformation in our churches.
I cannot very well tell the whole story in all its details at this point; that would take us too far afield. What follows is but the barest sketch of a period of storm and battle in which men’s souls were severely tried and in which congregations and whole families and hundreds of members were put to the test as to their loyalty to our Protestant Reformed heritage. From a certain point of view those were glorious times: times of renewed dedication to the cause of the truth, times of renewed zeal in the pulpit, times of relief from the well-nigh intolerable tensions of strife and of release from a terrible atmosphere of disloyalty and suspicion. But from another point of view, considered from the .point of view of the tearing apart of churches and families, the decimation of congregations, the parting of the ways among those who had once been officebearers and members in a small and close-knit denomination, or from the point of view of the tremendous struggle it required to reconstitute churches, to hold congregations and the denomination together, to face the myriad problems attendant upon the struggle to keep or to reacquire church properties—I say, from this point of view, one could never wish to live through such times again. Nevertheless, the Lord made all things well for our churches. Let us never forget that!
What happened as a result of that momentous decision of Classis East?
When the special committee of Classis East conveyed the decision to the Consistory of First Church, the latter decided on June 1, 1953 to adopt the decision of Classis and to act accordingly. However, when it came to executing that decision later in June, neither the Rev. De Wolf nor the elders agreeing with him would apologize. Consequently Rev. De Wolf was suspended and the elders were deposed. But they did not submit to this discipline, not even under protest. On the contrary, they made it known that they intended to take over First Church and to hold services in the church building. The faithful consistory, rather than bring about an open physical conflict for the property, held services after the break in the auditorium of the Grand Rapids Christian High School. There they continued to meet until the property question was settled many months later. First Church, therefore, was “split” from this time on. That was June, 1953.
Farther than that the separation did not proceed during the summer of 1953 in Classis East, which at that time included all congregations east of the Mississippi River.
Surprisingly enough, the split next affected the churches of Classis West. The consistory of First Church had quite properly sent notices to all sister consistories of the denomination notifying them of the suspension from office of the Rev. De Wolf. Several churches in Classis West took occasion from this notification to “take sides” rather than recognize even formally and temporarily the suspension of De Wolf. And not only did those churches take sides, but they sent overtures to the September session of Classis West urging them to take sides in favor of De Wolf and opposed to the legal consistory of First Church. There was even an overture at that early date to oust Revs. Hoeksema and Ophoff from the Theological School. Classis West heeded these overtures by various decisions. The result was that the conflict spread like wildfire through the churches of Classis West even before there was any further activity in the east. What was the outcome? In Classis West there was only one entire congregation and one minister who remained Protestant Reformed. The congregation was Doon, Iowa, and the minister was the writer of these lines. There were four congregations (Hull, Iowa; Edgerton, Minnesota; Redlands, California; and Lynden, Washington) which were split, and in which the faithful element of the congregation had to be reconstituted. All of these were also temporarily without ministers. Later Pella, Iowa was also reconstituted. On the other hand, no fewer than six entire congregations left the Protestant Reformed Churches and later either disbanded or eventually found their way into the Christian Reformed denomination along with the rest of the De Wolf group. Ten of the eleven ministers of Classis West went along with De Wolf.
In October, 1953 the storm struck Classis East. The De Wolf faction tried to have delegates seated at the October continued session of classis. When they failed in this and when Classis decided that the Hoeksema-Hanko consistory was the legitimate consistory of First Church, those who sided with De Wolf stood with him and left the denomination. It is safe to say that also in Classis East no church was left completely unaffected. But in several churches there was a division. Creston (Grand Rapids), Second Church of Grand Rapids (Southwest at present), Fourth Church (now Southeast), and Holland saw splits. Kalamazoo actually became so small that it was a branch of First Church for a little while, until it was reconstituted. Of the ministers of Classis East, four sided with De Wolf and said farewell to our denomination; and several years later the Rev. R. Veldman added his name to that group, subjecting Southeast Church to another split.
This, in briefest outline, accounts for the radical difference in the denominational statistics of 1952 and 1954 which I quoted last time.
But the issues were doctrinal issues. And they were not insignificant doctrinal issues, but issues which went to the very heart of our Protestant Reformed heritage. That is the reason why our churches and membership were willing to undergo the tribulation of the separation in 1953.
And to these important doctrinal issues we shall call attention in greater detail.
Lest we forget!