The RES News Exchange (March 29, ’72) there is a report of another decision of the Synod of the GKN. This concerns the matter of the Formula of Subscription and the binding force of the confessions. This entire matter has been under discussion for some time in the Netherlands. Synod had already decided, as was reported earlier in our columns, to make a change. Now the committee has reported; and Synod has made a decision. And it is a bad decision!
Here is the report carried in RES News Exchange:
(Grand Rapids) The Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, at their recent session of General Synod, adopted a new form of subscription for officers in the church. The new form, which all pastors, professors and candidates for the ministry must sign, no longer requires complete agreement with the confessional standards of the church. This is a change from the position taken in 1969 when the Synod saw no reason not to express full agreement, although it recognized that there were difficulties in the form of the argument and manner of expression of the 17th century documents. At that time a commission was charged with the task of studying whether there were any additional reasons why full and complete agreement should no longer be required. The recent Synod declared that changes should not be made in the present standards.
In the new form the subscriber affirms that the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God, the authoritative revelation of the Gospel of God in Jesus Christ and therefore are the only rule for faith and life. It also requires the subscriber to say, “We promise, in the unity of the true faith, to remain faithful to the confession of the church which the fathers have expressed in the three general creeds and in the three Forms of Unity.” Some persons had difficulty with the fact that the form does not mention the confessional standards but the confession of the church.
The reporter to the Synod, the Rev. A. C. van Nood, explained the new form by saying that it was definitely not the intention to “loosen all the screws” and to allow for unlimited freedom regarding the confessions. But, he stated, John Calvin himself held that the main points of the true doctrine are not all of one form. Some of them must be subscribed to by all, but others allow a difference of opinion without affecting the unity of the faith. Mr. van Nood also explained that the standards are there to direct the confessional activity of the church. Prof. J. Plomp of the Kampen Theological College expressed as his opinion that in adopting the new form nothing essential has been changed. (RES News Exchange 3/29/72)
We are sorry that the entire new Formula is not quoted. If possible, we will produce this at a later date.
But certainly the substance of the Formula is found in the statement that is literally quoted: “We promise, in the unity of the true faith, to remain faithful to the confession of the church which the fathers have expressed in the three general creeds and in the three Forms of Unity.” Whether the new Formula says anything about disagreement and about penalties (suspension and deposition) in case of unfaithfulness remains to be seen. But it is easily seen that the above promise is the official opening of the door to all kinds of false doctrine—contrary to the opinions of those mentioned in the RES News Exchange report. And the chief problem lies exactly in that distinction between the “confession” of the church and the confessional standards, or documents. This, you understand, is altogether different than the precise statement of the original Formula of Subscription: “We . . . do hereby sincerely and in good conscience before the Lord, declare by this, our subscription, that, we heartily believe and are persuaded that all the articles and points of doctrine (italics added), contained in the Confession and Catechism of the Reformed Churches, together with the explanation of some points of the aforesaid doctrine, made by the National Synod of Dordrecht, 1618-’19, do fully agree with the Word of Cod.”
I do not have to add any explanation; a mere comparison of the language of the two statements will make the difference clear.
Besides, if, as Prof. Plomp is, quoted as saying, nothing essential is changed by the new form, then the question cannot be answered: why a new form at all?
No, the door is now wide open!
But, of course, the Synod has by this only made official what has for a long time been an actual fact of life in the Gereformeerde Kerken. This will only make it more difficult, if not impossible, to protest against anyone’s doctrine on the basis of the creeds, and, also to convict anyone of heresy.
The decline in the GKN is indeed swift!
And there is a question which all the churches of the Reformed Ecumenical Churches will have to face, too: how can the GKN any longer be tolerated as members in good standing of the RES? Is this not becoming too much for the sister churches of the GKN to swallow?