And now I will cite the authorities, whom I have consulted at length from their writings. For the benefit of those who have difficulty with the Holland language, I will quote them in translation.
The first quotation is from the monumental work of Dr. H. Bouwman on the Church Order, Volume II, page 464, paragraph t: “How must it be dealt with, when someone has resigned his membership, and, having moved to another place, wants to join the Reformed Church there? Must he first get matters in order in the church where he formerly lived, and then come with an attest [certificate of transfer, H.C.H.] and present himself at the consistory in his new residence, or must the consistory in the place of his present residence admit him? Naturally, it stands to reason, that the consistory where he now lives must do the admitting. But this consistory can first admit him after correspondence with the church from which he separated himself, in order that they may know what the causes were for his breaking with the church. And then, when the information is of such a nature that it is no absolute obstacle, and the confession of sin of the person concerned is satisfactory, the consistory at which he applied can again open the way to the Lord’s table.”
In connection with this quotation, note the following:
1. That this case merely involves a member who has resigned, or, as we would say, has been dismissed at his own request. The question says nothing of any other wrong-doing, any censurable sin. Nor does it either affirm or deny that in the meantime the person concerned affiliated with any other church. The point is that he left one congregation of the Reformed Churches and later wanted to affiliate with another congregation of that denomination.
2. This, therefore, is very similar to the way in which Southeast presents the case under discussion: a mere matter of membership.
3. That as far as admitting to membership is concerned. Bouwman simply says that it is a most natural thing that the consistory the of man’s new residence must do the actual admitting. Apparently, therefore, this quotation favors the stand of Southeast. But remember now that this matter of actual admission to membership is not the issue; and, besides, Bouwman here is speaking from the point of view of the fact that in the Netherlands each church has its own definite and inviolable district.
4. That, as far as the question of wrong-doing and reconciliation is concerned, Bouwman states:
a. That the first thing to be done is to get in contact with the former consistory, in order to find out what was wrong when the man left.
b. That only when the information from that former consistory is of such a nature that it constitutes no obstacle to renewed membership and when confession of sin of the person concerned is satisfactory, only then can the person be admitted to the Lord’s table.
It is very plain, therefore, that reconciliation with the offended party, i.e., the first consistory, is the principle taught here.
In his “Iierkelijke Adviezen,” Vol. II, page 314, Prof. Rutgers is speaking of the readmittance of excommunicated persons. But the fundamental issue is, as is plain also from the articles of our Church Order which deal with censure and excommunication, that of reconciliation. Here is the quotation:
“As a rule the readmission then will take place in and by the church which expressed the excommunication, something that lies in the nature of the case and which is expressly presupposed in the Form for Readmittance . . . As a rule that is certainly the best way; especially in cases (which come to light also) where nothing was known of his excommunication in the place where the person now resides . . . There are cases conceivable, however, in which it would be objectionable to let the readmittance take place in the place where the excommunication was expressed. But also then the consistory of his new residence would not be able to proceed without consultation with the church which expressed the excommunication, nor also without the approval of that church. And in case of difference of opinion, the Classis or Synod must decide.”
This citation; from one who is known for his strong emphasis upon the autonomy of the local church, is crystal clear. Notice:
1. That this quotation exactly refers to the reconciliation of grievous sin, without which, of course, readmittance of excommunicated persons cannot take place.
2. That, according to Rutgers, it is a concession and an exception that such readmittance (reconciliation) takes place elsewhere than where the sin was committed and the excommunication expressed.
3. That even then, the reconciliation must be to the satisfaction of the original consistory, so that the latter must not only be consulted but must also give its approval.
4. That in case of difference of opinion, i.e., between the two consistories, the Classis or Synod must decide.
Again, therefore, while the details differ, the principle is very clearly the same one insisted upon by the majority report.
And Ds. Joh. Jansen takes the same position in his commentary on the Church Order. He writes on page 323, paragraph 5:
“Where must lifting of suspension take place in case of change of residence? [Her is not speaking of suspension of an officebearer, but of suspension of a member. H.C.H.] There, where the suspended one now lives and is accepted on the ground of his attest [certificate of transfer, H.C.H.] as a censured member. There only can one judge concerning his repentance. But then the church-connection [kerk verband, denominational tie, H.C.H.] demands that lifting of censure [i.e., reconciliation, H.C.H.] cannot take place without the knowledge and approval (bewilliging, agreement, consent) of the consistory which has expressed the censure. In case of gross sin, which gave offense in the former congregation and which is not yet forgotten there, both consistories can judge it necessary that the censured one first reconcile with his former consistory (and congregation). In case of mutual disagreement the classis must decide.
“But when a censured member removes without asking for an attest to another church, what then? Voetius [often called the father of Reformed church polity, H.C.H.] gives advice, that the consistory of the former congregation admonish him to come over and still make confession of sin, in order that he may receive a good attestation. When he refuses this, and at the same time refuses to ask for an attest on which censure must be noted, he withdraws himself through his own fault from the church.”
On page 335 of the same commentary, Jansen is speaking of re-admittance of excommunicated persons taking place in a new church in cases which are very old and forgotten in the original church. And he opines as follows: “But also in this case readmittance may because of the church-connection [denominational tie, H.C.H.] take place not without consultation with and approval of the consistory of the church where the excommunication took place.”
Here again, the principle of reconciliation and removal of the offense to the satisfaction of the original cdnsistory is insisted upon throughout. And again, also Jansen insists that in case of difference of opinion no action may take place before consulting classis.
To this same principle Monsma and Van Dellen adhere in their Church Order Commentary, page 312, writing on Article 75:
“Supposing one who is being admonished and censured moves and becomes a member of another of our Churches, which Consistory should then complete the reconciliation, revoking the suspension, etc.? The consistory of his new Church. By this Church he has been received as a censured and erring member, and the new Consistory always continues the process of censure where the former Consistory left off. But our confederation, our bonds of Church unity, would require that the former Consistory, which initiated the censure be recognized and be asked for their approval, for they may know the case far better than the new Consistory. In case of extreme sins generally known it is advisable, both for the Church and for the sinner, that announcement of the transgressor’s repentance be made to the former Church also. When serious differences of opinion arise between two Consistories in cases as suggested, the advice of Classis should be sought.”
Concerning this last quotation:
1. Also these authors are noted for their insistence on the autonomy of the local church and their agreement in this respect with the view of Dr. Van Lonkhuyzen.
2. While the detailed question is different in that it concerns the transfer of a censured member and the reconciliation and reinstatement after his transfer, the fundamental issue is the same.
3. And as to this fundamental issue, they plainly insist on reconciliation to the satisfaction of the former Consistory.
4. And their view of autonomy is such that they insist that “our confederation, our bonds of Church unity,” require this.
5. And they also teach that where there are serious differences of opinion between the two Consistories, the advice of Classis should be sought.
It is plain beyond question, therefore, that all the recognized authorities insist on the very principle maintained by the committee in its majority report. Indeed they knew that. Matthew 5:23, 24 is in the Bible; and they adhered to this principle strictly.
The Contents of the Case
Applying the above principle, we come now to the material aspect of the present case. Also about certain fundamental aspects of the case from this point of view there has been considerable discussion. And I would like to point out that for all of us there are two main propositions which cannot and may not be denied.
1. The first is that sin has been committed by those who affiliated with the De Wolf group in 1953-54. This has been minimized in all kinds of ways in the discussion. There has been reference to the general bitterness of both sides. There has been reference made to our sins as well as those of the schismatics. And who would deny our own imperfection while maintaining nevertheless the principal truth and righteousness of our stand? There has been reference to ignorance, to being misled, to being deceived, etc. Nevertheless, that the schismatics have sinned is simply undebatable in our churches. This is true because it has been decided, without any objection or protest on the part of anyone, by both classis and synod. And the autonomy of our churches within the church-connection demands that this be recognized by all our consistories. The proof of this first proposition you have in the classical decision of October, 1953. But it is very clearly stated in the letter adopted by the 1954 Synod. In the first paragraph of that letter, printed and distributed to all the schismatics, you read already: “You have become schismatic, and separated yourselves from the Protestant Reformed Churches, so that you have no longer any right to the name Protestant Reformed, a name which we on our part mean to keep and protect, if necessary through legal channels. [And now notice that Synod even recognizes the possibility of ignorance and misinformation, H.C.H.] We do not know in how far you are acquainted with the facts that caused the schism in our churches. Many of you are undoubtedly misinformed. And therefore, in the following pamphlet our first purpose is to acquaint you with the bare facts and causes of the schism. And, whether you know the facts or are still ignorant of them, in this pamphlet we come to you with a word of admonition, to repent of your evil way and to return to the truth and the fellowship of the Protestant Reformed Churches in the only proper way, which we hope to describe below.” And then, after stating the facts clearly and in detail, this same letter concludes as follows: “Nevertheless, we cannot consider our task completed before we have addressed to you a word of brotherly admonition in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of His church. We cannot forget that you once walked with us in the same way of the same truth for which we were ousted in 1924 from the fellowship of the Chr. Ref. Churches, and that has always been and still is very dear to our hearts. You are walking in the way of schism and rebellion, which is very sinful before God. And therefore we appeal to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you return from your evil way, and at the same time in true repentance return to the fold of the Prot. Ref. Churches, of which once you were all members. But you must do this in the proper way, by confessing before God and us:
“1. That you have grievously erred when you subscribed to the heretical statements made by the Rev. H. De Wolf in his sermons of April, 1951 and September, 1952.
“2. That you have erred when you condemned the legal action of the Consistory of the First Prot. Ref. Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan, by which they suspended the Rev. De Wolf and deposed some of his elders, an action which was sustained by the sessions of Classis East in April-May, 1953, and sealed in its session of October 6, 7, 1953.
“3. That you recognize as the legal Consistory of the First Prot. Ref. Church the body whose pastors are Rev. H. Hoeksema and C. Hanko and whose clerk is at present J. M. Faber.
“4. That you recognize as the only and legal Synod of the Prot. Ref. Churches the churches that were gathered in Hudsonville from June 16 to June 22, and which consisted of the delegates from the legal Classis East and the legal Classis West, the latter comprising the churches of Doon, Edgerton, Hull, Lynden, and Redlands.
“May the Lord God so impress this missive of the Synod of the Prot. Ref. Churches upon your heart that you give heed, repent and return to the fold of our churches. This is our prayer.”
Again in 1959 our Synod took the same position. And in a letter of admonition it mentioned in detail the sins of which the schismatics were guilty, and adding in its concluding and warm appeal: “Believe us, we fervently wish for your return, for your repentance and confession before God, for again clasping the hand of brotherhood.” See Acts of Synod, 1959, pp. 109, 110. And also this letter was sent out by our various consistories to those who left us.
No consistory has the right, within the church-connection, to go contrary to these decisions. This is an undebatable matter in our churches.
2. The second proposition, equally undebatable, is this: these sins must be confessed by those who would return to our churches. This too has been minimized and even denied in the discussion. And it has been claimed especially that in 1959 Synod decided that this confession before the church was not necessary. That Synod, according to Article 105 of the Acts, failed to pass an amendment to insert in the letter of admonition the words “and confession before God and the church.” And it adopted an amendment to insert the words “and confession before God.” In regard to this the following:
a. This defeated amendment merely means that Synod decided not to insert this in the letter. It does not mean that Synod decided that confession before the church was not necessary. This is plain from the very form of the amendment.
b. The Synod never retracted the decision of 1954, which literally mentions confession before the church. This decision still stands and is binding.
c. How can any consistory know that one has confessed before God unless it inquires? In other words, confession before God implies confession before the church.
I am afraid, however, that Southeast has not required such confession. And I base this on the fact that on page 8 of their answer they do not speak of a confession of sin, but merely of ascertaining that the schismatics “repudiate their former position.”
Finally, in this connection, I want to say a word about an argument that has been raised rather frequently, namely, that this case involves denominational sin, and therefore involves sin that can be confessed at any consistory. I deny this. In fact, I do not know what is really meant by “denominational sin.” The sins committed were to a large extent denomination-wide, although even this does not take into account matters which only a local consistory would be in a position to know and to judge concerning its own members. But, strange as it may seem in the light of all the reference to autonomy, this argument is really based on a hierarchical or collegialistic conception of the churches and the Church Order. There is no such thing as a denomination except as a federation of local, self-governing churches. And I cannot sin against the denomination except as a member of a certail1 local church and except by sinning against my local consistory. And while there has been much talk about the fact that we cannot simply treat all those who return alike—something with which I freely agree—it must by the same token be kept in mind that only the local consistory can judge that degree of responsibility properly.
It has also been claimed that what the majority report now advises is contrary to all that our churches have done in the past in matters of this kind. And I want to comment briefly on this.
1. The case of the Danhof group has been cited. It has been claimed that those who returned to our church in Kalamazoo from this group were not required to make confession. The minority report mentions this too. And apparently some testimony has been obtained to this effect from members who returned at the time. The facts are: 1) That we do not have the minutes in this case. They are not available. 2) Personally, I received unsolicited testimony to the contrary some time ago from one who was pastor of Kalamazoo at the time, the Rev. H. Veldman. He wrote me that he was sure that these people came back to our church in Kalamazoo by way of confession. 3) The very best that can be said of this case, therefore, is that it is questionable. It has not been proved one way or the other, because we have conflicting testimony.
2. The Hudsonville-Byron Center case, which has been mentioned here and which was treated by the Synod of 1944, very plainly maintains the principle of the majority report.
3. And long ago—some of our older ministers will remember it first-hand—there was a case involving Doon and Rock Valley, in which it was insisted that a certain party had to make reconciliation with the Consistory of Doon before he could obtain a “clean” transfer to Rock Valley. He bowed before this principle at the time, made his confession, and immediately demanded a transfer to Rock Valley, where he remained for some 14 years.
Perhaps there have been more cases. These come to mind. And at any rate, there is no historical evidence to the contrary at this point.
In the light of all the foregoing, I submit, Mr. Chairman:
1. That the position of the majority report is not at all sectarian, but fully in harmony with the main line of Reformed thought.
2. That the position of the majority report does not deny the autonomy of the local consistory within the church-connection, but that on the contrary, the position of Southeast is fundamentally that of independentism.
3. That this position will not be destructive of our Protestant Reformed Churches, but exactly will serve to maintain our churches in their distinctive position.
4. That the door will not be shut completely to the schismatics, but will be open in all our churches to those of the schismatics who want to return in the proper way, that of confession and reconciliation.