A NEW SET OF CONCLUSIONS:
The Synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands that met in special session in January and February of this year, for the purpose of reviewing the decisions of the Synod of Utrecht 1942, amid to consider objections and protests that had been filed against those decisions; and that was supposed to take into consideration the possibility of a reunion and a healing of the schism that has been caused in connection with those decisions,—that Synod composed and adopted an entirely new set of declarations on the question of the covenant of grace, that is to replace, not only the decisions of 1942, point two to four on this question, but also the fourth of the Conclusions of Utrecht 1905.
Besides, it adopted a set of declarations concerning the church-political aspect of the present controversy and schism.
The doctrinal decisions that are to replace those of 1942 and of 1905 on the question of the covenant are as follows (we translate):
“1. In the covenant of grace the Lord is pleased to deliver man, fallen in Adam, out of his misery, and to receive him again into His fellowship.
Unto this end He laid the iniquity of us all on the Mediator Jesus Christ, who, by his death and the shedding of His blood, confirmed the new and eternal testament, that covenant of grace and reconciliation.
Through the Holy Spirit the Lord applies this salvation, obtained by Christ, to His own; and in this grace, once bestowed upon them, He mercifully confirms them and preserves them to the end.
“2. In this covenant the Lord comes to us with the promise of salvation, and, on its ground, with the demand unto faith and repentance. These two, promise and (demand, are so related to each other, that man’s responsibility is fully maintained, while yet the Lord in His covenant is not dependent on the action of man. For in the promise He declares, not only that whosoever believeth on the Son hath eternal life, but He also promises the Holy Spirit Who works faith in us, whereby He makes us partakers of Christ and all (His benefits. Accordingly, He works in the elect that which He demands of all, fulfilling unto them all the promises of the covenant, counting, not ‘the children of the flesh’ but ‘the children of the promise’ for the seed.
“3. According to the Word of God, the children of believers are as well as the adults (comprehended in the covenant of God in His Church, and they we sanctified in Christ, so that they partake of the promise and are placed under the demand of the covenant. At the same time, Scripture teaches us that not all are Israel that are of Israel. Nevertheless, the Church, while it is not given her to judge the hidden things, must make no distinction between members and members, but, trusting in the promise of God, and in harmony with the manner of speaking of the Scriptures, consider and treat the children, unless they reveal themselves as unbelievers, as such that partake of the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit. This does not imply that any definite declaration! can be made, on the basis of the Word of God, regarding the time when the Holy Spirit commences His regenerating work in the elect; the Lord fulfills His promise according to His sovereign good pleasure in His own time, whether before, during, or after Baptism. Further we declare with our confession that godly parents have no reason to doubt of the election and salvation of their children, whom it pleases Gold to call out of this life in their infancy, since they are holy, not by nature, but in virtue of the covenant of grace. Likewise, the parents, in the education of their children, are ever to proceed from the promise of the covenant, and to plead on its ground. Those who, in unbelief and impenitence, despise the covenant of God, the Church must exclude from her communion. By this she declares that such have no part in the kingdom of Christ, and that they, as covenant-breakers lie under the judgment of God as long as they do not repent. Nevertheless, the Church shall call upon the Lord on the basis of the promise of the covenant, also in behalf of these backsliders.
“4. The children of believers are to be baptized on the basis of God’s promise and command, and this baptism signifies and seals the washing away of sins through the blood and Spirit of Christ. Therefore the Church thanks and praises the Lord for “His fatherly goodness and mercy which He has shown to us and our children/’ and calls all to faith in the promise of the gospel that comes to them in holy baptism. For without faith the sacrament will not profit them, but aggravate their judgment, even as also our confession declares that the ungodly does indeed receive the sacrament to his condemnation, but not the truth of the sacrament, which is Christ Jesus, without whom the sacraments would be of no moment.
“5. The covenant of the Lord obligates everyone to examine himself earnestly, whether he really believes in the Christ of God and brings forth fruits of thankfulness; for the Scriptures declare that only he that believes and is baptized shall be saved.
In harmony with the above, the Synod repudiates every view that does not do justice to the doctrine of election and of the (efficacious operation of the Holy Spirit in the doctrine of the covenant, and that reduces the promise of the covenant to a conditional offer (“toezegging”).
hus far the doctrinal decisions of 1946.
We have no time, at present, to discuss these new decisions.
What strikes one is that the Synod, without having a mandate from the Churches they represented, as far as we know, now imposes an entirely new set of doctrinal declarations upon those Churches, and takes away from them former doctrinal declarations that were considered binding upon them.
First there was the compromise of 1905. This is now declared void.
Next came the decisions of Utrecht 1942. They were binding or all for about three years. Refusal to bend their neck, under this synodical yoke cost many their office, and became the occasion of a very serious split in the churches. Now this binding decision is also declared void.
Instead there is, not offered, but imposed on the churches an entirely new formulation of the matter. And now these are made binding, even before the churches had an opportunity to study the new decisions, and before the poor consciences of believers could speak concerning this new formulation.
For it was decided “to add to this new formulation that this new declaration serves to replace that of 1905, point 4, and that of 1942 concerning the covenant of grace, points 2-4, and that, as ecclesiastical expression of doctrine it implicitly has binding power.”
What is next?
Will the churches humbly accept this new formulation too? Will they not wake up to the fact that this group of learned theologians, that vest themselves with the supreme power and authority in doctrinal matters, does not quite know what it is (doing?
If they don’t, it is not the fault of the Synod.
As to the decisions of this latest Synod in regard to the church-political questions involved in the present controversy and schism in the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands, we shall not ‘weary the reader by a literal translation of them.
This is hardly necessary.
For, first of all, the Lord willing, we intend to discuss this phase of the matter before long. It is sufficiently important to warrant a separate discussion.
And, secondly, the present or latest decisions did not principally change the church-political situation at all. In general, it may be said that the Synod of 1946 justified and maintained the position assumed by the Synod of Utrecht 1939-1943, and of Utrecht 1943-1945.
She does this in fourteen conclusions.
In the first it is declared that the work of the two preceding synods reveals that they were ‘motivated by the desire to serve the wellbeing of the Churches.
The second justifies the action of the Synod of Amsterdam, 1936, in taking up the matter of the doctrinal differences without mandate from the Churches.
The third defends the closed session methods of the Synod of Sneek-Utreeht.
The fourth declares the desirability of sending reports about serious matters to the Churches, before the convocation of the Synods.
The fifth expresses that there is no need of a new interpretation of Art. 30 D.K.O.
The sixth conclusion denies that the former synods offered contradictory interpretations of Art. 31 D.K.O.; and defends the synodical interpretation of that article: proof that any decision of a major body is contrary to the Word of God or in conflict with the Church Order must be given to the satisfaction of the body that made the decision.
The seventh declaration expresses the opinion that to conform oneself to a doctrinal decision: may simply mean that one does not feel himself called openly to protest against it, or that one simply acquiesces though for himself he is not convinced of the truth of such a decision, after he has attempted in vain to convince the ecclesiastical gathering concerned of the error. This is rather important. And strange, too!
The eighth declares that the Churches have the right to bear with an erring brother, provided his error does not concern a fundamental principle of the truth, and he makes no propaganda for his error.
The ninth conclusion bewails the fact that the immediately preceding synod expressed itself ambiguously about delegation of aggrieved members to Synod.
Conclusions ten and eleven concern the prolonged sessions of the two former synods, justifies them under certain conditions, but declares that such things should belong to the great exceptions.
The twelfth conclusion declares that the fact the former Synod found itself obliged to exercise discipline directly, may not have the effect that, in the future, minor assemblies leave such matters to the major assemblies. Here it appears as if the synod was afraid of a boomerang!
The thirteenth conclusion maintains the suspension and deposition of professors Schilder and Greydanus, and defends the action taken against candidate H. Schilder.
The fourteenth conclusion explains the grounds upon which candidate Schilder was refused admission to the ministry of the Word in the Reformed Churches.