The RES Response To Our Letter
Last time, in introducing the subject of the invitation to our churches from the RES, we quoted in full the decision of our churches in 1968. This decision was forwarded to the RES Secretariat and to the convening church of the RES-Amsterdam prior to the meeting of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod in 1968.
What became of this letter? What response was there?
In the first place, the General Secretary of the RES, Dr. Paul Schrotenboer, informed the Synod of our letter, Art. 186, Acts and Reports of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod, Amsterdam 1968: “The General Secretary reported receipt of a letter from the Protestant Reformed Churches of America asking if they could send to Synod an observer who would not be obliged to subscribe to the Basis of the Synod. It was agreed to refer the matter to the Interim Committee for reply.”
In connection with the above article, it should be noted:
1) That there is no notice that our letter was actually presented to the Synod; nor does our letter appear among the Supplements in the 1968 Acts and Reports. To our knowledge, therefore, the letter was buried in the files and received no actual notice except from the Interim Committee.
2) A comparison of our letter with the statement of Article 186 will show the latter to be inaccurate. First of all, it omits any mention of the most important and largest part of our letter, namely: the statement of our objections to the Basis of the RES. And secondly, it is not accurate to say that we asked to send an observer who would not be obliged to subscribe to the Basis. We specifically asked “whether the RES is willing to grant the Protestant Reformed Churches observer-status with understanding that they take exception to the above-mentioned elements of the Basis.” (emphasis added) Moreover, we specifically stated that we “are in full agreement with the Doctrinal Basis of the RES in so far as it refers to Scripture and the Reformed Creeds.” The differences are quite obvious, it seems to me.
But what did the Interim Committee, to whom this matter was referred, do?
Under date of January 15, 1969 they wrote the following letter, signed by Dr. Schrotenboer, the General Secretary:
I wish to acknowledge receipt of your letters of June 18, 1968 to the Reformed Church of Amsterdam and to the Reformed Ecumenical Synod. Your communication was read to the meeting of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod, Amsterdam, 1968.
In response to your letters, the Synod agreed to refer to the Interim Committee the matter of sending to the Synod a representative who would not be obligated to subscribe to the Basis (see Article 186, page 79, Acts and Reports 1968). The Interim Committee has authorized me to send you his reply.
In the Acts and Reports you will note certain proposed revisions of the Rules and Standing Orders (pages 79 to 82). Kindly note in particular that the proposals regarding advisory observers, non-advisory observers and guests have been referred to the Interim Committee for consideration. The Interim Committee has already begun to carry out its mandate of revising the Rules and Standing Orders further.
Because the Synod did not take final action in the matter of your request, it is not possible to give you a definite answer at this time. However, the Interim Committee would assure you that an answer can be sent to your church in ample time to allow your church to consider sending an observer to the next meeting of Synod.
It is my sincere desire that your church will feel free to send a representative to the next meeting of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod. The sentiments which have been expressed at the meetings of Synod and by members of the Interim Committee indicate that there is a considerable sympathy for making provision that a church such as: yours could send’ a representative without being required to subscribe to the Basis.
Recently we sent your secretary, the Rev. Veldman, a copy of the Acts and Reports of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod, Amsterdam, 1968. Sincerely in Christ, (was signed) Dr. Paul G. Shrotenboer
And thus matters have stood until very recently, when we received an invitation to send an observer to the forthcoming RES-Sydney.
It will be evident, too, that matters stand precisely as they did in 1968 when our Synod took the decision which we quoted last time.
Nothing has changed.
The RES itself took no action on our letter.
The Interim Committee has taken no action. We have assurances from said committee that “an answer can be sent . . . in ample time.” We have assurances of sympathy for “making provision that a church such as yours could send a representative without being required to subscribe to the Basis,”—something for which we did not even ask. The desire is expressed “that your church will feel free to send a representative to the next meeting of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod.”
But nothing has changed!
Our objections to various elements in the basis—objections which we spelled out rather in detail and which we grounded in Scripture and the confessions—were never so much as mentioned, much less treated and answered. One would think that the RES would have at least attempted to answer these objections, if out of no other motive than that of self-justification. And surely, if we are to take the interest of the RES in Biblical ecumenicity seriously, may we not expect that out of brotherly concern they would at least make the attempt to enlighten us and to remove our difficulties?
But nothing is said about all this.
Nor is any provision made for us to take exception to the objectionable elements in the Basis. Oh, yes, an answer can be sent in ample time; but it is not sent. Indeed, there is considerable sympathy for making provision for observers who do not subscribe to the Basis. But for this we did not ask; and, besides, no provision was made.
For my part, I simply cannot take the RES seriously when it extends an invitation to our churches.
The simple fact is that our churches are confronted by the necessity, if they wish to send an observer, of subscribing to the Basis concerning which we have already declared that we must take serious exception. And this we cannot do.
Nor is this problem removed by the fact that at the RES-Sydney a new constitution will very likely be adopted. In this new constitution an observer will no longer be required to subscribe to what we find objectionable. However, in the first place, this does not remove the difficulty with respect to the coming meeting of the RES, which will convene under the old rules. In the second place, under the new constitution the status of observers is greatly reduced: they are not even guaranteed an opportunity to speak. And, in the third place, considering that the sending of an observer would be a first step toward eventual membership in the RES, the real difficulty (that of the same objectionable elements mentioned in our decision of 1968) would still remain.
If the RES or its Interim Committee had shown some inclination at least to discuss and to try to iron out our difficulties, I could see some light in the situation. Now I do not. And frankly, I am personally not of a mind to prolong the exchange of correspondence with the RES. I would propose that when the RES shows some genuine desire to have the Protestant Reformed Churches represented at its meetings, we can always see again.
Meanwhile, it should not be overlooked that by this time there are other considerations connected with the matter of possible attendance at the RES. To these we will call attention next time, the Lord willing.