There are several reasons why the Declaration that was proposed by our last Synod to the churches should be adopted at our next Synod.
Its adoption should not be postponed.
The Mission Committee evidently felt that they had need of such a declaration as a basis for their work and deliberations. And this basis must not be left uncertain for another year. The missionaries themselves evidently felt the need of it as a basis for their labors and for the organization of churches. At least, the Rev. A. Cammenga, who was present at our last Synod, strongly expressed himself in favor of adopting this declaration. And, at our last Synod it was virtually adopted without a dissenting vote. Surely a year should be long enough for the churches to consider such a document as the Declaration of Principles, which virtually offers nothing, else than the Confessions themselves. Nor should we postpone the adoption of this declaration because of a possible visit of the Committee of Correspondence to the Netherlands. For, in the first place, it is not even certain, in view of the world situation, that the committee is able to go this year. And secondly, if they do go, it is advisable that the Deputies for Correspondence in the Netherlands stand on a definite basis such as the Declaration of Principles offers.
Hence, I would not be in favor of postponing a final decision by the Synod on this important matter.
But should this declaration be adopted at all? Is there any reason for its adoption by our churches? To this question I answer affirmatively. And I have the following reasons:
1. It is indeed often necessary that within the Confessions the Churches clearly express what according to their conviction is the plain teaching of those Confessions. This becomes necessary when one or a group of persons within the churches claim to stand on the basis of the confessions but nevertheless deviate from them. Such was the case in the Christian Reformed Churches in 1918, when the Rev. H. Bultema attempted to propagate his premillenial and dispensational doctrine in the Reformed churches. The Synod then appealed to the Confessions to prove the unity of the church of all ages both in the old and new dispensations, and the Kingship of Christ over His church. Again, this was necessary when Dr. Jansen tried to inculcate into the students of the Theological School of the Christian Reformed Churches his modernistic teachings concerning Holy Writ. Also then, the Synod appealed to the Confessions to prove that he was in error. Once more it became necessary for those who loved the Reformed faith in 1924 to express their conviction as to what is the plain teaching of the Three Forms of Unity over against the error of the Three Points adopted by the Synod of Kalamazoo, 1924.
As churches we are in the same situation today. We must clearly express what according to the conviction of the Protestant Reformed Churches is the plain teaching of the Confessions, not only over against the Three Points adopted by the Christian Reformed Churches in 1924 but also in distinction from the Liberated view of the covenant and of the promise of God, which is principally the same as the Heynsian conception.
Now let us note,—and this is my main and principle ground on which I base the contention that the Declaration of Principles should be adopted,—that the declaration is based from beginning to end on our Three Forms of Unity, as well as on our Baptism Form.
Some have alleged, without any proof for their contention, that the Declaration of Principles is nothing but a private theological opinion, or that it is at least extra-confessional. But this certainly is not true. In fact, nothing could be farther from the truth. Let us not overlook the fact that the entire Declaration consists almost entirely of literal quotations from the Confessions. Only occasionally Synod expresses very briefly in its own words what the Confessions teach. Hence, the Declaration is essentially nothing else than the Three Forms of Unity and the Baptism Form as they have always been understood by the Protestant Reformed Churches. Even the terms fountain and cause of our salvation, which are used in II, A, to which Dr. Schilder objects, are nevertheless quite confessional. For in Canons I, A, 6 we read that the gift of faith proceeds from God’s eternal decree, which certainly presents the decree as the fountainhead of faith. And in Canons I, A, 10 we read: “The good pleasure of God is the sole cause of this gracious election.” But whatever minor criticisms may be offered, it is safe to say that the Declaration of Principles is the language of the Confessions; it offers nothing new.
2. The Declaration of Principles was adopted as a proposal to all our churches in the regular ecclesiastical way. No one can refute this on any sound church political basis. As I have repeatedly stated, it was adopted at the request of the Mission Committee. That committee is a synodical committee and cannot send its proposals or requests in the way of consistory and classis to synod, but must report to Synod directly. It is concerned with the mission work of our churches. And that work certainly pertains to all the churches in common. It was therefore no violation of Art. 30 of the Church Order when Synod received and acted on the request of the Mission Committee. Besides, let us never forget that the Synod of 1950 did not definitely adopt the Declaration of Principles, but to avoid all semblance of hierarchy decided simply to propose it to all our churches, in order that in the way of consistories and classes it might be adopted at our next Synod. How anyone can content on good grounds that the Synod violated any rule of the Church Order is certainly a mystery to me.
3. The Declaration of Principles will certainly serve as a sound and clear basis for the organization of prospective Protestant Reformed Churches. And that there is dire need for such a definite basis for organization is already clearly proved by the history of our congregation in Hamilton, Ontario. There the consistory refused to stand by its own decision, which was corroborated by Classis East, namely, to ask of all prospective members that they submit to the instruction of our Protestant Reformed Churches and that they refrain from agitating against our doctrine. In my presence the members of the consistory definitely stated that at the time they were organized they did not promise anything and did not bind themselves to adhere to Protestant Reformed doctrine whatsoever. There was nothing binding in our churches according to them, except, of course, the Three Forms of Unity, which they interpret in their own fashion. Certainly a definite basis for organization of prospective Protestant Reformed Churches is a dire need. It was such a basis which the Mission Committee needed and requested and which was supplied by the proposed Declaration of Principles. And this Declaration will certainly admirably serve the purpose. Also for this reason I propose that the Declaration be adopted at our next Synod.
4. The Declaration of Principles will serve as a clear proclamation to all that are without of the faithful adherence of the Protestant Reformed Churches to the Reformed faith as expressed in the Three Forms of Unity, over against all that deviate from these Con- fissions. This is true particularly in the first place over against the errors of the Three Points, which teach that there is a grace of God to all men, including the reprobate, in the common gifts to men; which teach, besides, that the promise of the gospel is a well- meant offer of salvation on the part of God to all that hear the gospel; and which teach, finally, that through an influence of common grace the natural man can do good in this world. And secondly, this is true over against the Heynsian view of the promise and the covenant, which according to the conviction of the Protestant Reformed Churches is certainly Arminian. It is especially over against these errors that the Declaration of Principles clearly sets forth what is according to the Protestant Reformed Churches the clear teaching of the Confessions.
5. It will safeguard our Protestant Reformed Churches by the grace of God against the influence of those who claim that they adhere to the Reformed Confessions, but who nevertheless deviate from them. There is more than one reason for this attitude. Some indeed do not like the clear language of the Confessions with their emphasis on particularism, unconditional election, the total depravity of man, and sovereign grace. But there are others too, not only among the common laity but also among the leaders, that have never made a thorough and careful study of the Confessions. The former tendency to deviate from the strict language of the Confessions regarding the sovereignty of God, unconditional election, and the total depravity of man was evident when the Synod of 1924 of the Christian Reformed Churches adopted the well-known Three points. But this is no less true of many of the Liberated, who claim that they are bound only by the Three Forms of Unity but in the meantime teach that the promise is on the part of God for all the children that are baptized. But among them there are certainly very many that have never studied the Confessions. Their claim that they will be bound by nothing but the Three Forms of Unity is a mere empty slogan, by which they nevertheless want to throw open the doors of the church wide to whoever may want to join. This is evident from the attitude of the Consistory of Hamilton. Fact is that such people do not want to stand on the basis of the Three Forms of Unity but want to f be bound by nothing at all, although they claim that they are bound by the Confessions. This is a great danger. If we follow their lead, our Protestant Reformed Churches will soon lose their distinctiveness. And therefore I claim that the Declaration of Principles, which clearly enunciates the teachings of the Confessions, will, by the grace of God, serve as a safeguard against all who claim that they are bound by the Confessions but who principally must have nothing of them.
6. Finally, the Declaration of Principles will serve as a sound and safe basis and starting-point for correspondence with other Reformed Churches, especially also with the Reformed Churches (Art. 31) of the Netherlands. I can very well understand and agree with men like the Rev. van Dijk of Groningen, Prof. Holwerda, and Rev. van Raalte and others, who protested at the Synod of Amersfoort when it decided to establish full correspondence with our churches and to open their pulpits to our ministers without any preliminary discussion. Honest correspondence demands first of all that we clearly enunciate the principles on which we stand and that in that way we may learn to know one another as churches. Correspondence with the Liberated Churches of the Netherlands certainly cannot be established by our opening our pulpits to them and they to us and by accepting one another’s membership papers without first discussing the doctrinal differences that cause us to differ from one another. It is a well-known fact that the Liberated, though they deny that they have any officially adopted covenant view, all embrace the Heynsian conception. For proof I refer to the articles by Dr. Bremmer in the issues of the Reformatie that appeared soon after the war, to Prof. Veenhof’s Appel and to his Unica Catholica as well as to many other articles in several church papers. We do not blame them for this. Nor do I think that correspondence with them is impossible. We can have correspondence, for instance, by sending delegates to one another’s synods; we can have correspondence, too, by getting into closer and constant contact with each other and by honestly and openly discussing the doctrinal differences that separate us. But it stands to reason that to establish the beginning of such correspondence we must clearly and definitely enunciate our conception of the covenant and of the promise of God, in order that we may stand in an honest relation to one another from the beginning. And the Declaration of Principles will certainly serve to enunciate clearly what our Confession teaches concerning these matters, and therefore will serve also as a safe and proper basis and starting-point for correspondence.
These are some of the reasons why, in my opinion, the Synod of 1951 should adopt the Declaration of Principles.