As has been reported in the columns of All Around Us, various evaluations of last summer’s final decision in the so-called “Dekker Case” have appeared in the religious press, none of them critical.
Dr. Marten Woudstra minimized the entire controversy, comparing the concern about Dekker’s teachings to concern about a leak in the roof, while there should be concern about more important matters, comparable to the threat of a flood. How it is possible for a Reformed seminary professor to relegate the error of rank Arminianism to the insignificance of a minor roof-leak is a conundrum to me. Moreover, it certainly has never been the style of our Reformed fathers. The Rev. John Hulst even discovered in Synod’s decision a mandate to the churches to defend the faith,—something which cannot even be discovered in any fine print, but which must have been pulled out of thin air.
The editor of De Wachter, the Rev. Wm. Haverkamp, also furnishes his readers with an evaluation of Synod’s decision. He does this in connection with an “in depth” article which appeared in the Grand Rapids Press. Editor Haverkamp, as usual, is attempting in his editorial to calm the troubled waters and to prevent the Christian Reformed boat from being rocked too severely. However, in one paragraph of his editorial he came nearer to the truth in his evaluation than any other writer thus far. In the concluding paragraph of his article, he writes (I translate):
One thing indeed became very clear from the entire history, namely, that among the participants in the discussion and in the reports concerning the case there has never been any disagreement about the question whether Scripture teaches the well-meant offer of grace. About this they were all in agreement, be it then also with difference as concerns the function of this well-meant offer.
Now I must confess that when I first read this paragraph, I rubbed my eyes, wondering whether I had read correctly. But yes, there it stood: “One thing indeed became very clear. . .”
Then I began to think: “Could it be that an even greater miracle than Dr. Henry Stob’s miracle has happened, namely, that the editor of De Wachterand the editor of the Standard Bearer agreed in their evaluation of the Dekker Case? Could it be that the Rev. Haverkamp is at last beginning to heed our Protestant Reformed witness and to see that the deepest root of all the difficulties of the Dekker Case is the error of the well-meant offer of grace, adopted in 1924?” In fact, for a brief moment I almost began to rejoice.
For what Editor Haverkamp writes is certainly a correct evaluation as far as it goes. It is certainly objectively a fact. We may overlook the fact that the Synodical decision as such says nothing about this. We may overlook the fact, too, that the Rev. Haverkamp speaks only of Scripture, not of the confessions, in this connection. Perhaps the Doctrinal Committee members will also overlook the fact that the Rev. Haverkamp uses that naughty little expression “aanbod der genade (offer of grace)” which they criticized. For after all the Synod did not adopt what the Doctrinal Committee wrote in their report, and Editor Haverkamp is therefore not bound by their opinion. The fact remains that the Rev. Haverkamp states the truth. It certainly did become abundantly clear from all the discussion at the Synod, from the report of the Doctrinal Committee, and from the various reports of the Advisory Committee that there was no disagreement about the question whether Scripture teaches the well-meant offer of grace. Any fair and objective observer who is at all acquainted with the history and with the issues involved therein would have to come to that conclusion. In fact, the Standard Bearer expressed this same thought long before the Synod, and predicted that Prof. Dekker would never be condemned as long as the Christian Reformed Church maintained the First Point of 1924.
But then I began to think about this paragraph more calmly and soberly.
And that calmer analysis brought me to the conclusion that Editor Haverkamp did not really mean to say “the question whether Scripture teaches the well-meant offer of grace.” For this is not a question with him, and it is not a question in the Christian Reformed Church. It is an officially adopted doctrine, against which no one has the right to militate. What he really meant to say was: “. . .there has never been any disagreement about the fact that Scripture teaches the well-meant offer of grace.” That this is true is plain from the very next sentence. There may be some disagreement about the function of that well-meant offer; but as to the doctrine of the well-meant offer as such there is no disagreement. It is accepted as a Scriptural doctrine,—at least by all the participants in the discussion and by those responsible for the committee reports. When the real meaning of this paragraph became clear to me, however, my momentary hopes were dashed. For then the following also became clear to me:
1) That the Rev. Haverkamp is after all giving expression in this paragraph to what I had felt all along, both before and during the Synod, namely, that one thing was uppermost in his mind, in the minds of the anti-Dekker forces, and in the minds of the pro- Dekker forces,—but especially in the minds of the former,—and that was this: the First Point and its doctrine of the well-meant offer must by all means be maintained and protected.
2) That the editor of De Wachter does not really tell his readers the truth, but a half-truth. In connection with the quoted paragraph the title of his editorial should not have been “Round About That Synodical Decision.” From his point of view it could have better been “The Upshot of the Case.” And from the point of view of truth and reality it should have been “Behind That Synodical Decision.” For the First Point and its well-meant offer were indeed behind the decision. Because of it, the Doctrinal Committee was principally hamstrung and could not forthrightly condemn Dekker’s position. Because of it, the Synod was first unable to reach a decision, and then came to a decision which did not face the issue, a decision which failed to say what it should have said, namely, that it is contrary to Scripture and the confessions to teach a universal love of God and a general atonement. Because of it, the Synod, while it did not quite dare positively to uphold Prof. Dekker’s position, nevertheless found itself in the position of refusing to condemn Arminianism, and, in effect, shielding it. If Editor Haverkamp wanted to tell his readers the whole truth, he would have said: “It became very plain that we were all agreed that the doctrine of the well-meant offer of grace is Scriptural, AND THAT WAS OUR WHOLE TROUBLE.” And he would have further instructed his readers that Synod should have gone back to 1924, reviewed it, concluded that its doctrinal pronouncements were contrary to Scripture and our Reformed confessions, and repudiated its dreadful errors as principally Arminian and Pelagian. He would have informed his readers, further, that the decisions of 1924 are directly related to the debacle of 1967 as cause and effect.
3) That the editor of De Wachter is after all up to his old strategy of attempting to calm the waters. He is in effect trying to reassure his readers and to say: “At ease! The trouble is over. It was after all nothing but a tempest in a teapot. For we are all agreed that Scripture teaches a well-meant offer of grace. There is some difference among us as to the function of that offer; but on the offer itself we are agreed. This became abundantly clear at Synod.”
I am nevertheless curious as to why after more than forty years there is still disagreement about the function of that well-meant offer. In 1924 the doctrine of the offer was so important that men were deposed for denying it. In 1967 the Rev. Haverkamp says in effect: “We have a thing. We know that it is Scriptural. But we don’t know how it works and what to do with it.” Perhaps he could editorialize on that!