One of the cheapest, most superficial, evilest, but nevertheless often very effective methods to brand a movement of a reformatory character in the church as false and of the evil one, is to concentrate all one’s attention upon the leader of such a movement, vituperate his character and personality, ascribe the movement wholly to the powerful influence of that personality, and present all other participants in the movement as blindly following that strange, that ambitious, that impossible man.
This method has many advantages.
It simplifies the case immensely. Instead of collecting and carefully evaluating the historical data, the doctrinal implications, and the church-political transactions involved in the case, you can afford to limit yourself to the presentation of a simple syllogism: 1. The leader is no good; 2. The movement is wholly inspired by the evil leader; 3. The movement must be evil.
Moreover, if such a man happens to be condemned and cast out by the church, the latter, by fixing all the attention upon the impossible and evil personality of the leader, is at once justified. No matter what may be the doctrinal implications of the case, no matter whether this leader actually taught false doctrine worthy of deposition, no matter how many injustices the church may have committed in casting him out, the church is plainly justified in her act for the simple reason that the man is impossible.
The method has been and is frequently employed.
It is very easy to use. It almost suggests itself. Usually in any reformatory movement in the church there is a leader, called and ordained of God to blow the trumpet of Zion. Usually, always, such a leader, if he be a mere man, is a sinful man, whose faults of character should not be difficult to discover. How easy, then, to eliminate all his good traits, to accentuate the defects of such a leader, play them up, and picture him as a man who uses his position and influence in the church to satisfy his own boundless ambition, in order thus to condemn the whole movement inaugurated by him!
The method was used by the enemies against David, against the prophets, above all against Jesus Christ Himself; against the apostles; against Martin Luther, against John Calvin, and against all that were called of God to occupy an outstanding position in the church.
It is, I am sorry to say, this same method that is employed by Clarence Bouma in evaluating and condemning the well-known schism in the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands.
In an editorial in the Calvin Forum, entitled “The Schism in the Netherlands” he launches an attack upon the person of Dr. Schilder, and attempts to explain the schism solely from the evil influence of the latter’s personality.
I challenge anyone to find, in that editorial, even one item with reference to the facts, one historical datum, one reference to the doctrinal implications, or church-political principles and acts of the church involved in the case. And even in as far as the article speaks of Dr. Schilder s part in the controversy and schism, the article is repeatedly guilty of misrepresentation,
Bouma at once discovers “the key to the understanding of the Netherlands controversy of the last decade and the schism which has now come to cap it. . . in the strange man Klaas Schilder.” This “strange man Klaas Schilder” has, according to Bouma, “stirred up discussions on issues which were of his own choosing and served his purpose these ten years or more.” This “strange man” “attacked groups and individuals ever since he was established in the chair of Dogmatics at the Kampen Seminary,” And this “strange man,” “when at last it was clear that a break with the church was inevitable, and he would not submit to the authority of the highest judicatory, which had appointed him to his Seminary chair, chose his own issue in which to attack the church and its Synod.” By choosing this issue, according to Bouma, “he could have displayed no more flagrant inconsistency—not to say duplicity.” This Klaas Schilder is presented to the readers of Calvin Forum as “a brilliant but erratic person, a man with great capacity for work coupled with an insatiable ambition,” who “developed a resentment against the controlling leadership of the church,” who “considered himself the champion of Kampen” versus Amsterdam, who is “a sworn enemy of Kuyper and Hepp” and whose controversies became “increasingly vitriolic.” lie is described by Bouma as “a highly gifted but erratic and damaging personality.” Moreover, according to Bouma, when this “strange man Klaas Schilder” was finally “convinced that he was in the minority and that Synod meant business, he refused to respond to its summons. When Synod lays down a certain minimum of decisions by which he is to abide, he sets out to travel up and down the country to stir up disaffection and sets the church against the Synod.” And even when, after the schism was accomplished, the Synod put forth efforts at reconciliation, these were “rendered impossible by the unpardonable attitude, utterances and actions” of this strange man Schilder, this erratic, damaging personality with his insatiable ambition.
There you have it.
The key to the understanding of the entire schism is this strange, erratic, ambitious, impossible, vitriolic leader! Is not, then, such a movement plainly of the devil, and is not the synodical church at once and completely justified in all its decisions and actions?
Vitriolic controversy? O, but indeed! A more refined illustration of it is difficult to find.
But how unworthy of a professor of Apologetics so to ignore the facts in the case, and so superficially to explain the schism in the Netherlands from his own impression and evaluation of the psychological makeup of Klaas Schilder!
For facts in the case, we refer the reader to former issues of our Standard Bearer. But just offhand, let me mention some facts which the editor of the Calvin Forum forgets in his effort to attribute the entire schism in the Netherland Churches to the evil personality of Dr. Schilder.
- The schism is not the work of one man, even though. Schilder’s influence cannot be denied. How to explain the part of Van Dijk of Groningen, Vonk of Schiedam, and. above all of Greydanus? The latter’s influence, even upon Dr. Schilder is well known. And it is a patent fact that Dr. Greydanus has done far more to attack the doctrinal decisions of 1942, as well as the church-political injustices committed by the Synod, than anyone else.
- It is contrary to fact that Schilder chose his own issues. There is abundant proof for the fact that he was opposed to the action of the Synod of 1936 whereby the well-known “meeningsgeschillen” were picked up from the floor of the Synod and put into the category of official, ecclesiastical differences.
- That it was not Schilder, but Hepp who even before 1936 chose the issues, -when, in his series of brochures “Dreigende Deformatie”, he accused especially Volienhoven and Schilder of heresies, is also a matter of history.
- That Greydanus, Schilder and Volienhoven refused to collaborate in the same committee, appointed to study and report on the doctrinal differences by the Synod of 1936, with Dr. Hepp when the latter continued to launch his attacks upon his fellow committee members, can be shown from the records.
- That not only Schilder, but hundreds of others, officebearers and laymen, implored the Synod not to continue in their way, but to postpone action until after the war, is a simple fact.
- That Schilder did not ignore the summons of Synod, but responded to them by letter to the very last, is also a matter of record.
- That the schism was not chiefly caused by any definite doctrinal differences, but by the fact that the Synod plainly attempted to raise the theory of presumed regeneration to an ecclesiastical dogma, and to make this doctrine binding upon all as well as by the fact that Synod presumed to be the “highest judicatory” in the church (as also Bouma erroneously calls it), is likewise a fact.
But why mention more?
As a proper evaluation and explanation of the schism in the Netherland Churches, the article of Clarence Bouma has no value.
It is as superficial as it is erroneous.