Offer of Grace Flatly Contradicts Election according to the Protestant Reformed Churches
“We Say that the Truth is Logical”
This was the bold headline on page two of the second section of Reformatorisch Dagblad on Friday, August 12, 1994. Reformatorisch Dagblad is a daily newspaper published by Reformed men and presenting the Reformed perspective on the news. It circulates widely throughout the Netherlands.
The article was the result of interviews that correspondent Klaas van der Zwaag conducted earlier this summer with the Rev. Richard G. Moore, pastor of the PRC of Hull, Iowa, and with the editor of the Standard Bearer. van der Zwaag translated the interviews into the Dutch language and wrote the article as the twelfth in a series in the Dutch paper on churches in America (“Geloven in Amerika”).
The questions put to the Protestant Reformed ministers were good, pointed questions, calculated to bring out the basic, distinctive beliefs and practices of the PRC. If the written form of the interview with the editor of the SB is an indication, Mr. van der Zwaag got the answers straight and did justice to the positions on various, important doctrinal and ethical issues of the PRC. Not every nuance was captured, nor was every qualifying phrase included, but this cannot be expected in the publishing of an interview.
The full-page article is a good introduction of the PRC to the readership of Reformatorisch Dagblad.
Supposing that the readers of the SB will be interested in this introduction of the PRC to the Dutch, I have translated the article into English. What follows, is my translation of the article on the PRC in the August 12, 1994 issue ofReformatorisch Dagblad, without editorial comment. (Anyone interested in a copy of the original article, reduced in size, can obtain it by writing or calling the business office of the SB.)
The offer of grace makes God dependent upon man. God is sovereign in election and reprobation. These conceptions in the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) resemble in many respects those of the spiritual father of the Reformed Congregations in the Netherlands (“Gereformeerde Gemeenten in Nederland“), Dr. C. Steenblok. However, in practice the PRC draw different conclusions. This denomination opposes conversion as an “extraordinary mystical experience.” Also every confessing member is obligated to partake of the Lord’s Supper.
The PRC came into existence in 1924 after a conflict in the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) over common grace (“algemene genade“). At that time the CRC deposed the preacher Herman Hoeksema and a number of consistories because they repudiated the doctrine of common grace. Hoeksema also fiercely opposed the “well-meant offer of grace,” irreconcilable, on his view, with the unconditional decree of election and reprobation. The PRC is a small denomination of 26 churches and about 6,000 members, almost all of whom live in America. Theologically, the denomination is very active. That appears, among other indications, from a conversation with dogmatics professor David J. Engelsma, professor of theology at the Protestant Reformed Seminary in Grand Rapids, and with Rev. R. G. Moore in Hull (Iowa).
According to Prof. Engelsma, many outside the PRC have a mistaken notion of the doctrine of the PRC:
People think that we do not preach the gospel to all men. What we really oppose is the presupposition that God has a sincere desire to save everyone who hears the Word of the preaching. We maintain that the gospel is preached to everyone and that God calls everyone to faith in Jesus Christ. With this however, it holds perfectly that God wishes only the salvation of the elect. He gives His grace only to those who have been predestinated to eternal life.
When asked about this, Prof. Engelsma says that the doctrine of his church shows significant similarities to that of Dr. C. Steenblok. His book concerning covenant; calling, and baptism, he has read with (some) agreement. Just as was the case with Steenblok in his day, also the PRC are criticized for rationalism and hyper-Calvinism.
We say that the truth is logical in this sense that there can be no contradictions between the various truths of the Bible. All of the doctrines that make up the entire body of truth are harmoniously related to each other. If the truth would be contradictory, theology would become a theology of paradox, just as Karl Barth speaks of “yes and no.” God does not will that everyone be saved. Either He accomplishes this will or He is unable to fulfill that will and is accordingly a frustrated, an impotent God.
A Twofold Calling
Prof. Engelsma defends the idea of a twofold calling: an external and an internal calling. The faith of the Reformation is, according to him, constantly threatened by Arminianism and by hyper-Calvinism.
We are criticized for hyper-calvinism as though we would deny the responsibility of man and would not call every man to conversion. Such a condemnation is unfair and unjust. We must indeed watch out for it that we are so fearful of Arminianism that we no longer call to conversion. In that regard, we have no hesitation to call the unconverted to conversion. We are very definitely committed to the task of missions and evangelism.
At the same time, Engelsma says that Christians can do nothing in their own strength.
We can in our own strength have no sorrow over our sin or be active with a view to justification or in sanctification. When God calls us to repentance and conversion, He Himself gives the strength to accomplish that and to make His calling effectual. When I stand in the pulpit and call to repentance and faith, God works through this preaching, especially through the command of repentance and faith.
Prof. Engelsma thinks that the external and internal aspects of the call must not be separated from each other, as that takes place, in his judgment, in the Reformed Congregations in America (Netherlands Reformed Congregations).
For them, truth is experiential. My main objection against their doctrine is that they maintain : that there must be mystical experience before you are assured of your faith. With this I have great difficulty. The danger is then that feeling replaces faith. Of course, we must oppose exclusive head-knowledge, but faith in Christ is not the same as feeling. The Heidelberg Catechism speaks of trust. There are times that I feel it—that is a wonderful, heavenly, experience. But also the opposite is the case, but then faith still remains. My second objection is that the (required) feeling is viewed as a mystical experience. For the most part, you do not have such experiences under the preaching, but you enjoy them usually in private, sometimes even in the middle of the night. In my opinion, there are people who believe, but do not come to the Lord’s Supper on account of their uncertainty and doubt. That, in turn, causes doubt concerning their soul’s salvation, for feelings are always uncertain and changeable. Faith is assured in the promises, not in feeling. I view this as spiritual navel-gazing.
(to be concluded)