From a Grand Rapids reader comes this question:
“Are the professors at our seminary eligible to be called by one of our congregations? If so, please explain how this is possible, especially after they have received a permanent appointment. Is this appointment after all not permanent?”
To arrive at a proper answer to this question we should have before us the pertinent article (Article 7) of the Constitution of the Theological School, first of all. This article reads as follows: “A professor shall serve three years, and after that four years if reappointed. If after this he be reappointed, such appointment shall be permanent. Thereafter his services at the school can be terminated only through the synod formally retiring, expelling or deposing him for reason urgent, cogent and legitimate.”
In connection with this article, our 1962 Synod made a clarification with respect to the very question posed by my questioner, Article 261: “A motion is made to adopt XII, B, which is that Synod declare that Prof. Hoeksema not be eligible for a call during his next four years’ term (definite tenure), but that if and when he should receive appointment for indefinite tenure, the usual rule concerning eligibility for call apply.’ Carried.”
In the light of the above data, it is plain:
1) That distinction should be made between “per permanent appointment” and “indefinite tenure.” The former term means that on Synod’s part it is unnecessary to consider anew a professor’s appointment. He is appointed once for a definite term of 3 years; then, if his work is satisfactory, Synod appoints him for a 4-year term; and, finally, after 7 years, the appointment becomes permanent, that is, Synod does not have to consider the matter of his appointment again. As far as the professor’s holding of his office is concerned, however, it is correct to speak not of permanent tenure, which would imply that he is unqualifiedly a professor for life and without any possibility of receiving and accepting a call. But it is correct to speak of indefinite tenure, or unlimited tenure, which implies that he occupies the position of professor without limitation of term, that is, remains a professor until such a time as he would receive and accept a call elsewhere. In this respect, he is like any other minister: the tenure of a minister is indefinite or unlimited. He is not called for a fixed term; but he remains the minister of a congregation until he receives and accepts a call to another congregation.
2) That a professor can be called by a congregation at the following times: a) At the end of his 3-year term, should synod not reappoint him or should he decline the appointment. b) At the end of his 4-year, second term, should synod not reappoint him or should he decline his appointment. Thus, for 7 years there are only two fixed times when a professor could be called. c) Two years after he has received a permanent appointment and indefinite tenure (the usual rule concerning eligibility for call), he may be called at any time. Hence, it is a total of 9 years after his first appointment before a professor becomes eligible for a call from a congregation without any restrictions.
The wisdom of such restrictions lies, I think, in the fact that the Seminary requires a degree of stability in its faculty; a constantly changing personnel would be harmful for the faculty, for the students, and for the churches. For the same reason—although there is no rule about this—it would appear to be a matter of common sense that a professor, should he receive and accept a call from a congregation, could not simply leave the school immediately: for example, right before the new term begins or in the middle of a school term. The welfare of the school would seem to require a smooth transition and an ample period to provide a replacement.
From a Grand Rapids reader comes the following question:
“If we speak of ‘offer of grace‘ or ‘offer of salvation,’ does that mean the same thing? And if there is a difference, will you please answer this in the Standard Bearer, so more may profit by it?”
I wrote about this same subject in the May 1, 1967 issue in connection with the “Report of the Doctrinal Committee” in the Dekker Case. Any reader with the bound volumes can look this up. At that time the subject was treated because the Doctrinal Committee, which wanted desperately to uphold the First Point of 1924 but not to uphold Prof. H. Dekker, tried—though unsuccessfully—to distinguish between an “offer of grace” and an “offer of salvation.” They wanted to reject the former and to keep the latter. Without going into all the details of what I wrote at that time, let me quote that committee to show how they ended up by contradicting themselves: “. . . As we said in our introduction, grace is never offered, but always conferred or bestowed. What the gospel does offer is not grace, but full redemption from all sin and eternal life in Jesus Christ. (Notice the contradiction here already; for what else is “full redemption” but a blessing of grace? But now notice the more direct contradiction which follows. HCH) Fact is, it is Christ Himself in all the fulness of His grace and truth who is offered therein.” (italics added) It is plain that the committee after all says that grace is offered.
And now my answer:
1) There is absolutely no essential difference between these two expressions. In studying various writers on this subject one finds several expressions used, all of which are used in essentially the same way: offer of grace, offer of salvation, offer of the gospel, general offer of the gospel, general and well-meant offer of salvation, gracious offer of the gospel, gracious offer of salvation, well-meant offer of grace and salvation, etc.
2) Historically these terms have been used interchangeably. This is true not only in the writings of Revs. H. Hoeksema and H. Danhof, who, of course, criticized both expressions. But this is also true of the writings of men like Prof. L. Berkhof, Prof. W. Heyns, Rev. Keegstra, Dr. Zwier, Rev. J. K. Van Baalen, all of whom were defenders of the idea as set forth in the First Point of 1924. It is also plain in the light of the decisions of the Christian Reformed Synod of 1926 in answer to protests against the Three Points that the attempted distinction between the terms is not correct.
3) If you study the terms a bit more carefully, you can readily see why they mean essentially the same thing. For what is salvation? It is nothing else but the implication, the sum-total, of all the blessings of grace, such as redemption, regeneration, the saving calling, faith, justification, etc. In fact, it is perfectly correct to call these so many “graces.” Scripture also uses the term grace in this way. Grace is not only an attitude; it is not only “undeserved favor;” it is not only a power; it is also the actual blessings of salvation as these are bestowed upon us and wrought in us. From this it is very plain, therefore, that to speak of an “offer of grace” is the very same thing as to speak of an “offer of salvation.”
4) This makes it all the more important to see that when we speak of an offer (whether of grace, or of salvation), we are sailing in Arminian waters. It is the very nature of an offer that it is dependent for its fulfillment upon its acceptance by the person to whom the offer is made. Hence, an offer of salvation or of grace makes salvation (grace) dependent upon the man to whom it is offered. But salvation is of the Lord, not of man or of man and the Lord together. It is correct, in the light of Scripture and the confessions, to speak of a promise of salvation; but a promise is dependent for its fulfillment only on the one who promises, in this case God. It is correct to speak of salvation as a gift or a gift of grace. Mind you, not as a gift that is offered! An offered gift and a gift are not the same, you see. No, salvation is a gift. It is bestowed in absolute freedom and sovereignty and according to God’s sovereign good pleasure on the elect alone.
5) Perhaps I should ass to this that one must not confuse the terms “offer” and “preach.” Indeed, salvation, the gospel, must be preached to all to whom God in His good pleasure sends the gospel, along with the command to repent and believe. But this is by no means the same as offering salvation to all in the name of God. It is Reformed to speak of the general proclamation of a particular gospel.
[Note: I have received two more questions, but these will have to wait until the next issue. Our “Question Box” is thriving suddenly. And that is good. Keep the worthwhile questions coming.]