Our readers will be interested in reading of some of the reactions to the decision of the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in the “Dekker Case.” These decisions of the Synod are particularly interesting because: 1) The conservatives were very forceful for a time in expressing their view that Dekker’s position must be condemned if the church was to remain Reformed. 2) The Synod did not condemn Dekker at all although it administered a very mild rebuke. We need not quote the decision here since it has been quoted and is being discussed in the editorial columns of this paper.
Rev. John B. Hulst, an articulate spokesman for the conservative position and one who had insisted on the floor of the Christian Reformed Synod that Dekker’s position was anti-confessional, writes in the Torch and Trumpet about Synod’s decision. After reviewing the treatment of the case on Synod both in June and in August, he writes:
After brief and rather subdued discussion the recommendations were adopted. The recommendations satisfied Synod because, though brief, they spoke to the heart of the issue. And yet there was also much dissatisfaction expressed.
There were some, who had spoken in support of Prof. Dekker’s position (although no one indicated a desire to identify himself completely with Dekker’s teachings) who felt that the admonition was too strong.
On the other hand there were those who stated that the recommendations said too little. With these we agree. Indeed, the statements of Prof. Dekker were ambiguous and abstract. But is this not exactly what has caused such difficulty over the past four and a half years? And does not this very ambiguity and abstractness make Prof. Dekker’s position erroneous? And should not Synod have said therefore that Prof. Dekker erred? We would answer these questions in the affirmative. The sound of the trumpet must be clear, not muffled. When it is muffled error results. And it is for this error, recognized in the observations of the advisory committee, that Prof. Dekker should have been admonished in the decisions taken by Synod.
But the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church has spoken. It has spoken softly, but it has spoken. And now, for the sake of the welfare of our Church, we must endeavor to live and work with this decision in all seriousness.
In conclusion we would make some observations.
First, we believe that Synod’s decision and the discussion which preceded it indicate a genuine concern on the part of the Christian Reformed Church to maintain her doctrinal integrity. Even an admonition against ambiguity and abstractness constitutes a charge to all to respect our creeds, to adhere to them with devotion, and to articulate their meaning with care and precision because they are based upon the inspired and infallible Word of God.
Second, we believe that Synod’s decision and the discussion preceding it indicate that the Christian Reformed Church is not concerned to stifle discussion of doctrinal issues. This is an accusation which is often leveled against the Church. But this accusation is not true. One of the reasons for not adopting the recommendations of the Study Committee was Synod’s fear that such adoption would tend to curtail discussion in the churches. But Synod also spoke of “legitimate” discussion, indicating that there is a proper and an improper way to carry on discussion. This is all too often forgotten. Legitimate discussion is to be carried on within the framework of the Scriptures and the creeds. And should anyone have a problem with the teaching of the creeds, there is a proper way to seek a solution to that problem—the way of consistory, classis, and synod.
Third, and in connection with the above, we believe that Synod has also said something concerning future discussion of the doctrine of limited atonement. In no instance has Synod recommended the teachings of Prof. Dekker to the Church’s consideration. But Synod has decided to “commend the report of the doctrinal committee to the churches for guidance and as a valuable contribution, within the Reformed tradition, to the discussion of the matters contained within the report.” This decision should be taken seriously.
Fourth, by its decision Synod has admonished Prof. Dekker. We are confident that the admonition will be received in all seriousness. We are confident, further, that Prof. Dekker will find in this admonition a positive charge, a charge to carefully and precisely clarify his teachings on the love of God and the atonement. Such a statement will be welcomed by the Church.
Finally, though much more can and undoubtedly will be said about Synod’s decision, we wish to point out that there is in this decision an implied charge to the entire Christian Reformed Church, a charge to defend the Reformed faith with courage, to proclaim the Reformed faith with clarity and vigor, and to live the Reformed faith with Spirit-wrought devotion. God give us the grace to respond to this charge unto the glory of our God and the salvation of those for whom Christ died.
The Banner also commented on the decision editorially. Previously, Rev. Vander Ploeg, editor ofThe Banner, had pleaded for the doctrine of limited atonement. He now writes:
After almost five years of discussion in the church, this year’s Synod agonized to come to a decision on doctrinal matters pertaining to what has been written among us about the atonement and the love of God.
Resisting suggestions that these matters be left for continuing discussion or for the theologians to work out, Synod judged that it was time for a decision and took action according to the best of its ability. The temptation to sidestep this issue and take the easy way out may have been strong, but it is a cause for gratitude that the body acted in keeping with its responsibility as “the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth,”
I Tim. 3:15 . . . .
Now if there are those who judge that Synod should have taken no adverse action as to Professor Harold Dekker’s views, there are others equally emphatic in holding that these should have been repudiated in no uncertain terms. The dilemma that made a decision so difficult arose, as it appears to this observer at Synod, out of Professor Dekker’s use of ambivalent language . . . .
It is in the light of this situation that one should regard the decision of Synod to do no more than “admonish Professor Dekker for the ambiguous and abstract way in which he has expressed himself in his writing on the love of God and the atonement.” No matter how much others together with this writer may wish that Synod had seen its way clear to adopt the recommendations of the Study Committee, the complicating circumstances just stated should be borne in mind to understand the action taken.
No wonder that there now are those confused as to what we are to believe about the love of God and the atonement. It is fortunate therefore that Synod decided also to “commend the report of the Doctrinal Committee to the churches for guidance and as a valuable contribution, within the Reformed tradition, to the discussion of the matters contained within the report.” … In keeping with Synod’s decision, we recommend this report to all who seek guidance in these important and interesting matters.
Prof. Martin H. Woudstra also comments on Synod’s decision in Church and Nation. He also reviews the action of Synod and then writes:
And now we must look to the future and at the same time try to learn from the past. This writer wishes to go on record as having thought from the very beginning of this dispute that the basis on which to raise the tremendous problems that were raised in the original 1962 article was exceedingly narrow. Is this the way to theologize in this ecumenical age of ours? Do we really wish to direct our effort as theological instructors at some little distortion which we think we have discovered amongst ourselves? Certainly, distortions of truth, however little, could have disastrous consequences. But what would one say about a man who was busily trying to fix a leak in his roof while a tidal wave was about to carry away house, and roof and leak and man? Or are we exaggerating the threat which comes to us from a well-nigh boundless universalism which today seeks to cloak itself in the very clothes which God designed to express the truth of particularism? It is possible, of course, that the tidal wave would wash over us and leave us unharmed. But it is not very likely. While we must avoid undue entrenchment, no matter how great the dangers that threaten, we should on the other hand use our God-given time economically. Fixing a leakage does remain a useful thing to do even when the tidal wave is inches away, but only when looked upon in isolation. I believe therefore that what the hour demands of all those who seek to promote the Scriptural truth of sovereign grace is to agree on some global anti-tidal wave strategy, rather than on a technique of how to fix a leaky roof.
Every comparison has its weaknesses. One of the weaknesses in this comparison is that the missionary concern as such which prompted the recent discussion is by no means a trivial matter. This concern is more comparable with inviting threatened people under a safe roof so that they may be sheltered from the raging storm of God’s judgment. But then let the roof be made of the stuff that will withstand the storm.
And this leads me to the second point where the comparison I just used is weak. For I do not think that the roof which is made up of the doctrine of limited atonement and particular redemption as “traditionally used among us” is a roof that needs fixing. More in need of discussion and debate are in my opinion the doctrines of the church, the ministry. . .
. . .It is to be hoped that the Christian Reformed Church will go on discussing worthwhile subjects, not in isolation, but in the context of the tremendous developments of our time, so that the comforting truth of God’s sovereign goodness may become ever better articulated in the face of the forces that threaten to undo us.
Dr. R. Kooistra also comments on the decision in the same paper. We can only quote him briefly.
First of all, it is indeed a meager decision…. (This in reference to the fact that Dekker was only admonished—H.H.)
In the second place, this decision has the character of a compromise. Quoting Rev. A. Persenaire, Kooistra says he pleaded for the compromise, since the controversy was not worth the price of a lasting division. Here you see the greatness of self-denial.
This leads to our third observation. Namely, that this decision, though very small and taken after much hesitation, is indeed satisfactory. It does what the report wanted to do. It put things straight. It states in the shortest possible manner that Professor Dekker was- wrong: he erred in making ambiguous statements and in using these in an abstract way…. Our very careful 1967 Synod did not do much. But this Synod made no mistake in its concluding decision….
Finally, this decision demands further action. We have always accepted the sincerity of Professor Dekker. He wanted to improve our missionary understanding and activity. Fine! Now his medicine did not work. It had bad side-effects . . . . We must consider the root of the problem. Why can we not speak more meaningfully about our Saviour to unbelievers? And why do unbelievers often shy away from us as soon as they perceive that we want to talk about things not seen and as soon as they notice that we have a message for them?
It is our intention to place these problems into the focus of our attention in the future issues of our paper.
In the R.E.S. News Exchange, Paul G.Schrotenboer, General Secretary of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod and one present at the sessions of Synod writes the following:
The decision was taken by a large majority in an unenthusiastic vote.
The decision was called a compromise by speakers who had favored both previous positions. The Rev. Adam Persenaire, chairman of the study committee, said that he still held that statements of Professor Dekker are anti-creedal and not in harmony with Scripture. He was willing to acquiesce only because (1). Professor Dekker thinks that his statements agree with the creeds and his intentions are good; (2). Many who defend Professor Dekker can use his statements to mean something entirely different. The differences, said Persenaire, are not worth a split in the church.
To those who wanted to “settle” the issue, the decision was disappointing. Others, who criticized the ‘abstractness’ of the way Professor Dekker had written, saw in the decision a new tact, the kerugmatic emphasis.
At this point the report in the R.E.S. News Exchangeintroduced a quotation from the final report of the Advisory Committee to demonstrate what Synod meant by abstractness and to show what is meant by this new “kerugmatic emphasis.” What was meant was a fear that if Synod would condemn Prof. Dekker it would lose the first point of common grace and specifically the general offer of the gospel. In part this quotation from the Advisory Committee reads:
Other types of abstract theological statements may give the impression that we may not urge every man to whom the gospel comes to believe in Christ and be saved.
We can therefore best solve the problem which here confronts us, retaining full loyalty to Scripture and the creeds, and at the same time doing full justice to the well-meant gospel offer, by following a concrete, kerugmatic approach both in theologizing and in preaching.’ For example, instead of saying ‘Christ died for all men,’ we can better put it this way, ‘We may say to any man whom we confront with the gospel, ‘You must believe that Christ died for you.’ Or again, instead of saying, ‘God loves all men with a redemptive love,’ we can better put it this way: ‘We may say to any man whom we confront with the gospel, ‘God shows his love for you in entreating you now, through us who bring the gospel, to be reconciled to Him.’
It is obvious that this touches upon the very heart of the trouble in the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church. To condemn Dekker was, by implication, a condemnation. of the well-meant offer of the gospel. For the whole view of Dekker was a natural and inevitable conclusion from the position which the Christian Reformed Church took when they adopted this heresy. But they could not bring themselves to do this. And. so they admonished Dekker for making ambiguous and abstract statements, by which they meant that Dekker really said the truth in essence, but erred in separating these statements from a discussion of the general offer of the gospel. If only he had done the latter, he would have been soundly Reformed. Hence the rebuke.
The report goes on to say:
In the view of many delegates the extent of the atonement and the nature of the love of God for all men cannot be answered in the way of theoretical theological statements but must be framed within the proclamation of the gospel in which God confronts man and elicits a response. That this view played a decisive role in the Synod’s decision is supported by the fact that leading spokesmen for both positions appealed to it from the floor. Because it was a relatively new emphasis in the church and many would not express their views openly, the view did not appear in the decision in a clearly articulated form.
If the church, both in its presentation of the gospel and in its theologizing honors the kerugmatic nature of biblical truth, there is reason to hope that the unity that was found in Grand Rapids will spread through the churches. What abstract theology cannot effect, the understanding of gospel proclamation may achieve.
The point brought up in this report is worthy of far more extensive treatment than we can give it here. There is a fundamental point at issue which this report calls attention to. And, I think, rightly. But the point at issue sounds suspiciously like the plea that is being heard currently in the Christian Reformed Church that the Church cannot come to any objective knowledge of the truth of Scripture. All it can really do is preach the gospel. This is very dangerous and destructive of all truth.
Finally we call attention to a brief remark to be found inDe Wachter. Prof. F. Klooster gave the convocation address at the opening of Calvin Theological Seminary. Rev. W. Haverkamp reports on this address in his editorial column. The address was entitled: “Four R’s—Riot and Revolution, Reformation and Relevance.” Most of the address is not of immediate concern to us. But near the end the Professor made reference to the Dekker controversy and to the crisis it created in the Christian Reformed Church and in the Seminary where Dekker is a colleague of Klooster. While not an elaborate reference, Klooster who has the reputation of being a conservative, called the Seminary faculty to forget the past and labor together in unity to promote the cause of the gospel. Evidently Klooster also is willing to overlook the Arminianism in the Seminary, let bygones be bygones and look to the future with hope.
We have no room to comment on these reactions quoted above. Nor is it necessary to comment on them extensively. It is apparent that while many are not happy with the decisions, they are not only willing to live with them, but they bend every effort to salvage some good out of them. But these salvage attempts will just not work. Dekker’s blatant Arminianism has been excused by the Synod. No amount of talking is going to change that. And this bodes ill for the future of that denomination.