Although the Rev. Blankespoor did not ask me personally to reply to his questions, published in the preceding issue of the Standard Bearer, I will nevertheless try to make a start with the discussion.

In the first place, I feel, of course, co-responsible for this Declaration of Principles as a delegate to our last Synod. Secondly, I feel still more responsible because synod added me to the committee that drew up this declaration and advised synod to adopt it. And thirdly, the committee asked me to draw up the first Draft of this Declaration of Principles, which then was discussed by them and proposed by them to synod, and finally adopted by this body. This does not imply that I am the only responsible party, or even that I assume more responsibility for this Declaration of Principles then any other member of synod. For after its adoption synod as a body is responsible. And when I write a word of explanation in answer to the question of the Rev. Blankespoor, I simply try to voice the sentiment of our last synod. Nevertheless, being so directly and intimately acquainted with the origin, meaning, and purpose of this declaration, I feel that I am at least in as good a position as anyone to answer the Rev. Blankespoor’s questions.

Any other member of the committee ad hoc or any other delegate, except the one dissenting vote which I heard was cast (though I did not hear it at the time), may, of course, add to my explanation or criticize my interpretation of the sentiment of synod.

Of course, anyone is entitled too to criticize the declaration itself. But this does not belong to the proper scope of this present writing, since the Rev. Blankespoor does not criticize, but simply asks a few questions.

The first question reads as follows: “I am informed that the Mission Committee requested synod to draw up a form regarding our principles for those (especially in Canada) who request organization. On the basis of this synod drew up this declaration. Now my question is this: Is it church politically correct to make such a declaration on the basis of a request of a committee? Doesn’t this violate the rule of Reformed church polity that all matters must come to synod via consistory, classis, etc.?”

Answer.

Synod, in my opinion, did not violate any rule of Reformed church polity by acceding to the request of the Mission Committee for a form or declaration which might be used in the organization of churches. It is not true that it is a rule of Reformed church polity that all matters must come to synod via consistory and classis. The article of the Church Order that pertains to this matter is article 30, which reads as follows: “In these assemblies ecclesiastical matters only shall be transacted and that in an ecclesiastical manner. In major assemblies only such matters shall be dealt with as could not be finished in minor assemblies, or such as pertain to the churches of the major assembly in common.” The last clause of this article applies to the matter in question. Mission work, like the Theological School, is certainly a matter that belongs to the churches in common. Besides, perhaps article 51 of the Church Order pertains to the same matter: “The missionary work of the churches is regulated by the general synod in a mission order.” The Mission Committee, therefore, certainly had the perfect right to appeal to synod for a form that may serve as a basis for the organization of Churches. And the synod did nothing that was church politically out of order, when it drew up the declaration of principles.

Let me, however, explain this matter a little more in detail, especially to show what motivated the Mission Committee to come with such a request to synod.

The Mission Committee is a synodical committee that serves synod and all our churches in the interest of our mission work. Its purpose is through our missionaries and in cooperation with the calling church to propagate and disseminate the pure Reformed truth (which to us is the same as Protestant Reformed truth) outside of the pale of our churches and to bring to manifestation the purest manifestation of the body of Christ in the world (which to us is the Protestant Reformed Church). They have not the calling, therefore, to organize any group of people, regardless of their doctrinal convictions, but only such as are sufficiently acquainted with our Protestant Reformed truth and are willing to subscribe to its main tenets.

We used to conduct this kind of mission work chiefly in the Christian Reformed Churches. And the work used to concentrate chiefly around the question of common grace, as adopted by the Christian Reformed Church in 1924 and embodied in the well-known Three Points. With this work I am personally thoroughly acquainted, as I used to go out for weeks at a time to explain the errors of the Three Points especially to the Christian Reformed people in Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, and even in California. It was never our purpose simply to extend our churches and to organize congregations. Always the people were first acquainted with our standpoint and our Protestant Reformed truth in distinction from the errors of the Three Points. And it was only after they were convinced of these errors and as a result of these labors a group was gathered that were willing to subscribe to our Protestant Reformed principles, that they were organized into a church.

Recently, however, the Mission Committee faced what was really the same problem from a different angle. They and our missionaries came into contact with people that are apparently willing to subscribe to our denial of common grace and to repudiate the Three Points, but who insist that the promise is for all the children that are born under the historical dispensation of the covenant. In other words, they wanted to maintain common grace within the historical line of the covenant. These people had their origin in the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands. Historically as well as doctrinally they differed from the Christian Reformed Churches in America, but also from our Protestant Reformed Churches. In the Netherlands they had been urged to join the Protestant Reformed Churches and not the Christian Reformed Church. No wonder then that they lived under the impression that they could simply, without further instruction, be organized into Protestant Reformed Churches. But at the same time they wanted to adhere to their own peculiar view of the covenant. They even sent a request to the Mission Committee to be organized on their own basis. That was the difficulty with which the Mission Committee had to contend.

Hence, the Mission Committee wanted a definite form as a basis for the organization of churches, a form on the basis of which our missionaries could labor among these people, and which they themselves could study in order that they might not only become acquainted with our view, but also know what they were doing when they requested the Mission Committee for organization into Protestant Reformed Churches. More than a year ago the Mission Committee rejquested me to draw up such a form, but I made no work of it for the simple reason that either the Mission Committee themselves were capable of composing such a document, or that they could appeal to synod to furnish a form as a basis of organization for them. The latter they chose. They came to the last synod with their problem. And the synod heeded their request and adopted the declaration of principles. There certainly was nothing church politically wrong on the part of the Committee to come with such a request to Synod, nor on the part of synod to accede to this request.

But after all, the Rev. Blankespoor makes a wrong impression when he writes that the synod made such a declaration on the basis of a request of a committee. Fact is that in order to avoid a semblance of hierarchy the synod did not make or adopt the declaration of principles, but merely proposed it to the churches in order that by way of consistory and classis it may come to the next synod. And they suggested that the Mission Committee and the Missionaries use this declaration in the meantime as a working hypothesis. The synod felt that after all this declaration is a matter of doctrine. And although it is not meant as a certain “fourth form”, binding our churches (see below), it nevertheless thought it safer to let this matter come from the bottom up. Hence, the declaration of principles was never adopted, but consists merely of a proposal to be discussed by all our churches, and to come by way of consistory and classis to our next synod. And it will undoubtedly be very salutary for all our consistories, as well as for all our people, to study this declaration thoroughly and offer their criticism and suggestions for improvement or for revision, in order that our next synod may be ripe for a final adoption.

The next question which the Rev. Blankespoor asks is as follows: “Is this declaration exclusively for those outside of our denomination, or also for our own people?”

Answer.

If this declaration is finally adopted after being thoroughly discussed by our people, by our consistories, and by our classes, at our next synod, it is not for our own people, but it is by them as a declaration of what they believe to be the truth concerning the covenant of God, the promise of the gospel, over against those that differ with us as Protestant Reformed Churches. Our own churches have no need of such a declaration for themselves, or at least should not have. It is therefore intended as a working basis for the Mission Committee and for the missionaries in the organization of churches.

This does not mean that our own people cannot benefit by this declaration of principles and that they cannot very profitably be instructed in it. It would be very beneficial, no doubt, if this declaration of principles were made the object of instruction and study by a catechism class of confessing young people.

The third question by the Rev. Blankespoor reads as follows: “It seems to me that the declaration is mainly directed at the Liberated Churches. Only a small portion is given to the repudiation of the common grace theory, church hierarchy, etc., while a large portion directly and indirectly is devoted to the repudiation of the Liberated views of the covenant and baptism. Am I correct in drawing this conclusion?”

Answer.

The declaration of principles cannot possibly be directed against the Liberated Churches for the simple reason that they claim that as churches they have no covenant conception. They claim that in their churches there is nothing binding concerning the covenant.

Of course, the question is how far this goes. I discussed our difficulties with Mr. and Mrs. A. Schilder, brother and sister-in-law of the professor. They were over last summer, and we had the privilege of entertaining them at our home for a couple of days. They proved to be very amiable people, and in the short time that they were with us we learned to love them as a brother and sister in Christ. But I told him that for us it was not a question of receiving some individual families or members from the Liberated Churches, but of organizing groups of Liberated people into Protestant Reformed Churches. And I asked him whether in the Netherlands, supposing there were a group of Reformed people that emphasized the theory of presumptive regeneration and wanted to become organized as Reformed Churches (maintaining article 31), the Liberated Churches would organize them and receive them in their fellowship on that basis. And both he and Mrs. Schilder replied that they would never do that. And I told him that we confronted the same problem here with respect to the Heynsian conception that the essence of the covenant is the promise and that the promise is for all that are born in the historical line of the covenant.

Nevertheless, it cannot be said that the declaration of principles is as such directed against the Liberated Churches, for they have not adopted any official conception of the covenant. At most, therefore, it should be said that it is directed at some of the Liberated, who teach that the promise of God is objectively for all the baptized children and that in this promise God is gracious to them all.

It is true, of course, that due to the present circumstances the declaration of principles apparently devotes the lion’s share of its contents to the question of the promise of God for all the children that are born under the covenant. Yet this is only apparent. The declaration just as emphatically denies the theory of common grace as adopted by the Synod of Kalamazoo, 1924. It denies that there is a grace of God to all men, including the reprobate, in the common gifts to all men. It denies that the promise of the gospel is a gracious offer of salvation on the part of God to all that externally hear the gospel. And it denies that the natural man through the influence of common grace can do good in this world. And over against these points it maintains that the grace of God is always particular and only for the elect, never for the reprobate. It maintains that the promise of the gospel is not a gracious offer of salvation on the part of God to all men, nor a conditional offer to all that are born in the historical dispensation of the covenant, but an oath of God that He will infallibly lead all the elect unto salvation and eternal glory through faith. And it maintains that the unregenerate man is totally incapable of doing any good, wholly depraved, and therefore can only sin. Moreover, it repudiates the theory of presumptive regeneration, and it declares that it must have nothing of the hierarchical action of the Reformed Synod of the Netherlands, 1939-‘44, whereby they imposed certain doctrinal decisions upon the churches synodically. And whereby they deposed local officebearers. The only difference is that, whereas for the proposition that the promise is not for all the children that are born under the covenant, but only for the elect elaborate proof is furnished from the confessions, it was not deemed necessary to offer the same elaborate proof for the proposition that the Three Points are unreformed, for the simple reason that also the Liberated people are supposed to agree with us in regard to the denial of common grace and in regard to the contents of the Three Points. If, however, confessional proof must be furnished, this can easily be done. And if it should be done, it will become evident that the declaration of principles is just as elaborate on the theory of common grace as it is on the question concerning the promise of the covenant.

In the fourth question the Rev. Blankespoor asks: “I gather that these principles are meant to be an explanation of the confessions, not another confession. Does this imply that our confessions are ambiguous on these points, so that these truths cannot be clearly proven from the confessions without this declaration of principles? Does this then also imply that our missionaries, ministers, and people are not able to state the same without them?”

Answer.

That our confessions are not ambiguous on the main question that the promise is not for all is our firm conviction. That this is true is exactly the point of the declaration of principles. You may notice that intentionally the declaration presents very little argumentation, but widely and elaborately and literally the confessions. In this respect there is a vast difference between such a document as the Conclusions of Utrecht 1905, and this declaration of principles. The former adopted synodically some very general statements on eternal justification, immediate regeneration, presumptive regeneration, the promise of the covenant, etc., without any elaborate proof either from Scripture or from the confessions. But the declaration of principles offers very few statements of its own, but emphatically and elaborately points to the confession and quotes it. This, to my mind, is the strength of this declaration. And therefore it rests exactly on the assumption that the confessions are certainly not ambiguous.

Hence, our missionaries and ministers, as well as our own people, if they are properly instructed, can very well read the fundamental principles of this declaration in our confessions.

Rut, as was already stated under “2”, this declaration serves to let others that allege that the theory of common grace, of presumptive regeneration, and of the promise for all that live under the historical dispensation of the covenant is the teaching of the confessions read and know what is confessionally Reformed on these points. It is not a question of ambiguity in the confessions as such, nor is it a question what our ministers and missionaries and people need. But it is rather a question as to how some interpret and read the confessions erroneously. And to point out to them that they do read erroneously is exactly the purpose of this declaration of principles. And to my mind this purpose is admirably served by this declaration.

The final question put by the Rev. Blankespoor reads as follows: What is the difference between a declaration and a form? I have heard a few people call this a fourth form. What technically is a form or confession? What historically are the conditions that necessitated the formulation of confessions? Have the Reformed churches ever set a precedent in making declaration of the confessions? If so, in what conditions did they do so?”

Answer.

This is not a fourth form or a fourth confession. Of this we have no need, for we stand on the basis of the Three Forms of Unity only. And this basis is sufficient for us. But it aims to be a declaration of principles which are already contained in our confessions. The difference is plain. A fourth form or confession either adds some new doctrine, which before was extra confessional; or it also adds some elaborate explanation of what is principally implied in the confession, but not elaborately and clearly expressed. And finally, a fourth form may also serve to corrupt the confessions. As an illustration of the second instance we may point to the Canons of Dordrecht. They were indeed based upon the principles of the then existing confession. But they elaborated those principles into the present five articles against the Remonstrants. They appeal to Scripture as their basis, but not to the existing confession. And as an illustration of a corrupting addition to the confession we may point to the Three Points of 1924. It is true that the Synod of 1924 also appealed to the confessions and tried to leave the impression that the Three Points were nothing but an explanation of the Three Forms of Unity. But it can easily be shown, and we have proved repeatedly, that this is not true, and that the theory of common grace as contained in the Three Points is certainly contrary to the confessions that are adopted in the Reformed churches. But this declaration of principles does not aim at being a fourth form or an addition to the confession, but simply a setting forth of principles that are already clearly expressed in the confessions. If this is not true, the declaration is open for criticism. That is the reason why the Synod of 1950 suspended or postponed the final adoption of this declaration until all the churches have made a thorough study of it. Besides, a form or confession or even an addition to the confession is composed for the churches themselves, and after it has been officially adopted the churches are all supposed to abide by that form or addition. But this declaration of principles is not for the churches, but by the churches and is proposed as a basis for the organization of churches. In no sense of the word, therefore, can this declaration of principles be called a fourth form or a fourth confession.

The Rev. Blankespoor asks further: “What historically are the conditions that necessitated the formulations of confessions?” We answer briefly that historically the formulation of confessions is usually occasioned by the attack of false philosophy and false doctrine upon the truth as it is in Jesus Christ our Lord. If I may quote from my own work on the Heidelberg Catechism, Vol. 2, p. 113: “And this is especially true in our times. It is a well-known fact that those that seek to undermine the foundation of the true church upon which the Church is built, and to introduce false doctrines, hardly ever reveal their evil intention by openly declaring their opposition to the doctrines as they have been formulated by the Church in the past. On the contrary, they prefer to employ the very same terms the Church has always used to express her faith, although they give them a new and entirely strange content. If they mean to deprive the Church of the truth of sovereign grace, and to introduce the false doctrine of free-will, they employ the Scriptural terms of predestination, election, and reprobation nonetheless; only they declare that God has chosen them that believe, and rejected those that remain in their unbelief. Or they speak of a ‘double track’ and insist that, while they firmly believe in the truth of absolute predestination, they also hold the very opposite, viz., that God will have all men to be saved. And thus they do with regard to every fundamental truth of the Bible. Even present day modernism, though it rejects and opposes all the fundamental doctrines of historical Christendom, is often very efficient in the employment of practically all the terms used to express the object of the Christian faith. They, too, speak of Christ as the Son of God, but in their mouth the term is completely emptied of its true significance so that it does not express at all the essential divinity of the Savior. And they love to speak of the kingdom of God and its righteousness, while they refer to a kingdom of mere man, and of this world. And so we might go on. It shows, that as the Church advances in the knowledge of the truth, it will not only need a more elaborate confession to express its faith positively, but it must also more definitely and fully define its doctrines, lest they be open to the attack of gain sayers because of their ambiguity.”

And as to the final question asked, namely, whether the Reformed churches ever set a precedent in making declaration of the confessions and under what conditions they ever did so, I would answer that the churches indeed have often made such declarations. They made such a declaration in 1918, when the Synod of the Christian Reformed Churches appealed to the confessions in order to combat the false doctrine of dispensationalism and premillenialism. At that time they simply pointed tq the truth clearly expressed in the confessions of the kingship of Christ, as well as to the other truth, also definitely expressed in the confessions, of the unity of the church of all ages. And on this basis they principally condemned the error of premillenialism. The attempt at such a declaration was also made in 1905, when the Conclusions of Utrecht were adopted by the Synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. I say that in those Conclusions of Utrecht an attempt was made to make a declaration of principles based upon the confessions. For actually these conclusions never appealed to the confessions whatever. In the condemnation of the instruction of Dr. Jansen by the Synod of 1922 in Orange City repeatedly such declarations are made from the confessions. Thus we read in “Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Jansen”, which was published by the Synod of Orange City, 1922: “We remark with reference to these five passages that in each of these, in the one more, in the other less, a human, fallible element is injected into the divine revelation. This does not agree with what we confess in article 3 and 7 of the Belgic Confession of Faith:

“Article 3 reads as follows: ‘We confess that this word of God was not sent nor delivered by the will of man, but that holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, as the apostle Peter saith, And that afterwards God, from a special care, which he has for us and our salvation, commanded his servants, the prophets and apostles, to commit his revealed word to writing, and he himself wrote with his own finger, the two tables of the law. Therefore we call such writings holy and divine scriptures.’

“In article 7 we confess as follows:

“‘We believe that these holy scriptures fully contain -the will of God and that whatsoever man ought to believe, unto salvation, is sufficiently taught therein. For, since the whole manner of worship, which God requires of us, is written in them at large, it is unlawful for anyone though an apostle, to teach otherwise than we are now taught in the holy scriptures; nay, though it were an angel from heaven, as the apostle Paul saith. For, since it is forbidden to add unto or take away anything from the word of God, it doth thereby evidently appear, that the doctrine thereof is most perfect and complete in all respects.’”

As to the question under what conditions the churches made such declarations, we may answer that additions or corruptions of the confessions were frequently made by the churches from impure and sinful, carnal motives, motives of hatred and envy, as was undoubtedly the case with the adoption of the Three Points by the Synod of 1924. Or it may be the desire of the churches to get away from under the binding force of the truth. Or again, it may be the desire to unite the church in a compromising statement, as was the case with the Conclusions of Utrecht. But if the church really desires to maintain the truth of the confessions, the purpose is usually to defend the truth over against errors and to safeguard the church over against false doctrines.

And now I have explained to the best of my ability the content and the, purpose and the meaning of the declaration of principles that was proposed to our churches by the Synod of 1950.

And once more I want to emphasize that any delegate to the Synod of 1950 may add to or criticize this explanation.