Especially my last article must have made it crystal clear to you that the doctrine contained in your proposition is heretical and that in denying its contrary you repudiate the truth. But, of course, I am only a sinful, fallible man. I therefore may be in error. If so, please instruct me. Such again is my request. You must realize that you are under the necessity of doing one of two: 1) of pronouncing your proposition false; 2) or of proving, my argument false. The latter you as yet have not even attempted.
Brother, your whole action from beginning to end is rather astounding. In explaining that statement I must begin with your doing by which you suddenly appeared in print with the pronouncement that the promises of God are conditional; that. God saves His people on the condition of their faith and repentance. You may reply, “What of that? The contrary doctrine—the doctrine that the promises of God are unconditional—is not contained in our official creeds. Being thus extra-confessional, it may be publicly denied and its contrary ideologies publicly defended with impunity.”
But you realize, brother, that the master is not as simple as that. The doctrinal tenet in question is extra-confessional only as to the form of its words. Its underlying idea, which is that God’s predestination and His saving grace are sovereign, is contained in our creeds. I know, you will deny this. You perhaps will want to maintain that the thought of your proposition as to its underlying idea is contained in our creeds. But it seems to me that by this time your eyes should have opened to the fallacy of your position.
With these circumstances before our eye, how difficult it should be for any of us openly to repudiate the doctrine that the promises of God are unconditional and unfailing, and publicly to champion, recommend and eulogize its contrary tenets even though we have the right, the legal right. How we should recoil from taking that step lightly and thoughtlessly, and inconsiderately. Yet, that is what you did, brother. Your writings make this crystal clear. You had made no sludgy of things. You were ignorant of the meaning of the term “condition” as a sentence-element of your proposition. You had not an inkling of an idea of the use of that term in logic, philosophy, and common life. The definitions of the term with which you supplied me are as fatal to your proposition as any definition could be; but you realized it not. You imagined that the conjunctive “if” has but one meaning, “on condition that”, while the fact is that this is but one of the several meanings that the particle can have. In support of your proposition you quoted “if” texts of the Scriptures as going “op de klank af” to use one of your own expressions. You failed to ascertain the meaning of that “if” by exegesis of these texts. Thus you failed to determine by close study of the text the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek equivalents of the conjunctive “if” as a sentence-element in the “if” clauses of the Bible of the type of your proposition. You quoted a few texts, referred to many others but exegeted none. Yet, in that state of profound ignorance you boldly appeared in print with the denial of the doctrinal tenet that God’s promises are unconditional and unfailing, and unblushingly defended and extolled its contrary ideologies. How utterly unscholarly your procedure, brother! Did it not once occur to you that in your ignorance you might with one thoughtless stroke of your pen be breaking down and destroying what others by hard work in the way of unwearied study of the Scriptures have built up? How by such a procedure can we hope to advance the cause of truth in our midst? How can we hope to contribute anything to the development of the knowledge of the truth? It is to this thoroughly unscholarly procedure of yours, which is only calculated to bring us all to grief if persisted in, to which I especially refer, when I speak of your rather astounding actions. If your writings on the points at issue only bore the evidence of real and hard study on your part, I would still, of course, be attacking your doctrinal tenets; but then you would find the phrases, of my polemic interspersed with expressions of esteem for your effort and industry. As it is, I find myself capable only of frowning upon the content of your productions. However, I am persuaded that had you prefaced your public announcements by real study of terms and connectives in the three languages concerned you would not have made them, unless, of course, you are laboring under a powerful bias, which I don’t want to believe.
But there is more to say. My first open letter to you was friendly and brotherly. I stated that what you had from my pen was not to be regarded as criticism; that all I desired was discussion. In the body of my article I pointed out your mistake, which is your illegal use of words, definitely the word “condition”. I pointed out that you are in duty bound to use this term according to the meaning that it has in the dictionary and that, doing so, you find yourself under the necessity of pronouncing your proposition heretical. In your reply you took little notice of my letter, it being your sole purpose to neutralize as soon as possible the effect that my writing may have had on our people. You shoved my whole argument aside by virtually accusing me of having fabricated the definition of the term “condition”, that I had presented. You have learned by this time that your accusation is groundless, learned that the definition is genuine indeed. Other writings from your pen followed. But they all tell the same story. It is this:
Your latest articles contain some strange and dubious reasonings. Your reply to W. Wildeboer, whose letter was published in the Concordia for May 26 attracted my attention. Brother Wildeboer (of Penwick, Ontario, Canada and a member of one of the Liberated churches until seven months ago), explained in his letter the condition-theology of the Liberated. He not only explains this theology but defends it as well and this in opposition to Rev. H. Veldman whose statement he read in the Concordia. Rev. Veldman let it be known to the readers of Concordia that he considers the term “condition” dangerous and on this account would have the term eliminated from our dogmatical vocabulary. Brother Wildeboer is of the opinion that, to quote his own words, “they (the Liberated) emphasize more the condition while the Protestant Reformed Churches more or less emphasize the ‘working of God in man’. Actually both mean the same. A real danger of misunderstanding is the difference in terminology to which both parties have to get used to.” Let us pause here for a moment.
Rev. Petter, you should have replied to these statement of brother Wildeboer. You should have informed him that he is sorely mistaken. But you didn’t. How could you, seeing that you have appeared in print with a denial of the doctrinal tenet—the promises of God are unconditional—that has been current among us for the past twenty-five years, and for which we were ejected from the fellowship of the communion of Christian Reformed Churches. You not only openly denied that doctrinal tenet but publicly defended and eulogized its contrary as well. So I shall now have to make good your failure.
Brother Wildeboer. You are sorely mistaken in your imagining that the difference between the Protestant Reformed and the Liberated touches only on the form of words. The difference goes much deeper. It is fundamental and as such, vital, actual and real. My settled conviction, and the conviction of most of the Protestant Reformed, I believe and hope, is that the promises of God are unconditional (onvoorwaardelijk), while the position of the Liberated is that the promises of God are conditional (voorwaardelijk). Certainly, you must perceive that the two propositions, doctrinal tenets, are contrary and thus mutually exclusive, necessarily so, as the two terms “conditional”, and “unconditional” are contraries. Our firm belief is that in the light of the Scriptures the doctrine of the Liberated as it comes to expression in the proposition that the promises of God are conditional is thoroughly heretical and that our doctrine is according to the Scripture. Brother Wildeboer, you will bear with me in my making this revelation to you. I dare write these things to you, because I gather from your letter that you are a sincere man who wants to know the facts and that in your heart you love the truth, so that when once your eyes have opened to the errors of the Liberated you will reject them with all your heart and embrace what we believe to be the truth of God’s Word on the point at issue.
Allow me to quote to you a few lines from a certain protest of mine which was treated on our last Synod. These lines read: “Our sole calling is to preach the gospel, as willing that God use our preaching as He chooses, preach what we believe to be the true gospel of the Scriptures. Only if we (as Protestant Reformed) walk worthy of this calling, does our mission enterprise repose on a true and Scriptural basis. And then we also deal honestly and not deceitfully with those among whom we labor whether they be immigrants in Canada or Christian Reformed here in the States. And dealing honestly with these people means that we set before them what we believe to be their doctrinal errors without equivocating and mincing words and appose to these errors what we believe to be the truth of God’s Word. Certainly we must have controversy with the brethren among whom we labor. For this is but another way of saying that we must fight the good fight of faith. Doing these things, there is real purpose and meaning to our mission endeavor. Then we show that we are constrained by the love of Christ and the brethren among whom we labor. Then we seek the church, which we must. And if God makes us to see fruit upon our labors, we will be organizing churches formed of such who have received of God cars to hear.” With few modifications, So I wrote, brother Wildeboer. If you are the kind of man I think you are, you fully agree with the sentiments here expressed.
You write further, “It is hard to answer exactly what the Liberated churches teach. They wish to be in no way against Holy Writ. Also we might find a difference in interpretation.”
It does not surprise me at all, brother Wildeboer, that, to quote you, it is hard for you to answer exactly what the Liberated churches teach”. The fault lies not with you but with the teaching of the Liberated. This teaching is not only unscriptural but it destroys itself by inner conflict. It raises questions that no one can answer unless one comes with answers that are thoroughly impossible answers in the light of the Scriptures. It is not a wonder, therefore, that you are confused. And you are confused brother, as is so evident from that section of your letter that touches on the doctrine of the Liberated. And yet I believe with you that our liberated brethren in the Netherlands want to be reformed; they do not wish in any way to speak against the Scriptures. And we regard them all, certainly, as dear brethren in Christ. How we wish their eyes would open to their errors.
You continue in your letter, “Now I am not going to say that a difference in interpretation might not hurt.” Allow me to pause here for a brief remark. Of course you are not going to say that. You are, too reformed at heart to make such a statement. You realize only too well that a difference of interpretation does hurt indeed if it touches on fundamentals. And it is our firm belief that such is here the case. The difference between the Protestant Reformed and the Liberated deals with fundamentals indeed.
You continue, “But noticing that difference people have to be careful and completely awakened. That must make them start thinking and, no doubt, speaking with others.” I can certainly agree with you here. Our whole purpose in working in Canada among the immigrants is tactfully and in love to start the brethren to thinking on their theology and on ours, definitely on the propositions that the promises of God are unconditional and its contrary. Of course, you realize, brother, that we, as Protestant Reformed Churches, have not entered Canada with a question mark behind our theology. Our firm stand is that our theology as it comes to expression in the doctrinal tenet that God’s promise are unconditional is sound and that its contrary is heretical. And our purpose is to win you —instrumentally, of course—for our doctrine. You as yet may be holding to the doctrine that is contrary to ours. It is well. We will discuss the matter together.. But our readiness to discuss must not be taken to mean that the attitude we assume toward our doctrine is that it may or may not be true. Our firm belief is that our doctrine is true. And in that conviction we preach and discuss. But, of course, if you believe that our doctrine is false you have every right in the world to attempt to convince us of our error. And we assure you that we will respectfully listen. We are a very reasonable and open-minded people in that respect. We greatly desire discussion. But, brother, we have taken a stand. And we know what we believe. And that is the secret of our power. How else could we preach?
You continue, “That is the movement you find all over the Liberated churches.” I must pause to ask a question and to make a remark. Have the Liberated churches also taken a stand? Do they, too, know what they believe?
I do not gather that from the following lines from your pen. You write, “We cannot deny being a lot of trouble there.” What is all that trouble about? The doctrinal tenet that God’s promises are conditional and its contrary doctrine to which we hold touches on fundamentals. It’s basically a question whether God is God. Can’t they agree on fundamentals in the Liberated churches? Are they still toiling with the foundation tenets of Christian theology? That, certainly, is not as it should be I am reminded here of the word of the writer of the Hebrews. He writes, “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptism, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection from the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do, if God permit”. ().
The text deals with foundation of truths of the religion of Jesus Christ. According to us Protestant Ref. this category of doctrines includes also the doctrinal tenet that the promises of God are unconditional and unfailing. With us it is one of the principles of the doctrine of Christ, the foundation that has been laid in our ecclesiastical consciousness. Should we then, as Protestant Reformed churches, assume toward this principle of doctrine a critical, skeptical attitude and in that attitude go to discussing it amongst ourselves, we would be doing what the sacred writer forbids; we would again be laying the foundation of our theology; and we would be like the people of whom Paul writes in his second epistle to Timothy (), “Ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” We may not be like that. Our calling as believers is to grow in knowledge as holding the true foundation. Our calling as believers is to develop not the truth, which is impossible, but our knowledge of the truth. Or in the words of the sacred writer, our calling as believers is to leave the principles of the doctrine of Christ, and go on unto perfection, that is, perfection of doctrine. Under the constraint of a living faith we must perfect our knowledge and understanding of the truth, that is, of what we believe to be the truth of God’s Word. But how could we as Protestant Reformed hope to undergo such growth, and this applies, of course, to every communion of churches, if we could not agree amongst ourselves on what is truth; if we were forever returning to and re-examining the doctrines that are basic to our theology in our skepticism of these doctrines? What right would we have to be referring to ourselves as distinctively reformed, if our attitude toward our distinctively reformed principles were one of doubt? We would be lying. How could we labor among the immigrants in Canada or among the Christian Reformed in the States, with such a doubt filling our souls? We could not and might not. It would be sheer hypocrisy. And we would have no power. We would be weak. And in our weakness we would find ourselves agreeing with our opponents on the mission field.
It seems to me, Rev. Petter, that you should have replied to your correspondent in this vein. But you didn’t. You flatly refused. You wrote, “I have only one point that I would call attention to in the above letter. That does not concern the doctrinal but the practical.” That is a nice distinction. But there is a reason why you have only one point to which you would call attention. That reason has already been stated.
Your reply contains some strange reasonings. Allow me to single them out. 1. As we have seen, the attitude of your correspondent toward the differences between the Liberated and the Protestant Reformed is that no difference actually exist (both mean the same, he states); that the existing differences are only a matter of different interpretations; that differences of this character “do not hurt as long as we are trying to find the truth” to quote his own words. He means well, as appears from the sequel of his letter. But his attitude toward our differences is nevertheless faulty. Yet for this attitude you have greatest admiration. Here are your words, “First of all we must admire the sober, calm, level-headed attitude this brother takes toward the differences that exist between us and the liberated brethren”. So also your position is that no actual differences exist. The two propositions: a) the promises of God are unconditional; and b) the promises of God are conditional are not mutually exclusive. The thought of each is the same. The term conditional and unconditional are not contraries. We seek the truth because we do not have it. Hence, both propositions are wrong. Through our discussion of these erroneous propositions, we find the truth.
Now it can easily be understood that your correspondent should take this attitude. He is a newcomer. He is not informed. As yet he does not understand our principles. His ability to say what he means in English is limited although I am surprised that he uses his English as well as he does. But that you should be taking that attitude!
2. You state further, “And his picture of a church that has ‘a glorious heritage’ and falls asleep in self-satisfaction is very instructive.” I agree. True, sad to say, there are such churches. Their being overtaken by such sleep goes hand in hand with the repudiation in their heart of their ‘glorious heritage’, if it is truly a glorious heritage, that is, the truth, the true gospel of Christ. And the membership of such churches are then indeed nevertheless satisfied with themselves for their nominal adherence to their heritage which they neither love nor practice anymore, and with which eventually they do not any longer appear in their pulpits either. And on the ground of that abominable work—their outward adherence to their creeds—they think to go to heaven. The disease with which such churches are smitten is known as dead orthodoxy. It is of such churches that you speak, I believe. You go on to tell us, “In this process (of spiritual deterioration) we can, of course, easily discern two phases. There is, first, the repeating of certain dogmatical statements (italics supplied) as if that is the assurance of a pure, safe church. And there follows the resultant hollowness and emptiness, so that we fall asleep, while we think we still stand foursquare on the truth. Mr. Van Spronsen, when he was among us, called this the feeling of arrivedness.
“I hope,” you continue, “that the Lord will keep us as Protestant Reformed churches from this terrible process. (I hope so, too, who in the world wouldn’t? G.M.O.). One of our people once said that when a man is being overcome by gas in a stuffy room he thinks he is slipping into a delightful snooze, and does not have sense enough to jump to his feet and race out of the house. In a similar way a church goes to sleep and dies.” So far the Rev. Petter.
So, then, when we hear a church repeating certain dogmatical statements, we may be certain that it is apostatizing and is on its way to moral-spiritual ruin. The repetition of such statements is the infallible symptom of such deterioration. You certainly should have gone a step further, brother, and revealed just what those dogmatical statements are so that, should we be guilty of repeating them, we could know that we are being overcome by gas, and betimes jump to our feet and run out of our ecclesiastical house. Do these dogmatical statements also include the doctrinal tenet that the promises of God are unconditional, and is the point to your argument that, if we as churches know what is good for us, we will stop repeating that tenet and adopt and begin repeating your doctrine to the effect that the promises of God are conditional? I can’t see why you didn’t tell us, seeing that you; are so concerned about us. Why did you leave us in the dark? And concerned you are. For you go on to say, “I do not think that when our people speak of our heritage they are exactly guilty of this sin. However, there is always that danger for all of us.”
You go on to say, “Therefore we as Protestant Reformed also are now thrown into these problems rather unexpectedly must try to make these questions alive to ourselves, we must try to discuss freely as brethren among each other, and to understand each other.” We were not thrown unto any problems, brother; and this for the simple reason that the things whereof you speak are for us no problems. We know what we believe. As churches, we took a position with respect to these things twenty-five years ago. They may be problems to you, but not to us. This does not mean that we are unwilling to discuss these things with you. There is nothing that we would rather do than discuss these things with you. For it appears that you have need of it.
And yet that is precisely what you do not want—discussion, despite all your pretty words about discussion. That you shun discussion like a plague again appears from what you next write, “Also the editor in the Standard Bearer, May 15, devotes a couple of paragraphs to the question that is being discussed among us. (I should say he does. He emphatically denies that the promises of God are conditional. G.M.O.) It shows again how necessary it is that we keep understanding each other, when on the one hand we want to avoid all Pelagianism and on the other hand want to do justice to the many passages in Scripture that teach conditions in the covenant, and want to understand the place that our Reformed fathers gave to the conditions in the covenant”. (italics supplied).
The sentence in italics is very revealing. It shows your stand, which is that there are conditions in the covenant and that this is self-evident from the type of “if” sentences in the Bible to which your statement has reference. Thus you persistently refuse to admit that the issue is precisely whether there are conditions in the covenant, and whether those “if” sentences teach such a thing. It means that you stubbornly refuse to face the real issues; and this in turn means that you want no discussion. Your attitude is, “There are conditions in the covenant. I, Rev. Peter, say it. And that settles the matter. No discussion please. Those “if” sentences do teach that there are conditions in the covenant. This is so very self-evident as to render exegesis of those Scripture passages wholly unnecessary. I, Rev. Petter, say it. And that settles the matter. No discussion please. If we want to discuss, let it be about what place our Reformed fathers gave to conditions in the covenant.”’ Such is your attitude brother. Your posture is sheer popism; it is a brand of individualism that will surely destroy us, if not crushed. What you are doing, brother, is to destroy the foundation that was once laid among us and lay a foundation of your own choosing. And the sole authority for your action is the “I, Rev. Petter, have said, that settles it. No discussion please!” of Rev. Petter.