In The Outlook (April, ’88, pp. 13, 14) the Rev. Jelle Tuininga, a Christian Reformed minister in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, writes under the title, “Obey God Rather Than Men”—a Scriptural injunction, of course, with which no one may disagree. We certainly must obey God rather than men if and when we are confronted by such a choice.

In the article the Rev. Tuininga leaves the impression that he is very disturbed, and even angry.

He also leaves the impression that he feels rather frustrated—frustrated partly because those whom he classifies as “liberals” in the Christian Reformed Church are, to use his figure, “in the driver’s seat,” while the “conservatives” are “back-seat drivers” and are “only annoying nuisances.”

And in his anger and frustration the Rev. Tuininga, it seems to me, is advocating revolution and rebellion, not reformation.

And while reformation is indeed a matter of obeying God, and usually involves obeying God rather than men, revolution and rebellion constitute disobedience to God.

Let us look at the matter in a little more detail. Mr. Tuininga begins as follows:

The liberals (not defined, HCH) in the CRC are becoming very bold the last number of years—almost ruthless one could say. And they have no intention of looking back. They are in the driver’s seat (even though numerically they are still a minority in the CRC). We have an article in the Church Order (29) which says that decisions of major assemblies are not settled and binding if they conflict with God’s Word or the Church Order. No problem: we change the C.O. to fit the new situation (women in office). No matter if that’s putting the cart before the horse. And the Bible—well, that’s all a matter of interpretation, Who really knows what it says (or means)?

Now, in the first place, Article 29 of the Christian Reformed Church Order (a revision of our well-known Article 31) does not say what Tuininga claims. It says rather that “The decisions of the assemblies shall be considered settled and binding, unless it is provedthat they conflict with the Word of God or that Church Order.” This obviously involves a process of protest and appeal. And in the second place, there is nothing wrong as such with changing the Church Order, provided this is done in the orderly way. In fact, provision is made for this in Article 96: “This Church Order, having been adopted by common consent, shall be faithfully observed, and any revision thereof shall be made only by synod.” In the third place, if what the Rev. Tuininga writes about the attitude toward the Bible is really true—and notice that he is not merely talking about the “liberals” but about decisions of major assemblies which are supposedly controlled by “liberals”—then he is making a very, very serious charge against the synod(s) of his own denomination. And he is certainly obligated either to make this a pending issue before the ecclesiastical assemblies and, if necessary, to leave. As long as he does nothing, he is co-responsible.

The Rev. Tuininga’s complaints in this article focus on two matters: 1) The matter of women in office. 2) The matter of Prof. Howard Van Till’s The Fourth Dayand its alleged denial that Genesis is history. In connection with the former, Tuininga’s complaints seem to be twofold. He complains about the synodical maneuvers with respect to this matter, and predicts that eventually the rules will be changed and the door will be officially opened to women elders and ministers. But he also complains about the fact that some churches already ordain women elders and have allowed women to preach in their pulpits. As to the matter of Prof. Van Till’s book, he complains—and I agree—that it is a denial of Genesis and that it is contrary to the creeds and a violation of the Formula of Subscription. It should be remembered, however, that this matter has not yet been adjudicated by synod, though the Calvin Board of Trustees has cleared Van Till and others.

Tuininga then complains about the inactivity of those whom he calls conservatives:

Meanwhile the conservatives (I know some people don’t like the words “liberal” and “conservative,” but they are the best we have and everybody knows what we mean by them) are not bold but timid. They are sitting in the back seat. And back-seat drivers are only annoying nuisances. Meanwhile the car keeps going where they’d rather not have it go.

Now that is quite a characterization of “conservatives”—and I suppose the Rev. Tuininga includes himself among them. And although I don’t like the comparison of a church or a denomination of churches with a car—and it certainly is not a Biblical figure—in a way the figure, I think, is rather appropriate; and it certainly is rather self demeaning. But let that be for a moment. What is important, I think, in this paragraph is the implication that the “conservatives” are “timid.” I am inclined to agree. Also important is the implication that the “car” (the CRC denomination) is not being driven by the “conservatives.”

But what is especially important is the easy way in which the Rev. Tuininga passes over the question what constitutes a conservative. He blithely states that “everyone knows what we mean by” the words “liberal” and “conservative.” I used to think that I knew. But as the years have passed and what I thought were “conservatives” year after year have allowed the ecclesiastical car to go where they would rather not have it go, and have also remained in the car, so to speak, I have become confused as to what “conservatives” and “conservatism” are. In a later editorial I propose to address that matter and to ask some pertinent and concrete questions. This is the more important because the Rev. Tuininga claimed earlier in his article that the “liberals,” though in the driver’s seat, “are still a minority.” Now that all depends, of course, on how he defines “liberal” and “conservative.” But about this later.

Now comes the Rev. Tuininga’s rebellious proposal:

I make a proposal: It’s time the conservatives get some boldness too. It’s time they take the gloves off too. It’s time they fight fire with fire; that they meet the liberals on their own ground with their own weapons. It won’t do to be “nice” and inoffensive and to meekly obey all the rules. No, it won’t. And the sooner the conservatives realize this, the better it is. If Luther and Calvin and the other Reformers had kept on being nice and “paying the quotas,” we’d still be in the Roman Catholic church today. There comes a time when we must obey God rather than men, and that time is NOW. No dilly-dallying around.

Now I have to smile a bit about the facile way in which the Rev. Tuininga mixes his metaphors—from car-driving, to boxing, to fire-fighting, to warfare. But let that be. He seems to be a bit agitated and frustrated; and I can understand this.

But I call your attention to the following facts:

1. Tuininga is proposing disobedience to “the rules.” Not an orderly changing of the rules does he propose. Nor the orderly ecclesiastical process of protest and appeal does he propose. But the breaking of the rules, the law, in his denomination. This is rebellion, not reformation.

2. He justifies this because the liberals also do it. He suggests meeting the liberals on their own ground and with their own weapons. This is a concrete application of the false principle that two wrongs make a right.

3. He appeals to the alleged example of Luther and Calvin—as if either their battle or their method involved the question of “paying quotas” or being “nice.” Let us use the example of Luther. Did he simply rebel about something insignificant? Not at all. He took his stand on the truth, on the basis of the Word of God. He boldly proclaimed that truth and taught it. But he went the orderly way, all the way to the Diet of Worms. There he openly took his position on the basis of Holy Scripture. His teachings were condemned. It was demanded of him that he recant. He refused in his famous “Here I stand” declaration. And he allowed himself to be put under the ban and excommunicated. Such is the path of reformation. Or if you want another example, think of Hendrik De Cock and the consistory and congregation of Ulrum at the time of the Secession of 1834. Or, to come a little nearer to home, think of Hoeksema and Danhof and Ophoff and their consistories in 1924.

4. What the Rev. Tuininga is proposing is not a matter of obeying God rather than men. He is proposing rebellion; and rebellion is disobedience to God. Besides, why is the time, as he says, “NOW?” Is not the time for obeying God rather than menalways and at every occasion when that is the issue? Why was it not on the numerous other occasions when Tuininga’s denomination departed from the truth of the Word of God?

The Rev. Tuininga has some concrete suggestions for action in his article also. About these and the matter of a definition of “conservative” I will comment later.

—HCH