Sequel To A Footnote

Recently I received a letter from one of our growing number of non-Protestant Reformed readers — this one from Canada — which made plain to me how difficult it is to express one’s meaning and mood clearly and concisely in the printed word. The letter is not critical; on the contrary, as will become plain when I quote part of it, it is the kind of letter an editor can frequently use. However, the writer misjudged my mood and my intent. I take the blame for this: evidently I did not come through clearly. 

The letter refers to the footnote to the August 1 editorial, “Is It True? Is It Equitable?” 

And all of this gives me the opportunity to repeat that footnote, clarify it, add to it, and express my thanks to the afore-mentioned letter-writer.

The appendix to my editorial of August 1 was as follows:

To all of the above, this is probably in the nature of a footnote. In the course of his address Mr. Feikens says in reference to the case of 1924: “Today perhaps we would view such division between believers differently than our fathers did. We live today in an age of ecumenicity. We seek today for the areas in which Christians can agree. Hopefully, as individuals, while not denying our doctrinal standards, we stress more our identity as Christians and we are happy for the places where we can meet on common ground.” 

I wish to point out two items: 

1. The Christian Reformed Church has never manifested this sweet spirit of ecumenicity toward the Protestant Reformed Churches. Officially it has twice refused even to discuss what holds the two denominations apart. 

2. Recently I have heard testimony from our home missions laborers that the attitude of the Christian Reformed Church is quite different than is described above. People may be absent from the services for weeks; they may attend no church at all or churches of other denominations. In some cases they are even advised, in case of dissatisfaction, to attend another church. Admonition or discipline for neglect of the means of grace are absent. But let there be an inkling that they are attending or thinking of attending Protestant Reformed services! Then there are warnings and hints of discipline. Then there is slander of the Protestant Reformed Churches as schismatic and as troublemakers. All spirit of ecumenicity vanishes as the morning mist! “And the Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no judgment.”

My correspondent writes rather at length about the above paragraphs. His letter was not intended for publication; but I can quote the pertinent section without revealing his identity. Here it is:

Then, in one of your latest articles I noticed some bitterness, due to the almost hostile attitude experienced when mentioning the Protestant Reformed Church among Christian Reformed people. To console and comfort you, I would say that the special function which God in His providence has assigned to the Protestant Reformed church, viz. to warn the Christian Reformed people (not the C.R. church!), will cause this face-slapping. In the Scriptures we read again and again how those who stood up with the witness of the Spirit of God were actually slapped in their faces. 

Without a doubt, “The Standard Bearer” is the most faithful, by far, to the Scriptures, of all the periodicals that I am familiar with. There is a verse in Isaiah stating that “when the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall raise up a standard against him . . .” I take it that the name of your magazine was chosen with this verse in mind. Well, the enemy has come in the C.R.C., and the flood waters are rising. Thousands upon thousands have perished already. Amidst this tumult you are standing, hand tied, because you are lifting this “Standard” aloft. You’re standing there already for 49 years, with others. In the confusion and blind stampede among the C.R. people your message sounds so different, almost foreign, certainly out of place (and time!). This makes for the people seeing you as an obstacle, so they attempt to lift you out of the saddle. So they become servants of Satan, trying to destroy the witness to the truth, which often, out of necessity, has to be a witness against error.

As long as you receive insults of this nature, you may praise God for having kept you steadfast, immovable. 

Now, first of all, I want to say “thanks” for the words of encouragement. This correspondent has correctly discerned what our magazine purposes to be: distinctively Reformed. And it is encouraging to hear that our magazine, with all its weaknesses, succeeds in achieving its purpose. 

In the second place, however, as far as the intent and the mood of the “footnote” which occasioned this correspondence were concerned, the writer of this letter is mistaken; evidently I did not come through clearly. My intent was not to convey bitterness over against the Christian Reformed Church, though I do not think this is what my correspondent means. Neither, however, was my mood one of bitterness in the sense of despondency or discouragement or complaintiveness. I may have left that impression, and I surely will admit to having such feelings upon occasion. But that was not my mood at the time that “footnote” was penned. 

Are we disappointed and saddened when we observe such things on the part of the Christian Reformed Church? Yes, indeed! For not only is it true in general that we rejoice to see others walk in and according to the truth. But this is especially true with respect to those who in same belong to the Reformed family of churches. And it is even more true with respect to the Christian Reformed Church. After all, historically the Christian Reformed denomination is our mother: and it is painful and disappointing and saddening to be under the necessity of reproving and rebuking and pleading against “mother” and calling upon “mother’s” children not to walk in the whorish ways of their mother. Yet, did we not do so, we would be derelict in our duty before God. And the Standard Bearer has from the beginning seen this as one aspect of its task. Quoting the prophet Hosea, one of our original editors in an early issue of this magazine wrote, “Twist met ulieder moeder, twist! (Plead with your mother, plead!)” 

Personally, I must also admit to being taken somewhat by surprise when this enmity toward the Protestant Reformed Churches is displayed. Perhaps I am naive in that respect; but then there are others, I know, who share my naiveté. I am aware, of course, that this enmity was displayed in the past. In the earlier years of our history it was not at all the exception that people were threatened with discipline and even actually disciplined if they so much as listened to a missionary-minister of our churches. And I am aware, too, of course, that the Christian Reformed Church has not changed its doctrinal stance with respect to the common grace issue, but has indeed developed and progressed in the direction chosen in 1924. But somehow one comes to imagine that perhaps the attitude of enmity has softened somewhat. Perhaps the sweet avowals of being ecumenically-minded have something to do with this. And then something will happen to jar one back to stark reality! I myself had this experience when, several years ago, I had opportunity — upon their invitation — to instruct a group of Christian Reformed people concerning 1924 and the Three Points. I know, as I indicated in that “footnote,” that some have had the same experience recently. I recently heard that others are presently having the very same experience. 

And I can well imagine that if I am surprised by this, others — outside of our churches — may be even more taken by surprise, perhaps shocked, and possibly even a bit frightened by such threatenings. 

Well, it was partly for this reason that I wrote: so that others might not be taken by surprise, so that they might expect it, and so that they might be forewarned not to be cowed by threats of discipline and slanderous remarks about our being schismatic and troublemakers, etc. 

Hence, in the third place, I wanted to expose sharply the ecclesiastical hypocrisy of this spirit of ecumenicity which can be so soft and sweet toward all the errors and erring movements of our day — including rank Arminianism, neo-Pentecostalism, faith healing, not to mention homosexuality or flagrant denials of the authority of Scripture — but is absolutely intolerant toward those who want to be and who are distinctively Reformed. 

Nor is my quotation from Judge Feiken’s article an exception. Anyone who reads The Banner regularly will know this. But let me cite another example from the recently-resumed series of the Rev. Clarence Boomsma. He writes in the same vein. For example: “Therefore the problem we confront is how we can appreciate and be open to the valuable influences of other denominations and religious movements without depreciating our own beliefs, loyalties, and practices, losing thereby our denominational identity and loyalty.” Or again: “How much we owe other religious bodies whose example has inspired our missionary zeal and evangelistic effort. Have we not been prodded by the social concern and action of other churches to recognize our need for such obedience to the demands of the Gospel? Can we not learn from others to encourage the fellowship that mutually supports spiritual life and service within the membership of our congregations? Ought we not to profit from the experience of those who have learned how to reach the unchurched in their communities? And consider the challenge to consecrated living inspired in some denominations! I could continue, as you know. Especially in these times of massive attack on the Christian faith by the neo-paganism of modern life, it is important to understand that all Christians need each other and the contributions that all can bring to the Church of Christ.” (page 15, Sept. 28, 1973) 

But you see this is the same attitude that changes the ecclesiastically condemned heresy of Dr. Janssen in 1922 to “alleged” liberalism. (And is this any wonder in the light of Report 36/44?) It is the same sweet attitude which makes our denial of common grace in 1924 “hyper-Calvinism.” And ” hyper-Calvinism,” you see, is a dirty word in ecclesiastical parlance. 

Ecclesiastical hypocrisy! 

And therefore, in the fourth place, I will now make explicit what I previously left to the reader to conclude. When discipline is employed against those who seek to maintain the Reformed faith, i.e., when it is employed to persecute the faithful, this, according to Article 29 of our Confession of Faith, is a mark of the false church! 

Hence, let those who are the objects of such discipline or threats of discipline not be intimidated. Let them rather consider it a good sign and a badge of honor, as well as a privilege of grace that they may suffer for Christ’s sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.