From the Rev. John J. Mitchell, Editor of The Presbyterian Guardian, published by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, I received the following letter in reaction to my recent editorial (Sept. 15 issue) on this subject:
Dear Professor Hoeksema:
It is certainly enlightening to read another’s reaction to what one has written. Your editorial, “Should Ops and RPs Unite” was indeed interesting in showing how an outsider views our affairs. There are, of course, some matters on which your judgment differs from ours. For example: The “Declaratory Statement” of the Bible Presbyterian Church, which you quote, is not Arminian. The first article is clearly in accord with the Westminster Confession of Faith, and is the traditional doctrine of Presbyterian churches. In brief, both OPs and RPs, as well as Bible Presbyterians, would agree that the offer of salvation is freely extended to all men, is sufficient for the sins of all men, but is applied only to the elect who repent and believe under the effectual working of the Holy Spirit. This is the position set forth in The Free Offer of the Gospel by Murray and Stonehouse.
Nor do I agree that “an ecclesiastical marriage should be transacted either with complete enthusiasm or not at all.” This is not of the same order as a marriage between two individuals. We are not free to deal with Christ’s church on our own emotional bases. If we are one in faith and practice (which of course is the crucial question here), then we ought to be one in organizational matters also. Our hesitancy with respect to the Christian Reformed Church is due precisely to our questions about doctrinal agreement. And the hesitancies we still may feel toward the R.P. Church are also in that area. If they can be cleared satisfactorily, then there should be union—and it should be with enthusiasm for the work of Christ’s church.
I agree with you that “Christian liberty” remains one of the more basic problem areas, though there has been real progress there. On the matter of eschatological views, neither the O.P. nor the R.P. Church has an official position; there is, we would prefer to say, freedom in this area rather than “neutrality.” Dispensationalism is, of course, quite another matter; neither church officially allows for that.
In sum, I would judge that few if any of us are concerned about the millennial question, so long as no one is agitating for his view to be the only tolerated one. Probably also the question of “Christian liberty” is not the problem it once was, though it could again become an issue. At least, I do not see either of these, given the evidence available concerning the opinions of office-bearers in both denominations about them, as sufficient to bar a merger.
But it is with the matter of alleged Arminianism that I am most concerned. I do not at all agree with you that the Murray-Stonehouse booklet, or the “treatment of Dr. Clark in by-gone years,” indicates any weakness at all in the O.P.C. over against Arminianism The basic question then and now is simply whether or not God makes a sincere offer to any and all men when he says, “Whosoever will may come,” or, “Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”
It is not Arminian to insist that there is a sincere and free offer of salvation from God; in fact, that there is such an offer will become part of the condemnation of those who refuse to come to the light. It is Arminian to say that grace is given to all, or that God has a redemptive love for all, or that all men are naturally able to respond to God’s free offer. It is unpresbyterian to say to a mixed audience that “God loves you.” It is not unpresbyterian to say to such a group, “God promises salvation to each and everyone here who will repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” That is a fact, and thanks be to God that he sends forth his Spirit into the hearts of his elect that they might be “made willing and able freely to answer his call, and to accept and embrace the grace offered” in the gospel (Larger Catechism Q. 67).
Thank you again for your “outsider’s” review; it is appreciated. And your concern for the future of these Presbyterian churches is also much appreciated. I hope these comments of mine may give further light into the state of our affairs and beliefs.
Cordially in Christ,
(signed) John J. Mitchell
PS: I would be gratified if you could publish this letter inThe Standard Bearer. More knowledge, in both directions, of PRs, OPs, and RPs could be of mutual help to us all. But you are the editor!
Reply. First of all, a hearty word of thanks to the Rev. Mitchell for his cordial and interesting and enlightening letter. I gladly publish it; and I agree, too, that “More knowledge, in both directions, of PRs, OPs, and RPs could be of mutual help to us all.” I appreciate especially the frankness with which Editor Mitchell writes, and I hope that this can be the beginning of a friendly discussion. In a private letter, in which I requested a bit more information, I have suggested to the Rev. Mitchell that it would be nice if thePresbyterian Guardian would also carry our discussion, although I realize that the Presbyterian Guardian might have problems doing this because of lack of space and due to the fact that it is not published as frequently as our magazine.
In the second place, in this part of my reply I want to concentrate, first of all, on certain areas of substantial agreement between the Rev. Mitchell and myself, in order then to pin-point the areas in which we apparently do not see eye to eye. Later I expect to write in some detail on those points on which we disagree.
What are those areas of substantial agreement?
In the first place, I believe we are agreed about the matter of transacting an ecclesiastical marriage with enthusiasm. By my reference to enthusiasm I surely did not intend to suggest that we should deal with Christ’s church on our own emotional bases. (Incidentally, I don’t believe that to be true of the marriage between two individuals either.) I agree that there should be unity in faith and practice. I agree that this is indeed the crucial question. And I believe that exactly where there is such unity in faith and practice, an ecclesiastical marriage can be and ought to be consummated with complete enthusiasm.
In the second place, the Rev. Mitchell evidently agrees with me that such a reason for enthusiastic marriage is not yet there. For he writes of “hesitancy” exactly in some areas regarding faith and practice. I have a question here. Perhaps Editor Mitchell can clarify this. Is the 1972 decision of the O.P. General Assembly to be understood as only a conditional approval of the Basis of Union? And is it still theoretically possible that the next Assembly will not be satisfied as to the improvements made in the statement and might therefore reject it? And is it not, therefore a bit premature to draw up a Plan of Union before there is assurance of agreement on the Basis of Union?
In the third place, I am in agreement as to thehesitancy of the O.P. Church with respect to questions of doctrinal agreement with the Christian Reformed Church. I commend the O.P. Church for its insistence that these questions be satisfactorily answered. Having followed the OPC-CRC discussions in as far as they were made public, I am aware that they involved in part the issues of the so-called “Dekker Case.” Although I shall discuss the matter of the “offer of the gospel” later, I would remind Rev. Mitchell that the Arminianism of the “Dekker Case” and the inability of the CRC to cope with it are rooted historically in the Christian Reformed doctrine of the “well-meant offer.” And I would also caution that the OPC should be as careful and insistent with respect to true unity with the RPC as with the CRC.
In the fourth place, I believe that Editor Mitchell and I are in agreement that there is no unity in the area of eschatology, specifically with respect to premillennialism Apparently we are not agreed as to the importance of this lack of unity. About this later.
In the fifth place, I believe we are agreed that the matter of “Christian liberty” between the two denominations is not completely settled, even to the extent that it “could again become an issue.” I have a question here. Why does not the Basis of Union deal frankly with this matter? I have the impression—and I stand to be corrected—that the Preamble of the Basis of Union skirts this issue rather than deal with it directly. And in my opinion, this can only give rise to “hesitancy.”
In the sixth place, I agree with Rev. Mitchell that “It is not unpresbyterian to say to such a group (a mixed audience), ‘God promises salvation to each and everyone here who will repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.’ ” But I hasten to add: 1) That this is not the same as an offer. 2) That even as to the form of its words it is a promise, which is by no means the same as an offer. 3) That it is a particular promise, i.e., “to each and everyone here who will repent and believe.” 4) That, therefore, this is nothing but the thoroughly Presbyterian and Reformed doctrine of the general proclamation of a particular promise. In the seventh place, I am also in agreement that it is Arminian to say that grace is given to all, or that God has a redemptive love for all, and that it is “unPresbyterian to say to a mixed audience that ‘God loves you.'”
For the rest, there are, I think, some substantial areas of disagreement. Let me mention them:
1) The Basis of Union speaks of “neutrality” in eschatological views. Rev. Mitchell prefers to speak of “freedom.” For my part, I do not believe that there is room under the Presbyterian confessions for premillennialism, not even for the non-dispensationalist type. Moreover, especially in our times, when eschatology is again on the forefront in theology, I believe that there should be unity in faith on this matter.
2) We are evidently at variance on the matter of Arminianism, both with respect to the Bible Presbyterian “Declaratory Statement” and with respect to the so-called Clark Case and the booklet, “The Free Offer of the Gospel,”
To both of these matters I hope to give some detailed attention in future issues of our magazine.
Once again, thank you, Rev. Mitchell, for writing. And: call again!