“A drowning man will grasp at a straw.”
So the saying goes.
And many of the things put forth as arguments to try to justify the awful schismatic action of those who left us is certainly nothing more than the grasping of straws by men who know that they are sinking under the deluge of facts and truth.
We were reminded of this as we had the privilege to conduct church visitation in the churches of Classis East with Rev. G. Vos.
Let us explain.
One of the questions drawn up by one of our Synods in the past for the church visitors to ask the full consistory is the following: “Is the Consistory aware whether there are members of a secret organization in the congregation, and if so, is church discip1in.e applied?”
Now let us assume that a consistory replies that it does have in its very consistory an elder who is a member of a lodge or of a worldly union and that the consistory, after rebuking him for such membership, decided to do nothing more since this elder attends the services on the Sabbath regularly, does his work faithfully as an elder, contributes liberally to the financial support of the church, lives an exemplary life and is of such great help in Men’s Society with his clear understanding of the truth of Scripture that the consistory felt that all these “good works” far offset his one violation of the stand of our churches in regard to such secret organizations.
You say that this is an improbable case? Not at all. And our Synod adopted this question just exactly because such things can very easily happen and may happen in the near future. That is not our point now. We want to pursue the case.
The church visitors report, it to the Classis as is their duty. The whole Classis becomes aware of it. What then? With those that left us, unless they change their stand again, this is what will happen: NOTHING.
It is not difficult to visualize the treatment of such a matter at one of their classical sessions. The president may wring his hands and say that it is too bad that a Consistory has taken such a stand against the decision of our churches, but it is an autonomous body and when for “conscience sake” it is moved to take this stand, it must be allowed to do so and cannot be put out of the denomination. He will suggest that they go on to the next business.
One of the delegates, most likely one of the church visitors, may object and say that such action makes a farce of all church visitation. He will suggest or make a motion that this Consistory be advised to abide by the decision of the churches and to begin to discipline that Elder.
However, the ministers who have engineered and led this mass exodus out of the Protestant Reformed churches last year will call the attention of the body to the fact that Classis may not “initiate discipline.” Since this is an elder who is walking in sin and since “According to the Church Order suspension proceedings belong solely to the Consistory”—and we are quoting here the Reformed Guardian, Vol. I, No. 3, page 14—Classis may not touch the case. According to this stand in the Reformed Guardian a Consistory can walk in the error of failing to discipline such, an elder without ever being demanded to cease that sinful practice. You may be sure that this Consistory will never bring the case to Classis, and since it does not, Classis cannot touch it. Suspension proceeding belong solely, so the quotation reads, to the Consistory. And the sin can stay in the congregation and in the Consistory and eat like a cancer in the denomination.
That whole argument of “Classis initiated discipline” is nothing but a straw. And we will make that very plain. For Rev. Blankespoor quotes a passage from the pen of the Rev. Hoeksema out of the Standard Bearer, Vol. 5, page 545, wherein he condemns the action of the Christian Reformed Classis East, Grand Rapids for initiating discipline upon his Consistory. And he tries to make his reader believe that we did the same thing with Rev. De Wolf and the elders that supported him. All this he does in that pamphlet that claims to guard truth and justice. But we will remind Rev. Blankespoor of a few things which he knew as clerk of that Classis that took this action last May. And then to defend truth and justice he should write another article in the Reformed Guardian to show that he was mistaken about Classis East initiating discipline upon Rev. De Wolf and his elders.
1. We would remind Rev. Blankespoor that Rev. Hoeksema gave four points in that article in that Vol. 5, Standard Bearer, to show that the Christian Reformed Churches had acted in an hierarchical way with him and his Consistory. Point two, which Rev. Blankespoor quoted, looks quite different when it follows point one which he withheld from his readers. For he, the Rev. Hoeksema, shows in point one that the Classis had demanded things of him which THE SYNOD HAD DECLARED SHOULD NOT BE DEMANDED. SYNOD SAID THAT HE DID NOT NEED TO SUBSCRIBE TO THE THREE POINTS AND SHOULD NOT BE DEPOSED. And the Rev. Hoeksema had that in mind when he wrote in the paragraph Rev. Blankespoor quoted that “Classis DEPOSED the consistory without in the least acknowledging the congregation.” Rev. Blankespoor, did we as a Classis suspend or depose Rev: De Wolf and his Elders? Did we begin to suspend or simply advise suspension, if he did not apologize?
2. Rev. Blankespoor have you forgotten that long before the case ever came to Classis—more than a year before it got to Classis—the Consistory had prescribed an apology for Rev. De Wolf’s first statement and that it also prescribed discipline upon his second sermon and that the minutes show nowhere that by a two thirds majority—nor even by bare majority—these decisions were rescinded? Did you also forget that when the Consistory had to draw up an answer to the protests of the Rev. Hoeksema and the Rev. Ophoff that the Consistory could not do so because it was deadlocked with a tie vote? Did you forget that half of that Consistory—get that half of the CONSISTORY—still prescribed discipline upon Rev. De Wolf and that the other half wanted to absolve him? And this was all before it ever came to Classis? And that information came to Classis when you were clerk. And did Classis not simply advise—get that word too, ADVISE—the Consistory to do as it had itself prescribed to do to Rev. De Wolf? Rev. Blankespoor, did we “prescribe to the consistory what it had to request of the pastor and what it had to demand of him?”
The minutes, of the Consistory still prescribe that discipline!
The case is quite different from 1924, is it not? You know that in 1924 the Consistory had never begun any discipline proceedings whatsoever upon the Rev. Hoeksema and had unanimously absolved him of all the accusations hurled at him by the protestants. Why then do you make the cases parallel? That straw will not hold you up. And if you felt that we “initiated discipline,” why did you not register your negative vote last MAY and tell us you would appeal to Synod?
3. You undoubtedly read the protest of the Rev. H. Hoeksema against his Consistory for you were clerk of the Classis. Do you not recall that he protested to the Classis not against Rev. De Wolf but against the Consistory that was not heeding the discipline it had prescribed and never withdrawn? Just read his protest over. And therefore you ought to go back to the readers if the Reformed Guardian to defend truth and justice and tell them that Classis advised the Consistory of Fuller Ave. to abide by their, the Consistory’s, prescribed discipline.
Classis did not initiate discipline. And yet we maintain that Classis may advise discipline even when the Consistory has not asked for it. We made that plain a moment ago in regard to cases which come there by way of the church visitors. We will give another example, one taken out of the files of Classis East itself, a concrete case.
A Consistory in Classis East placed certain individuals under the first step of censure. A neighboring consistory received these people—who had left the church that was disciplining them—and although the certificates of dismissal, clearly indicated that they were under the first step of censure for a particular sin, allowed them to the table of the Lord without demanding a confession of them and without as much as contacting the church they had placed them under this first step of discipline.
The matter came to Classis, and Classis decided that this Consistory must place those people back under the first step of censure and apologize to the other Consistory for lording it over that Consistory.
Did Classis initiate discipline? Did it begin to exercise the keys of the kingdom? It did not, and we did not upon Rev. De Wolf. But surely that Classis had a right to demand what it did in order that this grievous error in the churches might be corrected.
But some may say, O, yes, but now it came to Classis by the request of an autonomous Consistory. True, but it did not come there as sent by the erring Consistory, and so all Classis could do, if we take Rev. Blankespoor’s stand, is to give advice to the aggrieved Consistory and keep entirely silent about the Consistory that had not sent the matter to the Classis. Since the one Consistory cannot discipline the other Consistory, the only hope of rectification of such evils is that the Classis has the right to demand apologies and advise that this erring Consistory discipline those who were being disciplined when they asked for their papers. After all, a brother may demand an apology of a brother without fear of being accused of exercising “key power” upon him.
If that is not so you will never get the case of an erring Consistory to the attention of the Classis. And denominational chaos is the result.
And we are at a loss to understand the boldness of Rev. Kok’s unchristian, unbrotherly and malicious remarks about the Rev. Hoeksema’s “guilty conscience” and “dishonesty.” This is especially so not only because she deliberately distorts his writings but also because of his own testimony in court, also in regard to these very things of which we just wrote.
For, Mr. Tubbs asked him whether he attended many of the sessions, of Classis East during his ministry. He replied that he had. Mr. Tubbs asked him if it ever happened while he was present that a consistory was demanded to apologize by the Classis. He said that he did not recall any such case. Plainly he did not, for then he added—which he was not at all required to do, but which came back to plague him later—that if it had happened, he surely would have opposed it.
Then Mr. Tubbs reminded him of the case of which we wrote above. And to Rev. Kok’s confusion and shame it was exposed to the court that he was the president of that Consistory that had lorded it over Byron Center’s Consistory by accepting into Hudsonville’s church people under censure in Byron Center. Let it be stated to Rev. Kok’s credit that he was visibly shaken by this exposition. It had happened while he attended Classis East. And what is more, he and his Consistory, although they did oppose it even to bringing it at Synod and refusing to abide by the decision of Synod until they were told that they would not be seated at the next Classical session if they did not do as Synod had decided, the Consistory did apologize with an apology which Rev. Kok admitted he drew up for the Consistory.
We would like to believe that when Rev. Kok showed visibly that he was shaken by this revelation that his conscience spoke to him. Would to God he had listened to it and confessed that he was in error in his stand today. We say “confessed” it because later on he was forced to admit it. Mr. Tubbs pressed him somewhat later in a different session of the hearings as to why he and his Consistory complied with that advice and demand of the Classis and Synod if the local consistory can reject the decisions of Classis and Synod if their conscience so dictates without being put out of the denomination. Then Rev. Kok admitted that they complied with that demand because they considered the advice of Classis and Synod to be good advice. That, mind you, after fighting it for almost a year!
But, if you please, did Rev. Kok not thereby admit that even when a local Consistory does not bring the case to the attention of Classis, Classis may give that Consistory advice in regard to discipline? If Classis has no right to advise disciplinary proceedings, then this advice could never be called good advice. What is illegal is never good.
To be sure, the above example does not refer to suspension proceedings upon an office bearer, but let us assume now that during all that period of time one of these members had been voted in as a deacon in Hudsonville’s Consistory—which would not have been impossible, since the consistory had given them all clean papers and was defending that stand. Do Rev. Blankespoor and Rev. Kok maintain that just because of that fact the Classis would have to say to Byron Center? “Sorry, we cannot treat your case about this one man. As far as the rest are concerned we can advise Hudsonville to put them back under the first step of censure, but this deacon, we must inform you, may not be touched. We may not even advise the Consistory to suspend him from his office.”
That is the confusion you get when you try to make out that what we did to Rev. De Wolf and his elders is parallel to what happened in 1924. And one of these days those that left us are going to learn this the hard way. God cannot be mocked. And when soon they get such a case, they are either going to leave the doors open to all kinds of corruption in their group or else confess that they must do exactly as we did and that such procedure of advising Consistories that need help ii not hierarchy but truly brotherly love.
Another point Mr. Tubbs drove home and brought out to Rev. Kok’s embarrassment and shame was that he had a debate in the Standard Bearer (Vol. 20) with the Rev. Ophoff about these same things and that the, Rev. Ophoff maintained in that debate quite a different viewpoint from what Rev. Kok had been attributing to him in the court hearings. Those court records will reveal an awful lot of things!
Here, for example, is a quotation from that debate. And that is still the Rev. Ophoff’s stand today, not as a change of church political viewpoint but of unchanged conviction from 1924 to this present time.
We quote from that debate:
“VI. The right of a local consistory to act contrary to the Church Order would result in Chaos and the final dissolution of our entire Church Formation, for a) The Church Order would be supplanted by as many private Church Orders as there are churches in our organized denomination of churches. Each Consistory would transact according to its own private Church Order. Classis and Synod would be only two names. Their resolutions could have no binding power and their meetings would partake of the character of conferences such as those held by the independents, or congregational churches. Now if this is what we want, let us say so, but let us then cease prating about our being Reformed, in our church government.” The italics are ours.
Any doubt as to whether Rev. Ophoff changed his church political views? This was written in 1943.
And so we urge you again, walk IN HIS FEAR.
Then all our problems will be dissolved. And in that way a reunion can even be realized at this late date. But that is the only way it can be realized.