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The above is the title of a pamphlet I received containing a criticism of a certain decision adopted by the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America. The criticism was made by the Sixth Reformed Church of Paterson, New Jersey and was published in pamphlet form by the Consistory of that Church. 

The reader will probably remember that, some time ago, I wrote about the case of a certain candidate for the ministry who failed in his classical examination because he denied that Adam was a historical person which denial was, of course, also a denial of the historicity of the second and third chapters of the book of Genesis. I did not follow the case which, if I remember well, was appealed to Synod, but as one reads this pamphlet one receives the impression that Synod virtually takes the same position as the candidate. 

In this pamphlet the Consistory of Sixth Paterson, first of all, enters in6the legal question. It maintains that Synod did not have the right to maintain the statements in question. We read: 

“Does a General Synod have a legal right to adopt a statement as to the belief of the churches and give it official sanction, or even a semi-official sanction, without any referral of it to the classes and churches, without any previous discussion of it in the classes and churches, and without a vote of approval of it by the classes and churches?” 

This question the Consistory answers in the negative: 

“We hold that General Synod does not have a legal right to do so, because obviously, in the nearest comparable case, it is unlawful for a General Synod to amend the Constitution. Any attempt to do so would be rejected as an unwarranted and illegal usurpation. Synod can only recommend that the classes approve an amendment. The classes discuss it, and if two-thirds of them approve it, only then can General Synod declare it in effect as law. 

“Now if such is the case with the Constitution, so that no single session of a General Synod has the right to amend it, then certainly, in a much more serious case, the adoption, of statements affecting the Standards, which are above the Constitution, with which the Constitution must be in harmony, then how much less does a General Synod have a right, nay rather, how much more must it be illegal to decide theological questions in a single session of General Synod. At the very least, the statement of the Theological Commission ought to have been sent to the classes and churches and vote there on. At the very least, no statement of such a nature should be adopted or issued in the name of the Reformed Church in America without the concurrence by vote, of two-thirds of the classes.” 

With this we can all agree. The opposite of this is sheer hierarchy. 

As to the statement itself which was adopted by the General Synod, it is, evidently, the same that was proposed by the Theological Commission, which is as follows: 

“Fathers and brethren: 

“Three matters were referred to the Theological Commission by the General Synod of 1959. The overture from the Classis of Pella, relative to the preparation of a New Statement of Faith, by its very nature a long range project. The Commission is making this matter the subject of a continuing study in line with the overture. The overture from the Classis of Paramus, relative to the Inspiration of Scripture, presents basic questions of the meaning of revelation, the nature and function of creedal statements, the interpretation of the Belgic Confession, etc. After considerable discussion the Commission felt it advisable to make this subject a matter of special study and present a statement on it to the next General Synod. Relative to the overture from the Classis of South Grand Rapids on the historicity of Genesis, the Commission offers the following declaration. 

“The members of the Theological Commission are unanimous in affirming the historical character of the Book of Genesis. The biblical writer intended it to be a presentation of history, and it was so understood by the New Testament writers. However we must be clear as to the nature of this history. 

“It is of the essence of biblical faith that God is active in, and reveals Himself through events. God makes known His justice through acts of justice, His mercy through acts of mercy, His salvation through acts of deliverance. God has carried forward His redemptive activity through the events recorded in the Bible. Therefore, when Israel confessed her faith, she did so by recounting God’s mighty acts on her behalf. The significance of the Exodus e.g. was memorialized in the formula, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt,” and was remembered and celebrated at the great religious festivals. The preaching of the early church was, likewise, a recounting of God’s redemptive activity in the life, ministry, death, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus Christ. Two things stand out in biblical faith: 1. God is personally active in His world; 2. Events are important because of their meaning for faith. From this standpoint the narratives in Genesis are to be viewed—as recounting how God is active in these events, anti as significant because of what has been revealed through them. The faith of the Bible is inseparably tied to historical events. We protest against all attempts to divorce faith from history and to reduce the word which God would speak to us to abstract information about His nature and/or universal principles of moral behavior.” 

Here we must stop a moment. 

We naturally ask the question: what do the members of the Theological Commission mean when they speak of “history” and of “events.” They affirm unanimously the historical character of the book of Genesis. They say that “the biblical writer intended it to be a presentation of history.” At the same time, however, they state that “we must be clear as to the nature of this history.” 

What do they mean? 

Do they mean that the first three or the first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis present a record of “events” or of facts as they actually occurred? Do they believe that God created the world in six days? Do they believe that it is an actual fact that Adam was the first real, historical person, that God formed him out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life? Do they believe that God formed the first woman from a rib of Adam? Do they believe, when they speak of the history recorded in the book of Genesis, that the garden of Eden was an actual garden and that the tree of life and the, tree of knowledge of good and evil were actual trees? Is it actual history, not only that man fell but that his fall consisted in the disobedience of eating of the forbidden fruit? Do they maintain that Satan tempted the woman and, through the woman, tempted Adam, and that the devil came in the form of a serpent? 

In one word: what do they mean by the history recorded in the first chapters of Genesis? What kind of history is it that does not record actual “events” or facts? 

They furnish us with an answer, although the answer is vague, in what follows. And now we quote again: 

“It is of the essence of biblical history that it is always placed in a religious context. The prophets and apostles are the great writers and interpreters of history. It was God’s purpose, through the Scriptural authors, to communicate to the covenant community the religious meaning of events. This is specialized treatment of selected events. By and large the writers of Scripture are not primarily interested in recording history in the manner of modern scientific research, i.e., in presenting the exhaustive and detailed accounts of what actually happened. What is set forth is a witness, a proclaiming ‘from faith to faith’ the mighty deeds of God for our redemption, together with their significance for life. Through various literary means—poetry, prose, parable, sage, etc.—God is concerned to reveal that in history which transcends mere factual report—e.g. the spiritual forces at work, the divinely appointed goal, the divine activity, the place of the event within the divine program and its significance for faith. It is just this beyondness, this transcendent element, which makes history important to the biblical author. “We believe that the book of Genesis should be read in the light of this biblical faith and this understanding of history. It is out of a deep religious concern for the biblical word that we wish to caution against a superficial treatment of biblical history which imposes upon it a framework basically secular and essentially foreign to it. All such attempts are bound to lead to error and misunderstanding.” 

There you have it. 

It is all very general and vague. It does not furnish an answer to the questions we asked. From this part of the report of the Theological Commission we still do not learn what they mean by history. Negatively, indeed they state that “by and large the writers of Scripture are not primarily interested in recording history in the manner of modern scientific research, i.e., in presenting the exhaustive and detailed accounts of what actually happened.” 

But what are they interested in? 

Are they recording actual facts or are they not? To be sure, in the “events” God revealed Himself to His people, although He also revealed Himself in the spoken Word and not only in the facts of history. But what we are interested in is an answer to the question: were these “events” actual facts and did they really happen just as they were recorded? If they were not facts and if they did not actually take place, and if the biblical writers, nevertheless, presented them as historical facts, they are simply liars, and God surely does not reveal Himself through the lie. 

To my mind, the Theological Commission and also the General Synod that adopted this report do not believe that the first three chapters of Genesis record actual history. This is also evident from what follows in this same report: 

“All the members of the Theological Commission hold to the fact of creation by God.” We ask how? As it is recorded in Genesis 1

They also hold “to the reality of the fall.” Again we ask how? As it is recorded in Genesis 3? They hold to the fall of man “as an event within history.” We naturally ask: what kind of history? Why do they not define history? And they also hold to “the involvement of the entire race in sin.” And again we ask: how? Was it because, as Scripture presents the matter, the historical Adam was the head of the entire human race and his first sin is imputed to all so that, as the Bible clearly speaks of it, we must believe in original guilt? And was the entire race organically in the loins of Adam, so that we must also speak of the original corruption of the human nature? 

More of this in our next issue, D.V. 

—H.H.