The CRC and the Doctrine of Reprobation—Further Evidence

Dr. Harry Boer and I are in agreement. I believe that he is correct when he charges that his church does not believe and confess the doctrine of sovereign reprobation as taught by the Canons of Dordrecht. I believe that he is correct when he accuses his church in his recent book, The Doctrine of Reprobation in the Christian Reformed Church, “that in spite of the solemn and weighty affirmations and promises made in the signing of the Form of Subscription, in spite of the unambiguous undertakings to defend, teach, preach, and otherwise implement the teachings of Dordt, no doctrine in the CRC is more ignored, more silenced, more mortifying, more theologically embarrassing, and more regarded as evangelistically absurd than the doctrine of reprobation.” (p. 75)

To be sure, this agreement is from radically different viewpoints. Dr. Boer vehemently denies the doctrine of reprobation as taught by the Canons (and is himself in violation of the Formula of Subscription), while I wholeheartedly subscribe to it and live up to my subscription.

Nevertheless, as to the fact we agree. I also believe that Dr. Boer in his book proves his claim, chiefly by pointing to the treatment which his gravamen received in the Christian Reformed Church and by the synods of his denomination, as I pointed out in my September 1 editorial.

There is no better evidence of the truth of Dr. Boer’s charge than evidence which can be gotten from the official pronouncements of the Christian Reformed Church itself.

And that evidence is at hand.

Before the 1983 Synod of the CRC was a hybrid new confession called a “Contemporary Testimony.” The Testimony itself is in the form of a prose-poem with the title, “Our World Belongs To God.” Added to the latter is a rather lengthy commentary on the various paragraphs of the Testimony. According to The Banner (July 4, 1983, p. 17) this Testimony was adopted in 15 minutes and “recommended to the churches for ‘use in worship, education, and outreach.’ The approval is provisional, of course.” The Testimony will be subject to revision and final approval in 1985.

Perhaps we shall comment on this Contemporary Testimony later, even as we did on the RCA’s “Our Song of Hope.”

At the moment, however, I want to focus your attention on one paragraph of the Contemporary Testimony, paragraph 33, and on the commentary on that paragraph. Both appear under the title “Election and Reprobation” on p. 436 of the 1983 Agenda For Synod:

Election and Reprobation 

Therefore the Father chose 

those whom He would save 

in Jesus. 

And Jesus’ love, 

through His Spirit, 

moves us to faith and obedience. 

(Contemporary Testimony, par. 33) 

The doctrines of election and reprobation have been the subject of much discussion within the Christian Reformed Church recently. These teachings also mark a crucial difference between Reformed and other evangelical churches. We gladly testify now why we keep teaching these doctrines. 

The Bible shows that God works out His own design as He reclaims the world for Himself. The redemption of sinners is accomplished by the amazing grace of the sovereign God Who initiates salvation. Our faith, love, piety, or good works do not force God to favor us. In fact, we confess that from the beginning of our life on earth we need the forgiveness and renewal of God’s mercy. But we celebrate the freedom of God to save those who do not deserve it. 

So the church confesses that the patriarchs, Israel, and the church were chosen in Christ “to grace and to glory, to salvation and to the way of salvation. . .” (Canons of Dordt, I, 8). We know and believe this because God has shown it in the proclamation of the gospel. To believe in Christ is, through the working of the Holy Spirit, to believe in God Who has elected us in Christ to be His own and to remain His own forever. In God’s electing love we see the eternal source of our hope, comfort, and joy.

Eph. 1:3-14

Those sinners who do not come to repentance and faith stay under God’s judgment.

John 3:18, 36

God is righteous in this judgment, for He is not the cause of sin and unbelief. Rather, He calls sinners to faith and repentance and states His desire that sinners turn and live.

Ezek. 33:11

Therefore no sinner need fear that, being reprobate, there is no hope of salvation, for anyone may turn to Christ and be saved.

Canons of Dordt, II, 5; III-IV, 8). 

In teaching the doctrines of election and reprobation we reject the attempt to find a logical balance between the two. We do not accept Arminianism, which denies the sovereignty of God, nor fatalism, which denies the responsibility of humans. We trust in the good pleasure of our heavenly Father and gladly teach how long and strong our tie to God is. “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever.”

Rom. 11:36

(Previous synodical statements: H. Boer Gravamen, Acts of Synod 1980, pp. 73-76,486-558.)

This, I say, is further evidence of the truth of Boer’s contention that the doctrine of reprobation is silenced to death in the Christian Reformed Church. And it is evidence from the CRC’s official mouth.

Notice, in the first place, the fact that in the Testimony proper (“Our World Belongs To God”) the doctrine of reprobation is not so much as mentioned. I will pass by the fact, at the moment, that this is also a totally inadequate statement of the doctrine of election, and that the heartbeat of election cannot be sensed throughout the Testimony. But reprobation is not evenmentioned! Talk about being silenced to death!

But if one expects better things from the Commentary, he is doomed to utter disappointment.

Mind you, the Committee who composed this document was mindful of previous synodical statements and mindful of the Boer Gravamen, as the footnote indicates. I cannot refrain from wondering whether they were also mindful—perhaps subconsciously—of the First Point of 1924. But at any rate, they were mindful of Dr. Boer’s sharp criticisms. Perhaps they were even painfully mindful?

Notice that one looks in vain for any kind of statement which even approaches saying what the Christian Reformed Church believes concerning reprobation. Notice, further, that while this Commentary makes reference to the Canons of Dordrecht, it does not make any reference to the two crucial articles concerning reprobation, namely, Canons I, 6 and Canons I, 15. Notice, thirdly, that the Commentary does its utmost in the fourth paragraph in an oblique kind of way to skirt reprobation and negate its possible implications. Is this an attempt to escape an implication to which the Study Committee on the Boer Gravamen refers, a statement to which Dr. Boer also refers in his book: “Furthermore, it would seem to be an implication of the teachings of the Canons on reprobation, plus their teaching on the nature of our fallen condition, that for a person who never comes to faith, it was in fact always impossible that he would”? Notice, in the fourth place, that in the final paragraph of the Commentary there are three negative statements, but still no positive expression concerning reprobation: 1) “. . .we reject the attempt to find a logical balance between the two (election and reprobation).” 2) “We do not accept Arminianism. . . .” 3) “We do not accept. . .fatalism . . . .”

The conclusion is obvious. From this Contemporary Testimony no one could possibly learn what the Christian Reformed Church believes concerning reprobation, and that, too, while the Commentary states, “We gladly testify now why we keep teaching these doctrines.”

And this is a Testimony to be used “in worship, education, and outreach”?

It is plain that the Christian Reformed Church would at least have been more honest if they had heeded Dr. Boer’s gravamen and eliminated the doctrine of reprobation from their creeds. For Dr. Boer’s claim is true: the doctrine of reprobation as taught by the Canons of Dordrecht is silenced to death by the Christian Reformed Church.