The “Concordia” for Nov. 9 contains Rev. Petter’s third installment of a contemplated series of articles on “The Brief Declaration”. Having read also this article, it occurred to me that Rev. Petter’s choice of title “The Brief Declaration” is a mistake. Rev. Petter is not treating the “Declaration”. His present article is on the idea of “Separation of the church into factions.”

His introductory remarks having been made, Rev. Petter goes on to explain what it means that God’s people in this world must seek and strive for unity in order that they may become ever more one. It means, says he, that “they must learn to be subject to one another in the truth and learn to crucify their flesh for the sake of one another and the body.” I can wholeheartedly subscribe this statement. Striving for unity is to be subject to one another in the truth, and in the truth only. But let us understand what this means. It means, certainly, to seek in love the true church—the church of the elect—solely by holding forth to men the truth, the true gospel of the Scripture and opposing this gospel to the errors of the heresy. Certainly, striving for unity does not consist in shelving the truth because it happens to be offensive to the group with which we desire to unite. All such striving for unity is out of the flesh and its wages is death.

Elsewhere in this number of the “Concordia” Rev. J. D. de Jong also deplores the fact of our now having such a thing as this “Declaration of Principles”. He writes: “I said that I consider this action very strange to say the least. Why couldn’t the Committee first go to the Netherlands, talk to the brethren there and report back to our Synod? What was the hurry? Our churches were not clamoring for anything like this, neither were the missionaries. Why so hasty, what was the need of these declarations, and that just at this time? It has been expressed by some men in Holland church papers that in view of the fact that we talked about correspondence, and had advanced quite a ways, why not consult the brethren across the ocean before we make the final decisions? But the latter is not provided for at all in the adopted propositions. This much, so is has been written, the brethren in Holland could rightfully expect. Personally we agree whole-heartedly with such criticism.” Thus Rev. De Jong.

But let us consider that the “Declaration” sets forth what we, Protestant Reformed, believe to be the true doctrine of the Scriptures and our Confessions relative to the promise of God, namely that it is an unconditional and unfailing oath assuring salvation to the elect—the contrite of heart—and to the elect only. It is the very doctrine on account of the defense of which we were expelled from the fellowship of the Christian Reformed churches and subsequently brought into being as a communion of Protestant Reformed churches. It is the very doctrine that, as moved by conviction, we have been preaching from our pulpits through all the years of our existence as churches. Shall we now go up and down the earth with a question-mark behind our doctrine, asking men to help us decide whether it is the true gospel, and then, if the verdict turns out in favor of it, jointly make it our own officially? That is what Rev. De Jong advises. But following that advice we deny our doctrine and our calling to proclaim it because it is offensive to the group with which we desire to unite. Let us hold forth our doctrine—the only pure gospel—also to the Liberated across the sea. If they want to discuss it with us, it is well. We welcome discussion but only with ourselves as jointly and officially having voiced our conviction that it is the only true gospel. That is our calling as missionary church. In a word, we must adopt that “Declaration” without delay, unless, of course, it can be made plain that it is not of God. But that no one in our midst thus far has even attempted. What do we gain by mergers, if men refuse to unite with us on the basis of our doctrine? We will be no more united—truly united—than we were before the merger. United with men who refuse for whatever reason to occupy with us our doctrinal position we will be like the staves of a cask held together by iron-clad hoops. To say that such mergers reveal to some greater degree the unity of the church of the elect; established through Christ’s cross, is sheer folly. It is not true. There is nothing to be gained by such mergers; but certainly there is everything to lose. What we lose sooner or later is our doctrine.

Why should we not want to adopt that “Declaration” on our next synod? All we do in it is to quote our Confessions. Is it wrong to quote our Confessions? Are Confessions multiplied merely by quoting them? How will we ever discuss with the Liberated if quoting to them our Confessions is wrong?

There is another consideration that enters in here. Synod has instructed our Committee of Correspondence to go to the Netherlands and discuss with the Liberated our doctrinal differences. But to what purpose if, by our refusal to adopt betimes “The Declaration” this committee of ours cannot confront the Liberated with the official stand of our churches respecting the matters in dispute and accordingly would have to be regarded simply as an emissary voicing its own private views as a party to the debate? It would have to be said that all the Liberated were occupied with in its discussions with our committee is not the official doctrine of our churches but simply the private conceptions of three individuals. Is it necessary to send men to the Netherlands to discuss what would have to be pronounced their own private views with the Liberated?

Let us not commit that folly. Let us by adopting that “Declaration” make it possible for our committee to speak in their discussions with the Liberated not merely for themselves but for our churches as well. Why not? Would the adoption of the “Declaration” render impossible discussion? Of course it would not. What our committee would discuss with the brethren across the sea is precisely the content of the “Declaration”. Why then postpone its adoption? Why delay officially owning it as churches? Are we in doubt whether the gospel it sets forth is the true gospel of the Scriptures? But how can we now of a sudden be doubting the veracity of a gospel that, as moved by conviction, we have been preaching from our pulpits during all the years of our existence? Are we then a people always learning and never coming to the knowledge of the truth? If not, why should we refuse as churches to adopt betimes that “Declaration”? Let the Liberated doubt our gospel, if they must; and, if they can, let them justify their doubts with the Scriptures and the Confession. But let us as churches in our discussions with them by all means officially be occupying the position that, according to our firm belief, our gospel is of God and be prepared to justify that belief with the Scriptures and the Confessions. Then we do a good work; but not, certainly, if we first deny our gospel because it is distasteful to men, and on the ground of that denial dispute about it with men.

Now back to Rev. Petter’s article. He next poses this question: “What is the meaning of churches separating?”

I cannot agree with Rev. Petter’s answer. He, writes: “Especially the Liberated in their study of the church have come ever more to the conclusion that such separation is a great sin, so great in fact, that the one group must of necessity consider and call the other a false church.”

Remark. That would be a strange conclusion of the Liberated—the conclusion, for example, that the Protestants of the 16th century committed a great sin in forsaking the Roman Catholic hierarchy; that the Secession of 1836 in the Netherlands was a great sin chargeable also to the Seceders (Afgescheidenen); that finally, our break with the Christian Reformed churches in 1924 was a great sin on our part too. Certainly, no such conclusions were arrived at by the Liberated. What they concluded, surely, is this: that all such separations are a great sin only on the part of the group that corrupts the truth and expels from its communion faithful ministers of the gospel for censuring its corruptions and refusing to subscribe them. Rev. Petter should have stated the matter correctly. What he actually told his readers is in effect this: that it is a great sin to forsake the false church.

The next question that Rev. Petter puts, reads: “What is the nature of the degree of sinfulness or error that does at least warrant and necessitate a separation? I agree with Rev. Better’s statement that we do not split into separate churches because one believes in individual communion cups, others in a communal cup.

But what then does at last warrant and necessitate a separation? Rev. Petter believes that herein our Reformed fathers have shown us the way and set us an example. He says that they did not press for a separation in the church nor risk such a separation except on issues of doctrine that were clear-cut and that involved the very heart of the gospel. I can’t subscribe this statement of Rev. Petter because I do not know what he means by the “heart” of the gospel. He doesn’t explain. But I do know what the Reformed fathers meant by the heart of the gospel, and also what they meant by the heart of heresy. They told us in their Creeds, definitely in the Canons of Dort. The positive expositions of doctrine in these Canons constituted for the Fathers the heart of the gospel. And the rejection of errors in these Canons constituted for. them the heart of heresy. And let us take notice that the errors rejected include also the following:

“We reject the errors of those who teach that. . . . there is in this life no fruit and no consciousness of the unchangeable election to glory, nor any certainty, except that which depends on a changeable and uncertain condition. Certainly the unexpressed implication of this statement is not that there are, according to the way of thinking of the fathers, changeable and uncertain conditions, and besides unchangeable and certain conditions, and that it is against the former only that our fathers in this article were inveighing. To so contend is to play hocus pocus with the plain statements of our Canons. The error that the Canons here reject is that the fruit of election in the believer and his awareness that he is an elect is contingent on faith, repentance, obedience and perseverance as a condition. For in that case, it means to say, this fruit and this awareness were as changeable as faith is changeable, were it a condition. For, such is the reasoning, if faith were a condition, a man’s believing or not believing would be contingent on his own free will (free in the Arminian sense) and thus as uncertain and changeable as man’s free will is uncertain and changeable. But a man’s believing depends solely on God’s eternal and sovereign election. Hence, his faith is indestructible and abiding, unchangeable and certain and thus also his fruit-bearing and the awareness of his sonship. I would like to see anyone, dealing honestly with this article, get another meaning out of it. It is plain what, according to the Fathers, constitutes the heart of the gospel and also the heart of heresy. That the expression “changeable and uncertain condition” has reference to faith, obedience and perseverance conceived of as conditions, is evident from Canons 1, B, V: “We reject the errors of those who teach that faith, the obedience of faith, holiness, godliness, and perseverance are conditions and causes without which the unchangeable election to glory does not occur.”

Rev. Petter finally raises and answers the question whether such a sinfulness or error is present in the Liberated, namely an error that demands continued separation between them and the Protestant Reformed. His answer reads: “I do not believe that the phase of the covenant truth in which we and the Liberated cannot readily find each other is so momentous and decisive as to require (continued—O) separation.” To this I reply that I do hope that Rev. Petter has good reasons for believing as he does. But here again Rev. Petter fails to present the real issue,—the issue that the leaders among the Liberated have forced upon us. What the Liberated want and propose is verily this: that the two groups—Liberated and Protestant Reformed—unite on the basis of the agreement that each group refrain from officially declaring, confessing and proclaiming, jointly as churches, its own conceptions relative to the covenant and the promise. That is what they mean by their motto: nothing binding. But how may we agree to any such thing? It means that we agree as churches, as a communion of churches, to shelve, put under a bushel, what we believe to be the gospel of God, the very gospel that is being preached from Sabbath to Sabbath from our pulpits, the very gospel that we bind on every married man and woman presenting their infant child for baptism. We may not agree to such a thing may we? Unless that “Declaration” can be shown to be heretical, if it must be admitted that it sets forth the true gospel of God as laid down in the Scriptures and the confessions it must be adopted. To refuse to adopt that “Declaration” is officially to reject it—reject what we know and believe to be the gospel of God, all for the sake of church merger.