The GKN and Dr. H.M. Kuitert

Recently so much attention has been paid to the in the Netherlands that one was almost inclined to Wiersinga Case in various reports about developments think that the problems surrounding the teachings of Dr. H.M. Kuitert had subsided or disappeared. Nothing, however, could be farther from the truth. Dr. Kuitert has changed neither his teachings nor his rather abrasive tactics. Moreover, he continues to occupy a chair in the Theological Faculty of the Free University, where he can easily influence the budding theologians and future ministers of the Gereformeerde Kerken who are his students. He continues, too, to propagate his views among the churches and to influence the churches in various ways by virtue of the fact that he has remained undisciplined with respect to his place in the churches. He has even been able to function as advisor at the General Synod of the GKN recently. 

Rather futilely, in my opinion, some have continued their attempts at protest against the views of the liberals in the GKN, and in particular against the views of Dr. Kuitert. I say “futilely” because to date no one has been successful in these attempts at protest. The General Synod has been willing in some instances—not in all—to make some mildly condemnatory pronouncements concerning some of the liberal and un-Reformed teachings of these men; but it has not been willing either to take or to recommend any kind of disciplinary action with respect to the men themselves. 

And as might be expected, this failure to take disciplinary action only serves to embolden the heretics. They do not stand still, of course; but become more bold and outspoken in expressing their heretical ideas, and also add heresy to heresy. It is already several years ago that Kuitert’s views first came under attack. And although at that time the General Synod of the GKN made a doctrinal pronouncement concerning the historicity of the creation and fail of Adam and Eve, nothing was ever done by way of disciplining Kuitert. The result has been that Kuitert not only “stuck to his guns” but also that he propagated more and greater errors in his characteristically abrasive way—a manner which is intentionally employed by Kuitert, I think, for its shock-effect. 

What is worse, the result of all this has been that the down-grade movement in the GKN has also continued unimpeded. No synodical pronouncements have been able to stop it. There were those who found reason for cheer in the fact that the Synod declared Wiersinga’s denial of the atonement impermissible; but the simple fact is that this declaration, mainly because it was not enforced (and, I dare say, unenforceable), did nothing to stem the tide. No church ever stands still, you see. Either a church moves forward in the way of the truth of the gospel, or it retrogresses. And sad to say, in the GKN there is every evidence today that there is neither the will nor the ability to stand for the precious truths of our Reformed heritage. 

Of all this I was reminded when I read the reports of the most recent synodical decision concerning Kuitert’s views. Dr. Kuitert wrote a little book entitled “Zonder geloof vaart niemand wel (Without faith no one prospers)”—a book with a fairly decent title, but which occasioned complaints of a very serious nature against his views. And, as reported in various church papers recently, the Synod of the GKN has now expressed itself concerning those complaints. Rather than translate the entire decision of the General Synod, I will try to furnish the highlights. 

First of all, questions were raised in connection with Kuitert’s book concerning the following items: being bound by the confessions, the nature of the authority of Scripture, the relation between revelation and Holy Scripture, and so-called extra-ecclesiastical Christianity, i.e., a Christianity outside of the Christian church. Before the decision on Kuitert’s views was made, there were extensive discussions with Kuitert about his views and about the criticism of them. 

In reaching its decision, Synod took into consideration the following items: 1) That Kuitert maintains his objections against the binding character of the confessions under the 1971-72 Formula of Subscription, although he does not plead for setting aside of the Formula of Subscription. 2) That certain expressions in his book concerning the relation between revelation and Holy Scripture and the nature of Scriptural authority are, without further explanation, difficult to harmonize with the acknowledgement of Scripture as the Word of God; but from further explanations on his part it might appear that he confesses that via Holy Scripture God’s unique and unrepeatable Self-revelation is transmitted to us. Yet there are still important questions concerning Kuitert’s views concerning the relation between revelation and Holy Scripture and concerning the nature of the authority of Scripture. 3) That Dr. Kuitert in general repudiates the apparently possible conclusions which might be drawn from his book, such as that he holds for true the content of Scripture and of the Christian faith only in as far as they, according to general human opinion, can promote a liberating human prosperity; such as that he makes no essential distinction between God’s general revelation and His special revelation in Scripture; such as that he holds that the Christian faith is a human invention and not the divinely wrought response of men to the Gospel of God in the Christ of the Scriptures; such as that he views the Christian faith as one of many ways by which a man can come to God and His salvation; and such as that he wants to legitimize an extra-ecclesiastical Christianity. With respect to all the latter items, however, the Synod declared and took into consideration the fact that the discussion with Dr. Kuitert did not lead to satisfactory clarity. 

Permit me to interrupt this account of Synod’s decision for a moment, in order to observe that at the least, at the very least, there are grounds in the above for the Synod to declare that Dr. Kuitert isincompetent to instruct students in theology and future ministers. If a man’s writings are so vague and so lacking in precision and clarity that even ecclesiastical experts (the Synod and the deputies who engaged in these long discussions) cannot gain a clear understanding of what he teaches, and if the man himself cannot, when given extended opportunity, clarify his views, then he is obviously not much of a scholar and still less of a teacher. A teacher must be able to make things plain, and he must be able to communicate. For my own part, however, I do not believe this story of the Synod. I believe it is a ruse. Dr. Kuitert is quite able to communicate. I have found him to be so in his writings. I also found him to be quite clearly heretical when he lectured several years ago under the auspices of the Christian Reformed Ministers’ conference. No, that is not the trouble. The trouble is that the Synod was afraid to say anything unfavorable in forthright language. Notice that in all of the above items there is nothing unfavorable to Kuitert which is stated in black-and-white terms. Everything is qualified; nothing is firmly declared. The language reminds one of the double-talk of a diplomat. The trumpet gives an uncertain sound! 

As you might expect, the actual declaration of the Synod is no better than the considerations which precede it. 

In the first place, the Synod declares that objections were rightly registered against Kuitert’s radical criticism of the binding character of the confessions, and it rejects such radical criticism. And then this is added: that of Dr. Kuitert, even as of all who sign the Formula of Subscription, it is expected that he will continue to adhere to that which is laid down therein. 

A decision of this kind is ridiculous; it is not worthy of a Reformed assembly. What is worse, it is a lying decision! Notice: 1) Synod acknowledges that Kuitert objects to binding and that the protests against him are legitimate. 2) In the next point Synod also acknowledges that the protests against Kuitert’s views of the relation of revelation and Scripture and of the nature of Biblical authority are legitimate. In other words, he has already transgressed the binding authority of the confessions! 3) Yet Synod speaks ofcontinuing to adhere. How, pray tell, can a mancontinue to adhere when he has already departed and failed to adhere? But notice, too, that Synoddemands nothing of Kuitert. Synod uses the same miserable language as in the Wiersinga case: it “is expected. . . .” 

In the second point of its declaration Synod declares that the protests against certain expressions of Kuitert concerning the relation of revelation and Scripture and concerning the nature of Biblical authority are legitimate. Then it points out what is involved in the acknowledgement of Scripture as the Word of God according to the Netherlands Confession, Articles 3 and 5—as if both Kuitert and his critics did not know this! But then the Synod adds that because the confession is historically modified in its formulation of the truth of Scripture, it does not answer the new questions which have arisen since then concerning the relation of revelation and Scripture and concerning the nature of Biblical authority, and that therefore Synod had previously already assigned the study of these questions to the Commission on Church and Theology. Yet the Synod gave no specific mandate on this matter of Kuitert’s unclear views to the committee. 

Notice again, however, that nothing whatsoever is demanded of Dr. Kuitert with respect to his views of Scripture. The objections are legitimate; but nothing is required of him! 

In the third point of its decision Synod takes note of the fact that Kuitert claimed in general not to be able to recognize himself in the conclusions which could apparently be possibly drawn from his book, and that for the rest no ecclesiastical pronouncement can be made concerning various items at the present stage of discussion. 

And do not forget in all this discussion how serious these matters are. For it is a mark of the false church when heretics are upheld and tolerated!