The Hypocrisy of a Heresy Declaration

At its annual Synod in June the Christian Reformed Church in North America, according to a report in RES News Exchange (July 10, 1984), voted to declare a church that supports apartheid to be heretical. The background of this decision is, of course, the situation in South Africa, where there are Reformed churches, black and white, which are members of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod. This decision is in support of the stand of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church, which has declared the issue of apartheid to be a status confessionis, that is, “a concern about which it is impossible to differ without its affecting the integrity of our communal confession of Reformed churches.

The Christian Reformed decision, which follows the recommendation of the Synodical Interchurch Relations Committee, is quoted in full in the RES News Exchange. It reads as follows:

It is the judgment of the Synod that 

—where citizenship (with the full rights and privileges of membership) in a territorial state is allowed or disallowed on the basis of race or nationality (ethnic identity); 

—where membership (with the full rights and privileges of membership) in a congregation of the church of Jesus Christ is allowed or disallowed on the basis of race or nationality; 

—where participation in the Lord’s Supper is allowed or disallowed on the basis of race or nationality; 

—where free and untrammeled participation in the economic life of a community is allowed or disallowed on the basis of race or nationality; 

—where unrestricted participation in the public educational system of a society [or political entity) is allowed or disallowed on the basis of race or nationality; 

—where unrestricted participation in social units [marriage/family, political parties, service or cultural associations, labor organizations, athletic organizations, etc.] or social functions (weddings, funerals, recreational or cultural gatherings, etc.) or public facilities (medical, travel, entertainment, athletic, recreational, service, etc.) is allowed or disallowed on the basis of race or nationality; 

—or where the according to any human being of the official status of a person with full dignity, rights, and privileges is conditional upon his/her having been assigned by authority a specific racial or national identity; 

there race and/or national identity have been made an absolute that fundamentally conditions and qualifies the common humanity of all human persons (as absolute, if not more so, than the created distinction of male and female). As a result, the state, which under God is appointed the guardian of the rights and privileges of every human being and the defender of justice, becomes a power structure enforcing a false ideology and administering systematic injustice. As a result, also, the church, which in Christ has been made and called to be the one new reconciled humanity, denies its confession of unity in Christ (one, holy, catholic church) and repudiates its calling to live together as the one body of Christ that acknowledges only the distinctions of spiritual gifts. 

Where such an ideology is the guiding principle for the systematic policies of the state and where the evil of such an ideology, with all its sinful consequences, has been clearly and persistently exposed from within the church itself and where the church(es) nevertheless continue to support and/or do not oppose such an ideology and its resultant injustices, and where they reflect that same ideology in their own life and structure, a status confessionis concerning this matter must surely (though humbly and with anguish) be acknowledged. 

Any church that supports or warrants such an ideology in the name of the Word of God is untrue to the Word of God, and the teachings it propounds in support or defense of such an ideology must be judged heretical. And any church that does not vigorously oppose such an ideology must be judged guilty of disobedience to Gods Word and to Christ its Lord.

Now it is not my purpose to enter into the issue ofapartheid, although I always have the impression in connection with pronouncements of the kind under consideration that they are the work of ecclesiastical social activists and that they illustrate the old proverb that “the best steersmen are on the shore.” But for our present purposes let us assume that this sweeping Synodical pronouncement is correct.

Neither is it my purpose to criticize this Synodical pronouncement on the ground that it makes bold charges of heresy without appealing to Scripture or the creeds. I looked in vain for such grounds. They were not included with the report of the RES News Exchange. Nor were there grounds given in the Report of the Interchurch Relations Committee in the Agenda. After all, a proper judgment of heresy should have grounds; and these grounds should be from Scripture and the confessions. But no such grounds are cited. Nevertheless, let us pass this by.

The point I wish to make is that this is a piece of ecclesiastical hypocrisy.


1) That the Christian Reformed Church in the 1960s was confronted by a clear instance of the denial of the doctrine of particular atonement by one of its own seminary professors. But all that Synod would say about this heresy was “ambiguous and abstract.”

2) That the Christian Reformed Church in the late 1970s was confronted by the denial of the doctrine of sovereign reprobation. But the Synod reinterpreted the Canons of Dordt in order to solve the problem.

3) That the 1984 Synod trampled the clear testimony of Scripture in order to open the office of deacon to women.

4) That recent Synods have opened the door to the corruptions of the movie and to dancing—in the name of common grace.

5) That the Christian Reformed Church still has on its own record the adoption of the heretical doctrines of common grace and the general, well-meant offer of the gospel—not to mention the infamous and unjust deposition of ministers and consistories to whom it had given the testimony that they were Reformed.

But it is so easy and so safe and harmless to one’s own denomination to make heresy pronouncements about other, unnamed, churches which are thousands of miles away on another continent! And especially when it concerns an issue like apartheid, it can appear to be so very pious and righteous in the eyes of some segments of the church today!

But our Lord would surely say, “Thou hypocrite, first remove the beam that is in thine own eyes; then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the sliver that is in thy brother’s eye!”