By this time, we have received so much material about the separation of the “liberated1 churches” in the Netherlands, material in the form of papers, official documents, and letters, that we can proceed quite confidently with our discussion, are in a position to state the facts objectively, and to formulate motivated conclusions about the whole matter.

In fact, the material is so abundant that not only would it be quite impossible to reproduce it all in our paper, but it is even somewhat difficult to decide where to begin our discussion. But some order must be introduced into this chaos in order to give our readers as complete and intelligible a picture of the controversy sand secession as possible. We shall, therefore, attempt to do this under three heads, viz.:

I. The doctrinal decisions adopted by the synod of the Reformed (Gereformeerde) Churches in the Netherlands in 1924, their meaning and their binding force.

II. The actions of this same synod from a church-political aspect, and the stand of the “liberated churches” over against these actions.

III. The doctrinal position of both factions, but especially of the “liberated churches,” particularly with respect to the question concerning the covenant.

Here follows a copy of the decisions regarding the well-known doctrinal differences. These decisions were adopted by the synod of Utrecht in 1942. I will copy them literally in the Holland language, and then translate them for our readers into English.

(DUTCH REMOVED)

“Concerning common grace:

“1. That God (Who, immediately after the fall, began to gather His Church, which He delivers from sin, death, and the curse), even though His wrath is revealed over all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (Rom. 1:18), yet, does not bring, upon the fallen world, in this dispensation, the full punishment of sin; but, while He bears her in His longsuffering, causes His sun to rise over the evil and over the good, and does good from heaven to the whole of mankind. (Matt. 5:45; Acts 14:17);

“2. that He also left to man small remnants of his original creation gifts, and some light of nature, even though all this is entirely insufficient unto salvation, and man, even in things natural and civil, does not use this light aright (Netherland Conf. Art. 14; Canons of Dordt III, IV, 4);

“3. That these remnants and benefits must serve, not only to render man without excuse, but also to bridle the course (working through) of sin temporarily, and to cause that possibilities, given in the original creation, may still be developed in the sinful world.

“4. that, in this, God shows to (or bestows upon) the evil and the good, the righteous and the unrighteous unbounded goodness, which, among us, is denoted by the name ‘general grace’ or ‘common grace’, but which must be well distinguished from saving grace to them whom the Father gave to Christ.”

I cannot refrain from inserting here the remark that I cannot understand how the editor of The Banner could claim that the above decisions by the Netherland Churches are essentially the same as those adopted by the synod of the Christian Reformed Churches in 1924. Even at first glance, the differences stare you in the face, and that, too, on essential points. For instance, the above decisions:

  1. Do not speak of a favorable attitude or disposition of God toward the reprobate; the decisions of 1924 do.
  2. Do not speak of the “well-meaning offer of salvation” and the preaching of the gospel as common grace; the decisions of 1924 do.
  3. Do not speak of a gracious operation of the Holy Spirit restraining sin in the individual; the decisions of 1924 do.
  4. Do not speak of civil good or righteousness which the unregenerate can do; the decisions of 1924 do.
  5. Do declare that the natural man cannot use the “natural light” aright even in things natural and civil ; the decisions of 1924 don’t.
  6. Do speak of the gifts and remnants as providing an opportunity for the development of the original creation ordinance: a la Kuyper; the decisions of 1924 don’t.

But more about this later. We must now continue our report of the decisions of the Netherland synod.

(DUTCH REMOVED)

Translation:

“Concerning the covenant of grace:

“1. that the covenant of grace is of such fundamental significance for the life of faith that the preaching as well as all other work of the Church must proceed from it, and that, in presentation or practice, everything must be avoided that minimizes the significance of God’s covenant.

“2. that in the promise of the covenant the Lord undoubtedly pledges to be the God, not only of believers, but also of their seed (Gen. 17:7); but that He reveals no less in His Word that they are not all Israel that are of Israel (Rom. 9:6);

“3. that therefore—in accord with the declarations of the synod of Utrecht 1905 (Acts of Synod art. 158)—‘in virtue of the promise of God, the seed of the covenant must be considered regenerated and sanctified in Christ, until, as they grow up, the opposite appears’;—although the synod: rightly added that this ‘does not at all mean to say that, therefore, each child is truly regenerated’;

“4. that the Church must conceive and deal with the members that are admitted to the Lord’s table, according to the same judgment of love;

“5. that it is in conflict with the veracity of Gold to accept such a duplicity in Scripture that, in regard to the same matter, it says yes and no, and teaches, on the one hand, the perseverance of the saints, and on the other, the possibility that the regenerated fall away and be lost;

“6. that it is no less erroneous to make a false contrast (distinction) between an eternal covenant and a covenant-dispensation in time; and when Scripture calls the members of the Church as a whole believers to understand this as meaning that all church members are, indeed, believers, yet only ‘believers in time’ and not necessarily ‘in the counsel of God’; which is in conflict with Scripture, which addresses the members of the Church in common also as ‘elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father’ (I Pet. 1:2; Cf. Col. 3:12; Eph. 1:4, 5).”

As a matter of information, I may remark here that synod, in 3 above, refers to the frequently mentioned but little known “Conclusions of Utrecht” that, after forty years, appear once more in the limelight of the present controversy in the Netherlands. These “Conclusions” were originally designed as a compromising declaration regarding various points of doctrine (supra-lapsarianism and infralapsarianism, mediate or immediate regenerations, eternal justification, presupposed regeneration) that were a constant source of debate and friction between the two main factions of the Reformed Churches of that time; those of the “Afscheiding” of 1834 and those of the “Doleantie” of 1886, united synodically in 1892, but remaining locally quite distinct and long known as A and B. These conclusions were never added to the Confessions, but were definitely meant as a compromise statement to create peace and harmony. The Christian Reformed Churches adopted these same “Conclusions” at the Synod of Muskegon, 1908. Our churches never adopted them officially, nor is there any occasion for adopting them, seeing that the points of doctrine regarding which they express themselves, are not in debate among us.

(DUTCH REMOVED)

Translated:

“Concerning self-examination:

“1. that the administration of the key power which Christ has entrusted to His Church, among other things, demands that each one in the midst of the congregation is earnestly admonished unto self-examination also in respect to the question whether he truly believes in Christ (Heid. Cat. answ. 84);

“2. that this self-examination must, no doubt, take its starting point in the covenant of grace, but does not, on this account, become less necessary through baptism, seeing that not everyone that is baptized possesses the true faith;

“3. that the admonition unto self-examination is not in conflict with the exhortation to repentance and faith, but is much rather to be viewed as a subdivision of the latter, and, therefore, may never press into the background the admonition that one must put his confidence only in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, whither the Word and the Sacraments direct our faith as to the only ground of our salvation (Heid. Cat. answ. 67) and that from this first of all, the strengthening of our faith, through the operation of the Holy Spirit, is to be expected;

“4. that this, however, does not deny that the Christian is also assured of his faith out of good works (Heid. Cat. answ. 86) and, in general, by the distinguishing marks of grace wrought in him through the Word and the Spirit (Canons of Dordt, I, 12; V, 10).”

We recall here that the question concerning self-examination was one of the points of controversy in the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands before the war. Some insisted that to examine oneself was to doubt the promise of the covenant. Hence, the above declarations.

Translation:

“Concerning the immortality of the soul:

“1. that, according to Scripture and the confession, when a man dies, his body returns to the dust; but his soul, whether in communion with Christ enjoying eternal salvation, or suffering in desolation, continues to exist, until on the last day, when the dead shall be raised, it is reunited to exist, until on the last day, when the dead shall be raised, it is reunited with the body, and the believers shall receive eternal salvation, while the unbelievers, on the contrary, shall be delivered unto a continued existence in eternal misery; which truth, from of yore, was expressed in the doctrine of the immortality of the soul;

“2. that, therefore, it must be maintained that the soul of man, although in a marvelous way constituting a unity with the body, nevertheless has something proper to itself, and is distinct from the body in such a way that it may be separated from the latter and exist separately.”

The “immortality of the soul” was another point of debate in the Netherlands before the war, as we remember. This controversy was largely a matter of terms. In the above decisions, synod, evidently, designed to maintain the phrase “immortality of the soul” in the old, philosophical sense of the word. She would have served the cause of the truth better, it seems to me, if she had defined the terms “soul” and “immortality” in the light of Scripture. But about this later.

(DUTCH REMOVED)

Translation:

“Concerning the union of the two natures in Christ:

“that whoever would want to teach that in the incarnation the eternal Son of God united Himself with a human person would, in the nature of the case, come into conflict with what is expressed in the Netherland Confession Art, XIX: ‘We believe that by this conception, the person of the Son of God is inseparably united

and connected with the human nature, so that there are not two Sons of God, nor two persons, but, two natures united in one single person.’”

Note here the hypothetical form of the declaration: “whoever would want to teach. . . .would come into conflict.” Although Dr. V, Hepp, as we recall, accused Dr. Vollenhoven of the heresy referred to above, the heresy of Nestorianism (two persons in Christ), he failed, to say the least, to prove his indictment. This is probably the reason why the synod expressed itself in this hypothetical manner.

No decision was made as yet concerning the “multiformity of the church.”