We wish to conclude our discussion of this part of the decisions of the Synod of Utrecht, first, by reiterating what we stated at the beginning, that it is deplorable that, before attempting to formulate official declarations concerning the seed of the covenant, and the efficacy of infant baptism, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands did not squarely face the question concerning the idea of the covenant itself; and, secondly, by briefly outlining our own conception of the covenant of God.
As to the first, it appears to me, that, if the Synod of Utrecht had attempted to establish what it meant by the covenant, the schism might have been avoided, and the whole matter might have been left to further discussion by the spoken word and the printed page.
Certain it is that, when the leaders of the Liberated Churches insist that all the baptized children of believers are really in the covenant, while the Synodicals insist that only the elect are really covenant children, they are not referring to the same conception of the covenant. The result is that the discussion is never (distinct and clear cut. There is still considerable misunderstanding between the two groups. And under such circumstances it is deplorable that the Synod so narrowed the denominational walls that within them there is room only for those that subscribe to the view of certain theologians to the exclusion of all others.
For, let it be emphasized once again, to date there is no clearly defined, officially adopted conception of the covenant that can lay claim to the name Reformed.
The editor of The Banner does not hesitate to write articles under the heading “The Reformed View Of The Covenant,” but what he presents is, most probably, simply the view proposed by Prof. L. Berkhof in his Dogmatics or Systematic Theology. What right the editor has to denominate that view as “The Reformed View,” if, at least, he means by “Reformed” that which is officially adopted by the Reformed Churches, is difficult to see.
Nowhere in our Reformed Standards is the idea of the covenant defined.
Nowhere in those Standards is the distinction made between an internal and external covenant.
Nowhere do we, in those Standards, find the distinction which Berkhof makes between the covenant as a relation of friendship and as judicial relation or obligation.
Nowhere do our Standards speak or even suggest the very generally current notion of a covenant of works.
Nowhere is there mention in our Confessions of the Covenant of Redemption.
Fact is that all these conceptions were developed considerably later than the time when our Confessions were composed.
What right, then, has the editor of The Banner to coin a particular view as “The Reformed View Of The Covenant”? It is by such methods that certain individual views become “current views” and that, gradually, these “current views” are considered to be officially Reformed, that all free discussion of extra confessional problems is smothered, and denominational walls are built high and narrow.
This, to my mind, is exactly what happened in 1924 when the Christian Reformed Churches (Church, according to Kuiper) officially adopted certain propositions on “common grace”.
And, in my opinion, the same tactics were followed by the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands, when, in 1936, they took hold of certain “current opinions” and “differences of opinion” (meenings-geschillen), even without any overture or request from the Churches, and thus attempted to smother the free discussion about those problems by official declarations.
The saddest thing of all is that in this way the Church is split because certain theologians use the institute of the Church, and that, too, conceived hierarchically, to impose their own notions upon all the rest.
And the cause of the truth is not served, but put into a theologians’ strait jacket.
As to our own conception of the matter, the following brief outline may suffice.
With respect to the rest of the decisions of Utrecht 1942 concerning the Covenant of Grace, we may be brief, considering that there is little or no controversy about them.
Point 4 reads: “That the Church must conceive of and deal with the members that are admitted to the Lord’s table, according to the same judgment of love.”
We may accept this as true without further discussion. The matter was hardly in need of a synodical declaration. What is expressed here was always the opinion of the Church, and is uniformly brought into practice. Members that are admitted to the Lord’s table are those who, in their walk and confession, reveal themselves as believers. The judgment of love accepts them as such. De intimis non judicat ecclesia, i.e. the Church does not judge the hidden things of the heart. Hence, those whose confession and walk give no occasion to fear or judge the contrary are accepted as true believers. To do otherwise, and to judge one another, to weigh and measure one another according to different standards, is a dangerous method to follow.
Point 5 reads: “That it is in conflict with the veracity of God 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 hand, the possibility that the regenerated fall away and be lost.”
Here, too, we may express agreement. One can only be surprised that a Reformed man, could teach such a self-contradictory view as is condemned here. It appears that the statement is directed against the solitary view of one minister, the Rev. De Wolff of Enschede, now with the Liberated Churches, who, however, let it be said in all fairness to the brother, had recanted his view openly and publicly long before the Synod adopted the above declaration. In view of all which, it may be considered somewhat strange that the Synod, nevertheless, took pains to condemn this view by an official statement.
In the meantime, the statement “that it is in conflict with the veracity of God- to accept such a duplicity in Scripture that, in regard to the same matter, it says yes and no,” is worthy of notice.
In some circles they would brand this as rationalism.
They rather make it a principle that there are “apparent” contradictions in Scripture. And they consider it a sign of true faith and true piety and reverence for the Word of God, simply to accept such contradictions.
“Mysteries” they call them.
We are thankful that the Synod of Utrecht repudiated this stand, fatal to the development of all Reformed theology.
It is announced here as a general principle. It must, therefore, be applied in all cases, also with respect to the supposed Yes and No of God with regard to the salvation of the reprobates, the two wills in God, the well-meaning offer of grace to those whom God will not save, and similar contradictions.
Finally, the sixth point reads as follows:
“That it is no less erroneous to make a false contrast 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 as ‘elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father (; Cf. ; ).”
Concerning this point we may remark the following:
As the Dutch have it: the Synod was here fighting against windmills.
And herewith we may close our discussion of the doctrinal decisions that became the chief cause of the schism in; the Netherlands, those concerning the covenant of grace.