Much has been written pro and con about the proposed Declaration of Principles. The more I read the more I am convinced that our Prot. Ref. Churches need this or a similar Declaration of Principles. And in the light of our present situation I am convinced that we should have had it when we were organized as Protestant Reformed Churches.
It is my conviction that the proposed Declaration of Principles declares only our distinctive Reformed view with respect to the preaching of the gospel and the promise in the covenant, and that there is no well-meant offer of salvation or a promise for all in the covenant, but, on the contrary, we have always taught that both the contents of the preaching and the promise are particular and unconditional unto salvation and for the elect only, based on the Three Forms of Unity; and thus differing from all other churches also holding to the same Three Forms of Unity.
But never have we as churches officially adopted these truths; we held these truths only by common consent.
Since the above are facts why the strong opposition to their adoption now? Do we as churches still hold that this Prot. Ref. truth is God’s truth? And that this is the reason, and only this, why we have our existence as Prot. Ref. Churches? Do we as churches still believe as we did in 1924 that God raised up the Revs. Hoeksema and Ophoff to be the leaders of our church denomination to show us the error of the doctrine contained in the Three Points of the Chr. Ref. Church of their Synod of 1924?
I hear many voices from far and near from those who strongly oppose and protest against adoption of the Declaration of Principles. Some of these voices speak thus: “Why, of course, we believe the Declaration of Principles! Who would think of denying them or any part of same?” And then they say furthermore “But we have ample material that declare our principles, written especially by Rev. Hoeksema!”
I quote from Second Prot, Ref, Church’s overture as follows: “We have ample material in the form of brochures which set forth our views as based on the Three Forms of Unity. These teach what we preach and that preaching is binding.”
“This does not mean that we may not and do not have a distinctive interpretation of these Confessions.” (Rev. Hofman, Standard Bearer, March 1, p. 262).
This is also what Bellflower’s minister and consistory must have had in mind when they protested the adoption of the Declaration of Principles; and also Classis West who made this protest their own. I quote from this protest as follows: “Point 1. If they (the Mission Committee—N.Y.) did come with such a request they should have been referred to the same basis that we have used previously and the basis which is still the basis for the unity of all our churches.” Again I quote from the same protest: “Part 2. “But (Synod—N.Y.) should have very clearly pointed the Committee to its task to proclaim our truth unequivocally.”
Again I quote: “In order to keep our positive teaching before the mind of the hearers.”
I ask: What do the brethren mean, including Bellflower’s consistory and Classis West? What do they refer to when they use such terms as distinctive interpretation of our confessions, the basis, our truth, positive teachings?
Do they mean perhaps what the Consistory of the Second Church states? “We have ample material in the form of brochures which set forth our views as based on the Three Forms of Unity”? Then my question is, when and where have the doctrines and declarations in these brochures written principally by the Rev. Hoeksema ever been adopted by our churches as our own? I know of course that we have by common consent held that Rev. Hoeksema’s positive teachings of the “promise” in the covenant and the preaching of the gospel have been generally accepted as our distinctive interpretation of the Confessions, but are they binding on anybody? Had the churches declared them to be such, there never could have or would have been the hubbub in our churches about conditions that exists today.
Furthermore, not everyone in our churches holds these as being our distinctive interpretations of the Confessions. Even whole consistories do not hold these as such. I quote from Holland’s Consistory’s overture; underground 1; why the Declaration of Principles should not be adopted. “Certain statements contained therein “the promise of the gospel is not conditional” and “we repudiate that the promise of the covenant is conditional” contain matters which are still not settled issues in our circles and therefore should not be included in an official declaration at this time.” So it is plain that Holland’s minister and consistory are not sure what is our distinctive interpretation of our Confession, and what is more does not want any at this time.
Also Rev. Petter who has written much on conditions does not believe them to be our distinctive interpretation of the confessions, writing on the Declaration of Principles which declare nothing more than what we have held all these years as our distinctive interpretation of the Confessions. He writes: “Arbitrary and one-sided private opinions of certain persons,” and again: “these same brethren can just brush aside the clear-cut definition of the promise in the Canons, fabricate one of their own, and that anyone in our church must submit to that arbitrary definition.” (Concordia—Jan. 18).
These same brethren referred to in the above quotation can be none other than our leaders whom we confess that God has raised up to show us the errors of the Chr. Ref. Church, for it was these very leaders, the Revs. Hoeksema and Ophoff who were added to the committee of pre-advice at Synod to help compose the Declaration of Principles. So it should be plain that all the Revs. Hoeksema and Ophoff have written on our distinctive covenant view can be called just arbitrary, one-sided, private opinion, fabrications, etc., without even running in danger of being in violation of what we have always believed to be our doctrines.
Furthermore, even our own Mission Board composed of five ministers and three elders, were not sure what was binding in our churches. It may be taken for granted that these five ministers and three elders are as well acquainted with our truth, our basis, our distinctive interpretation of the Confessions as the ministers and elders in Classis West. Yet they come to Synod with the request as to what is binding in our churches. I refer you to a very weak and evasive answer the committee gave to a Holland immigrant as to what was binding with respect to our conception of covenant and Baptism.
The committee answered in part as follows: “We do not feel that it lies within our jurisdiction to give answer to this question.” (p. 115, Acts Of Synod, 1950). In other words, the Committee was not nearly as sure as Bellflower’s Consistory and Classis West is, as to what is binding in our churches, what our basis is, our truth, our positive teaching. Could the Committee have sent this man a copy of “De Geloovigen en Hun Zaad” and told him: This is what we believe, and this is our basis for our covenant view? Is that what Bellflower means that the Committee should use as a particular basis? If that is not the correct interpretation of Bellflower’s protest then they owe it to all the churches to tell us what it is. I hold with the Committee that they were correct in requesting Synod for having something definite and uniform to present to these groups. They felt they had none to offer as we as Churches never have declared officially what are our distinctive interpretations of our Confessions, in respect to common grace, the preaching of the gospel, the promise of the covenant, etc.
Therefore I conclude that Synod was correct in honoring the request of said committee and to formulate a declaration of principles as to what our distinctive truth is, what our basis is, what our interpretation of the covenant is, and our Confessions are, and submit them to the church for their approbation and final adoption.
It should be plain to everyone that we need a declaration of principles, as I have shown, there is not complete agreement in our churches what those principles are. With the possible exception of a few modifications here or there the Declaration of Principles as submitted by Synod of 1950 should be adopted, for it declares no other truth than our leaders have ever declared and we with them. Furthermore, unless we adopt it we cannot even ask the well-known two questions, also proposed by Holland’s Consistory, namely, 1. Do you further agree to be further instructed in the Prot. Ref. truth? 2. Do you promise not to agitate against it? For I repeat, unless we adopt it we have no Prot. Ref. truth.
In closing, I finish my article with the same two questions I asked at the beginning. 1. Do we still believe that the Prot. Ref. cause is God’s cause? 2. Do we still believe as we did in 1924 that God raised up the Revs. Hoeksema and Ophoff to be the leaders of that cause? It should be well-known to us that the same leaders composed the Declaration of Principles at Synod, as they were added to the committee of preadvice to draw up a form and have fought for its adoption ever since. Have we lost faith in these men? Have they changed as some say they have?
It is my conviction that the Declaration of Principles should not only be adopted with majority vote, or even a two third’s majority vote, but unanimously and enthusiastically, and it should be binding on all, not just a few members that desire to join us. If that is done then again we can work together in harmony, in love for a cause that has been dear to our hearts as we have worked and loved for the past 25 years or more. If on the other hand the Declaration of Principles should be rejected, then, I agree with the Rev. Hoeksema in his closing editorial that he sees very little hope for the future of our churches. Only I go one step further and state right here and now: “We have come to the end of the road!” Why should we continue? We might much better confess: we were wrong in 1924, and disband, and each of us join a church to his liking, and as best suits him. Why should we ask our people to further sacrifice in maintaining several small insignificant congregations? There is no further incentive or object.
Wishing the Synod of 1951 the indispensible guidance of the Holy Ghost, I am your brother in Christ.
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