The Question of Jurisdiction in 1953

It has been frequently alleged that in 1953 the Classis East of our Protestant Reformed Churches was guilty of the same violation of classical jurisdiction as the Christian Reformed Classis when in 1924, she deposed the Consistory of the Eastern Avenue Church. Charges of “Classical Hierarchy” and“Popery” have been voiced so vigorously by the leaders of the schism that many of the people have believed it. Even today there are some who claim that they are doctrinally agreed with the Protestant Reformed Churches but follow the schismatic group because they cannot countenance the church-political evils that have been perpetrated by the Classis in the case of Rev. De Wolf. If these charges are true, they are not only serious blemishes upon our history as churches but they constitute gross sins for which our churches must repent before God and seek His forgiveness as well as the forgiveness of those against whom these evils were committed. If, however, these claims are spurious and the facts bear out that the charges of evil cannot be proved, these misguided souls sin grievously in continuing with their generations in the way of departure from the truth. For this they are themselves then responsible and they must seek forgiveness and in the way of repentance return to the way of the truth which they have forsaken. 

It is the conviction of the undersigned that the latter of these alternatives is the case and we purpose in this article to briefly verify this with a few facts of the history.

To begin with, it must be remembered that there is one very fundamental difference between the case of 1924 and that of 1953. In 1924 the Classis deposed the entire Consistory, elders and deacons. That was certainly a hierarchical act. It was exercising church government from the top down and such illegal practice was in effect no deposition at all and, therefore, the Consistory, as the ruling body of the church, had the right to maintain itself and continue to function in spite of the action taken by the Classis. In 1953, however, it was not a question of deposing the Consistory but a matter in which one of the ministers of the congregation, together with some of the elders, was accused of malfeasance in office. Furthermore, it was not a matter in which Classis suspended or deposed but the Consistory did it with the help of the Classis in the legal way. There was no hierarchy at all and those that make this spurious charge do so without basis. In 1924 it was a case of the Classis exercising discipline and going beyond the bounds of the decisions of the Synod while in 1953 it was a case of the Consistory exercising discipline in accord with the advice of the Classis. That there is no parallel here is rather self-evident. 

Let us briefly review the history. We will avoid the details by refraining from republishing countless documents which have a bearing on the issues involved because we are at present concerned exclusively with the matter of the jurisdiction of the Classis in the case. 

It is well known that protests against the preaching and doctrine of Rev. De Wolf were brought to the Classis in April, 1953. Prior to this time these matters had been treated in the consistory for some two years. Of significance is it that these protests requested that the Consistory (and later then the Classis) “seriously and prayerfully consider the matter and act accordingly.”This can only mean, of course, that if the accused is found guilty, he must either confess his wrong and retract it or be suspended and deposed from his office. This was the question before the Classis since the Consistory, in treating the matter, had become deadlocked. They could arrive at no further decision in the matter. The Classis then, after much deliberation in which the accused was given every possible opportunity to defend himself, found Rev. De Wolf guilty of preaching heresy and advised the Consistory: 

“a. to demand that the Rev. De Wolf make a public apology fm having made the two statements in question. 

“b. that the Consistory also publicly apologize for having supported the Rev. De Wolf with respect to the two statements in question.”

And further: 

“a. that in case the Rev. De Wolf should refuse to apologize, which our God graciously forbid, the Consistory proceed to suspend him from the office of the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments, according to the pertinent articles of the D.K.O. 

“b. that in case my elder or elders should refuse to submit to the proposed action as stipulated in (b) above, which God graciously forbid, such elder or elders be disciplined according to the articles of the D.K.O. pertaining thereto.” 

The Classis then appointed a delegation of three ministers and two elders to acquaint the Consistory with these decisions and advice. This, according to theChurch Order Commentary (Monsma and Van Dellen) was and is proper as we have shown before. 

When this committee, of which undersigned was a member, met with the Consistory, the Consistory adopted the advice of the Classis given above. To this decision there was recorded only one negative vote. 

Now it ought to be and undoubtedly is plain to all when the Consistory adopted this advice of the Classis, the matter was settled. The Consistory might have conceivably refused this advice and appealed the decision of the Classis to the Synod. This, however, was not done and, in fact, there was not even an attempt made by any member of the Consistory to show that the advice of the Classis was not proper. The adoption of the advice of the Classis left nothing more to be decided by the Consistory. All that remained was the execution of this advice. It was at this point only a question whether those found guilty would confess and acknowledge their wrong or whether they would have to be suspended and deposed from their offices. Time was given to determine this and when it became evident that no retraction was forthcoming, the Consistory proceeded to execute its own decision and on June 23, 1953, Rev. De Wolf was suspended and the supporting elders deposed from their offices. No one can rightly claim that this procedure was hierarchical or a departure from the orderly way of church polity. 

At this point the Rev. De Wolf and his supporters made themselves guilty of another evil, the evil ofschism. There was still one way . . . orderly and proper way . . . opened to them which they refused to follow. They might have (an8 should have) submitted to this disciplinary action, This, from their point of view, would have to be done under protest but then the way would have been opened for them to appeal their case to the Synod. However, as we said, they refused this orderly way and attempted to continue to function in their offices. Very clearly, therefore, they severed their relation with the Protestant Reformed Churches for they could not function in the offices in those churches again until their case had been heard by the Synod and only then if the Synod acquitted them and condemned the prior action of the Consistory and Classis. 

The schism spread. In September of the same year, Classis West entered into the picture. We will refrain from entering into the question of whether or not Classis West had any right to treat the matters they did. Where Classis West erred grievously is in the fact that they refused to recognize the action of the sister Classis and the action of the Consistory in which they followed up the advice of the Classis. We do not say that Classis West was bound to agree with that actionbut they were bound to recognize it as legal action which has settled and binding and which could be undone only by way of protest or appeal. This they did not do. The Classis West should have seen the schismatic rebellion of Rev. De Wolf and his group and, if they were to meddle in the affair at all, told him to submit and appeal to the Synod, At the Synod Classis West also had representation and there is the proper place where they would then be called upon to judge his case. But they did not do this. They became impatient and jumpy in their evil determinations and ways. Instead they joined his schism and made it impossible for the case to ever be brought before the highest ecclesiastical gathering. Had the schismatics walked in the orderly way, the history would undoubtedly have had a different sequence. 

Because the Classis West joined the schism, the element of that Classis that wanted to remain in fellowship with the Protestant Reformed Churches had no alternative other than to withdraw themselves. This they did and although our churches, through this schism, have been numerically decimated, we continue to this day in the fellowship of the truth which we have learned to love dearly and for which we have been cast out of the Christian Reformed Church in 1924. And we know that God is for us and have peace in and through all our struggles.

Meanwhile, it makes no difference what the courts of the land have decided and will yet decide as to the name Protestant Reformed! The whole church world knows that we (not they) represent the true principles and practices that are Protestant Reformed. For this there is abundant proof. Further, by this time, whether they will admit it or not, it is certainly evident that the schismatic group that left our churches in 1953 knows it! They know that they are not Protestant Reformed and have no intentions to be in the future. The leaders know it and a number of them are no longer hiding it. The people know it as is evident from the fact, admitted in public print, that many of them are hastening to seek greener pastures in the Christian Reformed and other churches. 

Hence, I want to close this discussion of the question of Classical jurisdiction with two remarks directed especially to those who have followed the schismatic way and perchance may still read The Standard Bearer. Firstly, you are reminded of the fact that your allegations of church political error against us are not true. You have been misinformed, misled and you continue to be misguided away from the truth. We would urge you to investigate and you will find out for yourselves. Secondly, if you for your own sake and for the sake of your future generations and, above all, for God’s sake, still have the desire to abide in the truth, we urge you to return to the fellowship of the Protestant Reformed Churches

—G.V.D.B.