Under the caption “De Kous Is Af” (The Stocking is Finished), Dr. Schilder published an article in De Reformatie of Nov. 17, 1951, On which he certainly must expect a reply in the Standard Bearer, and which I certainly cannot afford to pass up without comment.
The main thrust of the article, as I understand’ it, is that the relationship between the Gereformeerde Kerken (Art. 31) in the Netherlands and our churches is finally and definitely severed, and that, on their part, at least, no further attempts will be made at correspondence. And the blame for this situation is placed, of course, entirely on us, the Protestant Reformed Churches. As the reader will expect, the immediate occasion for the writing of this article by Dr. Schilder is the passing of the Declaration of Principles by our last Synod.
I will not take the trouble to quote and to translate the entire article. This is not necessary, and it would take too much space in our paper. But we will reflect on a few items, and at the same time review the history of our correspondence with the Liberated Churches in the Netherlands. And the readers may judge where the blame lies. Dr. Schilder writes that the stocking is finished. But I would say that the knitting of the stocking was a complete failure, and that the failure must be blamed not on our churches, but on the churches in the Netherlands. Instead of knitting a stocking, we tangled up the whole business. And the best that can be done is to unravel that tangle and start from the beginning, that is, if the Liberated Churches in the Netherlands still desire correspondence with us. And in spite of the history we made in the last couple of years, I still think that a certain form of correspondence between our churches is desirable, and that not only for us,—in fact, not in the first place for us,—but also, and in the first place, for the Liberated Churches in the Netherlands. For although Dr. Schilder writes that I have entangled myself in a network,—I suppose he means: of confused doctrines; and again, I suppose he refers to the Declaration of Principles,—I maintain, and I am ready to prove it, that we as Prot. Ref. Churches maintain the purest form of Reformed truth, and that moreover that purest form of Reformed truth, as principally expressed in our Confessions, is declared in the Declaration of Principles.
Dr. Schilder writes that he has clearly shown that the Declaration was not necessary, that it is not the correct interpretation of the Confessions, and that it is based on misunderstanding. And he writes also that before long he will publish what he has written about the Declaration in pamphlet or book form, so that everyone may buy it. I promise him that I will pay attention to that pamphlet or book, whatever it is. And he can expect my answer. I would be willing to give him some advice in regard to its contents, but I suppose that would be too late.
As to the rest of the article, I will begin my reflections by referring to the paragraph in which Dr. Schilder writes about the conferences we had when the brother was here in 1947 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He writes (and I translate) : “And when after a very broad and patient final conference colleague Hoeksema himself made a motion to put a period after the theological discussions, declaring (after we were heard, also in rebuttal) : that is reformed, then we returned cheerfully to the Netherlands. We thought: good, there are still people that have a feeling for the divine prohibition, to help with pleasure to extend the number of denominations.”
And now Dr. Schilder writes about that conference, it is well that we obtain a complete picture of the discussions that were carried on in those meetings. The first of these conferences was held on Oct. 16. The second lasted three days, from Nov. 4 to Nov. 6. At the first of these conferences I was able to be present only part of the time, due to my sickness. The second conference I attended from the beginning to end.
Now in those conferences I presented thirteen very definite propositions on the subject of the covenant and the promise. And these propositions I will now quote. Here they follow.
I. The idea of the covenant is not:
a. The promise.
b. A contract.
c. The way of salvation.
d. An alliance between two parties against a third.
II. But it is the communion of friendship between God and His people in Christ Jesus.
a. The highest revelation of God’s own life as the Triune God. God is one in Being and three in Persons.
1) Scripture speaks of an eternal covenant.
2) The tabernacle and temple are the dwelling place of God with men.
3) Abraham is called the friend of God.
4) Enoch and Noah walked with God.
5) Texts as Ps. 25:14, II Cor. 6:16-18, etc.
6) The end of all things is: the tabernacle of God with men. Rev. 21:3.
7) The center of this communion of friendship between God and His people is the incarnation.
III. This was the idea of the covenant in paradise. No covenant of works.
IV. God alone establishes His covenant and maintains it. He does this on the basis of the merits of Christ and through the grace of the Holy Spirit. Unconditional.
V. The fruit of the establishment of God’s covenant with us is that we love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all out mind, with all our powers, forsake the world, crucify our old nature, and walk in a new and holy life.
VI. The promise of the covenant God realizes only in the elect even as it is meant for them alone. Rom. 9:6-8, 15; Heb. 6:16-18.
VII. The dispensation of the covenant runs in the line of the generations of believers.
a. In that line the promise is administered by the church to all without distinction. All are baptized, instructed in the way of the covenant, come under the preaching, and are subject to the discipline of the church. All therefore confront the responsibility to love the Lord their God, to forsake the world, etc.
b. The reprobate, however, violate the covenant of God, as Esau, and thereby aggravate their judgment.
c. The elect, however, in whom God realizes His promise are saved and by grace come to stand in the world as of the party of the living God.
VIII. The elect children of the covenant are usually regenerated from infancy:
a. The promise of God is fulfilled in them.
b. God places them from infancy in the sphere of the preaching.
c. Experience plainly teaches this.
IX. The meaning of “sanctified in Christ’” in the first question of the baptism form is subjective:
a. That is the only meaning of the phrase in the Bible.
b. It stands over against “conceived and born in sin”.
c. This interpretation is historically correct.
X. No separation can be made in the first part of the Baptism Form between the work of the Father and the Son, on the one hand, and that of the Spirit, on the other.
a. The Father seals unto us that He establishes an eternal covenant of grace with us.
b. The Son that He washes us in His blood from all our sins.
c. The Holy Spirit assures us that He will apply unto us that which we have in Christ.
d. All this is applicable only to the elect.
XI. The thanksgiving in the Form also has in view only the elect.
a. The forgiveness of sin.
b. Membership in Christ.
c. Adoption unto children.
XII. Children of the promise in Rom. 9 means the elect seed of the covenant.
XIII. What is usually called the covenant of redemption or the counsel of peace has no ground in Scripture, but is the covenant between Triune God and Christ as the Mediator, or the Servant of Jehovah.
Although it was far beyond my power at the time, yet I managed to discuss these propositions for approximately four hours in both conferences.
And now I will quote what I wrote in the Standard Bearer concerning these propositions, and especially concerning the reply by Dr. Schilder at the time. About the first conference, that of Oct. 16, I wrote as follows:
“In the afternoon Dr. Schilder replied to these propositions, but my strength was still too limited to attend the afternoon session.
“According to reports, however, he seems to have emphasized that our differences were not a question of churches but of theologians. For the rest it was largely a matter of terminology and emphasis.”
On the second conference, that of Nov. 4 to 6, I wrote as follows:
“The first day of this conference Dr. Schilder spoke. He elaborated on his view of the covenant, especially emphasizing the covenant as a historical institution. He explained his idea of the parties in the covenant, elaborated especially on his conception of the conditions in the covenant, on the relation between promise and demand, and rejected the view of the late Prof. Heyns in as far as he proposes a subjective covenant grace for all the children of the covenant. Dr. Schilder spoke freely, and I am sorry that he did not briefly summarize his view in the form of definite propositions.”
And again, in the same conference, I proposed my second set of propositions, propositions 8 and 13 above. And concerning this I wrote as follows.
“The afternoon of the same day, that is, the 5th of November, and the forenoon of the next day was occupied by Dr. Schilder’s reply to those propositions.
“On the whole, we had very interesting and instructive meetings.
“The differences between the Liberated Churches and us, as they were brought out in the discussion, concerned especially the following points:
“1. First of all, the definition of the covenant. According to us the idea of the covenant is essentially that of friendship and fellowship between God and His people in Christ; the Liberated Churches, although they do not define the covenant, nevertheless, lay all emphasis on promise and demand.
“2. In our view the promise of the covenant is for the elect only; according to the Liberated Churches the promise is for all that are (born in the covenant line, although this must not be understood in the Arminian sense, since also they emphasize the truth that God Himself must fulfill all the conditions of the covenant.
“3. The Liberated Churches speak of parties in the covenant, although they admit that in the real sense man cannot be a party over against God; we prefer to speak with the Baptism Form of parts rather than of parties.”
Now Dr. Schilder, in the paragraph which I quoted and translated above, once more states that at the close of his reply I must have said: “That is Reformed.” I have called his attention to this error before, and now I will repeat it emphatically, and hope that Dr. Schilder will take note of it that I did not say: “That is Reformed,” but that I said, “He is Reformed.” (The difference is plain to all that can read. If I said, “That is Reformed,” I would have subscribed emphatically to all that friend Schilder said at the conference, and that meant that I would have subscribed to the Heynsian idea of the covenant, which in my conviction is far from Reformed. But we must remember, in the first place, that we had a very friendly discussion with Dr. Schilder, although we agreed to differ. In the second place, we were undoubtedly all somewhat under the influence of Schilder’s charming personality, and in his entire talk he emphasized repeatedly that our differences were no differences of principle, but rather of terminology. Besides, at the time I received the impression that Dr. Schilder himself did not entirely agree with the Liberated view of the covenant. I cannot definitely state why I received that impression, and I am sorry that Dr. Schilder did not leave something black on white in the form of definite propositions which we could criticize today. I remember that during the conference one of our ministers approached me and said, “When you speak, we all know what you mean; but when Schilder speaks, I don’t know what exactly he is driving at.” I remember, too, the sharp remark which the Rev. G. Vos made during that same conference, virtually accusing Dr. Schilder of Arminianism. And certainly, the Rev. Ophoff was not satisfied, and wanted to ask Dr. Schilder some very pointed questions, for which, however, he was too late, because the meeting had adjourned when he came in. And therefore, friend Schilder must never write again that I said at the end of his reply: “That is Reformed.” For I never did. But I do remember that I said, “He is Reformed,” understanding that statement in a general sense, and certainly not in the specific sense in which we as Protestant Reformed Churches, since 1924, are Reformed. That I do not regard the Liberated conception of the covenant Reformed, Dr. Schilder knows very well. And he was aware of that even before he came to this country in 1947. For immediately after the war, as soon as we could have correspondence together, I wrote friend Schilder a long letter, stating in unambiguous terms what I thought of his stand, and asking him how it were possible that he could so have changed that he now adopted the Heynsian view of the covenant, and that, in a speech at the conference at the Hague, where the Acte der VrijmaMng was signed, he could make a plea for union with the Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken, which before the war he always considered as walking in the way of disobedience.
Now in the main those thirteen propositions which I defended at our conferences certainly represented the doctrine as had always been maintained in our Protestant Reformed Churches, especially over against Heynsianism. How then could Dr. Schilder when he returned to the Netherlands, advise his people everywhere, when they immigrated to this country or to Canada to join the Protestant Ref. Churches? Surely, we desired correspondence. But correspondence does not necessarily mean an organic union. The differences between us were rather fundamental, although Dr. Schilder called them differences in terminology. Of this we were not convinced. But, as I said, Dr. Schilder advised his people to join the Protestant Reformed Churches when they came to America, although we stood in no relation as sister churches as yet, and therefore could not receive attestations from them, or they from us. The result was that when we labored in Canada among the immigrants, we did not at once organize them into Prot. Ref. Churches, but first thoroughly instructed them, so that they knew the differences in doctrine between their churches and ours. Only when they were sufficiently indoctrinated and understood our position, and agreed with our truth, did we organize them into churches in our communion. And, even after those churches were organized, like Hamilton and Chatham, we did not receive membership papers from any Reformed Churches of the Netherlands, and did not receive prospective members into the communion of our churches until they had first been instructed in regard to the truth as taught in our Prot. Ref. Churches. Naturally, this caused trouble. For evidently in the Old Country the people had received the impression that when they came to America, they would be received without question and without condition as members of the Protestant Reformed Churches. That they labored under such an impression certainly was not our fault, but was the fault of Dr. Schilder, who, according to reports, had advised all the people of the Liberated Churches to join the Prot. Ref. Churches in America. But once more the differences in regard to the doctrine of the covenant and of the promise were too great and too fundamental to permit members from the Liberated Churches into our communion. Hence, we demanded that they promise to submit to our instruction, and in the meantime not to agitate against our doctrine. This was honest and fair to all concerned. We did not excommunicate any brethren and sisters in our Lord Jesus Christ and bar them from the table of communion. But we wanted to preserve the Reformed truth in its purest form, the truth as we have always maintained it in our Prot. Ref. Churches. The result is, first, the sad history of Hamilton, and now the even worse history of Chatham. Certainly, that the stocking was not knitted and properly finished was not our fault.
Nor was it our fault that the stocking of correspondence was not properly knitted officially, but became one entangled mess. Let me relate the history.
In the early part of 1948 (I forget the date) the Comm. of Correspondence of the Prot. Ref. Churches addressed a letter to the deputies for correspondence of the Liberated Churches in the Netherlands, suggesting correspondence between the two churches. This letter was originally composed by the Rev. J. de Jong. I received that letter in California, where I was still recuperating from my attack of thrombosis. I did not agree with the contents of the letter, but I signed it on condition that the Rev. G. M. Ophoff, the third party of the committee, would also be willing to sign it. The latter, however, at first was not willing at all, because he too did not agree with the contents of the letter. But under repeated pressure he signed his name to the document, and so it was sent to the deputies for correspondence in the Old Country. However, when the work of the committee for correspondence was reported at the Synod of 1948, the latter condemned that letter, and decided to rewrite it and to send a different letter to the same deputies for correspondence in the Netherlands, and to their Synod that was to be held at Amersfoort the same summer. I write this because not the letter from the deputies of correspondence, but the letter from the Synod of our churches is therefore the only official document which the Synod of Amersfoort could consider. In that letter of our Synod we did not ask for complete correspondence, but we asked that the matter concerning correspondence would be thoroughly discussed before correspondence was finally established.
The Synod of the Reformed Churches (Art. 31) convened that same year at Amersfoort, acted upon our request, and decided: 1) To empower the deputies for correspondence with foreign churches to get into contact with the Prot. Ref. Churches, in order to prepare the relation of correspondence between these churches. 2) That the deputies for correspondence with foreign churches would have to serve the following synod with advice. And 3) that in the meantime, the ministers of the Protestant Reformed Churches may be admitted to the pulpits of the Reformed Church (Art. 31) of the Netherlands, to speak an edifying word. Several delegates of the Synod voted against this proposal of the committee of pre-advice, and at least 7 or 8 of them requested that their negative vote be recorded in the minutes. Among the latter were such well-known figures as the Rev D. van Dijk, Prof. Holwerda, and the Rev. van Raalte of Neede. To my mind, it certainly was not very wise of the Synod to open the pulpits of the Reformed Churches (Art. 31) of the Netherlands for our ministers before the relation of complete correspondence was established.
But what happened further? For more than a year we never heard anything from the deputies for correspondence with foreign churches of the Netherlands. In fact, officially we did not hear of them until November, 1949. That was a mistake. Those deputies should have sought contact with our Committee of Correspondence as soon as possible, so that at least we could report something officially to our Synod of 1949. But, as I said, we never heard of them. That the Synod opened their pulpits for our ministers was the first wrong stitch in the stocking. That the deputies for foreign correspondence did not get into contact with our Committee for Correspondence was the second wrong stitch. And the whole thing became one entangled mass when in the meantime, in August 1949, the letter written by Prof. Holwerda to the immigrants in Canada was brought to our attention.
That letter revealed: 1) That instead of transacting ecclesiastical business in an ecclesiastical way, and therefore, instead of contacting officially our Committee of Correspondence, the Committee for Foreign Correspondence in the Netherlands decided to transact the business of the churches unofficially by meeting behind the back of the Committee for Correspondence of our churches with the Revs, de Jong and Kok. 2) That the fears of those that had objections against correspondence with our churches, such as van Dijk, van Raalte, Holwerda, and others, were mysteriously allayed. 3) That the impression was created that no definite interpretation of the Confessions was maintained and binding in the Prot. Ref. Churches. 4) That the impression was made that there was ample room for the covenant view of the Liberated in our Prot. Ref. Churches, and that therefore the immigrants could make free propaganda for the Liberated view in our churches. 5) That only on that basis the immigrants were advised to join the Protestant Reformed Churches, but at the same time that, if the conception of such men as the Revs. Hoeksema and Ophoff were maintained in the Prot. Ref. Churches, they should never join.
This was not knitting a stocking, surely not the stocking of ecclesiastical correspondence, but was working on a hopeless and tangled mass,
On our part, in the light of all, this history, and especially in the light of our experience with the Liberated in Canada, the Mission Committee felt the need of a definite statement which might be used by them and by our missionaries as the basis for the organization of our churches. That need was filled by the Declaration. And that Declaration was passed by our last Synod.
Let not Dr. Schilder therefore say that the stocking is finished. It must be entirely unraveled, until we come to the first false stitch, and then start knitting anew.
To one more item I must needs call the attention of our readers. In the same article Dr. Schilder publishes a letter of a certain J. Land, who lives at 706 Alexander St., Grand Rapids, Michigan. In this letter Mr. Land blames our Consistory for censuring the brethren H. R. de Bolster and H. de Raad.
Personally I am very sorry that this matter concerning the censure of de Bolster and de Raad was given publication without first consulting our Consistory. For this publication savors of the sin of condemning any man rashly or unheard, the sin against the ninth commandment. And Dr. Schilder especially should know better than that. I am sorry that this matter is published, not because the action of our Consistory cannot stand the light, but because the brethren de Bolster and de Raad certainly sinned grievously and became the proper objects of censure. I am very sorry that this matter must be published, because personally I was rather attached to these young students and did everything I could for them.
Besides, I never had any trouble with them in class, and they always behaved very well.
Then all of a sudden I heard from the Rev. Hanko that they had sent a protest against the Declaration to the Consistory. I stood aghast. For to me personally, or in school, they had never objected to the doctrine that I taught, nor to the contents of the Declaration. And they had plenty opportunity to acquaint themselves with the Declaration, because in my young people’s catechism class I devoted a whole year to the discussion of that document. But they never attended. Now, mark you, in the abstract they had the perfect right to protest against the Declaration at our Synod, for they were members of our church. Nevertheless, I considered it rather impudent for two young men that were after all only visitors for three months at a time in our country, to put their nose into the official business of our churches. I called them to my home, and talked to them personally. They asked me whether I would not explain the Declaration once more in our classroom in. school in the presence of all the students. I answered them that I would not take time for that in school, but that I would meet with all the students in the presence of the Rev. Ophoff and Hanko in my home, and then offer a free discussion on the subject. This meeting was held. I expounded to them the truth as it always had been maintained in our churches, and they had nothing to say. Nevertheless, they insisted on their protest.
In the meantime, of course, the Consistory treated the matter. And also the Consistory did not object to their protesting against the Declaration of Principles. For they too considered that it was their perfect right. But they did object tc the Liberated doctrine which they defended in their protest openly. Mr. J. Land states in his letter that the brethren de Bolster and de Raad proved the truth of their protest on Scriptural grounds. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Yet even so, the Consistory did not censure them because they harbored Liberated doctrines, but they demanded of them the promise that they would not make agitation in the congregation for their views. And this they refused.
At a meeting of our Consistory at which I was personally present and presided, the two brethren appeared. I once more entered carefully into the contents of their protest, and proved to them that it certainly was not Reformed truth. And again the two brethren had nothing to say, and did not defend themselves with one word. But when I asked them again whether they would promise not to agitate for their views in the congregation, they refused once more. And what is worse, they both stated personally that if the Consistory would censure them for this, they would make propaganda for the Liberated view in all our churches. In other words, they would try to create a schism in the Prot. Ref. Churches. Then they were censured, not on the basis of their doctrine or of their views, but because they meant to agitate for the Liberated views not only in our church but also in all the other churches of the Prot. Ref. communion. Thereupon they separated from our churches. In other words, these two brethren broke their solemn oath before God and the churches that in case of misdemeanor they would submit themselves to the government of the church and to church discipline. They could, of course, have appealed their case to the Classis. And the Classis certainly would have done justice to them. They could have appealed to the Synod. But instead of taking that proper ecclesiastical way they acted as revolutionaries and rebels and broke their vow. Once more I talked to them. They approached me, and told me that they were sorry that they had separated and would like to confess their sin. I informed them that that would certainly be possible, but that seeing that their sin was public before the whole congregation (for they had already assembled in a separate group on the sabbath) they would also have to make public confession. After that I never saw them again.
Such is the case of the two Henks. And once more I state here that I am very sorry that I was compelled to reveal this case because of the letter in the Reformatie.
In conclusion, I want to emphasize once more that the stocking is not finished. And if Dr. Schilder feels that because of the stand of our churches as revealed in the Declaration of Principles he does not want to unravel the tangle and start knitting anew, it suits me. Nevertheless, I want to state in that case that I am disappointed in him, and for the rest say, “Vale, Amice Schilder.”