In De Wachter, (Dutch weekly of the Christian Reformed Church), June 19 issue, appear articles from the Rev. Martin Monsma and the Rev. Idzerd Van Dellen dealing with overtures to set aside the Conclusions of Utrecht at the 1962 Synod of the above-named church. In the present editorial we are not particularly interested in what becomes of the Conclusions of Utrecht, but rather in certain remarks made by Revs. Monsma and Van Dellen in connection with this subject concerning the official status of the Three Points.
The trouble, both with the report of the Study Committee on the status of the Conclusions of Utrecht (which also mentions the Three Points of 1924) and with the explanations given by Monsma and Van Dellen, is that they are characterized by a very confusing brand of ecclesiastical double-talk. One gets the impression that the Christian Reformed Church is striving valiantly (?) to straddle the issue, or perhaps to walk a tight-rope, that they try to insist, on the one hand, that certain doctrinal expressions are binding and must be maintained, and yet, on the other hand, that they are not so binding that they in any way must serve as a criterion for membership and office-holding. To this we shall point presently.
Let us now observe that it is rather difficult, and also false, to say two opposite things at the same time. Either a doctrinal utterance of the church is binding or it is not binding; it cannot be both . . . and . . . Let us observe, in the second place, that in actual fact (as far as the Three Points are concerned) these doctrinal utterances are indeed binding—no matter how some may strive to soothe their consciences and smooth the way for the entrance of certain renegade Protestant Reformed ministers and members by attempting to soften the impact of that hard fact. By this I mean not merely that they were considered binding in 1924-’26, but that they have been bindingever since, and still are today. They are binding upon every officebearer, but also upon every member; and they are also binding upon everyone who seeks membership and office in the Christian Reformed denomination. Monsma and Van Dellen, cum sociis, being fully aware of the entire history of 1924 as well as the decisions of 1960 on this score, are themselves undeceived on that subject; but they must not attempt to fool anyone else, above all not their own sheep. I dislike speculation on a subject like this, but one gets the impression increasingly that the Christian Reformed Church will do almost anything in order to make room for others in their denomination who are willing to be satisfied with the placebo of an apparent compromise, and then try to maintain a very uneasy peace—or is it only a truce?
In the third place, it ought to be remarked that both Monsma and Van Dellen should know better. One reason is that both these men are reputed as experts on the Church Order, and therefore, on the question of what is considered “settled and binding” in the churches. And, in the second place, the Rev. Van Dellen certainly at one time insisted emphatically on the binding character of the Three Points. For it was this same Rev. Van Dellen who claimed in De Wachter that while the Synod of 1924 had made no provisions for the exercise of discipline on the Revs. Hoeksema and Danhof, it had exactly been the purpose of the synod to leave all actual discipline to the minor assemblies and to have it initiated by the consistories of the two pastors. And thus he wrote inDe Wachter.
Of course, in order to present such a confusing and apparently compromising position, a good deal of maneuvering is necessary. But the Rev. Monsma proves himself rather inept at such maneuvering, at least to anyone who takes the trouble to examine his reasoning and his presentation of the facts. The question arises in my soul: how often can the Christian Reformed constituency be fooled? How long will those who love truth and righteousness and who are really concerned about the Reformed faith tolerate such double-mindedness? When will some wake up and actually protest against it for conscience’ sake?
Let us follow the Reverend Monsma’s reasoning, and point out its fallacy.
1. Monsma remarks that in the past there have been those who proceeded from the viewpoint that such doctrinal expressions (Conclusions of Utrecht, the Three Points of 1924) lie on the same plane as the confessions.
Comment. Was that not exactly the case with the Three Points. In fact, was not the Formula of Subscription used in connection with the deposition of ministers and consistories in 1924? Was it not insisted upon that the Three Points were binding doctrinal expressions, exactly of equal force with the Confessions, so that no one might disagree with them nor oppose them? Such is history.
2. Monsma raises the question whether it was the Synod’s intention to raise these doctrinal declarations to the level of the confessions, and whether synod intended to make an addition or a broadening out of the confessions. He answers in the negative, and produces reasons subsequently. To this we attend later.
Comment. In the first place, it has exactly been our claim both that the Three Points were additions to the confessions, and that as additions they were in conflict with the confessions. For that claim faithful officebearers were deposed and whole congregations set outside the Christian Reformed communion. That Protestant Reformed claim the Christian Reformed Church refuses to this day to discuss! But, in the second place, if, as Monsma wants to claim, they were only interpretations of the confessions, he confronts the inevitable question: why should they not be binding? And if, as supposed interpretations, they in every respect agree with the confessions, is not all the binding power of the confessions themselves behind those Three Points? Why not be consistent? If the Three Points are confessional, maintain them without dilly-dallying around. If they are not, don’t set them aside, but repudiate them and confess all the wrong-doing connected with their adoption in 1924.
3. Monsma tells a half-truth when in his negative answer to the preceding question he states that the Synod of 1924 demanded of no one, not even of the chief figures in the general grace dispute, an expression of agreement with the Three Points.
Proof. In the first place, the Synod “admonished” Danhof and Hoeksema to abide by these points, even though it did not threaten or advise discipline. In the second place, Classes Grand Rapids East and West did indeed make this demand, and insisted that ministers and consistories must subscribe to the Three Points. And, in the third place, the Synod of 1926 set its stamp of approval on these actions. Monsma knows this, and he ought to tell the whole truth. I mean this for his own good, and for the good of his constituents.
4. After claiming that the basis” of the Chr. Ref. Church is the Three Forms of Unity only, and after conceding that synods may from time to time make explanations of the creeds and issue declarations in cases of differences, he denies that such explanations and declarations have the binding, authoritative force of the confessions. And he states: “Such conclusions are not more than expressions of the synod, adopted by unanimous or majority vote, in order that everyone should know what the official judgment of the churches is concerning points in dispute” (translation mine, H.C.H.).
Comment. In the first place, is that really true, namely, that such expressions of synod are for the mere purpose that everyone should know the official judgment of the churches? Monsma knows better. He knows that “whatever is decided by majority vote is settled and binding unless it be proved contrary to the Word of God and the Church Order.” Synod is not an information bureau; it is an ecclesiastical assembly. It has jurisdiction in the denomination. And, in the second place, the question continually presses to the fore: if such explanations or declarations of Synod are in complete harmony with the confessions, express and interpret the doctrine of the confessions, why, pray tell, should they not be binding in the churches, and that too, with all the binding power of the confessions behind them? Why set them aside—provided, of course, that what Synod expresses is indeed in harmony with the confessions, which the Three Points are not?
Finally, in answer to both Monsma and Van Dellen let the record show that the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church never changed, and did not want to change the binding power of the Three Points of 1924. They are still in force. Their force is not diminished one iota. This is very evident from all that has been decided in the matter. Let anyone in the Christian Reformed Church openly militate against the Three Points, and he will soon feel the same hierarchical wrath that struck so furiously in 1924. If Monsma, or anyone else, does not believe it, let him try it! And if any of those who left the Protestant Reformed Churches in 1953-’54 (or ’62) soothe themselves and their consciences with the sop that Monsma offers, let them become undeceived!
And the proof? In 1960 the Christian Reformed Church refused to take away the binding power of the Three Points. They refused to set them aside. To join the Christian Reformed Church one had to agree “That the Three Points are neither Arminian or Pelagian . . . .that the objection that the Three Points are in conflict with Scripture and the Forms of Unity is not valid . . . . and not to agitate against official interpretations,” as well as to “refrain from propaganda for their interpretations.” Cf. Letter from the Ch. Ref. Church to the De Wolf group. If this is not binding, what is?
And why should any denomination be ashamed of the binding power of its doctrinal declarations, provided it has the courage of its convictions?