“To be or not to be.”

On this subject the Rev. H. De Wolf writes in the November 10th issue of The Reformed Guardianwhich is published by the group that left us in 1953. The title of his editorial, so he informs us, refers to the question concerning the denominational existence of the churches that followed De Wolf in his schism. The question is: Shall that group of churches continue as a denomination, or not?

The writer introduces his editorial with the remark “that seems to be the question.” A little later he tells us what he means with that remark. He tells us: “there are people who apparently do not face this question as a real question. To them the matter is simply a church-political question. They have already decided that we should ‘not be’ and are impatient for a solution with respect to problems that make our ‘being’ necessary. For these people the question has assumed undue proportions and has made it impossible for them to consider the real question. For them the real question is not ‘to be or not to be’ but how ‘not to be’ any longer.”

De Wolf does not say who these people are, whether they are a minority group among his own people, or those outside his group who are suggesting a settlement of the question “to be or not to be.” He is well aware, of course, that we have on more ‘than one occasion declared that he and his churches have no right of separate existence. Since he and his churches have adopted their “conditional” theology, they should belong with that denomination that agrees with them. If this suggestion is followed they should have no problem, no question at all “to be or not to be.” The only obstacle they face is whether or not they will be acceptable to that denomination to whom they would be joined. And the resolving of this problem should not be difficult if De Wolf and his followers are ready to forget about 1924, confess that they erred seriously when they opposed the doctrine of common grace. However, I do not believe that De Wolf refers to us in the above paragraph, but to a minority group among his own people. Evidently there are some of his own people who do not take what happened in 1924 seriously. These people see no difference between the De Wolf group and the Christian Reformed Church. They want to go back to the latter church pronto, and are becoming a bit impatient with all the slow movements of the church-political machinery that must be run out before they can get back into the Christian Reformed Church. And we get the impression from De Wolf’s description of them that though they are a minority group they are nonetheless an impetuous entity to be reckoned with. They must be putting considerable pressure on the leaders in the De Wolf group to hurry the thing along since they are getting a bit tired of being a little off-shoot group with no reason for a separate denominational existence.

On the other hand, De Wolf tells us that there is a majority group in his churches that make “to be or not to be” a real question. And he seems to align himself with this group, for he writes: 

“But for many others, I think I may say for most of us, this is a real question. It is a question that can be solved only in the way of prayerful consideration, re-evaluation and honest discussion. We may not permit our likes and dislikes to rule in this matter. We must constantly keep before our minds the fact that it is not a mere human organization or association with which we are concerned but the Church of Jesus Christ. The question does not concern merely us and others but it concerns our responsibility to Christ. The question is therefore not what do we like but what does Christ require of us in this matter. Not only must our likes and dislikes be dismissed but also our pride must be overcome. This is not easy. Our pride is perhaps the greatest barrier that must be surmounted when it comes to an honest consideration of the problems that must be solved. As churches we have made history. We have stood alone for a number of years because we believed that this was necessary. To terminate our independent existence as a denomination could be hurtful to our pride. We might feel that we are ‘losing face.’ It is hard for a church that has taken a position to honestly reconsider that position and if need be alter it. It is much easier, as far as the factor of pride is concerned, to maintain the accepted position and to do everything in one’s might to justify it. This, however, is not serving the end of the unity and peace of the church of Christ. 

“The question of ‘to be or not to be’ must be determined only in the light of the will of God. We may not be motivated in the consideration of this problem by anything else than the love of Christ and the desire to be of utmost service to His glorious Church. What becomes of us as a denomination, whether we continue or cease to- exist as an independent denomination, is not important in itself but has relevancy only in the light of the above mentioned consideration. If we are convinced that we can be of better service to the cause of Christ and His Church by continuing our independent existence as P.R. Churches, then we must by all means continue, even though perhaps for many practical reasons we would rather not do so. If, on the other hand, we are convinced that it is for the best of Christ’s Church and that it is an act of obedience to His demand for unity that we join forces with the Christian Reformed Church, then we may not let our own pride or the derision and ridicule of others deter us from this course of action. We need never be afraid of doing what is right and pleasing to the Lord. Let us fear only that through our own- sinful weakness we may fail to do what Christ demands of us. Let us, above all, strive to be honest and to be motivated only by unselfish and pure desires in our consideration of the question that confronts us as a denomination. 

“Whatever the conclusion may be, may God give us the courage of our convictions and the spiritual fortitude to do what we believe is pleasing to Him.” 

When De Wolf says “it is a question of prayerful consideration, re-evaluation and honest discussion,” he no doubt has in mind what he wrote in the fore part of his editorial which we did not quote. Among other things he said: “Ideally, since there is but one Church, there should be but one church. One true church and the rest false . . . Practically; it doesn’t work out that way . . . . Honesty compels us to face 3 the fact there is no church that can claim to be true in every respect and that there are many churches in which there is something that is true and right, although, at the same time, there is also much in them that is false . . . It is this fact that serves to complicate the matter. If the issue could be decided along idealistic lines, it would be very simple. But this is a practical impossibility. We must face the reality of denominationalism as an inevitable reality with which we must reckon as long as the Church of Christ continues in this world. In this light the question of to be or not to be will always be present . . . It is possible that, while at one time it was necessary that churches exist separately, time with its change and wealth of experience has erased this necessity. This fact alone precludes the right of any church to assume an attitude of indifference to other churches and a refusal to honestly consider the right of its own separate existence.” 

As to the question “to be or not to be,” I confess after reading De Wolf’s editorial that I find no answer proffered by De Wolf, i.e., no real answer. There is an answer alright, but it is camouflaged. He tells his readers that it is a serious question, that there are some of his people who do not take the question seriously, etc., but he offers no solution himself. He leaves the question hanging in the air. And yet, if you read his editorial carefully you feel that he really suggests an answer after all. He really tells the majority that they, had better get rid of their pride that makes them hesitate and to continue with separate existence. He tells them that time and change and experience very really make it impossible to remain a separate denomination. He suggests that they may be able to serve the Lord better by joining the Christian Reformed Church. I felt when I read the editorial that De Wolf and others of his group are really faced with a problem. On the one hand, there is a minority group that is continually putting pressure on their leaders to return to the Christian Reformed Church at once., On the other, there is a majority who sense something of the importance of having existed separately for over thirty years apparently for principle reasons, and they find it hard to call it quits. And De Wolf feels it is better not to run back to the Christian Reformed Church with haste, lest he have to leave a number of his people behind. He wants them all to go back. So it is the part of strategy not to pressure those who hesitate but give them time, as he says, to humble their pride. So for the time being at least De Wolf is caught in a dilemma, namely, he wants to do what the minority are ready to do, but he hates to think of leaving the majority of his people behind. 

I thought also I could detect the shades of 1953 and a few years before in this editorial. Prior to 1953 De Wolf boldly told his people that they wore Protestant Reformed on the lapel of their coats. Now he tells them they are proud and they must humble their pride. Now this would not be so offensive if De Wolf had written this only of himself, but I could not blame his people if they would be greatly offended when he ascribes this pride to them. Mind you, he is telling those who apparently hesitate to go back to the Christian Reformed Church because they believe they are Protestant Reformed that they are proud, and they must first be humbled. I’m sure that if I were a member of the group he is addressing I would not take this. 

And this leads me to say to those followers of De Wolf who still believe that the stand they took in 1924 was for principle reasons, who therefore believe the doctrine of common grace to be a serious error, and who, therefore, believe they are Protestant Reformed, that they should never go back to the Christian Reformed Church so long as the latter maintains that error. To take that position is not one of pride, but of faith. 

I would also urge this same people to reconsider the position they have taken in 1953 when they since that time embraced a conditional theology. Let them consider first of all that it is wholly inconsistent on the one hand to deny common grace and on the other to embrace conditionalism. Essentially there is very little difference between these two, though, if we may speak of degrees of error, we may say that the error you now embrace is worse than the error of common grace. 

Finally, we would urge you to repent of this error, confess that you erred when you supported De Wolf and others who taught you this error, leave your sin, and return to us. By the grace of God we never did believe in common grace, and by that same grace we never did believe in conditional salvation. As you must surely know we have always believed in particular, sovereign, saving grace; and that salvation is that work of God in the elect sinner whereby He saves him in Christ Jesus unconditionally. We believe that faith is God’s gift bestowed upon us of pure grace, and the divinely appointed means to apply unto us the salvation merited by Christ Jesus. We believe that saving faith is that power of God in us whereby we also consciously appropriate all that is in Christ Jesus as the God of our salvation. We like to believe that there are many among you who have left us in the schism of 1953 that still belong with us and should return as we suggested above. We do not ask you to humble your pride because you believe you are Protestant Reformed, but we pray that God will humble you to confess your sin and return to His truth as you know He has given it unto us to preserve and to proclaim it. So you will also truly do the will of Christ. 

—M.S.