Two writers in the March issue of the Banner, one the editor of the magazine, the other a former Calvin Seminary professor, continue to work at demolishing the Christian Reformed Church. I am not quite sure which analogy to use to describe their destructive work. One could say they are swinging the wrecking ball one more time. But by now it could be argued the wrecking ball has done its work in the CRC. It might be better to say they have lit the match. But I won’t quibble with anyone who prefers to argue the fire is already blazing and these writers are adding fuel to the fire. The sad fact is that the destruction of the Christian Reformed Church continues.
The two articles complement each other and work in concert to wreak further havoc in the CRC. Bob De Moor wrote his editorial, Don’t Be So Sure, to recommend Clarence Vos’ article, Holy Hesitancy. Both articles promote the toleration of doctrinal differences. De Moor encourages his readers to “[leave] lots of room for each other on ‘disputable matters.’” Vos begins his article by admitting that he dislikes doctrine. After the opening line of his article—“We must be more dogmatic (so that we may pontificate more appropriately)”—he writes, “If you dislike the topic as I have stated it, we’re probably good friends.” However, the point of Vos’ article is not to disparage doctrine but rather to encourage toleration of different doctrinal beliefs. There should be unity despite doctrinal differences. For example, the Reformed view of the Lord’s Supper differs from the Lutheran view. “What is important,” Vos writes, “is whether Lutherans and Calvinists can celebrate the Supper together today.” He envisions widespread unity through the toleration of doctrinal differences. “This will enable denominations to extend sincere greetings of love and goodwill to one another—allowing the church to serve humanity and reflecting its oneness in Christ.”
Calling, as they do, for the toleration of different beliefs, it is not surprising that the two writers employ a positive and winsome tone. After all, how can they possibly be so sure that their belief that tolerating doctrinal differences is better than not tolerating doctrinal differences. One might think that the writers are willing to tolerate those who do not agree with the thesis of their articles.
But it is clear that the writers cannot tolerate those who demand the precise definition of right doctrine and strict condemnation of false doctrine. De Moor writes, “We don’t grow when everything remains rigidly nailed down.” This is a serious charge! Preventing the spiritual growth of believers is wicked—such is the wickedness laid at the feet of those who demand doctrinal precision. For Vos, tolerating doctrinal difference is loving. Those who do not tolerate doctrinal differences are guilty of sinful hatred and arrogance. This is the implication of his assertion that “[the] church must be prophetic, but it must be prophetic with self-denying love instead of with arrogant declarations.” Vos’ title indicates that tolerating a variety of doctrines is “holy,” implying of course that denouncing the beliefs of others is unholy.
Why is toleration of false doctrine necessary? One reason, according to both writers, is that Scripture is not clear. De Moor denies the clarity (perspicuity) of the mysteries revealed in Scripture. De Moor does not speak of mysteries as truths the believing man is unable to know naturally but does know because God has revealed them in Scripture. No, a mystery is something “we admit we cannot understand…. Biblically, a mystery is not something that gets solved by human deduction as in a dime-store novel.” Such biblical mysteries that we cannot understand include “creation, incarnation, justification, and sanctification.” That these are mysteries means, according to De Moor, that we should not “rigidly nail down” what we believe about these doctrines but allow for differences. De Moor explains, for example, that creation is such a mystery that no one can know for sure how long it took God to create. There are different interpretations of the passages that speak of creation, and De Moor asks, “But why would we imagine that our personal interpretation of those is infallible?” He does not state that Scripture is unclear, but that is what he implies when he writes, “The mystery is just too high.”
Vos also argues that Scripture is not clear. His argument is based on a redefinition of the word “dogma.” Vos does not like the definition of the word dogma as the word is used in the church today. Because the word can be used in different ways, it would have helped if Vos would have given the definition of dogma that he rejects. Usually the word is used to refer to a teaching of Scripture officially adopted by the church and set forth in the confessions. In other words a dogma is a truth the church is so sure about that she binds it upon her members to confess that truth and to reject all errors that militate against it. Vos is surely opposed to such a definition of the word. He argues that in the early church “dogma was used in connection with statements that expressed what seems or appears to be.” Vos, perhaps because he dislikes doctrinal precision, does not set forth precisely how he wants the word to be defined. My guess is that he views a dogma as what Scripture seems to mean.
Having redefined the word dogma, Vos explains that the meaning of Scripture is unclear. Scripture is clear, he argues, when it gives commands such as “repent” or “believe.” But he writes, “By contrast, the dogmas were not so clear—precisely how Christians were to understand repentance and faith was not self-evident. Exactly what believing involved was not absolutely clear.” So a dogma is an unclear teaching of Scripture.
Believing that Scripture is unclear, Vos argues that dogmas are “private.” That is, each individual is entitled to interpret the meaning of Scripture according to his own understanding. How does this work itself out? Vos is saying something like this: All Christians have to agree that Scripture commands sinners to believe in Jesus Christ. But Scripture is not clear about what it means to believe in Jesus Christ. Therefore, individuals are left to interpret the meaning of believing in Jesus Christ for themselves. No individual should conclude that his interpretation is the clear meaning of Scripture or that it should be publicly embraced by the whole church. Rather, each individual should recognize his interpretation as his “private” belief and tolerate the “private” beliefs of others. This toleration is necessary for each individual. Since Scripture is unclear, it just may be that we will find out in heaven that “my” interpretation was wrong and “his” interpretation was correct.
There are many problems with what De Moor and Vos are proposing.
First of all, their arguments lack necessary proof. De Moor does not prove that a mystery in Scripture is something that cannot be understood, he simply assumes it. He does not prove, but assumes, that the Bible does not clearly teach that the days of the creation week were ordinary days. Vos also makes many assumptions. He assumes, without giving a shred of evidence, that the early church fathers tolerated different beliefs about key doctrines such as faith. It would be easy to prove that the early church fathers were not nearly as tolerant of doctrinal differences as Vos suggests. But if Vos wants to prove that the early church was doctrinally indifferent, the burden of proof is on him. Also, Vos does not really prove there is anything wrong with the definition of a dogma as a teaching of Scripture that is officially adopted by the church and set forth in her confessions. He simply assumes his redefinition is better and runs with it.
Although De Moor and Vos are clamoring for doctrinal toleration of many beliefs, they are actually attacking the truth. By denying the possibility of doctrinal certainty, they have thrown a match on the Reformed confessions. De Moor and Vos know that Reformed churches have confessions and that these confessions interpret Scripture. The Reformed confessions do not merely tell us that God speaks of the subjects of creation, incarnation, justification, and sanctification. The Reformed confessions set forth what Scripture teaches about these subjects. The Reformed confessions are based on the principle that Scripture is clear and understandable. Therefore, the Reformed confessions boldly declare what Scripture teaches about creation, incarnation, justification, and sanctification. The Reformed confessions bind Reformed believers to confess what they teach and to reject doctrines that differ from what they teach. De Moor and Vos know these things about the confessions and are deliberately attacking them. Their attack is deadly.
Ultimately, De Moor and Vos are inviting all kinds of false doctrine into the CRC. When I was yet a member of the CRC in the 1990s, I was appalled that the denomination allowed for different interpretations of Scripture regarding women in office. That was nothing compared to what De Moor and Vos are now advocating. If Scripture is not clear on what incarnation, justification, and sanctification mean, and the CRC must tolerate different interpretations, the prospects are frightening. The CRC will have to tolerate the belief that Jesus was only a man; that justification in some way is based on the works of man; that the biblical standard of sanctification does not condemn homosexuality. This will lead to the loss of the gospel of salvation. If Christ is only a man, there is no salvation! If justification depends on works in any way, there is no salvation! There is no assurance of salvation for those who believe such doctrines. This will also lead to rampant ungodliness in the CRC. If sanctification can be tampered with and people can individually determine what the Bible teaches about holiness, then doors are opened to a situation in which every man does that which is right in his own eyes.
Of course, this is only a small sampling of the errors De Moor and Vos are inviting. What about the doctrine of the Trinity? The Bible does not even use the word Trinity. Can we really be so sure about this doctrine? To be consistent, De Moor and Vos must tolerate the Mormon interpretation of Scripture that there is more than one God and the Jehovah’s Witness interpretation of Scripture that only God the Father is God and not the Son or the Holy Spirit.
The doctrinal tolerance promoted by De Moor and Vos is not humility. It is not “holy hesitancy.” It is a pernicious, unholy, damnable attack on the truth. Their attitude toward the truth is not of God but of the devil.
Those who know the truth in the CRC must leave. When God used Nebuchadnezzar as his instrument to destroy the apostate nation of Judah in 586 BC, there was nowhere else for the people of God to go. That is not the case today. While the CRC is setting aside the truth of God set forth in the Reformed confessions for false doctrine, there are yet churches that are doctrinally sound. Staying in the CRC is as foolish as staying in a house that is burning when there is opportunity to run across the street to a safe house. It is bewildering and grievous—after all these years and all the decay in the CRC, and it has only gotten worse and worse—that there are yet those who will not leave.
Why should members of the Protestant Reformed Churches take note of deadly doctrinal tolerance in the CRC? Definitely not so that we will be proud and think that we are better. The fall of the CRC, as was true of the fall of Judah, is a warning to us. It can happen to us if we lose our love for God and His truth. We also need to beware that this is what our young people will face if they attend a college affiliated with the CRC. They will be taught that it is humble and good and holy to tolerate doctrinal differences. They need to be prepared.