As we suggested last time, we had intended to consider at this point the act of schism perpetrated by Rev. De Wolf and his elders. That was, indeed, our intention.
However, recent events have induced us to take up another matter in this present writing, which we had originally intended to treat later.
The recent events to which we refer are the sending of a communication to the Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches, in session March 10-18 in the Fourth Protestant Reformed Church, by the former Classis West, and the sending of a communication by a group of men from former Classis West to the eight members from Classis East who were delegated to the 1953 Synod, and who did gather in Synodical session in Fourth Church to continue the work that could not be finished last June.
In the latter communication we find these lines:
“Nevertheless, we believe that the word of God calls us to seek the unity of the Church of Christ; and, conscious of this calling we wish to put forth every effort, also in this peculiar situation in which we find ourselves, to prevent further separation of God’s people. The means for seeking this unity is not to compromise the word of God and the Church’s confession, nor to avoid discussion, but it is precisely to give testimony to one another of our faith arid convictions in our problems and difficulties. Even though you have separated yourselves from the Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches we still wish to give you our testimony.
“We earnestly desire that you return from this, your way of error, and seek with us the unity of the Church of Christ. We declare, moreover, that we stand ready to discuss in the proper way any and all difficulties’ which you may, have and to receive any such discussion or testimony that you may direct to us.”
The other communication has in it these words:
“We would urge you, brethren, to desist from your way of separatistic activity to return from it, and we would urge you instead to keep the way open for discussion and fellowship and final disposition of difficulties in the way of Scripture and the Church Order.”
Now, we would have you understand that both these documents, by the very signatures on them, were plainly sent by men from the former Classis West. We like, therefore, to ask them by means of this article whether they really want a reconciliation, whether they have now assumed a different attitude and whether they are ready to acknowledge that THEY are the ones who will have to desist from their separatistic ways. Are they, we cannot help but ask, sincere in that they want discussion and fellowship with US? Would they not rather continue to ignore us?, that is, our argumentation and proof?
You see, the consistory of the undersigned sent a letter to all the ministers of former Classis West and to the clerks in those of their churches which had no ministers at that time. OUR attitude was exactly what they express now in their communications. We wanted them to reconsider their evil work of September 1953. We were concerned with the peace of Jerusalem. We wrote them on September 29 the letter that appears below. But at that time the overwhelming majority, including those men who signed the two documents above mentioned, reacted quite differently from the sentiment expressed in these documents. Here is the letter, which the undersigned’s consistory gave him permission to publish at this time:
Grand Rapids, Michigan
September 29, 1953
The Consistory of the Hope Protestant Reformed Church herewith pleads with you to let us call your attention to the following matters:
1. That we cannot understand the action of Classis West in recognizing the suspended and deposed officebearers of First Church of Grand Rapids as anything else than denominational schism and hierarchy. Our grounds for stating this are the following:
a. First Church of Grand Rapids and Classis East are not under the jurisdiction of Classis West. Hence Classis West certainly might not decide between two factions of one congregation in Classis East.
b. Classis West therefore has violated Art. 31 and Art. 84 of the Church Order in making decisions concerning a matter that has not been finished inanother Classis.
c. Classis West’s letter to Classis East and sent to our Consistory reveals that Classis West did not understand the facts in the case sufficiently to be qualified to take a decision in the matter. Let us explain.
(1) Classis West speaks of and pleads with Classis East to “reopen” a case which Classis East has never closed. Classis East (and all its congregations) is waiting for its committee to report in October and plans to do more with the case at that time.
(2) Classis West suggest that the proper way to treat matters which cannot be finished in a minor assembly is that they be sent to the Synod. But Classis West, another minor assembly has already taken the case and finished it for all the churches in Classis West BEFORE the minor assembly where the case is being treated can eyen continue with the case. In this Classis West assumed the place of the Synod and passed judgment on a matter outside of its jurisdiction. The only way Classis West could deal with the case is through its delegates to Synod, if the case should come there.
2. That even if Classis West did have the right to treat the case—which we emphatically deny above—the grounds which Classis West presents for its decision are both unfair and absolutely worthless as grounds for the decision taken. Note the following:
a. Classis West merely assumed that these 11 men were legal consistory members and did not even try to prove this contention.
(1) She ignores the fact that these men by the unanimous vote of 11 to 10 were placed under discipline upon the advice of Classis East which knew that half of the consistory members might be involved. This motion was taken on June 1. And to be required to apologize implies sin and also implies that they were placed under discipline.
(2) She ignores the fact that after being placed under discipline they were again demanded by the majority vote of 12 to 11 (which actually is 12 to 0, since these men under discipline might not vote in a case in which they were personally involved) to apologize according to Classical decision on June 22, and that theyrefused to do this.
(3) She gave no proof from Scripture or the Church Order that such men under discipline need be notified of the meeting wherein the formal step will be taken to do the only possible thing in the matter, namely, as advised by Classis and already adopted on June 1, to suspend and depose. Classis West did not prove that consistory members under discipline are “legal consistory members” who have a right to be at the meeting that decides whether to continue with discipline, or not, and to what degree. Consider that the decision to suspend and depose could have been made that very evening of June 22 and the Consistory would have been entirely in its rights had it that nightexcused from the meeting those who refused to abide by the Consistory’s decision of June 1 and by the advice of the Classis, and then in their absence taken the vote to suspend and depose. All our consistories excuse from the meeting those under discipline after the necessary information has been obtained from them.
b. It is extremely unjust and unfair to call a group, that follows the advice of Classis, guilty of separatistic and schismatic action because one man of the group walks out of the meeting, and THEN recognize a group which as a group in its entirety refuses to abide by the decisions of the classis. Besides, Classis West listened to two factions which were personally involved and did not wait for witnesses, when she knew that there were witnesses, the committee of Classis East, who were there and were not personally involved in the case.
c. It is, likewise, unfair and unjust to call a group that follows the advice of Classis schismatic—you say failed to follow the church political order of appeal, but that is schism—when it must meet separately because the group that refuses to abide by the advice of Classis refuses them the use of the building and wrote them that they would keep the property until it could be disposed of in a proper way. Brethren, you have encouraged this group of men in their refusal to abide by the decisions of their Classis. What an impossible situation we have that one Classis encourages a group in a sister Classis to walk in defiance of its Classis. We judge no motives, but we like to have you see what you have in your work of September done in our Classis.
3. Therefore we urge you as pastor and/or clerk to bring this matter immediately to the attention of your consistory, to urge the brethren to notify the Classical Committee of Classis West that you desire another session of Classis as soon as possible to reconsider this matter and to undo the evil. Receiving response in favor of such a meeting from a majority of the churches, the committee in conjunction with the Stated Clerk can call such a meeting and the peace and unity for which you plead in your letter to Classis East can with God’s blessing be realized.
Fraternally yours the Consistory of the Hope Prot. Reformed Church
w.s. John A. Heys, President
w.s. M. Veenstra, Clerk.
In response to the ten letters we sent out, we received recognition of this brotherly concern for the peace and unity of the Church of Jesus Christ, from only two consistories. We can only wonder what happened to the other eight. No, we did receive word from a minister in one of the other eight congregations. And that answer, perhaps, explains the unbrotherly as well as schismatic silence of the others. Who committed schism and is guilty of separatistic activity? Our consistory, one of the true Protestant Reformed Churches, sought out these erring brethren, but they would not even recognize our missive!
As we wrote above, we received word from one minister who wrote us that HE WOULD NOT EVEN SHOW IT TO HIS CONSISTORY. His loop hole was that we sent it to him rather than to his consistory, and it would be useless anyway to call their attention to these things in our letter. HE WAS AFRAID TO HAVE THEM SEE THE TRUTH or even TO HEAR THE OTHER SIDE! We can prove that! But our purpose, as the very letter shows, in sending these missives to clerks and ministers was because we thought the matter so urgent that we did not want unopened letters to wait for consistory meetings to be held at their regular time, perhaps as much as a month later. For the peace and good of the church, we wanted Classis West to reconsider before more evil was done.
Would anyone deny us the right to wonder as to whether the other seven consistories ever saw this document? They did not even give us the courtesy of acknowledging our communication. Well may those in these congregations, who are still enough Protestant Reformed to read the Standard Bearer, ask their consistories whether “they ever saw this document and why they did not act upon it. Well may those officebearers in the former Classis West ask their minister why he did not present this for their consideration.
Who is guilty of separatistic and schismatic action? Which ministers and consistories separated themselves from whom?
Even then, if at this late moment they do see the error of their ways, we will be thankful to God. But let them, then, answer our consistory and show us that our stand is contrary to Scripture and the Church Order. Let them meet our arguments. These are the things we will have to discuss.
We did not separate ourselves from them but sought them; and for their good and the good of our churches we called their attention to their error that they might flee from it. They should have sought us, and if they are convinced that our consistory is in error, they surely should have answered us and pointed this out to us. Not even the two consistories that did answer us entered into the arguments we presented.
Let these men keep open the way for discussion and fellowship! Or rather, let them open the way after they have closed it. Classis West in Sept. 1953 should have kept the way open by not meddling in the affair, so that it could come to Synod.
And let them condemn all these tirades and. slander on the personality of one man in the Protestant Reformed movement. We will never meet to discuss such things. They only turn attention away from the real issue. We are the Church of God, and we will discuss Church matters, the truth and proper church order.