In the Clarion, the Canadian Reformed Magazine (Oct. 19, 1974), Editor W. W. J. Van Oene writes some reflections in connection with the golden anniversary ofThe Standard Bearer. As might be expected, these reflections are written from a typically Liberated point of view. And frankly, I do not have much expectation, when I read Rev. Van Oene’s article, that a journalistic exchange between us can bear any positive fruit. My reason is, chiefly, that I have detected no more real willingness to listen and to treat seriously the views of others on the part of the Liberated today than was evinced some twenty or twenty-five years ago. When and if there should be a change in attitude and evidence of a real willingness to discuss and to have an exchange of views on the basis of Scripture and the Confessions, rather than the typical Liberated readiness to write everyone else off, then I will have some hope of positive fruit. Nevertheless, I will make an attempt at fruitful discussion.
I will pass by the several inaccuracies and inconsistencies in Editor Van Oene’s account of 1924 and of our contacts with the Liberated Churches and the Liberated immigrants in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. If Mr. Van Oene would like me to point these out to him, he may say so, and I will do this upon request. But I assure him now that his presentation of this history is far from correct.
However, I wish to concentrate at present on the last part of the editorial in Clarion. It reads as follows:
We do not know whether we should congratulate or not. It would be very difficult to do so when, basically, the stand taken by the Protestant Reformed Churches in the matter of the Covenant of God and the promise of the Covenant constitutes a rejection and condemnation of the riches which were re-discovered in the struggle for the freedom in Christ through which the older ones among us went in the days of the Liberation.
The best wish we can express at this occasion is that the Protestant Reformed Churches may see these same riches. Then there is no need for a specific “Protestant Reformed Truth”, for such a specific truth means an extra-Scriptural binding; then there will also be a positive attitude which, at present, is not completely absent but tends to be overshadowed by a feeling of being called upon to always fight off whatever might constitute a threat to that specific, cherished, characteristic mark. Then there also may be a time when we have to come to the conclusion that the unity of faith is there and should also be shown in a closer relationship.
Now I can understand Mr. Van Oene’s difficulty about congratulating us. In fact, he might just as well have written that it is impossible for him to congratulate us.
But there is one item in the above quotation which I have never yet been able to comprehend. And that is the reference to those “riches which were re-discovered in the struggle for the freedom in Christ through which the older ones among us went in the days of the Liberation.” The reference is, of course, to riches with regard to the “matter of the Covenant of God and the promise of the Covenant.” Van Oene expresses the wish that the Protestant Reformed Churches “may see these same riches.”
Now I believe that I may say without boasting that I am rather well acquainted with the so-called Liberated view on these matters—although they always asserted that there was no binding Liberated view concerning the covenant. I am rather well acquainted both because I lived through the history of our contacts with the Liberated and because I read most of the writings in books and brochures and papers. I remember well when the first reports of the Liberation began to filter through to this country. I remember well when the first copies of De Reformatie reached us after World War II. I remember well when the late Rev. Vos came to my father’s house with those copies, and when they simply shook their heads in amazement at the fact that the Liberated leaders embraced the views of the American Prof. Heyns concerning the covenant and the promise of the covenant, even to the extent that they quoted him with approval. I attended both of the conferences with the late Dr. K. Schilder in 1947. I followed avidly the journalistic exchange between ourStandard Bearer and De Reformatie concerning the covenant and later concerning the so-called “condition controversy.” I lived through and participated in the controversy that shook our churches in those days. I remember well when the immigrants in Canada received advice from the late Prof. B. Holwerda to smuggle their Liberated views into our churches and when, to his lasting credit, the Rev. G. M. Ophoff exposed this matter. I recall the reaction of shock among our people to the views expressed in Prof. C. Veenhof’s Appel. In the heat of the controversy which shook our churches in the early 1950’s I resided in Classis West, the hotbed of plotting and intrigue on the part of the pro-Liberated faction in our churches in those days. All these things I will never forget.
But there is one thing that I have never been able to understand and that I cannot understand today. That is the matter of those alleged “riches.”
You see, Editor Van Oene,we had a liberation also, long before yours in the Netherlands. In 1924 we were liberated from the very principle to which you are now in bondage. For the Heynsian idea of a general, conditional promise to all who are baptized is nothing less than a refinement of the general, well-meant offer of grace of the First Point of 1924. To us of the Protestant Reformed Churches that view does not constitute riches, but a terrible impoverishing—yea, principally, a denial—of the Reformed truth of God’s covenant and promise. No, do not suggest that we are in the camp of presupposed regeneration: we repudiate that, too.
Hence, in conclusion, let me put it very plainly. In the first place, if by “riches” you mean a view which is basically the same as the Heynsian view which we have repudiated from the very beginning of our existence of a separate denomination, forget it: you will never convince us of any “riches” of that view. In the second place, however, if you can make plain that there is a fundamental difference between the Liberated view and the Heynsian presentation of covenant and promise, and that we have missed something important, you are welcome to do so. We will listen.
And we will judge what you have to say in the light of Scripture and the confessions.
For we have neither an extra-Scriptural nor an extra-confessional binding. To us, “Protestant Reformed” and “Reformed” are identical.