This month the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church meets. Many reoccurring problems will be considered. It will be a matter of interest what is done with each. Judging from past decisions, it might be safe to surmise that the Synod will “waffle,” if one may use that term oft repeated in the last presidential campaign. What will the Synod face this year?
There is a “Marriage Guidelines” report which presents ten “guidelines for pastors and consistories” and eight “guidelines for the church.” It appears to be a further attempt to liberalize the stand of that church on the question of divorce and remarriage. Back in 1956 the Synod already began to do this when it took the position that the remarriage of the guilty party was not an act of continuing adultery, but rather asingle act of adultery which need be confessed once—and the new relationship would then be recognized as legitimate. The sad consequences have been seen in the CRC where divorce and remarriage becomes increasingly common. Now we await the decision of the Synod which may well adopt a more liberalized position still.
A committee appointed by the Synod of 1975 to study the “hermeneutical principles involved in a proper understanding of relevant Scripture passages” and their application of these principles as concerns women in ecclesiastical office, asks permission to be continued a year in order to report to the Synod of 1978.
One committee report concerns the “ethical decisions about war.” This is to provide the church with guidelines to determine one’s proper attitude in possible wars the country may face. Reports of this nature mark the growing trend of the CRC (as well as other denominations) to become “involved?’ in the social issues of the day.
Another report is concerned with the lodge oath and church membership. There is growing pressure within areas of the CRC to admit lodge members into the church as members. The Synod thus far (and the committee advocates continuance of this) maintains that lodge membership and church membership are incompatible—particularly in light of the oath required of lodge members.
There is a call to Synod to assemble a “task force on world hunger.” Another committee, appointed to “help the churches make better use of women’s gifts,” reports that “unfinished business” in this regard makes it advisable for Synod to appoint another committee to respond to the “problems” of this “unfinished business” over a period of the next three years.
Perhaps of greatest concern this year to conservatives in the CRC will be the question of what Synod does with many protests and appeals concerning the “Verhey Case.” The Rev. Peter De Jong reports on this, in a very capable way, in the April 1977 issue of the Outlook. He and his consistory were involved in the appeal to the last CRC Synod against their Classis Grand Rapids East. The Synod rather neatly (though I would agree, illegally) declared that since Rev. A. Verhey was already installed in office, the Synod could not treat this protest against the classis. It recommended Dutton consistory rather to proceed against Verhey by way of the formula of subscription. Now there are many protests or appeals at the Synod concerning the whole affair. One would hesitate to say that the decisions of Synod 1977 will mark a turning point in the history of the CRC. That turning point was evident already years ago—and today is seen the consequences.
Verhey, you recall, in his classical examination denied the Biblical events as recorded in Genesis 3:1-5 and Matthew 28:2. Now De Jong points out further error of similar nature evident in public writings of Verhey. Concerning Matt. 5 and Matt. 19, in which Jesus speaks of divorce, Verhey wrote in the Reformed Journal of May-June 1976:
It would be interesting historically to know precisely what position Jesus took. It is difficult, if not impossible, to identify the “very words” of Jesus behind the record of them in Paul and the gospels.
What we have, then, are not the “very words” of Jesus about divorce, but rather the accounts of them by Paul, Mark, Luke, and Matthew.
The content of the original words of Jesus was very likely an absolute prohibition of divorce. . . .
Now whatever difficulties surround the quest for the historical Jesus, he was at least a rabbi convinced that the kingdom of God was breaking in or would soon break in. The command, then, is to be understood not as a moral rule but as an invitation or permission to share in the freedom Jesus gives to live marriage as God intended and intends.
In a second installment in July-August, Verhey concluded:
With this perspective on scripture and its use in moral reflection, it is possible, I think, to discern the voice of God amid the variety of voices. God does not give us specific legal requirements.
But divorce is sometimes necessary “between the times” for the protection and honoring of marriage itself . . . .
De Jong continues by quoting from Verhey’s doctoral thesis, presented in May, 1975. In that thesis, Verhey repeatedly attacks the historic truth of sola Scriptura. Verhey would rather emphasize the importance of man’s own experience of what the Bible teaches s on moral issues. De Jong rightly concludes that Verhey is in conflict with Scripture, the Confessions, and even the earlier decisions of the CRC:
1.The more closely and extensively one studies this material, the more evident it becomes that tie are dealing with a view which is in sharp conflict with the teaching of the Bible itself. Although Dr. Verhey may declare his belief in an inspired Bible, he “interprets” it in, a way that contradicts its claims concerning itself. That Bible, claiming that it conveys to us “all things that pertain to life and godliness,” insists that no “prophecy of scripture is of private interpretation. For no prophecy ever came by the will of man; but men: spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit. . . .”
2. The position which Dr. Verhey has been advocating cannot possibly be brought into harmony with that which we confess in the creeds of our churches. One cannot deny what the Scriptures say in
and what Jesus said about divorce, and at the same time; consistently confess that we “receive all” of the Scriptures as “canonical, for the regulation . . . of our faith; believing without any doubt all things contained in them” (Article V, Belgic Confession). . . .
3. The view we find here advocated conflicts with the decisions of our Synods regarding the Bible. It conflicts with the decision of 1961 that “the faith of the church is to be formed by the self-testimony of Scripture concerning its own infallibility.” It does exactly what the Synod of 1972 warned must not be done: It uses a “method of biblical interpretation which excludes or calls into question . . . the event character of biblical history, thus compromising the full authority of Scripture as the Word of God.”
De Jong concludes:
More could be said about the (doctoral) thesis (of Verhey). Reading it clears up some otherwise puzzling things in Dr. Verhey’s examination, his repeated remark, “That is the wrong question,” and his repeated reference to the resurrection as a kind of “canon” to decide what has to be maintained, for examples. Equally striking is the first of his own conclusions which deals with what is called “rhetorical and audience related uses of scripture.” By these he means using arguments you yourself do not believe valid but which you believe may carry weight with your hearers. He finds Rauschenbusch using them while Carl Henry (the evangelical) does not. Personally, he expresses approval of their use, reminding “moralists and Christian communities of the possibility and need to make audience-relative arguments at certain times and in certain contexts where authorization for the use of scripture may be different or absent (p. 215).” While one may in argument try to show another the consequences of his own faulty position, may a Christian pretend to hold positions he considers invalid? Was not that procedure the “hypocrisy” the Lord often exposed as particularly obnoxious in the scribes and Pharisees?
No doubt the CRC has a problem. A big problem. What will the Synod do with it this year? Are there enough men, and sufficient spiritual courage, to face the issue or not? And if not, what will the “conservative” do in the CRC? In all good conscience, he could surely not remain with a denomination which will not root out such evil from its midst. To remain would be tantamount to submission to and approval of the decisions of synod and an expression of oneness with Verhey.