What is really the issue of the present controversy in our midst?
When we read all that is published in our church papers about “conditions”, the Declaration of Principles, our Mission work in Canada, the developments in the mission field, especially in Hamilton, and also in Chatham, then we again ask ourselves the question: What do our people want? What are they arguing about?
We are told in lengthy articles, in word and in pictures, how wonderful these Liberated people really are, how pious, how sincere, how fundamentally Reformed, how eager to hear our ministers preach, how they love our churches, how willing they are to be instructed in our doctrine, how able they are, how they like to debate, and argue about our doctrine, especially of course, about the Covenant and Baptism.
As soon as our doctrine is really preached and taught, it is expected that they will listen, and be willing to have their children and young people instructed “in the aforesaid doctrine”.
But the tables turn.
This is proven by the developments in Hamilton.
But also in Chatham voices are raised already which openly show disagreement, of which they were well aware when they were organized as a Protestant Reformed Church.
What to think of things like these?
It seems strange that men like Dr. Schilder and Mr. Van Spronsen who knew of our conception of the covenant and of baptism, how we believe in it and that our ministers preach and teach the same, did not inform their people correctly about it before they joined our churches, as some of their leaders did who knew that this conception is one of the points of distinction distinguishing us from any other Reformed group. They seemed to have had no objection, as long as their people could do and believe as they pleased, or even take an open stand against it: of course, nothing was binding! But as soon as it is expected of them that they shall be, at least, willing to submit to instruction until they see our point of view, they refuse.
How to explain this? Could it be that they really thought that we would not mention these things; that we would be willing to speak about the many things we have in common, and ignore one of the fundamentals of Reformed doctrine for the sake of peace and fellowship? Or is the doctrine of the covenant probably of minor importance? Does it perhaps not matter very much what conception we have, that the one conception is as good as the other? We almost receive this impression when we read of these things, as being debatable, as personal opinions, as conclusions and deductions. And then we often become puzzled. If this is so, have then our ministers preached and taught doctrine of the covenant which really is debatable? If it is true that we still are not so certain of what we have been taught these 26 years, wherein our children and young people have been instructed all these years, which things we have treasured and which no one has ever protested against or contradicted before, if this is then the way we feel about the covenant and baptism, who will guarantee us that not some other, nay, perhaps many more points of doctrine also will be called debatable? And if today we still need some light from across the ocean relative the true meaning of the covenant concept and the covenant promise, etc., then I call the situation quite hopeless.
If it is so that there still is not a Reformed covenant view, then I would suggest that we say with our Short Declaration of Principles what we as Protestant Reformed Churches declare to be Covenant and Baptism, and if we cannot or dare not do it now then we can make up our minds that we never will. Then we must freely admit, that as far as the covenant is concerned, we know nothing about it.
Oh yes, we know that there is such a thing as a covenant, for the Bible is full of it from cover to cover, but what it really is, and for whom, it is or for whom it is not; what really the Covenant Promise is, and for whom, you see, all these things are debatable!
Not one church with a definite, distinctive conception of the Covenant? And we all speak of the Covenant God, the Covenant name, the Covenant people, Covenant instruction, Covenant seed, Covenant promise, etc., and we really do not know what we are talking about? Would a person not give up all hope that we will ever come to clarity?
Furthermore the Rev. Howerzyl suggested in the Standard Bearer of February 1 that we personally do “some periscoping in old Standard Bearer’s to find some worthwhile material.” Following up his suggestion I came across an article of our former Periscope editor, the Rev. W. Hofman, in the Standard Bearer of May 1, 1949. The Rev. Hofman quotes the Rev. Paul De Koekkoek as having written “neither our Christian Reformed leaders in Canada nor our church membership in general are wrapped up in disputations about fine shadings of Reformed doctrine.” This was, according to this writer, to account for their success. The Rev. Hofman says, “as we read this, we wondered whether this is really as virtuous as it appears.” “Compromise may bring organizational unity, but it will never satisfy the truth.” Furthermore the Rev. Hofman writes about 1924, that “fine shadings” were used to depose office bearers, and caused a “denominational split.” He writes finally, “A church which is called Reformed should appreciate, rather than disparage exactions of the truth.”
Nevertheless, he seems to be opposed to declare officially as churches what we believe, and what he also has been preaching in regard to the important doctrine of the Covenant.
We certainly cannot expect a clear conception from across the ocean, as we have read of late, and also as churches have (alas!) experienced.
And therefore, I would suggest that this Declaration of Protestant Reformed Principles be adopted, although there must be given plenty of time to study it. And let the people say what they have against the contents, but then in such a form that common people can understand what is meant.
The last developments in Canada should be a lesson.