THE OUTLOOK is indebted to Rev. John H. Piersma, pastor of the Bethany Christian Reformed Church of South Holland, Illinois, for this prompt review of the 1974 CRC Synod. Rev. Piersma attended Synod as a delegate from Classis Illiana.
The following is an account of cerlain highlights of synodical activities, discussions and decisions. It is offered only to give readers of THE OUTLOOK an impression of the things done at synod this year.
TUESDAY, JUNE 11 , 1974
Synod is gavelled to order at 9:00 A. M. by its president Pro tem, Rev. Tymen E. Hofman, pastor of the Neland Ave. Church, Grand Rapids, convening church this year. After reading Psalm 122, and leading in prayer, Mr. Hofman welcomes the delegates and offers the traditional brief opening address. Roll call reveals only one of the 148 delegates absent. Balloting begins to elect officers.
First ballot for president is scattered among many delegates with three showing greatest voting strength: Rev. Ceorge Critter (Classis Grandville), Rev. John C. Verbrugge (Classis Wisconsin) and Rev. Tymen E. Hofman (Classis C.R. East). On the third baUot Gritter is elected. Subsequent balloting elects Verbrugge as vice-president, Rev. B. Nederlof (Classis British Columbia) as first clerk, Dr. John Vandenberg (Classis C.R. East) as second clerk. The new officers assume their places and tasks on the podium. One of the first announcements is that delegate Leonard Kloet (Classis C.R North) is celebrating his 81st birthday.
Processing candidates for the ministry is an early major item of business. Twenty-two names are presented as recommended by the Seminary and the Board of Trustees. Synod begins discussion of these recommendations, a discussion relieved by the appearance of Major Henry Cuikema, USAF, speaking for those in military chaplaincy. Rev. Guikema indicates that we must expect fewer opportunities in this area because of diminished military activity.
This was a good speech, marked by true piety and complete devotion to the Reformed Faith!
After thorough discussion, Synod passed all twentytwo men applying for candidacy, declaring them spiritually and professionally fit for the office of the gospel ministry in the CRC.
The first inkling of an emerging scenario of considerable dramatic significance comes to light when the matter of the nomination to the chair of Philosophical and Moral Theology in the Seminary is brought to the floor. Seminary President John H. Kromminga calls attention to the fact that strong negative criticism of one of the nominees, Dr. Lewis B. Smedes, might require his personal appearance before Synod so that this criticism may be answered. Some felt that the presence of such criticism was only to be expected since reactions are solicited in the nomination process. Reporter L. Tamminga for the advisory committee asserts that Smedes’ orthodoxy and integrity as an officebearer in the CRC are affected, and he ought to be flown in from California to defend himself. This motion carries.
THURSDAY, JUNE 13, 1974
Prominent at the ’74 synod was the presence of the Gereformeerde Kerken, the Netherlands (GKN) in the person of no less than two official fraternal delegates, Dr. Wind and Dr. Weyland. Both spoke at length. Since readers of this magazine are often quite interested in happenings in the old country we will offer a few extensive quotations from their addresses.
First to speak was Dr. Wind. Among other things he said:
If you ask: “What has been changed and why?” I’ll paint only to a few headlines now. Dr. Weyland will say more about the present situation in the Gereformeerde Kerken.
Very important is the flood of secularization that swept over the Dutch society, not leaving the churches untouched. The Cereformecrde Kerken became less and less isolated within the Dutch society, and therefore more open to all problems and movements within this SOCiety, both secular and religiolls. There arc many who think they don‘t need church membership any more in order to remain faithful Christians. . they wish that the institutional church shall participate in the solution of burning questions in the social, economic, and political fields. So the distinction between the church as institute and as an organism became a relevant issue again, Our Synod accepted an important report on “The Calling and Responsibility of the Church to Speak and Act in Social and Political Matters,” But this commitment of the church to the problems of society should get its contents from t 1e full gospel. So we had to fight against the danger of polarization between horizontalism and verticalism; against every one-sidedness. Anyhow, the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland had to cope with new issues put on their agenda. They had to stress some new aspects of the gospel in their preaching and teaching, without changing the contents of the gospel or quitting parts of the full truth of the Word of God . . .
. . . about the case of Professor Harry K. I only state some facts now. It became clear in our discussion with Dr. Kuitert that he was convinced that he still could subscribe to the Confession faithfully, while denying the historicity of the events in the first chapters of Genesis. That means for him that he agreed with the confessions that sin did not enter the world as a natural process, but in a historical way. Yet he denies the historicity of Genesis 3. He fully agreed that God created a good, sinless world; that man became sinful, guilty; that· mankind has fallen into slavery of sin, and could be redeemed only by God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Facing some other ideas of Prof. Kuitert, cum suis, tending to a horizonalizing of the salvation, and an only this-worldly kingdom of God, we also could come to an agreement.
But—we must say honestly—that the theological thinking of Prof. Kuitert is still in a process of development, and that we are seriously concerned about the direction into which he is moving.
The result of so many discussions in our church has also heen a positive one: a deepening of our reflcction about the Holy Scriptures. There are still many questions, and partly they are dealing with the same issues you reflected upon in the report on the Nature and Extent of Biblical Authority, the doctrine of inspiration, and so on.
The role of the CKN in the World Council of
Churches was reported with great enthusiasm by Dr. Wind. Dr. K. Runia of Kampen, formerly of Australia, a “conservative” of some reputation, will be delegated to the Fifth Assembly of the wee in Djakarta. “We think it necessary that a Calvinistic Reformed voice should be heard among so many voices in the World Council.” Wind indicated that the principles and programs of missionary work by the CK. is very much influenced by wee thinking and recommendation. He confirmed the fact that there is real tension between his church and the South African churches. He said, “Probably you have heard something about the decision to support the ‘Programme to Combat Racism’ of the World Council, in spite of the fact that they gave humanitarian aid to the freedom fighters in Southern Africa. We advised against emigration to South Africa . . .”
Dr. Weyland‘s address was more difficult to follow in certain crucial areas than Dr. Wind‘s. It might be more helpful to paraphrase than to quote, hoping we do not distort his words. He addressed himself very candidly to this question: Why isn’t there evidence of disciplinary action with respect to deviating views and their professors in the CKN? His answer was that if we really understood the situation from the inside we’d realize that the CKN was not derelict in its duty nor unfaithful to the heritage of the Reformation, but was rather trying to resolve its problems by careful and responsible action.
Early in his address Weyland offered the following as descriptive of the current situation in his church: (1) In 1973 the CKN, a church of 870,000 members, had a new increase of only four members. Some left for the Christelijke Gereformeerde and Vrijgemaakte (known by us as “the Schilder group”) churches, some to other evangelical and Pentecostal groups. The largest number simply went away, not wanting to belong to any church. (2) About 35% of the Dutch population is now unchurched, and this percentage is rising fast. Holland is becoming a mission field! In his Arnhem parish only 10% of the people attend any church at all. In rural Holland the church situation is “much better.” (3) Marriage registrations show 40% to be “mixed.” (4) About 40% of the CKN young people do not come to make profession of faith.
But, brethren, do you now understand that many of us have come to another view of ecumenism? Churches are creeping together under one umbrella against the heavy shower
of unbelief, asking each other, do you know of some remedy against that unbelief? In many places there are joint services for Hervormden and Gereformeerden. Very seldom—and not legally—Roman Catholics are involved. By the way: the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands is changing. A new reformation to a more evangelical faith is breaking through. But not only that! Also liberalism and humanism are coming up. We are very concerned about that! ‘Weyland reported that certain negotiations with the Hervormde Kerk (the State Church) had been terminated because the Hervormden preferred a “dialogue church” to a confessional one. He indicated that there is also a general indifference to ecumenical activity. Affluence, mobility (85% of his Arnhem congregation reside less than two years in their present homes), and secularization contributed to spiritual apathy.
Against that background Weyland sees church discipline as a practical impossibility. “When in the congregations discipline is difficult it is also a problem for a classis or synod.” He sees the disciplinary process as something which can rise only from the congregations outward to the broader assemblies. In addition: the CKN is prominent in its own country (number 3 in size, number 2 in contributions), and anything like a split would produce much damage to its image. Weyland observed, “In your synod I see only two reporters—for The Banner and De Wachter. Tn our synod not seldom 12 or more reporters are attending the discussions . . . . Speaking on the Wiersinga case, I found myself behind a battery of microphones—like Kissinger!”
The Wiersinga case is one of the most celebrated in current CKN discussions. Dr. H. Wiersinga’s views concerns especially the biblical doctrine of the atonement. The Committee to the CKN Synod, appointed to discuss these matters with Wiersinga, said, among other things:
Dr. Wiersinga has not been able to convince the synod from the Holy Scripture that his objections to the doctrine that Christ has borne the judgment of God in our place find support in the Holy Scripture.
Weyland argued that this case presented two special difficulties:
a. He stands with his opinion about the atonement alone. To make him the object of ecclasiastical discipline is to give him a a party!
b. The case regards a theological question difficult to understand. Can we tell it (i.e., explain it satisfactorily, JHP) to our children? Can we exactly point (out): that is the reason (we disciplined Wiersinga) because it had to be done so that they say; Pa, is it good? Brethren, our church is also the church of our children!
Synod’s conclusion of the matter for now was to appeal to Wiersinga to reconsider his views in the light of Synod’s statements, and to mandate the Church and Theology committee of the GKN to discuss the question with Wiersinga and report to the next Synod.
Weyland included in his address references to the new Form of Subscription and the decision of the CKN Synod to commission Professors Berkouwer and Ridderbos to prepare a first draft of a new confession.
We will discuss further the matter of the GKN and its fraternal delegates in connection with their question and answer session which took place at a later synodical meeting.
Overture 18 came to the floor on Thursday in which Classis Chicago North petitioned “the 1974 Synod to instruct the Heidelberg Catechism Translation Committee to return to its principle of using ‘the original German of the Heidelberg Catechism as our official text’ also for the section commonly designated ‘Lord’s Day 30’.” Lord‘s Day 30 has in its 80th answer the statement . . .
And thus the mass, at bottom, is nothing else than a denial of the one sacrifice and pass ion of Jesus Christ, and an accursed idolatry (italics inserted, JHP).
This provocative statement might be expected to provoke considerable discussion, and it did. The first installment of this discussion ended in a motion to refer the overture back to the advisory committee, and we will try to summarize and characterize Synod’s action when it was returned to the floor later.
Another item causing considerable debate was that of “Neo-Pentecostalism and Office-bearers.” The ’73 Synod had considered a lengthy report on the subject of Neo-Pentecostalism. Among its decisions was one that called for appointment of a committee to examine further the practical implications of Synod’s decisions on neo–Pentecostalism for officebearers who claim certain ‘charismatic’ experiences, especially ministers, taking due account of the welfare of the congregation, the office-bearers, and the denomination at large, and to serve the Synod of 1974 with specific advice.” This matter was assigned to the same committee which prepared the Neo-Pentecostalism report. Speaking for the Committee on the floor of Synod was Dr. David Holwerda of the Calvin College faculty.
Synod adopted the following guidelines as its advice to the churches:
“a. Synod itself has already drawn the conclusion that anyone who holds the second-blessing teaching is thereby disqualified for office in the Christian Reformed Church and must be dealt with according to the Church Order.
“b. Synod‘s decisions imply that not everyone who claims to have certain ‘charismatic’ experiences is by that fact alone to be disqualified for office in the Christian Reformed Church.
“c. Those who occupy an office in the church, whether that of pastor, elder or deacon, must remember that the church remains judge of what gifts of the Spirit may or should be employed in the exercise of these offices. It is the Spirit–filled church that appoints to office, in the name Christ, the King of the church.
“d. Synod‘s decisions imply that there are degrees to which an office-bearer may display neo-Pentecostal tendencies. As long as he has not violated the biblical demands of office and the stipulations of the Form of Subscription, the church must accept him in the performance of his office.
“e. It is possible that an office–bearer, while disavowing the second–blessing teaching, may still consistently show certain other features of neo-Pentecostalism; e.g., it is possible that he uses Scripture in an atomostic and private way, or unduly stresses the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit. In such instances the church needs to determine whether or not he has in fact embraced the second–blessing teaching.
“f. Evaluations of such office–bearers must be conducted in a balanced way and according to proper procedures.
1) The office bearer, the council, and the congregation should approach the evaluation in the spirit of mutual openness, and charges should be made and entertained only on the basis of adequate information so that the work of Christ’s church may not be hindered.
2) The evaluation begins at the local level. Should a council regard itself inadequate for the evaluation, it may avail itself of the resources of classis.
3) Where the conclusion needs to he drawn that the office bearer has arrived at a position contrary to Scripture, to the Reformed creeds, and to the biblical requirements for office, he must be dealt with according to the the stipulation for ecclesiastical discipline.”
Whenever the matter of neo-Pentecostalism is discussed you can be certain that djfference of opinion will be revealed! This was true at Synod. The polarity came to light especially when the committee representative, Or. Holwerda, consistently revealed a concessive attitude toward this matter and when an elder delegate to Synod, Harold Camping, bluntly declared that he believed the movement to be demonic in origin and nothing less than a sign of the approach of the end of the world.
Many will remember when the very thought of a concessive attitude toward this kind of movement was not to be imagined in our church. The simple, accepted position was that with the closing of the Scriptural canon the special gifts of the Spirit providentially disappeared, having been rendered unnecessary. From the guidelines adopted above it is easy io see that whatever else may be said, the Christian Reformed Church today has synodically declared that those who claim charismatic gifts are not to be told, “Your claims are biblically impossible,” but are rather to be dealt with only in terms of one related heresy (the second-blessing) and in terms of the degree to which this person is convinced of these things.
The debate turned, perhaps, on guidelines (see above). Rev. Alvin Venema of Classis Hamilton moved that Synod “withhold action” on this recommendation. It (the motion to withhold action) was defeated by a vote of 80 to 59. Some delegates were heard to say during the coffee break that the Christian Reformed Church has not yet heard the last of this troublesome matter.
FRIDAY, JUNE 14, 1974
Some of the “neo-Pentecostalism debate” ran over into Friday. We have lumped the whole matter together for the sake of convenience. It was on Friday that Synod’s attention was called to the presence of a reporter for the Association of Christian Reformed Laymen sitting in the audience and using a tape recorder to gain a recording of synodical discussions, Under the wise and patient leadership of President Critter the decision was reached to allow taping if permission is requested, The “ACRL” evidently is much on the mind of many synodical delegates . . .
An impressive moment at Synod is the presentation of those missionaries at home from foreign fields plus a brief address from one of them, Hay Brown-eye, long-time worker on the Nigerian field, spoke to Synod, Mr, Brown-eye has for several years served our stations as pilot of the mission plane, His message was heartening!
An unexpectedly lengthy debate centered about the Board of Home Missions’ request to “approve a change in the organizational structure of the CRBHM by adding the position of Director of Personnel (italics added, JHP) . . .” The issue raised was, Why the use of the word Director? Isn’t this something suggestive of domination rather than service? At long last it was decided to use the word Secretary instead. One hopes that this is evidence of an increased sensitivity to the dangers of “boardism” and “hierarchism.”
Another tender spot at the ’74 Synod was the single nomination practice for important positions. Again, feelings were expressed that this tended to reflect too much power in the hands of too few in the church. As a result a rather lengthy debate preceded that adoption of the recommendation calling for a two-year appointment to Rev. John Van Ryn as Executive Director for the Board of Home Missions, even though the vote, as I recall it, was virtually unanimous.
The grounds for recommending Van Ryn are of interest to many, I think. They were:
After careful consideration and evaluation, the Rev. John Van Ryn is felt to be the most qualified to meet the following needs:
a. A person who can work effectively in a staff situation and knit a staff into an effective team for ministry.
b. A person who can give leadership to the program of Home Missions, having a good sense of ministry priorities and a sensitivity to what is Reformed mission.
c. A person who can represent dynamically the cause of Home Missions to the denomination while possessing an awareness of where our church is.
As a neighbor of Brother Van Ryn we can endorse his selection as a good and worthy act. As we have said at a recent meeting of our Classis, it is to be hoped that his leadership will bear in mind that the boards of the church get their mandate from the churches. In our judgment there has been too obvious an intention to direct and correct the churches rather than to serve them in recent years. We believe that Rev. Van Ryn will bring balance and improved confidence to his very important office.
SATURDAY, JUNE 15, 1974
On Saturday Synod very quickly approved a proposal to enlarge the present Seminary building to include more faculty and student offices, an enlarged book store, a student lounge, etc., at a cost of $560,000 (estimated). Some of the money for this project will come from generous individual donors. The rest will come by way of a $1,00 per family quota for several years. This action was taken in spite of announcement by the president that enrollment was down about 25%. He pointed out, however, that if the church should change its attitude toward women in the ministry and if we would be willing to train men for service in other denominations enrollments might be expected to rise.
Classis Sioux Center‘s overture to reconsider the Association for the Advancement of Christian Scholarship (AACS) as a synodically approved cause for financial support was rejected on the ground that:
No specific objections to the position of the AACS on sphere sovereignty, the Word of God, and the church are given to warrant a reconsideration of the AACS as an approved cause for financial support.
Saturday morning saw the beginning of a lengthy and serious debate on an appeal from Dr. John A. Craft which might be said to involve a heresy charge, Since that debate ended in a motion to refer the matter back to the advisory committee we will deal more fully with the matter when it reappears.
Synod constantly faces items of business that seem very inconsequential in that they involve matters of only a procedural character and which later prove to have great Significance. One of these, I think, was the decision to authorize the committee on “Synodical Decisions and the Confessions” (appointed in 1973) “to complete its study of ‘the use and function of synodical pronouncements on doctrinal and ethical matters and their relation to the confessions.” We need, said Synod, “a clear statement as to how synodical decisions fit into our confessional structure.” Once again, let us pray that this discovery will not move the church toward an undue emphasis upon synodical decisions to the detriment of the kind of local freedom required for a Christian church to function without improper restraint.
MONDAY, JUNE 17, 1974
Synod reconvened on Monday, June 17, with the bulk of its work yet to be considered. Delegates were entertained and prodded by periodic reports from a Classis Lake Erie elder on the progress of Synod toward completion of its agenda. At one point he announced that at the then current rate of progress Synod might adjourn on July 16!
The CRWRC cause was enthusiastically approved (Canadian delegates Schaafsma and Knoppers pleaded for much, much greater contributions toward the relief of impoverished starving peoples in the world). Nicaragua was approved as an additional regular foreign mission field, Dr. Roger S. Greenway was reappointed as Latin America secretary for two years, and the request of the Evangelical Reformed Church of Brazil to call CRC pastors on a loan basis was granted.
Going on to matters of Inter-Church relations Synod decided such things as:
“That Synod encourage the Inter-Church Relations to stimulate the interest of our churches in the accomplishments and activities of the RES” (Reformed Ecumenical Synod).
“That Synod endorse the policy of the InterChurch Relations Committee to encourage exploration of increased CRC-RCA contact at the local and regional levels . . .”
“That Synod, with gratitude to Cod, take note of the markedly improved relationships with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.”
“That synod take note of the October 25, 26, 1974 meeting of Inter-Church committees in Pittsburgh and request the ICRC to disseminate any significant results of this meeting to the church through its publications.” (Note: The newly-formed National Presbyterian Church, largely in the Southern states of our country, “initiated a meeting of representatives of the committees on inter-church relations of Reformed and Presbyterian churches generally recognized as holding their confessional standards with serious commitment to the letter and spirit of those standards.” Out of this meeting came a resolution “to convoke a plenary session of the full Inter-Church Relations committees of the respective denominations to explore closer relationships between the denominations” in Pittsburgh on October 25, 26, 1974.)
Back to God Hour matters evoked little controversy (French broadcast was continued, the experimental Japanese broadcast also continued, churches were encouraged to recognize Sunday, December 8, 1974 as 35th Anniversary Sunday of BTCH broadcasting) until the matter of relocation of its central offices was proposed. The proposal read:
That Synod authorize The Back to God Hour to build a facility which will provide adequate space and equipment for its broadcasting ministry with the provisio that the acquisition of the necessary finances be from sources excluding operational funds, quota funds, and denomination-wide solicitation.
Rev. James LaGrand, Jr., pastor of an inner-city congregation in Chicago, filed a Minority Report on this matter recommending that the BTGH use additional available space in its present Roseland building and erect needed television programming facilities in its immediate neighborhood. One of LaGrand‘s grounds might best tell the story:
The technical and symbolic advantages of a new building in the suburbs arc far outweighed by the same advantages, carefully considered and equally judged, in the historic urban location. Some important technical considerations for new-site selection clearly indicate that a location in the far suburbs can only be second best, e.g., adequate postal facilities, maintenance of a Chicago mailing address, accessibility in terms of expressways and airports. Symbolic advantages are more difficult to assess. If the Back to God Hour intends to continue and improve its communication of the Gospel to world population centers, however, even the apparent irritations of everyday involvement in urban America can be an important advantage in identifying with urban listeners.
The majority recommendation was adopted, which means that the Back to God Hour offices and facilities will eventually be moved to a new building on a site purchased from Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights.
On Monday evening (June 17) Synod gave its time to the fraternal delegates from the Netherlands in an open question-and-answer session. This was a long discussion of which we can give only a few high–lights. Questions had been requested in advance of this session and these were grouped under certain main headings.
The first question dealt with the secularization signalized by the delegates as a cause for current difficulties in the old country. Why was the GKN not prepared to meet that wave of secularization? Dr. Weyland pointed to the unexpected and overwhelming prosperity following World War II as one answer, and to what he called “the bloodletting” in connection with the 1944 split in which about 100,000 left to form the Vrijgemaakte Kerken. These were, he said, among the very best of GKN members “confessionally speaking.” In addition, tens of thousands of the better people emigrated to Canada, South Africa, Australia, etc. These losses weakened the GKN.
In response to a certain type of question the delegates denied that such vices as excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages were on the increase but conceded that church attendance, especially in the cities, is very low. With respect to Rinzema’s book, The Sexual Revolution, the Dutch representatives recognized a problem, especially with young people, and suggested that the author was trying to bring theological and biblical ideas to bear on the problem of sexual license. Homosexuality was called “a real problem” (10,000 copies of Synod’s report were requested!). Dr. Weyland asked, Don‘t we need a way out of a hellish marriage? Doesn‘t Jesus‘ word to the Pharisees concerning Mosaic divorce suggest such a way out? As to inter-church services, the delegates gave me the impression that this is not such “a big deal” in Holland, perhaps because of lack of religious interest.
A Free University professor, Dr. Augustijn, is reported to have said that he preferred a “dialogue church rather than a confessional church.” This means a church which discusses rather than confesses. The reply was that Dr. A. sees the CKN as an sociological unit, and the task of the church as social as well as anything else. That is why he is reported to have said something like this: “A gift for relief of world misery is more important than some point in the Confessions,” and “To be against racism is to be truly confessional.”
There were several questions dealing with the CKN membership in the World Council of Churches. These were all dealt with in terms of bringing a responsible Reformed voice to that great organization. As to church discipline, the delegates indicated two things, among others: (1) discipline seems virtually impossible in the existing circumstances, and (2) the sin in the church is to break the fellowship of love. When asked about the theological soundness and spiritual climate of the Free University the delegates pointed with pride to the great Dr. G. Berkouwer. interestingly. in this connection Berkouwer was represented as traumatically regretful about his role as president of the GKN synod which desposed K. Schilder and S. Greijdanus, and that he was very much afraid of repetition of that tragic event.
That is perhaps enough to give some kind of impression of the flavor of these conversations. My reaction was positive so far as the candor and openness of these delegates goes. I felt that they were trying to be very explicit in their descriptions of GKN conditions. However, I felt also more than a small pang of fear. It seemed very obvious to me that almost every “problem” facing us has some kind of origin or suggestion in the GKN. I hope that we will not let anyone else, even the brothers from the GKN. formulate either the questions or the answers for us! I was also impressed by the consistent relativizing of problems in terms of circumstances and personalities rather than any kind of insistence upon the Word of God as the absolute norm for faith and practice. All in all, I found the effect of the reports brought by these delegates depressing.
TUESDAY, JUNE 18, 1974
Representing the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was Professor Gaffin of Westminster Theological Seminary. Dr. Gaffin spoke movingly of the martyrdom of an Eritrean missionary, Miss Anna Strikwerda, a member of the GKN, supported by the Church of Australia. working for the OPC. Brilliantly, we thought, Professor Gaffin pointed to Romans 1:21. “Because that. when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful.” ( Italics inserted, JHP). “Plain, unvarnished ingratitude lies at the bottom of man’s predicament.” This was applied to those who show a lack of gratitude for the tradition from which they come, saying that the fathers were all wrong in the past, that the higher critical tradition is really not so bad, etc. Gaffin urged that the OPC needs the greater resources of the CRC, and urged close fellowship upon the solid basis of Scripture and honest dedication to the creeds.
How to relate to other denominations is a problem for all churches in our time. The 1970 and 1971 Synods had mandated the Inter-Church Relations Committee (ICRC) “to study our relationship to the GKN in the light of recent theological trends in our sister church.” In 1973 the ICHC reported that it doubted the practical possibility and wisdom of the “sister church relationship” as defined by the Synod of 1944. The sister-church concept really implies that one recognizes another denomination as one with which one would be institutionally united if such factors as geographical separation were not present. The 1973 Synod mandated the ICRC to study the problem of sister-church relationship.
The following adopted recommendations give a sampling of the new thinking on the matter of Inter-Church relations:
1. In place of the existing “sister-church” and “corresponding-church” relationships in denominational inter-church relations. Synod establishes one relationship to be designated “churches in ecclesiastical fellowship” (cf. Art. 49, C.O.).
a. This relationship provides a realistic way of facing the complexities of contemporary inter–church relations.
b. This relationship can and should be employed to strengthen rather than weaken inter-church bonds wherever this is warranted by Reformed ecumenical principles.
c. This relationship protects the church‘s integrity in inter-church fellowship.
2. Synod declares that the receiving of churches into ecclesiastical fellowship shall imply, and where possible and desirable shall involve:
a. exchange of fraternal delegates at major assemblies.
b. occasional pulpit fellowship,
c. intercommunion (i.e., fellowship at the table of the Lord),
d. joint action in areas of common responsibility ,
e. communication on major issues of joint concern,
f. the exercise of mutual concern and admonition with a view to promoting the fundamentals of Christian unity.3. Synod declares that all churches presently recognized as “sister churches” shall be considered churches in ecclesiastical fellowship. 4. Synod mandates its Inter-Church Relations Committee to recommend which additional churches are to be received into ecclesiastical fellowship. 5. Synod mandates its ICRC to recommend which specific kinds of fellowship and cooperation shall apply to each church in ecclesiastical fellowship.
These recommendations provoked long discussion, a discussion marked by some resentment and no little apprehension. Some felt that we ought to face head on our differences with. say, the GKN, rather than relieve ourselves of the obligation to do so by eliminating the sister-church relationship. The Stated Clerk. Rev. William P. Brink, pointed to the confusion now existing as we find eleven sister churches and thirteen corresponding churches on our lists. Others felt that this whole business is too vague. Personally. I feel that Synod has in effect created a very powerful unit in its ICRC—and I pray that its members will not forget to be humble and cautious!
Tuesday, 1:30 P.M. – THE big moment has arrived, the interview with Dr. Lewis B. Smedes. The interview takes place in open session. Rev. Louis Tamminga conducts the opening section of the interview. The questions are taken from the letters of protest against Dr. Smedes‘ nomination to a position on the faculty of Calvin Seminary. They were written by Rev. Edward Heerema of Bradenton, Florida, Jacob Heerema of Oak Park, Illinois, Rev. John Engbers of Rock Valley, Iowa, and Rev. Albert Dreise of Newmarket, Ontario.
The interview proceeds with impressive smoothness: Professor Smedes is obviollsly “up” for the occasion, his answers are lucid, his rebuttals devastating. Sentences like this are spoken carefully, effectively: “I live, breathe, work, act in a way, I trust, that allows Scripture to dominate all of it.” “All theology has to be followed by action.” “I am Reformed in the depths of my being . . . I have been, I am, I intend to be diligent in vindication of the Reformed Faith.” “I have sought to show that the Reformed Faith is biblically true and contemporaneously vital.”
Hev. Edward Heerema had accused Smedes of superficial and careless approval of Karl Barth‘s view of election and Rev. John Vander Ploeg had criticized him for this translation of Rinzema’s book The Sexual Revolution. It appeared that the impression left on Synod was that Smedes destroyed this criticism by referring to the books in question to prove that the very opposite of these contentions is the truth. For example: Heerema had pointed to Smedes’ book, AIl Things Made New, pp. 27–30 to say:
Barth‘s Christology is expounded as an example of the meaning of “Union with Christ.” On page 124 we read that “Karl Barth restored to respect ability the notion that Christ is the foundation of election.” What one misses here in the work of a scholar who should be zealous for the Reformed faith and diligent in the vindication of that faith against all error is some indication that Barth‘s thinking in this area is marred by a universalism that is out of accord with the particularism of the election of grace in Christ.
To this Prof. Smedes replied by pointing to Footnote 46 in his book which states with respect to K. Barth‘s view of election, “As far as I can see there is no biblical warrant for this notion.” [In this connection the reader is urged to read or reread my editorial in the June issue of THE OUTLOOK, and, in order to check this further also to consult Rinzema’s book, The Sexual Revolution, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. It is left to Rev. Heerema’s judgment whether he feels the need or wisdom of replying to this matter further. JVP]
As most now know, Smedes was not elected by Synod to the chair of Moral and Philosophical Theology (Dr. Theodore Minnema received Synod’s majority of votes). Why? It seems to me that two features of Smedcs’ interview were damaging. The first was his opinion that Romans 5:12 does not necessarily teach that Adam was an historical figure. Paul he suggested, could have been using a rabbinical tradition in that passage to make the point that there was a given moment in which a good man turned from friendship with God to rebellion. A second was his response to an elder’s query concerning his view of hell. The professor from Fuller Theological Seminary chose to use what might have seemed to many to be rather flippant figures of speech to illustrate his concept of eternal punishment, comparing it to an airplane in a holding pattern above O‘Hare airport unable to land, etc.
Synod took up the Study Committee Report on Lodge membership for the remainder of this session. We will cover all of this discussion under the next section.
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 19, 1974
One of the finest study committee reports in my experience was that on Lodge and Church Membership. This was a moment at Synod totally gratifying so far as I am concerned! The heart of the matter is expressed in the first adopted recommendation:
That Synod affirm as the basic position of the Christian Reformed Church that there is an ir reconcilable conflict between the teachings and practices of the lodge and Biblical Christianity, and that therefore simultaneous membership in the lodge and in the church of Jesus Christ is incompatible and contrary to Scripture.
There was some debate on this, of course. Opponents argued that those belonging to such secret, oath-bound organizations do not really think or do not really know (or care) what their commitment is and ought not to be denied church membership therefore. We recommend that the synodical decisions on this matter be read carefully by all. Perhaps THE OUTLOOK can publish them in full in an early issue.
Other interesting items on Wednesday’s agenda include rejection by Synod of the Publication Board’s request to phase out De Wachter in two years. Right now this second denominational periodical is assured of indefinite existence. The Synodical Committee on Race Relations was continued for three more years. This happened with very little discussion.
Another of those things that slide through Synod without much excitement and which have tremendous implications for the life of the church was the decision regarding Agenda Report No. 38, “Implications of Guidelines for Office and Ordination and ‘Layworkers in Evangelism.’” The study committee recommended that such “layworkers” be ordained as elders with the extraordinary task of evangelism. The advisory committee took a different position, asking that the committee “study the implications of the GUIDELINES FOR UNDERSTANDING THE NATURE OF ECCLESIASTICAL OFFICE AND ORDINATION, especially as they relate to ordaining ‘layworkers in evangelism’ to a special (a fourth) office, and to report to the Synod of 1975.”
The latter recommendation was adopted. Rev. Bastiaan Nederlof, chairman of the committee in question, was elated (even though he had signed Report 38). “You have opened the door,” he said, “and you can be sure that we will go through it.” He referred to the possibility that the committee might recommended not only four offices in the church but perhaps five or six or even more.
This matter requires careful attention!
THURSDAY, JUNE 20, 1974
Weariness and impatience comes to be noticed occasionally as Synod grinds its way to the end of its large program of work. Thursday’s output was enormous, leaving one to wonder if perhaps some things aren‘t rushed too much toward the end.
An interesting item was “Ministers in ‘Extra-ordinary’ Service in Other Churches.” Perhaps the most dramatic incident of this sort is the acceptance by Rev. Lawrence Veltkamp of a ministerial position on the staff of Christ Church, Oak Brook, Illinois (Rev. Arthur De Kruyter, pastor). Article 13 of the Church Order was judged not to cover such cases. The decision taken was to appoint a committee to study the matter. Presumably this committee will report to the 1976 Synod.
Classis Lake Erie presented Synod with a carefully worked out (six pages, smaller typeface) Judicial Code for Church Assemblies. This is designed to prescribe fair procedures for those accused of doctrinal or moral error, and who wish to stand trial to gain a fair hearing. This gigantic matter was passed in a moment, Synod appointing a committee to study and review the judicial code proposed by Lake Erie. This merits attention!
Adopted also was a new rule regarding absentee members of local churches. The new rule is:
baptized or confessing members who move away from the area of their church so that a meaningful relationship is no longer possible, may retain their membership in their home church at their request and with the consent of the consistory. If they fail to make such a request, and do not transfer to a church near them, the consistory, having made serious attempts to rectify the situation, may declare their membership lapsed after a period of two years from the date of their departure . . . .
This regulation supersedes the rules of 1881 and 1910, which consistory members especially will want to consult.
Classis Chicago South‘s request that members who withdraw themselves from the fellowship of their church but who do not give evidence of other unchristian conduct be removable from the rolls in some other way than formal discipline was referred to a study committee.
Chaplain Harold Bode was appointed by Synod to its newly-created post of Executive Secretary for the Chaplain Committee. Overtures requesting action with respect to the injustice of using tax funds only for the support of public schools were answered by appointing a committee to study and draft a state· ment on this matter.
A letter from the Second CRC of Toronto stating that it was not bound by certain synodical “deviations” as described in a widely-circulated letter of the ACRL were answered by a kind and gracious letter from Synod to be hand-delivered by a committee of three. Overtures from Canadian classes protesting the divisive character of the aforesaid ACRL letter were answered by an instruction to the consistory who hold the membership of members of this organization who participated in the matter of this letter “to deal in a disciplinary way” with them.
The Amended Form of Subscription evoked considerable response (twenty-two documents are listed under the advisory committee‘s “materials”). Synod decided two things: (1) to postpone action on the final ratification of the changes in the Form of Subscription, and (2) to appoint a study committee to report in 1976 with an enlarged mandate. (It seems to me that those of us who fear the possibility of a weakened Form of Subscription are actually in greater danger than we were with the 1973 recommendation!)
We made earlier reference to an appeal of Dr. John A. Kraft against a decision of Classis Lake Erie. The background of the case was described by the advisory committee as follows:
“Over a period of time Classis Lake Erie has been dealing with a protest concerning Dr. J. Harold Ellens. A number of study committees reported to Classis and in May 1974 Classis took what it deemed final action.
“Dr. Kraft appeals the decision of Classis Lake Erie in regard to a statement of Dr. J. Harold Ellens. In its May 1974 meeting, Classis “advises Dr. Ellens that at this stage of his investigation his statement that it is a possibility that all men go to heaven and that this possibility is supportable on the basis of Scripture disagrees with the statement and intent of the Reformed creeds.” Classis also urged Dr. Ellens “to remember his responsibility as an ordained pastor of the CRC, and, in any further investigation of this issue, to carry out the investigation in the context of the creeds, as well as the context of Scripture.”
“Dr. Kraft feels that more concrete action should have been taken.”
The advisory committee’s original recommendation was simply to sustain Dr. Kraft. Intense opposition to this was voiced by the ministerial delegates from Classis Lake Erie with the result that it was recommitted. The final outcome was the appointment of a committee to investigate the matter and to deal pastorally with the parties involved.
An interesting debate centered about a qualified endorsement of the World Home Bible League. This was not due to dissatisfaction with the League in general but with “The Living Bible as paraphrased by Dr. Kenneth Taylor as a substitute for the Bible.” Elder Harold Camping presented an elaborate Minority Report asking Synod to deplore “the continued distribution of so-called paraphrases by the WHBL and encourages the WHBL to distrbiute only those translations approved by the CRC.” Synod preferred to adopt the Majority Report, including a note of approval for the fact that a committee composed of Dr. E. Roels, Dr. Jerome De long, and Rev. John De Vries is working to improve The Living Bible paraphrase.
FRIDAY, JUNE 21,1974
On Synod’s last day Budget matters are presented. It might interest Christian Reformed readers to know that denominational quotas for 1975 will total $174.90 per family (up from $162.60 for 1974).
This is just a sketchy review of the things which struck us as more important or more interesting. In conclusion we offer a few comments:
1. The competence, dedication, and participation of elder delegates was more noticeable than at any other synod I have witnessed.
2. Synod still faces too many items of denominational business which are not deserving of such broad consideration. I think, too, that we will not be able indefinitely to get “laymen” to spend virtually two weeks of their precious time for this service. How can it be shortened without doing violence to the seriousness of the work?3. There is a noticeable difference often in the attitudes and mentality of Canadian delegates over against “Statesiders.” 4. The chair was most considerate and fair as well as highly competent. 5. More things are going on in the church right now than even well-informed people can keep up with. How about a two-year breathing spell during which members of the CRC can catch up with the flood of reports which have appeared at recent synods?