About Confidence: Reply to an Open Letter

Recently the members of the Calvin Seminary Faculty felt called upon to address a page-long “Open Letter to the Christian Reformed Church.” In The Banner of December 4, 1970, with their signatures affixed, the Faculty concluded its letter with a request for confidence as follows:

“What in these times we covet and indeed expect from all the members of our church is neither uncritical indifference nor petty censoriousness, but such confidence, support and prayer as will enable us to fulfill in faithfulness and unity the weighty calling in the Lord to which the church has summoned us.”

That a church should be able to have full confidence in those who are charged with the training of her ministers is obvious. Nothing in the whole world is so precious to our Lord as His church that He purchased with His own precious blood. And the training of her ministers, to whom the interests of that church are so largely entrusted, is therefore of the utmost importance.

The strategic position that Calvin or any other Seminary occupies is suggested by the fact that the term Seminary, coming from the Latin word for seed (semen), means a seedbed, a seed plot, or a nursery. Our Seminary is then a school for the sowing of the seed in the minds and hearts of our future ministers. The Christian home, elementary school, high school, and college also have their responsibility for sowing the seed of God’s Word. But, in the training of ministers, the Seminary is charged with a great responsibility and confronted with a special challenge.

Surely, no one will seek to gainsay that an atmosphere and climate of full confidence are a sine qua non for the training of a church’s future ministers. When cracks begin to show in what should be a solid wall of confidence, there is cause for genuine concern. It is good that the Calvin Seminary Faculty has now addressed itself to this situation in its open letter, and it will be truly appreciated if the following suggestions about cultivating the confidence desired may not be taken amiss but will rather be received with the same prayerful consideration with which they are being offered.

1. No Specific Charges. First let it be pointed out, in all goodwill and forthrightly nonetheless, that the indefinite charges in the Seminary Faculty’s open letter should be made specific if we the members of the church are to know just what they are about and also be able to evaluate them aright. Following are the general and undocumented charges found in the Faculty’s letter:

“For some time now writings and rumors circulating in the church have called into question our united commitment to the Scriptures and our common loyalty to the confessional standards of our church…

“…we are distressed and sorrowful when we are misrepresented, and when our cherished solidarity in faith and life with the church we love and serve is groundlessly called into question…

“Meanwhile we deny and repudiate those charges and insinuations which call into question our dedication to the Lord and our commitment to Scripture and Confessions—charges which undermine the confidence of our people in the Seminary.”

Now if it can be established that the members of the Calvin Seminary Faculty arc being attacked by false rumors, misrepresentation, and insinuation, let no one minimize the seriousness of such a situation, Bearing false witness is serious enough in the ease of anyone. but especially so with respect to those who occupy such an important and strategic place in the church as that of our Seminary professors. But surely we are entitled now to ask our professors this question: Precisely what are these false rumors, misrepresentations, and insinuations; and who are those guilty of circulating them? If these charges the professors register against unnamed persons in blanket fashion are as serious as their open letter would have us believe, then they should certainly he spelled out in no uncertain terms and also pursued to a satisfactory conclusion. Why should we be left in the dark as to the specific persons and charges the professors have in mind?

2. Confidence Is Not Gratuitous. The members of the Calvin Seminary Faculty say in their open letter that they “covet and indeed expect from all the members of our church…such confidence, support and prayer as will enable us to fulfill in faithfulness and unity the weighty calling in the Lord to which the church has summoned us.”

At the risk of appearing to he presumptuous, we take the liberty of calling attention to the fact that, also in this case, confidence is not to be regarded as something gratuitous but rather as something that must be earned.

As one who has served four of our congregations in Michigan, Iowa, and Illinois, how well I know from experience that confidence does not come automatically with a letter of call but rather that it must gradually be gained by one’s preaching, life, and pastoral labors as time goes on. It has been well said that a congregation watches the minister the other six days a week to know what he means on Sunday. Successful physicians, surgeons, bankers, and merchants can tell at length of the road they had to travel to get others to entrust them with their health, their money, and their business.

If there are some among our Seminary professors who are accorded a greater amount of confidence on the part of discerning and knowledgeable conservatives among us, is there no reason for it? When in the quite recent past the church was deeply disturbed about such basic issues as the infallibility of Scripture and the Atonement, was it not certain Calvin Seminary persons (students and teachers) who were involved?

It is only to the extent that our theological professors give vigorous, enthusiastic, and also militant leadership with respect to the Reformed faith that they are entitled to the full confidence of those to whom this faith is the most precious thing in all the world.

Every leader in the church knows what it means at times to be the target of gossip, rumors, insinuation, and misrepresentation. No better advice on this score has ever been given than this: let us teach, preach, talk, write, and live in such a way that, when these things are being said or written about us, nobody will believe them.

Granted, the Bible does teach that “love believeth all things”; but John, the apostle of love, tells us in the same Bible: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God…” (I John 4:1).

3. “Errors and heresies ‘of the new day.’” The professors at Calvin Seminary have been charged, and, before God and His church, they have taken upon themselves a most difficult, responsible, and challenging task. Attention is called to the following aspect of this task as stated in the Form for the Installation of Professors of Theology:

“In behalf of our Church we charge you, esteemed brother, with the task of instructing and confirming the students, who hope one day to serve in His Church, in the knowledge of His Word. Expound to them the mysteries of the faith; caution them against the heresies of the old but especially of the new day [italics added]; seek to explain to them not only how they, as teachers are to instruct the sheep of the Lord but also how they, as pastors, are to shepherd them…”

The following experience I had as the editor of The Banner, official organ of the Christian Reformed Church, was definitely not reassuring to me and did nothing to cultivate the confidence that the members of the Calvin Seminary Faculty say in their open letter they “covet and indeed expect from all the members of our church.”

On July 6, 1968, as editor of The Banner, I sent the President of Calvin Seminary the following request: “The Publication Committee has decided the following: ‘That the Calvin Seminary faculty be asked to provide a series of six or more articles on the teachings of Kuitert, Baarda, Augustijn, and possibly others (at the Free University) to begin the first of October if at all possible, and that the first article or two take up the matter of Kuitert’s view of the interpretation of Scripture in general and of his view of Genesis 1-3 in particular. Also that, out of courtesy, copies of these articles be sent to the men involved.”

My letter to the Seminary President went on to say:

“This action has been taken in view of the decision of Synod 1968 ‘to assure the Fruitland (Ontario) consistory that Synod has full confidence that the professors of theology at Calvin Seminary will carefully study all new developments in theology and evaluate them in the light of Scripture and the creeds, and serve the churches with the results of their research and discussion. It is the continuing obligation of these professors to vindicate sound doctrine according to Article 20 of the Church Order.”

To be sure, there could be no question about it that the so-called Kuitert matter was a very live issue in our Church, one by which our membership was being agitated and disturbed. But the fact is that at my retirement, on September 19, 1970 (more than two years later) I had not received even the first article in the series of articles that had been requested. In view of this, I felt called upon to say publicly that we were not receiving from the Calvin Seminary Faculty the militant, and the enthusiastically Reformed leadership over against the attack on Scripture to which leadership we were entitled.

Let me hasten to add that all due recognition and credit should be given to Dr. Fred H. Klooster and Dr. Marten H. Woudstra for their reactions to and their contributions in other publications concerning this so-called “new hermeneutic.”

And certainly mention should be made also of Dr. Anthony A. Hoekema’s article in The Banner of January 1, 1971 on “New Testament Teaching on the Historicity of Adam” in which he takes forthright exception to Professor Kuitert’s attack upon the historicity of Adam and Eve and of man’s “actual fall from the state of integrity into a state of corruption.” To further cultivate the confidence that the Calvin Seminary Faculty “covets” and “expects,” it would be good to be informed publicly that every member of the Faculty endorses the position on the historicity of Adam and Eve and the fall that Dr. Hoekema has publicly espoused in unambiguous terms. Let’s not permit time to be on the wrong side in a matter as important as this.

Finally, I have been reliably informed that further attention is now being given to the series of articles that was originally requested by the Publication Committee at my suggestion almost two and a half years ago.

By all means then, in order to reassure the Church and to regain whatever confidence may have been lost, let every member of the Faculty speak and write publicly on this basic issue concerning the’ Bible so that there can be no room whatsoever for doubt as to what they believe and what they teach.

Once again, with all the signatures of the Faculty members affixed, another “Open Letter to the Christian Reformed Church” in The Banner, dealing speci6cally with this issue and forthrightly disavowing the so-called new hermeneutic being wafted over here from Amsterdam could be a real boon in recapturing the con6dence the Faculty apparently believes it may have lost.