Grand Rapids, MI (January 26, 1994) RBPS – In a letter sent to each family in the 311,000-member Christian Reformed denomination, the CRC’s top denominational board reported that it has “observed with increasing disappointment and concern the various negative statements and charges which are being leveled,” and “concluded that a response is necessary lest anyone conclude that the charges are true.”
A letter to the entire Christian Reformed membership from the CRC board of trustees, formerly known as the synodical interim committee, is extremely unusual and may be unprecedented. According to the letter signed by board of trustees president Rev. Allan Jongsma, General Secretary Rev. Leonard Hofman, and executive Director of Ministries Rev. Peter Borgdorff, “during the past years the various offices and boards of the CRCNA have, in most instances, chosen not to reply to such negative networking simply because it seemed prudent, trusting that people of goodwill would recognize the distinction between truth and distortions of truth or blatant untruths.” The departure from this policy of silence was occasioned, according to the letter, “because of the pain that many members experience when the church they love is attacked.”
The letter did not specify any of the persons or organizations doing the “negative networking” and identified only one of the charges leveled. “We are especially eager to address the suggestion made, either directly or by innuendo, that the CRCNA has departed from its confessional position that the Holy Scriptures are our only rule for faith and practice,” said the letter.
The “negative networking” has apparently hit a raw nerve in the top denominational leadership. General Secretary Rev. Leonard Hofman refused to comment on the letter, specify who was being criticized, or indicate who else might be authorized to speak for the board of trustees. “I don’t think Rev. Jongsma or Peter Borgdorff or I would really like to comment on that,” said Hofman. “We sent it to the families of the Christian Reformed Church, we said what we said, and we really want to leave it at that.”
Attacks on the denominational agencies are unwarranted, according to the letter. “Through the years synods of the CRCNA have affirmed the faith of the church in the infallibility of Scripture, and urged upon the church the approach of humble faith in the Word of God,” said the board of trustees.
Recognizing that there are serious differences within the membership of the divided denomination, the letter said that “differences of interpretation surface among those who are equally devoted to the Scriptures and are within the fellowship of the same denomination. To suggest that this automatically means that some uphold the Bible while others do not, is unfair to those who prayerfully struggle to understand the teachings of the Word and is harmful to the fellowship of the body of Jesus Christ we call the church.”
The letter continued with some strongly worded language directed against those doing the negative networking: “Therefore, in the name of the Lord, we plead with all who devoutly call on the name of our Savior Jesus Christ to form their judgment about the faith of the CRCNA, not on the basis of false accusations gathered from here or there—statements which are also often either quoted out of context or misquoted and twisted to convey a different meaning—but on the basis of the church’s own official confessions and official statements, decisions, and actions.”
A concluding paragraph noted that the denomination “is being blessed by the Lord with the Spirit’s presence in so much of its ministry around the world” and said the denominational leadership is “committed to being faithful to him, to his Word, and to the calling that is ours to proclaim and to teach all that he has commanded us as together we engage in evangelism, education, and benevolence.”
“Are we hitting target?” asked Laurie Vanden Heuvel, co-editor of the conservative Outlook magazine. “You’ll notice they don’t specify what charges or who is bringing them, apparently people who have not yet left, neither do they answer the charges. They just dismiss them as false, lull the people to sleep with their assured belief in infallibility.”
“They need to produce the evidence that we have made false accusations or taken things out of context. They spread that over the whole denomination without producing the evidence for what they say,” said VandenHeuvel. “When we speak we produce the evidence but they won’t answer our evidence. We’ve produced pages and pages of evidence and no answers have been forthcoming.”
Vanden Heuvel noted that the letter avoided declaring that the CRC believed in the inerrancy of Scripture—a position affirmed by synod as recently as 1979 and never officially repudiated. “People are not aware that many leaders in strategic positions deny inerrancy while affirming infallibility,” said Vanden Heuvel.
“When they say the Bible is infallible but not inerrant, they mean that the main truths, the central message of Scripture, is true, but the details are not necessarily accurate. For us as conservatives, the bottom line is who wrote the Bible,” said Vanden Heuvel. “If it is God, then to suggest that He breathed error is blasphemy. If mere men wrote it, who can know if even its central message is true? But the people in the pew still perceive inerrancy and infallibility as the same thing—and denominational leaders are capitalizing on that ignorance.”
“It’s the conservatives who have been constantly reminding the church and its leadership that in the issues of Scriptural interpretation, creation, women in office, and the feminization of God, we are violating the confessions,” warned Vanden Heuvel. “We’ll join them in saying ‘back to the confessions.’”
“They just ask the constituency not to ask questions, trust them, and rejoice in all the good things that are happening in missions, and we do rejoice with all those who proclaim the precious, inerrant Word of God,” said Vanden Heuvel.
The president of the conservative organization which initiated much of the “negative networking” also criticized the letter’s statement on Scriptural authority. “The sentence that really is the downfall, it would seem to me, of the whole CRC is the sentence that has to do with the interpretation of Scripture,” said Henry Van Till, president of the Committee of Concerned Members. “To put it very simply, the old hermeneutics goes to the text and says what is the truth, the new hermeneutics goes to the text and says what is your opinion.”
Rev. Wybren Oord of South Olive (MI) CRC was also offended by the letter. The South Olive consistory has had extensive correspondence and personal meetings with the Calvin College Board of Trustees, Calvin College president Dr. Anthony Diekema, and regional board representatives regarding the views of certain Calvin professors on theistic evolution and abortion. The South Olive consistory also brought Dr. Hessel Bouma III in to speak to the congregation and answer questions on whether he believed abortion was permitted by Scripture.
“I spoke with the president of the board, I had the board representative come, we’ve had a pile of correspondence, we’ve done our homework and that’s what makes it so irritating,” said Oord.
“I think it’s unfortunate that members who have a deep love for the CRCNA and who question the direction the denomination is going are being called to task by the Board of Trustees,” said Oord. “The accusation that judgments are made by people taking things out of context is unfounded; too many people have worked too hard to discern truth from error and are not pleased with the results they found.”
Darrell Todd Maurina, Press Officer Reformed Believers Press Service