The Synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (CKN) meeting in Lunteren took all of June 6 and part of the next day to come to a decision on how to proceed in the disciplining of Dr. H. Wiersinga. No one at Synod defended his position which denies that there is any element of satisfaction of God‘s righteousness or justice in the substitutionary death of Christ. But the overwhelming majority of the Synod shocked back from instituting the traditional discipline procedures against heresy.
The previous Synod had charged six deputies to meet with Dr. Wiersinga in order to come to a clear understanding of his position and to discuss solutions to the problems which the publication of his works have caused in the church. The deputies met with him a total of 70 hours. Their report pointed out that Wiersinga‘s views were patently in conflict with the confessions. Wiersinga rejects the notion of Christ undergoing the judgment of God in our place. God, he asserts, did not tum against Christ. Although this is a very important departure from the confesSion, the deputies said, it occurs “within the context of a fundamental agreement that salvation is not a possibility which has to be realized by us, but that it is a reality which is given us by God in Christ, given and scaled in the death and resurrection of the Lord.” Dr. Wiersinga came to his conception of the reconciliation, it was pointed out, because he wished to sponsor a more effective view of the reconciliation. He, therefore, has eyes only for that aspect of Christ’s reconciling work where we too can be said to participate. That part of the reconciliation which involves Christ’s taking our sins upon Himself in order to bear God‘s wrath for us is completely denied by him. Christ died for us to involve us in a life of victory over sin through his Spirit. The deputies reported that although Wiersinga had not relinquished his position, progress had been made during the discussions. They, therefore, recommended that Synod affirm the stance of the confessions, but that it take no disciplinary action. Instead, Wiersinga should be called upon to reflect on the rightness of his confessional and theological position.
A minority of the synodical committee concurred wholly with this report. But the majority advice to Synod was stronger. It characterized Wiersinga’s views as a “serious abbreviation of the Gospel.” It also pointed out that an effective doctrine of reconciliation could more convincingly be built upon the traditional view of reconciliation. The advisOry committee, accordingly, recommended that Wiersinga be asked to uphold the confesSions in the work of his office, but that in theological discussions he be allowed to present his views. Further discussion, they suggested, should focus on Wiersinga’s exegetical method (manner of explaining the relevant texts).
The resulting discussions brought several motions and amendments to the Boor. The fear was expressed that if Wiersinga‘s views were tolerated any longer, the confessions would be undermined and complete doctrinal freedom would result. This would inaugurate an essential change in the nature of the church: it would become a “dialogue church.” Both Dr. B. Wentsel and Dr. K. Runia proposed to limit the time of discussion with Wiersinga to three months.
Dr. J. Verkuyl pleaded that Wiersinga be given room to develop. After all, he argued, slighting man’s participation in the reconciliation was a heresy too, but no one was disciplined for that. Someone else pointed out that the heresy of racism, which was much more serious, was not dealt with under a deadline of three months. Years ago, theologians considered above suspicion already raised questions regarding the way in which the doctrine of reconciliation is stated in the confessions, Dr. C. C. Berkouwer reminded the Synod: continued discussions will give us a chance to come to greater clarity. Again and again, the fear was voiced that if the Synod proceeded on the road of traditional discipline, a mass exodus would result, especially of the youth. Dr. D. Nauta warned against letting this fear of diScipline rule the discussion. Then a large part of the church order might just as well be crossed out, he said. Dr. John H. Stek, a delegate for the Christian Reformed Church, reporting back to his own synod, wrote: “felt that FEAR hung in the air as thick and oppressively as the clouds of smoke from numerous pipes and cigars.”
Another committee was finally formed to work out a new proposal. The final version once more affirmed the confessions and pointed out Wiersinga’s deviation from them. But it also emphasized that Wiersinga expressed a willingness to be led by Scripture. The committee, therefore, saw sufficient reason to continue the discussion with Wiersinga. Some objections were raised because this version omitted the phrase, “serious abbreviation of the Gospel” with regard to Wiersinga’s conception. It was explained that if this phrase were retained, further disciplinary measures would be unavoidable.
Writing on Synod’s decision, Dr. K. Runia pointed out that what the Synod had done was clearly a form of discipline. But he also expressed the fear that further disciplinary measures had been made extremely difficult, if not impossible. He emphasized that the way must remain open for discipline due to deviation from sound doctrine. In this regard, he said, the decision of Synod had revealed a serious weakness, not just in Synod, but in the body of the whole church.
Dr. H. N. Ridderbos was even more critical in his commentary. Despite all of its exertions, he said, Synod has virtually left matters as they were. Not only did Synod refrain from pronouncing judgment on Wiersinga himself; it also refrained from pronouncing judgment on his teachings. The first advisory committee (majority) had recommended continuing the discussion in the context of leading Wiersinga away from his “seriously abbreviated” Gospel. The adopted form, Ridderbos laments, merely makes Wiersinga a partner in a theological study committee which has been commissioned to report on the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice. The question has thereby been moved to a wholly different plane; from a confessional level to one of theological discussion. In Ridderbos’ opinion this means that the question of Wiersinga has been put into cold storage for a considerable number of years. Meanwhile, the Synod expects (not; asks) Wiersinga to refrain from contending against the church’s confession regarding the reconciliation. A realistic expectation? (RES News Exchange 7/2/74)
“SEVER BOND WITH THEOLOGICAL FACULTY OF THE FREE UNIVERSITY”
The periodical “Waarheid en Eenheid” (Truth and Unity), which serves as the voice of those who are disturbed by what they see as an accelerating erosion of traditional Reformed standards in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN). reacted strongly to that church‘s decision on the ‘Wiersinga’ issue. It warned that the CKN were threatening to disappear as Reformed churches.
That Dr. C. C. Berkouwer sided with the report which was finally adopted at the Synod and that he himself spoke in favor of continuing dialogue with Wiersinga seemed to the periodical to be the last straw. The faculty of the Free University, it said, has become the headquarters and mobilization point of humanizing theology. At present, the professors of the Theological Faculty of the Free University automatically serve as pre-advisors to the Synod. If this continues, “Waarheid en Eenheid” warned, the churches will commit suicide. It, therefore, called on the CKN to break official ties with the Theological Faculty of the Free University.
At a recent Synod new regulations for the relation of the GKN to the Theological Faculty of the Free University were adopted. At that time there were no efforts to sever the ties. The views of “Waarheid en Eenheid” then had little if any spokesmen at the Synod. (RES NE 8/6/74)
LAUSANNE, INTERNATIONAL CONGRESS ON WORLD EVANGELIZATION
Meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, Ju1y 16–25, the International Congress on World Evangelization drew 2700 official participants and more than 1000 observers and guests from 150 countries. It was the largest international gathering of this kind in world history.
Like the Berlin Congress held in 1966, the Lausanne gathering was called together by Dr. Billy Graham. Anglican Bishop A. Jack Dain from Sydney, Australia, served as the executive chairman.
The day-to-day program of the Lausanne Congress differed from the Berlin meeting in that the emphasis at Lausanne was upon small group study, strategy discussions, and personal participation. Plenary sessions began and closed each day’s activities, but in between the 4000 participants and observers were divided into study groups and area meetings. Each of these study sessions was presided over by a chairman, a recorder, and a speaker who had prepared a discussion paper. Each group met for three consecutive days, and reports on these deliberations will appear along with the speakers’ messages in the Compendium which the Congress plans to publish.
Speakers coming from Reformed churches included Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer from Switzerland, Dr. Klaas Runia from the Netherlands, Dr. Susuma Uda from Japan, Dr. Budy Budiman and Rev. Petrus Octavianus from Indonesia, and Prof. Edmund Clowney and Dr. Roger Greenway from the United. States. They addressed themselves to subjects relating to the theology of evangelism, and specialized strategies to reach specific groups of people.
The Lausanne Congress probably will be remembered as a turning point in mission history. For at this meeting, the slogan “The whole church for the whole world,” passed from being a slogan to a very tangible reality. Third World participants displayed self-confidence, able leadership, and aggressive concern for the evangelization of the world. There was honest discussion of sensitive issues, and spokesmen for the younger churches did not hesitate to criticize the narrowness and sometimes unbiblicalness of Western missionary organization and proclamation. But all such interchange was done in the spirit of brotherly concern for one another and for evangelism, and at no point did the sense of unity break down.
A unique contribution of the Lausanne Congress was the “Lausanne Covenant,” which was produced during the Congress sessions. It was presented for study and criticism, re-drafted, and finally presented for personal and prayerful acceptance on the part of the participants. The Lausanne Covenant consists of fifteen key statements defining what evangelicals mean by evangelism and Christian responsibility in today’s world. While focusing attention on the urgency of reaching earth’s two billion unevangelized people, the Covenant expresses concern “for justice and reconciliation throughout human society and for the liberation of men from every kind of oppression.” The Covenant refuses to dichotomize between ministering to souls and bodies, and calls “those of us who live in affluent circumstances [to] develop a simple life-style in order to contribute more generously to both relief and evangelism.”
Some observers expected the Congress to set up a permanent organization which would stand in competition to the World Council of Churches. Such a move was avoided, however, and the Congress voted simply to establish a continuing committee consisting of representatives from all major areas of the world. The spirit of Lausanne, it was felt, must not disappear. At this Congress evangelical Christians took a gigantic step forward in theological and practical areas, and in cross-cultural cooperation and unity in mission. The continuing committee will seek ways to keep this spirit alive and growing through follow–up meetings in various parts of the world and eventually, perhaps, another world congress. Roger S. Greenway (RES NE 8/6/74)