Our Question Box

Dr. Leonard Greenway, pastor of the Riverside Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan, is in charge of Our Question Box. This department is for everyone. No signatures are required and no names are published.

Although we are happy about the popularity of this department, we regret that, due to all the questions now on hand, no more should be sent until further notice. The patience of those with questions will therefore be appreciated.

This month I am using my Question Box to make some comments and suggestions regarding the matter of Classis Grand Rapids East admitting Dr. Allen Verhey to the Ministry of the Word and the Sacraments with the concurrence of the three synodical deputies of whom I was one. Directly related to this matter is the Appeal of the Dutton consistory to our recent Synod protesting the action of Classis. What I am writing here might, in a sense, be considered a kind of “open letter” to all concerned.

It is regrettable that in all the discussion that has ensued following the action of Classis last September relatively little recognition has been given to the many important elements in the doctrinal examination of Dr. Verhey where his answers were very acceptable. I heard the entire examination—it was a lengthy one!—and at no point did he equivocate on such crucial centralities of the Faith as Creation, Man‘s Fall from an Original Rectitude, the Deity of Christ, His Virgin Birth, His Substitutionary Atonement, His Bodily Resurrection, His Second Coming. Of course, we had no reason to expect anything else. After all, he was promoted for ordination by a Christian Reformed Consistory. Previously he had sustained an examination by the Calvin Board of Trustees before beginning a three-year lectureship at Calvin Seminary. At no time during the three years he served on the seminary faculty was any objection made to the content of his teaching, either by students or by his faculty colleagues with whom he enjoyed good fraternal relations. With this record and background he appeared before Classis.

The area where Dr. Verhey’s answers provoked lengthy discussion was in Hermeneutics and specifically his interpretation of the speaking serpent in Genesis 3 and the earthquake reported in Matthew 28. Here Dr. Verhey adopted a less than literal interpretation and confused us by suggesting that we were asking the wrong questions with a view to what he regarded as the deeper meaning of the passages in question. In this connection it is interesting to note that when I asked him about the Gospel stories of Jesus casting out demons. his reply was that of a literalist. He said he believed these were literal expulsions of living evil spirits. At that point apparently he took no issue with the kind of question we were asking.

The synodical deputies were led to conclude that brother Verhey in his application of hermeneutical principles was involving himself in ambiguities. On the one hand he accepts a less than literal interpretation of the stories of Jesus casting out demons. In no other area of the examination did Dr. Verhey exhibit such ambiguities and impreciseness in his replies to our questions. In no other area did he prefer a symbolical interpretation to a literal one. And it is worthy of note that the appeal from Dutton appears to recognize this, for it limits itself to only two strictures.

The synodical deputies felt that here was a restricted and localized matter that could be taken care of by Dr. Verhey’s consistory without delaying the plans for his ordination. With the approval of Classis a letter prepared by the synodical deputies was addressed to the Neland Avenue consistory asking them to discuss the issue with Dr. Verhey and to counsel him. The letter was read to Dr. Verhey in the presence of Classis. The Neland A venue consistory met with him and subsequently addressed a letter of findings to the Synod in which they declare that in their judgment Dr. Verhey is firmly committed to the sound doctrine of the Scripture as set forth in our Reformed Confessions, that he holds to the authority and teaching of the Scripture in its totality, including that of the disputed passages, that he holds to the authority and teaching of the Confessions of the Church, and that the hermeneutical principles with which he works are in keeping with the guidelines of Synod adopted in connection with Report 44 of the Synod of 1972.

So now we have an issue before us that should engage our immediate and careful attention. The Consistory that promoted the ordination of Dr. Verhey declares that his hermeneutical principles, as applied to the two Scripture passages above, are in ‘keeping with the guidelines of Synod adopted in connection with Report 44. It strikes me that the brethren of Neland Avenue have done us a good service by placing this issue of interpretation within the framework of Report 44, thereby giving us the opportunity to ask the extremely important and relevant question: Is this the correct reading of Report 44? I believe that what is now before us can become a significant chapter in our denomination‘s history. It can have farreaching implication and application for years to come. One of our cOnsistories has declared that in their judgment one can say what Dr. Verhey says about the serpent speaking in Genesis 3 and the earthquake in Matthew 28 and be within the guidelines of Synod adopted in connection with Report 44.

Here is where the faculty of Calvin Seminary can perform a great service for the Church. Let them prepare a Position Paper in which they appraise the judgment of the Neland A venue consistory. Let them deal analytically with the implications of this judgment. For example, let them tell us plainly whether a Biblical author like Paul might have been under wrong influences—for example Rabbinical influences—when he made certain statements, and therefore wrote in error. And if so, where was the supervision of the Holy Spirit, when Paul wrote under such wrong influences? Dr. Verhey’s principles of interpretation. applied to two Scripture passages, ultimately, in someone else’s hands, might involve other Biblical authors besides Moses and Matthew. A Position Paper from our Seminary Faculty, the product of combined Biblical scholarship, can be definitive. This is what our Church needs at a time when there is considerable concern about Report 44.

Now let’s zero in on the heart of the matter. Thanks to the Neland Avenue consistory, and to the brethren at Dutton as well, the issue is now focalized where some of us from the beginning, and others belatedly, suspected it should be focalized—Report 44!