Playing Games with the Creeds

The other day I was catching up on reading some back issues of Gereformeerd Weekblad. I read an editorial by Dr. H. N. Ridderbos concerning the controversy surrounding Dr. H. Kuitert, and how a recent synod dealt with this matter (for the so-manyeth time). While reading the account of Ridderbos, I thought to myself: the leaders in the Gereformeerde Kerken arc playing games with the confession. They arc guilty of confessional dishonesty—both Kuitert and the synod which is called to adjudicate the matter. Let me explain.

Ridderbos starts out by saying that by this time the entire procedure in these matters had taken on a predictable pattern. The standard “model” (Ridderbos’ word) was once again followed. It goes like this:

a) Kuitert writes a controversial book or article which evokes reaction;

b) Because of this reaction, the matter comes to Synod; on the floor of synod there is more reaction;

c) Kuitert says people have misread and misunderstood him; he did not really say or mean what opponents took him to say or mean;

d) Synod gives Kuitert opportunity for further clarification on the matter;

e) After his clarification, Synod says: Why didnt you write that way in the first place, so that people would not misunderstand you?

f) Not all objections have been removed, but enough so as to prevent disciplinary action. Synod appoints a committee or deputation to do some more talking with Kuitert about the remaining objections.

Well, there we have it. For the so-manyeth time, Kuitert is off the hook until the next time, and then we’ll go through the procedure again—ad nauseam.

We play games. We keep the pot boiling, but dont let it boil over. Kuitert back-tracks enough to satisfy the synodical brothers, and the synod compromises enough to make Kuitert happy so that he can prepare for the next round. That way a “catastrophe” is avoided, but the worst catastrophe is slowly taking place: the complete eroding of the confessional integrity of the church.

Kuitert is not the only one guilty of this. Boelens, another minister in the Cereformeerde Kcrken who previously served in our Christian Reformed Church in Canada, used the same tactic. He wrote a book to which Dr. K. Runia took sharp exception. Boelens reacted by saying: You completely misunderstand me. I meant something entirely different from what you take me to mean.

Confessional dishonesty! There‘s no other word for it. First of all, able men such as Kuitert and Boelens can write clearly so that everyone knows exactly what they mean. There needs to be no misunderstanding. And, of course, there is no misunderstanding either. Men of the caliber of Ridderbos and Runia can read and understand well, and they are not trying to read between the lines. What they understand these men to write is precisely what they have deliberately written. But, when the crunch comes, when there’s danger that the pot might boi! too violently into a disturbing controversy, these men will backtrack using the excuse that they have been misunderstood. I cannot understand how it is possible for them in good conscience to sign the Form of Subscription.

What is even further beyond my comprehension is how a synod can continue to put up with this kind of dishonesty. The synod, in fact, has the greater guilt. It is responsible for upholding the confessional integrity of the church. In handling these matters it is destroying that integrity. Such dishonesty is unworthy of the Church of Jesus Christ, called the “pillar and ground of the truth” and pledged to uphold its creeds.

Understandably, Ridderbos is not entirely happy with the situation. He says that by so handling the matter, synod is diagnosing instead of solving the problem. He‘s right about that. Yet he says that one cant too much blame the synod, for synod is supposed to be a deliberative church body and not a club of theologians.

I do blame the synod. The synod is obligated to see that the church upholds its confessions. Kuitert, Boelens, etc. are not just dishing up some new or interesting points of theology, but they are undermining the churches‘ confession. As long as the synod permits this to happen, one cannot expect a turn for the better in the Gereformeerde Kerken. Unless there is genuine repentance the church needs radical surgery.

J. Tuininga is pastor of the First Christian Reformed Church of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.