Synodical Matters


Report no. 24 of the synodical Agenda, entitled “Infallibility and Inspiration in the Light of Scripture and the Creeds,” makes an impression of excellence. It is to the point, thorough, exegetically convinCing and creedally sound. Thus one is impressed by the main body of this well-written document taking pages 119 to 195 in the Agenda.

The report concludes with three recommendations. Recommendation one leaves little room for argument. It recommends “That Synod receive this study report as the fulfillment of the mandate ‘to study the relationship between inspiration and infallibility in the light of Scripture and our own Creedal statements’,” This the committee has done and done well.

Recommendation two asks “That Synod submit this study report to the Church as a guide (to form rather than to bind the mind of the Church) in understanding the concept of Scriptural infallibility.” Why not a recommendation to adopt, as the Synod of 1959 did with the Conclusions of the report on Inspiration by the Reformed Ecumenical Synod of 1958? It is regrettable that the report now under consideration does not summarize its findings in a series of succinct conclusions. Such could rather easily have been given.

Is the Christian Reformed Church to continue to be a debating society on this matter of Infallibility? The general membership of the church is beginning to weary of this debate. Furthermore, the Church as Church does not engage in academic fishing expeditions. The Church addresses itself to questions that arise in the life and witness of the Church, and seeks to give them scriptural and creedal answers. The question of Infallibility has arisen and has agitated the Church. Two specific and closely related questions have appeared in this agitation. They are these two: (1) Is the term “Infallibility” still a suitable term to express the trustworthiness of Scripture? (the burden of the Stromata articles); and (2) “How far that infallibility extended.” (“It is this last question which our Church is now facing” –J. Kromminga in his paper How Shall We Understand ‘Infallibility’?) These questions stand against the background of the larger question of the relation between Inspiration and Infallibility.

Shall the Church now fail to say whether these questions have been answered? Are these important questions to remain unresolved in and for the Church, while every interested member uses this report among other documents in quest of the answers? Is this the way in which the Church meets the problems and questions that arise in her life? The questions listed above have been pointedly and adequately answered in this fine report. Why then does not the Church adopt this report? Possibly this material calls for a year’s study before it is presented for final adoption. At the same time possibly the report should be returned to the committee for formulation of a series of summary conclusions. But at least let the Church resolve this basic issue, now or a year hence, and not leave it an open question.

Recommendation three is the most troublesome. It asks “That Synod make the committee’s judgment on the ‘periphery’ question its own, namely. that the use of the term to describe Scripture’s incidental and circumstantial data which has no independent revelational significance apart from its organic relation to the central intent and purpose of a given passage, is not inconsonant with the Creeds.”

The report refers to “inconclusive and ambiguous elements in the situation as well as in the paper itself” (p. 193). (The paper referred to is How Shall We Understand ‘Infallibility’?) The report fails to dispel these ambiguities. Just because of these ambiguities the Committee’s report should have addressed itself to the one question that disturbed the church. It is this: Does the term “periphery” (as used in the above-mentioned paper) indicate an area or aspect of Scripture to which the term “infallibility” does not apply or to which it applies in a manner different from the way in which it applies to the rest of Scripture? This is the question that troubled Dr. M. J. Wyngaarden. This question troubled Synod’s committee of pre-advice in 1959. And this question troubled the 1959 Synod. This, then, is the question (at this point) that has troubled the Church.

The question took a turn toward greater refinement and also greater vagueness at Synod in 1959. The explanation was allowed that the term periphery refers to “‘some aspect’ of the content of the words which is not germane to the Spirit’s purpose.” Apparently the committee did not attach much weight to this refinement, for in the report appeal is made to Bavinck’s idea of a “periphery of truth, which though more or less removed from the centrum, nevertheless belongs organically to the revelatory circle of God’s thoughts” (Agenda, p. 193; italics by E.H. except centrum). We certainly can assume that whatever belongs “organically to the revelatory circle of God’s thoughts” can hardly be something which is “not germane to the Spirit’s purpose.”

Hence we are thrown back to the question as given in the previous paragraph. But the report does not answer this question in section VIII, where this matter is dealt with. The question is, however, answered in the main body of the report. Therefore it seems rather clear that the third recommendation should be rejected. Let Synod simply say that whatever the author of the troublesome term mar have meant, one thing is clear from the committee’s study and that is that there is no area or aspect of Scripture to which the term “infallibility” does not apply or to which it applies in a. manner different from the way in which it applies to the rest of Scripture.



The examination of students seeking candidacy is a matter of no small significance. It touches the life of the church at the very important central area of the preaching of the Word. A report by a study committee on this matter appears on pages 8–11 in the Agenda for 1961. The committee here recommends that the examination for candidacy be placed in the hands of the Board of Trustees of Calvin College and Seminary. I think that in respect of this report some observations are warranted and some questions are raised.

It would appear correct to say that the Board of Trustees has been commissioned by the church to supervise the educational affairs of our college and seminary. It is completely within their province to set educational policy and to approve or disapprove the conferring of academic degrees. The matter of candidacy and ordination, however, deals directly with the ministry of the Word in the churches. It is not an academic matter in first order and is therefore not immediately within the scope of the Board’s mandate and responsibility. This is a matter which involves the preaching of the Word in the churches and is therefore obviously the business of the churches themselves. This is most correctly the peculiar business of the various classes. Why not then make it the business of the classes? It is most correctly their responsibility and to put the matter where it properly belongs is the best solution to the present problem.

In a classical gathering of the churches the eldership of the church finds its rightful representation. This is not the case in the Board of Trustees. Here the eldership is not adequately represented and the responsibility of the eldership of the churches in this most important aspect of the life of the church is not sufficiently recognized.

The seminary faculty by its close association with the students is the only one that can give a truly meaningful recommendation concerning a student’s fitness for the ministry. The members of the Board are in no better position to determine this than any designated classis. Very few of the members of the Board ever come into a significant personal relationship with any of the students. Could not the seminary faculty give their recommendation to a designated classis? It would appear that this would be a closer approach to the ideal that we seek.

I would suggest that a plan be devised whereby Synod would designate a certain number of classes to serve as examiners for candidacy. The classes could be located as close to the student’s residence as possible. The number of classes to be so designated would be determined by the number of students to be examined. There are a sufficient number of classes located within a reasonable distance from our seminary to perform this task without any great difficulty. These examinations could be carried on, with synodical examiners in attendance, during the month of May. Each examining classis could then report its recommendation to Synod in June and any question or difficulty that may arise could also then be resolved by Synod.

It would seem that a plan along these lines would be more acceptable and would surely place the matter of examination for candidacy where it properly belongs.





One of the documents in the Agenda of Synod is a protest against a decision of the Board of Trustees of Calvin College and Seminary by four of its members. The decision and the protest pertain to the appointment of a second professor to succeed Dr. Martin J. Wyngaarden of the Department of Old Testament. When Dr. Wyngaarden retires this year, the sole professor of Old Testament will be Marten Woudstra. A second man will have to be appointed by Synod from a nomination by the Board of Trustees. The Protest was occasioned by the failure of the Board to prepare such a nomination.

Two years ago the need. of a replacement was brought to the attention of the Board of Trustees. Last year the Board nominated only one man, the Rev. O. Kerr of the United Presbyterian Church. But Dr. Kerr withdrew his name when public objections were raised against his nomination, on the ground that he was the sole nominee and that it would be possible to find good material for the position in our own circles.

When Dr. Kerr withdrew the Board decided in May of 1960 not to present a nomination to the Synod of that year because it was too late to make the required announcement and to consider possible objections. Its action was approved. But instead of preparing a new nomination at its February meeting of this year, the Board decided that a series of lectureships should be established for one-year periods so that the eventual election of a second professor for this chair would be postponed for several years. It was decided that Rev. J. H. Stek should be the first lecturer and Rev. Dr. F. M. Von Meyenfeldt of the Netherlands should be the second. Possibly others would follow. The Faculty had recommended these lectureships but only for two years. Apparently the Board wanted the Church to use special precautions to secure the best man available.

The four protestants, all of them ministers from Canada by the way, appeal the decision on more than one ground. First, they feel this decision would fail to do justice to this important department since it would have only one professor and an inexperienced lecturer, possibly for three or four years. Second, they make the point that this method of preceding an appointment to the Seminary with a series of lectureships has not been followed in other departments, except in just one instance.

The appellants also call attention to the fact that Rev. J.H. Stek was deemed worthy of a nomination in 1958 and they list his qualifications. They speak of the excellent record of Dr. Yon Meyenfeldt. They urge Synod to nominate these two men and elect one.

It seems to us that the suggestion of the protestants is a good one. We know of no arguments for a series of lectureships sufficiently weighty to offset the disadvantages. First, such a series of possibly three or four years would not do justice to the needs of the students. These men are entitled to the best which the Church can provide. A teacher’s first year, unless he is unusually gifted, can hard1y be expected to meet the needs of the students, not to speak of their demands. Second, such a year of lectureship is unfair to the lecturer himself as a gauge of his ability, especially since it would involve a drastic departure from his usual type of work. Fourth, it is not fair to our churches to entrust part of the training of their future ministers to “raw recruits.”



A movement in recent years to restrict influence at Synod of our theological professors and emeriti theological professors led to the appointment in 1960 of a committee to study and report on this matter.

This committee’s report is found in the Agenda, pages 220 to 224. Its recommendations are that the theological professors in active service shall be “present or available to Synod for advice, upon the request of the chair or members of the Synod.” They shall continue “to serve on the advisory committees of Synod.” As to the emeriti theological professors, the recommendation is that they shall “serve on advisory committees when requested by Synod” and shall be “available to Synod for advice, which is to be given upon the request of the chair or members of Synod.”

The more we ponder these recommendations the more difficulties and disadvantages we see arising from the application of the rules now proposed.

We take our starting point in the fact known to all that our Synods are composed in part by a very large number of inexperienced ministers, some of them having been in the ministry for a very short time. This, to our way of thinking, makes it necessary for Synod to make a maximum use of the knowledge and experience of our theological professors in the many difficult and sometimes perplexing questions that confront the delegates. If the rule should be adopted that both the theological professors in active service and those who are retired shall not speak unless they are specifically asked to do so, we can foresee that they may be present only when it is convenient to do so and that they may very well be absent just when their advice is desired.

Every one who has been a delegate to Synod knows that it is very tiresome and trying to sit there hours on end day after day for about two weeks. Only the conviction, “I must be here all the time, to vote, or to speak, or to do both, and to hear all that is said on all the proposals,” can persuade a person to be present daily from 8:30 to 11:45 in the morning, from 1:30 to 5:45 in the afternoon, and from 7:30 to 9:30 p. m. when evening sessions are held. Will Synod not be depriving itself of much valuable information and advice by forbidding the professors to speak except when the chairman or the delegates ask them to do so? We have attended many synods as a reporter and can say that we found the experience to be most wearisome and that a day at Synod seemed to be twice as long as any day spent in the usual way. If I were to be there as a professor with no other obligation than to be “on call,” I would not be present all the time at all the sessions.

Moreover, we take it that the professors are better able to judge whether they have something worth while to say on an important question than others. Who can judge best whether a person has information, ideas, and convictions on a certain subject than that person himself?

Further, we are not aware that in recent years any of the theological professors now concerned, whether in active service or retired, have abused the privilege to influence Synod by speaking too often or too long. The fact is that a number of them seldom make use of the privilege to speak.

Again, we see a real danger in the proposed rule that these men shall be permitted to speak only when they are requested to do so by the president of Synod or by a certain member or members. When pressing issues are discussed on which there is sharp divergence of opinion and which cause more or less tension, delegates can easily resort to the device of asking for a speech by a favorite professor, or by one who is known to entertain the same views. And when that speech is made, another delegate, holding contrary views on the matter in hand, may call for a speech by another professor to gain support for those contrary views. In this way the professors may become the pawns of “politically minded” delegates who are bent on winning a victory for their “side.”

We see the same danger in connection with the proposal that the emeriti professors shall serve on advisory committees only when requested by Synod. Delegates are aware of the enormous influence which the professorial advisers can exert in the meetings of the advisory committees and may be tempted to ask Synod to put a man whose views they favor on a certain committee. All they need to do is to make a motion, after Synod is organized, that Professor So-and-so be made the adviser of this or that committee. The other delegates will, of course, hesitate to speak against the motion, the person concerned being present. Is it not far better to leave the selection of all advisers to the large and representative Program Committee which proposes the personnel of all advisory committees and their professorial counselors immediately after the opening session of Synod?

Because of the great importance of giving the advisory committees capable professorial advisers, we are opposed to leaving room for the possibility of not one of the emeriti professors being appointed to serve in this capacity. These men have a wide and rich experience in ecclesiastical affairs, having attended synods for many years, are thoroughly conversant with their particular fields, and are far more experienced and mature than for example a new theological professor who has been on the faculty of the Seminary for only a couple of years and possibly has had little experience as a pastor, if any at all. Yet, if the proposed rule is adopted such a young professor would be assigned as adviser to one of the committees while none of the emeriti professors might be asked to serve. We hope we have not reached that stage in the official life of our Church where “the counsel of the old men” is rejected (I Kings 12:8).

In short, we see no need of curtailing the influence of our professors at synodical meetings, whether they are in active service or retired. Their influence at Synod is great; we believe it should be. There are other men, also non-delegates, who also have great prestige and influence at our synodical meetings. We refer to the secretaries and representatives of our denominational Boards. Apparently no one has felt the need of suggesting the clipping of their wings. Yet some do feel the need of restricting the influence of our Seminary professors.

If at any time it should appear that some of our professors form the habit of speaking on matters more or less inconsequential a gentle reminder by the President at the beginning of the sessions should suffice to curb it.



Among the sixteen overtures which appear in the synodical Agenda is one which pleads for a continuation of Synod’s inclusion of Westminster Seminary in its list of recommended causes. This overture is from Classis Sioux Center. It offers the following considerations for its proposal:

“1. The Reformed witness which this institution carries on, both in tho non-Reformed religious world and the unchurched world of our day merits the support of all lovers of the Reformed faith.

“2. There has been criticism concerning Westminster Seminary which threatens the continued support of this institution. When considering the enormous amount of good which this seminary docs in its witness for the Reformed faith, this criticism is not of sufficient weight to recommend discontinuance of support. In the light of this, the judgment of love for the faith would require that our people be given the opportunity to support this institution through our churches.”

The criticism which point two mentions does not concern the teaching of Westminster Seminary but only a misunderstood policy of one or more representatives in soliciting students for the school. Since that policy has been discontinued, the criticism should not continue. Churches and individual Christians should not withdraw their support from any worthy institution for reasons that must be judged petty.

Westminster Seminary is not a denominational school, though it maintains close unofficial connection with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. It is governed by a Board which is determined to prevent the gradual undermining of its orthodoxy through teachers who might introduce unsound doctrines. Apparently that Board believes that this happens more easily if a Church appoints the teachers and governs its affairs, considering that in the long run Churches, denOminations, almost invariably make concessions to some form of liberalism. We may not agree with this but no one will deny the right of a society or a board to establish and operate a theological school.

Graduates of Westminster are serving with honor even in our own churches and schools, our College and Seminary included. Westminster is known as a bastion of orthodoxy. It is also the only Reformed Seminary in this hemisphere which has the right to confer the degree of Doctor of Theology. Doubtless some of Calvin’s graduates will go to Westminster to seek this coveted degree. We hope many will. One of our own Seminary professors is about to receive that degree at Westminster.

We know of not a single reason why our churches should not make an annual contribution to the financial support of this school.



What is very likely one of the more serious matters to come before the Synod of 1961 is not even mentioned in the Agenda, and that for good reason. It is the so-called “Los Angeles Case.” The editorial committee of this magazine had decided to refrain from comment on this matter, since it is the kind of issue that is usually properly discussed in executive session. However, when the subject was openly dealt with and the merits evaluated in an article in the April issue of the Reformed Journal, the committee decided brief reference should be made to the matter.

Here are the capsule facts in the case as it came to Synod. A member of the Los Angeles congregation appealed to Classis California to instruct his consistory to lift the censure which they had imposed on him. Three times the Classis instructed the Consistory to lift the censure, but the advice of Classis was not heeded. The Synod of 1960 had the case before it on appeal from the censured party. (Synod had the case before it in 1959 also, but decided at that time that it was still a classical matter.) Synod of 1960 decided to “sustain the protestant,” that “the consistory of the Los Angeles church erred in persistently refusing to lift censure,” and to “instruct the consistory of the Los Angeles congregation to lift summarily the censure placed all Mr. ………….”

Furthermore, it was decided that “Due to the complexity, magnitude, and gravity of the Los Angeles situation, Synod appoint a special committee to study the situation ‘in loco,’ which committee shall advise Synod on the matter in 1961” (Acts of Synod 1960, p. 68).

Two comments appear to the undersigned to be in order at this time. In the first place one cannot help being amazed at the charge made in the above-mentioned article that neither Classis (on three different occasions) nor Synod dealt with the real merits of the case against the party placed under censure. Such a law estimate of our church assemblies suggests its own falsity.

Of greater importance, in the second place, is the whole matter of protest and appeal. Article 31 of the Church Order states that “If any one complains that he has been wronged by the decision of a minor assembly, he shall have the right to appeal to a major ecclesiastical assembly, and whatever may be agreed upon by a majority vote shall be considered settled and binding, unless it be proved to conflict with the Word of God or with the Articles of the Church Order, as long as they are not changed by a General Synod.”

To the facts given above must be added the significant bit of history that the consistory of Los Angeles had not complied with the pointed decision of Synod ( that the censure be lifted “summarily”—decided in June ) when the committee appointed by Synod arrived in Los Angeles in October. For their own reasons the Consistory had determined to ignore or reject the instructions of Synod.

It seems perfectly plain that if the actions of the Los Angeles consistory are not seriously challenged, the whole meaningful process of protest and appeal, so important a feature of Reformed and Presbyterian church polity, is reduced to a mockery.