The CRC in 1970 – Quo Vadis?

Hendryk Sienkiewicz, Polish author of Quo Vadis? (Latin for Whither Goest Thou?) says in Chapter 19 of that well-known book: “The greater philosopher a man is, the more difficult it is for him to answer the foolish questions of common people.”

Maybe so. But whether that might be a greater reflection on the renowned philosophers than it is on the common people would be an interesting question someday to pursue. Fact is that Jesus -the Teacher and, as such, second to none—had no trouble on that score at all: “the common people heard him gladly” (Mark 12:37). Somehow, when here on earth, our Lord bridged the gap between His omniscience and the limited knowledge of the common people; and, from heaven, He has also been doing so ever since.

Whoever gets around a bit must know that at present many of the common people in the Christian Reformed Church (not to mention other denominations) are asking a lot of questions. Disturbing questions, but by no means always foolish questions. And certainly it will not do to sidestep or ignore these questions on the ground that the common people will not be able to understand anyhow. One docs not necessarily have to be theologically trained to discern trends that lead a church in the wrong direction.

Let’s face it; disenchantment with our denomination and its leadership can only be expected to grow unless certain disturbing trends are dealt with in a forthright manner and in no uncertain terms.

Now we could end the year 1970 by putting on rose-colored glasses, indulge in wishful thinking, and pretend that all is well. But to do so would be, at its best, irresponsible naivete, or, at its worst, downright treason. Taking a long, hard look at the CRC in 1970, we can serve our mother church best if we ask: Whither goest thou?

A “modest proposal” (?) – Redbook, as I recently learned when somewhere the November 1970 issue happened to come to my attention, is “The Magazine for Young Women.” What caught my cye in that particular number was an article on “The Church Must Change or Die,” by a Mrs. Floyd Marker, the wife of a minister who recently decided to go back to college and become “a worker-priest.” Deploring the lack of social involvement and unconcern on the part of the churches they have served, the writer ends her article with an appeal for meeting “our Black brothers more than halfway on the basis of brotherhood,” and then with this final paragraph:

“But if we are not willing to do this, if we are not willing to be a part of these changes, then we’d better get out of the way. Because through my experience with Black militants I believe they mean it when they say that the best thing to do is tear it down, baby—tear it all down. We’d do better to build over; what you have is not worth building on” (p. 116).

It is not my intention at this time to argue the merits or demerits of the Redbook plea for social involvement, but rather to point up that the church of today is under fire and that its survival is being sorely tested. The so-called “underground church” is also being spotted here and there, and it too has given rise to the question whether it poses a threat to the rightful place of the church as an institute.

However, a statement that comes much closer home is one by Dr. Calvin C. Seerveld, professor at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois. This statement is an excerpt from a new hook of five essays, Out of Concern for the Church. While waiting for a copy of the book that I have ordered, the excerpt must be taken from an ad announcing its publication. Dr. Seerveld, reputedly an influential teacher and speaker, says the following about the CRC:

“My modest proposal for reforming the Christian Reformed Church in North America is this: Close Calvin Seminary. Disband all denominational boards and standing committees. Strip yourselves of ministerial status; and let the ruling elders in the congregations designate as instructors in the Word whoever can bring the Word of life from the Scriptures and is practising a daily walk of prayers and fasting in the spirit of the Gospels.”

Talk about throwing the child away with the bath water! If this excerpt that the ad holds out as a come-on for the sale of the book is to be taken at face value, is it any wonder that we should be asking:CRC in 1970, Whither goest thou?

Secession is serious business – Last month I made my editorial debut in TORCH AND TRUMPET by writing on: “Secession Is Serious Business.” Reactions received were gratifying in giving assurance that the piece was read, but they were also sharply divided, as one might well expect. To avoid misunderstanding it may be well to add at this time that the seriousness of secession should be considered not only by those who secede but also by the church from which the seceders have seen fit to disaffiliate themselves.

The recent secession under the leadership of one of our ministers is a reminder of the exodus of a substantial number of members at the time of the common-grace controversy almost half a century ago. Now I know—as well as those who may be quick to remind me of it—that the circumstances are different. Indeed, it was a blessed and gratifying occasion when, about a decade ago, a large clement of those who had left once again affiliated themselves with the CRC. But now it should give pause to know that a break has once again occurred. this time smaller in number, to be sure, but probably larger than many kid expected it would prove to be.

Regardless of whether those seceding have or have not dutifully followed all the proper channels, the fact is they have terminated their affiliation with us. Is there no reason whatsoever for believing that this is the price we as a CRC must pay if we seek to preserve the peace by compromise instead of courageously and unambiguously hewing to the line of positively Reformed convictions.

Once again, as I tried to point out last month, it is my honest conviction before God that this present secession movement is premature, and that we are called of the Lord to work first from within to help our mother church, to whom we owe so much, find her way back to where she needs to be. However, if we simply choose to ignore what may be the handwriting on the wall, then we may well ask: CRC in 1970, whither goest thou?

The infamous “Bananer” – At the close of the Calvin College school year 1969–70, Chimes, Calvin College student newspaper, had the audacity and the gall to lampoon The Banner by publishing a mock issue (“The Bananer”) in which the perpetrators of it shamelessly made a mockery of the Christian Reformed Church (calling it throughout “the Philistine Rewarmed Crutch”), our church paper’s use of Scripture, morality, Dordt College, as well as other objects of their scorn. The whole thing was deplorable, and at times nothing less than blasphemy.

As the editor of The Banner at the time, I wrote: “Chimes is a subsidized publication. Our sons and daughters who go to Calvin have no choice about paying for Chimes. The money for Chimes is exacted from all the students when they pay their tuition. This godless mock issue (“The Bananer”) has been paid for from a fund to which all the students are compelled to pay. It has been estimated that this issue with its blasphemy, may have cost twenty-five hundred dollars or more.”

I wrote President Spoelhof to ask if the perpetrators of this thing would graduate in the clear (one as an honor student). The answer that came, after commencement, was that Dr. Spoelhof had read my letter to the Board of Trustees and that the offenders had been reprimanded by letter but were allowed to graduate in the clear.

The consistory of the Pine Creek Church of Holland, Michigan, addressed a request to the Synod of 1970 as follows; “In view of the vindication of our Covenant God, His infallible Word, and the Church purc11ased by His blood, we feel that permanent expulsion of the students responsible for this publication is not too severe a penalty.” And what did Synod do? It declared that the communication from Pine Creek was out of order on the ground that the proper procedure had not been followed.

A frustrating outcome? Not only that, but hard to believe this can go on in connection with what we were formerly taught to call “onze school.” From the 350 or more letters I received, running five to one in favor of what I had written about this deplorable “Bananer” business, it seems obvious enough that there are those through the denomination who are becoming increasingly disturbed. The question then is one that ought to be taken seriously: CRC in 1970, whither goest thou?

Decisions of Dutch Synod – Although the Christian Reformed Church and the Gereformeerde Kerken in The Netherlands are distinct denominations, our relationship to each other as sister churches has until now been so close that the course followed by either of us is bound to have a bearing also on the other, either for better Or for worse. Members from the Dutch churches are accepted without question into our denomination, our pulpits are open to their ministers, and our future leaders pursue graduate study at Amsterdam, so that what is taught there may be expected to be imported here also.

An account of the liberties Dr. H. M. Kuitert and others in The Netherlands have been taking in their interpretation of Scripture need not be repeated here. The reader is referred to the articles by Drs. Simon Kistemaker and Marten H. Woudstra that appear elsewhere in this issue. That the disturbance in The Netherlands about the “new hermeneutics” is not to be minimized is evident from the Rood of overtures and protests with which the Dutch Synod has just recently tried to cope.

Reading and rereading the decisions of the Dutch Synod as these have been translated for us in the articles by Kistemaker and Woudstra, one soon discovers that there has not been an either-or, clear-cut conclusion, and therefore the tension and the differences have not been resolved. About the confession to which all the members did subscribe at the Synod of Sneek and for which gratitude was expressed, Dr. Kistemaker states: “But Synod no longer refers to Scripture and to the articles of our confessions. The confession (of Sneek) is very general and leaves ample room for everyone. In fact, the door is open for every wind of doctrine.”

Considering the effect this action (or lack of action) of our mother church in The Netherlands thus far, with good reason we ask again: CRC in 1970, whither goest thou?

Reappointment of Dr. Willis P. De Boer – Dr. Willis P. De Boer, Professor of Religion and Theology at Calvin College, was reappointed with permanent tenure by Synod 1970. Now there would be no point in calling attention to this except for the fact that at the time of this reappointment, Synod was informed that Dr. De Boer’s view of Scripture was being called into question by the Central A venue Consistory of Holland, Michigan. And the matter to which Central Avenue called attention did not arise from hearsay, rumor, or suspicion, but rather the Consistory confronted Synod with a document written by Dr. De Boer entitled: “A Statement about my Views on the Historical Character of Divine Revelation.” Central Avenue addressed Synod as follows:

“We have examined the document prepared by Dr. De Boer and find that it appears to depart from the historical position of the Christian Reformed Church regarding the historicity of Genesis 1–11. Dr. De Boer writes:

“‘All of it (the Bible) is the Word of God, the first chapters of Genesis just as much as the rest of the book. I believe that these writings are inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, and as the word of God to man, they are infallible’” (p. 1).

“‘Does this mean that we have a literal and factual account of the original situation and of just how it happened? Here I begin to wonder’” (p. 3).

“‘My judgment is that Genesis 1–11 does not furnish us materials for modern scientific and historical purposes’” (p. 4).

To this Central Avenue replies:

“In our humble judgment there seems to be a problem. How can Dr. De Boer affirm the infallibility of the Bible, including the acts and the words of God in man’s behalf, and still wonder about the literal and factual aspect of Genesis 1–11, and say further that these same chapters do not furnish materials for modern scientific and historical purposes? It seems to us that if Genesis 1–11 is infallibly recorded, it is historical in every detail and scientifically accurate. As we understand it, this has been and still is the position of the Christian Reformed Church (Acts of Synod 1959, pp. 63, 64; Belgic Confession, Articles 3, 5, 7).

“Because the reply of the Board and the statement of Dr. De Boer arrived so late (June 3, 1970), it is impossible for us to pursue this matter further before Synod convenes.

‘“Therefore, the consistory of the Central Avenue Christian Reformed Church of Holland, Michigan, hereby humbly appeals to Synod to withhold action on the permanent tenure of Dr. Willis De Boer as professor of Religion and Theology until this matter has been clarified and satisfactorily concluded.”

What did Synod 1970 do? Since the delegates were in possession of Dr. De Boer’s document and the letter from the Central Avenue Consistory, one would certainly expect that Synod would have at least delayed the permanent tenure reappointment for Dr. De Boer until this matter could be thoroughly investigated. But not so. lntend, according to my informant, by a vote of 81 to 66 the permanent tenure reappointment was granted. With respect to the Central A venue letter, Synod adopted the following:

“1. Synod declares that permanent tenure does not preclude investigation and study of views held by members of the teaching staff and action on them by Synod.” [Can you imagine that! First give a permanent tenure reappointment and then investigate and study the appointee’s views on Scripture! JVP]

“2. Synod encourages the Central Avenue Consistory to continue their study of the matter raised in their communication.”

“3. Synod also refers the documents on this matter to the Committee on Nature and Extent of Biblical Authority (Acts of Synod, 1969, p. 113, Item 9) for thcir consideration in making their report.”

The issue raised by Central A venue in connection with Dr. De Boer’s views and reappointment is especially significant because of the so-called new hermeneutics being propagated by Dr. Kuitert and others in The Netherlands. In view of this, Synod’s hasty and ill-advised action in Dr. De Boer’s case is definitely not reassuring. Once again we ask: CRC in 1970, whither goest thou?