The Editor’s Page…

Of all the many issues requiring the attention of the synod of the Christian Reformed Church next month, none will be followed with more intense interest than the report on “doctrinal matters” concerning the nature of God’s love and the design of Christ’s atonement.

Not only has this been before for the church officially for at least three years; anyone not a stranger to the Christian Reformed Church is aware that more ink has been spilled on this question than on any other facing these churches in recent decades. In the light of present differences it seems unlikely that complete unanimity of conviction will be attained by the time synod meets. Articles expressing sharply divergent opinions -perhaps more with respect to proper method than with the matter itself -arc ranged against each other in periodicals serving the constituency. Anyone who attempts to ride a bandwagon to popularity by choosing either for or against the Committee’s report will soon find himself disillusioned. Yet this matter, we are firmly convinced. should be resolved at this year’s synod.

This does not mean that all questions will be answered and that therefore any ensuing discussion on the love of God and the atoning death of Christ should forthwith be prohibited. So long as the church does its work in this world. its attention must and will be directed to what Scripture says concerning these truths so central to our Christian faith and witness. But the issue which confronts synod is far simpler than many seem to realize or are willing to admit. Whatever may have been said on this score, it simply is not true that synod ought to answer any and every question which may be raised about these basic truths of the Christian gospel before it can resolve the question before the house.

Here especially the delegates to the forthcoming synod do well to study the mandate assigned to the Study Committee in 1964 and somewhat amplified last year in the light of the overtures which brought this issue to the synodical table. Only then will they be able to keep in sharp focus their responsibility to decide the issue on behalf of the churches as representatives of these churches gathered together in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ The concern arose out of and therefore centers in “the doctrinal expressions of Professor H. Dekker beginning with and relative to his article entitled ‘God So Loves … All Men.’” If it were not for these “doctrinal expressions”—not his person or his position as professor—the present doctrinal report would not be presented to this synod for action.

We write this simply because so much misunderstanding and confusion seems to be present. Some have objected that the name of the respected professor has been repeatedly mentioned in the report as well as in the discussions. To this has been added the objection that we have in the report a “brief” (a legal document dealing with a case) instead of a “study.” Others have even urged that these “doctrinal matters” be considered and discussed and decided by synod apart from any direct reference to the articles of the professor. All these arguments betray a lamentable disregard of the historical situation out of which the present doctrinal discussion and therefore the Committee’s report arose. Even more, those who argue in this fashion seem to entertain an erroneous conception of the place and competence and purpose of synodical assemblies within a community of Reformed churches. To them, as should be plain to those who have heard their reasonings, synod might do well to become in this instance a kind of discussion forum which would do the church’s “theologizing” for it. Need we point out that such a task could never be finished? Or that, if synod would move in this direction, it would render the formulation of every Biblical doctrine questionable and possibly even suspect? Or that it would plunge the church into uncertainty with respect to the message which Christ has commanded us to preach clearly and vigorously and joyfully to all men everywhere? No Reformed church of any repute has ever viewed its synodical assemblies as arenas for theological study and discussion and debate.

Here a bit of advice given years ago by Professor William Heyns, whose memory is still held in high esteem by many in the Christian Reformed Church, is to the point.

In his Kerkrecht en Kybernetiek (p. 330) he urges that synods constantly guard against multiplying ecclesiastical decrees and regulations in isolation from specific cases which have arisen within the churches. “The manner in which matters (“zaken”) are brought to synod is often as follows: a classis desires the judgment of synod with respect to a concrete case. Instead of bringing the case to synod, it (i.e., classis) deduces a general question from this ease which it then presents to synod. To that synod responds, and that (answer) now serves as an ecclesiastical regulation. In this way we run the danger of obtaining a ‘Corpus Juris’ ( body of law) by which the church is placed under guardianship as a minor (“voogdij”) with law upon law and precept upon precept, and which multiplies transgressions…There is no more room for ‘casuistries’ in Reformed church polity than there is in Reformed ethics. The intent of broader assemblies is to be found in large measure in the treatment of concrete cases. It would be proper when in connection with all the questions raised, which seek to elicit new ecclesiastical decisions, to ask whether a concrete case lies at the root (of the question), in order, if this is the case, to demand that the concrete case be brought to synod, and if this is not the case, not to enter upon the matter.”

Three years ago synod decided to consider issues arising out of a very concrete case—certain public writings by one of our professors which contained assertions which deeply disturbed some in the churches.

It is obvious that the Committee in its present report treated these issues in this context and therefore in the form in which it now presents its recommendations to the synod of 1967. Also in this form, therefore, synod as a responsible Reformed ecclesiastical assembly should deal with these “doctrinal matters.”