The Fifth Reformed Ecumenical Synod

It is, of course, generally known that the Fifth Reformed Ecumenical Synod (the RES) is scheduled to meet in Grand Rapids, Mich.. on August 7 of this year. The Agenda bas been published and distributed. It is a booklet of 128 pages and contains eight Reports as well as Correspondence of three affiliated Churches. The “Rules and Standing Orders of the Reformed Ecumenical Synods” have been added.

The subjects of the Reports are: (1) Eschatology; (2) Separate Organizations; (3) Racial Problems; (4) Finances; (5) Committee on Literature; (6) Boundaries of the Church; (7) Missions; and (8) Committee on Arrangements. We should be impressed by the importance of these matters. Of course, they are not all equally important, yet some concern


The first Report concerns Eschatology. It is a splendid review of the doctrine and touches various phases of this teaching. There are two Appendices (“A” and “B”), which should not be neglected. “A” treats “The Problem of Israel,” and “B” treats “Premillennialism.” Exegesis is offered of several New Testament passages. After that exegesis the conclusion is drawn concerning Israel, “…it does not follow that Israel as an ethnic entity ceases to exist nor that God has ceased to reckon with Israel in its distinguishing identity as a people who are the seed of Abraham according to the flesh.” In line with this it is stated, “…that Paul envisions a restoration of 1srael as a people to God’s covenant favour and blessing” (p. 9). At the same time the Report states that it is clear, “…that there is no breach between Israel and the church, but that both are placed in interdependence in the history of grace, and especially in this sense that the one is the inevitable continuation and extension of the other” (p. 19 f.). The Appendix on Pre-millennialism does reject Dispensationalism very definitely, hut it appears to leave room for certain conceptions of Premillennialism.

The Report closes rather abruptly. There are no recommendations and one wonders what the Synod is to do with it. If it is intended to be informative, it serves the purpose rather well, considering the brevity of the treatment of so comprehensive a subject. However, problems of exegesis and the like remain. Though the Report is a good digest, yet I hope that the Synod will not place its stamp of approval on every phase of it. Such an approval might elevate it more or less to a position of a quasi confessional standard. I doubt that that is the intent, but then what purpose must the Report serve?

Separate Organizations

The Report on Separate Christian Organizations is not only the largest (covering 60 pages), but is at least formally the best. It contains a wealth of information concerning conditions and synodical resolutions both in and of the Netherlands and America (the U.S. and Canada). Moreover, conclusions are drawn at the end of the Report and as many as eight Recommendations together with their grounds are submitted to Synod. Mr. Bauke Roolvink, Staats-secretaris van Sociale Zaken en Volksgerondheid in the Netherlands, is largely responsible for the description of conditions in the Netherlands, and our own Dr. John Vanden Berg, professor of Economics at Calvin College, has written the large section pertaining to American conditions and the synodical resolutions of the C.R.C. (By the way, the work of Dr. Vanden Berg is painstaking and valuable and should be consulted by all members of the C.R.C.) Professor John Murray of Westminster Seminary is the author of the section of this Report entitled Biblical Principles Governing Social and Political Organizations. I feel sure that the Synod will experience little difficulty in handling this Report—it has been prepared for definite action.

Committee on Literature

The Committee on Literature recommends to the RES that it or a new committee be appointed, “…to approach the IARFA [International Association for Reformed Faith and Action] to include in its International Reformed Bulletin Reformed ecumenology and activity with the understanding that the churches will promise their financial support.” There should be some periodical or publication for the RES. Perhaps the proposal of the Committee is the most feasible.

Boundaries of the Church

The Committee on The Boundaries of the Church comes to the conclusion, “On the basis of…Scriptural data we must, on the one hand, reject every ecclesiastical relativization of [the] spiritual boundary of the Christian church (no national church), and, on the other hand, resist the Dualistic-Labadistic endeavor to establish a church consisting only of converts and saints. as an anticipatory striving.”


Three denominations have sent Correspondence to the RES. The first one listed is that of the Synod of the Gereformeerde Kerken of the Netherlands, and consists of comments of this Synod on some decisions of the Fourth RES, held at Potchefstroom in 1958. The reaction to the resolution of the Potchefstroom Synod in regard to the inspiration of Holy Scripture draws our attention especially. Though the Synod of the Netherlands states that it agrees with much of what has been decided at Potchefstroom, it is nevertheless its judgment, “…that the pronouncements of the RES do not make sufficient distinctions in dealing with the nature and extent of the authority of Scripture which follow from its inspiration to be able to satisfy the demands which may be made of a new, elucidative confession of the inspiration and authority of Scripture. In particular, it fails to find in the pronouncements of the RES any connection between the content and purpose of Scripture as the saving revelation of God in Jesus Christ and the consequent and deducible authority of Scripture.” The Synod of the Netherlands also states that it “…regrets the fact that the Churches have not had the opportunity to indicate their views beforehand and consequently it is now confronted with the necessity of belatedly criticizing the much appreciated work of the RES of Potchefstroom.”

The Netherlands brethren should not take it ill that I remark in regard to their objections, first, that I happen to know that the Report on Inspiration of the Holy Scripture was distributed not later than March of 1958, and, therefore, at least three months before the meeting of the RES; and, second, that the resolution quoted above surely does not place the Fifth RES in position to judge. It is altogether too brief for responsible action and one wonders why the Netherlands Synod did not accompany the statement with proper elucidation. Surely the doctrine discussed and involved merits more elaborate treatment.

The Correspondence of the Reformed Churches of Australia and of the Reformed Churches of New Zealand seek to stimulate the RES to greater action in regard to such matters as combating modernism; “missionary trips” of recognized Reformed scholars; the undertaking of Reformed Ecumenical monographies; translation work and distribution of Reformed literature; the coordination of Reformed missions all over the world in a federated council with one headquarters. I hope that the Synod will see fit to act favorably upon these overtures, and, if possible, to devise programs for action.

Racial Problems I should like to call special attention to the Report on Racial Problems, and enlarge on this. The problems discussed in it are not only acute in South Africa and America and other parts of the world, but in this Report we find a definite clash or a decided difference of opinion and of the interpretation of the Word of God in regard to these vexing problems. Dr. J. Kromminga, the convener of this committee, is right in stating that this product can hardly be called a report, since the international committee appointed for this purpose at Potchefstroom has never been able to get together and to confer. Members of the committee arc located on three continents: Africa, Europe and America. Dr. Kromminga has—these difficulties and obstacles notwithstanding—produced an excellent piece of work, so that the RES ought to be able to do something with it.

The “clash” mentioned above consists in the fact that the RES of Potchefstroom adopted 12 resolutions governing the Christian relation between the races. With a few minor editorial changes the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church adopted these resolutions as its Testimony in 1959. However, the Synod of Die Gereformeerde Kerk van Suid Afrika did not adopt them, but produced as many as 21 resolutions of its own in the place of the 12 resolutions of Potchefstroom and grouped these under three headings: Personal Relations, Social and Political Relations, and Interchurch Relations.

Potchefstroom and the CRC

The following may be considered the highlights or the gist of the 12 resolutions of Potchefstroom, adopted by the c.n.C.: The confession of the fundamental unity or solidarity of the human race as well as its sinfulness. In its relation to God no single race may deem itself superior to other races. The commandment holds that we must love our neighbor as ourselves. All races are included in the plan of salvation and the gospel must, therefore, be preached to all of them. Believers of other races should be received as brothers and sistel”S in Jesus Christ. In that relationship all human distinctions, no matter how much weight they carry in social life, become considerations of secondary importance. In the multiplicity of nations the equality of all races, peoples and manifestations of the true church must be recognized. In the present world situation it is the duty of the church to make an effort to improve the already strained relations. No discrimination may be exercised ecclesiastically, and believing members of other races are bound to us by the closest of ties. Efforts of younger churches to achieve full ecclesiastical equality with older churches should be encouraged. The church should guide and prepare its members for the practice of Christian communion with believers of other races. No direct Scriptural evidence can be produced for or against the intermixture of races through marriage. However, the well-being of the Christian community and also pastoral responsibility require that due consideration be given to legal, social and cultural factors which affect such marriages. Finally, the resolutions maintain that the church should make every effort to state unequivocally that it is not being led by general slogans such as are popularly proclaimed. (In producing this digest I have adhered to the terms used in the resolutions as much as possible.)

It will be noticed that these resolutions express them· selves reservedly in regard to the identity or the admixture of the races in the social sphere, such as in marriage. But it is likewise plain that they definitely intend to say that spiritually and also outwardly ecclesiastically there must be equality, identity and, therefore, admixture. That is to say, these resolutions endorse the practices of the Christian Reformed Church when it receives believers of all races, regardless of color, into its communion and membership, and when it has ministers, regardless of color, officiate in all congregations, regardless of color. It stands to reason that the Synod of the one was in position to make the Potchefstroom resolutions its Testimony at the first opportunity and as early as 1959.

The South African Church

In order to explain the position held by Die Gereformeerde Kerk van Suid Afrika I am stating the highlights of their 21 resolutions also. The South African church maintains that the two principles of love and of righteousness must be honored. It acknowledges the unity of the human race and insists that love must be exercised towards all. However, this love is not to be a “sickly sentimentality,” which wipes out all boundaries. Neither will righteousness grow “hard and cold.” Though redeemed mankind is a unity in Christ, yet this does not nullify the natural diversity and differentiations. Galatians 3:28 and Colossians 3;11 are mentioned, hut it is stated, “The Greek remains a Greek, a male remains a male, etc.” According to Acts 17:26, God, so the reasoning goes, determines the habitations of al1 nations and the conclusion is drawn, “The idea of a multi-racial people in one national territory has to be rejected on Scriptural grounds.”

The South African Church, moreover, emphasizes that, though the human race constitutes a unity, there is “…differentiation into peoples and races with the accompanying talents, development, civilization, number, etc.” No people may exalt itself and abuse its power, yet the differentiations may not be obliterated as was attempted at Babel (Genesis 11). The conclusion is drawn, “…all false craving for unity, massification and nullification out of limitations as are preached by Liberalism and Communism, should be rejected being in conflict with Scripture. It leads to the kingdom of the Antichrist.” This Church likewise holds that an admixture of Christians and pagan nations might comprise a menace to Christianity and that, “…the prohibition with regard to admixture contained in the Old holds true for the New Testament.”

The resolutions of the South African Church naturally also express views in regard to “Interchurch Relations.” As could be expected many of these require elucidation. Some of them stand quite isolated. One wonders, for instance, just what is meant by the statement, “The teaching of the New Testament docs not merely pertain to the redemption of the individual but to the salvation of the nation of Israel and the nations (all nations) who arc redeemed in their believers.” Is the Old Testament, one wonders, here trying to project itself into the New in an unScriptural way? But the resolutions go on to state, “The various linguistic and cultural groups ought locally to institute their own congregations up to the national level. Separate institutionalization is desirable as well as essential to promote the cause of Christ.” Appeal is made to Acts 2:11 for the assertion, “…racial and national admixture as principle and rule in the ecclesiastical sphere must be rejected.” Moreover, “The Holy Communion may not be abused as a demonstration of ecumenic unity.”

The “Memorandum” At the request of the convener of the Committee on Racial Problems, Dr. J. Kromminga, thc two South African members of the Committee have submitted a “memorandum” in regard to these matters. They appear to express themselves in regard to the reasoning which lies at the basis of the resolutions adopted by the South African Church. They appeal to Dr. Abraham Kuyper’s views of diversity amid unity not only, but hold that Pentecost has not erased the “pluriformity” initiated at Babel. To them pluriformity means, “…coordinate development of the different, but in all respects, equal and autonomous formations of the spiritually united Church of Christ—uniform manifestations not being in harmony with the revealed will of God for this dispensation…The Kingdom of Glory, however, will know no sin and consequently no ethnological or ecclesiological demarcations. Then the wonderful unity of mankind will be restored in Christ, and then there shall manifestly be one fold and one shepherd.” The two South African members of the Committee likewise hold, “…that ethnic pluriformity is the revealed will of God. Hence it follows that willful racial integration, effected by gross intermarriage, is contrary to His expressed will.” (In producing the digest on “The South African Church” and “The Memorandum” I have again adhered to the terms of the original resolutions and memorandum as closely as possible.)

Advice of Dr. F. L. Rutgers

If anything is plain from the Report on Racial Problems it is that the RES and the Christian Reformed Church on the one hand and Die Gereformeerde Kerk van Suid Afrika on the other are very far apart. This difference naturally pertains to practices, but the South African Church also seeks to base its practices on Scripture or its interpretation of Scripture. Of course, this requires a thorough study and discussion of the rules God has actually revealed to us in the Bible. I cannot engage in such a detailed investigation in this artic1e. However, since the two South African members of the Committee, rightly or wrongly, appeal to Dr. A. Kuyper in substantiation of their views and practices, I should like to call attention to a specific advice given by the esteemed colleague of Kuyper at the Free University, Dr. F. L. Rutgers. In the year 1907 Dr. Rutgers advised that Javanese believers be appointed in East India to serve in an advisory capacity with the ordained missionary—a sort of quasi-elders, I assume—and he states, “But not…that each would then be a supervisor for members of his own nationality, or the Javanese for the Javanese. From the start it should be the rule for our Mission that where Christ has been received by faith, ‘There can be neither Jew nor Greek, there can be no male and female: for ye all are one man in Christ Jesus’” (Galatians 3:28). At the beginning this union of Hollander and Javanese may seem a bit strange to some. Yet certainly not as strange as it seemed in Apostolic times for a Christian from among the Jews to be placed on the same level with a Christian from among the Gentiles, or vice versa; or as for a Roman citizen to associate with slaves in the same congregation. Yet Scripture teaches as definitely and plainly as possible that we may never yield to objections which have their basis in race or color or social status. One who reasons un-Scripturally and un-Christian in this respect, must learn by Christian instruction and practices that there is at least one area (gebied) in which all, who are very different in civil and social life, live together as brethren” (Kerkelijke Adviezen, Vol. II, p. 165).

Dr. Kromminga’s Proposal Since the Committee has not been able to meet and to confer the Report contains no recommendations to the RES. Yet the Convener of the Committee, our own Dr. J. Kromminga, proposes that a committee be continued for this matter, and that the Synod provide the necessary funds, so that “…the study committee be so constituted as to allow for several extended joint meetings before reporting to a subsequent Reformed Ecumenical Synod.” I should. like to volunteer the opinion that nothing less than that should be decided by Synod. However, I should like to remark at the same time that a thorough and consecrated and submissive study of the Word of God is indispensably necessary first of all. Be funds ever so abundant and facilities ever so good, if members conferring have not had time to prepare themselves prayerfully and adequately for proper deliberations much or even all will be in vain. Both in the United States and in South Africa the situation is acute and fraught with dangers. But the views and practices and, I suppose, conditions are by no means the same. Yet it is essential that the Church of Christ speak the same thing, at least basically. Hence the RES should labor in that direction. In the midst of all present day confusion and tensions the Church is called to shed the light of God and of his Word and to proclaim, as with one voice, the biblical principles which must be applied.

May the Holy Spirit of God guide the RES in 1963!