No Hope for Reunion?
The fact of a recent division in the Protestant Reformed Churches is not a valid reason for rejoicing on the part of anyone. Church strife is most unpleasant, and its consequences too grievous to allow any other reaction but sadness. This is not to deny that there may well be occasion for struggle and battle and separation in the history of Christ’s Church on earth. After all, there is a situation worse than church strife, and that is the indifference and lukewarmness which prevents anyone from being sufficiently serious about the church to care to fight.
Ever since things came to open division among the Protestant Reformed brethren many have wondered if there was a possibility for reunion of at least ODe section of that denomination with the Christian Reformed Church from which the original separation was effected in 1924. Reports were that those who separated from the leadership of the Rev. Herman Hoeksema had changed their attitude on the all-important matter of the well-meant offer of salvation, long regarded as most crucial in the common grace dispute of 1924. Revived interest in evangelism and missions, a more cordial attitude toward ministers and members of other denominations these and other indications have been interpreted by some to mean that those who no longer identify themselves with the Rev. Mr. Hoeksema have in effect taken over the Christian Reformed position at more than one point, and that they might as well return to the fellowship of that denomination.
Two incidents have occurred recently which seem to indicate that there is little reason to hope for such reunion, at least for the present time. The first—not in itself proof for the above opinion—is the application of the Rev. James VanWeelden for admission to the Christian Reformed ministry. The Rev. Mr. VanWeelden has served the Protestant Reformed congregation in Sioux Center, Iowa, for several years. We understand that with few exceptions his entire congregation has decided with him to re-enter the Christian Reformed denomination.
The October 7, 1955 issue of The Banner, Christian Reformed denominational weekly, carried an announcement of Classis Sioux Center to the effect that Mr. Van Weelden had been granted licensure to preach in the churches of the Christian Reformed denomination with a view to his possible acceptance as a full-fledged minister pending synodical approval. To this announcement the Rev. Edward Knott reacts in an editorial in The Reformed Guardian, November 10, 1955. His attitude is reflected in the editorial’s title, “No Change.”
The aptness of this title for its writer is determined by the fact that Classis Sioux Center declared in the aforementioned announcement that they had “heard his (VanWeelden’s, J.H.P.) confession of guilt that he was co-responsible in both misrepresenting the Christian Reformed Church and in engaging in un-Christian practices against our denomination…”
This, declares brother Knott, is certain evidence that there has been “no essential change in the position or attitude of the church in which we were denied a place some thirty years ago. And seeing that such is the case, it is our emphatic position that there is no more room in that church for us today than there was then…that if we took the correct position in 1924, which I am convinced that we did, we cannot, before God, silence our conscience today and simply go back.” This second incident seems to destroy all hope for reunion.
All in all, we feel that Mr. Knott’s editorial is a very helpful statement of at least his own personal reaction to the fact of his former colleague’s return to the Christian Reformed denomination, the manner in which this return was handled by Classis Sioux Center, and of the desirability and possibility of others doing the same thing. This editorial is marked by fairness, charity and frankness—there is no need to be in the dark as to the writer’s position if it is read carefully.
And yet we wonder, is there no hope for a healing of at least this breach in the forces of Christ? “I am convinced that the direction which is indicated by the official adoption of the three ‘points’ is the direction of error and that as long as she (the Christian Reformed Church, J.H.P. ) maintains those ‘points’ as part of her official confession I cannot, and before God, may not become a member of that church as long as I can be a member of and preach the gospel of Christ in a denomination that stands unfettered on the Three Forms of Unity only” – Knott asserts (italics inserted ). We like to think, however, that even for the writer “No Change” does not mean “No Hope,” for he adds, “That does not mean that we cannot have, or should not have, any contact with the Christian Reformed Church.” May that “contact” be more than polite acknowledgment of the fact of one another’s existence, more than a desire for vindication of some pet theory or the satisfaction of knowing that “we were right all along.” May it yet be a fruitful contact, one out of which mutual understanding and willingness to consider even each other’s admonitions will come. And such contact may even bring to light that the Three Points of 1924 are not necessarily a hindrance but an aid to unfettered Gospel preaching.
No Hope for Reunion! The punctuation will have to be changed in our second use of this heading for this section of this month’s column. Its necessity will be realized when you read the follOwing letter sent by a Roman Catholic priest to a certain party desiring resignation of membership and attestation of baptism in connection with affiliation with a Reformed denomination. The letter, with the exception of personal references, reads as follows:
Your letter in which you state your wish to have your name dropped from the membership roll of the Catholic Church has been forwarded to me. I had the happiness to receive you into the Church a number of years ago. Your association with a non-Catholic sect as a member of that group involves excommunication by which you are automatically cut off from the Body of the True Church of Christ. No formal or written statement need be made. Be sure, my dear ___ ,I shall pray very earnestly for you. May God bless you.
Very frequently catechumens ask me if I think any Roman Catholics are going to go to heaven. It is expected that we shall answer that question in the affirmative (we always attempt to make plain that this is a judgment of charity which in no wise relieves anyone of the duty to seek the pure church as defined by the Word of God).
This letter reveals at least two things:
(1) The priest in question is to be admired for the obvious desire he manifests to take very seriously the Significance of one’s church membership; (2) That in his opinion there is no possibility of joining anything but the Roman Catholic denomination if one will be a member of “the Body of the True Church of Christ.”
True Protestantism is no less serious in its emphasis upon the importance of belonging to a denomination which is indeed a true church, for “all those who separate themselves from the same or do not join themselves to it act contrary to the ordinance of God” (Belgic Confession. article 28). Many so-called “Protestants” in our day seem most eager to render the simple meaning of their name a complete farce by insisting that Protestantism in distinction from Romanism does not emphasize the need for careful selection of one’s denomination upon the basis of the Word and in full recognition of that situation in the world in which “all sects…assume to themselves the name of Church” (Belgic Confession, article 29).
We are always heartened when we receive the Rev. W. J. Grier’s paper, The Irish Evangelical. Brother Grier is obviously doing all he can to stand for the cause of the Truth in a country dominated by Romanist error. Among the regular features of this periodical is his column: “News and Comments.” The November, 1955 edition of this column is exceptionally good, we feel, and therefore we would quote in its entirety the following article, believing that its point is important for every Christian today to heed.
Chinese Church Leaders on Man Hunt.
In an article under the above title The British Weekly of October 6 mentioned the “fearless preaching” of Wang Ming-tao, pastor of a church in Peking. On the change of regime in China he went on preaching faithfully in the face of “glowering authority.” He was given a public trial in Peking. He was summoned before an accusation meeting in September 1954, but the meeting did not go as planned, and the official accusers became annoyed and began to yell all at once. They demanded a death sentence, but only one-fourth of the audience agreed. The rest sat silent. So nothing could be done. He was set at liberty a few weeks later and preach~d publicly to larger congregations than ever. At one a. m. on August 8 last, police eternal his home and arrested him and his wife. Some students closely connected with his work and some of his colleagues were arrested too—to the number of eighteen. He had preached the preceding day on the text—“The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.” The church leaden will no doubt call a packed assembly of church delegates, and they will be asked to vote for or against Mr. Wang and his strong stand. Then, following the familiar pattern, he will be relegated to one of the places where others already languish.
Note what has happened. Liberal theologians welcomed the Communist regime in China. Under this liberal leadership the church has sold out to the Communists. The British Weekly and The Lift of Faith both point out that it is this apostate church which is now the instrument in persecuting faithful Christians like Mr. Wang who hold fast to the Christian faith. It sounds a bit strange to find The British Weekly making this admission.
Mr. L.T. Lyall of the China Inland Mission quoted in The Life of Faith a recent letter from a Shanghai Christian as follows: “Now the time has come for us to strive to win the victor’s crown. and to show whether or not we can stand firm. We invite you to pray urgently for all the brethren and sisters in Christ.”
May there be a good response to this invitation.
An American Candidate Ordained in Australia
All of our readers are interested in the growing Reformed movement in Australia, a movement occasioned by the large-scale emigration of Dutch Calvinists to that continent. In addition, many of our Torch and Trumpet friends are personally acquainted with the Rev. Dick Clarence Bouma, whose ordination in Blacktown is briefly described in Gereformeerd Weekblad, Nov. 11, 1955.
The Rev. Mr. Bouma is a graduate of Calvin College and Seminary, where he was trained for the Christian Reformed ministry in the United States or Canada. While spending a year in post-graduate study at the Free University, Amsterdam, Mr. Bouma contacted representatives of the Australian church in which he now serves as a minister. As far as we know, he is the only American minister among the clergy of his denomination.
Pastor Bouma’s ordination service was conducted by the Rev. J.F.H. VandeBom of Sydney, formerly of the Gereformeerde Kerk at Groningen, assisted by the Rev. W.F. Brussel and the Rev. P.H. Pellicaan, also former Dutch Gereformeerd pastors now serving in Australia.
We pray that the Lord may be pleased to use brother Bouma and the new Reformed church body of Australia for the building of Christ’s Church. We hope that from him we may soon bear—perhaps in the pages of this magazine?—of the triumphs of God’s sovereign grace in the continent “down under.”
“Reformation Day in San Francisco”
Methodist Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam is Widely known as a vociferous opponent of orthodox Christianity, and an active proponent of the Modernist theology. It is quite understandable, therefore, that some :fifty orthodox clergymen in the vicinity of San Francisco should object when Oxnam was announced as the principal speaker last October 30 for “The Protestant Festival of Faith,” a Reformation Day service in which 250 San Francisco area churches were said to be cooperating.
The public statement made by the pastors unwilling to regard Oxnam as a fit spokesman for this occasion reads as follows:
STATEMENT CONCERNING THE SAN FRANCISCO FESTIVAL OF FAITH
“We wish publicly to repudiate the so-called Protestant Festival of Faith scheduled for October 30 in Oakland. The use of Dr. G. Bromley Oxnam as speaker is particularly objectionable from our standpoint. Dr. Oxnam’s well-known political outlook and associations are not now in our purview, but rather what we regard as a public attack upon the Bible and upon the God of the Bible.
“In his book, Preaching in a Revolutionary Age, Dr. Oxnam does not hesitate to quote with approval a portion from Hugh Walpole’s Wintersmoon which includes the words ‘…you hate Jehovah and so do I. I loathe him. Dirty Bully.’ Dr. Oxnam goes on to speak of the God of the Bible as a ‘Deity that is loathesome’ and an ‘angry, awful, avenging Being who, because of Adam’s sin must have his Shylockian pound of flesh.’ The caricature, in our opinion, involves outright blasphemy. “Since Dr. Oxnam does not believe in such doctrines of supernatural Christianity as the Bible as the infallible Word of God, and the offering of Christ on the Cross as a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice and reconcile sinners to God, we consider it a misrepresentation of the historic Christian faith, and in effect an attempt to halt the Reformation, to have him as spokesman for Protestantism in this critical hour of history. “We call upon all Bible Believing pastors of the area to take full advantage of Sunday October 30, to proclaim the great Reformation doctrines of 1) The supreme authority of. the Holy Scripture; 2) Justification by faith in the blood of Christ; and 3) the Priesthood of all believers. We further call upon Christians to dissociate themselves from a spurious misleading rally calling itself, ‘Protestant Festival of Faith.’”
In The Presbyterian Guardian, November 15, 1955, the Rev. Edwards E. Elliott, pastor of First Orthodox Presbyterian Church, San Francisco, author and initiator of the Statement, tells the story of this action and the response it aroused on the part of Oxnam and his sympathizers. Here are excerpts from his account:
The immediate reaction of the Modernists was quite typical. No attempt was made to answer the arguments of the statement. The only answer was smear. Dr. E.C. Farnham, executive director of the Oakland Council of Churches told the papers, “They are all splinter groups who can’t get along with any body but themselves.”
…the Presbytery of the Redwoods (comprising 42 congregations of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., of which the bay area churches are a part, J.H.P.) . . . passed unanimously a resolution praising Bishop Oxnam. The resolution also stated: “The Orthodox Presbyterian Church which has opposed this meeting of the Festival of Faith is outside the denomination of the Presbyterian Church of the United States (sic) and is without affiliation in the Northern California-Western Nevada Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches, (representing 33,000,000 Protestants) or the World Council of Churches.”
…the local Methodists and others in the Council of Churches produced an even hundred signatures to a remarkable document. This document expressed “complete confidence” in Bishop Oxnam as a “thoroughly consecrated Christian.” “Charges against the Christian doctrines held by Dr. Oxnam are answered even before they are made by his position of leadership in the Methodist Church.”
The reaction of Bishop Oxnam himself was instant. Over the telephone he told reporters, “I cannot make myself a party to this sort of thing. I cannot dignify such false witness by any kind of reply. It is utterly absurd.” Where the “false witness” occurred, Dr. Oxnam did not specify…
The Rev. Mr. Edwards is correct, we feel, in his assertion that this type of “defense” is typical of Modernists and of those who are indifferent to the necessity of holding the Word of God as infallible truth. The spirit of true Protestantism is not to argue from the character of the person to the validity or soundness of his religious views, but rather to test all things in the light of that only standard of faith and practice which the Reformation once again restored to its rightful place. We refer to the Bible, of course.