Verhey, Dutton, Classis G.R. East and Synod 1976

By this time the matter of Dr. Allen Verhey‘s view of Scripture and the disposition of it at the 1976 CRC Synod is well-known to readers of THE OUTLOOK. Rev. Ring Star, writer of this article, is a retired CRC minister living in Jenison, Michigan.

This June, the CRC Synod undoubtedly will have to cope with the disposition made of the Dutton appeal re the ordination of Dr. Allen Verhey by the Synod of 1976. In this article the undersigned is expressing his concern over the treatment the appeal of the Dutton consistory received by Synod. Without judging anyone’s motives, the writer hopefully anticipates that these thoughts may be helpful in leading the mind of Synod to a solution that is Biblically sound, God-honoring in intent, and contemplating the spiritual well-being of the body of Christ.

The issue – The issue at hand has its beginning in the approval of the ordination of Dr. Verhey by Classis Grand Rapids East on September 18, 1975. At this meeting the candidate clearly stated that he did not believe that the serpent spoke to Eve, and that the great earthquake recorded by Matthew as accompanying the resurrection of Christ did not necessarily have to be understood as a fact but as an eschatological symbol. Since Classis Grand Rapids East admitted Verhey to the Gospel ministry in spite of his unscriptural convictions, the Dutton consistory lodged with Classis a protest against this decision. Classis received the protest for information and the consistory consequently appealed it to Synod.

To begin with, were the charges made against Dr. Verhey in the Dutton protest true or mere allegations as frequently referred to? Of this it may be stated that in all the deliberations of both Classis and Synod in the matter there is not a hint of their being false; but on the contrary everything points to the fact that the charges are true. And Verhey himself does not deny them. Therefore this article proceeds on the assumption that they are true.

Irregularities at Classis G. R. East – Was the Dutton protest legally before Synod? Let it be said at the outset that for the Dutton consistory there was no other course open. But how about the conduct of Classis Grand Rapids East in the matter?

In the infonnative material leading up to their recommendations Synod’s advisory committee made this statement: “We observe that the appeal now calls Synod to act on a matter that was not properly dealt with at the minor assemblies.” These minor assemblies were the consistory of Dutton and Classis Grand Rapids East.

However, nowhere has it been shown that the Dutton consistory defaulted in any way in the handling of their protest. It has been hinted that Dutton should have protested the dccision of Classis beforc Verhey’s ordination. But this reasoning falls when one bears in mind that the protest was not against Verhey, but against Classis. And the consistory lodged their protest with Classis at the earliest possible date, even presenting it at an earlier special Classis meeting.

Therefore, if there is truth in the committees statement (and there is) it can apply only to the minor assembly of Classis Grand Rapids East who must bear full responsibility for the irregularity referred to. And to the truth of the committee‘s observation that the Classis did not deal properly with the protest the following will testify: (1) It seems rather strange that a protest with which Classis was confronted should be accepted for information with no more adue. And (2) What adds to the strangeness of the situation is that several months after the above mentioned decision was made grounds were formulated in support of it. Finally (3) To make matters worse one must have a careful look at these grounds:

Ground (a). It reads: “That Classis could see no formal basis for either sustaining or rejecting the protest since the decision to admit Candidate Verhey was on the basis of a majority ballot vote and did not involve the approval of specific positions held by him.” In other words, to use an example, when the nation voted President Carter into office that majority ballot vote said nothing about the principles the voters believed the man stood for. Transparently the very opposite is true. One cannot vote meaningfully on any matter without having clearly in mind the content of the matter voted on. Candidate Verhey was thoroughly examined on the matter of doctrinal purity and integrity of Scriptural exegesis. And when time for balloting came each voter was faced with the question: what do you think of the man? And the answer to that question he expressed in his ballot. Therefore Classis must assume full responsibility for permitting Verhey to be ordained with his unscriptural views.

Ground (b) fares no better. It reads: “The protest against the action of Classis was not accompanied by an appeal or request for action on the part of Classis, but was intended as a necessary step in the process of lodging a protest with Synod.” But the truth of the matter is (to use virtually the words of the pastor of Dutton) that the first appeal was made to the Classis not to Synod. Only after the Classis failed to take any corrective action was the consistory constrained to appeal to Synod. Consequently, since these grounds fall, the intended justification of the decision under which they are placed falls with the grounds.

And there is another aspect confirming the irregular treatment of the protest by Classis. Only such matters are to be taken up by Synod that cannot be finished in the minor assemblies. When Classis Grand Rapids East was confronted with the Dutton protest the following lay open for the Classis: to examine the truth or falsity of the charges the protest contained. If found false, Classis was then in position to exhon0rate Verhey. If found true good Christian sense would dictate that to have favored the ordination of Verhey was an error and for Classis to admit this. This is all the protest required, and Dutton could have expected no more of it. And the point can in no wise be argued that this course of action did not lay open for Classis Grand Rapids East.

Synod’s action – Consequently Synod should have viewed itself as confronted with this rather unique situation: to accept from the hand of the Dutton consistory their appeal as legally presented, and to disapprove of Classis shunting Dutton’s appeal into Synod’s lap. And from this perspective there was for Synod but one justifiable course to take. namely, to send Dutton‘s protest right back to Classis Grand Rapids East for Classis to deal with the protest properly.

But Synod chose to act different1y which in the judgment of Editor De Koster ended in nothing. (See his observations on the matter in The Banner of Sept. 10, 1976). The main ground for rejecting the Dutton appeal reads as follows:

“Candidate Verhey was approved for ordination by Classis Grand Rapids East according to proper procedure. He was approved by majority ballot vote of the Classis with the concurrence of the synodical deputies after a thorough examination. This decision stood unprotested up to and including the time of his ordination.”

The last statement has been dealt with before in this article. As for the main thought this implies that meticulous and thorough observance of procedural rules guarantees the rightness of a decision based upon such procedure. Note the fallacy of this reasoning. (1) Any decision thus made cannot be contested. And therefore takes away the possibility of protest and appeal for which provision is made in the Church Order. (2) All ecclesiastical decisions based upon thorough and accurate procedure must be tolerated no matter if the resultant situations present angles that are contrary to God’s Word. (3) More specifically, the decision to permit Dr. Allen Verhey‘s ordination had to be acceptable even if immediately after his ordination his unscriptural views called for disciplinary action against him.

Action recommended now – One final suggestion. That Synod give serious thought to the following considerations based upon the above, and possibly declare:

(1) That the views mentioned in the protest of the Dutton consistory and charged against Verhey and not denied by him, are unscriptural and therefore stand as a threat to the correct interpretation of Scripture generally.

(2) That since Verhey was permitted to be ordained to the ministry of God’s Word, holding the views mentioned by Dutton in their protest, this action of the Dutton consistory was justified.

(3) That consistories are alerted to maintain a watchful eye against any unscriptural views of the kind that prompted the Dutton protest; and where such views persist to apply the disciplinary rules prescribed by the church for that purpose.

(4) That it is not too late for Classis Grand Rapids East to deal properly with the protest of the Dutton consistory; and that Synod strongly urges the Classis to attend to this matter.