What About CRC-RCA Merger?

PART I: Gordon H. Girod

PART II: Peter Y. De Jong

PART III: John H. Piersma

Rev. Gordon H. Girod, well known pastor of the Seventh Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan, was originally asked to describe and evaluate the fact of the failure of the merger proposal involving his denomination and the Presbyterian Church U.S. (Southern), This led very naturally to mention of and reaction to the current conferences with view to reunion between the RCA and the Christian Reformed Church. To these reactions of Rev. Girod, we asked Dr. Peter Y. De Jong, professor of Practical Theology, Calvin Seminary, and Rev. John H. Piersma, pastor of Bethany Chr. Ref. Church, South Holland, Illinois, to respond.


The proposed merger between the Reformed Church In America (RCA) and the Presbyterian Church In The U.S. (PCUS) was defeated at the c1assis level in the RCA. The constitution of the RCA provides that a merger may be consummated only if two-thirds of the classes approve. In this instance the vote was 23 classes for the merger and 22 classes against the merger. Every c1assis in the Midwest and West disapproved the merger with the exception of Lake Erie Classis which is comprised mainly of churches in and about Detroit and Cleveland. The pro-merger forces were amazed that the entire Midwest and West voted as a bloc, so to speak, in defeating the merger. One may add that Lake Erie Classis is not a typical Midwestern Classis. In the main the churches in Lake Erie Classis have resulted from church-extension work. The congregations are small, struggling and without a core trained in the Reformed Faith.

Why Did it Pass in the PCUS?

The PCUS did pass the merger at the presbytery level even though three-fourths of the presbyteries were necessary to gain approval. The reason is not difficult to come by, but it is a curious one. The PCUS is a divided denomination. Both theological liberals and conservatives live together under one roof. Interestingly, both liberals and conservatives desired the merger, because both hoped to profit by it. The conservatives of the PCUS, as represented by “The Presbyterian Journal,” hoped that their strength and numbers would be augmented by the conservatives of the RCA. The liberals, on the other hand, hoped that their strength would be increased by merger with the RCA.

Both had some reason to think that the RCA merger might prove helpful to them. The RCA does indeed have a sizable body of conservative strength. In the Midwest and West and in some individual congregations in the East, the RCA continues to be a Bible-believing church. In this fact lay the hope of the PCUS conservatives. On the other hand, the boards and agencies of the RCA are controlled by the liberals. This was encouraging to PCUS liberals who also control the boards and agencies of that denomination.

A flaw was present in the reasoning of each however. The conservatives of the RCA have never wielded much influence at the denominational level. Repeatedly the classes and synods of the Midwest have sought to withdraw the RCA from the National Council of Churches and from the World Council of Churches. They have failed just as repeatedly. Nor have the Midwest and West exercised any appreciable influence on the boards and agencies of the denomination. There was little reason, consequently, to hope that the conservatives would exercise greater influence in the merged denominations.

The PCUS liberals would also have gained little had the merger taken place. They already largely control the General Assembly of the PCUS, just as the theological liberals already control the General Synod of the RCA. It would be difficult to imagine more liberal control in the merged church than already exists in the separate denominations. Further, the PCUS liberals might have discovered that the RCA conservatives are not as docile as those in the PCUS.

Why Did the RCA Defeat the Proposal?

Why did the RCA defeat the merger at the classis level? One reason was suggested at the very beginning by one of the elderly giants among Reformed preachers. He predicted the merger would fail, because “when a Hollander doesn’t know what move to make, he simply does nothing.” Another way of stating the same fact would be to point out that we preferred our present situation, unless and until we could be certain that our conservative position would be improved by the merger.

Specific considerations were also present. The author of this article saw two major reasons for voting against the merger. First, the government or polity of the PCUS was more rigid than that of the RCA. The RCA continues to place greater emphasis upon the consistory of the local congregation as the one body with prime authority within the ecclesiastical structure. One practical end result is that neither General Synod nor the boards and agencies of the denomination can impress their views upon the local congregation. Consequently, we have many Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching congregations in spite of any indications to the contrary at the denominational level.

The presbyteries of the PCUS have been known to act against the local congregation or its pastor when the local congregation failed to adopt and implement the decisions of the PCUS General Assembly. One must quickly add that, almost without exception, the authority of the presbyteries is exercised against Bible-believers, while the liberals are allowed great latitude. One might give expression to any form of doctrinal heresy without much fear of reaction from the Presbytery, but let a local congregation refuse to bow before the dictates of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. and one may expect said congregation to suffer the wrath of the hierarchy as they are charged with “disrupting the peace of the church.”

Therefore conservatives in the RCA were not about to jeopardize their freedom to preach the historic Gospel of the atoning death and justifying resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. To borrow an old phrase, “The Book, the Blood and the Blessed Hope” were the real issues at this point. Bible believing pastors and their congregations were not about to put themselves in a position where ecclesiastical discipline might be used against them, precisely because they stand firmly upon that faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.


The second major reason for resisting the merger lay in the fact that the PCUS has become a full participant in the Consultation On Church Union (COCU, the Blake-Pike Plan). COCU is seeking a merger between ten denominations and some thirty million church members. COCU has no doctrinal basis. Indeed, one of the leaders in COCU has said that fifty years might pass by subsequent to merger before a doctrinal basis could be agreed upon. One wonders whether such people do not secretly hope to make all doctrine meaningless during that fifty-year period. Meantime, COCU has already agreed upon the apostolic succession of bishops, and this precisely because the Episcopal Church insists upon it as a basis for union. Church government, the rule of the hierarchy, is important, but doctrinal agreement can be allowed to lie in limbo for fifty years.

Conservatives in the RCA have repeatedly defeated efforts to bring the RCA to participation in COCU, and they did not propose to enter COCU by the back door through merger with a participant in COCU. Since the PCUS outnumbers the RCA by about four to one in membership, it was obvious that the PCUS possessed the numerical strength to make the merged denomination a participant in COCU. In voting against this merger, the Midwest and Western sector of the RCA was voting against the popular and prevalent concept of ecumenism. Yes, we should be happy to see all true believers united in a single denomination, were that possible, but we insist that any true ecumenism is limited to those who confess Jesus as Savior and Lord, and this Savior and Lord can only be known if the Scriptures are fully inspired, and therefore, infallible and inerrant.

New Development in the RCA

While the foregoing is history, new and interesting developments are taking place in the RCA. The devastating defeat the liberals have suffered through the defeat of the merger has not been lost upon them. If never before, they have now come to realize that the Bible-believers in the RCA are a force to be reckoned with. Thus General Synod passed a proposal calling for a committee of eighteen members to be chosen from the six Particular Synods. This committee is charged with seeking harmony within the RCA but, if this is not possible. they are to propose a plan for the “orderly dissolution” of the RCA.

The impetus in this matter arose from among the Eastern Liberals. The Eastern Liberal is utterly crushed by the defeat of the merger. Bear in mind that the Eastern sector of the RCA is dying. Many Eastern congregations have simply closed their doors. The Eastern Liberal believes that he must merge with a more “successful” denomination or die. Thus they are determined to seek other alliances, even though they must secede from the RCA in order to do so.

This movement began a few weeks prior to General Synod. All the classes had voted, and it was already known that the merger had been defeated. The report to General Synod of the merger’s defeat would be a mere formality. At this point the chairman of General Synod’s Executive Committee, the Rev. Harold Schut, called a meeting in the O’Hare Airport Motel. Two men from each of the Particular Synods were invited by Mr. Schut. They received their invitations via long distance telephone. In comparing notes the representatives of the Particular Synod of Michigan and of the Particular Synod of Chicago learned that Mr. Schut had used the same term in speaking with each of them. The term was “divorce.”

“Orderly Dissolution”

At this meeting some weeks prior to General Synod the idea of an “orderly dissolution” of the RCA was first proposed. Also at this meeting the Eastern Liberals began to talk about property and pension. This rather amused the Midwestern and Western men, since all such talk was ruled out by the Eastern Liberals when they still had hopes the merger would succeed. Now, since the defeat of the merger proposal, and assuming that the only answer for liberals is to get out of or dissolve the RCA, suddenly the Eastern Liberals are most concerned about property and pensions.

At General Synod Mr. Schut proposed the appointment of a committee to effect the “orderly dissolution” of the RCA. Many Midwestern and Western delegates were shocked. They had begun to believe that there is no greater sin than schism. The East has indeed promoted the idea that the Midwest must accept all manner of indignity and imposition put upon us by the East as being preferable to schism. Now, however, the Eastern Liberals are proposing precisely that, schism.

Many in the Midwest would be happy to see the Eastern Liberals, along with their Midwestern counterparts, leave the denomination, but we want it to be done in that way. We want them to leave, not to disrupt or dissolve the denomination. We are satisfied with the Standards of Unity of the RCA. We continue to believe that the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic or Netherlands Confession, and the Canons of the Synod of Dordt truly set forth the timeless teachings of the Word of God. We find no fault with the doctrinal basis of the RCA. If, then, the Eastern Liberals cannot and will not live with the doctrinal standards of the RCA, let them withdraw from the RCA.

We see no reason to enter into-a conspiracy with them that would end in the dissolution of the RCA. This would imply that the RCA has no further reason to exist as a denomination. In the Midwest we can agree to no such thing. True, we want to remold the RCA to bring it into greater conformity with its doctrinal standards, but this does not mean that we are prepared to scuttle the ecclesiastical ship. To the contrary, we would be happy to take over the rudder and controls of the ecclesiastical ship, if those who are not satisfied with the Reformed Faith would simply depart and take their dissatisfaction with them.

A Clever Scheme?

Briefly, we see the concept of an “orderly dissolution” as a clever scheme whereby the Eastern Liberals hope to retain their own property not only, but the institutions and endowments of the denomination as well, or at least a major portion of all these. We want to give them liberty to leave according to their consciences, but we would like to score a first for conservative Christians in America, and perhaps, throughout the world. What sort of first? A study of ecclesiastical history will demonstrate that, in denomination after denomination, the liberals have outmaneuvered the conservatives. They have taken over the ecclesiastical machinery. Then they have compelled the conservatives to accept their rule or to get out while leaving all behind them. We would like to see the conservatives, those who continue to accept and revere the time-honored standards of the Reformed Faith, regain control of the heritage which is rightfully theirs. We believe that it is our duty, both to our Lord and to our forefathers in the faith, to see that we do not sell our birthright for a mess of ecclesiastical pottage. We must pass on to our children that which our fathers and grandfathers gave to us. We shall not serve our Lord by permitting apostates to run off with our heritage.

This does not mean that we would denude the Eastern Liberals of their property, as the liberals in many denominations have done to the conservatives. No one has had a sorrier history on this score than the United Presbyterian Church, USA, also known as the Northern Presbyterian Church, but we do not propose to follow their lead in locking faithful congregations out of their own property. It does mean that we believe ourselves to be the rightful heirs of the Reformed Faith and the institutions and endowments given by those who believed as we do. We believe ourselves to be the rightful heirs, because we continue to preach and practice the faith of those who made these institutions and endowments possible. We invite all men to share that heritage with us, and we propose to use the institutions and endowments of our forefathers in proclaiming the Gospel they so clearly believed.

The situation can be compared with a dissident member of a local congregation. If someone in the local congregation finds himself at odds with the doctrine and polity of the local church, he may request a transfer to another communion which suits him better, but he does not expect, nor does he get, a division of the property or assets of the local congregation when he departs from it. So, if there be those who wish to leave the RCA as a denomination, let them feel free to go, but they should not get, neither should they expect, to take the institutions or endowments of the denomination with them.

Meantime, many of us in the Midwest and West and some even in the East will continue to preach the Gospel of the shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We will continue to believe and preach that the Bible is thoroughly authoritative and without error. We will continue to preach our Savior’s virgin birth, his sinless life, his atoning death, his resurrection in the body on the third day, and his return in power and glory at the end of the age. We shall also continue to preach the sovereignty of God as it is seen in the unconditional election of a covenant people, the total depravity of man, the irresistible grace of God, limited or particular atonement, and the perseverance of the saints.

A New Negotiation: RCA and CRC

Now we are also confronted with another situation. A movement is afoot to open merger negotiations with the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). Undoubtedly the CRC will move with caution, asking many questions, seeking to discern whether our alikeness or our differences are such as to encourage further study or such as would make further study unnecessary to a negative answer.

From the point of view of conservatives in the RCA, we would immediately note that one problem we found with the PCUS is also to be found in the CRC. Contrary to the teaching of Kuyper, Jansens and other recognized Reformed leaders of generations past, the CRC gives to its classes and to its Synod a kind of authority over the local congregation which would make Reformed Church conservatives wary of an alliance with the CRC. The Synod of the CRC can legislate for the local congregations in a way that the General Synod of the RCA cannot. One example: the Synod of the CRC could pass an amusement prohibition which all its congregations were expected to follow. Or again, just for example, the Synod of the CRC can rule and has ruled that no CRC congregation may admit members of secret societies. The General Synod of the RCA cannot make such a pronouncement for the congregations of the RCA. Thus many congregations in the RCA have decided, each for themselves through their consistories, that no Masons shall be admitted to membership, but other consistories have acted to accept Masons into their membership.

Still again, the General Synod might ask, suggest, or even urge, every congregation to pay, say $10.00 per family per year, for the support of Hope College. If the consistory of a certain local congregation should decide that this is an unworthy cause, they can refuse to give to Hope College, and they cannot be penalized in any way. Precisely because the Synod of the CRC exerts greater authority over local congregations to fulfill their quotas or assessments, many in the CRC are suggesting even today that the relationship between the college and the denomination ought to be severed.

Our fears, as members of the RCA, would be that the authority of Synod over the local congregation and over its pastor would be exercised to the wrong end. After all, discipline is a two-edged sword. It may be used against the impenitent, but apostates in the church often use it against the faithful. J. Gresham Machen was deposed from the ministry of the (United) Presbyterian Church, because he offered to prove that theological liberalism was present on the mission Gelds of that denomination. It seems to people in the RCA like myself that J. Kromminga, Harold Dekker and Sweetman are allowed to go on untouched, while several laymen from Classis Zeeland of the CRC are placed under censl1reship for questionable reasons (or so the laymen involved claim), and the CRC Synod did nothing to investigate the validity of their claim.

On the other side of the same issue, because the primary authority of the local consistory is recognized in the RCA, we are free to maintain and proclaim the faith of our forefathers. Yes, one may point to individual RCA congregations which have turned to unbiblical procedures. N, unfortunate as this is, it points to the truth that other consistories and their congregations are free to follow the dictates of the Word of God and the Reformed Standards of Unity in all their fullness, just as our forefathers did. Thus, because of the primary authority of the local consistory, we have congregations which are totally unaffected by the liberalism which may be found in the ecclesiastical structure of the RCA. If anyone is seeking a congregation which continues to proclaim the historic Gospel, you will find RCA congregations which continue to preach the Bible as the Word of God after the manner of Paul, Augustine, Calvin, Bavinck and Kuyper; yes, after the manner of Berkhof and other giants of yesteryear in the CRC.

Clericalism in the CRC

Another problem, related to but distinct from the fo regoing, revolved about the clericalism in the CRC. What is clericalism? When the clergy dominate the church at the expense of the laity, that is clericalism. The Roman Church has long been charged with clericalism, because the clergy dominate the laity. While we are not suggesting that the situation in the CRC is to be compared with the situation in the Roman Catholic Church, we do say that a certain form of clericalism exists within the CRC. What do we mean? We mean that the clergy of the CRC are a tight-knit little fraternity who look upon each other with rose-colored glasses. Privately they may discuss the faults of a brother in the clergy with candor and detail. Before the public, that is, on the 800r of classis or synod, however, the same men wil1 refuse to lift a finger toward the discipline of a fellow member of the clergy.

The situation is not different from that which prevails in the U.S. Senate. A member of the Senate must do something extremely bad, and it must be well known to the public, before the other senators will take action. A similar situation prevails within the medical fraternity. It is almost impossible to find a doctor who will testify against another doctor, no matter what he has done.

This is why a layman or a conservative clergyman will find it next to impossible to get a fair hearing. The classis and the synod are dominated by the clergy. Further, in the CRC as in almost every other denomination, the liberal clergy dominate the others. Therefore a conservative layman (and almost all lay· men in the CRC are conservative) or a conservative minister can scarcely hope for an objective adjudication of any matter brought before either classis or synod.

Too Conservative for the CRC

For all these reasons many of us in the RCA would need to oppose a suggested merger between the RCA and the CRC. As astounding as this wi11 seem to members of the CRC, some of us believe that the situation in the CRC would make it very dangerous for us who are in the RCA to enter into a merger with you. Lest anyone misunderstand, let me restate the reason. We believe that we are too conservative to find a comfortable home in the CRC today. We believe that the CRC is clergy dominated. We further believe that the clergy are dominated by the liberals in their ranks. We do not think, therefore, that the most conservative of the RCA clergy would be at home in the CRC today.

Nor would the most conservative among our laymen be at home in the CRC. RCA laymen are accustomed to be heard. In our Midwestern Classes the elders often determine whether a proposition will win or lose. We also have a totally different attitude of our laymen toward our clergy. Laymen in the RCA do not assume that a minister is necessarily right on every question just because he has been ordained to the ministry. In recent years we have had a situation in North Grand Rapids classis and another in South Grand Rapids Classis where a minister was ousted from his charge because his elders could show that he was not living up to his vows.

Further, in the RCA we do not hold the same attitude of “reverence” (if that is the word) toward our institutions that is present in the CRC. Last Spring South Grand Rapids refused to ordain a student graduated from Western Seminary, because they did not feel that he was doctrinally sound. When has anything like that happened in the CRC? When was the last time that a Calvin graduate was refused ordination? The CRC would need to make some fundamental changes before the most conservative men in the RCA would dare to enter into merger with the CRC.

CRC and the Gereformeerden

Then, the CRC has another liability, or an entangling alliance if you prefer, namely, her relationship to the Gereformeerde Kerken of the Netherlands. Ecclesiastically the relationship is that of a “sister” church. In fact, the CRC has been following the lead of the Gereformeerde Kerken throughout her history. In time past this leadership may have been helpful Now, however, the Gereformeerde Kerken are leading the way into apostasy. As one aspect of this situation, the CRC has been sending many of her leaders to the Free University at Amsterdam. Apparently no one perceived the deterioration of the Free University or, if they did, they refused to believe it as fact. How much the Free University has contributed to the decline and deterioration of the CRC cannot be measured, but it was certainly a factor.

Perhaps someone will reply, but the RCA has entangling alliance, namely, the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches. Very true, and many classes from the Midwest and occasionally one or two of the Particular Synods has appealed for a discontinuation of this relationship but to no avail. Bear in mind once more, however, the autonomy of the local consistory. Though the RCA has these relationships at the General Synod level, many local congregations have expressly repudiated any relationship to the NCC or the WCC. The CRC, on the other hand, because of its “power from the top” structure, involves all of its congregations in the unwholesome relationship with the Gereformeerde Kerken of the Netherlands.


Here, for the first time in many years, we have an article which speaks specifically of that which should concern every truly Reformed believer on this side of the ocean. It deals with the ecclesiastical separation of two churches who confess the same Lord and Savior according to the same Forms of Unity (doctrinal standards). On the first section of the article—dealing with the fiasco of recent negotiations between PCUS and RCA and the possibility of the “dissolution” of the RCA as a consequence of this fiasco, it ill becomes someone of the CRC to speak as if he had answers where others only have problems. Yet I, for one, want to express thanks and admiration publicly for brother Girod’s forthright stance:

We believe that it is our duty, both to our Lord and to our forefathers in the faith, to see that we do not sell our birthright for a mess of ecclesiastical pottage. We must pass on to our children that which our fathers and grandfathers gave to us. We shall not serve our Lord by permitting apostates to run off with our heritage.

When it comes to the second part of the article, however, there is much that we who cherish the CRC as our spiritual mother in the Lord not only may but also must say.

Now brother Girod and I are friends in the Lord for several years. Whenever we have occasion to speak with one another, we discover wide areas of agreement. These spring from common faith in the God of our salvation as normed by the Scriptures. Thus we can discuss profitably even though there is some disagreement. This I trust will be true not only of us but also of the two churches to which we belong “till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” In the fervent hope that both we and our readers may make some progress under the Spirit’s guidance towards this goal, these comments are made.

My intention is not to compare RCA and ene. Comparisons usually are odious. Nor is it my aim to justify all that the CRC has been doing during the past decades. Perhaps I know even better than brother Girod some of our serious weaknesses and mistakes. Often our response as CRC, both as individuals and denomination, fails to reflect clearly that faith and obedience to the Savior whom we profess. But these weaknesses may not restrain me from pointing out some glaring misrepresentations and misconceptions stated in especially the first arguments in the second half of the article. I can only mention them. If brother Girod or the readers desire further elucidation, I suggest that we discuss them in detail (each in turn) in the light of official reports and decisions of enc synods. I also trust that the words “misconceptions” and “misrepresentations” can be used fruitfully without impugning each other’s motives or attempting to read each other’s hearts.

Well, then, what’s wrong with the picture of the CRC presented above? Several things, and that in several matters* for which brother Girod faults us. On the first two some comments will be made by me; on the second two by brother J. H. Piersma.

No Cause for Worry!

Let me say first of all that I am not too worried about “misconceptions” between himself and the RCA on the one hand and myself and the CRC on the other.

Indeed, it is regrettable that these are as prevalent as they are. Many of them, however, are the consequences of going our separate ways as two professedly Reformed churches since 1857. In earlier years we often said “nasty” things about each other (some true, while others were patently not true); in more recent decades we have thrown “bouquets” more frequently than brickbats. But neither method has produced understanding and fellowship. We looked too much at each other; not enough at God’s will revealed in Scripture for churches officially bound in their faith by the same confessions. Only when both of us begin to get at the issues involved, seeking by God’s grace to speak the truth in love (note both requirements!), will these misconceptions gradually but surely be removed.

This article of brother Girod suffers from gross weakness by its loose use of the terms “liberal” and “conservative.” They are bandied about without any definition whatever. And the writer knows that they mean different things to different readers. Hence their use here confuses rather than clarifies. Are the “liberals” in the CRC, as he calls them, of the same stripe as those who deposed Machen in the thirties or those who control according to him the ecclesiastical machinery in the RCA? If so, let this be substantiated by him.

Is CRC polity hierarchical?

Another misconception springs from his conception of the relation between local consistories and broader assemblies. He finds a “hierarchical” government in the CRC by which a classis and/or synod can “legislate” for the local congregation what and when it will. We in the CRC are supposed to have “greater authority” over the churches with respect to unfilled quotas (not “assessments” as he should well know). He speaks of imposing standards of membership so as to exclude members of oath-bound secret societies and legislating with respect to amusements. He even claims we have departed from the tradition of Kuyper, Janssen and other eminent champions of Reformed church polity and government. But merely throwing out these names, as he does, will not satisfy the discerning reader who has done his home-work on this question. Unless I am much mistaken, brother Girod really argues for an “independentistic” or congregational—not a Reformed!—form of church government. Maybe that’s the only way a “conservative” (again, I use his word ) consistory can withhold support from “liberal” programs and institutions and thus free itself from what might be an intolerable burden of conscience. But such division and divisiveness in practice (isolating sister-congregations from each other) is not truly Reformed. Thus this issue of congregation-denomination polarity will require more elucidation to clear away the misconceptions stated.


There are, however. also palpable misrepresentations. I do not doubt that brother Girod makes them in good faith, deep sincerity and with the welfare of the CRC at heart. But in that same spirit I add with emphasis, “Brother, your statements are not true; you misrepresent the CRC and its official synodical decisions!”

Which are these misrepresentations? Let me mention only the most salient and serious ones. If space were available, I would be glad to refute his presentation in detail and depth. But he can read many official reports and documents and decisions dealing with them, Or consult with anyone involved in the “eases” which he mentions. The same is true for our readers. And before anyone endorses or propagates the charges here made. let him prayerfully read and re-read Lord’s Day XLIII, 112.

1. “In the CRC J. Kromminga, Harold Dekker, and Sweetman go untouched.” Has the writer actually read the synodical reports and decisions in these cases? To be sure, none of the three was deposed. But is this the only Biblical way of exercising ecclesiastical supervision and admonition? To be sure, Girod may disagree with synod’s adjudication of these cases. But to say that they go untouched…this is beyond all belief. And it need hardly be added that this patently misrepresents the CRC.

2. Much the same may be said about the case of “several laymen from Zeeland Classis” concerning which “the CRC did nothing to investigate the validity of their claims.” What about the hours spent by the Advisory Committee of Synod, the discussion on the synodical floor, the decision to appoint a committee to resolve these cases which are intricate and of long standing and involve several consistories? How could synod do all this without looking into the validity of their claims? Nothing more than a call to the Stated Clerk—whom brother Girod can reach easily—would have prevented him from making such a “wild” charge.

3. Then on “clericalism.” “The clergy of the CRC are a tight-knit little fraternity who look upon each other with rose-colored glasses.” Who, I ask brother Girod, were challengers in the cases cited above. when they were convinced that statements out of harmony with the confessional standards were being made? And again I ask doesn’t the “discipline” of a fellow member of the clergy take place also when there is correction and admonition, as well as by the act of deposition and for excommunication? Thus the charge “the same men will refuse to lift a finger toward the discipline” is patently untrue to the facts.

4. “This is why a layman or a conservative clergyman will find it next to impossible to get a fair hearing.” In my comparatively limited experience in the CRC I can point to a sizeable number of laymen who were fully vindicated when charges were levelled by them or against them. And one doesn’t have to go back thirty or forty years for this either. In the nature of the case, not all these situations receive public announcement in the church papers. But the facts can be ascertained by those desirous of getting at them.

5. “Further, in the CRC as in almost every other denomination, the liberal clergy dominate the others.” Again we have here those “sticky” words which made clear and fruitful discussion well-nigh impossible. Just what does dominate mean in this context? And, please brother Girod, when and where and how does this take place? Then we can discuss this further. Unless we get down to specifics, we cannot make any headway in the interest of truth and love and peace which the Lord of the church requires of us all.

Other reasons for opposition to merger

Now it is our brother’s contention that for these and other reasons he and others “would need to oppose a suggested merger between the RCA and CRC.” For altogether different reasons I also oppose any suggested merger between the two churches if this means tomorrow or next month or even next year. I am convinced that such a merger would not be to the glory of God in obedience to the Scriptures, unless serious attempts are made to correct many misconceptions and misrepresentations, also those found on the CRC side of the fence. In this we will have to be as open to and with each other as possible, for this becomes those who profess to be saved by grace. Here there should be no room for charges in the form of broadsides which make loud noises, spread much smoke, but fail to zero in on the target.

Should the RCA and the CRC officially discuss the possibility of an eventual merger? Indeed they should. We urged this already in 1947, the centennial of the settling of Holland, Mich., by Van Raalte and his fellow colonists. (Cf. Federation Messenger Feb., 1947; pp. 161–163.) But the basis of such discussions must be unmistakably clear: the Scriptures as absolutely normative for the church’s life with the Three Forms of Unity as secondary but nonetheless necessary and binding standards.

Will walking on that road together be easy?

Indeed not. More than one hundred ten years of history have passed since the separation of 1857. Many questions and issues must be faced. What do we mean today by the authority of Scripture? What is the nature of creedal subscription and loyalty? Which are Biblical standards for church membership? Are catechetical preaching and teaching necessary for all Reformed churches today? What kind of relationships may a confessionally Reformed church have with other denominations, with national and world councils? And we haven’t even mentioned supervised celebrations of the Lord’s Supper, lodge membership, psalm singing, church visitation, the omission of large parts of the Canons of Dordt in the official creeds of the RCA, the relationship of the church officially to positive Christian schools, etc. And undoubtedly brother Girod can add to this list without any difficulty. None of these issues may be “swept under the rug,” if we arc going to take seriously this matter of official discussions between two churches that claim to love God and his Word.

Even with churches historically in much closer contact with us—e.g., the Orthodox Presbyterian and the Canadian (and American) Reformed—we experience how perplexing, at times painful and long this road seems to be. Also the union of a large group belonging to the Protestant Reformed Churches was not achieved overnight. Yet these discussions were and are as beneficial as they are urgent.

Healing after a rupture in ecclesiastical relationships takes time, much time filled with prayer and patience and a persevering faith in the Lord of the church. But this is time which the Lord himself gives us, also to clear away misconceptions and misrepresentations among brethren who claim to confess their faith according to the same confessional standards. Much more is at stake than whether the RCA brethren would “be at home” in the CRC today. It is rather a question of whether both they and we understand and believe and translate into practice our common allegiance to what is contained in the Belgic Confession of Faith, articles XXVII through XXXII, and the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day XXI, on what it means to be true church in the midst of so much indifference, apostasy and false ecumenicity. And a good place to begin for all of us is with manifesting the communion of the saints, concerning which we both profess:

First, that believers, all and everyone, as members of Christ arc partakers of Him and of all His treasures and gifts; second, that everyone must know himself bound to employ his gifts readily and cheerfully for the advantage and salvation of other members.

On such a basis we can go a long way together in truth and unity and love to the praise of our God.

*For reasons of convenience Girod’s objections to RCA-CRC merger have been focused by us on four things: (1) the alleged hierarchicalism. (2) clericalism, (3) liberalism, and (4) unfortunate alliances of the CRC.


With Dr. De Jong I’d like to express sincere appreciation for Pastor Girod’s frank and forthright statement of his personal objections to the idea of a merger of his church and mine.

As indicated above. we see four points of objection on the part of Gordon Girod to the prospect of an RCA-CRC merger: (1) the objection to the synodical struchire of CRC church government (“hierarchical”); (2) the objection to the alleged domination of the CRC by its clergy (“clericalism”); (3) the objection to the allegedly dominant “liberalism” of the CRC; (4) the objection to the relationship of the CRC to the Gereformeerde Kerken of The Netherlands. The first two of these have been discussed by Dr. Peter Y. De Jong. My assignment is to comment with respect to objections (3) and (4).

What is liberalism?

For Girod liberalism appears to be both a certain relationship to traditional Reformed doctrine and a spirit.

There are a pair of references in his article which will illustrate the doctrinal or theological aspect of this thing. The first indicates a tradition:

if anyone is seeking a congregation which continues to proclaim the historic Gospel, you will find. RCA congregations which continue to preach the Bible as the Word of God after the manner of Paul, Augustine, Calvin Bavinck and Kuyper; yes, after the manner of Berkhof and other greats of yesteryear in the CRC.

The second citation summarizes very well the nature of this doctrinal tradition:

Meantime, many of us in the Midwest and West, and some even in the East, will continue to preach the Gospel of the shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wc will continue to believe and preach that the Bible is thoroughly authoritative and without error. We will continue to preach our Savior’s virgin birth, his sinless life, his atoning death, his resurrection in the body on the third day, and his return in power and glory at the end of the age. We shall also continue to preach the sovereignty of God as it is seen in the unconditional election of a covenant people, the total depravity of man, the irresistible grace of God, limited or particular atonement and the perseverance of the saints.

Now to the point: true, Biblical preaching and teaching for Girod is evangelically Reformed in character. But he senses the presence of another doctrine, at least. in spirit, at work in the CRC. And he feels that spokesmen for this new point-of-view are now “in the saddle” so that they dominate the rest of the ministers, and would dominate people like Gordon Girod, were he to be taken into a merger with the CRC.

There are people who might agree with Girod on this score right within the CRC. In his editorial in the Church Herald Dr. Louis Benes offers as hope for success so far as RCA-CRC conversations are concerned the fact that the situation in which we were a hundred or even fifty years ago has now changed. He points to Dr. Harry Boer and a Reformed Journal editorial which claims that “there is developing in the Christian Reformed Church an openness to other than traditional viewpoints which augurs well for fruitful dialogue and fellowship, first between the two churches and later hopefully within the united church.”

Benes might just as well have referred to the jubilant comments of Dr. James Daane following the 1966 Synod of the CRC held in Pella, Iowa. Daane found great encouragement (for his kind of thinking) in the very fact that the sessions of synod were held on the campus of the Reformed Church-related Central College, and in the fact that an older generation was dying off and being replaced by, in his opinion, obviously more progressive young ministers. Likewise Rev. Arnold Brink, secretary of the CRC Committee on Inter-church Relations, comments in the August 29, 1969 issue of The Banner, “through all these years there have been overtures of friendship—requests to meet with one another, to look one another in the face and see each other as we are today—not dressed in the garb of a century ago” (italics inserted).

And Rev. Jacob D. Eppinga, pastor of the largest congregation in the CRC and regular contributor to The Banner, under the heading, “Of Cabbages and Kings,” breaks a lance for this proposal by saying, “I do not presume to know what the Lord always thinks, but how could He be anything but pleased if real dialogue between two of his communions was to be resumed—after one hundred twelve years.” He goes so far as to say,

Since that day (when Eppinga thought that the RCA was a poor second-best, “a kind of watered-down Christian Reformedism,” JHP), I have developed a higher regard for her. She has some strengths where we have weaknesses. She also has some weaknesses where we have strengths. We could make beautiful music together.

Do I have a right to think that these arc indications of a kind of “liberalism?” I would think so, since it seems to me that all of these commentators arc (in varying degrees, I’m sure) suggesting that the old, conservative CRC is showing signs of a new attitude and a new garb. Surely this could hardly be imagined to mean that the CRC is more strictly conservative than it was in past generations! Does this not mean that today the possibility of merging with the RCA is at least not rendered altogether unlikely by the kind of stubbornness and other vicious characteristics so often impugned to the leaders and constituency of the past?

Merged or Submerged?

Anyone can understand that a Bible-believing, enthusiastically Reformed, honestly confessional Christian pastor can become very discouraged when he notices in the church assemblies that his faith, zeal and commitment is going unappreciated by some of his colleagues, if not many. I doubt if my RCA neighbors and friends—including Gordon Girod—will take it ill of me if I say that I know that there have been many moments in the broader assemblies of the RCA when the faithful were made to feel very much unwanted and unhappy. It is for me not difficult at all to understand that the battle-scarred defenders of the faith in the RCA should express themselves as hesitant to join any new church fellowship unless they can be sure that the organization they arc getting into will be more congenial than the one they are leaving.

Still more, we must add that Girod has everything that is Biblical and Reformed on his side when he raises the matter of fidelity to confessional truth and integrity with respect to the historic Christian faith at this point. The great danger in much of current interchurch conversation and negotiation is often that unity is pursued for its own sake, regardless of doctrinal and principal points of difference.

If editor John Vander Ploeg had not stressed so well in the August 29, 1969 issue of The Banner the principal points at issue between us as churches, I would have been tempted to say, You can often tell the nature of the dialogue (if I may borrow a word which tends to make me feel sickish!) between denominations by taking note of the kind of people delegated to carry it out. In other words, perhaps I ought to be honest enough here to say that I do not think it unimportant that the enthusiasm for this merger negotiation comes from people with a rather recognizable bent of mind. If I’m not completely mistaken, the common position of the CRC in the past has been that church union comes about by way of the pursuit of a certain course of action. In brief, a group is put out of a church fellowship by an unbelieving majority or is compelled to secede from a given communion because of conscientious objections to some decision or development within that denomination. It was really quite simple: Christians of our kind of Reformed persuasion did not philosophize about church unity, but assumed the burden of this confession:

The marks by which the true Church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein; if it maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing of sin; in short, if all things are managed according to the pure Word of God, all things contrary thereto rejected, and Jesus Christ acknowledged as the only Head of the Church. Hereby the true Church may certainly be known, from which no man has a right to separate himself (Belgic Confession, Art. 29).

I wonder how Girod would react to this opinion: I believe that the faithful in both the RCA and CRC were and are marked by a genuine interest in this kind of confession. I think that the conscientious CRC member felt that he could not stay within the RCA and live up to this demand. And I think that people like Gordon Girod’s father stayed within the RCA because they felt that their congregation was still marked by these basic features of “the true Church,” that they had no right to abandon that fellowship, and that they hoped for a reformation from within of the total denominational structure. And these kind of people never lost contact with each other. I can remember with distinct pleasure hearing such men of the RCA preach as Professor Nettinga, having been taken to his service by my father (who, at the time, was a member of the Protestant Reformed Church).

But this ideal, pursued by the serious-minded in all the churches of Reformed persuasion, has undergone some considerable attack. Church boundaries by many ministers are now ridiculed as examples of old-fashioned lovelessness. Young people come away from school (even Christian Schools!) with the impression that denominational barriers are of no great concern, that denominational differences are only to be deplored, and that each ought to be convinced that the number and quality of Christians elsewhere is surely greater than in our own church.

Isn’t it out of this spirit that the current desire for RCA-CRC merger negotiation arises? I know that this cannot be ascertained specifically, and I hope that I won’t shipwreck my whole argument by conceding that many more directly involved in this are no doubt of good intention and motivation, but…doesn’t the writing of Benes, Brink, Eppinga, Daane, Boer, etc., reveal that something else than the former kind of attitude if not actual doctrine of the church is at work today? Perhaps the kind of attitude which would allow Harry Boer to say:

No one can deny that, however great its spiritual and doctrinal aberrations may be, the visible unity of the Roman Catholic Church has been one of her most powerful attractions (or men. Nor can anyone deny that however great the spiritual integrity and doctrinal purity of much of Protestantism may be, its well-nigh limitless divisions have perplexed and even repelled men. Can we say that the hard-to-measure spiritual unity in the midst of Protestant fragmentation constitutes a closer approximation to the unity Christ desired than does the outward unity of the Roman Catholic Church in the midst of her spiritual deformation? Only the chauvinistic will give an unhesitating affirmative answer to this question. (Pentecost and Missions, p. 204).

I make bold to say that if the Mid-west and far West segments of the RCA (plus the more conservative of other areas) must come into the CRC under such considerations then I’m sure that people like Gordon Girod will feel very ill at easel And that is why I would, in effect, side-step his allegation that the CRC is too liberal for the more conservative in his church by saying two things: first, the tradition which we hold is spelled out in the Belgic Confession, for example, and it allows for no such thing as a merger for or upon other than Biblical reasons; and, second, the negotiations should envision a merger, which I see as something different than the submersion of one group into the other.

The Danger of Donatism

In summary, I am in favor of inter-church negotiations if the objective in mind is a church more faithful in every way to the doctrine of the full counsel of God as revealed in the infallible Word of God, the Bible. If this is the objective both parties will begin by a humble and contrite acknowledgement of their church sins, and will re-dedicate themselves to that for which our forefathers gave their all. The result would have to be a church in which any serious-minded Christian could find no valid reason for feeling uncomfortable.

But isn’t there a warning which ought to be issued at this point?

Girod’s complaint is that the CRC is “too liberal” for some of the more conservative in the RCA. There is no sense, of course, in trying to poke holes in one another’s statements, but what do we mean when we say “too liberal?” Is there an acceptable and an unacceptable degree of liberalism?

I was party recently to a lengthy conversation with two representatives of another denomination, both of whom were well-acquainted with the situation in a much-troubled church across the ocean. Which church that is makes no difference here, but its difficulties are unbelievably great. At a given point I asked one of these friends if he would care to venture an explanation for this trouble. He replied in one word: Donatism.

Donatism was a heresy in the early Church which taught that the validity and efficacy of the administration of the sacrament depended upon the spiritual character of the officiating clergyman. Very simply, it was an error which sought to know more than that which is professed. It was dissatisfied with the results of the one test open to the Christian in this age: the evaluation of things in terms of the revealed Word of God. Donatism wanted to know the heart as well as the profession of a man, and attempted to act upon that which it thought to know of the very heart itself.

This leads to endless conflict and fragmentation. Our point in stating this now is that if the RCA and the CRC are going to confer and negotiate effectively they will have to do so, I feel, upon the avowed basis of the Bible and the creeds and the official positions, and in a spirit of mutual confidence. Otherwise we shall he evaluating one another as people and as group rather than testing the spirits whether they he of God.

What About the Gereformeerden?

I can be brief about Girod’s concern for us in Our relationship of church correspondence with the Gereformeerde Kerken in The Netherlands. Let me say that the concern is shared by all kinds of people. The CRC is concerned as can be seen from the fact that synodical action was taken on an overture requesting formal consideration of the situation in the Free University and that church last June. Some of the Gereformeerden are also fearful, and a certain minister in that church is said to have warned his people not to affiliate with the conservative CRC when they come to this country (and others in Holland are fearful that such people will he heard, as can be seen in a recent letter by A. B. C. Hofland which appeared in the CRC’s Dutch periodical, De Wachter).

Again, thank you Brother Girod for your contribution! No doubt this discussion is still in its earlier stages. Let’s all hope that it will at least give us opportunity to re-think our positions on the very important matters surrounding the doctrine of the Church, with the profit which that—with God’s blessing—may provide.