It will, of course, not be possible to discuss every item on the Agenda of the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church (the CRC) to be held during the month of June of this year. Much of the material contained in the Agenda is informational and more or less “routine” in character. Besides, it is frequently difficult to judge beforehand just how important overtures to Synod will prove to be. A decision by Synod, be it pro or con. often makes an overture important. However, I should like to call attention to and comment on some salient matters to be considered by the Synod. In doing this I prefer not to follow the order in which these matters are placed in the published Agenda. It is. I think, more desirable to discuss them topically.
The Canadian Reform ed Church – There exists in Canada a denomination called “The Canadian Reformed Church.” If I am properly informed, and I have no reason to doubt that, its counterpart in the States is called ‘“The American Reformed Church.” Both trace their origin to De Gereformeerde Kerken Onderhoudende Art. 31 in the Netherlands. This denomination in the Netherlands is frequently called “De Schilder groep” in conversation. In 1963 the Canadian Reformed Church addressed a letter to the Synod of the CRC in which serious exception was taken to tendencies which it claimed to sense in the proposed revision of the Church Order, but in which it also “…expresses desire to enter into ‘correspondence’ with the CRC.” In Report No. 3 the Committee on Ecumenicity and Inter-Church Correspondence states that to the Canadian Reformed Church “correspondence” appears to indicate a full recognition as a “sister church.” This, I presume, would include not only an exchange of pulpits by the ministers of both denominations, but likewise a recognition of each other’s membership. so that such certificates would be honored mutually.
After the Committee supplies Synod in its Report (No.3) with a brief interpretative review of the background of this proposal of the Canadian Church, it recommends “…that Synod reply to the Canadian Reformed Church that if it, or the American Reformed Church or De Gereformeerde Kerken Onderhoudende K.O. Art. 31 desire to acknowledge now that they are a distinct denomination and wish to request correspondence on contemporary grounds, the door is open to such a request.”
The condition proposed by the Committee may seem innocent enough to the uninitiated, yet it touches a delicate and important matter—at least to the denominations mentioned. Briefly stated. the position occupied by these denominations is that not the present Gereformeerde Kerken in the Netherlands are, after the rupture in 1944, the legitimate continuation of the erstwhile Gereformeerde Kerken, but that De Gereformeerde Kerken Onderhouderlde Art. 31 are really that continuation and, therefore, the Canadian and American denominations, which trace their origin to that church in the Netherlands, should be considered the legitimate continuation. I am afraid that the recommendation of the Committee to Synod will imply to the Canadian Reformed Church that they are asked to forget about the past and their claim to legitimacy and continuance. Of course, if Synod should act favorably upon this recommendation, it is up to the Canadian Church to decide, but it should be understood that it touches a matter of great importance to this denomination and, I assume, not a few will be surprised if they should be willing to comply with the condition.
The Reformed Ecumenical Synod – The delegates of the CRC to the Reformed Ecumenical Synod submit an extensive Report (No. 28) to the Synod. Since a report of the actions and resolutions of the RES appeared in this publication shortly after its meetings, it will, I trust, not be necessary to pass this information along again.
However, the delegates conclude the Report by giving a “Summary of Matters Requiring Synod’s Attention.” At least two may demand considerable deliberation and discussion by Synod. The first pertains to separate Christian organizations especially in the social and political sphere. N; was reported in this publication, the RES devoted much time to this matter and finally decided to favor the organization of separate Christian societies. However, the RES did not attain unanimity in this matter. Those able to consult reports concerning the acts of the latest Synod of the Gereformeerde Kerken of the Netherlands (the Synod of Groningen), know that there appears to be considerable dissatisfaction in the Netherlands with the position taken by this Synod, at least with the way in which this position is described. I venture to express a fear that some parties interested and involved in this important matter, especially in the Netherlands, do not always express themselves unequivocal1y and thus try to satisfy the opposition. I trust that such tactics will not be used by the Synod of the GRG.
In addition the RES awaits a statement from the CRC in regard to (thermonuclear) warfare. Later in this article I plan to discuss the proposed statement. It is doubtless of great importance and deserves earnest consideration.
By mentioning these two matters I should not like to create the impression as if these are to only resolutions of importance. But time and space forbid a discussion of others.
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Christian Reformed Church – The relation between the OPC and the CRC is discussed in at least three reports to Synod; viz., Report No.3 (Ecumenicity and Inter-Church Correspondence), Report No. 25 (Closer Relations with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church) and Report No. 31 (Church Order Revision). It should be remembered that the Committee of the CRC conferring with its counterpart of the OPC came to the CRC Synod of 1963 with serious charges against the Church Order of the one. It stated that “…most of the differences between the OPC and the one (with reference to church polity) stem from the difference in authority that the two denominations assign to their major assemblies.” The Report calls attention especially to Article 31 of the Church Order of the CRC and the Committee states, “The principle underlying the article seems to be the assertion that the instituted church may, in its major assemblies, bind minor assemblies and also the conscience of individual believers with its decisions as long as such decisions do not go contrary to the Word 0f God. The church thus, in its binding authority, may not go contrary to the Word of God, but it may go beyond the Word of God.”
On the other hand the Committee claims that, “The principle underlying the OPC Form of Government at this point seems to be the assertion that Scripture, as the Word of God, and nothing else, may bind the consciences of men, especially in matters of faith and worship. A major assembly has no authority in and of itself apart from the Word of God to allow it, for instance, to go beyond the Word of God in determining what is to be binding upon the churches, and the individual believers.”
The Committee concludes, “If we have correctly analyzed the nature of the differences between the polity of the CRC and the OPC with respect to the authority given to major assemblies, we must conclude that the position of the ope is more nearly correct than our own.” It recommended to the Synod of ‘63 “…that Synod restudy and reconsider the authority which is now ascribed to oW’ major assemblies.” And also “… that Synod do not accept the proposed revision of the Church Order at this time .”
The Synod of ‘63 did not act upon this report and its proposals, but referred them to the Committee on Ecumenicity and Inter-Church Correspondence.
It is evident from Report No. 23 to the Synod of ’64 that the Committee of the CHC, which confers with its counter· part of the OPC, has not changed its mind and still feels that the position of the CRC, or rather the interpretation of Art. 31 of the Church Order by the Committee, is incorrect. It informs Synod that the OPC, as weU as the CRC, has a committee working on the revision of the Form of Government of the OPC, and proposes that these two revision committees “…meet jointly for mutual discussion and consultation,” apparently for the purpose of arriving at an agreement in regard to the authority of major assemblies.
However, in addition to the above, we are informed in Report No. 31 that Classis Hudson has notified the Church Order Revision Committee that it is overturing the Synod of ‘64 as follows, “We overture Synod to appoint a committee to study the nature and limits of ecclesiastical authority of major assemblies, said study to be completed before the adoption of any revised Church Order.” Among the grounds adduced Classis Hudson states, “Important theological issues, such as the authority of Christ and the sufficiency of the Scriptures, are involved, and they deserve more careful study and application to this problem.”
The Committee for the Revision of the Church Order informs Synod in its Report (No. 31) that it advises not to accede to the overture of Classis Hudson. In a lengthy treatise the Committee discusses the considerations which support this advice. Classis Hudson, so the Report states, “…seems to assume that the important church governmental matters to which they refer have never yet received due attention on the part of Reformed churches and its scholars.” The Report states that that assumption is erroneous. A number of Reformed scholars have interested themselves in these matters and also expressed themselves in writing. Moreover, the Report disclaims the assumption that there is a distinct difference between the CRC and the ope,or between Reformed Churches and Presbyterian Churches in regard to the authority assigned the assemblies, as if the Reformed include many matters in the Church Order not directly included in the Bible, whereas the Presbyterians refrain from doing this in their Form of Government and the Book of Discipline. The Report (No. 31) demonstrates that the OPC also maintains rules of order not based directly on the Bible. Moreover attention is called to the Belgic Confession, which includes at least some of the principles expressed by the OPC in its Form of Government.
Of course, the entire explanation contained in Report No. 31 should be read. However, I should like to make some remarks.
It may be stated as a matter of fact that the Presbyterian writings (the Confession. the Catechisms, the Book of Discipline as well as the Form of Government) are more elaborate than the Reformed writings (the Confession. the Catechism. the Canons and the Church Order). The Reformed writings are more concise. I consider that an advantage, at least to a degree, but I admit at the same time that this creates the danger of misunderstanding and misinterpretation.
The Report of the Committee of the CRC to the Synods of ‘63 and ‘64 as well as the overture of Classis Hudson might create the impression that the OPC is guilty of the error of so-called “Biblicism” and insists that for every assertion in its official writings a literal quotation from Scripture, after the fashion of the Campbellites. must be produced. The OPC holds. and the CRC agrees, that ”The whole counsel of God…is either expressly set down in Scripture. or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture…” (Italics, mine–Westminster Confession, Ch. I, Sec. 6).
I should also remark that the Committee of the CRC is altogether correct in stating that the greatest differences between the OPC and the CRC lie in tho area of church polity. However. I am convinced that these differences do not concern the authority which is ascribed to Christ. or to Scripture, or to the assemblies. There may be misconceptions and misinterpretations of standards and church orders. but these can be removed by proper elucidation. for the simple reason that essentially there is agreement in regard to the character of this authority. However, there are other differences between the OPC and the CRC. The two denominations differ, for instance. in regard to the character and proper composition or constituency of major assemblies. such as presbyteries and classes. In the OPC ministers are members of a presbytery whether they are officially connected with a local church or not. They need not be delegated to the meetings of these assemblies. but appear to be members of them by virtue of their office. In the CRC no minister is a member of a classis by virtue of his office. He is made a member of that body by proper delegation. Of course, the courtesy of the floor may be extended to a visiting minister. but in no case does be receive the right to vote. One is tempted to enlarge on this difference. For it may seem that a subtle and important difference in conception of the office of the ministry is involved here. One may even be inclined to ask. whether Presbyterianism does not ascribe something like a character endelebilis (an indelible character) to the office.
Yet I cannot refrain from mentioning in this connection the difference in the formulae of subscription to which office-bearers in the OPC and the CRC must subscribe. The history of both denominations and their origins and. therefore. also of their formulate of subscription is very enlightening. Suffice it to say that Presbyterianism. ever since the so-called Adopting Act or 1729. demands a subscription by its office-bearers to “‘the system of doctrine” contained in the confessional writings. but the office-bearers in the CRC are required to state that they “…heartily believe and are persuaded that all the articles and points of doctrine [of the confessional standards]…do fully agree with the Word of God.”
I feel sure that a great deal of work must be done before union can be realized. However, in the mean time, we should seek to grow closer together and thus make manifest that there is “organic” union between us in Christ.
MINISTERS —CREDENTIALS—MAJOR ASSEMBLIES
Credentials—Report No. 11 is concerned with the credentials of ministers serving in extraordinary positions. The mandate of the committee producing this report is to serve Synod with advice on a uniform procedure to be followed in dealing with the credentials of ministers so serving.
The Committee proposes six rules to govern this matter, but adds, “In large part these rules are only a summation of what [preceding] Synod[s] have already decided. or [which is] in the process of being finalized by a committee of Synod.”
I feel that these rules adhere to the sound principle that a minister must be officially connected with a local church. For that reason a call must be extended and, upon acceptance, ordination or installation is to take place. This may, however, be done with changes or adaptations in the Form used for the purpose.
The important element in this advice to Synod, is that the Christian Reformed Church is advised by these recommendations to adhere to that concept of the ministerial office produced by the Reformation, and, therefore, contra the Roman Church. The Roman Church holds to the spurious principle of a so-called character endelebilis (already mentioned above). That is to say, when a person is ordained as a priest a “character” is indelibly impressed upon him which nothing, not even deposition from office, can ever erase. Hence in that way, so the Roman Church holds, the priesthood is forever set aside from the laity and also elevated above the laity. A priest possesses, according to this doctrine, the office in his own person. The Reformed churches have always denied this and insisted that the office is inseparable from the church. It is not a character endelebilis. Since tendencies among Protestant churches to deviate from this Reformation principle are frequently evident, I am thankful that the Committee proposes to resist deviation and to adhere to sound doctrine.
The Seating of Ministers at Major Assemblies – A committee reports (Report No.6) on the status of missionaries, chaplains and others in extraordinary services and considers their seating with a right to vote at our major assemblies–classes and synods. The Committee recommends that Synod decide, “In re representation or membership in the major assemblies, that the historic procedure, in which only ministers delegated by organized churches [why not consistories?] are eligible to membership on or representation at the major assemblies, be continued.”
This is a good report. I hope that the recommendations of the Committee will be adopted by Synod—at least in substance. The reasoning of the Committee, upon which the recommendation is based, strikes us as sound and compelling. Though I heartily agree with the thrust of the Report, yet I would suggest that there is room for improvement. The basic principle which should be applied in the case of major assemblies is, as the Committee rightly asserts, that there are gatherings of churches (why not of consistories?) and not of office-bearers. True, office-bearers meet in these assemblies, but their office as such does not entitle them to membership. Proper delegation by consistories alone entitles them to such membership. The Committee feels that in Presbyterian churches the principle of the parity (equality) of ministers is upheld and that this parity, according to Presbyterian concept, entitles all ministers to membership in major assemblies. Now, though the Committee does not deny this parity, it seems to advise, in its discussion, against “pressing” this principle. Apparently it does not desire to go to an extreme and thus produce undesirable conditions in the formation of the assemblies, such as a great preponderance of ministers vs. elders at these meetings.
However, it seems to me that the principle of the parity of ministers, or of office-bearers, is not at all at stake here. The principle of parity, that of the equality of office-bearers (in opposition, for example, to Episropalianism), must ever be allowed its full force. But as long as we hold that major assemblies are gatherings of such office-bearers as have been duly delegated by consistOries, there should be no difficulty. A minister not delegated has no reason to feel slighted, no more than should an elder not delegated. For as we believe in the parity of ministers, so we believe in the parity of elders and also of deacons. This principle of course does not imply an equality of ability. Everybody knows that because of native ability, training and experience there is a difference among office-bearers. But one office-bearer may not “lord” it over another (Art. 17, C.O.)
For the rest, if there more than one minister in a church, also those not delegated have a right “to attend Classis with advisory vote…” (Art. 42, C.O.) Missionaries, chaplains and others, therefore, have the right to the floor. However, their delegation in that advisory capacity should be indicated on the credentials.
LITURGICAL FORM REVISION
The Committee on “Liturgical Form Revision” (Report No. 13) has made some changes in the Form(s) since the publication of the well-known booklet, “Proposed Revisions of the Form for the Lord’s Supper.” There are still two proposed Forms. However, both have now been divided into two sections: a preparatory exhortation and a formulary. Both are a bit shorter than the present Form. At times, however, one wonders whether the Committee has not attained brevity at the expense of content. The Lord’s Supper is called “… this sacramental feast…” or “…a continual memorial” of Christ’s atoning death, and also “…a constant memorial and visible proclamation of His death…” Of course, the Lord’s Supper (as well as Baptism) is more than that. It is, according to Presbyterian terminology, also a “sealing ordinance.” It is a sign, indeed, but likewise a seal. It seems to me that this sealing element has not been expressed as clearly as is desirable and necessary in the proposed Forms.
Without implying that I could have improved upon the language of the proposed Forms, I feel prompted to say that in instances the language and structure does not strike me as smooth and easily readable -it lacks cadence in some places. Moreover, in using one of these proposed Forms, with the administration of the sacrament, I have stumbled regularly over the fact that in the prayer it is stated that we thank God, “…for all the blessings of Thy grace; but most of all…for the unpeakable gift of Thy Son Jesus Christ.” Why should the blessings of God’s grace and the gift of His Son be separated? They not only go together, but the second is basic to and implies the first. For the rest I should like to mention that a Symposium on the proposed Forms, by twelve ministers, appeared in TORCH AND TRUMPET, September, 1961. These articles can still be consulted with profit.
This Committee also reports on an overture of Classis Grand Rapids East, which petitioned Synod to appoint a standing committee “…to engage in a thorough and continuing study of the liturgy and worship of the Church…”
I am thankful that in the Report (No. 13) the Committee advises against the adoption of that overture. However, in its rather extensive argumentation, by which the Committee seeks to support and/or explain this negative advice, mention is made of the fact, and I think uncritically, that “…much is being written on this subject [liturgical changes] both of a historical and of a theological nature.” I get the impression that the Committee means to say, jf Synod should see fit to act favorably upon the overture of the Classis, it would be in line with a general trend. However, it should be remembered that we should never allow ourselves to be moved by that trend. The so-called “Liturgical Movement” of the present day is nothing less than vicious. It obscures basic concepts and the very principles of the Reformation. It intends to be a return to sacramentalism and yields very definitely to Roman Catholicism and, as such, would reverse the Reformation. The Reformation made the preaching of the Word and the proper understanding of the Gospel prominent; not the sacraments. This movement insists upon the primacy of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and it would emphasize the worship and the adoration of the mystical, rather than the understanding of the Bible. I wish the Committee had not called attention to that movement as if it might be emulated.
Moreover, it seems to me that the appointment of a committee, as suggested by the Classis, is in itself improper. The Church does not engage in “research” as several industrial concern do nowadays. The Church appoints committees only with specific and concrete mandates. It leaves “research” to individual theologians and especially to such a body as the Seminary Faculty.
Finally I should like to remark that the Committee mentions the desirability that our Forms and Liturgy be made as understandable as possible to those who come to us through mission efforts. Of course, that is a proper ideal But, without considerable instruction that ideal will be unattainable even with the most simple language. However, I agree, we should try our best. But in such attempts we should not overlook the need of the membership of the church. We desire no formalism. Yet God’s people have become accustomed to expressing themselves in language, more or less stereotyped, which reflects the sentiment and the faith of their hearts. Certain psalms and hymns and also forms have become precious to them. I feel that we should disturb this “reserve” of God’s people as little as possible. All changes are not necessarily improvements.
THE PROBLEM OF WAR
The Agenda supplies us with a Report (No. 26) of the Committee on the Problem of War. This is, of course, a tremendous subject, not only in importance, but also in scope—its implications and ramifications. I admire the work of the Committee. It produced much in a “comparatively” small space. Still, I wonder whether the Committee, or anyone, could do full justice to that subject in the time and space allotted. Though this subject has been of interest for decades and centuries (think of Grotius), of late with the development of the A-bomb it has become exceedingly acute and urgent. However, let me first quote the Report. I shall attempt to do justice to it in still shorter space. The Committee writes, “No war, however justifiable in its inception, is permissible when, as it proceeds, it becomes obvious that it is paying homage to values like freedom, righteousness, honor, truth, or loyalty only abstractly conceived, apart from their concrete embodiment. No war may be considered just which while visiting destruction upon all that is bad destroys every living human witness to that which is good…” The Committee goes on to say, “…that a just war, though in principle thinkable…it is at least questionable whether, in view of the destructive power of modem weapons, it [a just war] can any longer become actual…” And also, “If a general thermo-nuclear war is able to scorch the earth … then a general thermo-nuclear war lies outside the traditional concept of a just war and must be judged morally impermissible.”
Though the Committee states, “The Church recognizes that the problem of war has political, military, and technical dimensions which it has no special competence to measure,” yet it also states that the Church judges “…that the general and unlimited employment of these weapons [thermonuclear] in the course of a war is morally reprehensible and Christianly impossible.”
The position and the views of the Committee naturally bring up the problem of “pacifism” It likewise involves the question of the right of the citizenry to refuse to be drafted for military service when a legitimate government declares, according to the view of individual citizens, an illegitimate war. Where, in other words, does the moral responsibility of the individual citizen begin and end in such cases? Christians in the Netherlands and other occupied countries were not a little vexed by similar questions, during the latest World War.
Moreover, all wars are cruel and destructive not only of the evil, but with the evil also of the good. Think of the “block-busters” of World War II. The good were then destroyed with the evil. And are they not in all wars? The Committee speaks of thermo-nuclear war and its unspeakable destructive effects. However, it seems to me, that the difference between thermo-nuclear war and all other wars, even the most primitive, is one of degree or of extent. What holds for all wars, holds for thermo-nuclear wars, be it in a much more extensive degree.
For considerations such as these, I feel that Synod should not at this time take action. If action must be taken by the church, the Committee should be given much more time and space for a proper consideration of the many questions which are bound to present themselves with this subject.
CALVIN COLLEGE AND SEMINARY
Report No. 14 is that of the Board of Calvin College and Seminary. As might be expected this Heport must be supplemented by a second. The February meeting of the Board had been held, but the meeting usually held during the month of May had, of course, not been held at the time of the writing of this Report for the Agenda. That is at least one reason why but few things of importance are mentioned. It may be of interest to know that “The Seminary Faculty has decided to hold its commencement exercises independent of the college.” It is doubtless of importance to know that the Board decided not to proceed to a nomination for the chair of Church History (Dr. Praamsma’s vacancy) this year. It should, of course, be assumed that the Board was moved by reasons which appeared adequate to itself in making this postponement. It is also possible,–if not likely, that these reasons will be divulged to Synod. But one wonders why these could not have been included in this Report.
Moreover, one also wonders whether a Report such as this informs Synod and, therefore, the Church fully of the important discussions which have occurred during the academic year. Perhaps the supplement to this Report will mention some activities. If not, one cannot escape the impression that aside from administrative activities, not much of an important and directive nature takes place. If that should be the case the question may be asked whether this is a good sign or not. If there is growth and development, and there must be, more information concerning “growing pains” might be both desirable and necessary.
BACK TO GOD HOUR
The Committee under whose auspices the Back to God Hour Broadcast takes place sends a very encouraging report to Synod (Report No. 10). One reads this Report with great gratitude to God for the opportunities and tasks assigned and for the willingness and ability to respond to them—at least in a measure.
The year 1964 marks the 25th anniversary of this work. A hard-cover book is to be published commemorating this event and dealing with the broadcasting enterprise of the Christian Reformed Church. At present 297 stations carry the broadcast in the U. S. and Canada. However, the broadcast is world-wide. Through short-wave stations the continents of Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia are covered. The Committee proposes the expansion of these foreign broadcasts to Synod. The Arabic language is now used, but the Committee is eager to broadcast in Spanish also. May Synod see its way clear to accede to the proposal of the Committee! And may God continue to bless the radio ministers!