Open Letter to the Rev. A. Mulder

Dear Rev. Mulder:

I had not intended originally to carry on an extended discussion with you in the pages of Beacon Lights because I do not want to monopolize the space of “Open Forum.” However, I had not anticipated the type of reply you gave to me, your col­league and brother in the ministry, when I penned my first “Reflections.” But, having read and reread several times both my own remarks and your reply, and having seri­ously tried to understand why you reply as you do, I must confess that I fail com­pletely. And I am constrained to write again.

First of all, let me point out that the very title of your reply is incorrect, and therefore misleading. That title, “Missions Defended,” implies that missions were under attack in my article, and therefore that I had revealed opposition to and had attacked missions. Now nothing could be farther from the truth. I did not attack missions in general. Nor do I attack our Protestant Re­formed missions. Nor did I attack mission­mindedness. In fact, I expressly stated that we should know our mission calling, should perform our mission calling, should examine our faithfulness to our mission calling; and, moreover, I went on record in favor of a good, healthy “mission mindedness.” On my part, I am willing to concede that this mis­taken title was just that, — a mistake, a slip of the pen, — and I will not call it an insinu­ation. But I flatly reject the claim and the implication of that heading, and I feel you should make correction.

In the second place, I cannot comprehend, nor agree with, your public protest against my use of the term “schismatic.” Unless and until you show conclusively that my use of that term is not according to truth and fact, you have no right to designate it “name calling,” which is after all tantamount to slander. And, moreover, though you publicly protest, you fail completely to furnish a single ground for such protest. That, in the first place. Secondly, permit me to point out that our official ecclesiastical assemblies, — consistories, classes, and synod, — have more than once designated those who left us as schismatics. And are they not exactly that? Did they not create and take part in a split in our churches, a split that was occasioned by the heresy that they and their leaders embraced? And, though undoubtedly de­grees of guilt may be distinguished in this regard, is not the name of their sin “schism”? And is not one who is guilty of this sin, who walks in it, and who com­pounded this sin by seeking to deprive our Protestant Reformed Churches of name and place rightly called a schismatic? Is not this sin against God and His church to be designated as such? And is it not to be called to their attention too? Must we cover it up and ignore it? Can reconciliation ever take place properly in that way? Is it not rather according to true Christian charity to designate sin as sin, until the sinner turns and confesses his sin? But what puzzles me, Rev. Mulder, is this. Why do you publicly protest against something against which you have never protested at our ecclesiastical assemblies? As early as 1954 our Synod in its letter to these people said: “You have become schismatic.” It warned them: “You are walking in the way of schism and re­bellion, which is very sinful before God. And therefore we appeal to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you re­turn from your evil way, and at the same time in true repentance return to the fold of the Protestant Reformed Churches, of which once you were all members. But you must do this in the proper way, by confessing before God and us . . .” And did not Classis East in its well-known decision of October, 1953, slate: “These brethren, therefore, and all who follow them in this sinful way have by the same token become schismatic…?” (italics mine, H.C.H.) You see, I have simply used the language of ecclesiastical decisions that are binding upon you as well as me. And when you “publicly protest” against this terminology you are protesting against decisions of our churches against which you had every right to protest offi­cially, but did not. And if indeed this use of “schismatic” is so important that it consti­tutes a “major reason for the failure of our mission efforts in the Reformed community,” and was in your opinion wrong of our churches, then you have done our churches a serious wrong by your failure to protest and correct us all. But if, on the other hand, we, that is, our churches (not only I per­sonally) are correct in the use of this name “schismatics,” then you are materially wrong in your public protest, as well as formally in error, and, I gather, should re-examine your “private mission enterprises” in the light of our binding ecclesiastical decisions as well.

But what puzzles me in this connection is the question what you do want to call the schismatics. I notice that you later speak of them as the “De Wolf group.” Now certainly, that was not the name they wanted to be called. Nor is it a nice name. For that name certainly denotes them as a sect, followers of a man. And no religious group wants to be known or called a sect, even though they are such.

In the third place, what truly grieves me much is that you accuse me of violating Christian ethics and of insinuation and evil suggestion in your reply. And you promise to prove this, but fail to do so. Now these are not very brotherly charges, Rev. Mulder. I could wish at least that you had showed me, your colleague in the ministry, a little of the charitableness that you seem to want to show to the schismatics. Unless you can prove conclusively that your charges are true, without either tearing them out of context or adding your own imaginary insin­uations and evil suggestions to them, you should retract. And I will demonstrate that your heavy charges are not true, and then fraternally ask you to retract them. Whether I am careless, as you say, is a matter of opinion, although I assure you that I did not rush into print. You may call me cun­ning too, although I have never prided my­self on that score, and most people have usually called me blunt. But if you charge me on the score of ethics and insinuation and evil suggestion, that is a different mat­ter. And I must urge you, in the love of Christ, to retract.

  1. You attempt to make me say exactly the opposite of what I wrote when you state: “Then again, throughout his article he definitely shows an aversion to any criti­cism in the least of a project (in this ease our missions) so carefully ‘watched’ by synod, and which in his opinion is quite adequate, as the entire tenor of his article implies.” I wrote emphatically: “I do not at all mean to say that our mission efforts have been beyond criticism and that there is no room for improvement. This has never been the official position of our churches either. Our mission program has always been sub­jected to careful scrutiny and correction, for example, at our synodical sessions. And to be sure, when we have arrived, so to speak, then it is high tune that we understand that something is radically wrong.” You see, Rev. Mulder, I am not averse, as you say, to any criticism in the least of our mission project. I happened to disagree with some (not even all) of your criticism. And I considered your charges to be extreme and unfair. After all, it was you, not I, who climaxed a series of charges by writing: “All in all it seems we have long since buried a hearty zeal for missions (Is not a buried zeal dead? H. C. H.) in the sea of effortlessness (Is not that the sea of no effort? H. C. H.)” But when I criticize your criticism, why do you insist on saying that I am averse to all criticism of our mission project?
  2. Why do you not take my questions at face value, rather than imagining all kinds of insinuations and evil suggestions? I wrote: “I am only asking questions, you understand. But by all means let us have some answers to these questions before we are asked to ex­amine ourselves…” I meant that. And I asked these questions for three reasons: 1) Because you had evinced a very critical attitude toward our mission program and mission mindedness, but had not stated positively and specifically what you wanted and what our program should be and to what standard we should measure up. 2) Because I did not want to pre-empt your editorial position, but wanted by means of my questions to give you a golden oppor­tunity to make correction not only, but to give our readers some positive instruction and guidance in re mission mindedness. For that reason, I made some of my questions very concrete too. a) I did not take offense at your citing the great commission, as you wanted to imply. I called the term “mission mandate” a misnomer, because that great commission includes all the preaching of the church, not merely mis­sion work in the restricted sense of the term missions. I did not so much as suggest that it is out of date “somewhat” (the quotes are yours, not mine.) My question went out from the supposition that we all agree as to that great commission, but that now we must determine in the light of that great commission what our specific calling is, what our efforts must he, and where our calling lies, b) I did not attack your ortho­doxy by my reference to the schismatics’ mission project. I made clear reference to the fact that they went “all out” for that project to the neglect of their home front. And my question was a concrete one con­cerning proper balance and emphasis on missions. I merely asked concretely: what do you want? And, by the way, you still have not given us a picture of the properly balanced mission program. c) I did not suggest that you wanted to call several more missionaries at present, even though you certainly suggested that we have not called enough. But you characterized the lack of ministers and our vacancies as “only ex­cuses.” Therefore I asked questions about this. To date you have not answered. If our vacancies and lack of ministers are in­deed only excuses, then how many more missionaries should we have? And, by the way, let me again deny that our mission zeal is “buried.” Let me also state that you are very unrealistic when you choose to ignore the fact that we had to start from “scratch” in 1954. And let me state too that I am very glad that we never obtained five missionaries in 1953 who would have dragged the Liberated hordes into our churches and overwhelmed and corrupted our churches. That was the plot, Rev. Mul­der. Thank God, it never succeeded! I am sorry that you are not acquainted with that bit of history, and that therefore you do not see that there was a prime example of evil mission mindedness. 3) My third reason for asking questions was that I hoped to stim­ulate further, well-grounded discussion of our mission calling and mission mindedness. About some of my questions you charge that they could not possibly arise if I con­sidered missions a chief task of the church. But you do not prove this; and I deny it. You offered the criticism that our church papers do not write about missions enough. That was a criticism with which I agreed. And I submit that the questions which I raised could well he treated for the profit of all, and thus stimulate a healthy mission­mindedness. But then they must be an­swered carefully and adequately, and not dismissed as unimportant and irrelevant.

Finally, about that matter of stinginess. Your full statement was: “Then, too, we take mission offerings, but to other causes we give our dollars (not underscored as in your reply to me, H. C. H.) while the mis­sion offering gets our dimes.” In other words, you make a comparison and by that comparison intend to emphasize that our churches give poorly to the cause of mis­sions (dimes rather than dollars). I deny this. I proved that percentage wise (that is, comparatively, or proportionately) our mis­sion budget is 22% of our synodical budget. I also stated that when our people are called upon to give, they will do so and meet the needs adequately. The record proves this. Our mission work has never lacked funds. And I am certain that if a reasonably bal­anced mission program is proposed, our peo­ple in the future too will gladly support it. But let me make one more correction at this point. You make a comparison between our giving for education and for missions. This is not an accurate comparison. Education is one sphere: the church is another. And missions are but one aspect of the church’s work. To make a fair comparison you must match ecclesiastical budgets with educa­tional budgets, not our mission budget with our school budgets. To do the latter is something like comparing the food budget of one family with the total budget of an­other family. And I think you will find too that our total ecclesiastical budget com­pares very well with our total educational budget.

In conclusion, two requests:

  1. Please retract your unkind and un­brotherly charges against me, unless, of course, you can prove them, in which case I will confess my sins.
  2. Please engage in positive, constructive, well-grounded, and thorough discussion of our mission calling, our mission program, and our mission efforts. Then you will edify, and will culture and nurture genuine inter­est in missions. And, by all means, be spe­cific, and tell us what you want and what we ought to have.

Your brother.

Prof. H. C. Hoeksema



Both Rev. Hoeksema and our readers of Beacon Lights can expect my reply to the above letter in the March issue of this mag­azine.

For now, however, I would like to make a few observations:

(1) I greatly appreciate the change in spirit manifest in this bit of correspondence. It is far different front his former reaction as anyone can judge. (2) With Rev. Hoeksema’s argumentation I scarcely agree, in fact, on very few points. (3) And, I have nothing to retract.

Rev. A. Mulder