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The Janssen Case – Chapter 1: The History of the Case (3)

(Dr. Janssen had been exonerated by the Synod of 1920, but this did not stop the uproar in the church.  The Theological School Committee appointed a study committee to study the teachings of Dr. Janssen and report their findings back to the TSC.)

When the study committee began its work, it had, obviously, first of all to learn what Janssen actually taught in the classroom.  To accomplish this, the committee made a formal and public request for “Student Notes” and also requested Dr. Janssen to submit his notes from which he lectured to the committee for investigation.  The first letter to Janssen was ignored: the second letter was answered with a brief statement in which he refused to cooperate with the committee on the grounds that cooperation would involve him in responsibility for the many violations of Reformed Church Polity which, in his judgment, had been committed in the treatment of his case up to that point.  This was the policy which Janssen was henceforth to follow throughout his treatment of his case including its final resolution at the Synod of 1922.

In a way, it was too bad that Janssen did this.  Whether or not he was right in his insistence that church political errors had been committed, it would have been well if, while protesting these errors, he nevertheless took the opportunity to defend his own position.  By refusing to do this, Janssen made himself look like he was being evasive with something to hide, and made many people suspect that he was truly heretical in his teachings.

These “Student Notes” then formed the material on the basis of which Prof. Janssen’s teachings were examined.

For a period of time each member of the committee worked independently in his study of the material.  After this was finished, the entire committee met for ten days in Chicago to attempt to come to unanimous conclusions and to draw up a report for the Theological School Committee.

But it soon became apparent that the committee was hopelessly divided.  And so two reports were drawn up, a majority report and a minority report, which were submitted to the Theological School Committee.  The majority report was signed by Revs. Manni, H.J. Kuiper, H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema.  It was completely critical of Janssen’s teachings.  The minority report attempted to explain Janssen’s teachings in a way which made them acceptable in the church.

The Theological School Committee considered both reports and adopted the report of the majority.  Although both were sent on to Synod, the Committee recommended that Synod adopt the Majority Report.

Before the Synod of 1922 actually met, the uproar in the churches increased.  This was partly because the Majority Report had been published in the Synodical Agenda for all to read, and partly because both Janssen and his opponents engaged in a kind of debate through pamphlets.  Janssen attempted to defend his teachings, and his opponents attempted to prove him wrong.  All this controversy led to much discussion and debate within the churches, with the result that much of the opinion in the churches turned against Janssen.  By the time, therefore, that the Synod met, the majority of the people were convinced that Janssen was guilty of heresy.

While it was true beyond question that Janssen was teaching heresy in his classrooms, it was somewhat sad that, to all intents and purposes, the issue was already really decided.  Within Reformed Churches, including our own, the broader assemblies (classes and synods) are deliberative bodies.  That means that these assemblies are called by God to consider carefully and prayerfully all the material that comes to their attention and requires decisions, and, after debate and discussion, come to conclusions which are in harmony with the Word of God and the Reformed Confessions.  But sometimes it happens, as it did in the case of Dr. Janssen, that these cases are decided by popular opinion within the churches before the assemblies meet.  The result is that the assemblies, because of public opinion, find it difficult, if not impossible, to deliberate carefully on the matters before them.  This is what actually happened at the Synod of 1922.

But, however all this may be, the Synod met in June of 1922, and the big item on the agenda was the Janssen Case.

Once again Prof. Janssen refused to cooperate with the Synod.  He refused to appear; he refused to defend himself; he refused to answer questions.  And the Synod was forced to come to its decisions without him.

The committee of Pre-advice (which was appointed by Synod to study the matter and come with advice to Synod itself) came with a unanimous report condemning Janssen.

The Synod itself debated the various issues and came to the same conclusion:  the teachings of Dr. Janssen were heretical.  Janssen was condemned and he was relieved of his teaching responsibilities in the Seminary.

The final decision read:

 

“With regard to the question as to what to do with Prof. Janssen:

 Concerning this question the Committee decided to submit the following as its advice to Synod:

(1) Whereas it has become evident that the instruction of Prof. Janssen, as reflected in the “Students and Individual Notes” is unreformed in character, and

(2) Whereas, Prof. Janssen, through insubordination on his part has made it impossible for Synod in its investigation to go back of the “Student Notes”.

Your Committee judges that Synod is called to the sad task of deposing Prof. Janssen from his office, in accordance with the Formula of Subscription….”

 

In this way the controversy was brought to an end.

Rev. H. Hoeksema was not only a member of the Study Committee, but was also a delegate to the Synod.  He, therefore, played a crucial role in Janssen’s condemnation, and began already his strong defense of the faith which characterized him all his life.

Really, with the end of the Synod of 1922, the Janssen Case was over.  There remained a few “aftershocks.”

Shortly after Synod, an attempt was made by some to organize opposition to the decisions of Synod, but this attempt failed.

Twelve protests were filed against the condemnation of Janssen at the Synod of 1924, but by that time the Christian Reformed Church was immersed in the common grace controversy, and had little time or inclination to talk again about Janssen.

One minister, Rev. Quirinius Breen, pastor of the Twelfth St. Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, made known his opposition to the decisions of Synod; but he resigned from the church before he could be disciplined.

In 1936, a controversy broke out in Chicago over the teachings of Dr. Wezeman, teacher of Bible in Chicago Christian High School.  Dr. Wezeman was teaching the same things for which Janssen had been condemned.  But this controversy lasted only a short time and Dr. Wezeman was also condemned.  After Janssen’s deposition, he lived in the Chicago area where he taught for a while at the Y. M. C. A. College, and he worked for an investment firm.  But his work in the Christian Reformed Church was over and his views condemned.