The Janssen Case – Chapter 3: The Issues in the Battle (6)

In earlier articles, we discussed how Prof. Ralph Janssen denied the truth of the infallible inspiration of Scripture.  We discovered what the effects of this denial were in his views of the Old Testament:  how he maintained that the creation account of Genesis 1 & 2 were imported into the thinking of the Israelites from Babylonian mythology; how many other ideas found in the Old Testament Scriptures came from pagan religions and pagan thinking; how the miracles were not truly miracles, but were events that took place by natural causes; how some of the Old Testament writings were not a part of God’s revelation in Christ, but were merely opinions expressed by the human authors; and other erroneous ideas.

Before we proceed further with our discussion of Janssen’s views, it is good to pause for a bit and notice how these views are now very generally taught in the Christian Reformed Church, including Calvin College and Seminary.

We must remember that Prof. Janssen was condemned for his views and deposed from office for holding them.  The Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in 1922 discussed Janssen’s views and found them contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture.  Now we are nearly 70 years after these events and Janssen’s views are very widely accepted in the church.  In fact, not only are Janssen’s views generally taught, but many have gone beyond the teachings of Janssen and teach worse things than Janssen ever thought of teaching.  Yet no church discipline is exercised against such teachers and preachers.

This is what I mean by the general title of these articles: “To Lose the Battle and Win the War.”  Janssen lost his battle in defense of his views, for he was put out of office and banished from the Seminary.  But, after all, he won the war, for his views are now commonly accepted.

While it is not necessary to go into detail on how widely Janssen’s views are accepted, it would be well to remind ourselves of some evidences in the Christian Reformed Church that this is indeed the case.

The doctrine of the infallible inspiration of Scripture is commonly denied in our mother church.  There are many evidences of this.

Everyone knows how the Christian Reformed Church is presently embroiled in a creation-evolution debate.  Evolutionism of the most blatant form is openly taught in the halls of Calvin College.1  When it is asked how such open evolutionism can be maintained in the light of what the Bible teaches in Genesis 1 & 2, the defenders of evolutionism calmly speak of the fact that the first 11 chapters of Genesis (as well as other parts of Scripture) are nothing but myth or saga, most likely imported from pagan (particularly Babylonian) mythology.2  The miracles of Scripture are denied and, when taught in the Bible courses, are explained in terms of natural events in the creation such as earthquakes (which caused the walls of Jericho to fall) and strong winds (which dried the waters of the Red Sea).

1 This is not really new.  Already when I was attending Calvin in the late Forties and early Fifties, only one teacher in the science department held firmly to the Biblical truth of creation.

2 See for a detailed description of this fact, my recent review of a book written by Howard Van Till, Robert Snow, John Stek and Davis Young, and entitled, Portraits of Creation; Biblical and Scientific Perspectives on the World’s Formation; Volume XXIV, No. 1, pp. 65-74, Protestant Reformed Theological Journal

In defense of opening the offices in the church of Christ to women, the texts of Scripture which clearly oppose this notion are dismissed as being culturally conditioned.  That is, these texts are interpreted as being the individual notions of the man who wrote the books, or are a reflection of the ideas which were generally held during the times these books were written, but are of no importance or significance to us today.  One writer went so far as to say that the greatest obstacle to women’s efforts to gain their rights was the Bible, and specifically the teachings of Jesus.  Until such a time as the church had the courage to repudiate these teachings, women would remain a downtrodden and oppressed sex.

What is disturbing and distressing is the fact that those who teach such things are no longer being disciplined.  Prof. Janssen was deposed from office for teaching these very views.  That was some 70 years ago.  Today those who teach identical views not only escape the discipline of the church, but are protected and encouraged by the ecclesiastical assemblies; and, those who oppose such views are criticized and ostracized.

This is strange, to say the least.  How can the same church which once condemned all these views, now openly permit them to be taught?  It would seem that the Christian Reformed Church ought to do one of two things.  It ought either to discipline those in her fellowship who deny the basic truths of Scripture, or it ought publicly to exonerate Prof. Janssen, apologize for condemning him, retract its decisions to oppose him, and lift his deposition – even if all this must be done posthumously.  Surely the church was wrong then and right now, or it was right when it deposed Janssen, but is terribly wrong now.

How is it that this strange change came about?  How did it happen that Prof. Janssen could be put out of office for views which are openly taught and publicly accepted – even by the highest ecclesiastical assembles – in the church today?

It might perhaps be argued that this can be explained in terms of general apostasy which entered the Christian Reformed Church.  Every denomination not only always faces the grave danger of apostasy, but the history of the church is a history of gradual decline.  No denomination is exempt from this.  Whether in Reformed or Presbyterian churches, denominations who once stood firmly for the truth, in time drifted away and went down the perilous road of false doctrine.

Such an explanation would undoubtedly be correct.  It is exactly for this reason that the church of Christ must constantly be reforming itself.  The old adage, A Reformed Church is a Reforming Church, always holds true.  And sometimes reformation must take place by separation.  The faithful in a church which has begun to walk the road of apostasy must leave to reestablish the church of Christ in purity of doctrine and life.

And this is undoubtedly what is happening in the Christian Reformed Church.  We need take no pleasure in this, for the churches of which we are members face constantly the same dangers.  Apostasy is a constant threat, and vigilance is required of those who wish to be faithful.

But this explanation is not the whole explanation.  There is an historical reason why Janssen’s views, while once condemned, nevertheless, resurfaced in the church.

What is this historical reason?

The answer is that, bound up with Janssen’s views on Scripture were his views on common grace.  And the interesting fact is that, while Janssen appealed to common grace in support of his position, and while his views of Scripture were condemned, he was never condemned for teaching common grace.

Immediately after the Janssen controversy, the Christian Reformed Church was once again in turmoil over the question of common grace.  This turmoil reached its conclusion just two years later when the Christian Reformed Church officially accepted the heresy of common grace and deposed three ministers who denied common grace.  These three ministers were Revs. Herman Hoeksema, George Ophoff and Henry Danhof.  And this was the beginning of the Protestant Reformed Churches.

To this important question of common grace and its relation to Janssen’s teachings we now turn.