As I wrote the title above, the thought entered my mind that it is quite possible that this title will not fit for very long any more, for we might conceivably lose our name which we have now held for thirty three years. Probably all of you know the circumstances which have arisen in the last two months which have made this entirely possible. Nevertheless, there is no doubt in my own mind that we are still the Protestant Reformed Churches regardless of what may happen to our name. And there is plenty evidence upon which to base this conclusion. Since the time of the split in our churches in 1953, we are the ones who have moved forward, not the ones who have taken steps backward. We have maintained our own Theological School, and are not sending our theological students elsewhere to be instructed. We have continued to broadcast over the Reformed Witness Hour and have expanded this broadcast consider ably. We have still our home missionary in the field, and have not reached into another denomination for a missionary. We have continued to send our children to our own Christian Day Schools, and have not sent
them back once again to the existing schools. We still maintain the Declaration of Principles which was adopted by the Synod of 1951 and have not discarded this document in order to make our covenant view sweeter to the taste of others. We have not made flattering and hesitant overtures to the Christian Reformed Church in order to make way for returning, and our ministers have not been preaching in Christian Reformed congregations. And yet all these points can be considered rather mild and minor. For all these things do not make a denomination.
But there can be no doubt about it, and it ought to be evident to all who seriously consider the matter, that we continue to maintain the truth as we have distinctively maintained it from the very beginning of our history. This truth we have not corrupted our changed in the least. For our own satisfaction, we can conclude on the basis of the Word of God and the Confessions of the New Testament Church that we have been faithful. There is nothing that can change that conviction at all. And regardless of what happens to the name therefore, we may be assured that we are the same as we have always been.
If the courts of the land decide that we have no right to the name, it must be on other grounds than these. If we are deprived of our name and our property, it is on the basis of considerations other than the truth and the faithful adherence of our churches to the Church Order. And this is exactly what happened also. It was not considerations with respect to the truth, which the courts cannot and may not decide; it was not on the basis of the Church Order that recent decisions went against us, but the wholly arbitrary and irrelevant consideration of where our continued Synod met in 1954. Risking the danger of having the charge made that we are crying “sour grapes,” I am personally very pleased with the fact that we do not have to be considered the continuation of the Protestant Reformed Churches by virtue of meeting where we
should not have met. We could have gone to First Church to meet with the others at that Synod; but that would have placed us in a position where we recognized the right of an unfaithful Stated Clerk to designate the place of meeting. And it would have meant that we would have had to go to a place where we were refused entrance either for meeting on Sundays or for any other purposes. I was present at that meeting in First Church of the “Synod” of the other side. And I recall distinctly that they were certainly not expecting our men there at all as it was testified in court. There were not chairs set up for them; they did not wait with calling the meeting to order to give our men a chance to appear. All this was testified in court, but was not true at all. Besides, they seriously considered seating new delegates, but finally decided not to on the basis of the fact it was a continued Synod. I also recall that there was a “Declaraton of Continuation” at that meeting which was drawn up by the Consistory of De Wolf and which had come on the Synod by way of their Classis. I have a copy of this document before me now. This document is divided into four main headings: “Articles of Declaration,” “Reaffirmation of Basis,” “Purpose of the Declaration,” “Resolution.” Under the second of these, there appear three articles, the second of which reads, “The acceptance of the Three Forms of Unity, to wit, the Heidelberg Catechism, The Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dordt, as interpreted and maintained by the Protestant Reformed Churches.” When this particular article was up for discussion and adoption, there was very little discussion on it. When it was about ready to be voted on, then one of the delegates present suddenly suggested that this might conceivably include the Declaration of Principles, which was adopted by the Synod of 1951. It was finally agreed upon that, although they had not realized it, this was indeed the case. One delegate insisted that he would never adopt an article that accepted that document. And this was the general sentiment of the group. Yet they had to adopt it if they were to be the continuation of the Protestant Reformed Churches. And they felt that they could not discard the Declaration of Principles yet, for this was a continued Synod, and it might endanger their position before the courts. They were in an awful dilemma and felt it. Not knowing what to do, they finally decided to adopt the article with the “gentleman’s agreement” that it did not include the Declaration of Principles, and that they would discard that document as soon as feasible. Nothing of this, of course, appeared in the minutes of their meeting. They did not want it to appear. I think it was in their next Synod that they did discard the Declaration of Principles altogether.
All this is sufficient ground upon which to conclude that we are the same as we have always been as churches, and that we are Protestant Reformed. I say this is sufficient grounds for our own convictions. It matters not to me what others may conclude. They may decide that this is not the case, but that is rather immaterial.
The result of all this is, however, that we lose our name and perhaps our property. And the question arises, whether or not it is worthwhile to remain members of our churches which are Protestant Reformed now, but may presently go under some other name. This is a rather important question for our young people, because it is a question which is often raised by others outside our churches. These say that they do not want to be members of such a small church; they see no future in our churches; they do not like so much bickering and fighting; they rather not belong to a group which emphasizes so much its distinctiveness and doesn’t seek broader contact with other denominations, etc.
My purpose in discussing this is not in
order that we may weigh the “pros” and “cons,” put the evidence for and against on a balance to see once whether or not it is worthwhile, and withhold conclusions on the matter without prejudice until all the evidence is in. My purpose is not to cast doubt upon the advisability of retaining membership in our churches. I am convinced that whatever may happen, this is the only church to which I can belong. But it is well to understand why this is true. It is well to know the basis for this, for there is much evidence which seems to deny this fact. And therefore I would like to discuss this for a little while.
Originally published in:
Vol. 18 No. 1 February 1958