26 January, 2017


Chapter 1

No Interpretations
But Appendages


In this chapter I submit to the interested reader a simple, fair, yet very important question. At the same time I purpose to bring before his attention all possible evidence to prove that the question can be answered in only one way.

In putting the question, various assumptions must tacitly be made. First, I will assume that the reader is interested in the truth of the word of God as expressed in the Reformed confessions. It is also his desire that the Reformed truth be maintained and he is interested in the well-being of the Reformed churches.

Second, I presume that the reader is informed about the existence of the three points. He knows that in 1924 the synod of the Christian Reformed Church formulated three doctrinal declarations. Especially if you are a member of the Christian Reformed Church you will probably consider this a superfluous assumption, for you will ask, what member does not know about the three points? Yet one meets with astounding ignorance in this respect. There are many responsible members of the Christian Reformed Church who know little or nothing about these points. You must not be overly surprised if occasionally you meet one who expresses indignation that the author of this pamphlet formulated the three points and thus departed from the line of the Reformed faith.

Third, I presume that the reader not only knows of the existence of the three points, but also that he is more or less acquainted with their content, is aware of the doctrinal significance of them, understands their tenets, and can discern between the true and the false, between Reformed and un-Reformed.

Assuming all this to be true, I intend to answer these questions: Are the three points of 1924 interpretations of the Reformed confessions or appendages, additions to, augmentations of the confessions? Do the three points merely express the content of the Three Forms of Unity in a different form, or are they three doctrinal innovations?

The question whether these three points are in harmony with the Reformed confessions I leave alone for the present. It has no direct bearing on the point I wish to discuss. Appendages to the confessions may be Reformed, and the confessions may be augmented in such a way that the augmentation is a further development of the Reformed truth. Amendment of the confessions is possible and proper and must even be considered desirable. But for the present we will not apply the criterion of Scripture and the confessions to the three points to discover if they are Reformed.

The sole question before us now is: is the content of the three points contained in the confessions of the Reformed churches, or have the three points been added to the Three Forms of Unity? Are the three points interpretations or appendages? This is an important question.

Leaders of the Christian Reformed Church emphasize that the three points contain nothing new, that they are not three additions or amendments to the confessions but merely further interpretations of what is clearly implied or expressed in the forms of unity. No new confession was drawn up and adopted in 1924, and the existing standards were not augmented. Synod merely interpreted the standards of the Reformed churches, or rather it quoted them, to refute various errors of Danhof and Hoeksema.1 Such a presentation of the matter was thought to be preferable for more than one reason.

In this way the three points can easily sink into oblivion. This is deemed desirable. Strange though it may seem, the leaders of the Christian Reformed Church are not eager to be reminded of the three points and considered them sufficiently important to be a basis for the deposition of ministers, elders and deacons, yet now they would rather forge the three points. It is considered expedient for the peace of the churches to bury them in oblivion. This burial of the three points is facilitated by presenting them as interpretations of the confessions, while if it were admitted that they were innovations, appendages, additions to the forms of unity, they would have to be brought repeatedly to the attention of the people and of the churches.

For instance, suppose you are called to be an officebearer in the Christian Reformed Church, be it minister, elder, or deacon. In that case, according to the custom of all the Reformed churches, you are requested to sign the “Formula of Subscription.” By signing the “Formula” you declare that you agree with the Three Forms of Unity—the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dordrecht.

If the three points adopted by the synod of 1924 are virtually new confessions, not contained or implied in the forms of unity, it would be necessary to require every officebearer to sign them separately. If an officebearer should refuse to agree with these points, he would have to be barred from entering his office. But this is never done. Even after the adoption of the three points, those who are installed as officebearers sign the same “Formula of Subscription,” in which reference is made to the same forms of unity as before the synod of 1924. The argument used to defend this omission to require a separate signing of the three points is that they are not appendages but interpretations of the standards. Thus it is possible to circumvent the necessity of requesting church members at meetings of consistory, classis, and synod to express agreement with the three points.

To make this request would no doubt cause trouble. There still are many Reformed people in the Christian Reformed Church who would surely refuse to sign the three points. I could mention by name several who do not agree with them at all.

However, they are not molested because of their attitudes. On the contrary, even though their disagreement with the three points is well-known and they publicly voice objections against them, they are nominated to be officebearers. When a man brings an objection against his nomination and expresses to the consistory his disqualification for service because he does not agree with the doctrine of 1924, his case is easily dismissed. “What difference does it make if you object to the three points? Are they not long forgotten? Who speaks of them? No one will trouble you about your attitude against them, and the consistory does not require you to sign them. You only sign the “Formula of Subscription,” which does not mention the three points. Therefore, you have no valid objection to your nomination, and your conscience is free!”2 Thus the peace of the churches is preserved, and the three points are relegated to the land of oblivion. Such officebearers are not to be excused.

I know those who understand very well that the three points are not interpretations of the confessions and that their doctrine conflicts with the content of the Reformed standards. Yet these men remain in the Christian Reformed Church and even become officebearers, although they know they are responsible for the doctrine the church adopted in 1924 and for the deposition of thoroughly Reformed ministers, elders, and deacons. Their consciences surely condemn them, for they know the synod of the Christian Reformed Church in 1926 emphatically declared that the three points are interpretations of the confessions and as such must be accepted by all officebearers and members. Although at their instalments as officebearers they are not required to sign the three points, these men understand very well that by implication they do that very thing when they declare to be in conformity with the forms of unity as they are interpreted in the three points. Yet it is easily understood that for such officebearers it is easier to silence the voice of conscience when they are not constantly reminded of their personal responsibility for the doctrine expressed by the synod of 1924.

It must not be forgotten that some officebearers do not have in mind the three points when they sign the “Formula of Subscription.” They imagine that by signing that “Formula” they express conformity with the standards of the church pure and simple. It may be expected that their number will increase as the history of 1924 recedes into the past. This could never be the case if the three points were properly considered and treated as appendages to the standards, and if at every proper occasion officebearers and candidates for the ministry would sign them.

The question whether it is right and proper for the Christian Reformed Church to be silent regarding the three declarations of doctrine they adopted in 1924 depends on whether or not the declarations are interpretations of the confessions. If they are, the Christian Reformed Church has the proper attitude; if they are not, its attitude is ambiguous and deceptive. Hence the question: are the three points interpretations of the confessions, or are they innovations and appendages to the standards?

First, from a purely formal viewpoint it cannot be maintained that the three declarations of doctrine adopted in 1924 are meant to be interpretations of the Reformed standards. Under what circumstances are interpretations of the confessions necessary? They are necessary only when certain parts of the standards are unclear, or if doubts or different opinions arise regarding the meaning of certain articles of faith. But in 1924 that was not the case at all. There was no request before the synod to explain or to interpret any part of the confessions. There was no difference of opinion with respect to the meaning of any particular article or articles of the forms of unity. The synod was called to consider certain protests against the doctrine of Danhof and Hoeksema, who denied the theory of common grace.

Those two pastors maintained that God is not gracious to the ungodly reprobate; that there is no operation of grace in the hearts of the reprobate that restrains sin; and that there is no influence of grace outside of regeneration that enables the sinner to do good before God. They maintained positively that God’s grace is always particular, for the elect only; that the development of sin follows the organic line of the development of the human race; and that the natural man is wholly incapable of doing any good and inclined to all evil.

Those two pastors appealed to the confessions and to the word of God to defend their position, but synod did not interpret those articles and scriptural passages. Instead of interpreting the confessions, synod simply proposed and adopted three declarations of doctrine in which the views of the two accused pastors were denied and condemned. To sustain those three synodical propositions synod merely referred, without any interpretation, to certain articles of the Belgic Confession and of the Canons of Dordrecht and to a few scriptural texts. Synod did not attempt to interpret even one of the articles to which synod referred. Synod merely quoted. The quotations from the confessions were supposed to be sufficiently clear; they needed no interpretation. They were cited to sustain the doctrine of the three points.

From all this it is evident that the three points were never intended to be interpretations of the standards. What is in need of interpretation is not cited as proof for certain doctrinal declarations. The thing explained cannot serve as proof of the explanation, yet the passages that synod quoted to sustain the three points were merely cited as so many proofs. It is sheer nonsense to maintain that the three points interpret their own basis. No more than it can be maintained that the three points are an interpretation of the scriptural passages quoted by synod to prove their biblical character can it be defended that the three points are an interpretation of those parts of the confessions quoted by synod to prove that the three points are in harmony with Reformed doctrine.

Formally, then, the three points are not intended to be interpretations of the confessions.

But, do the three points perhaps materially interpret the confessions?

It is perfectly conceivable that although the composers of the three points had no intention to explain but merely to quote the Reformed standards, nevertheless in the three points a further interpretation is offered of certain passages and articles of the confessions, and certain truths clearly implied in these articles are expressed with a new emphasis. Is not this exactly what the synod of 1924 did by adopting the well-known declarations of doctrine?

Let us investigate this matter. In order to carry out this investigation, I will quote the three points and also those passages of the confessions that synod cited for support of the three points.

Concerning the first point, with regard to the favorable disposition of God toward mankind in general, and not only to the elect, Synod declares that according to the Scripture and the confessions it is determined that besides the saving grace of God, shown only to the elect unto eternal life, there is a certain kind of favor, or grace of God which He shows to His creatures in general. This is evidenced by the quoted Scripture passages and from the Canons of Dordt II:5 and III/IV:8-9, which deals with the general offer of the Gospel; whereas the quoted declarations of Reformed writers from the golden age of Reformed theology, also give evidence that our Reformed fathers from of old have advocated these opinions.3

The reader will understand that for the purpose of the present investigation we need not discuss the scriptural passages cited by synod, neither are we now concerned with the quotations from Reformed writers. We are especially concerned with the quotations from the standards to which the synod referred under this first point, for we must know whether the three points are a proper interpretation of the standards.

The first quotation is from Canons II:5

Moreover the promise of the gospel is, that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have everlasting life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of his good pleasure sends the gospel.4

Let us consider whether the first point can be called an interpretation of Canons II:5. You will immediately concede that there is not even a semblance of similarity between the first point and this article of the Canons. The chief proposition of the first point is evidently that there is a grace of God over his creatures in general. The chief declaration of Canons II:5 is that the promise of the gospel, together with the demand to repent and believe, must be preached promiscuously and without distinction to all nations and persons to whom God out of his good pleasure sends the gospel.

One has only to read these two propositions to conclude immediately that what is supposed to be an interpretation of Canons II:5 is not even contained in the article or even suggested by it. By “creatures in general” in the first point we understand God’s creation in the organic sense, the whole that God called into existence at the beginning and sustains by his providence. If we take the first point literally, synod expressed merely that God is gracious over all the works of his hands understood organically, that is, without reference to the individual creature. God is good to man and beast and the green herb—to his entire creation.

Let me add that I would not object to the first point and would fully agree with it if synod had confined itself to this chief proposition. But this is not the question. The question is not whether I am in conformity with the meaning of the first point, but whether it may be called an interpretation of the confession. Is the declaration of the first point contained in Canons II:5? Or if it is not literally expressed in it, is the first point implied in Canons II:5?

Of course your answer is, not at all. The first point speaks of a grace of God; Canons II:5 speaks of the preaching of the gospel. The first point speaks of “creatures in general”; Canons II:5 speaks of nations and persons, only those nations and persons to whom God sends the gospel according to his counsel. The notion is absurd that Canons II:5 literally teaches or implies a grace of God over his “creatures in general.” The thought of “creatures in general” was never in the minds of our Reformed fathers when they composed and adopted this article at the Synod of Dordrecht. Of this we can be assured. The chief proposition of the first point, therefore, cannot be considered an interpretation of Canons II:5.

Those who composed the three points will object that I do not correctly and fairly present the matter. You see, they say that synod never meant to affirm that Canons II:5 teaches a grace of God over all his creatures. Synod merely cited this article to prove that the Canons teach a grace of God over others than the elect, that is, over other men. Even though it may be granted that this article does not speak of a favor of God over all his creatures, synod maintained that it affirmed a grace of God over a wider circle of men than only the elect.

To this I reply that synod must be held responsible for what it actually declared. If synod intended to express merely that God is gracious over other men than the elect, the first point is a poor piece of composition.

For the sake of argument, let us grant that the real purpose of the first point is to declare and teach that God is gracious over the reprobate. If understood in that sense, can it be considered an interpretation of Canons II:5? Again I answer, in no wise! Taken in that sense, the first point teaches a grace of God over all men promiscuously and without distinction, not only the elect. Canons II:5 does not mention a grace of God over all men; it merely deals with the preaching of the gospel to all men without distinction.

But, the authors of the three points say that the preaching of the gospel is grace to all who hear the preaching. Thus they say the first point is an interpretation of Canons II:5. I reply that this is not interpreting but augmenting the confession.

Such a would-be interpretation proceeds from the tacit assumption that the preaching of the gospel per se is grace to all who hear. This surely is not expressed in Canons II:5. The rest of the Canons makes clear that such an interpretation does not harmonize with the purpose of the fathers of Dordrecht. The Canons were composed for the purpose of opposing the doctrine of the Remonstrants. Therefore, we can be assured that our fathers were very afraid to speak of the preaching of the gospel as general, or common, grace.

Besides, if this had been the fathers’ intention, how easily they could have expressed that idea clearly and without ambiguity by declaring, “Moreover, God manifests his grace to all men without distinction in that he wills that the promise of the gospel, together with the command to repent and believe, shall be preached to all nations and persons promiscuously, to whom in his good pleasure he sends the gospel.” This, however, they intentionally avoided. I say intentionally, for we can depend on it that the fathers of Dordrecht were perfectly able to express their thoughts in clear language. Instead, they merely affirmed that although God’s grace is particular and is bestowed only on the elect, nevertheless God’s will is that the gospel shall be preached to all without distinction.

I conclude, therefore, that the first point is not an interpretation of Canons II:5.

Synod also referred to Canons III/IV:8-9.

As many as are called by the gospel are unfeignedly called; for God hath most earnestly and truly declared in his Word what will be acceptable to him, namely, that all who are called should comply with the invitation. He, moreover, seriously promises eternal life and rest to as many as shall come to him, and believe on him.

It is not the fault of the gospel, nor of Christ offered therein, nor of God, who calls men by the gospel, and confers upon them various gifts, that those who are called by the ministry of the Word refuse to come and be converted. The fault lies in themselves; some of whom when called, regardless of their danger, reject the Word of life; others, though they receive it, suffer it not to make a lasting impression on their heart; therefore, their joy, arising only from a temporary faith, soon vanishes, and they fall away; while others choke the seed of the Word by perplexing cares and the pleasures of this world, and produce no fruit. This our Saviour teaches in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13).5

In these articles there is no semblance of an interpretation of the chief proposition of the first point, that there is a grace of God over “his creatures in general.” This needs no further elucidation. These articles do not deal with a grace of God over all his creatures or even with God’s grace toward mankind in general, but with the preaching of the gospel to those whom God sends the gospel in his good pleasure. Article 8 refers to all who hear the gospel. Article 9 speaks of those who come under the ministry of the gospel but reject it. Therefore it goes without contradiction that the first point, understood literally, is not an interpretation of these articles.

The only remaining question is whether these articles teach directly or imply that the preaching of the gospel is God’s grace to all who hear the preaching.

There are three elements in article 8. First, the calling of the gospel is unfeigned and serious on the part of God for all who come under its ministration. Everyone who hears the gospel can be assured that God seriously and unfeignedly means what he causes to be proclaimed in the gospel. What does God proclaim in the gospel? Does he affirm that he is gracious or will be gracious to all who hear? Does he command his ministers to preach that it is God’s intention to save all the hearers? On the contrary, no preacher of the gospel may claim any authority to bring such a message. He who presents the gospel in that light does not bring the call of the word but his own philosophy; he corrupts the gospel and makes God a liar. The calling of the gospel is, “Turn ye, and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Ho, every one that is thirsty, come to the waters!” This calling is unfeigned on the part of god. He who hears this gospel has no reason to doubt that he is seriously called.

Second, it is acceptable to God that this calling is heeded and obeyed. To reject the gospel and to disobey the calling is not acceptable to God. He is terribly displeased with everyone who refuses to turn to him and live, with all who despise and reject the gospel.

Third, God promises to all who come and believe in him rest for their souls and life eternal. This promise is not to all without distinction, but to those who will come and believe. No one needs to entertain any doubt as to the sincerity of this promise. He who comes unto God will in no wise be cast out. All who come unto him receive grace and eternal life, for God certainly realizes his promises.

Does all this signify that the serious and glorious gospel—which contains the promise of eternal life to all who believe and rest of soul to everyone who comes to God through Jesus Christ—is God’s grace to all who comes to God through Jesus Christ—is God’s grace to all who hear the preaching of that gospel and not only to the elect? In other words, can article 8 be interpreted to mean that the proclamation of the gospel is grace also for those who reject it, for the reprobate ungodly? There is not the faintest suggestion of such a doctrine. The declaration of the first point cannot be called an interpretation of Canons III/IV:8.

What about article 9? It teaches that the fault of rejecting the gospel, the sin of refusing to turn, to come to God through Christ and to believe, cannot and may not be attributed to the gospel, to Christ, or to God. The calling of the gospel is sufficiently clear. It speaks unambiguously. It reveals very plainly what is acceptable to God. If anyone refuses to turn to God, he cannot blame the gospel, as if it were not sufficiently clear and rich to lead him to repentance. Nor can the unbeliever blame God for his unbelief, for the Most High clearly reveals to him in the gospel that disobedience and unbelief displease him most terribly and justly. Christ is fully and rightly proclaimed, presented in the gospel, so that the fault of unbelief cannot be sought in him.

The teaching of article 9 is that all the responsibility is the sinner’s. The fault lies in his wicked and unrepentant heart, the evil nature, which under and through the preaching of the gospel is revealed to be more terrible. The guilt of the sin of unbelief is only his. Is this the same as the doctrine that those who reject the gospel were always the objects of God’s grace in and through the preaching and ministration of the word to them? Does this article even suggest such a thing? The contrary is true. If the gospel manifests the perversity and darkness of the sinful heart and mind, it certainly does not serve this purpose as a revelation of God’s grace to that particular heart. It would have been better, according to Scripture, that those who reject the gospel had never known the way of righteousness and life. The gospel to them is a fearful judgment. It aggravates their guilt and punishment. They will be beaten with double stripes, for they reveal plainly that they do not will what is acceptable to God. Article 9 does not teach a certain grace of God in the preaching of the gospel for the ungodly reprobate.

Therefore, the first point is not an interpretation of these articles of the Canons but an appendage. It is clearly established that the claim of the Christian Reformed leaders and authors of the three points, that the first point is a further explanation of what is implied and expressed in the confessions, is absolutely false.

A new doctrine was adopted in the first point. It is an addition to the standards. This new doctrine may briefly be formulated as follows: God manifests a certain grace in the preaching of the gospel not only to the elect unto eternal life, but to all without distinction who hear the preaching of the gospel. Or to put it in its briefest form: The preaching of the gospel is common grace.

The second point reads as follows:

With respect to the second point concerning the restraint of sin in the life of individuals and in society, Synod declares that according to Scripture and the Confessions there is such a restraint of sin. This is evident from the quoted Scripture passages and from the Belgic Confession Art. 13 and 36, where we are taught that God through the general operation of his Spirit, without renewing the heart, restrains sin in its unbridled expression through which remains possible, a societal relationship while from the quoted declarations of Reformed writers from the golden age of Reformed theology it is evident that our Reformed fathers from of old have advocated these opinions.6

The passages of the confession to which synod referred in proof of this declaration read as follows: “In whom (God) we do entirely trust; being persuaded that he so restrains the devil and all our enemies that, without his will and permission, they can not hurt us.”7 “God … [is] willing that the world should be governed by certain laws and policies; to the end that the dissoluteness of men might be restrained.”8

May the second point be considered an interpretation of the parts of the confession quoted by synod? It might easily be understood to teach only that God by his providence governs the devils and the ungodly so they cannot accomplish anything against his will. Yet this is not the teaching of the second point. If it were, I would not object to its doctrine.

The view expressed and adopted by the Christian Reformed Church in the second point is that there is an operation of the Holy Spirit in the heart of every man whereby he is not regenerated, yet he is kept from total corruption of his nature so that he is not as ungodly in his outward life as might otherwise be expected. This is the true meaning of the theory of the restraint of sin as developed in the doctrine of common grace. This also was the question before synod in 1924. That this is the implication of the second point is also evident from its wording. By the general operation of the Holy Spirit there is a certain reforming influence outside of the work of regeneration upon the heart of every man.

This being understood, the question is whether the second point is an explanation of articles 13 and 36 of the Belgic Confession. This question must be answered in the negative.

Very clearly article 13 does not speak of an operation of common grace by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the ungodly whereby they are somewhat reformed and improved. It speaks of God’s providence in connection with the blessed truth of God’s power and dominion, even over the instruments and agents of darkness. That this part of the confession speaks of the devils and ungodly ought to have been sufficient to keep synod from the error of thinking that the article referred to an internal and gracious operation of the Holy Spirit. If synod’s interpretation were correct, this article would also teach that there is a reforming influence of the Holy Spirit on the devils, which is absurd. But if synod will not accept such an operation of grace on devils, it will have to admit that article 13 does not refer to such a gracious operation of the Holy Spirit at all, but simply to God’s almighty domination, whereby he rules over and governs all things according to his eternal counsel.

This government of the Most High over all things, according to article 13, is divinely motivated not by a certain grace, or favor, over the ungodly, but by his grace and love over his people. Article 13 refers to a very particular grace. Therefore, the second point certainly is not an interpretation of article 13.

The same is true of the quotation synod offered from article 36 of the Belgic Confession. This article does not speak of a restraint of the power and corruption of sin in the heart of the natural man by a general operation of the Holy Spirit, but of an external restraint of certain public sins by the power of the law supported by police power. The plain teaching of this article is that without the power of the magistrates men are not restrained at all, but are dissolute. If there were such an operation of the Spirit as taught in the second point, the police and the sword-power of the magistrates would be unnecessary. But now it is different. Article 36 does not proceed from the assumption of such an operation of grace on the heart of natural man, and therefore it professes the need for laws and police. It is too plainly farfetched when the leaders of the Christian Reformed Church attempt to present the second point as an explanation of article 36 of the Belgic Confession.

Therefore, the second point is also an addition to the confessions of the Reformed churches. This appendage can be formulated as follows: There is a general operation of grace of an ethical nature by the Holy Spirit, by which all men, apart from regeneration, are improved and reformed to such an extent that they do not break out in all manner of sins.

Last, I call attention to the third point:

Concerning the third point, in regard to the doing of so-called civil good by the unregenerate, Synod declares that according to Scripture and the confessions, the unregenerate, though unable to do any saving good (Canons of Dort III/IV:3) are able to do civil good. This is evident from the quoted Scriptures, and from the Canons of Dort III/IV:4 and the Belgic Confession Art. 36, where we are taught that God, without renewing the heart, exercises such influence on mankind that it is capable to carry out civil good; while from the declarations of Reformed writers from the golden age of Reformed theology it is evident that our fathers from of old advocated this (same) opinion.9

The passages of the confessions to which synod referred in support of this statement are the following:

There remain, however, in man since the fall, the glimmerings of natural light, whereby he retains some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the difference between good and evil, and discovers some regard for virtue, good order in society, and for maintaining an orderly external deportment.10

Wherefore we detest … all those who … confound that decency and good order which God hath established among men.11

The third point teaches that the natural man can do good works before God in civil life. This is exactly what synod meant when it spoke of civil good. The natural man is able to perform such civil good by virtue of an influence of God on him that has nothing to do with regeneration. The second and third points are closely related. Both speak of an operation of God and his Spirit on the natural man outside of regeneration. The second point declares that man’s nature is somewhat improved by this operation; the third declares that by this operation he enabled to do good.

It is self-evident that article 36 does not speak at all of such an influence of God on the sinner that enables him to do civil good. The article speaks of the magistrates’ power whereby sin is restrained in public life. This article proceeds from an assumption opposite of the basis of the third point. If it were true as synod declared, that an influence of God urges the natural man to do good, the police might be abolished. But since that declaration is untrue, the sword-power is peremptory in society.

The quotation from Canons III/IV:4 is very deceiving because it contains only half of the article, a fact that is more deplorable because the second half of the article makes very evident that synod by a partial quotation corrupted the meaning of the article and changed it into the opposite from what it actually teaches. The second half of the article reads as follows:

But so far is this light of nature from being sufficient to bring him to a saving knowledge of God, and to true conversion, that he is incapable of using it aright even in things natural and civil. Nay farther, this light, such as it is, man in various ways renders wholly polluted, and holds it [back] in unrighteousness; by doing which he becomes inexcusable before God.12

Clearly this article teaches not a certain influence of God on the natural man by which he is somewhat reformed and improved, but natural light and natural gifts that remained in man after the fall. The third point speaks of something the natural man received from God after the fall; the Canons refer to remnants left after the fall. This article emphatically denies that the natural man can do good with the natural light and maintains that he is incapable of using aright and renders it wholly polluted, even in natural and civil things. However, the third point teaches that the natural man can do good in natural and civil things.

Therefore, the third point is not an interpretation of the confessions but an addition to them. The appendage is that the natural man can do good in civil things by an influence of God in him that is not regenerative.

In summary, the Christian Reformed Church formulated and adopted three appendages to the Three Forms of Unity. The first teaches that the preaching of the gospel is general, or common grace. The second teaches a general operation of grace of an ethical nature by the Holy Spirit, by which all men apart from regeneration are improved and reformed to such an extent that they do not break out in all kinds of sin. The third teaches that the natural man can do civil and natural good by an influence of God on him that is not regenerative.

To assert that these points are in part plainly expressed and clearly implied in the confessions is a false representation, for they are not interpretations but augmentations of the Reformed standards. We can conclude that the three points, even apart from whether they harmonize with the line of Reformed faith and thinking, are deceptive and therefore dangerous declarations.

By adopting them without seeking the advice and consent of the churches, synod assumed a position of hierarchical power and authority above the confessions and greatly impaired the force of them as a bond of unity joining together all who profess and love the Reformed truth. The Three Forms of Unity are clear expressions of the faith of the Reformed churches and as such are a basis on which those churches can and do unite into a denomination. But is not this basis deprived of all force and stability if synod possesses the authority at any time to interpret the confessions in the most arbitrary manner, so that the interpretations of synod declare doctrines that are wholly foreign to the content and intention of the standards? If the broadest gathering of the churches may deal with the confession so arbitrarily that at any time it may impose on the churches appendages to the forms of unity, these have been debilitated and rendered impotent to serve as a firm basis of union. Then a few theologians are in a position to distort the confessions as they please, and the churches are again placed under the oppressive and accursed yoke of Roman Catholic hierarchy.

Deceptive these three points are as alleged interpretations of the confessions. They are therefore dangerous because every officebearer by implication is compelled to sign these points, although formally and officially he merely declares conformity with the standards of the churches. According to the “Formula of Subscription,” he merely pledges himself to be loyal to the Three Forms of Unity mentioned by name in that “Formula.” Honesty on the part of the Christian Reformed Church would require them to augment also the “Formula of Subscription” so that the three points of 1924 are clearly mentioned therein. Now, however, under the pretext that the three points are not additions to but interpretations of the confessions, every officebearer, whether consciously or not, declares himself to be in harmony with the three points as often as he expresses agreement with the standards of the Reformed churches.

By this self-deception, however, the Christian Reformed Church cannot effectively relegate the three points to the realm of oblivion, nor prevent their influence on the life and faith of the churches. Although in the disguise of alleged interpretations of the confessions, the three points nevertheless exist as real appendages to the standards.

As we will see in the following chapters, the three points are also distortions and corruptions of the Reformed faith. Secretly, and for that reason more effectively, they will complete their work of corruption in the churches until it is too late to save them from drowning in the Arminian waters into which their synod plunged them in 1924. They were immersed while in a state of anaesthesia produced by a triple dose of doctrinal morphine, from which, if God does not prevent it, they will not be aroused until it is too late to swim to the safe shore of Reformed truth.

Finally, let it never be forgotten that in 1924 faithful officebearers were deposed from their offices as ministers, elders, and deacons in the Christian Reformed Church because they could not conscientiously sign the three points, and they refused to declare themselves in agreement with the declaration of 1924. These officebearers had promised to be loyal to the Reformed standards, to teach them, and to defend them against all heresies. They are still loyal to these confessions, as no one in the Christian Reformed Church—laymen, minister, or theological professor—is able to deny. These faithful officebearers were deposed not because of their nonconformity with Scripture and the Reformed standards, but solely because they purposed to defend the standards and to keep them pure from foreign elements and heretical influences. Thus the Christian Reformed Church is the cause of a serious breach among the brethren and has become the occasion for the organization of a separate denomination on the basis of the Three Forms of Unity without the appendages of 1924.

The three points served as an excuse to commit unrighteousness over against the deposed officebearers, and they have served their purpose well. They will very effectively serve their further purpose of destroying the Christian Reformed churches, for they are a triple breach in the foundation of the Reformed truth.



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FOOTNOTES:

1. This is evident from what Berkhof writes:

First … in these points we have no material addition to our confessional standards … Our people may be assured that the synod of 1924 by adopting the three points added nothing to the essential content of our confessions. She only brought forward and formulated a triplet of truths that are clearly implied in our confessional standards and that are partly emphatically expressed therein (Berkhof, The Three Points: In All Parts Reformed, 5).

In connection with the controversy that has arisen among us, synod only brought forward certain truths that are clearly contained in our confessions or are even emphatically professed therein (Ibid., 62).

I am unable to understand the courage of the professor to write these bold statements. They are a mystery to me, especially when I consider that in his booklet on the three points he does not substantiate these statements. Nowhere does he offer any proof for synod’s declaration that the preaching of the gospel is common grace, nor does he point out where in the confessions such a doctrine might even be suggested. When he would show his readers where the confession speaks of a general operation of the Holy Spirit that restrains sin, he boldly faces the difficulty and passes on. To substantiate his statements regarding the third point, he wisely quotes only the first half of the Canons of Dordt, III/IV:4. He must have realized that the second half of the same article would certainly disprove his contentions.

In direct examination Dr. C. Bouma testified the following before the Circuit Court of Kent County.

Q. “We have read them [the three points] over and over here. What did synod do? What was the action of synod? What I am getting at is whether it was an interpretation of the confessional standards?”

A. “Most assuredly.”

Q. “That is what it was?”

A. “Most assuredly.”

Q. “And after synod has made this interpretation what became the duty of all members of the Christian Reformed Church and especially these ministers?”

A. “To submit.” (“State of Michigan, in the Circuit Court for the County of Kent, in Chancery. December Term, 1924. Before Hon. Major L. Dunham, Circuit Judge. William Holwerda, Et Al Plaintiffs, Vs. Herman Hoeksema, Et Al Defendants, No. 26695. Grand Rapids, MI. Monday A.M., February 9, 1925,” 459.)

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Before the same court Professor Volbeda was cross-examined. The attorney inquired into the attitude of the four professors regarding the decision of synod in the Janssen case in 1920. He wanted to know whether they submitted to the decision of synod in that case. Part of the examination follows:

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Q. “As I understand it, the Janssen case first came up for consideration by the synod of 1920?”

A. “As far as the synod is concerned, yes, sir.”

Q. “And in that decision interpreted and passed upon certain matters of the teachings to the students by Dr. Janssen with relation to doctrine?”

A. “Yes, sir.”

Q. “Was that decision of synod in 1920 binding on all members of the denomination?”

A. “Yes sir.”

Q. “Well, I will ask you, doctor, if following that decision of the synod, you, with certain other professors of the college or seminary, joined in publishing a pamphlet protesting against that decision of synod in 1920?”

A. “We did not protest.”

Q. “What did you do?”

A. “____ if you take that in the technical sense of the term.”

Q. “Well, what did you do in this pamphlet?”

A. “We laid the case open, as it had so far progressed before the church at large.”

Q. “Did you criticize the action that synod had taken in 1920?”

A. “We expressed our opinion in regard to that decision, yes, sir.”

Q. “You expressed the opinion that synod’s decision in 1920 was not the correct decision?”

A. “Yes, sir.” (Ibid., 481-82)

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Later in the examination the professor testified concerning our case as follows:

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Q. “How do you distinguish between the position taken by you in your pamphlet and your position in the Hoeksema matter?”

A. “For one point, in the case of 1920 synod did not interpret the confession.”

Q. “What did it interpret?”

A. “It did not expound the meaning of the confession. In the case of 1924 that is the thing that was done; the confession was interpreted, and the sense of the confession as taken by the church was laid down in these three propositions that by this time are familiar. This is one point.” (Ibid., 491.)

From these quotations it is very evident that Bouma and Volbeda present the three points as interpretations of the confessions.


2. Such cases are historical facts, and I could mention names.


3. 1924 Acts of Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, 14546.


4. Canons of Dordt II:5, in Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, 3:586.Ed.


5. Canons of Dordt III/IV:8–9, in ibid., 3:589.—Ed.


6. 1924 Acts of Synod, 146.


7. Belgic Confession 13, in Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, 3:397Ed.


8. Belgic Confession 36, in ibid., 3:432Ed.


9. 1924 Acts of Synod, 146.


10. Canons of Dordt III/IV:4, in Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, 3:588.Ed.


11. Belgic Confession 36, in ibid., 3:433Ed.



12. Canons of Dordt III/IV:4, in ibid., 3:588.—Ed.

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