09 June, 2017

Herman Hoeksema Was Right (On the Three Points That Really Matter)

Dr. John Bolt

[Source: Biblical Interpretation and Doctrinal Formulation in the Reformed Tradition: Essays in Honor of James De Jong (Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), pp. 295–318. (NB. The following copyrighted material is taken from a publication of Reformation Heritage Books, 2965 Leonard St. NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49525. Phone: 616-977-0889. Website: www.heritagebooks.org. Email: orders@heritagebooks.org. It is reproduced with permission and cannot be copied without permission of the publisher. I express my appreciation for their willingness to have me copy this chapter of the book and post it here.]

As is so often the case when academics become administrators, the scholarly promise shown by James De Jong in his dissertation1 was put on hold for the nearly two decades he served the church as president of Calvin Theological Seminary. Among his accomplishments as president, the most significant may have been the rebuilding of the seminary faculty, including its expression by adding the PhD program. It is here, as a builder, that he left his not insignificant mark on the seminary and the Christian Reformed Church as a shaper of Christian higher education. Coming as he did from one of the most prominent families in the CRC,2 this seems a fitting destiny and legacy. Yet it is especially his post-retirement work, his research and writing in the history of the Christian Reformed Church,3 that I want to celebrate in this essay of historical revisionism.

In 1924, the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, meeting in Kalamazoo, Michigan, adopted its (in)famous “three points of common grace.”4 Though the agenda for the 1924 CRC Synod included four overtures requesting the synod to appoint a study committee to address the issue of common grace that was disturbing the church,5 synod eventually decided not to appoint a study committee and instead quickly crafted the subsequently contentious three points to guide the churches.6 Furthermore, though the report by the synod’s committee of pre-advice demonstrated great caution in dealing with the controversy,7 including the recommendation not to appoint a study committee to work further on the issue because “there was no communis opinio in the Reformed churches on this matter,” when the three points were adopted by synod, Classis Grand Rapids East did use them as disciplinary tools to demand confessional loyalty from Hoeksema. In this essay I want to take my analysis of the 1924 CRC tragedy a step farther than I did in my earlier essay8 and defend the following proposition: With respect to the issues and events surrounding the common grace controversy generated by the decisions of the CRC’s Kalamazoo Synod of 1924 and its aftermath, including the suspension of the Rev. Herman Hoeksema by Classis Grand Rapids East, on the three fundamental issues—that grace is particular; that the doctrine of common grace is an extra confessional matter on which Reformed people can have different opinions; and that Reformed Church polity was violated by hierarchical actions—Herman Hoeksema was right and the Christian Reformed Church9 was wrong.

Grace is Particular

I will first consider the most important doctrinal issue in this controversy—the one that Hoeksema never tired of emphasizing: Grace is particular.10 On the twenty-first anniversary of the Protestant Reformed Churches, Hoeksema set forth the raison d’ĂȘtre of the Protestant Reformed Churches in this way:

[Our calling] is to preserve the truth that the grace of God is always particular, to defend that truth with all our power, to develop it in all its riches, to impart it to the generation to come, and to give testimony outside of the pale of our churches of that very truth in word and in deed, in the midst of the church and in the midst of the world.11

It may come as a surprise to some readers that Hoeksema learned this from Abraham Kuyper. We are indebted to Patrick Baskwell’s recent intellectual biography for an important clarification about Hoeksema’s theological relationship to Abraham Kuyper. Contrary to what might be expected, even though the target of Hoeksema’s battle was Kuyper’s signature doctrine of common grace, this did not mean that the totality of Hoeksema’s theology was the diametrical opposite of Kuyper’s. In fact, Kuyper’s influence on Hoeksema was deep and enduring. However—and this is the significant contribution that Baskwell’s biography makes to our understanding of Hoeksema—this influence was positive as well as negative. The negative influence is generally well known. In Baskwell’s words, “From a negative, or reactionary perspective, Kuyper’s influence on Hoeksema was embodied in the doctrine of common grace.”12

Our concern here, however, is not the difference between Kuyper and Hoeksema but the similarity in their thought. In other words, what was the positive influence of the former on the latter? According to Baskwell, it was “Kuyper’s exposition of particular grace” [that] “had such a profound effect on Hoeksema.”13 This exposition is found in a book of biblical meditations, in the first volume of the second series, titled Uit het Woord.14 The first section of this four-part set of reflections is headed, Geen Christus pro omnibus (No Christ for All), and in it Kuyper takes a close look at three biblical passages used by defenders of universal or common grace in a soteriological sense: 1 John 2:215; 1 Timothy 2:416; and 2 Peter 3:9.17 He begins by addressing a presumption he finds in many allegedly “orthodox” circles in the Dutch Reformed Church that the expression Christus pro omnibus expresses evangelical truth. Lest there be any doubt about the matter, Kuyper explains that “By ‘Christ for all’ is meant that Christ, according to the purpose and extent of his self-sacrifice, died for all men without exception” (3). What is chilling about Kuyper’s opening gambit in this first meditation is the fierce evangelical passion with which the proponents of this “Christ for all” proclaim it. Kuyper describes one of them “shouting shamelessly” from the pulpit, “Whoever preaches another gospel is accursed!” (3). The slogan was so prevalent at the time, says Kuyper, that “whoever does not yield to that notion is cast out of the synagogue” (65). Kuyper explains further that, try as he may, he “could not live with pro omnibus” and received the courage to “venture at least a feeble attempt at a counter defense” (4) from “a whole cloud of glorious witnesses who were uniquely gifted by God’s Holy Spirit” (5). It is his intention, he adds, “to demonstrate briefly that this cloud of witnesses actually did not know a grace that would not be particular”18 (5).

For our purposes in this essay, we need not follow Kuyper’s extended exposition of the three passages mentioned above; we need only take note of his conclusion: “The three major texts with which people usually attempt to terrify the one who confesses particular grace have been tested and examined so thoroughly that in that examination those arguments completely collapsed. There is nothing in these texts which provides proof for general grace” (53).

This is followed by a series of chapters that unpack the theological grounds for upholding the particularity of grace: total depravity (chaps. 6-7); God’s essence and attributes, particularly the attribute of righteousness (chap. 8); the person of the Redeemer (chap. 9); and the work of redemption (chap. 10).

With the preceding we have only touched on the first part of a four-part, 350-page book in which Kuyper mines Scripture and the history of the church in order to build an overwhelming cumulative case for the proposition that grace must be particular. Characteristic of the sort of treatment Kuyper gives biblical history is his commentary on Rebekah’s pregnancy: “The sovereignty of election fully breaks forth as well in Rebekah’s pregnancy. Indeed, here the facts of grace agree also with the promises of grace to prove that at least at that time, the living God, who prepared grace for us, intended that grace to be particular” (136).

It is this Kuyper, champion of particular grace, that Herman Hoeksema embraced with his whole heart, soul, and mind in Van Zonde en Genade (Sin and Grace), which, after its publication in 1923, became the occasion of the common grace controversy in the CRC. Hoeksema explicitly endorses Kuyper’s views as articulated in Dat de Genade Particulier Is (Particular Grace).19 How then did the narrative shift to full-throttled critique of Kuyper as the expositor and promoter of common grace? To understand this we need, first of all, to take note of a very important matter of terminology.

Kuyper’s three-volume exposition and defense of common grace is titled De Gemeene Gratie.20 The Dutch word for saving grace is genade; gratie can be translated as “grace” but might be better translated as “favor” when the point is to distinguish the two notions. This is not an insignificant nuance and Kuyper himself calls attention to it in the opening meditation of the first volume. The new series of articles he is beginning, he takes pains to emphasize, builds on two previous series of articles on particular grace21 and the doctrine of the covenants22 (DGG, I, 5). The series on gemeene gratie must be understood in its order as the third piece of an organic web of Reformed convictions.

The story of salvation begins with the individual person, with the saved person as a child of God, chosen for eternal life by the free, sovereign, electing grace of God (DGG, I, 5). Kuyper underscores the connectedness of these three convictions—particularity of grace; doctrine of the covenants; common grace—by pointing to the error that arises when one attempts to take refuge in the doctrine of election apart from the accompanying doctrine of the covenants. An elect person is more than an individual but one who lives in communion, as a member of a body. To take election without covenant, argues Kuyper, is an attempt to grab the Holy Spirit without honouring the Son who promised His disciples that the Spirit of Truth “will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:15). It is imperative that the children of God not only believe that they are chosen, but also that they are branches in the one Vine, members of the same body. For this reason, a confession of particular, personal grace is untrue and unbiblical if the doctrine of the covenants is not its background (DGG, I, 6).

In the same way that the doctrine of the covenants is the necessary, organic context for particular grace, so too, the work of creation, the existence of the world, and the life of the human race, provides the essential background for the covenant. “Neither our election nor our belonging to the communion of saints abolishes that which is human in us” (DGG, I, 6). Each child of God is personally called, incorporated into the body of Christ, and exists as a human being, born to and a member of the human race. Kuyper then turns to the Heidelberg Catechism’s description of the divine, triune economy to make the same point. When we confess that God is triune, we speak of three things: of God the Holy Spirit and our sanctification; of God the Son and our redemption; of God the Father and our creation (Lord’s Day 8). He quickly adds that the catechism reverses the order creation-redemption-sanctification since the movement in Christian experience follows the former rather than the latter. “But, in the understanding of the child of God, who looks inwardly and reflects on the course of his soul’s journey, and thus reckons from the point at which he now stands, the path of experience and memory is the exact reverse [of the Catechism’s order]” (DGG, I, 7). Stated differently, the believer begins by “confessing the word of God the Holy Spirit who assures him of his personal election; he also confesses that grace is particular (DGG, I, 7). A proper confession of faith in the triune God goes like this: “I am chosen; I am in Christ; and for that reason I believe, now deeply and fully for the first time, in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, also Creator of my own being, body and soul” (DGG, I, 7).

With this background of the threefold character of Christian confession behind him, Kuyper calls attention to the title given to the series as a whole: it is gemeene gratie (gratia communis) and not algemeene genade. He chose this, he says, to remove all possibility of misunderstanding. Once the notion of “common grace” is introduced, he notes, there is an immediate effort to transform it into universal saving grace. Kuyper insists: “Saving [grace] in the full sense of the term is always particular, personal, grace” (DGG, I, 8). What he means by “common grace” is not a difference of degree but of kind. It has “a completely different nature” (DGG, I, 9).

In the remainder of De Gemeene Gratie, Kuyper is not fully consistent with his own distinction and uses the two expressions interchangeably.23 We need to acknowledge that the distinction in the Dutch language may be a distinction without a difference since both genade and gratie point to the same Latin noun, gratia. According to Richard Muller, Protestant orthodoxy made use of even more distinctions and terms. The basic distinction was between gratia particularis sive specialis (the particular or saving grace given only to the elect) and two different general graces, gratia universalis (the grace of God in the universal call of the gospel presented to all) and gratia communis (God’s general bestowal of blessings on all people, reprobate as well as elect).24 We need not explore these further, but, for our purposes, we do need to ask whether the treatment of common grace by the 1924 Synod of the Christian Reformed Church adequately protected Kuyper’s own insistence on the particularity of saving grace. Let’s consider the first point of Kalamazoo on common grace:

Concerning the favourable attitude of God toward mankind in general and not only toward the elect, the Synod declares that it is certain, on the ground of Scripture and the Confessions, that there is, besides the saving grace of God, shown only to those chosen unto eternal life, also a certain favor or grace of God which He shows to all His creatures. This is evident from the quoted Scripture passages and from the Canons of Dordt II, 5, and III and IV, 8 and 9, where the general offer of the Gospel is discussed; while it is evident from the quoted declarations of Reformed writers of the period of florescence of Reformed theology, that our Reformed fathers from of old have championed this view.25

The difficulty with this particular formulation is not so much with the first sentence but with the linkage of God’s broad-based general favor to “the general offer of the Gospel” as a ground. The broad favor of God “to mankind in general,” the 1924 synod concluded, “is evident from [writings that discuss] the general offer of the gospel.” This is precisely the linkage that Kuyper so vigorously warned against in his meditations on particular grace. I will not rehearse all the evidence marshalled by Randy Blacketer in his study of the first point but content myself with two key points. (1) Christian Reformed discussions about the “general offer” usually fail to distinguish carefully between “call” and “offer,” and in so doing accept the Remontrant definition of call as God’s desire and intention to save those who receive the call.26 (2) When the Canons of Dort do use the word “offer”—in III/IV.9—the reference is to Christ, and the Latin offero means “to show, reveal, exhibit.” The article could be interpreted “as teaching that all persons who hear the gospel are confronted with Christ, or that they encounter Christ in the gospel.”27 The fundamental point is that “indiscriminate declaration of what is required for a person to receive eternal life, is not an offer of salvation to those whom God has decreed to leave in their sin.”28

Blacketer concludes that “the substantial error committed by the 1924 synod was its acceptance of the Arminian definition of the sincere call—a doctrine that is clearly rejected by Canons III/IV.8.” That seems to me a reasonable conclusion and I would formulate it this way: The 1924 Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, though it ostensibly wanted to defend Abraham Kuyper’s doctrine of common grace, failed to guard its formulation from the perils of possible salvific universalism.29 Kuyper would not have been happy with that; by joining Kuyper’s insistence on the particularity of grace, Herman Hoeksema was right and the Christian Reformed Church was wrong.

Rather than restricting myself to a critique, let me also offer an alternative working of the first point that tries to preserve the important point the synod wanted to make while avoiding the pitfalls Kuyper and Hoeksema warned against. My wording admittedly does introduce a significant change in emphasis. The 1924 synod emphasized the favourable attitude to humanity in general and tied it to the “general offer of the gospel,” thus opening the door for misunderstanding and even the potential error of Christus pro omnibus. That is why I chose to lead off with a clear affirmation of particular grace and place general divine favor within the realm of providence.


1924 Synod’s Wording of the First Point

Concerning the favourable attitude of God toward mankind in general and not only toward the elect, the Synod declares that it is certain, on the ground of Scripture and the Confessions, that there is, besides the saving grace of God, shown only to those chosen unto eternal life, also a certain favor or grace of God which He shows to all His creatures. This is evident from the quoted Scripture passages and from the Canons of Dordt II, 5, and III and IV, 8 and 9, where the general offer of the Gospel is discussed; while it is evident from the quoted declarations of Reformed writers of the period of florescence of Reformed theology, that our Reformed fathers from of old have championed this view.

A Proposed Wording of the First Point

Concerning the doctrine of grace, Synod declares that God’s saving grace is always particular, to the elect. The promise of the gospel “that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life … 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” (Canons of Dordt, II.5). In addition to this saving grace of God, shown only to those chosen to eternal life, there is also a favor of God shown to all creatures, whereby He providentially upholds all things, preserves life, and governs the world by His fatherly hand (Lord’s Day 10). Whatever “light of nature” remains in man only serves to make him inexcusable (Canons III/IV.4).


There is little doubt that a formulation of the first point along the lines suggested here would have met with Hoeksema’s approval30 and, at least on this point, would have averted a crisis and church division. For me, the intriguing question is whether those who so aggressively promoted the doctrine of common grace would have also been happy with it. The ironic tragedy of 1924 is that we will never know because a gracious effort to find common ground was not even attempted.

Common Grace is Extra-Confessional

According to Hoeksema’s biographer, his daughter-in-law Gertrude Hoeksema, he was willing “to live with the issue of common grace and to have free discussion on it if it were not elevated to the status of a dogma. He could live in the same denomination with it, he said, if it were not binding, if he did not have to submit to it and to teach it as official doctrine of the church.”31 There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of Hoeksema’s willingness to live with theological differences that did not have the status of a confession or dogma. After all, that is the pattern that properly pertains in the Reformed churches. To take one example, the contentious issues of election, covenant, and regeneration in the Dutch Reformed Churches (Gereformeerde Kerken Nederland) at the turn of the nineteenth and into the twentieth century were handled in precisely that manner by the “pacification” formula at the 1905 GKN Synod of Utrecht.32

·         The Synod of the CRC adopted the conclusions of Utrecht in 1908.33 With respect to the doctrine of election the pacification formula acknowledged that “our confessions … certainly … follow the infralapsarian presentation,” but “this does not at all imply an exclusion or condemnation of the supralapsarian presentation.” In his history of the CRC, Dietrich Kromminga points to this implication of the synodical statement: “Accusations of heresy must be avoided; in preaching and catechetical instruction the standards must be followed, and the deep problems involved in the disputes must not be obtruded upon the church.”34 A similar non liquet to the notions of “eternal justification” and “immediate regeneration.” Concerning the latter,” the Synod declares, that this expression can be used in a good sense, insofar our churches have always confessed over against the Lutheran and Roman church that regeneration does not take place through the Word or the sacraments as such but through the almighty and regenerating activity of the Holy Spirit.” At the same time, however, synod also cautioned that “this regenerating activity of the Holy Spirit must not be divorced from the preaching of the Word as if both were separate from each other.”

·         What we see in the pacification formula is a deliberate refusal to permit secondary theological disputes to become confessional matters, to elevate them to essential dogma. This recognition “that not all articles of true doctrine are of the same sort” goes back to John Calvin himself.35 In the case of Herman Hoeksema and his rejection of common grace, the 1924 CRC Synod itself can be called in as an “orthodoxy witness” for the defendant.

·         In his own apologia for the formation of the Protestant Reformed Churches, Hoeksema is generous in his insistence that the 1924 Kalamazoo Synod was not a “packed” synod but a “weak synod.”36 If, by contrast, it would be too unkind to call the synod confused, it is necessary to say that it was conflicted. It decided not to appoint a study committee to examine the doctrine of common grace and stated this decision in rather remarkable terms. The advisory committee recommendation adopted by synod reads as follows:

[That synod] make no statement concerning the church’s position with regard to the doctrine of common grace [the Dutch reads “algemeene genade of gemeene gratie” thus incorporating both Dutch language terms]. Such a statement would presuppose that this doctrine had already been thoroughly thought through and developed in all its particularities, which most certainly is not the case. The necessary preliminary study for this is completely lacking. Consequently, even among the Reformed churches there is definitely no common mind (communis opinion) on this matter.37

·         In response to the Muskegon overture, which had called for a study committee to formulate a dogma on common grace that could be incorporated into a confession, synod also declined, noting that this is not the way confessional dogmas are formed. These arise over a longer period of controversy and flow from a growing consensus of the church.38 It then called for church leaders, preachers as well as professors, to continue studying the matter and engaging the church so that in good time a consensus could be achieved.39 With this resolution, synod thanked the advisory committee for its work and considered the matter of common grace concluded.

·         Note well, this conclusion came after synod had already adopted the three points. Furthermore, in each of the three points, synod was led to insist that it had Reformed confessional and theological backing for its claim. In each case, the positive statement is backed with this ground: “it is evident from the quoted declarations of Reformed writers of the period of florescence of Reformed theology, that our Reformed fathers from of old have championed this view.” How does this square with “no communis opinion”? Conflicted or confused?

·         Finally, we note that the 1924 synod was not minded to disciple Hoeksema. Rather than repeat the more complete description I gave in my retrospective,40 I will summarize the points here in two stages, considering the two questions before synod: (a) whether or not the synod should examine Hoeksema’s and Danhof’s views; (b) whether or not the synod should give the two brothers a public reprimand. Concerning the first (a), the synod’s advisory committee recommended that synod not enter into discussion of key issues such as the accusation that Hoeksema and Danhof were one-sided in their emphasis on divine sovereignty and God’s decree at the expense of human responsibility, because:

o   similar expressions have from time to time been used by supralapsarians without their being disciplined by the church;

o   the brothers Danhof and Hoeksema absolutely reject the conclusion that God is the author of sin, a conclusion which some maintain follows from their declarations

o   it is characteristic of the supralapsarian to view everything in light of God’s plan and this has never been condemned by the churches.41

This judgement was then immediately followed by the advisory committee’s recommendation that “synod should declare itself specifically” on three points, namely, (1) God’s favourable disposition to all men; (2) the restraint of sin in the individual person and in society; (3) the doing of so-called righteousness by the unregenerate.42 Synod then went on the adopt the three points as formulated by the advisory committee.

On the second point (b), the advisory committee in its original report to synod recommended that

Synod through its president … seriously admonish the brethren with a view to their deviations and ask them to promise that in the future they will adhere to what Synod expressed in the three points mentioned above; urge [them] … in all seriousness to refrain from all attempts to propagate in the church their deviating views regarding the three points; [and if they do not] … Synod, though very loath to do so, shall be obliged to make the case pending with their respective consistories.

Failing all this, a special committee, consisting of the officers of synod, would have to deal with the matter.43 As Hoeksema himself put it in his characteristically colourful summary: “Surely, the committee of pre-advice had intended a sound synodical spanking for the two culprits.”44

Once again, I will not repeat the details of my earlier coverage of this,45 but only restate the conclusion: Synod did not adopt this recommendation of its advisory committee. Instead, having adopted the three points, synod contented itself with this gentle judgment:

Synod declares that there are various expressions in the writings of the Revs. H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema which do not harmonize well with what the Scripture and the confessions teach us regarding the three points mentioned above. Also, synod judges that the ministers, named above, use certain strong expressions in their writings from which it becomes evident that in their presentations they do not reckon sufficiently with the manner in which our confessions declare themselves, especially regarding point I of the Ultrecht conclusion.

At the same time, synod provided the two ministers with a nihil obstat concerning “the basic truths of the Reformed faith”:

On the other hand, synod declares that the above-mentioned ministers, according to their own repeated declarations made in their writings, have no intent or desire other than to teach the Reformed teaching, the teaching of the Holy Scripture, and that of our confessions, and also to defend it. Also, it cannot be denied that, in the basic truths of the Reformed faith as set forth in our confessions, they are Reformed, albeit with a tendency to be one-sided.

It was thus decided.46

Notwithstanding this general acceptance, synod did add the following direct but mild admonition to Hoeksema and Danhof:

In view of the divergent ideas of the ministers H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema regarding the three above-mentioned points, and in view of the conflict that has been ignited in our churches concerning the doctrine of common grace, synod admonishes both brothers to hold themselves in their preaching and in their writing to the standpoint of our confession with reference to the three points and at the same time admonishes the brothers and the churches in general to guard against all one-sidedness in the presentation of the truth and to be careful, moderate and unobtrusive in their statements.47

This caution was then followed immediately by a synodical “on the other hand” in which the two brothers were praised for reminding the church that abuses of the doctrine of common grace would lead to worldliness. An admonition against worldliness was sent to the churches along with its statements on common grace.48 In order to keep the order of synod’s decisions clearly before us, it should be noted that only after the three points were adopted along with the cautions just mentioned, that synod decided not to appoint a study committee because, among other reasons, “there was no communis opines in the Reformed churches on the issue.”

When we examine all of this evidence from the decisions of the 1924 synod, it is only fair to conclude that on the question whether or not common grace was to be regarded as a confessional issue, a matter of dogma defining Reformed orthodoxy, Hoeksema appears to have the right on his side. According to the CRC Synod of 1924, the doctrine of common grace is not a first-order confessional matter. Granted, out of the whole complex of issues associated with common grace—of the eleven identified by the advisory committee—synod did single out three points it believed were a matter of confessional integrity. Notwithstanding the insistence in each point that “Reformed fathers from of old have championed” the particular point, the synod did not fully demonstrate the confessional reasons for the claims it made. They were, at the very least, debatable. Add to this the numerous qualifiers inserted at key points in the discussion and the general stamp of orthodox approval that Hoeksema and Danhof received, it is fair to say that the CRC Synod of 1924 did not intend to make the doctrine of common grace in general a first-order confessional matter.49 It was a great mistake for the Christian Reformed Church, in the representation of Classis Grand Rapids East, to have made his denial of common grace a reason for deposing Herman Hoeksema later that year. And that brings us to the third area where Hoeksema can receive some vindication.

Reformed Church Polity Was Violated by Hierarchical Actions

The third point I wish to argue is more complex than the first two, and the case for it more contentious and debatable, because it involves a highly controversial point of Reformed church polity: Does a classis (or synod) have the right to discipline/depose a minister against the wishes of his consistory/council? The reason for the contention is obvious; the complexity arises from the fact that there were two related but still distinct issues involved in the decision of Classis Grand Rapids East to depose Rev. Herman Hoeksema. One was the question whether or not he would accept the doctrine of common grace; there could not have been any doubt that he would not. The issue here is whether Classis Grand Rapids East had the moral right to insist on a loyalty oath with respect to the three points. The other issue had to do with the consistory of the Eastern Avenue CRC, where Hoeksema was the pastor, placing three—and eventually, four—of its members under church discipline for the “public sin” of criticising its minister. Had the issue only been a matter of demanding that Hoeksema submit to the “synodical yoke” of the common grace doctrine, the question of hierarchical action would be simple and obviously yes, particularly in view of the 1924 synod’s own reticence to activate heavy-artillery church discipline. But the conflict about whether the Eastern Avenue consistory had erred in imposing discipline on four of its members complicated matters considerably and it is to this that we must first turn.

If we are to start at the beginning, we need to turn to Hoeksema’s own account of a visit to his home by three members of his Eastern Avenue congregation on January 24, 1924.50 The three had come to register a protest against their pastor’s view and offered a written protest to which they requested a quick answer. When Hoeksema asked for private conversations with the protestants individually, all but one refused, and when he showed a lack of familiarity with its contents, Hoeksema began to suspect that the protestants had not written it themselves, a suspicion confirmed a year later in the court case over the Eastern Avenue property.51 Refusing to meet individually with their pastor, the protestants changed tactics and indicated that “they were under no obligation to discuss the matter of their protest with their pastor according to the rule of Matthew 18. For, they claimed, the matter really concerned a public sin on the part of their pastor, and as such they could lodge a complaint with the consistory against him directly.”52 The Eastern Avenue CRC consistory, however, refused to deal with the complaint on the ground that the protestants had not followed the pattern prescribed in Matthew 18. To have admitted the ground of the accusation was impossible, according to Hoeksema, because “the protestants were begging the question. They demanded of the consistory to assume what was still to be proven.” The consistory could not admit that “the pastor was teaching a false doctrine.”53 The consistory asked the protestants to retract their accusation and when they refused told them that they could not partake of the Lord’s Supper because “with the accusation of public sin against the pastor in their hearts they could not very well partake of communion with him.”

In the meantime, the three protestants had now been joined by the Rev. J. Vander Mey, also member of Eastern Avenue CRC, who was not serving in a Christian Reformed pastorate but as the Educational Secretary of Calvin College and Seminary. His engagement with Hoeksema took a slightly different path. As Hoeksema recounts it, he was told by the three who visited him on January 19, 1924, that Vander Mey would also be registering an objection against Hoeksema’s views. However, the course of this protest took several strange turns. Vander Mey did engage in personal conversation with Hoeksema, indicated he would not be joining the protests of the other three Eastern Avenue members, but then delivered a protest against Hoeksema’s preaching and teaching to Eastern Avenue’s consistory.54 The consistory once again refused to accept the allegation of “public sin” against its pastor and asked Vander Mey to join the other three in not partaking of communion.

The next chapter in the story is the meeting of Classis Grand Rapids East on May 21–24. In my seventy-fifth year retrospective reflections on the common grace controversy, I summarized Hoeksema’s account of this classis meeting.55 Since then I have also consulted the minutes of that meeting and can report that the main outlines of Hoeksema’s account are accurate.56 Classis took on two distinct but related sets of issues: (a) Doctrinal Issues: A request for investigation (verzoekschrift) into the teaching of Hoeksema and Danhof that came from Rev. M. M. Schans, pastor of the Kelloggsville CRC. In the same vein were the protests of the three Eastern Avenue members and Rev. J. Vander Mey against the teaching of their pastor, Rev. Hoeksema. In addition, the Rev. J. K. Van Baalen, pastor of the Munster, Indiana CRC, also sent a “Petition” (bezwaarschrift) to Classis Grand Rapids East, having failed to get a hearing from the Eastern Avenue consistory; (b) Church Polity Issues: Protests by the four Eastern Avenue members against the decision of their consistory to place them under censure. The first item—the so-called verzoekschrift from Rev. Schans—was supported, “in part or in whole,” by the consistories of Detroit CRC, and two Grand Rapids congregations, Bates Street [First] CRC, and Neland Avenue CRC, with the last-mentioned indicating its desire to have the Schans document sent to Synod with this accompanying “instruction”:

Considering that in the last two years there has arisen a great disturbance in our churches with respect to certain aspects of Reformed doctrine;

And considering that two of the ministers of our churches, namely, Revs. H. Danhof and H. Hoeskema are accused of cherishing deviating opinions and even promoting unreformed views;

And considering that the elements of doctrine that are in dispute are of fundamental significance, as is acknowledged by both sides (such as, e.g., the proclamation of the Gospel, election and reprobation, human responsibility, etc.); doctrines, moreover, about which we should have as much unity as is possible in our churches;

And considering that the teaching of the named brothers, to which exception is taken, has been publicly proclaimed and disputed—these brothers coming under the jurisdiction of different classes, and the differences are of general concern to all the churches, so that, in our opinion, it is the responsibility of the Synod, the broadest assembly of our churches, to decide the matter, and this all the more because, in our opinion, it is only through a synodical pronouncement that the traumatized trust of the churches can be restored.

The minutes are noteworthy because they include an extended discussion of Hoeksema’s Banner column, “Our Doctrine”57 along with Hoeksema and Danhof’s book, Sin and Grace. Extended citations from these sources were countered with rebuttals of key points that appealed to the Reformed Confessions for support. The three (!) issues singled out were “the general offer of the Gospel,” “divine restraint of evil,” and existence of “civic righteousness.” Since these were exactly the three points singled out by the 1924 synod, it is clear that the lengthy report of the classical sub-committee provided the template, the core language, and the grounds for synod’s own declaration. On the matter of the general offer of the gospel, the classis declared:

Our Confessions are perfectly clear on this point. These Confessions are established and have always been acknowledged by both Supralapsarians and Infralapsarians as Reformed teaching, so that, in our judgment, it is incorrect to say that they include only the minimum of Reformed identity (Sin and Grace) as though on this point one could be more Reformed than our Confessions. This would place one above the Confessions rather than be bound to them.58

The minutes of the May 21–24 classis meeting are a challenging read because they refer to documents that are themselves not readily available and classis not only changed its mind several times but also sent conflicting messages to synod. On the one hand, however, it took the overture from the Rev. Schans, apparently with all the textual support of Hoeksema’s views and their refutation, and sent it along with an “instruction” to synod. In this “instruction” the synod is repeatedly asked to “test” (“de Synode toetse”) Hoeksema and Danhof’s ideas by Scripture and the Reformed confessions, both of which are cited copiously. Clearly the mind of classis was made up against Hoeksema and Danhof’s teaching. On the other, however, the way classis treated the “protests” of the four Eastern Avenue members and the “petition” of Rev. Van Baalen was strange, to say the least. Classis decided to take up the protest against Hoeksema’s teaching and the censure by the Eastern Avenue consistory on these grounds:

(a) The consistory has had ample time to deal with the matter.

(b) The fact that it did not is due to an incorrect understanding of what the church order expects. According to article 74 of the Dort Church Order (according to the consistory’s reply to the protestants in its last letter of May 10), the brothers were not required by the rule of Matthew 18 to first speak with the minister before they brought the matter to the consistory.

(c) The consistory would not have been able to judge whether or not the “sin” named in the accompanying documents touched on an “opinion” of Rev. Hoeksema about which the church had not spoken until they had considered the content of the protest. And, had the obligation taken the matter under consideration, they then had the obligation to show that what the protestants called “sin” in fact was not sin.

At this point, so the minutes record, Hoeksema protested the decision of classis and then left the assembly with the elder delegates from Eastern Avenue.59 This took place on the afternoon of Thursday, May 22, the second full day of classis’s deliberations. At this point classis went into closed, executive session and appointed a committee, including the president of classis, Rev. Post, to plead with the Eastern Avenue delegates to return to the assembly to pick up the remaining business of classis. When that committee reported that the Eastern Avenue delegates were not so minded, at least not until the protests would be reconsidered, classis agreed to reconsider its decision, and went into recess, deciding to reconvene at 7:00 p.m.60 At the—apparently very brief—evening session, classis appointed a committee of four ministers and three elders to prepare advice for classis and decided that classis would reconvene on Friday morning, May 23, at 9.00 a.m. in the Sherman Street CRC. Classis expressed its thanks to the Eastern Avenue CRC for its hospitality and added that classis “had chosen another location because it was difficult to meet in committee” in the Eastern Avenue facility.61

At this point we need to take note of a significant difference in the way that the classical minutes record the reply of Hoeksema and his elder to the request to return to classis “in order to participate in the remaining business [of classis],” and Hoeksema’s own summary. The minutes reads as follows: “The delegation [commissie], having returned, reported that the delegates of Eastern Avenue refused [weigeren] to return until the protests had been dealt with [totdat de protesten behandeld zijn].” Hoeksema puts it this way: “The delegates, however, replied that they would never return unless the classis would first rescind its decision regarding the protest.”62

Classis reconvened on Friday, May 23, at 9:00 a.m. to reconsider [weer in overweging te nemen] the motion that had already been adopted.63 The motion read: “The Classis proceed and consider the protest … [of the Eastern Avenue members].” The advisory committee first wanted to clarify what was meant by “protest” in the motion because “it soon became apparent, after the motion had been approved, that not everyone understood the motion correctly … Hence the motion to reconsider what classis had approved.” The clarification offered to classis indicated that by “protest,” the “person who made the motion and the seconder” intended to include both the original protest against Hoeksema’s preaching/teaching as well as the decision of the consistory to place the protestants under censure. This clarification allowed classis to then “divide the question” into a doctrinal matter and an ecclesiastical discipline matter.

While classis was discussing whether to reconsider its earlier action, another delegation of two ministers and one elder was sent to ask the Eastern Avenue delegation to return to the meeting. Upon receiving word that they were willing, classis voted not to proceed with the business of the day and recessed for lunch. When the meeting reconvened, Hoeksema was given an opportunity to register his opinion about the decision classis had made the previous day concerning the protest of the three Eastern Avenue members, and he then departed to conduct a funeral.64 His place was taken by the alternate, elder Doezema. While Hoeksema was absent from the gathering, classis rescinded its previous decision with the following ground: “Because there is a more clear way [een duidelijker weg] by which ambiguous terms [woorden met een tweeledige beteekenis] can be avoided.” This “better way” was to divide the question. Concerning the ecclesiastical matter, classis “advised” the Eastern Avenue consistory to lift the censure imposed on the three members on grounds that have already been noted above. On the matter of the original protest against Hoeksema’s doctrine, classis returned the issue back to the consistory. It acknowledged that the protestants had not needed to follow the Matthew 18 rule and speak with their pastor before coming to the consistory (thus negating the applicability of Dort Church Order article 74 to this case), but it did give as ground for its decision Church Order article 30 which stated that items that could be handled by a minor assembly may not be dealt with by a major assembly.

Classis continued its deliberations into Saturday, not concluding its work until 1:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon. Two matters before it were dealt with in the same manner as the protest of the three Eastern Avenue members. Concerning the “petition” [bezwaarschrift] of Rev. J. K. Van Baalen, classis ruled that the consistory had erred in demanding that Rev. Van Baalen first speak with Hoeksema. The rule of Matthew 18 and Church Order article 74 do not apply here. However, classis refused to judge the matter itself and referred it back to the Eastern Avenue consistory, invoking Church Order article 30 as ground (matters must first be dealt with in lower assemblies). It treated the protest of Rev. J Vander Mey, the fourth Eastern Avenue petitioner, in the same way and referred it back to the consistory. Both Van Baalen and Vander Mey indicated that they would appeal to synod.

We need to bring this chapter in the story to a close. What are we to say about a set of classical decisions that seems so conflicted? When classis appealed to article 30 of the Church Order as ground for referring the doctrinal dispute between Hoeksema and his opponents, should it not have heeded its own advice and refused to send an “instruction” to synod that clearly indicated an agreement with the opposition? Why ask synod to start an investigation when classis itself had not done such an investigation? Surely, the “lesser” assembly had not yet completed its work. Undoubtedly the delegates were weary after the unusual three-and-a-half day meeting of classis. Perhaps that contributed to the lack of consistency in its decisions.

What about classis’s demand that the consistory lift the censure of the four protestants? Herman Hanko, Hoeksema’s successor at the Protestant Reformed Theological School, showed commendable self-critical courage and integrity in faulting Hoeksema on this point. He asks the question: “Was it church politically right for the consistory to put the protestants under censure for protesting the preaching of their pastor?” In spite of Hoeksema’s detailed defense of this decision,65 Hanko disagrees: “Nevertheless, such action was surely not proper according to the government of the church of Christ.”66 Hanko points to article 31 of the Dort Church Order, which reads:

If anyone complain that he has been wronged by the decision of a minor assembly, he shall have the right to appeal to a major ecclesiastical assembly, and whatever may be agreed upon by a majority vote shall be considered settled and binding, unless it be proved to conflict with the Word of God or with the articles of the Church Order, also long as they are not changed by the general synod.67

The protestants, he continues, were simply exercising their appropriate freedom of conscience and “should not have been put under censure for challenging the Reformed character of the preaching and finally appealing their case to a broader assembly.”68

Hanko is undoubtedly correct in stating the general principle. However, I would submit that the matter is not nearly as clean as he presents it. Without concluding that Hoeksema and the Eastern Avenue consistory were completely in the right, I do want to note some mitigating circumstances. In my seventy-fifth year retrospective on the events of 1924, I called attention to the evidence that the opposition to Hoeksema was orchestrated and even had some financial backing. How else to explain the professionally printed copies of the Schans protest and the similarly worded, professionally printed copies of the Eastern Avenue protestants?69 Hoeksema reports that he first got wind of the Schans “overture” when he “filled a classical appointment at East Martine, Mich.” He came across it while having dinner in the home of a consistory member of this church and discovered that printed copies had been distributed to all the consistories of Classis Grand Rapids East in sufficient number to provide one for every consistory member.70 Rev. J. Vander Mey launched a similar attack. When the Eastern Avenue consistory told him that he had to first speak with Hoeksema before they would consider his protest, he had his protest printed and distributed. According to Hoeksema, in private conversation Vander Mey admitted that he had printed 500 copies, of which he still had 400.71

When we put this all together—protests written by people other than the protestants themselves, cooperation in writing protests, and then publicly printing these protests before any church assembly had adjudicated them—I am less inclined to fault Hoeksema and the Eastern Avenue consistory for its act of church discipline. Without giving them full exoneration, it seems to me that it is at least fair to judge the matter as ambiguous. When that ambiguity is acknowledged and combined with the 1924 synod’s refusal to condemn Hoeksema as “unreformed,” I am comfortable in suggesting that there is a good case for saying that Classis Grand Rapids East acted in a hierarchical fashion when it suspended and deposed Hoeksema for his refusal to sign a loyalty oath to the three points of common grace adopted by the 1924 CRC of Kalamazoo and the refusal by the Eastern Avenue consistory to lift the censure of the protesting members in his church. There was considerable unfinished business that needed the attention it never received.

More scholarly attention also needs to be paid to the 1924 common grace controversy itself. In this essay I raised but did not answer the church polity question of whether a broader assembly such as a classis has the right to depose an office bearer. Clearly Hoeksema72 and Hanko73 thought the answer was no. If we accept this as a general rule, is this no absolute? I am not so sure but leave the matter to those with greater expertise in matters of church polity. For that reason I also did not cover the meetings of Classis Grand Rapids East in August and November of 1924 where the steps to Hoeksema’s suspension and deposition are chronicled. Though such an investigation would likely reinforce the conclusion of my third point, I leave it to others to pursue it further. Without fully endorsing his theology, I do conclude that on the three points I have identified in this essay, Herman Hoeksema was more right than his Christian Reformed opponents. Because his departure left too many important questions unanswered, it was a loss for the CRC.


1. James A. De Jong, As the Waters Cover the Sea: Millennial Expectations in the Rise of Anglo-American Missions 1640-1810 (Kampen: Kok, 1970)

2. His grandfather, Ymen P. De Jong (1876-1958), was one of the first CRC ministers to earn a doctorate at the Vrije Universiteit (in 1913) and served what was then the largest congregation in the denomination, Grandville Avenue CRC, for twenty-eight years from 19171945. His father, Peter Ymen De Jong, was Professor of Pastoral Care at Calvin Theological Seminary from 19641970. His uncle, Alexander De Jong (1922-2003), in addition to a distinguished record of service in prominent CRC pastorates, served on the faculty of Trinity Christian College and a term as its president. Finally, Louis Berkhof, long-time Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvin Seminary, author of a best-selling and much-translated Systematic Theology and arguably the best-recognized name among CTS faculty in its history, was his step-grandfather.

3. Two post-retirement works deserve mention here: (1) The biography of influential CRC minister and long-time Banner editor, Henry J. Kuiper: Shaping the Christian Reformed Church, 1907-1962. The Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America 55 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007); (2) A new look at the RCA/CRC split in 1857, prepared while a fellow at the Van Raalte Institute, Holland, Michigan: “Reassessing 1857: Overlooked Considerations Concerning the Birth of the Christian Reformed Church,” Lecture Series, No. 3 of the Visiting Research Fellows Program, Van Raalte Institute, Hope College, 16 February 2006.

4. For details, including the actual text of the three points, see John Bolt, “Common Grace and the Christian Reformed Synod of Kalamazoo (1924): A Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Retrospective,” Calvin Theological Journal 35 (2000): 736.

5. Agenda CRC Synod, 1924, xxvi–xxvii; the overtures were from the following classes: Hackensack, Sioux Center, Hudson, and Muskegon. The overture from Classis Hackensack reads as follows:

Whereas, the Doctrine of Common Grace is absolutely denied by two ministers of our Church in the book, Van Zonde en Genade [aka, Sin and Grace], and since the agitation caused by this is detrimental to the scriptural development of the Church,

Therefore, Classis Hackensack asks Synod to declare that such denial is contrary to Scripture and to our Reformed Doctrine;

Further, that Synod appoint a Committee to make a thorough study of the matter and enlighten the Church.

6. For a discussion about the chain of events leading to this decision, see Bolt, “Common Grace.”

7. For example, in response to the charge levelled by Rev. Jan Karel Van Baalen and others that Hoeksema was one-sided in his emphasis on the sovereignty of God, the committee told synod not to go down that road:

(a) because similar expressions have from time to time been used by supralapsarians without being disciplined by the church. (e.g. Maccovius: “that the reprobates necessarily sin and are lost”);

(b) because the brothers Danhof and Hoeksema absolutely reject the conclusion that God is the author of sin, a conclusion which some maintain follows from their declarations. 1924 Acts of Synod, 122.

8. Bolt, “Common Grace.”

9. By “Christian Reformed Church” here I mean the CRC through its assemblies, namely, the CRC Synod of 1924 and Classis Grand Rapids East. This brief essay is suggestive rather than definitive. On a number of issues, such as the historical record concerning the relation between covenant and election in the Reformed tradition, further analysis is required. My reformulations of the three points of Kalamazoo, it barely needs mentioning, are those of one person and not of the Christian Reformed Church. My only goal in this essay is to argue that such further study is both an academic and an ecclesiastical obligation.

10. I am indebted to Patrick Baskwell’s recently published Herman Hoeksema: A Theological Biography (Clove, SC: Full Bible Publications: 2009) for the inspiration to pursue this issue, especially the importance of Hoeksema’s dependence on Abraham Kuyper’s emphasis on the particularity of grace.

11. Cited by Herman Hanko, For Thy Truth’s Sake: A Doctrinal History of the Protestant Reformed Churches (Grandville, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2000), 67.

12. Baskwell, Herman Hoeksema, 48.

13. Baskwell, Herman Hoeksema, 47. Earlier in this chapter (p. 45), Baskwell cited David Engelsma, professor of dogmatics at the Protestant Reformed Seminary, as distinguishing between Kuyper’s theological works (which Hoeksema by and large affirmed) from his philosophical and more speculative works (which Hoeksema repudiated). The former included Kuyper’s works on the particularity of grace and doctrine of the covenants; the latter included Kuyper’s Stone Lectures on Calvinism and his three-volume work on common grace.

14. Abraham Kuyper, Uit het Woord, Tweede Series, Eerste Bundel, Dat de Genade Particulier Is (Amsterdam: J. H. Kruyt, 1884); Marvin Kamps, Particular Grace: A Defense of God’s Sovereignty in Salvation (Grandville, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2001); page references that follow in the text are to this work.

15. “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for our sins only but also for the sins of the whole world” (NRSV).

16. “Who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (NRSV).

17. “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wishing any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (NRSV).

18. The Point Kuyper is making here was made with considerably more precision a generation after his death by Klaas Schilder in his Is de term “Algemeene Genade” Wetenschappelijk Verantwoord? Twee Bijdragen tot de Bespreking der “Gemeene-gratie” Idee (Kampen: Ph, Zalsman, 1947).

19. Henry Danhof and Herman Hoeksema, Sin and Grace, ed. Herman Hanko, trans. Cornelius Hanko (Grandville, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2003), 72ff. The specific reference we cited at the conclusion of the previous paragraph is similarly appealed to by Danhof and Hoeksema on p. 77.

20. Kuyper, De Gemeene Gratie, 3rd ed. (Kampen: Kok, 1931) [hereafter cited as DGG, I]. Unless otherwise indicated, translations are my own; unless otherwise indicated, the emphases in the quotations are from Kuyper himself.

21. See note 14 above.

22. Kuyper, Uit het Woord.

23. Hanko and Hoeksema cite a lengthy section from DGG, I, chap. 34 where this shift is noticeable; see Danhof and Hoeksema, Sin and Grace, 106109.

24. Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), s.v., gratia, gratia communis, gratia particularis sive specialis, gratia universalis.

25. For what follows I am indebted to Raymond A. Blacketer’s essay, “The Three Points in Most Parts Reformed: A Reexamination of the So-called Well-meant Offer of Salvation,” Calvin Theological Journal 35, no. 1 (2000): 37–65.

26. Blacketer, “Three Points,” 42.

27. Blacketer, “Three Points,” 45.

28. Blacketer, “Three Points,” 55.

29. It would take us too far afield to pursue this point here. I agree with Hanko’s point that one consequence of the CRC’s stance established in 1924 was the confusion in the CRC generated by the so-called “Dekker case” in which CTS professor Harold Dekker argued for a form of God’s universal love. See Hanko, For Thy Truth’s Sake, 8384, n. 40.

30. I am confident of this because it agrees with Hoeksema’s own objections to the first point and his insistence on the particularity of grace. See, for example, his “Catechism on the Doctrinal Issues of 1924,” which first appeared in his The Protestant Reformed Churches in America: Their Origin, Early History and Doctrine, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: n.p., 1947), 291–410; repr., Hoeksema and Hanko, Ready to Give an Answer: A Catechism of Reformed Distinctives (Grandville, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1997), 35–160.

31.  Gertrude Hoeksema, Therefore Have I Spoken: A Biography of Herman Hoeksema (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1969), 154–155.

32. An English translation was approved by the CRC Synod of 1942 and published in its 1942 Acts of Synod, Supplement 17, pp. 352–354. The passages cited in the next paragraph are taken from this translation. For a valuable introduction to the debates, especially as they involved some of Abraham Kuyper’s controversial views, see Mark Beach’s introduction to Saved by Grace: The Holy Spirit’s Work in Calling and Regeneration, by Herman Bavinck, (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2008), ix–lvi; the classic study of the century-long debate, beginning with the fathers of the 1834 Secession and concluding with the Liberation of 1944 involving Klaas Schilder, is E. Smilde, Een Eeuw van Strijd over Verbond en Doop (Kampen Kok, 1946).

33. Acta der Synode 1908, 40ff., 80.

34. D. H. Kromminga, The Christian Reformed Tradition: From the Reformation till the Present (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1943), 128.

35. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, Library of Christian Classics 20–21 (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), IV.i.12.

36. H. Hoeksema, Protestant Reformed Churches, 64–65.

37. Acta der Synode 1924, 149; emphasis added.

38. Acts der Synode 1924, 149–150.

39. Acta der Synode 1924, 150.

40. Bolt, “Common Grace,” 22–24.

41. Acta der Synode 1924, 122–23.

42. Acta der Synode 1924, 124.

43. This material from the original advisory committee report is not include in the official 1924 Acta der Synode but can be found in H. Hoeksema, Protestant Reformed Churches, 192. For the details of my own confirmation of Hoeksema’s account, see “Common Grace,” 30–32.

44. H. Hoeksema, Protestant Reformed Churches, 79.

45. Bolt, “Common Grace,” 29–32.

46. Acta der Synode 1924, 147; emphasis added.

47. Acta der Synode 1924, 147.

48. Acta der Synode 1924, 147–49. I provided the English translation of this statement in “Common Grace,” 26–27. It was of course only four years later that a CRC synod adopted the equally notorious study committee report on “worldly amusements.”

49. A personal anecdote: When I was going through the final stages of examination toward candidacy for ministry in the Christian Reformed Church in 1973, I was specifically asked by a minister member of the Calvin College and Seminary Board of Trustees whether or not I fully subscribed to the synodical statement on common grace. At the time, I did. Today, I would have to give a more nuanced answer.

50. H. Hoeksema, Protestant Reformed Churches, 28ff.; the summary that follows is taken from this source.

51. H. Hoeksema cites court records where one of the protestants, W. Hoeksema, under oath, acknowledged that the letter had been written in its final form by his brother, the Rev. G. Hoeksema, who at the time was the minister of Bethel CRC, Grand Rapids.

52. H. Hoeksema, Protestant Reformed Churches, 30.

53. H. Hoeksema, Protestant Reformed Churches, 30.

54. H. Hoeksema, Protestant Reformed Churches, 32–34.

55. Bolt, “Common Grace,” 18–21.

56. My thanks to Dick Harms and the staff of Heritage Hall, Calvin College, for going far beyond the call of duty in providing me with the minutes of Classis Grand Rapids East at a time when the facilities where under construction and the archives in separate locations. Material that is cited in the paragraphs that follow is taken from these minutes and all translations from the Dutch are mine.

57. As best I am able to determine (by consulting the Christian Reformed Church Periodical Index at http://www.calvin.edu/cgi-bin/lib/crcpi/search.pl), Hoeksema was the editor of the “Our Doctrine” column in the CRC weekly The Banner from September 1918 through August 1922; he wrote 174 columns during that time, many of them arguing against the doctrine of common grace.

58. The minutes indicate that what was finally approved by classis was a substitute motion by Dr. H. Meeter rather than a straightforward passing on of the Schans overture. The difference is summarized by Hoeksema: “It differed from the original ‘overture’ in that it eliminated the request for the personal examination by the synod of the Revs. H. Hoeksema and H. Danhof and proposed to request that largest gathering of the churches merely to institute an inquisition into the writings of the two pastors.” H. Hoeksema, Protestant Reformed Churches, 49.

59. For Hoeksema’s own account of this, see Protestant Reformed Churches, 53ff. Hoeksema indicates that “Foreseeing the possibility that classis might ignore its plea and decide to treat the protest of the appellants, it had instructed its delegates, that in case the classis should assume such authority, they should deliver a written protest, and leave the meeting” (53). Hoeksema describes the departure thus: “The delegates, the pastor and elder O. Van Ellen, acted as they were instructed. They calmly presented the protest of their consistory to the chairman of classis and made their departure” (54).

60. The appointment of the delegation and their return to classis with Hoeksema’s answer are seamlessly put together in one paragraph of the minutes. Obviously, the delegation did not have to travel far since classis was meeting in Eastern Avenue’s facility.

61. Hoeksema proposes another reason: “It is alleged that the change of meeting-place was motivated by fear of an uproar among the members of the Eastern Avenue Church, although there was not the slightest reason for such fear. For, although the members of the Eastern Avenue congregation manifested a keen interest in the proceedings, their conduct was not characterized by disorder whatsoever.” Protestant Reformed Churches, 54–55.

62. H. Hoeksema, Protestant Reformed Churches, 54.

63. This motion too was a substitute that had been drafted by Dr. H. Meeter. The minutes repeatedly refer to “de voorstel van Dr. Meeter.”

64. The classical record thus confirms Hoeksema’s own account; see Protestant Reformed Churches, 57.

65. H. Hoeksema, Protestant Reformed Churches, 30, 32.

66. Hanko, For Thy Truth’s Sake, 101. Hanko does allow that the consistory’s reasoning had some plausibility. After all, “the synod had expressed the fact that Rev. Hoeksema was Reformed in his teaching, even though he showed an inclination to one-sidedness. The protests, after all, accused Hoeksema of being un-Reformed” (p. 101, n. 3).

67. Hanko, For Thy Truth’s Sake, 102, n. 5.

68. Hanko, For Thy Truth’s Sake, 103.

69. See Bolt, “Common Grace,” 18–19; the 1924 Acts of Synod include in the “materials (stukken) that had to be processed by the advisory committee four distinct professionally printed [gedrukt exemplar] copies of protests from the three members of Eastern Avenue, Rev. J. Vander Mey, and two copies (listed separately) of J. K. Van Baalen’s petition to the consistories of Kalamazoo I and Eastern Avenue, concerning the doctrine of H. Hoeksema and H. Danhof. 1924 Acta der Synode, 114–115.

70. H. Hoeksema, Protestant Reformed Churches, 39–40.

71. H. Hoeksema, Protestant Reformed Churches, 34.

72. See H. Hoeksema, Protestant Reformed Churches, 51–53, 214–221.

73. Hanko, For Thy Truth’s Sake, 106–115.

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