(The following copyrighted article is taken from the Calvin Theological Journal, April, 2000-a publication of Calvin Theological Seminary, 3233 Burton Street, S.E., Grand Rapids, Michigan 49546. It is reproduced with permission and can not be copied without permission of the staff of the Calvin Theological Journal. We express our appreciation for their willingness to have us copy the article and publish it here. May it help to clarify and to resolve some of the problems which arose back in 1924.)
As announced in the editorial of the April 1999 issue
of CTJ, several articles in this volume are dedicated to an important
anniversary in the North American Dutch Reformed community: the
seventy-fifth anniversary of the 1924 Christian Reformed Synod
of Kalamazoo and its significant decision on common grace. To
cite the editorial, the journal committee believed that it was
"an appropriate time to revisit the Synod of 1924 and its
pronouncements in a fraternal spirit of ecumenical goodwill with
respect to our brothers and sisters in the Protestant Reformed
Churches." In addition to this article, which sets forth
the famously debated "three points" at the beginning
and follows that with a reflective overview of the controversy's
course, Randy Blacketer's interpretive article examines the well-meant
gospel offer (Point 1) in historical-theological perspective.
A third article, by this author on the third point (the capacity
of unbelievers to do civic good), will appear deo volente
in the November 2000 issue of CTJ. The reader may be mildly
surprised by these articles; they are self-critical and evidence
some sympathies for the critique of the CRC stance on common grace
offered by the Rev. Herman Hoeksema. They are offered in the hope
that genuine ecumenical conversation may yet be possible between
the Christian Reformed Church and the Protestant Reformed Church,
a family conversation that should never have been stopped in the
first place. Now, before entering into a discussion of the controversy
itself, here are the three points of common grace:
The Three Points of Common Grace Adopted by the Christian Reformed Church in 1924
Concerning the favorable 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 Confession, 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.
Concerning the restraint of sin in the life of the individual and in society, the Synod declares that according to Scripture and Confession, 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 it is taught that God through the general operations of His Spirit, without renewing the heart, restrains sin in its unhindered breaking forth, as a result of which human society has remained possible; 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.
Concerning the performance of so-called civic righteousness by the unregenerate, the Synod declares that according to Scripture and Confession the unregenerate, though incapable of any saving good (Canons of Dordt, II, IV, 3), can perform such civic good. This is evident from the quoted Scripture passages and from the Canons of Dordt, III and IV, 4, and the Belgie Confession, where it is taught that God, without renewing the heart, exercises such influence upon man that he is enabled to perform civic good; 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.
The 1924 synod of the Christian Reformed Church, meeting in Kalamazoo, Michigan, from June 18 to July 8, was one of the defining moments in the denomination's history. Two years after another CRC synod had deposed Calvin Seminary Professor Ralph Janssen for his allegedly higher-critical approach to Scripture, the 1924 synod affirmed the doctrine that had been at the heart of Janssen's defense, the doctrine of common grace.1 Now, seventy-five years later, time and distance may enable us to provide a self-critical retrospective on this decision that led to a tragic church division. This article will provide a summary of the synodical decision as well as a brief evaluation of the church orderly issues in l'affaire Hoeksema.2 We will consider the context of the common grace discussion as it arises out of the Janssen case, the events leading up to the synodical decision, the course of events at the synod, and its aftermath. This will be concluded with a few evaluative comments.
The history of the common grace controversy, by Hoeksema's
own account as well, must begin with the Janssen case, settled
two years before the synod of Kalamazoo.3 Dr.
Ralph Janssen, professor of Old Testament at Calvin Seminary,4
had been accused by four of his professorial colleagues of holding
views on Scripture's inspiration that were contrary to Reformed
orthodoxy. In the end, Janssen's critics convinced the church
that his views and teaching were a threat to Christian Reformed
orthodoxy, and he was dismissed from his post by the 1922 CRC
synod. In his own defense5 Janssen had appealed
to Abraham Kuyper's doctrine of common grace, among other things6
and the need for a university-oriented scientific theology in
the church's seminary. As David Holwerda notes in his review of
the Janssen case,
Janssen was clearly a university person who did not favor the ecclesiastical control of theology as a science. Since he also was not an ordained minister of the gospel, several insisted that he had no right to be a professor of theology, and they feared that his appointment meant that greater significance would now be given to the demands of scholarship and objective research than to the confessions of the church .... Thus the appointment of Janssen generated both high scholarly expectations and serious fears within the church. In the end fears won out.7
During the discussion about Janssen in the first
years of the 1920s the issue of common grace emerged as a rallying
point for both his defenders and detractors. In Holwerda's summary:
"The Rev. Herman Hoeksema warned that should the doctrine
of common grace as taught by Abraham Kuyper not be repudiated
by the church, Janssen's views would rise again and ultimately
prevail."8 Hoeksema indeed saw the church's
split leading to the formation of the Protestant Reformed Church
as a direct consequence of the Janssen controversy because it
was intertwined with the doctrine of common grace.
And it will serve to shed the proper light upon the origin of the Protestant Reformed Churches, which is not to be viewed as a deplorable, accidental but unavoidable result of the Janssen controversy, but as a reformation of the churches, a return from the erroneous and dangerous path of common grace to the fundamentally Reformed line of the Synod of Dordrecht as drawn in the Three Forms of Unity.9
Hoeksema had been one of Janssen's most vocal critics,
even using his editorial control of a column ("Our Doctrine")
in the CRC weekly, The Banner, as an important vehicle
for stirring up popular church opinion against Janssen. As a member
of the Seminary's governing board, the Curatorium, Hoeksema became
both prosecutor and jury, serving on the board committee formed
to adjudicate Professor Janssen's teaching.10
As Hoeksema saw it, however, the four seminary professors who
were critical of Janssen did so not on the basis of "its
deepest underlying principle, but rather by secondary and superficial
considerations of agreement and disagreement."ll
In fact, so Hoeksema concluded from the 1924 common grace decision,
it was clear that he and his fellow opponent of common grace,
the Rev. H. Danhof, stood on altogether different ground than
the other opponents of Janssen. Here is Hoeksema's own retrospective:
The fact that the four professors and others of the opponents of Doctor Janssen could unite with the pro-Janssen faction in their action against the three ministers that were deposed in 1924-1925, plainly reveals that, apart from superficial differences, there was a fundamental agreement in principle. There was in the Janssen controversy an underlying principle which, had it not been violently and intentionally forced to the background, would have paralyzed every effort of the four professors to combat Doctor Janssen's view and would have aligned them from the beginning with the pro-Janssen faction against the Reverends H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema. This underlying principle is the theory of common grace. 12
Thus, Hoeksema judged that Janssen had erred in concluding
that all those who opposed him were deniers of common grace. On
the contrary, says Hoeksema,
it would have been more fruitful for a proper discussion had [Janssen] proceeded from the correct assumption that his opponents, except the Reverends H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema, do accept the theory of common grace, and that, therefore, they must also in deepest principle agree with him in regard to his views of revelation, inspiration, canonicity, the miracles and related subjects, even though, due to a lack of consistency on their part, they differed with him in ultimate conclusion.13
So, in sum, according to Hoeksema's view of the matter,
those who had stood with him in opposing Janssen were utterly
inconsistent when they refused to join Hoeksema in opposing the
Kuyperian doctrine of common grace. More seriously, those who
accepted the notion of common grace really --whether they
knew it or not--shared Janssen's critical approach to Scripture.
This charge from Hoeksema is interesting for a number
of reasons. To begin with, there had been a long-standing debate
between Janssen and Hoeksema, a conflict that was a matter of
public record. From November 4, 1920, to April 14, 1921, Janssen
had published a series of articles in The Banner, accusing
Hoeksema of Anabaptism, rationalism, a faulty doctrine of God,
and even of using a higher-critical approach to Scripture by using
the criterion of reason to set aside certain biblical passages
and teaching.14 Chronology is important
here. When we bear in mind that the objections of the four professors
first surfaced in 1919 and were handled by the 1920 CRC synod,15
which gave a tentative qualified blessing to Professor Janssen's
teaching and then sent the whole matter back to the five seminary
professors for collegial settlement intra familias,16
Janssen's counter offensive on the common grace issue must be
judged a sincere attempt to provide Reformed theological grounds
for his views on miracles and revelation.
Janssen sought as much as possible to explain the
"supernatural" in Scripture in the terms and categories
of "natural" realities and common cultural givens of
the Ancient Near East. Miracles thus have their basis in creation
and God's ongoing providential care and should not be explained
in the first place as supernatural interventions into creation,
deus ex machina. Similarly, the imagery used by the prophets
and the Genesis accounts of Creation, according to Janssen, borrowed
freely from Babylonian mythology. In sum, in his defense, "Janssen
accused his opponents of dualism, of maintaining two spheres of
grace and nature totally divorced from each other and irreconcilable
with each other--an immediate supernatural sphere versus a mediate
natural sphere."17 According to Janssen,
"such dualism was Anabaptist in origin, not Reformed, and
on that basis he proposed that the opponents should be on trial
rather than himself. The Reformed vision rejects all dualisms,
for truth is one. "18 This unity of
truth is finally grounded in the unity of God in whom there can
be no dualism, for "his common grace is the broad basis of
his special grace and there is no opposition here. Consequently,
Scripture, theology, and the natural sciences do not exist irreconcilably
alongside each other, but together these truths form one beautiful
We see here therefore a rather remarkable confluence of views between Janssen and Hoeksema. Janssen accuses those who oppose him of being Anabaptist dualists because they deny common grace, a charge repeated by CRC minister Jan Karel Van Baalen specifically against Hoeksema and Danhof in his 1922 tract The Denial of Common Grace: Reformed or Anabaptist. 20 Hoeksema in turn, though denying the charge of being an Anabaptist, 21 viewed the matter in the same way. In his judgment, those who oppose Janssen but still affirm common grace are inconsistent at best and at worst guilty of harboring Janssen's own mischievous, unreformed view of Scripture. So, remarkably, according to Janssen and Hoeksema both--if one accepts the doctrine of common grace, logic and consistency demanded that views on Scripture such as those held by Janssen ought to be accepted as well. So then, with this sort of agreement, why did Hoeksema's commonly known denial of common grace generate so much controversy after the CRC synod had so decisively repudiated Janssen? Why did his apparent triumph in 1922 turn so ignominiously into defeat only two years later?
The answer is multilayered and complex. The first
factor may be the stench of injustice surrounding Janssen's trial
at the 1922 synod. The use of unofficial student notes as evidence,
and the fact that some of Janssen's key accusers also sat on the
synodical jury, along with other perceived irregularities, led
to sixteen substantial appeals against the Janssen decision two
years later at the 1924 synod of Kalamazoo twelve on formal grounds;
four on material grounds.22 This
evidence of some level of support for Janssen within the CRC lends
credence to Hoeksema's own judgment that for Janssen's angry supporters
in the CRC, it was "pay back time"; Janssen's friends
were out to "get Hoeksema:"
The friends of Doctor Janssen, realizing that their idol had been irrevocably cast down, and his foes, acting from the subconscious motive of fundamental agreement with the underlying principle of the instruction they had opposed, now combined their attacks upon the two ministers that had performed the lion's share of the work in the Janssen controversy and borne the brunt of the battle.23
Yet, to portray the rising tide of opposition to
Hoeksema as a tsunami of CRC support for public affirmation of
the doctrine of common grace, notwithstanding the 1922 repudiation
of Janssen, does not seem to square with the evidence either.
In a brochure written by the four professors along with four prominent
CRC clergymen (Y. P. De Jong, H. J. Kuiper, H. Danhof, and H.
Hoeksema [!]), the readers are warned not to let Janssen's counteraccusations
that his opponents are unreformed and Anabaptist obscure what
is really at issue. The authors warn against the church's getting
sidetracked by this red herring: "It
simply is not a matter of this or that view
of common grace but about Dr. Janssen's teaching, nothing more
or less."24 That Hoeksema and Danhof
both were signatories to the brochure that set aside the common
grace conflict as the real issue is rather remarkable in
view of Hoeksema's later contention that it was the core issue
in the Janssen decision.
So then, if the Janssen case was decided conclusively
in 1922 and decided on its own merits, why the storm of controversy
about common grace in 1924? Why Kalamazoo and why the three points?
Why--to put it in personal terms---did the Hoeksema who triumphed
so decisively in 1922 fall so hard in 1924? As Hoeksema's daughter-in-law
observes in her biography of the man, after the synodical decision
relieving Janssen of his seminary professorship "all should
have gradually returned to normal."25
But of course that is exactly what did not happen. As Gertrude
Hoeksema notes, "instead of becoming calm, the ecclesiastical
weather became stormier, with the center of the storm swirling
about the heads of Rev. H. Hoeksema and Rev. H. Danhof."26
Again, we ask, "Why?"
As we now take a brief overview of the events leading
to the synod of Kalamazoo, here is a suggestive query: Did Hoeksema
overplay his hand by continuing publicly to voice his opposition
to the doctrine of common grace and thus forcing the church to
take a stand? What if he had simply taken the Janssen decision
in stride, savored his own victory, and worked to consolidate
the church's opposition to those common grace elements that Janssen
had appealed to and that the church had repudiated? What if Hoeksema
had not insistently pushed for a wholesale repudiation of common
grace? If so, would the events of 1924 and the subsequent history
of the CRC have turned out differently? In other words, what if
Hoeksema's artillery, rather than being fired broadside, had been
turned on specific targets? Would he and his views have had more
success within the CRC, and could he perhaps have remained in
the denomination as a salutary prophetic voice against the worldliness
that accompanies an abuse of the common grace doctrine? These
are uncomfortable questions, raising the possible objection that
the victim is being blamed for what was done to him, and we will,
of course, never know the answer. Still, the thought remains intriguing
and may provide some perspective on the reasons why the issue
became so important at the 1924 synod. Perhaps this possibility
sheds some light on the events leading to Kalamazoo's decision.
The agenda for the 1924 CRC synod of Kalamazoo included
four overtures requesting the church to address the issue of common
grace.27 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, and since the agitation caused by this is detrimental to the spiritual 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. 28
The other three overtures also include a reference
to the book Van Zonde en Genade (Danhof and Hoeksema) as
well as to the unrest in the churches concerning un-Reformed doctrine
and all appeal for a thorough study of the matter This by itself
would have been sufficient to put the issue on synod's plate,
but had this been all it is likely that the outcome would have
been different. With only the four overtures before it synod could
have appointed a proper study committee that would have taken
its time to prepare a thorough study and involve the broader church
in the discussion. But there was so much more, and the inclusion
of a specific writing (Van Zonde en Genade ) lends some
credence to the query we floated at the conclusion of the previous
section of this article: What if Hoeksema and Danhof had not written
this volume and instead decided to lie low after the 1922 synod?
However, as we shall see, it was not that simple.
Shortly after the 1922 synod had disposed of the
Janssen matter a vigorous pamphlet war broke out involving the
Revs. H. Hoeksema and H. Danhof on the one side and the Rev. Jan
Karel Van Baalen, CRC minister in Munster, Indiana, as the primary
warrior on the other side. Here is Hoeksema's own extended summary
of the battle chronology:
The Reverend Jan Karel Van Baalen published a pamphlet entitled: Loochening Der Gemeene Gratie, Gereformeerd of Doopersch? (Denial of Common Grace, Reformed or Anabaptistic?) to which the two ministers replied with another pamphlet bearing the rifle: Niet Doopersch Maar Gereformeerd (Not Anabaptistic but Reformed). Professor Berkhof wrote an article in The Witness under the deceiving heading: "Genade Voor De Onbekeerden" (Grace for the Unconverted). The two ministers personally approached the professor with the direct question, whether he had thus written in ignorance or intentionally. And the professor promised to make amends, the attempt to which made matters worse. Van Baalen followed up his first attack by the publication of Nieuwigheid en Dwaling (Innovation and Error), to which as well as to other attacks the accused pastors replied in the brochure: Langs Zuivere Banen (Along Straight Paths), which was very soon followed by still another pamphlet entitled Om Recht en Waarheid (For the Sake of Justice and Truth). They also had published their chief work of that period: Van Zonde en Genade (Of Sin and Grace).
And in the meantime formal protests had been filed against the two pastors and legal action had been started.
The battle that had apparently been won at the synod of 1922, for the salvation of the Christian Reformed Churches, was fundamentally and hopelessly to be lost for those churches at the synod of Kalamazoo.29
Could Hoeksema have stopped the pamphlet war? Should
he have? Even an impartial observer, it seems to me, would be
led to conclude that he and Danhof had little choice but to respond,
as they did in their Niet Doopersch Maar Gereformeerd (Not
Anabaptistic but Reformed), to the accusation that their views
were not Reformed. On this point about being Reformed, it is worth
noting, they were in large measure vindicated by the Kalamazoo
synod of 1924. Here is the full text of a synodical resolution
in the midst of the common grace debate:
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, names 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 Utrecht conclusion.
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.30
Beyond that, given Hoeksema's theological and polemical
brilliance as well as passion for the church and his understanding
of the Reformed faith, it is almost impossible to imagine him
not actively responding to pamphlet attacks. Keeping the church's
theological spotlight focused on the issue of common grace, however,
did generate additional opposition to Hoeksema, opposition even
from those who in many respects were his theological allies. That
is the great tragedy of this controversy.
The pamphlet war was only one part of the assault
against Hoeksema. The battle had also been launched in the ecclesiastical
courts. In January 1920, Hoeksema had accepted a call to become
the pastor of Eastern Avenue CRC in Grand Rapids. Four years into
this pastorate, "on January 19, 1924, three members of his
congregation came to his door and handed him a protest. The protest
was an objection to some of his views, expressed in his teachings
and writings."31 Since the protest
was addressed to the consistory, Hoeksema did not accept the letter
and the three men "decided to change their procedure. They
accused their pastor of public sin and went directly to his consistory
with their protest."32 The consistory
disagreed, and "after trying to persuade the three men to
retract their protest, without success, the consistory censured
them as proper objects of church discipline."33 In
addition, a similar protest was filed before the Eastern Avenue
consistory by the Rev. J. Vander Mey, a minister without a congregation
and a member of Eastern Avenue CRC. According to Hoeksema's account
of this matter, Rev. Vander Mey's
protest was originally planned to have been submitted with that
of the other three members, but because he was out of town this
collaboration failed. Rev. Vander Mey then submitted his protest
directly to the consistory, rather than first to Hoeksema, and
the consistory returned it and "informed the protestant that
he would have to comply with the rule, which required of him to
present a copy of his protest to the pastor before he could file
it with the consistory."34 When this
protest was instead made public, the consistory censured Rev.
Vander Mey for "making secret and false propaganda against
his pastor and demanded of him that he should confess his sin.
He refused, however, to comply with the demand of the consistory
and informed them that he also would file his protest with the
classis [Grand Rapids East] at its meeting of May 21 ."35
Along with the previously mentioned protest of the three, Classis
Grand Rapids East also had on its table a similar protest against
Hoeksema from his pamphlet opponent, the Rev. Jan Karel Van Baalen.
Before we consider the action of Classis Grand Rapids
East at its May meeting, a brief reflection is in order. Seventy-five
years later, even the cursory account just given leads us to wonder
with some sadness whether the whole business could not have been
handled with less haste and with greater propriety and charity.
The impression is overwhelming that the assault on Hoeksema was
well-orchestrated and hurried, a kind of ecclesiastical blitzkrieg.
Hoeksema himself points to the coordination of efforts against
him, starting with his suspicion "from the start that none
of the three protestants was the final author of the written document
they had delivered."36 Hoeksema indicates
his eye for conspiratorial tactics when he concludes the sentence
with an expressed desire that "if at all possible, the [real]
author ought to be lured from his hiding place and called to account."37
Hoeksema's suspicion appears to have been well-founded. In his
own words: "None of the three protestants had composed the
protest. Much later, through a forced testimony in the worldly
court, one of the protestants revealed that his brother, a neighboring
pastor, the Reverend G. Hoeksema, was the writer of the first
The sense that Hoeksema had of agitators outside
his congregation stirring the pot of protest seems justified when
we also note that in addition to the outside protest that came
from the Rev. J. K. Van Baalen to Classis Grand Rapids East, the
Rev. J. K. Van Baalen also submitted a similar protest to Classis
Grand Rapids West against Hoeksema's fellow anticommon-grace pastor,
the Rev. H. Danhof of Kalamazoo First CRC. Van Baalen was not
a member of either classis and had submitted his protest to the
respective consistories and classes without first submitting to
the pastors in question. In fact, when the consistories of Eastern
Avenue and Kalamazoo First proposed a combined meeting with the
Rev. JK. Van Baalen to meet Danhof and Hoeksema on April 22, 1924,
the Munster pastor refused and insistently delivered his protest
to their respective classes. 39 Add into
this mix additional irregularities such as an "overture"
from the Kelloggsville CRC to Classis Grand Rapids East that was
not approved by the consistory but simply printed and distributed
to the churches of classis by its pastor, the Rev. M. Schans,
without informing Hoeksema or his consistory,40
could he be blamed for thinking that there were important elements
in the CRC leadership that were conspiring together to "get
Hoeksema"?41 There is a final bit of
evidence supporting the idea that the opposition to Hoeksema was
collaborative and perhaps even well-financed: The archival file
in the CRC General Secretary's office of the 1924 synodical documents
contains professionally printed copies of the three appeals just
mentioned along with typewritten carbon copies of each. 42
Classis Grand Rapids East met on May 21, 1924, in
the Eastern Avenue CRC. It was to be an extraordinary three-day-long
meeting. 43 Though the last-mentioned overture
from the Kelloggsville CRC was of dubious church-legal standing,
it was declared legal before classes along with the other protests
against Hoeksema's teaching on common grace. After their written
objections against the legality of the protests had been ignored,
the delegates from Eastern Avenue, the Rev. Hoeksema and elder
O. Van Ellen followed the instructions of their consistory and
in protest left the assembly.44 This move
had interesting consequences. As Hoeksema describes it: "From
that moment the classis, instead of acting in accordance with
its own decision, attempted to make an honorable retreat. What
the clearest argument had not been able to effect was evidently
accomplished by the departure of the delegates of the Eastern
Avenue church: the classis began to see its own foolishness. It
hesitated; it became confused."45 The
classis meeting now began to take on the trappings of high drama.
It went into closed session and changed its venue to the Sherman
Street CRC. After more than a day of debate, classis did a remarkable
about face. Here is Hoeksema's account of the decision:
Finally, after well-nigh the entire forenoon of May 23 had been devoted to a continuation of the discussion of the previous afternoon and evening, the classis reached the following remarkable decision: it expressed that it had never decided to treat the protest and enter into its subject matter!
This was indeed a curious conclusion and raised untold
speculation about motives and reasons. It is worth citing at length
Hoeksema's own colorful account of it:
Along what meanderings of argumentation the classis had discovered this way out of the labyrinth, it is impossible to describe since the classis met with closed doors and there were no witnesses. For the same reason it is equally beyond our power to analyze the various sophistries that must have convinced the classis of the truth of this last decision. Suffice it to remind the reader of the fact that the principle of the primacy of the intellect does not always hold, and that the human mind is easily inclined to see matters as the desires of the heart dictate.
However this may be, this final decision of the classis certainly did not fit the facts. For, had not classis on the previous day decided, after it had received and read the protest, that it would treat the matter of the protest? And was not the alleged ground for this decision that the consistory had had ample time to treat it?
The gambit might have worked to settle matters within
the Classis though the protestants were clearly determined to
bring the matter to the upcoming synod less than one month later.
Hoeksema, however, would not be satisfied with a mere retreat,
he wanted personal vindication that would only come if classis
rescinded its previous decision. Again, here is Hoeksema's account
of the matter:
And, surely, the delegates of the Eastern Avenue Church might have winked at this "error" of the classis and permitted that body to make this honorable retreat out of a difficult corner; were it not for the fact that by this decision the departure of the two delegates from the meeting was placed in a rather peculiar light, as if the entire matter had been a misunderstanding on their part!46
In the end, the classis agreed with Hoeksema's view
of the issue, rescinded its decision to accept the protests as
legally before it, and referred the protests back to the Eastern
Avenue consistory for settlement. However, one final decision
of Classis "would prove to be the cause of considerable trouble
in the future."47 Classis in referring
the protests back to the Eastern Avenue consistory also insisted
"that the censure of the three protestants that accused their
pastor of a public sin should be lifted." Since this was
unlikely, according to Hoeksema, "further conflict between
the classis and the consistory was inevitable."48
On this point Hoeksema was unerringly prophetic.
If the May 21, 1924, meeting of Classis Grand Rapids
East can be described as extraordinary, at the very least the
same must be said of the June 10, 1924, special meeting of Classis
Grand Rapids West. To begin with, the timing is remarkable--only
eight days before synod was scheduled to begin its deliberations.
One cannot avoid the impression of high-pressured haste operating
behind the scenes. In fact, the 1924 synod had before it no less
than three protests from churches of Classis Grand Rapids West,
objecting against the special meeting on June 10.49 The
events leading up to the special session were no less remarkable.
At the regular meeting of Classis Grand Rapids West in May (a
few days after Classis Grand Rapids East met)50
it had on its table the same protest from the Rev. JK. Van Baalen,
the protest now directed at the pastor of the Kalamazoo First
CRC, the Rev. H. Danhof. Classis decided that the two ministers
should meet and personally try to settle the matter. Falling that,
the whole issue should be discussed within the consistory of the
Kalamazoo First CRC. This was rather straightforward, but the
third and final part of the decision was not. Classis decided
that if the Rev. J. K. Van Baalen was not satisfied with the disposition
of the case by the consistory, "he would have the privilege
of calling a special meeting of Classis Grand Rapids West on June
Hoeksema was certainly correct in calling this "a rather strange decision."52 Giving a single appellant--himself not a member of the classis--the right to call a special session of classis if he were not satisfied with resolving a long study and bitter debate--all within a two-week time frame--is a curious decision. Once again, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the hasty maneuvering was designed to provide an umbrella of legality for a conclusion already arrived at. Was the outcome ever really in doubt? Though the Rev. JK. Van Baalen met privately with the Rev. H. Danhof, he refused to meet with the consistory and called for the June 10, 1924, special session of Classis Grand Rapids West. With synod only eight days away "classis decided that the Reverend Van Baalen should address his protest to synod directly, seeing it concerned a matter that was of import to the churches in general."53 Though this latter judgment was undoubtedly correct54 another legitimate question was also before the church as the synod gathered in Kalamazoo: Would the synod act with the same haste and hurry as the two involved classes or would it deal with the common grace issue in appropriate, deliberate, ecclesiastic caution, taking the time to weigh all sides and consequences of the issue carefully? Careful observers of the previous six months might be forgiven if they cynically expected the former and the worst. Tragically, they would be proved correct.
We now move on to give an account of the Kalamazoo
synod.55 Synod began by accepting the issue
of common grace--in the form of protests against Hoeksema's and
Danhof's denial of the teaching--as properly and legally before
Synod (1924 Acta, 115-21). In the midst of all the church orderly
wrangling about proper procedure the important common thread of
concern for the welfare of the churches appears repeatedly: "The
matter has now reached such a state that, with concern for the
profit of the churches, synodical attention is required"
(1924 Acta, 118). In retrospect, as one examines the record of
the 1924 synod, what is striking is not the failure of synod to
act but the missed opportunity to act cautiously and deliberately.
Synod 1924 is above all a synod that could be characterized by
poet Robert Frost's words as the synod of "the road not taken."
And that has "made all the difference."
Once again, it is important to take note of the chronology.
Synod's opening session was on Wednesday morning, June 18. It
began deliberation on the common grace issue at its eighteenth
session thirteen days later on the evening of July 156
when synod was presented with a lengthy report (twenty-four pages
in the 1924 Acta) from its committee of pre-advice. This report
makes a number of important observations and suggestions that
were, in the final analysis, not adopted by the synod. We highlight
some of them here as examples of the road not taken. The committee
highlighted eleven different points at debate in the common grace
controversy and suggested that certain points in the various protests
before it should not be taken up by synod. 57
Included here were certain expressions used by the Revs. H. Hoeksema
and H. Danhof that hinted at a one-sided emphasis on divine sovereignty
and the decree of God at the expense of human responsibility.
The committee judged that synod should eliminate the following
in its deliberation (1924 Acta, 122):
(1) Concerning that which we find, regarding the presentation of Revs. H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema concerning election and reprobation; concerning human responsibility; concerning the providence of God and His sovereignty over all things:
The reasons given for the suggestion that synod not
deal with charges of one-sided emphases on divine sovereignty
(as expressed in the protests of the Rev. JK. Van Baalen and Classis
Grand Rapids East) is striking in its allowance for theological
diversity on a complex theological issue. Synod should not go
down this road, suggested the committee,
a) because similar expressions have from time to time been used by supralapsarians without being disciplined by the church. (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.
The committee came to a similar conclusion with respect
to the protest of Rev. J. Vander Mey (1924 Acta, 122-23). It first
responded to the protestant's charge of one-sided theocentric
preaching in Hoeksema's pulpit deliveries:
(2) What we found under point II of Rev. Vander Mey's protest with reference to Rev. Hoeksema's one sided emphasis on the eternal counsel of God, and in general on the divine factor:
a) Because this protest is based on the preaching of Rev. Hoeksema and your committee lacks the necessary givens to make an impartial judgment about his preaching.
b) Because it is characteristic of the supralapsarian to view everything in light of God's plan and this has never been condemned by the churches.
In the third place, as it rejected another element
in Vander Mey's protest, the advisory committee made this comment
about the allegations that Hoeksema's preaching lacked appropriate
subjective application of the gospel:
(3) What is said to us with reference to the less than satisfying Gospel-preaching of Rev. H. Hoeksema as charged in the protest of Rev. Vander Mey.
a) Because this also involves a judgment about the preaching of Rev. Hoeksema about which the committee cannot adequately judge. It would be necessary to hear from many witnesses, and especially the church council concerning their judgment, who as far as is known has never expressed a negative word about the preaching.
b) Because we are dealing here with a phenomenon that is seen in our Reformed Churches many times. On page 9 of the protest we read "In our congregations we have a kind of preaching which is for believers and spiritually mature but nothing for the unbeliever. It's possible that Rev. Hoeksema considers the exclusively objective exposition of misery, deliverance and gratitude as Gospel-preaching for the unconverted, but it is the kind of preaching in which the invitation is missing.'' This phenomenon is nothing new in Reformed circles and has always been tolerated.
The openness that characterized the advisory committee's
assessment on most of the debated points did not apply to all
of them. The committee judged that synod should take a position
on some of the issues (1924 Acta, 124):
There are however three points on which, in the judgment of the committee, synod should declare itself specifically, namely
(1) The favorable disposition of God toward all men, and not alone toward the elect. Your committee judges that this point is of central importance in this question which at present has caused so much unrest in the church. The two following points are intimately interwoven with the first point and are more or less comprehended in it.
(2) The restraint of sin in the individual person and in society.
(3) The doing of so-called righteousness by the unregenerate.
Your committee judges that it is necessary for synod to declare itself on these points.
a) Because we are dealing here with points in which the Brothers Danhof and Hoeksema have chosen to take positions with thesis for which they have taken responsibility and which they have defended.
b) Because the confessions make clear declarations concerning these points.
c) Because it is imperatively necessary that for the rest in the churches synod take a firm standpoint.
What then did the advisory committee want synod to
do? In the statements just cited, the Committee insisted that
there were three points "on which synod should declare itself."
The next ten pages of the 1924 Acta are filled with citations
from Scripture and Reformed theologians (notably Calvin, Ursinus's
Schatboek, and Van MasWicht) that the committee judges
show some of Hoeksema's and Danhof's views to be "in conflict
with the Holy Scriptures and the confessions" (1924 Acta,
126). Nonetheless, its concluding advice to synod is relatively
tame (1924 Acta, 134-37):
In connection with the instructions which urge synod to make a pronouncement concerning the doctrine of common grace forthwith, or to appoint a committee to study this matter in general, your committee advises the following:
a) That synod make no declaration at present concerning the standpoint of the church regarding the doctrine of common grace and also of its ramifications. Such a declaration would assume that this matter had been thought through and had been developed in all its particulars, which certainly is not the case. This necessary prior study is entirely lacking. As a result there is no communis opinio [common opinion] in the Reformed churches on this matter.
b) In a similar line of thought, not to appoint a committee with the mandate to study this doctrine for the purpose of formulating a dogma concerning this matter which in due course can be incorporated in the confession:
(1) Because dogmas are not made, but are born out of the conflict of many, and therefore it is desirable that before a dogma is firmly established, a long period of exchange of thoughts precede such acceptance. The involvement of such an exchange of thoughts should be as broad as possible and should not be limited to one church group.
(2) Because a truth must first live clearly in the consciousness of the church in general, or in a specific church group in particular, before the church can incorporate such a truth in its confessions. It cannot be said that such a necessary condition presently exists, or will be present after the passing of two or four years.
c) However, we urge the leaders of our people, ministers as well as professors, to make a further study of the doctrine of common grace, and to give careful thought in considering the problems which are brought to the fore, and that this be done in lectures and in writings. We also urge that this be done, not by a small number, but that many participate.
(a) This will lead to the most natural way for a fruitful discussion about this matter, common grace. Such an exchange of thoughts is an indispensable precondition for the development of this truth;
(b) This will fix the attention of our people on this doctrine, will clarify their insight, and will get them to feel the importance of this matter so that they become increasingly aware of this part of the content of their faith.
(c) This will lead after the passing of a few years to a communis opinio [common opinion] in this matter and also will ripen the condition in our church for a united confession concerning common grace.
As though it was concerned that this rather open-ended
stance might lead to misunderstanding and even misuse of the doctrine
of common grace in the church, the committee concluded its advisory
report with this stirring warning:
After synod has decided in the spirit of the advice given above, your committee requests that synod give consideration to the following testimony and that it be sent out to the churches:
"Now that synod has made a declaration about these three points, which because of the denial of common grace became a matter of conflict and by way of denial in principle made a judgment, it feels itself compelled earnestly to warn our churches and especially our leaders against one-sidedly driving this matter to the extreme and thus making a misuse of the doctrine of common grace. There is a danger here which ought not be ignored. When Dr. Kuyper wrote about this in his monumental work dealing with this subject, he indicated that he was aware of this danger that some might be misled and thus losing their way in the world. And history has already proven that this danger is real and more than imaginary. Also Dr. Bavinck has reminded us of this danger in his dogmatics.
"As we survey the spiritual currents of our present day, it certainly cannot be denied that the danger of becoming conformed to this present world is much greater than that of world flight. The liberal theology of our day virtually erases the boundaries between the church and the world. For many the major importance of the church is increasingly sought in the social life. The awareness of a spiritual-moral antithesis is being weakened in increasing measure by a vague feeling of a universal brotherhood. Preaching moves for the most part on the periphery of life and does not penetrate to the spiritual core. The doctrine of special grace in Christ is crowded more and more to the background. There is a strong desire to bring theology in harmony with philosophy which stands in the service of unbelief. By way of the press and all kinds of discoveries and inventions, which by themselves are to be appreciated as gifts of God, a great deal of this sinful world makes inroads into our Christian families.
"Because of these and similar influences which press upon us from all sides, it is urgently necessary that the church take its stand and set up its watch based on principle; and that as it holds fast the above mentioned points, it also, with tooth and nail, exercise itself in the spiritual-moral antithesis. It must never allow its preaching to degenerate into social dissertations or literary contemplation. The church must always be watchful that Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead be the core of its preaching. Without ceasing it must hold fast the principle that God's people are a special people, living out of their own root, the root of faith. And with a holy passion it must call out to our people through preaching and writing, and very especially to our youth: Be not conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and to approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. With the blessing of the Lord, this will protect our churches from world conformity, which extinguishes all spiritual glow, and robs the church of its crown." (1924 Acta, 147-49)
The advisory report was received by the synod "as
information." After some parliamentary maneuvering about
which material was legally before synod and on what grounds, synod
also agreed to let the Rev. H. Hoeksema speak to the entire assembly.
Article 113 of the 1924 Acta, in the twenty-first session (Wednesday
evening, July 2), records the matter thus:
Synod continues to deal with the report of the pre-advisory committee regarding Common Grace.
Rev. Herman Hoeksema addresses synod for an hour and thirty minutes in which he seeks to make clear his standpoint.
The following morning the Rev. H. Danhof and the
Rev. JK. Van Baalen also addressed synod "to shed
light" and to "clarify" their positions (1924 Acta,
142). When synod returned to its actual deliberations of Thursday
afternoon, July 3, it was unable to complete its discussion on
point one before the time of adjournment and synod decided to
hold an extra evening session. At this evening session the most
important road not taken was set before the delegates in the form
of a substitute proposal:58
That synod, having considered the advice of the pre-advisory committee with regard to the protests against the conception of the Brothers Danhof and Hoeksema, which have been submitted to synod, it now be decided to "step down" from the matter of common grace, with the earnest admonition that a thorough study be made of this matter, and that this be done in the spirit of brotherly love and mutual appreciation of contrary views.
In order that this thorough study be carried out, it be decided by synod to appoint a committee representing all sides, in which Revs. Danhof and Hoeksema will have a voice and that this committee will serve the next synod with clarification and enlightenment concerning this very important question.
In conclusion, that synod declare that the protesters (whose good intentions in submitting their protests are appreciated) be satisfied with this decision and should rest in this decision, in light of the fact that it is the judgment of synod that the time is not yet ripe to make a precise declaration concerning this question which has been placed before synod by the protesters.
Had synod wisely followed this calm and reasonable
advice how different the outcome might have been. However, according
to Article 125 of the 1924 Acta (p. 144): "During the discussion
of the above-mentioned proposal, the time arrives that synod adjourn.
It is decided to reconvene on Monday at 1:30." The historian
who looks back at the written record of synod cannot help but
wonder: What happened in the intervening period between Thursday
evening and Monday afternoon? For by Monday afternoon apparently
the substitute [substitute to the pre-advisory committee] proposal
to "step down" from the heated discussion about common
grace had become too mild for the delegates. They were apparently
determined to he more decisive. When synod reconvened on Monday,
July 7, the synodical record (1924 Acta, 145) indicates that "the
reporter of the committee, Dr. C. Bouma, addresses Synod for the
purpose of clarification and enlightenment regarding the report.
He makes use of the majority of the afternoon session for this
purpose. Synod decides to vote on the substitute proposal ....
The substitute proposal is defeated."
In an evening session that same day synod adopted
the now famous three points. However, in a rather remarkable both/and,
have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too position, synod did adopt the advisory
committee's declarations, noted above, concerning Hoeksema's and
Danhof's basic Reformed orthodoxy in spite of certain one-sided
expressions in their writings.59 Furthermore,
synod also decided to send the advisory committee's concluding
pastoral warning about worldliness to the churches.60
And, finally, it took over, lock, stock and barrel, jot and tittle,
the exact language of the committee's advice "that synod
make no declaration at present concerning the standpoint of the
church regarding the doctrine of common grace .... And not
to appoint a committee with the mandate to study this doctrine
for the purpose of formulating a dogma concerning the matter which
in due course can be incorporated in the confession." The
grounds: "There is no communis opinio in the Reformed
Churches in this matter" (1924 Acta, 149).
Does this only appear as a confusing conclusion seventy-five years later? A most charitable reading would conclude that though the three points are important, they in no way could function as dogmatic benchmarks to which office-bearers are obligated confessionally. This would seem especially so since synod encouraged its leaders and its members to thorough and careful study of the matter. Whatever the status of the three points, the tentativeness of synod's decision -- if not its outright contradictory character -- suggests that it would be wholly inappropriate to use the three points as a tool for ecclesiastical discipline and censure. Alas, it was not to be.
Though the outcome of the synodical debate on common
grace might be considered ambiguous and confused, there is one
notable lacuna in its final resolution -- discipline of dissenters.
Synod did not spell out a strategy for disciplining those who,
like Hoeksema and Danhof, openly indicated their unwillingness
to abide by the synodical pronouncements. According to Hoeksema,
this absence is especially noteworthy because, so he claims, the
original statement from synod's committee of pre-advice did include
an admonition to Danhof and Hoeksema, a request that they refrain
from any public dissent, and a warning that failure to comply
would result in ecclesiastical discipline's being applied.61
In Hoeksema's characteristically colorful summary: "Surely,
the committee of pre-advice had intended a sound synodical spanking
for the two culprits.62 But now here is
the interesting thing: Not only did synod not adopt the "spanking"
resolution, the final official 1924 Acta also omitted it from
the record of the pre-advisory committee's initial draft report
to synod! In his account of synod's actions, Hoeksema observes
that "in the Acta the report of the [advisory] committee
is introduced by the following: 'The report of the committee of
pre-advice concerning the common grace question is read by the
reporter, Doctor C. Bouma; it follows here in its entirety.'"63
Hoeksema then adds: "But this last statement is not true."64 And
then Hoeksema supplies the missing paragraphs that he says should
be inserted on page 134. According to Hoeksema, "how the
section containing the advice to admonish the two pastors was
eliminated from the official report in the Acta must remain a
mystery."65 What is at stake here?
So what if there is a missing paragraph or two in the 1924 Acta?
If Hoeksema is right about this deletion, then the
impact of synod's reluctance to discipline the two pastors is
diluted. Had the advice to discipline been included in the synodical
record only to have then been rejected by synod, the conclusion,
so argued Hoeksema, "that synod did not want discipline .
. . [would have been proved] beyond a shadow of doubt.66
In addition, if Hoeksema was right, the credibility of his characterization
increases that the subsequent action against the two pastors by
the Classes Grand Rapids East and Grand Rapids West [was] "a
most wanton assumption of authority and violation of the decisions
of synod in this case."67 To sum up,
the omitted section disguises synod's apparent will not to turn
the common grace issue into a matter of ecclesiastical discipline.
Now all that the record shows is synod's decision not to accept
the milder substitute motion. This is at best a distortion of
synodical intention. The question now arises, was Hoeksema's allegation
valid? Was there an omitted section dealing with discipline?
It is now possible to confirm Hoeksema's allegation
as well as his account of the matter. A mystery remains, as we
will see, but the "facts" in the case are substantially
as Hoeksema stated. He claimed that the original draft of synod's
advisory committee on common grace contained a strongly worded
warning that should the brothers Hoeksema and Danhof refuse to
abide by the synodical pronouncements, synod itself would be obliged
to proceed with discipline. In Hoeksema's account, the omitted
passage reads as follows:
Your committee advises Synod, that it, through its president
1. 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;
2. Urge the brethren H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema, in all seriousness to refrain from all attempts to propagate in the church their deviating views regarding the three points;
3. Point out to the brethren, that in case either now or in the near future, it should become evident that they will not adhere to the decisions of Synod, this body, though very loath to do so, shall be obliged to make the case pending with their respective consistories.
4. Should the brethren refuse to live up to these proposed conditions Synod would then have to appoint a committee. Your committee would in that case offer the suggestion that this committee consist of the officers of Synod. 68
When the wording of this recommendation is directly
compared with synod's actual decision--a gentle admonition not
to disturb the churches with one-sided preaching and teaching
-- it would seem fair to conclude as Hoeksema did, that though
the pre-advisory committee was of a mind to "spank"
the brothers Hoeksema and Danhof, the synod was clearly not. Here
is the full text of synod's actual disciplinary statement:
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.
Synod also sent this warning:
On the other hand synod deems that insofar as the ministers H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema warn against world conformity, there is an occasion for such a warring in view of the possible misuse of the doctrine of common grace. (1924 Acta, 147)
So, was the original, more strongly worded advice
really in the original draft of the pre-advisory committee's report
to synod, thus confirming Hoeksema's contention that synod itself
was not disposed to discipline dissenters from the common grace
Up to now the only public record that an important
section of advice was missing in the official Acta of 1924 is
Hoeksema's own testimony.70 As Hoeksema
reports it, only a partial answer to the question of why some
material was omitted from the printed Acta is given by Dr. Henry
Beets, then the Stated Clerk of the CRC. According to Beets's
testimony--given somewhat tentatively--the copy of the report
that he used to prepare the final printed Acta contained "one
or two portions blue-penciled which I was not supposed to print."71
When asked whether these passages had been stricken out '"by
synodical resolution," Beets gave a very tentative answer:
"I couldn't very well say; I don't think I was present at
the time. The president of Synod could better tell you, sir; if
there was a Synodical decision or by common agreement, I don't
Though we may never know all the hows and whys of this mysterious omission, I am now able to confirm most of Hoeksema's account independently. The archival file in the CRC General Secretary's office for the 1924 synod73 contains two typewritten copies of the pre-advisory committee's report on common grace. One copy is unmarked and contains the missing passage exactly as Hoeksema reports it. Even more interesting is the second copy that has a strong blue-pencilled slash directly through the section omitted from the final version, just as Beets said. What remains unknown is who made the slash mark and under what authority. Hoeksema, however, was exactly right when he concluded from the cross-examination of Dr. Beets, that it showed "conclusively, that the omitted part to which we refer in the chapter, was originally in the report of the committee and that synod rejected it, when it adopted its substitute motion."74 Indeed, it was there, and yes, synod rejected the advice for discipline. What we must make of this omission, however, is still an open question, to which we will return in our concluding section in which we briefly consider the aftermath of Kalamazoo and provide a tentative assessment.
On the one hand, the ambiguity of the synodical decision
did not stop the concerted ecclesiastical opposition to Hoeksema.
On the other hand, it did not satisfy or stop Hoeksema and his
supporters either. Hoeksema was correct when he observed that
"the conclusions of synod were too ambiguous to settle anything."75
The opposition forces continued the journalistic attacks and the
consistory of Hoeksema's Eastern Avenue congregation requested
that Classis Grand Rapids East rescind its decision asking the
consistory to drop its discipline against its members who had
called Hoeksema's preaching and teaching on common grace a "public
sin."76 Classis Grand Rapids East met
on August 20, 1924, and concluded that the censure of the members
"should be lifted as soon as possible, on the ground that
synod had sustained the accusation of these protestants against
the pastor."77 Refusing to comply with
this classical mandate, the consistory called a congregational
meeting for September 2, 1924, to provide information and offer
opportunity "to protest against the decision of classis."78 The
congregation divided. Some offered support and others expanded
the protest against the minister and the consistory. When Classis
Grand Rapids East finally met again in a number of sessions from
November 19, 1924, to December 12, 1924, the die was cast. Neither
side would budge from its position. The classis insisted that
Hoeksema submit to the three points, and he naturally refused.
After much ecclesiastical wrangling,79 a
civil court case ensued, primarily over the disposition of Eastern
Avenue CRC's property, and by early March 1925, Hoeksema and his
supporters were ousted from the church.
How do we now evaluate this tragic affair? A full
assessment would require a careful analysis of all Classis Grand
Rapids East's minutes during 1924, a task well beyond the scope
of this article. What we do wish to highlight here, however, is
the role of the famous missing advice in the conflict between
the Eastern Avenue consistory and Classis Grand Rapids East. The
consistory appealed to synod's own no action on the strongly worded
passage as a ground for classis to cease and desist in its disciplinary
action against Hoeksema. After citing the rejected, strongly worded
passage on discipline, the consistory's appeal to clas-sis states
All this was rejected by Synod. It is evident that Synod wanted no action of any kind. The pastor, accordingly, was never asked a single question by Synod, neither was he compelled to subscribe to anything. And since the Consistory is of the opinion that we must abide by these decisions of Synod in this case, they are convinced that Classis has no right to ask more than Synod did, and that the Consistory may not comply with request of Classis. 80
That was a nice touch--claiming to be more true to
synodical decision than classis was! But Classis Grand Rapids
East would have nothing of it:
In answer to the objection that the Synod rejected the advice of the advisory committee relative to disciplinary action, it must be said that as a matter of fact, the Synod did not reject this proposal, since it was not put to a vote. The Synod evidently preferred the inauguration of disciplinary procedure (if necessary) to begin with the consistory in full harmony with the Reformed conception of church government, in which the rule is that disciplinary procedure must be exercised by the church judicatories in the order of consistory, classis and synod and not vice versa. Furthermore, the Synod did publicly admonish the brethren, Reverend H. Hoeksema and Reverend H. Danhof to abide by its decision (cf. Acta 1924, 147).81
How do we assess this seventy-five years later? In
my judgment, the omission of the disciplinary paragraph is significant
but the evidence of intentional conspiracy somewhat underwhelming.
The only things that conspiracy buffs could appeal to is the bold
affirmation in the Acta that it is giving the pre-advisory committee's
report "in its entirety" and that the only other item
missing in the final Acta, namely the twelfth point,82 was
also mildly favorable to Hoeksema. However there are also good
reasons to dismiss conspiracy notions.
In the first place, not only is the paragraph with
the four points concerning discipline blue penciled in the copy
found in the CRC archives, but so is the preceding paragraph that
underscores Hoeksema's essential Reformed orthodoxy, an orthodoxy
finally affirmed by synod itself.83 In the
second place, the three most likely candidates for having done
the blue pencilling are unlikely intentional conspirators.
There is no good reason not to take Dr. Henry Beets's
testimony of puzzled ignorance about the blue-pencilled passage
at face value. Such must be our presumption for a man of unquestioned
integrity who is, after all, testifying in a court under oath.
In addition, the other two main candidates for synodical blue
penciller are the officers of synod, the president, the Rev. I.
Van Dellen, and the clerk, Rev. D. Zwier. Both are unlikely candidates
for membership in a party of synodically directed conspiracy against
Rev. Van Dellen, by Hoeksema's own testimony,84
shared Hoeksema's viewpoint that synod had intended not to initiate
discipline of the matter of common grace because it wanted "to
leave all actual discipline to the minor assemblies and to have
it initiated by the consistories of the two pastors if necessary."85
Though Hoeksema disagrees with Van Dellen's ground, it is true
that Van Dellen's position was not only friendly to Hoeksema's
ecclesiastical-legal position but also an additional ground of
protest against any discipline that would be initiated by a classis
apart from---or, in Hoeksema's case, in opposition to--a minister's
That leaves us with the first clerk of the 1924 synod,
the Rev. Daniel Zwier. He, too, is an unlikely candidate for conspirator
because his is one of the most eloquent protests against the synodical
decision concerning the three points.86
We cite it here in full:
The undersigned protests against the decision of synod in declaring itself at this early time in re the contested points which are related to the doctrine of common grace, namely, the favorable disposition of God to mankind in general, the restraint of sin and the so-called doing of civil good.
This protest is not directed against the content of these synodical declarations, with which the undersigned is in total agreement. Rather this protest is directed against the fact that synod took this action at this time in making these declarations, an action which the undersigned is convinced was both unnecessary and hasty. Grounds:-
(1) the doctrine of common grace, according to his judgment, has not been sufficiently thought through, and the dispute which has arisen in our churches concerning the above mentioned three points, which are connected to it, have not come to a sufficient ripeness to warrant an enticement for a decision through which, in principle, the standpoint of the Brothers Danhof and Hoeksema stands condemned;
(2) the points, with which it is concerned, do not belong to the fundamental truths which are formulated in our confessions, and as synod itself acknowledged, in these fundamental truths the Brothers Danhof and Hoeksema are Reformed, even though there is a tendency to be one-sided;
(3) thus these too hastily made declarations, according to the conviction of the undersigned, will not be conducive to advance the peace and well-being of our churches. Experience has taught us that undue haste in such weighty matters, when emotions run high because of the battle being waged are seldom good;
(4) there was according to the judgment of the undersigned a better way, namely, that a committee be appointed to investigate the dispute which has arisen, and that the truths be further studied, which have become a part of controversy. However, synod was not willing to move in this direction.
The words of this protest come close to this writer's assessment of the common grace controversy of 1924. I, too, believe that the decision was hurried and not well thought out from both a theological as well as an ecclesiastical polity perspective. In addition, there is considerable evidence that powerfully placed church leaders acted in concert to "get Hoeksema." It will come as no surprise to the reader that this author has been and remains profoundly intrigued by the mystery of the missing disciplinary advice. Yet in the final analysis, the most objective historical conclusion I can come to is that the blue-pencilled slash mark was most likely a clerical annotation used to indicate what was to be included and not included in a subsequent draft for synod's consideration. Its omission in the final record is most likely, as best I can guess, a clerical mistake rather than an intentional political move. I may be wrong about that tentative conclusion and remain intrigued by it. However, more important than the missing advice, is my strong sense that justice and the church's well-being were violated in this controversy by the orchestrated haste with which Hoeksema was removed from the CRC. It looks for all the world, as I described it earlier, like an ecclesiastical blitzkrieg, a hurried and well-orchestrated attack on the person and ideas of Herman Hoeksema.
What is the appropriate response to that sense? I am not prepared to say. I am generally unimpressed with apologies made out of season by nonparticipants in an action to those who are the legatees of an unjust act but not themselves directly its recipients. The only apologies really worth anything are those made by actual perpetrators directly to their victims. The synod of Kalamazoo took place seventy-five years ago; its protagonists are now with the Lord. We cannot change history; not even with heartfelt apologies. However, we can and must do our best to understand those who are so close to us and yet so far, thanks to historical acts that we may regret later. We must strive to understand so that we can be fair and just as well as sympathetic today. This article is offered to brothers and sisters in the Protestant Reformed Church by someone in the Christian Reformed Church as a gesture of Christian goodwill and attempt at understanding. I am too much of a Kuyperian neo-Calvinist to deny or repudiate the doctrine of common grace, though I share Randy Blacketer's reservations in his article in this issue of CTJ about Kalamazoo's first point. At the same time, I am also disturbed by the misuse of the doctrine of common grace and consider the loss of Herman Hoeksema's prophetic voice in the CRC to have been a major loss for our denomination. At the very least, I hope that today, seventy-five years after Kalamazoo, for the sake of a prospering Reformed faith in North America, open and constructive conversation between our two churches can still take place. This article is offered as an opening to such a discussion.
1 See David H. Holwerda, "Hermeneutical Issues Then and Now: TheJanssen Case Revisited," CTJ24 (1989): 7-34.
2 My primary resources are the 1924
Acta der Synode der Christeljke Gereformeerde Kerk (hereafter
1924 Acta); Herman Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed Churches
in America: Their Origin, Early History and Doctrine, 2d ed.,
(Grand Rapids, 1947); Gertrude Hoeksema, Therefore Have I Spoken:
A Biography of Herman Hoeksema. (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free
Publishing Association, 1969). There is remarkably little CRC
scholarship on the controversy, probably because for most CRC
leaders the issue was self-evident. It is treated briefly by John
H. Kromminga in The Christian Reformed Church: A Study
in Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1949), 82-86. A full-length
monograph on the doctrine of common grace, but focusing on the
theology of Cornelius Van Til, is given by James Daane, A Theology
of Grace (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954). For additional discussions
of common grace in the Reformed tradition and its application
to Christian living, see Herman Kuiper, Calvin on Common Grace
(Goes: Oosterbaan & Le Cointre, 1928); William Masselink,
"Common Grace and Christian Education" (Ph.D. diss.,
University of Chicago, 1952).
3 The link between the Janssen controversy and
common grace is explored in some detail by H. Hanko,
"A Study of the Relation Between the Views of Prof. R. Janssen
and Common Grace" (Th.M. thesis, Calvin Theological Seminary,
4 Janssen's career at Calvin Theological Seminary
is in itself an interesting tale. (What follows is taken from
Semi-Centennial Volume, Theological School and Calvin College:
1876-1926 [Grand Rapids, 1926], 36-38.) He was first appointed
to teach exegetical theology at CTS by the 1902 CRC synod though,
because he had earned "a Doctorate of Philosophy and not
of Theology," his appointment was not permanent and he "was
not publicly installed. Shortly after he began teaching, suspicions
surfaced about his "unmistakable leaning toward Higher Criticism."
Janssen's work at the Seminary ceased when the school's governing
board "did not send a recommendation [concerning Janssen's
reappointment] to the Synod of 1906; only calling attention to
the fact that his time had expired." After Janssen spent
two years (1906-8) studying theology at the Free University of
Amsterdam, he was reappointed by the CRC synod of 1914 as Professor
of Old Testament. In favor of his appointment it was reported
that "he had learned a great deal." Apparently, not
enough! (For a brief discussion of the Janssen case in a larger
institutional and theological context, see John Bolt, Stewards
of the Word [Grand Rapids: Calvin Seminary, 1998], 107-20.)
5 R. Janssen, "De Crisis in de Christelijke
Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika," (Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids
6 Janssen also appealed to Kuyper (and Bavinck)
for support of his views on miracles and revelation. See Holwerda,
"Hermeneutical Issues," passim.
7 Holwerda, "Hermeneutical Issues,"
8 Ibid., 9.
9 H. Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed
10 Gertrude Hoeksema, Therefore Have l
11 H. Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed
13 Ibid, 24.
14 Summarized conveniently by Jan Karel Van Baalen,
De Loochening der Gemeene Gratie: Gereformeerd of Doopersch?
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans-Sevensma, 1922), 35-36.
15 See Acta der Synode, 1920, 78-97 passim.
16 Holwerda summarizes the 1920 synodical decision
thus: p.12, "After hearing directly from Janssen, synod expressed
its satisfaction that his positions maintained the Reformed doctrine
of verbal inspiration and the absolute authority of Scripture
for faith and life, but it did encourage him diligently to avoid
such emphasis on the human factor as might lead to misunderstanding.
Thus in the year 1920, the official judgment of both the Board
of Trustees and the synod was that Janssen was indeed Reformed
in his theology and that the students had not fully understood
17 Holwerda, "Hermeneutical Issues,"
19 Ibid., quoting R. Janssen, De Synodale
Conclusies (Grand Rapids: n.p., 1923), 71.
20 Jan Karel Van Baalen, Der Loochening
der Gemeene Gratie: Gereformeered of Doopersch ?.
21 See the tract written by Hoeksema and his collaborator H. Danhof, Niet Doopersch Maar Gereformeerd: Voorloopig Beschied aan Ds. Jan Karel Van Baalen betreffende De Loochening der Gemeene
Grative (Grand Rapids, 1922).
22 See 1924 Acta, 161-63; Synod's action on the appeals covers some eighty pages (pp. 161-242).
23 H. Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed
24 L. Berkhof et al., Waar het in de Zaak
Janssen Om Gaat, 4.
25 Gertrude Hoeksema, Therefore Have I
27 Agenda CRC Synod, 1924, xxvi-xxvii; the
overtures were from the following classes: Hackensack, Sioux Center,
Hudson, and Muskegon.
29 H. Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed
Churches, 25-26. Gertrude Hoeksema's more succinct summary
is also given here for clarification along with the dates of publication
added by the author of this article (from Therefore Have l
This difference of opinion led to a flurry of pamphlets soon after
the synod. The Rev. J. K. Van Baalen wrote a pamphlet (in the
Dutch language), Denial of Common Grace, Reformed orAnabaptistic
? The Revs. H. Hoeksema and H. Danhof, in their pamphlet,
answered, Not Anabaptistic But Reformed. The Rev. J. K.
Van Baalen then came out with Innovation and Error, which
was followed by two pamphlets, Along Straight Paths and For
the Sake of Justice and Truth, by the two ministers. These
were followed by a major work, Of Sin and Grace, also by
Hoeksema and Danhof.
The pamphlet war went on until the end of the year.
30 1924 Acta, 147.
31 Gertrude Hoeksema, Therefore Have l
34 H. Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed
36 Ibid., 29.
38 Ibid. In a footnote, Hoeksema adds this explanation:
From the typewritten, court-records we quote the following: "Question: Is plaintiff's exhibit 2 the sole work of the three people who signed it? Answer: Do you mean if any others---is this the meaning of the question, have any others? Yes, we have advised with my brother, for instance."
A little further in the records: "Questions: Who wrote plaintiff's
exhibit 2? Well, parts of it, of course, we had all written something
about the matter that we was to bring to Synod, and we asked him
to correct it for us and to go over it, the first part of it.
Question: Who is 'Him'? Answer:. That is my brother just referred
to. Question: Continue. You asked him to --? Answer: To correct
it for us and put it in the proper form. Question: And he did?
Answer: Yes, sir."
39 Ibid., 38.
40 Hoeksema contends that he "stumbled across"
the overture for the first time at the home of an elder while
fulfilling a classical preaching appointment at East Martin CRC
41 Here is Gertrude Hoeksema's summary of Hoeksema's
assessment of his opponents' motivation:
Rev. Hoeksema himself, when asked what he thought motivated the men who opposed him and openly expressed that they wanted to put him out of the denomination, said he thought there were two main reasons: the simmering enmity of the pro-Janssen men, who looked for a chance to "get even," and the jealousy of some of the leaders in the Christian Reformed Church, especially the four professors he had helped, because they saw in him a leader and a rival in their areas of disagreement.
42 My thanks here to Mrs. Marlene Osterhouse,
long-time administrative assistant in the CRC General Secretary's
office, for her help in accessing this file.
43 A normal meeting of classis ordinarily completes
its business in one day.
44 H. Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed
45 Ibid., 55.
47 Ibid., 57.
49 1924 Acta, 115. The protesting churches
were Kalamazoo First GRC, Kalamazoo Third GRC, and Lamont CRC.
50 Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed Churches,
51 Ibid., 59-60.
52 Ibid., 60.
53 Ibid., 61.
54 Recall the four overtures properly before
Synod 1924; see note 27 above.
55 For details of the synodical workings see
1924 Acta, 11550, 191-99. Page references that follow in the text
are to the 1924 Acta.
56 Here is a list of the synodical sessions,
by number and date leading up to the eighteenth, (1) June 18,
morning, Wednesday; (2) June 18, afternoon, Wednesday; (3) June
20, morning, Friday; (4) June 20, afternoon, Friday; (5) June
23, morning, Monday; (6) June 24, morning, Tuesday; (7) June 24,
afternoon, Tuesday; (8) June 25, morning, Wednesday; (9) June
25, afternoon, Wednesday; (10) June 26, afternoon, Thursday; (11)
June 27, morning, Friday; (12) June 27, afternoon, Friday; (13)
June 27, evening, Friday; (14) June 30, afternoon, Monday; (15)
June 30, evening, Monday; (16) July 1, morning, Tuesday; (17)
July 1, afternoon, Tuesday.
57 Here is the relevant passage from the advisory
committee listing the eleven points (1924 Acta, 121-22): In the
above-mentioned documents the following points concerning the
difference in doctrine were brought to the attention of your committee.
(1) The favorable disposition of God toward the reprobates.
(2) The restraint of sin or the restraint of the sinner.
(3) The doing of civil good by the unregenerate.
(4) The double working of God's will in election and rejection.
(5) The placing of election and reprobation on one line.
(6) The responsibility of man.
(7) The providence of God and His sovereignty over all things.
(8) Rev. H. Hoeksema's view of God.
(9) The emphasis which is placed on the eternal decree and in general on the divine factor.
(10) The insufficient Gospel-preaching of the above mentioned pastor.
(11) The making powerless the second table of the law.
Note: In actual act there were twelve points in the text of the advisory committee. Not included in the 1924 Acta is:
(12) In these items there are also complaints about rash complaints against office bearers. For more on material that is missing from the 1924 Acta, see next section of this article.
58 Article 125 (1924 Acta, 14344): "During
the discussion of the above mentioned proposal, the time arrives
that synod adjourn. It is decided to reconvene on Monday at 1:30.
This session is concluded with a prayer of thanksgiving led by
Rev. J. Noordewier."
59 II. 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 Utrecht conclusion.
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 axe Reformed, albeit with a tendency to be one-sided.
It was thus decided.
60 Hoeksema contends that this pastoral advice was not sent; see The Protestant Reformed Churches, 93: "I'he 'Testimony' never was sent to the churches!"
61 H. Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed Churches, 77-78.
62 Ibid., 79.
63 Ibid., 77; cf. 1924 Acta, 113.
65 Ibid., 81.
66 Ibid., 80.
67 Ibid., 80-81.
68 Ibid., 192.
69 Hoeksema's summary of his case on this point is worth citing in full (ibid., 194):
Did Synod adopt the advice of the committee [to discipline dissenters]? By no means. It rejected it by adopting a substitute motion in which the entire advice was dropped. Synod did not ask the brethren to retract anything, to promise anything, to refrain from anything. Synod never asked the brethren Danhof and Hoeksema to promise a single thing. Instead, Synod merely decided to admonish the brethren, together with the entire Church and all other ministers in our churches.
70 Hoeksema does provide some independent corroboration
from a Kent County Circuit Court cross-examination of Dr. Henry
Beets, the Stated Clerk of the CRC whose responsibility it was
to prepare the printed synodical 1924 Acta. See H. Hoeksema, The
Protestant Reformed Churches, 192-93 n.
73 See note 42, above.
74 H. Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed
Churches, 193 n.
75 Ibid., 99.
76 All this is covered in some detail by Hoeksema,
77 Ibid., 109.
79 Ibid.,168-234, for details.
80 Ibid., 154
81 Ibid., 159.
82 See note 57 above.
83 See note 30, above.
84 H. Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed
85 Ibid.; I have not been able to locate the
article to which Hoeksema is referring.
86 1924 Acta, 193-94.
Last Modified: 24-Jun-2000