All this is not to say that doctrinal controversy and heresy trials are not necessary and cannot have beneficial results for the church. Scripture makes it abundantly clear that in the continuous warfare which the devil wages against the church, one powerful weapon in his arsenal is the weapon of false doctrine .l The church, to preserve herself in the world, must fight against false doctrine, also as it appears in her own midst. When the church successfully defeats false doctrine, many blessings come to her through the battle. A renewed interest in the Scriptures characterizes God's people; a clearer definition of disputed points of doctrine is forged; an enlivened zeal for the cause of God's church is found in the lives of the saints.
Yet the fact remains that doctrinal controversy and heresy trials are sad and trying experiences. They are difficult and filled with much suffering. They are trials of faith which bring out the worst as well as the best in men. They are often experiences which the church as a whole would rather forget.
In the second and third decades of this century, over the space of a little more than six years, the Christian Reformed Church endured three doctrinal controversies, all of which had to be settled by the Synod, the broadest ecclesiastical assembly of the denomination. Four consecutive Synods2 conducted heresy trials: in 1918, Rev. H. Bultema was deposed for denying the Kingship of Christ over the church; in 1920 and 1922 the views of Dr. Ralph Janssen were examined, and he was deposed from his position as Professor of Old Testament in Calvin Theological Seminary; in 1924 the views of Revs. Herman Hoeksema and Henry Danhof were examined, particularly their denial of common grace, and their views condemned by implication when a doctrinal statement concerning common grace was adopted by the Synod. Never in all its history has the Christian Reformed Church endured such bitter conflict over crucial doctrinal issues in such a short time.
The second and third controversies are of interest to us in this study. In fact, not even the last of these controversies, the controversy over the doctrine of common grace, is of primary importance. The teachings of Dr. Ralph Janssen and the disputes which revolved around his views are the main themes of this paper. Insofar as the common grace issue, resolved by the Synod of 1924, enters into this discussion, it is only because of its relationship to the Janssen heresy trial.
It is possible to approach the Janssen heresy trial from different points of view. Writing in the Grand Rapids Press under "Viewpoint in Religion," Dr. Harry R. Boer reflects on the significance of the Janssen controversy for the history of the Christian Reformed Church. He writes:
The year 1922 marks the absolute watershed determining the limits of freedom in CRC academia. In that year Prof. Ralph Janssen, a man of erudition and teaching competence, was dismissed from the Calvin Seminary faculty. He had taught God's inspiration of the Bible as availing itself of historical, political, religious and general cultural influences in the composition of its several books.
The pall that this event cast over the freedom of academic discussion in the CRC as a whole has never been entirely dispelled.3
Boer defines the issue in terms of academic freedom, and perhaps he is correct to some extent
(depending on how one defines the term "academic freedom"), although at the time the battle was fought, this was not a consideration.
The Synod of 1922, which finally condemned Janssen's teaching and deposed him from his position in the Seminary, did so chiefly because it did not believe Janssen did justice in his teaching to the truth of Scripture's infallible inspiration.4 The question for Synod was: Does Janssen teach the doctrine of Scripture which is outlined in the Reformed Confessions?
What is intriguing about the controversy is the fact that those who were officially involved in it5 stuck steadfastly to this main point even though Janssen himself repeatedly and on numerous occasions not only insisted on his orthodoxy with respect to the doctrine of inspiration, but also attempted to show his detractors and accusers that another issue was involved of a more basic kind: the issue of common grace. In fact, so insistent was Janssen on this point that he repeatedly charged his accusers with being the ones who had strayed from the paths of orthodoxy, while he was the one faithful to historic Calvinistic and Reformed thought. For Janssen, the only question was the question of common grace. Yet as often as Janssen insisted on this point, so often did his accusers refuse to deal with it.
This insistence on the part of Janssen could be construed as a "red herring" by which he made a valiant but unsuccessful attempt to divert the attention of his accusers, if it were not for the fact that the controversy over common grace arose not only immediately after the Janssen controversy, but actually arose out of it.6 In fact, Rev. H. Hoeksema, a member of the Investigatory Committee and of the Synod of 1922, and himself finally deposed from the ministry in the Christian Reformed Church for his opposition to common grace, later said with reference to common grace:
In the light of subsequent history it was evidently a mistake on the part of the Reverends H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema, that they co-operated with the four professors in the Janssen controversy, rather than to oppose his views separately from their own standpoint . . . .7
The subject of the relation between the views of Dr. Janssen and the doctrine of common grace brings up a number of interesting and important questions. Was it true that the issue of common grace stood inseparably connected with the views of Dr. Janssen concerning Scripture? And, if they were connected, as Dr. Janssen insisted they were, were they connected in such a way that they could not possibly be discussed separately? Or, to put it a bit differently, did the Synod of 2922 err when it refused to deal with common grace, but nevertheless condemned Janssen? Janssen insisted that a repudiation of his own views was, in effect, a repudiation of common grace.
To answer this question will involve us in other questions. How did Dr. Janssen connect his views on Scripture with common grace? Why did the Investigatory Committee refuse to become involved in this crucial issue? Why did the Synod of 1922 follow the leadership of the Investigatory Committee and also refuse to become embroiled in the question of common grace? And, after such repeated refusals to deal with common grace, why was it that, after all, only two years later, the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church was prepared to make an official statement concerning this doctrine, and within but a short time of four years was prepared to approve of the deposition from office of those who opposed it?
These are the questions which we propose to investigate in our study. To concentrate on this aspect of the question will, quite obviously, set up some parameters outside of which we do not intend to go. Our primary concern in this paper is not with Janssen's views on Scripture. We shall have to deal with them, but we limit our concern with them to their relationship to the doctrine of common grace. For that reason also we are not primarily concerned with evaluating the decisions of the Synod of 1922. Some evaluation is obviously necessary and one can hardly write about these decisions without passing judgment upon them; but it is not our primary intent to weigh these decisions in the light of Scripture. The same is true of the church political aspects of the case. These aspects occupied a great deal of attention in the church: in the periodicals, discussions, and deliberations of the assemblies; but a detailed study of these matters lies outside our concern.
To accomplish the chief goal, we shall first of all give a brief and sketchy history of the controversy. Secondly, we shall define the issues as they were officially discussed by the Churches. Thirdly we shall examine the question of the relation between Janssen's views and common grace: how Janssen saw their relationship; how the Churches saw the relationship; and our own judgment concerning the question. And finally we shall come to some conclusions on the effect of the controversy, not only on the Synod of 1924 and its decisions on common grace, but also on subsequent history in the Christian Reformed Church and Protestant Reformed Churches.
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1. Of. e.g., the many warnings in the New Testament to the saints to be on their guard against false doctrine: Acts 20:29-31, II Peter 2:1, Jude 3, 4, and such like passages. Return
2. Synods met every other year. Return
3. H. Boer, "Broad Concessions Tragic, Man Says." The Grand Rapids Press, April 25, 1987, p. D4. This article was written in answer to an earlier article in The Press which carried a report concerning three professors in Calvin College who "have openly described the coming into being of the physical world quite differently than is done in the first two chapters of the Bible." (Quoted from Boer's article, not the original Press article.) Return
4. We will have opportunity to look more closely at the precise issues involved in a different context. Return
5. The Curatorium of the Theological School, the Investigatory Committee, the Synods of 1920 and 1922, along with their Committees of Pre-advice. Return
6. While this point is one which needs exploring, an exploration which we intend to conduct in the course of the paper, one can find abundant proof for this assertion in Jan Karel Van Baalen, Nieuwigheid en Dwaling. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans - Sevensma Publishing Co., 1923.) Return
7. Hoeksema, Herman, The History of the Protestant Reformed Churches (Grand Rapids: The author, second edition, 1947). Return
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Ralph Janssen was born to a family of farmers in the Zeeland - Holland area in 1874. As a youth he attended Christian Reformed Churches in Niekerk and Zeeland, the latter congregation pastored at that time by Rev. Johannes Groen, who, it seems, had some influence on him.1
He studied at Hope College, the University of Chicago where he received his A.B. in 1898, University de Strasbourg, Universitat Heidelberg, University de Lausanne, and Universitat Halle where he received a Ph.D. in 1902.
In 1902, through the influence of Rev. Johannes Groen, his former pastor, he was appointed Professor of Old and New Testament at the Theological School of the Christian Reformed Church, and served as Lecturer in Old and New Testament till 1906.2
Tensions soon arose in the school, partly because Janssen was not an ordained minister as the other professors,3 and partly over the question of the relationship between the authority of the church and science.4 The result was that Janssen was not reappointed in 1906.
He took the opportunity to continue his studies at the Free University in Amsterdam where he earned a Th.D. in 1908. From 1908 to 1914 he was professor of Greek in Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois. 1914 was the year in which he again received an appointment to Calvin Theological Seminary as Professor of Old Testament.
Not many years elapsed before trouble arose once again between Janssen and his colleagues in the Seminary: Profs. Louis Berkhof, William Heyns, Foppe Ten Hoor, and Samuel Volbeda. It has been suggested that the reasons for this trouble are to be found in the fact that Janssen was a man of different "academic spirit and theological temperament." Janssen was a man of somewhat strange personal characteristics. He himself considered the trouble to be jealousy on the part of those who opposed him, and he saw in the opposition of the other professors plots to turn students against him.5
However all this may be, the real trouble surfaced when Professors Berkhof, Heyns, Ten Hoor, and Volbeda became suspicious of the orthodoxy of Janssen's teachings. Their suspicions were aroused by statements made by some students during Seminary huisbezoek;6 by various conversations among the students overheard by the professors during break-times, which conversations suggested unorthodox teachings in Janssen's classes; and by less than orthodox answers given by some students who were examined after their graduation for entrance into the ministry.7
So concerned were these men for the welfare of the Seminary that they decided to present a petition to the Curatorium.8 This was done at the meeting of June, 1919.
They filed no charges against Prof. Janssen but asked for investigation of Prof. Janssen's teachings on the authority, infallibility and credibility of Scripture.9 The Curatorium appointed a committee which met first with the four professors and then with Prof. Janssen. They submitted a report to the Curatorium which was adopted by that body. The complete report reads:
Report of Comm. on Communication by four Profs.
The communication referred to us contains request, signed by Profs. Ten Hoor, Heyns, Berkhof and Volbeda -- that the Board of Trustees examine Prof. Janssen's position in respect to the authority, the infallibility and the credibility of the Holy Scriptures. They state that the question whether the instruction of the said professor does not fall short of doing justice to these things, rises irresistably (sic).
They ascribe the origin of this question to three sources: 1. Statements of some students made to the above named profs. during their official student-visits; 2. Questions asked by certain students in the class-room of one of the profs.; 3. Rumors of what has transpired at certain classical examinations.
After examining .the communication of the four professors, your committee heard them
personally, and found:--
1. That, according to their own testimony these four professors had not personally brought
these matters to the attention of Prof. Janssen; and
2. That the remarks touching the instruction of Prof. Janssen, as made to these four Professors concerned: a. the authorship of the Pentateuch; b. the historicity of Job; c. the Old Testament miracles, e.g. the collapse of the walls of Jericho; d. the inspiration of the Song of Solomon; e. his theory of inspiration.
Thereupon your committee met with Dr. Janssen and informed him of the contents of the document and requested him to explain himself.
In very frank and open discussion the professor explained himself fully on all these points. He read freely to us from his lectures.
I. Prof. Janssen gave most heartily the assurance that touching the authority, credibility and infallibility of the Holy Scriptures he is wholly in accord with the Form that bears his signature (The Form for Professors of Theology).
II. Prof. Janssen states that the Reformed Organic Theory of the Inspiration of the Scriptures is his.
III. Touching the remarks made by students to the other professors the professor quoted freely from his lectures, that:
a. That certain portions of the Pentateuch are not of Mosaic origin, but that the Pentateuch as a whole is the product of a Redactor under the Inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
b. Job. That the professor has always assumed the historicity of Job.
c. Miracles. In all these O.T. miracles there is operating a divine causation, but the Lord uses in many cases natural agencies, e.g. that the walls of Jericho did not, as Borstius says, fall of themselves, but possibly thru' an earthquake, tho' the Scriptures do not indicate the manner.
d. Song of Solomon. That, tho' the Song of Solomon may not contain Messianic prophecy, but shows the Divine Origin and the Sacredness of Love, the professor has never thought of doubting the inspiration of said book.
IV. Furthermore the professor produced evidences by signed statements, containing confessions and apologies of various parties that had been instrumental in spreading these damaging reports, that he has been the victim of persecution.
Your committee examined these signed statements and confessions also.
1. The Board of Trustees express their disapproval of the fact that the four professors came with this document to the Board before having personally conferred with Prof. Janssen on these matters.
2. The Board express their full confidence in Prof. Janssen.10
The Curatorium, upon the advice of its committee, decided basically two matters: 1) that the four professors should have gone with their objections to Prof. Janssen before they came to the Curatorium;11 2) that Prof. Janssen had given full assurance that he believed completely and wholeheartedly in the authority, credibility and infallibility of Scripture, and that therefore the Curatorium expressed full confidence in him.12
Rev. Herman Hoeksema, many years later, reflected on the events of that meeting of the Curatorium and provided some interesting side-lights.13 He had himself studied for one year under Prof. Janssen prior to his own ordination into the ministry; he was a member of the Curatorium at the time these events were taking place; and he became a strong opponent of Prof. Janssen after the Synod of 1920. He writes that the Curatorium had considered adopting a resolution of support, but had decided not to pass such a resolution since Janssen's continued presence in the school already implied the support of the Curatorium.14 It was at recess, after the decision had been taken, that Rev. Hoeksema had, as he writes, a long private conversation with Prof. Janssen, in which conversation Prof. Janssen spoke of a lack of harmony among the faculty. While Hoeksema was in agreement with the decision of the Curatorium concerning the failure of the professors to see Prof. Janssen in private, he was uneasy with the part of the decision which expressed confidence in Prof. Janssen. His uneasiness was not so much that he was dissatisfied with Janssen's testimony before the committee; it was rather that the four professors had asked for an investigation of Janssen's teaching. This had not been done; rather, a motion of confidence in Janssen had been passed on the basis of what Janssen said he believed, rather than on an investigation of what he taught in his classes in Seminary.15 This uneasiness on Hoeksema's part prompted him to begin a private study of Janssen's teachings.
The four professors who had submitted the original request for an investigation were not satisfied. They gave notice to the Curatorium of their appeal to the Synod of 1920 and submitted to the Curatorium a copy of that appeal. The Curatorium requested the four professors to delay their appeal to Synod until they could resubmit the whole matter to the Curatorium once again. This the four professors agreed to do. The Curatorium then asked the four professors to submit a written document in which all their objections against the teachings of Prof. Janssen were clearly set forth. The Curatorium conducted a rather lengthy investigation in which the opposing parties were given opportunities to answer each other.16
This lengthy investigation resulted in the following decision:
l. That the Curatorium is satisfied with Dr. Janssen's statement concerning his view of Inspiration of Holy Scripture.
2. That the Board trusts that the objections and dissatisfactions of the four professors will disappear through brotherly, mutual discourse.
3. That Dr. R. Janssen strive to evade anything that might give cause to misconception, and that he express himself so clearly in his instruction, that misconception is excluded.17
This decision was adopted by "every member voting aye, contrary none."18
The four professors, however, remained unsatisfied and they notified the Curatorium that they were appealing to the Synod of 1920, which Synod was scheduled to meet in the same month in which the Curatorium had finished its work on the Janssen case. While apparently the purpose of the appeal of the four professors to Synod was still to persuade Synod to make an investigation of Prof. Janssen's teachings in the Seminary, the appeal contained specific charges against Prof. Janssen. These read:
1. With reference to the doctrine of inspiration, that though Dr. Janssen professes to believe in "organic inspiration" as including "verbal," he believes there are exaggerations and inaccuracies in the Scripture.
2. With reference to the explanation of wonders, Dr. Janssen defines them as "events which are the product of a special act of God's power or will, but God frequently uses human or physical agencies to bring them about." Consequently, he believes there are many wonders that can be explained in large part from natural causes.
3. With reference to the Pentateuch, Dr. Janssen holds to the four-source theory, and that only those parts specifically ascribed to Moses were written by him.
4. With reference to the Song of Solomon, Dr. Janssen regards it as simply an Oriental love song, rejects the typical-messianic interpretation, and is on this not in the Reformed tradition.19
As is evident from the Acts of the Synod of 1920, Synod spent a great deal of time with the case, undoubtedly because Synod recognized its great importance for the Seminary and the Churches.20 This broadest body of the denomination took the time to study the documents which were sent to Synod, heard from all the parties concerned (Dr. Janssen himself, the four professors, those who could speak for the Curatorium), and considered the advice of its advisory committee. It is striking, however, that the Synod also did not investigate the teachings of Dr. Janssen as the four professors had originally requested, but rather heard the professors themselves and listened to Dr. Janssen's defense of his position.
Synod also considered the matter of whether the four professors should have met personally with Dr. Janssen to discuss with him the matter of his instruction before bringing their suspicions, along with a request for an investigation, to the Curatorium. While the advisory committee advised Synod to instruct the four professors that they should have first seen Dr. Janssen (which advice would have supported the position taken by the Curatorium), Synod rejected this advice.21
With respect to the case itself, Synod decided:
1. Dr. Janssen, in his hearing before Synod, took (a) very definite position on the standpoint of the verbal inspiration of Holy Scripture and its absolute authority for faith and life.
2. It has not become evident to Synod that Dr. Janssen teaches anything that is irreconcilable with the Reformed teaching of the verbal inspiration of Holy Scripture and its absolute authority for faith and life.
3- It does appear to Synod, however, that Dr. Janssen, in the interpretation of Holy Scripture, sometimes has placed too much emphasis on the human factor and on the natural means, so that on that account the special divine factor did not come to its right in the mind of some students.
4. Synod declares that Dr. Janssen should endeavor to avoid all that has given or might give occasion to misunderstanding, and express himself so clearly in his instruction that misunderstanding is excluded.22
At this point, therefore, Dr. Janssen had been vindicated two different times: by the Curatorium and again by the Synod of 1920. One would think that this would have been the end of the matter; and this very idea was apparently on the mind of the president of the Synod when he spoke, in his concluding remarks, of the Synod being characterized as a "Unity Synod."23
Unity was, however, not to be. The Church was soon in turmoil over the "Janssen Case," and very soon after the Synod of 1920 it became obvious that the decisions of 1920 had accomplished nothing. Several events took place which brought the "Janssen Case" before the mind of the Church and threw it into confusion.
The first event was the writings of Rev. H. Hoeksema. He had been appointed editor of the column, "Our Doctrine" in The Banner (the official paper of the Christian Reformed Church) by the Synod of 1918. He assumed his responsibilities and began his writing in September of that year.24 Shortly after the Synod of 1920 had completed its meetings, Hoeksema had succeeded in obtaining a set of Student Notes which he studied privately and which formed the basis for a series of articles in The Banner in which he criticized Dr. Janssen for his alleged higher critical views. Hoeksema offered Dr. Janssen full use of his rubric to defend himself, which offer Janssen also took. The result was a series of articles by Rev. Hoeksema and a series of replies by Dr. Janssen.
It is interesting that Hoeksema says he made an effort to see Janssen before he began this attack. Two reasons lay behind this effort to see the professor: 1) Dr. Janssen was a member of Rev. Hoeksema's congregation, the Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church, and Rev. Hoeksema saw the matter of Janssen's teachings in a pastoral light; 2) Rev. Hoeksema had supported Janssen up to this point. He had voted for Janssen on the Curatorium meeting; he had objected to the four professors' refusal to see Janssen before they came to the Curatorium with objections against his teachings; he had voted in support of Janssen at the Synod of 1920. But after a study of the Student Notes, Hoeksema was convinced that Janssen's teachings were wrong. He writes that he went to see Janssen privately, but that Janssen would not see him after Janssen learned that Hoeksema had become Janssen's opponent.25
The second event which brought the "Janssen Case" before the minds of the people and stirred up unrest in the Churches was the writings which now began to appear in other religious periodicals within the denomination. Not only De Wachter, the Dutch official publication of the Christian Reformed Church, but also Religion and Culture, The Leader, and Onze Toekomst joined the fray. The third event that added to the tumult was the publication in February of 1921 of the brochure, Nadere Toelichting Omtrent De Zaak Janssen.26 It was published by the four professors who had originally asked for the investigation of Janssen's teachings: F.M. Ten Hoor, W. Heyns, L. Berkhof, and S. Volbeda. It was written in response to the rather general opinions that the issues in the Janssen case were unimportant and that the four professors were motivated by jealousy in their attacks against Janssen..27 It treated the history of the case up to that point, stated the specific objections which the professors had against Dr. Janssen's teaching, and explained why, in the opinion of the professors, these teachings were contrary to the Word of God and the Confessions.
The tumult in the churches grew with the result that, when the Curatorium held its next meeting in June of 1921 it was faced with overtures from eight of the thirteen Classes in the Christian Reformed Church, all asking for an investigation of Janssen's teachings.28 The Curatorium agreed that such an investigation ought to be carried out, and it appointed a committee composed of Reverends J. Manni, Chairman, Herman Hoeksema, Henry Danhof, Henry J. Kuiper, Gerrit Hoeksema, Dr. J. Van Lonkhuyzen, and Prof. D.H. Kromminga. Some effort was apparently made to get a committee which would be balanced in its constituency, for the latter three mentioned above were known to be supporters of Dr. Janssen; Hoeksema, Danhof and Kuiper were well-known critics, and J. Manni had not publicly committed himself -- if indeed he had come to any personal conclusions. The Curatorium made two other decisions: one, to ask the Churches that all discussion of the case cease till after the committee had done its work; two, to give Dr. Janssen a year off from teaching with pay, although Janssen himself did not want this forced vacation and considered it indication that he was already under a cloud of suspicion, if not condemned.29
Generally speaking, the ecclesiastical press did keep silence, for, although some discussion continued in various papers, and although a new publication appeared, called The Witness, the discussions were concerning various church political questions rather than the doctrinal issues, insofar as anything at all substantive was discussed. The Banner carried very little, because it had been closed to discussion by decision of the editorial board even before the Curatorium had asked for a moratorium. The closing of The Banner had come about in the following way: after Hoeksema had begun his attack on Janssen's teachings, Janssen had for a time responded; but he suddenly, and with no apparent reason, ceased writing. He informed the readers of The Banner of this by a brief statement in the issue of January 27, 1921. Hoeksema expressed astonishment that Janssen did this, particularly because Janssen had not yet come to grips with the basic issues, but had limited his discussion to peripheral matters. Perhaps stung by Hoeksema's expression of astonishment, Janssen suddenly took up the pen again with the February 17, 1921 issue. On April 21, 1921 a notice appeared in The Banner that the editorial board had decided to close the paper to further discussion.
After the June, 1921 meeting of the Curatorium, the Investigatory Committee began its work. It had, obviously, first of all to learn what Janssen actually taught in the classroom in his various courses. To accomplish this, the committee made a formal and public request for both "Student Notes" and "Individual Notes," and also requested Dr. Janssen to submit his notes from which he lectured to the committee for investigation. The first letter to Janssen was ignored; the second letter was answered with a brief statement in which he refused to cooperate with the committee on the grounds that cooperation would involve him in responsibility for the many violations of Reformed Church Polity which, in his judgment, had been committed in the treatment of his case up to that point.30 This was the procedure Janssen was henceforth to follow throughout the treatment of his case including its final resolution at the Synod of 1922.
Stob31 expresses his sadness with the failure of Janssen to defend himself. He points out that, although Janssen had many of the same church political objections from the very outset of the case, as, e.g., that the four professors never came to see him prior to the lodging of their complaint with the Curatorium, Janssen did defend himself before the Curatorium and the Synod of 1920 in spite of his objections. But at the critical point when the committee began its work, by refusing to cooperate with the committee and later refusing to defend himself before the Synod, Janssen lost his opportunity to explain himself publicly and brought upon himself the suspicion of evasiveness and genuine heterodoxy.
At any rate, the material with which the Investigatory Committee had now to work was limited to "Student Notes" and "Individual Notes." Perhaps a word or two ought to be said about the former. While the "Individual Notes" were the notes which individual students had taken in Dr. Janssen's classes, the "Student Notes" were prepared by a few students who took notes in class, compared their notes after class, drew up from their notes one set of notes which was "complete," and gave (or sold) this "master set" to the other students in the class. Apparently this was done, not out of any motives of antipathy towards Dr. Janssen, but to avoid the necessity of every student taking his own notes.
The rightness of judging Dr. Janssen on the basis of such notes was repeatedly discussed. Dr. Janssen himself had brought it up when he first began to answer Hoeksema in the columns of The Banner;32 and the minority part of the Investigatory Committee also made a point of this in its report to Synod.33 Nevertheless, several points must be kept in mind. In the first place, Janssen himself forced the committee into this course of action by refusal to cooperate with the committee. This refusal is always difficult to understand. Janssen, in the cause of the truth, could have defended himself before the committee even while protesting the alleged church political errors. Secondly, although Janssen protested the use of "Student Notes" on several occasions, he never once challenged their accuracy. He repeatedly said that they were, in the nature of the case, untrustworthy, but he never once, in a specific instance, pointed out where they were incorrect. In the third place, even after the decisions of the Synod of 1922 were taken and Janssen had objected to his own deposition from office in a pamphlet34 he never pointed out specific points in Synod's decisions which misrepresented his position. Even Dr. Harry Boer, whose sympathy with Dr. Janssen has been publicly expressed, admits that Prof. Janssen never challenged the accuracy of anything in the Student Notes, though he often spoke of them as unreliable.35
These "Student Notes" then formed the material on the basis of which Prof. Janssen's teachings were investigated. For a period of time each member of the committee worked independently in his study of the available material. After this was completed, the entire committee met for ten days in Chicago to attempt to come to unanimous conclusions and to draw up a report for the Curatorium.
It soon became apparent that the Investigatory Committee was hopelessly divided -- a development which could hardly be considered surprising in the light of the fact that the views of most of the members were known when the committee was appointed. So, a majority and minority report were submitted to the Curatorium for consideration. The majority report was signed by Revs. Manni, H. J. Kuiper, H. Danhof, and H. Hoeksema. It was throughout critical of Dr. Janssen and condemnatory of his views. The minority report was signed by Rev. Gerrit Hoeksema, Dr. J. Van Lonkhuyzen, and Prof. D.H. Kromminga. While this report did not clear Dr. Janssen completely, it was, on the whole, an attempt to explain Janssen's teachings in ways which were acceptable in a Reformed community and Seminary. According to Hoeksema,36 Rev. H.J. Kuiper wrote the Introduction to the Majority Report, Revs. Danhof and Hoeksema drew up the report proper, and Rev. Manni signed the final document.
During the time the report was being formulated, three important pamphlets were published. Prof. Janssen wrote, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika (The Crisis in the Christian Reformed Church in America). The four professors who had lodged an original complaint against Janssen and four ministers, Reverends H. Hoeksema, H. Danhof, H. J. Kuiper and Y.P. De Jong, answered in a pamphlet entitled, Waar Het in de Zaak Janssen Om Gaat (The Issues in the Janssen Case).37
Janssen's pamphlet is probably the most important work he published in the controversy from the viewpoint of a defense of his position and has to be considered in any analysis of the doctrinal questions involved. The pamphlet of the four professors and four ministers was again answered by Janssen in a pamphlet, Voortzetting Van Den Strijd.
Before we turn to the work of the Synod of 1922, two other matters must briefly be mentioned. An important pamphlet appeared in June of 1922, just before Synod met. The pamphlet was written by B.K. Kuiper and was intended to explain why the author, formerly an opponent of Dr. Janssen, had come to favor him, or at least to withhold judgment on the matter.38 It would appear as if this pamphlet was published just prior to Synod in order to have the maximum effect upon the gathering.
In the second place, Dr. Stob calls attention to a couple of important considerations which also affected the deliberations of Synod. He points out that the minority part of the Investigatory Committee apparently thought that if Janssen were once again given opportunity to explain his views before the Curatorium and Synod, he would be exonerated. And so they suggested an interrogation. In the Conclusion of their report, they say:
5. Since the Confessions alone are the standard by which heresy or orthodoxy must be determined, the final decision must not be taken hastily.
Therefore we believe it is necessary, before a final decision is passed, that Janssen be further interrogated on these points.39
But Dr. Stob also suggests that such an exoneration of Dr. Janssen would have been extremely unlikely. And that for two reasons. In the first place, by the published writings on the case a climate had been created in the Churches in which Dr. Janssen was already condemned in the court of popular opinion. Because it was generally known that a great deal of trouble and agitation had been created in the church by a public discussion of the case, and because it was also known that popular opinion was opposed to Janssen, it was difficult for the Synod of 1922 to be an unbiased judge of the matter.40
We consider this an important matter. There seems to be little question about it that the public discussion of the case after the Synod of 1920 was, if not in a technical sense of the word wrong from the viewpoint of church polity, at least wrong from the viewpoint of the spirit of the Church Order which governed the church political life of the Christian Reformed Church. While it is certainly true that synodical (as well as classical) decisions may be discussed in the public forums of the churches, this ought only to be done when proper protests and appeals are also made and pending in the assemblies. This is especially true if disagreement with these decisions is voiced and criticism made of them. If there were those who, for whatever reasons, were dissatisfied with the decisions of the Synod of 1920, the proper way to bring their dissatisfactions before the churches was through the normal way of appeal as outlined in the Church Order. This would have given the Synod an opportunity to reconsider its former decisions on the basis of new evidence which was brought. To appeal directly to the churches without also protesting or appealing these decisions was wrong.
Further, by means of such an appeal made directly to the churches, great turmoil was created in the churches. This made an unbiased discussion on the floor of the Synod of 1922 virtually impossible. The broader ecclesiastical assemblies in the Reformed Churches have always been considered deliberative bodies which are called upon to evaluate material presented and pass judgment in the light of the Word of God and the Confessions of the Reformed Churches. When, through public agitation, turmoil is created in the churches, polarization takes place and people begin clamoring for the condemnation of the man under investigation. Under such circumstances, calm deliberation is virtually impossible. In fact, it becomes psychologically difficult to speak against prevailing views. It is almost as if a spirit of intimidation prevails which makes calm deliberation a will o' th' wisp.
In the second place, Dr. Stob points out that Dr. Janssen made life difficult for himself. He made unreasonable protests against the personnel of the Investigatory Committee; he brought complaints against the orthodoxy of his colleagues;41 and, Janssen's persistent refusal to submit his own notes and materials to the Investigatory Committee for study was probably the reason why the Curatorium voted down a motion to ask Janssen to appear before it to defend himself. In other words, Janssen's conduct breathed a spirit of evasion and refusal to cooperate, and surely such conduct did his cause no good.
The result of all this was that the Curatorium decided by motion "to present these findings (of the Investigatory Committee, H.H.) to the coming Synod and to state that it is the conviction of the Curatorium that such teachings are unsatisfactory and not desirable for our school."42
The same spirit of refusal to cooperate characterized Dr. Janssen's actions during the Synod of 1922. He refused to appear before the Committee of Pre-advice when it asked him to do this43 and before the Synod itself.44 Even those who favored Janssen were dismayed by this refusal. Dr. D.H. Kromminga, a signer of the Minority Report, was so incensed that he advised Synod either to prevail upon Dr. Janssen to appear before it, or depose him forthwith from his office of professor.45
The Committee of Pre-advice presented unanimous advice, which advice was also adopted. Throughout, the views of Dr. Janssen were condemned, and as its final duty, Janssen was relieved of his responsibilities in the Seminary. The concluding decision read:
With regard to the question as to what to do with Prof. Janssen:
Concerning this question the Committee decided to submit the following as its advice to Synod: (l) Whereas it has become evident that the instruction of Prof. Janssen, as reflected in the "Students and Individual Notes" is unReformed in character, and
(2) Whereas, Prof. Janssen, through insubordination on his part has made it impossible for Synod in its investigation to go back of the "Student Notes",
Your Committee judges that Synod is called to the sad tack (task, H.H.) of deposing Prof. Janssen from his office, in accordance with the Formula of Subscription...46
In this way the controversy was brought to its end.
The decisions of 1922 all but finished the matter. What events transpired beyond this Synod really had no important bearing on the case itself. We mention them only briefly.
An attempt was made, shortly after Synod concluded its sessions, to organize opposition to the decisions of Synod and to prepare protests which would force the church to reconsider its condemnation of Dr. Janssen. A document was circulated inviting all interested to a meeting. The circulation of this document brought sharp criticism in the church papers, particularly The Witness, and the movement died out.47
Twelve protests were submitted to the Synod of 1924 against the decisions of 1922, but little attention was given to them, partly because the issue was considered settled, and partly because the Synod of 1924 was embroiled in the "common grace" controversy.
Rev. Quirinus Breen had repeatedly made his views favoring Dr. Janssen known in the Churches. This also became a matter of ecclesiastical decision by the Synod of 1924, but Rev. Breen himself, minister at the time in the Twelfth Street Christian Reformed Church, resigned from his pastorate and from the ministry in the Christian Reformed Church before discipline could be exercised.48
Some reverberations of the Janssen controversy were still to be heard in the debate over the teachings of Dr. Wezeman in Chicago Christian High School in the mid thirties. Dr. Wezeman was a student the time of the Janssen trouble, was at Calvin Seminary at an acknowledged supporter of Dr. Janssen, and was condemned in Chicago for views very similar to those held by Janssen.49
After his deposition Dr. Janssen lived in the Chicago area where he taught for a while at the Y.M.C.A. college and worked for an investment firm.50 But his work in the Christian Reformed Church was over and his views condemned.
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1. For these and other biographical details, see, George Stob, "The Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools" (Th.D. Dissertation, Princeton Theological Seminary, 1955), pp. 300ff. Return
2. Peter De Klerk, Compiler and Editor, A Bibliography of the Writings of the Professors' of Calvin Theological Seminary (Grand Rapids: Calvin Theological Seminary, 1980). Return
3. Stob, "Christian Reformed Church And Her Schools", pp. 277-278. Return
4. Ibid., pp. 280, 301, 302. There is also some relation between these two elements in the conflict. We shall have opportunity to enter into them in more detail at another time. Return
5. Idem., pp. 302, 303. It is difficult to weigh these underlying tensions objectively. Here and there in the literature appear some passing references to these matters. See, e.g., F.M. Ten Hoor, W. Heyns, L. Berkhof, S. Volbeda, Nadere Toelichting Omtrent de Zaak Janssen (Holland, MI: Holland Printing Co., no date), pp. 3-5. This pamphlet was written, at least in part, in response to charges that the issues were unimportant and that the four professors who were Janssen's accusers, were motivated by jealousy. Return
6. Literally, "house visitation": a periodic visit of the students in the Seminary by the professors to discuss with the students their spiritual welfare. Return
7. Ten Hoor, et. al., Nadere Toelichting Omtrent de Zaak Janssen, pp. 6-8. Return
8. The governing body of the Theological School whose members were appointed by Synod. Return
9. The letter of the four professors is quoted in full on pp. 13-16 of Ten Hoor, et. al, Nadere Toelichting Omtrent De Zaak Janssen. The fact that the professors asked for an investigation rather than brought charges was point which was to come up repeatedly in the course of the controversy when the church political aspects of the case were discussed. Return
10. The history and the committee's report are found in, Ibid, pp. 17, 18. Return
11. This also became a bone of contention in the subsequent history of the case. The disagreement revolved in part around the question of the interpretation of Matthew 18:15-18 where Jesus admonishes one whose brother has sinned against him to go and see the brother alone. Those who pointed to the failure of the professors to do this claimed that this grievous omission put the whole case on a wrong footing at its outset, and nothing could be done correctly until that error was rectified. The four professors claimed that Matthew 18:15-18 did not apply to this case partly because they were bringing no charges against Janssen and partly because Jesus refers in this passage to private sins, while Janssen's teachings in the Seminary were public teachings. Return
12. This expression of confidence, while recommended by the committee, was not actually voted on by the Curatorium because, so the members argued, one is held innocent until his guilt has been proved ( dewijl we iemand voor onschuldig houden, zoolang zijn schuld niet bewezen is. Ten Hoor, et. al., Nadere Toelichting Omtrent de Zaak Janssen, p. 18. The effect was, however, an expression of confidence. Return
13. Herman Hoeksema, "Of Love and Hatred," The Standard Bearer (May 1, 1954): 340-341. Return
14. See above. Return
15. Hoeksema speaks of other things which were discussed in this conversation, among which was the matter of some letters which Janssen claimed were apologies from students for misrepresenting Janssen's teaching, and admissions of cheating in examinations. These were apparently the same as those submitted to the committee of the Curatorium to which reference is made in their report. See above. According to Hoeksema, at least some of these letters proved to be no letters at all, but notes that Janssen himself had taken down. Hoeksema cites this as an additional reason for his uneasiness with the decision of the Curatorium. Apparently what he means is that Janssen was being less than honest with respect to these letters, and that this dishonesty created in Hoeksema additional uneasiness concerning the whole matter. Return
16. Stob, "Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools," pp. 310-311. To keep in mind a proper chronology, it must be remembered that the Curatorium usually met once a year (because the members were rather widely scattered throughout the denomination), in the latter part of May and/or early part of June. This meeting could and usually did last for several days. In it the events of the past school year were evaluated and a report (with recommendations) was prepared for the Synod, if Synod was to meet that year later in June. The original request for an investigation was made in June of 1919, a year Synod did not meet. The decision quoted above was also made at the same meeting. Apparently also notice of appeal was filed by the four professors at this meeting, and it was also during this period that the Curatorium asked the professors to delay their appeal and resubmit their request. However, the new document of the four professors, the new decision taken, quoted below, and the final appeal to the Synod of 1920 were all actions of the Curatorium in June of 1920. Return
17. Quoted from Ibid, p. 311. Return
18. Ibid. This unanimous vote might seem to conflict with what Hoeksema mentioned above concerning his feelings of uneasiness: if he was uneasy, how could he vote in favor of this decision? It is perhaps impossible to answer this with certainty, but it would seem most likely that the uneasiness of which Hoeksema speaks prevailed throughout this entire period of almost a year, and that his own personal investigation of Janssen's notes did not begin until after the Synod of 1920 met. Although he was not, therefore, completely satisfied with the whole matter, as yet he had no reason to vote to condemn Janssen. Return
19. Ibid., p. 311. Since the professors were still asking for an investigation, these charges were probably intended to be proof that such an investigation was necessary. Return
20. For this material, as well as other references to see Acts of Synod, 1920, Arts. 46-51, 66, 68, 69, pp. 78-82, 95, 96; Stob, "Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools", p. 312; D.H. Kromminga, The Christian Reformed Tradition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2943),pp. 144-145; Ten Hoor, et. al., Nadere Toelichting Omtrent de Zaak Janssen, pp. 31-33; Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed Churches In America, p. 18; Harry R. Boer, "Ralph Janssen After Fifty Years . . . ," The Reformed Journal 22 (December 1972): 17-22. Return
21. Implicit in this rejection of the advice of its advisory committee was a particular interpretation of Matthew 18 (See above); i.e., that the case before it was of such a kind that the requirements of Matthew 18 did not apply. It is to be doubted, however, whether one can draw from this the conclusion which Dr. Stob, Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools, p. 312, says some have drawn: "This has come to be accepted by many as an official interpretation of Matthew 18 which allows perpetual open season for heresy hunting." Return
22. Acts of Synod, 1920, Art. 68, p. 96. The decision is in Dutch; we have used the translation of Stob, "Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools", p. 312. Return
23. Acts of Synod, 1920, Art. 74, p. 98. Return
24. H. Hoeksema, The Banner 53 (September 5, 1918): 632-634. Return
25. Hoeksema, "Of Love and Hatred," The Standard Bearer, 30 (May 1, 1954): 340-341. But see an article of Janssen in The Banner of November 4, 1920, in which Janssen accuses Hoeksema of never coming to see him, though he was a member of Hoeksema's congregation, p. 667. Return
26. The date of publication does not appear in the pamphlet itself. At least one writer on the Janssen controversy dates the brochure in September of 1920 (R. Owenhand, "The Janssen Controversy," Student Paper, 1973). Stob, "Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools" p. 320, sets the date in February of 1921. This is much closer to the correct date. Its publication was after Hoeksema began his writings against Janssen and before the Curatorium meeting of June, 1921. Return
27. See Introduction, pp. 3-5. Return
28. Boer, "Ralph Janssen After Fifty Years . . . , ,, pp. 17-22. Stob, "Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools," p. 322. Return
29. Boer, "Ralph Janssen After Fifty Years...," pp. 17-22; Stob, "Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools," p. 322. Return
30. Stob, "Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools," p. 326. Return
31. Ibid., pp. 325-326. Return
32. R. Janssen, "Reply to Rev. Herman Hoeksema," The Banner 55 (November 4, 1920): 667-668. Return
33. Reports And Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, Decisions of the Synod of Orange City, Iowa (Grand Rapids: Commercial Printing Co., 1922), p. 153. Return
34. R. Janssen, Het Synodale Vonnis en zijne Voorgeschiedenis Kerkrechtelijk Beoordeeld (Grand Rapids: M. Hoffius, 1922). Return
35. Boer, "Ralph Janssen After Fifty Years...," pp. 17-22. Return
36. Hoeksema, "Of Love and Hatred," p. 341. Return
37. While the dates of these two pamphlets are not included in the pamphlets, we know from other sources that they were most likely published in February and March of 1922. See B.K. Kuiper, De Janssen Kwestie en Nog Iets (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans - Sevensma Co., 1922), pp. 44-45. While the matter is not important, Janssen himself says that his pamphlet was published in January of 1922. See R. Janssen, Voortzetting Van Den Strijd (Grand Rapids, The author, 1922.) Return
38. Kuiper, De Janssen Kwestie en Nog Iets (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans - Sevensma, 1922): pp. 5-14. Return
39. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, p. 200. Return
40. Stob, "Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools," pp. 328-330. Return
41. We shall investigate the content and validity of these complaints in Chapter IV. Return
42. Quoted from Stob, "Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools," p. 330. Return
43. Synods divided all the material coming before their bodies and submitted this material to Committees of Pre-advice, which Committees would study the matters assigned to them and present Synod with advice. Janssen's letters of refusal are included in the Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 202-207. Return
44. Acts of Synod, 1922, Arts. 22, 26. Return
45. The Formula of Subscription, which all officebearers are required to sign, includes a promise that should the signer's theological position come under suspicion, he is required to submit to an investigation of his views, and that should he refuse, he is to be de facto suspended from office. Return
46. Quoted from Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 224-225. Return
47. J. De Boer, E.J. Tuuk, G.W. Hylkema, "Een Opmerkelijk Document" The Witness (September, 1922): 150-151. Return
48. See Quirinus Breen, "My Reflections on Prof. Ralph Janssen and on the Janssen Case of 1922." (MS from the Q. Breen file, Heritage Hall.) See also, Stob, "Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools," p. 339. Q. Breen later became a professor of history in the University of Oregon. Return
49. See Herman Kuiper, The Chicago Situation, A Word of Warning to the Churches (Chicago: Chicago Calvin Press, no date). Herman Hoeksema, "Storm in the Windy City" The Standard Bearer (1936): 151, 173-174, 196-198, 220-222, 244-246, 268-269, 292-293, 316-317, 340-341, 388-391. Return
50. Stob, "Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools," p. 340. Return