Missions of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America

Of the Offices


       The offices are of three kinds: of the ministers of the Word, of the elders, and of the deacons.

      While with this article the Church Order begins a discussion of offices in the church, Article 2 is really an introductory article.  It is important to notice that the whole subject of offices is treated first, even before a treatment of ecclesiastical assemblies.  This emphasizes the fact that the government of the church resides fundamentally in the office.  It is in the idea of the office, especially that of elder, that our church government has its chief characteristic.

      The main idea of the office is that Christ is the Head and King of His church and that He Himself rules over His church by His Word and Spirit.  He is the chief and only Office Bearer (cf. Matt. 28:18; I Cor. 15:27; Eph. 1:20-22; etc.).  No man, church, or group of churches may subject themselves to any other yoke than the yoke of Christ.  Christ’s word is law within the church.  This position of authority which Christ occupies is His because of His work on behalf of His people given to Him from all eternity.  He shed His blood for His saints, died for them, earned for them the full salvation of God.  He is their Head, who, through His Word and Spirit, now works to make this full salvation their possession.  As such He is the “Shepherd and Bishop of your souls”  (I Pet. 2: 25).

      Christ exercises His authority in the church through men.  He does this because His church is here upon earth and He is at God’s right hand in heaven.  First of all, Christ causes His people to share in His anointing and establishes in the church the office of believers (cf. Lord’s Day XII).  But institutionally, this same office of believers is manifested and comes to expression in the particular offices in the church.  But the authority of these special offices in the church is derived from Christ; not from the congregation.

      There were, in the early church, the extraordinary offices of apostle and prophet.  These offices were limited to the period of direct revelation and became unnecessary with the closing of the Canon of Scripture.

      The regular offices in the church include the offices of minister, elder, and deacon.  The authority of these offices differs.  The prophetic office, which has the authority to teach, is to be found in the office of minister.  The royal office, with its authority to rule, is found in the office of elder.  And the priestly office, with its authority to dispense the mercy of Christ, is found in the office of deacon.

      The original article, changed in 2000, spoke of four offices.  This point of the article was incorporated under the influence of Calvin’s exegesis of Ephesians 4:11.  But usually the office of professor of theology is considered to be a part of the office of the ministry.  And this is undoubtedly correct.  Hence there are three offices established by Christ in the church, reflecting the threefold office of Christ.  The implication of this position is that the training of students for the ministry is the work of the church institute.  Our churches have followed this and have placed the Seminary under the control and direction of the church.  This is the clear teaching of II Timothy 2:1, 2.  Hence, a teacher in the Seminary must be an ordained 
minister of the gospel (cf. Art. 5 of the Constitution of the Theological School).



       No one, though he be a professor of theology, elder, or deacon, shall be permitted to enter upon the ministry of the Word and the sacraments without having been lawfully called thereunto. And when anyone acts contrary thereto, and after being frequently admonished does not desist, the classis shall judge whether he is to be declared a schismatic or is to be punished in some other way.

      While Articles 3 and 4 both speak of the calling of ministers who have not previously been in office, Article 3 speaks of the necessity of being lawfully called to this office.

      The article is very old, dealing with a problem which appeared early in the Reformed churches.  Soon after the Reformation came to the Low Countries, many Roman Catholic clergy left the Romish Church and became itinerant priests and monks.  They often intruded upon the office of the ministry without being called.  With fluent speech and pious manner they gained a following and made a place for themselves in some congregation. Even consistories would often permit them to function.

      Already in 1563 the churches of Flanders dealt with this problem and decided “that none shall be permitted to administer the Word of God without a lawful call, and such as boldly intrude themselves shall be punished.” Five years later, in 1568, the Weselian Convention decided that none should be admitted to the ministry “without lawful calling, election, approbation, proper examination, and observance of that lawful order.”  Subsequent synods (Emden, 1571; Dordrecht, 1574; Dordrecht, 1578) took additional action against officeless men.  The article as we now have it was adopted in Middelburg in 1581.

      While the idea of the lawful call is discussed in detail in Article 4, it is evident that the article speaks here of an objective call to the ministry.  It is necessary to maintain the objective call to preserve decency and order in the church and to avoid all dangers of subjectivism.  It is not merely a question of ability or learning (note the reference to a professor of theology) which fits one for the office.  It is rather a question of authority and the right to preach.  This authority can be given by Christ alone.  Christ must call.  But this calling of Christ does not come subjectively by means of some inner voice.  It comes objectively through Christ’s own church.  It is this objective call which clothes one with authority to work in the office of minister and to preach in Christ’s name and authority.

      This is clearly the teaching of Scripture.  The necessity of the lawful call is found in such Scripture passages as Romans 10:14, 15; Matthew 28:19; Ephesians 4:11, 12; Matthew 9:38; Acts 20:28; Hebrews 5:4.  There are also examples in Scripture of this lawful calling coming through the church (cf., e.g., Acts 13:1-4; I Tim. 4:14; Tit. 1:5).

      The article makes a point of insisting that one must be called to the specific office of minister, even though he functions in another office.  This is because each office in the church is separate.  This does not imply that there is difference in rank between officebearers.  But it does emphasize that there is difference of kind and function.

      The article defines the method of treating violators of this principle.  They must be declared schismatic publicly in the churches.  Or some milder form of discipline may be 
administered.  The classis is to judge in the matter.  However, this does not alter the 
principle that the consistory must admonish and perform the actual work of discipline.



       The lawful calling of those who have not been previously in office consists:

       First, in the ELECTION by the consistory and the deacons, after preceding prayers, with due observance of the regulations established by the consistory for this purpose, and of the ecclesiastical ordinance that only those can for the first time be called to the ministry of the Word who have been declared eligible by the churches according to the rule in this matter; and furthermore with the advice of classis or of the counselor appointed for this purpose by the classis.

       Secondly, in the EXAMINATION both of doctrine and life, which shall be conducted by the classis to which the call must be submitted for approval, and which shall take place in the presence of three delegates of synod from the nearest classis.

       Thirdly, in the APPROBATION by the members of the calling church, when, the name of the minister having been announced for two successive Sundays, no lawful objection arises; which approbation, however, is not required in case the election takes place with the cooperation of the congregation by choosing out of a nomination previously made.

       Finally, in the public ORDINATION in the presence of the congregation, which shall take place with appropriate stipulations and interrogations, admonitions and prayers, and imposition of hands by the officiating minister (and by other ministers who are present) agreeably to the form for that purpose.

Decisions pertaining to Article 4

A.   The election of a minister of the Word shall be conducted in the following manner:

1.    The consistory shall make a nomination consisting usually of a trio of eligible ministers or candidates.

2.    The nomination shall be submitted to the approbation of the congregation and unto that end publicly announced to her on two successive Sundays.

3.    From the nomination the male members assembled on a congregational meeting which has been announced on two successive Sundays shall elect by secret ballot.  The majority of votes cast shall be decisive.  No members under censure nor adult baptized members have the right to vote.  Blank votes must be subtracted from the total votes cast in order to determine how many votes a candidate must receive to have the majority which is required to his election.

B.    Advice to classis and counselor.  The following usage obtains:

1.    That a counselor shall be designated for a vacant congregation to serve her with advice in case of difficulty, and to represent the classis in the process of the election.

2.    That the nomination made by the consistory be submitted to the counselor for approval, who must see to it that the nomination does not conflict with the ecclesiastical regulations pertaining thereto.  Further, that without this approbation being obtained the election cannot proceed.

3.    That the congregational meeting upon which the election takes place shall be presided over, if at all possible, by the counselor.  Likewise, the calling issued by the consistory, the composition of the call-letter, and the signing thereof by all the consistory members shall be under his supervision.

4.    That also the counselor himself shall sign the call-letter as token of his approbation in name of the classis.

C.    Peremptoir examination of candidates:

       1.    Examination shall be conducted in:

              a.    Dogmatics.

              b.    Practical qualifications, among which the following:

                      1)    Personal spirituality.

                      2.    Motives for seeking the office of minister.

                      3)    Evidence of insight into pastoral practical labors.

              c.    Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, treating specifically of:

                      1)    The nature of Holy Scripture.

                      2)    The contents of Holy Scripture.

              d.    Knowledge of the confessions:

                      1)    Meaning and purpose of the confessions.

                      2)    The contents of the confessions.

                      3)    The application of the confessions to our life.

              e.    Controversy.

              f.     Specimen of preaching:

                      1)    Preaching before the congregation in the presence of classis.

                      2)    Critical discussion of the sermon preached.

       2.    Further usage prevailing is as follows:

              a.    Voting by secret ballot regarding his admittance.

              b.    In case of a favorable outcome the applicant shall sign the formula of subscription.

              c.    Finally, that he be provided with written proof signed by president and clerk, wherein classis declares that it judges him qualified for the ministry of the Word.

D.   Candidates:

1.    To the final theological school examination there has been added a praeparatoir examination, which is conducted by the synod.

       2.    Candidates may not be called within one month after this praeparatoir examination.

       3.    For the consideration of calls received, the candidate is allowed the time of six weeks.

4.    In case the candidate should not give satisfaction in the peremptoir examination, and the congregation nevertheless continues to desire him, he shall at the following classis be given opportunity for reexamination in those branches in which he appeared unsatisfactory.

       (Adopted by Classis of June 6, 7, 1934; Synod of 1944, Arts. 66, 67.)

       The lawful calling of those not previously in office is carefully defined by the Church Order.  The reference is once again to the objective call of the church.  This is not intended to deny the fact that there is also an internal call.  In brief, the internal call consists in a subjective love for the ministry and desire to preach the gospel.  It includes the awareness of the ministry as a way of self-denial and a willingness to walk that way.  There must be present a certain amount of natural ability.  And the Lord must open the way for the long years of study and preparation necessary to enter upon that office.  This internal call is necessary to set a man on the course that leads eventually to the ministry and to give him the assurance that he is called.

      But the external call is essential to the calling, and without it the internal call means nothing.  The external call is the objective call of Christ Himself.  It is this call which gives to one the right to preach the gospel in Christ’s name.  It is only when this call places one in the office that his preaching will be the means of grace — the power of God unto salvation.

      The lawful calling consists of four elements.

      1)   There is first of all “election.”  Various methods of election have been tried in the past.  The article proposes a different method from the method in use in our churches outlined in “A” of the footnote.  The article speaks of election by the consistory and the deacons.  The footnote proposes a method according to which the consistory nominates and the congregation chooses from the nomination.  The method which we follow is preferable.  On the one hand, it maintains the very important element, emphasized by the article, of the final authority of the consistory.  This authority is retained and its rule in matters of election preserved when the consistory controls the nomination.  This is scripturally necessary (cf. Acts 6:5; Acts 14:25; I Tim. 5:22; Tit. 1:5).  But, on the other hand, it recognizes that the office of believers is also important.  The church is not a spiritual minor, but has come to majority.  While the office of believers is expressed through the special offices, this office of believers functions directly in the election of a minister of the Word.  This, too, has scriptural basis (cf. Acts 1:25; Acts 6:1-6; II Cor. 8:19).

            This election must be according to the regulations adopted by the consistory.  These regulations are the rules of order governing elections, which have no direct scriptural basis, but which are adopted by the consistory so that elections are conducted decently and in good order.  They may be varied from time to time if necessary.  These rules, adopted in part by our churches as a whole, are found under “A” of the footnote.

            The article also speaks of the “ecclesiastical ordinance” that only those may be called “who have been declared eligible by the churches, according to the rule in this matter; and furthermore with the advice of classis or of the counselor appointed for this purpose by the classis.”  The article includes this provision because within a federation of churches, a minister, in a certain sense (cf. following articles), belongs to the denomination as a whole.  He does not hold his office in the denomination at large, but he does preach throughout the churches.  Hence, the classis has a voice in the matter.  The rules governing this aspect of the election are found under “B” of the footnote.

            The election must be after preceding prayers.  Originally this article read:  “after prayers and fasting.”  The reason was that it was very difficult to find a minister qualified for the office when there was no approval of candidates by synod or classis.  Later a prayer service was considered sufficient, and the requirement of fasting was dropped.  We have interpreted this to mean prayers prior to the meeting.

      2)   Secondly, the lawful calling consists in “examination.”  Examination is a part of the “lawful call” because it becomes an indication of the qualifications of a minister, without which he cannot enter upon the ministry of the Word.  In our system, examination by the classis follows approbation and does not precede it as proposed by the Church Order.  We also have a praeparatoir examination, conducted by the synod (cf. “D” of the footnote).  This is intended to determine whether a man is sufficiently prepared, particularly with respect to knowledge, for the ministry in the churches.

            The peremptior, or “decisive,” examination is conducted by the classis.  This must be held at a classical session because a minister serves within the churches at large and they all must have a voice in the matter.  The synodical delegates must be present to represent the other classis or classes.  They must also give their approval, without which ordination cannot proceed.

      3)   Thirdly, the lawful call includes “approbation.”  In our system, approbation is observed by means of nomination and election.  It has not the emphasis as in the system proposed by the Church Order.  It is nevertheless necessary because the lawful call includes participation by the congregation.  They must have a voice in the matter.  It is through the whole church that Christ calls His servants.  In this way hierarchy is also avoided.

            It is in this connection that the footnote under “B” makes provision for a counselor representing the classis.  He presides at the time of election to see to it that the proper rules are observed.

      4)   Finally, the lawful call includes “ordination.”  This ordination must take place according to the Form adopted by the churches for this purpose.  In this way all the churches have a uniform practice, and this confession must be used in the congregation in order that the people of God may be instructed in the truth and implications of the office of the ministry of the Word.

            Ordination takes place with the laying on of hands.  This signifies not some mystical and extraordinary grant of the Holy Spirit, but rather the gift of the Spirit of Christ to qualify and ordain to serve as a minister of Christ.  Such an ordained man is lawfully called and, hence, invested with the authority to preach.  This ceremony need not be repeated, because a minister is called to the office for life (cf. Art. 12).



       Ministers already in the ministry of the Word, who are called to another congregation, shall likewise be called in the aforesaid manner by the consistory and the deacons, with observance of the regulations made for the purpose by the consistory and of the general ecclesiastical ordinances for the eligibility of those who have served outside of the Protestant Reformed Churches and for the repeated calling of the same minister during the same vacancy; further, with the advice of the classis or of the counselor appointed by the classis, and with the approval of the classis or of the delegates appointed by the classis, to whom the ministers called show good ecclesiastical testimonials of doctrine and life, with the approval of the members of the calling congregation, as stated in Article 4; whereupon the minister called shall be installed with appropriate stipulations and prayers agreeably to the form for this purpose.

Decisions pertaining to Article 5

A.   Consistories of vacant churches shall not place on nomination names of such ministers who have not yet served their present congregation two years, unless there be preponderant considerations; and a counselor who deems it his calling to approve in the name of classis such a nomination shall be required to give an account of his reasons to classis.

B.    A minister shall not be called more than once within a year by the same vacant church without advice of classis.

C.    In case of difference of opinion between a counselor and a consistory regarding the legality of a call, the consistory shall not proceed without the consent of classis.

D.   When a minister shall accept a call to another congregation before he has served his present congregation two full years, the congregation to which he moves shall repay one-half of the moving expenses incurred at the time of securing him by the congregation he is vacating.

E.    The “Procedure” appended to Article 9 is understood to fulfill the “general ecclesiastical ordinance for the eligibility of those who have served outside of the Protestant Reformed Churches.”

       (Adopted by Classis of June 6, 7, 1934; Synod of 1944, Arts. 66, 67; Synod of 1993, Art. 36.)

      The article deals with the calling of ministers already in office who are called to another congregation.  The article presupposes that a call to a given congregation at the time of ordination is not necessarily a permanent calling for a minister.  He may go to another congregation.

      The lawful calling of a minister already in the ministry is basically the same as the calling defined in Article 4.  There are two exceptions.  The first is that the examination by the classis is eliminated and replaced by the need for a minister to show “good ecclesiastical testimonials of doctrine and life.”  These must be approved by the classis or by the classical deputies.  The second exception is that ordination is replaced by installation because a minister is ordained to the office for life.  But he is installed in different congregations because he holds his office only in connection with the local congregation.

      There are many regulations spelled out in the article and in the attached footnote.  The regulations made by the Church Order itself include:

1)    This calling must be done with observance to the regulations made by the consistory.

2)    Regulations for the calling of ministers from other denominations.  Our churches have no specific regulations for this.  But a colloquium doctum would have to be conducted.  There is an indirect reference to this in the Constitution of the Committee for Correspondence (cf. Preamble).

      There are also regulations for the repeated calling of the same minister during the same vacancy.  The rule is found in B of the footnote.  This rule is good because a congregation may set its heart upon one minister and bother him constantly with repeated calls.  But further:  if God has not called a minister elsewhere at a particular time, it is not likely that this situation will change suddenly.

      The calling must take place with the advice of the classis and the counselor (cf. footnote to Art. 4, B).

      Good ecclesiastical testimonials are needed.  There is an adopted form for this purpose.  This is not a mere formality which can be safely ignored.  It is an important safeguard within the fellowship of the churches.

      There are a few other regulations included in the footnote.

1)    A minister must, under normal circumstances, remain within the same congregation for at least two years.  There are several reasons for this ruling.  It prevents a minister who is inclined to move about, perhaps especially in time of trouble, from placing an undue financial burden upon a congregation.  But there is also an important principle involved.  A minister cannot effectively work in a congregation in a time period of less than two years.  This is under normal circumstances.  The time element is a matter of discretion, as the footnote recognizes, when it adds:  “unless there be preponderant considerations.”  A certain climate, for example, may become physically harmful to a minister.

2)    Differences of opinion between the counselor and the consistory must be settled at classis.

3)    The minister who does move in less than two years cannot obligate his congregation to pay his full moving costs when he moved into the congregation he is leaving.  The congregation to which he is going must pay one-half of the original moving expenses.  This is not a principle, but a matter of sanctified wisdom.



       No minister shall be at liberty to serve in institutions of mercy or otherwise, unless he be previously admitted in accordance with the preceding articles, and he shall, no less than others, be subject to the Church Order.

      The article deals with cases of ministers serving elsewhere than in a local congregation.  Our version is slightly different from the Dutch version.  The Dutch article makes reference here to ministers who served as court preachers or ministers who privately served nobles, etc.  This was very common practice in the Netherlands, but not a problem in our own country.  But the article also covers ministers who serve as chaplains in institutions of mercy.  The question arises:  what is their status?

      There are various principles involved in the regulation set forth in Article 6.  These principles are closely related to each other.

      First of all, the authority of a minister to preach does not reside in himself, but resides in the church of Christ.  Hence, and in the second place, no person can hold the office apart from the institute of the church, i.e., 
the local congregation.  It is from this congregation that the calling proceeds, and it is only in connection with this congregation that a man retains his office.  It follows therefore, in the third place, that a minister who labors in some such special calling must be lawfully called according to the regulations of Articles 3 through 5.  Further, he must labor only under the authority and supervision of a local congregation.  It is in this way that the church preaches through him, that he performs official labors, and that his work is a means of grace.

      This does not refer to teaching in a school, even Bible.  This would be the case if the schools our children attend were parochial.  But they are parental, and the obligation to instruct in them rests not upon the church but upon the parents.



       No one shall be called to the ministry of the Word without his being stationed in a particular place, except he be sent to do church extension work.

      This article arose out of the problem of itinerant preachers who were not (and sometimes refused to be) connected with a local congregation.  Certain decisions were made against this practice as early as 1574.  In 1581 the Synod of Middelburg spoke of the necessity of exceptions which would be approved by classis or synod.  In 1586 the Synod of ’s Gravenhage made provisions for work of this nature to be done among congregations scattered because of persecution, and made provisions for mission work.

      Our churches have no problem in this respect.  Nevertheless, here, too, several important principles are involved.  These principles are the same as those underlying Article 6.  There may not be ordination of “ministers at large” by classis or synods.  This was an early practice in some provinces of the Netherlands.  No minister may labor except under the jurisdiction of a congregation and consistory.

      The exception to this is mission work, although this is not an exception to the principles involved but only to the stipulation of the article:  “No one shall be called … except he be stationed in a particular place.”

      The article refers to all mission work, including church extension work.  The original article read:  “Except he be sent to gather churches here and there” (cf. Constitution of the Domestic Mission Committee).  
But if a minister is called to do mission work he must even then be called according to the provisions of Articles 3-5 and must be sent by the local congregation through its consistory.  In this way he is called and sent by Christ and labors under the supervision of authorized officebearers.



       Persons who have not pursued the regular course of study in preparation for the ministry of the Word, and have therefore not been declared eligible according to Article 4, shall not be admitted to the ministry unless there is assurance of their exceptional gifts, godliness, humility, modesty, common sense, and discretion, as also gifts of public address.  When such persons present themselves for the ministry, the classis (if the synod approve) shall first examine them, and further deal with them as it shall deem edifying, according to the general regulations of the churches.

      The Reformed churches have always insisted on a trained ministry.  This is to be traced directly back to the Calvin Reformation.  Soon after the Reformation was established in Geneva, Calvin began the Academy, where ministers of the gospel were trained to serve the churches of the Reformation in all parts of Europe.  The exception spoken of in this article was allowed only in time of emergency.  This was the case in the early history of the Reformed churches in Holland, when as yet there were no institutions of higher learning.  At the time following the Synod of Dordrecht, when many ministers were deposed because of their refusal to sign the Canons, this article was again used.  The same was true of the days following the “Afscheiding” in 1834 and the “Doleantie” in 1886.  Since that time this article has been seldom used.

      The principles underlying this article are these.  In the first place, while formal education is highly desirable, it is not essential.  God may call to the office of the ministry whomever He pleases.  Education is not an indispensable prerequisite but a matter of Christian discretion.  In the second place, men with exceptional gifts may be endowed with these gifts from the Lord in preparation for the call to the ministry.  However, it is important to notice that not the gifts themselves are exceptional, but the measure in which one possesses them.

      These gifts are enumerated in the article.

      Godliness is essentially the fear of the Lord.

      Humility, while a part of godliness, is the grace to forget oneself and set one’s desires exclusively upon the glory of God.

      Modesty means, strictly speaking, virtuous in the moral and ethical sense of the Word.

      Common sense is very closely related to the Dutch word verstand, i.e., the intellectual ability and spiritual wisdom to apply the knowledge of the Word of God to the specific problems of life.

      Discretion is the spiritual ability to discern between the truth and the lie, between right and wrong.

      Gifts of public address do not refer so much to mere oratorical ability as to the ability to make the truth clear and understandable to the sheep and lambs of God’s flock.

      The article does not mean to dispense with all training.  It refers only to the regular course of study which the churches as a whole have set up as being, in their opinion, adequate for the preparation for the ministry.  Such persons who seek the ministry under this article must have some training and must be examined by the classis.  The procedure then is as follows:

1)    There must be some assurance of these gifts on the part of the individual, who himself must take the initiative.

2)    He would, under ordinary circumstances, apply through his own consistory for examination by the classis.  His own consistory must equally be assured of the presence of these gifts.  In case of disagreement, the individual would have the right to go to classis by way of appeal.

3)    The classis, with the approval of the synod, must then examine such a man to determine for itself whether these gifts mentioned in the article are present.

      At this point the article simply speaks of further dealing with such a person “as it shall deem edifying according to the general regulations of the churches.”  These regulations would probably include the following steps:

1)    There would be a certain period of probation, during which time the aspirant receives further instruction and brings a word of edification under the supervision of other ministers in the churches.

2)    Another examination would be held similar to the praeparatoir examination.

3)    The aspirant would be declared eligible for a call.  Having received and accepted a call, he would submit to a peremptoir examination.  This would be done by the classis with the synodical delegates present.



       Preachers without fixed charge, or others who have left some sect, shall not be admitted to the ministry of the church until they have been declared eligible, after careful examination by the classis, with the approval of synod.

Decision pertaining to Article 9

Procedure for admission of ministers from other denominations:

A.   A minister from another denomination desiring entrance into the ministry of the Protestant Reformed Churches under Article 9 of the Church Order shall apply to the Protestant Reformed classis nearest to which he resides.

       1.    The minister making application shall have publicly resigned his ministry and his membership in his former congregation and denomination and become a member of a local Protestant Reformed Church.

       2.    The minister making application shall meet with and seek the advice of a nearby Protestant Reformed consistory.

              a.    The consistory shall interview the minister sufficiently to make recommendations to the classis concerning the applicant’s qualifications for the ministry in the Protestant Reformed Churches and to determine whether they would be willing to hold his ministerial credentials until he accepts a call, should classis approve his examination and declare him eligible for a call.

              b.    The advice of the consistory shall be forwarded to the Classical Committee along with the applicant’s formal request for entrance into the ministry of the Protestant Reformed Churches.

       3.    The minister making application shall furnish the following documentation:

              a.    A declaration of his reasons for desiring entrance into the ministry of the Protestant Reformed Churches and an account of his background in the ministry.

              b.    A testimonial from the consistory or session under which he previously labored concerning his purity of doctrine and sanctity of life.  If this is not possible because his leaving makes him a persona non grata, the classis shall make investigation of the applicant’s previous labors.

              c.    A diploma, or statement of credits, from an accredited college and recognized seminary, to show the scholastic attainment of the applicant.

              d.    A statement of health from a physician.

B.    Classis shall act upon the applicant’s request, with the concurring advice of the Synodical Deputies, taking into consideration the following:

       1.    All the documents listed under A, 3 above are found to be in good order.

       2.    The need for ministers in the Protestant Reformed denomination at the time of the application.

C.    If the applicant’s request is approved, classis shall set a date for convening another classis for the purpose of examining the applicant, and shall instruct the Classical Committee to draw up an examination schedule.  The examination shall commence with a specimen sermon, which sermon must be approved by classis and the Synodical Deputies before classis shall proceed to the rest of the examination.  The examination shall follow the regular adopted schedule for the classical examination of candidates for the ministry (cf. Article 4) with two additions:  Protestant Reformed distinctives, and Knowledge of the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches.  In addition, the applicant must express a willingness to abide by any past decisions of the Protestant Reformed synods concerning doctrine and practice.

D.   After classis approves his examination, with the concurrence of the Synodical Deputies, the classis shall declare the applicant eligible to receive a call into the ministry of the Word and sacraments in the Protestant Reformed Churches, without further need of examination.

E.    The newly accepted minister shall be required to sign the Formula of Subscription before the meeting of classis adjourns and shall be presented with a classical diploma.

F.    His eligibility for a call shall be announced to the churches.

G.   Until the newly approved minister accepts a call, his ministerial credentials shall be held by a Protestant Reformed consistory appointed by classis.

       1.    This consistory shall supervise the interim labors of the minister and shall see to the needs of his financial support.  Financial assistance may be sought from sister congregations, if this is deemed necessary.

       2.    If the minister does not receive a call after three years, he, with the advice of his consistory, shall request Classis to renew his eligibility.

              (Adopted by Synod of 1993, Art. 36; Synod of 1994, Art. 55.)

      The original article is slightly different from our present form.  It reads:  “Novices, priests, monks, and others that have left some sect, shall not be admitted to the service (ministry) of the church except with great carefulness and due consideration, and after they also have first been proved for a time.”

      The present form of the article is, regrettably, weaker than the original.  For one thing, the loss of the word “novice” is not good.  The idea is thoroughly scriptural (cf. I Tim. 3:6) and guards against the danger of admitting someone who seeks the office on the basis of enthusiasm for the cause.  Secondly, there should be a period of proving, as the original article required.  The office of the ministry is a very high office and should not be easily and quickly filled without careful consideration.  While, as churches, we have seldom faced the problem, the office should be diligently protected.

      The history of this article is to be traced to the Reformation in the Lowlands.  At that time many tried to enter the ministry who had recently come from the Romish church or from some other sect.  These included wandering priests, monks, or men who had at one time belonged to the Anabaptist movement.  At the time the Reformed churches were established and recognized by the government this article went into effect.  When the original article spoke of “novices” it referred to those who had been newly converted to the Reformed faith.

      “Preachers without a fixed charge” are ministers who possess no congregation of their own.  In our own time an example of such would be ministers who come to this land from the Netherlands.  By “others who 
have left some sect” the article refers to men who have left another church or sect and have joined our church and desire to enter the ministry.

      The article stipulates that worthy applicants must surely be admitted, while unworthy applicants must be barred.  To determine whether they are worthy, the classis must conduct a colloquium doctum, or regular examination.  Their ordination into the ministry cannot take place without the approval of synod.



       A minister, once lawfully called, may not leave the congregation with which he is connected, to accept a call elsewhere, without the consent of the consistory, together with the deacons, and knowledge on the part of the classis; likewise no other church may receive him until he has presented a proper certificate of dismissal from the church and the classis where he served.

Decisions pertaining to Article 10

A.   When a minister accepts a call he shall ask of the consistory dismissing him to grant him a fitting testimonial bearing witness of faithful service performed, according to Article 5 of the Church Order, and expressing acquiescence in his departure, according to Article 10 of the Church Order.  This testimonial shall be sent to the Classical Committee for examination and approval; thereupon it shall be delivered to the counselor who, upon finding it in good order, shall only thereupon proceed with the installation.

B.    A minister who moves to another congregation becomes the charge of that congregation (for salary, etc.) immediately after he has preached his farewell to the congregation he is leaving (unless other arrangements have been made, e.g., for the taking of a vacation).

       (Adopted by Classis of June 6, 7, 1934; Synod of 1944, Arts. 66, 67.)  (Cf. Ministerial Certificate of Dismissal and Testimonial, pp. 118, 119.)

      This article, as well as Articles 3, 4, and 7, was adopted because of evils perpetrated by itinerant and self-appointed preachers.  Some of these preachers, after wearying of service in one congregation, would without notice or permission leave in search of “greener pastures.”  Their motives were often personal and wholly carnal.  It is against this evil that the article was written.

      There was a time when this article provided for what were called “conditional calls.”  This was especially because of persecution but also because of lack of training for ministers.  A minister might be forced to flee from his flock to save his life when persecution broke out in his area.  Another congregation, not subjected to persecution, would call him conditionally, i.e., with the understanding that, should things improve in his original congregation, he would be free to return.  Or again, some ministers were not very well educated.  A congregation would call such a minister conditionally, i.e., with the understanding that if he proved incompetent, he could be released.  As the situation stabilized, these conditional calls were dropped.

      This article has been variously interpreted from time to time.  In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the article was interpreted in such a way that the power to decide a call rested almost entirely with the consistory. Ministers were sometimes even held in congregations against their own wills.  Then again, especially lately, the article has been interpreted in such a way that the minister is almost solely responsible for determining a call. The consent of the consistory is little more than a formality.

      The principles are clear.

      In the first place, the bond which unites a minister with his congregation is by the appointment of Christ Himself and is a sacred tie.  This tie cannot be lightly broken.  Both the minister and the consistory must be very sure that Christ Himself has broken it.

      Secondly, the office of the ministry is under the supervision of the consistory.  They are responsible for the well-being of the congregation.  And they must have a voice in the matter.

      Thirdly, it is the responsibility of the minister himself to determine before the face of God when his work is finished in one place and when God summons him to labor elsewhere.  Hence, the active and decisive part of the decision rests with the minister.  But the consistory must exercise an advisory and consenting role.

      It might be well to point out in passing that such a call is not determined on the basis of some “inner light” or special sign from God.  It is rather to be determined by a prayerful and careful consideration of all the circumstances involved in such a decision.  God reveals His will through the objective circumstances both of the congregation a 
minister is serving and of the congregation which has called him.

      The classis must have a voice in the matter since the minister is a part of the classis.

      The procedure to be followed in leaving a congregation to take up work elsewhere includes the following steps:

1)    The minister receives a call.

2)    The article does not require that he ask for permission from his consistory to consider a call, although this is implied in the necessity of discussing the call with the consistory whose advice he seeks.  Strictly speaking, he seeks the consent of the consistory only when he has decided to accept the call.  He must inform the consistory of this, together with his grounds.  Mutual consultation is implied, and room is left open for appeal if there is disagreement.

3)    The minister is granted a proper certificate of dismission by his consistory, which is approved by the classis or the Classical Committee.

4)    This certificate is sent to the counselor of the congregation whose call he has accepted.  The counselor, if everything is in order, makes preparations for installation.

5)    The minister becomes the responsibility of the new congregation after he has preached his farewell sermon.



       On the other hand, the consistory, as representing the congregation, shall also be bound to provide for the proper support of its ministers, and shall not dismiss them from service without the knowledge and approbation of the classis and of the delegates of the synod.

      The fact that this article is introduced by the words “On the other hand” indicates that there is a close connection between it and Article 10.  The point is that Article 10 speaks of the duty of a minister to his congregation, while this article speaks of the duty of the congregation, through its consistory, to its minister.

      The article speaks of the one obligation of financial support and lays down a certain regulation with respect to dismissal from service.  The second part of the article clearly implies that the obligation of a congregation is much more than financial.  Christ calls a minister through the congregation to labor in that flock.  The minister is bound by sacred ties to the congregation calling him.  The congregation is solemnly enjoined to receive a minister as a gift of Christ — a gift which must be received with gratitude.  Hence the congregation must act towards her minister as a servant of Christ, an obligation mentioned also in the Form for Ordination.

      But as far as the financial support of a minister is concerned, this also rests upon the congregation.  It has not been at all uncommon for a congregation to abandon her minister and refuse him adequate financial support in an evil effort to get rid of him when they were wearied by him.

      There are scriptural grounds for this obligation.  In the old dispensation, provision was made for the priests and Levites (cf. Lev. 6:14-18; Num. 18:8-32; Deut. 12:11-19).  The same is true of the New Testament, where this obligation is explicitly mentioned (cf. Matt. 10:8-10; I Cor. 9:7-18; II Cor. 11:7-12; Gal. 6:6).  The call letter also speaks of and promises proper support and defines this as being sufficient to free a minister from all worldly cares.

      There are several rules which are implied in this article.  In the first place, it definitely makes the congregation responsible for the support of the minister.  Occasionally objections have been raised against this principle and other methods used.  Sometimes the support of the minister is left to free will gifts.  But these are wrong.

      In the second place, the article does not make rules defining the amount of support a minister is to receive.  This is not the purpose of the Church Order, nor would this be possible.  The Church Order speaks of “proper” support; in each individual case the Church Order cannot determine what this is.

      In the third place, neither a classis nor a synod may determine this proper support.  This belongs to the province of the consistory.  The church visitors of the classis inquire into the matter.  They may admonish a consistory and even report back to classis so that classis is given opportunity to advise a consistory if necessary.  But beyond this, neither classis nor synod may go.

      But in the fourth place, the consistory must provide proper support.  Never should it be necessary for a minister to beg for additional money.

      Fifthly, the Church Order does not define how this money shall be obtained by the consistory.  Various ways have been tried:  free-will gifts, pew rentals, budgets, drives, etc.  In general, the best way is the most systematic way.

      And finally, the minister ought not to labor in a secular vocation.  The work of the ministry is a full-time task, and the minister ought not to be distracted from this work by any secular vocation (cf. Art. 12).

      While the last part of the article is negative, it speaks of the possibility of dismissal from service.  In general, it ought to be noticed that this is to be distinguished from emeritation (spoken of in Article 13) and suspension and deposition (spoken of in Arts. 79 and 80).  Emeritation refers to the time when a minister lays aside the active duties of his office because of illness or old age or for some other reason while retaining the office itself. Suspension and deposition is dismissal from the office, in distinction from dismissal from service, of which this article speaks.

      There are various reasons why such dismissal may become necessary.  Among these reasons are to be found incompatibility between a minister and a congregation, which does not involve sin; trouble in a congregation which makes a minister’s work ineffective; inability or unwillingness on the part of a congregation to support its minister; a particular climate detrimental to the health of a minister, etc.

      In case dismissal becomes necessary, the procedure to be followed is:

1)    The congregation through the consistory relieves the minister of all active duties in the congregation.

2)    This can be done only with the knowledge and approbation of the classis and the delegates from synod.  
This stipulation is required in order that an impartial body may judge and because the minister belongs to the churches in common.

3)    He is granted license to preach in other congregations and is made eligible for a call.

4)    While he is waiting for a call, he remains a member of the congregation which has dismissed him and holds his office in that congregation.  This remains true until he receives a call elsewhere.  That congregation also remains responsible for his support.  It stands to reason that this can be only a temporary measure.  In case he should not, after a definite period of time, receive a call elsewhere, his ministerial status should be terminated and a congregation would no longer be responsible for his support.



       Inasmuch as a minister of the Word, once lawfully called as described above, is bound to the service of the church for life, he is not allowed to enter upon a secular vocation except for such weighty reasons as shall receive the approval of the classis.

      The article discusses the possibility of a minister leaving his office altogether.  It is, therefore, to be distinguished from Article 10, which speaks of the consistory dismissing a minister from service within that congregation although the minister retains his office (cf. Art. 13, which speaks of emeritation).

      There is an important principle underlying this article.  On the one hand, the Reformed churches did not agree with the Romish position on the matter of the office.  The Romish church taught (and teaches) that an officebearer can never be separated from his office, even if he should commit a gross sin.  This is a direct conclusion from the position of the Romish church that ordination, or Holy Orders, is a sacrament.  Our fathers maintained that it was possible for an officebearer to lose his office.

      On the other hand, however, the Reformed churches took the position that a minister, once lawfully called, is bound to the service of the church for life.  While it is possible for him to lose his office, under all normal circumstances he retains his office till he dies.  There were good reasons for taking this position, even though this principle is not directly taught in Scripture.  For one thing, there are many examples in Scripture, both in the Old and New Testaments, of men who functioned in their offices for life.  This was true of the prophets, of the apostles, and of such men as Timothy, Titus, James the brother of the Lord, and others.  In the second place, this would seem to follow from the fact that the office of the minister demands of him his complete love for the church and the Word of God, his entire devotion to the cause of Christ, his continuous perseverance in the work, and his wholehearted separation to the calling.  These things are implied in such passages as John 21:15-17; II Corinthians 5:14; John 9:4; Luke 9:62; I Corinthians 9:16, 17; II Timothy 4:1-5, 10; Romans 1:1; Acts 15:26.  Besides this, as Rev. Ophoff writes:  “It follows from the nature of matters that the teaching ministry is called for life.  The office of ministers of the gospel comes only through long and persistent searching of the Scriptures.  The Word of God is deep and inexhaustible…” (cf. mimeographed notes on Church Right).  From all these considerations we may well conclude that our fathers had a correct understanding of the office of minister when they penned this article.

      Nevertheless, the possibility is taken into account that a minister must leave his office to enter on a  secular vocation.  The word “secular” is not a happy translation.  Originally the Dutch reads:  “een andere staat des levens.”  Hence the idea is not simply that the minister enters upon some non-religious kind of work, but that he enters on a different vocation from the ministry.  This 
would surely include such vocations as lawyers, doctors, politicians, factory workers; but it would also include the vocation of Bible teacher, editor of a religious periodical, president or teacher in a Bible college, etc.

      To leave the office of ministry for a secular vocation is an exception to the rule.  There must be “weighty reasons” for doing so.  Such weighty reasons could conceivably be failure to receive a call after dismissal according to Article 11, inability to function in the office during times of persecution, failure of a congregation to support its minister, awareness on the part of a minister of his lack of spiritual qualifications, etc.  But such action as this, and the reason why a minister pursues such a course of conduct, must receive the approval of the classis.  Originally the article included the words “and the delegates from Synod” after the word “classis.”  It would have been well if this were retained.

      If a minister would nevertheless resign from office without the approval of his consistory and of the classis, he would become guilty of faithless desertion of office and would become worthy of suspension and deposition according to the provisions of Article 80.



       Ministers who by reason of age, sickness, or otherwise are rendered incapable of performing the duties of their office shall nevertheless retain the honor and title of a minister, and the churches which they have served shall provide honorably for them in their need (likewise for the orphans and widows of ministers) out of the common fund of the churches, according to the general ecclesiastical ordinances in this matter.

Decisions pertaining to Article 13

A.   In the case of ministers who through no fault of their own have been deprived of a congregation, it is both possible and mandatory that, pending the reception of a call to another congregation, such ministers be temporarily declared emeriti.


       1.    The minister who through no fault of his own has been left without a fixed charge may apply to a consistory of the classis in which he resides for emeritation, and such consistory may declare him emeritus.

       2.    This shall not be done, however, without the approbation of the classis and of the deputies of the synod.

Responsibility for Support:

       1.    Since the minister becomes emeritus not of his own congregation but of a congregation he has not served, the obligation to support him and to provide honorably for him “in [his] need” shall not rest upon the local congregation but upon the churches in common, and he is to be supported out of the common Emeritus Fund of the churches.

       2.    In such cases, if the abandoning church has been subsidized from the Needy Churches Fund, the amount of such subsidy shall be transferred to the Emeritus Fund, pending the next meeting of synod.

B.    If an emeritus minister transfers his membership to another congregation in the denomination, his ministerial credentials are also to be transferred to that congregation.  This transfer is to be made in the following manner:  The consistory of the church which the emeritus minister served last formally requests the consistory of the church which the emeritus minister wishes to join to exercise supervision over him.

       (Adopted by Synod of 1956, Art. 177, Suppl. XVIII; Synod of 1995, Art. 62, Suppl. XXI.)

      This article deals with the emeritation of ministers.  The term “emeritus,” while not appearing in this article, has come to be used generally to refer to a minister retired from active service.  The term comes from the Latin and means literally “out of merit.”  It refers to the fact that a minister has, because of his faithful service to the church, earned the right both to the title and honor of a minister when he retires from active service as well as to the support of the church.  This principle has always been maintained by Reformed churches and surely is the implicit teaching of Scripture.  A minister does not have the opportunity to provide for his future in his lifetime and is, according to Article 12, bound to the service of the church for life.  Hence the churches who support him during his active ministry have the obligation to care for his needs when he can no longer serve the church.

      This article teaches two different ideas:  the status of ministers emeriti and the support of ministers emeriti.

      As far as their status is concerned, the article teaches that a retiring minister retains the honor and title of his office.  He retires from his active duties in the congregation which has last called him.  The article presupposes, of course, that at his retirement he is a member of the congregation in good standing and has labored faithfully in his calling.  Such a minister remains in office even when he does not perform the duties of the office.  His legal status is that of minister in the congregation which he has last served.  He continues to possess the rights and privileges of a minister:  the right and privilege to preach the Word, administer the sacraments, and perform other official functions in the church.

      It is possible that, for one reason or another, a minister takes up residence elsewhere and transfers his membership to another congregation.  But even should he do this, he retains his office in the congregation he has last served.  Preferably, therefore, if circumstances permit, he should also remain in that congregation.

      He is always subject to the supervision and discipline of the consistory where he holds his emeritation.  In case his conduct warrants such action, this consistory can still suspend and depose him from office.  In the event this happens, his status as emeritus minister ceases.

      The article mentions two reasons for emeritation:  age or sickness.  If he retires because of age, his emeritation will be permanent.  If he retires because of sickness, it is possible that his emeritation be for a time only.

      The article also adds to the reasons for emeritation:  “or otherwise.”  This refers to emeritation because of inability to labor due to a serious accident, or emeritation to grant time to a minister for further study.  It has also been interpreted to include cases where a minister retains his office while he does not actively function in a particular congregation.  Two examples of this are professors of theology and ministers deprived of a congregation through no fault of their own.

      The procedure to obtain emeritation is described in the “Constitution of the Emeritus Committee.”  The Constitution apparently provides for the minister himself to take the initiative in seeking the status of emeritus minister.  Under normal circumstances this would be proper procedure.  But there are circumstances when a consistory itself would have to take the initiative.  This would happen, e.g., when a minister is unable to function in his office but refuses to recognize the fact.

      Normally, after a minister requests emeritation, the consistory passes upon the question.  If emeritation is granted, this decision is subject to the approval of classis and synod.  The matter of emeritation is handled by an Emeritus Committee of the synod.  Provisions are made for the care of a minister during the interim between ecclesiastical assemblies.

      Secondly, the article discusses the support of such ministers who receive their emeritation.

      In general, the article speaks of support “in their need.”  It is possible that a minister be emeritus but that he receives no support, as, e.g., professors of theology.  Further, this support is not a matter of benevolence but of legal right.  This is emphasized by the Constitution, which confer.

      The article requires that this support be “honorable.”  It must not be a grudging or stingy support, but it must be sufficient for a minister to live decently and honorably.  This support must also be given to the widows and orphans of ministers.

      The article also speaks of the responsibility for support:  “The church which they have last served shall provide honorably for them in their need … out of the common fund of the churches.”  The article therefore, teaches that the responsibility of support rests upon the local church, while this support itself comes “out of the common fund of the churches.”  The Constitution has interpreted this to mean that the local church is responsible for the support of an emeritus minister and may only draw from the common fund of the churches when it is unable to provide for such support itself.  There are reasons why a change in this procedure might be advisable.  In the first place, a minister has served all the churches, and one could argue that his support when emeritus should rest upon all the churches.  In the second place, a church might be hesitant to call a minister when he nears retirement age because it would be responsible for supporting him.  But even if this procedure were changed, the local congregation retains the responsibility, and support must come through this consistory to the minister.

      The article adds that this support must be “according to the general ecclesiastical ordinances in this matter.”  This refers to the Constitution of the Emeritus Committee and any other rules which may, over the course of the years, be drawn up.  For details, confer the Constitution and the footnote added to this article.



       If any minister, for the aforesaid or any other reason, is compelled to discontinue his service for a time, which shall not take place without the advice of the consistory, he shall nevertheless at all times be and remain subject to the call of the congregation.

      Article 14, which speaks of a leave of absence, continues the general subject of discontinuance of service of a minister.  But, in distinction from the other articles, this refers to a temporary release from the duties of the office.

      Once again, this article has its origin in the practice of ministers of the churches of the Reformation to labor here and there and to leave a congregation without following an orderly procedure.

      The article does not speak of emeritation or of permanent dismissal from office.  It rather speaks of a temporary release from the service of the church during which the minister retains his status:  “… is compelled to discontinue his service for a time.”  Thus a definite time is referred to.  This may be a stipulated time (which is preferable) or a time the length of which is required by the nature of his absence.  The release from the duties of office ceases therefore when the time is expired.  The length of time ought to be a matter of definite understanding between a minister and his consistory.

      There are various reasons for such a release.  The article itself merely says:  “for the aforesaid or any other reason.”  By the word “aforesaid” the article is not speaking of emeritation however; the meaning must be that a minister receives release from a portion of his duties because of old age or release from all his duties on a temporary basis because of illness.  But there is added the phrase, “any other reason.”  It is quite possible that this originally referred to persecution, when a minister was forced to flee.  But there may be other reasons.  These would include leave of absence for further studies, leave to work on a Bible translation, leave to travel as a delegate to a foreign country, leave to inspect a mission field, etc.

      The article uses the strong word “compelled”:  “If any minister is compelled to discontinue his service….”  This ought to be interpreted to mean that a temporary leave from the duties of the congregation would serve the good of the church where the minister labors for the good of the churches as a whole.

      The minister’s status is that of a legal minister of the Word in the congregation to which he belongs.  He remains subject to the call of the congregation.  They are responsible for his support.  He is responsible to them in his work and is under their discipline and supervision.  This is true also as far as his work during his leave is concerned.  He must return again to his congregation when his leave expires.  It is possible that, during his absence, the congregation calls another minister.  In that case he is made eligible for a call after his leave.  He may also consider a call during his leave.  But all this is by mutual consent.  The principle is that the tie between a minister and his congregation remains in force and a minister continues to hold his office in the local church.

      The procedure to secure such a release is as follows:  The minister seeks the advice of the consistory.  This advice must first be granted before a minister can leave.  The advice is granted only when the reasons for the leave are satisfactory and conditions in the congregation warrant such a leave.  If conditions should warrant a return even before the leave has expired, the minister would be under the obligation to return.  If there is disagreement, this must be resolved by classis.



       No one shall be permitted, neglecting the ministry of his church or being without a fixed charge, to preach indiscriminately without the consent and authority of synod or classis.  Likewise, no one shall be permitted to preach or administer the sacraments in another church without the consent of the consistory of that church.

Decision pertaining to Article 15

       In case any one of our candidates has not received a call after three years and still desires that his candidacy remain in effect, he shall address himself to synod, who shall treat his case as may be proper.

       (Adopted by Classis of June 6, 7, 1934; Synod of 1944, Arts. 66, 67.)

      The evils against which this article is directed are identical with those mentioned in connection with Article 9.  In the early history of the Reformed church, Anabaptists, priests who left the Romish church, and even common laymen took it upon themselves to preach.  These and others often abandoned congregations where they did preach for awhile and went elsewhere.  Sometimes they would be accepted by another congregation; sometimes they would simply force themselves on another congregation; sometimes they would organize a new congregation and begin to preach in it.  They preached indiscriminately wherever the opportunity presented itself.

      Thus this article follows from others.  It follows from Article 4 which speaks of the lawful call.  It follows from Article 7, which establishes the principle of the need to be stationed in a particular place.  It follows from Article 9, which speaks of preachers without a fixed charge.  While all these articles refer to the same general evil prevalent in the Reformed churches, it must be remembered that the times when the Reformed churches were formed were sometimes chaotic, both because of persecution and because of the fact that sound principles of church government had not yet been completely developed.

      We have mentioned before that the office of a minister resides within a congregation, and a minister can hold this office only within a given congregation.  The reasons for this are evident.  In the first place, the minister can never possess his office on his own, separated from the church of Christ of which he must be a member.  Secondly, the calling to the office is through Christ’s church and can be held by a minister only as a part of that church.  In the third place, the local congregation is a complete manifestation of the body of Christ.  But this is true as the congregation functions through its threefold office of minister, elder, and deacon.  Thus, only when the office is held in the local congregation can this manifestation of Christ’s body in the institute be complete.

      However, this article is based upon another very important principle, closely related to the one defined above.  That is the principle of supervision of the preaching.  The preaching must be under the supervision of the synod and classis as far as admission into the ministry is concerned.  But the more definite supervision of the preaching is the work of the consistory.  They must have the oversight of the Word and doctrine.  This principle must be maintained.  Christ calls to the office by the congregation through the consistory.  The authority to preach, therefore, comes from Christ, through the congregation functioning through its consistory.  And the supervision of the Word and sacraments, in obedience to Christ, is the work of the consistory alone.

      With these principles in mind, we can turn to the article.

      In the first place, two kinds of preachers are referred to:  those neglecting the ministry of their church, and those without a fixed charge.  In the strict sense of the word, these men were not really ministers at all, since a man without a fixed charge cannot hold an office.  They were vagabond ministers or self-appointed ministers.  But the article can also refer to those who are dismissed from service under the regulations of Article 11.  The same principles hold for them.

      The evil referred to is preaching indiscriminately.  The Dutch spoke of “preaching here and there.”  These men would preach wherever they could get an audience.  But this indiscriminate preaching refers also to ministers of one congregation preaching in established churches without the consent of the consistory.  The setup in the Netherlands is somewhat different from ours in this land.  There each consistory had 
the rule over a certain territory marked by definite territorial boundaries — which boundaries included several congregations.  Over these congregations one consistory would have the rule.  This article forbids a minister from preaching in another territory without the consent of the consistory.  But in this country, where we have no such boundaries, the rule still applies.  It has reference to a minister intruding upon another congregation without consistorial consent.

      The consent of the synod or classis is mentioned particularly with reference to the general supervision which both these ecclesiastical bodies have over men who are entering the ministry for the first time.

      To this article is appended a footnote which deals with candidates who receive no call.  Their candidacy expires after three years.  If the term of the candidacy is to be extended, the procedure is:  the candidate must himself take the initiative in seeking such an extension.  Should he fail, his candidacy automatically expires.  If he does desire to obtain an extension, he must address this request to synod, with which body the final decision rests.



       The office of the minister is to continue in prayer and in the ministry of the Word, to dispense the sacraments, to watch over his brethren, the elders and deacons, as well as the congregation, and finally, with the elders, to exercise church discipline and to see to it that everything is done decently and in good order.

      In speaking of the duties of a minister of the gospel, the article uses the expression:  “The office of the ministry.”  It must be understood that the article is not using the term “office” in this connection in the technical sense of the word as referring specifically to a position of authority under Christ.  Rather, the term refers to the task and assignment of the office.  But it must not be forgotten that the peculiar task of the office follows from the nature of the office which the minister holds.  His work is unique because of the position he occupies in his office.

      In general, concerning these duties, the Church Order does not mean to be exhaustive in listing the duties of a minister.  There are other duties referred to in the Formula of Subscription, the call letter, and the Form for the Ordination of Ministers.  But the Church Order speaks of the fundamental duties of a minister from which the other duties follow.

      The duties mentioned specifically in the article include his duties as a minister and as an elder.  The duties which he must perform as a minister are as follows:

1)    To continue in prayer.  It is possible that this article refers in this clause to a minister’s private prayers, which are so very essential to his work.  Nevertheless, it may also refer to the minister’s calling to lead the congregation in prayer at public worship, to pray with others and especially with those of his flock who need prayer (cf. Acts 6:4; James 5:14, 15).

2)    To continue in the ministry of the Word.  This, of course, is the heart of the minister’s office.  All other tasks which he performs are either related to this task or are incidental to it.  He may have to perform administrative work; he may write articles or books; there may be other work which he must perform.  But this is all incidental to and must never stand in the way of his supreme calling to preach the gospel.  This is a principle matter, for this is specifically his authoritative work in which he exercises the authority of Christ.  He is a prophet, the mouthpiece of Christ, called to proclaim Christ’s Word authoritatively.  Never must anything else interfere with this task.  Nor must he be tempted from this calling to play the role of psychologist, marriage counselor, doctor, sociologist, or any other work.  He must, in the words of the article,continue in preaching.  He has the one calling to bring the Word of God.  To do this he must regularly occupy the pulpit and preach the gospel from Sabbath to Sabbath.  But he must also diligently study the Word, filling himself with it and preparing himself to proclaim and expound it.

3)    To dispense the sacraments.  This is also part of the minister’s fundamental calling to preach.  For the sacraments are the means of grace added to the preaching as the gospel for the eyes of God’s people.  Thus this belongs to his official work in which he functions with the authority of Christ.

      There are various duties not mentioned in the article.

1)    Teaching catechism.  This, too, is part of the preaching of the Word.  It is official ministry of the gospel to the lambs of God’s flock.  It is the means of grace especially adapted to the seed of the covenant to prepare them for their place in the church.

2)    Sick and family visitation.  Here, too, we have part of the minister’s official work of preaching.  But in this aspect of his work he brings the Word of God privately and applies that Word to the specific needs of the individual members of the congregation.  In this he labors also as pastor.

3)    Officiating at weddings.  The Church Order speaks of this part of his work in another place.  In this particular work he functions as a servant of the state as well as a minister.

      There are also certain duties spoken of in the article which refer to the calling of a minister as elder.  It must be remembered that the minister is an elder, although he is a teaching elder.  This does not mean that a minister is in a higher or superior office, with authority over his fellow officebearers.  He is their equal.  But at the same time he is elder as well as minister; pastor as well as teacher.

      Because this is true, the duties of a minister as he functions as an elder are more specifically referred to in Article 23.  In this article the following duties are mentioned:

1)    To watch over his brethren.  This refers especially to his fellow consistory members, although surely implied is the entire congregation.  He is pastor of the whole flock of Christ.  He shepherds the entire sheepfold including the officebearers.

2)    To exercise church discipline.  This work he does in cooperation with the other elders.  It is part of the government of the church.

3)    To see to it that everything is done decently and in good order.  This 
must be done within the congregation and the consistory.  The rule of decency and good order is Scripture itself.  In this work the minister ought to be eminently qualified.

      VanDellen and Monsma speak of assistants to the minister which are sometimes used (cf. their Commentary).  While this is possible, a minister ought not easily give up his work and the specific duties assigned to him. There is altogether too much of this in our day, even in Reformed churches.  And it must be remembered that these assistants can never officially preach the Word of the gospel.



       Among the ministers of the Word equality shall be maintained with respect to the duties of their office, and also in other matters as far as possible, according to the judgment of the consistory and, if necessary, of the classis; which equality shall also be maintained in the case of the elders and the deacons.

      The historical occasion for this article is the deep-seated fear in which our fathers lived of the horrors of Roman Catholic hierarchy.  They detested this evil with all their hearts and included this article to avoid all possibility of it.  That such was the position of our fathers is, e.g., evident from the fact that in 1581 the Synod of Middelburg received an overture requesting the appointment of “inspectors and superintendents” to oversee the churches.  This practice was followed in some congregations.  But, fearing that this would lead to the same hierarchy against which the article was written, the synod rejected this overture on the grounds that it was“onnoodich ande zorghelick,” i.e., “unnecessary and dangerous.”

      The principle is sound.  Hierarchy of any sort has no place in the church of Christ.  How often was it not necessary for the Lord to rebuke His disciples because they debated among themselves who was the greatest. Christ is the chief and only Officebearer in His church, and all other officebearers are under Him.

      It is well that we define, first of all, the scope of the article in respect to this matter of equality.  The article does not refer to the equality of the offices.  There are three such offices in the church:  the offices of minister, elder, and deacon.  And, while these three offices are different in kind, they are not higher or lower offices.  There is an equality of the office as such.  But the article is not referring to this.

      Secondly, the article does not speak of equality among officebearers of various congregations within the denomination.  That all officebearers are equal is certainly in complete harmony with Scripture.  But this is not the point here, as is evident from the reference to “the judgment of the consistory.”

      Finally, the article is not speaking of the various individual differences among officebearers — differences in talents, experience, gifts, zeal, etc.

      Rather, the article speaks of equality among those who hold the same office:  ministers among ministers (where there are more than one in a congregation); elders among elders; deacons among deacons.  And it speaks of equality in that which is of essential importance to the office, namely authority.  All officebearers are of equal authority within their own office.

       The article speaks especially of equality with respect to the duties of his office.  Each officebearer must share equally in the duties of his office.  In preaching, catechizing, sick visitation, family visitation, etc., the officebearers must exercise equality.  The article, however, adds:  “and also in other matters as far as possible.”  No doubt this refers to such 
matters as honor, salary, houses, etc.  There is to be no subordination of any kind practiced.  Even the idea of an “assistant pastor” is out of keeping with this article.  This regulation does not preclude the possibility of variations in some of these things.  One minister with a large family may need a larger salary than a minister without a family at all.  The point is that all must be treated with equal fairness.  Hence the article adds the words: “as far as possible.”  It must be recognized that there are differences of time, experience, ability, circumstances, age, etc. which have to be taken into account.  Exact equality in all matters is not always possible.  Nor is it always wise.  But the consistory itself must decide by vote on all these matters.  And provision is made for appeal to classis if there is disagreement.



       The office of the professors of theology is to expound the Holy Scriptures and to vindicate sound doctrine against heresies and errors.

      The article goes back historically to the work of Calvin in the Academy of Geneva.  From the beginning, the Reformed churches believed strongly in an educated ministry.  This requires professors.  While we do not consider the professor of theology to occupy a separate office (cf. notes on Art. 2), this article certainly has a valuable place in the Church Order.  More often than not the heresies which sweep the church begin in the seminaries and are brought from the seminaries to the pulpits, where the people are infected.

      Two duties especially are mentioned.

1)    Expound the Holy Scriptures.  The idea is that the exposition of Holy Scripture lies at the basis of all the subjects taught in the seminary.  Professors are, therefore, to be students of God’s Word, adept at the original languages of Scripture and thorough and careful exegetes of Scripture.  They must see to it that this exposition is the basis of all the teaching.

2)    Vindicate sound doctrine against heresies and errors.  It is quite obvious that these two duties cannot be separated from each other.  Exposition of Scripture is necessary to accomplish the vindication of sound doctrine and will surely result in it.  The errors referred to are all the errors of pagan religions, Roman Catholicism, modernistic religions, sectarian religions; but also heresies which arise within the church and constitute an immediate threat to the well-being of the church.

      The duties referred to here are the duties of all ministers of the gospel.  But these duties are mentioned specifically in connection with the work of professors because they are entrusted with the training of future ministers upon whom this calling will fall.  They must teach the future ministers of the church to do this work.  Besides, professors provide leadership within the churches in this respect.  This is not because of their superior abilities and superior office; it is rather be-
cause all their time is devoted exclusively to this.  Professors must therefore accomplish this in the classroom, in preaching and speaking, in books and articles, at ecclesiastical assemblies of the churches in common.

      For rules governing the appointment of professors, confer the Constitution of the Theological School.



       The churches shall exert themselves, as far as necessary, that there may be students supported by them to be trained for the ministry of the Word.

      The historical background of this article dates to the Synod of Emden.  That synod made provision for the support of students who would later be bound to the service of the church which supported them.  This was done especially when students were sent out of the country to study at such places as Geneva, Heidelberg, Basel, and Zurich.  Later the University of Leyden was established to train ministers in the Lowlands.  At the time of the established church, the support of these students was taken over by the government.  The money used was from the confiscated property of the Roman Catholic Church.  Hence the old name for this fund:  “Ex Bonis Publicis”; i.e., “Out of the Public Goods.”  The name has been changed in our Churches to “Student Aid Fund.”

      The duty enjoined upon the churches in common is twofold.

1)    The chief duty is that the churches shall exert themselves to provide students for the ministry.  From the very beginning of the Reformed churches there has been a shortage of ministers.  But the Church Order, in this article, recognizes the fact that a congregation without a minister is in an abnormal situation.  Nor is this abnormality alleviated by classical appointments.  A congregation must, to perform her work, have a pastor of her own.  But the duty described in the article is the duty of the congregations individually.  If the churches are to have ministers, these ministers must come from the congregations themselves.  And, indeed, upon the individual congregations falls the responsibility of preaching the gospel — though this responsibility is performed through the offices in the church.

            This exertion must take place through various means.  In the general training of covenant youth in catechism, preaching, and family visitation this obligation is brought to the attention of God’s people.  The congregations may be admonished through the preaching to give more attention to this responsibility.  The consistories may use the means of personal encouragement and admonition.

2)    Secondly, the duty is placed upon the churches for the support of the students.  The length of education requires considerable money.  And mere money must not be an obstacle in the pursuit of the calling of the ministry.  In our churches this duty is fulfilled by the churches in common.  But this does not preclude the possibility of support coming from the local congregations to aid their “sons”; nor even from the classis.

      This support must be “as far as necessary.”  This reference is both to the need for 
ministers and the support given to students.  Support should, if necessary, be given throughout the whole time of education.  Nor need this support be repaid, since it is support and not a loan.  Repayment need be made only when a student does not enter the ministry.  For additional rules, confer the Student Aid Committee Constitution.



       Students who have received permission according to the rule in this matter, and persons who have according to Article 8 been judged competent to be prepared for the ministry of the Word, shall, for their own training, and for the sake of becoming known to the congregations, be allowed to speak a word of edification in the meetings for public worship.

      This article has a long history marked by considerable vacillation on the question of the rightness of student preaching.  The article was originally concerned with the private training of students when the work was left to individual ministers because there was no seminary.  The Convention of Wezel dealt with the need for students to gain experience in preaching through the means outlined in this article.

      In 1586 the Synod of ’s Gravenhage ruled favorably on the practice of student preaching.  But in 1619 the Synod of Dordrecht forbade the practice.  However, Dordrecht forbade the practice in part because the University could no longer be trusted.  It was filled with Arminianism.  The churches of the Secession in 1834 once again permitted it, but the churches of the Doleantie did not favor the practice.  The Gereformeerde Kerken ruled against the practice in 1908, and this has remained the rule.  In 1914 the Christian Reformed Church reinstituted the idea and composed our present version.

      The article refers to the “preaching” of those still studying in the seminary and of those judged competent to preach under the provisions of Article 8.  Candidates, while not referred to, are also included.  The article refers, therefore, to those who are not ordained to the office.

      All these are permitted to “speak a word of edification.”  There is a deliberate distinction made between this word of edification and the preaching of the gospel.  The difference is to be found in the fact that students may not pronounce the benedictions and may not administer the sacraments.  But the basic difference is that the “preaching” of the students is not the official ministry of the Word because these students have not been ordained into office.  Thus the idea of the lawful call, of the office, and of the preaching is guarded.

      The question has often risen whether this is a valid distinction.  Many have maintained that it is not.  These point to the following considerations:

1)    There is no difference in content between preaching and an edifying word.

2)    If a student edifies he surely is instrumental in administering the means of grace.

3)    A student is called officially by the consistory for the particular service in which he preaches.

      But it is better and more scriptural to maintain the distinction.

1)    It is certainly true that, ideally, there is no difference in content.  But this is not the point.  An ordained ambassador has divine credentials, so that he alone can bring the Word of Christ officially and authoritatively.

2)    An edifying word may be a means of grace, and hopefully it is.  But it is a subordinate means of grace, subordinate to the official preaching in the same sense in which society discussions and personal Bible reading are a means of grace.

3)    In this day of total disregard for the official calling, it is important to insist on this aspect of the office.

      The article states reasons why students should be permitted to speak an edifying word.  One reason is the good of the students; the other reason is the good of the churches.  There has been considerable de-
bate also on this point.  The objections which have been raised are:

1)    Students come with inferior sermons and are not always edifying.

2)    Churches gain little benefit from these sermons.

3)    The danger is always there that imperfect exposition and even false doctrine may do considerable harm.

      But all these dangers can be avoided if proper supervision is given to student preaching.  This supervision is, according to Article 13 of the Constitution of the Theological School, left to the faculty.  Supervision includes hearing the sermons to be preached in the churches, making necessary revisions and changes, judging whether a sermon is edifying, giving licensure to preach, revoking this licensure if necessary.

      The advantages of this practice are real.  The experience which a student gains is inestimable.  The congregations receive supply when they are vacant.  And the congregations come to know the students and their abilities.



       The consistories shall see to it that there are good Christian schools in which the parents have their children instructed according to the demands of the covenant.

      The original article of the Synod of Dordrecht was adopted in 1586 at the Synod of Den Haag.  This version was considerably different from our present version.  It read, “Everywhere Consistories shall see to it, that there are good schoolmasters who shall not only instruct the children in reading, writing, languages, and the liberal arts, but likewise in godliness and in the Catechism.”

      There were definite reasons why this kind of article was adopted by the churches in the Netherlands.  The church was then a state church standing in close connection with the government.  The government was a supporter of the Reformed faith.  Hence, the government operated the schools, although this operation was performed through the churches.  The churches, therefore, assumed responsibility for the spiritual quality of the schools.  And the church gave religious instruction in the schools.  Hence the addition to the original article:  “and in the Catechism.”

      But in America the situation is different.  Here there is separation between church and state.  And the responsibility for the instruction of the children in the day schools is assumed by the parents.

      This is also correct.  The responsibility for the instruction of the children in the subjects of the school curriculum rests upon the parents and upon them alone.  This instruction is assumed by the parents as their responsibility when they make their vows of baptism.  Indeed, the church is responsible for the instruction of the seed of the covenant as far as the knowledge of Scripture is concerned and because this instruction is an official means of grace.  But the instruction in the knowledge of God as He reveals Himself to His people though creation, providence, and history is a responsibility resting upon covenant parents.

      The article assigns to the consistories a certain responsibility with respect to this covenant instruction given in the schools.  It does not mean to establish the principle that the responsibility of establishing, maintaining, supporting, and governing Christian schools rest upon the consistories.  This would be parochialism and has never been the position of the Reformed churches.  But it does mean to entrust consistories with the solemn obligation to point parents to their covenant obligations and admonish parents to fulfill these obligations to the best of their ability.  Note the language of the present article:  “… in which parents have their children instructed….”

      The consistories have this responsibility because the instruction of children comes under the spiritual supervision of the consistories.  The schools which parents establish 
must be “good” schools.  They must be good in the spiritual and ethical sense of that word, not merely from a formal viewpoint.  That is, the instruction must be, in the strictest sense of the word, Christian.  The knowledge of God must be taught in every branch of learning.

      This is according to the demands of the covenant.  The covenant is God’s gracious bond of fellowship and friendship established with His elect people through Jesus Christ.  It is a covenant which God wills shall be continued through the instrumentality of covenant instruction (cf. Gen. 18:19; Ps. 78:1-8; Prov. 22:6, etc.).

      Because this important covenantal obligation rests upon covenant parents, it is part of their calling as a covenant people in the world.  This calling and its fulfillment come directly under the supervision of the consistory. Hence the consistory has certain definite responsibilities in this respect.

      Among these responsibilities we may mention the following:  The consistory must urge the establishment of our own schools where there are none, if this is at all possible.  The consistory must urge support of these schools where they exist.  The officebearers in Christ’s church must pay attention to the instruction given by the teachers in the schools and encourage the teachers in their work as much as possible.  They must encourage young people to study in preparation for a profession of teaching.  They must discipline where there is an obvious failure to perform this sacred calling.  But never, under any circumstances, must the consistory assume control of the school, the school board, or the society.



       The elders shall be chosen by the judgment of the consistory and the deacons according to the regulations for that purpose established by the consistory.  In pursuance of these regulations, every church shall be at liberty, according to its circumstances, to give the members an opportunity to direct attention to suitable persons, in order that the consistory may thereupon either present to the congregation for election as many elders as are needed, that they may, after they are approved by it, unless any obstacle arise, be installed with public prayers and stipulations; or present a double number to the congregation and thereupon install the one-half chosen by it, in the aforesaid manner, agreeably to the form for this purpose.

Decision pertaining to Article 22

       Nominations and congregational meetings shall be announced upon two successive Sundays.

       (Adopted by Classis of June 6, 7, 1934; Synod of 1944, Arts. 66, 67.)

      While Article 21 begins a new section of the Church Order and deals with a general responsibility resting upon the consistory as a whole, Article 22 begins a discussion of regulations pertaining to the office of elder.

      It was John Calvin, the Reformer of Geneva, who once again restored the office of elder to its rightful place in the church of Christ.  This office had been all but lost in the Romish church.  Calvin saw clearly, from Scripture, the true nature of this office and its importance in the church.

      The office of elder has especially two different names in Scripture:  presbuvtero" and ejpivonopo".  Contrary to the position of Roman Catholicism, these two names designate the same office.  They merely look at this one office from two different points of view.  In proof of this, confer such passages as Acts 20:17, 28; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:5, 7; I Timothy 3:1; I Peter 5:1, 2.  References to this office are also found in Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 6, 22.  From all these passages it is evident that this office of elder is a reflection of Christ’s kingly office.  This office is therefore the ruling office in the church.  Christ, the perfect Officebearer, unites in Himself, through His exaltation, the threefold office of prophet, priest, and king.  This is, in turn, reflected in His church in men who are endowed with the authority which Christ possesses and which He confers upon men of His choice.  As the office of minister reflects the prophetic office of Christ, and as the office of deacon reflects the high priestly office of Christ, so also does the office of elder reflect the ruling office of Christ.  The elders, therefore, constitute the ruling body in the church.

      This article speaks specifically of the election of elders.  Concerning this election of elders, we notice first of all that the consistory and the congregation cooperate in this work.  (For a discussion of the principle involved here, cf. notes on Art. 4).

      In the second place, the election of elders is essentially the lawful call of elders.  That is, it is the call of Christ Himself to the office.  The requirements for such a lawful call are therefore, as we may expect, essentially the same as the requirements for the lawful call of ministers.

1)    Strictly speaking, the examination is eliminated.  But the examination is principally performed by the necessity of choosing men who are qualified for this office.  These qualifications are listed in Scripture in I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.  The election of qualified men is of the utmost importance and must be carefully observed.

2)    Election.  There are two methods which can be used, according to this article, just as in the case of ministers.  One method is that according to which the consistory presents a nomination of twice the number of elders needed, from which nomination the congregation chooses one-half.  The second procedure is one according to which the consistory submits for approbation as many elders as are needed.  It is only when this procedure is followed that the congregation must be given the opportunity to suggest suitable persons.  But even then, the consistory holds the decisive vote.

3)    Approbation.  The approbation will necessarily be different according to the method of election in use.  If the consistory submits to the approbation of the congregation as many elders as are needed, then approbation takes place only once.  It is done when the congregation approves of the slate of elders.  If the congregation itself votes from a nomination, then approbation takes place twice.  It takes place when the nomination is submitted to the congregation for approval (cf. the footnote to the article).  And it is done again when the slate of elected elders is submitted for approbation before ordination.  This second approbation is required by the Form for the Ordination of Elders and Deacons, which see.  Both approbations are important.  The first is necessary to keep unwor-
thy and unqualified men from the important office of elders.  The second is important to ensure that the men to be installed are worthy to be ordained.

4)    Installation.  According to the article the installation shall take place with public prayers and stipulations according to the Form for that purpose.  The Form is important because, on the one hand, it makes for uniformity of practice in all the churches of the federation; and, on the other hand, it gives instruction as to the office and admonishes the congregation and the officebearers concerning their responsibilities.

      There are several additional points.  The article speaks of local regulations.  These local regulations are adopted by each individual consistory.  They may include rules on such matters as:  brothers or relatives serving on the consistory at the same time; reelection of retiring officebearers; procedure at congregational meetings dealing with matters of voting, majorities, counting ballots, etc.

      A footnote is added that nominations and congregational meetings must be announced on two successive Sundays.  There are two reasons for this.  One is to insure that all the members are informed of the nomination. The second is that opportunity may be given to bring objections against the nomination or against the election.



       The office of the elders, in addition to what was said in Article 16 to be their duty in common with the minister of the Word, is to take heed that the ministers, together with their fellow-elders and the deacons, faithfully discharge their office, and both before and after the Lord’s Supper, as time and circumstances may demand, for the edification of the churches, to visit the families of the congregation, in order particularly to comfort and instruct the members, and also to exhort others in respect to the Christian religion.

      Article 23 speaks of the duties of elders.  The word “office” in the article is used in the same sense in which it was used in Article 16; i.e., in the sense of task or duty.

      The duties of elders are only briefly described and the article is not intended to be exhaustive.  There are probably several reasons for this.

1)    The Wezelian Convention included a long list of the duties of elders, but this was shortened considerably by the Synod of ’s Gravenhage in 1586.

2)    The duties of elders are described in more detail in other places.  They are described in part in Article 16.  They are described in other articles of the Church Order as, e.g., in the articles which deal with Christian discipline.  They are described in the Form for Installation.

3)    The purpose of the Church Order is to set forth these duties only in a general way so as to distinguish the office of elder from the office of minister and the office of deacon.

      In general, the office of elder is that of government or supervision.  This government is, first of all, over the congregation.  The elders must see to it that they “exercise church discipline … and that everything is done decently and in good order.”  This refers to the doctrine and life of all the members of the congregation.  It lays also upon elders the responsibility for censure and excommunication.  Each individual is under the supervision of the consistory in all his walk and life from a spiritual viewpoint.  But the consistory must also supervise the organic life of the congregation in societies, congregational meetings, etc.

      Secondly, the work of the consistory is that of supervision of their fellow officebearers.  The purpose is to see to it that all the officebearers perform their duties faithfully.  The elders must see to it that the deacons, both collectively and individually, perform the duties of their office in dispensing the mercies of Christ.  The deacons are not a ruling body.  They are under the supervision of the elders and are accountable to them.  The minister is also under the supervision of the elders.  He, too, is subject to their rule.  This is true as far as his personal life is concerned.  He is not above the consistory in any way.  His doctrine and conversation are subject to the scrutiny of the consistory.  But especially his preaching is under their supervision.  But the authority of the elders must also be exercised among themselves.  Each individual elder is under the supervision of the body to which he belongs.

      It is important for the well being of the church that the elders faithfully perform their work.  Each elder has the individual calling to watch over the church and he must, of necessity, engage in much personal labor. However, he has his authority only in conjunction with the other elders, so that no individual elder can take unilateral action.  Every decision must be by the body, and the official action of the elders must be by the consistory as a whole.

      This article calls special attention to the work of family visitation.  It emphasizes very strongly the need of this work, devoting almost half the article to this subject.

      The article requires that this work be conducted “both before and after the Lord’s Supper.”  This requirement has its historical occasion in the history of the Reformed churches in the Netherlands.  Many, in the early days, had just left the Romish church and had need of a great deal of instruction, admonition, encouragement, and help.  It was necessary to inquire whether the members were prepared to celebrate the Lord’s Supper; and whether, after the Supper was celebrated, they had received the benefits of this means of grace.

      The article adds:  “… as time and circumstances may demand.”  Hence we, as a general rule, conduct family visitation once per year.  But we ought never, on this account, to minimize its importance.  It is a most wonderful opportunity to bring the Word of God to the individuals in the church of Christ and address that Word of God to the particular needs of each member.

      The article makes this work the work of the elders, not excluding the pastor.  It states the purpose of doing this work as being:

1)    The edification of the church;

2)    The comfort and instruction of the members;

3)    The exhortation of others.

This last has caused some question.  Without doubt it refers to people outside the church.  This, too, has its origin in the early history of the Reformed state church.  The consistory in a given area was entrusted with the responsibility of the spiritual care of all the people within its boundaries.  Hence, this stipulation scarcely applies any longer as far as its historical intention is concerned.  Yet it can be interpreted to refer to the calling of each consistory to perform the work of the “extension of God’s kingdom, especially the promotion of missions” (cf. the questions asked at the time of Church Visitation).



       The deacons shall be chosen, approved, and installed in the same manner as was stated concerning the elders.

      The office of the deacons, while instituted by the apostles in the early church, was lost in the Roman Catholic Church.  It was reinstated in the churches of the Reformation which followed John Calvin’s teachings.

      Article 24 deals specifically with election to the office of deacons.  It prescribes the same procedure for their lawful call as for the elders.  This includes, once again, all the elements of the lawful call of any officebearer (cf. Arts. 22 and 4).  This is proof of the fact that the office of deacons is on a par with the other offices in the church of Christ.

      While the article does not mention anything concerning the nature of the office and the qualifications of the deacons, this is quite in harmony with the Church Order.  This is not done with respect to the other offices.  In every case, only the election and task of officebearers is defined.  Nevertheless, we may, in brief, observe the following.

      As far as the nature of the office is concerned, negatively, the deacons do not constitute a business office or central accounting agency in the church.  Nor are the deacons younger men in training for the office of elders to which presently they shall graduate.  The office is not a natural office but a spiritual one.  Positively, the office is on a par with the other offices in the church.  It is instituted in the church to manifest Christ as the merciful High Priest of His people.  The qualifications of the office are spiritual therefore.  Men must be sought who possess these spiritual qualifications.  They are unique to the office.  It is quite possible that some men have qualifications for the office of deacon, but not for the office of elder.  The opposite is also possible.

      These qualifications are found in Acts 6:1-7 and I Timothy 3:8-12.  They are summarized in the Form for the Installation of 
Officebearers.  These qualifications must fit the deacons for being diakonioi, i.e., those who serve.  Thus, the task of deacons, though related to the material and physical needs of the people of God, is essentially a spiritual task requiring men with spiritual qualifications.

      The office of deacons is frequently de-emphasized and even lost in today’s church.  This is, in part, due to the inroads of government welfare; in part due to the tendency of our times to seek help from every source but the church.  The office of deacons is worthy of renewed study and practice.



       The office peculiar to the deacons is diligently to collect alms and other contributions of charity and, after mutual counsel, faithfully and diligently to distribute the same to the poor as their needs may require it; to visit and comfort the distressed and to exercise care that the alms are not misused; of which they shall render an account in consistory, and also (if anyone desires to be present) to the congregation, at such a time as the consistory may see fit.

      This article sets forth briefly the duties of deacons and is not intended to be a detailed and exhaustive enumeration of their work.  The main and prescriptive elements are mentioned.

      Before we look more closely at the duties mentioned in the article, two remarks should be made.  In the first place, the deacons must put forth every effort to resist the encroachment of the government into this area of the church’s calling.  This must be done by instruction of the people of God and by faithful performance of the work by the deacons.  Secondly, the work of the deacons must not be construed to preclude the personal acts of mercy among the saints mutually.

      The duties mentioned are the following:

1)    The deacons must collect the alms and other contributions of charity.  There is no difference between the two words.  Alms refer to gifts of mercy.  The word comes from the Greek ejgehmosuvnh.  Contributions of charity mean gifts in addition to the usual funds collected at the worship service.  These include gifts of food, clothing, real estate, legacies, etc.  Both, however, refer to gifts and not to payments.  The deacons are not in business.

      The article defines the office of deacons as being to collect these gifts.  This is not merely a reference to passing the collection plate during the worship service.  The reference is to the fact that the deacons must be able to carry on their calling by obtaining from the congregation the necessary funds.  The congregation has the solemn obligation to provide the deacons with ample funds; but the congregation must be made aware of the need.  There must be close cooperation between congregation and the deacons that this may be accomplished.

2)    Secondly, the article mentions faithful and diligent distribution.  The work must be done with faithfulness and diligence because it is the Lord Christ’s work.  It is a work of mercy which reflects in the church the mercy Christ shows to His people.  It must be work done promptly.  The poor must not suffer.  Hence the deacons must constantly be looking for those who need assistance.

      Distribution implies the spiritual work of the office.  The deacons must not allow their office to degenerate into a welfare office which merely mails out checks.  They must bring the assistance personally (cf. below).

      The standard is “according to need.”  This is, of course, a matter of discretion and wisdom.  Need, generally speaking, implies and includes the things of ordinary comfort.  There should be, in the lives of God’s people, no lack.  But it is always better, and more in keeping with the Scriptures, for the deacons to err on the side of liberality than on the side of stinginess.  The need must, however, be determined by the deacons, not by the poor.

      In passing we may note that Christian school tuition is certainly a need.

      The article speaks of distributing the alms “after mutual counsel.”  The deacons may never act individually.  The matter of benevolence must be discussed in the deacons’ meetings.  The needs of the poor must be discussed; the amount and kind of aid; and any other problems which may arise.  It is this rule which reduces the possibility of arbitrariness and misuse of benevolent funds.  But the rule does not preclude the possibility of an emergency committee of the deacons which is given power to act in matters of great urgency.

3)    Thirdly, the article speaks of visiting and comforting those in distress.  The deacons’ duty is not simply the relief of the material needs of God’s people.  The deacons represent Christ, our High Priest; and their duty is to bring comfort and sympathy by means of the Word of God.  They must do this also in connection with the alms which they distribute.  Hence, their work is not only with the poor, but also with the distressed.  This refers particularly to widows and orphans.  But in this work they function with the authority of the Word of God (cf. the Form for Installation).

4)    Fourthly, the deacons must exercise care against misuse of the alms.  There are, conceivably, two evils.  One is carnality on the part of the poor.  The other is mismanagement of funds.  The alms are not for wasteful and luxurious living.  Thus the work of the deacons includes also the right to investigate the financial circumstances of the poor.  They may have to advise various changes in the way in which these people live.  They may have to instruct in the principles of Christian stewardship.  They may have to adjust the giving of alms from time to time.  They may have to distribute the alms in other ways than cash grants.

      All of this implies that there must be cooperation between the deacons and the poor.  On the part of the deacons, there ought never to be need for inquisition and needless invasion of privacy.  On the part of the poor, there ought to be honesty and frankness to make their situation known.

5)    Finally, the deacons are required to render account of their activities to the consistory.  The reason for this is obvious.  The deacons are not independent, but are under the supervision of the elders, who are the ruling body (cf. Art. 23).  These reports to the elders should be regular, and of sufficient detail for the elders to determine whether the deacons are faithfully doing their work.  A mere financial report is not sufficient.

      The deacons must also render account to the congregation.  This is not to gain congregational approval however.  But the work of mercy is the work of the congregation, which it performs through the office of deacons.  Hence, the congregation must know whether the work is being carried out.  The report must be made with discretion, so that names and amounts are not revealed, and “at such a time as the consistory may see fit.”



       In places where others are devoting themselves to the care of the poor, the deacons shall seek a mutual understanding with them, to the end that the alms may all the better be distributed among those who have the greatest need. Moreover, they shall make it possible for the poor to make use of institutions of mercy, and to that end they shall request the board of directors of such institutions to keep in close touch with them.  It is also desirable that the diaconates assist and consult one another, especially in caring for the poor in such institutions.

      In general, this article is also rooted in the history of the Reformation churches in the Lowlands.  Its original formulations were made in the light of the church-state relations which existed in the Netherlands.  Our present article dates back to the Synod of Dordrecht and contains some provisions not applicable to our present times.  Particularly, the government engaged in works of mercy through various agencies and bureaus, and the church was forced to cooperate with them.

      However, once again we reiterate the principle:  the Reformation reaffirmed the work of deacons and established this office in the church.  The office must be closely guarded so that no other agencies are allowed to intrude into this work.  The church is solely responsible for the care of the poor.

      Quite naturally, in our country several problems arise with respect to such matters as social security, unemployment benefits, old age pensions, etc.  A great deal of wisdom is required to maintain the office in these respects.

      The article speaks of diaconal cooperation and urges cooperation in three areas:

1)    The first is “where others are devoting themselves to the care of the poor.”  This refers specifically to the government in the Netherlands.  In our country it would probably refer to such agencies as government welfare agencies, the Red Cross, etc.  It would be preferable if this part of the article could be dropped.  However, even during the Depression of the 1930s many church families were on government relief because the church was unable to care for them.

2)    The second relation spoken of in the article is that between diaconates and institutions of mercy.  The duty of the deacons is to “make it possible for the poor to use such institutions.”  By this is meant such institutions as homes for the aged, Pine Rest, institutions for retarded children, etc.  If the poor cannot afford their use, but must have this care, our deacons shall make such care available and provide for the payments.

            In order that this may be done effectively, the article speaks of cooperation between the directors of such institutions and the deacons.

3)    The third relation spoken of is one of mutual assistance and consultation between diaconates.  This does not refer to broader diaconal assemblies comparable to classis and synod.  It refers rather to mutual consultation 
and assistance between local diaconates.  The principles are that, while one diaconate may not intrude upon the domain of another, nevertheless the bond of unity between congregations must be expressed and enriched by diaconal cooperation.  One congregation may have many poor, while another has few.  The injunction of Scripture applies:  “Bear one another’s burdens.”

4)    Finally, as a footnote, we may observe that the first obligation of support rests upon a person’s family.  This is in keeping with I Timothy 5:8.  This principle is often neglected.



       The elders and deacons shall serve two or more years according to local regulations, and a proportionate number shall retire each year.  The retiring officers shall be succeeded by others, unless the circumstances and the profit of any church, in the execution of Articles 22 and 24, render a reelection advisable.

Decision pertaining to Article 27

       In case of difficulties in the congregation, the officebearers then serving shall continue to function until their chosen successors can be installed.

       (Adopted by Classis of June 6, 7, 1934; Synod of 1944, Arts. 66, 67.)

      This article has a rather important history.  The principle, namely that the offices of elder and deacon are not permanent, was maintained already by John Calvin.  He was afraid of the hierarchy of the Romish church and found nothing in Scripture to indicate that the term of elders and deacons must be for life.  He therefore instituted the principle of mandatory retirement.

      In the early history of the Reformed churches, both in Geneva and in the Netherlands, the term of office was set at one year.  Soon it was extended to two years.  And later to a longer term yet.

      Our present article dates from the 1905 revision in the Netherlands and the 1914 edition adopted by the Christian Reformed Church in our country.

      At present, in the Netherlands, longer terms are common, sometimes extending five or six years.  In our churches, the general rule is three years.

      The principle of the article is, negatively, that the office of elder and deacon is not permanent.  Scripture itself is silent on the matter.  It is, therefore, a matter to be decided upon by the general principle of the well-being of the church.  The chief reason for maintaining a limited tenure is the constant and very real danger of hierarchy within the church.  (For detailed arguments pro and con, cf. VanDellen and Monsma, pp. 125, 126.)

      The article speaks of a limited tenure, the minimum of which is to be two years.  This is considered to be the minimum for effective labor in the offices referred to.  Generally speaking, two years is indeed the minimum; longer terms are surely desirable.  Both the profit of the officebearers individually and the profit of the congregation are served by longer terms.  Even with three-year terms, one-third of the consistory changes every year. Especially when some problem is with the congregation for an extended period of time, changes in the consistory make it difficult to deal effectively with the problem.  This is, however, a matter of local regulation and is under the jurisdiction of the consistory.

      Definite retirement from office means that those who have filled their terms shall retire and be succeeded by others.  This retirement must be on a proportionate basis.  Since the retiring officebearers are to be succeeded by others, they are not eligible for reelection.  The period of retirement is not 
stipulated in the article.  This, too, is a matter of local regulation.  The minimum is, of course, one year.  This minimum is the general rule in our churches for the reason that qualified men should not be idle.

      Provision is made for reelection under certain circumstances.  The article reads:  “… unless the circumstances and the profit of any church, in the execution of Articles 22 and 24, render a reelection advisable.”  This usually refers to the possibility of failing to obtain a new nomination of qualified men.  But should a man be renominated without the minimum of one-year retirement, he must retire first and then be reelected.

      The footnote speaks of one exception to the rule concerning retirement.  It permits continuation in office in case of difficulties in the congregation.  These difficulties are of such a kind that they make installation of new officebearers unwise or impossible.  These difficulties may be trouble in the congregation, trouble involving one or more of the retiring officebearers, trouble involving one or more of the newly elected officebearers. Installation is then postponed temporarily.



       The consistory shall take care that the churches, for the possession of their property and the peace and order of their meetings, can claim the protection of the authorities; it should be well understood, however, that for the sake of peace and material possession they may never suffer the royal government of Christ over His church to be in the least infringed upon.

      Article 28, which speaks of the responsibility of the consistory with respect to church property, is a formulation adopted in 1914 by the Christian Reformed Church.  The original Article 28 adopted in the Netherlands at the time of the Synod of Dordrecht spoke of a closer relation between church and state than that which is found in this country.  It was more in harmony with Article 36 of the Belgic Confession.  The original article reads: 

As it is the duty of the Christian governments to promote the sacred services of the churches as much as possible, and to recommend their activity to all their subjects by personal example, and to assist the ministers, elders, and deacons in all cases of need or emergency, and to protect them in the execution of their tasks as governors of the churches, so also the ministers, elders, and deacons are in duty bound zealously and in sincerity to urge obedience, love, and respect toward the magistrates upon the whole congregation; they shall, moreover, make themselves good examples to the church in this matter, and through the manifestation of due respect and the establishment of correspondence with the civil authorities they shall endeavor to secure and hold the good will of the government toward the churches; to the end that, each doing his duty in the fear of the Lord, all suspicion and distrust may be avoided and that thus due cooperation may be maintained for the welfare of the churches.

      While the historical occasion for this formulation is not known, Joh. Jansen speaks of two possible reasons for the adoption of the article in its original form.  One is the possibility that the church wanted to secure civil approval for the Church Order with the intent to raise it to the level of civil law.  The other is that the church wanted to avoid Erastianism, which the Arminians favored.

      Whatever the reason may be, the present article is rooted in the view of this country that church and state must be separated.  The church and state occupy two distinct Christ-given spheres of authority which may never be merged or blurred.  Neither the one nor the other may intrude outside its own sphere into the sphere of another.  Nevertheless, there are mutual responsibilities.  The church is obligated to obey the civil authori-
ties and instruct her members to do so as long as the state does not demand obedience to some law which is a violation of God’s will.  The state, in our country, is obligated to provide for peaceful Sabbath worship and to protect the property of the church.

      This article, in the light of this situation, places certain responsibilities upon the consistory.  The consistory must, in behalf of the congregation, protect the temporal possessions of the church.  The congregation as a whole, functioning through the consistory, must act responsibly with respect to her property.  The congregation is placed in the position of stewardship over the property the Lord has entrusted to her — property which is the means to promote the historical manifestation of the kingdom.  The consistory must, therefore, take care that the church is in a legal position to claim the protection of the civil magistrates.  This involves, first of all, organization and incorporation.  While incorporation is not specifically mentioned in the article, this matter is referred to in the questions asked by the church visitors, which confer.  This is not only a matter of right; it is a matter of duty, according to the article.

      But there is an important limitation.  The Church Order recognizes the fact that the state is often hostile to the church; that the state has in the past and will in the future attempt to impose itself upon the sphere of the church.  This must never be permitted.  The church owes her allegiance in all these matters solely to Christ her Head.  Hence, the church must resist any effort on the part of the state to infringe upon Christ’s royal government in the church, even if it means loss of peace and temporal possessions.

The Church Order Proper


       For the maintenance of good order in the church of Christ it is necessary that there should be: offices, assemblies, supervision of doctrine, sacraments and ceremonies, and Christian discipline; of which matters the following articles treat in due order.

      This article is an introductory article, introducing the entire Church Order and setting forth the main content and divisions of the Church Order.  It presupposes that good order is necessary in the church of Christ; it defines what is necessary to maintain good order; it sets forth requirements for good order; it gives, therefore, the purpose for which the Church Order is written.

      The purpose of the Church Order is the maintenance of good order in the church of Jesus Christ.  The presupposition is that God is a God of order.  He does nothing haphazardly or arbitrarily, but works always in an orderly fashion because all He does is adapted to a very high purpose.  Because the church is God’s handiwork (cf. Eph. 2:10), the church must reflect that good order (I Cor. 14:40).

      The article speaks of the “church of Christ.”  These words refer to the manifestation of the church in the world, i.e., the church as institute.  The reference is not necessarily to a particular congregation, nor even a particular denomination.  Rather, the reference is to the organic body of Christ wherever it comes to manifestation in the world in institutional form.  Thus it refers to particular denominations and congregations which accept this Church Order.

      All this implies that the Church Order must be based upon the Word of God.  The church must walk in the way of God’s will, which is revealed to the church.  This revelation is contained in the Scriptures.  Yet the Scriptures are not a law-book for the church, in which every rule and regulation is spelled out.  But the principles are to be found in God’s Word.  And the church, under the guidance of the Spirit, discovers these principles and applies them specifically to her calling.  This must be maintained over against the so-called inner light churches, which were strong at the time the Church Order was written, and over against the total disregard for the authority of Scripture (or any kind of authority) manifested in our own day.

      This article lists the four main divisions of the Church Order.

1)    Offices in the church.  This subject is treated in Articles 2-28.

2)    Assemblies.  Treated in Articles 29-52.

3)    Public Worship.  Treated in Articles 53-70.

4)    Christian discipline.  Treated in Articles 71-86.

      These four divisions are also the four requirements necessary to maintain good order in the church.

      The offices referred to are the offices instituted by Christ.  The Dutch has diensten, which emphasizes the idea of “service” or “ministering.”

      The assemblies are the ecclesiastical assemblies, including Consistories, Classes, Provincial Synods, and General Synods.

      The supervision of public worship is also essential to good order in the church.  For it is only in this way that purity of doctrine and of the sacraments is maintained.

      Christian discipline deals with the discipline of church members, including censure and excommunication and the discipline of 
officebearers, including suspension and deposition from office.

Introductory Note

The following material is not intended to be an exhaustive commentary on the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches.  Nor is it intended to be a detailed study of “Kybernetics,” the principles of church government.  Its purpose is far more modest.  It is intended to be a brief summation of the central principles of each article of the Church Order, to be used by the students in preparation for classroom work and lectures. Other commentaries on the Church Order are readily available to the student and can be used with these notes for more detailed discussion of the Church Order proper.  The best in the English language is The Church Order Commentary by VanDellen and Monsma.  After this volume was published, the Christian Reformed Church has revised extensively its Church Order of the Christian Reformed Church, substantially identical with our own.  Other works will be mentioned in the following notes.

      While the notes in this volume deal with an explanation of the body of the Church Order, brief discussions will be included of various principles underlying the articles.  Strictly speaking, these principles belong to the special science of “Kybernetics,” but are included here in the explanation of the articles inasmuch as this is the form in which the material will be presented in the classroom.

      The footnotes to be found in the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches at the bottom of various articles are decisions taken by the ecclesiastical assemblies of our churches pertaining to the articles to which they are appended.  The following notes will include some discussion of these footnotes.  The student is urged to consult the printed Acts to learn more concerning these decisions — especially their history.

The Name of the Discipline

      The name assigned to this discipline prior to the Reformation was “Canon Right” or “Canon Law.”  As a distinct science, this subject had its origin in the twelfth century with the Pope Gratian.  He gathered all the ecclesiastical legislation of councils and papal decretals together into a systematic and organized body of canon law.  Pope John XXII, in the fourteenth century, revised and re-edited the material and brought it up to date. The University of Bologna became the center of the study of canon law and was, for many years, the keeper of the Romish archives.  As the papacy extended its authority over the civil realm, civil law was added to canon law.

      The name has not been used in Protestant circles.  The objections against it are:

1)    It is too broad a term, especially because it includes civil legislation.

2)    It has the obnoxious connotations of Romish hierarchy.

3)    Dr. A. Kuyper later used the term to designate the science of the study of Scripture, for the word “canon” is used to define Scripture as the rule of faith and life.

      After the Reformation, various other names came into use.  Kilner used the name “Framework of the Church.”  “Church Government” is a name commonly in use.  Some holding to the Presbyterian form of church government called the science “Presbyterianism.”  Rev. Ophoff, in his notes on church polity, prefers the name “Church Right.”  The word “right” in the name means both “authority” and “the objective norm of right and wrong.”

      The most commonly used name, however, is “Church Polity.”  This is the name we shall be using.  The name was first used by Wilhelmus Zepperus, who called this science Politiae Ecclesiae.  He was the first Protestant theologian to make a special study of church government.  Voetius used the name in a slightly altered form:  Politica Ecclesiastica.  The name was used by such men as Richard Hoover, William Cunningham, Charles Hodge, George Lamb, and others.

      The name comes from the Latin politia.  This word means:  a) Pertaining to the state or commonwealth; b) Administration of civil affairs; c) Citizenship with its rights, privileges, and obligations.  The word, in both the Latin and the Greek, was applied also to the church.  It refers to the church from the viewpoint of her institutional life.  Hence church polity is the science of church government.

      There are two sub-branches to this science.  There is first of all “kybernetics,” derived from the Greek word kuberna'n and meaning “to rule.”  This branch deals specifically with the principles of church government. The other branch deals with the rules and regulations according to which the church lives in her institutional life.  It is this branch which properly is called “Church Polity.”

Different Forms of Church Government

      1.   The Congregational form of church government 

            This form of church government is sometimes also called Independentism.  Its fundamental principle is that the local congregation is completely independent from other churches.  In government it is strictly democratic, all the male members having the right to vote, with no power of veto in the clergy.  This vote of the members admits and dismisses members and passes censure.  The permanent officebearers are the pastors and deacons.  Local churches stand in very loose relation to other congregations, with no broader gatherings except to decide matters of general welfare.  The decisions of these gatherings are only declarative.

      2.   Erastianism

            Although there is some doubt about the origin of this view, it is named after Erastus.  Thomas Erastus was born at Baden, Switzerland in 1524 and studied theology and medicine at Basil, Pavia, and Bologna.  In 1560 and again in 1564 he attended the conferences of Lutheran and Reformed theologians at which was discussed the problems of the Lord’s Supper.  Erastus considered the policy of cutting off members from the Protestant churches an unwise one.  He maintained that the exercise was not proper, but that offenders should be punished with civil penalties by the temporal magistrates.

            From these views developed the system of Erastianism, which regards the church as a society which owes its existence and form to laws enacted by the civil magistrates.  The civil magistrates alone have authority in all matters of doctrine and discipline within the church.  These magistrates govern, excommunicate, and rule in the church, although the actual execution of the state’s decisions is left to officers in the church.

      3.   The Romish system 

            The Romish system is closely tied to Roman Catholic theology.  The visible church needs a visible sacrifice.  The sacrifice needs a priest.  The priest needs divine consecration to office.  He receives this internal consecration from God through the external consecration of the church.  Thus ecclesiastical ordination originates with Christ and is continued in uninterrupted succession from the apostles through the bishops.  The pope is the chief of the bishops, with jurisdiction over all.  He is an absolute monarch, an infallible voice of Christ.  The laity have no voice in church government at all.

      4.   The Episcopalian system 

            This system is closely related to the hierarchical system of Roman Catholicism.  There are three orders of officebearers in the church:  bishops, priests, and deacons.  The superior order is in the succession of the apostles, with the rights of ordination and jurisdiction.  These superior officebearers are called Episcopoi and are overseers of all members of the church and the lower clergy.  The bishops are the ruling body.

      5.   The Reformed system 

            We shall give here only the main features, for other principles will be discussed in connection with our explanation of the articles of the Church Order.

            The chief principle of the Reformed system of church government is the autonomy of the local congregation.  The local congregation is, in itself, a complete manifestation of the body of Christ.  Within this local congregation is the office of believers first of all, who have the anointing of Christ and who function as prophets, priests, and kings in God’s church.  Secondly, within that congregation are the special offices of ministers, elders, and deacons.  These latter are called by Christ through the church to their offices; and it is through them that Christ rules His church.  These special offices stand in unique relation to the office of believers.  While we shall return to this point, it is important to notice now that while Christ rules the congregation through the special offices in the church, the office of believers comes to expression in that the believers take part in all the affairs of the church.

            These autonomous congregations unite together into a federation of churches.  This federation of churches is not something optional for the local congregation; the local congregation is obligated to belong to such a federation by the solemn injunction of Christ to express the unity of the body of Christ in the institutional form of the church.  The saints together are called to express their unity of a common life.  They are called to stand together in the battle of faith.  They are called to express that unity in a common confession.  They are called to labor together in the works of the kingdom.

            Within this federation of churches, each congregation remains autonomous.  Individual differences must be submerged to make the unity a reality.  And the broader assemblies have powers, clearly defined by the Church Order, which must be exercised.  But these powers are given to the broader assemblies by the local congregations.  And the local congregations alone may perform the true work of the church:  the preaching of the gospel, the administration of the sacraments, the exercise of Christian discipline.

            It is the Reformed system of church polity which is founded upon Scripture and to which we are committed.

The Authority of the Church Order

      There is a “historical-comparative” view of church government which denies that the establishment of churches by the apostles with their rules and regulations has normative and authoritative value for the church today. The position of those who maintain this view is that the form the institute of the church takes in any given time, and the rules governing her institutional life, must be determined by the circumstances unique to her age. Consequently, there is nothing definitive in Scripture concerning this subject, and the church order of a denomination may and ought to vary.

      We proceed from the basis, first of all, that Scripture is authoritative in all its parts and is the rule of faith and life.  While this is certainly true for the individual child of God, it is equally true for the church in her institutional form.  The establishment of the churches in the apostolic era and the rules laid down governing their institutional life were rules having normative value.  This part of Scripture is also the revelation of the will of God for His church.  It is essential to maintain this, for the alternative is a complete destruction of church polity.

      The authority of the Church Order is the same as the authority of any creed.  That is, in the first place, the authority of the Church Order is derived from Scripture.  It has binding authority because it expresses what the church believes to be the Word of God.  Its authority is found in the fact that it expresses the truth of Scripture.  And that authority is binding as long as it is not shown to be in conflict with Scripture.  Nevertheless, because it has no authority of its own, its principles must constantly be subjected to the scrutiny of the Word of God and tested by Scripture.  But as long as they are not changed, they must be observed.

      Nor can a change be effected in them by an individual member or even by an individual congregation.  The Church Order can be changed only by the entire federation of churches; and, ideally, inasmuch as the Church Order is the common possession of the entire Reformed church world, only by the whole Reformed church acting in concert.

      We must, however, make a distinction in the kind of articles found in the Church Order.  Some articles are based directly upon principles of church government taken from Scripture.  Others are indirectly deduced from scriptural teachings.  And yet others are made with a view to circumstances in which the church finds herself at a certain given time.  While the first two express the basic ideas of Reformed church polity, the last are concerned, not with principle matters, but with the practical life of the church.  These articles are formulated by the church using the sanctified wisdom given her of Christ.  They can be changed as the needs of the church dictate.  These articles concern themselves with such things as the number of classical meetings per year, etc.

The History of the Church Order

      John Calvin began the work of enunciating the principles of Reformed church polity in his reformation in Geneva.  Many of these principles are to be found in his monumental and continuously influential Institutes of the Christian Religion.  These principles were put into practical use in the new Church Order which was prepared for the church in Geneva.  They were taught in the University of Geneva, where students from all over Europelearned them and carried them into the lands where the Calvin reformation had spread.  Such men as Beza, à Lasco, John Knox, Andrew Melville, and Olevianus carried the Reformed and Presbyterian system of church government into the far corners of Europe.

      If we turn now to the Netherlands, where our own Church Order has its origin, we find that here, too, men developed the Reformed system of church government under the influence of Calvin.  Such men as Acronius, Walaeus, Trigland, and Voetuis were leaders in this field.

      The Church Order did not arise mechanically in the churches — the churches coming together and, in an abstract manner, formulating the principles which are embodied in our Church Order.  Rather, the rules which we now possess arose organically out of the life of the churches.  The organization of the Reformed churches in the Netherlands is to a considerable extent the work of John à Lasco.  He assisted in the organization of the Dutch church of the refugees from London and laid down the main lines of church polity and liturgy in his Forma ac Ratio.  Soon after Calvinism came to the Lowlands, in the middle of the sixteenth century, the first steps were taken towards the organization of Reformed congregations.  The churches under the cross in the Southern lowlands repeatedly assembled in ecclesiastical gatherings from 1563 on.  There were no fewer than ten synods held in the years 1563-1566.  Here the problems of the new church were discussed and the rules stipulated by which this church would be governed.  Directions were taken from the Church Orders of Geneva and France but adapted to the peculiar circumstances of the churches in the Netherlands.

      Further organization was soon necessary.  Many refugees from the fierce persecutions in Spain and France were flooding the Lowlands, and the need for a strong national church federation grew.  It was in 1568 that a number of refugees came together at Wezel in the autumn of that year to confer together in the interests of the Dutch church.  At this meeting were such men as Datheen, Marnix, and Willera van Zuylen.  The meeting was not strictly a synod, because the men were not delegated by churches.  But general ordinances for the ecclesiastical life of the churches were drawn up which might be adopted in more peaceable times in a legal assembly. The hope and prayer of these men was that the persecution which then raged would give way to a period of peace, when a synod could be convened to organize more fully the life of the church.

      The first synod was held at Emden (across the border) in 1571.  This synod adopted Article 84 first of all, deeply conscious of the horror of Romish hierarchy and determined to avoid it at all costs.  This synod clearly guided the church along the principles which later came to full expression in our Church Order.  They maintained that it belonged to the life and order of each individual congregation to regulate its own matters.  But they were also conscious of the common heritage and life of the churches as a whole.  And they wanted a Church Order which was based on God’s Word, which was a common confession recognized by all the churches, and which preserved the autonomy of each congregation.

      While the regulations adopted at Emden remained in force, other synods met which made additions and revisions.

The following is a list of the important synods:

      1)   Dordrecht — 1574 & 1578

      2)   Middelburg — 1581

      3)   Den Haag — 1586

      4)   Dordrecht — 1618-1619.  This synod adopted the Church Order which is substantially the one we have today.

      The greatest difficulty arose in the Netherlands over the question of the state church.  The fact that the Reformed Church in the Netherlands was a state church arose out of the peculiar history of the Reformation in that country.  But the churches often conceded too much authority to the civil government and leaned too much on the government for support.  This continued after the Synod of Dordrecht and led to all sorts of trouble.  While in various provincial synods the Church Order was maintained, nevertheless the end of a long and bitter struggle was that the Church Order was discarded in 1816 and replaced by a collegialistic set of ecclesiastical regulations.

      The Afscheiding in 1834 was a return to the Church Order of Dordrecht.  This came about only after considerable struggle and suffering.  Again in 1886 a group of people under the leadership of Dr. A. Kuyper, known as the Doleantie, left the state church to return to the old Church Order.  These two groups of churches were brought together into one denomination in 1892 under the Church Order of Dordrecht.  This situation continues till the present.

      Since that time various revisions have been made in the Church Order.  This was done in the Netherlands in 1905 at Utrecht and in this country in 1914.  But these changes were not essential.  Recently the Gereformeerde Kerken made an extensive revision of the Church Order which is quite different from the original; and the Christian Reformed Church has done the same after more than twelve years of study.

      We include here a list of fathers who contributed substantially to the development and understanding of Reformed Church polity.

1)    Gysbertus Voetius.  He wrote Politica Ecclesiastica, which appeared in the years 1663-1676.  This work is generally recognized as the giant in the development of the basic principles of Reformed church polity.  It is almost impossible to obtain, both in its abridged and unabridged editions.

2)    Dr. J.J. Pruis.  His Het Kerkrecht de Ned. Hervormde Kerk was published in Leiden in 1870.

3)    Dr. G.J. Vos.  De Tegenwoordige Inrichting der Vanderlandsche Kerk was published in Dordrecht in 1884, and Hoe Men Zich in de Ned. Hervormde Kerk moet Gedragen was published in Utrecht in 1896.

4)    Dr. J.E. Slotemaker de Bruine.  He wrote Nederlandsch Hervormd Kerkrecht in 1924.

5)    Dr. A. Kuyper.  He wrote Tractaat van de Reformatie der Kerken in 1883.

6)    Prof. Dr. F.L. Rutgers.  He worked from 1880 to 1910 in this field and is recognized as an authority.  He wrote many works on the subject, including:

a)     De Rechtsbevoegdheid Onzer Plaatselijke Kerken.  This was co-authored with Mr. A.F. de Savornin Lobman.

b)    Het Kerkverband.  1882.

c)     Acta van de Nederlandsche Synoden der Zestiende Eeuw.  1889.

d)    De Geldigheid van de Oude Kerkenordeningen der Nederlandsche Gereformeerde Kerken.  1890.

e)     He Kerkrecht in Zoover her de Kerk met her Recht in Verband Brengt.  1894.

f)     De Beteekenis van de Gemeenteleden als Zoodanig, Volgens de beginselen, die Calvijn heeft Ontwikkend en Toegepast.…  1906.

g)    Advice to various consistories and persons in regard to concrete cases in his Kerkelijke Adviezen.

7)    Prof. H.H. Kuyper.  His writings appeared particularly in De Heraut.  Two of his books are De Opleiding tot den Dienst des Woords hij de Gereformeerden and De Verkiezing tot het Ambt.

8)    Dr. H. Bouwman.  His books include Het Ambt Der Diakenen (1907), De Kerkelijke Tucht naar het Gereformeerde Kerkrecht (1912), and Gereformeerd Kerkrecht, published in two volumes in 1928.

9)    Joh. Jansen.  His works are De Kerkenordening van de Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (1917), De Kerkelijke Tucht (1915) and Korte Verklaring van de Kerkenordening (1925).

10)      Various works on church polity appeared in connection with the Schilder controversy in the Netherlands in the 1940s concerning particularly the meaning of Article 51.

11)      Monsma and VanDellen.  Their Church Order Commentary has become somewhat of a classic in this country.

12)      J. Schaver.  The Polity of the Churches, in two volumes. 

13)      H. Hoeksema.  Various writings in the Standard Bearer and in The History of the Protestant Reformed Churches.  These writings deal chiefly with the church political aspects of the controversy in 1924.

14)      G.M. Ophoff.  Writings in the Standard Bearer and in class notes.


Acts of Synod of the Christian Reformed Church; 1920.

Grand Rapids: M. Hoffius Printing Company, 1920. 

Acts of Synod of the Christian Reformed Church: 1922; 1924.

Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids Printing Company, 1922; 1924.

Acts of Synod of the Christian Reformed Church: 1928.

Grand Rapids: Office of the Stated Clerk, 1928. 

Acts of Synod of the Christian Reformed Church: 1966; 1972.

Grand Rapids: Board of Publications of the Christian Reformed Church, 1966, 1972.

Algra, H. Het Wonder van de 19e Eeuw. Franeker: T. Wever, 1976.

Bavinck, Herman. Our Reasonable Faith tr. from the Dutch work, Magnalia Dei by Henry Zylstra. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1956.

Beets, Henry. "Moderation, Brethren! Let the Past Speak."

The Banner (February 20, 1919): 4-5.

---. "Rev. Van Baalen on Common Grace -- 'Single-track Theology'?" The Banner (October 5, 1922): 612-614. 

---. "The Dr. Janssen Protest Circular and the Movement it Inaugurates," The Banner (October 19, 1922): 644-645. 

---. "The Common Grace Issue Among Us -- Rev. Van Balen's [sic] Serious Charges," The Banner (November 30, 1923): 732-738.

---. De Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk. Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids Printing Co., 1918.

Berkhof, L., "Behoefte aan Opheldering," The Witness (March 1922): 51-53.

---. "De Formeele Zijde," The Witness (June 1922): 100-101.

---. "The Specter of Anabaptism," The Witness (July 1922): 118-119.

Berkhof, L., Heyns W., Kuiper, H.J., Ten Hoor, F.M., and Volbeda, S. Verdediging van het Besluit der Synodale van 1922 ter Afzetting van Dr. Janssen tegenover 'Een Protest tegen het Besluit der Synode van 1922 in de Zaak Dr. Janssen' Ingediend by Classis Illinois Met Verzoek het als haar Protest over te nemen en ter e.v. Synode te brengen. (No publisher or date)·

Berkhof, L., Danhof, H., De Jong, Y.P., Heyns, W., Hoeksema, H., Kuiper, H.J., Ten Hoor, F.M., and Volbeda, S. Waar Het in de Zaak Janssen Om Gaat. (No publisher or date).

Berkhof, L., Heyns, W., Ten Hoor, F.M., Volbeda, S. "Het Hooglied van Salomo," De Wachter (April 1921): 8. 

---. "Ds Van Dellen Over Het Wonder" De Wachter (May 4, 1921): 6-7, (May 11· 1921): 6-7.

---. "De Oproeping van Het Curatorium," De Wachter (May 25, 1921): 8.---. "Repliek," De Wachter (June 15· 1921): 6-7.

Boer, Harry R. "Ralph Janssen After Fifty Years...," Reformed Journal (December 1972): 17-22.

---. "The Janssen Case: Aftermath, " Reformed Journal (November 1973): 21-24.

---. "Viewpoint in Religion." Grand Rapids Press, April 25, 1987, p. D4.

Bolt, J. "History and Evaluation of the Janssen Case" & Jonker, H. "The Theology of Dr. Ralph Janssen". Student paper, October 9, 1972. (Found in Heritage Hall, Calvin College & Seminary, Grand Rapids)·

Bosma, M.J. Onderwijzing in de Gereformeerde Geloofsleer. Kalamazoo: Holland Printing Company, 1910. 

Brakel,·W.A. Redelijke Godsdienst. Leiden: D. Donner, 1893. 2 volumes.

Bratt, J.D. Dutch Calvinism in Modern America: A History of a Conservative Subculture. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1949.

Breen, Q. "My Reflections on Prof· Ralph Janssen and on the Janssen Case of 1922." (Found in Heritage Hall: Q. Breen File, Calvin College & Seminary, Grand Rapids). 

Clark, G. God's Hammer: The Bible and its Critics Jefferson, Maryland: The Trinity Foundation, 1987.

Danhof, H., and Hoeksema, H. Langs Zuivere Banen: Een Wederwoord aan Bezwaarde Broederen. Kalamazoo: Dalm Printing Co., no date.

---. Niet Doopersch maar Gereformeerd: Voorlopig Bescheid aan Ds. Jan Karel Van Baalen betreffende De Loochening der Gemeene Gratie. Grand Rapids Printing Company, no date. 

---. Van Zonde en Genade. (No publisher or date).

De Boer, J., Tuuk, E.J., Hylkema, G.W. "Een Opmerkelijk Document." The Witness (September 1922): 150-151.

De Jong, Y.P., "Naar Aanleiding van het 'Document,'" The Witness (November 1922): 183-186.

---. "Het Onderwijs van Prof. Janssen." De Wachter (June 8, 1921): 7-8.

De Klerk, P., compiler & editor. A Bibliography of the Writings of the Professors of Calvin Theological Seminary. Grand Rapids: Calvin Theological Seminary, 1980. 

De Vries, J. Essentials of Physical Science. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1958.

Engelsma, D. Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel. Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1980· 

Francken, Aegidus. Kern der Christelijke Leer. Groningen: Theologische Boekhandel, 1893.

Gaussen, L. The Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, tr. from French by David D. Scott. Chicago: Moody Press, no date.

Groen, J. "Onze Jongste Kerkelijke Strijd," De Wachter (May 11, 1921): 8; (May 25, 1921): 8, 9; (June 8, 1921): 6. 

Haan, G.G., "Darts and Daggers," The Banner (February 20, 1919): 7.

Heyns, W. Letter concerning differences between Heyns and R. Janssen, dated August 13, 1916. (Found in W. Heyns File, Heritage Hall, Calvin College & Seminary, Grand Rapids.) 

---. Letter to J.K. Van Baalen, dated August 3, 1922. (Found in W. Heyns File, Heritage Hall, Calvin College & Seminary, Grand Rapids.)

---. Manual of Reformed Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1926.

---. "Waarde Broeder M. ," De Wachter (April 27, 1921): 8-9.

Hoeksema, Gertrude. Therefore Have I Spoken: A Biography of Herman Hoeksema. Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Co., 1969.

Hoeksema, Gerrit. "Janssen's Method," Religion and Culture (June 1921): 6-8.

Hoeksema, H. "The Fallen King," The Banner (October 31, 1918): 788-789.

---. "Mankind's Relation to the Fallen King," The Banner (January 3, 1919): 6-7; (January 23, 1919): 6-7. 

---. "The Fallen King and his Kingdom," The Banner (February 13, 1919): 5-6; (April 10, 1919): 229-230. (April 17, 1919): 248-249; (April 24, 1919): 261-262; (May 1, 1919): 277-278; (May 8, 1919): 296-297; (May 15, 1919): 312-313; (May 22, 1919): 328-329; (June 12, 1919): 374-375; (June 26, 1919): 409-410.

---. "The New King and his Kingdom," The Banner (September 9, 1920): 555; (September 16, 1920): 568-569; (September 23, 1920): 584-585; (September 30, 1920): 599-560; (October 7, 1920): 615-616; (November 4, 1920): 666-667; (November 11, 1920): 683-684; 56 (January 6, 1921): 5-6.

---. "Not Satisfied," The Banner (January 27,1921): 55-56.

---. "On 'Common Grace' Once More," The Banner (February, 17, 1921): 101-102.

---. "On Common Grace," The Banner (March 24, 1921): 181-182.

---. "Dr. Janssen's Notes," The Banner (March 31, 1921): 198-199; (April 7, 1921): 213-214; (April 14, 1921): 229-230; (April 21, 1921): 245-246.

---. "De Jongste Kerkelijke Strijd," Standard Bearer, (October, 1924): 9-10; (November, 1924): 13-16.

---. Dictated Exegesis on Romans. Published by the Protestant Reformed Theological School in mimeographed form.

---. "Dr. Ubbink's Proeve Eener Nieuwe Belijdenis," The Standard Bearer, (February 1, 1932): 196- 198; (May 15, 1932): 364-367.

---. "De Nieuwe Belijdenis Aangaande Schrift en Kerk." The Standard Bearer (February 15, 1932): 220-223; (March 1, 1932): 244-247; (March 15, 1932): 268-271; (April 1, 1932): 292-294; (April 15, 1932): 316-318; (May 1, 1932): 340-342; (June 15, 1932): 412-415; (July 1, 1932): 436-440; (July 15, 1932): 460-463; (August 1, 1932): 484-487 (September 15, 1932): 540-553; 9 (October 1, 1932): 4-7; (October 15, 1932): 28-31; (November 1, 1932): 52-55; (November 15, 1932): 76- 80. 

---. "Of Love And Hatred," The Standard Bearer (May 1, 1954): 340-341.

---. Reformed Dogmatics. Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1966.

---. "Storm In The Windy City," The Standard Bearer (January 1, 1936): 151; (January 15, 1936): 173-174; (February 1, 1936): 196-198; (February 15, 1936): 220-222; (March 1, 1936): 244-246; (March 15, 1936): 268-269; (April 1, 1936): 292-293; (April 15, 1936): 316-317; (May 1, 1936): 340-341; (June 1, 1936): 388-391.

---. The Protestant Reformed Churches of America, Second Edition. No publisher, 1947.

---. The Reunion of the Christian Reformed and Protestant Reformed Churches: Is It Demanded, Possible, Desired? tr. by Rev. H. Veldman. Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing, no date.

---. "Wetenschappelijk (???)," The Witness (January, 1922): 25-26.

---. "The 'Unbiased Standpoint,"' The Witness (January, 1922): 26.

---. De Pot Half Open," The Witness (May, 1922): 84-85. 

---. "Met Het Zout Eer Het Ei Er Is," The Witness (June, 1922): 101-103.

Hoeksema, H.C. "As To The Doctrine Of Holy Scripture." Protestant Reformed Theological Journal (November, 1969): 22-36; (May, 1970): 19-37; 4 (December, 1970): 20-38; (May, 1971): 24-41; 5, (December, 1971): 17-35.

"Inhoudende Een Protest tegen het besluit van de Synode van 1922 inzake de afzetting van Dr. Janssen." No signatures; taken over by Classis Illinois.

Janssen, R. "Reply to Rev. Herman Hoeksema," The Banner (November 4, 1920): 667-668; (November 16, 1920): 700-701; (November 25, 1920): 716; (December 30, 1920): 798; 56 (January 13, 1921): 24.

---. "The Erroneous Views and Unwarranted Criticisms of Rev. H. Hoeksema," The Banner (February 17, 1921): 102-103; (February 24, 1921): 117-118; (March 10, 1921): 149-150; (March 24, 1921): 182-183; (March 31, 1921): 199; (April 14, 1921): 230-231. 

---. De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika. Grand Rapids: no publisher, 1922.

---. De Synodale Conclusies. Grand Rapids: no publisher, 1923.

---. Het Synodale Vonnis en Zijne Voorgeschiedenis Kerkrechtelijk Beoordeeld. Grand Rapids, no publisher, 1922.

---. Voortzetting Van Den Strijd. Grand Rapids, no publisher, 1922.

Kromminga, D.H. "Lead Us Not Into Temptation," The Banner (April 3, 1919): 214-215.---. The Christian Reformed Tradition· Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1943.

Kuiper, B.K. "De Zaak Janssen," De Wachter (March 30, 1921): 1-2; (April 6, 1921): 2; (April 13, 1921): 1-2; (April 20, 1921): 1-2; (April 27, 1921):1-2; (May 4, 192): 1-2; (May 11, 1921): 1-3.

---. "Verdenking en Verantwoording," De Wachter (May 11,1921): 3-4.

---. "De Kat en de Pot met Soep," De Wachter (May 18, 1921): 1-2.

---. "De Deksel van den Pot," De Wachter (May 18, 1921): 2-5.

---. "Even en Nu," De Wachter (May 25, 1921): l-2.

---. "Gedachten Overwogen," De Wachter (May 25, 1921 ): 2-3.

---. "Nog een paar Opmerkingen," De Wachter (May 25, 1921 ): 3-5.

---. "De Stand der Kwestie," De Wachter ( June 1, 1921): 1, 5-7, 10-11.

---. "De Crisis in onze Kerken," De Wachter (February 15, 1922): 5-6.

---. "Wat Vleesch in de Kuip," De Wachter (March 22, 1922): 6-7.

---. "De Algemeene Genade," De Wachter (April 26, 1922): 6-7.

---. De Janssen Kwestie en Nog Iets. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1922.

Kuiper, H. The Chicago Situation: A Word of Warning to the Churches. Chicago: Chicago Calvin Press, no date. 

Kuiper, H.J. "Onverhoord Veroordeeld?" The Witness (June 1922): 105-107.

---. "Facts Concerning the Janssen Trial and Their Interpretation," The Witness (September, 1922): 155-157; (October, 1922): 170-171; (November 1922): 187-189. 

---. "Salient Points in the Dr. Janssen Controversy," The Banner (April 28, 1921): 261; (May 12, 1921): 295-296. 

Kuiper, R.B. "Benefits Of Modern Biblical Criticism," Religion And Culture (August, 1919): 50-63.

---. "The Janssen Trial," Religion And Culture (August, 1922): 35-36.

Kuyper, A. Calvinism Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1943·

---. Dat De Genade Particulier Is. Kampen: J.H. Kok, 1909. 

---. Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology: Its Principles. tr. by Rev. J. Hendrik De Vries. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898.

Masselink, W., General Revelation and Common Grace. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1953.

Meeter, H.H. Calvinism: An Interpretation of Its Basic Ideas. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, No date.Pache, R. The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture· tr. by Helen I. Needham. Chicago: Moody Press, 1980.

Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen. (Published by the Synod of Orange City, 1922, Commercial Printing Co., Grand Rapids).

Rottier, J. "Bewijs," De Wachter (May 11, 1921): 7-8.

Stob, G. "The Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools." ThD dissertation. Princeton Theological Seminary, 1955.

Ten Hoor, F.M., Heyns, W., Berkhof, L., Volbeda, S. Nadere Toelichting omtrent De Zaak Janssen. Holland, Michigan: Holland Printing Co., no date.

Van Baalen, J.K. Der Loochening Der Gemeene Gratie: Gereformeerd of Doopersch? Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Sevensma Co., 1922.

---. Nieuwigheid en Dwaling. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Sevensma Co., 1923.

Van Dellen, I. "Dr. H. Bavinck Over Het Wonder," De Wachter (April 13, 1921): 6.

---. "Een Voorstel," De Wachter (April 27, 1921): 5-6.

---. "Een Verkeerd Element," De Wachter (May 11, 1921): 7.

Van Dyke, R. "The Janssen Case In Retrospect." Student paper prepared for History 391, January 9, 1964. (Found in Heritage Hall, Calvin College & Seminary, Grand Rapids.) 

Van Niejenhuis, H. & Owenhand, R. "The Janssen Affair & The Janssen Controversy." Student paper, November 7, 1973. (Found in Heritage Hall, Calvin College & Seminary, Grand Rapids.)

Van Lonkhuyzen, J. "Aan Mijne Vrienden," De Wachter (May 18, 1921): 8.

Van Oosterzee, J.J. Christian Dogmatics: A Textbook for Academical Instruction and Private Study. tr. by J.W. Watson & M.J. Evans. 2 volumes. New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Co., 1874. 

Van Til, H.R. The Calvinistic Concept of Culture. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972.

Veenstra, G. The People Vs. Dr. Janssen. Student Paper, 1973. Heritage Hall.

Venema, C. "The Doctrinal Issue In The Janssen Controversy." Student paper, March 29, 1978. (Found in Heritage Hall, Calvin College & Seminary, Grand Rapids.)

Volbeda, S. "De Vijand Binnen de Poorten," The Witness (August, 1922): 141-144; (September, 1922): 159-162; (October, 1922): 174-177.

Wierenga, H. "The 'Light of Nature' in the Light of Dort," Religion And Culture (February, 1923): 133- 136).

---. "The 'Light of Nature' in the Light of Calvin," Religion And Culture (March, 1923): 164-166; (May, 1923): 183-185; 5 (June, 1923): 12-15; (July, 1923): 19-22. 

Zwaanstra, H. Reformed Thought And Experience In A New World. ThD dissertation. Kampen, J.H. Kok, 1973.

Zwier, D. "De Algemeene Genade het Hart der Kerk?" The Witness (July 1922): 119-120.

Chapter VII: Conclusion

In the April 12, 1987 issue of The Grand Rapids Press an article appeared which reported on an investigation which had been ordered by the Calvin College Board of Trustees of three scientists from the college who described the origin of the universe in different ways from that recorded in Genesis l. In response to that report in the Press, Dr. H. Boer wrote an article for the Press in a column entitled, "Viewpoint." Dr. Boer took the position in that article that,

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, religion and general cultural influences in the composition of several books.1

In analyzing what the Press called, "Battle of the Bible," Dr. Boer traced the problem back to the Janssen controversy and insisted that the Christian Reformed Church had taken a stand against academic freedom in that controversy from which it had not yet recovered. While interpreting a present dispute over the creation of the universe in broader terms of a struggle to avoid the pitfalls of Fundamentalism, Boer also traced the problem back to the conflict over Janssen's teaching. And he hinted at the similarity between the two controversies in the last part of his article when he wrote:

The issue is simple. That God the Creator should play as large a role in the education- al vision and academic policies of the Calvin community as does God the Redeemer.2

Dr. Boer sees the controversy in the Christian Reformed Church over the nature and extent of the authority of Scripture in the same light. In an earlier article in the Reformed Journal Dr. Boer said that there was the closest possible connection between the Janssen case and the adoption of the report on Scripture which the Christian Reformed Church accepted as its own.3 Nor is Dr. Boer at all averse to stating that the issue of common grace was not only a central issue in the controversy, but that the Synod of 1924, which adopted the three points of common grace, "adopted Janssen's position."4 Undoubtedly, Dr. Boer sees that the teachings of scientists in Calvin College as well as the adoption of Report 44 by the Christian Reformed Church are due to the fact that in 1924 Janssen, after all, won his case and his views prevailed.

It is true without any question that the condemnation of Janssen's views by the Synod of 1922 was definite and without equivocation. It is probably true that the decision taken by that Synod reflected the thinking of the majority of the constituency in the Christian Reformed Church. What had happened, however, was a condemnation of Janssen's views of Scripture without an investigation or adjudication of Janssen's fundamental position, his view of common grace. As a lawyer would put it: "The Synod decided the case without deciding the issues." As we noticed in the course of this study, there were not only reasons for this, but it was also probably true, as many claimed, that Janssen's views could be considered and judged on other grounds than on the issue of common grace. Apart from what may be called the theological basis of his views, Janssen's position was clearly contrary to what Scripture itself teaches concerning itself.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that Janssen showed clearly that his position was based upon common grace. And Synod chose to ignore this fact. But common grace continued to be an issue in the church and resulted, as we noticed, in the controversy of 1922-1924, which controversy ended in the expulsion of Revs. Danhof, Hoeksema and Ophoff. We are faced, therefore, with the anomaly that the Christian Reformed Church condemned Janssen's views of Scripture, while approving the theological foundation of his views two years later.

Boer, as we noticed above, takes the position that Janssen's views ultimately prevailed in the Christian Reformed Church because of its adoption of common grace. He apparently means by this two things: 1) Janssen's fundamental position was adopted by the Christian Reformed Church, and this proved, in some limited sense, to be a vindication of Janssen; 2) While in part the struggle goes on, as the Church continues to do battle with Fundamentalism in her midst, nevertheless, the adoption of Janssen's theological underpinnings for his views of Scripture (his doctrine of common grace), has resulted in the defense of Janssen's views of Scripture as well within the Christian Reformed Church.

While we cannot go into a lengthy and detailed examination of Boer's thesis, there is evidence that Boer's contention is correct. That is, there is evidence that the adoption of common grace, by the Synod of 1924, has indeed led to views being propounded within the church which are similar to, if not identical with, the views of Dr. Janssen.

The doctrine of common grace is capable of being applied to various areas of theological studies as well as various areas of ethics. The Synod of 1924 recognized this fact. When it adopted the three points of common grace, it added a "Testimony" in which it warned against possible misuses of the doctrine in the light of the influences of modernism in the surrounding church world.

Now synod expressed itself on three points that were at stake in the denial of Common Grace and thereby condemned the entire disregard for this doctrine, she feels constrained at the same time to warn our Churches and especially our leaders earnestly against all onesided emphasis on and misuse of the doctrine of Common Grace. It cannot be denied that there exists a real danger in this respect . . . .5

What specifically the Synod of 1924 had in mind is not clear. It is true that common grace, especially in the Kuyperian sense, is applicable to many areas of life and human endeavor. Kuyper certainly applied this doctrine to many different spheres of human activity.The Christian Reformed Church has not been reluctant to do this. Already at the Synod of 1924, this doctrine was applied to the preaching of the gospel when the decisions of the Synod made specific references to the relation between common grace and the free offer of the gospel.7

The same was done when the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church considered the whole matter of the film arts. While earlier in her history the Church had condemned movie attendance,8 this position was latter changed and common grace became the basis for justifying drama and the movies.9

It ought not to surprise us, therefore, that the doctrine of common grace would sooner or later be applied to the same areas in which Janssen applied it. Boer, sympathetic to the views of Dr. Janssen, is of the opinion that the recent debate in Calvin College over the question of the origin of the creation and the literal interpretation of Genesis 1 is basically the issue which the Christian Reformed Church faced when it dealt with the views of Dr. Janssen; and the position which the church took at the time of the Janssen controversy stands inseparably connected with Report 44 which was adopted by the church in 1972.

Hoeksema expressed the same opinion -- from the vantage point of disagreement with Janssen. He (with Danhof) admitted that common grace was always really the issue. And, while insisting that the issue could be decided on other grounds, he nevertheless prophesied that if common grace was not repudiated, Janssen's views would once again rise in the church and prevail. It was his considered opinion that if the Christian Reformed Church did not repudiate common grace as taught by Kuyper, and if the church took the position that common grace was basically Reformed and in agreement with the Confessions, Janssen would emerge after all as victorious.10

Whether, therefore, one looks at the question from Boer's perspective, basically favorable to Janssen, or from Hoeksema's perspective, antagonistic to Janssen, there is some evidence that these men were correct. The views of Janssen have once again appeared in the church. And the explanation is, without doubt, the adoption of Janssen's own theological position of common grace at the Synod of 1924.

We may point to two crucial areas in which this fact is evident. In the current debate over the question of the origin of this world, those who hold to a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and who teach a view of creation in six days of twenty four hours are arrayed against those who attempt to explain the origin of the world in terms of some form of evolutionary development. But two issues immediately come to the fore in that debate: 1) What is the relation between general and special revelation? 2) How are the Scriptures to be interpreted in the crucial passages in Genesis 1-3?11

The so-called evolution-creation debate is a question that resolves itself into the problem of the relation between science and Scripture. And that question, in turn, reverts back to the question of the relation between general and special revelation. The defense of a position other than the literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3 rests upon the fundamental premise: God's revelation in creation can be known and understood so that scientific discoveries of the creation are true and authoritative for a doctrine of Scripture. These discoveries in the area of general revelation have a distinct authority of their own because they are to be found in the realm of God's revelation. There is (and can be) no conflict between these two Words of God. Therefore, the two must be harmonized. When science clearly gives evidence of an old earth (perhaps as much as 15 billion years old) this must be harmonized with the creation narrative of Genesis 1-3. The knowledge which can be acquired by a study of God's general revelation must be incorporated into the doctrine of creation as formulated by the church.

While common grace is not always mentioned in connection with this position, one will immediately recognize the fact that this was basically Janssen's view of general revelation in its relation to Scripture, and he demonstrated that this was really what was meant by common grace.

Hence, because of the conflict between science and a literal interpretation of Scripture, one must re-examine the Genesis narrative and learn whether or not it is to be interpreted literally or in some other fashion. This position very clearly arises out of a conception of the relation between general and special revelation which was identical with that of Janssen.12

That the question of the relation between general and special revelation also touches on the question of miracles was made clear in a recent article in the Grand Rapids Press.l3 In a discussion of the star which announced the birth of Christ to the wise men, Dr. Van Till, professor of Physics in Calvin College, is quoted as saying that the "alignment theory (of planets and a star) is judged to have merit, but still there are problems with it." The point is that the miracles of Scripture are to be interpreted, as Janssen insisted, from a study of the natural sciences, which will, because of common grace, be able to shed light on how these miracles took place. Van Till assumes, though seeing problems in the explanation of an alignment of planets, that this could be a possible explanation. Hence, it is possible to interpret the miracles of Scripture by a study of the natural sciences, in this case, particularly the science of Astronomy.

But it is clear that this problem, in turn, leads to a particular view of Scripture. While a detailed analysis of this whole question is beyond the scope of this study, two elements especially ought briefly to be mentioned.

The first is the question of the inspiration of Scripture, especially as it stands connected to the question of Scripture's authority. This question arises directly out of the whole question of the relation between general and special revelation in the field of science. The Synod of the Christian Reformed Church faced this question specifically in the late sixties and early seventies, and finally resolved the question with the adoption of the well-known Report 44 on "The Nature Extent of Biblical Authority."14 Much of this report is given over to a discussion of the relation between general and special revelation not only,15 but also to how , in the area of science, this affects one's view of Scripture. The whole discussion is applied directly to the question of the interpretation of Genesis l-1l in which section a less than literal interpretation of these passages is not altogether excluded.16

In the second place, in this same report a great deal of attention is paid to various methods of interpreting Scripture, which remind one of some of the issues that were on the foreground when Janssen's views were discussed in the churches. Generally speaking, the Synod of 1972 rejected higher critical methods of interpretation; but at the same time, the Synod also, by adopting the report of its study committee, placed so much emphasis on the human element in Scripture that the spiritual and divine dimension was minimized.17 This was the charge brought against Janssen by the majority of the Investigatory Committee. This is not to say that Janssen denied the divine element in Scripture. Both before the Curatorium and the Synod of 1920 he strongly affirmed it. But it did not enter into his teaching in any significant way.

Historical and literary criticism of Scripture is often defended on the grounds that the human element in Scripture requires attention to these historical and literary questions. Undoubtedly this approach is correct and is implied in the grammatico-historical method of exegesis used by the Church since very early times. The problem is that the human element is the only aspect of Scripture that is considered. The divine element is minimized or ignored. The goal of exegesis becomes to learn what Moses, or Peter, or Paul said; but the crucial and all-important question: What does the Holy Spirit say? is missing. The result is that historical and literary studies are not considered as subservient to the purpose of the Holy Spirit in inspiring Scripture, and these studies become ends in themselves. Thus the question remains the same as with Janssen: How did the writers obtain their information? Emphasis on the human element all but precludes the work of the Holy Spirit.

With this we come to the end of our study. We have highlighted the main issues concerning the doctrine of Scripture which held the attention of the Christian Reformed Church from 1919 through 1922 as the denomination dealt with the teachings of Dr. Ralph Janssen. We have demonstrated how Dr. Janssen throughout the controversy insisted that the doctrine of common grace lay at the foundation of his views. We have shown how Janssen himself connected common grace with his particular views of Scripture. And we have given some attention to the reasons why the Christian Reformed Church did not permit itself to become involved in this aspect of the controversy, however important it may have been for Janssen himself.

It remains, therefore, one of the anomalies of history that Janssen's view of Scripture was condemned by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in 1922, but that Janssen's view of common grace, with which he supported his view of Scripture, was adopted by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church just two years later. We have attempted to show how this came about and trace the relation between the Janssen controversy and the common controversy. But the evidence seems clear that, in adopting common grace, the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church principally vindicated Janssen after all by making his fundamental defense a part of the confession of the church.

Hoeksema predicted that should common grace be adopted by the church, the views of Janssen would again appear in the thinking and teaching of the theologians of the Christian Reformed denomination. His prediction was correct. Boer frankly acknowledges this and speaks of recent developments in the Christian Reformed Church as clearcut evidence of Janssen's final victory. And the result is that Janssen, though defeated and condemned, has continued to live on in the thought of the Christian Reformed Church.



1 Boer, "Broad Concessions Tragic, Man Says." p. D4. Return

2 Ibid. Return

3 Boer, "Ralph Janssen After Fifty Years . . pp. 17-22. The reference is to the so-called Report 44, which examined in detail the question of Biblical authority, which report was adopted by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church. Return

4 Boer· "Aftermath," p. 23. Return

5 See for the entire testimony, Acts of Synod of 1924, Article 132, pp. 147-148. The translation is taken from H. Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed Churches in America, pp. 91-92. Return

6 See especially, Kuyper, CalvinismReturn

7 See the first point of common grace, Acts of the Synod of 1924, Article 132, pp. 145, 146. "1. Regarding the first point, touching the favorable attitude of God toward mankind in general and not only toward the elect, synod declares that . . . there is also a certain favor or grace of God which He shows to His creatures in general. This is evident from . . . the general offer of the gospel " Translation is from Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed Churches in America, p. 85. Return

8 See Acts of Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, (Office of the Stated Clerk, 1928). Article 96, pp. 86-89. Return

9 Direct appeal was made to the doctrine of common grace in support of Synod's decisions on this question. See Acts of Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, 1966, Article 61, pp. 32-36. See also Supplement 32, especially the part on p. 324. Return

10 Danhof & Hoeksema, Niet Doopersch maar Gereformeerd, pp. 4, 5. Return

11 The latter question is not of direct concern to us inasmuch as Janssen himself said very little about creation. Our concern with it is more formal: how did Scripture itself come into existence? Return

12 Much has been written on this subject; we refer the interested reader to John De Vries, Essentials of Physical Science (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1958). See especially chapter three for a detailed discussion of this question. Dr. John De Vries, who taught me his course in Physical Chemistry in my years in Calvin College, was extremely influential in making popular the so-called "period theory" of Genesis 1.Return

13 C. Meehan, "Christmas Symbol," Grand Rapids Press, December 19, 1987, pp. D1 and D2. Return

14 See Acts of the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, 1972. The report is found on pp. 493-546; the decisions in Articles 51-52. Return

15 Ibid., pp. 506-507. Return

16 Ibid., pp. 526-533. Return

17 Ibid., pp. 513-525. Return

Chapter VI: Analysis of the Issues

A complete doctrinal analysis of the issues which arose in the Janssen controversy would be inappropriate for a paper which is primarily designed to be historical in nature. Nevertheless, certain doctrinal ramifications were implicit in the controversy which require brief attention.

That Rev. Hoeksema played a major role in the entire controversy cannot be denied; but his role was larger than opposition to Janssen's position. He and H. Danhof stood apart from the other accusers of Janssen in their opposition to common grace, the one doctrine to which Janssen appealed in support of his views. Differences over common grace among Janssen's opponents led directly to the debate over this doctrine following the Synod of 1922, and led, finally, to the deposition of Hoeksema and Danhof. The result was that the majority of Janssen's opponents finally came to agree with Janssen on the one doctrine to which Janssen had appealed in support of his view of Scripture, while a small minority (Hoeksema and Danhof) opposed Janssen both on his views of Scripture and on common grace.

As we have seen, common grace was a firm foundation for the positions which Janssen took in his doctrine of Scripture. The interesting question is: What did a denial of common grace imply for a doctrine of Scripture?

The influences of the Janssen controversy continued to affect Hoeksema throughout his life. As he himself developed a Reformed theology and expressed himself on the very issues which arose during the Janssen controversy, his fundamental starting point of the particularity of grace (over against a grace which was common) led him to positions diametrically opposed to the views of Janssen with respect to the crucial issues which Janssen had raised.

This must not be interpreted as meaning that Hoeksema diverged from the affirmations of the Synod of 1922 in their criticism of Janssen; he did not. But, remaining committed to those decisions, he developed the implications of them in important respects. His teachings then are illustrative of the fact that, while common grace leads to Janssen's position, a denial of common grace leads in different directions.

As we noticed in the last two chapters, the question of the relation between general and special revelation was really at the heart of the controversy.

Janssen made much of the relation between these two revelations of God in his explanation of the origin of the Scriptures. He did this in several ways.

In the first place, he took the position that the truths which the natural man possessed by virtue of common grace were truths which could be incorporated into Scripture. The people of God to whom was given the revelation of God through Jesus Christ were a people who lived in particular cultural milieus, not isolated from the surrounding people, not unaffected by their life, but living in constant interchange socially, religiously, and politically with them. The truths which had been preserved among these people could be and in fact were incorporated into the thought of the Jewish people; and, more importantly, God, not willing to turn His back on that which He Himself had worked through His common grace in the ungodly, used these elements of truth in His own special revelation. These elements of truth were, so to speak, incorporated into special revelation, became a part of it, and were taken up into, purified, lifted to a higher level, and woven into the warp and woof of divine revelation. And it therefore, the duty of each exegete of Scripture to discover this relationship between these elements of truth from pagan and heathen civilizations and the elements that are unique to special revelation. But in order to do this, one must acquaint himself fully with these civilizations, and understand how they lived, what they taught, and what was the precise nature of their contact with and influence upon the people of God. It was here that the science of Archeology played such a major role.

In the second place, the role that common grace played in Janssen's position must be understood on another level of Biblical studies. There are some assumptions in this connection which Janssen never in fact spelled out, but are deeply imbedded in his thinking. One of these assumptions is that the general revelation of God is so closely related to His special revelation that at certain key points they intertwine. This was especially true of the miracles which Scripture records for us. Janssen protested loudly and vehemently against a separation of general and special revelation in the area of miracles, and blasted those who in his judgment were guilty of this. He charged them with the heresies of Dualism and Anabaptism -- two heresies which made every good Calvinist shudder with alarm. He claimed that such a separation between the natural and the supernatural which was implied in the view of his opponents was a virtual denial of God's sovereignty. He went so far as to say that any who refused to accept his position were no Calvinists at all and denied the long and illustrious tradition of Calvinism which dated back to the Genevan Reformer.1

The close relationship between general and special revelation in the area of miracles meant for Janssen that the ordinary providence of God as a part of general revelation was also evident in the miracles. Whether Janssen actually denied altogether any "supernatural" element in the miracles is not clear. It would seem as if he did not. Yet, he actually explained many of the miracles in such a way that the supernatural element seemed entirely missing. He, e.g., explained the falling of the walls of Jericho as the effects of an earthquake which did nothing more than create a breach in one segment of the wall. He explained the water from the rock in Rephidim as being water already present in the rock, but brought forth the striking of the rock.

It was common grace which stood at the basis for approach to miracles. There are several facets to the question, although Janssen did not always spell them out in detail.

In the first place, we noticed in the previous chapter that the natural and special revelations of God were intertwined objectively in the creation by common grace. Janssen complained when his opponents spoke of a purely supernatural character to the miracles, for he insisted that this was a false separation of the natural and the supernatural which resulted in an Anabaptistic dualism. He never expanded on this thesis, and exactly what Janssen meant is not so easily discerned, and perhaps cannot be discerned with certainty. But, if we may make certain conclusions on the basis of the material which Janssen did prepare on this question, we may probably say that God's general revelation, which was God's ordinary way of working in His creation, was the only means God used in the performance of miracles and the only way He worked when He did perform them. Hence, from a purely empirical point of view, it was not possible to distinguish the miracles from the ordinary workings of providence.

However, we have God's special revelation in Scripture. And in Scripture we are told how these ordinary workings of God's providence actually took on a miraculous character. They became miracles either because they took place in connection with specific requests of certain saints (as, e.g., Joshua's prayer that the sun and moon would stand still), or at some particular action on the part of one of God's servants (as, e.g., the water which gushed from the rock at Rephidim when Moses struck it). Hence their miraculous character was acquired from the opportune times at which these events took place and under the particular circumstances in which they took place. Hence, the supernatural element in the miracles, something which Janssen insisted he believed, was not in the event as such; it was rather in the circumstances under which it took place and in the benefit of the miracles for the people of God.

When Janssen spoke of means as being essential to an understanding of miracles, he meant, therefore, that the miracles were mediate because they took place in this present creation under the ordinary workings of providence and in the common way in which God did all things. To hold to anything less was, in Janssen's opinion, an unwarranted separation between the sphere of the natural and the sphere of the supernatural, and an introduction into Scripture of a false dualism. In the second place, common grace enabled men who were unregenerated to discover science and create such scientific disciplines as Geology. But Geology, as well as other sciences, can help us to understand how miracles took place because, after all, they all took place in the sphere of the natural and were themselves natural phenomena. Hence, if we are truly to appreciate God's common grace and avoid the errors of dualism, we must apply the discoveries of science to the study of Scripture and the explanation of miracles. Science is in a position to tell us how miracles took place. The principles and discoveries of science enable us to understand the Scriptures and discover things about miracles which are not evident in the Scriptures themselves. Common grace then becomes the cornerstone of a correct understanding of the miracles and a correct explanation of them.

Understanding Janssen's approach to miracles, it is not difficult to see that the same relation between general and special revelation was at the basis of Janssen's scientific-critical approach to Scripture.2 If it is true, as Janssen insisted, that general revelation plays a major role in special revelation, then it is also true that the approach to Scripture must be a scientific-critical approach. This lies in the nature of the case. If special revelation makes use of general revelation and if general revelation can only be known through scientific study, then scientific study is a legitimate approach to Scripture.

The same ideas were probably intended by Janssen to apply also to the interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis. Janssen did not discuss this material anywhere in his courses according to the evidence of the Student Notes. In fact, the majority of the Investigatory Committee called attention to this rather striking fact.And Janssen did not address this question in his writings during the course of the controversy.4 But it is not illogical to assume that the same principles set forth in his explanation of miracles would also be applicable to his interpretation of creation and the flood, and perhaps the fall. An application of the sciences to the interpretation of creation and the flood would also force Janssen to concede that the natural means of providence were also used in these works of God. And this would lead him inevitably into a theistic evolution and a denial of a universal flood.

This, of course, brings up the question of precisely what Janssen meant by a scientific-critical approach to Scripture. Nowhere does Janssen specifically explain what he means by this. But his actual application of the principle of a scientific-critical approach reveals that Janssen taught an interpretation of Scripture which approaches Scripture as, in some significant respects, a human document. It was formed through human agency and bore the unmistakable imprint of human thought. Its sources were often human documents or teachings; its canonicity had to be decided on criteria derived from scientific studies of its human origin, human authorship and internal content. Canticles could very well, according to Janssen, be nothing but a song which extolled the virtue of natural love. Ecclesiastes could be written by a pessimistic philosopher. The Psalms could include in them thoughts from pagan sources. The Pentateuch could be derived from documents already in existence at the time the Pentateuch received its final redactions. Thus Scripture, in many different aspects, had to be approached as a document which bore unmistakable human traits and characteristics.

From this follow Janssen's views on inspiration. As we noted earlier, Janssen insisted on organic inspiration, which he also interpreted to mean, thought inspiration. Janssen made a great deal of the human element in Scripture. And, from the notion that organic inspiration means thought inspiration, one may conclude that Janssen held to the idea that the human element included: 1) Ideas and beliefs from Israel's surrounding culture; 2) Secular documents which were incorporated into Scripture; 3) Thoughts of Scripture's authors which were not divinely inspired and did not express the truth of God in Christ, or, for that matter, truth at all;5 4) Divine ideas but cast into human form and expressed in ways in which Scripture's authors themselves wanted to express these ideas.

This emphasis on the human element is not surprising in the light of what Janssen said in connection with miracles. In the light of Janssen's views that miracles are natural phenomena and because of Janssen's abhorrence of the natural-supernatural distinction, the inspiration of Scripture would quite naturally reflect the same position. Scripture is the inspired record of special revelation. What was true of special revelation would, quite naturally, be true of the inspiration of its record as well. If special revelation itself was so intertwined with general revelation that the two were, from the empirical point of view, inseparable, the same would be true of the inspiration of that revelation in Scripture. The natural way in which God worked in special revelation would be the natural way in which God would work in the recording of it. Hence the human element played a major role.

This view of Scripture was certainly, as the majority of the Investigatory Committee said, a view which developed among the higher critics of Scripture and which, in effect, denied Scripture as the Word of God. The final Judgment of the Synod of 1922, which adopted the report of the majority of the Investigatory Committee, was certainly justified.

It is not surprising therefore, that when Rev. Hoeksema finally tackled the whole underlying question of common grace that he bent his considerable theological powers to a careful investigation of the teachings of Scripture on the questions which Janssen had raised. He subjected the whole concept of general and special revelation to a new study. He examined the Scriptural data on miracles. And he bent his efforts to a study of the doctrine of inspiration. And, while doing all this, he carefully distinguished between his own position and the erroneous position of the dualism of Anabaptism.

To enter into detail on Hoeksema's views in these fields would carry us away from the subject before us; but brief mention of some aspects of this question will serve to highlight how Hoeksema's denial of common grace led him to diametrically opposite conclusions on these crucial doctrines.

As we earlier intimated, Hoeksema gave close attention to the whole concept of revelation. In general, Hoeksema finally came to the conclusion that Scripture did not even teach a general revelation, at least in the sense in which that term was commonly used in Reformed theology. He agreed with the general trend of Reformed theology that revelation and grace were inseparable; i.e., that revelation is always a manifestation of grace. Hence, because, in Hoeksema's Judgment, Scripture taught that grace was particular, i.e., only to the elect, so also was revelation particular.6

He paid special attention to the exegesis of the key passages in Romans 1 and 2.7 He pointed out that Romans l:18ff. deal with the fundamental question set forth in the first part of verse 18: the revelation of the wrath of God. It was his position that Romans 1 deals with the explanation of this fundamental concept.

Hoeksema never denied that the creation is the means which God uses to make known His power and Godhead to those who live outside the sphere of special revelation. Nor did he deny that this resulted in a certain knowledge of God and of basic ideas of morality which all men possessed. But he did deny: 1) That this was the fruit of common grace -- of which no mention is made in this passage; 2) That this leads to a development of certain elements of the truth of God which can be found in heathen writings. He rather insisted that the passage points out: 1) That the wicked suppress all this knowledge of God in unrighteousness; 2) That God's purpose in giving it to them is in order that they may be without excuse; 3) That in suppressing all this knowledge, they change the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like unto corruptible man.

A. Kuyper, in his view of common grace, a position on which Janssen leaned heavily, held that the natural man, by virtue of common grace, was able to do good. That this view was the foundation for Janssen's position is clear from all we have discovered of what Janssen taught. The products of unregenerated men were of such good quality that they could be incorporated into Scripture. It was possible for Scripture to make use of the writings and beliefs of other peoples only because these other peoples were enabled to do that kind of good which benefited and enhanced special revelation and the record of it in God's Word.

Hoeksema diverged sharply from this position as well. He believed that Scripture taught the ability of the natural man to understand the great truth that Cod alone must be served in all that he does; but he insisted that nevertheless, what man does is always sin. This is not to say that the natural man does not have some regard for virtue and for good order in society -- as Canons III & IV, Article 4 teach, but he pointed out that this same article teaches that the natural man "is incapable of using it (natural light) aright even in things natural and civil" -- part of the article which the Synod of 1924 failed to quote when it quoted the first part of this article in its proof of the third point of common grace.

He thus insisted that the depravity of the natural man was so complete that he was incapable of doing any good and inclined to all evil.

This position of Hoeksema had several implications.

In the first place, Hoeksema did not believe that the fall of Adam and Eve and its effects upon the human race would have resulted in the loss of man's humanity if common grace had not intervened to restrain these effects. He claimed that he did not find any such teaching in Scripture. The fall was the fall of a human person, and the fail did not change this human person in any essential way. He was human before he fell; he fell as a human, and he remained a human after the fail. Common grace was not required to rescue him from some consequent and inevitable bestiality.8 The effects of sin were moral and ethical. Man became totally depraved so that he became incapable of doing any good in God's sight. All he did was evil.

In the second place, Hoeksema refused to speak of the good which the unregenerate man is supposedly capable of doing. He repudiated the notion that common grace enabled the natural man, apart from grace, to do that which was pleasing in the sight of God. He thus refused to adopt a distinction between total depravity and absolute depravity according to which distinction man is depraved in all parts of his nature, but not every part of the nature is totally depraved.9

In the third place, as this relates to general revelation, Hoeksema maintained that what God makes known of Himself in creation, though understood by the natural man, is nevertheless suppressed in unrighteousness. The result is that wicked man always changes the glory of God into an image made like unto corruptible man and four-footed beasts and creeping things.10 Thus general revelation is never productive of any good, neither of any elements of truth nor of good deeds. Hence, it is impossible that any product of the unregenerate man has that moral and ethical quality which can be incorporated into and used by God in special revelation.

Finally, while Hoeksema himself did not enter into the doctrine of creation in any detail in his public is clear that he wished to apply the same ideas to this doctrine. I.e., so-called general revelation give us, through the natural sciences, information by means of which we can discover the method which God used in the work of creation. This is true for two reasons: 1) The creation itself, after the fall, came under the curse so that what knowledge of God may be known through the things that are made is limited. 2) Man was so affected by the fall that he is incapable of discovering truth but rather always turns the truth into the lie.11

It was undoubtedly under the impetus given by the introduction of common grace into the Janssen controversy and because of Hoeksema's denial of common grace that he developed this whole view of revelation.

Janssen's attack on the nature of the miracles also led Hoeksema to give close attention to the whole concept of the miraculous as found in Scripture.

It might be that Hoeksema even felt somewhat the sting of Janssen's criticisms of the position of his accusers. Janssen had charged his accusers with making a distinction (to the point of a dualism) between the natural and the supernatural. He had further insisted that because the miracles involved the natural and were performed by God through the instrumentality of natural providence, these miracles could be explained (at least in part) by a study of the natural sciences which gave information on God's ordinary and natural workings in providence.

In their criticism of Janssen's position on miracles, the opponents of Janssen had appealed to the Scriptures and held before the Synod of 1922 the Scriptural data concerning the miracles. They had made clear that the miracles were not to be explained in terms of ordinary providence, even though God sometimes used means, for this explanation of miracles did not do justice to the data of Scripture.

But perhaps Hoeksema felt a certain lack in this approach, not so much because it was incorrect, but more because no positive statement of miracles had been set forth. Were miracles simply divine intrusions into ordinary providence? Did God suspend the "laws" of nature to work in other and different ways? Is it proper to make a distinction between the natural and the supernatural in the realm of miracles when God is the Author of both? Can study of the natural sciences help us to understand how God worked miracles? These and other questions were left unanswered.

To these questions Hoeksema addressed himself in his preaching and writings. While not mentioning the doctrinal controversy with Janssen specifically, obvious references to Janssen's position are found in his writings. For example, in a sermon preached in the early thirties on Exodus 7:19-25, 8:1-19, we find the following in his Introduction:

As we are about to treat the ten plagues or "strokes," a few introductory remarks concerning all of them in general may not be out of place.
1. And first of all regarding the time: a. According to most interpreters, the beginning must be conceived as in June or July. (1) Then, they say, took place the rising of the Nile - (2) Accompanied by a changing in the color of the water - the greenish (?) here changing into a deep red . . . . b. Rather object to this: (1) Am afraid that it is rather occasioned by a desire to explain the signs by natural causes. (Underscoring is mine, H.H.)12

In the first point entitled, "Their Reality," Hoeksema says,

A. No common phenomena.
1. Attempt has been made to explain these signs as common: a. Question was raised as to whether these strokes were natural or supernatural phenomena. (Underscoring in the sermon, H.H.) b. It was found that they all took place in nature - c. And concluded that they were natural phenomena -- only peculiar. (1) In that they were greatly increased in intensity and power. (2) That they came and went at the bidding of Moses. d. Thus: (1) River often was red, through a certain sediment carried along from the upper country. (2) Frogs were often abounding when the river receded. (3) And gnats and flies were no strange pest.
2. Must certainly be rejected: a. I am not interested in the natural or supernatural question. (1) To me all the works in nature are God's works. (2) And whether He makes one frog or a million is all the same to me. b. But certainly, (1) In all these strokes there is the operation of Jehovah as the God of salvation to deliver His people. (2) They were not common, but very striking and strange: wonders. (3) And only in that way did they draw the attention and prove that Jehovah was present in them.13

In a sermon on Exodus 8:24, 9:6.10, the following is included in Rev. Hoeksema's Introduction:

1. Review. With regard to the ten plagues or strokes in general we remarked: 1) That they were not mere natural phenomena, neither had their basis in anything natural. That the question is not whether they were natural or supernatural at all. But that they were signs: clear manifestations of the operation of Jehovah in the land working mightily for the salvation of His people Israel and for the destruction of the oppressor.14

In a sermon on Exodus 10:21-24, Hoeksema writes in his first point:

A. Its nature.
1. A sandstorm? a. Thus practically all commentators. b. A certain wind will blow in Egypt at the time of the year this ninth plague took place. (l) The air seems electrified. (2) Sucks up particles. (3) Till it is so filled with it, that the sun is hid and vision is obscured worse than in the densest fog. c. This must have taken place at this ninth plague, only in a worse form than ever before.
2. Objections: a. Of course, we do not claim that this could not have been the case. b. Only: the explanation is based on very dubious grounds. (l) The other plagues were aggravated natural phenomena, hence this must have been. (2) And this ground we do not accept. (a) They had their place in nature. (b) But were not natural phenomena themselves. c. And these are very grave objections: (l) In the first place: nodarkness. Even the densest fog, though it acts like a blanket and obscures the vision is not darkness. Yet the text speaks of darkness - not a sandstorm. (a) A thick darkness "A very dark darkness." (b) A darkness which may be felt. Not the sand was felt, but the darkness. And this no mere figurative expression. Just as we feel intense light, so the cutting off of light must be felt. Light is life, movement, vibration, waving. The cutting off of it is darkness. (2) In the second place: they saw not one-another - in the peculiar form of the Hebrew: a man did not see his brother. (3) Thirdly: no man rose from his place. If all had been struck with blindness it could not have been worse. (4) Fourthly: the children of Israel had light in their dwellings. (a) This is not to be changed: in the land of Goshen. (b) Neither does it mean: artificial light. (c) But God-given light, shining in their homes, and from their homes as centers out into the darkness without. (d) Which implies that the Egyptians had no light of any kind in their dwellings, neither could they create any artificial light. (5) Fifthly, not very likely that Pharaoh would have been so thoroughly frightened as he evidently was when he called Moses.
3. Hence: an actual suspension of light. a. The Lord created the light on the first day. b. And He concentrated it in the heavenly bodies on the fourth. c. But He can suspend its operation, and cut any area off from its effect. d. This was done, not the slightest ray of light penetrated Egypt; it was darker than the darkest night.15

Hoeksema, in latter writings, subjected the whole concept of the miraculous to careful scrutiny in a systematic way.16 In this analysis of the Biblical teaching on miracles Hoeksema made the following points. 1) From the viewpoint of God's own work, God's providence is essentially no different in miracles than in His ordinary way of working in the creation. 2) Miracles are simply a different way in which God works from the ordinary way. 3) He does so because He wishes to attract attention to what He does. 4) The purpose in attracting attention is to give to His people a sign, i.e., an earthly event which signifies a heavenly truth. 5) All miracles are always signs of the one central miracle which God performs in and through Jesus Christ in the work of salvation.

It was in this way that Hoeksema maintained the view of miracles defended by the majority of the Investigatory Committee, while at the same time avoiding the pitfalls of Janssen's application of common grace to the whole concept of miracles.

Finally, we must say a word or two question of inspiration.

It is rather striking that nowhere about the in Hoeksema's writings do we find a systematic development of the concept of inspiration.17 What one does find are scattered articles dealing with the question. The closest to a systematic development is a series of articles in criticism of Dr Ubbink's view of Scripture.18 Nevertheless, Hoeksema's exegetical writings especially give abundant evidence of the fact that he believed in verbal and plenary inspiration. The position which he took as a member of the majority of the Investigatory Committee remained his position throughout his life.

In some later writings of men who were taught by him in Seminary one can find the ideas of organic inspiration which, at least in some measure, Hoeksema maintained. These ideas of organic inspiration were not those to which Janssen held: that organic inspiration is thought inspiration. They are rather ideas which include in them what Gordon Clark calls the application of the truth of predestination and providence to the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture.19 Clark points out that the current debate presents to one holding an infallible Bible a false dilemma: either one must believe in verbal inspiration and then fall into the error of a dictation theory of inspiration, or one must hold to organic inspiration and then abandon the notion of verbal inspiration. When inspiration is, according to Clark, considered in the context of providence and predestination, this false dilemma falls away. This is also, generally speaking, the view to which Hoeksema held and the view since ennunciated in various Protestant Reformed writings.20

The conclusions of the matter are: 1) The differences which arose over the doctrine of common grace were indeed differences which touched on vital points of doctrine; 2) Hoeksema, in his subsequent theological development, brought out the implications of a denial of common grace for the basic issues to which Janssen had addressed himself.



1 See many places in Janssen's writings which are referred to in earlier chapters, but especially, Voortzetting Van Den Strijd, pp. 68-69, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, p. 12. Return

2 We discussed earlier how this question was related to the question of encyclopedia and the difference in viewpoint between Janssen, a follower of Kuyper, and Ten Hoor. This question of encyclopedia is an added dimension to the controversy. Return

3 Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 111-112. Return

4 One can only wonder about this omission. In the light of his virtual denial of the supernatural in the miracles, it is possible that Janssen saw that the application of his principles to creation and the flood would carry him too far away from the position on creation and the flood as then held in the Christian Reformed Church. Return

5 As, e.g., in the case of the pessimism of the writer of Ecclesiastes. Return

6 It is interesting to read Hoeksema's writings on this subject in chronological order. One will find reference to general revelation in his earlier writings; after a period of time, one finds that the term "general revelation" begins to appear in quotes in his writings; then the term disappears altogether. Return

7 While we offer here only a summary of Hoeksema's teachings, a detailed exegesis of these passages can be found in his dictated class exegesis on Romans, published in mimeographed form by the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary. Return

8 See Van Til, The Calvinist Concept of Culture, p. 57 for a similar view as that of Hoeksema with respect to the effect of sin upon human nature. On p. 118, Van Til refers to Kuyper as teaching that without common grace the world would have been destroyed. See also H. Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1966), pp. 267-280. In this passage Hoeksema quotes from A. Kuyper's Gemeene Gratie to demonstrate that only common grace kept man from actually dying after the fall. Also in this section Hoeksema develops his own view of depravity as the effect of sin. See also, H. Hoeksema,The Reunion of the Christian Reformed and Protestant Reformed Churches: Is It Demanded, Possible, Desired? This essay was read at a Conference of some Christian Reformed and Protestant Reformed ministers, held in the Pantlind Hotel at which conference Dr. K. Schilder was also present. It was translated by Rev. H. Veldman from the Dutch and published by the Reformed Free Publishing Association. No date is included, but it was published shortly after the Conference in 1939. See especially pp. 35-40. Return

9 Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics. Those who hold to the position that through common grace the unregenerated man is capable of doing some good make a distinction between saving good and good which is not saving. It is only in the latter sense that common grace enables a man to do good. See Hoeksema's description of Kuyper's view pp. 267-268; Van Til, The Calvinist Concept of Culture, pp. 117-136; H. Meeter,Calvinism: An Interpretation of Its Basic Ideas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, no date), pp. 72-73. Return

10 Hoeksema, Dictated Exegesis on RomansReturn

11 See Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics, pp. 178-195, where the doctrine of creation is treated; pp. 245-284, where the doctrine of sin and its consequences is treated. Return

12 From handwritten sermons in the private files of Prof. H.C. Hoeksema. Return

13 Ibid. Return

14 Ibid. Return

15 Ibid. Return

16 Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics, pp. 236-244. In this section, under the treatment of God's providence, Hoeksema discusses the idea of miracles both from the viewpoint of the conceptions held by others (including A. Kuyper) and from the positive viewpoint of Biblical teaching. He makes the following remark: "The distinction, therefore, between the natural and the supernatural is neither Reformed nor Scriptural. Everything is both natural and supernatural because everything is the work of God's sustaining and governing hand," 242. He then goes on to criticize the distinction between the mediate and immediate character of God's works, pp. 242-243.Return

17 The reason for this cannot perhaps be discovered with certainty, but it is possible that in that period during which Hoeksema's major writings were prepared, the controversy over the doctrine of inspiration was not on the agenda of the ecclesiastical world. It was not, therefore, a current issue. Return

18 Hoeksema, "Dr. Ubbink's Proeve Eener Nieuwe Belijdenis." The Standard Bearer (February 1, 1932): pp. 196-198; Hoeksema, "De Nieuwe Belijdenis Aangaande Schrift en Kerk." The Standard Bearer (February 15, 1932): 220-223, (March 1, 19B2): 244-247, (June 15, 1932): 412-415, (July 1, 1932): 436-440, (July 15, 1932): 460-463, (August 1, 1932): 484-487, (September 15, 1932): 540-543. See also various other articles which deal with various aspects of the question. In the articles against Ubbink we find the most detailed development of Hoeksema's position on organic inspiration. Return

19 Gordon Clark, God's Hammer: The Bible and Its Critics (Jefferson, Maryland: Trinity Foundation, 1987). pp. 42-44. Return

20 H. C. Hoeksema, As To The doctrine Of Holy Scripture." Protestant Reformed Theological Journal (November, 1969): pp. 22-36, (April, 1970): 19-36; 4 (October, 1970): 20-38; (April, 1971): pp. 24-31; 5 (October, 1971): 17-35. Return

Chapter V: The Relationship between Common Grace and Janssen's Views

We turn now to the specific question of the relation between common grace and Janssen's views. An examination of this question will soon uncover the fact that Janssen, in his writings, actually connected common grace with several different aspects of the controversy. In fact, one cannot help but gain the impression that the connection between common grace and some aspects of the controversy is so contrived that Janssen left the impression he was obsessed with his views. Some of these relationships are of little interest to us in this present paper; we mention them here only in passing.

In one of his pamphlets, Janssen makes the assertion that the relation between common grace and the Reformed faith is so close that one who departs on the question of common grace involves himself in a departure from the whole Reformed faith.l By making this radical statement, Janssen was going beyond anyone who had written on this subject in the past and was raising the doctrine to a position of importance with which hardly anyone would agree.

In another pamphlet, Janssen connects the whole question of common grace with the church political errors which, in his judgment, were committed by his opponents, by the Curatorium and by Synod. He argues that even natural principles of justice were violated; and his argument is that these natural principles of justice, found even outside the church among unregenerated men, were violated because of a denial of or a failure to recognize the importance of common grace. That is, these principles of justice which were violated were to be found among the unregenerate because of common grace. To run roughshod over them, therefore, is to deny common grace.2

This issue of the relation between common grace and church political errors is given extensive treatment and is broadened to include, in Janssen's opinion, many ethical breaches of conduct.3 Among these errors is Hoeksema's attack on Janssen's views shortly after the Synod of 1920. Janssen protested that Hoeksema, in his writings, rejected the authority of the Synod after it had decided in favor of Janssen, and, by this, had shown Anabaptistic tendencies which involved the Anabaptistic conception of grace. This conception of grace is connected with a denial of common grace, because it teaches only one kind of grace rather than two.4

Finally, Janssen attempted in a rather strained manner to connect common grace with the Bultema controversy.5 He argued that Bultema was deposed for Anabaptistic excesses, but that in Janssen's case Hoeksema and Danhof, equally guilty of Anabaptism, were allowed to remain in the church. The basic error of Anabaptism in both instances, according to Janssen, was "de loochening van her leerstuk der Gemeene Gratie" ("the denial of the 6 doctrine of common grace").6

These efforts of Janssen to bring the issue of common grace into every facet of the controversy strained the credulity of people, never seemed important enough by those who opposed Janssen to warrant an answer, were not even arguments taken up by Janssen's defenders, and were perhaps factors in making people wonder whether common grace was indeed the issue that Janssen claimed it was. A bad argument in defense of a truth can do more damage than a good argument against it. It is difficult to understand why Janssen, an extraordinarily able man, could not see the harm he was doing to his own defense of his position by introducing common grace as an element in almost every aspect of the problem.

All this ought not, however, to obscure the fact that Janssen made an excellent case for the proposition that the doctrine of common grace was important for his position. Janssen pointed out very clearly that his position stood solidly on the rock of common grace, and that, in the final analysis, to repudiate his position involved one in a repudiation of common grace. He did not always demonstrate this in connection with every single detail of his position; nor did he show how common grace was connected to his position on every point which his accusers brought against him; but he drew the lines clearly enough when he explained how he developed his position from the doctrine of common grace. And his arguments at this point are so convincing that it is not difficult to see that, given common grace, Janssen came to the conclusions he did on such questions as the nature of the miracles, the relation between general and special revelation, the relation between Scripture and heathen culture, etc.

If we ask ourselves the question, however, what precisely was Janssen's view of common grace? we are in something of a bind. Never in all his writings does he deal with the concept as such. One can look in vain for any clear and concise definition of common grace, or any development of the idea. This is somewhat strange considering the great importance he attached to the doctrine and considering the different views of common grace which were held in the Netherlands and in America. One would think that when a doctrine holds such a prominent place in a person's thinking he would be at great pains to define precisely what he meant by it. This lack detracts from the cogency of all Janssen's argumentation.

Nevertheless, from Janssen's repeated appeals to common grace, from the connections he makes between common grace and his views of Scripture, and from his citations of Kuyper and Bavinck especially, it is possible to conclude that Janssen held to the view of common grace set forth particularly by Dr. A. Kuyper. I.e., he held to a view of common grace which taught that, because of God's operations of common grace in the unregenerate, it was possible for the unregenerate to discover truth, do good in the sight of God, and contribute by means of this good to the knowledge and welfare of the church in the world. This view of common grace surely supported Janssen's positions on Scripture.

As we noticed in Chapter III, Janssen's views on Scripture are not always easy to distinguish sharply from each other. They are related. His views on Isagogics, e.g., cannot be separated from his views on the relation between revelation and heathen culture; and his views on inspiration cannot be understood apart from his position on a scientific and critical approach to Scripture. Because of this close relationship between various aspects of Janssen's position with regard to Scripture, it is somewhat difficult to distinguish clearly between the various ways in which Janssen connected common grace to his position. In the nature of the case, there is some overlapping. Nevertheless, it is possible to distinguish five separate areas in which the issue of common grace was, in Janssen's opinion, crucial. They are: 1) the relation between common grace and the borrowing of elements in heathen culture by the Israelites; 2) The relation between common grace on the one hand, and general and special revelation on the other, which relation involved also the legitimacy of a scientific and critical approach to Scripture; 3) The relation between common grace and the miracles; 4) The relation between common grace and the inspiration of Scripture; 5) The whole question of Anabaptism and the denial of common grace by the Anabaptists. We turn now to a discussion of these points, although not in this order, nor always completely separate from each other.


Although the question of general and special revelation was by no means the most extensively discussed, it was probably the central issue. It is not certain why this matter did not receive more extensive treatment in the controversy, and the literature gives no indication of a possible reason, but one can surmise that such a reason exists in the fact that agreement was rather general in the Christian Reformed Church on several points. Most agreed that general and special revelation were to be distinguished from each other; most also agreed that general revelation, in distinction from special revelation, was common, i.e., to all men; and most agreed that general revelation was a fruit of God's common grace. It is also probably true that one could find agreement on the fact that general revelation gave to all men a certain knowledge of God, a certain ability to distinguish between good and evil, and a certain regard for good order and decency in society.7 Bavinck's rather extensive treatment of general revelation was accepted widely.Bavinck finds the value of general revelation in the following elements:

It is owing to general revelation that some religious and ethical sense is present in all men; that they have some awareness still of truth and falsehood, of good and evil, justice and injustice, beauty and ugliness; that they live in the relationship of marriage and the family, of community and state; that they are held in check by all these external and internal controls against degenerating into bestiality; that within the pale of these limits, they busy themselves with the production, distribution, and enjoyment of all kinds of spiritual and material things; in short, that mankind is by general revelation preserved in its existence, maintained in its unity, and enabled to continue and to develop in history.9

This is also connected to common grace by Bavinck:

The Christian, who sees everything in the light of the Word of God, is anything but narrow in his view. He is generous in heart and mind. He looks over the whole earth and reckons it his own, because he is Christ's and Christ is God's (I Cor. 3:21-23). He cannot let go his belief that the revelation of God in Christ, to which he owes his life and salvation, has a special character. This belief does not exclude him from the world, but rather puts him in position to trace out the revelation of God in nature and history, and puts the means at his disposal by which he can recognize the true and the good and the beautiful and separate them from the false and sinful alloys of men.
So it is that he makes a distinction between a general and a special revelation of God. In the general revelation God makes use of the usual run of phenomena and the usual course of events; in the special revelation He often employs unusual means, appearances, prophecy, and miracle to make Himself know to man. The contents of the first kind are especially the attributes of power, wisdom and goodness; those of the second kind are especially God's holiness and righteousness, compassion and grace. The first is directed to all men, and, by means of common grace, serves to restrain the eruption of sin; the second comes to all those who live under the Gospel and has as its glory, by special grace, the forgiveness of sins and the renewal of life.
But, however essentially the two are to be distinguished, they are also intimately connected with each other. Both have their origin in God, in His sovereign goodness and favor. The general revelation is owing to the Word which was with God in the beginning, which made all things, which shone as a light in the darkness and lighteth every man that cometh into the world (John l:l-9). The special revelation is owing to that same Word, as it was made flesh in Christ, and is now full of grace and truth (John l:l4). Grace is the content of both revelations, common in the first, special in the second, but in such a way that the one is indispensable for the other.
It is common grace which makes special grace possible, prepares the way for it, and later supports it; and special grace, in its turn, leads common grace up to its own level and puts it into its service. Both revelations, finally, have as their purpose the preservation of the human race, the first by sustaining it, and the second by redeeming it, and both in this way serve the end of glorifying all of God's excellencies.10

James Bratt, in discussing the Janssen case, also points out this relation. He writes:

In his own case, Janssen argued, their (Janssen's opponents, H.H.) removal of God's grace from the natural and common had forced his critics to denigrate man's residual abilities and misconceive the nature of miracles, revelation and science.11

H. Boer insists that this question lay at the very heart of the whole controversy. In a passage we quoted earlier, Boer says that perhaps the basic issue was "whether the God of general revelation (nature, common grace) is operative in the actions of the God of special revelation (redemption, special grace)." And he adds that the question was whether these two forms of revelation can be considered to intertwine and interact at those points in the Bible where the Bible seems to speak only of a super- natural mode of revelation.12 In a follow-up article, Boer elaborates a bit on this when he writes:

. . . conditions and happenings in the area of general revelation -- nature, history, the culture and religion of the peoples surrounding Israel, and the reflection of the Biblical writers -- could be and in fact were means used by God in imparting his redemptive revelation as given to us in the O.T.13

In the same article, referring to a protest of Q. Breen which was presented to the Synod of 1924, Boer says that Breen "places in the foreground again and again . . . the dimension of natural revelation" which "played a significant role as the bearer or medium of special revelation.."14

In an article in The Grand Rapids Press Dr. Boer says that Janssen taught that God's inspiration of the Bible availed itself of "historical, political, religious, and general cultural influences" in its composition; and that the basic issue was the value of general revelation in relation to special revelation.15

Dr. George Stob casts some interesting and undoubtedly correct light on this aspect of the question as it stood related to questions of encyclopedia, especially as the question created tensions in the Seminary. He writes:

But Ten Hoor noted that these (teachings of Janssen, H.H.) were differences on questions of principle with reference to which the Theological School stands or falls. They were questions about the relation of theological study to the science of learning in general, and about the relation of the Church to theological science. Ten Hoor held that theology is the queen of the sciences and is not to be subordinated to science or authorship in general, and that the church has absolute authority over theological science and the Theological School in which it is taught. In discussion with Curatorium Dr. Janssen declared that he was not ready to affirm that the church has the highest authority over theological science.16

Stob goes on to point out that Janssen was, on this point, in agreement with Kuyper who did not want theology to be under the control of the church, while Ten Hoor (and Heyns) feared that theology, not under the control of the church, would not be controlled by the Confessions and thus would lead to heresy. This was an important aspect of the case. If, as Janssen argued, theology is correlative with other sciences, it must be approached as any other science, and its study must take into account general revelation which is the study of the other sciences. If, however, theology is the queen of the sciences and stands over them, then general revelation will play no role in the pursuit of theology; Scripture alone will be its source book.

To sum up the point thus far, the issue of common grace was closely connected with Janssen's position because his starting point was the value of general revelation in Biblical studies, and general revelation was really the fruit of common grace. We must now point out specifically how Janssen related the two.

Already in 1921, when writing in The Banner, Janssen described common grace in some detail. He wrote that by His common grace "God curbs sin and upholds this world of ours." Without common grace the fall of man would have brought ruin to the creation. This same common grace "perpetuated the ordinances of creation," and preserved remnants of the divine image, the seed of religion and the consciousness of God in man. Because of common grace one found among the pagans men of genius, high morality, proverbial virtue and men possessing lofty conceptions of God.17

In his brochure, Voortzetting . . . , Janssen writes that what we find in Scripture indeed belongs to God's revelation, but not in every respect to God's particular grace in Christ. He adds that men in the church who deny common grace also deny this. He writes:

What Holy Scripture gives us, indeed belongs in all its parts to God's revelation, but not in all its parts to God's particular grace, to God's grace in Christ. People among us, where God's common grace is either seriously denied or misunderstood, have not understood this sufficiently.18

Further, in developing this thesis and in attempting to show that this idea has been taught in the Reformed Churches since the time of Calvin, he explains that this view affects the doctrine of inspiration, of the relation between Israel and the surrounding nations, etc., because revelation did not simply fall from heaven, but the knowledge of it came from heaven and from the heathen; i.e., it came from special revelation and general revelation.19 A few particular points are worth notice.

Janssen speaks specifically about what modifications common grace brought about in Old Testament studies. He points out that Abraham was not separate from the heathen in Canaan, but had much contact with the Canaanites. Because common grace preserved the remnants of the knowledge of God among them, Abraham could find in their thinking and religion much that was congenial to his thoughts and much that he could learn from them and incorporate into his own religion.20 He quotes Kuyper and Bavinck at length on this point and points out that Bavinck wrote that Israel's religion was in part determined by heathen religions: "Israel's religion was raised on the broad foundation of the original religion of mankind."21 He concludes by saying that Israel's history and the history of Israel's religion "must not be considered apart from the religion and culture of the Ancient Eastern peoples."22

In Crisis . . . , Janssen connects his conception of general revelation with the natural sciences, and explains how they have bearing on the question of our approach to miracles.23 His position is that the approach of general revelation and common grace to the interpretation of miracles is crucial for a correct understanding of them.

There can be no question about it that revelation and grace always are related to each other in Scripture. If one, therefore, holds to a general revelation (at least, in the sense in which this concept had been maintained by Kuyper, Bavinck, and some earlier theologians) in addition special revelation, one is also compelled by the logic of the matter to hold to a general grace in addition to a special grace. It is apparently for this reason that H. Hoeksema, after his repudiation of common grace, subjected the whole concept of general revelation to careful exegetical scrutiny. And in doing this, he finally came to reject the concept altogether. This is not to say that Hoeksema denied a certain communication of truth by God through a manifestation of Himself to all men; Romans l:18ff. is clear on that. But he did insist, as also Romans 1 makes clear, that this is the revelation of God's wrath (vs. 18), and that its purpose is only to leave man without excuse (vs. 20).24


This position of Janssen on the question of general revelation had ramifications for various aspects of his teachings on Scripture. It is well, however, to observe while Janssen discusses over and over again his position on common grace and repeatedly charges his opponents with a denial of this doctrine, he does not often deal with the specific charges which were brought against him. The references to these specific charges, with the possible exception of the question of miracles, are few and far between. Janssen is more concerned with the broader questions than with the specific points at issue.

First of all, Janssen taught that elements of the religion which were found among the patriarchs and Israel came from heathen and pagan sources. His argument was that the fruit of God's gracious revelation to all men was that certain elements of the truth were also revealed to the wicked, that these elements of the truth were preserved among them, and that they were incorporated into the religion of those who were the objects of God's special grace and special revelation because of the close contact between the two. Hence, we can acquire a better understanding of what Scripture tells us by a close study of pagan civilization, belief and culture.

Many examples of this are referred to in Janssen's writings. As early as November of 1920, Janssen, in summarizing his views on common grace, said that common grace must be taken into account in the interpretation of Scripture and revelation, for it works its power in the heathen world.25

We noticed above how the presence of common grace in the heathen made it possible for Israel to borrow ideas from heathen nations for its own religion, and how, therefore, Israel's history and the history of Israel's religion must "not be considered apart from the religion and culture of the Ancient Eastern peoples."26 But many more examples of Janssen's position on this matter may be cited. Abraham could borrow his idea of immortality from the heathen and Israel could borrow its idea of the resurrection and eternal life from the same source, because these ideas were preserved in heathen peoples by common grace. Yet, because they were the fruit of common grace they were imperfect, and this explains the imperfection of these ideas in Abraham and among the Israelites.27

While Janssen does not explain in detail, he claims that the views of his opponents in which they differ from his in connection with the life of Samuel and Saul are due to their erroneous dualistic and anti-common grace position. The chief point here is that Samuel was determined to purify the elements of heathendom which remained in Israel's religion. Samuel had hoped would co-operate with him in this, although Saul proved bitter disappointment. Janssen's point is that this purpose of Samuel gives evidences of the fact that Israel's religion incorporated in it elements of heathen religions, although these elements needed purifying. Thus we have evidence of common grace.28

Much the same is done in his defense of his views on Samson. While he makes a comparison between Samson and Achilles, he argues that those who object to certain legendary elements in the story of Samson are guilty of denying common grace and fall into Anabaptistic dualism. He writes:

... Indeed, if we pay attention a moment to the history of the world, that is to say, to the broad terrain where God works with his common grace, then we discover that the time in which God raised up Judges was a period in history in which heroes appeared. In Greece, Asia and in other lands we see heroes appear. This phenomenon in the history of people must be correctly considered as a confirmation of the historicity of the history of the Judges in the area of particular revelation. With respect to Greece and Asia this history is preserved for us in no other way than in the form of poetry, but later discoveries have indicated that we have to do with historical reality. There were heroes in those days. In the study of the heroes in Israel, raised up by God, we may with good reason pay attention to the heroes of other people. But the analogy between Israel and the heathen, between the judges and the heroes of other people, goes farther. Bavinck, as we said, says, "There is nothing in Israel, which cannot be found to be analogous with other people." In this way we have pointed out (referring to his teachings in the Seminary, H.H.) other details of comparison between Samson and, e.g., the heroes of Greece. The four professors and the four preachers, (referring to the authors of the pamphlet, Waar Het in de Zaak ..., H.H.) however, who deny and misunderstand the doctrine of common grace are, as is to be expected, fiercely opposed to the analogy which we made between Samson and the Greek heroes. This idea on their dualistic basis, profane, natural- istic, and whatever else. That leads them to the notion that we do not consider Samson to be an historical person. One sees that a deep chasm yawns between the four professors and four preachers, and our view, the Reformed position. In the nature of the case, a clash cannot be avoided. Their dualistic viewpoint is principally different from ours. It always leads again to strife between them and us. A reconciliation is not possible.29

This same principle applies throughout Scripture. David's ideas concerning bringing the ark to Jerusalem and building the temple came in part from heathen religions and made him more progressive, while the prophet was more conservative; and this too is connected with common grace. Janssen writes in connection with this point: In the second place, however, we must point out that we must never lose from sight that, in revelation and inspiration, God never suppresses the gifts of common grace. The personal disposition of the organs of revelation are in fact maintained in revelation and inspiration . . . . Revelation and inspiration are organic and reckon, for this reason, with the gifts of common grace There is an "adaptation of divine revelation in the prophetic personality." Because of this, the prophets were usually conservative people.30

The names of the patriarchs could very well have come, according to Janssen, from heathen sources; the body of Mosaic legislation had its roots in laws found in old Mesopotamian civilizations; and all these evidences of heathen religion in the religion of the Jews are to be ascribed to common grace which preserved remnants of the truth among the pagans of Israel's day In connection with his discussion of the objections of his opponents on this question, Janssen says: "Common grace -- this is very clearly evident -- is the wall of separation between our opponents and Reformed theology"31 In fact, although Janssen only mentions this in passing, he believed that his views on the canonical character of the Song of Solomon be interpreted as a natural love song) as well as his opinions on Ecclesiastes and Proverbs, ought also to be interpreted in terms of the influences of pagan thought, in which much truth was preserved by common grace in the religion of the Israelites. This is also Janssen's justification for his adoption of the source-theory of parts of Scripture; i.e., that the Pentateuch, e.g., was not written by Moses only, but was taken from many different sources.32

Through all these direct references to events in the Old Testament runs the repeated refrain that the differences between him and his opponents are differences over the doctrine of common grace. In Janssen's opinion, they are differences which strike at the heart of true Calvinism and the Reformed faith. Janssen repeatedly urges upon his readers that he, with his views of common grace, stands in the Calvinistic and Reformed tradition. His opponents have departed from it.


It is clear that the position outlined above reflects a certain view of inspiration. This subject of inspiration was, in various connections, also discussed by Janssen, though somewhat briefly. An examination of these references will show that Janssen, in connecting common grace with inspiration, was intent on emphasizing, and indeed was compelled to emphasize, the human element in Scripture -- although he always insisted he did not deny the divine element.33

In discussing the view that Israel's religion was, in part, received from heathen sources, Janssen pointed out that a denial of this involves a mechanical view of inspiration, while Reformed theology, and he as a part of this tradition, held to organic inspiration. Leaning heavily on Bavinck's statements concerning common grace and quoting from him, Janssen writes:

On the basis of organic inspiration Bavinck spoke, without hesitation, of "revelation to Abraham and thus the religion of Abraham," of "revelation to Israel" and "the Israelite religion," of "development and progress in the area of worship," of the religious ideas of the organs of revelation. A mechanical view of revelation will have nothing of this. Here, in the idea of a mechanical revelation, one has a dualism that indeed speaks of revelation, but has nothing to say of "ideas of God" belonging to the prophets, of "religious ideas, " of organs of revelation, etc.34

Organic inspiration, so Janssen argues, emphasizes the human element and thus leaves room for other cultural influences on the authors of Scripture. Thus organic inspiration and common grace are related. Mechanical inspiration has no room for any human element, denies general revelation, denies common grace, and thus is dualistic and Anabaptistic.

Janssen argues that Calvin already overcame this dualism with his doctrine of common grace, and that this principle of common grace must be applied to the truths of revelation and inspiration. When this is done, mechanical view of inspiration is impossible and an organic view of inspiration must be maintained.35

Thus revelation did not simply fail from heaven, but the knowledge of it came from heathen sources as well as from God. In connection with the narrative of creation, he describes his opponents' position:

Concerning the creation narrative, what is imparted through revelatio specialis (special revelation) is mostly accepted in such a way that it cannot be considered by us as anything else than mechanical. What the creation narrative contains must have its origin exclusively in particular revelation. The narrative, as it were, fell out of heaven. The considerations and reflections concerning God, the world as called into existence by God, the unity of the creation, -- considerations which God has given to man, to all men, and which He, by virtue of His common grace, has preserved from destruction, must be ignored ....36

In applying the principle of common grace to the relation between Babylonian and Mosaic law, Janssen specifically argues that common grace, as it operates in the unregenerate, must be considered as the broad basis or foundation for God's particular revelation and inspiration. In fact, the so-called human factor in Scripture is all but identified with common grace as that operates in the heathen world: "The common grace human factor must never be denied or misunderstood. It is completely the basis of particular grace (God's revelation)."37 Again he says, "Common grace is the broad basis or foundation with which the whole of particular revelation and inspiration must reckon."38 He speaks of "The human factor (a common grace element) ...."39

Janssen, quite clearly, meant considerably more by the so-called human factor in revelation than that God used men to write the words of Scripture. He broadened the whole concept to include the elements of truth which were found in the heathen world and which were incorporated into Scripture; and he did this in connection with a definition of inspiration which rejected verbal inspiration and interpreted inspiration as thought inspiration. These "thoughts" came from the heathen world outside Israel as well as from God.40


The same general principles of the operation of common grace among the heathen were applied to the whole question of miracles. It will be remembered that Janssen was accused of denying the supernatural element in miracles, an accusation which he strenuously denied, but which was accepted by the Synod of 1922 and on the basis of which, along with other points, Janssen was condemned.

This question of miracles involved various other questions. It involved the question of the relation between the natural and the supernatural; the question of whether God used means in performing miracles, or whether the miracles were all performed immediately; the question of whether some of the miracles involved additional creative works of God (as in the miracle of water from the rock in the wilderness, the feeding of Israel with manna, the multiplication of the oil for the widow, etc.); the question of a scientific and empirical approach to Scripture; and the question of the use of the natural sciences in explaining the miracles. And in every aspect of this problem arose the question of the relation of common grace to the performance and interpretation of the miracles.

In general, the following points may be mentioned as integral parts of Janssen's interpretation of miracles. In the first place, he held that, generally speaking, God used the ordinary means of providence to perform miracles. Miracles were not unusual events which could not be explained in terms of the ordinary providence of God, but the miraculous element in miracles was in the appropriate time at which they occurred and in their significance for the history of Israel. Thus, e.g., the walls of Jericho did not fall because of a direct and intervening act of God, but fell because of an earthquake. The miraculous element is to be found in the fact that God's ordinary providence brought the earthquake about at the crucial time when Israel was ready to begin its conquest of Canaan.41

In the second place, Janssen held that the view of miracles which his opponents held denied God's use of means in performing them. He repeatedly charged his opponents with making miracles immediate, while Scripture clearly taught that they were mediate. After all, God is repeatedly described as making use of the ordinary powers of creation and of the ordinary workings of His providence to effect miracles. God used a wind to dry the waters of the Red Sea before Israel and to bring quails to His people in the wilderness.

In the third place, this interpretation of miracles which denied means was basically a division, in Janssen's opinion, between the natural and the supernatural. It was false dichotomy which taught that the natural sphere had no connection with nor relation to the supernatural sphere; that the view resulted, therefore, in an Anabaptistic dualism of nature and grace, or of the natural and the supernatural.

To all this, common grace was once again related. It is not always so clear exactly how Janssen related common grace to these various elements, but apparently he saw this relationship in different ways.

One way in which common grace entered into the question was Janssen's use of the natural sciences to explain the miracles On the one hand, Janssen insisted that a knowledge of the natural sciences is necessary to explain the miracles Geology, e.g., is a natural science which we must use in interpreting the miracles But here too the natural sciences are the fruit of general revelation and God's common grace. He writes:

We must also bear in mind that Geology is a science which has been given us from God. In His common grace God gave that science to man. And however much we have to appreciate its discoveries with discriminating judgment, yet we must not proceed to consider this science as an error or work of Satan.42
... They (the four professors, H.H.) also here give occasion to fear a misunderstanding on their part of common grace. We fear a "deviation of science" on their part, a deviation, as Bavinck has said, (Alg. Genade, p. 34) which is a fruit of Anabaptistic origin.43

Thus, Janssen's argument is that because the natural sciences are the fruit of common grace, they discover truth. As such, they will aid us in understanding the miracles, which are phenomena in nature to which science has access. Thus a knowledge of Geology will help us understand how the walls of Jericho fell, for it will explain earthquakes which were the means God used in His ordinary providence to accomplish this end.

The critical-empirical method as applied to Scripture must also be applied to a study of the miracles, in Janssen's opinion, and this too involves the question of common grace.44 As the critical-empirical method is used in the study of the sciences (all gifts of God's common grace), so must this same method be applied to Scripture in order that we may learn how the miracles actually took place. In other words, Janssen seems to be saying (he is not always very clear on this) that the critical-empirical method applied to Scripture will enable us to apply our scientific knowledge to Scripture and thus learn how the miracles were performed in a way which does not contradict the material of Scripture. In this connection he writes:

The empirical method -- we must still add this -- belongs, if one reckons correctly, to the light which God has given us in the natural science, which is a fruit of his common grace. Whenever this science makes a declaration, it is not only our privilege, but much more our obligation to listen, even though with discriminatory judgment.45

And, so Janssen argues, because miracles are only God's ordinary providence, they are subject to empirical-critical analysis.

A further aspect of the question of miracles, an aspect which stands inseparably related to what we have observed above, is the question whether the miracles were performed mediately or immediately. Janssen refers to this many different times. It is, for Janssen, an important question; for if, as he claims, the wonder is mediate, the Scriptures give us the data concerning the wonder, but empirical investigation is necessary to determine the means by which the wonder was performed.46

A slightly different approach to this question is the problem which Janssen has with the position of his opponents who are willing to assert that God sometimes engaged in new creative activity in the miracles. Janssen repudiates this as an assault on the doctrine of common grace because common grace has as its point of departure an originally created world.47 He writes:

The wonder -- this is the view of our opponents -- must not be pulled down from the immediate, supernatural sphere (grace) to the mediate, natural sphere. These two spheres (those of grace and nature) are dualistically separated from each other and, standing over against each other, they are irreconcilable. The water out of the rock (in the miracle of Rephidim) must not be connected with the natural "sphere." It must be created. So also with the oil, the bread, the fish, and also the manna. Rather, it is true that Scripture, theological science (in particular, the doctrine of common grace), and natural science (gifts of common grace), proceed from the principle that the cosmos was complete and nothing, such as water, oil, bread, manna, etc., was added to it. Our erring opponents do not hesitate to enter into all this so that they place themselves in opposition to the teaching of Scripture, theological science, and the other sciences. And they persist in their opposition to the truth of Scripture and the sciences by unReformed views.48

Likely, the point here is that if miracles made use of means, no new creation or creative work of God was possible. The use of means precludes creative activity.

The opponents of Janssen, however, insisted that Janssen was confusing the issue in this matter of means. They did not deny that God sometimes made use of means in the performance of miracles, but they insisted that the question was whether miracles were supernatural or ordinary providence. The point was, evidently, that the four professors and four ministers did not deny God's use of means in the performance of miracles, but they took the position, as opposed to Janssen, that God's use of means was in a way unlike His usual way of working. The east wind, e.g., blows at regular intervals and is part of God's ordinary providence. But when that same east wind blows in such a way that a dry path is made through the Red Sea so that Israel could pass through the sea without getting wet, then God works in a supernatural way.49

The whole question of the use of means in the miracles was not addressed extensively by Janssen's opponents; and this was, perhaps, because the issue, as presented by Janssen, was confused. While the Scriptures undoubtedly refer to various means which God used in performing various miracles, in other instances such use of means is not at all clear. Scripture, e.g., speaks of the fact that the walls of Jericho fell at the sound of the trumpets and the shouting of the people, but Scripture does not indicate that these noises were "means" to cause the walls of Jericho to fall. If the multiplication of the loaves and fish at the time when Jesus fed five thousand people involved the "means" of these loaves and fishes, it was certainly a different use of means than the wind which brought the quails to Israel in the wilderness. Janssen apparently assumed that because in some miracles means were used, all miracles involved the use of means. This is not evident from Scripture.

The question of the use of means in miracles was, however, a question which was subordinate to a broader and more crucial question, the relation between the natural and the supernatural. Janssen repeatedly makes a point of this question and directly connects it with common grace and Anabaptistic error. In his earliest brochure, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika he already refers to this matter. He writes that the Anabaptists, by their denial of common grace, make an absolute separation between the natural and the supernatural, between nature and grace. This is the underlying thought behind the denial of the use of means in the working of miracles, in Janssen's opinion.50

This idea is referred to many times in subsequent writings. On page 9 of his brochure, Voortzetting ...,51  Janssen makes the bold assertion that the position of his opponents involves a separation of the supernatural from the natural by a denial of the mediacy of miracles, and that this is Anabaptistic dualism and a repudiation of common grace. And he returns to this theme repeatedly in this brochure. He writes:

As we said in our first brochure where such a dualism is held the doctrine of common grace can find no shelter.52

In his Het Synodale Vonnis . . . , Janssen summarizes what in his mind are the chief issues. He writes concerning the true Reformed faith that it teaches God's common grace; that it holds a doctrine of creation which does not maintain a later creation of such things as water oil etc.; that it has respect for an organic view of revelation and inspiration which maintains the unity of the natural and the supernatural as over against the "two-sphere" teaching of Anabaptism, which is unable to reconcile the two; that it holds to a science which does not commit the Anabaptistic error of minimizing science as fruit of God's common grace.53

Janssen, once again, does not work out the argument so that it is clearly presented and the relationships shown. But it is possible to deduce from his writings what he means. When Janssen argues that common grace precludes additional creation, he is most likely arguing that true science is the fruit of common grace; that science shows very clearly that the amount of matter (and/or energy) in the creation is constant; and that, therefore, common grace teaches that God engaged in no further creative work after the six days of the creation week.

In his argument concerning Anabaptistic dualism, he argues from the premise that Anabaptism taught the inherent evil of the material world, a position in their alleged principle of world-flight; that Anabaptism had a view of grace which held to only one kind of grace; and that this was a denial of common grace which is a second kind of grace. In this way Anabaptism held to a total separation between the realm or sphere of the natural and the super- natural because the latter was evil and the former good. So, if miracles are performed without the use of natural Janssen claimed his opponents taught, this can only be because the natural is of no use to the super natural. The natural operates on one level of history, wicked, carnal, untouchable by God's people, of no use to God Himself. The supernatural is an entirely separate level of activity which operates wholly apart from the natural. Thus Anabaptism teaches a dualism which is basically irreconcilable, and, because common grace is the bridge between the natural and supernatural in Reformed theology, an Anabaptistic dualism is also a denial of common grace.54

This whole question of Anabaptistic dualism and its relation to the denial of common grace emerged after the Synod of 1922 as one of the central issues in the common grace controversy, which resulted in the expulsion of Hoeksema, Ophoff and Danhof. While it is beyond our present purposes to enter into the common grace controversy after 1922, a brief reference to the discussion of the question of Anabaptism in connection with that subsequent controversy will shed some light on this problem.

Rev. J.K. Van Baalen opened this chapter of the controversy with his book, Der Loochening Der Gemeene Gratie: Gereformeerd of Doopersch?55  He identified the battle in the Christian Reformed Church as fundamentally a battle between Calvinism and Anabaptism.56 One chapter is devoted to proving that Hoeksema and Danhof are really Anabaptists. He does this by distinguishing between a right and a left wing in the Anabaptist movement and pointing out that, while these two ministers do not hold to all Anabaptist views, they nevertheless take the Anabaptist position on the doctrine of grace.57 By their doctrine of absolute separation from the world, so Van Baalen argues, the Anabaptists denied common grace and made a separation between nature and grace. This dualistic conception of Anabaptism was, in Van Baalen's opinion, identical to the error of Hoeksema and Danhof.58

This book of Van Baalen was answered by Hoeksema and Danhof in a brochure with the title, Niet Doopersch maar Gereformeerd: Voorloopig Bescheid aan Ds. Jan Karel Van Baalen betreffende De Loochening der Gemeene Gratie.59  In this brochure the two authors, though agreeing with Janssen that the issue of common grace was the basic issue in the Janssen controversy, insist that the issue was rightly decided on other grounds. But they warn that, should common grace not be repudiated by the church, Janssen's views would ultimately prevail.60 The main theme of the brochure is, however, a defense vs. the charge of Anabaptism. In their defense they argue that, while Anabaptism advised a physical separation from the world, the Bible spoke only of spiritual separation. Common grace broke down this spiritual separation and paved the way for spiritual union between the world and the church.

This theme was to be developed more fully, not only over against Van Baalen, but also over against many who had by this time taken up their pens against Hoeksema and Danhof. This was done in a book entitled, Van Zonde en Genade.61  Reference is made in this book to the Janssen controversy again, and the writers once more insist that Janssen's view of Scripture could indeed be drawn, as Janssen insisted, from the broad base of common grace. This was true because if the natural light which the unregenerated man possesses is true light, then the Scriptures could arise out of that natural light. And, if this is true, then the line of distinction between sin and grace, nature and the miracle, reason and revelation disappears.62 But the positive point of the book is the authors' firm conviction that the antithesis is one between sin and grace, an antithesis which requires spiritual separation, a separation which is not Anabaptistic, but Biblical, and a denial of common grace.

To both these writings Van Baalen once again responded in his book, Nieuwigheid en Dwaling. But nothing really new appeared in this book that had to do with the charge of Anabaptism. It is important, however, to note that Prof. W. Heyns, in personal correspondence with Van Baalen after the publication of Van Baalen's book, De Loochening der Gemeene Gratie, took issue with Van Baalen's contention that deniers of common grace were Anabaptists.63 It is true, Heyns argues, that both Hoeksema and Danhof on the one hand, and Anabaptists on the other hand, speak of only one grace. But their view of grace has significant and important differences. The fact that both the Anabaptists and the deniers of common grace find no good in the world does not mean that the view of both are identical. Heyns finds proof for this in many of the older writers who followed the same line as Hoeksema and Danhof and were not Anabaptistic. Many, Heyns says, were subjective Pietists.

This is an important observation on the part of Prof. Heyns, for, although he was one of those who criticized Janssen's teachings (and co-authored, Waar Het in de Zaak Janssen Om Gaat),64  he disagreed with Hoeksema and Danhof on their denial of common grace. In fact, he has some praise for the book which Van Baalen wrote. But Heyns very clearly does not believe that a denial of common grace is necessarily Anabaptistic.

To sum up, therefore, the charge of Anabaptism which was made by Janssen was a charge which was closely connected to his insistence on the relevancy of common grace to the debate. Janssen charged his opponents, by their denial of common grace, with making such a sharp distinction between the natural and the supernatural that they became Anabaptistic in their position. Janssen insisted that it was Anabaptistic to deny that Scripture revelation could come from heathen sources; to teach miracles were so completely supernatural that no could be employed; to ignore the findings of the explanation of the miracles; in fact, to refuse to make use of the scientific - critical method in one's approach to and study of Scripture. And all this was Anabaptistic because of a denial of common grace.

When some of Janssen's critics in fact did deny common grace, the charge of Anabaptism was picked up and brought against them. And this became the occasion for additional controversy in the church.

In summary, two conclusions may be drawn from all this. The first is that Janssen considered the matter of common grace to be decisive for his position and made it the cornerstone of his defense. It must have riled him that no one agreed to take him up on this specific issue and that no ecclesiastical assembly would face his real defense. In the second place, although Janssen dragged in the common grace question where it did not clearly belong, his defense of his views of Scripture with the common grace argument was persuasive. It is perhaps true, as Janssen's opponents insisted, that the issues could be decided on other grounds and without entering into the common grace question; but it remains a fact that Janssen's position, while emphatically condemned, was not really challenged and the basic premises of Janssen were not examined and judged. His defense is forceful and clear; his position unmistakable in most instances; his description of the relation between common grace and his view of Scripture beyond dispute.

To this question, regardless of any other consideration, the Synod should have addressed itself. That it did not is to be deplored. Its failure to do this only led to additional controversy and greater grief.

After many years had passed, Hoeksema wrote that Janssen continued to have respect for him and often sent him greetings.65 It could very well be that Janssen's respect for Hoeksema, in spite of Hoeksema's fierce opposition to his position, was due to the fact that Janssen recognized that Hoeksema alone had dealt honestly with Janssen in recognizing the importance of common grace for the entire controversy.



1 Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, p. 12. Return

2 Janssen, De Synodale Conclusies, pp. 11-15. Return

3 Janssen, Het Synodale Vonnis en Zijne Voorgeschiedenis Kerkrechtelijke Beoordeeld, pp. 2-29. Return

4 Janssen, "The Erroneous Views and Unwarranted Criticisms of Rev. H. Hoeksema." The Banner (March l0, 1921): 149-150. Janssen is not very clear on the question of how a rejection of the authority of Synod could be Anabaptistic, but he apparently means that the Anabaptists were opposed to civil authority, and that Hoeksema resembled them in this respect. But how this fits in with the whole question of grace is not clear. Return

Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, p. 52. The Bultema controversy was settled at the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in 1918, two years before the Janssen controversy first appeared on the Synod. Bultema was condemned for denying the kingship of Christ over the church. Return

6 Ibid. Return

7 Canons III & IV, Art. 4 was usually connected with general revelation. Return

8 See for such a treatment, H. Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1956). Chapters III, IV. This is an English translation by Henry Zylstra of the Dutch book, Magnalia Del.Return

9 Ibid-, p. 59. Return

10 Ibid, PP. 37, 38. W. Masselink deals extensively with the relation between general revelation and common grace in a book which bears the title: General Revelation and Common Grace (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1953). See especially chapters 3-5 Return

11 Bratt, Dutch Calvinism in Modern America: A History of a Conservative Subculture, p. 108. Return

12 Boer, "Ralph Janssen After Fifty Years..., " p. 19. Return

13 Boer, "Aftermath," p. 21. Return

14 Ibid., p. 22. For quotations from Q. Breen's protest (as well as others) see Acts of Synod, 1924, pp. 163-191. These pages include also the decisions taken. Return

15 Boer, "Broad Concessions Tragic, Man Says," p. D4. Return

16 Stob, "Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools," p. 280. While Stob is speaking here of the early controversies in 1902-1906, they never were really resolved and continued to be the background against which the common grace controversy was fought. Return

17 Janssen, "Reply to Rev. Herman Hoeksema." The Banner (January 13, 1921): 24. Return

18 Janssen, Voortzetting van den Strijd, p. 59. The translation here, as in all future quotations from Janssen's Dutch writings, is ours. Return

19 Ibid. See pp. 64-81 for the entire discussion with its many references to past thinkers. Return

20 Ibid., pp. 68ff. Return

21 Ibid ., p. 68. Bavinck is quoted here. Janssen gives us no references, and it is thus impossible to check up on the context in which these words were written. Return

22 Ibid., p. 70. Return

23 Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, pp. 38-39. We shall give some additional attention to this question when we face the specific problem of the relation between common grace and the miracles. On this same point see, Janssen, De Synodale Conclusies, p. 10. Return

24 I well remember discussing these matters at length during the years when I was studying under Hoeksema in Seminary. He came to the position that revelation is inseparably connected with grace and that it is particular as grace is particular. Return

25 Janssen, "Reply to Rev. Herman Hoeksema." The Banner (November 25, 1920): 716. Return

26 Janssen, Voortzetting Van Den Strijd, p. 70. Return

27 Ibid., p. 78. Return

28 Ibid., pp. 87-90. The charge of dualism appears again and again in Janssen's writings, but usually in connection with his charges of Anabaptism. We shall consider this matter when we consider the question of Anabaptism. Return

29 Ibid-, pp. 93-94. Return

30 Ibid., p. 83. Return

31 Ibid., p. 86. Return

32 Ibid-, pp. 59-63. While Janssen never discusses the charges made against him in connection with his interpretation of the prophets, apparently he intends that the same principle apply. Return

33 It remains a fact, as the majority of the Investigatory Committee pointed out, that Janssen never dealt with the divine element in inspiration in his teaching. The same can be said of his writings in connection with the controversy. Although he assured the Synod of 1920 and the Curatorium that he held to the doctrine of divine inspiration, one looks in vain for it in his articles in The Banner and in his brochures. Return

34 Ibid., p. 69. Return

35 Ibid., pp. 68-70. It must be remembered however, as we pointed out earlier, that Janssen equated organic inspiration with thought inspiration. See Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, pp. 44-48. In this connection, Janssen quotes Ten Hoor as teaching the same thing. Return

36 Janssen, Voortzetting Van Den Strijd, p. 81. It is also in this discussion (as well as a few other places) that Janssen acknowledges the fact that the revelation which came from pagan sources bore some corruption with it and had to be purified by divine revelation. Return

37 Janssen, De Synodale Conclusies, p. 46. Return

38 Ibid., p. 40. Return

39 Ibid., p. 47. Return

40 We shall examine this question a bit more closely in the next chapter. Return

41 See our discussion of this in Chapter 3. Return

42 Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, pp. 38-39. Return

43 Ibid., p. 39. See also, R. Janssen, Voortzetting Van Den Strijd, 8, where Geology is described as a gift of God's common grace. Return

44 Ibid., footnote, p. 6. The relation which Janssen means to establish between common grace and the critical-empirical method is not defined here, although he claims that a rejection of this method involves a rejection of common grace. Return

45 Ibid., p- 37. See the whole section, pp. 33-43, for a discussion of this matter. In this section Janssen also refers to the science of Archeology as a gift of God's common grace which helps us to understand the culture in which Israel lived and developed its religion. See p. 43. This latter idea is also developed in De Synodale Conclusies, pp. 31, 36, where Janssen says that the empirical-critical approach must also be taken into account in exegesis when one explains a text in its whole cultural and social context. Return

46 Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, pp. 13-16, 28, 38. See also De Synodale Conclusies, pp. 10, 69. Return

47 Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, p. 33. He quotes Kuyper's Gemeene Gratie in support of this contention. See also Voortzetting Van Den Strijd, p. 8. Return

48 Janssen, De Synodale Conclusies, p. 69. Return

49 Berkhof, et. al., Waar Het In De Zaak Janssen Om Gaat, p. 21. The figure we have used here is ours for purposes of illustrating the point. The use of "super- natural" vs. "ordinary" is, in our judgment, unfortunate. We shall say a bit more about this in the next chapter. Return

50 Ibid., pp. 30, 34-39. Return

51 Janssen, Voortzetting Van Den Strijd, p. 9. Return

52 Ibid., p. 50. See also p. 68 where Bavinck is quoted in support of this assertion, and pp. 93, 94. Return

53 Ibid., p. 41. Return

54 This line of argumentation is not to be found in the form in which I have put it in any of Janssen's writings. But it seems to be Janssen's general line of argumentation implicit in his charges against his opponents. Return

55 Van Baalen, Der Loochening Der Gemeene Gratie: Gereformeerd of DooperschReturn

56 Ibid., P. 9. Without referring directly to the Janssen controversy, it is clear that Van Baalen had this struggle in mind. Return

57 Ibid., pp. 75ff. It is interesting that already in this book Van Baalen levelled the charge of rationalism against Hoeksema and Danhof because they pleaded for a consistent and logically coherent theology. Van Baalen was evidently aware of the logical inconsistencies of his position for he pleads for a "two-track theology," pp. 35-38. Return

58 Ibid., p. 81. Return

59 Danhof & Hoeksema, Niet Doopersch maar GereformeerdReturn

60 Ibid., pp. 4, 5. Return

61 Danhof & Hoeksema, Van Zonde en Genade (Grand Rapids: The authors, July, 1923). The date does not appear in the book, but can be found in Van Baalen's answer to these two writings: Nieuwigheid en Dwaling, p. 7. Return

62 Ibid., pp. 9-11. Of interest is that in this same section Hoeksema and Danhof explain that their withdrawal from the staff of The Witness was because of disagreements over common grace, 1l. See also pp. 78-80.Return

63 W. Heyns, letter dated September 3, 1922. (From the personal file of W. Heyns, in Heritage Hall, Calvin College & Seminary, Grand Rapids.) Return

64 Berkhof, et. al., Waar Het in de Zaak Janssen Om GaatReturn

65 H. Hoeksema, "Of Love and Hatred," The Standard Bearer (May l, 1954): 340. Return

Chapter IV: The Basic Issue

It is to be regretted that the entire controversy over the views of Dr. Ralph Janssen in the ecclesiastical assemblies never examined his teachings in the light of the more fundamental question of common grace. While there were undoubtedly reasons for this, (reasons which we shall have to investigate in the course of this chapter), the fact remains that, while the immediate issues of Janssen's views on Scripture were dealt with at length, the basic and fundamental issue of common grace was ignored.

One may ask the question; What difference did it really make that common grace did not enter into the official decisions of any ecclesiastical assembly? Is it not true that Janssen was condemned and that his views were officially declared heretical? Did not the church reaffirm her commitment to the truth of Scripture as taught in the Reformed Confessions? This was, after all, what really mattered.

The difficulty with this line of reasoning is that, because the basic issue was never faced, Janssen's position was never really examined and his position never adjudicated. The underlying question was common grace. From Janssen's position on common grace flowed all his other views, so much so that Janssen's position cannot really be understood without taking common grace into consideration. Because, therefore, common grace continued to be an open question in the church, Janssen's position was never really successfully refuted. And this left the door open for his teachings to be perpetuated in the church by those who agreed with him on this basic question.

It may, of course, be argued that the assertion that common grace stands at the basis of Janssen's position is fallacious; that common grace was a peripheral issue; that Janssen's views could be considered entirely apart from this question. And this was precisely the position that Janssen's opponents took when Janssen repeatedly brought up common grace as the main prop of his position.

The four professors and four ministers faced this question and charged Janssen with trying to divert attention from the main issue by his insistence on discussing common grace,1 and they refused to enter the subject, insisting rather that all eight of them agreed on the truths of the Confessions.

Y.P. De Jong answered charges of Janssen in which Janssen claimed that his opponents were Anabaptistic and took an Anabaptistic position on common grace. De Jong, by a review of the entire case,2 attempted to show that Janssen was wrong and that the issue of Janssen's teachings could be decided apart from common grace.3

W. Heyns took much the same position in a personal letter to J.K. Van Baalen in which Heyns took exception to some things Van Baalen had written in his book, De Loochening der Gemeene Gratie (The Denial of Common Grace).4 In this letter Heyns, while accepting common grace himself as Biblical and Confessionally Reformed, insists that common grace need not necessarily lead to Janssen's position, especially on the relation between general revelation and common grace.5

Hoeksema, early in the controversy, expressed the same opinion. When in The Banner Janssen publicly accused Hoeksema of a denial of common grace, Hoeksema complained that Janssen never showed the connection between his views and common grace and that to discuss common grace would be a distraction from the point at issue.6

H.J. Kuiper7 deplored the fact that common grace was constantly being interjected into the debate. In discussing "Salient Points in the Dr. Janssen Controversy," he strongly insisted that "they have nothing in common."8

Apparently, after the controversy had been settled at the Synod of 1922, Hoeksema began to change his mind on this question. While still insisting that the issues in the Janssen case could be decided apart from the common grace question, nevertheless, he (and Danhof) began to say that not only was common grace always really the issue, but that if common grace were not repudiated, Janssen's views would once again prevail in the church.9

Later, Hoeksema became yet stronger in his conviction on the relation between common grace and the Janssen case. While still leaving the question of a doctrinal and intrinsic relation an open question, Hoeksema took the position that the historical relation between the two was clear enough. He quoted many as saying: "There would never have been a Danhof-Hoeksema case in our churches if there had been no Janssen case."l0 This historical relation was clear, according to Hoeksema, from three considerations. In 1918 - 1919, Hoeksema writes, he wrote against common grace and no one opposed what he said. In fact, he was reappointed editor of "Our Doctrine" in The Banner. Only when he criticized the 1920 decision on the Janssen matter did the issue of common grace and Hoeksema's denial of it come up. Secondly, J.K. Van Baalen wrote a pamphlet against Hoeksema's views on common grace, "De Loochening der Gemeene Gratie." Hoeksema pointed out that, although Van Baalen did not express himself on the Janssen case so as to reveal his own personal sentiments, he nevertheless repeatedly connected common grace and this case. Thirdly, Hoeksema pointed out that those who protested his teachings on common grace were all Janssen supporters. And this led him to wonder whether the relation between the Janssen case was doctrinal or personal.ll Still later Hoeksema again returned to this point. He wrote:

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 fundamental agreement in principle. There was in the Janssen controversy an underlying principle which, had it not been violently and intentionally forced into the background, would have paralyzed every effort of the four professors to combat Doctor Janssen's views 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

Q. Breen essentially agreed with the position that two were related. He wrote:

While I have heard Dr. Janssen many times on the human element in Scripture, the prevailing connection with theology was the doctrine of common grace . . . . By uniting himself with our nature, God conferred an unspeakable honor upon all natural being but especially upon all mankind. He thereby blessed the unfoldment of intellectual pioneering in modern times. Some call this by the pejorative name of secularism, as if it were something to deplore. Some accept the modern world, as it were to play the game by its rule, and do very well, but they are uncertain about its intrinsic worth; thus they cannot in good conscience commit themselves gladly and imaginatively to exploring the secrets of nature and the riches of man's intellectual, emotional, and volitional gifts and history. All this is a sad loss to the religious sense. To the religious sense alone can the natural and human order appear as a moment to moment gift of God's providence, doubly made clear to Christians by the Incarnation; to which the proper response is gratitude; the acceptance of the gifts involves using them without a double mind, and their grateful use will add to the joy of it.13

H. Boer is also convinced of the close relation between Janssen's views and common grace. In a passage we referred to earlier, Boer identifies as perhaps the most basic question in the Janssen controversy the issue, "whether the God of general revelation (nature, common grace) is operative in the actions of the God of special revelation (redemption, special grace).''14 A bit later in the same article he writes: "One thing is certain: with respect to Hoeksema and Danhof the Synod of 1924 adopted Janssen's position."15

James Bratt also finds the question of common grace to be a central issue. He writes:

At issue in each case (The Janssen case of 1922 and the Hoeksema case of 1924) was the doctrine of common grace, which, positively or negatively, defined the various streams of the Dutch Reformed tradition and, as the theory relating "the people of God" to "the world," constituted the prime theological metaphor for the question of acculturation.16

In developing this thesis, Bratt points out that the four professors who opposed Janssen were "Confessionalists"17 that Hoeksema and Danhof were "Antitheticists;"18 and that Janssen and his supporters were "Progressive Calvinists."19 The Confessionalists or Pietists feared the charge of Anabaptism which had been levelled against the critics of Janssen and so broke with the Antitheticists.20 The Confessionalists won out in 1924 adopting a common grace which was not so much Kuyperian as evangelistic, making the preaching of the gospel to the unconverted possible.21

That the doctrine of common grace was an integral part of the Janssen controversy can, therefore, hardly be denied. But to assert such a relationship brings up several additional questions. In the first place, what was the history of this question of common grace in the controversy? We shall have to take a look at this matter, however brief, to understand how common grace entered into the controversy and became a part of it. In the second place, we shall have to ask and attempt to answer the question, Why did Dr. Janssen repeatedly bring up the issue of common grace to the extent, in fact, that it became almost the only element in his defense; and why did the opponents of Dr. Janssen not only, but also the Synod of 1922 refuse to enter into the question? In the third place, how did it come about that although the question was ignored by the opponents of Janssen and by the Synod of 1922, controversy over it nevertheless broke out after the Janssen case was settled, which controversy resulted in the decisions on common grace at the Synod of 1924 and the expulsion of Hoeksema, Danhof and Ophoff? These are historical questions and with them we shall deal in the remainder of this chapter. In the following chapter we shall take a closer look at the relation between common grace and the position of Janssen which was condemned by the Christian Reformed Churches.

We turn then, first of all, to a brief survey of the history of the doctrine of common grace during the time of the controversy.

At the time that the Janssen controversy broke out the membership of the Christian Reformed Church was composed almost exclusively of people who were either immigrants from the Netherlands or whose ancestors had come to America from the Netherlands. The earlier membership of the Christian Reformed Church was predominantly from the churches of the Afscheiding, which churches had left the State (Hervormde) Church in 1834. Among the churches of the Afscheiding the doctrine of common grace was present, almost from the beginning,22 and was part of the heritage of the immigrants who formed the Christian Reformed Church in her early years. During the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth, many who came from the Netherlands and joined the Christian Reformed Church were members of the Dolerende churches which had left the State Church in 1886 under the leadership of Dr. A. Kuyper. Especially after Dr. Kuyper had become involved in the political movements of the Netherlands, he developed a doctrine of common grace which was imbedded in the thinking of his followers and which was, in the early part of the twentieth century, taught in the Christian Reformed Church as well.

So, although the idea of common grace was present in the church from her very inception, it had received no systematic development, nor had it become, by any ecclesiastical decision, official teaching. It was, so to speak, just there; it, like Topsy, just "growed;" but it was, emphatically, an open question in the churches. That is, no one was bound to believe and teach the doctrine by virtue of the binding character of ecclesiastical decision.

Because the doctrine of common grace had received no official definition within the church, certain conflicts appeared in the Christian Reformed Church in the first decades of the century. Already as early as the First World War, Rev. J. Groen was arguing in favor of membership in neutral labor unions on the basis of common grace. He represented a number of American Calvinists who wanted the church, primarily Dutch, to break out of its ethnic boundaries to become involved in the American world. This involvement was implied in their understanding of Calvinism, particularly when common grace was maintained being traditionally Calvinist.

On the other hand, A. Kuyper had pressed hard in the Netherlands for separate Christian organizations and had been instrumental in organizing the Anti-revolutionary Party. While he had accomplished much of this work before beginning his development of his theories on common grace, Kuyperians in this country were also pressing for separate Christian organizations and were doing this in conscious opposition to those who favored involvement in the American world. Those favoring separate organizations were often charged with Anabaptism, a charge which Janssen may have picked up when he connected his views of Scripture with common grace.

All this may at first glance appear to be somewhat confusing. But certain elements of the struggle must be remembered if one is to understand the conflicting views of common grace which were present in the church, and the conflicting appeals to A. Kuyper.

After Kuyper became a minister solidly committed to Calvinism and the Reformed faith, he clearly showed that his emphasis on particular grace was strong and consistent. He not only insisted on grace only for the elect, but he also sharply repudiated the whole idea of the free offer of the gospel. During this period in his life, he began his interpretation of Calvinism as including the whole concept of separate Christian organizations. Among these organizations was the Anti-revolutionary Party. Riding the crest of the success of this party, Kuyper was able to gain election to Parliament. He saw clearly the possibility of becoming prime minister of the Netherlands, although, because his party did not have a clear majority, he could attain this goal only by forming a coalition with the Roman Catholics. This he did and served his country briefly as prime minister. But it was at this time that Kuyper also began to develop his views on common grace. In America, therefore, separate Christian organizations were not connected with common grace, and the issues of common grace could be discussed apart from the question of involvement in American life or living a life of separation.

In the September 5, 1918 issue of The Banner, Rev. Hoeksema, by Synodical appointment, took over the rubric, "Our Doctrine." Very shortly after this, while developing, in a lengthy series of articles, the doctrine of the kingdom of God, Hoeksema began to question the traditionally held views on common grace, especially as they had been taught and developed by A. Kuyper. He was not immediately averse to speaking of a certain common grace, but he insisted that this "so-called common grace" meant nothing more than that the reprobate in the human organism share in the blessings given the elect in special grace. But even then, this share in the blessings of special grace is an outward sharing, an outward blessing, while inwardly these very blessings are a curse. They could, so Hoeksema argued, be nothing else but a curse because the total depravity of the sinner made it impossible for him to have any receptivity at all in his heart for the grace of God.23

In the issue of January 1, 1919, Hoeksema referred to a new paper which had made its appearance, Christian Journal, which had criticized Anabaptism and warned against its dangers. Hoeksema noted that sometimes views are called Anabaptistic which are "nothing but pure Calvinism."24 References to the Christian Journal continued to appear in Hoeksema's writings, in which he criticized the writers for advocating a Calvinism which would establish an alliance between the church and the world.25 This argument was later put in slightly different words when Hoeksema spoke of some who interpret common grace to mean that "in this common grace a sphere is created in which the children of light and the children of darkness as such can find common ground, common principle, and work together in harmony."26 Apparently the discussion became rather heated, for in the February 20, 1919 issue, the editor, Rev. Henry Beets, felt compelled to write an editorial on the need for moderation on the part of those who opposed the Christian Journal.27

Hoeksema continued his analysis and criticism of common grace. He asked the question: Is there any favor, grace, or love to man outside of Christ? And: Does the natural man have any receptivity for this grace?28 He attacked common grace head on when he emphatically condemned the view that God took an attitude of favor towards the reprobate.29 He warned that common grace led to a spirit of broadmindedness in the church,30and attacked common grace from the viewpoint of its efforts to establish the kingdom here below before Christ comes.31

While Hoeksema's critique was sharp and involved a fundamental denial of the whole concept of common grace, no one raised a voice against him and no one questioned his orthodoxy.32

The attention of the church, however, was soon directed to other matters. It was towards the end of 1919 that controversy began in the Seminary over the teachings of Prof. Janssen.33 In the initial stages of the controversy, the views of Janssen were debated without reference to common grace, but when H. Hoeksema began to discuss Janssen's views in The Banner subsequent to the Synod of 1920, Janssen responded to Hoeksema's criticism of his views by attacking Hoeksema's denial of common grace. In the issue of November 4, 1920, Janssen took up his reply. After criticizing Hoeksema on a number of other points, he wrote:

We can now sum up. Our discovery brings us face to face with a very discouraging fact. The unexpected has happened. In Rev. H. Hoeksema we are after all not dealing with a critic who is a sound Calvinist. In denying common grace he has broken with true Calvinism and has in so far joined ranks with Anabaptists. He has been found to deny one of the most important doctrines of our Reformed faith.34

This opening salvo marked the strategy which Janssen was to employ almost exclusively in his defense. In almost all his writings, including his pamphlets, his communications to the Curatorium and Synod concerning his views, and his articles in The Banner, Janssen returned again and again to this theme. However, although Hoeksema took the time to criticize Kuyper's views on common grace applied to the Noahic covenant and the history of Melchisedek, king of Salem,35 and although in these articles Hoeksema made some brief reply to Janssen's charges, nevertheless, neither Hoeksema nor Janssen's other opponents would allow the discussion to be turned into the channels of a controversy over common grace. This persisted throughout the controversy even through the Synodical discussions which led to Janssen's condemnation in June of 1922.

It was only after the settlement of the issue of Janssen's views and teachings that common grace became an issue in the ecclesiastical assemblies of the Church.36 This was partly due to the continued writings of Prof. Janssen and partly due to the writings of Janssen's supporters. While probably published just before the Synod of 1922 met, Janssen's pamphlet, Voortzetting Van Den Strijd was an answer to the pamphlet of the four professors and four ministers: Waar Het in de Zaak Janssen Om Gaat.37 Janssen continued his defense in this pamphlet and once again made extensive use of common grace in support of his position.

But after Synod met, two other pamphlets came from Janssen's pen: 1) Het Synodale Vonnis en Zijne Voorgeschiedenis Kerkrechtelijk Beoordeeld (The Synodical Judgment and its Preceding History Judged Church Politically), published in November of 1922, and, 2) De Synodale Conclusies, published in September of 1923. Although the first pamphlet is a church political treatment of the whole case, it also appeals to common grace and castigates Janssen's critics for their denial of common grace -- a denial in Janssen's opinion which had its fruit in church political errors. The second pamphlet, written over a year after the case was settled, is Janssen's final effort to defend his position. Why he continued to write at this late date is a question that probably cannot be answered; but it might be that the growing attack against Hoeksema and Danhof on the question of common grace led him to attempt to show 1) that he had been right all along in insisting that common grace was the underlying issue, and 2) that he saw a faint glimmer of hope in the possibility of a formal doctrine on the matter of common grace which would justify him and restore him to his position.

Perhaps the one person who was responsible more than any other in bringing common grace to the attention of the church was Jan Karel Van Baalen. A supporter of Janssen from the very beginning, Van Baalen wrote two books in which he attacked those who denied common grace. The first one was written sometime in 1922, probably after the Synod met, for it contains no direct attacks against the decisions of Synod. The title of the book is: De Loochening Der Gemeene Gratie,38 and it contains serious charges against those who deny common grace. Van Baalen defines the battle in the church as between Calvinism and Anabaptism;39 he accuses those who deny common grace of rationalism, in connection with which he pleads for a "two-track" theology;40 and in his development of the charge of Anabaptism against the deniers of common grace, he insists that these men hold to a view of grace which leads to separation from the world because it divorces nature from grace.41

Van Baalen's second book was entitled: Nieuwigheid en Dwaling.42 It was, in fact, an answer to two other pamphlets or books published by Hoeksema and Danhof in which they had answered Van Baalen's charges.43 This latter writing of Van Baalen was once again answered by Hoeksema and Danhof in the brochure: Langs Zuivere Banen (Along Pure Paths)44 . In his book, Niewigheid en Dwalling, Van Baalen was far less reluctant to take up the cudgel for Janssen. He upbraids Hoeksema for refusing to go into the matter of common grace during the Janssen controversy, even though Janssen repeatedly brought it up. Hoeksema, says Van Baalen, kept saying, "I refused to be side-tracked." But now, in Hoeksema's two latest writings, he enters the question after all.45 In a footnote he suggests that the reason why Hoeksema refused to go into the question of common grace during the controversy was that there was disagreement between Janssen's opponents over the question.46

The effect of all this controversy was another difficult and bitter struggle in the Christian Reformed Church which culminated at the Synod of 1924, at which Synod doctrinal pronouncements were made concerning common grace. These doctrinal pronouncements were later made binding in the church.47 The issues, therefore, proved to be of such compelling importance that not only additional controversy was created over them, but opponents of were themselves cast out of the Christian Reformed fellowship.

The second important question we face is: Why did Janssen persist in bringing up the issue of common grace? Was it the central issue he claimed it to be? And, if the answer to that second question is in the affirmative, as many, including Janssen's supporters, were convinced it was, why did the opponents of Janssen refuse to enter into scarcely any mention made of it in all the writings of Janssen's opponents, (other than the articles of Hoeksema in The Banner) and why did not the Synod of 1922 discuss it?

The answers to these questions are not so easily found. It is possible to take the easy route in answering these questions, and merely assert that Janssen, in his repeated insistence that common grace was the central issue, was dragging a red herring across his trail in the hopes that the real issues would indeed be lost sight of in the shuffle. It is also possible that Janssen operated on the principle that the best defense is an aggressive offense. This would presuppose that Janssen was aware of the fact that his opponents were not agreed on the question of common grace, that some favored it and that some opposed it. He, if this was his tactic, hoped to divide the opposition and, in this way, relieve the pressure which was being brought to bear on him.

Even if this explanation for Janssen's tactics is correct, the fact remains that Janssen had greater motivation than saving his own skin while bringing the opposition into disrepute. From all of Janssen's writings, it is clear that he firmly believed that the relation between his views and common grace was not a merely mechanical one, contrived in the emergency of the moment in an effort to divert the stinging criticism of his opponents, but that the relation between the two was close and necessary; that, indeed, his whole position on Scripture fell of its own weight if it was not firmly grounded in common grace. It is, however, to be regretted that Janssen did not always show the relationship between common grace and his views in greater detail and with greater clarity. Already Hoeksema complained about this failure of Janssen, and apparently considered Janssen's failure to demonstrate this relationship sufficient reason to put the question of common grace aside.48

But this criticism of Janssen must not be construed meaning that Janssen never made any effort to connect common grace with his views on Scripture. In his writings, general way and along general lines, he surely spoke of how his ideas were supported by common grace. His arguments are persuasive and give evidence of Janssen's careful thought on the matter.49

But, having established this, we are still faced with the question of why Janssen's opponents, particularly the members of the Majority Investigatory Committee and the four professors and four ministers50 refused to enter into the question of common grace, something which Hoeksema later regretted.

The answer to this is, in our judgment, somewhat complex. It is true that disagreement existed between Janssen's opponents over the question of common grace. Janssen spoke of this more than once in his writings. He knew that Rev. Hoeksema rejected common grace. He knew too that H. Danhof agreed basically with Hoeksema on this question.51 He suggested the strong possibility that S. Volbeda, one of the four professors, agreed with Hoeksema and repudiated common grace. Janssen found the proof for this in Volbeda's inaugural address which, according to Janssen, had been criticized in the Netherlands for being unReformed on the question of common grace.52 He spoke as if he was not sure whether the other three professors believed in common grace or whether they repudiated it. His language seems to suggest that he had always thought they believed it, but that their opposition to his teachings on Scripture would almost lead one to believe that they did not. Perhaps, opines Janssen, they simply misunderstand the doctrine.53 At any rate, Janssen was convinced that L. Berkhof took a position contrary to common grace when he taught that the speeches of Paul in Athens and Lystra contained mistaken ideas. These speeches, Janssen said, were full of common grace, and to say that they included mistakes is to give evidence of denying common grace.54 Concerning F. Ten Hoor, Janssen noted that, while Kuyper was the greatest advocate of common grace, Ten Hoor was at odds with Kuyper; further, Ten Hoor seemed to want to limit common grace to the natural life in distinction from the spiritual life of regeneration -- a virtual denial of common grace, according to Janssen.55

Whether Janssen correctly evaluated the views of the professors is difficult to say. But subsequent history is clear. The four professors, as well as others agreed with Hoeksema in his opposition to Janssen.56 Yet they all also joined in condemning Hoeksema in 1924 for his denial of common grace. This would surely seem to suggest that they held to common grace in one form or another, although they might not have been agreed among themselves as to its precise nature.

What complicates the question is the fact that Janssen repeatedly appealed to Kuyper and Bavinck in his defense of common grace. Janssen's opponents, on the other hand, were somewhat ambiguous in their attitude towards Bavinck and Kuyper, and it is not easy to determine in their writings just exactly what their sentiments were. seems clear that, generally, Bavinck was held in higher esteem than Kuyper, and that the opposition to Kuyper was in some instances rather strong.57 In this context the questions arose: Were Janssen's appeals to Kuyper and Bavinck justified? Were Janssen's opponents taking a position at odds with these two giants of the Reformed faith?

In order to sort out these matters, it is necessary to backtrack a bit and ask some questions concerning what precisely was the common grace which was so much at issue. It is not always so easy to answer this question because common grace had never received official status in either the Churches in the Netherlands or in America. It was, more or less, a doctrine which was taught by many and assumed to be truly Biblical and Confessional without the question of the nature of common grace really being answered.

This lack of precise definition was especially true of the men of the Afscheiding. While it is doubtful to say the least that the ideas of common grace can be traced back' to Calvin and the fathers at Dort,58 these teachings could be found among some in the Netherlands prior to the Afscheiding who were influenced by the Nadere Reformatie. Whether all the fathers of the Afscheiding held to some kind of common grace is also doubtful.59It is quite possible that De Cock himself did not. Nevertheless, the ideas were to be found strongly imbedded in the souls of many. Common grace was a part of the tradition of the Afscheiding -- of that there can be no question. But the common grace held among those who were spiritual sons of the Afscheiding was something quite different from the common grace found in A. Kuyper. And it is in these differences that, at least in part, the solution to the problem is to be found.

What were these differences? Some idea of them may be gained from consulting the writings of some of the men who influenced the Afscheiding and whose ideas were so influential among Afscheiding theologians.

A few decades before the Afscheiding, W.A. Brakel wrote concerning these ideas. While he is somewhat equivocal in his views, he very clearly held to some form of common grace. In writing on the subject of The Calling, Brakel writes:

Grace is distinguished as giving and that which is given. The giving grace is the mercy of God, as the fountain from which all that is good, which man receives, is given. That which is given are the gifts themselves . . . .
Grace is common or special. Common grace God shows to all men by bestowing physical bene- fits . . . . To this belongs also the good which God gives to all those whom He calls, giving them His Word, the means unto conversion and salvation. Along with this God usually gives enlightening, historical faith, conviction, being almost persuaded to become a Christian.60

Brakel had considerable influence on the men of the Afscheiding and remained in many circles one of the favorites among the "Oude Schrijvers" who were so frequently read in reading sermons in the churches and in the devotional readings of the members of the church.

To go back a bit more in time, Aegidius Francken writes concerning the natural knowledge of God which all men possess:

Is then this (natural) knowledge fruitless?
No, but it is still advantageous in many ways.
What is the advantage?
1. That natural knowledge of God serves to maintain human society, and suppresses wickedness in their licentious lives, without which the world would become a sepulcher of murderers.
2. It makes the sinner the more responsible before God (Romans 1:20).
3. It is moreover a powerful incentive to attain a higher knowledge which is saving.61

The idea of common grace held by some of the sons of the Afscheiding was a general attitude of favor and kindness on God's part towards all men which manifested itself in the bestowal of many temporal blessings and benefits. Common grace was often identified with God's providence, and the emphasis was placed on the fact that in His providence, God gives good gifts to men. God is good, the overflowing Fountain of all good, and hence His gifts are also always good. Yet, the emphasis fell on the fact that these gifts were grace, i.e., God's favor. On mankind in general these blessings consisted of such things as rain and sunshine, fruitful and prosperous years, health and strength, etc. Within the church, the unbelievers also received many additional blessings such as the preaching of the Word, the signs and seals of the sacraments, Christian nurture in home, church and school, etc.62

But the view of Kuyper on common grace was different. Hoeksema discusses this distinction at some length.63 After pointing out that Kuyper preferred to make distinction between gratie and genade,64 and after some discussion of Kuyper's view of common grace, Hoeksema sums it up as follows:

Which, then, are the three chief elements in the Kuyperian conception of common grace?
1. That God, though with a view to eternity and the eternal blessedness of the Kingdom He is gracious to the elect, with a view to things earthly and temporal He is gracious to all men.
2. That there is a restraining influence, ever since the fall of man, of the common grace of God upon the physical and ethical corruption of the world and of the heart of man, so that the principle of total depravity cannot work through.
3. That there is a positive influence of God's common grace upon the mind and will of man, whereby he is so improved that he can still live a positively good world-life.65

Without entering into the question of the differences over the free offer of the gospel, it is clear that the chief difference between Kuyper and the men of the Afscheiding on the question of common grace was this: the men of the Afscheiding were content to limit the blessings of common grace to the good gifts which God gave to men in general; Kuyper held to a more aggressive common grace, a grace which restrained sin and resulted in the ability of the natural man to do good.

This difference was, in our judgment, a significant factor in the history of the Janssen case in general, and in the refusal of the opponents of Janssen to take up the question of common grace.

When Dr. Janssen appealed to Kuyper and Bavinck in his defense of common grace he certainly did this with justification. Both emphatically taught a doctrine of common grace, and as we noticed above taught a view of common grace which was significantly different from the generally accepted view held among the descendants of the Afscheiding.66 Hoeksema admitted as much when he · in his attack on the doctrine of common grace specifically repudiated Kuyper's teachings.67

However while Janssen appealed to Kuyper and Bavinck in support of his teachings on common grace, Janssen was wrong when he deduced from this that Kuyper would have agreed with him on all his views on Scripture. The copious quotations from Kuyper and Bavinck which fill the Majority Report of the Investigatory Committee are proof of this.68 Without doubt Kuyper would have repudiated sharply Janssen's position had he been in a position to do so.

This leaves us with a problem: Janssen appealed to Kuyper and Bavinck in support of his position, but both these men showed in their writings that they would not have agreed with Janssen if they had had opportunity to express themselves. How can this be?

The answer lies in the area or areas to which common grace is to be applied. While Kuyper and Bavinck applied the doctrine to many different areas, such as the arts, the knowledge of God, etc., they never applied the doctrine to Biblical studies. Janssen did this and came up with his views. It was from Janssen's viewpoint a consistent application of the doctrine to the area of his particular interests.

There are two elements here that must be taken into account. On the one hand, Janssen's opponents, for the most part men in the tradition of the Afscheiding, held to a different view of common grace than did Kuyper, Bavinck and Janssen himself.69 On the other hand, Janssen's opponents themselves did not agree on the question of common grace. Hoeksema and Danhof certainly denied it in any form, especially as the controversy developed. What Volbeda believed on the doctrine cannot be determined. Janssen may have been right when he accused Volbeda of denying this doctrine altogether, although Volbeda, obviously, went along with the decisions of the Synod of 1924 on common grace and consented to the expulsion of Hoeksema, Danhof and Ophoff. The four professors, H.J. Kuiper, and other opponents of Janssen were probably believers in common grace, but the their precise views on the subject cannot be determined.

Against this background we must understand the reasons why Janssen's critics refused to enter into the question of common grace. In the first place, it is clear that it was possible to consider Janssen's views on Scripture apart from this basic question of common grace. This was possible because Janssen's views could be considered only on the basis of the teachings of the Confessions on the doctrine of Scripture. And this is, finally, what the Investigatory Committee and the Synod of 1922 did. In the second place, it is undoubtedly true that Janssen's insistence on bringing in the issue of common

grace would surely have been a diversion which could have endangered the case against Janssen. If the churches had become involved in a lengthy discussion of common grace, this would have so dominated the controversy, especially because no clear consensus existed in the churches, that the issues of Janssen's teachings would have been blurred. In the third place, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for Janssen's opponents to present a united front in their attack upon Janssen if the differences over their thinking on common grace had entered into their investigation and discussion. It may be that Janssen sensed this and hoped to "divide and conquer." But whatever Janssen's personal motives may have been, the fact remains that common grace would have torn the ranks of Janssen's critics and made any condemnation of Janssen's views impossible.

From the viewpoint, therefore, of the controversy itself, the church may be thankful that the discussion over common grace was postponed until Janssen's views were adjudicated and condemned. But it remained a striking fact that the issue of common grace would not die; that it was resurrected shortly after the Janssen controversy was settled; and that the men who brought it up were themselves Janssen's supporters. That Hoeksema took the lead in the condemnation of Janssen; that Janssen's supporters were mainly instrumental in forcing the issue in the churches, resulting in the expulsion of Hoeksema; that those who sided with Hoeksema in opposing Janssen later became his accusers and condemners are some of the ironies of history not easily explained.70

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1. Berkhof, et. al. Waar het in de Zaak Janssen Om Gaat, pp. 4, 15. Return

2. This was written after the Synod of 1922. Return

3. Y. P. De Jong, "Naar Aanleiding van het 'Document,'" The Witness 1 (November, 1922): 185. Return

4. The letter is found in the personal file of Prof. Heyns and is dated September 3, 1922. The book to which Heyns refers has as its full title: De Loochening Der Gemeene Gratie: Gereformeerd of Doopersch? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans - Sevensma, 1922). Return

5. Heyns was one of the four professors who objected to Janssen's teachings and co-authored the pamphlet, Waar het in de Zaak Janssen Om Gaat. Return

6. H. Hoeksema, "On Common Grace." The Banner (March 24, 1921): 181-182. Return

7. Also one of the co-authors of Waar het in de Zaak Janssen Om GaatReturn

8. H. J. Kuiper, "Salient Points In The Dr. Janssen Controversy," The Banner (April 28, 1921): 261. Return

9. H. Danhof & H. Hoeksema, Niet Doopersch maar Gereformeerd: Voorloopig Bescheid aan Ds. Jan Karel Van Baalen betreffende De Loochening der Gemeene Gratie. (Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids Printing Co. no date), pp. 4-5. This same viewpoint appears in H. Danhof & H. Hoeksema, Van Zonde en Genade. (Grand Rapids: The authors), p. 78. Return

10. H. Hoeksema, "De Jongste Kerkelijke Strijd." The Standard Bearer (November, 1924): 13. Return

11. Ibid., pp. 13-14. Return

12. Hoeksema, The History of the Protestant Reformed Churches. p. 23. Return

13. Breen, "My Reflections on Prof. Ralph Janssen and on the Janssen Case of 1922." pp. 10-11. Return

14. Boer, "Ralph Janssen After Fifty Years . . . ," p. 1-9. Return

15. Ibid., p. 23. Return

16. James D. Bratt, Dutch Calvinism in Modern America: A History of a Conservative Subculture (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984). p. 105. Return

l7. Ibid., p. 106. Return

18. Ibid., p. 108. Return

19. Ibid. Return

20. Ibid., p. 110. This break came about when Hoeksema and Danhof were put off the staff of The WitnessReturn

21. Ibid., p. 114. This distinction between a Kuyperian common grace and an evangelistic common grace is an interesting one, and is an indirect reference to the adoption of the doctrine of a free offer in connection with common grace. Kuyper would have none of the free offer. We shall return to this question a bit later. Return

22. This matter will enter our discussion again. Return

23. H. Hoeksema, "The Fallen King." The Banner (October 31, 1918): 789. Return

24. Hoeksema, "Pseudo-Calvinism," The Banner (date): 6. This is interesting because the charge of Anabaptism was to be levelled against the opponents of Janssen, and this charge was always made in connection with a denial of common grace. Return

25. Ibid., p. 7. See also later articles. Return

26. Hoeksema, "The Fallen King and his Kingdom." The Banner (February 13, 1919): 6. Return

27. H. Beets, "Moderation, Brethren! Let the past Speak." The Banner (February 20, 1919): 3-4. The Christian Journal was written by men of the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church of America. G.G. Haan, in this discussion, came to the defense of the magazine; see, Haan, "Darts and Daggers." The Banner (February 20, 1919): 7. D.H. Kromminga, later a member of the Minority Investigatory Committee, wrote an article warning against this "New Movement." Kromminga, "Lead us not into Temptation." The Banner (April 3, 1919): 214-215. Return

28. Hoeksema, "The Fallen King and his Kingdom." The Banner (April 10, 1919): 230. Return

29. Hoeksema, "The Fallen King and his Kingdom." The Banner (April 17, 1919): 248-249. Return

30. Hoeksema, "The Fallen King and his Kingdom." The Banner (April 24, 1919): 261-262. Return

31. Hoeksema, "The Fallen King and his Kingdom." The Banner (May l, 1919): 277-278. See also Hoeksema, "The Fallen King and his Kingdom." The Banner (June 12, 1919) 374-375. Return

32. See footnote 11 and the material to which it is added. Hoeksema himself called attention to this fact. Return

33. See Chapter II. Return

34. R. Janssen, "Reply to Rev. Herman Hoeksema." The Banner (November 4, 1920): 667-668. Return

35. H. Hoeksema, "The New King and His Kingdom." The Banner (November 4, 1920): 666-667; (November 11, 1920): 683-684; 56 (January 6, 1921): 5-6. Return

36. We offer only a brief sketch of this history, because our concern is not so much with the subsequent controversy which culminated in the deposition of Hoeksema, Danhof and Ophoff, but with the relation between the issue of common grace and the views of Dr. R. Janssen. Return

37. We have referred to both these pamphlets earlier. The date of Janssen's pamphlet is June, 1922, the month in which the Synod met in Orange City. Return

38. Van Baalen, De Loochening Der Gemeene GratieReturn

39. Ibid., P. 9. He also devotes an entire chapter, beginning on page 75, to this question. Return

40. Ibid., pp. 35-38. Return

41. Ibid. See especially pp. 75-81. Return

42. Van Baalen, Nieuwigheid en DwalingReturn

43. H. Danhof & H. Hoeksema, Niet Doopersch Maar Gereformeerd, and Van Zonde en Genade, both of which we have referred to earlier. Return

44. The full title is: Danhof & Hoeksema, Langs Zuivere Banen: Een Wederwoord aan Bezwaarde Broederen (Kalamazoo: Dalm Printing Co., no date.) Return

45. Van Baalen, Nieuwigheid en Dwaling, 86-89. Return

46. Ibid., p. 88. This observation of Van Baalen is undoubtedly correct. If the issue of common grace had been taken up, Janssen's opponents would have been, hopelessly divided. See below. Return

47. Interestingly enough, the Synod itself did not make these decisions binding at its sessions in 1924. They were made binding only when Hoeksema, Danhof and Ophoff had been deposed by their respective Classes for refusal to sign the doctrinal statements of 1924, which depositions were upheld by the Synod of 1926. See H. Hoeksema History of the Protestant Reformed Churches, for detailed discussion of this history. Return

48. H., Hoeksema, "Not Satisfied." The Banner (January 27,1921): 56. Return

49. We shall pursue this in detail in the next chapter. Return

50. Two of the four ministers were, of course, members of the Majority Investigatory Committee. Return

51. Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, p. 4. Return

52. Ibid., p. 5. Return

53. Janssen, Voortzetting Van Den Strijd, p. 3. Return

54. Ibid., p. 24; Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, p. 8. Return

55. Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, p. 7. Return

56. H. J. Kuiper, e.g. Return

57. This was true of Foppe Ten Hoor. See above. The opposition to Kuyper, such as it was, could be explained in part by the fact that the opponents of Janssen were mostly men of the AfscheidingReturn

58. This point was also a minor issue in the early stages of the controversy over common grace. For an examination of this question, see my article on "The History of the Free Offer of the Gospel," Protestant Reformed Theological Journal (November, 1985): 25-36. Return

59. H. Algra, Het Wonder van de Negentiende Eeuw (Kampen: J.H. Kok, 1965), pp. l51ff., where Algra tells of a controversy among the men of the Afscheiding, which arose because Brummelkamp was suspected of being too broad in his preaching by virtue of his views on the free offer of the gospel, a doctrine always connected with common grace (as in the first point of 1924). Return

60. W. A. Brakel, Redelijke Godsdienst (Leiden: D. Donner, 1893). Vol. I., p. 729. The translation is ours. Return

61. Aegidus Francken, Kern der Christelijke Leer Second Edition (Groningen: Theologische Boekhandel, 1893). pp. 11, 12. It is especially the third advantage of natural knowledge which carries with it the idea of common grace, although common grace is not specifically mentioned. The value of this quotation, though early (the original edition was published in 1713), rests upon the continued use of this book in the churches of theAfscheiding. My father, in a private conversation, has told me that when he was pastor in Hull, Iowa in the early '30s the people of his congregation, all Afscheiding people, often spoke of Francken's book as the book of instruction which had been used in their Catechism classes in Afscheiding Churches in the Netherlands. Return

62. Among these same Afscheiding people was sometimes to be found the idea of the general offer of the gospel. This was intimately related to common grace and was often interpreted, in fact, as being a manifestation of common grace. See for further information on this subject my article, "The History of the Free Offer of the Gospel," Protestant Reformed Theological Journal (April, 1986): 41-55, especially pp. 46-51. A. Kuyper himself wanted no part of the free offer of the gospel, and in this too is to be found a distinct difference between his view of common grace and that held among the sons of the Afscheiding. See A. Kuyper, Dat de Genade Particulier Is (Kampen, J.H. Kok, 1909). See especially "Part One". See also D. Engelsma, Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1980). See especially Chapter 7. Return

63. Hoeksema, History of the Protestant Reformed Churches, pp. 309-314. Return

64. The two words must both be translated "grace," for the English language has no words to describe the difference. Kuyper referred gratie to common grace and genade to the particular grace bestowed only on the elect. See Hoeksema, Ibid., p. 309. Return

65. Ibid., p. 313. See, for Kuyper's own development of this position, A. Kuyper, Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1943). These contain Kuyper's "Stone Lectures." See also H.R. Van Til,The Calvinistic Concept of Culture (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972). See especially chapters 8 and 16 in which Kuyper's views on common grace are developed and extensive quotations from Kuyper's magnum opus on the subject of common grace, De Gemeene Gratie, are given. A. Kuyper, De Gemeene Gratie (Amsterdam: Hoveker & Wormser, 1902). Three volumes. Return

66. That Bavinck agreed essentially with Kuyper on this question is beyond doubt. Why he came to agree with Kuyper is another question. Bavinck had his spiritual roots in the Afscheiding and disappointed many people from Afscheiding churches when he moved from his chair in the Seminary in Kampen (an Afscheiding school) to take the chair of Dogmatics in the Free University. Return

67. H. Hoeksema, "The New King and His Kingdom." The Banner (November 4, 1920): 666-667; (November 11, 1920): 683-684; 56 (January 6, 1921): 5-6. It is interesting to observe that in his earlier writings on the subject, Hoeksema still speaks of grace in the tradition of the Afscheiding when he refers to an overflow of "blessings" which come to the reprobate; but he adds as some of the old fathers, that these blessings are really a curse. See e.g. Hoeksema, "The Fallen King and his Kingdom." The Banner (May 8, 1919): 297; (May 15, 1919): 313. This too would seem to add weight to the idea that differences existed between Kuyper's views and the traditional views of the Afscheiding. It is also interesting to note in passing that Hoeksema, while still in the Netherlands, agreed with Kuyper on common grace. There are some evidences in his sermons preached in Fourteenth Street Christian Reformed Church, his first charge, that he still held to these views. See G. Hoeksema, Therefore Have I Spoken: A Biography of Herman Hoeksema (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1964). pp. 96ff. Return

68. See Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 25-26, 29-35, 37-40, and elsewhere. Return

69. This also undoubtedly explains the tensions between Janssen's opponents and the writers in Religion and Culture, which paper defended vigorously Kuyper's views on common grace. Return

70. It is interesting, and beyond the scope of this present study, to observe that both the Afscheiding conception of common grace, along with the free offer of the gospel, and Kuyperian common grace were incorporated into the three doctrinal statements adopted by the Synod of 1924. Disagreements over common grace among Janssen's opponents will also explain the fact that when Hoeksema and Danhof wanted to develop their views on common grace in The Witness (an anti-Janssen paper), they were refused and their resignations accepted; and this would perhaps explain why eventually The Witness and Religion and Culture merged. See Hoeksema, History of the Protestant Reformed Churches, p. 22. Return

Chapter III: The Issues

Having surveyed the history of the Janssen controversy, we now turn our attention to the issues which were debated and discussed and finally decided upon in the Synod of 1922. These were the issues which were discussed in hundreds of homes of Christian Reformed members, preached about in dozens of pulpits, written on in every church periodical published within the denomination, and debated at length in various ecclesiastical assemblies. They were considered by most to be issues of critical importance which would decide whether or not the church was to remain orthodox and sound in doctrine, or whether the church was now to start along the dreary road of apostasy.

As important as these issues were for the life of the church in the early twenties, it must be mentioned here that they are not, in themselves, of primary concern to us in this work. We are interested especially in the question of common grace as it stood related to these issues. However, common grace was woven into the very warp and woof of the controversy, was an integral part of much of the discussion, was the main defense of Janssen himself as, in his writings, he attempted to justify his position before the mind of the church, and was finally the main issue in the years following the Synod of 1922. Furthermore, common grace was related to the issues of the Janssen case in various different ways -- ways which we will have to explore in the next chapter. But the question of common grace cannot be understood unless some attention is given to issues for which Janssen was finally condemned. And to these we now turn, although we shall be as brief as possible in our discussion of this aspect of the matter.

Before we give specific attention to these questions, one remark of a more general kind has to be made. Anyone who reads the material, even as finally published by the Synod of 1922, will immediately be impressed with the evident fact that the issues were not only many in number, but very complex and often interrelated. Janssen's views appeared in student notes on various subjects not only, (Isagogics, Exegesis, Old Testament History, e.g.) but his views also involved different aspects of Scriptural studies. He was condemned for his approach to Scripture, for his views on revelation and inspiration, on the canonicity of various books, on miracles, etc. It is not always so easy, therefore, to relate the issues in a systematic way. Oftentimes questions overlap: Janssen's views on miracles, e.g., imply and presuppose his views on inspiration; and his views on inspiration include his general approach to Scripture. As we discuss these issues, we shall, in general, follow the main divisions used by the majority of the Investigatory Committee.1

In spite of the complexity and variety of the issues, however, all were agreed that the basic issue was that of higher criticism. The reports of both the majority and minority part of the Investigatory Committee speak repeatedly of this; Rev. Herman Hoeksema early in his discussion in The Banner charged Janssen in general with conceding too much to the higher critics;2 and Janssen himself more than once referred to this criticism not only, but defended himself against these charges by insisting that his references to higher critical methods and conclusions were only to defeat the higher critics on their own ground.3

Higher criticism was, therefore, the issue. Did Dr. Janssen use higher critical methods? If so, how did he use them and why did he use them? What was the effect of their use on Biblical studies? Was their use a legitimate approach to Biblical studies? These were the questions. And to these we now turn.


The first subject we face is the question of Scripture. This question was discussed in various articles written prior to the Synod of 1922; it was discussed in various brochures published throughout the controversy; and it was a major part of the studies of the Investigatory Committee.

Several elements are involved in this question of a "scientific" approach to Scripture. The majority of the Investigatory Committee called attention in its report to Janssen's "formal attitude toward Scripture." Under this heading, the Majority Committee charged Janssen with making theological disciplines sciences and thus failing to distinguish between science in general and theological subjects. By doing this Janssen was forced into the position that the theological disciplines are a search for truth, and not a study which assumes truth. The Majority Committee writes:

1. Janssen's formal attitude towards Scripture is that of a mere scientist. This is evident, in the first place, from his definition of O.T. Introduction, and from his description of science and the method of science. Quotations from Janssen's Notes on O.T. Introd., pp. l and 2.
a. Isagogics is conceived of as a science.
"Old Testament Introduction is the science that treats of the origin and history of the writings which the Christian church inherited from the church of the old dispensation and with it, on the strength of the testimony of Jesus, and the apostles, accepted as Holy Scripture."
Note that Janssen does not, formally, accept the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God, but he subjects a branch of theology to science.
b. This science is defined as a mere science.
"By science we mean in general a discipline that has for its aim the discovery of truth."
Formally, truth is not assumed.
"Science searches for truth. That makes every science fascinating. Bearing this in mind we can understand how it is that sciences which have no charm for us, have great charms for other individuals. Man longs for truth." Mark what is said here of man.
Science searches for truth. This is the characteristic of every science. With truth for their goal, and spurred on by the element of search, seemingly dry sciences become very interesting to some people."4

Further, such an identification of science with theological disciplines requires that one take an empirical approach to Scripture which is out of keeping with the nature of Scripture.

"Another condition: The search or investigation must be critical. That seems objectionable at first flush. By the critical element I mean that an act of judgment must be used in the study of the data. An act of 'krinein' must take place in every branch of science. Careful judgment must be brought to bear on the object of science.
"By the element of criticism is not meant that it must be negative or destructive."
Nevertheless, Holy Scripture is made subject to the criticism of mere science.
d. Consequently, Janssen assumes the position of a critical scientist.
"In every science we have to take a position. When data are presented we must make a separation between what seems to us to be false and seems to be true.
"Expressed positively, that act of 'Krinein" is to be 'kat' aleetheian'--in accordance with truth. Our judgment brought to bear on the data, should be unprejudiced. We may have prepossessions, and no man can rid himself of these. Each individual has a certain type of religion, for religion is an essential characteristic of the human being. Nevertheless, this should not influence him to such an extent that it will determine the conclusion, so that the conclusion is a foregone one. No science can permit that."
Hence, Janssen, being a scientist, does not proceed from the principle that the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God, but subjects the Bible itself to the scientific research and unprejudiced criticism of mere man.5

The correct approach to Scripture is the approach of faith which assumes Scripture to be the Word of God. Janssen's approach is empirical-critical, which requires that one come to Scripture without any presuppositions whatsoever in order to learn from an empirical study of the data whether sufficient evidence exists to conclude that Scripture is indeed the Word of God.

b. Our opinion concerning Janssen's method.
Janssen's method is in strict accordance with his position. He adheres closely and consistently to the method of science. Now science demands that the method should be empirical and critical. "The empirical element cannot be wanting in any branch of theological science. No branch has any business here unless it is empirical." "The search or investigation must be critical." "Judgment, brought to bear on the data, should be unprejudiced." Prepossessions we may have, but only such as are characteristic of a human being. "Religion is characteristic of the human being." This plainly excludes the Reformed faith in the Bible as the Word of God, for that is by no means characteristic of the human being.6

It is in this light that the Committee also objects to Janssen's position that Exegesis precedes Isagogics, because the Scriptures must be studied as a piece of literature just as any document must be studied before Isagogical questions can be asked, questions concerning date of composition, authorship, method of writing employed, purpose of writing, etc. Hence the Committee objected to Janssen's determination to treat Scripture as any other piece of literature as being a denial of faith in God' s Word.

a. Janssen's peculiar manner of determining the encyclopedic place of the study of Isagogics. According to Janssen exegesis proper should precede Introduction. Notes on O. T. Introd., pp. 3, 4: "Well, if it belongs to the group of 'exegetical theology' then what place does it occupy there? It is not necessary to go into detail regarding its relation to all the branches under exegetical theology. But we must discuss its relation to exegesis proper.
"Does it come after or before?
"When we take a document and study what do we do first? Read it, of course. Now it is true beyond doubt that the intelligent reading of any book implies interpretation to a limited extent. If the author is not mentioned, how do you discover the authorship? By reading and studying the book. If the date and place are not indicated you will have to read and perhaps reread the document to determine these questions. The same is true as to the 'why' of the document. Logically interpretation takes place before we are able to settle introductory questions.
"If you hold to the term 'exegetical theology' for the group of branches then it stands to reason that exegesis precedes introduction, because introduction is subsumed under the general term. Experience shows us that exegesis comes first.
"Another thing. The science of Introduction arises rather late in the study of theology. Why? Because the questions of style, authorship, times, etc., are always questions that come later. So in English, Dutch, etc., literature. We first study the poetry and then make a special study of its style, vocabulary, etc. "Because of the logical order of the two branches, the relative importance and their historical order, we conclude that exegesis proper precedes introduction."7

Quirinus Breen later commented on this same point in a defense of Janssen's position. Breen argued that theology is only a continuation of philosophical discourse, and therefore the Biblical text must be judged as any other text. What the text says necessarily involves the way it is said.8

That Janssen indeed took this empirical-critical approach cannot be denied, for he comes to its defense in more than one place in his writings. In his Synodale Conclusies (Synodical Conclusions) he justifies this approach by appeals to B.B. Warfield and Calvin and claims that this approach is necessary in exegesis when one explains a text in its whole context, which includes its cultural and social setting.9

Others also defended this approach. The Minority of the Investigatory Committee, while not approving of all that Janssen taught, defended him by showing that Janssen made many statements which testified to his firm commitment to the approach of faith when one is studying God's Word; and by demonstrating that the approach of faith does not necessarily preclude the scientific empirical-critical approach.l0 B.K. Kuiper also defended this approach of Janssen. He argued that the question is not whether ~e subjectively possess all the truth, for we do not. But he asked the question whether we investigate to learn truth on the basis of our faith in the Bible as God's Word, or whether this matter of the Bible being God's Word is also an object of investigation. He answered that this problem involves the question of the relation of faith to reason, of science to theology, of Apologetics, etc. He then claimed that Janssen's approach was that of Apologetics.ll

The argument also centered in the teachings of A. Kuyper on this subject, both Janssen and his opponents claiming to have Kuyper on their side, and both citing extensive quotations from his writing.12

The Synod of 1922 condemned Janssen for this approach. The decisions on this matter read:

I. As regards Prof. Janssen's Standpoint and Method we point to
A. What Prof. Janssen says in his definition of Old Testament Introduction. This definition reads: Old Testament Introduction is the science that treats of the origin and history of the writings which the Christian Church inherited from the Church of the Old Dispensation and with it, on the strength of the testimony of Jesus and the Apostles, accepted as Holy Scriptures . . . . In this definition the standpoint of faith does not come to light. Such a definition an unbeliever could also employ.
B. What we read in the passage on Science regarding the search after truth. This passage gives the impression that searching after truth is more important than finding it. This conflicts with the importance of theological science.
C. What we read concerning method:
(1) It is said, in the first place, that an important element in the theological sciences is the empirical side. Here Prof. Janssen fails to explain that he simply intends to say that he desires to let the Scriptures speak.
(2) It is said, in the second place, that the search must be critical. Here again Prof. Janssen fails to bring out plainly whether the object of this criticism is the material which Scripture offers or the different views concerning this material.
Prof. Janssen does, in fact, declare that the object of his empirical, critical search is the origin and history of the writings of the O. T., and these, from the standpoint of faith, cannot as such be the object of empirical, critical investigation.
D. What we read in the last paragraph of this passage in which Prof. Janssen again refers to his standpoint. Here the professor fails to show that for the believing searcher of Scripture the prepossession that the Bible is the inspired Word of God does indeed pre-determine his conclusion.
The entire passage creates a bad impression. In general we have this remark in regard to Prof. Janssen's standpoint and method, as indicated in this passage from the Notes: Whereas, Prof. Janssen gives theological instruction in a Reformed institution, and has subscribed to our Forms of Unity; it must be demanded that he proceed from the Scripture as the Word of God. The above named passage is an instance of the fact that oftentimes this does not become evident in his instruction.
E. This same lack we find in Prof. Janssen's instruction as such . . . (instances cited, H.H.).
Even though such expressions must be considered as indications of an apologetic standpoint in this instruction, then the serious objection still remains that in such passages it does not plainly appear that the Bible is the Word of God and therefore must be believed on its own authority… .13

Although no doubt at all exists that this summary of Janssen's teaching is correct, and although Janssen himself did not dispute these conclusions, apparently Janssen saw no incompatibility between this approach to Scripture and his own expressed commitment to the truth of divine inspiration. This is difficult to explain. When Janssen was examined by the Curatorium and by the Synod of 1920,14 he was exonerated because he expressed firm agreement with the doctrines of infallible inspiration and the supreme authority of the Bible. It seems as if only two explanations of this are possible. The more condemnatory explanation is that Janssen was not honest with either the Curatorium or the Synod of 1920 and expressed a position which in fact he did not hold and which he did not teach in his classes. The more charitable explanation is that Janssen firmly believed that no conflict existed between his approach and the truth of infallible inspiration, and that this could be justified on the grounds that he was merely demonstrating that a genuine scientific approach to Scripture, i.e., an approach without any presuppositions and which leads to an empirical- critical study of God's Word, would surely support and verify Scripture's infallible inspiration. This latter is probably true.

Two objections against this latter explanation must be raised. Janssen, so far as the Student Notes revealed, never discussed the truths of Scripture's inspiration and authority. They are not mentioned in the notes, except in a very few instances in a passing way. Janssen made no effort to teach these doctrines and teach his students to defend and uphold them. This is impossible to justify in the light of Janssen's signature on the Formula of Subscription which binds him to a vow to teach the truths contained in the Confessions -- which includes the truths concerning the doctrine of Scripture found in Arts. III - VII of the Confession of Faith.

Further, Synod, by condemning this approach, evidently intended to say that Janssen, even if his method led to the same conclusions concerning the character of Scripture as is contained in the Confessions, was wrong in taking this approach and adopting this method. Synod said, in effect: No matter how orthodox your conclusions are, the method which you used was wrong. And, from further decisions of Synod on such matters as Janssen's interpretation of the miracles, it became evident that Synod believed that Janssen's method and approach led to erroneous views of basic doctrines of Scripture itself.

It is of more than passing interest that Janssen often appealed in support of his position to A. Kuyper. Hoeksema and others insisted that this appeal to Kuyper was a misinterpretation of Kuyper.15 What is the truth of the matter?

There is little question about it that Kuyper spoke repeatedly of a scientific approach to Scripture. But that he meant by this the same as Janssen cannot be supported by the evidence. Kuyper firmly held, not only to the truth of infallible inspiration, but to the fact that this truth had to be the dominating and all-controlling principle of one's approach to Scripture and therefore of Biblical interpretation. Hoeksema,16 in a rather lengthy citation from Kuyper's Encyclopedia, shows that Kuyper not only insisted on the approach of faith to Scripture, but also condemned any other approach. This position of Kuyper can be substantiated by other references in his works.l7On page 50 of his Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology, Its Principles, Kuyper speaks of the impossibility of coming to a study of theology without any presuppositions and insists on the need of faith by which one believes that his theology is the right one. On page 225 of the same work he writes of the importance of regeneration in scientific studies:

From this it follows that all study of science, where the investigation occupies the view-point of palingenesis, must reckon with the four phenomena: 1) of personal regeneration; and 2) of its corresponding inspiration; 3) of the final restoration of all things; and 4) of its corresponding manifestation of God's power in miracles. These four phenomena have no existence to the scientist who starts out from materialistic premises. On the contrary, his principle and starting point compel him to cancel these phenomena, or, where this is not possible, to explain them naturalistically.

What, then, was specifically the difference? Kuyper spoke of a scientific approach to Scriptural studies from the viewpoint of discovering the relation between the various truths of Scripture as together they form an organic whole, and discovering the relation between theology and the other sciences. He writes, e.g., that to use the word "science" in connection with theology is simply to know it in its "organic coherence and relation.''18

. . . the conception of Theological Encyclopedia consists in the scientific investigation of the organic nature and relations of Theology to itself and as an integral part of the organism of science.19

While Janssen latched on to the term "scientific approach," he meant something quite different. He did not hold to the impossible position that one can rid himself of all presuppositions in his Bible studies;20 but he did maintain that insofar as it is possible one should not allow these presuppositions to influence him. His approach must be, insofar as possible, without bias and prejudice. He must examine the data which he discovers in the Bible in connection with all other evidence and must come to conclusions concerning the nature and character of Scripture.

This position of Janssen was correctly condemned by the Synod of 1922. It is the opposite of the approach of faith; it is the approach of unbelief. It is based on the "presupposition" that Scripture can be treated as any other literary document and occupies no unique place among all the writings of men. And in dealing with Scripture in this fashion, the unique character of Scripture as the infallibly inspired record of the Word of God is lost. It is this approach which brought about Janssen's other errors.

The approach of faith proceeds from the assumption that the Bible is of divine origin, that it is the inspired record of God's revelation in Jesus Christ, and that it is given for the salvation of all who believe in Christ. The purpose of the study of the book is not to determine whether it is divine or has divine elements in it. One does not come to Scripture to investigate its origin and character. One comes believing all this. One comes to hear "what the Spirit says to the churches." That is the approach of faith. That approach Janssen denied.

There is one more issue which entered the discussion on this point: the issue of the place of theology in the organism of the sciences. Rev. George Stob calls attention to this problem. He speaks of tensions in the Seminary between Profs. Ten Hoor and Heyns vs. Janssen which were rooted in the fact that Janssen was not an ordained minister.21 This difficulty brought about other tensions:

Ten Hoor noted that there were differences on questions of principle with reference to which the Theological School stands or falls. They were questions about the relation of theological study to the science of learning in general, and about the relation of the Church to theological science. Ten Hoor held that theology is the queen of the sciences and is not to be subordinated to science or authority in general, and that the church has absolute authority over theological science and the Theological School in which it is taught. In the discussion with Curatorium Dr. Janssen declared that he was not ready to affirm that the church has the highest authority over theological science.22

Kuyper did not want theology to be under the control of the church. This idea led Ten Hoor and Heyns to fear that theology would not be controlled by the Confessions and this would lead to heresy.23

While it would lead us too far from the subject to deal with this rather complicated question, one can understand how Janssen, from his viewpoint, made a legitimate appeal to Kuyper. If, according to Kuyper, theology is only one of the sciences, standing on a par with the other sciences, it can be argued that the approach to all must be the same, and a scientific approach to jurisprudence, e.g., would imply the same scientific approach to theology. While Janssen never appealed to this view of Kuyper in defense of his scientific approach, it could very well be that he had this in mind.24


Dr. Janssen's approach to the Scriptures led to views of inspiration which were also condemned by the Synod of 1922 as it followed the report of the majority of the Investigatory Committee.

There are several elements which must be included in a discussion of this point. Before we examine each point in some detail, the several elements ought to be before our minds, for they often overlapped. 1) The committee charged Janssen (and the Synod concurred) with not including in all his instruction a doctrine of inspiration or revelation. Janssen was silent on these matters. 2) Janssen was accused of attributing sections of Scripture to pagan or human origin. 3) This position of Janssen involved the whole question of inspiration because, if some parts of Scripture were of pagan origin, sections were not written by divine inspiration, but were simply incorporations into Scripture of human views. 4) This position in turn involved the question of revelation. And this question of revelation, in turn, involved two additional questions: a) Was Scripture in its entirety the record of divine revelation? To this Janssen, according to Synod, answered no; to this the Synod answered yes. b) What is the relation between special revelation and general revelation?25

In his article, "Ralph Janssen After Fifty Years," H. Boer speaks of the fact that Prof. Janssen insisted that the literary, linguistic and historical data of Scripture had to be taken into account to explain Scripture's origin.26

Q. Breen says that Prof. Janssen charged his opponents with denying God's sovereignty by forbidding God to use folklore in Scripture; he says that Janssen emphasized strongly the human element in Scripture's writings.27

The four professors and four ministers addressed themselves to the question of the human element in Scripture in their pamphlet, Waar Het in De Zaak Janssen Om Gaat. They pointed to Janssen's view that the creation narrative in Scripture was, at least in part, the result of human reflection on the creation itself and was, therefore, of human origin;28 that the author of Ecclesiastes was a skeptical philosopher plagued by moments of doubt which he expressed in his writings;29 that the Documentary Theory of the composition of the Pentateuch would explain its formation;30 that some of the stories recorded in Scripture concerning Samson were not historical;31 and that various elements in religion came from heathendom.32 Rev. H. Hoeksema spoke rather frequently of Janssen's incorrect view of inspiration in his articles in The Banner. While discussing the charge that obliterated the distinction between general and special revelation, Hoeksema cites as proof incorrect views on the origin of Scripture. He points to Janssen's teachings that the Psalms and the law show Babylonian influences; that the Pentateuch may have been written in Babylon before Moses; that Proverbs and Ecclesiastes show possible Egyptian influence; that, and this in spite of Scripture's record to the contrary, a semi-monotheism prevailed in Israel until the time of the prophets; and that Abraham, again in opposition to the Biblical record, gave Sarah to the Egyptian court as a political strategem.33

The majority report of the Investigatory Committee cited considerable evidence to demonstrate its allegations that Janssen held an incorrect view of inspiration. Among other examples, it pointed to the fact that Janssen taught that the creation account could very well have come from Babylon, although it was purged from mythological elements by inspiration;34 that Amos and Joel drew from their own experience in their visions and from mythological conceptions originating in the Orient in their prophecies;35 that the Psalms and laws of Israel show Babylonian influence;36 that the chokma or wisdom literature came from elsewhere (probably pagan sources) and not from divine inspiration;37 that Abraham's call to leave Ur was not a divine call, but that his departure is to be explained in terms of religious conditions which affected his life;38 that Jethro was instrumental in bringing Israel to the true worship of Jehovah and that this true worship was not, therefore, a matter of divine revelation;39 that, in fact, the name "Jehovah" may have come from Babylon;40 that the laws of Moses may have come in part from the Code of Hammurabi, an ancient Babylonian ruler and lawgiver;41 that the disagreement between David and Nathan concerning the building of the temple is to be explained in terms of David's more progressive views and Nathan's conservatism;42 that many parts of Scripture are to be explained as being derived from other literary or oral sources;43 and that this use of sources in Scripture can very well mean that Scripture has authors who were from other religions and cultures and who were not worshippers of Jehovah.44

That Janssen held to a view of Scripture which was not in keeping with the traditional view of infallible inspiration is evident from his own writings. He specifically rejects what he calls mechanical inspiration and, in pleading for organic inspiration, identifies organic inspiration with idea Inspiration.45 While Janssen did not enter into detail in a defense of his position on this question of organic inspiration, other references exist which indicate his views. But these are mostly found in connection with his insistence that the issue of common grace is the fundamental issue at stake.46

Thus there the Synod charged, instruction in the generally accepted Scriptures, is no question about it that Janssen, as held to a view of inspiration in his Seminary which was different from that in the Christian Reformed Church. The according to Janssen, are not in their totality the record of God's revelation, but they incorporate much in them which came from human, even pagan, sources. In some instances Janssen even spoke of human sources where the Scriptures emphatically ascribe what is recorded to speech.47

A quotation from the Majority Investigatory Committee, with some references and citations from Student Notes will illustrate the point.

b. Janssen's conception of the historical origin of the Bible. Evidently, Janssen places the historical beginning of Scripture in Babylonia. Why not in Egypt, the country of Moses, we are not told, and from his historical-critical viewpoint, we ourselves are quite unable to see . . . .
Concerning the origin of the creation narratives (Fopma's notes, pp. 6, 7--these are individual notes and the only lectures ever given on the first 11 chapters of Genesis--) we read: "Where does the point of contact enter in between the Babylonian account and our creation story? One position is that Abraham and his followers took a narrative with them; they may also have taken a story of the flood and of Cain and Abel with them. These were polytheists and it is not safe to say that the stories as we have them came from them but when these stories became part of Scripture, inspiration worked on them and cleansed them of their mythological character."
"In the last analysis these stories came either by revelation or reflection. The position that it is due to revelation is of little import to us. For even through the channels through which it passed it became polytheistic."
"The evolutionistic theory is very similar to the account of creation of Gen. 1; and if men can now come by reflection to a view of creation, they could at another time do this also. The evolutionists regard Gen. l as having scientific value."48

In close connection with Janssen's views on the origin of Scripture and inspiration is the question of the character of special revelation and its relation to general revelation. While this question was an important element in Janssen's defense of his position on the grounds of common grace, it must also be briefly referred to here. Dr. Boer has pointed this out.49 He defines one of the issues in the Janssen controversy in this way:

Finally, and perhaps basically, whether the God of general revelation (nature, common grace) is operative in the actions of the God of special revelation (redemption, special grace). Can these two forms of divine revelation be viewed as intertwined and interacting where the Biblical report as it stands appears to present only the supernatural mode of revelation?50

In a reference to the protest of Q. Breen, Boer summarizes Breen's position and then concludes:

(Breen) places in the foreground again and again · . . that the dimension of natural revelation played a significant role as the bearer or medium of special revelation . . . .
Conditions and happenings in the area of general revelation -- nature, history, the culture and religion of the people surrounding Israel, and the reflection of the Biblical writers could be and in fact were means used by God in imparting his redemptive revelation as given to us in the Old Testament.51

Janssen himself, though usually in connection with his discussion of common grace, speaks of this as an issue. He insists that God's revelation outside of the sphere of special grace is also God's work which must be appreciated not only, but which was incorporated into the religion and views of the Old Testament saints and which was, therefore, also included in Scripture.52

The majority of the Investigatory Committee also took Janssen to task for an erroneous view of the character of special revelation and the relation between special revelation and general revelation. In the first place, the committee found Janssen in error for claiming that much of Scripture came in other ways than divine, i.e., special, revelation.53 Secondly, the committee questioned how it was possible for the Song of Solomon to be a song of natural love, as Janssen taught, and still maintain that this was a part of divine revelation. The assumption here, as also expressed by the committee, is that to be a part of special revelation, a book must reveal Christ.

. . . . What place, we ask, could mere conjugal love hold in this special revelation of God in Christ? But suppose, what may not be supposed, that mere conjugal love could do such a thing, why then not place the Song of Solomon on par with prophecy? Do not also the prophets speak of this same love? (References cited, H.H.) Evidently, Janssen himself does not think very highly of the Song of Solomon, but how then can he still maintain it as a part of Scripture? Undoubtedly, his answer to this question will reveal his conception of the contents of the Word of God, and will prove, we trust, that not the whole Bible, as to its contents, is God's special revelation in Christ. Part of it, at least, is the product of mere human thought and endeavor.54

Thirdly, the committee repeatedly pointed out that if parts of the Scriptures, such as the Sinaitic law, the call of Abraham, the words of the prophets, etc., came from other sources or from the personal views of the prophets themselves, they could not possibly be a part of special revelation.55 Thus, the committee accuses Janssen of explaining Scripture more from the viewpoint of secular history as the Bible characters were a part of it, than as the record of God's revelation in Christ: "So that the general impression is received that 'historia profana' is, perhaps, quite sufficient for the explanation of things biblical."56 And in its summary, the committee claimed that Janssen subjectivized divine revelation: "Janssen shows a marked tendency to subjectify the several acts of divine revelations."57

In an article in The Banner, Rev. H. Hoeksema accused Janssen of obliterating the distinction between special and general revelation. As proof he cited Janssen's teachings that the Psalms and the law contained Babylonian influence, that at least parts of the Pentateuch may have been written in Babylon before Moses, that there are possible Egyptian influences in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, that a semi-monotheism prevailed in Israel till the time of the prophets, and that Rebekah brought her troubled questions concerning the wrestling of the twins in her womb to an oracle.58

On this question of general and special revelation it is clear that Janssen took the position that because both types of revelation are from God, not only does harmony exist between the two, but what God revealed in general revelation was incorporated into special revelation and served the cause of the latter.59

The position of the committee and of the Synod of 1922, which approved the committee report when it was submitted to the Synod by the Curatorium, makes clear that the opponents of Dr. Janssen insisted on the position that Scripture in its entirety was the record of the revelation of God in Christ. In its entirety it was the record of special revelation only and not of general revelation. Hence, in it was to be found Christ and Christ only. On this key point a wide gulf yawned between Janssen and the church which condemned him, between his teachings and the views then current in the church.60


Another important area of disagreement between the church and Dr. Janssen was the question of the miracles recorded in Scripture. This question too is closely related to the question of the inspiration of Scripture and the relation between general and special revelation. But it needs special mention here, for it was a major issue; in fact it may have been the one issue which especially captured the attention of the church at large and turned the sentiments of the people against Janssen.61

While only relatively few of the miracles recorded in Scripture were actually discussed by Prof. Janssen in his classes (e.g., the falling of the walls of Jericho, the water from the rock for Israel while in the wilderness, the standing still of the sun and moon at the command of Joshua), two separate issues were connected to this problem.

In the first place, the question of God's use of means in the performance of miracles was repeatedly brought up. Janssen insisted that the miracles were mediate, i.e., always through the agency of means, while he accused his opponents of teaching an immediate view of miracles, i.e., a view of miracles which denied the use of means.62 Janssen's critics, however, denied that this was the issue. They claimed that the problem was not whether God used means in miracles, but whether these miracles were supernatural or ordinary providence. I.e., does God use means in a miraculous way? and is it legitimate to speak of secondary causes?63 Boer defines the issue in this way: Did normal divine and providential activity play a role in the miracles or were the miracles a complete suspension of the laws of creation?64

It is not entirely clear what the issue here was. It seems, however, that Janssen simplified and even misrepresented the views of his opponents when he charged them with denying the use of means in miracles. His opponents never intended to do this, nor can any evidence be adduced that they in fact did deny God's use of means. If one reads the material which is gleaned from the Student Notes on this question, it soon becomes evident that, whatever may have been Janssen's own views on the subject, he explained the miracles in such a way that the miraculous element was eliminated. He explained the fall of the walls of Jericho as due to an earthquake; the flowing of water from the rock as due to the striking of the rock which released water already present in it; and the standing still of the sun and moon as the reappearance of the sun after a very dark storm or perhaps an eclipse.65 These miracles were indeed God's work, but God performed them through ordinary means rather than extraordinary workings of His power. Hence they could only be called miracles in the sense that they were events which happened at very opportune times. They were not miracles in the sense that God worked in ways other than His normal ways of working, according to the natural laws by which He governs all things in theworld.66

Janssen's view of miracles was important and was related to his empirical approach to Scripture. If miracles were part of ordinary providence, then empirical investigation was necessary to determine how the miracle was performed. The "how" of the miracle was certainly within the reach of ordinary empirical investigation because the miracle belonged to ordinary providence.67

In the second place, closely related to what we have said above, the issue of miracles involved the issue of the relation between the natural and the supernatural. Janssen claimed that his opponents made such separation between the two that they, in fact, created a dualism between the natural and supernatural and fell into the trap of separating nature and grace.68 His argument, though it is difficult to see the legitimacy of it, apparently was that those who opposed him, in refusing to recognize the use of means, refused to see the close relation between God's supernatural works and his natural works in creation.69 By making the miracles wholly supernatural, Janssen's critics, so Janssen argued, interpreted the miracles as complete supernatural interventions in the course of nature without being related to nature, and thus dualistically opposed to God's own works in nature.

This question of the relation between the natural and supernatural involved the further question of whether God created something in the miracles. Janssen insisted this was impossible, for God's work of creation was completed at the end of the creation week.70 He charged his opponents with teaching that the miracles involved new creations -- and his opponents also freely admitted to this.71 Thus, when water came from the rock in the wilderness, God, according to Janssen's opponents, created that water. It was not previously in the rock, as Janssen taught, but was formed by God at the moment of the miracle.

Whatever may be the solution to this problem of creation in miracles, it is clear that, while Janssen

accused his opponents of separating the supernatural from the natural, Janssen himself denied the supernatural altogether in the miracles. That is, while Janssen did not deny God's work in the miracles, he did not distinguish between God's work in His ordinary providence and God's work in the miracles. In this way, Janssen denied the miraculous.

One more issue was raised in connection with the condemnation of Janssen by the Synod of 1922. That was the question of canonicity. It is by no means the most important of the issues, but it deserves some passing mention, because it stands related to the other questions raised by Janssen's teachings.

Really two issues were present also in connection with canonicity: Does the canonicity of a book require that Christ be revealed in it? and: What is the relation between Isagogics (the study of canonicity) and Exegesis?

In general, the Investigatory Committee also criticized Janssen's teachings on canonicity from the viewpoint of his failure to develop and teach a doctrine of Scripture.72 Evidently the committee believed that if a proper doctrine of Scripture had been taught in his courses, Janssen would not have erred on this question. And, Janssen's failure to teach a doctrine of Scripture was ground for suspicion that he either had no definite views on the subject, or that what views he had were defective and unReformed.

Canonicity involves such questions as authorship, source, occasion for the writing, audience addressed, and the unique place which a given book occupies in the organism of Scripture as a whole. This latter question would involve two additional questions: how does a given book differ from other books in the canon? and what is the relation between a given book and the other books? A correct view of the doctrine of Scripture would, in the committee's opinion, provide proper answers also to these questions. But Janssen failed to teach explicitly a doctrine of Scripture, and the result was definite errors in canonicity.

More particularly, when the committee spoke of the unity of Holy Scripture, it undoubtedly referred to the fact that Scripture, while composed of a wide diversity of parts (diversity of testaments, of genera, of literary styles, etc.), was a unified whole with one principle of unity. This one principle of unity was the one great truth that Scripture is the infallibly inspired record of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.73

In The Banner Rev. Hoeksema criticized Janssen as early as 1921 for undermining the organic unity of the canon. He cited as proof Janssen's description of Ecclesiastes as a pessimistic viewpoint of a skeptical philosopher, Janssen's description of the Song of Solomon as a song concerning natural love, and Janssen's assertion that Abraham was ignorant of the truth of the immortality of the soul. Hoeksema's argument was that these views of Janssen really deny that these parts of Scripture reveal Christ. Since Christ is the principle of the unity of Scripture, by denying Christ in these passages, Scripture's unity is also denied.74

The majority of the Investigatory Committee made specific reference to this question. It asked how it was possible for Ecclesiastes to be revelation if it was the writings of a skeptical philosopher, and how it was possible for the Song of Solomon to reveal Christ if it was song of natural love.75 Very clearly the assumption was that Scripture has its principle of organic unity in the one truth of Christ; to eliminate Christ from a given book is to bring into question its canonicity, and, therefore, its place in Scripture which is the record of divine revelation.

Q. Breen defended Janssen's views on this matter. He wrote:

Much of the same (Janssen's position that a firm commitment to God's sovereignty would allow God "to inspire Scripture in any manner he chose.") holds for Professor Janssen's interpretation of the Song of Songs. I recall how eloquent his conversation about this could be. If, indeed, this book was intended as a prophetic allegory of Christ and the church, it must be regarded as the strongest and clearest O.T. document of its kind. But here he saw a paradox. If this was so, why did not Christ or any N.T. writer ever quote it? Besides, why should the love of a man and a maid not be given the eloquent blessing of an entire Bible book? Is it not a creation of God and maintained by his providence? Does not this pure example of praise for natural love suggest that all God's works in nature and man and maintained by his providence are holy, and not to be neglected at one's peril of disgracing the Holy Spirit?76

Obviously, the Synod did not agree with this explanation of Janssen's teachings and condemned him for departing from the Reformed view.

Only one reference in all the material, so far as I can determine, can be found on the relation between Isagogics and Exegesis.77 In this passage, the majority of the Investigatory Committee explains that Janssen taught the view that exegesis preceded Isagogics in the organism of the various theological disciplines because every piece of literature must be studied before Isagogical questions can be asked. The committee criticized this because it attempted to treat Scripture like any piece of literature.

While there can be no question about it that the study of Scripture as any piece of literature is a serious mistake78 and while, as we noticed earlier in this chapter, Janssen certainly was guilty of this in his views on inspiration and revelation, nevertheless, it is not so clear that the criticism of Janssen is to the point on this question. Scripture must be studied as the infallibly inspired record of God's revelation, and that approach of faith must be the all-controlling principle of exegesis. But it seems patently true that all the questions raised by a proper Isagogics are questions which can only be answered on the basis of exegesis.

The assertion of Janssen's critics on this point must have taken into account, however, Janssen's views on other matters. Janssen did not think it impossible that, not only the Pentateuch, but also other books of the Bible made use of sources, even in some cases, uninspired sources.79 And, because other sources were used in the composition of Scripture, books, or parts of books, were not authored by means of those whose names appear in the books (or in other parts of Scripture) as the authors.80

All these views of Janssen pointed to erroneous conceptions of Isagogics, and, though these errors in Isagogics stood related to other errors, they were, in their own right, sufficiently important to merit the condemnation of the Synod of 1922.

So the issues were clear-cut and the church, in condemning them, reaffirmed the views of Scripture held by the whole of the Reformed tradition from the time of the Reformation and repudiated in no uncertain terms errors of higher criticism that had entered the Seminary through Janssen's instruction.



1. This report is found in Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. JanssenReturn

2. H. Hoeksema, The Banner (September 30, 1920): 599-600. Return

3. R. Janssen, De Synodale Conclusies (Grand Rapids: The author, 1923): 26-27. As far as I have been able to discover, this was the first time that Janssen used this in his defense. It may be, therefore, that he was not the originator of this idea, for the Minority Report of the Investigatory Committee suggested this same idea as a defense of Janssen's teachings. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, p. 158. This position was, however, obviously untrue. Janssen himself never made very much of it; but his defense of his position presupposed the accuracy of the judgments made against him. That is, Janssen never really disputed that he taught the things charged against him. Admitting that he taught what his critics claimed were his views, he insisted they were genuinely Reformed. Return

4. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, p. 20-21. See also H. Hoeksema, "The New King and his Kingdom," The Banner (September 30, 1920): 599-600; 56 (April 14, 1921): 229-230. What appears here and in the following quotes in quotation marks indicates quotations made by the Majority Committee from Janssen's Notes. Return

5. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, p. 22 Return

6. Ibid., p. 29. Return

7. Ibid., p. 34. Return

8. Breen, "My Reflections of Prof. R. Janssen and on the Janssen Case of 1922," p. 9. Return

9. Ibid., pp. 29-31. Return

l0. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 155-168.Return

11. Kuiper, De Janssen Kwestie en Nog Iets, pp. 17-20. Return

12. See H. Hoeksema, "Dr. Janssen's Notes." The Banner (April 21, 1921): 245-246; Janssen's repeated appeal to Kuyper as quoted from the Student Notes and in his brochures; the Majority Report, Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 33-34. This question of the interpretation of Kuyper also involved a further question of the encyclopedic place of theology, a subject I discuss briefly below. Return

13. This is quoted from Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 215-216. This document does not specifically indicate that all this was approved by Synod. For such approval, see Acts of Synod of 1922, Art. 51, pp. 125-128. Return

14. See Chapter II. Return

15. See, e.g., Hoeksema, "Dr. Janssen's Notes." The Banner 56 (April 21, 1921): 245-246. Return

16. Ibid. Return

17. See especially Abraham Kuyper, Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology Its Principles, tr. by Rev. J. Hendrik De Vries. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898.)Return

18. Ibid., p. 54. Return

19. Ibid. See also pp. 292ff.Return

20. See Hoeksema's citation from Janssen's Notes in the article in The Banner referred to above, where Janssen says: "We may have prepossessions and no man can rid himself of these. Each individual has a certain type of religion, for religion is an essential characteristic of the human being." Return

21. Stob, "Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools," pp. 277-278. Return

22. Ibid., p. 280. Return

23. Ibid., pp. 281-285. Return

24. It is interesting to observe that the Form for the Ordination of Professors of Theology, still in use in the Protestant Reformed Churches and the original Christian Reformed Form, speaks of theology as the queen of the sciences. Return

25. This latter question assumed considerable importance in connection with the question of common grace we shall treat it more extensively in the next chapter. Return

26. Boer, "Ralph Janssen After Fifty Years . . . , " p. 19. While no one, so far as I know, would disagree that literary, linguistic and historical data had to be taken into account in the interpretation of Scripture, the determinative word here is "origin." Return

27. Breen, "My Reflections on Prof. Ralph Janssen and on the Janssen Case of 1922," p. 10. Return

28. L. Berkhof, et. al., Waar Het in de Zaak Janssen Om Gaat, p. 31. Return

29. Ibid., p. 31. See also, Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 50ff. Return

30. Ibid., p. 33. Return

31. Ibid., p. 34. See also Hoeksema, "The New King and His Kingdom," The Banner (October 7, 1920): 615-616. Return

32. Hoeksema, "Not Satisfied," The Banner (January 27, 1921): 55-56. Return

33. Ibid. Return

34. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, p. 42. Return

35. Ibid., pp. 43-44, 56. Return

36. Ibid., pp. 48, 53. Return

37. Ibid., p. 54. Note on this page that Janssen is quoted as saying that Scripture is in part human thought. While surely in the study of inspiration, distinction has usually been made between formal inspiration (the infallible record of human words, sometimes sinful, as in the case of what Scripture records from the lips of Pilate) and material inspiration (the infallible inspiration of God's own Word to His people), it is clear from the quotations that Janssen had more in mind than this traditional distinction. Return

38. Ibid., p. 54. Return

39. Ibid., pp. 59-60. Return

40. Ibid. Return

41. Ibid., p. 61. Return

42. Ibid., p. 64 Return

43. Ibid., pp. 75-79. Return

44. Ibid., pp. 83-84, 106. Return

45. R. Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika (Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids Printing Co., 1922.) pp. 44-48. The view which Janssen here takes is very common today. One is said to have to make a choice between mechanical inspiration (an obviously impossible position to take) and organic inspiration (which is idea inspiration and allows for "errors" in Scripture). This is, in my judgment, a false disjunction. Return

46. See e.g., Janssen, De Synodale Conclusies, already referred to, p. 38, and Janssen, Voortzetting Van Den Strijd, pp. 3-6. Return

47. See, e.g., the instances mentioned above concerning the call of Abraham, the revelation of the name Jehovah, etc. The majority of the Investigatory Committee cites other instances as well. Return

48. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, p. 42 Return

49. Boer, "Ralph Janssen After Fifty Years..., " pp. 17-22. Return

50. Ibid., p. 19. Return

51. H. Boer, "Aftermath." The Reformed Journal (November 1973 ): 21-22 Return

52. See, e.g., Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, pp. 38-39. Return

53. See above where this point is discussed. Return

54. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 52-53. Return

55. See above, where these views are discussed in connection with Janssen's views on inspiration.Return

56. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, p. 102. Return

57. Ibid., p. 106. Return

58. Hoeksema, "Not Satisfied." The Banner (January 27, 1921): 55-56. It might be well to note in this connection that this article, as well as others written during this period, were written after the Synod of 1920 and before the Synod of 1922. During this interim there is some evidence that Janssen modified some of his teachings, although no principle difference can be found in them. Return

59. This is an important and crucial point in Janssen's defense of his position, but a detailed examination of it must wait till the next chapter and our discussion of common grace. Janssen himself connected general revelation and common grace, and this is justification for postponing our treatment of the issue. Return

60. Neither the Majority Committee nor the Synod made an effort to explain what was the relation between special and general revelation. This is, at first glance, some- thing of a surprise; but it may be that the views of Janssen on the relation between general revelation and common grace were rather widely held in the church even in these years. We shall look more closely at this matter a bit later. Return

61. While the other issues were somewhat doctrinal and abstruse, the issue of the miracles was one every person could easily understand. And it was, after all, this question of the validity of the miracles which was then being debated in Presbyterian circles. It was an issue between Modernism and Fundamentalism. Return

62. Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, pp. 13-16. Return

63. Berkhof, et. al., Waar het in de Zaak Janssen Om Gaat, pp. 21-22. Return

64. Boer, "Ralph Janssen After Fifty Years..., p. 19. Return

65. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 131-133 Return

66. The issues in the discussion strike one as being unclearly defined, and the problem somewhat vague. This is perhaps due to a wrong definition of miracle by both Prof. Janssen and his opponents. It may be that this was partly why Rev. Hoeksema re-examined the whole question of miracles and defined them in a different way in his later dogmatic studies. See for this, H. Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics, (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1966): pp. 237-243. Return

67. Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, p. 16. Return

68. Janssen, De Synodale Conclusies, p. 69; Janssen, Voortzetting van den Strijd (Grand Rapids: The author, 1922). p. 9. Return

69. Janssen again connects all this to common grace, as we shall presently see. Return

70. Janssen, Voortzetting van den Strijd, p. 8. Return

71. Berkhof, et. al., Waar het in de Zaak Janssen Om Gaat, p. 23. Return

72. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, p. 41. Return

73. Neither the Investigatory Committee nor Janssen's opponents went into these matters in detail in their writings. This is to be understood from a certain point of view. Janssen's critics could not have developed any positive views on these subjects in their critiques of Janssen's position, and it was to be assumed in the church that these things were commonly believed. Our analysis of the argumentation, therefore, is, in the nature of the case, somewhat speculative, but can in most instances be deduced from the assertions of the critics. Return

74. Hoeksema, "Not Satisfied." The Banner (January 27, 1921): 55-56. Return

75. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 50ff. Return

76. Breen, My Reflections on Prof. Ralph Janssen and on the Janssen Case of 1922, p. 6. Return

77. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, p. 34. Return

78. This mistake is also made in literary - historical criticism or redaction criticism. Return

79. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 75-84, 106. Return

80. Many instances of this can be found. See especially Ibid., pp. 42, 48, 53, 54, 61, 79-84, etc. See also, Hoeksema, "Not Satisfied." The Banner (January 1921): 56, where Hoeksema quotes Janssen as teaching that Daniel was not the author of the prophecy by that name, but that the unknown author used a literary device when claiming to be Daniel. Return

Chapter II: The History


The battle which rocked the Christian Reformed Church to its foundations during the years 1919 - 1922 swirled around Prof. Ralph Janssen, professor of Old Testament in Calvin Theological Seminary.

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.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;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.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.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 CultureThe 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.44Even 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.


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

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