During the classical recess the consistory of the Eastern Avenue Church did not remain idle.
In the first place, they decided upon and executed a most extraordinary and unprecedented measure of discipline; which was, however, fully justified by the most extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances that occasioned it and made it necessary.
Let us, then, first recall those circumstances.
The “Ninety-two” had very definitely severed their connection with the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church. In their appeal to the classis they had emphatically declared that they had broken with the consistory. Besides, they had repeatedly claimed that they were the congregation proper, the true and faithful members. From all this it must be perfectly evident that they had resigned from their membership of the Church as it was then constituted. For, in spite of their allegations it must be admitted that the functioning consistory was still the only legal consistory of the Eastern Avenue Church; and it was clearly acknowledged as such by the classis.
Now, it is sound Reformed Church Polity to accept the resignation of a church member that gives official notice of such resignation to the consistory.
When any single member appears before the consistory to resign for his membership, the consistory will for a time labor with such a member and try to show him the evil of this way. But if such a member persists in his resignation the only thing a consistory can do is accept.
And the consistory of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church had always followed this rule in the past.
Besides, it must be borne in mind that this particular resignation of the “Ninety-two” had assumed a very peculiar form. They had resigned with the claim that they were the congregation proper and that they, therefore, had deposed the actually functioning consistory! The consistory was, therefore, compelled to choose between two alternatives: to permit the revolutionary movement of the “Ninety-two,” admit that they were the congregation proper and acknowledge their own deposition; or to treat them as rebellious members that had officially resigned for their membership of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church.
The consistory decided upon the latter course.
It may probably be objected that, before the consistory could conscientiously accept the resignation of these members, they should have labored with them for a season.
Under ordinary circumstances this certainly should have been done. Under the existing, extraordinary circumstances however, this was a practical impossibility through no fault of the consistory. The “ninety-two” had taken the matter to the classis with the request that this broader gathering should support them in their contention that they were the congregation proper and that the consistory was deposed. The classis had received their request and, in part, had acted upon it, though the matter had not yet been decided. The classis, therefore, had really become a party to this revolutionary movement of the “Ninety-two.” Under these circumstances it became imperative for the consistory to act before the classis would meet again on December 9. It was, therefore, because of the very action of the “Ninety-two” and of the classis, impossible for the consistory to labor with all the signers of the appeal to the classis individually.
Besides, the consistory decided to meet with this difficulty in part by offering the signers of the appeal to the classis a final opportunity to retract their resignation. This left the entire matter to their own choice and decision.
Now, the protest of the “Ninety-two,” that had been delivered to the classis before the consistory had received a copy, was presented to the consistory in its meeting of November 25, that is, the day following the adjournment of the classis.
The matter was, therefore, now legally before the consistory:
And it decided to pass the following resolution:
“Considering that there has been brought to the attention of this, the Consistory of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, a certain printed communication or pamphlet, signed by several members of said Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, said to be ninety-two in number and whose names are set forth below, and are hereinafter referred to as the subscribers;
“Considering, that said communication was addressed to the Classis Grand Rapids East of the Christian Reformed Churches, assembled the 19th of November 1924, and purported to be a protest or remonstrance on the part of the subscribers against the pastor and the consistory of said church or congregation;
“Considering, that among other things contained and set forth in said communication the following statements appear, namely:
“ ‘It has become impossible for us to listen any longer to the preaching of Reverend H. Hoeksema as our pastor. Many of us refuse to send our children to the catechism because we do not entrust them to the teaching of our pastor. Some of us refuse to present our children to baptism and we all refuse to celebrate the Lord’s Supper with pastor and consistory. In one word, we have practically broken with both consistory and pastor, and that because of their refusal to submit to synodical and classical decisions.’
“ ‘One more thing before we inform you about the history we made in Eastern Avenue since the last Classis. From what appears before Classis it is evident that a certain measure of cooperation has taken place on the part of those who sign this pamphlet. We do not care to conceal this. We are of the opinion that we not only have the right to this but that duty calls us to such action. This action is entirely in harmony with our standpoint, and we are of the opinion that the consistory has, in fact, broken church connections. Now, against such a consistory we cannot sin by protesting together. By virtue of the office of believers we had broken our cooperation with that consistory.’
“Considering that said declaration on the part of said subscribers constitutes and is, in effect, an open renunciation on the part of said subscribers of their respective membership in said church or congregation, and a refusal on their part to partake in the rights, benefits and privileges belonging or appertaining to such members;
“Considering, that by reason of said signing of aforesaid pamphlet on the part of said subscribers, the said consistory is bound to take notice thereof, and to act accordingly;
“Considering, further, that said consistory and pastor are willing at all times to abide by the decisions of any larger or broader assemblies of said church in respect to any matters of discipline, doctrine or government that may be properly brought before such bodies;
“Considering, that said subscribers have by signing of said pamphlet or communication, asserted a refusal on their part to abide by the decisions or findings of such larger or broader assemblies:
“Therefore, be it resolved by said consistory of said Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church that the said signers and subscriber of said pamphlet or communication be, and they are hereby, suspended or removed from further membership or communion with said church or congregation (subject, however, to any provisions of the Church Order). Provided, and be it.
“Further resolved by said consistory, that a copy of this resolution shall be mailed to each of said subscribers at his or her last known place of address by United States Registered Mail; and that a notice attached thereto shall provide that said subscriber shall either in person or by writing appear before said consistory at its usual place of meeting at said Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church in said city of Grand Rapids at a special meeting to be held Thursday, December 4th, at 7:45 P.M., and then and there answer the following question:
“Do you or do you not acknowledge yourself to be in full membership and communion with the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, as now constituted?
“And be it further resolved that the effect and force of this resolution shall not apply to any of said subscribers who shall before said consistory meeting affirmatively subscribe or assent to said question, except as to members already under censure.”
If the reader should receive the impression from the language of this document that the consistory, too, had been seeking legal advice, it may be stated that this impression is correct.
It was decided, moreover, to give notice of this action to the classis and to offer a copy of this document to that body as soon as it should resume its sessions. Each of the “Ninety-two” received a copy of this resolution together with the request to appear before the consistory of December 4. None of them, however, appeared. Their resignation was definitely accepted.
From that date the classis treated the case of protestants that had no connection with any church.
At that same meeting of November 25, the consistory appointed a committee, consisting of the pastor and the clerk, Mr. S.G. Schaafsma, to prepare a properly motivated reply to the last communication of the classis. At the consistory meeting of December 9 this proposed reply was read in both the Holland and the English language. This reply, as it was approved and adopted by the consistory, reads as follows:
“Classis Grand Rapids East, assembled in special session on December 9, in the Oakdale Park Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Mich.
“The consistory of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church received and took notice of the contents of a communication of Classis Grand Rapids East, dated November 24, 1924, in which the classis requires of the consistory that it ask its pastor, the Reverend H. Hoeksema, whether he is in full agreement with the Three Points as expressed by Synod, cf. Acts of Synod, 1924, Art. 132, p. 145 ff., and, secondly, whether he will submit with the right of appeal to the Confessional Standards of the Church as interpreted by Synod of 1924.
“The consistory of said Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church respectfully submits to your attention the following answer:
“I. The Consistory calls the attention of Classis to the fact that in placing the Consistory before this double requirement mentioned above Classis interferes with matters that are not legally, according to Church Order, brought to the attention of Classis:
“(1) Because Classis enters in upon these matters upon the basis of two overtures, one from the Consistory of the Dennis Avenue Christian Reformed Church, and one from the Consistory of the Creston Christian Reformed Church, both of Grand Rapids. These overtures are not legally in accordance with the Church Order, before the Classis;
“(2) Because not Classis Grand Rapids East, but the consistory of said Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church is the proper body to receive such overtures in the first place. Art. 30 of the Church Order states: ‘In major assemblies only such matters shall be dealt with as could not be finished in minor assemblies.’ And according to the communication of Classis Grand Rapids East herein referred to, in Reformed Church Government the rule is that disciplinary procedure must be exercised by the Church judicatories in the order of Consistory, Classis and synod and not vice versa. Communication, p. 1.
“(3) Because, even if the Consistories of the Dennis Avenue Christian Reformed Church and of the Creston Christian Reformed Church did possess the right to apply immediately to Classis without acknowledging the Consistory of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, which they certainly did not possess, they should have served copies of said overtures upon the Consistory of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church. The Eastern Avenue Consistory is not aware of the contents of these overtures to this day.
“(4) Because not even a Classical Agendum or Program was received by which the Consistory of Eastern Avenue might be duly notified of these overtures to Classis from the consistories of Dennis Avenue and of Creston. The Consistory of Eastern Avenue was held in complete ignorance with respect to said overtures.
“(5) Because in the past Classis Grand Rapids East ruled that similar overtures presented by consistories to Classis in a similar manner were not acceptable. (Cf. Minutes of Classis Grand Rapids East, Sept. 1913.) An overture appeared at that time on the agendum of Classis from the Consistory of the Oakdale Park Christian Reformed Church, requesting the Classis to express its disapproval of the stand taken by Reverend J. Groen with regard to woman suffrage. The Consistory of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church of which at that time the Reverend Groen was pastor, decided to place the following resolution on the letter of credentials for its delegates to classis:
“ ‘The Consistory requests Classis not to deal with the overture from the Oakdale Park Consistory in re the pastor of Eastern Avenue since this would be in direct opposition to our Reformed Church Polity and would imply not only an insult against the pastor, but also a total disregard of the Consistory. The Consistory, therefore, feels obliged to protest against such action.’ (Minutes of the Consistory of Eastern Avenue, Sept. 10, 1913.)
“Among the grounds upon which the above resolution was to be defended by the delegates to Classis, the minutes of said Consistory contain the following:
“ ‘It is disciplinary action applied by a major assembly upon the pastor of a congregation and proceeds upon the assumption that Classis may exercise a sort of supreme authority and guardianship over the churches. This is worse than collegialistic, this is popish. Classis has power only to serve with advice regarding a matter of discipline to be executed by the local consistory.
“ ‘The accusing party did not make a single attempt to deal with the accused according to Matthew 18.’
“ ‘The accusing part did not apply to the Consistory of the accused. This is an unheard of disregard for the authority and rights of the Consistory.’
“(As a matter of mere curiosity and interest in the case before Classis at present, it may be added that the last ground of Consistory against the overture of Oakdale Park reads as follows:
“ ‘The case is a social, political question and is not properly decided by an ecclesiastical assembly. For what belongs to the sphere of the Church?
“ ‘1. The domain of special grace.
“ ‘2. Matters pertaining to the offices in the Church, for outside of these the Church has not executive organs.
“ ‘3. That which concerns fundamental truths in connection with the way of salvation.)
“And lastly we quote from the Minutes of said Consistory of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, Sept. 26, 1913 the following:
“ ‘The delegates to Classis assembled Sept. 17 give a report. From the report it appears that Classis did not enter in upon the request of the Oakdale Park Consistory, namely, to express disapproval of the stand taken by the Reverend J. Groen in re Woman Suffrage.’
“On the basis of all these grounds the Consistory of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church contends that Classis did not act in conformity with Reformed Church Polity and Government when it entered upon the discussion of the overtures of the Consistories of the Dennis Avenue and the Creston Christian Reformed Churches, declared these overtures legal and acted upon the request continued therein.
“The Consistory therefore, protests against this action of the Classis Grand Rapids East, and hereby serves notice upon Classis that in due time and in the proper way it will appeal the case to Synod.
“In the meantime, the Consistory respectfully but urgently requests that Classis interfere no further with what is so clearly none of her business until such a time as Synod shall have expressed itself in the matter.
“II. Submitting, however, under protest, the Consistory of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church considered the contents of the communication received from Classis Grand Rapids East and dated Nov. 4, 1924. To it the Consistory respectfully submits the answer following hereinafter.
“A. There is, evidently a difference of opinion between Classis Grand Rapids East and the Consistory of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church with regard to the proper interpretation of the decisions and acts of the Synod of 1924 with respect to the teachings of the pastor of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, the Reverend H. Hoeksema. The difference concisely stated appears to be as follows:
“1. Classis contends:
“a. That the only matters that were properly before Synod 1924 are the ‘doctrinal issues involved in the Common grace Controversy.’ (communication, p. 1.)
“b. That disciplinary procedure could not be followed and disciplinary action could not be taken by Synod, since this was not properly before Synod, seeing that disciplinary action must be exercised by the Church judicatories in the order of consistory, Classis and synod and not vice versa. (Communication, p. 1.)
“c. That Synod fully ‘sustained the protests against the teachings of the Reverend H. Hoeksema in re the three points’ (Communication, p. 1.)
“d. That ‘Synod left it to the Consistory to enforce the doctrinal decrees of Synod,’ (Communication, p. 1.)
“2. The Consistory of Eastern Avenue contends:
“a. That the matters that were properly before Synod of 1924 and upon which said Synod was in duty bound to act and did act were not only the doctrinal issues involved in the Common Grace Controversy, but also definite complaints lodged against the teachings of the Reverend H. Hoeksema, requests that the be required to retract his teachings and that he should be disciplined even to suspension from office and deposition in case he should refuse to submit.
“b. That Synod was very well aware of the fact that these matters regarding disciplinary procedure in the case against Reverend H. Hoeksema were properly before its body, since they had been appealed from the Consistory to Classis and Classis to Synod, and, therefore, could be dealt with by Synod in full conformity with Art. 30 of the Church Order.
“c. That Synod did not fully sustain the protests against the teachings of Reverend H. Hoeksema in re the three points, neither with regard to the material and doctrinal contents of these protests, nor with regard to the demand for disciplinary procedure contained in them.
“d. That there is not a single item of proof in the Acts of Synod, 1924, for the contention that Synod intended to leave the enforcement of disciplinary rules to the minor assemblies. On the contrary, there is an abundance of evidence that Synod did not intend disciplinary action whatsoever.
“e. That, therefore, the entire case having been appealed to Synod, 1924, and said Synod having ruled in the matter, the case is a closed one, and no minor assembly possesses the right to lodge the same complaints anew. This is in conformity with Art. 46 of the Church Order: ‘Instructions concerning matters to be considered by major assemblies shall not be written until the decision of previous synods touching these matters have been read, in order that what was once decided be not against proposed unless a revision be deemed necessary.’
“f. It is not the Consistory of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, but Classis that is not satisfied with the decisions of Synod in re the teachings of the Reverend H. Hoeksema. And, therefore, if classis desires a revision of said decisions of said Synod, Classis must appeal and send an overture regarding this matter to Synod.
“B. Proof of Consistory’s Contention:
“1. That the matters which were properly before Synod 1924 and upon which said Synod was in duty bound to act and did act were not only the doctrinal issues involved in the Common Grace Controversy, but definite complaints lodged against the teachings of Reverend H. Hoeksema, requests that he be required to retract and that he should be disciplined even to suspension from office and to deposition in case he should refuse to submit.
“a. Before Synod was a protest signed by J. De Hoog, W. Hoeksema and H. Vander Vennen, entitled ‘To the Classis Grand Rapids East of the Christian Reformed Church, assembled May 21, 1924,’ and in the form of a printed pamphlet. This protest was before Synod on the basis of an appeal made from the Consistory of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church to Classis Grand Rapids East, and from Classis to Synod 1924. Said protest was duly received by Synod 1924, as is evident from the report of the Synodical Committee ad hoc, to be found in the Acts of Synod 1924, p. 114: ‘Protest against Classis Grand Rapids East and appeal to Synod by three members of the congregation of Eastern Avenue, H. Vander Vennen, J. De Hoog and W. Hoeksema, in re their protest against their pastor and Consistory, which protest was referred back to the Consistory of Eastern Avenue by Classis Grand Rapids East, May 21.’ This protest and appeal was declared to be legally before Synod and accepted by that body as is evident from the following: (Cf. Acts of Synod, 1924, pp. 116, 117.)
“ ‘The Committee advises to maintain this protest. Grounds:
“ ‘(1) The Consistory has had sufficient time to make a beginning with the treatment of this protest of these brethren against their pastor, which it did not do.
“ ‘(2) Classis Grand Rapids East should have acted upon this protest in her session of May 21, on the above mentioned ground.
“ ‘(3) The case has now reached such a stage that with a view to the well-being of the Church Synodical treatment is demanded.’
“This advice of the Committee was adopted by Synod, as is evident from the acts of Synod, 1924, p. 138:
“Now from said protest, legally acted upon by Synod, we quote the following:
“From p. 4:
“ ‘Esteemed Brethren:
“ ‘Undersigned, members of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, consider themselves obliged, though very loath to do so, to protest against the doctrine of our pastor, Reverend H. Hoeksema.’
“From pp. 11, 12:
“ ‘Whereas he, however, assured us, that he would never change his standpoint and gave evidence of this in sermon and speech, we offer you herewith our protest, kindly but urgently requesting you to accept this protest as your own and to attempt to convince our pastor of his errors, in order that, if it might be, he may retract them, and that you otherwise may follow the procedure prescribed to you.’
“From this it is evident, that Synod did not deal with abstract doctrinal issues but with definite complaints lodged against the teachings of Reverend H. Hoeksema, and with requests that the latter should be treated and disciplined.
“b. Before Synod was a Protest (Bezwaarschrift) addressed to the Consistories of the Christian Reformed Churches Kalamazoo I, and Eastern Avenue, Grand Rapids, Mich., signed by the Reverend Jan Karel Van Baalen and in the form of a printed pamphlet. Said protest of the Reverend Jan Karel Van Baalen was before Synod in the way of appeal from the Consistory of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, to Classis Grand Rapids East, and from Classis to Synod 1924.
“Said protest was duly received by Synod as is evident from the report of the Synodical Committee ad hoc, to be found in the Acts of Synod, 1924, p. 114: ‘Protest against Classis Grand Rapids East and appeal to Synod by Reverend J.K. Van Baalen in re his protest against the doctrine of Reverend H. Hoeksema, which protest was referred back to the Consistory of Eastern Avenue by Classis Grand Rapids East, assembled May 21.’
“This protest was declared legally before Synod and accepted by that body, as is evident from Acts of Synod, 1924, p. 117, III:
“ ‘Formally this protest is legally before Synod, since the double demand for such cases was complied with.
“ ‘Your committee advises Synod to maintain this protest. Grounds:
“ ‘(1) The Consistory of Eastern Avenue unjustly demanded of Reverend J. K. Van Baalen, that he first confer with the pastor, in order then to appear before a combined consistory meeting of Eastern Avenue and Kalamazoo I, since:
“ ‘(a) The case in question falls under Art. 74 of the Church Order and Matthew 18 is not applicable.
“ ‘(b) The proposed combined consistory meeting could not be a legal consistory meeting.
“ ‘(2) Classis Grand Rapids East admitted the injustice of these demands and could have acted upon the material of this protest in her session of May 21.
“ ‘(3) The case has now reached such a stage that the well-being of the Churches demands Synodical treatment.’
“This advice of the Committee was adopted by Synod. (Cf. Acts of Synod, p. 138.)
“Now from said protest we quote the following:
“From p. 1:
“ ‘When officebearers in the Christian Reformed Church openly propagate a doctrine which is in conflict with the Confession of our Church and the plain expressions of the Word of God, it is the sad but serious calling of their fellow-officebearers to refute them by pointing out to them as well as to the Churches in whose midst they propagate their false doctrine, the unreformed character of their views …
“ ‘If, however, a written and open refutation of the written and openly propagated erroneous views, together with a call to retract is of no avail, it becomes the no less sad yet no less serious calling to make the case pending with the consistories that have supervision over the doctrine and walk of those officebearers, with the urgent request that they will employ every available means to bring their fellow officebearers back from their error.
“ ‘Thus it is, alas, the case with the Reverends H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema.
“ ‘Therefore, the undersigned thinks it necessary to turn to you, requesting you in the name of the Lord our God to treat this case in the proper church-political way.’
“From p. 2:
“ ‘We have to do here with open sins of officebearers, with a violation of what is promised by them in the Formula of Subscription of Ministers.’
“From p. 16:
“ ‘Esteemed Brethren: Undersigned hopes and prays that you may succeed to convince your pastors and to bring them to retract their unwarranted indictments against our churches, was well as their proposition indicated above.’
“It is evident that the Reverend Van Baalen did not bring an abstract question concerning doctrinal issues before Synod, but a very concrete case against Reverend H. Hoeksema, even alleging that the latter committed an open sin; that he demands retraction or discipline; and that Synod accepted all this as legally before it.
“c. The same is true of an overture sent to synod by Classis Grand Rapids East and which was an extract of the protest of the Reverend M. M. Schans. Also this overture did not ask for the settlement of mere doctrinal issues, but for an investigation of the teachings of the Reverend H. Hoeksema. And no less is this true of the protest of the Reverend J. Vander Mey. All these documents were before Synod, legally accepted by that body and acted upon. Abundant evident of the truth of the proposition of the Consistory expressed under I.
“2. That Synod was well aware of the fact that these matters regarding disciplinary procedure in the case of the Reverend H. Hoeksema were properly before its body since they had been appealed from Consistory to Classis and from Classis to Synod, and, therefore, could be dealt with in full conformity with Art. 30 of the Church Order. Proof:
“a. The committee appointed for the case in question while Synod was in session conceived of the matter in this light. This is evident from the following extract of their full report, which for some reason unknown to us was not even printed in what is alleged to be a full report of that committee in the Acts of Synod, 1924:
“ ‘If Synod accepts the above points, the question arises immediately whether Synod must make a case of discipline of the matter by turning with the grievances against the pastors, H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema to their respective consistories. Your committee judges that this would be less desirable:
“ ‘a. Because the brethren, according to their own repeated declarations do not want and purpose anything but to teach and maintain the Reformed doctrine, the doctrine of the Holy Scriptures and of the Confessions, and we gladly accept of them that they erred in good faith; and
“ ‘b. Because it cannot be denied that in the fundamental truths as they are formulated in our Confessions they are Reformed, even though it be with an inclination to one-sidedness.
“ ‘However, your committee advises Synod that thru its president:
“ ‘(1) It seriously admonishes the brethren with a view to their deviations and to ask of them the promise that in the future they will adhere to what Synod expressed in the three points mentioned above.
“ ‘(2) It urges the brethren H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema in all seriousness to refrain from all attempts to propagate their deviating views with regard to the three points in the Church;
“ ‘(3) It points out to the two brethren, that in case, either now or in the near future it should become evident, that they will not adhere to the decisions of Synod, this body will be obliged, though very loath to do so, to make the case pending with their consistories.
“ ‘Should the brethren refuse to live up to these proposed conditions the Synod would then have to appoint a committee. Your committee would in that case make the suggestion that this committee consist of the officers of the Synod,’ (pp. 12, 13, typewritten report.)
“It must be remembered that this advice of the committee was not adopted by Synod. It is only quoted in order to show, that the committee was well convinced that synod had before her a question of discipline and that Synod was not only justified but also in duty bound to act in the matter.
“b. Synod also conceived of the case in the same light. It is not true that Synod merely expressed itself with regard to the doctrinal issues involved in the Common Grace Controversy, as Classis presents the matter. She also rendered a decision with regard to the view of the Reverends H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema, as follows:
“ ‘Synod declares that several expressions in the writings of the Reverends H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema can hardly be harmonized with what Scripture and the Confessions teach us concerning the three points mentioned above. Besides, Synod judges that said pastors in their writings use a few strong expressions that show that in their presentation of the truth they do not sufficiently reckon with the manner in which our Confessional Standards express themselves and especially not with Point I of the Conclusions of Utrecht.
“ ‘On the other hand, Synod expresses that said pastors in their writings, according to their own repeated declarations do not want and intend anything else than to teach and maintain the Reformed truth, the truth of the Word of God and of our Confessions, while it cannot be denied that they are Reformed in the fundamental truths as formulated in our Confessions, even though it be with an inclination to one-sidedness.’ Acts of Synod, p. 147, II.
“In the above paragraph Synod does not express itself merely on doctrinal issues, but renders a concrete decision with regard to the complaints that had been lodged with her against the teachings of the Reverends H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema.
“Synod even exercised a certain form of discipline, though it is admittedly a very peculiar form, and that not only over the brethren Danhof and Hoeksema, but over the entire Church. She did so in the following declaration:
“ ‘With a view to the deviating views of the pastors H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema in re the three points mentioned above, and with a view to the controversy raging in our churches regarding the doctrine of Common Grace, synod admonishes the two brethren that they keep themselves in preaching and writing to the three points discussed, and at the same time Synod admonishes the brethren and the churches in general that they watch against all one-sidedness in the presentation of the truth and to express themselves carefully, soberly and with modesty.’ Acts of Synod 1924, p. 147.
“From all this it is evident that Synod did not conceive of the case before her as involving merely doctrinal issues, but as a very concrete demand for disciplinary action as expressed in the protests that were brought to Synod’s attention.
“3. That Synod did not sustain the protests against the teachings of the Reverend H. Hoeksema in re the three points, neither with regard to the material and doctrinal contents of these protests, nor with regard to the demand for disciplinary action contained in these protests.
“a. The first point in all the protests objected against the teaching of Reverend H. Hoeksema is that God is not graciously inclined, gives no grace to the reprobate.
“This is evident from the following quotations:
“ ‘Reverend H. Hoeksema teaches that God never in any way shows favor to the reprobate or is graciously inclined toward them. ... According to our holiest conviction this is in conflict with Scripture and the Confession’ (The printed protest of H. Vander Venne, J. De Hoog, W. Hoeksema).
“ ‘My first and greatest objection concerns the pastor’s wrong conception of God. According to him God stands over against the world of the non-elect simply and only in an attitude of hatred, wrath and punishment’ (the Protest of the Reverend J. Vander Mey, printed copy, p. 2).
“ ‘Our first grievance concerns the assertion of the Reverends H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema that God is never graciously, favorably or mercifully inclined toward the reprobate’ (Protest of J. K. Van Baalen, p. 2).
“Besides, the Reverend J. Vander Mey expressed in his protest that the truth the pastor denied ‘belongs to the very foundations of Calvinism’, p. 1.
“This point of the protest is admittedly the most important of the three. Yet, Synod did not dare to sustain it in the three points expressed by it. (*) Intentionally Synod avoided the declaration that God is graciously inclined toward the reprobate. The Synodical Committee ad hoc reported on this matter as follows:
“ ‘There are, however, three points concerning which Synod, according to the judgment of the committee, must express itself more particularly, namely: 1. The favorable inclination of God toward all men and not only toward the elect. The committee deems this point of central importance in the question that causes so much unrest at present in our churches. The two following points stand in most intimate relation to this first point, are even more or less implied in it’. (Acts of Synod, p. 124).
“Did Synod accept this point and thus sustain the most important objection of the protestants? It did not. Instead it accepted a substitute motion in which the words reprobate, all men and humanity were carefully avoided, as follows: ‘Regarding the first point concerning the favorable attitude of God toward humanity in general and not only toward the elect, Synod declares that according to Scripture and the Confession it is established, that besides the saving grace shown only to the elect, there is also a certain favor or grace which He shows to His creatures in general,’ Acts of Synod, 1924, pp. 145, 146.
“The Consistory calls attention to the fact, that this first declaration does not sustain the protests, which claimed a grace of God for the reprobate. On the other hand, in this first point, taking literally what Synod expressed, it sustained the teachings of the Reverend H. Hoeksema, pastor of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, as publicly and openly set forth in his writings. We refer to his Langs Zuivere Banen, p. 11, where the pastor wrote before Synod convened: ‘First of all one ought to see clearly that it is not the question whether also now God loves all his creatures. On this we agree. ... The question is simply and purely, whether both elect and reprobate in this life in and with all things these have in common with the elect, receive also grace from God’. ...
“The former proposition, that God also shows grace and love to all His creatures, Synod accepted; the latter, that He shows grace to the reprobate Synod intentionally avoided. Not the protestants were sustained in their first point, but the pastor, Reverend H. Hoeksema, was.
“And over against the assertion of the Reverend J. Vander Mey, that the Reverend H. Hoeksema denied a truth which belongs to the very fundamentals of Calvinism, Synod declared: ‘While it cannot be denied that they are Reformed in the fundamental truths as formulated in the Confessions, even though it be with an inclination toward one-sidedness’. Acts of Synod, 1924, p. 147.
“Neither did Synod sustain the protests in their demand for disciplinary action. All the protests clamored for action. They asked that the pastor be made to retract his views, that he be brought back from his erroneous way, that he be treated, if necessary, all the way to suspension from office.
“The committee appointed for this case by Synod suggested and advised that, in part at least, the protestants should be sustained in their demands with regard to disciplinary procedure. It advised as follows:
“ ‘1. Seriously to admonish the brethren with a view to their deviations and to ask of them the promise that in the future they will adhere to what Synod expressed in the three points mentioned above;
“ ‘2. To urge the brethren, H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema, in all seriousness to refrain from all attempts to propagate their deviating views regarding the three points in the church;
“ ‘3. To point out to the brethren, that in case either now or in the near future, it should become evident that they will not adhere to the decisions of Synod, this body shall be obliged, though very loath to do so, to make the case pending with their respective consistories/
“ ‘4. Should the brethren refuse to live up to these proposed conditions Synod would then have to appoint a committee. Your committee would in that case offer the suggestion that this committee consist of the officers of Synod.’ (Typewritten report, p. 12.)
“Did Synod adopt the advice of the committee? By no means. It rejected it by adopting a substitute motion in which the entire advice was dropped. Synod did not ask the brethren to retract anything, to promise anything, to refrain from anything. Synod never asked the brethren Danhof and Hoeksema to promise a single thing. Instead Synod merely decided to admonish the brethren, together with the entire Church and all other ministers in our churches.
“On the basis of all this the Consistory maintains that Synod did not sustain the protests lodged against the pastor, the Reverend H. Hoeksema, neither with regard to the doctrinal contentions nor with respect to their demand for disciplinary action.
“4. That there is not a single item of proof in the Acts of Synod, 1924, for the contention of Classis that Synod intended to leave the enforcement of disciplinary rules to the minor assemblies. On the contrary, there is abundance of evidence that Synod did not intend disciplinary procedure whatever.
“The first part of the above contention of the Consistory of Eastern Avenue Church is negative. Classis does not quote any proof that Synod had such intentions. Consistory can find no proof in the Acts of Synod, 1924. It is simply a baseless assertion on the part of Classis.
“But the second part of the contention of the Consistory can easily be made evident:
“(1) If Synod had intended disciplinary action it should have been expressed in the Acts of synod.
“(2) Synod acted upon protests that lodged complaints against the teachings of Reverend H. Hoeksema and not merely on an abstract doctrinal proposition.
“(3) Synod acted upon and finished protests that demanded disciplinary action.
“(4) Synod rejected that part of the committee’s report that advised disciplinary procedure. We are aware that Classis denies that synod rejected this part of the report, but without any ground. The patent fact is, that this advice of the committee was before the Synod. When Synod accepts a substitute motion that part of the original motion that does not appear in the substitute motion is certainly rejected. This is exactly what Synod did. At any rate, it is indisputable that Synod did not accept this part of the said committee’s report. And from this it should be apparent, that Synod did not desire discipline. How different this is from the action taken in the Reverend H. Bultema case in 1918! Then Synod plainly asked the Reverend H. Bultema to retract his views and appointed a committee to make the case pending with his consistory in case he would not submit. In still another case, that of the Reverend Q. Breen, the same synod of 1924 advised the consistory of that pastor to take disciplinary action. Yet, no such action was taken in the case of the Reverends H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema.
“(5) Synod expressed that Reverend H. Hoeksema is fundamentally in harmony with our Reformed truth as embodied in the standards. Has our church reached the stage in which it would advise to suspend and remove from office ministers that are fundamentally Reformed? We the Consistory of Eastern Avenue do not believe it.
“(6) Synod did give an answer to the very question to which Classis now demands an answer from the pastor through the Consistory once more. For, Classis asks that the Consistory of Eastern Avenue ask their pastor whether or no he is in full agreement with the three points expressed by Synod. There is a Synodical decision that informs the Classis that several expressions in the writings of our pastor cannot very well be harmonized with the three points, that he has deviating views with respect to these three points, but that in spite of all this the pastor is fundamentally Reformed. Why should the Consistory violate the decision of Synod by asking a question and investigating a matter which Synod already investigated and settled? But Synod did not desire disciplinary action in spite of the deviations of the pastor alleged by Synod, and that for the patent reason that one can deviate from the three points expressed by Synod and yet be a fundamentally Reformed man!
“(7) Instead of all the disciplinary action that was suggested by protestants and committee, synod was satisfied with a simple admonition directed not only to our pastor, but also to all the churches.
“In short, it is very evident from the Acts of Synod, 1924, to the Consistory of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, that Synod supplied the answer to the very question Classis desires to put once more. This is in contradiction and in conflict with Art. 46 of our Church Order, enjoining that the same matters shall not repeatedly be brought forward when they are once decided by the largest assembly of our churches.
“And at the same time the Consistory of Eastern Avenue is satisfied that Synod did not advise or intend any disciplinary action of any kind.
“And, therefore, the Consistory finally maintains that, since the case against the pastor, Reverend H. Hoeksema, has been appealed to Synod, and since Synod has ruled and acted upon the matter, the case is a closed one. The Consistory of Eastern Avenue has no complaints against the decisions of the Synod of 1924. It is well satisfied with the action taken. But it holds that Classis can never demand of said Consistory, on the basis of said decisions of Synod 1924, that it places the pastor before the questions expressed in the communication from Classis dated Nov. 24, 1924.
“In answer to some minor points in the communication of Classis Grand Rapids East to the Consistory of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, said Consistory would like to remark the following:
“1. That it is a curious fact that in said communication Art. 30 of the Church Order: ‘In major assemblies only such matters shall be dealt with as could not be finished in minor assemblies,’ is now interpreted to mean: ‘In minor assemblies such matters shall be dealt with as could not be finished in major assemblies!’
“2. That the Consistory fully agrees with Art. 31 of Our Church Order: ‘Whatever shall be agreed upon by majority vote shall be considered settled and binding.’ If only our Churches, and especially our Classis and the Synod of 1924 had adhered to what is thus considered settled and binding, also in matters concerning procedure and rules of order. Consistory reminds the Classis that there is a Synodical decision stating that all matters for Synod must be with the Synodical Stated Clerk before May 1st of the Synodical year. (Cf. Kerkelijk Handkboek, p. 151) But the glaring titles on the Printed protests that were sent to Synod and declared acceptable by Synod, the overture of Classis Grand Rapids West included, testify against Classis and against Synod. For they all testify that Classis Grand Rapids East assembled on the twenty-first day of May, and therefore, could not, by Synodical decision that is settled and binding, bring matters to the attention of Synod anymore. Yet, things were rushed to Synod even after this date. How could any good be expected from such an unwise rush? But with regard to the point in question, Consistory maintains, that Synod had the entire case before it, finished it, gave an answer to all protests and questions, the question now put by Classis included, and that this must be considered settled and binding according to Art. 31 of the Church Order.
“3. That there is nothing new in the statements made in The Standard Bearer. These same statements were made before Synod. Besides, they contain no points of doctrine to be in conflict with the three points expressed by Synod, but merely an announcement as to what will be taught in the future. If Classis wants to reopen the case against the pastor of Eastern Avenue on the basis of doctrinal conflict with the three points expressed by Synod, Classis will surely have to wait till the pastor actually teaches something against the three points. A mere announcement is not sufficient.
“4. With regard to the assertion of Classis that Synod did not treat the protest of Reverend H. Danhof submitted to Synod, Consistory maintains that the protest was submitted in the proper way, that it was read before Synod and that Synod received it. The point is that even after this protest was submitted to the attention of Synod, this body did not take disciplinary measure neither advised to such measures on the part of the minor assemblies.
“5. The Formula of Subscription speaks only of our Confessional Standards. It never was a rule in our Church that all Synodical decisions must be subscribed to by the pastors. The pastor will gladly act accordingly. But Synod expressed that our pastor is fundamentally Reformed. There seems no cause for action in this direction.
“6. Consistory does not question that Synod possesses the ultimate authority to interpret our Confessional Standards. But neither does the Consistory want Classis to assume a position which would indicate a denial of the fact, that Synod also possesses ultimate authority in matters pertaining to cases of discipline. And Consistory maintains that classis has no authority to reopen a case against the pastor, Reverend H. Hoeksema, against whom so many attacks were launched and so many complaints lodged and protest written, and who left Synod with the testimony of that largest assembly of our churches that he is fundamentally Reformed.
“1. Whereas Classis requires of the Consistory of Eastern Avenue to ask of its pastor a question that was plainly investigated and answered by Synod of 1924,
“2. Whereas Consistory is convinced that the entire case against the pastor, Reverend H. Hoeksema, was before Synod of 1924 and is, therefore, a closed case,
“3. Whereas the Consistory of Eastern Avenue is satisfied to abide by the decisions of Synod 1924, and is convinced that said question proposed by Classis Grand Rapids East to be put before the pastor, is not in harmony with the plain declarations and intent of said decisions of Synod 1924,
“4. Whereas Classis Grand Rapids East proposes an interpretation of said decision of said Synod of 1924 different from the interpretation of the Consistory of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, and different, too, from the plain declarations of said decisions of Synod 1924,
“5. Therefore, be it resolved by the Consistory of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church:
“a. To appeal for the interpretation of said decisions of Synod 1924 in re protests against our pastor, Reverend H. Hoeksema, as set forth by said Consistory in the above communication to Classis Grand Rapids East, and against the interpretation of these same decisions of said Synod 1924 as set forth by Classis Grand Rapids East in the communication of said Classis to said Consistory of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, dated Nov. 24, 1924.
“b. To request Classis Grand Rapids East to defer any and all action said Classis might contemplate against the Consistory of said Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church until such time as Synod shall have acted upon the appeal of said Consistory and rendered final decisions in the matter.
“Respectfully submitted, by order of the consistory of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, this eight day of December, 1924.
“H. Hoeksema , Pres.
“S.G. Schaafsma, Clerk.”
This rather lengthy and detailed reply to the Classis speaks for itself.
It shows that, while the consistory of Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church was firm in its refusal to start disciplinary action of any kind against the pastor, it left no stone unturned to convince the classis of its error and thus to prevent the threatening breach.
And why should not the classis have acknowledged the fact that the decisions of the Synod of 1924 had utterly failed to point to discipline of the two accused pastors?
There was no apparent reason why on its part it should not admit that the decisions of the synod were incomplete and ambiguous, and, therefore, certainly were liable to more than one interpretation.
And admitting this point of the consistory’s argument, the classis could only follow the way pointed out by the consistory: wait until 1926 and let the synod interpret its own decisions.
In concluding this chapter the remark is probably not superfluous, that if the reader should receive the impression from the form of the consistory’s answer to the classis, that it was composed by an attorney, he is mistaken.
Both as to form and content the reply is of the consistory.