Book: The History of the Protestant Reformed Churches (1924-1936)

Chapter 13 - How Classis Grand Rapids West deposes pastors and consistories.

Shortly before Classis Grand Rapids East finally disposed of the case of the Eastern Avenue Consistory and pastor, as narrated in the preceding chapter, Classis Grand Rapids West conducted a practical correspondence course in the art of quickly deposing consistories and pastors. 

To that classis belonged the churches of Kalamazoo I and Hope, Riverbend, of which the Reverends H. Danhof and G.M. Ophoff were ministers respectively.

The latter had heartily and openly espoused the cause of the truth, as it was presented by the Reverends H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema, and zealously defended it.  He had, moreover, become one of the editors of The Standard Bearer.  Sufficient cause there was, therefore, for the classis to suspect him of heresy and make him and his consistory the object of its attack.

In parentheses we may also mention here the case of candidate B.J. Danhof, at that time pastor-elect of the Christian Reformed Church of Coopersville, Mich.  He is a nephew of the Reverend H. Danhof.  Very zealous he was in the cause of Reformed truth, and a strong opponent of the error of common grace.  His, however, was a case of mistaken zeal, as later he publicly confessed.  Much grief would have been spared the group that is now known as the Protestant Reformed Churches, had the youthful candidate given himself to some quiet and earnest introspection and had he discovered sooner than he actually did, that he was mistaken in his zeal.  Why this is true shall become evident to the reader in another chapter.  At the time of which we are now writing, January, 1925, B.J. Danhof had received and accepted a call from the Christian Reformed Church of Coopersville.  According to the rule for the installation of those that have not served in the ministry of the Word, he must be examined by the classis before he could be installed.  In view of the fact, however, that the candidate had already gained for himself considerable notoriety as an opponent of common grace, the classis decided, before it would proceed with the examination to demand of the examinandus a declaration of agreement with the “Three Points.”  The candidate refused.  The classis refused to examine him.  And as such a classical examination must needs precede the installation, B. J. Danhof was automatically, without a formal accusation against him, without trial and without condemnation barred from becoming a minister of the Word of God.

This case, therefore, was characterized by the utmost simplicity.

Not quite so simple was the case of the classis against consistories and pastors of Kalamazoo I and Hope, Riverbend.

The classis convened on January 13, 1925.

There was before classis no protest, indictment or complaint from any member or group of members against the pastors and consistories of Kalamazoo I and Hope.  It appears, however, that there were some overtures from certain consistories to classis, requesting that the Reverends Danhof and Ophoff declare themselves unequivocally as to whether or not they were in full agreement with the “Three Points”; from which overtures it was at once evident that the consistories that sent them were looking for an occasion to attack the two pastors, for it was generally and certainly known that they did not at all agree with said “Three Points.”

On these overtures the classis acted.

And thereupon the correspondence course was opened of which we spoke in the beginning of this chapter.

To avoid duplication we shall here give the reader a faithful account of this correspondence as it was carried on between the classis and the consistory of Kalamazoo I.  It must be understood that a similar correspondence was held between the classis and the consistory of Hope.

On the 16th of January, 1925, the classis sent the delegates of Kalamazoo I to their consistory with the following missive:

“Grand Rapids, Mich., January 16, 1925.

“To the Consistory of Kalamazoo I

“Christian Reformed Church,

“Dear Brethren:

“The Classis Grand Rapids West hereby requires you to require of your minister:

“1. That he declare himself unequivocally whether he is in full agreement, yes or no, with the three points of the Synod of Kalamazoo Acta Synodi 1924, Article 132, pages 145 to 147.

“2. An unconditional promise that in the matter of the three points he will submit (with the right of appeal) to the Confessional Standards of the Church as interpreted by the Synod of 1924, i.e., neither publicly nor privately propose, teach or defend either by preaching or writing any sentiments contrary to the Confessional Standards of the Church as interpreted by the Synod of 1924 and in case of an appeal that he in the interim will acquiesce in the judgment already passed by Synod of 1924.

“The Classis further requests you to furnish the Classis by 10:00 A.M. Wednesday morning, January 21, 1925, with a definite written answer of your pastor to the twofold requirement of the Consistory.

“Fraternally yours,

“Classis Grand Rapids West.

(was signed)         “W. Stuart, President.

“J.P. Battema, Secretary.”

The Consistory of Kalamazoo I met in special session on January 20, 1925, and prepared the following answer to the classical missive:

“Kalamazoo, Michigan, January 20, 1925.

“Classis Grand Rapids West.

“Dear Brethren:

“The Consistory of the First Christian Reformed Church of Kalamazoo, Michigan, begs to reply to your missive of Jan. 16, 1925, as follows:

“1. Met in special session, Saturday, Jan. 17, 1925, the Consistory of said Church received your communication and took due cognizance of your request, viz:

“The Classis Grand Rapids West hereby requires you to require of your minister:

“1) That he declare himself unequivocally whether he is in full agreement, yes or no, with the three points of the Synod of Kalamazoo, Acta Synodi, 1924, Art. 132, p. 145-147.

“2) An unconditional promise that in the matter of the three points he will submit (with the right of appeal) to the Confessional Standards of the Church as interpreted by the Synod of 1924, i.e., neither publicly nor privately propose, teach or defend either by preaching or writing any sentiment contrary to the Confessional Standards of the Church as interpreted by the Synod of 1924 and in case of an appeal that he in the interim will acquiesce in the judgment already passed by the Synod of 1924.

“The Classis further requests you to furnish the Classis by 10:00 A.M. Wednesday morning, Jan. 21, 1925, with a definite written answer of your pastor to the twofold requirement of the Consistory.

“Fraternally yours,

“Classis Grand Rapids West,

“W. Stuart, Pres.

“J.P. Battema Secr.”

“2. Though not required to do so, our pastor, Reverend Henry Danhof, on his own accord furnished said Consistory with the following unequivocal and definite written answer to your request, and signed by him, viz.:

“To the Consistory of the First Christian Reformed Church.

“Dear Brethren:

“I hereby do state and declare unequivocally and definitely that I am not in full agreement with the three points of Synod of Kalamazoo, Acta Synodi, 1924, Art. 132, p. 145-147.

“I hereby further state and declare that Synodical decisions, which according to my sincere conviction are settled and binding, ought not to suffer violation.

“Therefore, if informed correctly, viz.: that charges of violation of Synodical decisions against me were brought to the attention of Classis Grand Rapids West, I hereby implore and request the Consistory to require of said Classis:

“a. That either said Classis herself lay such charges before the Consistory, or that she require of the plaintiffs to do so.

“b. That such accusations or complaints be laid before the Consistory in unequivocal and definite language, and in writing.

“c. That your pastor be granted an opportunity to answer such complaints or charges before the Consistory.

                        “Very sincerely yours,

                        “Henry Danhof.”

“Said Consistory present herewith the reply of its pastor to Classis Grand Rapids West, as required.

“3. Complying with the request of its pastor, said Consistory further begs to inform Classis Grand Rapids West:

“a. That said Consistory meets, D.V., next Tuesday, Jan. 27, 1925, at 7:30 P.M.

“b. That said Consistory hereby requires of Classis Grand Rapids West to furnish the Consistory of the First Christian Reformed Church of Kalamazoo, Mich., with a written statement of each and all complaints, accusations, etc. which she might wish to lay before said Consistory against its minister.  And such charges, indictments, etc., should be in writing, expressed in definite and unequivocal language; and be in the possession of the clerk of said Consistory not later than Jan. 27, ’25, 7:30 P.M.

“c. That said Consistory will then hear Reverend Danhof, concerning each and all matters laid to his charge, and report, if so required, to the Classis its findings, conclusions, opinions and decisions.

                        “cordially yours,

            (was signed) “C. Vander Roest, Vice Pres.

                                    “C. Lemmers, Clerk.”

Now if the classis had not been bent upon trouble and mischief, this answer of the consistory, including an unequivocal statement by the pastor of Kalamazoo I, should have been entirely satisfactory.  Besides, the request was but fair, that the Consistory of Kalamazoo I should be furnished with a copy of whatever complaints or accusation might have been lodged against their pastor.

However, the classis would not be satisfied at all with the answer of the consistory and, therefore, continued its correspondence as follows:

                                    “Bethel Christian Reformed Church,

                                    Grand Rapids, Mich., Jan. 22, 1925.

“To the Consistory of the Christian

Reformed Church, Kalamazoo I.

“Dear Brethren:

“The Classis Grand Rapids West of the Christian Reformed Church begs to reply to your missive of the 20th of January, as follows:

“I. The consistory proceeds from the assumption that Classis Grand Rapids West is considering charges and accusations against Reverend Danhof.  Hence its request that these be laid before the consistory.  The classis calls the attention of the consistory to the fact that the various overtures presented to the classis in this matter were from a technical viewpoint not so much accusations against Reverend Danhof as requests to the classis to enforce the doctrinal decisions of the last Synod.  Pursuant to these requests, the classis, after ascertaining that the consistory of Kalamazoo I had not enforced these doctrinal decisions, in conformity with the promise given in the Formula of Subscription, required such action of the consistory in its letter of the 16th of January.  This is the good right and solemn duty of the classis, in accordance with Art. 36 of our Church Order.  ‘The classis has the same jurisdiction over the consistory as the particular synod has over the classis, and the general Synod over the particular.’

“II. The classis cannot attach great value to nor can it at present take any action on the voluntary statement of the pastor relative to the three points, and for the following reasons:

“a) the classis requires an answer of the pastor to the twofold requirement of the consistory, as required in our letter of the 16th of January.  Until the classis becomes convinced that the consistory will not require this of its pastor, the classis does not intend to deal directly with Reverend Danhof.

“b) in the voluntary statement of the pastor, only the question involved in the first requirement is touched upon.  There is no promise or refusal to submit (with right of appeal).

“c) technically  this voluntary statement of the pastor is not properly before this body, since the classis has not as yet required this, nor has the consistory.  If Reverend Danhof wishes to make a voluntary statement as to his disagreement with the three points he must do so in the way of protest or gravamina, and in the interim, that is until the next Synod he must submit.  Under those conditions the consistory could and should consider his objections to the three points, and ultimately the case would reach classis and be considered there.  But before either classis or consistory could properly consider his disagreement with the three points, there must be the promise of submission in the interim, (see Formula of Subscription).  And it is on this point that Reverend Danhof has nothing definite to say.

“III. The classis calls the attention of the consistory to the fact that it (the consistory) has not met the requirements of the classis as embodied in its letter of January 16.  It has failed completely to give the classis the answer of its pastor to the twofold requirement of the consistory, as required by classis.  The plain fact is that the consistory has required nothing of its pastor, that it frankly admits this and does not seem to intend any action of this nature.

“Its demand that all charges or accusations against Reverend Danhof be laid before the consistory seems to imply that in the opinion of the consistory the classis has no right to make the requirements as embodied in its letter of Jan. 16. Our conviction that this is the correct interpretation of the stand of the consistory is strengthened by the language used by the loyal consistory member in his protest against een verzet des kerkeraads tegen den eisch der classis.

“In consideration of the foregoing on the basis of Art. 36 above referred to, and in order that the classis may know definitely whether the consistory of Kalamazoo I submits or refuses to submit to Synodical and Classical jurisdiction, the classis hereby again requires you to require of your ministry:

“1. That he declare himself unequivocally whether he is in full agreement yes or no with the three points  of the Synod of Kalamazoo , Acta Synodi, 1924, Art. 132, p. 145-147.

“2. An unconditional promise that in the matter of the three points he will submit (with the right of appeal) to the Confessional Standards of the Church, as interpreted by the Synod of 1924, i.e., neither publicly nor privately propose, teach or defend either by preaching or writing any sentiment contrary to the Confessional Standards of the Church, as interpreted by the Synod of 1924, and in case of an appeal that he in the interim will acquiesce in the judgment already passed by the Synod of 1924.

“IV. The Classis requests the consistory to furnish the classis by 9:30 Friday morning, January 23, 1925, with a definite written answer of the pastor to the twofold requirement of the consistory, or in case the consistory will not submit to classical jurisdiction in this matter, with a definite written statement to that effect.

Sincerely yours,

“Classis Grand Rapids West,

(was signed) “W. Stuart, Pres.

“J.P. Battema, Secr.

This missive was accompanied by another.

No doubt, to protect his consistory against further classical attacks the Reverend H. Danhof had suggested at the meeting of the classis that he would resign from his office.

The classis, however, was determined to retain its hold of the consistory as is evident from the second part of this communication, which here follows:

“Grand Rapids, Mich., Jan. 22, 1925.

“To the Consistory of the Christian Reformed Church Kalamazoo I.

“Dear Brethren:

“In case Reverend H. Danhof should resign his office at the coming consistory meeting as he himself has declared today to be his intention, the Classis requires of the Consistory:

“1. That it declare itself unequivocally whether it is in full agreement yes or no with the 3 points of the Synod of Kalamazoo.  Acta Synodi, 1924, Art. 132, p. 145-147.

“2. An unconditional promise that in the matter of the three points it will submit (with the right of appeal) to the Confessional Standards of the Church as interpreted by the Synod of 1924, i.e., neither publicly nor privately propose, teach or defend either by preaching or writing any sentiment contrary to the Confessional Standards of the Church as interpreted by the Synod of 1924 and in case of an appeal that in the interim it will acquiesce in the judgment already passed by the Synod of 1924.

            “In case Reverend Danhof resigns, Classis requests a definite unequivocal answer to this letter and the requirements therein embodied by Saturday morning 9:30, Jan. 24, 1925.

“Yours fraternally,

“The Classis Grand Rapids West,

(was signed)        “W. Stuart, Pres.

“J. De Haan, S.C.”

To this double communication the consistory decided to answer as follows.

“Kalamazoo, Michigan, Jan. 23, 1925.

“Classis Grand Rapids West.

“Dear Brethren:

“In reply to the two communications of the 22nd of January, 1925, the Consistory of the First Christian Reformed Church of Kalamazoo, Michigan, begs to advise the Classis as follows:

“A. Touching the conditional request of the Classis, i.e., that the Consistory declare itself unequivocally whether it is in full agreement, yes or no, with the three points of the Synod of Kalamazoo, Acta Synodi 1924, Art. 132, p. 145-147, and -- promise that in the matter of the three points it will submit (with the right of appeal) to the Confessional Standards of the Church as interpreted by the Synod of 1924, i.e., neither publicly nor privately propose, teach or defend either by preaching or writing any sentiment contrary to the Confessional Standards of the Church as interpreted by the Synod of 1924 and in case of an appeal that in the interim it will acquiesce in the judgment already passed by the Synod of 1924; --relative to this conditional request of Classis the said Consistory advises the Classis that Reverend H. Danhof did not resign his office.

“B. In regard to the reply of the said Classis to the Consistory’s communication of the 20th of January, 1925, said Consistory wishes to state the following:

“1. Granted, as is maintained by the Classis, that the various overtures presented to the Classis in this matter were from a technical viewpoint not so much accusations against Reverend Danhof as requests to the Classis to enforce the doctrinal decisions of the last Synod; -- this being granted, for the sake of argument, the Classis should have furnished sufficient proof for her own assumption “that the Consistory of Kalamazoo I did not enforce these doctrinal decisions in conformity with the promise given in the Formula of Subscription.’

“This the Classis failed to do.  And the Consistory of said Church is not at all aware of the fact, if a fact it be, that it neglected its duties.  No charges or complaints of neglect of duty relative to this matter referred to by Classis were ever brought to the attention of said Consistory.  And neither did the Consistory ever receive any charges, complaints, accusations, indictments, or anything whatsoever of a similar nature, touching the matter referred to by Classis against its pastor, Reverend Danhof.

“Even Classis Grand Rapids West herself, although more than six months have passed since Synod of Kalamazoo 1924 met, and although said Classis does not now meet for the first time after said Synod, (she also met in Sept. 1924, four months ago) nevertheless, said Classis has neither laid anything to the charge of Reverend Danhof, nor any complaint against the Consistory of Kalamazoo I.

“Did, perhaps, something unusual happen?  If so, may not the Consistory know it?  Classis’ reply to the communication of the Consistory of Jan. 20, 1925, makes no mention whatsoever of any definite and unequivocal charge, complaint, accusation, or any such like thing, either against Reverend Danhof, or against his Consistory.

“Please, inform the Consistory as to the facts; charge either the Consistory or Reverend Danhof with something definite and unequivocal, and we promise to perform our duty!

“2. As long as this is not done, the Consistory does not deem it proper to require of Reverend Danhof to declare himself relative to the three points of Synod referred to by Classis, and hereby does state and declare that it would not dare to comply with the request of the Classis.

“3. The Consistory of Kalamazoo I prays Classis Grand Rapids West not to insist upon the demand, i.e., that the Consistory require of Reverend Danhof that he declare himself relative to the three points of Synod referred to by Classis, except she can prove that said Consistory wilfully neglected its duties, and without laying a definite unequivocal charge or complaint, or anything of like nature against its pastor, Reverend Danhof.  Said Consistory would deem such a procedure an act of gross injustice.  And said consistory does hereby state and declare that in the case said Classis does insist and proceed, it will not be able to comply with the request of Classis, but it will have to protest against such action of Classis and appeal to the next Synod.

Very sincerely yours,

“In name of said Consistory,

“Jan. 24, 2 A.M., 1925.

(was signed) “C. VanderRoest, Vice Pres.

“C. Lemmers, Clerk.”

The classis now decided to place the Reverend H. Danhof directly before the questions which the consistory had refused to ask of its pastor.  To these questions the pastor of Kalamazoo replied as follows:

Jan. 24, 1925.

“Classis Grand Rapids West.

“Dear Brethren:

“To the request of Classis that I declare myself unequivocally whether or not I am in full agreement with the three points of Kalamazoo, 1924, and whether or not I do promise unconditionally to submit myself to the Confessional Standards of the Church as interpreted by said Synod of Kalamazoo, 1924, I can, under present circumstances, only reply that in my most humble opinion Classis has no right whatsoever to demand any answer of me.

“My grounds for this are:

“a. No charges against me were ever brought to the committee in re this matter that my Consistory never required of me to declare myself relative to the three points of Synod.  But that does not touch the point.  The point is that your committee in re this matter has assured that my Consistory did not enforce the doctrinal decisions of Synod of Kalamazoo, 1924.  And the stand of the Consistory is: Prove that we have neglected our duty, or lay even now any and all charges against Reverend Danhof before us, and we, the Consistory will perform our duty.  This, however, was not done.

“b. Now for the first time we know that something unusual happened.  The Standard Bearer was published.  But as yet it has never been made plain to my Consistory that I committed a sin by my participation in publishing that monthly.

“Please call the attention of my Consistory to that fact, if fact it be, and I assure you that the Consistory of Kalamazoo I will take proper action.

“c. I gladly admit that a major assembly has certain rights and duties in case a minor assembly neglects its duties; but such a major assembly must first prove that the minor assembly, in this case the Consistory of Kalamazoo I wilfully neglected its duties.  But no such charge has been brought against the Consistory of Kalamazoo I.

“For these reasons I can only reply to the requirements of the Classis that my answer has been given in the communication of said Consistory, dated Jan. 24, 1925.

“Very sincerely yours,

“H. Danhof.”

What did the Classis do?

Without any further deliberation it proceeded to depose, first the Consistory and thereupon the pastor of Kalamazoo I.

The official classical bull was worded as follows:

“Classis Grand Rapids West, in session the 24th of Jan. 1925, hereby deposes the consistory of the Christian Reformed Church of Kalamazoo I (except the one loyal elder).

“Classis Grand Rapids West hereby deprives the aforesaid Consistory of all the rights and privileges of a legal Consistory in the Christian Reformed Church in America.

“Classis Grand Rapids West deposes the aforesaid Consistory by virtue of its jurisdiction over the Consistory as expressed in Art. 36 of our Church Order -- ‘The Classis has the same jurisdiction over the Consistory as the Particular Synod has over the Classis and the General Synod over the Particular’ -- on the following grounds:

“1. Insubordination to Synodical and Classical authority.

“Formula of Subscription -- ‘We declare, moreover, that we not only reject all errors that militate against this doctrine and particularly those which were condemned by the above mentioned Synod, but that we are disposed to refute and contradict these, and to exert ourselves in keeping the Church free from such errors.  And if, hereafter, any difficulties or different sentiments respecting the aforesaid doctrines should arise in our mind, we promise that we will neither publicly nor privately propose, teach or defend the same, either by preaching or writing, until we have first revealed such sentiments to the Consistory, Classis and Synod, that the same may be examined, being ready always cheerfully to submit to the judgment of the Consistory, Classis and Synod under penalty in case of refusal to be by that very fact, suspended from office.

II. Public Schism.  By refusing to require of its minister submission to Synodical decisions, it gives its moral support to a movement that threatens the solidarity of our denomination in several quarters and takes a stand that will disrupt the local Church of Kalamazoo I.”

And the decision touching the deposition of the Reverend H. Danhof was formulated as follows:

“The Classis Grand Rapids West in session the 24th of Jan. 1925, hereby deposes Reverend H. Danhof from the ministry of the Word and the Sacraments in the Christian Reformed Church of America on the following grounds:

“(a) Insubordination to ecclesiastical authority. -- See Formula of Subscription, -- ‘being always ready cheerfully to submit to the judgment of the Consistory, Classis and Synod under penalty in case of refusal, to be by that very fact, suspended from our office.’

“(b) Public Schism.  Art. 80 of the Church Order -- ‘Furthermore among the gross sins which are worthy of being punished with suspension or deposition from office, these are the principle ones -- public schism.’

“Through his association with The Standard Bearer, Reverend H. Danhof participates in organized propaganda against the officially accepted doctrine of our Church, propaganda which is making inroads upon our denominational solidarity.”

As was stated, in a similar manner the pastor and consistory of the Hope Christian Reformed Church were deposed from their respective offices.

The reader will observe that there is no essential difference between the action of Classis Grand Rapids West in these cases and that of Classis Grand Rapids East in the Eastern Avenue case.

Classis Grand Rapids West was more clearly conscious of its hierarchical power and ecclesiastical authority over consistories and congregations with their pastors; and it expressed this sense of authority more boldly and proudly.

It attributes to itself the right at any time to pick up a quarrel with a local consistory or pastor or both, though there be no accusation against either of them; and in the course of that quarrel to depose the office-bearers, if they presume to disagree with its authority!

It brooks no opposition or contradiction!  When its commanding voice is heard, the consistories and ministers had better hasten to obey!

And its vengeance is swift as lightning!

Even though Church Orders and Formulas of Subscription speak of suspension of ministers before they shall be deposed, Classis Grand Rapids West imposes the supreme penalty at once!

Well may the minister that dwells in the dominion of Classis Grand Rapids West daily, with fear and trembling, apply the words which Jacob spoke concerning Simeon and Levi, to himself: “O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united; for in their anger they slew a man, and in their self-will they digged down a wall.” Gen. 49:6.

Last modified on 27 March 2013
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