Common Grace and the Christian Reformed Synod of Kalamazoo (1924)


(The following copyrighted article is taken from the Calvin Theological Journal, April, 2000-a publication of Calvin Theological Seminary, 3233 Burton Street, S.E., Grand Rapids, Michigan 49546. It is reproduced with permission and can not be copied without permission of the staff of the Calvin Theological Journal. We express our appreciation for their willingness to have us copy the article and publish it here. May it help to clarify and to resolve some of the problems which arose back in 1924.)

A Seventy-Fifth Anniversary Retrospective
John Bolt
Professor at Calvin Seminary and former editor of Calvin Theological Journal

As announced in the editorial of the April 1999 issue of CTJ, several articles in this volume are dedicated to an important anniversary in the North American Dutch Reformed community: the seventy-fifth anniversary of the 1924 Christian Reformed Synod of Kalamazoo and its significant decision on common grace. To cite the editorial, the journal committee believed that it was "an appropriate time to revisit the Synod of 1924 and its pronouncements in a fraternal spirit of ecumenical goodwill with respect to our brothers and sisters in the Protestant Reformed Churches." In addition to this article, which sets forth the famously debated "three points" at the beginning and follows that with a reflective overview of the controversy's course, Randy Blacketer's interpretive article examines the well-meant gospel offer (Point 1) in historical-theological perspective. A third article, by this author on the third point (the capacity of unbelievers to do civic good), will appear deo volente in the November 2000 issue of CTJ. The reader may be mildly surprised by these articles; they are self-critical and evidence some sympathies for the critique of the CRC stance on common grace offered by the Rev. Herman Hoeksema. They are offered in the hope that genuine ecumenical conversation may yet be possible between the Christian Reformed Church and the Protestant Reformed Church, a family conversation that should never have been stopped in the first place. Now, before entering into a discussion of the controversy itself, here are the three points of common grace:

The Three Points of Common Grace Adopted by the Christian Reformed Church in 1924
Point I
Concerning the favorable attitude of God toward mankind in general and not only toward the elect, the Synod declares that it is certain, on the ground of Scripture and the Confession, that there is, besides the saving grace of God, shown only to those chosen unto eternal life, also a certain favor or grace of God which He shows to all His creatures. This is evident from the quoted Scripture passages and from the Canons of Dordt II, 5, and III and IV, 8 and 9, where the general offer of the Gospel is discussed; while it is evident from the quoted declarations of Reformed writers of the period of florescence of Reformed theology, that our Reformed fathers from of old have championed this view. 
Point II
Concerning the restraint of sin in the life of the individual and in society, the Synod declares that according to Scripture and Confession, there is such a restraint of sin. This is evident from the quoted Scripture passages and from the Belgic Confession, Art. 13 and 36, where it is taught that God through the general operations of His Spirit, without renewing the heart, restrains sin in its unhindered breaking forth, as a result of which human society has remained possible; while it is evident from the quoted declarations of Reformed writers of the period of florescence of Reformed theology, that our Reformed fathers from of old have championed this view.
Point III
Concerning the performance of so-called civic righteousness by the unregenerate, the Synod declares that according to Scripture and Confession the unregenerate, though incapable of any saving good (Canons of Dordt, II, IV, 3), can perform such civic good. This is evident from the quoted Scripture passages and from the Canons of Dordt, III and IV, 4, and the Belgie Confession, where it is taught that God, without renewing the heart, exercises such influence upon man that he is enabled to perform civic good; while it is evident from the quoted declarations of Reformed writers of the period of florescence of Reformed theology, that our Reformed fathers from of old have championed this view.


The 1924 synod of the Christian Reformed Church, meeting in Kalamazoo, Michigan, from June 18 to July 8, was one of the defining moments in the denomination's history. Two years after another CRC synod had deposed Calvin Seminary Professor Ralph Janssen for his allegedly higher-critical approach to Scripture, the 1924 synod affirmed the doctrine that had been at the heart of Janssen's defense, the doctrine of common grace.Now, seventy-five years later, time and distance may enable us to provide a self-critical retrospective on this decision that led to a tragic church division. This article will provide a summary of the synodical decision as well as a brief evaluation of the church orderly issues in l'affaire Hoeksema.2 We will consider the context of the common grace discussion as it arises out of the Janssen case, the events leading up to the synodical decision, the course of events at the synod, and its aftermath. This will be concluded with a few evaluative comments.


Context: The Janssen Case

The history of the common grace controversy, by Hoeksema's own account as well, must begin with the Janssen case, settled two years before the synod of Kalamazoo.Dr. Ralph Janssen, professor of Old Testament at Calvin Seminary,4 had been accused by four of his professorial colleagues of holding views on Scripture's inspiration that were contrary to Reformed orthodoxy. In the end, Janssen's critics convinced the church that his views and teaching were a threat to Christian Reformed orthodoxy, and he was dismissed from his post by the 1922 CRC synod. In his own defenseJanssen had appealed to Abraham Kuyper's doctrine of common grace, among other things6 and the need for a university-oriented scientific theology in the church's seminary. As David Holwerda notes in his review of the Janssen case,

Janssen was clearly a university person who did not favor the ecclesiastical control of theology as a science. Since he also was not an ordained minister of the gospel, several insisted that he had no right to be a professor of theology, and they feared that his appointment meant that greater significance would now be given to the demands of scholarship and objective research than to the confessions of the church .... Thus the appointment of Janssen generated both high scholarly expectations and serious fears within the church. In the end fears won out.7 

During the discussion about Janssen in the first years of the 1920s the issue of common grace emerged as a rallying point for both his defenders and detractors. In Holwerda's summary: "The Rev. Herman Hoeksema warned that should the doctrine of common grace as taught by Abraham Kuyper not be repudiated by the church, Janssen's views would rise again and ultimately prevail."8 Hoeksema indeed saw the church's split leading to the formation of the Protestant Reformed Church as a direct consequence of the Janssen controversy because it was intertwined with the doctrine of common grace.

And it will serve to shed the proper light upon the origin of the Protestant Reformed Churches, which is not to be viewed as a deplorable, accidental but unavoidable result of the Janssen controversy, but as areformation of the churches, a return from the erroneous and dangerous path of common grace to the fundamentally Reformed line of the Synod of Dordrecht as drawn in the Three Forms of Unity.9

Hoeksema had been one of Janssen's most vocal critics, even using his editorial control of a column ("Our Doctrine") in the CRC weekly, The Banner, as an important vehicle for stirring up popular church opinion against Janssen. As a member of the Seminary's governing board, the Curatorium, Hoeksema became both prosecutor and jury, serving on the board committee formed to adjudicate Professor Janssen's teaching.10 As Hoeksema saw it, however, the four seminary professors who were critical of Janssen did so not on the basis of "its deepest underlying principle, but rather by secondary and superficial considerations of agreement and disagreement."ll In fact, so Hoeksema concluded from the 1924 common grace decision, it was clear that he and his fellow opponent of common grace, the Rev. H. Danhof, stood on altogether different ground than the other opponents of Janssen. Here is Hoeksema's own retrospective: 

The fact that the four professors and others of the opponents of Doctor Janssen could unite with the pro-Janssen faction in their action against the three ministers that were deposed in 1924-1925, plainly reveals that, apart from superficial differences, there was a fundamental agreement in principle. There was in the Janssen controversy an underlying principle which, had it not been violently and intentionally forced to the background, would have paralyzed every effort of the four professors to combat Doctor Janssen's view and would have aligned them from the beginning with the pro-Janssen faction against the Reverends H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema. This underlying principle is the theory of common grace. 12

Thus, Hoeksema judged that Janssen had erred in concluding that all those who opposed him were deniers of common grace. On the contrary, says Hoeksema,

it would have been more fruitful for a proper discussion had [Janssen] proceeded from the correct assumption that his opponents, except the Reverends H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema, do accept the theory of common grace, and that, therefore, they must also in deepest principle agree with him in regard to his views of revelation, inspiration, canonicity, the miracles and related subjects, even though, due to a lack of consistency on their part, they differed with him in ultimate conclusion.13

So, in sum, according to Hoeksema's view of the matter, those who had stood with him in opposing Janssen were utterly inconsistent when they refused to join Hoeksema in opposing the Kuyperian doctrine of common grace. More seriously, those who accepted the notion of common grace really --whether they knew it or not--shared Janssen's critical approach to Scripture. 

This charge from Hoeksema is interesting for a number of reasons. To begin with, there had been a long-standing debate between Janssen and Hoeksema, a conflict that was a matter of public record. From November 4, 1920, to April 14, 1921, Janssen had published a series of articles in The Banner, accusing Hoeksema of Anabaptism, rationalism, a faulty doctrine of God, and even of using a higher-critical approach to Scripture by using the criterion of reason to set aside certain biblical passages and teaching.14 Chronology is important here. When we bear in mind that the objections of the four professors first surfaced in 1919 and were handled by the 1920 CRC synod,15 which gave a tentative qualified blessing to Professor Janssen's teaching and then sent the whole matter back to the five seminary professors for collegial settlement intra familias,16 Janssen's counter offensive on the common grace issue must be judged a sincere attempt to provide Reformed theological grounds for his views on miracles and revelation.

Janssen sought as much as possible to explain the "supernatural" in Scripture in the terms and categories of "natural" realities and common cultural givens of the Ancient Near East. Miracles thus have their basis in creation and God's ongoing providential care and should not be explained in the first place as supernatural interventions into creation, deus ex machina. Similarly, the imagery used by the prophets and the Genesis accounts of Creation, according to Janssen, borrowed freely from Babylonian mythology. In sum, in his defense, "Janssen accused his opponents of dualism, of maintaining two spheres of grace and nature totally divorced from each other and irreconcilable with each other--an immediate supernatural sphere versus a mediate natural sphere."17 According to Janssen, "such dualism was Anabaptist in origin, not Reformed, and on that basis he proposed that the opponents should be on trial rather than himself. The Reformed vision rejects all dualisms, for truth is one. "18 This unity of truth is finally grounded in the unity of God in whom there can be no dualism, for "his common grace is the broad basis of his special grace and there is no opposition here. Consequently, Scripture, theology, and the natural sciences do not exist irreconcilably alongside each other, but together these truths form one beautiful harmonious entity."19

We see here therefore a rather remarkable confluence of views between Janssen and Hoeksema. Janssen accuses those who oppose him of being Anabaptist dualists because they deny common grace, a charge repeated by CRC minister Jan Karel Van Baalen specifically against Hoeksema and Danhof in his 1922 tract The Denial of Common Grace: Reformed or Anabaptist. 20 Hoeksema in turn, though denying the charge of being an Anabaptist, 21 viewed the matter in the same way. In his judgment, those who oppose Janssen but still affirm common grace are inconsistent at best and at worst guilty of harboring Janssen's own mischievous, unreformed view of Scripture. So, remarkably, according to Janssen and Hoeksema both--if one accepts the doctrine of common grace, logic and consistency demanded that views on Scripture such as those held by Janssen ought to be accepted as well. So then, with this sort of agreement, why did Hoeksema's commonly known denial of common grace generate so much controversy after the CRC synod had so decisively repudiated Janssen? Why did his apparent triumph in 1922 turn so ignominiously into defeat only two years later?

The answer is multilayered and complex. The first factor may be the stench of injustice surrounding Janssen's trial at the 1922 synod. The use of unofficial student notes as evidence, and the fact that some of Janssen's key accusers also sat on the synodical jury, along with other perceived irregularities, led to sixteen substantial appeals against the Janssen decision two years later at the 1924 synod of Kalamazoo twelve on formal grounds; four on material grounds.22 This evidence of some level of support for Janssen within the CRC lends credence to Hoeksema's own judgment that for Janssen's angry supporters in the CRC, it was "pay back time"; Janssen's friends were out to "get Hoeksema:"

The friends of Doctor Janssen, realizing that their idol had been irrevocably cast down, and his foes, acting from the subconscious motive of fundamental agreement with the underlying principle of the instruction they had opposed, now combined their attacks upon the two ministers that had performed the lion's share of the work in the Janssen controversy and borne the brunt of the battle.23

Yet, to portray the rising tide of opposition to Hoeksema as a tsunami of CRC support for public affirmation of the doctrine of common grace, notwithstanding the 1922 repudiation of Janssen, does not seem to square with the evidence either. In a brochure written by the four professors along with four prominent CRC clergymen (Y. P. De Jong, H. J. Kuiper, H. Danhof, and H. Hoeksema [!]), the readers are warned not to let Janssen's counteraccusations that his opponents are unreformed and Anabaptist obscure what is really at issue. The authors warn against the church's getting sidetracked by this red herring: "It simply is not a matter of this or that view of common grace but about Dr. Janssen's teaching, nothing more or less."24 That Hoeksema and Danhof both were signatories to the brochure that set aside the common grace conflict as the real issue is rather remarkable in view of Hoeksema's later contention that it was the core issue in the Janssen decision. 

So then, if the Janssen case was decided conclusively in 1922 and decided on its own merits, why the storm of controversy about common grace in 1924? Why Kalamazoo and why the three points? Why--to put it in personal terms---did the Hoeksema who triumphed so decisively in 1922 fall so hard in 1924? As Hoeksema's daughter-in-law observes in her biography of the man, after the synodical decision relieving Janssen of his seminary professorship "all should have gradually returned to normal."25 But of course that is exactly what did not happen. As Gertrude Hoeksema notes, "instead of becoming calm, the ecclesiastical weather became stormier, with the center of the storm swirling about the heads of Rev. H. Hoeksema and Rev. H. Danhof."26 Again, we ask, "Why?"

As we now take a brief overview of the events leading to the synod of Kalamazoo, here is a suggestive query: Did Hoeksema overplay his hand by continuing publicly to voice his opposition to the doctrine of common grace and thus forcing the church to take a stand? What if he had simply taken the Janssen decision in stride, savored his own victory, and worked to consolidate the church's opposition to those common grace elements that Janssen had appealed to and that the church had repudiated? What if Hoeksema had not insistently pushed for a wholesale repudiation of common grace? If so, would the events of 1924 and the subsequent history of the CRC have turned out differently? In other words, what if Hoeksema's artillery, rather than being fired broadside, had been turned on specific targets? Would he and his views have had more success within the CRC, and could he perhaps have remained in the denomination as a salutary prophetic voice against the worldliness that accompanies an abuse of the common grace doctrine? These are uncomfortable questions, raising the possible objection that the victim is being blamed for what was done to him, and we will, of course, never know the answer. Still, the thought remains intriguing and may provide some perspective on the reasons why the issue became so important at the 1924 synod. Perhaps this possibility sheds some light on the events leading to Kalamazoo's decision. Perhaps...

The Road to Kalamazoo

The agenda for the 1924 CRC synod of Kalamazoo included four overtures requesting the church to address the issue of common grace.27 The overture from Classis Hackensack reads as follows:

Whereas, the Doctrine of Common Grace is absolutely denied by two ministers of our Church in the book Van Zonde en Genade, and since the agitation caused by this is detrimental to the spiritual development of the Church,
Therefore, Classis Hackensack asks Synod to declare that such denial is contrary to Scripture and to our Reformed Doctrine; 
Further, that Synod appoint a Committee to make a thorough study of the matter and enlighten the Church. 28 

The other three overtures also include a reference to the book Van Zonde en Genade (Danhof and Hoeksema) as well as to the unrest in the churches concerning un-Reformed doctrine and all appeal for a thorough study of the matter This by itself would have been sufficient to put the issue on synod's plate, but had this been all it is likely that the outcome would have been different. With only the four overtures before it synod could have appointed a proper study committee that would have taken its time to prepare a thorough study and involve the broader church in the discussion. But there was so much more, and the inclusion of a specific writing (Van Zonde en Genade ) lends some credence to the query we floated at the conclusion of the previous section of this article: What if Hoeksema and Danhof had not written this volume and instead decided to lie low after the 1922 synod? However, as we shall see, it was not that simple.

Shortly after the 1922 synod had disposed of the Janssen matter a vigorous pamphlet war broke out involving the Revs. H. Hoeksema and H. Danhof on the one side and the Rev. Jan Karel Van Baalen, CRC minister in Munster, Indiana, as the primary warrior on the other side. Here is Hoeksema's own extended summary of the battle chronology:

The Reverend Jan Karel Van Baalen published a pamphlet entitled: Loochening Der Gemeene Gratie, Gereformeerd of Doopersch? (Denial of Common Grace, Reformed or Anabaptistic?) to which the two ministers replied with another pamphlet bearing the rifle: Niet Doopersch Maar Gereformeerd (Not Anabaptistic but Reformed). Professor Berkhof wrote an article in The Witness under the deceiving heading: "Genade Voor De Onbekeerden" (Grace for the Unconverted). The two ministers personally approached the professor with the direct question, whether he had thus written in ignorance or intentionally. And the professor promised to make amends, the attempt to which made matters worse. Van Baalen followed up his first attack by the publication of Nieuwigheid en Dwaling (Innovation and Error), to which as well as to other attacks the accused pastors replied in the brochure: Langs Zuivere Banen (Along Straight Paths), which was very soon followed by still another pamphlet entitled Om Recht en Waarheid (For the Sake of Justice and Truth). They also had published their chief work of that period: Van Zonde en Genade (Of Sin and Grace).
And in the meantime formal protests had been filed against the two pastors and legal action had been started.
The battle that had apparently been won at the synod of 1922, for the salvation of the Christian Reformed Churches, was fundamentally and hopelessly to be lost for those churches at the synod of Kalamazoo.29 

Could Hoeksema have stopped the pamphlet war? Should he have? Even an impartial observer, it seems to me, would be led to conclude that he and Danhof had little choice but to respond, as they did in their Niet Doopersch Maar Gereformeerd (Not Anabaptistic but Reformed), to the accusation that their views were not Reformed. On this point about being Reformed, it is worth noting, they were in large measure vindicated by the Kalamazoo synod of 1924. Here is the full text of a synodical resolution in the midst of the common grace debate:

Synod declares that there are various expressions in the writings of the Revs. H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema which do not harmonize well with what the Scripture and the confessions teach us regarding the three points mentioned above. Also, synod judges that the ministers, names above, use certain strong expressions in their writings from which it becomes evident that in their presentations they do not reckon sufficiently with the manner in which our confessions declare themselves, especially regarding point I of the Utrecht conclusion.
On the other hand, synod declares that the above-mentioned ministers, according to their own repeated declarations made in their writings, have no intent or desire other than to teach the Reformed teaching, the teaching of the Holy Scripture, and that of our confessions, and also to defend it. Also, it cannot be denied that, in the basic truths of the Reformed faith as set forth in our confessions, they are Reformed, albeit with a tendency to be one-sided.
It was thus decided.30

Beyond that, given Hoeksema's theological and polemical brilliance as well as passion for the church and his understanding of the Reformed faith, it is almost impossible to imagine him not actively responding to pamphlet attacks. Keeping the church's theological spotlight focused on the issue of common grace, however, did generate additional opposition to Hoeksema, opposition even from those who in many respects were his theological allies. That is the great tragedy of this controversy.

The pamphlet war was only one part of the assault against Hoeksema. The battle had also been launched in the ecclesiastical courts. In January 1920, Hoeksema had accepted a call to become the pastor of Eastern Avenue CRC in Grand Rapids. Four years into this pastorate, "on January 19, 1924, three members of his congregation came to his door and handed him a protest. The protest was an objection to some of his views, expressed in his teachings and writings."31 Since the protest was addressed to the consistory, Hoeksema did not accept the letter and the three men "decided to change their procedure. They accused their pastor of public sin and went directly to his consistory with their protest."32 The consistory disagreed, and "after trying to persuade the three men to retract their protest, without success, the consistory censured them as proper objects of church discipline."33 In addition, a similar protest was filed before the Eastern Avenue consistory by the Rev. J. Vander Mey, a minister without a congregation and a member of Eastern Avenue CRC. According to Hoeksema's account of this matter, Rev. Vander Mey's protest was originally planned to have been submitted with that of the other three members, but because he was out of town this collaboration failed. Rev. Vander Mey then submitted his protest directly to the consistory, rather than first to Hoeksema, and the consistory returned it and "informed the protestant that he would have to comply with the rule, which required of him to present a copy of his protest to the pastor before he could file it with the consistory."34 When this protest was instead made public, the consistory censured Rev. Vander Mey for "making secret and false propaganda against his pastor and demanded of him that he should confess his sin. He refused, however, to comply with the demand of the consistory and informed them that he also would file his protest with the classis [Grand Rapids East] at its meeting of May 21 [1924]."35 Along with the previously mentioned protest of the three, Classis Grand Rapids East also had on its table a similar protest against Hoeksema from his pamphlet opponent, the Rev. Jan Karel Van Baalen. 

Before we consider the action of Classis Grand Rapids East at its May meeting, a brief reflection is in order. Seventy-five years later, even the cursory account just given leads us to wonder with some sadness whether the whole business could not have been handled with less haste and with greater propriety and charity. The impression is overwhelming that the assault on Hoeksema was well-orchestrated and hurried, a kind of ecclesiastical blitzkrieg. Hoeksema himself points to the coordination of efforts against him, starting with his suspicion "from the start that none of the three protestants was the final author of the written document they had delivered."36 Hoeksema indicates his eye for conspiratorial tactics when he concludes the sentence with an expressed desire that "if at all possible, the [real] author ought to be lured from his hiding place and called to account."37 Hoeksema's suspicion appears to have been well-founded. In his own words: "None of the three protestants had composed the protest. Much later, through a forced testimony in the worldly court, one of the protestants revealed that his brother, a neighboring pastor, the Reverend G. Hoeksema, was the writer of the first protest."38

The sense that Hoeksema had of agitators outside his congregation stirring the pot of protest seems justified when we also note that in addition to the outside protest that came from the Rev. J. K. Van Baalen to Classis Grand Rapids East, the Rev. J. K. Van Baalen also submitted a similar protest to Classis Grand Rapids West against Hoeksema's fellow anticommon-grace pastor, the Rev. H. Danhof of Kalamazoo First CRC. Van Baalen was not a member of either classis and had submitted his protest to the respective consistories and classes without first submitting to the pastors in question. In fact, when the consistories of Eastern Avenue and Kalamazoo First proposed a combined meeting with the Rev. JK. Van Baalen to meet Danhof and Hoeksema on April 22, 1924, the Munster pastor refused and insistently delivered his protest to their respective classes. 39 Add into this mix additional irregularities such as an "overture" from the Kelloggsville CRC to Classis Grand Rapids East that was not approved by the consistory but simply printed and distributed to the churches of classis by its pastor, the Rev. M. Schans, without informing Hoeksema or his consistory,40 could he be blamed for thinking that there were important elements in the CRC leadership that were conspiring together to "get Hoeksema"?41 There is a final bit of evidence supporting the idea that the opposition to Hoeksema was collaborative and perhaps even well-financed: The archival file in the CRC General Secretary's office of the 1924 synodical documents contains professionally printed copies of the three appeals just mentioned along with typewritten carbon copies of each. 42 

Classis Grand Rapids East met on May 21, 1924, in the Eastern Avenue CRC. It was to be an extraordinary three-day-long meeting. 43 Though the last-mentioned overture from the Kelloggsville CRC was of dubious church-legal standing, it was declared legal before classes along with the other protests against Hoeksema's teaching on common grace. After their written objections against the legality of the protests had been ignored, the delegates from Eastern Avenue, the Rev. Hoeksema and elder O. Van Ellen followed the instructions of their consistory and in protest left the assembly.44 This move had interesting consequences. As Hoeksema describes it: "From that moment the classis, instead of acting in accordance with its own decision, attempted to make an honorable retreat. What the clearest argument had not been able to effect was evidently accomplished by the departure of the delegates of the Eastern Avenue church: the classis began to see its own foolishness. It hesitated; it became confused."45 The classis meeting now began to take on the trappings of high drama. It went into closed session and changed its venue to the Sherman Street CRC. After more than a day of debate, classis did a remarkable about face. Here is Hoeksema's account of the decision: 

Finally, after well-nigh the entire forenoon of May 23 had been devoted to a continuation of the discussion of the previous afternoon and evening, the classis reached the following remarkable decision: it expressed that it had never decided to treat the protest and enter into its subject matter!

This was indeed a curious conclusion and raised untold speculation about motives and reasons. It is worth citing at length Hoeksema's own colorful account of it:

Along what meanderings of argumentation the classis had discovered this way out of the labyrinth, it is impossible to describe since the classis met with closed doors and there were no witnesses. For the same reason it is equally beyond our power to analyze the various sophistries that must have convinced the classis of the truth of this last decision. Suffice it to remind the reader of the fact that the principle of the primacy of the intellect does not always hold, and that the human mind is easily inclined to see matters as the desires of the heart dictate.
However this may be, this final decision of the classis certainly did not fit the facts. For, had not classis on the previous day decided, after it had received and read the protest, that it would treat the matter of the protest? And was not the alleged ground for this decision that the consistory had had ample time to treat it?

The gambit might have worked to settle matters within the Classis though the protestants were clearly determined to bring the matter to the upcoming synod less than one month later. Hoeksema, however, would not be satisfied with a mere retreat, he wanted personal vindication that would only come if classis rescinded its previous decision. Again, here is Hoeksema's account of the matter:

And, surely, the delegates of the Eastern Avenue Church might have winked at this "error" of the classis and permitted that body to make this honorable retreat out of a difficult corner; were it not for the fact that by this decision the departure of the two delegates from the meeting was placed in a rather peculiar light, as if the entire matter had been a misunderstanding on their part!46 

In the end, the classis agreed with Hoeksema's view of the issue, rescinded its decision to accept the protests as legally before it, and referred the protests back to the Eastern Avenue consistory for settlement. However, one final decision of Classis "would prove to be the cause of considerable trouble in the future."47 Classis in referring the protests back to the Eastern Avenue consistory also insisted "that the censure of the three protestants that accused their pastor of a public sin should be lifted." Since this was unlikely, according to Hoeksema, "further conflict between the classis and the consistory was inevitable."48 On this point Hoeksema was unerringly prophetic.

If the May 21, 1924, meeting of Classis Grand Rapids East can be described as extraordinary, at the very least the same must be said of the June 10, 1924, special meeting of Classis Grand Rapids West. To begin with, the timing is remarkable--only eight days before synod was scheduled to begin its deliberations. One cannot avoid the impression of high-pressured haste operating behind the scenes. In fact, the 1924 synod had before it no less than three protests from churches of Classis Grand Rapids West, objecting against the special meeting on June 10.49 The events leading up to the special session were no less remarkable. At the regular meeting of Classis Grand Rapids West in May (a few days after Classis Grand Rapids East met)50 it had on its table the same protest from the Rev. JK. Van Baalen, the protest now directed at the pastor of the Kalamazoo First CRC, the Rev. H. Danhof. Classis decided that the two ministers should meet and personally try to settle the matter. Falling that, the whole issue should be discussed within the consistory of the Kalamazoo First CRC. This was rather straightforward, but the third and final part of the decision was not. Classis decided that if the Rev. J. K. Van Baalen was not satisfied with the disposition of the case by the consistory, "he would have the privilege of calling a special meeting of Classis Grand Rapids West on June 10, 1924."51

Hoeksema was certainly correct in calling this "a rather strange decision."52 Giving a single appellant--himself not a member of the classis--the right to call a special session of classis if he were not satisfied with resolving a long study and bitter debate--all within a two-week time frame--is a curious decision. Once again, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the hasty maneuvering was designed to provide an umbrella of legality for a conclusion already arrived at. Was the outcome ever really in doubt? Though the Rev. JK. Van Baalen met privately with the Rev. H. Danhof, he refused to meet with the consistory and called for the June 10, 1924, special session of Classis Grand Rapids West. With synod only eight days away "classis decided that the Reverend Van Baalen should address his protest to synod directly, seeing it concerned a matter that was of import to the churches in general."53 Though this latter judgment was undoubtedly correct54 another legitimate question was also before the church as the synod gathered in Kalamazoo: Would the synod act with the same haste and hurry as the two involved classes or would it deal with the common grace issue in appropriate, deliberate, ecclesiastic caution, taking the time to weigh all sides and consequences of the issue carefully? Careful observers of the previous six months might be forgiven if they cynically expected the former and the worst. Tragically, they would be proved correct.


The 1924 Synod of Kalamazoo

We now move on to give an account of the Kalamazoo synod.55 Synod began by accepting the issue of common grace--in the form of protests against Hoeksema's and Danhof's denial of the teaching--as properly and legally before Synod (1924 Acta, 115-21). In the midst of all the church orderly wrangling about proper procedure the important common thread of concern for the welfare of the churches appears repeatedly: "The matter has now reached such a state that, with concern for the profit of the churches, synodical attention is required" (1924 Acta, 118). In retrospect, as one examines the record of the 1924 synod, what is striking is not the failure of synod to act but the missed opportunity to act cautiously and deliberately. Synod 1924 is above all a synod that could be characterized by poet Robert Frost's words as the synod of "the road not taken." And that has "made all the difference."

Once again, it is important to take note of the chronology. Synod's opening session was on Wednesday morning, June 18. It began deliberation on the common grace issue at its eighteenth session thirteen days later on the evening of July 156 when synod was presented with a lengthy report (twenty-four pages in the 1924 Acta) from its committee of pre-advice. This report makes a number of important observations and suggestions that were, in the final analysis, not adopted by the synod. We highlight some of them here as examples of the road not taken. The committee highlighted eleven different points at debate in the common grace controversy and suggested that certain points in the various protests before it should not be taken up by synod. 57 Included here were certain expressions used by the Revs. H. Hoeksema and H. Danhof that hinted at a one-sided emphasis on divine sovereignty and the decree of God at the expense of human responsibility. The committee judged that synod should eliminate the following in its deliberation (1924 Acta, 122):

(1) Concerning that which we find, regarding the presentation of Revs. H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema concerning election and reprobation; concerning human responsibility; concerning the providence of God and His sovereignty over all things:

The reasons given for the suggestion that synod not deal with charges of one-sided emphases on divine sovereignty (as expressed in the protests of the Rev. JK. Van Baalen and Classis Grand Rapids East) is striking in its allowance for theological diversity on a complex theological issue. Synod should not go down this road, suggested the committee,

a) because similar expressions have from time to time been used by supralapsarians without being disciplined by the church. (Maccovius: "that the reprobates necessarily sin and are lost"); 
b) because the brothers Danhof and Hoeksema absolutely reject the conclusion that God is the author of sin, a conclusion which some maintain follows from their declarations.

The committee came to a similar conclusion with respect to the protest of Rev. J. Vander Mey (1924 Acta, 122-23). It first responded to the protestant's charge of one-sided theocentric preaching in Hoeksema's pulpit deliveries:

(2) What we found under point II of Rev. Vander Mey's protest with reference to Rev. Hoeksema's one sided emphasis on the eternal counsel of God, and in general on the divine factor: 
a) Because this protest is based on the preaching of Rev. Hoeksema and your committee lacks the necessary givens to make an impartial judgment about his preaching.
b) Because it is characteristic of the supralapsarian to view everything in light of God's plan and this has never been condemned by the churches.

In the third place, as it rejected another element in Vander Mey's protest, the advisory committee made this comment about the allegations that Hoeksema's preaching lacked appropriate subjective application of the gospel:

(3) What is said to us with reference to the less than satisfying Gospel-preaching of Rev. H. Hoeksema as charged in the protest of Rev. Vander Mey.
a) Because this also involves a judgment about the preaching of Rev. Hoeksema about which the committee cannot adequately judge. It would be necessary to hear from many witnesses, and especially the church council concerning their judgment, who as far as is known has never expressed a negative word about the preaching. 
b) Because we are dealing here with a phenomenon that is seen in our Reformed Churches many times. On page 9 of the protest we read "In our congregations we have a kind of preaching which is for believers and spiritually mature but nothing for the unbeliever. It's possible that Rev. Hoeksema considers the exclusively objective exposition of misery, deliverance and gratitude as Gospel-preaching for the unconverted, but it is the kind of preaching in which the invitation is missing.'' This phenomenon is nothing new in Reformed circles and has always been tolerated. 

The openness that characterized the advisory committee's assessment on most of the debated points did not apply to all of them. The committee judged that synod should take a position on some of the issues (1924 Acta, 124):

There are however three points on which, in the judgment of the committee, synod should declare itself specifically, namely 
(1) The favorable disposition of God toward all men, and not alone toward the elect. Your committee judges that this point is of central importance in this question which at present has caused so much unrest in the church. The two following points are intimately interwoven with the first point and are more or less comprehended in it.
(2) The restraint of sin in the individual person and in society. 
(3) The doing of so-called righteousness by the unregenerate. 
Your committee judges that it is necessary for synod to declare itself on these points.
a) Because we are dealing here with points in which the Brothers Danhof and Hoeksema have chosen to take positions with thesis for which they have taken responsibility and which they have defended. 
b) Because the confessions make clear declarations concerning these points.
c) Because it is imperatively necessary that for the rest in the churches synod take a firm standpoint.

What then did the advisory committee want synod to do? In the statements just cited, the Committee insisted that there were three points "on which synod should declare itself." The next ten pages of the 1924 Acta are filled with citations from Scripture and Reformed theologians (notably Calvin, Ursinus's Schatboek, and Van MasWicht) that the committee judges show some of Hoeksema's and Danhof's views to be "in conflict with the Holy Scriptures and the confessions" (1924 Acta, 126). Nonetheless, its concluding advice to synod is relatively tame (1924 Acta, 134-37):

In connection with the instructions which urge synod to make a pronouncement concerning the doctrine of common grace forthwith, or to appoint a committee to study this matter in general, your committee advises the following:
a) That synod make no declaration at present concerning the standpoint of the church regarding the doctrine of common grace and also of its ramifications. Such a declaration would assume that this matter had been thought through and had been developed in all its particulars, which certainly is not the case. This necessary prior study is entirely lacking. As a result there is no communis opinio [common opinion] in the Reformed churches on this matter. 
b) In a similar line of thought, not to appoint a committee with the mandate to study this doctrine for the purpose of formulating a dogma concerning this matter which in due course can be incorporated in the confession:
(1) Because dogmas are not made, but are born out of the conflict of many, and therefore it is desirable that before a dogma is firmly established, a long period of exchange of thoughts precede such acceptance. The involvement of such an exchange of thoughts should be as broad as possible and should not be limited to one church group.
(2) Because a truth must first live clearly in the consciousness of the church in general, or in a specific church group in particular, before the church can incorporate such a truth in its confessions. It cannot be said that such a necessary condition presently exists, or will be present after the passing of two or four years.
c) However, we urge the leaders of our people, ministers as well as professors, to make a further study of the doctrine of common grace, and to give careful thought in considering the problems which are brought to the fore, and that this be done in lectures and in writings. We also urge that this be done, not by a small number, but that many participate.
(a) This will lead to the most natural way for a fruitful discussion about this matter, common grace. Such an exchange of thoughts is an indispensable precondition for the development of this truth; 
(b) This will fix the attention of our people on this doctrine, will clarify their insight, and will get them to feel the importance of this matter so that they become increasingly aware of this part of the content of their faith.
(c) This will lead after the passing of a few years to a communis opinio [common opinion] in this matter and also will ripen the condition in our church for a united confession concerning common grace.

As though it was concerned that this rather open-ended stance might lead to misunderstanding and even misuse of the doctrine of common grace in the church, the committee concluded its advisory report with this stirring warning:


After synod has decided in the spirit of the advice given above, your committee requests that synod give consideration to the following testimony and that it be sent out to the churches: 
"Now that synod has made a declaration about these three points, which because of the denial of common grace became a matter of conflict and by way of denial in principle made a judgment, it feels itself compelled earnestly to warn our churches and especially our leaders against one-sidedly driving this matter to the extreme and thus making a misuse of the doctrine of common grace. There is a danger here which ought not be ignored. When Dr. Kuyper wrote about this in his monumental work dealing with this subject, he indicated that he was aware of this danger that some might be misled and thus losing their way in the world. And history has already proven that this danger is real and more than imaginary. Also Dr. Bavinck has reminded us of this danger in his dogmatics. 
"As we survey the spiritual currents of our present day, it certainly cannot be denied that the danger of becoming conformed to this present world is much greater than that of world flight. The liberal theology of our day virtually erases the boundaries between the church and the world. For many the major importance of the church is increasingly sought in the social life. The awareness of a spiritual-moral antithesis is being weakened in increasing measure by a vague feeling of a universal brotherhood. Preaching moves for the most part on the periphery of life and does not penetrate to the spiritual core. The doctrine of special grace in Christ is crowded more and more to the background. There is a strong desire to bring theology in harmony with philosophy which stands in the service of unbelief. By way of the press and all kinds of discoveries and inventions, which by themselves are to be appreciated as gifts of God, a great deal of this sinful world makes inroads into our Christian families.
"Because of these and similar influences which press upon us from all sides, it is urgently necessary that the church take its stand and set up its watch based on principle; and that as it holds fast the above mentioned points, it also, with tooth and nail, exercise itself in the spiritual-moral antithesis. It must never allow its preaching to degenerate into social dissertations or literary contemplation. The church must always be watchful that Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead be the core of its preaching. Without ceasing it must hold fast the principle that God's people are a special people, living out of their own root, the root of faith. And with a holy passion it must call out to our people through preaching and writing, and very especially to our youth: Be not conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and to approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. With the blessing of the Lord, this will protect our churches from world conformity, which extinguishes all spiritual glow, and robs the church of its crown." (1924 Acta, 147-49)

The advisory report was received by the synod "as information." After some parliamentary maneuvering about which material was legally before synod and on what grounds, synod also agreed to let the Rev. H. Hoeksema speak to the entire assembly. Article 113 of the 1924 Acta, in the twenty-first session (Wednesday evening, July 2), records the matter thus:

Synod continues to deal with the report of the pre-advisory committee regarding Common Grace.
Rev. Herman Hoeksema addresses synod for an hour and thirty minutes in which he seeks to make clear his standpoint. 

The following morning the Rev. H. Danhof and the Rev. JK. Van Baalen also addressed synod "to shed light" and to "clarify" their positions (1924 Acta, 142). When synod returned to its actual deliberations of Thursday afternoon, July 3, it was unable to complete its discussion on point one before the time of adjournment and synod decided to hold an extra evening session. At this evening session the most important road not taken was set before the delegates in the form of a substitute proposal:58

That synod, having considered the advice of the pre-advisory committee with regard to the protests against the conception of the Brothers Danhof and Hoeksema, which have been submitted to synod, it now be decided to "step down" from the matter of common grace, with the earnest admonition that a thorough study be made of this matter, and that this be done in the spirit of brotherly love and mutual appreciation of contrary views.
In order that this thorough study be carried out, it be decided by synod to appoint a committee representing all sides, in which Revs. Danhof and Hoeksema will have a voice and that this committee will serve the next synod with clarification and enlightenment concerning this very important question.
In conclusion, that synod declare that the protesters (whose good intentions in submitting their protests are appreciated) be satisfied with this decision and should rest in this decision, in light of the fact that it is the judgment of synod that the time is not yet ripe to make a precise declaration concerning this question which has been placed before synod by the protesters. 

Had synod wisely followed this calm and reasonable advice how different the outcome might have been. However, according to Article 125 of the 1924 Acta (p. 144): "During the discussion of the above-mentioned proposal, the time arrives that synod adjourn. It is decided to reconvene on Monday at 1:30." The historian who looks back at the written record of synod cannot help but wonder: What happened in the intervening period between Thursday evening and Monday afternoon? For by Monday afternoon apparently the substitute [substitute to the pre-advisory committee] proposal to "step down" from the heated discussion about common grace had become too mild for the delegates. They were apparently determined to he more decisive. When synod reconvened on Monday, July 7, the synodical record (1924 Acta, 145) indicates that "the reporter of the committee, Dr. C. Bouma, addresses Synod for the purpose of clarification and enlightenment regarding the report. He makes use of the majority of the afternoon session for this purpose. Synod decides to vote on the substitute proposal .... The substitute proposal is defeated."

In an evening session that same day synod adopted the now famous three points. However, in a rather remarkable both/and, have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too position, synod did adopt the advisory committee's declarations, noted above, concerning Hoeksema's and Danhof's basic Reformed orthodoxy in spite of certain one-sided expressions in their writings.59 Furthermore, synod also decided to send the advisory committee's concluding pastoral warning about worldliness to the churches.60And, finally, it took over, lock, stock and barrel, jot and tittle, the exact language of the committee's advice "that synod make no declaration at present concerning the standpoint of the church regarding the doctrine of common grace .... And not to appoint a committee with the mandate to study this doctrine for the purpose of formulating a dogma concerning the matter which in due course can be incorporated in the confession." The grounds: "There is no communis opinio in the Reformed Churches in this matter" (1924 Acta, 149).

Does this only appear as a confusing conclusion seventy-five years later? A most charitable reading would conclude that though the three points are important, they in no way could function as dogmatic benchmarks to which office-bearers are obligated confessionally. This would seem especially so since synod encouraged its leaders and its members to thorough and careful study of the matter. Whatever the status of the three points, the tentativeness of synod's decision -- if not its outright contradictory character -- suggests that it would be wholly inappropriate to use the three points as a tool for ecclesiastical discipline and censure. Alas, it was not to be.


The Mystery of the Missing Advice

Though the outcome of the synodical debate on common grace might be considered ambiguous and confused, there is one notable lacuna in its final resolution -- discipline of dissenters. Synod did not spell out a strategy for disciplining those who, like Hoeksema and Danhof, openly indicated their unwillingness to abide by the synodical pronouncements. According to Hoeksema, this absence is especially noteworthy because, so he claims, the original statement from synod's committee of pre-advice did include an admonition to Danhof and Hoeksema, a request that they refrain from any public dissent, and a warning that failure to comply would result in ecclesiastical discipline's being applied.61 In Hoeksema's characteristically colorful summary: "Surely, the committee of pre-advice had intended a sound synodical spanking for the two culprits.62 But now here is the interesting thing: Not only did synod not adopt the "spanking" resolution, the final official 1924 Acta also omitted it from the record of the pre-advisory committee's initial draft report to synod! In his account of synod's actions, Hoeksema observes that "in the Acta the report of the [advisory] committee is introduced by the following: 'The report of the committee of pre-advice concerning the common grace question is read by the reporter, Doctor C. Bouma; it follows here in its entirety.'"63 Hoeksema then adds: "But this last statement is not true."64 And then Hoeksema supplies the missing paragraphs that he says should be inserted on page 134. According to Hoeksema, "how the section containing the advice to admonish the two pastors was eliminated from the official report in the Acta must remain a mystery."65 What is at stake here? So what if there is a missing paragraph or two in the 1924 Acta? 

If Hoeksema is right about this deletion, then the impact of synod's reluctance to discipline the two pastors is diluted. Had the advice to discipline been included in the synodical record only to have then been rejected by synod, the conclusion, so argued Hoeksema, "that synod did not want discipline . . . [would have been proved] beyond a shadow of doubt.66 In addition, if Hoeksema was right, the credibility of his characterization increases that the subsequent action against the two pastors by the Classes Grand Rapids East and Grand Rapids West [was] "a most wanton assumption of authority and violation of the decisions of synod in this case."67 To sum up, the omitted section disguises synod's apparent will not to turn the common grace issue into a matter of ecclesiastical discipline. Now all that the record shows is synod's decision not to accept the milder substitute motion. This is at best a distortion of synodical intention. The question now arises, was Hoeksema's allegation valid? Was there an omitted section dealing with discipline?

It is now possible to confirm Hoeksema's allegation as well as his account of the matter. A mystery remains, as we will see, but the "facts" in the case are substantially as Hoeksema stated. He claimed that the original draft of synod's advisory committee on common grace contained a strongly worded warning that should the brothers Hoeksema and Danhof refuse to abide by the synodical pronouncements, synod itself would be obliged to proceed with discipline. In Hoeksema's account, the omitted passage reads as follows:

Your committee advises Synod, that it, through its president
1. Seriously admonish the brethren with a view to their deviations and ask them to promise that in the future they will adhere to what Synod expressed in the three points mentioned above;
2. Urge the brethren H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema, in all seriousness to refrain from all attempts to propagate in the church their deviating views regarding the three points;
3. Point out to the brethren, that in case either now or in the near future, it should become evident that they will not adhere to the decisions of Synod, this body, though very loath to do so, shall be obliged to make the case pending with their respective consistories.
4. Should the brethren refuse to live up to these proposed conditions Synod would then have to appoint a committee. Your committee would in that case offer the suggestion that this committee consist of the officers of Synod. 68

When the wording of this recommendation is directly compared with synod's actual decision--a gentle admonition not to disturb the churches with one-sided preaching and teaching -- it would seem fair to conclude as Hoeksema did, that though the pre-advisory committee was of a mind to "spank" the brothers Hoeksema and Danhof, the synod was clearly not. Here is the full text of synod's actual disciplinary statement:

In view of the divergent ideas of the ministers H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema regarding the three above-mentioned points, and in view of the conflict that has been ignited in our churches concerning the doctrine of common grace, synod admonishes both brothers to hold themselves in their preaching and in their writing to the standpoint of our confession with reference to the three points and at the same time admonishes the brothers and the churches in general to guard against all one-sidedness in the presentation of the truth and to be careful, moderate and unobtrusive in their statements.

Synod also sent this warning:

On the other hand synod deems that insofar as the ministers H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema warn against world conformity, there is an occasion for such a warring in view of the possible misuse of the doctrine of common grace. (1924 Acta, 147)

So, was the original, more strongly worded advice really in the original draft of the pre-advisory committee's report to synod, thus confirming Hoeksema's contention that synod itself was not disposed to discipline dissenters from the common grace statement?69

Up to now the only public record that an important section of advice was missing in the official Acta of 1924 is Hoeksema's own testimony.70 As Hoeksema reports it, only a partial answer to the question of why some material was omitted from the printed Acta is given by Dr. Henry Beets, then the Stated Clerk of the CRC. According to Beets's testimony--given somewhat tentatively--the copy of the report that he used to prepare the final printed Acta contained "one or two portions blue-penciled which I was not supposed to print."71 When asked whether these passages had been stricken out '"by synodical resolution," Beets gave a very tentative answer: "I couldn't very well say; I don't think I was present at the time. The president of Synod could better tell you, sir; if there was a Synodical decision or by common agreement, I don't know."72 

Though we may never know all the hows and whys of this mysterious omission, I am now able to confirm most of Hoeksema's account independently. The archival file in the CRC General Secretary's office for the 1924 synod73 contains two typewritten copies of the pre-advisory committee's report on common grace. One copy is unmarked and contains the missing passage exactly as Hoeksema reports it. Even more interesting is the second copy that has a strong blue-pencilled slash directly through the section omitted from the final version, just as Beets said. What remains unknown is who made the slash mark and under what authority. Hoeksema, however, was exactly right when he concluded from the cross-examination of Dr. Beets, that it showed "conclusively, that the omitted part to which we refer in the chapter, was originally in the report of the committee and that synod rejected it, when it adopted its substitute motion."74 Indeed, it was there, and yes, synod rejected the advice for discipline. What we must make of this omission, however, is still an open question, to which we will return in our concluding section in which we briefly consider the aftermath of Kalamazoo and provide a tentative assessment.


The Synod of Kalamazoo: Aftermath and Assessment 

On the one hand, the ambiguity of the synodical decision did not stop the concerted ecclesiastical opposition to Hoeksema. On the other hand, it did not satisfy or stop Hoeksema and his supporters either. Hoeksema was correct when he observed that "the conclusions of synod were too ambiguous to settle anything."75 The opposition forces continued the journalistic attacks and the consistory of Hoeksema's Eastern Avenue congregation requested that Classis Grand Rapids East rescind its decision asking the consistory to drop its discipline against its members who had called Hoeksema's preaching and teaching on common grace a "public sin."76 Classis Grand Rapids East met on August 20, 1924, and concluded that the censure of the members "should be lifted as soon as possible, on the ground that synod had sustained the accusation of these protestants against the pastor."77 Refusing to comply with this classical mandate, the consistory called a congregational meeting for September 2, 1924, to provide information and offer opportunity "to protest against the decision of classis."78 The congregation divided. Some offered support and others expanded the protest against the minister and the consistory. When Classis Grand Rapids East finally met again in a number of sessions from November 19, 1924, to December 12, 1924, the die was cast. Neither side would budge from its position. The classis insisted that Hoeksema submit to the three points, and he naturally refused. After much ecclesiastical wrangling,79 a civil court case ensued, primarily over the disposition of Eastern Avenue CRC's property, and by early March 1925, Hoeksema and his supporters were ousted from the church.

How do we now evaluate this tragic affair? A full assessment would require a careful analysis of all Classis Grand Rapids East's minutes during 1924, a task well beyond the scope of this article. What we do wish to highlight here, however, is the role of the famous missing advice in the conflict between the Eastern Avenue consistory and Classis Grand Rapids East. The consistory appealed to synod's own no action on the strongly worded passage as a ground for classis to cease and desist in its disciplinary action against Hoeksema. After citing the rejected, strongly worded passage on discipline, the consistory's appeal to clas-sis states the following:

All this was rejected by Synod. It is evident that Synod wanted no action of any kind. The pastor, accordingly, was never asked a single question by Synod, neither was he compelled to subscribe to anything. And since the Consistory is of the opinion that we must abide by these decisions of Synod in this case, they are convinced that Classis has no right to ask more than Synod did, and that the Consistory may not comply with request of Classis. 80 

That was a nice touch--claiming to be more true to synodical decision than classis was! But Classis Grand Rapids East would have nothing of it:

In answer to the objection that the Synod rejected the advice of the advisory committee relative to disciplinary action, it must be said that as a matter of fact, the Synod did not reject this proposal, since it was not put to a vote. The Synod evidently preferred the inauguration of disciplinary procedure (if necessary) to begin with the consistory in full harmony with the Reformed conception of church government, in which the rule is that disciplinary procedure must be exercised by the church judicatories in the order of consistory, classis and synod and not vice versa. Furthermore, the Synod did publicly admonish the brethren, Reverend H. Hoeksema and Reverend H. Danhof to abide by its decision (cf. Acta 1924, 147).81

How do we assess this seventy-five years later? In my judgment, the omission of the disciplinary paragraph is significant but the evidence of intentional conspiracy somewhat underwhelming. The only things that conspiracy buffs could appeal to is the bold affirmation in the Acta that it is giving the pre-advisory committee's report "in its entirety" and that the only other item missing in the final Acta, namely the twelfth point,82 was also mildly favorable to Hoeksema. However there are also good reasons to dismiss conspiracy notions.

In the first place, not only is the paragraph with the four points concerning discipline blue penciled in the copy found in the CRC archives, but so is the preceding paragraph that underscores Hoeksema's essential Reformed orthodoxy, an orthodoxy finally affirmed by synod itself.83 In the second place, the three most likely candidates for having done the blue pencilling are unlikely intentional conspirators. 

There is no good reason not to take Dr. Henry Beets's testimony of puzzled ignorance about the blue-pencilled passage at face value. Such must be our presumption for a man of unquestioned integrity who is, after all, testifying in a court under oath. In addition, the other two main candidates for synodical blue penciller are the officers of synod, the president, the Rev. I. Van Dellen, and the clerk, Rev. D. Zwier. Both are unlikely candidates for membership in a party of synodically directed conspiracy against Hoeksema.

Rev. Van Dellen, by Hoeksema's own testimony,84 shared Hoeksema's viewpoint that synod had intended not to initiate discipline of the matter of common grace because it wanted "to leave all actual discipline to the minor assemblies and to have it initiated by the consistories of the two pastors if necessary."85 Though Hoeksema disagrees with Van Dellen's ground, it is true that Van Dellen's position was not only friendly to Hoeksema's ecclesiastical-legal position but also an additional ground of protest against any discipline that would be initiated by a classis apart from---or, in Hoeksema's case, in opposition to--a minister's own consistory.

That leaves us with the first clerk of the 1924 synod, the Rev. Daniel Zwier. He, too, is an unlikely candidate for conspirator because his is one of the most eloquent protests against the synodical decision concerning the three points.86 We cite it here in full:

The undersigned protests against the decision of synod in declaring itself at this early time in re the contested points which are related to the doctrine of common grace, namely, the favorable disposition of God to mankind in general, the restraint of sin and the so-called doing of civil good.
This protest is not directed against the content of these synodical declarations, with which the undersigned is in total agreement. Rather this protest is directed against the fact that synod took this action at this time in making these declarations, an action which the undersigned is convinced was both unnecessary and hasty. Grounds:-
(1) the doctrine of common grace, according to his judgment, has not been sufficiently thought through, and the dispute which has arisen in our churches concerning the above mentioned three points, which are connected to it, have not come to a sufficient ripeness to warrant an enticement for a decision through which, in principle, the standpoint of the Brothers Danhof and Hoeksema stands condemned; 
(2) the points, with which it is concerned, do not belong to the fundamental truths which are formulated in our confessions, and as synod itself acknowledged, in these fundamental truths the Brothers Danhof and Hoeksema are Reformed, even though there is a tendency to be one-sided;
(3) thus these too hastily made declarations, according to the conviction of the undersigned, will not be conducive to advance the peace and well-being of our churches. Experience has taught us that undue haste in such weighty matters, when emotions run high because of the battle being waged are seldom good;
(4) there was according to the judgment of the undersigned a better way, namely, that a committee be appointed to investigate the dispute which has arisen, and that the truths be further studied, which have become a part of controversy. However, synod was not willing to move in this direction.
D. Zwier

The words of this protest come close to this writer's assessment of the common grace controversy of 1924. I, too, believe that the decision was hurried and not well thought out from both a theological as well as an ecclesiastical polity perspective. In addition, there is considerable evidence that powerfully placed church leaders acted in concert to "get Hoeksema." It will come as no surprise to the reader that this author has been and remains profoundly intrigued by the mystery of the missing disciplinary advice. Yet in the final analysis, the most objective historical conclusion I can come to is that the blue-pencilled slash mark was most likely a clerical annotation used to indicate what was to be included and not included in a subsequent draft for synod's consideration. Its omission in the final record is most likely, as best I can guess, a clerical mistake rather than an intentional political move. I may be wrong about that tentative conclusion and remain intrigued by it. However, more important than the missing advice, is my strong sense that justice and the church's well-being were violated in this controversy by the orchestrated haste with which Hoeksema was removed from the CRC. It looks for all the world, as I described it earlier, like an ecclesiastical blitzkrieg, a hurried and well-orchestrated attack on the person and ideas of Herman Hoeksema.

What is the appropriate response to that sense? I am not prepared to say. I am generally unimpressed with apologies made out of season by nonparticipants in an action to those who are the legatees of an unjust act but not themselves directly its recipients. The only apologies really worth anything are those made by actual perpetrators directly to their victims. The synod of Kalamazoo took place seventy-five years ago; its protagonists are now with the Lord. We cannot change history; not even with heartfelt apologies. However, we can and must do our best to understand those who are so close to us and yet so far, thanks to historical acts that we may regret later. We must strive to understand so that we can be fair and just as well as sympathetic today. This article is offered to brothers and sisters in the Protestant Reformed Church by someone in the Christian Reformed Church as a gesture of Christian goodwill and attempt at understanding. I am too much of a Kuyperian neo-Calvinist to deny or repudiate the doctrine of common grace, though I share Randy Blacketer's reservations in his article in this issue of CTJ about Kalamazoo's first point. At the same time, I am also disturbed by the misuse of the doctrine of common grace and consider the loss of Herman Hoeksema's prophetic voice in the CRC to have been a major loss for our denomination. At the very least, I hope that today, seventy-five years after Kalamazoo, for the sake of a prospering Reformed faith in North America, open and constructive conversation between our two churches can still take place. This article is offered as an opening to such a discussion.



See David H. Holwerda, "Hermeneutical Issues Then and Now: TheJanssen Case Revisited," CTJ24 (1989): 7-34.

2 My primary resources are the 1924 Acta der Synode der Christeljke Gereformeerde Kerk (hereafter 1924 Acta); Herman Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed Churches in America: Their Origin, Early History and Doctrine, 2d ed., (Grand Rapids, 1947); Gertrude Hoeksema, Therefore Have I Spoken: A Biography of Herman Hoeksema. (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1969). There is remarkably little CRC scholarship on the controversy, probably because for most CRC leaders the issue was self-evident. It is treated briefly by John H. Kromminga in The Christian Reformed Church: A Study in Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1949), 82-86. A full-length monograph on the doctrine of common grace, but focusing on the theology of Cornelius Van Til, is given by James Daane, A Theology of Grace (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954). For additional discussions of common grace in the Reformed tradition and its application to Christian living, see Herman Kuiper, Calvin on Common Grace (Goes: Oosterbaan & Le Cointre, 1928); William Masselink, "Common Grace and Christian Education" (Ph.D. diss., University of Chicago, 1952).

3 The link between the Janssen controversy and common grace is explored in some detail by H. Hanko, "A Study of the Relation Between the Views of Prof. R. Janssen and Common Grace" (Th.M. thesis, Calvin Theological Seminary, 1988).

4 Janssen's career at Calvin Theological Seminary is in itself an interesting tale. (What follows is taken from Semi-Centennial Volume, Theological School and Calvin College: 1876-1926 [Grand Rapids, 1926], 36-38.) He was first appointed to teach exegetical theology at CTS by the 1902 CRC synod though, because he had earned "a Doctorate of Philosophy and not of Theology," his appointment was not permanent and he "was not publicly installed. Shortly after he began teaching, suspicions surfaced about his "unmistakable leaning toward Higher Criticism." Janssen's work at the Seminary ceased when the school's governing board "did not send a recommendation [concerning Janssen's reappointment] to the Synod of 1906; only calling attention to the fact that his time had expired." After Janssen spent two years (1906-8) studying theology at the Free University of Amsterdam, he was reappointed by the CRC synod of 1914 as Professor of Old Testament. In favor of his appointment it was reported that "he had learned a great deal." Apparently, not enough! (For a brief discussion of the Janssen case in a larger institutional and theological context, see John Bolt, Stewards of the Word [Grand Rapids: Calvin Seminary, 1998], 107-20.) 

5 R. Janssen, "De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika," (Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids Printing, 1922).

6 Janssen also appealed to Kuyper (and Bavinck) for support of his views on miracles and revelation. See Holwerda, "Hermeneutical Issues," passim.

7 Holwerda, "Hermeneutical Issues," 11.

8 Ibid., 9.

9 H. Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed Churches, 25.

10 Gertrude Hoeksema, Therefore Have l Spoken, 134.

11 H. Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed Churches, 23.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid, 24.

14 Summarized conveniently by Jan Karel Van Baalen, De Loochening der Gemeene Gratie: Gereformeerd of Doopersch? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans-Sevensma, 1922), 35-36.

15 See Acta der Synode, 1920, 78-97 passim. 

16 Holwerda summarizes the 1920 synodical decision thus: p.12, "After hearing directly from Janssen, synod expressed its satisfaction that his positions maintained the Reformed doctrine of verbal inspiration and the absolute authority of Scripture for faith and life, but it did encourage him diligently to avoid such emphasis on the human factor as might lead to misunderstanding. Thus in the year 1920, the official judgment of both the Board of Trustees and the synod was that Janssen was indeed Reformed in his theology and that the students had not fully understood his position."

17 Holwerda, "Hermeneutical Issues," 18.

18 Ibid.

19 Ibid., quoting R. Janssen, De Synodale Conclusies (Grand Rapids: n.p., 1923), 71.

20 Jan Karel Van Baalen, Der Loochening der Gemeene Gratie: Gereformeered of Doopersch ?.

21 See the tract written by Hoeksema and his collaborator H. Danhof, Niet Doopersch Maar Gereformeerd: Voorloopig Beschied aan Ds. Jan Karel Van Baalen betreffende De Loochening der Gemeene

Grative (Grand Rapids, 1922).

22 See 1924 Acta, 161-63; Synod's action on the appeals covers some eighty pages (pp. 161-242).

23 H. Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed Churches, 25.

24 L. Berkhof et al., Waar het in de Zaak Janssen Om Gaat, 4.

25 Gertrude Hoeksema, Therefore Have I Spoken, 135.

26 Ibid.

27 Agenda CRC Synod, 1924, xxvi-xxvii; the overtures were from the following classes: Hackensack, Sioux Center, Hudson, and Muskegon.

28 Ibid.

29 H. Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed Churches, 25-26. Gertrude Hoeksema's more succinct summary is also given here for clarification along with the dates of publication added by the author of this article (fromTherefore Have l Spoken, 141).

This difference of opinion led to a flurry of pamphlets soon after the synod. The Rev. J. K. Van Baalen wrote a pamphlet (in the Dutch language), Denial of Common Grace, Reformed orAnabaptistic ? The Revs. H. Hoeksema and H. Danhof, in their pamphlet, answered, Not Anabaptistic But Reformed. The Rev. J. K. Van Baalen then came out with Innovation and Error, which was followed by two pamphlets, Along Straight Paths and For the Sake of Justice and Truth, by the two ministers. These were followed by a major work, Of Sin and Grace, also by Hoeksema and Danhof.

The pamphlet war went on until the end of the year.

30 1924 Acta, 147.

31 Gertrude Hoeksema, Therefore Have l Spoken, 143.

32 Ibid.

33 Ibid.

34 H. Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed Churches, 34.

35 Ibid.

36 Ibid., 29.

37 Ibid.

38 Ibid. In a footnote, Hoeksema adds this explanation:

From the typewritten, court-records we quote the following: "Question: Is plaintiff's exhibit 2 the sole work of the three people who signed it? Answer: Do you mean if any others---is this the meaning of the question, have any others? Yes, we have advised with my brother, for instance."

A little further in the records: "Questions: Who wrote plaintiff's exhibit 2? Well, parts of it, of course, we had all written something about the matter that we was to bring to Synod, and we asked him to correct it for us and to go over it, the first part of it. Question: Who is 'Him'? Answer:. That is my brother just referred to. Question: Continue. You asked him to --? Answer: To correct it for us and put it in the proper form. Question: And he did? Answer: Yes, sir."

39 Ibid., 38.

40 Hoeksema contends that he "stumbled across" the overture for the first time at the home of an elder while fulfilling a classical preaching appointment at East Martin CRC (ibid., 39).

41 Here is Gertrude Hoeksema's summary of Hoeksema's assessment of his opponents' motivation:

Rev. Hoeksema himself, when asked what he thought motivated the men who opposed him and openly expressed that they wanted to put him out of the denomination, said he thought there were two main reasons: the simmering enmity of the pro-Janssen men, who looked for a chance to "get even," and the jealousy of some of the leaders in the Christian Reformed Church, especially the four professors he had helped, because they saw in him a leader and a rival in their areas of disagreement.

42 My thanks here to Mrs. Marlene Osterhouse, long-time administrative assistant in the CRC General Secretary's office, for her help in accessing this file.

43 A normal meeting of classis ordinarily completes its business in one day.

44 H. Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed Churches, 54.

45 Ibid., 55.

46 Ibid.

47 Ibid., 57.

48 Ibid.

49 1924 Acta, 115. The protesting churches were Kalamazoo First GRC, Kalamazoo Third GRC, and Lamont CRC. 

50 Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed Churches, 59.

51 Ibid., 59-60.

52 Ibid., 60.

53 Ibid., 61.

54 Recall the four overtures properly before Synod 1924; see note 27 above.

55 For details of the synodical workings see 1924 Acta, 11550, 191-99. Page references that follow in the text are to the 1924 Acta.

56 Here is a list of the synodical sessions, by number and date leading up to the eighteenth, (1) June 18, morning, Wednesday; (2) June 18, afternoon, Wednesday; (3) June 20, morning, Friday; (4) June 20, afternoon, Friday; (5) June 23, morning, Monday; (6) June 24, morning, Tuesday; (7) June 24, afternoon, Tuesday; (8) June 25, morning, Wednesday; (9) June 25, afternoon, Wednesday; (10) June 26, afternoon, Thursday; (11) June 27, morning, Friday; (12) June 27, afternoon, Friday; (13) June 27, evening, Friday; (14) June 30, afternoon, Monday; (15) June 30, evening, Monday; (16) July 1, morning, Tuesday; (17) July 1, afternoon, Tuesday.

57 Here is the relevant passage from the advisory committee listing the eleven points (1924 Acta, 121-22): In the above-mentioned documents the following points concerning the difference in doctrine were brought to the attention of your committee. 

(1) The favorable disposition of God toward the reprobates.
(2) The restraint of sin or the restraint of the sinner.
(3) The doing of civil good by the unregenerate.
(4) The double working of God's will in election and rejection.
(5) The placing of election and reprobation on one line.
(6) The responsibility of man.
(7) The providence of God and His sovereignty over all things.
(8) Rev. H. Hoeksema's view of God.
(9) The emphasis which is placed on the eternal decree and in general on the divine factor.
(10) The insufficient Gospel-preaching of the above mentioned pastor.
(11) The making powerless the second table of the law.
Note: In actual act there were twelve points in the text of the advisory committee. Not included in the 1924 Acta is:
(12) In these items there are also complaints about rash complaints against office bearers. For more on material that is missing from the 1924 Acta, see next section of this article.

58 Article 125 (1924 Acta, 14344): "During the discussion of the above mentioned proposal, the time arrives that synod adjourn. It is decided to reconvene on Monday at 1:30. This session is concluded with a prayer of thanksgiving led by Rev. J. Noordewier."

59 II. Synod declares that there are various expressions in the writings of the Revs. H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema which do not harmonize well with what the Scripture and the confessions teach us regarding the three points mentioned above. Also, synod judges that the ministers, named above, use certain strong expressions in their writings from which it becomes evident that in their presentations they do not reckon sufficiently with the manner in which our confessions declare themselves, especially regarding point I of the Utrecht conclusion.

On the other hand, synod declares that the above-mentioned ministers, according to their own repeated declarations made in their writings, have no intent or desire other than to teach the Reformed teaching, the teaching of the Holy Scripture, and that of our confessions, and also to defend it. Also, it cannot be denied that, in the basic truths of the Reformed faith as set forth in our confessions, they axe Reformed, albeit with a tendency to be one-sided.

It was thus decided.

60 Hoeksema contends that this pastoral advice was not sent; see The Protestant Reformed Churches, 93: "I'he 'Testimony' never was sent to the churches!"

61 H. Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed Churches, 77-78.

62 Ibid., 79.

63 Ibid., 77; cf. 1924 Acta, 113.

64 Ibid.

65 Ibid., 81.

66 Ibid., 80.

67 Ibid., 80-81.

68 Ibid., 192.

69 Hoeksema's summary of his case on this point is worth citing in full (ibid., 194):

Did Synod adopt the advice of the committee [to discipline dissenters]? By no means. It rejected it by adopting a substitute motion in which the entire advice was dropped. Synod did not ask the brethren to retract anything, to promise anything, to refrain from anything. Synod never asked the brethren Danhof and Hoeksema to promise a single thing. Instead, Synod merely decided to admonish the brethren, together with the entire Church and all other ministers in our churches.

70 Hoeksema does provide some independent corroboration from a Kent County Circuit Court cross-examination of Dr. Henry Beets, the Stated Clerk of the CRC whose responsibility it was to prepare the printed synodical 1924 Acta. See H. Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed Churches, 192-93 n.

71 Ibid.

72 Ibid.

73 See note 42, above.

74 H. Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed Churches, 193 n.

75 Ibid., 99.

76 All this is covered in some detail by Hoeksema, ibid., 99-112.

77 Ibid., 109.

78 Ibid.,117.

79 Ibid.,168-234, for details.

80 Ibid., 154

81 Ibid., 159.

82 See note 57 above.

83 See note 30, above.

84 H. Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed Churches, 102.

85 Ibid.; I have not been able to locate the article to which Hoeksema is referring.

86 1924 Acta, 193-94.

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