The division that just took place was doctrinal.
That is denied by many.
It often is in the history of church reformation.
Take J. Gresham Machen’s suspension, for example. “Was Dr. Machen’s trial a fair one? Ecclesiastical lawyers maintain that no question of doctrine is involved. In the more adequate view there are doctrinal differences which run into the heart of the entire problem”.1
Instead of listening to today’s “ecclesiastical lawyers,” we must examine the evidence.
That evidence is clear. There are “doctrinal differences which run into the heart of the entire problem.”
The PRC, by official decision, made a conscious choice as to which doctrine would be its own.
It did not do that by adopting a “three points” of false doctrine.
That day will come, but not soon. Shrewd behavior will keep that at bay for many years.
That was driven home at the recent meeting of Classis East.
A matter was brought to the floor that had to do with a protest against the sermon by Rev. VanOverloop that taught conditional fellowship that is not all of grace.
A motion was made to condemn as heretical the statement that explicitly taught conditional fellowship.
It was apparent that the classis was opposed to the motion. There was no appetite to label the statement heresy, not because it wasn’t heretical but because it would reflect poorly on the man who had originally preached it.
One delegate expressed outright that the classis must guard Rev. VanOverloop’s reputation.
As it came closer to the time for the chairman to call for the vote, the clerk of Classis East pointed out that if they were to fail this motion it would look like they were unwilling to call the statement heresy. The motion would need to be withdrawn so there would be no evidence that it had existed or that the classis was unwilling to call it heresy.
So political maneuvering and wrangling ensued that had nothing whatsoever to do with the glory of God’s name and God’s truth but had everything to do with preserving the reputation and name of man.
It is this type of shrewd thinking that will keep false doctrine from being officially adopted by the broader assemblies of the PRC.
But the PRC did make a conscious choice as to which doctrine would be its own, and they did this by never disciplining the teacher or defender of the lie and by repeatedly disciplining those who exposed the lie and defended the truth.
The membership of the PRC has been making that choice consistently over the last five years as well by slandering the defenders of orthodoxy and defending the men who taught, tolerated, or defended error.
So is there a doctrinal difference between the new church and the PRC?
To use the words of Luke 16:26, there is a “great gulf fixed” between them.
The difference was put into stark relief on Sunday, March 14, 2021.
In the providence of God, two ministers preached on the same Lord’s Day. One minister is the Professor of Dogmatics in the Protestant Reformed Seminary. The other minister was recently deposed from the PRC for rebuking her for her errors. The transcripts are found here and here. You can watch each sermon here and here.
The sermons were on Lord’s Day 7 of the Heidelberg Catechism.
Q. 21 What is true faith?
A. True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word, but also an assured confidence, which the Holy Ghost works by the gospel in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness, and salvation are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.”
The Lord’s Day deals with faith. True faith.
According to Ursinus, the Lord’s Day has to do with “justifying” faith.
How else do dead sinners receive “remission of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation” if not through justifying faith?
Where would each pastor lead his flock?
The Lord’s Day itself is not unclear.
How are you assured of your salvation? “Only for the sake of Christ’s merits.”
“Only” means to the exclusion of everything else.
It would take work to use this Lord’s Day to rob the flock of their assurance.
Which is exactly what Prof. Cammenga did.
Twenty minutes into a sermon on a Lord’s Day that never mentions works, Prof. Cammenga went there. “Scripture and the Reformed Confessions teach that though faith assures of salvation, that faith is confirmed by a life of good works.”
He took a Lord’s Day that teaches pure gospel, and he dragged his congregation to the law.
“What he’s [Peter, in 2 Peter 1:10] describing is a life lived in obedience to God’s 10 Commandments. God uses that in order to confirm in us the assurance of our election and salvation.”
Reader, I ask you, where in this Lord’s Day does it mention the law? Where does it introduce man’s works? Where does it mention man’s obedience?
It does not.
Why, then, would a minister go to man’s works in a Lord’s Day that never mentions them?
L.D. 7 is clear when it teaches us that salvation and the blessings of salvation (“assured confidence”) “are freely given by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ’s merits.”
Prof. Cammenga corrupts this clear instruction on faith when he preaches, “Although God works the assurance of faith under the preaching of his word, we are active in this whole matter of the assurance of faith. God does not drop assurance out of the sky on us, and now we have it forever, can never be taken away from us, and we have nothing to worry about as regards this matter of the assurance of our faith, but God’s people are active, busy in this whole matter of the assurance of their faith.”
This type of corruption has taken place before.
“So it is for us. We see. We look at our good works in the same way. Never of any value to make me be declared righteous before God, but always of help in finding and maintaining assurance that God has justified me through Christ and Christ alone” (Overway, Justified by Faith, L.D. 23, 6/8/14).
Synod 2018 condemned that theology.
“If we are truly justified by faith in Christ alone, then true faith cannot look to its works to help find or maintain the assurance that is found in Christ alone…Good works have a proper place and function in the Christian life but they do not function as helps for finding and maintaining assurance of our justification” (2018 Acts of Synod, 69).
Prof. Cammenga’s theology in this sermon is the same as that condemned by Synod 2018.
This may help to explain why Hope Church could never extricate itself from this error. Prof. Cammenga was appointed in 2018 to a committee to help Hope “understand and implement the decisions of Synod 2018” (church visitors’ report to the March 17, 2020, meeting of Classis East).
Fourteen miles from where Cammenga preached his sermon, another sermon was preached on true faith.
This is what was taught there about the “assured confidence” of Lord’s Day 7:
“This confidence is the assurance that salvation is for me, that God’s grace is for me, though I am wholly unworthy of it, though I have forfeited every gift that God may give to me, and though I deserve to be cast into hell for my sin. God has revealed in his word his love in Jesus Christ, and God, by the Spirit of Christ in my heart, works that assurance that this salvation is mine.”
“There’s your assurance, and there’s mine—not that you’ve done enough but that the Holy Spirit, who is God, is sovereign and powerful to give you this assurance and work this assurance by the gospel in your hearts.”
“The second implication of the truth that faith is assurance is that your assurance and mine does not depend on how good you are and does not depend on your working. It has nothing to do with your working.”
One pastor faithfully taught the Lord’s Day and brought his flock to Christ and kept them there. The other took his flock to the law and kept them there.
One preached God, as revealed in Jesus Christ. The other preached man.
The doctrinal difference was stark and obvious.
In only one of those churches was the “pure doctrine of the gospel” preached (Belgic Confession, Article 29).