Attached here is information about the lecture tonight sponsored by the Evangelism Committee of First Reformed Protestant Church.
After I posted the notice about the upcoming lectures in the United States and Singapore, I was emailed an open letter that Bernard Kok had published about ten years after the split in 1924. Although Kok would later apostatize in the 1950s, his letter written in 1938 is worth reading:
AN OPEN LETTER
to the Theological Professors and Leading Ministers of the Christian Reformed Churches
Esteemed and Worthy Brethren:
Whereas you in your synodical assembly of 1924 have accepted three points of doctrine, which were not only extra-confessional, but contra confessional and anti-scriptural,
And whereas you have thrown out of your churches those that maintained the Reformed truth of sovereign and particular grace, over against those that advocated common and general grace, those that maintained the Reformed truth of total depravity, over against them that would ascribe to the natural man the ability to do good,
And whereas the Rev. H. Hoeksema will be at Edgerton, Minnesota, from Wednesday, April 6 to Wednesday, April 13 to inform all the lovers of the Reformed truth in this community about these greatly to be regretted facts, both in speech and personal contact,
And whereas we are accused of misleading and misinforming the people in regards to these things,
Therefore the best able among you are hereby urgently requested to be present on any of these dates and openly to refute in public debate the truth of these charges.
In response to my question about whether an updated and adapted open letter was appropriate for our circumstances, the reader, Mr. Luke Bomers, put together what I thought was a fine paraphrase of that letter for us today.
An Open Letter to all the leading Ministers and also Theological Professors of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Esteemed and Worthy Brethren:
Whereas you in your Classis East assembly of January 2021, together with the consensus of the synodical deputies from Classis West, officially condemned the rebuke of the Lord Jesus Christ for maintaining and defending false doctrine within your denomination, which rebuke was preached in a sermon on Jeremiah 23:4 & 14 at Byron Center Protestant Reformed Church in November 2020,
And whereas you have thrown out of your churches those that maintained the Reformed truth of sovereign and particular and irresistible grace over against those that advocated for available grace, those that maintained the Reformed truth of total depravity over against those that would ascribe to man that which he must do if he would be saved,
And whereas Rev. A. Lanning will be at the Pinnacle Center in Hudsonville, Michigan, on Thursday, December 1, at 7:30 p.m. EST, and at the Seletar Park Residence in Singapore on Saturday, December 10, at 10:00 a.m. SGT, to inform the people of Reformed persuasion about these greatly to be regretted facts, both in speech and in personal contact,
And whereas we are accused of misleading the simple and trusting souls of your churches concerning these facts,
Therefore, the ablest one among you is hereby urgently requested to be present on either of these dates and openly to refute in public debate the truth of these charges.
Yours for the cause of truth and justice,
Seminarian Luke Bomers
It would be fitting if a Protestant Reformed theologian could make an appearance this evening and if Rev. Josiah Tan, the minister of CERC, could appear on Saturday, December 10, to “refute in public debate the truth of these charges.”
Readers of this blog will be interested in some lectures that are scheduled for December of this year.
First RPC is sponsoring a lecture on Thursday, December 1 on the topic, “Why Reformed Protestant?” The speech will be held at the Pinnacle Center in Hudsonville, MI (3330 Highland Dr., Hudsonville, MI 49426) and will begin at 7:30pm EST. The lecture will be live-streamed on the First Reformed Protestant Church YouTube channel and on Sermon Audio. Following the lecture, there will be a Q&A period, and time for fellowship and refreshments. The lecture and Q&A will be recorded and available for viewing after the event on YouTube and Sermon Audio. These details can be found at the website as well.
Berean RPC in Singapore will be sponsoring two lectures in December, also to be given by Rev. Lanning. Those details are as follows:
Speech 1: Doctrinal Developments in CERC
Date and time: 10 Dec (Sat), 10 am [Friday, 9 pm EST]
Venue: Seletar Park Residence (function room)
Speech 2: The Christian School in Singapore
Date and time: 17 Dec (Sat), 10 am [Friday, 9 pm EST]
Venue: Seletar Park Residence (dining room)
They will be posting details regarding the livestream on their blog, which you can find here. They ask that if you will be attending in person, that you let them know by December 4.
All are cordially invited to attend each of the lectures.
The gospel of Jesus Christ exposes the hearts of men.
There is a time when you can only judge men by their confessions. If they make strong confessions of the truth, quote HH enough times, and continually tell everyone how valiant they are for the truth, you believe them.
And then the gospel comes.
That happened at Byron Center PRC and Crete PRC.
Consistories that fancied themselves to be something, and members with a reputation for orthodoxy and courage, were exposed when the gospel came.
Men were exposed as cowards or quislings or as unbelievers.
Their heretofore strong confessions died on their lips as they realized they had lives to save. Talking about Christ and his gospel was one thing. But to lose something for it? Losing a spouse or a child or your school or your friend or your job? That is entirely something else.
The gospel is not finished exposing men.
That work of the Holy Spirit to expose men’s hearts continued at the September meeting of the classis of the Reformed Protestant Churches.
What was exposed?
Hearts that never loved the Reformed faith and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Hearts that did not love the covenant of grace that God establishes with believers and their seed.
What was decided at classis was not something novel.
No new thing was created.
What was decided at classis was that the Christian schools are a demand of the covenant as taught by Lord’s Day 38 of the Heidelberg Catechism, and the creeds are authoritative and teach the pure doctrine of scripture. Two Formula of Subscription exams were administered, and advice was given to a consistory about how it should proceed.
In response to this, some walk around with long faces and wring their hands.
Others have left the denomination, and more will leave.
It is not my intention in this post to convince men to stay. Just like I would never try to cajole someone to come to the RPC, I would never try to persuade you to stay.
You don’t need convincing.
You need a rebuke.
What happened at classis was the work of the Holy Spirit.
Such developments as took place there could never be the work of men.
Therefore, for men to declare that classis was rogue is to blaspheme the work of the Holy Spirit.
Men say that proper church polity was violated.
Those men grasp at straws.
What was violated was our deeply ingrained Protestant Reformed sense of what church polity should look like.
We may have come out of the PRC, but we are clinging very tightly to what it means to be PR.
The main issues that are brought up to prove that church polity was violated are the fact that two sets of credentials were brought to classis, the fact that delegates from the same congregation answered the questions of Article 41 differently, and the fact that two Formula of Subscription examinations were administered.
These things are not hard to explain.
The foundations of Sovereign RPC were shaken.
There was a question of whether the walls would continue to stand.
That is what happens, after all, when wolves enter the sheepfold.
Deacon Altena, laboring to be faithful to his calling as a watchman, brought another set of credentials.
He saw what it took classis and the rest of us some time to realize: there was only one faithful officebearer at Sovereign RPC. So he acted accordingly.
Classis judged that his action was in error and did not accept the second set of credentials.
I do not blame Deacon Altena for his actions. I have some sense of what he was going through. When I was at Byron Center PRC and after the decisions to suspend Rev. Lanning and relieve Elder Van Baren and me of our duties, I made a call that Saturday night. I called a man and told him that because of how wickedly our consistory was behaving, I wanted to take a decision to depose the entire consistory and declare myself and Elder Van Baren the only rightful remaining elders. I was going to do so based on what I thought was a similar action taken in 1953. (An extreme measure, no doubt, but you consider such things when the foundations are destroyed.) I asked for his advice. That man—a man for whom I have the utmost respect and a man whom the PRC has long slandered as being a man who has always wanted a split—told me I was wrong, told me I had my history wrong, and told me that I ought not to pursue such a course. (Odd advice from a man who has always wanted a split.) I took his advice. So I understand and empathize with Deacon Altena for taking such a drastic measure. The man’s church was being torn apart, and his flock was being savaged.
Things like multiple credentials coming to a meeting of classis have happened before in church history. Rev. VanderWal made mention of this in his blog “Reformed Polity–Classis (2).” It is beyond odd, then, that he takes such umbrage that there were two sets of credentials brought to this session of classis. (Rev. VanderWal has written much since classis. I tried to respond to his first post, here, but he declined to approve it).
Things like this happen in times of reformation. Don’t wring your hands about it. Give thanks to God that he is pleased to work reformation at all in our midst.
Deacon Altena also answered the questions of Article 41 of the Church Order differently than the other two delegates from his congregation.
That has upset some people.
But this, too, is easy to explain.
Deacon Altena was determined not to lie. Knowing he would answer to God for his answers, he was determined to answer them truthfully.
The two elders lied when they gave the answers that they did.
The consistory of Sovereign was not seeing to it that the schools were cared for, and they did need the help of classis. In fact, the two elders were doing everything in their power to prevent a school, up to and including savaging members of their flock over the issue. Deacon Altena saw this and could not in good conscience say other than what he did.
Would you criticize him for this?
Classis heard and saw all of this.
They responded appropriately.
They assigned a committee to bring advice and responded carefully and deliberately.
Although the RPC do not yet have church visitors, the Church Order article that speaks to church visitors says some beautiful things about the care congregations within the denomination are to have for one another. Article 44 of the Church Order speaks of by “advice and assistance” helping to “direct all things unto the peace, upbuilding, and greatest profit of the churches.” Just because the Reformed Protestant Churches do not have church visitors does not mean that this principle of mutual care and oversight is to be discarded.
The September meeting of classis exhibited love and care on a scale that I have never before witnessed at a broader assembly.
It is not love for a congregation, a denomination, or its members to drag matters on for months and years, nor is it necessary. When the matters are clear, and when a church and her members are shown to be in great danger, classis must act, and it must act decisively.
Classis acted in such a manner when it administered Formula of Subscription exams to two of the officebearers of Sovereign RPC.
Some members of the denomination are upset about that.
Again, having come out of the PRC, some of us are clinging as tightly as we possibly can to what it means to be PR.
All we know is the PRC that no longer has a Formula of Subscription. Sure, they have a document that they call the Formula of Subscription that (unqualified) men will continue to sign, but it is an empty, toothless document for them.
What has the PRC done with the Formula of Subscription exam that is called for when there is suspicion of a man’s doctrine?
Four ministers in the PRC drafted a document that, in the words of their own synod, compromised justification by faith alone and the unconditional covenant and displaced Christ. The document that they drafted taught the same false doctrine that the churches “struggled” with for many years. None of those men ever wrote against or repudiated the false doctrine they had taught. On the contrary, one of them, Rev. Haak, said publicly on the floor of synod that not only did he believe that doctrine but that he was going to continue to teach that doctrine. Rev. Slopsema was similarly convicted, as he did continue to teach that doctrine, and on the pages of the Standard Bearer, no less. (You have to admire the sheer hubris of these men. To shove it right in the face of the denomination with absolutely no fear is quite something.) If ever (ever!) there was a need for a Formula of Subscription exam, it was in a situation like this. The Formula of Subscription and its calling for an exam were written for precisely a time like this. And yet, the denomination declines to administer it. And we all know why. Men must be protected. The reputations of men are above all.
When a Formula of Subscription exam was at one point administered in the PRC, it was an absolute farce. And one of the advisors to the synod knew it would be a farce, as he had to admonish the visitors before the session started that no one was allowed even to take personal notes of the proceedings. Larry, Moe, and Curly have more respectability than the delegates at that session of synod, especially considering the outcome.
Read the Formula of Subscription: “And further, if at any time the…classis…upon sufficient grounds of suspicion and to preserve the uniformity and purity of doctrine, may deem it proper to require of us a further explanation of our sentiments…”
Classis acted appropriately when it administered the exams.
Having been delivered from such a morass as we were in in the PRC, let us not now protest and gripe when the Formula of Subscription is appropriately used.
Those exams exposed more than just the men who were examined.
Although it did just that.
If there was any doubt about conducting the Formula of Subscription exams at that time, that doubt was erased after the exams were concluded. One man dodged and evaded and refused to be clear about what he believed. The other man lied. And then fled.
Those who say the exams or the decisions taken after the exams were hasty should read Acts 5:1–11.
Continuing his work of exposing men’s hearts and purging hypocrites from the church, the Holy Spirit’s work was again made clear. What did some men and women do when they saw their champions cut down? They behaved just like their spiritual forefathers did before them. They fled (1 Sam. 17:51).
Some have charged hierarchy. Rev. VanderWal went so far as to characterize the meeting of classis as “hierarchical tyranny.”
I get that the charge is a convenient one to make, and the word itself carries a certain amount of weight. But when you hear the arguments, it becomes clear that the only thing the people making the charge are looking for is for their opinion to come out of your mouth. If their will is not done, then the charge of hierarchy will soon follow.
As appealing as it is to be tossed about by emotion and as appealing as it is to our flesh to throw out rash charges, we should not conduct ourselves in that way.
A church is hierarchical when it insists on the will of man being done, and not the will of God as revealed in his word. For a church to demand (yes, demand) that something be done as that thing accords with God’s will, that is not hierarchy.
It is not hierarchical for a church to demand that officebearers view the Christian school as a demand of the covenant. It is not hierarchical that a Reformed church insists that officebearers hold the creeds as authoritative.
Neither is it hierarchical for a church to do something about the officebearers who refuse. That is not hierarchy. That is obedience to God.
Some are upset that classis declared that the Christian school is a demand of the covenant. Or that classis declared that Lord’s Day 38 speaks of schools when it says schools.
Some, shockingly, have said that to say that there are demands in God’s covenant is to say there are conditions in God’s covenant.
This has recently been taught by Stuart Pastine. “Think about this. If there is a ‘must,’ that is a condition. Sword and Shield has labored mightily to prove that ‘must’ is a condition. Now, the classis has created a condition that believer’s must obey to remain in the covenant. All members must fulfill that condition to remain in the covenant community” (Pastine, “New Legalism”).
And there are those who embrace that teaching.
Is that where we are as churches?
To receive a demand from God that you do something is not God introducing conditions. I would say that this is the ABCs of the Reformed faith, but that would be to insult kindergartners.
You don’t obey a demand to get something from God.
You obey a demand from God because you love God.
That’s how simple this is.
Perhaps what was so shocking was that the RPC treated a demand as a demand.
When you spend your entire life in a denomination that calls something a demand but treats it like an option, you experience a shock to your system when a church deals with it correctly and consistently.
Others say that classis was not orderly.
Classis was firm and direct and decisive, and classis was also orderly.
It functioned exactly the way that classis should have functioned.
There were attempts at disorder, as when a delegate (who is no longer in the RPC) approached me twice before the meeting of classis to try and privately discuss matters that were shortly going to appear before classis. The second time I told him that we ought to wait until classis was convened and we could make righteous judgments about whatever it was that came before us.
There has been disorder after the meeting of classis.
As when members who are dissatisfied with the results go from family to family and from town to town—whether physically or electronically—and form groups and spread the bitterness that troubles them and that defiles the congregations (Heb. 12:15). They exhibit behavior that reveals the unrighteousness of their hearts.
But that is not how conviction works. Compare that to the behavior of Neil and Connie Meyer. Hope PRC spiritually abused them for years, but the Meyers never traveled from city to city, either physically or electronically, to try and gain others to their side. In fact, they did not even tell their own children. Instead, they fought courageously and suffered silently. That is the example that we are to follow (1 Pet. 2:20–23).
A man could be discouraged when he considers the folly and weakness that is being exposed in the Reformed Protestant Churches.
God delivered to us the truth of justification by faith alone and the unconditional covenant, and now that he has restored to us the truth of the Christian school as a demand of the covenant, we murmur and complain?
And members would even leave?
To leave the pure preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ because the church teaches and insists upon the truth that the Christian school is a demand of the covenant reveals that you never loved the gospel of Jesus Christ to begin with.
It would have been better for those members had they never left the PRC.
Not only were some men exposed by classis, but the entire denomination was also exposed.
We are not strong.
We are a weak people.
There is nothing about us that is strong.
We prided ourselves on being strong.
We had fought a battle for justification by faith alone!
A false church cut us down!
Behold us in all our strength!
Behold us now as children cast about by every wind of doctrine, and behold us tricked and fooled by the sleight and cunning craftiness of men.
There is something desperately wrong with us.
The cure for which can only be found outside of ourselves.
There is only one hope for the Reformed Protestant Churches.
That hope is not found in any of the men of the denomination, and it is certainly not found in the institution itself. We are the “nothing” spoken of in Article 27 of the Belgic Confession.
The striking thing is that to this point, the RPC has faced only footmen (Jer. 12:5).
And the footmen have wearied us.
If we stumble on these things that have recently come before us, what will we do when the horses come? Or when the Jordan swells?
There is one hope for the Reformed Protestant Churches and one hope alone.
That hope is Jesus Christ.
That hope is his gospel, which has carried us and will continue to carry the true church of Jesus Christ to the end of the world.
May God be merciful to us sinners, and may he strengthen us so that we are no longer children but men and acquit ourselves as such.
The annual meeting of Reformed Believers Publishing will be held on Thursday, October 20, at 7:30 PM EDT at Wonderland Tire, 1 84th St. SW, Byron Center, MI 49315. Rev. VanderWal will deliver the keynote speech on the topic “The Office of Believer: 1953 and Today.” The agenda can be found here and the link for the livestream will be available at their website, reformedbelieverspub.org.
Sovereign Reformed Protestant Church wishes to extend an invitation to anyone who wishes to gather for a lecture on the command and necessity of the Christian school. It will be held at Boyden Hull High School (801 1st St, Hull, IA 51239) starting at 7:00 PM. Rev. Nathan Langerak will be the speaker, with a Q & A session to follow. Any questions that you wish to have answered in the Q & A session can be handed in at the lecture or emailed to Vern Oostra at (firstname.lastname@example.org).
“By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.” Hebrews 11:7
The controversy regarding the proper understanding of “by faith” in Hebrews 11:7 should not be dismissed as a minor aspect of the broader controversy that has engulfed, and now consumed, the Protestant Reformed Churches. Whether or not any of us knew it at the time, that aspect of the controversy is the one that continues to be referenced by those in the PRC against the RPC.
In fact, it can be fairly said that this matter was, and is, the controversy itself.
Hear Professor Engelsma in a recent family letter:
What clearly illustrates the mistake of the RPC regarding repentance is the declaration by their theologians that “Noah did not build the ark, but God built the ark.” As I have pointed out previously, this statement directly contradicts the statement of the Bible that Noah built the ark (Hebrews 11:7). This, evidently, is of no concern to the theologians of the RPC, who fancy themselves as developing theology beyond, and contrary to, the explicit teaching of the Bible.
They are not only more orthodox than the PRC; they are more orthodox than the Bible. But the aspect of the truth regarding the building of the ark that bears on their misunderstanding of repentance is that God did indeed build the ark, and He built it by having Noah build it. Repentance is a gracious work of God, and He works it by having us repent. Noah’s building of the ark was not a prerequisite of God’s act of saving the church by the flood. Similarly, our repenting is not a prerequisite of God’s forgiveness. (Prof. David Engelsma, Letter to My Family concerning the Denial by the Reformed Protestant Churches (RPC) that Repentance Precedes Forgiveness, 9/2/22)
This matter of Noah and the ark is so serious that not only is this said to be false doctrine, but the theologians of the RPC are now charged with thinking themselves more orthodox than the Bible!
The truth of the matter is that there has not been one theologian or layperson in the Reformed Protestant Churches who has denied the physical reality that Noah took up his tools and exhausted himself in the building of the ark. The question is not, “Did Noah exhaust himself by spending decades of his life building the ark?” Of course he did, and not one person has denied that. This is Rev. Lanning explaining Noah’s building of the ark:
We read about this project in Genesis 6:22, “Thus did Noah.” Noah did it. Noah worked at it. Noah took a saw in his hand and a mallet in his hand, and Noah did what God said in building an ark according to the specifications that God had given Noah: three stories high, with a door in the side and a window in the top. Genesis 6:22 drives that home: “Thus did Noah: according to all that God commanded him, so did he.” Noah prepared the food, growing that food or gathering what grew in the wild; drying that food, perhaps, for the many days and months in the ark; making sure that there was enough for two by two or by sevens of all of the animals upon the earth. All that God commanded, Noah did. Noah sweated in this work, undoubtedly. He labored in it. This took up his nights and his weekends, as well as his days; for in addition to growing the food and taking care of the family that was his regular calling, he also built the ark. Noah was diligent in this calling, not leaving off the calling, but day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, building the ark, swinging his hammer, and sawing the logs. Noah diligently, faithfully, actively built the ark.
Noah did all of this, knowing what he was doing. Noah knew when he swung his hammer what would happen when that hammer hit the nail or the peg or the dowel. It would drive it into the wood and join the timbers of the ark. Noah willed to take a jar or a bucket of pitch, of tar, to dip into that tar some kind of device to apply that tar to the sides of the ark and pitch the whole ark within and without. Genesis 6 is full of the activity of Noah, who did according to all of the commandment of God. (9/20/22 sermon, By Faith Noah Prepared an Ark, Rev. A. Lanning)
The question is, how are we to understand the truth that Noah built the ark “by faith”?
The explanation is not difficult.
Rev. Langerak put it simply and succinctly when he wrote, “The explanation of the phrase ‘by faith’ to mean God doing whatever the believer does by faith means that when Noah picked up a hammer and saw to build the ark, God did that through him” (Beacon Lights, April 2020). Rev. Langerak goes on to explain that this “explanation does not threaten the truth that the believer really does it, but roots all his doing in its deepest source, God, as both scripture and the creeds that I cited teach.”
In the same sermon referenced above, Rev. Lanning said there are four things that are meant when it is said, “Noah did not build the ark, but God built the ark.” First, the source of all our activity is Jehovah God and not ourselves. Second, all of the strength that is required for ark-building, or for any good work that is performed by faith, comes from God. Third, God was sovereign in the building of the ark, and the work depended entirely upon God. Fourth, all of the glory and all of the credit for the work goes to God alone and not to Noah.
It is not complicated, it is not confusing, and it is not heretical.
It does not prove or even cast suspicion upon a man as being antinomian.
If it did, then the Apostle Paul, the psalmist of Psalm 44, Homer Hoeksema, and Abraham Kuyper are all antinomian.
When Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:10 said that he “laboured more abundantly than they all,” what he was saying was that he built far more arks than anyone else had built. When Paul’s arks were lined up against everyone else’s arks, Paul’s lineup of arks put the other members’ lineup to shame. That was the physical reality of what Paul had done in his life. He had worked. He had worked hard. He had worked harder than anyone else. But Paul does not leave it there, because the Holy Spirit would not allow him to leave it there. Paul goes on to say these words: “Yet not I.” Not I. What that means is if you had an opportunity to speak to Paul about his extensive and exhausting labors and ask for the spiritual reality undergirding his life’s work, this is what he would have said, and in fact did say: “Yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”
The psalmist in Psalm 44:3 speaks of the Israelites’ conquering the land of Canaan. He speaks of swords and the strength of their right arms. Yet what he says about the Israelites’ arms and swords is striking. He says that the Israelites “got not the land” by their arms and by their swords. They did not get the land by those means! Does that mean that the psalmist is saying that when Israel conquered the land, the Israelites did not actually, historically use their right arms to swing their swords which cleaved heads from shoulders, destroyed their enemies, and caused the land to run red with blood? Of course not. The psalmist was fully aware of the Israelites’ destruction of their enemies. But if you had an opportunity to speak to the psalmist about the extensive and exhausting labors of the Israelites and then you asked for the spiritual reality undergirding that history, this is what he would have said, and in fact did say: “For they got not the land in possession by their own sword, neither did their own arm save them.”
Homer Hoeksema spoke to this as well in his explanation of the destruction of the walls of Jericho (as Rev. Langerak pointed out in his response). “Explaining that the walls of Jericho fell down by faith, Homer Hoeksema writes, ‘By faith,—yes, by faith,—the walls of Jericho fell down. That means: the work was God’s, all God’s, most emphatically and exclusively God’s!’” (Rev. N. Langerak, Beacon Lights, April 2020). What that means is if you had an opportunity to speak with Homer Hoeksema about the marching of the Israelites around the walls and their bearing before the ark seven trumpets and their blowing of those trumpets, and if you had asked Hoeksema what was the spiritual reality that undergirded this history, he would have said, and in fact did say, “The work was God’s, all God’s, most emphatically and exclusively God’s!” (The definition of the word “exclusively” is: “to the exclusion of others; only; solely”).
Abraham Kuyper wrote a lovely devotional titled “Do Not Neglect the Work of Your Hands” (Honey from the Rock, 574). In this devotional he asks why Christians continue in their work, whether in the church, in the Christian school, or at home, when they are so often confronted by the disappointing outcomes of that work. He asks, “So how do you explain such an unusual experience in the context of human effort?” (576). Said differently, “How do you explain always swimming against the stream like this and still prevailing? Facing so much discouragement but always maintaining courage? Confronting what’s against all odds but never giving up and continuing to plant acorns when you will never see the greening of the treetops?”
Where does Kuyper point us for the answer?
“My good reader, you only explain it in terms of faith!”
He points the reader to faith!
“It’s faith that everything is exactly the opposite from what it seems to be! It’s faith that it’s not really the person doing the work but that the real Worker involved is the Lord God.”
What does a person say who labors with this understanding? In other words, what does the man or woman say who is pouring out their life for the church, school, and home and is doing so by faith? This is what they say, according to Kuyper: “The real worker is actually the Lord God. It’s not I who is raising my children, but God is doing it. It’s not I who is doing the teaching at school, but the Lord is the educator. It’s not I preaching, but the Lord himself causes his Word to go forth. It’s not I who harbor tender desires for my people, but the Lord is the one keeping watch over them” (576).
You can hear the great outcry of the PRC against that position. “No, Brother Kuyper, you must not say that! That makes man a stock and a block! Stop trying to be more orthodox than the Bible!”
Is it really any wonder that the Protestant Reformed Churches have no idea what to do with the truth that the believers’ works proceed from God, are worked by God, and serve only to glorify God? Is it any wonder that they reject out of hand the truth that the believer works, yet it is not the believer who works?
They can’t fathom or understand this truth because it has to do with faith, which is entirely other-worldly and spiritual; faith which points away from man and points to its object, Jesus Christ alone.
The question is, “What is the theological and spiritual reality of those works of the believer that are done by faith?”
The response of the PRC is this: “Reformed theology glorifies God in the matter of ark-building, not by denying that Noah built the ark, not even by whispering, as softly as possible, “Yes, Noah built the ark,” but by shouting this as loudly as possibly” (Prof. Engelsma, “Who Built the Ark”).
I detest that response.
I was never taught that response from my youth up, and finding it being taught to me now, I spit it out.
Kuyper also condemns that response and gives the response of faith itself.
A sinner living without this kind of glorious faith struts around on the peak of their roof and in their pride exclaims: “Is this not the proud Babylon that I have built?” But for the sinner who is permitted to stand in blessed faith and does not ask about the outcome but keeps on working quietly in the service of their God, it is otherwise. They labor on behalf of their home, their country, and industriously for their school and the church of Christ. They always find strength and comfort in praying the prayer that was on the lips of David: “Lord, not my work, but your work be done. Complete the work of your hands.” (Honey from the Rock, 577)
Noah built the ark.
Yet not Noah.
This is not false doctrine. This is not trying to go beyond the scripture. This is not antinomianism. This does not even reveal an antinomian bent.
It reveals a theocentric heart that is determined to give God, and God alone, all of the glory.
It is God-glorifying gospel truth, and may we in the Reformed Protestant Churches never, ever, ever shy away from shouting that as loudly as possible.
When theologians who are now in the Reformed Protestant Churches answered that question by delving into the spiritual reality of what is meant by “faith” in Hebrews 11:7, the theologians in the Protestant Reformed Churches were incensed. There may be confusion on certain things in the PRC, but the whole matter regarding Noah is not one of them. That is the matter that is constantly set forth as proof of the Reformed Protestant Churches’ false doctrine.
As an aside, I wish that even one theologian in the PRC could have fought with such a vengeance against the minister who taught that communion with Christ is conditional and that there are two rails that lead to heaven, God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility; or the minister who taught that in order to be saved there is that which a man must do; or the minister who taught that the more faithful the saints are to God’s law in the grace of Jesus Christ, the more they prosper in the great blessings of the covenant and, above all, the more they prosper in the enjoyment of God’s covenant fellowship; or the minister who taught that the regenerated believer is no longer totally depraved; or the minister who taught that the more you walk in good works, the more you will experience God’s love and fellowship; or the Arminian who exhorted his congregation to seek the grace that is available and that in order to partake of communion with a clean conscience you have to out-Pharisee the Pharisees; or the minister who taught that in the final judgment it is by means of our words that we will be justified; or the minister who taught that we have assurance by our works; or the minister who taught that there are two grounds for divorce; or the minister who taught that it is not enough that there is a Jesus or that Jesus did not personally accomplish all of our salvation.
But no, those things don’t bring a whimper from the watchmen on the walls of the PRC.
That is because only God and his truth were being assailed in those statements.
But when the glory of man is at stake?
When a minister taught that man did not build the ark, God did? That is beyond the pale, outside the bounds of orthodoxy, and something that must be swiftly condemned.
It really is telling when you consider what it is that causes the denomination to rise up in anger. Time and time again God’s name and truth are corrupted, and the people yawn, and the theologians carry on in their ivory towers and take no notice. But when a rebuke is issued? Or when man’s glory is seen to be slighted in the smallest regard? That brings out the fury of the membership and the pens of the theologians.
So the statement that man did not build the ark, God did, must be condemned.
Over and over and over again.
For some theologians in the PRC, this matter of Noah’s ark-building is proof positive that the RPC are guilty of teaching antinomianism. Tobias Crisp ain’t in it.
The charge that the RPC are antinomian is a charge that I welcome. The reason I welcome the charge is because it is the charge that is always brought against the proper, which is to say biblical, presentation of the gospel message. Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it this way:
A very good way of testing any view that you may hold is this one: Is this view humbling to me, glorifying to God? If it is, it is probably right. You won’t go far wrong if whatever view you are holding is glorifying to God, humbling to man. But if your view seems to glorify you and to query God, well (there’s no need to argue or to go into details) it’s wrong. It’s a very good universal rule—that! And, my last word of all is, again, a word primarily to preachers—indeed it’s a word to everybody in the sense that if ever you are putting the Gospel to another person, you’ve got a very good test whether you are preaching the Gospel in the right way. What’s that? Well, let me put it like this to you: If your presentation of the Gospel does not expose it to the charge of Antinomianism you are probably not putting it correctly. What do I mean by that? Just this: The Gospel, you see, comes as this free gift of God—irrespective of what man does. Now, the moment you say a thing like that, you are liable to provoke somebody to say, “Well, if that is so it doesn’t matter what I do.” The Apostle takes up that argument more than once in this great epistle. “What then,” he says at the beginning of chapter 6, “shall we do evil—commit sin—that grace might abound?” He’s just been saying: “where sin abounded grace does much more abound.” “Very well,” says someone. “This is a marvelous doctrine, this ‘Go and get drunk, do what you like the grace of God will put you right.’” Antinomianism. Now, this doctrine of the Scriptures—this justification by faith only, this free grace of God in salvation—is always exposed to that charge of Antinomianism. Paul was charged with it. He said, “You know, some people say that’s what I’m preaching.” Paul’s preaching was charged with Antinomianism…So I say, it is a very good test of preaching. You see—what is not evangelical preaching is this: It’s the kind of preaching that says to people, “Now, if you live a good life; if you don’t commit certain sins; and if you do good to others; and if you become a church member and attend regularly and are busy and active you will be a fine Christian and you’ll go to Heaven.” That’s the opposite of Evangelical preaching—and it isn’t exposed to the charge of Antinomianism because…it is telling men to save themselves by their good works…And it’s not the Gospel—because the Gospel always exposes itself to this misunderstanding from the standpoint of Antinomianism. So, let all of us test our preaching, our conversation, our talk to others about the Gospel by that particular test…If you don’t make people say things like that sometimes, if you’re not misunderstood and slanderously reported from the standpoint of Antinomianism it’s because you don’t believe the Gospel truly and you don’t preach it truly. (Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Romans 3)
Ask yourself, would anyone now charge the PRC with antinomianism with their teaching that man precedes God and good works are the way to fellowship with God and Jesus did not personally accomplish all of your salvation?
Apply Lloyd-Jones’ formula to the theology of the PRC, some of which I named at the beginning of this post. Would you say that theology is glorifying to God and humbling to man? Or does it glorify man and query God? No need to argue details, the theology of the PRC is wrong.
This is not to say that there is no such thing as antinomianism. There is. It is when someone says that the law of God has nothing to say to the child of God, or that the law is not to be used as a guide for the Christian life, or that there is no “must” to do good works, or that any talk of demands in God’s covenant is to introduce conditions into God’s covenant. That is the very definition of antinomianism.
But that is not what is being taught here.
As has been said before, we love the law; we just don’t want the law to save us.
I thought about going back and finding all the instances where theologians in the PRC have referred to the Noah controversy, but I just don’t have the heart for that anymore. Two examples will suffice.
What clearly illustrates the mistake of the RPC regarding repentance is the declaration by their theologians that “Noah did not build the ark, but God built the ark.” As I have pointed out previously, this statement directly contradicts the statement of the Bible that Noah built the ark (Hebrews 11:7). This, evidently, is of no concern to the theologians of the RPC, who fancy themselves as developing theology beyond, and contrary to, the explicit teaching of the Bible. They are not only more orthodox than the PRC; they are more orthodox than the Bible. But the aspect of the truth regarding the building of the ark that bears on their misunderstanding of repentance is that God did indeed build the ark, and He built it by having Noah build it. Repentance is a gracious work of God, and He works it by having us repent. Noah’s building of the ark was not a prerequisite of God’s act of saving the church by the flood. Similarly, our repenting is not a prerequisite of God’s forgiveness. (Prof. David Engelsma, Letter to My Family concerning the Denial by the Reformed Protestant Churches (RPC) that Repentance Precedes Forgiveness, 9/2/22)
From the time that it was publicly defended that God and not Noah built the ark, disparaging the good work that Noah performed by the grace of God over the course of 120 years, the issue has been the injection of antinomian error on the part of those who belong to the schismatic group. (Prof. Cammenga, Response to Wingham’s “A History of the Controversy,” undated)
The members of the PRC have also pointed to the Noah incident as irrefutable proof that the RPC are made up of hyper-Calvinists, antinomians, and just plain dunces. “You don’t believe Noah built the ark?” Or this, as one correspondent put it to me: “When I first heard that we shouldn’t say that Noah built the ark, I honestly thought that it was one of the silliest comments I have ever heard.” Or this, a comment submitted to an earlier blog post: “When an RPC leader declared that Noah didn’t really build the ark, was he being obedient to the supreme authority of that word of the Scriptures only?”
Is saying, “Noah did not build the ark, God did,” silly, an example of not submitting oneself to the supreme authority of the word of God, and proof of that pernicious error antinomianism inside the camp of the Reformed Protestant Churches?
Or is it the gospel?
Before we answer those questions, let’s start with a brief history of the controversy.
(As editor of the Beacon Lights and a member of Byron Center PRC’s consistory, I was given a front-row seat to the pathetic display of an entire denomination taking up the sword in the defense of Man and Man’s name and honor.)
In November 2019, Beacon Lights magazine printed the speech given by Rev. Nathan Langerak at the 2019 PR Young People’s Convention. The title was Safety in the Ark.
In February 2020, a letter was published objecting to the following statement by Rev. Langerak: “And when we say that Noah built the ark by faith, we mean God built the ark. Man didn’t build the ark; God did. That’s because Noah built it by faith.” That letter and Rev. Langerak’s response is here.
Prof. Cammenga, among others, responded with his own letter. Those letters and Rev. Langerak’s response is here. Prof. Cammenga disagreed strongly with Rev. Langerak. One of his most serious concerns was that it would provide “fodder to those who charge that the PRCA are hyper-Calvinists because they make man a stock and a block—or a puppet, or a robot.” Prof. Cammenga cares very deeply about what the enemies of the gospel say about him.
On September 13, 2020, Rev. Lanning preached a sermon titled “Our Testimony Given Us,” in which he warned the congregation against the reflex within us that would raise an objection to the statement that Noah did not build the ark; rather, God did. During Byron Center PRC’s consistory meeting later that week—even though it was not on the agenda and even though no motion had been previously distributed—an elder made the following motion: “Motion made to have Rev Lanning clarify his statement made in the sermon that Noah did not build the ark.” That motion carried. (There were no grounds for the motion, and it was a spur-of-the-moment thing, but the elders at Byron Center PRC were getting pressure from family and friends, so something had to be done. We were a wishy-washy bunch.)
(You will not find either sermon on the SermonAudio page of Byron Center PRC. In their ongoing work to remove any remaining evidence that the Holy Spirit once took up his abode in that congregation, they are taking down Rev. Lanning’s sermons. So that today, the members of Byron PRC have what they want. They have peace. It just happens to be the peace of the graveyard.)
Shortly after this, on September 28, Prof. Engelsma took this spiritual dog by the ears and entered the fray. He did so with a family email that he intended for distribution.
After this, things died down.
The issue was never settled. It just sank down to a slow burn, waiting for some accelerant which would cause the matter to again flare up.
As it has from time to time since then.
And more often of late, as this matter is set forth as definitive proof of the naughtiness of the Reformed Protestant Churches.
So, what is the answer?
May we say that the spiritual and theological reality of the phrase “by faith” is to say that it was not Noah but God who built the ark?
It was originally my intention to send this letter in to the Standard Bearer. After further reflection, I decided against wasting my time by pursuing that course. It exceeds the word limit and it would never see the light of day. So, I publish it here, as an open letter to the Standard Bearer in response to their special issue on abuse.
I write in response to your special issue on abuse (May 1 issue).
Many no doubt found it odd that the Standard Bearer (SB) would stay away from the sin that has especially plagued the PRC, namely the sin of spousal abuse. However, in light of the fact that abuse is abuse (murder is murder, after all), I have a few questions and comments about that issue.
I was struck by the fact that you had Prof. Gritters play such a key role in your special issue on abuse. As is known to many, Prof. Gritters’ name has come up in a recent high profile abuse case in the denomination. Fifteen years ago, Prof. Gritters became aware of a situation involving the most influential and popular minister in the Protestant Reformed Churches, Rev. Ron VanOverloop. Prof. Gritters was in possession of information that deeply incriminated Rev. VanOverloop as being guilty of a gross sin. Prof. Gritters confronted Rev. VanOverloop who, unsurprisingly, denied the charges. Prof. Gritters, according to the record, did not find Rev. VanOverloop’s denial genuine. He found Rev. VanOverloop’s response “off,” unusual, and troubling (to use the wording of the minutes from Classis East).
After being in possession of this damning information that unmistakably pointed to Rev. VanOverloop’s guilt, what was Prof. Gritters response? Did he pursue it?
This is what he did, according to the official classical record.
“Prof. Gritters did nothing more.”
After all that evidence, this is what Prof. Gritters did.
I have three questions for Prof. Gritters: First, do you take full responsibility for every instance of abuse that occurred during the last fifteen years at Grace PRC knowing that if you had done your duty before God—rather than simply protecting an influential minister in your denomination—then not one of those abuse cases in the last fifteen years would have taken place? We know that you are able to pursue charges of sin, even charges of sin that have no evidence to support them. Witness your zeal in chasing all over North America to pursue charges of sin against Revs Langerak, Lanning, and VanderWal, charges which even Classis East had to admit had no merit. (It becomes clear that Prof. Gritters is eager to protect his name and to go to incredible lengths to do so, but when it doesn’t involve protecting his name and reputation, his zeal flags considerably). Second, even if you have not been deposed, as you should have been for faithless desertion of office, why have you not resigned your office in shame over the abuse that occurred because you chose to “do nothing more”? Third, when a man in your denomination did try to do something regarding spousal abuse, what was your response? I have in mind the book on abuse written by an emeritus professor of the PRC. What was your response to the appearance of that book calling for the protection of the abused woman?
It is laughable and a complete farce for Professor Gritters to write, “Many in the PRC and other churches have been sighing quietly. This special issue is a beginning, perhaps only feeble, effort to ‘cry out’ openly.” Abuse victims have been crying out to God for decades in the PRC and those men who should have helped them did nothing. Along this line, perhaps another question is in order for Prof. Gritters: “Have any abused women ever come to you and asked you to be their champion and their advocate? If so, what was your response?”
I wonder what else Professor Gritters knew and about which, did nothing more.
The Standard Bearer may be at a beginning, but the issue is not. Many women and young people have been victimized and abused at the hands of their husbands or church leaders, and the Protestant Reformed Churches have turned their backs on them. Oh sure, after it becomes clear that the civil authorities are involved, then consistories are forced into doing their work. But the blood of these helpless victims cries out to God from the ground, blood spilled while the leaders and rulers of the church did nothing to stop it.
It is also striking that the editors chose two professors in the seminary to write on the topic of abuse.
For four years the seminary professors had a man under their tutelage who proved to be an abuser. For four years the professors had the closest contact with a man who, only one year after his graduation, was deposed for spousal abuse. At the end of his seminary instruction, the professors sent this man out to the denomination to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. This kind of gross abuse does not suddenly appear out of the blue. A history is attached to such cases, whether that history is recognized for what it is or not.
It was also striking that the editors of the Standard Bearer chose Rev. Key to write the meditation for the special issue on abuse. Rev. Key had this same student under his tutelage as part of the man’s internship program. Rev. Key was aware of this man’s abuse of his wife, and yet he was okay with sending this man out into the churches.
One might even say, Rev. Key did “nothing more.”
Take note of that: it took about one year for this man to be deposed for spousal abuse after he had graduated from the PR seminary and after he had spent time doing an internship under Rev. Key. My question for the editors is this: Why, in a special issue on abuse, was no mention made of this? How can this be seen as anything other than a complete whitewashing of the actual sin and guilt of the denomination in the matter of sexual and spousal abuse? It is no wonder that Rev. Key botched the article he was assigned to write, which article brought objections from readers. Rev. Key does not know the first thing about helping abused and oppressed people. What a sham, then, for him to be asked to write an article for this issue.
Why in a special issue on abuse was no mention made of consistory after consistory of the Protestant Reformed Churches who have done nothing to help and deliver the oppressed, but rather have helped contribute to their murder? (Apart from the ones I am aware of, I wonder how many other churches are guilty of this as well. I wonder how much more horror has simply been buried by PR consistories). No confession of sin in this? No declaration that untold Protestant Reformed consistories have the blood of these murdered women dripping from their hands? Do you know the damage done to these women and their children? Here is what I think: I think the leaders in the PRC do know, but the institution must be protected at all costs, even if that means trampling a few women and children under foot.
To paraphrase one of your own in this regard, the PRC may have swept all of these abuse cases under the rug, but you can be sure of this; one day, Jesus Christ, the champion of the oppressed, will lift that rug up and expose all of it.
I believe you made a mockery of the abuse that has taken place in the Protestant Reformed Churches and your attempt to whitewash it is grievous, monstrous sin.
In the face of all this wickedness, what is the response of the editor? This: “I propose the following four things that I believe the PRCA must learn” (Rev. Josh Engelsma, 5/1/22, SB). Rev. Engelsma is really serious about this, since he put the word “must” in italics.
There is one thing that is noticeably absent in the midst of all of the “learning” that is going on in the PRC—true repentance.
And that is shocking. Men and women in the PRC love to opine about repentance and bury their audience in quotes from theologians about what repentance is and weary their reader with their insistence that in repentance man precedes God and what repentance is and what it is not and you hear much about how repentance works and how much it avails with God so that without it a man cannot be justified. And yet, in spite of all that, the leaders of the denomination just cannot find it within themselves to actually practice it. And that is because they cannot. Repentance is a fruit of faith, after all.
While the PRC struggles to figure out what it must learn—sorry, must learn—here is the word of God to the Protestant Reformed Churches: “And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:5).
To the members of the denomination that was my mother, and that I love, my word of love to you is this: Flee. Wolves have entered the sheepfold.
We recently received a copy of your letter to the Galatians. The committee has directed me to inform you of a number of things, which deeply concern us.
First, we find your language to be somewhat intemperate. In your letter, after a brief greeting to the Galatians, you immediately attack your opponents by claiming they “want to pervert the gospel of Christ.” You then say that such men should be regarded as “accursed”; and, in another place, you make reference to “false brethren.” Wouldn’t it be more charitable to give them the benefit of the doubt-at least until the General Assembly has investigated and adjudicated the matter? To make the situation worse, you later say, “I could wish those who trouble you would even cut them selves off!” Is such a statement really fitting for a Christian minister? The remark seems quite harsh and unloving.
Paul, we really feel the need to caution you about the tone of your epistles. You come across in an abrasive manner to many people. In some of your letters you’ve even mentioned names; and this practice has, no doubt, upset the friends of Hymenaeus, Alexander, and others. After all, many persons were first introduced to the Christian faith under the ministries of these men. Although some of our missionaries have manifest regrettable shortcomings, nevertheless, it can only stir up bad feelings when you speak of these men in a derogatory manner.
In other words, Paul, I believe you should strive for a more moderate posture in your ministry. Shouldn’t you try to win those who are in error by displaying a sweeter spirit? By now, you’ve probably alienated the Judaizers to the point that they will no longer listen to you.
By your outspokenness, you have also diminished your opportunities for future influence throughout the church as a whole. Rather, if you had worked more quietly, you might have been asked to serve on a presbytery committee appointed to study the issue. You could then have contributed your insights by helping to draft a good committee paper on the theological position of the Judaizers, without having to drag personalities into the dispute.
Besides, Paul, we need to maintain unity among those who profess a belief in Christ. The Judaizers at least stand with us as we confront the surrounding paganism and humanism, which prevail within the culture of the contemporary Roman Empire. The Judaizers are our allies in our struggles against abortion, homosexuality, government tyranny, etc. We cannot afford to allow differences over doctrinal minutiae to obscure this important fact.
I also must mention that questions have been raised about the contents of your letter, as well as your style. The committee questions the propriety of the doctrinaire structure of your letter. Is it wise to plague young Christians, like the Galatians, with such heavy theological issues? For example, in a couple of places, you allude to the doctrine of election. You also enter into a lengthy discussion of the law. Perhaps you could have proved your case in some other ways, without mentioning these complex and controverted points of Christianity. Your letter is so doctrinaire, it will probably serve only to polarize the differing factions within the churches. Again, we need to stress unity, instead of broaching issues, which will accent divisions among us.
In one place, you wrote, “Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing.” Paul, you have a tendency to describe things strictly in black and white terms, as if there are no gray areas. You need to temper your expressions, lest you become too exclusive. Otherwise, your outlook will drive away many people, and make visitors feel unwelcome. Church growth is not promoted by taking such a hard line and remaining inflexible.
Remember, Paul, there is no such thing as a perfect church. We have to tolerate many imperfections in the church, since we cannot expect to have everything at once. If you will simply think back over your own experience, you will recall how you formerly harassed the church in your times of ignorance. By reflecting on your own past, you might acquire a more sympathetic attitude toward the Judaizers. Be patient, and give them some time to come around to a better understanding. In the meantime, rejoice that we all share a common profession of faith in Christ, since we have all been baptized in his name.
Coordinator, Committee on Missions
This article appeared in the July / August 1988Trinity Review