Noah (2)

“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.

Simple.

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.

Noah (1)

Who built the ark?

Noah?

God?

Maybe both?

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.)

On September 20, Rev. Lanning preached his clarification sermon titled “By Faith Noah Prepared an Ark,” which sermon should have settled the matter.

(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.

Sort of.

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?

Or is that rank antinomian heresy?

 

Abuse

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.

Dear Editors,

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.

“Nothing more.”

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.

In the service of King Jesus,

Dewey Engelsma

A Letter to Paul the Apostle

person holding fountain pen

Presbyterian Church in Asia Minor

Committee on Missions

Paul the Apostle

co Aquila the Tentmaker

Corinth, Greece

Dear Paul:

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.

Sincerely,

Charles Phinney

Coordinator, Committee on Missions

————————————————

This article appeared in the July / August 1988 Trinity Review

https://www.trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=91

Copyright © 1998-2018 The Trinity Foundation
Post Office 68, Unicoi, Tennessee 37692
Phone: 423.743.0199 Fax: 423.743.2005

(HT: CPRC)

As to the Schools (Epilogue)

(This post was written by Mike Vermeer)

One thing I wrote in the last series, as an attachment to the first blog, may have caught your eye. In my letter to the school board—as well as in several other private letters that I sent around the early spring of 2021—I wrote the statement, “I judge no person for their decision to stay within the PRC or to leave it.”

Depending on who (and where) you are, you may have taken this statement differently.

If you remain in the PRC, you may read that statement and allow it to work as a balm on your conscience. You see “many problems” in the PRC. You may even agree that there is false doctrine being taught in the PRC. You may claim to be fighting against these errors in the PRC and experiencing trouble for all your efforts. For you, you read that statement as an affirmation that because I don’t judge you, that you do not need to fear judgment.

If you are in a position where you are leaving or have recently left the PRC, you may have found yourself using a similar expression. You know there is error in the PRC, and Christ has pulled you out of the fire, delivering you from that false doctrine that displaces Christ. For you, this expression is a bit of an olive branch. We think, “well, what if they just don’t see it? We need to give them more time and let them think about it a little more. We cannot judge them because they will stop seeking the truth.”

Let me explain my statement so that there can be no confusion. This is its meaning: I am not only carnal but also an unjust judge.

You ought not to seek my judgment or give any weight to it. You ought not even seek the judgment of a man who is accounted to be wise. You ought to only seek and give any weight to the judgment of God. When I judged, I did so according to my own wisdom and what would make my life here on this earth easier. As was explained in the series, I did everything possible to remain in the PR schools. A part of this was refusing to judge rightly and deliberately adding this statement as a balm on those who remained in a church that Christ had left. A part of this was also a desire to salvage relationships by glossing over the truth.

If you pressed me at that time, I might have defended the statement by saying that I cannot judge the eternal destiny of any person. That is true. That is a matter that remains with each individual and God. I do not judge the eternal destiny of any person. Only God knows.

However, not only is God the judge of all the earth, but he also calls us to judge—not the heart, but the actions and confession of men. When Christ was accosted by the rulers for healing on the Sabbath, he gave them and the people the calling to “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Likewise, the Spirit calls us to judge one another even as we will judge the ungodly and angels (I Corinthians 6:1-6).

When I claimed to judge no person for their decision to stay or to leave, I was judging according to the flesh, and according to appearance. It was in no way aligned with the judgment of God. God has shown that the truth of the Gospel is not and cannot be in the PRC.

Regardless of whether I judge you for staying within or leaving the PRC, you ought to seek true and righteous judgment. The truth is that God is judging the PRC and will judge those that remain in it. The truth is that all the emphasis on “a balanced gospel” and “but you really must do good works” is crowding out the gospel of Christ so that the gospel cannot remain in the PRC. The gospel is a gift. It is not a matter of your intelligence or ability to understand. And when Christ is kicked out of the PRC, his gospel cannot remain in it. The truth is that if the gospel has left a church, the kingdom of Man has replaced it. And the destruction will be terrible.

Do not let my unjust judgment be a balm on your refusal to seek the Kingdom of God.

Flee.

As to the Schools (3)

This is the third and final post written by Mike Vermeer. (Well, the final post if I am unsuccessful in convincing him to continue writing). Having spent the first 40 years of my life complacent and ignorant regarding Christian education, I am thankful for Mike’s work on behalf of the schools, which work is beginning to disabuse me of my ignorance.

This article brings me to the second reason why we needed to start our own school; in answer to the question posed in various ways, why did we start a school? The reason I am about to explain, I must emphasize, was not the basis for any of my decisions – I am carnal. However, God has shown us once more in this how His ways are higher than our ways.

In baptism, we vow to teach our children to the utmost of our power, according to the doctrines that are taught in our church. This vow encompasses all the rearing and instruction of our children.

With a school staffed by Protestant Reformed teachers, it is impossible they could teach our children according to the truth we believe. They could not help but teach Protestant Reformed doctrines. They could not but provide the motivation to learn using earthly benefits alongside (and obscuring) the glory of God. They could not but teach the wisdom of men in addition to (and obscuring) the Knowledge of God. They would not point our children to the Kingdom of God but would obscure that most blessed Kingdom with more emphasis on the Kingdom of Man.

And I knew it. Demonstrably. But I could not bring myself to leave a school that I knew could not teach our children the truth of God. I am carnal.

But God – beautiful words – But God would not allow us to go to a school where our children could not be taught the knowledge of God according to truth. This is where the reformation of 1924 comes in, and the article “As to our Moral Obligation” by Rev. Hoeksema.

Have you read it yet? You should.

That article shows the PRC was weak from the very beginning – perhaps not in doctrine, but certainly in practice. They were hardhearted and would not listen to the pleas of Rev. Hoeksema throughout the 1940s…You are 600 families strong! There is no reason why you should not be able to start your own school! Moral obligation to support the existing schools? No, moral obligation to teach your children, To the Utmost of your Power.

Why were schools not started immediately? There may be any number of reasons. Perhaps there was the (wrong) idea that a small school could not maintain a rigorous educational quality. Perhaps Kuyper’s philosophy of “Sphere Sovereignty” was embedded into their thinking so that they felt they needed to have sufficient “industry experts” in order to start a school.

I think (then Rev.) Engelsma does a good job explaining the sentiment of the 1940s in his forward to Hoeksema’s “As to our Moral Obligation.” In this forward, Engelsma seems to be channeling not Hoeksema but those who opposed him. Listen to him: “These articles…caution us against a foolish, rash forcing of our own schools when they are not possible.” With that, all of Hoeksema’s emphasis on instructing our children “to the utmost of our power” is safely defanged, and we are able to comfortably settle on our lees and claim that “well, it’s not possible (when is it ever, really?) so we had better just use the existing schools or homeschool.”

It is both our obligation and our vow to teach our children to the utmost of our power.

We would have been unable to do so in the Protestant Reformed schools. By God’s gracious deliverance, he also made that path impossible.

For us to teach all our children to know God within our individual homes is also impossible; we lack the time, ability, and means to give them a complete education, as noted by Rev. Hoeksema in the above mentioned article.

And so – not because it was possible, but because it was necessary – God gave us to begin a humble and despised school, where, by God’s grace, we will teach our children rigorously to know Him in all of His covenant love, in all of His creation, and in all of His beauty.

As to the Schools (2)

This is the second post of three written by Mike Vermeer. Mike is also leading a series of Bible studies on the principles of Reformed education. This Bible study is being put on by Genesis Reformed Protestant School; information can be found here.

As noted in the prior installment, I have been hearing a question pressing some in the PRC: Some pose it as an innocent question: “Why did you need to start a school and abandon the PR Schools?” Others are more direct and simply assert, “I think your school is wrong, and you should have continued to use the PR Schools.”

This post will continue the first answer to the question: we were thrown out.

What astounded me, and betrayed how ignorant my generation had become of the truth, however, was the reason that we were thrown out of the schools.

I am not talking about being removed from the school board. After being removed, I was undeterred in my desire to use the PR schools. Some people just don’t learn easily.

I wanted to show that I was not angry for having been removed from the board and, if possible, ease the path towards using the school anyways. When after a discussion with a board member, it became clear that they did not want the association to have to vote on my removal (that would have been messy), I willingly sent this letter of resignation; not only that, but I also urged my fellow saints to do the same – many of whom followed my lead.

Now, as a newly minted non-association member, It was time for enrollment interviews.

I knew the men on the education committee fairly well. I had been secretary for them for the past two years, so I knew what lay ahead…I thought. The only question in the back recesses of my mind was who they would bring in to replace me on the committee.

As soon as we walked into the room, I knew that the interview would not go as I had anticipated. The man selected to replace me on the committee to conduct enrollment interviews was one of the most powerful men of Crete PRC, notorious for his hatred of Rev. Langerak’s preaching.

On reflection, he was there for a very specific purpose. It was his job to make it clear to the education committee – probably knowing they were too polite for his purposes – that under his cross-examination, I would defend myself. All I needed to do was to respond to his accusations, and he would meet his objective. When, after the 3rd or 5th time (I lost count), I was asked, “Why would you want to use this school?” finally, I responded, “Men, I have made clear to you that I desire to use this school, and am willing to work with you to do so. It is becoming clear to me that you do not want us to use this school, but that is your decision to make, not mine.”

We were soon complete with the interview, and they made their decision. But what grounds would they use?

In a very brief and sterile letter sent by US mail informing me of their decision, they noted as the first of three grounds my “not being willing to have my children catechized with other students by a Protestant Reformed minister.”

What?

Yes, you read that correctly. First, they sidelined the association; now, they drag in the church. We were cast out of a parent-run school because we were unwilling to participate in Protestant Reformed catechism.

I have always been taught that catechism is the preaching of the gospel to our children. That is why the church conducts catechism, not the school. We expressed this as a firm conviction that we could not have our children in PR catechism – it would make us liars if we left the PRC and then sent our children to PR catechism. We also provided an alternative, that we could arrange for our children to be supervised while the others were in catechism. Nonstarter.

At our school, convenience had apparently turned into law and, for some, was even considered to be part of the curriculum. After two or three generations of having our children catechized during the school day as a convenience to the parents, “there arose a generation that knew not” that catechism is the work of the church.

So they cast us out. By the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. Because He knew exactly what we needed to be delivered from.

To be concluded…

As to the Schools (1)

This guest post, and the two that follow, were written by Mike Vermeer, board member of Genesis Reformed Protestant School.

I have been increasingly hearing the question pressed by some in the PRC: “Okay, we understand that you had to go and start your own church. But why did you need to start a school and abandon the PR schools?”

This is an old question. Interestingly, a form of that question was asked early in Protestant Reformed history, which was answered in an excellent 1944 article by Herman Hoeksema, titled “As to our Moral Obligation.” I encourage all to read that; it reveals the attitudes embedded into the very fabric of the PRC from her earliest days.

Fast forward to today, and there are two answers to the repeated question. At first, I thought there was only one answer. In this, and in so many other ways, I was completely wrong.

The first and easiest answer to the question is that we were thrown out, in spite of all attempts to remain. The second answer is more important.

I put my utmost into working out a way that we could continue using the PR schools as we had before we left the PRC, with some form of association membership. For the sake of the families in our church and for the possibility that we could continue to work with the school, I crafted a proposal that the school board would allow the association to address the question rather than making a decision immediately themselves as a school board.

They called a special meeting to address the question. I wanted to show up to the meeting to work with the other board members on a proposal where we could continue to use the school as association members. However, at the request of the board president, I agreed to waive my right to attend the board meeting if he would commit to treating my letter prior to considering a motion to remove me from the board.

In case you think that the association really has control of the direction of the school, let this be clear: No proposal was brought to the association–neither mine, nor any other that would allow continuing cooperation. The school board had a firm grip on the school, and did not want this to be considered by the association. That would have been too messy.

In a very clean and professional response to my letter, sent both by official US mail and email, I was duly notified of my removal from the board and all associated committees.

To my shame, I still wanted to use the school. I was undeterred.

To be continued…