Inerrancy — Lessons from History (6)

14 October 2009 by Wes Bredenhof

The Geelkerken case in the Netherlands in 1926 and its fallout gives us a clear picture of how deformation often develops in Reformed churches.  Dr. J.G. Geelkerken preached a sermon on Lord’s Day 3 in which he drew into question whether there was a literal snake speaking in the garden in Genesis 3.  Geelkerken professed loyalty to the Three Forms of Unity, but went off the reservation with these remarks.  Technically, the Reformed confessions do not anywhere bind a man to believe that there was a literal snake in the garden.  Yet it has always been regarded as the clear teaching of Scripture.  Geelkerken’s case ended up at Synod Assen 1926 and he was suspended and then later deposed.  The Synod was correct to judge Geelkerken’s views as unbiblical, but the procedure it followed set a precedent which would later be used in 1944 to suspend and depose men like Dr. K. Schilder.  In classic Reformed church polity, a synod cannot suspend and depose officebearers.  A good intention in 1926 was co-opted for an evil consequence in 1944.

The same pattern manifested in the process leading up to Report 44 in the CRC.  In 1969, Fruitland made another overture to the CRC Synod, an overture which also had the support of Classis Hamilton.  Fruitland continued to be concerned about teachings in their Dutch sister churches, teachings that were also having an impact in the CRC.  What were those teachings?

The denial of the historical existence of our first parents in paradise, the subsequent denial of original sin, the denial of the historicity of historical parts of both the Old and New Testament, the surrender to the newest form of Biblical criticism, and to the scientific dogma of evolution, all made public on both sides of the ocean, have caused feelings of uncertainty, grief, and even distrust; it is no exception any more that ministers are labelled according to their opinions and that in the work of calling a minister a consistory first tries to be informed on his position regarding the so-called ‘new theology.’

The overture contained a number of footnotes.  Most of them are quotes from H.M. Kuitert, but there was also this one from Dr. G.P. Hartvelt:

Excavations have shown us that the downfall of Jericho happened more than 500 years before the entry of Israel.  Nevertheless the fall of Jericho is described in the image of a radical destruction.  According to the story of the Bible it is clear that something must have happened with Jericho, but the hard facts of the excavations don’t tell lies.  It is hardly possible to accept the results of the excavations when we can use them and to reject them when they confuse us.

Clearly at issue here was the question of biblical inerrancy.  What happens when statements in Scripture conflict with “scientific facts”?  According to Hartvelt and others, we resort to saying that the purpose of Scripture is not to tell us anything factual about what happened to Jericho.  The “message” is more important than “history.”

The overture urged Synod 1969 “to appoint a study-committee with the task to evaluate the teachings referred to in the overture-Fruitland 1968 and to report to one of the next synods.”  The grounds were that such a study is necessary in view of “the pastoral task of the church” and that “such a study is in line with the request of the Gereformeerde Kerken in the Netherlands to take part in the ongoing debate on Scripture.”  Fruitland’s second attempt was successful and the synod found the grounds compelling enough to adopt the overture.

A conservative CRC and its pastor (and Classis Hamilton) had expressed clear concerns about what was being done with Scripture in the Netherlands and North America.  Synod 1969 responded by appointing a study committee, but then proceeded to appoint men to the committee in such a way that the outcome was a foregone conclusion.  As an aside, something similar happened at the last CanRC Synod with regards to the issue of women’s voting.  The Synod appointed the church at Hamilton to prepare a study, presumably knowing full well what the outcome and recommendations would be.  So, this happens more often in Reformed churches.  But going back to 1969, the CRC Synod appointed men to this study committee who were not known to be of the concerned persuasion.  Of the seven men appointed, only one (J. Vos) didn’t have a doctorate from the Free University of Amsterdam.  Almost all of them were professors at Calvin Seminary or College.  With Calvin already drifting in the latitudinarian direction and with the Free University totally compromised, the outcome of this study committee would be predictable.

Fruitland’s serious concerns had been co-opted to produce a report which would contribute further to the deterioration of orthodoxy within the CRC.  Today we may be seeing a similar pattern.  For instance, apologetics is a good and necessary pursuit, a discipline which, when grounded properly on Scripture, can well serve the church of Christ.  But is it perhaps being co-opted in such a way that the only result can be the latitudinarian direction of the CRC and the GKN?

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