This week we want to see what we can learn from what the CRC did with inerrancy in the 1960s and 1970s. Any discussion of this topic inevitably has to deal with the infamous Report 44. This report was prepared for Synod 1972 and it dealt with “The Nature and Extent of Biblical Authority.” It set the stage for much of what went wrong with the CRC in the following decades.
But before we can look at Report 44, we need to consider how this report was commissioned. It is actually rather surprising that it has its origins partly in an overture from the Fruitland CRC to Classis Hamilton in 1968. The Fruitland CRC, under the leadership of Rev. Louis Praamsma (a well-known CRC conservative and father of writer Christine Farenhorst), overtured Classis Hamilton:
“The Fruitland Christian Reformed Church overtures classis that it instructs its member of the board of Calvin College and Seminary to raise the question in the next meeting of the board, whether it is still advisable, and profitable to our churches, to commend the students of Calvin Seminary to continue their studies at the Free University of Amsterdam.”
The Board of Trustees blew Classis Hamilton off and so Fruitland overtured Synod 1968 directly asking them to appoint “a committee to study in the light of Scripture and the Creeds the teachings made public by some professors and instructors in our Dutch Reformed sister-church, of which evidence has been given in the overture of Classis Hamilton to the board of Calvin College and Seminary of Jan. 17, 1968.”
What were some of these teachings that Fruitland was concerned about in the Gereformeerde Kerken? H.M. Kuitert was teaching that Genesis 1 should be understood as speaking figuratively. He didn’t think it mattered whether Adam was a historic figure or not, but landed on the side of “not” at any rate. With regards to the New Testament, Kuitert said that one must distinguish between the “witness and the sound-board.” He wrote, “This implies the subjectivity of the witness and implies in the same breath some ‘wrapping-material’ which is not the matter itself.” In other words, we must distinguish between the message of Scripture and the means by which that message is delivered. Moreover, there were many other such teachings that were deeply concerning not only to Fruitland and Classis Hamilton, but also Classis Alberta North (which submitted a similar overture to Synod 1968). Classis Illiana also submitted an overture to Synod 1968 supporting Fruitland and Classis Hamilton.
What did Synod 1968 do with these overtures? The overture of Fruitland for a study committee was denied. The Synod didn’t think it was respectful or appropriate to investigate the teachings of men in their sister churches and it also assured Fruitland that it had full confidence in the discernment of the professors at Calvin. The overture of Classis Alberta North advocating for the expression of concern about some teachings emanating from the Netherlands was also denied. The grounds were similar, though the Synod added that “normal, official channels” should be employed to voice these concerns, such as the Inter-Church Relations Committee and the fraternal delegates.
But Louis Praamsma and the Fruitland church didn’t give up. We’ll continue with their story shortly…