Liberation From What?

In the comments on a previous post, somebody wrote that the ecclesiastical Liberation of 1944 was not just about being freed from binding to wrong doctrine, but from the wrong doctrine itself.  To support this, the author (“Marnix”) appeals to this statement of Prof. J. Geertsema:

“As far as I can see, our conclusion must be that in 1944 the churches liberated themselves not just from the synodical BINDING to wrong decisions containing a wrong doctrine but also from the WRONG DOCTRINE ITSELF.”  (The Liberation: Causes and Consequences, 93).

Prof. Geertsema said this in response to the speech of Dr. N. H. Gootjes, “The Church in the Act of Liberation.”  Later on, Dr. Gootjes responded to Prof. Geertsema:

The first question of Prof. Geertsema was where was the emphasis on?  Was the Liberation a freeing from the wrong doctrine or from the enforcing of the wrong doctrine?  I think that you can prove from history that the real point indeed was the binding and enforcing, for the doctrinal statement itself had been around since 1905.  In 1905 the Synod had made a compromise statement on baptism and regeneration.  It had not gone over very well.  The Synod had wanted to reject a teaching of Dr. A. Kuyper, but in a gentle way.  Later Prof. S. Greijdanus analyzed the whole statement and said it was contradictory.  That is probably true.  It was a compromise statement and a balancing act.  But, the churches lived with this statement for 40 years.  It kept things together and avoided excesses.  It had its own function.  In 1942, a one-sided quotation was used in the doctrinal pronouncement by Synod.  The Liberation, however, did not take place in 1942.  The Liberation took place when the binding came and no one was allowed to teach anything but the lopsided version of 1942.  Then Prof. Schilder was deposed not only as professor but also as a minister because he was unwilling to teach and preach according to this doctrinal pronouncement.  Moreover, candidate H. J. Schilder who said at classis that he could not agree with this statement was not allowed into the ministry because every minister had to preach this and to teach this.  So it was indeed the binding that did it.  (100-101)

So, according to Gootjes, the Liberation was not about wrong doctrine per se, but about binding to a wrong doctrine.

But someone might say, Gootjes is writing way after the fact, so perhaps he’s misunderstanding.  He didn’t live through the Liberation.  Well, true enough, but then listen to what Dr. J. Faber said:

Let me say that indeed we have always said that the binding to those statements made the difference.  There were ministers such as the late Rev. K. Doornbos in Noord-Holland, the province where I experience the Liberation.  This Rev. Doornbos was a Kuyperian who had studied at the Free University.  He thought that Kuyper’s view of things was the most acceptable.  But he could not accept the binding to those statements and he could especially not accept the hierarchical order that was imposed upon the churches.  He was also a student of Kuyper and Rutgers in the church-political aspect.  He, therefore, liberated himself.  He has never been in a position that his doctrinal views were attacked.

[…]

If a candidate is Reformed in exegesis, Reformed in dogmatics, but has certain theological conceptions that I do not agree with, I will debate them forcefully but I will never attack his position within God’s church. (21-23)

So, there you have the considered opinion of a late CanRC professor who experienced the Liberation first-hand.  To insist that the Liberation was about doctrine per se is one-sided at best.  There were many people who took part in the Liberation who didn’t see it that way.  Now, of course, there are those who did and who still see it in those terms.  But I think the inclusion of ministers like Doornbos tells us that theirs was likely a minority opinion.

There’s more to be said on this, especially in relation to the Nine Points and what the URCNA did with them at Synod London.  But that will have to wait until tomorrow…

About Wes Bredenhof

Pastor of the Free Reformed Church, Launceston, Tasmania. View all posts by Wes Bredenhof

One response to “Liberation From What?

  • Rich Vanlaar

    This is a rather absurd argument.

    Released from binding only.

    Imagine if it wasn’t wrong doctrine… would you need to be released from it?

    It’s like arguing whether you’re allowed to do 5 clicks over the speed limit vss speed limit.

    If Christ delivered His church from the binding of erroneous teachings in conflict with God’s Word then he delivered His church from both binding and doctrine.

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