Deposed? - Dr. J. De Jong

Copied with permission from the Clarion Volume 47, No. 6, March 20, 1998.

Some time ago Prof. D. Engelsma reviewed the latest publication of our emeritus Prof. Dr. J. Faber concerning the early Secession theologians in the Protestant Reformed, paper The Standard Bearer.[1] Unfortunately, this review did not really enter into a discussion with the book, but only brought forward the typical Protestant Reformed themes. For example, Engelsma makes much of Faber's remarks about W. Heyns, taking them to reassert their repeated claim that Schilder and Heyns were identical (and Arminian) in their view of the covenant. At the risk of repetition, I can mention that Schilder's views were not the same as Heyns and on several points on the covenant the two men differed markedly. But these doctrinal matters have been considered more often in previous issues of Clarion. What interested me in Engelsma's article was the reference to some details of our own church history. He claims that doctrinal differences between the PRC and the Canadian Reformed Churches are so great that these two churches could never sail under one banner. He puts it this way:

The alternative to judging between the doctrine of an unconditional covenant and the doctrine of a conditional covenant would be to take the position that the difference between the two doctrines is insignificant. In this case both are allowed in the Reformed churches. The PRC do not believe this. They judge the doctrine of a conditional covenant as defended by Schilder and Faber to be a fundamental departure from the gospel of salvation by sovereign, particular grace alone. It is condemned by the Reformed confessions, especially the Canons of Dordt.

Nor, despite their protestations to the contrary, do the Canadian Reformed Churches and the GKN ("lib.") think differently about the doctrine confessed by the PRC. A minister preaching the unconditional covenant with the elect children alone would not be tolerated in those churches. When the Rev. Herman Veldman preached the unconditional covenant to people of "liberated" convictions in a Protestant Reformed congregation, he lasted less than a year. The congregation put him out. There is a real and vital theological difference between the two doctrines of the covenant outlined in the "Declaration" and discussed in American Secession Theologians.[2]

In other words, we are here informed that also from the side of the Canadian Reformed there is enough hostility to the PR view of the covenant that unity between these two federations on the basis of the Three Forms of Unity would not be possible.

This reminded me of an earlier article in the Standard Bearer dealing with the events surrounding Rev. H. Veldman, to which Prof. Engelsma refers. In a memorial article concerning the Rev. Veldman, who died last year, Rev. Cornelis Hanko writes about his stay in Hamilton:

Rev. Veldman, who would never shy away from a challenge, weighed this call very seriously. He even told the congregation at Hamilton that if he were to accept the call he would most emphatically condemn the Liberated view of the covenant and of infant baptism and would strongly defend the doctrine of the PR Churches. They had the opportunity to advise him to decline the call, but they consented to his coming even after this warning.

During his stay Mrs. Veldman brought all the immigrants who had no means of transportation to the church worship services. Their children attended the public school.

There was a group of 12 to 15 young people who were instructed by Rev. Veldman and came to the consistory to make public confession of their faith. When Rev. Veldman pointed out to them that they would be confessing loyalty to the truth as confessed by the Protestant Reformed Churches the consistory refused to accept their confession.

A year later it was very evident that things were not going well in Hamilton. The church visitors were informed of this. They wondered what they would find upon visiting this congregation. At the meeting with the church visitors Rev. Veldman asked the visitors to take over the entire meeting, while he withdrew to the background. Soon one of the elders requested permission to read a paper in which he expressed his convictions concerning God's covenant and infant baptism. He made a strong defense of the teachings of the Liberated churches.

Rev. Hanko then describes in graphic detail some of the proceedings at the consistory meeting, which I will not include here, not in the least because in the article we find no proof concerning the accuracy of his remarks. He continues:

Soon after that the consistory met privately without the minister, and decided, totally disregarding the rules of the Church Order, to depose him. When elder Sam Reitsma objected to this, he also was illegally deposed from office. For a short time the Veldman family and the Sam Reitsma family held services in the living room of Rev. Veldman's residence.

Hamilton disbanded for two reasons. They were not at all in agreement with the Declaration of Principles and would have left us sooner or later regardless of who had laboured there. Moreover, they now felt strong enough, numerically and financially to organize their own Liberated church.

From two sides the message is clear: Rev. Veldman was illegally deposed. The congregation put him out (Engelsma). Both elder Reitsma and Rev. Veldman were "illegally deposed from office," (Hanko). Recalling what brother G. den Bok (Burlington-South) wrote about the early history of the church of Hamilton, I wondered about these statements, and became curious as to the exact sequence of events.[3]

Checking the archives of the consistory in Hamilton, a number of documents were uncovered which tell a different story.[4] Although we do not have the actual minutes of the Protestant Reformed Church in Hamilton, there are two documents which give an verbatim extract from these minutes, describing the sequence of events. Immigrants who first lived in Hamilton formed a Protestant Reformed Church in April, 1949, under the leadership of their "mission ministers," De Jong, DeWolf, Kok and others. However, some immigrants were led especially by Rev. Hettinga of Holland to institute liberated churches. The first Canadian Reformed Church was instituted in Georgetown in 1950. When troubles began to surface in Hamilton, some of the 'liberated' immigrants went to the Georgetown church. [5]

The issue dividing the consistory in the PRC in Hamilton was the admission of immigrants from the liberated churches. Rev. Veldman's view was that these immigrants could not be admitted unless they indicated that they were willing to be instructed in the PRC view of the covenant. One or two other officers held this view, but the majority of the consistory was in favour of admitting the liberated immigrants as members.

The consistory decided to take the matter to classis. The classis supported the minority view. Meanwhile Rev. Veldman insisted on preaching the supralapsarian view of the covenant, and continued to do so in Hamilton.

According to the summary of the minutes of the Protestant Reformed Church at Hamilton, a decision was made on October 11, 1950 refusing to accept the decision of Classis East with regard to the admission of members from the liberated churches. On October 26, 1950 a meeting was held with the classical committee appointed to investigate the troubles and the congregation, in which the committee stated that if Hamilton held to its stand it could no longer function as a congregation within the federation of the Protestant Reformed Churches.

On November 3, 1950 a decision was made to continue to refuse acceptance of the decision of Classis, since the doctrine as taught in the Three Forms of Unity is not necessarily the Protestant Reformed doctrine, and the consistory wished to accept members who believe and confess what it taught in these forms.

On December 5, 1950 a decision was made regarding the synodical decision of the Protestant Reformed Churches. The consistory had no specific objections to the content of the decision, but advised not to make it binding. [6]

At this meeting Rev. Veldman asked the consistory to request classis to give due consideration to his position as minister in the congregation in the light of the consistory's rejection of the classical advice in regard to admitting "liberated" members to the communion of the church, that is, recognizing their attestations. The consistory decided to ask classis to release Rev. Veldman, since now that it had become impossible for him to help execute the decisions of the consistory with regard to the admission of "liberated" immigrants, further ministerial work in the congregation was practically impossible.

On the 11th of January more "liberated" immigrants were admitted as members. The same day the consistory received notice from Classis East that its request in regard to Rev. Veldman was rejected. The grounds were that the blame for the problems in the congregation lay entirely with the consistory. The report of the classical committee regarding the situation in Hamilton was also approved by classis.

The next day, the consistory, taking note of the decision of classis, made the following decision: "As long as Rev. Veldman refuses to execute his official work on the basis as adopted by the Consistory, it is impossible for him to continue to function in the ministry of the Word in Hamilton. As long as there is no change in this situation, he is not permitted the right to use the pulpit."

On January 16, 1951 the consistory decided no longer to recognize Rev. Veldman and Elder Reitsma as officers "since cooperation with them is impossible given their behaviour on the previous Sunday in connection with the suspension of Rev. Veldman." Apparently Rev. Veldman and elder Reitsma started meeting separately from the congregation with a few other members.

The consistory then decided rather than to suspend Rev. Veldman to withdraw from the federation of the Protestant Reformed Churches since it was clear that the office it received from Christ could not be executed in this federation. The demonstrative attitude of Rev. Veldman and Elder Reitsma made it impossible to continue in the ecclesiastical way, while the churches of the federation did not indicate any effort to understand the nature of the difficulties. The following note is added: "This does not mean that from our side we do not want to be Protestant Reformed, but only implies that we accuse Rev. Veldman and the church federation of making it impossible for us to pursue our reformational principles within the church federation, and because the classis maintains the binding character of the decision re the acceptance of new members." The church took the name: First Protestant Reformed Church, and was at the time basically independent.

A further stipulation states that the withdrawal from the federation will remain in effect as long as the Protestant Reformed Church federation maintains its unscriptural binding. The consistory is willing to return to the federation as soon as the federation shows itself willing to live in accordance with Scripture and confession alone.

One further decision is to be noted here: on September 6, 1951 the consistory decides to express apologies to Rev. Veldman and Elder Reitsma in that it did not deal with them in the brotherly way by its departure from the church federation, but that it retains the objections that it had to the conduct (handelwijze, JDJ) upheld by Rev. Veldman.

Meanwhile the group that had originally met under the auspices of Georgetown instituted a Canadian Reformed Church in Hamilton on May 20, 1951. A little more than a year later, on June 13, 1952, these two churches were united in one Canadian Reformed Church.[7] Also this move to unity was accompanied by many weaknesses, shortcomings and struggles. [8] But through it all God established His church through the power of His Spirit!

So much for this brief extract from the archives in Hamilton. An examination of these records of the minutes of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hamilton at the time indicates two things: first, Rev. Veldman was not categorically or illegally deposed, and most certainly was not deposed because of heresy, or doctrinal deviation. The documents in Hamilton indicate a two- fold procedure: request for release, and then, when this was refused, suspension, and this because of a deterioration in the working relationship. And secondly, there is no indication that the brothers with the "liberated" perspective on the covenant could not live in unity with the Protestant Reformed. In fact, there appears to be a willingness to do the utmost to live together, without making any one view binding on all parties. The explicit position of the consistory was that although there was room for the Protestant Reformed interpretation, it was not the only way the confessions had to be understood. That is why the brothers kept the name: First Protestant Reformed Church.

I'm sure no one would assert that from the side of those with "liberated" sentiments there were no mistakes and faults. Obviously there were errors made, especially when the brothers discovered that there was not going to be any support from the federation as a whole. But Engelsma's inference that when push came to shove unity was not possible according to the Canadian Reformed brothers is disproved by the documents themselves. The brothers exerted every effort to retain the unity of faith, but were blocked by the inexorable force of synodical and classical binding to Protestant Reformed dogma.

With these considerations we do not mean to assert that attaining lasting unity would have been an easy road. Obviously there needed to be give and take on both sides, and those holding a "narrow view" of the covenant (covenant with the elect) would have been required to moderate their statements from the pulpit, while those with the broader view would also have needed to be conscious of the opinions of others.[9] In interaction with the confessions, there is room for unity and growth in understanding. [10] We have not exhausted all aspects of the Scriptural doctrine of the covenant!

With some give and take, there is still room for unity today, as long as the basis is clearly confessed, and one perspective is not made binding over another. We desire unity with the Protestant Reformed as much as we do with the United Reformed, the Free Reformed, and all other Reformed churches seeking to confess and to live in accordance with the doctrine as confessed in the Three Forms of Unity. Despite all the shortcomings and weaknesses, the above episode in Hamilton's early history testifies to a spirit of true ecumenicity that lived among the early immigrants! Let us hope and pray that with all our weaknesses this spirit will continue to be cultivated among more and more Reformed people whose hearts are alive to the call of Christ, and who cherish the love for unity of true faith in their hearts!


[1] J. Faber, American Secession Theologians on Covenant and Baptism, (Inheritance Publications, Neerlandia, 1996) 15-54

[2] A reference to the book mentioned above, JDJ

[3] See G. Den Bok "Early History of the Church in Hamilton" Clarion, Vol. 46 #5, (March 7,1997) 105106

[4] My thanks to Dr. A. Witten, vice chairman of Hamilton's consistory, for helping me in finding my way through these archives.

[5] Brother George Lodder (Guelph) gave an interesting account of these events in the 1996 year end issue of Clarion, (Vol. 45, #25) 573-574. This account indicates that the baptism of the children of the new immigrants was also an issue in the dispute.

[6] This is a reference to the Declaration of Principles of the Protestant Reformed Churches, which was first read at Synod 1950. The synod agreed that if no objections would come forward the statement would be adopted at the next synod, cf. Acts of Synod 1950, Art. 117, p. 90. The declaration was adopted a year later, see Acts of Synod, 1951, Art. 284, p. 196.

[7]See on this W.W.J. Van Oene, Inheritance Preserved. The Canadian Reformed Churches and Free Reformed Churches of Australia in Historical Perspective, (revised edition, Premier, Winnipeg, 1991), 87-89

[8] Ibid., 135ff.

[9] My impression from brother Den Bok's article is that this was indeed the sentiment among the "liberated" immigrants in the first meetings in Hamilton.

[10] A good example of this is Rev. A. Baars statement on "The Appropriation of Salvation," recently published in Clarion, a statement which may well reflect a particular orientation, but is solidly founded on the teaching given in the Three Forms of Unity.