The Infallibility Question

Ever since the appearance of two controversial articles in Stromata (the Calvin Seminary periodical) many articles have appeared in periodicals and theological journals of the Christian Reformed Church concerning the infallibility of the Scriptures.

The views expressed by several students who were members of the editorial staff of Stromata were views which were upheld by some of the Calvin Seminary professors. The whole debate became very explosive when one of the graduates was at first refused candidacy in the Christian Reformed churches because he would not subscribe to the total inerrancy of the Scriptures. Matters were all the more complicated by the introduction of a protest on the floor of the 1959 Synod by one of the Seminary professors against the stand of part of the faculty of the Seminary concerning the inspiration of the Scriptures. The Synod also met in closed session to discuss several communications from students and professors concerning the inspiration of the Scriptures and because of these “secret” sessions there is much misgiving and distrust of the Seminary among members in the Christian Reformed Church. (see “Was the Synod Inconsistent”, Torch and Trumpet, Vol. IX, NO. 5, Oct. 1959.)

In the ’59 October issues of both Torch and Trumpet and the Reformed Journal the question of the infallibility of the Scriptures is explored and discussed. Marten Woudstra, professor of Old Testament at Calvin Seminary, writes “Infallibility Explored,” in the Torch and Trumpet; and Rev. Andrew Bandstra, Instructor in Bible, Calvin College, writes “Infallible in What It Intends To Teach” in the Reformed Journal.

The undersigned having read both of these articles finds that the scholarly article written by Prof. Woudstra is founded more definitively upon traditional concepts and creedal affirmations. He is to be commended for his scholarly approach and his confessional integrity. Rev. Bandstra implies what seems to me to be a more medial position. He tries to reach a midpoint of two extremes in his discussion of the problem. If you read these articles and I think you should, I believe you will find that Rev. Bandstra presents extreme positions that have been held concerning infallibility and then disproves these to show, it seems to me, that we have here a problem which allows for discussion because of many misconceptions concerning infallibility.

I submit that even the caption of Rev. Bandstra’s article, “Infallible in What it Intends to Teach”, implies that in some things the Scriptures are not the infallible Word of God; i.e. in the things that it does not intend to teach. It would seem to me that Rev. Bandstra necessarily would have to hold that there are certain things in the Bible which are not the infallible Word of God.

May I suggest, however, that you read the two articles commented upon and form your own conclusions concerning this very timely discussion.

The Covenant…The basis for Christian Schools?

The October Issues of the Reformed Journal and the Torch and Trumpet also contain articles concerning the basic reasons for Christian education and Christian schools.

Rev. Hugh A. Koops, Home Missionary of the Christian Reformed Church in the Champaign-Urbana, Illinois area writes in the Reformed Journal on “Education, Evangelism and the Covenant.” Rev. Edward Heerema, pastor of the Plymouth Heights Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan writes in the Torch and Trumpet on “The Covenant of Grace and our Christian Schools.”

These articles appear simultaneously in two different periodicals and express two opposing points of view concerning the subject of the covenant of grace as a basis and a warrant for Christian Schools. Rev. Koops takes the position that the covenant is not the basis for Christian schools or for Christian education. Rev. Heerema takes the opposite position and paraphrases the position of Rev. Koops as follows: The main thrust of this assault (of Koops, A.L.) is that our schools should be based on educational principles and not theological ones.

Rev. Koops in his article in the Reformed Journal first defines and states what has traditionally been believed to be the Covenant of Grace in the Christian Reformed Church. He then distinguishes between the Covenant of Grace and parental responsibility. Rev. Koops believes that the doctrine of the covenant is the basis for evangelism but that it is not the basis for Christian education. He believes that the basis for Christian education is the “doctrine of parental responsibility.” We quote Rev. Koops as follows: Let us build our program evangelism, rather than our program of education, upon the doctrine of the covenant. For the doctrine of the covenant belongs to theology, and not to education. This doctrine is a foundation for a church, not for a school.

A theory of education must be built upon the doctrine of man rather than upon the doctrine of salvation. For the Christian this doctrine of man will be doctrine of the saved man, the Christian man. But salvation leaves man a man. A Christian theory of education finds its roots in Christian anthropology rather than Christian soteriology. And in anthropology we find the doctrine we have often confused with the doctrine of the covenant. Here we find the doctrine of responsibility, particularly parental responsibility. (I underscore, A.L.) Now parental responsibility as such, it seems to me, does not require a separate school system. Parental responsibility only insists that parents are responsible for the education of their children, but it does not declare how they are to meet this responsibility. Perhaps they will so this through a class in their home; perhaps they will hire a tutor. They may cooperate with other parents and construct a school bulding and hire a schoolteacher. Perhaps they will send their children to a school operated by other individuals, or by the state. Parental responsibility states only that the parents are responsible for the education of their children. (I underscore, A.L.)

Rev. Heerema in his article in the Torch and Trumpet takes quite the opposite position as he writes against the views of Rev. Koops and Donald Oppewal who has written previously in the Reformed Journal on this very same subject. Rev. Heerema takes exception to Rev. Koops distinction that there should be educational reasons for the existence of Christian Schools and not theological reasons. Rev. Heerema writes as follows: The very genius of our Calvinistic way of life has been that our basic religious and theological principles are regarded as permeating our entire life. And this is the very genius of our Christian Schools. It is not the addition of Bible reading and prayer that makes our schools Christian, we have always insisted, but rather the infusion of every subject with the principles of our faith…As a Christian of Reformed persuasion the educator in our schools could do nothing other than base his “educational creeds” on Reformed statements of faith.

Rev. Heerema very boldly brands this position of Koops and Oppewal as being secular. The serious element in this either-or between theology and education is that this is in essence the spirit of secularism that we have all decried in modern life and education. Secularism is that spirit, that attitude toward life in which God and our religious faith become more and more irrelevant. It seems inescapable that the distinctions made by both Koops and Oppewal play right into the hands of the secularist. Yes, it is a refined secularism but secularism nonetheless.

Rev. Heerema takes the very strong position that: …our theological creeds may not be pushed back into a place where they are regarded as solely the stock-in-trade of the organized church and the seminary classroom. To do this is to betray a first demand of our rich heritage, namely, that our beliefs, our theology, shall furnish the life-blood of meaning and direction to all of life, also to the educational endeavor. Have we permitted the impression to grow among us that theology and creed are terms that speak more of sterile dogma than of pregnant, living truth? Can it be that we have failed to keep faith with our splendid heritage by failing to give vived articulation to our basic beliefs in all significant areas of life and interest, also education? Such failure can further the growth of the refined kind of secularism herein called to judgment.

Rev. Heerema states that he is afraid that the educational enterprise will “lose its way in the wastelands of humanism and pragmatism” if the position of Koops is followed.

We anticipate the conclusion of Rev. Heerema’s argument in the next issue of the Torch and Trumpet. In the next issue of Beacon Lights we shall attempt to make some pertinent comments concerning this discussion in Torch and Trumpet and the Reformed Journal.

We should be aware of this debate in the Christian Reformed Churches, it seems to be. There is an element in these churches that believes that the Christian school movement should be abandoned entirely so that Christian teachers may have a more prominent and decided impact on the modern world by teaching in the public schools. This view is particularly prevalent on the West Coast among the followers of Dr. James Daane.

Possibly a discussion could be conducted in Beacon Lights concerning the reasons for Protestant Reformed Christian Education on both the elementary and secondary level.

Originally Published in:

Vol. 19 No. 8 December 1959