The Stocking Is Finished [1] - Dr. Klaas Schilder and Rev. Herman Hoeksema

Reproduced by kind permission of Inheritance Publications,
Box 154Neerlandia, AB Canada
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The article (Dutch title: "De kous is af") was published in The Reformation on November 17,1951, pp. 61-63.

By Dr.Klaas Schilder

From the United States and Canada I have received reports, some public and some private, that compel me to write this article. Those reports have to do with the Protestant Reformed Churches. What has happened there in recent weeks leads me to make the following statements.

(i) I have never regretted what I wrote about the Protestant Reformed Churches in the past, or what I have done and pleaded for, and I still believe I was doing the right thing then.

(ii) But now that they have changed course over there, contrary to all fraternal advice and theological argumentation, I accept the consequences of their change of course, and I do not regard it as responsible to keep silent any longer. What remains to be said is this: The stocking is finished,[1] and so we must call it a day (we zetten er een streep onder) and say goodbye - with a feeling of regret, but in full awareness of what we are doing.

As for statement (i), readers of The Reformation know that for years, beginning long before the liberation took place, I have said: "Let's make sure we don't forget about those Protestant Reformed Churches, and do what you can to set right what was done wrong in relation to them." I believed then - and still believe today that the Christian Reformed Church in North America, following poor leadership and incited by some preposterous argumentation (` Mastricht!) here and there at its Synod of Kalamazoo (1924), perpetrated an abominable injustice toward - to mention only one name - one of her most capable ministers and theologians, Rev. Herman Hoeksema. You will recall that the battle had to do with so-called common grace. Now, as for all the things that Hoeksema wrote about this matter, there is no person who will subscribe to all of it, from A to Z. But the ammnunition which the Synod used against him did not hit its target at all; the Synod was too rash. The upshot was that he was suspended anyway, and then came all the rest of it. The result was a situation of miserable misunderstanding, like the one that celebrated its orgiastic triumph in the Netherlands in 1944.

When I made my first visit to the United States in 1939, the damage that had been done already made a deep impression upon me. And when there was a conference of ministers at which Hoeksema appeared fully prepared for the battle whereas the others had virtually nothing to say in response to him, with some of them even taking refuge behind a newspaper, without making any attempt to understand him (now that was a conference [samenspreking] based on a one-sided written preparation! ), [2] I understood that this injustice would never be made right. I also understood that Hoeksema is of concern to us in the Netherlands, for we should not allow ourselves to become accountable in relation to the injustice done to him by the Christian Reformed Church, with which we were in correspondence. Naturally, part of the Free University was angry (you should come and see today what they have made of common grace over there), but that didn't matter. I am convinced that to some extent, the wrath of the Free University as it rained down upon us in 1944 was also a consequence of the dark cloud that has hung there since my trip to the United States. I know enough about the correspondence that was carried on behind my back. The Protestant Reformed Churches may remember it, or perhaps forget it; it doesn't matter to me, for I have never taken pride in saying that we here in the Netherlands have taken upon ourselves some of the scorn aimed at them. That was not something of merit on our part; it was simply the consequence of the propagation of certain misunderstandings in which some Free University people dared to engage.

Now, I believed then - and I still believe it today - that it was our task first of all to keep the number of churches in God's wide world as small as possible, at least within regional bounds. It is necessary to recognize some geographical church boundaries; as for other church boundaries, they must be eliminated or prevented from arising insofar as it is within our power. We expected that the stream of immigrants, whom we were sorry to see departing from our churches as they moved especially to Canada, would not be part of our church federation in the Netherlands, and this indeed turned out to be the case (although for a long time the churches in Indonesia did remain part of our federation here, and still axe today). Instead those immigrants would organize themselves within a geographically based federation in their new "fatherland." When they were crossing the ocean, I thought that if it was at all possible, we should keep them and the Protestant Reformed Churches, toward which we had some obligations in virtue of past history, from needlessly increasing the number of institutes. Taking account of the fact that the Protestant Reformed Churches were special to us from a historical point of view (as having been isolated unjustly by the Christian Reformed Church, and then having rightly liberated themselves), we sought help for our immigrants at the right time (at first they were overwhelmed with friendliness on the part of people with which they could better not establish ties); and we were happy that at first the help we sought was given. We were also happy about this for the sake of the Protestant Reformed Churches themselves. Whoever is sensible and obedient does not take a self-satisfied delight (binnenvetters-pleizier) in being needlessly isolated. Such isolation must always be the fault of the others, e.g. of people who refuse, permanently, to give a clear answer to clear and necessary questions.

When colleague Hoeksema and I were involved together in an extensive and patient final conference and he himself proposed to bring our theological discussions to an end, declaring (after hearing my reply), "That is Reformed," I went back to the Netherlands a cheerful man. [3] I thought to myself, "Well then, there are still people who respect the divine command not to take pleasure in expanding the number of 'denominations."'

I do not regret all that I did in those days. I will say again, this had to happen, and that was permissible - in those circumstances.

As to statement (ii), the spirits are still not at rest. To my considerable amazement, colleague Hoeksema, who knows from his own painful experience what misery can result from foolish bindings, did not step into the breach when the inclination also arose in his own circles to begin "binding" again. He helped to draw up a "Declaration" and recommended it to the church - a "Declaration" which I dealt with at great length (you will soon be able to buy my what I have written about this matter in the form of a separate publication)[4] arguing that it is not necessary, that it does not represent a good interpretation of the Confessions, and that, insofar as it proposes to sharpen or clarify the Confessions through new formulations, it labors under certain delusions which, if the "Declaration" is once accepted, will create a little church with a narrow basis. The basis would be so narrow that, note well, because of what has "ecclesiastical validity " for this small group (I can already hear the jeers from the Dutch synodocracy in The Hague!), this small church would have to start "dealing with" people, people who simply want to affirm what our revered fathers affirmed before us and placed in the preface to the Statenvertaling's New Testament . [5]

And it has come to pass. The Declaration has been definitively accepted. The able theologian Hoeksema allowed himself to become entangled in a system in which contra- Kalamazoo manipulations (rather than anti-Kalamazoo achievements) could be produced - and those manipulations became unavoidable. Alas, we are already hearing about discipline exercised against people who dared to continue speaking the language of the Statenvertaling and have not a drop of Arminian blood in their veins. I do not propose to pass judgment on all the possible stories of which the ins and outs are not known to us here in the Netherlands. I am passing judgment only on the consequences of accepting the Declaration.

I will not even make a judgment regarding the correctness of the following letter that was received by our office:

Grand Rapids 10-23-'51


For some time there has been a rupture in church life here in Grand Rapids between brothers of the same household, who ought to be one because they stand on the same basis, namely, Scripture and the confessions. The rupture came about because in the church in which there had not yet been any acts of unscriptural. censure or suspension, the church to which we felt the closest affinity, there were certain phenomena of ecclesiastical dissolution and binding which were making it extremely difficult for some of us, and impossible for others of us, to join ourselves to this church, and so we waited for an official decision from the Synod. There were others, however, who regarded it as their calling to let their reformational voice be heard in the churches in order to force them into a crisis in which it would become apparent which way they were going whether back to the Word, or farther along the downward path.

It is now clear to all. of us who have constituted ourselves as the Orthodox Reformed Church that it would be sinful to live in the federation of the Protestant Reformed Churches, given that its Synod of 1951 has officially accepted the Declaration of Principles and has excluded, by public announcement, all those who could not agree with the content of that declaration, regarding them as mutineers and heretics. That this is in fact what happened is evident from the censuring of brothers H. R. De Bolster and H. De Raad.[6] These brothers had objections to the Declaration of Principles and demonstrated on scriptural grounds what was false about this Declaration. But the consistory decided that the protest was in conflict with the Protestant Reformed truth and also that these brothers were not to speak up in the congregation regarding this matter. Naturally, these brothers refused to obey the command of the consistory because they would then no longer be able to exercise the office which Christ has given us. Next came censure because of agitation. One of the grounds for this decision was that the covenant idea which they propounded really contained the notion of a universal atonement and a denial of the total depravity of man and the vicarious suffering of Christ.

For these reasons, those who were unable to agree with the Declaration of Principles liberated themselves from the Protestant Reformed Church and joined with others who did not regard it as justifiable to join with these churches, and together they lawfully continued the church of our Lord Jesus Christ in America, which church came to be called the Orthodox Reformed Church.

Will you be so kind as to place this in the next issue of The Reformation? Thanking you in advance for taking the trouble to be of assistance, we remain yours, with cordial fraternal greetings. In the name of the consistory,

J. LAND 706 Alexander SE Grand Rapids (Mich.), USA

We reckon with the possibility that there were some factors at work in these events which were not known to us here and are not included in this discussion. This could well be the case in good faith - we are accusing no one.

Neither is it necessary to sift through the details of this letter. The Standard Bearer should not regard our publication of this letter - under the qualifications mentioned above - as an unfriendly deed.

We have enough in this fact, that if I were to live in Grand Rapids, I would also refuse to accept the Declaration of Principles. I would also refuse to remain silent. In the name of this order - an order which I call disorder and which I abhor - I would also have to be censured. The die is cast, and the Evil One has again managed to spoil something beautiful. Yet another little church has been established, and it was not necessary, not necessary, not necessary. For I know what the Arminian position is, and I also know that one can set the entire Declaration aside without falling into Arminianism. On the contrary, in order to hang on to sound, fundamental Reformed ideas, we affirm that the promise of God is not prediction [7] and is not realized without involving our responsibility. And faith is never a condition in the Arminian sense, any more than the condition of which the preface to the Statenvertaling speaks is an Arminian notion.

And so, the stocking is finished. All there is left for us to do is to continue to prophesy. We will ask, but we will not beg. We will help, but we will not haggle. We do not wish to take upon ourselves the blame for establishing yet another church - number such-and-such. However, when we reject a foolish binding, we will not regard the consequences of such obedience as the sin spoken of in Articles 79 and 80 of the Church Order. We will say: "Keep your heads high, for God is the Leader of history." The one who is isolating himself this time - for the first time, alas, in his beautiful life - is our friend Hoeksema. And so we say farewell to him - not as a good friend but as "angel" of the receiving church, the church that receives immigrants with arms that are both gentle and carefully controlled in their embrace. K.S.


Perhaps there are some readers who are now thinking, "The title of this article is not quite correct. This is not a matter of a stocking being finished; rather, the unfinished parts are just lying there." But I maintain that the title is a good one. The article is not about other people or about the possibility of cooperation with them, but about our task. We were responsible. If we had done nothing (insofar as the possibility of action rests with us) in terms of seeking affiliation with what was already there ecclesiastically, then we would have been guilty right from the outset. But our people and churches have sought contact and have made it clear in good time what our position is and what views we do not hold, and we have patiently looked over the whole Declaration on this side of the ocean, and if after all of this the people in the United States - even while we were discussing steps toward a correspondence relationship! - succumbed to the temptation of requiring more in the church federation than is good, then our stocking is finished. We should not talk about the matter any more but simply go our way. ...

To make people responsible, to press them to make a decision that is much more often the knitting the church must do. -K.S.


Response by Herman Hoeksema

Dr. Schilder writes that the stocking is finished. But I would say that the knitting of the stocking was a complete failure, and that the failure must be blamed not on our churches, but on the churches in the

Netherlands. Instead of knitting a stocking, we tangled up the whole business. And the best that can be done is to -unravel that tangle and start from the beginning, that is, if the Liberated Churches in the Netherlands still desire correspondence with us. And in spite of the history we made in the last couple of years, I think that a certain form of correspondence between our churches is desirable ....

Now Dr. Schilder ... once more states that at the close of his reply I must have said: "That. is Reformed." I have called his attention to this error before, and now I will repeat it emphatically, and hope that Dr. Schilder will take note of it that I did not say: "That is Reformed," but that I said: "He is Reformed." (The difference is plain to all that can read.) If I said, "That is Reformed," I would have subscribed emphatically to all that friend Schilder said at the conference, and that meant that I would have subscribed to the Heynsian view of the covenant, which in my conviction is far from Reformed. But we must remember, in the first place, that we had a very friendly discussion with Dr. Schilder, although we agreed to differ. In the second place, we were undoubtedly all somewhat under the influence of Schilder's charming personality, and in his entire talk he emphasized repeatedly that our differences were no differences of principle, but rather of terminology. ...

And therefore, friend Schilder must never write again that I said at the end of his reply: "That is Reformed." For I never did. But I do remember that I said, "He is Reformed," understanding that statement in a general sense, and certainly not in the specific sense in which we as Protestant Reformed Churches, since 1924, are Reformed. That I do not regard the Liberated conception of the covenant as Reformed, Dr. Schilder knows very well. And he was aware of that even before he came to this country in 1947.

How then could Dr. Schilder, when he returned to the Netherlands, advise his people everywhere, when they immigrated to this country or to Canada, to join the Protestant Reformed Churches? Surely, we desired correspondence. But correspondence does not necessarily mean an organic union. The differences between us were rather fundamental, although Dr. Schilder called them differences in terminology.

Of this we were not convinced. But, as I said, Dr. Schilder advised his people to join the Protestant Reformed Churches when they came to America, although we stood in no relation as sister churches as yet, and therefore could not receive attestations from them, or they from us. The result was that when we labored in Canada among the imimigrants, we did not at once organize them into Protestant Reformed Churches, but first thoroughly instructed them, so that they knew the differences in doctrine between their churches and ours. Only when they were sufficiently indoctrinated and understood our position, and agreed with our truth, did we organize them into churches in our communion. And even after those churches were organized, like Hamilton and Chatham [two Ontario cities], we did not receive membership papers from any Reformed Church of the Netherlands and did not receive prospective members into the communion of our churches until they had first been instructed with regard to the truth as taught in our Protestant Reformed Churches.

Naturally, this caused trouble. For evidently in the Old Country the people had received the impression that when they came to America, they would be received without question and without condition as members of the Protestant Reformed Churches. That they labored under such an impression certainly was not our fault, but was the fault of Dr. Schilder, who, according to reports, had advised all the people of the Liberated Churches to join the Protestant Reformed Churches in America. But once more the differences in regard to the doctrine of the covenant and of the promise were too great and too fundamental to permit members from the Liberated Churches into our communion. Hence we demanded that they promise to submit to our instruction, and in the meantime not to agitate against our doctrine. That was honest and fair to all concerned. We did not excommunicate any brethren and sisters in our Lord Jesus Christ and bar them from the table of communion. But we wanted to preserve the Reformed truth in its purest form, the truth as we have always' maintained it in our Protestant Reformed Churches. The result is, first, the sad history of Hamilton, and now the even worse history of Chatham. Certainly, that the stocking was not knitted and properly finished was not our fault.

... the letter written by Prof. Holwerda to the immigrants in Canada

... revealed [among other things] ... (3) That the impression was created that no definite interpretation of the Confessions was maintained and binding in the Protestant Reformed Churches. (4) That the impression was made that there was ample room for the covenant view of the Liberated in our Protestant Reformed Churches, and that therefore the immigrants could make free propaganda for the Liberated view in our churches. (5) That only on that basis were the immigrants advised to join the Protestant Reformed Churches, but at the same time that, if the conception of such men as the Revs. Hoeksema and Ophoff were maintained in the Protestant Reformed Churches, they should never join.

This was not knitting a stocking, surely not the stocking of ecclesiastical correspondence, but was working on a tangled and hopeless mess.

On our part, in the light of all this history, and especially in the light of our experience with the Liberated in Canada, the Mission Committee felt the need of a definite statement which might be used by them and by our missionaries as the basis for the organization of our churches. That need was filled by the Declaration [of Principles]. And that Declaration was passed by our last Synod.

Let not Dr. Schilder therefore say that the stocking is finished. It must be entirely unravelled, until we come to the first false stitch, and then start knitting anew.

In conclusion, I want to emphasize once more that the stocking is not finished. And if Dr. Schilder feels that because of the stand of our churches as revealed in the Declaration of Principles he does not want to unravel the tangle and start knitting anew, it suits me. Nevertheless, I want to state that in that case I am disappointed in him, and for the rest say, "Vale, Amice Schilder."


[1] <BACK> "Throughout this article and in some prior articles as well, Schilder uses a Dutch saying that means simply that some matter is finished or settled. Because it comes up at various points, I have retained it literally in the translation. The article (Dutch title: "De kous is af") was published in The Reformation on November 17,1951, pp. 61-63. Two paragraphs near the end of the original Dutch article have been omitted in this translation. -T. PLANTINGA

[2] <BACK> Schilder is referring here to Hoeksema's address at that conference, published by the Reformed Free Publishing Association as a separate booklet under the title "The Reunion of the Christian Reformed and Protestant Reformed Churches: Is It Demanded, Possible, desired?" -TRANS.

[3] <BACK> Hoeksema claimed he did not say, or mean to say, that Schilder's reply was Reformed: see his response below. -TRANS.

[4] <BACK> "The publication Schilder is referring to here is a brochure entitled Bovenschriftuurlijke binding - Een nieuw gevaar (Goes: Comiti tot verspreiding van goodkope Geref. lectuur, no date). -TRANS.

[5] <BACK> "What Schilder is referring to here is the fact that the term "condition" was used in the preface to the Statenvertaling. -TRANS.

[6] <BACK> Both were immigrants who had belonged to the liberated Reformed churches in the Netherlands and were then students at the Protestant Reformed Seminary. Henry De Raad did not enter the ministry but became a Christian school teacher and recently retired from his position as principal of the John Calvin School in Abbotsford, B.C. Henry De Bolster later became a minister in the Christian Reformed Church and served as the first president of Redeemer College. -TRANS.

[7] <BACK> "On this disputed point, see Hoeksema's series of articles entitled "Promise and Prediction," in The Standard Bearer, Vol. 28, Nos. 10-13 (Feb. 15 through April 1, 1952), pp. 223-228, 244-247, 268-273, and 292-294. To the last of these articles Hoeksema appended a brief note that his friend Schilder had just passed away. In a small "In Memoriam" elsewhere in the same issue, Hoeksema wrote: ". . although I certainly did not agree with him in regard to the question of the covenant and the promise, I nevertheless esteemed him for his work's sake, esteemed him, too, as a highly gifted scholar, and, above all, as a brother in Christ." -TRANS.