Wednesday, July 09, 2014
Fishing and forgiveness
Look, truth be known, I'd much rather go fishing with Rev. Albertus C. Van Raalte than Gijsbert Haan, the conservative holy roller who gave Van Raalte fits. Van Raalte had all kinds of good reasons to lock arms with the New York/New Jersey establishment of the Dutch Reformed Church, after all. Whether or not his new southwest Michigan colony of wooden shoes was going to make it in this country was still, a decade arrival, still very much up in the air. He need all the help he could get, and he could get some out East. You can't blame him.
Van Raalte was a leader, a politician who understood the necessity of compromise. Van Raalte wanted the best for the irresolute gang of pious church separatists he led to America, and he wanted to keep them Dutch. In the political spectrum of his time, he was no leftie.
Gijsbert Haan, on the other hand, was irascible, opinionated, always scrapping for a fight. Gijsbert Haan told the same Dutch immigrants Van Raalte wanted to lead that he'd been to those New Jersey Dutch Reformed and that he'd listened to and experienced bone-chilling liberalism--they practiced open communion, after all, and sang hymns. He stood foursquare against allowing that radical Hendrik Scholte, from Pella, to preach anywhere, certainly not in the Pillar Church. Gijsbert Haan is an icon in Christian Reformed history, but I don't know that I'd want him in my boat for too long, and I certainly wouldn't trust him in a canoe.
The CRC left the Dutch Reformed Church in 1857, even though, for the most part, every last Dutch immigrant to come to America since 1848 was him or herself a child of the Afscheiding, the separation (the schism) of 1834, in Holland. Most of the immigrants had cut their teeth fighting modernism in Holland's state church. Many had suffered derision, some persecution, some even prison. Many had found their churches locked or visited by soldiers from the crown. Breaking away had been no cakewalk. It had been serious stuff.
But Van Raalte understood that compromise was a part of life, especially when the future of his colony was at stake. He let Scholte have a Sabbath in his pulpit because Scholte was a leader, even if his orthodoxy was questioned even among those he'd led to Pella. Sometimes, in life, you've got to swallow a little pride, he might have said--greatest good for the greatest number. I'm quite sure I'd have liked him.
When Gijsbert Haan stoked theological fires and got himself a following, when those fires burned bridges and a new church was created, the reasons listed on the spanking new denominational masthead, from a distance of 150 years seem, well, paltry, most of them having to do with Van Raalte and those modernist Easterners abandoning church order created by the Synod of Dort (1618-1619): hymn-singing (they were agin' it), open communion (they were agin' it), and not preaching the catechism (they were agin' it). There was lots of things they were agin'.
Underneath all of that, however, lay the real gripe, the interpersonal rift that was created when it became obvious to Gijsbert Haan and others that those American Dutch Reformed just rolled their eyes at the separation in the old country . "What grieves our hearts most in all of this," the grounds for separation (in Graafschap church) said, "is that there are members among you who regard our secession in the Netherlands as not strictly necessary."
That made them boil, and I can't blame them. There were still open scars among Van Raalte and Scholte's people, and what angered the secessionists more than anything was that it seemed as if the Easterners simply snickered at them or, worse, pulled up their noses.
I get that. Go Gijsbert.
Make no mistake. I'm all for bandaging wounds once and for all between these two fellowships. I'm all for more working together and fewer skewed eyebrows. I'm all for making the most of a diminished thing since both denominations are closer to the chopping block than the cutting edge; both are, sadly, in decline. Locally, I'm all for Dordt and Northwestern Colleges working together; after all, Dordt's new Pres was, not that long ago, runner-up at NW. In all kinds of ways, ye olde separations are dead in the water, even in Siouxland hamlets still dominated by Dutch-American majorities. I like the new synodical dispensation about merger. I'm all for it.
But I can't help but smile when I read--in Christian Century, by the way--that some CRC pastor at the recent Pella synodical gatherings told some RCA pastor that, "on behalf of the CRC, I ask forgiveness."
Wow. Really? To me, asking forgiveness for the whole CRC seems a little cheesy.
What's all in that plea anyway? Calvin College and Seminary, Dordt College, Trinity, Kings, Redeemer, Kuiper? Is Rehoboth part of our sin? Zuni, perhaps? Nigerian missions? CRWRC? How about a system of comprehensive Christian education spread continent-wide? Is all of that manifestation of our sin?
Besides, any reading of RCA history may well exonerate a rapscallion like Gijsbert Haan since he may have been right. The rift between the Eastern and Midwestern RCA churches is still a country-mile wide.
Doesn't asking for forgiveness, institution to institution, make forgiveness a little facile?
I know, I know--just call me Gijsbert Haan. If I show up with a tackle box, don't let me in the boat.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:31 AM