Unlike Father Neuhaus, I guess few readers of this space will know who Henk Navis was, but he died today. Henk did not participate in any famous negotiations with anyone. He did not leave one communion for another. He wasn’t celebrated or published. In fact, at times, he was cursed and reviled. He didn’t walk with Dr King or talk with Chuck Colson but he should be remembered nevertheless.
Henk Navis should be remembered because, unlike RJN, he actually understood the gospel and defended it to the end of his life. I say “understood” because Robert Preus told me that he (and other Concordia Seminary profs, as Wayne Sparkman reminded me) tried to explain justification sola gratia et sola fide to RJN but he never seemed to get it. He may have really thought that “Evangelicals and Catholics” could agree on justification, who knows?
In truth I did not even know Henk very well. I do not have a photo of him to post in this space. You could google “Henk Navis” until the cows come home and no images will show. Most of my correspondence over the years has been with his widow. Why then do I spend electrons and pixels writing about him? I do it because a few years back, in my federation (denomination) of churches, there was a minister who began to preach sermons at least one of which Synod later judged “unclear and confusing on the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone.” For those who’ve actually read this sermon or heard the others like it, that was a charitable judgment. Since the gospel isn’t really very difficult there’s no need for a minister, if he actually believes the gospel, to be confused or confusing about it.
Henk and Elsie are Reformed. They believe and love God’s Word as confessed by the Reformed Churches. The Scripture is very clear about how we are justified in this life and on what basis we shall stand before God at the last day. This was not the message being preached by this minister (who has since left the United Reformed Churches for a sect more friendly to his views) in this congregation. Therefore they were rightly disturbed about what they were hearing. Following Reformed Church order they took their concerns to the elders and minister. The elders were not sympathetic and the minister was unrepentant. So they appealed to the regional gathering of elders and ministers and again they received little support. These highly trained ministers and experienced elders either did not understand the issue or were unwilling to chastise a brother. Instead of receiving thanks and praise for their courage and clarity, Henk and Elsie became objects of ridicule and abuse. They were called “divisive.” They persevered. Finally, they appealed to Synod Calgary in 2004. Praise be to God Synod understood what Classis had not.
Their courage made it possible for an entire federation (denomination) to begin to take steps toward addressing what was ultimately determined to be a grave threat to the good news and to the churches. At that Synod the churches declared that we embrace the doctrine that Jesus obeyed the law not to qualify himself to be a Savior, and that he does not accept us for anything wrought in us or by us, but that in our place and that all his life he suffered and obeyed for us and that all his suffering obedience is reckoned to all who believe, as if one had performed the very same obedience. This benefit is received through trusting, resting, receiving Christ and his righteousness alone. At Synod in 2007, our churches re-affirmed these points and adopted 9 more points and established a study committee to produce a report to explain these actions to the churches. By the grace of God, Henk Navis made that possible.
And The Laity Shall Lead Us
Mark this well. It was not a minister, nor an elder, nor a deacon, nor a theologian, but a simple, godly layman and his wife who stood up and spoke out until our churches acted according to the Word and their confession. It was a courageous layman who had the conviction that the gospel is what God’s Word says it is, that Jesus is God the Son incarnate, that he obeyed for us, even as far as the cross, that he was raised for us in in vindication of his righteousness, that he is ascended and that he shall return (1 Cor 15). This is the gospel the Navises know the Reformed Churches to confess and they had the courage to insist that we stand by our confession.
This is what Henk Navis means to me: So long as the Henk Navises in our churches are possessed by the Spirit of Christ and by his gospel, there is yet hope for our churches. He means that people can mock and scorn, they can say what they will but God’s Word is clear about the gospel and the Reformed confession of the gospel is clear and the vows we all took as members and ministers mean something and that, so long as there is a Henk Navis in our churches with God’s Word in one hand and the Reformed confessions in the other, we may be yet Reformed and always reforming.
Today, Henk Navis is with his Savior and he’s not thinking about what we call pilgrim theology. Hen is a little distracted right now. He is distracted by the consuming glory of his holy, righteous, and gracious Savior who laid down his life for him, who took it up again, and who today received his humble servant into paradise.
At Synod, in 2004, the URCNA rejected the doctrine taught by Henk’s minister, who later left the URCNA for the CREC, the ecclesiastical home of the self-described Federal Vision theology.
In 2007 Synod adopted Nine Points of Pastoral Advice against the FV. The ninth point specifically addresses the errors taught by Henk’s former pastor. Here is an explanation of those points. Here are nine 30-minute talksnine 30-minute talks on these points.
In 2010, Synod received a study committee report rejecting the Federal Vision theology.