What Henk Navis Means to Me

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?

Henk knew

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.

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  1. Jonathan Edwards said this in his Religious Affections (p. 248): “There are some persons that go by the name of high professors; but eminently humble saints, that will shine brightest in heaven, are not at all apt to profess high. I do not believe there is an eminent saint in the world that is a high professor. Such will be much more likely to profess themselves to be least of all saints, and to think that every saint’s attainments and experiences are higher than his.”

    I realize that Edwards isn’t talking about how humble saints make God-glorifying stands for Truth, but I do believe Edwards’ words apply in another way: Navis did not lose his reward, but will “shine brightest in heaven.” His stand showed that he loved the gospel of Christ. Praise God. Those kind of people go unnoticed on earth and even in the church, but they will not go unnoticed in heaven. Christ’s glory will shine through them, and they will shine very, very beautifully!

    Thanks for sharing it, Dr. RSC

  2. Thanks for sharing that information, Scott, and your reflections. My wife is from Neerlandia and knows the Navis family a bit. She remembers Henk as a godly, gospel-loving man. He was a good friend and neighbour of my in-laws and I’m sure he’ll be dearly missed by many.

    • RSC.

      Thank you indeed. I found your piece very uplifting and encouraging.

      Your ‘Jesus obeyed the law not to qualify himself to be a Savior’ struck me however. Could you kindly say more?


      I, probably alone, am always nervous of the word ‘godly’ when used outside the scriptures of a particular person. Are we saying, in addition to being ‘gospel-loving’, that someone is a very morally good person? (This is a general question – nothing to do with Navis)

  3. Thank you for sharing this with your readers. It is very convicting to read that despite all the un-kind words that he endured from his fellow brothers he still pressed on. This has given me some things to think about concerning some recent history (03,04) in my own NAPARC denomination. thank you again for sharing this.

  4. It would be hillarious if it wasn’t so tragic that you accuse Fr. Neuhaus of believing what St. Paul calls ‘another gospel’, when your Reformed formulations on Justification were only ‘divinely revealed’ by God after the 16th century. Try reading St. Augustine on Grace and Merit and if you truly are ‘augustinian’ where is your Ecclesiology? Probably as empty as your heaven which houses no one but the Presbyterians and Reformed Christians who faithfully hold to the traditions of men.

    Altogether a quite bitter condemnation of a God-fearing Man who kept the faith once delivered to the saints.

    May God graciously lead you to “the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; … which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre-eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.” St. Irenaeus “Against the Heresies” Bk 3, Ch 3

    Pax Christi

  5. Andrew,

    This is perhaps the oldest Romanist argument against the Reformation: Where was your church before….? Well, I’ll give the oldest Protestant answer: In the history of redemption and in the Word of God. We trace our faith to God’s self-disclosure of himself through the whole history of redemption. You must know that the formal principle of the Reformation was sola Scriptura. At the end of the day all are measured by God’s Word, even our beloved Augustine. Because of the formal principle we also have a material principle: sola gratia. Where Rome, following some of the fathers, defined grace as a substance with which we are infused, we rejected that definition in favor of the biblical definition of “divine favor,” which Trent anathematized.

    The confessional Protestant churches have genuine roots in the fathers. There is a good formal evidence that most of the elements of what became the Protestant doctrine of justification existed in the fathers. Indeed, we have roots in the medieval theologians too.

    Neither tradition, Protestant nor Roman, has a lock on the Fathers. You cite Augustine but Trent rejected some of his views! Augustine was a much strong predestinarian than Roman dogma allows today. Luther and Calvin were much closer to Augustine on that. The early church knew nothing of 7 sacraments or of the very much later view of Mary. The protestants are much closer to the fathers on those things.

    The patristic doctrine of justification was mixed. The tended to be overly realistic and, in reaction to gnosticism and other heresies tended to stress morality without also being equally clear about the unconditional nature of grace. You cite Augustine but we do too. Have you read Bondage of the Will or the Institutes? We’ve read Irenaeus and we’ve embraced his covenant theology but Rome has not. We’ve also read the Apostolic Fathers and have embraced rather more of their “two kingdoms” doctrine than Rome. We’ve certainly embodied their approach to the Word and sacraments much more fully than Rome. The early fathers would be mystified by the mass. They wouldn’t recognize it.

    The truth is that the Roman communion did not drop out of the sky and neither did the Protestant theology, piety, and practice. At the end of the day it has to be defined according to the Word of God we’ve done that Rome has not because she can’t and so she’s set up a system of authority whereby she doesn’t have to do. She can just appeal to the magisterium.

  6. I’ve read The Bondage of the Will and Calvin’s Bondage and Liberation of the Will, I’ve even read a small part of Calvin’s Institutes, but I don’t see how the mass would be alien to the fathers, they are the ones who uniformly proclaim it as a true sacrifice:

    “But on the Lord’s day, after that ye have assembled together, break bread and give thanks, having in addition confessed your sins, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let not any one who hath a quarrel with his companion join with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be polluted, for it is that which is spoken of by the Lord. In every place and time offer unto me a pure sacrifice, for I am a great King, saith the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the Gentiles” (Didache, chapter 14).

    and as I said, you’ve completely ignored true ecclesiology and broken the unity of the Church:

    “Heretics bring sentence upon themselves since they by their own choice withdraw from the Church, a withdrawal which, since they are aware of it, constitutes damnation. Between heresy and schism there is this difference: that heresy involves perverse doctrine, while schism separates one from the Church on account of disagreement with the bishop. Nevertheless, there is no schism which does not trump up a heresy to justify its departure from the Church.” St. Jerome: “Commentary on Titus 3:10–11.”

    And regarding the false tradition of Sola Scriptura I would respond as the great Erasmus did:

    “I believe that it is equally true that the authority of the Scriptures alone surpasses the united opinions of all men. But the controversy
    here does not concern the value of the Scriptures: both parties accept and venerate the same books. The conflict concerns the meaning of the Scriptures. Now I hear the objection: “What need is there for interpretation when the Scripture is entirely clear?” But if it is so clear, why have such eminent men groped so blindly and for so many centuries in such an important matter, as our adversaries claim?” – Erasmus of Rotterdam

    Catholicism is an interpretation of Scripture in the means God appointed, your understanding of the scriptures are tainted with ideas like sola fide which are outright rejected by the Fathers and Medieval theologians.

    May God lead you to the unchanging and uniform doctrinal purity of the Catholic Tradition.

  7. I’m sorry Professor, I’m going to have to wikipedia deconstructionism, I’m not actually that smart, I just don’t know how you could read the word “Sacrifice” a thousand times in the Fathers referring to the Mass and then say their consesus was that it isn’t a sacrifice. I guess it’s like the “all” means “some” limited atonement argument. I will just not understand it all, as you will not understand my trust in the Church.

    Sorry for being such a douchebag, these arguments back in forth will probably acheive nothing. I’ll leave your blog alone in peace now, and in all seriousness, May God bless you.

  8. Back to Henk Navis…I knew him and Elsie and I also had a great appreciation for them. I saw them first hand scorned and left out of social circles due to their stand that they will not allow the Word of God to ever be trampled. Professor, Henk meant much to me as he did to you. Thank you for sharing. My prayer is that Elsie will continue to know the nearness of her Lord and Redeemer.

  9. AMEN, Dr Clark!

    Thank you for sharing!

    (Robert Preus – a theological giant and true LCMS Lutheran … we need more men like him in the LCMS – I say this as a non-LCMS … I have his writings too. Faithful to the Book of Concord, to Lutheran Orthodoxy, to the Protestant Reformation, to the Lutheran Reformation, to Luther ……… to sola fide, sola scriptura!)

    God bless Henk and Elsie Navis!

  10. Dr. Clark,

    I have the same question as Richard, UK and wonder if there’s a typo: “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…” I am wondering about the “NOT to qualify himself”. I thought He was vindicated as our Savior BECAUSE as a man He perfectly obeyed. Thanks for the post and for all you are doing!

    • Barbara and Richard,

      The point I was trying to make is that those who deny Jesus’ active obedience argue that Jesus had to obey to qualify himself in order to become our Savior. The point of the doctrine of active obedience is that Jesus’ obedience wasn’t for himself, it was for us. Everything he did, he did for us. Everything he did, all his obedience, is imputed to us. He didn’t owe anything for himself. He was born qualified, as it were.

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