Keep Calm And Cover Up? The Walhout Saga Continues

TheBannerRecently I’ve been stressing to my students the importance of believing their senses. Maybe it’s because each autumn I re-read the Apostolic Fathers (and other patristic writers) and walk the students through the threats posed by Basilides, Valentinus, and Marcion (pre-Gnostic, Gnostic, and Dualist) and perhaps it’s also because it seems that people seem to be having a hard time believing what they are seeing around them—how often do you find yourself asking, “Is this really happening?”—and responding accordingly. For whatever reason I am impressed anew recently with the need for Christians to believe their senses and to understand that God made the world to be known and he made us to know it. This much is evident from Romans chapters 1 and 2. In Romans 1:20, Paul says, “For [God’s] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” That phrase “clearly perceived” (νοουμενα καθοραται) signals something about how Paul thought that we know things. He assumed the general reliability of our senses. Our older Reformed writers picked up on this and built on it. In our age, however, for a variety of reasons—some of the good, some of them not good—we have come increasingly not to trust our senses. I suspect that the rise of electronic technology is also making us less confident about our sense experience and cutting us off from the world that is and sequestering us in artificial e-worlds.

Historically, when we have refused to believe our eyes, however, things have not gone well. There was rumors and more than rumors about what the Germans and others were doing with the Jews and other groups. Many didn’t want to hear or didn’t want to believe what was happening. Even today there are those who deny what really did happen. Don’t bother posting wacky comments on the HB denying the Holocaust. I’ll delete them and ban you from commenting. Those who study public safety will tell you that people frequently refuse to believe that something bad is happening even though they can see and hear it. People have to be taught not to deny what they are hearing and seeing, for their own safety and that of others.

Denial of what is happening right before us happens in religious and ecclesiastical contexts too. When I first started writing about what we then called ‘The Shepehrdite Movement” (later the self-described Federal Vision movement), that we are justified with God by faith and works (as Norman Shepherd said in the mid-70s), people were disbelieving. This skepticism about what was happening right in front people is part of why it took seven years for WTS/Philadelphia to deal with “The Shepherd Case.” The same thing was true when the self-described Federal Vision (really the Shepherd Vision Movement) picked up on his covenant theology (in by grace, stay in by cooperation with grace) and elaborated on it (baptismal union with Christ etc). People were disbelieving. “Reformed folk can’t possibly be saying such things!” But they were. It took time for us all to believe our senses, that yes, what we were seeing in print and hearing in sermons really was what it seemed: a flat contradiction of the Scriptures as understood by the Reformed churches.

A similar struggle is occurring for those conservatives who remain in the CRC. The question is whether they will believe what they are seeing and hearing or how long it will take them to believe what is happening before them. In May I responded to a an article in the The Banner, the magazine of the Christian Reformed Church, by the Rev. Mr. Edwin Walhout, a retired CRC minister. If you haven’t read that post from May it would be helpful if you did in order to understand what follows. Walhout’s essay was provocative, to say the least. It was also contrary to the most catholic Christian teaching as summarized by the Apostles’ and Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creeds. That such a manifestly incoherent and theologically corrupt essay appeared in The Banner was remarkable. Since, that time, however, other equally provocative and telling articles have appeared in The Banner including an a piece by Chelsey Harmon and Harry Van Belle, “Sex, Intimacy, and the Single Person” (HT: Aaron Vriesman) that argues for a radical revision of Reformed understanding of the seventh commandment. The second section of this article, by Van Belle, is the most problematic for those of us who still believe the historic confession of the seventh commandment.

Even more interesting than the latest article, however, is the way The Banner chose to handle both essays. The Board of Trustees received a considerable number of letters of complaint that may fairly be interpreted to represent the opinions of a larger number of people. Two classical (regional ecclesiastical) overtures have also been adopted demanding the editor’s immediate dismissal. In response, according to Vriesman, the board affirmed the gifts of the editor of The Banner and noted that his church council had not found him guilty of doctrinal error. The board accepted his apology but has established an editorial review committee, presumably to prevent future publication of similar articles.

Vriesman notes that the former Back to God Radio minister, the Rev. Mr David Feddes, has obtained and published the minutes of The Banner‘s editorial council meeting, which reveal that, as Vriesman writes,

the council gave unanimous “wholehearted support” to publishing the first article by Walhout. Why De Moor apologized and was called before the Board and not the Editorial Council is unclear. Except that, in the Board’s view, there was no problem with publishing the articles but only the manner of their presentation.

In other words, as the editorial council sees things, the problem is not with what Walhout said but with the way that he said them. In that case, as Vriesman suggests, the purpose of the apology seems to deal with a public relations problem rather than the substantial theological and ecclesiastical problem of the denominational magazine publishing heresy against the catholic faith and suggestions that premarital sex should not be regarded as sin.

This is part of a pattern of rapid decline in the CRC where the Reformed faith is now regarded as just one “accent” rather than the teaching of Scripture, where the Reformed theology, piety, and practice is being literally kicked to the curb, where influential laity are more or less demanding union with the RCA, where the teaching of HC 96 has been publicly ignored, and where the death knell has already been sounded for the RCA and CRC by one of their own.

Once more, this is not just a lament for the evident slide of the CRC toward the American mainline (liberalism) but to note how that happened. The CRC didn’t become liberal overnight. Most of the CRC still probably isn’t classically liberal as much as it is broadly evangelical, which is the bridge between confessionalism and liberalism. Conservatives, even staunch conservatives such as R. B. Kuiper in the 1920s, warned of the dangers of “confessionalism” and thought they could steer a conservative course between liberalism and confessionalism. By the 1950s, however, Kuiper essentially admitted (without saying so) that move had failed. The engagement with and appropriation of American evangelicalism, which Foppe Ten Hoor and others called “Methodism” (subjectivist revivalism) was already taking its toll. Experience supplanted objective truth. Latitudinarianism was already so deeply rooted in the CRC by the Harry Boer defied the Canons of Dort (1965) that there was no will to discipline him. Though it was not evident then, the CRC was already gone in principle but it would take time for that principle to work itself out, as it is doing right before our eyes in the pages of The Banner.


  1. Isn’t the outcry and the action of the BOT at least somewhat of an encouragement? No doubt some of what you say is true, but it is clear that a problem was recognized and much time was spent as to how to deal with it. In the end the BOT was satisfied with the editor’s apology for his misstep.

    • Dr. Gray, I realize you are (or in the past have been) an elder in the CRC — and not just any CRC, but one of the first CRC congregations to defy synod and elect women elders.

      Some of the men posting on the Banner’s website against this egregious violation of the Seventh Commandment are “moderate conservatives” who provided the cover needed by the denominational establishment to depose or harass conservative ministers. As much as I disagreed with their stances in the 1990s, I have to give them credit for their stance today — and their prior history of denominational loyalty likely gives them the ability to say things that others cannot say.

      Would you like to tell us what you and/or your consistory have been doing to object to the decision by the Banner editor to publish an article which encourages cohabitation and premarital sex?

      There are much worse things out there than women in office, and this is one of them. Open advocacy of gross sexual immorality is not something anyone who believes the Bible should tolerate.

      I think your church and especially your female elders might have a special level of credibility with the liberals on this issue given your church’s history — including its decision many decades ago not to join the UCC after the E&R merger, and instead to join the CRC. You can make a credible case that your church rejected true classical liberalism to join the CRC, and that even though you support women in office, you don’t want to be liberals.

      But if your church is not willing to do anything, perhaps you should at least reconsider your CRC membership. The EPC would probably be a good fit.

  2. As distressing as certain informal phenomena may be, one wonders why more formal phenomenon don’t tend to receive at least as much attention. But if paedocommunionism is the mirror error of credobaptism (as in the second mark of the true church is the proper administration of the sacraments), and if what is formal still trumps what is informal, then the CRC’s ecclesiastical approval of the former should rank a bit higher in assessing her condition than the things particular persons publish.

    • Darrell, I was personally outraged by both articles for what it’s worth. I’ve questioned the judgment of the Banner editor on many occasions. As I saw the responses I felt as if my viewpoint was adequately represented and waited to see what would follow. It appears that some reasonable action has been taken.

      As for Dr. Clark’s comment…why isn’t what happened “discipline”? Must a man be defrocked or excommunicated for such an editorial decision. It does not appear that DeMoor personally holds to the views he allowed to find expression. It also appears that when confronted with the matter, he appropriately responded. What more do you want from discipline? Conceivably the BOT could have dismissed him, but after meeting with him and conducting lengthy deliberations they chose not too. Isn’t that within their prerogative? Conceivably Synod could review the decision, but there’s no basis for a conclusion that there is no discipline happening here.

  3. The surprise is not that this has happened in the CRC, nor that it is so blatant, but that it was so long in coming. What else would one expect, after decades of strident egalitarianism, confessional indifference, tolerance of heterodoxy in college and seminary, and compromise with modern thought under the guise of “cultural engagement”?

    High-handed sinners, from atheists to apostates, will always try anything they think they can get away with. One real test of a denomination’s health is the strength of its response to false teachers in its ranks. Is it strong and decisive, or weak and vacillating? Is it quickly accomplished (quick, that is, in terms of the ecclesiastical gears that have to grind), or is it plodding, half-hearted, and filled with pious platitudes?

    The editorial council’s view that “there was no problem with publishing the articles but only the manner of their presentation” sounds like classic bureaucratic cowardice. (Sorry for the redundant phrase.) It is dangerously close to the all-purpose dodge that the author’s words were “taken out of context.” Really, gentlemen, do you actually believe people are so stupid that they can’t see through this?

    How do we characterize the CRC’s response to these recent articles in The Banner? Instead of heroic first responders risking all to fight the blazing inferno, they dispatch glib talkers with water pistols. In the judgment of charity, the authors of the articles and even the editor might be viewed as a few rogues gone wild. The official response, though, reveals the true state of the denomination. That’s the real tragedy.

  4. I am very sorry to see that my old friend, Chelsey, has signed her name to such a heinous article (her part less objectionable than the latter part). The worst part is seeing what drove Chelsey and many others into this camp at Calvin College. The authority of the God’s Word was denied and ridiculed, with scientism and cultural accommodation rising in its wake. Ultra-feminism blurred the lines between man and woman and between marital sex and promiscuity. Pentecostalism divorced the Spirit from Scripture and allowed people to claim God’s sanction over erroneous view of behavior. Transformationalism turned “Reformed” into a cultural movement that allowed for heresy and licentious behavior if done under the moniker of “cultural engagement” or “discernment.” Reformed theology as expressed in the confessions or from Calvin himself were foreign to me until seminary.

    As you chronicle the decline of the CRC, Dr. C, you see that decline personified in the theology of my old friend. And knowing where the CRC once stood, it’s heartbreaking. May such a sad demise convict our own hearts and churches to stand anew upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Word of Truth, and the confessions to that truth that enable us to declare together “Here we stand. I can do no other.”

  5. Those who study public safety will tell you that people frequently refuse to believe that something bad is happening even though they can see and hear it. People have to be taught not to deny what they are hearing and seeing, for their own safety and that of others.

    This is kinda tangential, but this reminds me of a chilling documentary once saw about how people can switch off and become monsters in contexts of authority. I can’t remember the name of it, but it dealt with examples like The Stanford Prison Experiment, the true story behind the movie Compliance, etc. I recommend everybody see it as a reminder of what horrendous evil we all have inside us, if only the right trigger were to come along. Total depravity indeed!

  6. I appreciate your take on this, in terms of historical trends, Dr. Clark.

    I have to add that I am not sure a holocaust analogy is particularly appropriate. The situation is one of “denial” to be sure, but other factors go into this. One is that, as you are no doubt aware, the CRCNA is an ethnic denomination. In the film “The Departed” Jack Nicholson’s character opens with a monologue discussing his Irish-Catholic heritage and states at one point “at first we had the church, which is another way of saying we had each other”. No doubt many of the CRC immigrants were doctrinaire Calvinists. Others simply joined as it was a place where their language and customs were celebrated. As they became more “Americanized” there was, I believe, an unhealthy desire to keep everyone together regardless of theological conviction. This is a cultural idolatry from which we’ve yet to repent.

    The other factor, rarely noted, is a gulf between the institutional establishment and the people in the pew. Most CRC folk are far more conservative than denominational leaders. I am not completely sure why this gulf exists. Part of it has to do with Calvin College, which like many Christian schools has struggled between keeping a distinct Christian identity and being respected in mainstream academia. Though I suspect this is only one symptom of deeper issues.

    Finally, I have to add: I agree that there is nothing wrong with the doubts raised by Edwin Walhout. Or Rob Bell. Or any other Christian leader. There are issues in the Bible and our Confessions, I’d expect most thinking people to struggle with from time to time. The problem is that it isn’t the job of a Minister of the Word to stir doubt and dissent this way. To use an analogy a physician can struggle personally with obesity or a smoking habit. He would be guilty of malpractice, however, if he wrote an article advocating tobacco use or over-eating to a popular audience. I’d expect the relevant professional organizations or regulatory bodies to call him out. The problem in the church is that those of us who call out (aka discipline) “theological malpractice” are likely to to incur the wrath of members who sympathize with the offenders. The issue for them is that they see us as condemning doubt rather than malpractice. It’s a difficult minefield.

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