1920s Arguments Over Absolution In The CRC

The criticism of Classis Illinois was levelled especially against that part of our proposed Order of Worship which we called “The Service of Reconciliation,” more particularly against the elements of Confession of Sin and Absolution which we sought to combine organically with the Reading of the Law and the Creed. It seems that some of these same elements were the chief stumbling-block for the other Classes also. At least we suspect that the word “novelties” in some of the overtures was aimed especially at these features of our report.

The main contention of Classis Illinois was that there is no need of a separate “Service of Reconciliation” since the entire service is a service of reconciliation. This, says the Classis, is the material principle of our public worship in distinction from the formal principle that God and His people meet. But the Classis is mistaken in this. It is not correct to say that all the elements of the service revolve or should revolve around the idea of reconciliation with God. This is a confusion of the basis of our relation to God with its essence. The judicial basis or foundation of our life with God and for God is our reconciliation in the blood of Jesus Christ. But this is not the essence or the sum total of all our relations to God. As regards the assertion that “the meeting of God with His people cannot be more than a formal principle of worship” we remark that this too is incorrect. The “meeting of God with His people” is the material as well as the formal principle of our worship. This meeting is of course a meeting for the purpose of exercising fellowship. God and his people come together and this coming together implies the union of God with his people and takes place for the purpose of strengthening this union. It would be far more correct to say that the idea of union with God underlies the entire service than to say that the entire service is a service of reconciliation. The former concept is far broader than the latter. And if what we stated in our report No. II be true, viz., that all the essential elements of our life and communion with God should come to expression in our public worship, it must be admitted that a “service of reconciliation” but the basic element of such worship, and that it does not receive full and adequate expression in all the other elements of the services.

—Supplement XIV. Report No. IV Of The Committee On The Improvement Of Our Public Worship. Acta der Synode 1928, 278–79.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Dr. Clark,

    As a former-CRC’er, I appreciate these recent posts on Synod from the 1920s. They are very illuminating. Is there a book or article in the works on this topic?

  2. I can’t believe you typed “laments” instead of “elements”. But then, if you were scanning, how did you get the two “of”s and the “tat” in and omit the “t” from “not” and the “h” from “his”? It is indeed a mystery.

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