What I learned About Courage And Fidelity From A Farmer

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. Read more »

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.

R. Scott Clark “What Henk Navis Means To Me (January 9. 2013)


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  1. My husband and I are facing this “another gospel” presently, as well as Keswickian non-rational pietism. We are struggling to find a way to work for the peace of the church while contending for its purity. I appreciate hearing of the fidelity if the Navis family, and I’d like to know if they were able to find brotherly love in their church. The possible consequences daunt me.

  2. Thank you for revisiting this post, directing me to its original incarnation. I don’t think you get round to pointing out to Andre Cottrill that the sacrifice referred to in the Didache was not the sacrifice of the Mass, but the sacrifice of praise (not that I hold any brief for the Didache, with its “you shall give a ransom for your sins” – 4:8; but we don’t have to attribute to it heresies it doesn’t contain).

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