(A review of and reply to the Rev. Harry R. Boer’s article, “The Three Pillars” – The Reformed Journal, November, 1954.)
“Knowest thou not that the Philistines are rulers over us?” Judges 16:11
Once again were the Israelites ruled by a heathen people, this time by the Philistines. They used to invade the land with strong armies, once we read of 30,000 chariots, and people “as the sand of the sea.”
The Philistines had grown into a mighty nation; culturally they were of high development. And it seemed that when once they had established their authority, the Philistines were not bad masters. Life under them appears to be rather bearable. We do not read that their yoke was very heavy. If the Israelites served them and paid tribute to them, the Philistines did not provoke the Israelites. Religiously they were tolerant. Was not the ark of the covenant in Shiloh, and did not the priests of Jehovah fulfill their duties to the law of Moses? By reading this history we get the impression that their subjection to the Philistines did not bother the Israelites too much; they lived peacefully. Only so can we explain how that when Samson started to fight against the Philistines his own brethren went out to bind him and deliver him into the hands of his enemies. They said to Samson “Knowest thou not that the Philistines are rulers over us?”
Obviously the Israelites were right. Why should there be trouble and war? The Philistines were tolerable and reasonable; it was easy to serve them. Samson was a man who disturbed the peace; his action made the Philistines angry, and their reaction was something to be feared.
Yet Samson was right and the people of Israel were wrong. We Christians of the 20th century know that very well now. We know that the uncircumcised Philistine, though tolerant of religious convictions, was still to be recognized as the enemy of Jehovah. Serving him without objection was as good as treachery to the cause of the church of the old dispensation.
In the November, 1954 issue of The Reformed Journal, the Rev. Harry R. Boer writes under the the “The Three Pillars” an article about the Dutch and American social situations. In it he gives a nice synopsis of the religious situation in The Netherlands, explaining very clearly that life there politically, socially and culturally is built upon three religious pillars, the Roman Catholic, the Calvinist and the humanist.
The Dutch citizen, voting for the election of parliament-members, is doing a religious act. His voting declares that he stands for Calvinist, humanist or Romanist principles. He does the same thing by being a member of certain social organizations, by subscribing to a paper or joining cultural institutions. This division, says Mr. Boer, does not at all affect the national unity of the Dutch people. Every Protestant, Catholic or humanist is a true Hollander in blood and bone; this division suits the Dutch national situation very well.
So far we can go along pretty well with the writer, but when he comes to his interpretation of the cause for this situation we must disagree with him. According to the Rev. Mr. Boer, separate organization in Holland did not arise because of the principle that God must be served in the social and cultural organization of public life, but it arose from opportunistic considerations. “The historical factor gave relevance to the religious factor” (italics inserted). To quote more fully: Separate organization “did not arise because of a ‘principle’ that God must be served and ‘therefore’ there must be Christian organization in public life. That is the way the plea for separate organization is usually made among us. On the contrary the principle of action that motivated Groen and Kuyper was born and formulated in a very concrete situation in which separate Christian organization was necessary, was inescapable, was unavoidable, if the life that they and their contemporaries wanted to live as Christian men and women, not only in the home and in the Church but in the public area of life was to be and remain possible. In short the historical factor gave relevance to the religious factor. Without the historical factor the religious factor would also have received expression, but differently.”
First, we will say that this statement as a historical view of the particular Dutch situation is contrary lo the facts, and second, we must reject its general meaning as a sample of the liberal approach to the facts of history.
The position that the historical factor gives relevance to the religious factor is in its deeper sense at variance with our Reformed principal stand. Religion comes first of all in the life of” man. Man was created as a religious being. The fulfillment of his task was service of God; his whole life-activity was religion, true religion. After the Fall man remained a religious being. but out of his corrupt nature he was no longer committed to the service of the true God but to the service of strange gods, idols. That is, though false, still religion. In consequence, it is religion that determines history. Special situations, political systems of social relationships are in a deeper sense always the ultimate result of religious convictions.
Essentially the view of Mr. Boer is identical with the approach to the interpretation of historical events. The liberal, since he recognizes reason as the basic impulse for human activity, sees religion and consequently the religious factor as the outcome of other factors.
The Christian is committed to see religion, either true or false, as the basic impulse in human life and this impulse, or religious factor, is present and dominant in every situation. This view is, we believe, according to the teaching of Holy Scripture and determines our whole life and world view. Starting from that point we never see a historical situation as any thing else than the ultimate result of the religious factor. So we see the French Revolution as the outcome of the ideology of Rousseau and Voltaire, who are called the spiritual fathers or the French Revolution. So is the situation in Russia today due to the religious convictions of Lenin, Stalin and others. Communism is a false religion. So was the situation in The Netherlands round about 1850 the product of the liberal faith of that time, and the “three pillar situation” of the time being would never have come into being without the religious conviction of Groen van Prinsterer, Bilderdijk, Kuyper, Bavinck and that of the Reformed people in their time. The principal testimony of these men round response in the heart of the common man, and that response was the origin of Christian action in politics and society. This action is born there where the Christian conscientiously answers his calling: the service of God in every sphere of life. In this way is understood the development of the “three pillar situation” by the Calvinists of today in The Netherlands.
We will give proof for it. About a year ago the well-known Mr. K. Groen, librarian in the Dr. A. Kuyper-stichting in The Hague, had a meeting with American students. There he reviewed the articles of the Rev. Leonard Verduin, also in The Reformed Journal: “Biblical Christianity and Cultural Compositism,” in which Mr. Verduin took the same stand that the Rev. Mr. Boer takes in his “The Three Pillars.” Mr. Groen says: “Meanwhile, it is evident in that which was written before that Christian organization was not motivated as a necessity evident from the facts in this sense that only the (historical) facts would have furnished us with the norm. The Christian can cooperate organizationally only there where the appeal to the Word of God is recognized as the norm for the test of privileges and actions, and only there where this test is indeed taken. Neither on the one or on the other condition was and is satisfaction given in the Dutch ‘common’ organization. Is it done in America?”
We could give more of these proofs of the Dutch view about this matter, but we think this sufficient to qualify the statement of Mr. Boer as “contrary to the facts.”
Out of his view Boer very logically, indeed, comes to the conclusion that we in America cannot have the system of “the three pillars.” He asks: “Must we try to bring into being in America a situation in which it is not possible to vote for men like…” (then follows the name of a Roman Catholic, a Unitarian, a Jew and a Mormon). “These men and many more like them have been or are great Americans, symbols of public integrity. They are the kind of men who maintain the dignity of our country at home and abroad. Is it a requirement of faith that I to the best of my ability try to bring into being a state of things in which conscientious Protestants must inevitably dissociate themselves politically from them and their kind? I do not believe it is.”
The answer of the Rev. Mr. Boer, upon his question is no, because to do so means to “undo the history of our country,” which implies “to effect a social and political revolution without parallel in our annals.”
We fully believe that the men who are mentioned by Mr. Boer as political leaders are to be esteemed as honorable and true statesmen. Also the prime-minister of The Netherlands holding office in the days of Kuyper, Thorbecke, was honorable. He, too, was a great statesman, maintaining the dignity of the country. But to recognize him as a political leader acceptable to the Christian was and is another thing. It involves the recognition of his liberal principles in matters of politics. Whenever a liberal, a Jew, a Mormon, a Roman Catholic performs his task on the basis of his principal commitments, that for the Christian is not acceptable.
Practically, therefore, Boer makes a choice by saying no to the need for the application of a principal standard in the social and political sphere. He says no, because otherwise things will be turned upside down in America. He, too, knows that biblical demands are not recognized in the American political scene, otherwise their application would not mean “revolution without parallel.” But, in spite of this, he says no! Boer. does not want to raise the principal issue with reference to political and social standards. He stands for the so-called unprincipled situation. He does not want a “Groen” or “Kuyper” for America, but prefers to stay with men who are committed to other ideologies, a Jew, a Mormon, a Catholic, etc.
There is a strong similarity in the situations under which the believers in the true God lived in Samson’s and do live in our time. In both cases an ungodly system was ruling in public life. In both cases religion is tolerated, but also in both cases the ordinances of Jehovah are not acknowledged as decisive. Samson knew this and that is why he started resistance and declared war on the ungodly principle embodied in the rule of the Philistines. His contemporaries also knew the situation but they did not want resistance because of fear for the rulers.
In our time, too, there are a lot of Christians who fear the spiritual warfare. They think the present situation rather bearable. After all, there is freedom of religion in the country, isn’t there? They do not care much for the position which demands, for reasons of biblical principle, the recognition of the ordinances of God in public life. They, too, would deliver Samson into the hands of the Philistines.
The stand of the Rev. Mr. Boer is actually worse yet! Although he, too, according to what he writes, is aware of the unchristian spirit in the political sphere, he sees in bearers of an unchristian life-view desirable leaders. He does not even want a situation that makes it possible for the Christian to serve God as a Bible-believing confessor in political and social matters. The principal position of the Philistines in matters of political and social organizations is considered to be preferable.
He would not only deliver Samson in to the hands of the Philistines. He himself would fight Samson.
Obviously it is not only a difference of opinion concerning the question how far and in what way we have to apply Christian principles in the public area that comes to the front here. That, surely, would be of lesser importance. The difference between Boer’s and our stand in this matter is of much deeper significance because it touches the basic structure for the life-performance of the Christian, namely, God’s demand. That demand is not always seen in its full dimension by believers in the true God. Biblical history leaches this. The Israelites did not see this demand when they delivered Samson into the hands of the Philistines. At that time only Samson saw that demand. He felt that the political and cultural rule of the Philistines would result in loss for the spiritual welfare of Israel, the church of the old dispensation. Hence his implacable war with these enemies of Jehovah. This zeal for God’s demand also actuated Elijah, Nehemiah, Jeremiah and many others in the national life of Israel, and the same zeal moved Luther, Calvin, Groen van Prinsterer, Kuyper, and many others in the new dispensation. They all saw that all of life should be placed upon the basis of the divine ordinances. Real Calvinism will implicate every sector of life in the religious vision.
This can dearly be seen in the following statements which were written by Dr. J. P. A. Mekkes, in connection with. a study for the performance of Christian social action.
“What does the performance of Christian political action mean? The political problem is primarily of a religious character, because life is religious. The political task lies in the practical sphere, but cannot succeed without the help of Christian scientific labor.”
“The attribute ‘Christian’ indicates the reality of the religious antithesis.”
“In connection with the question about the prospects for the Christian cultural task, we have to realize the law of sin, which hinders us from making common cause with that which historically has grown wrong.”
“The power, forcing the process of unfolding that forms the history or mankind, originates from the heart as the individual point of concentration of our religious fundamental relationship to the Creator, and in the course of history reveals itself primarily in religion, in one way or the other.”
“The government will be able to act rightly, that is, according to the demand of God, only if it acknowledges the integral character of the divine law, and of Christ’s kingship.” (Translation ours, S.H.)
This is the principal stand of the Dutch Calvinists concerning political action for the Christian. As can easily be seen, they merely interpret Christian principles for the political task in general, and therefore these principles have bearing upon the political task, not only in The Netherlands, but as well upon this task in every ether country. It is clear, too, that this fundamental study does not fit in with the way of thought developed by the Rev. Mr. Boer.
In the last pan of his article Boer invites “those who recently came from The Netherlands,” to study the history of Dutch Christian organizations and also the growth of the American situation. He calls it a serious matter that “those in our Reformed community who disagree with their views were not regarded as wholly loyalty the faith they confess.” Indeed, brother Boer, we do regard some in our community as not wholly loyal to the “principal stand of Calvinism.” That is just what we are trying to prove with this article.
In your article we also observe that the difference in viewpoint with regard to our principal stand in matters of political and social action is of basic character. You see the existing situation that historically has grown in America as a right platform for the Christian’s performance of the political and social task. You will leave that platform intact, because you do not want to “undo” the history of our country. You think the existing situation as the right form for American public life.
You do not see that this historically developed situation is the pure product of the rationalistic life-conception. You prefer the unprincipled organization which gives equally a chance to Christian and non-Christian ideas. Also the atheist can propagate his principal view.
You complain in your article about the difficulties and complexity involved in making Christian principles bear upon public life in America. That is, Mr. Boer, because Christian principles do not go together with the neutral conception of American institutions. Principal action is only possible from a principal platform. Principal action as an organization which at the same time will maintain its unprincipled character is an absurdity.
Maintaining the “neutral” base of an institution, Christian action within it is degraded to humanistic action because it only serves man. God can be served only as we recognize him as King and sovereign over every section of our life.