Upon receiving the new Christian Reformed Yearbook, we are again made aware of the physical proportions of our church. Even though the statistics which are given in the Yearbook speak explicitly of quantity, there are many things which speak implicitly of the quality of the Church as well. Much has been written, for example, regarding the alarming numbers of persons who leave our Church for other denominations. In relationship to the number of persons received through evangelism, or even the number received from other denominations, this total is alarming indeed! What is the cause for such an exodus? Why is it that young: people, for example, often many outside of their denomination and then leave our Church to affiliate with the one into which they have married? Is there an answer at all to these questions, or is this merely a fact of life that we have to accept? I believe there arc very definite answers which tend to point up some real weaknesses within our denomination that have, to a certain extent at least, allowed this exodus to other denominations.
Let’s consider an average young man in one of our Churches. Why does he choose for his life partner a girl from, say, the Roman Catholic Church? Whose fault. if we may put it that way, is it that this does happen again and again in the Christian Reformed Church? Even though the final solution to this problem may not be found, there certainly are definite areas where improvements can and should be made.
There is, for example, the matter of knowledge that is so important. The correct knowledge of such religions as Roman Catholicism and various cults is a must if young persons are to be aware of the dangers of courting friends from such churches. The prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (4:6). That statement could well be repeated today too. It is a sad thing when a young man dates a Catholic girl for several months, and then asks his anxious parents, “What’s wrong with the ‘Catholic Church?’” There is a definite lack of knowledge of the basic differences that exist between the truth and error. More basic, however, is the question, Whose fault is such lack of knowledge? That a lack of knowledge is a problem is evident from the fact that our young people do date Roman Catholics. But this does not put the finger on the weak spot that has caused such lack of understanding. It docs no good to wring one’s hands at the prevailing attitude among many young people. Something definite must be proposed and carried out.
This alarming attitude toward other denominations is due in the first place to the attitude in the home. When there is lack of knowledge with respect to heretical groups, it can be traced primarily to the family situation. How can young people be expected to shy away from Catholic friends if their parents have never warned them against such partners? Or worse, still, what is the matter with parents who wait until their children are going steady before they begin to question the religious affiliations of their friends? Certainly one cannot expect parents to help their children if they themselves have no knowledge of the truth. There are many excellent studies on such religions as Roman Catholicism which would help parents as well as young people to see the dangers in mixed marriages. If there would be a greater interest on the part of parents in the spiritual welfare of their growing children, there would be less of the kind of statistics that are found in our current Yearbook.
Another solution to this problem may be found in the church. If we limit the discussion to young people in relation to Catholic dating, we can ask whether enough is being said from the pulpit in regard to the dangers of such relationships. For example, Lord’s Day 30, question and answer 30, deals with the difference between the Lord’s Supper and the Popish Mass. I wonder how many ministers attempt to bring out the serious nature of the error of Rome when they come to that Lord’s Day. The sentiment has been stated that one should go easy on that topic because the Heidelberg Catechism was written at a time when feelings ran high between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, but such feeling is no longer present today. As a result basic and important differences are ignored in the instruction of the people. If young people are not guided in the way of truth by the Church, and if the home cannot fill the gap, how can they remain true to their denomination?
However, we must not think that the fault lies only in the home and in the church. It lies most definitely with the young people themselves. Most young people receive an average of 12 years of Catechism instruction. What have they learned during that time? Ask consistories who have received the confessions of faith from our young people, and all too frequently the answer would seem to be, “Not much.” Why is it that after all those years of catechism, a young person still asks, “What is the difference between the Christian Reformed Church and the Catholic Church?” To a very large extent, the reason is that such a young person has simply had no interest in the catechism instruction. He has been present in the class, possibly against his will, but while he is there he does not absorb anything of the Scriptural instruction that is taught. As a result of that kind of absent-minded catechism attendance, it is no wonder that he is unable to make a correct judgment regarding other religions.
After we have tried to underscore some of the reasons for the loss of young people to the Roman Church, we must come in the final analysis to the mystery of God’s sovereign will. Ministers must preach and teach the wonderful truths of God’s Word according to the Reformed understanding of Scripture, and parents must diligently warn their children and guide them in the way of Christianity, but we must not fail to see that God’s mysterious and sovereign will is also present. And if, after we have done everything that we are capable of doing, our young people still continue to depart for other religions, we must bow before God’s decree. But until that time, we must put forth every effort to perform our duty as parents and as churches so that the young people will be warned of the dangers of false religions.