Change and Decay – Abide and Grow

President Kromminga, Board of Trustees, Faculty of Calvin Seminary, Representatives of other institutions, Whatever other dignitaries may be present, Friends of Calvin Seminary:

I wish to thank the Board of Trustees of Calvin College and Seminary for inviting me to speak on this happy occasion. Perhaps some of you think the board could have done better, and in so thinking you may well be right. However, from a historical viewpoint the board’s action would appear to be pardonable.

I had a part, albeit a small one, in the dedication of the Theological School on the corner of Madison and Franklin, at that time Fifth Avenue. That was in 1893. I was 7 years old. But my father was a curator, if you know what I mean. He took an active part in the dedicatory exercises. I was deeply impressed. I regarded that dedication an earth-shaking event. To the present day I feel that I was right. In fact. I am not sure that the gates of hell were left entirely unshaken.

In the early thirties the seminary building on the corner of Franklin and Benjamin was dedicated. It was a generous gift of the Hekman family. As president of Calvin College I conveyed the college’s felicitations to the seminary.

And now I am privileged to participate in the dedication of the recently completed Centennial Memorial Building at Knollcrest. I count it an honor. and for that honor I wish to thank the Board of Trustees.

My theme is Change and Decay – Abide and Grow.

Perhaps the words change and decay remind you of a line of a well-known hymn. “Change and decay in all around I see.” In that case I hasten to inform you that, while in the hymn those words occur as nouns, in my theme they are verbs. We are dealing, then, with two sets or pairs of verbs. The first pair is Change and Decay, the second, Abide and Grow.

Four Unchangeables

If I were to say that we are living in a world of great and rapid change, you would, of course, agree; but likely you would call that statement a platitude. That is what it would be. In fact, I find it difficult to think of a more platitudinous platitude.

Not being given to platitudes, I want to say something quite different. It is that in this world of change there arc a number of unchangeables. Let me name just four and concentrate on these throughout this address.

God is unchangeable. With him is “no variation, neither shadow that is cast by turning” (James 1:17).

He has declared: “I, Jehovah, change not; therefore ye, 0 sons of Jacob, are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6).

Jesus Christ does not change. He is “the same yesterday and today, yea and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8).

The written Word of God does not change. Said Jesus: “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35), and “Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof as the Bower of the field…The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; but the word of our God shall stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8).

The way of salvation does not change. From the fall of man to the end of time there is but one way of salvation—by the grace of the Triune God. New Testament believers are saved by grace. So were the Old Testament saints. And here let me say that it is the glory of the Reformed faith, to which Calvin Seminary is committed, to uphold that truth with complete consistency. The so-called five points of Calvinism do precisely that.

The Importance of Unchangeables

Unchangeables are more important than changeables.

The supreme importance of the four unchangeables just named is self-evident. But let me illustrate the point at issue with a few simple examples.

We are dedicating a building. This building is useful and valuable. It behooves us to be grateful to God for it. Yet, being changeable, it is not very important. On the other hand, the theology taught in this building, being unchangeable, is truly important.

The purpose of a seminary is to prepare men for the Christian ministry; that is to say, for the preaching of the gospel. Ministers are changeable. They are also unimportant. When saying that, I am not forgetting that we ministers—I am one of them have a way of acting important. But that is one of our besetting sins. May God deliver us from it. However, the gospel which we preach is unchangeable and important. The message is incomparably more important than the messenger.

Here let me call attention to the great glory of an orthodox theological school. It is not just another school. As a school it is in a class by itself. Whether or not one is willing to term theology the queen of the sciences, it cannot be denied that an orthodox seminary has the distinction of declaring such supremely important unchangeables as the unchangeable God, the unchangeable Christ, the unchangeable Bible, and the unchangeable truth of salvation by grace. And in the measure in which it upholds those unchangeables, in that measure it is Christian. In the same measure it is Reformed, for to be Reformed is nothing else than to be consistently Christian.

A Disturbing Phenomenon

But now it becomes our duty to face a disturbing fact. There are theological schools round about us, many of them, which presume to change these unchangeables. A few examples may be cited.

Henry Nelson Wieman, formerly of the University of Chicago Divinity School, has defined God as “a process.”

Paul Tillich, formerly of Union Theological Seminary of New York and now of Harvard, has described Jesus as a man who became God.

Rudolf Bultmann, long connected with Marburg, insists that the Bible, notably the New Testament, is in great need of being demythologized.

And perhaps as many Protestant as Roman Catholic seminaries blatantly deny salvation by grace alone. They teach that salvation, either in part or in its entirety, is by human effort.

Strange to say, such changes are recommended in the name of progress. Instead of progress they spell retrogression. Instead of growth they evince decay.

Somebody defines God as “a process.” What is new about that? The French philosopher Henri Bergson spoke of “a growing God,” and he was born more than a century ago.

Somebody denies the essential and eternal deity of Christ. What is new about that? Arius did that in the fourth century.

Somebody says that the Bible is indeed an infallible rule for faith and practice but that it contains a peripheral area which has little or no bearing on the Christian faith or Christian living, and in that area the Bible is fallible. What is new about that? Heretic Faustus Socinus took that position in the 16th century.

Somebody denies salvation by grace alone. What is new about that? Pelagius made that denial in the fifth century.

Some years ago I heard Henry Dosker of the Louisville Presbyterian Seminary lecture on the question “Is Modernism Modern?” His answer was an unequivocal No. He demonstrated convincingly that both its denials and its affirmations were already of old.

When is Protestantism going to grasp the simple truth that, in order to progress, one must go forward, not backward, and that the way to build is to construct, not to destroy?

“It Can Happen Here”

Let no one say: “It can’t happen here.” What has happened to other seminaries, some of them founded on just as solid a foundation as that afforded by our Forms of Unity, can happen to Calvin Seminary.

If we assume an attitude of complacency, it likely will happen.

If the church which owns and controls Calvin Seminary, the Christian Reformed Church, forgets to be militant and adopts a policy of pacifism, it is bound to happen.

If we are allured by the siren song of neo-orthodoxy, it will be in process of happening.

If we, in the interest of a reputation for scholarship, make common cause with the higher criticism of this and a previous century, it will have happened.

May God forbid!

II Conditional Growth

Calvin Seminary must abide by the unchangeables.

It must also abide in them.

Jesus said: “He that abideth in me…the same bringeth forth much fruit” (John 15:5).

What does it mean to abide in Christ?

A distinction is often made between Scriptural propositions concerning Christ and the person of Christ, and sometimes it is intimated that one need not abide in, or even by, those propositions if only one abides in Christ’s person.

Now that is sheer nonsense. He who rejects the teaching of Scripture concerning Christ rejects the Christ of Scripture and consequently has no Christ in whose person to abide.

On the other hand, one may conceivably abide by the Scriptural propositions concerning the Christ without abiding in his person. Then one has only speculative or historical faith.

Abiding in Christ, then, is vital. Abiding in the unchangeables of which we have spoken is also vital.

In other words, we must have that knowledge of which Jesus spoke when he said: “This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3), and again: “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). To put it popularly, we need heart knowledge of the truth as well as head knowledge.

I hear somebody ask: “Are you forgetting that we are dedicating a school, and is it not self-evident that in a school all the emphasis must needs fall on the intellectual?” My answer is that a Christian school exists not only for the imparting of learning but also for the inculcating of piety.

Let me remind you of the rule laid down by the founders of Harvard University more than 300 years ago: “Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the maine end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternall life, John 17:3, and therefore to lay Christ in the bottome, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning.”

How beautiful and how right! Poor Harvard! How far it has wandered from that position!

Earlier in this address it was pointed out that to attempt to change the unchangeables results inevitably in decay. Now I am pleased to point out that abiding in the unchangeables is certain to result in growth. Jesus gave that assurance when he said: “He that abideth in me…the same bringeth forth much fruit.” Bringing forth fruit spells growth.

Required Growth

Let no one think we know all about the unchangeable God, the unchangeable Christ, the unchangeable Bible, the unchangeable way of salvation. ‘We know in part. We have only a beginning, a small beginning, of knowledge. Much light is still to break forth from Scripture. And it is the function of a seminary, under the guidance of the Spirit of truth, to bring forth that light. Out of the treasure of the Word of God it must bring forth new things as well as old.

That is a general statement, easily made. To become specific is somewhat more difficult. But let me make a few suggestions.

Rome has long taught that the state must be subject to the church. The Greek Catholic Church has long taught that the church is subject to the state. By way of reaction from Rome, early Protestantism took a similar position, known as Erastianism. It was wrong. Partly through the influence of Roger Williams, American Protestants, by and large, have adopted the position of the separation of church and state. Let no one think the last word has been said on that subject. The President of these United States has said repeatedly that he believes in the “absolute” separation of church and state. I am sure he does not. No person does who has given this matter serious thought. According to our constitution the state may not favor one denomination above another; but that does not mean that it must hold itself aloof from all ecclesiastical affairs. Certainly the state has something to say about the property rights of a church. When the state confronts a moral problem, as it often does, it becomes the church’s duty to enlighten the state from the Word of God. To interpret the separation of church and state as the separation of politics and religion is a serious American fallacy. Among us who are met here tonight there is a difference of opinion as to whether it is proper to accept financial aid from the government for Christian schools.

We Calvinists have long insisted on the universal kingship of Christ, by which we mean, among other things, his kingship over every domain of human life. And so we demand Christian education, Christian politics, both national and international, Christian relations between labor and industry, etc. Do we also want a Christian state? As soon as that question is raised, you realize that the last word has not been spoken on this subject either. There is a war on a war not merely between east and west, but between communism and Christianity. What have we done to press the claims of the totalitarian Christ over against the claims of the totalitarian state? Sometimes I fear that we Calvinists are applying the doctrine of common grace so as to detract from the universality of Christ’s kingship. Here, too, is a field of which we have hardly scratched the surface.

Shall we recognize as a Christian church every group that calls itself by that name? Is Rome a true church or a false? The Reformers denounced it as a false church, but it can hardly be said that they held consistently to that position, for they recognized baptism administered by Home. Just where do you draw the line between a church and a sect? If a church tolerates in its ministry known deniers of the deity of Christ—and more than one denomination does—has not that church forfeited every just claim to the name of a Christian church? Let us have the courage to say so. That has a direct bearing on the matter of ecumenism.

There is room for growth. There is need for growth. If we abide in the truth, there is sure to be growth.

May the Spirit of truth cause Calvin Seminary to abide in the truth lest it surely decay!

May the Spirit of truth cause Calvin Seminary to abide in the truth in order that it may surely grow!

And let us dedicate this Centennial Memorial Building to the eternal truth of God and his Word.

This dedicatory address was delivered by Prof. R. B. Kuiper at the Service of Dedication for the Centennial Memorial Seminary Building on May 23, 1961, at the Calvin Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan. We feel that this address is very timely in our situation today.

Reprinted from THE BANNER, June 16, 1961, with permission.