On the question as to the necessity in our land and time, of separate Christian organizations rather profoundly different views are currently being propagated in Christian Reformed circles.
There has been, it is true, a variety of emphases. Some plead for the organization of Christian pressure groups within existing American organizations; some have urged that the Christian confessor bear his witness individually in the common organizations; one seemingly makes bold to stress the commonness of the social goals of all human beings.
The advocates of all these positions, however, are opposed to the view that separate Christian organizations are a requirement of faith. In that sense all the voices can be reduced to two: some are asserting and others are denying that distinctly Christian organizations are a necessity?
Into this debate I have personally entered. In the course of 1953 I spoke out on the subject three times: first, in my address to the Calvinistic Culture Association in February (Het Roer Om!); second, in my reply to Mr. Enno Haan, published in the Aug.–Sept., 1953 number of Torch and Trumpet; and third, in my address to the Grand Rapids League of Reformed Men’s Societies in September (Cui Bono?)1 In the eight months since then there have appeared in The Reformed Journal a number of articles which register an opinion quite the contrary of mine. Because I feel that these articles evidence an ignorance of the problem, an ignorance of our Reformed past, and-most disturbing of all—a rather weak awareness of the meaning of the Christian religion, I should like to comment upon them before too much time has passed.
Let me begin then by directing attention to the article written by the Rev. Leonard Verduin which appeared in the October, 1953 issue of The Reformed Journal under the title “Biblical Christianity and Cultural Compositism”. Although this article explicitly directs itself against the position I developed in the three places named above. I had hoped that it would not be necessary for me to discuss it. However, it is now dear to me that many people in our churches—and perhaps elsewhere—have not seen through it and, as a result, are confused by it. For such people I have though’t it advisable to take up the more important questions it raises.
In my opinion there is little genuine learning in this article. Without taking too much space for it I must give grounds for such an assertion.
First, then, a strong protest must, I feel, be lodged against Verduin’s use of the term “myth”. Certainly, if there is any term that may not be used to refer commonly to Christianity and the many false faiths, that term is “myth”.
The myths of ancient Greece and Rome—to limit ourselves to our own western civilization—clearly display the pagan character of myth. For these myths express opinions about the genesis of the world of gods as well as about the genesis of the cosmos. And where the faith-life of a people pretends to be able to do that, the boundary between God and cosmos has been utterly lost sight of. But to recognize the law of God as the boundary between him and the cosmos of his creation is a requirement of dIe fear of the Lord which is of significance for all human life and thought. Thus, the great classical myths of the past, which have been before men’s minds ever since then whenever the word “myth” is used, are to be identified with paganism: a religion which produces myths can only be paganistic.
Moreover, within the last century and a half, since humanistic linguists, anthropologists, ethnologists, philosophers, etc., have engaged in an intensive study of mall, the term “myth” has referred to a primitive, pre-logical form of expression which rational methods have since out-moded, or, granting the validity of this rationalistic separation of religious and scientific lire. mell have meant by “myth” the universally necessary form of all “religious” thinking as something opposed and inferior to scientific work. Even at the present moment, when we think of myth we are compelled to think of Rudolf Bultmann, with Barth the most discussed and influential European theologian living, who, out of an existentialistic way of thinking, finds the Bible full of “myths” and sees the great theological task as the demythologizing of the Word of God. In all these cases the term “myth” cannot be applied to Christianity as we understand it.
Yet, even if you would grant Verduin the right to use a term so weighted down with anti-Christian meanings, the term “myth” is not at all suitable for the present purpose. What is needed, we are told, is a term that will designate “the common phenomenon of religious commitment in all men,” But that is just exactly what the term “myth” cannot do. “Myth” does not stand for the common structural element in men in virtue of which it is necessary for them to cast themselves upon something beyond themselves as the foundation of their lives. On the contrary, the myth contains the result of reflection upon (paganistic) religion. It is not itself the religious commitment but rather a product of the effort to arrive at a life-and-worldview. It presupposes “religious commitment” or the faith-life of men, and then in a paganistic milieu.
And now we must notice the remarkable fact that Verduin’s own actual use of the term “myth” in his article relates to the specific content of belief and has nothing whatsoever to do with his definition of “myth” in that third paragraph, where he is so obviously on the defensive! It is in the sense of a definite content of belief that he uses the word the first time at the end of his second paragraph. How could he otherwise speak of a single “Myth”? Similarly, on page 2, col. 2 top he even speaks of two “Myths,” that of the Jewish faith and that of the Roman world, and says that these two “Myths” were “matters of pretty definitely different wave-length.” Likewise throughout the article. According to the use of the term in the article then Verduin is thinking not of a structural commonness in all men—which is what he says he needs the term for in his “defensive” paragraph!—not of faith in the sense of increated activity or function, essential to all human nature, but of faith in the sense of product, of content. Thus, there is a strange disparity between the use of the term and the definition defended.
But that is not all. For even this defense of the term-though, as I have shown, it is wholly irrelevant to the article as a whole this desperate defense of such a weighted term as “myth,” considered in itself, betrays a lack of acquaintance with an important element in our Reformed theological reflection. For was not one very significant result of the work of Dr. Abraham Kuyper, Sr., the establishing, over against Roman Catholic theology, of the fact that belief—the Greek pistis, what I just now called the faith-life in a structural sense—is an essential function of human beings generally? Rome’s teaching is that. to the natural person, which remains integral through the Fall and redemption, there was added in Paradise the gift of faith, a donum superadditum, and that at the Fall this gift was lost. Kuyper, on the other hand, showed that the exercising of faith is an increated and thus constitutive element in human existence. Unbelief is not absence of belief but rather the belief of an apostate heart, belief that is directed to an idol.
This analysis of Kuyper’s is an example of theological work that is genuinely Biblical, and it provides us with just what Verduin says he needs. Verduin would have done better to attach himself to this established Reformed terminology, easily understood by all Christians. Of course, actually, as we have seen, Verduin had no need in this article for the concept at all! But he claims that he did. And then, ignoring outstanding Reformed work that has been done, he adopted a word which not only cannot be divorced from its paganistic meaning but also cannot possibly be used to designate what Verduin says he wants it to stand for.
I come now to a second ground for my charge that there is little genuine learning in Verduin’s article. The article works with three basic concepts: (1) Biblical Christianity as two-camp Christianity: (2) a monolithic culture, i.e., a culture “in which all who belong to it will reveal a uniform loyalty, a common commitment of soul—in which all will rally so to speak, to a single “Myth” (Notice the use to which the last word is put!); (3) cultural compositism, i.e., “folks with radically different loyalties living next door to each other.” It is slated at the beginning of the article that Biblical Christianity, as two-camp Christianity, implies cultural compositism. A hit farther on we read that the “New Testament is committed to compositism as resolutely as it is committed to two-campism.” At that point a footnote is inserted. The point of the footnote is apparently that our writer is not certain how to relate the Old Testament to his scheme. He removes himself from the responsibility of saying something definite by Stating that the “bearing of the Old Testament upon our present problem deserves special study.” But he goes farther. He declares it “noteworthy that all who had a part in the paganization of Christianity by rendering it monolithistic have armed themselves with weapons taken from the arsenal of the Old Testament.” Indeed, he goes on to say, “To this feature of the Old Testament is to be traced the rather low estimate which the medieval sects, as they battled against monolithicism, put on the Old Testament.” Notice that he does not say, To this supposed feature of the Old Testament, but “To this feature of the Old Testament” (italics mine). That such a view underlies what he has written is substantiated by the fact that the next sentence or the article after the footnote states: “And it [i.e. the New Testament] seems quite aware of the radicalness of this its innovation.” Again on page 5 col. 2 bottom we read: “Monolithicism has been discredited we repeat. It has been discredited in history as it is reproached in the New Testament.” Note the absence of any reference to the Old Testament.
This whole manner of setting up the problem can only lead to a wrong view of the Old Testament full of danger for the Christian Church. It stems from a very simple mistake. In discussing cultural compositism Verduin is dealing with a situation peculiar to the new dispensation (of the covenant of grace). The old dispensation was a period first of narrowing down the area to which God revealed himself redemptively and then of the insulation of the people or God until the Spirit should be poured out upon the Church. This basic structure of history as given in the divine word-revelation assigns to Verduin’s problem its proper limits, its limited validity. If Verduin had allowed this revelational truth to be determinative for his thinking at this point, he would not feel himself confronted with a problem here. It is a problem of his own making. For what Verduin does is to come abstractly, i.e. without regard to this normative scriptural revelation, to the Old Testament with an illegitimate question. Of course he cannot find an Old Testament solution to his problem. For the old dispensation is a dispensation of God’s economy quite different from the new, and Verduin’s question has no meaning in the old. The insulation of the people of God during the old dispensation is a very different situation from the monolithieism Verduin is talking about. Here we see the danger of the Christian’s thinking abstractly, of his failing to subject even the formulation of his problems to the norm of Scripture. It is a grave fault, which could only have as result a depreciation of the Old Testament.
Speaking or the New Testament, Verduin refers us first to the incident of the Pharisees’ and Herodians’ coming to Jesus with the intention of trapping him by getting him to speak out all the legitimacy of paying tribute to Caesar. Verduin’s account of the incident seems to be this, that Jesus was not trapped since he did not think monolithicistically, i.e. He did not think in terms of exclusive loyalty to a single “Myth.” Here we must remember what we have already found, that Verduin does not, even though he says he does, use the word “myth” to refer to the common phenomenon o( religious commitment but rather to the specific content of faith, to that which is believed.2 And now we are told that Jesus was not given, as the Pharisees were, to monoIithicism, to loyalty to a single “Myth”! Rather, according to Verduin Christ is saying here that there are duties one owes to the “Myth” of the Jewish faith and other duties one owes to the “Myth” or the Roman Empire. “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”
Of course, required acknowledgement of the “Myth” of Caesar’s Empire is just what does not belong to Caesar. And no serious exegete would consider the possibility that Jesus here meant to convey the teaching that one is obliged to support the “Myth” (definite religious content) of the Roman state. Governments are put over us by God and exercise a real authority. But God does not put their “Myth” over us, and their “Myth” may not have any authority over us; for we must obey God rather than man.
As a matter or fact, I do not think that even Verduin believes what he is saying here. He words his sentence cautiously: “there are duties that one owes to the culture in which he stands and duties he owes to the ‘Myth’ he has embraced.” In the case of the Roman Empire he omits the word “Myth”; that is too much even for him. Yet just previously he had identified the Roman culture with a “Myth”. Of course, we ought to distinguish the actual fact of the government’s being there from its Myth. And that is—unconsciously—what leads to the cautious formulation of Verduin’s sentence. Yet the oversimplified scheme Verduin is applying everywhere in the article tends to cover lip this valid and necessary distinction. We can learn from this into what false doctrine and nonsense, if such modes or expression were consistently carried out, an undisciplined zeal to prove one’s point or to disprove another’s could bring a man. The confusion grows. Even here. For what Verduin is telling us here is that in this incident we have evidence of the New Testament’s commitment to compositism. But the service of two “Myths” is not equivalent to, it is much more than, “folks with radically different loyalties living next door to each other.” For the question is really this: since there are men of different faiths living all around me, what does the living God require of me? But more of this below. At this point I am simply attempting to justify my charge that Verduin’s article, far from displaying any solid learning or genuine insight into the problem about which he has chosen to attempt to guide the Church, is an incompetent piece of work and reveals an alarming ignorance of our Reformed tradition.
Again, Verduin would illustrate the “compositism” of the New Testament by the parable of the tares. That this parable teaches that in some sense—I do not here enter upon the exact interpretation of the parable—“folks with radically different loyalties” do and are, from a certain point of view, meant to live “next door to each other” until the divine harvest-time no one, I am sure, wiII be concerned to deny. But Verduin goes on to say that in this parable “Monolithicism is rebuked logether with the intolerance that it habitually engenders.” The difficulty is with Verduin’s concept “monolithicism.” Again I must protest against the lack of clarity, the failure to make necessary distinctions, which everywhere characterize this article. Men will not in this dispensationer ever—be brought to a common loyalty. But men ought to submit to the only true and living God. And it is our duty not just to live among people of differing loyalties but to do everything in our power to bring the Gospel to them in such a way that they must—out of conviction—believe the only true prophecy. More of this also in the sequel.
Another ground for my charge that there is little genuine learning in this article is to be found on page 3, col. 2 and top col. 3. Verduin argues that the early Christians were committed to cultural compositism, which for him seems to mean that they would disapprove of separate Christian organizations. He quotes from a writing which has come down to us in the collection known as the Apostolic Fathers, viz. the Epistle to Diognetis . The words he cites occur in chapter 5 of that Epistle. Let me quote another sentence from the same brief chapter. “Yet while living in Greek and barbarian cities, according as each obtained his lot, and following the local customs, both in clothing and food and in the rest of life, they show forth the wonderful and confessedly strange (paradoxon) character of the constitution of their own strange city.” (Italics mine). And just one sentence later: “Every strange city is their home town, and every home town is a strange city.” (Italics mine) In Ch. 10 we read (§ 7): “Then, though your lot be placed on earth you will see that God lives in heaven, then you will begin to speak of the mysteries of God, then you will both love and admire those who are being punished because they will not deny God, then you will condemn the deceit and error of the world, when you know what is the true life of heaven, when you despise the apparent death of this world, when you fear the death which is real.”
In citing these passages I mean to call attention to the fact that the author of this Epistle emphasizes the Christian’s life of separation from the “Myth”—to use Verduin’s unfortunate word—of this sinful world. But that point I make only in passing.
My main point right here is that we suddenly, without any warning or justification, find of Verduin drawing from this work conclusions about the nature of “apostolic Christianity” (top col. 3). How has he got from the Epistle to Diognetus to apostolic Christianity?! For this writing is much later than the apostolic age. The date Verdu in gives, viz. ca. A. D. 150, is more definite than scholarship demands: several great patristic scholars think a dating in the third century is more probable than one in the second. And since early tradition makes no mention of this Epistle rome have even asked if it might not be an imitation of early Christian writing, composed in a later age. At any rate, none of the so-called Apostolic Fathers can simply he taken as a witness to apostolic Christianity, as every student of patristics knows. The writings which follow immediately upon the truly apostolic writings display a noticeably low understanding of the leaching of the apostles.
The conclusion Verduin gratuitously draws, that “if these early Christians were living today they would take their place in all the agencies that influence and shape our culture even though the agencies are organized without regard to race, creed, or color”—a reference to my address, Het Roer Om!—is far from being “sure” to one who attends to the teaching even of this document of uncertain origin and date, the Epistle to Diognetus. And even if these Christians would take such a position, they would not be normative. We must make allowance for the time necessary for Christians to come to an understanding of what taking the Scriptures as the “only rule of faith and practice” means. Even in the fifth century the great Augustine saw, only towards the end of his life, that he had allowed heathen philosophy too determinative a role in his thinking. Men could not see all the implications of Christianity at once. But then neither are men and what they do ever our norm.
When, however, we come to apostolic Christianity, which, in spite of Verduin, is something else, we find strong dissent from Verduin’s position. And when we are dealing with Scripture we are dealing with the norm. Abraham Kuyper, Sr., who according to Verduin is guilty of monolithicism, did not, as Verduin insists the monolithicists do, draw his weapons from the arsenal of the Old Testament. It is significant that in that chapter of his great work Pro Rege which deals with Christian organization (vol. III ch. XIX) Kuyper bases his position as to separate Christian organizations upon the New Testament, and in particular refers to I Corinthians 6:1–11, with its background in the previous chapter and its development in II Corinthians 6:14ff. The New Testament may witness to cultural compositism in the sense that the wheal and the tares are to grow together until the harvest, but it just as certainly witnesses against Verduin’s confusing of such compositism with the rejection of separate Christian organizations.
Here we arrive at the principal mistake which Verduin has made, which affects all the subordinate points of his article and has compelled him in all the discussions we have referred to above to commit fundamental errors. He has attempted to arrive at a position with respect to the matter disputed among us, the matter or separate Christian organizations, in terms of the concepts “monolithicism” and “cultural compositism.” He has drawn up a dilemma: either monolithicism or compositism. He identifies Kuypers solution, which to this day profoundly affects the way of doing things in The Netherlands, with monolithicism and then demonstrates that the New Testament witnesses to cultural compositism. Therefore, he concludes, monolithicism, with which he identifies the espousal of separate Christian organizations, is contrary to the teaching of the New Testament.
In fact, however, the matter of separate Christian organizations has nothing in the world to do with either monolithicism or compositism as Verduin defines them. In other words, Verduin has committed the logical end of formulating an invalid dilemma. Usually the object of formulating a dilemma is to force an unwelcome conclusion upon an opponent by restricting him to a choice between two alternatives, either of which necessarily leads to such a conclusion. But, as any logic textbook will point out, dilemmas are more often fallacious than valid. Very rarely do the two alternatives exhaust all the possible cases. The cases enumerated may not exclude each other or be real alternatives at all. In our case neither of the alternatives has anything whatsoever to do with Christian organizations. Verduin’s argument is utterly irrelevant; it is beside the point. We who believe in the necessity of separate Christian organizations e.g. the members of the Calvinistic Culture Association (C.C.A.)3 do not believe in monolithicism.
That is to say, we do not wish to force everyone to submit to our “Myth” (Verduin). Such a Christian imperialism would be contrary to what God has revealed in His Word. We are also not opposed to cultural compositism in the sense that men of different faiths can live next door to each other. But, let me repeat, when you have said this you have not yet even come to the question of Christian organizations. For “cultural compositism” is a descriptive concept. That is to say, it descriptive the situation in which we live. It simply recognizes as unavoidable that humanity is split at the religious root of its existence. There are two Adams, the first and the second. Christian organizations, on the other hand, are the reply to the question as to my responsibility in the circumstances; this question is not a question of the “is” but of the “ought.” It is the question of our calling.
Just because of the situation that can be described as “cultural compositism,” just because my neighbor with a radically different loyalty lives next door to me, more than Verduin’s modus vivendi is required. We need a modus evangelizandi, a way of evangelizing. That is not the same as seeking a monolithic culture. That is simply a question of obedience to the divine command. And after all these centuries of western history the problem cannot be discussed in the simple terms of neighbors. A whole culture has been built up, with societal organization becoming highly developed. How is the corpus Christianum, the body of believers, to evangelize in this complex situation? Christian organization is the answer to that problem for us in the present western cultural group. That is my position, and the position of the Calvinistic Culture Association.
I am pleased to note that in South Africa too such a view is finding greater and more consistent support. It is nonsense, and the result of very superficial reflection, to suggest that the development or Christian organizations has anything to do with Anabaplistic withdrawal from the world, as has frequently been done in recent issues of The Reformed Journal. As was stated recently in the South African periodical Koers (Deel. XXI No.3 December 1953, p. 122): “Our concern in the antithesis which is forcing itself upon us more and more is to find the correct standing-point. And then not a standing-point in order to stand on it, but proceeding from it to steer a pure action, to move in it pure way—thus a movement. Christian organizations offer all opportunity to reflect on the common principle or starting-point. If there is withdrawal it is not in order to withdraw but in order to return into the “cultural compositism” with a pure program of action. Let us hear no more of this foolish charge of Anabaptism!
It is just the matter of principal thinking which is involved here. As Verduin has thrown those words of mine (a reference, of course, to my Cui Bono? speech) back at me, I shall throw them out once again, to him and to all my readers, The reason many of our people do not see the need of Christian action is that they no longer have a feeling for principal thinking. That is precisely why I gave the Cui Bono? speech. At this point our Americanization in the wrong sense is tragically apparent. I often wonder how much understanding there is in our circles, from top to bottom, of the meaning of principles, though I grant that we are constantly talking of them. For we have without thought frequently taken over AmeriCan ways of doing while maintaining more traditionally Calvinistic ways of speaking. It is what we do, however, that tells what we are and what principle governs our lives.
Although it is true that God intends for the wheat and the tares to grow together until the harvest, there is in history a mortal strife on between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. Is it not true that the unbelieving world will finally succeed in achieving an all-but-monolithic society? Already in our modem centuries we feel the meaning of that. The rationalistic movement of the eighteenth century (the Enlightenment or Aufklaerung) was such an attempt at monolithicism. We have seen other attempts in our own day. But it was this monolithieistic attempt of eighteenth century rationalism which our Reformed fathers felt so heavy against them in the Netherlands of the nineteenth century. Kuyper spoke of his life-effort as an attempt to break the strangle-hold of rationalism upon the public life of his day. True, the Bible says that wheat and lares are to grow together. But the unbeliever sets his hand against even this aspect of the will of God, if haply he may replace it with something which he, sovereign man, decrees to be better. It is a gross injustice and just plain ignorance to characteristic Kuyper’s position as monolithicism or a position not sufficiently liberated from that “medieval error,” Kuyper was fighting for a chance to live; he fought to achieve, against this rationalistic monopoly of the human spirit, an opportunity for Christians to live as Christians. Kuyper was fighting against monolithicism; his struggle was to secure Lebensraum for the wheat.
Today in America we face the same situation that Kuyper faced a century ago in The Netherlands. Are are not forced to pay taxes for the not-neutral public school, for example? Principially there is no difference between the conflict there then and here now. Only in superficial details is the situation other. But we are less prepared to wage battle than our brethren in The Netherlands were. For we have largely lost a feeling for principles.
It has several times been said to me by opponents of my position that I have been so thoroughly Europeanized that I no longer understand America. One ought not, I think, to forget that, unlike most Christian Reformed people, I grew up in a thoroughly American environment. I feel I know something of America. I feel that not Europe, if you please, but the revival of Calvinistic thinking in The Netherlands has enabled me to see better the meaning of what is going on in America. In the Harvard Report on education (1946), for instance, mention is made of “certain intangibles of the American spirit, in particular, perhaps, the ideal of cooperation on the level of action irrespective of agreement on ultimates—which is to say, belief in the worth and meaning of the human spirit, however one may understand it.” (italics mine) This is indeed the American way. Our society is divided on ultimates. Therefore, for the practice of daily life Americans ignore principles and look at surface phenomena, there finding themselves able in many respects to gel along with each other. But that amounts to it denial that the principles lead us to a correct appraisal of practical situations.
Groen van Prinsterer, the father of Christian political action in The Netherlands and the man from whom Abraham Kuyper learned so much, offered in his book Unbelief and Revolution an historical proof that there is “natural and necessary connection between unbelief and revolution.” He displayed there the identity in root or principle of political conservatism, liberalism, radicalism, socialism and communism. He declared that “where the thoughts are not led to the obedience of Christ neither knowledge nor ingenuity, neither experience nor a study of everything that was instructive in the horror of the Revolution, nothing, in a word, will prevent a man’s being dragged along the same path towards the same abyss.” In other words, for Groen the whole rapid development or western culture, since rationalism became its fundamental idea, was nothing other than the development of the principle of unbelief in varying historical situations and to varying degrees. And he urged that the consequences of the revolution-ideas can be combatted fruitfully only when one withdraws from their influence and puts oneself on the ground or standing-place of the anti-revolutionary christian-historical principles, This is the isolation of which he was speaking when he said that “in our isolation lies our strength.” To him, what a man docs in practice always stems from the principle of his life, and the only way to evangelize in cultural life is to place principle over against principle. Since conservatism and liberalism are but two phases of manifestation of the one principle of unbelief, one cannot fruitfully bring the gospel after one has really entered in to the political polarity: conservative-liberal. To bring the light of God’s Word effectively to bear upon that situation one can only stand entirely outside it and seek to develop the principle of belief over against the development of the principle of unbelief.
Whittaker Chambers is thinking in the same direction in his book Witness when he says that there are only two (alternative) faiths or men and that communism is nothing other than the determined unto death state of three hundred years of rationalism in the West. When he traces the faith of that rationalism back to man’s listening to the serpent in the Garden of Eden he sees the antithetical struggle in history better than many Christian Reformed people. He puts us to shame.
Quite different is the appraisal given by Dr. Dirk Jellema in his article “Some Thoughts on Christian Social Action” in the January, 1951 issue of The Reformed Journal. He writes there: “Due to historical circumstances, then, we have escaped here the ideological connects which racked Europe. We are not really faced with the problem of radically different ideologies, in the sense that Europe is Christianity and humanism have many things in common—what is best in humanism is greatly influenced by Christianity and can co-exist peacefully. It might even be said that the United States is a ‘monolithic culture” in Verduin’s terms, with the criterion of citizenship being acceptance of those things which are respected by both Christianity and humanism, notably the worth of the individual—In the United States, then, it would seem that the Christian can enter into society more fully than he can in Europe; that he can cooperate with ‘unbelievers’ (the quotes are his, not mine!) here mare than there; that American institutions are never anti-Christian in the same sense that European institutions are.”
Jellema thus writes that, “due to historical circumstances we have escaped here the ideological conflicts which racked Europe.” I should like to make two comments. First, we did not “escape”; we were swallowed up by the monolithic imperialism of rationalistic liberalism. That is why separate Christian organizations are a matter of life and death also for us herein the new world.
Our people often fall short right at this point. Even the article on “Calvinism and Political Action” which Dr. Spoelhof wrote only a couple of years ago for the volume God-Centered Living, a volume prepared under the sponsorship of the Calvinistic Action Committee, says that “any attempt to form an effective political party on the basis of uncompromising principles is doomed to failure. This holds true whatever those principles may be, but it is doubly true if those principles are confessional in nature” (p. 160). “We must work,” we are told, “within the sphere of American political tradition and practice and not attempt to impose methods and approaches which are novel to the American scene” (p. 160). The basic weakness here is the same under-estimation of the importance of principles in life, and particularly of that principle of obedience which is the gift of the Holy Spirit and which can accomplish whatever the Spirit of God is pleased to have it accomplish.
It would appear to me that Spoelhof is on slippery ground when he writes (p. 160), “Political institutions and political action within the forms and structures of any particular country must grow out of the ‘volkscarakter’ and be adjusted to their own native distinctiveness.” For the character of American political and social organization is at bottom nothing more nor less than an expression of certain fundamental ideas widely accepted at the time such organization was undertaken. Those fundamental ideas, however, were themselves the embodiment of a certain underlying faith which ruled men’s hearts in the eighteenth century and determined the manner in which men conceived and solved their problems. The Christian’s problem is, what to think of that faith and those ideas.
It is well-known that there are basic ideas underlying every culture, and that these basic ideas arc expressed in many different media—in poems and paintings, in philosophy, and in social institutions. What those basic ideas are in the case of the United Slates is a matter of (fairly) common knowledge. Our people should read, for example, Ernst Cassirer, The Myth of the State, Ch. XIII (pp. 163–175), and such an article as “The Religion of Liberal Politics as Seen in Thomas Jefferson,” in the periodical Christianity and Society, Summer 1944. There is, or course, a wealth of further material. It adds up to this…that the Christian gospel in its political sense cannot come into its own once the Christian has entered into the complex structure of a thoroughly rationalistic society. It is no more possible in political and social movements than it is in the sphere of education.
My second comment on what Jellema wrote is that the reason the American situation appears to be different from the Dutch is just that the Dutch Calvinist, influenced by Groen and Kuyper, is constantly busy relating his daily practical activities to his principles. The American, on the contrary, just as the Harvard Report intimates. loses himself in practical areas of cooperation, neglecting to relate such work to fundamental principles. It is interesting that both the Harvard Report and Jellema refer to the worth of the human spirit.If Christians would not allow themselves to be led on by humanistic modes o( thinking, and were to become themselves by thinking concretely, i.e. in the full light or the divine word-revelation, about what the worth of the human person is, there would he the amazing discovery that their answer would suggest practical political and social measures and goals quite different from those to which the humanistic conception of the worth of the human person leads. But it is just such principal thinking which is generally lacking in America. Christians have allowed themselves, in pan by entering “common” organizations, to become the victims of rationalistic imperialism; they have absorbed rationalistic and pragmatistic ways of thinking; they have lost the cultural struggle by default. We get along so well in this country because Christians are not yet sufficiently aware of the differences to which their principles lead. Christians, Awake and Unite!
Only principal thinking will save us from the jumbled confusion of American politics today. There is the lack of a clearly-defined foreign policy. But there are also no clearly defined ideas about domestic policy, and even the editor of the New York Times, Mr. Sulzberger, in a series of articles from Paris in 1919, argued that the American government cannot show the world a policy because the people’s representatives have to be sensitive to the constantly changing sentiments of the mass of American citizens. This is pretty close to chaos, I would judge. If Calvinism is going to stem the mad rush to anarchy. it had better start engaging in some principal thinking. And that will require separate party organization.
Once again, I was gladdened to read in the South African Koers [Deel XXI No. 1 (August 1953), p.52]: “In South Africa only that movement can claim the future which stands on an established principal program.” The same, my fellow believers, is true also here in America.
I think that what I have already said tells what I think of the “common” social objectives that play so important a role in the thinking of the Rev. George Stob. These objectives are, as he sees it, “within the reach of grace-empowered common human effort.”4 I must confess, I simply do not understand such language. Nor is it easy to forget his statement: “The humanist is committed to them, too, and we ought to be honest and humble enough to acknowledge that he has worked harder at them and accomplished more in the way of the social good that helps to preserve human society than separatist and antithesis-minded orthodox Christians.”5 And what must we make or this confused utterance of his: “From the Bible it would seem that God does not intend a program of reconstruction by which our society is to be transformed through Christian endeavor into a Christian society”?6
Christian social and political action is, as Groen said, the proclamation of the gospel in manifold ways for the several spheres of our life.
This is the aim of Christian organizations. This the humanist cannot do. I wonder whether there does not lie behind the Stob articles an interpretation or common grace which was not intended by Kuyper and is actualIy a foreign body in the Reformed theology.
To point up the contrast with Kuyper let me quote from the beginning (p. 6f.) of the third volume of De Getneene Gratie (Common Grace). Discussing there the rise of the Christians in the Netherlands of the nineteenth century to responsible cultural activity, Kuyper declares: “This effected a turn, which necessarily had to lead to, and so did lead to making us see that we could not get anywhere with the prevailing ideas, with the results of the sciences, and thus also with the construction of principles as they are current in the non-Christian world. They did not fit our confession. It was like mixing iron with clay. Thus we round ourselves before a dilemma. We either had to return to the little conventicle-circle and give up all concern with matters or science and art, of land and people, or we were compelled ourselves to build up our own construction of principles, which accorded with our Reformed confession.”
In a series of articles entitled De Gemeene Gratie in Wetenschap en Kunst (Common Grace in Science and Art) Kuyper says that “conciliation, which would lead to agreement, is here utterly out of the question. There gapes here a cleft over which no bridge can be thrown. And as long as Christendom docs not accept this twoness with full conviction and in all its consequences it will be punished time after time with the obtrusion of unbelieving science onto its own premises, with it falsification of its theology, an undermining of its confession, and it weakening or its faith.”7 For myself, I feel that the Christian Reformed Church must take earnest heed to this pertinent warning. The witness of The Reformed Journal articles on the subject or Christian action has filled me with a deep sadness. I do not see how it is to be squared with what the New Testament teaches us about the relation of the Christian to the world. May God gram that we all may be possessors of that faith which its divine Bestower claimed to be the victory that overcomes the world.1. Het Roer Om! was first published in an English translation in the April-May 1953 issue of Torch and Trumpet; subsequently, the original Dutch text appeared in the first issue of Principles, the new and still relatively modest publication of the Calvinistic Culture Association. Cui Bono? is published in the Oct-Nov 1953 number of Torch and Trumpet. 2. Dr. Dirk Jellema too understands Verduin’s use of the term in this way in his article “Some Thoughts on Christian Social Action” in The Reformed Journal, Vol. 4, no. 1 (January 1954). He says “Where Verduin uses ‘myth’ I shall use ideology to express the same thing, a set of beliefs requiring religious commitments.” The word ideology, too, however, must be avoided because of its nationalistic and speculative-dogmatic connotations. 3. The readers will understand, of course, that we do not say that no type of association is possible between believer and unbelievers. For a discussion of the question see my reply to Mr. Enno Haan in Torch and Trumpet, Vol. III, No. 3 (Aug-Sept 1953). 4. See his article “World — Separation or Involvement” in The Reformed Journal, Vol. III, No. 9 (Sept 1953), p. 12 col. 3. 5. Id., p. 12, col. 2. 6. See his article “The Christian Duty Toward Society” in the February 1954 issue of the same magazine, p. 8, col.1.