Crisis in Doctrine, Crisis in Morals, Crisis in Education

The three articles on THE CRISIS IN DOCTRINE, THE CRISIS IN MORALS, and THE CRISIS IN EDUCATION were given as addresses in a panel discussion at the recent annual meeting of the Reformed Fellowship. Participating in the panel were: Rev. John H. Piersma, pastor of the Bethany Christian Reformed Church of South Holland, Illinois; Dr. Leonard Greenway, pastor of Riverside Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan; and Rev. Bernard J. Haan, president of Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa.



I think that I must say at the beginning: Our emphasis is positive and constructive. We stand before you as men who are for something. We are for “orthodoxy.”

As a word by itself, orthodoxy has no implicit meaning. Its meaning here this evening is determined by the context and the circumstances. The context is the “faith of our fathers,” the historic, Reformed, Christian Faith in which we have been reared, and to which we are committed. The circumstances are those which mark the life of the church today. For us these circumstances indicate that it is a time of crisis. In other words, we are alarmed. And we think you ought to be.

Now there is a distasteful word in the English language, it is orthodoxy.

Obscured by “the new light,” despised by the people of the radical, new life-style, declared outmoded by the users of “the new hermeneutic” orthodoxy as a position is really on the run. You’d better “have a nerve” if you are going to stand up in public and declare yourself as one who means to be traditionally orthodox instead of progressive, liberal, up-to-date, enlightened, liberated. (Please note that the opposites in this word series are not flattering!)

Surely it is a time for those of us who have no intention of abandoning the Faith to rally our forces, to encourage one another, to strengthen each other’s hearts. May that happen here tonight!

The focus of our attention now is upon doctrine.

Our doctrine is that which we as Christians believe. More precisely, we are dealing with that which we as members of a Reformed church know to be Truth.

We speak of doctrine in the churchly, creedal sense (there is more to our Faith as subjects of Christ’s kingdom than our ecclesiastically established dogma, indeed). We stand with all those who believe that church and its teaching is of greatest importance for all of our Christian life.

And we operate upon the assumption that doctrinal matters are very important. In fact, we maintain that faith and the content of faith are quite inseparable. We recognize that this doctrine which we believe must be known, professed, and defended by God’s people if His church on earth is to do well. We do not know how to avoid taking a stand in the great arena of doctrinal dispute and controversy.

If you regard purity of doctrine as irrelevant or impossible, our appeal will go unheeded and unappreciated.

Christian doctrine has always been, will always be under attack. Early in the history of the New Testament church, heretics appeared, trying to subvert the convictions of the saints. Their number has not decreased.

No church is ever free from the influence of the heretical spirit. As surely as we are “inclined to all evil,” so we are attracted by nature to the novelty (each generation seems to think that its ideas represent a brand new development and discovery), to the pride (surely we know more than those old fogies of past generations!), and to the ease (“Once upon a time our people thought that churchgoers ought to attend three services each Lord’s Day!”) of false doctrine.

There is a real crisis today so far as church doctrine is concerned, a crisis which is in part brought about by the attitudes and spirit of modern man.

But there is not only a heretical spirit abroad, there are also specific doctrinal errors in evidence. I think that they can be fairly represented by four observations, which I will consider consecutively.

Scriptural Authority – My first observation concerns the all-important area of Scriptural authority. I propose that the orthodox view of Scripture as the infallible and inerrant Word of God is being challenged by a (for us) relatively new, unorthodox devaluation of Scripture.

Some of us have experienced the influence of an older and also devastating modernism. It arose and flourished about the time of World War I (1914–1919), so far as we are concerned. Applying modern, higher critical methods of interpretation in Bible study, modernism rejected the unique, absolute authority of Scripture as the infallible revelation of God. The old orthodox view was ridiculed by it as hopelessly impossible in the light of modern science, especially when conservative believers insisted on taking literally the miracles and supernatural events reported in the Bible.

Out of the conflict and controversy provoked by modernism came a counter movement called fundamentalism. Fundamentalists pride themselves on being “Bible-believing Christians.” More particularly, they seek to uphold one another in the conviction that the Virgin Birth of Christ, the physical resurrection of Christ and all men, the inerrancy of Scripture in every respect, the substitutionary atonement, and the imminent, physical Second Coming of Jesus Christ are necessary, biblical features of a truly Christian profession of faith.

Christian Reformed people have never felt completely comfortable with fundamentalism and that for various reasons. And yet our stance was one of identification with them in the battle against modernism and for the unique authority of the inspired Word of God. In common parlance, our church is often listed with the fundamentalist wing.

I think that our most significant contribution to this struggle in its earlier years came by way of support for Dr. J. Gresham Machen, the scholarly, genial founder of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Professor Machen was a welcome voice in Christian Reformed pulpits and gatherings, where we took grateful note of his unswerving devotion to the cause of the Reformed Faith and a confessionally-honest Christianity. His precious book, Christianity and Liberalism (1924), was read widely in our circles, and was regarded as a sample of good, sound teaching. In this book Machen urged us to recognize modernism or liberalism as…

a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology.

But this is not 1924. Today’s crisis does take on a different appearance. Not that there are no basic similarities. An older preacher remarked in my presence recently that things he was seeing and reading reminded him of the issues raised in connection with the alleged higher critical views of Professor R. Janssen way back in 1922. J. I. Packer puts it this way in an essay about John Calvin:

Thus, the dispute over biblical authority remains approximately where it was. None of the modern developments in biblical study, important as they are in other ways, have altered the fundamental issues. All affirm that Holy Scripture is in some sense the inspired Word of God; so they did in Calvin’s day. But still, now as then, the Church of Rome tells us that the only way to be sure what Scripture means is to let her interpret it to us by the light of her own tradition. And still the principle of the ancient Anabaptists is maintained by modern liberal and post-liberal Protestants. These moderns all hold in some form the position that the divine truth by which we must live consists of those convictions which we reach, or which reach us, when we go to the Bible asking whether its various teachings are right and true, and refusing to commit ourselves to them further than independent experience or reflection has led us to feel that they are valid. This formulation, dynamically interpreted, covers the diverse approaches of Barth, Brunner, Niebuhr, Tillich, and ”honest John” Robinson, no less than the more old-fashioned liberalism of such men as Weatherhead, Soper, and Fosdick. But such approaches do not seem to differ in principle from the Anabaptist doctrine of the “internal word,” the word of God revealed in the heart and the conscience, which (it was claimed) is the God-given truth whereby we must judge the external word of Scripture; for, on the Anabaptist view, the external word was no further authoritative than the internal word confirmed it. Thus it appears that the basic terms of the three-cornered debate between what we may call “evangelical,” “traditionalist,” and “subjectivist” views of biblical authority have hardly changed at all… (“Calvin: A Servant of the Word,” in Able Ministers of the New Testament, pp. 39, 39, 1964.)

But what is a more specific description of the newer liberalism, the one boring in on the church today?

Well, today’s liberalism, we arc told, is very critical of the older form as developed and defended in the twenties and thirties by Harry Emerson Fosdick, for example. The newer liberalism feels that the older was too destructive. It eliminated those Christian teachings it regarded as unacceptable to modern man in a way which obliterates the Christian “message.” The Christian “Gospel of Grace” is both valid and helpful, they say, even though to get it out of Scripture we may find it necessary to strip away the wrappings within which it is packaged.

These wrappings represent the concession made by the Bible to the ideas prevalent in the time when the Book was written. After all, there is a vast difference between our world and the world of John the Baptist or St. Paul! Scientific advances have changed our entire world-view. How different we are and life is today from that of a time when people thought that our earth was flat.

The Bible, it is argued, was written in terms of that ancient world. For that reason it presents the Christian message in terms of ideas people of that time could understand. People thought in terms of the miraculous, in mythological forms. And so it is that the Scriptures describe the birth of our Lord as a supernatural, miraculous incarnation.

This is not acceptable to us now, of course, and so we must not ask the question: “Did the birth of Christ really take place as described?”; but: “What does the Bible mean, what is the biblical message which is presented in the story of the Nativity?” And when we so “de-mythologize” the Bible we find that its “message” is believable and comforting for us. It adds up to this: Jesus Christ was free from the terrible power and effect of sin and fear. If we follow Him we, too, shall know that freedom, the freedom echoed by St. Paul when he writes to the Corinthians (I, 7:22): “For he that was called in the Lord being a bondman, is the Lord’s freedman: likewise he that was called being free, is Christ’s bondservant” (ASV).

Please take careful note of the nature of this kind of Bible interpretation. Notice how that it can be used with a show of highest esteem for Scripture. And notice its principle: the form of Scripture is distinguished, even played off against the content. The intent of Scripture is to be elicited from the words by way of elimination rather than exegesis. The eternal verities found in the Christian faith are to be discovered by understanding that there is a real difference between the historical form of the language and that truth.

But does this ever happen among us? I think that it does.

The following is part of a statement made by a person of some importance among us, whose name I shall leave unmentioned:

The church and all Christians must be careful not to allow the Gospel to become confused with other matters which really aren’t the Gospel at all…. In our tradition Christ’s claims were sometimes coupled to a certain stance on three worldly amusements. In earlier history the church once commanded commitment to an earth-centered universe as one of the terms of commitment to Christ. I am persuaded that such is a most disastrous trend—if not even a diabolical trick to keep men from confronting Christ in all His power. I find people nowadays (particularly young people in the academic atmosphere) much in confusion over whether commitment to Christ also commits them to certain scientific views on how old the earth is, how the earth came into being, what the earliest days of man were like, and such questions. My opinion is that these are extraneous questions when linked to the offer of God’s grace in Jesus Christ…

The writers of the Bible were not just recording objective facts. They are reciting their faith. They are teaching religious lessons…the accounts they give may be more like paintings than like photographs. The writers were attempting to make real the acts and words of God in men’s behalf to the people of their day. They chose the language, ways of viewing things, and the symbols known to them and their readers (italics inserted, J.H.P.). My warning is that we must be sure that we know what we are doing before we insist on drawing conclusions on scientific matters or insist that we have data for establishing when and exactly how most ancient man lived on the basis of these Genesis materials. I am not confident in using the biblical material for these ends….

With much of the above one can agree. The church has made mistakes over the years in its efforts to interpret Scripture. No doubt of it, one must” hear in mind the nature of the times in which it was written, and all good Bible students do just that. But please note that more than that is recommended in the citation above. The “offer of God’s grace in Jesus Christ” is something to which the doctrine of creation, “how the earth came into being,” is extraneous—that is, not essential or intrinsic, even foreign!

In other words, the “message” is one thing, the details of the revelation as they appear in Scripture are another. And you can have the one without the other. I cannot see but that this is evidence of the influence of the newer modernism.

In the second paragraph of the quotation above we see that the author emphasizes exactly the same things as do other “modern” Bible interpreters. One of the more favorite devices nowadays is to suggest that the Bible is “faith-language” or poetry, or some other kind of speech. The net effect is always the same. We are now liberated from the old, traditional interpretations of Scripture. We can now comfortably believe in an evolutionary rather than a creational explanation of the origin of the universe. We now have the “message” and the “religion” and the “comfort” without the embarrassing baggage of an infallible, unscientific Bible.

A very specific question was placed before the person quoted above. It was:

In the account of the Fall we read that Satan came to Eve in the form of a serpent; does this mean a literal serpent?

The answer given might have been anticipated,

Technically, I don’t read about Satan in this account of the Fall. All I read about is the most subtle of beasts. Here it seems that it is helpful to note how ancient near-eastern literature was repeatedly using the serpent symbol to personify the forces of evil. In Genesis 3 we once again have a picture most exquisitely drawn. It is a picture of a fact, man’s Fall. But I do not think we must press for a literal serpent speaking man’s language. Rather I would propose the serpent can be recognized by all of us who have had strange, sinister, shocking thoughts arising within us from nowhere -thoughts that have a pull to them; we toy with them, tease ourselves with them, and sometimes even make rash quick actions on the basis of them. It strikes me that puzzling over the literalness of the snake is not a helpful way to placing oneself open to the powerful Word of God at work in this account. It’s an eye-opener on what man is—and on what I am. It is a painting of the Fall that once happened and affected us all. But it also keeps on happening over again in each one of us.

I submit that this is not a comforting answer to the man who wants to be a Christian in the Reformed sense of the world! All of the exegesis of the past is summarily dismissed. By the speaking serpent we are to understand that Eve entertained evil thoughts (Satanically inspired? Not necessarily; we don’t read about Satan in this account of the Fall), the kind all men experience over and over again.

Note that, as J. I. Packer told us with respect to many modern scholars, this author recognizes the Bible as in some sense the Word of God. It is not that literally, of course, for serpents simply do not speak man’s language. The message of the Genesis passage is not that of a Satan speaking through God’s most marvellous of all representatives of the animal kingdom, the serpent, by which man’s fall into sin was instigated. On the contrary, the author of the lines quoted above sees no evidence of Satan’s presence at all. The whole business is just a picture of the fact that weak and wicked men fall prey to evil thoughts which arise within us “from nowhere.”

Strangely enough, the Belgic Confession, an authoritative creed in the Christian Reformed Church, does read about Satan in the account under discussion. It declares:

We believe that God created man out of the dust of the earth, and made and formed him after His own image and likeness, good, righteous, and holy, capable in all things to will agreeably to the will of God. But being in honor, he understood it not, neither knew his excellency, but willfully subjected himself to sin and consequently to death and the curse, giving ear to the words of the devil (Art. XIV).

In a confessional church, such as the Christian Reformed Church has always claimed to be, such statements as quoted above are indicative of at least a substantial beginning in doctrinal alteration. And when the simple, traditional view of Scripture as the inspired, inerrant Word of God is exchanged for one which makes interpretation dependent upon an elaborate method of interpretation quite impossible for all but the so-called experts, all kinds of doctrinal moorings are sure to slip. And that is crucial!

A New Emphasis – A second symptom of the doctrinal crisis is the discarding of an emphasis upon the majesty and sovereignty of God in favor of a religion more relevant to and concerned with human needs and problems.

To mention a few “straws in the wind” which give me the impression that this second proposition has substance:

Some preaching among us is so preoccupied with certain types of social problems as to make listeners say that the orthodox, evangelical instruction and admonition are almost completely lacking…

The style of prayer now in vogue goes far beyond the replacement of “thee” and “thou” with “you” and “your,” becoming almost blasphemous in its casual, chummy, vulgar expression…

Words of praise for Arminian or even neo-orthodox leaders go without the slightest murmur of resistance, while similar words of commendation or appreciation for most any of the “greats” in the rich history of Reformed theology meet with polite yawns at best, with nothing less than hostility at worst…

Preaching has fallen upon evil days in our time as sermon themes like “Mutt and Jeff” (this is not fictional!) replace anything like “The Lord’s Jealousy Against Backsliders Consistent with His Unchanging Love” (George Smeaton, 1814–1889, a sermon based on Psalm 89:30–33)….

Such illustrations could he multiplied. But is there any evidence of an actual doctrinal alteration in this area? The answer is Yes.

One can find more than a trace of dissatisfaction with the doctrine of divine reprobation (“That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it, proceeds from God’s eternal decree…. According to which decree He graciously softens the hearts of the elect, however obstinate, and inclines them to believe; while He leaves the non-elect in His judgment to their own wickedness and obduracy”—Canons of Dort, I, 6) in certain writings appearing within our Reformed community.

I have reason to believe that the time is not far distant when some will dare to press Synod for a decision which would seriously weaken if not actually erase the very idea of divine reprobation from our creeds. In my opinion, this might well be the next doctrinal controversy to plague the Christian Reformed Church.

What is at stake?

Not just an obscure detail of the systematic theology of the Reformed tradition! What is really at stake, among other things, is the doctrine of tile providence of God. In the Heidelberg Catechism’s precious treatment of this biblical truth we find these words:

What do you mean by the providence of God?

The almighty and everywhere present power of God, whereby, as it were by His hand, He still upholds heaven, earth, and all creatures, and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, all things, (italics inserted, J.H.P.) come not by chance but by His fatherly hand (Lord’s Day X, 27).

If the damnation of the wicked and unbelieving is outside God’s decree, is not predestined by God, then how do we account for it in terms of the majesty and sovereignty of God? By chance? No, says the Catechism, for it is only by the incomparably powerful hand of the Father that all things come about.

I know, and everyone knows, that there is a mystery here which is perplexingly insoluble for us. Nevertheless, to resolve a difficulty by way of elimination of the full sovereignty of God is to create problems and bring about consequences which are far worse.

Prepare to stand up and be counted on this issue. The price of loyalty will be high, no doubt, as all the old insults hurled at Calvinists for centuries are reissued. The only attitude to take is the one of true faith as reflected in the Canons:

To those who murmur at the free grace of election and the just severity of reprobation we answer with the apostle: Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? (Rom. 9:20), and quote the language of our Savior: Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? (Matt. 20:15). And therefore, with holy adoration of these mysteries, we exclaim in the words of the apostle: O the depths of the riches of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord. or who hath been his counsellor? or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and unto him are all things. To him be the glory for ever. Amen. (Rom. 11:33–36)

A New Universalism – There is a third feature: a weakened emphasis upon the particular character of Christ’s atoning work in favor of an almost exclusive appeal to the fact of the infinite worth and value of the death of the Son of God.

There are two things which many seem to know these days (to the almost total ignorance of all else): that there are textual problems in the Bible, and that there are some texts in Scripture which, superficially considered, seem to teach a kind of universalism (the false teaching that God wills and will secure the salvation of all men ultimately).

Orthodox, biblical interpreters have worked with such passages throughout the centuries, and their efforts have not gone without blessing under the Spirit’s guidance. It simply is not true that strong predestinarians like John Calvin have no adequate explanation for the so-called “universalistic texts.”

But we choose to ignore this. And like all patients who willfully ignore important information that would enable them to ward off many complications, we tend nowadays to multiply problems and provoke doctrinal disaster by making believe that our insights are really different in principle from anything in the past.

People have been around for a long time who did not want to hear of the truth of the limited atonement. They have always objected that this doctrine makes men careless, that it is cruel and heartless toward the lost, that it discourages the mission enterprise, etc.

Over against these our fathers took a stand. A stand for the Reformed Faith and its sure knowledge that “the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith…” (Canons, II, 8).

And we must take this stand today lest we lose the Gospel altogether.

There is a new universalism today. It is involved in the thing that Klaas Runia recently labelled pan-en-theism, the doctrine that God is to be sought ill this world. God is not transcendent, far above us, but only immanent, within this universe. All the fundamental Christian doctrines fall into discard on this basis. And any kind of distinction between believer and unbeliever, between elect and reprobate, is virtually eliminated.

Is it because of this trend that it is almost impossible to develop much understanding and awareness of the biblical antithesis among us nowadays?

Is our current mania for some kind of acceptance among and influence upon people outside our community really a true mission spirit, or is it a compulsion born out of an unwillingness to preach the “if-ness” of the biblical Gospel, the message which proclaims the promise that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life?

It is already very unpopular to suggest that very many people might not be saved. To the extent that this springs from a real concern for the everlasting welfare of our fellowmen, we concur, of course.

But to the extent that it rests upon a self-made and self-willed notion that God just wouldn’t leave any to perish, it is pure error.

My last observation is that there is a stubborn unwillingness to believe unreservedly that the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel, and confirms it by the use of the holy sacraments.

We have been “church people.” Our services were well-attended, both at first and second services. These services were primarily preaching services. So much so that the bad habit developed among us of calling all else in worship “the preliminaries.” This was not so much an expression intended to downgrade the other features of our liturgy as to indicate just how much value we placed upon the sermon.

This emphasis did not stem from the selfish desires of egotistical dominies who wanted a lot of time to show off in front of their patient, captive audiences. It came from the conviction that the apostolic ministry was the primary means of grace.

In the carrying out of that ministry everything was geared to the principle of liturgical responsibility.

Some of us can remember the Prince Albert coat, Inter replaced by the cut-away with striped trousers. This was intended to say that the man in the pulpit was an ambassador of Jesus Christ, one who spoke for Him. He was often escorted into the sanctuary by an elder, who shook his hand at the base of the pulpit. Before mounting the steps he paused to pray, invoking the Lord’s blessing upon him as he performed the awesome task of representing the Lord of heaven and earth in his ministry. With hands uplifted he pronounced a greeting in God’s Name, by his every intonation indicating that he was certain that God did confer His grace, mercy, and peace upon His waiting people. After the service he shook hands with each elder individually, by which agreement was expressed with his sermon so far as its fidelity to Scripture and the creeds was concerned.

Today, alas, the self-consciousness so evident in these older forms and practices has given way to liturgical chaos. No wonder that now even very intelligent members can see no reason why just any member of the congregation should not be allowed to preach in the congregation. Even people who would not welcome the practice of such professions as medicine or dentistry or law unlicensed now plead for a wide-open policy liturgically.

Underneath it all is an unawareness or a rejection of the very principle of an official ministry, of a specific, definite means of grace.

The great concern now is for communication. The important thing now is effect.

Whatever means of communication you might devise which could possibly move me is considered good and permissible in the House of God.

I need not tell you about the underground churches (so-called) and other bizarre and irregular attempts to communicate the Christian faith. Nor am I out to condemn out of hand all who are taken up with these things.

I am here to say that the orthodox view of the ministry and the importance of the means of grace is being challenged.

For that reason, and for the others that I have tried to describe, I believe that we live in a time of doctrinal crisis.



“You must realize in the last days the times will be full of danger. Men will become utterly self-centered, greedy for money, full of big words. They will be proud and contemptuous, without any regard for what their parents taught them. They will be utterly lacking in gratitude, purity and normal human affections. They will be men of unscrupulous speech and have no control of themselves. They will be passionate and unprincipled, treacherous, self-willed and conceited, loving all the time what gives them pleasure instead of loving God. They will maintain a facade of ‘religion,’ but their conduct will deny its validity. You must keep clear of people like this” (II Timothy 3:1–5, J. B. Phillips’ Translation).

These conditions were present when Paul wrote this letter to Timothy. That is why he could say, “You must keep clear of people like this.” Let us, however, be reminded here that history moves spirally and that the conditions about which Paul warned Timothy have continued and have developed from generation to generation. There have been remissions, sometimes brought in by religious revivals, and the Church has been grateful for them. But the over-all, increasing trend has persisted into what now appears to he the terminal stage of the end-time of history. Our Lord said, “iniquity shall be multiplied” (Matthew 24:12). He warned us that there would be an increase of lawlessness which will eventually climax, not in a millennial golden age, but in the final consolidation of wickedness under the “lawless one” about whom Paul writes in II Thessalonians, chapter 2.

A New Reign of Terror? – How blind we are if we do not see these signs of the times! What more has to be told us, what more has to be seen in current events before we recognize the ripening of the tares?

America today occupies the unenviable position of promoting law and order in other nations while we barely are able to preserve law and order within our own borders. A nation that tolerates terror and violence at home can hardly serve as an example and inspiration in trying to put an end to international piracies and disorders.

Can anything be more indicative of the near-return of our Lord than the fact that apostasy, rebellion against constituted authority, and lawlessness no longer threaten the precincts of the Church from the outside, but have actually entered these precincts and have corrupted high religious echelons? What shame that church leaders, clergymen, professors of theology publicly identify with protestants and dissidents among whom are mobsters carrying a brick in one hand and a firebomb in the other! What double shame that a clergyman of this group should be invited and allowed to deliver an address on the campus of a church-owned, church-operated college!

Pornography – I have before me the news story of the report of the Presidential Commission on Pornography (Grand Rapids Press, September 30, 1970). The Commission has called for repeals of most U.S. adult censorship laws. It proposes no ban on written erotica; and this, mark you, in the face of statistics which show an increase in rape arrests since the increase in erotica in the United States. Three dissenting commissioners accused the commission majority of manipulating evidence and proposing moral anarchy. Paul L. Adams, writing in the New York Times, October 3, calls the report “a blueprint for disaster.” He goes on to say: “To tear down the few remaining barriers left against the flood of smut glutting the nation would be to lay open the vitals of America to a tidal wave of filth and depravity whose inevitable and only result can be to destroy the moral fiber of the country.”

Many of us, I fear, remain complacently ignorant respecting the full extent of the evil of obscenity and pornography. We do not take the trouble to look into the matter. We give it a passing glance in much the same casual manner in which we look at the obvious evidences of doctrinal defection in the Church. Meanwhile a great tide of filth, printed filth, pictorial filth, continues to flow across our land. Smut is paraded before the eyes of our youth. The smutty novel all too often becomes the best seller providing Hollywood with another opportunity to produce a moneymaking sex film. This is the filth that stimulates sex offenders, they feed on it, and the majority of the Presidential Commission would guarantee that they have their fill. It is indeed an amazing thing that so many people in our “enlightened” society are willing to get down and wallow in the slime that exudes from the rotten soul of a conscienceless reprobate who has sold himself to the devil!

Movies – Between commercialized pornography and Hollywood there is two-way traffic. Pornography feeds into Hollywood and Hollywood feeds pornography. Meanwhile film reviews have become increasingly common in periodicals that originate in our Christian Reformed circles. Not long ago one of them (The Reformed Journal, May-June, 1970) went to considerable length in assessing a film that had an extended booking in Grand Rapids. The reviewer describes it as “fine comedy”…“two of the funniest hours ever put on film,” a film that has “qualities that insure it a long reputation as one of the finest film comedies ever made”…“vigorously healthy.” But the review that appeared in the liberal magazine. The Christian Century, June 24, 1970, describes it as “vulgar”…“pretty barren”…“a lot of Christians would find this film quite disgusting.” It contains “vile language” and one of its “finest moments of bad taste is its hilariously gross parody of the Last Supper.” One of the characters, Hot Lips O’Hooligan (Sally Kellerman) is described as a “voluptuous” partner in an act of adultery with a surgeon (played by Robert Duvall). A microphone planted under Sally’s bed records the “pantings and love chatter.” The review in The Reformed Journal appears to describe this adulterous liaison as follows: “Sally Kellerman…gets with it only after a series of traumatic, humanizing experiences” (page 18).

I have one question here: By what standards is a film judged to be so funny and so healthy, w hen it is so obviously sexy and profane and when it contains a parody of the Last Supper?

What Are We Coming To? – Perhaps the question is more accurately stated: What have we come to? I am inclined to believe that Dr. Will Herberg has the answer. Writing in The Intercollegiate Review, January-March, 1968, he says: “The moral crisis of our time cannot, it seems to me, be identified merely with the widespread violation of accepted moral standards for which our time is held to be notorious. There has never been any lack of that at any time. No, the moral crisis of our time goes deeper, and is much more difficult to define and account for. Briefly, I should say that the moral crisis of our time consists primarily not in the widespread violation of accepted moral standards—again I ask, when has any age been free of that?—but in the repudiation of those very moral standards themselves. And this, indeed, is our time’s challenge to morality; not so much the all-too-frequent breakdown of a moral code, but the fact that today there seems to be no moral code to break down. It is my belief that the really serious threat to morality in our time consists not in the multiplying violations of an accepted moral code, but in the fact that the very notion of morality or moral code seems to be itself losing its meaning for increasing numbers of men and women in our society. It is here that we find a breakdown of morality in a radical sense, in a sense almost without precedent in our western history. To violate moral standards while at the same time acknowledging their authority is one thing; to lose all sense of the moral claim, to repudiate all moral authority and every moral standard as such, is something far more serious.”

The Lights are Going Out! – On the eve of the outbreak of World War II a British statesman is reported to have said late one night, after an exhausting session with his colleagues at Number Ten Downing Street, London: “Gentlemen, the lights are going out all over Europe, and I fear we shall not see them lit again in our generation.” I should like to take these dramatic words and apply them to our present situation in the Church.

My immediate concern, of course, is with our own Christian Reformed Church, but I cannot limit myself to one denominational horizon. I am alarmed by what I see, by what I hear, by what I read. It seems to be getting darker. Lights are going out, particularly the lights of witness to the infallibility of the Bible and the unimpeachable authority of God as Lawgiver. In our Reformed circles we have editors and journalists who are serious-minded and who are gifted, competent and alert. We thank God for them and we appeal to them to join us in the Reformed Fellowship as we endeavor to stand up against the tide of infidelity, unbelief and indecency, and forth. rightly declare the whole counsel of God as it applies to every menacing situation confronting us today.

I repeat—Lights are going out! Will we see them re-lit in our generation, or is this, more likely, the final apostasy?



I was somewhat puzzled when the topics for this panel were announced; and when, what was expected from me, was explained. Being associated for fifteen years with a higher educational institution (during which period fantastic changes have taken place, affecting doctrine and morals), I am asked to discuss trends in education which evidence a departure from orthodoxy, and which have placed orthodoxy in serious jeopardy.

Placing the Blame – Now I hope it is not the understanding that the educational institutions are mainly to blame for the breakdown, the crisis in doctrine and morality, and that this is primarily due to the fact that educational institutions have undermined orthodoxy. I believe that education has played a large role in the decline in doctrine (orthodoxy) and morality. However, there arc others, namely the instituted church and the home, which obviously have their share of guilt in this matter. All are guilty and it is very difficult to determine where the guilt of the one begins and the other ends.

Neither should we forget that all of us are more or less responsibly involved in all three—church, home, school. Look for example at the situation in the circles of the Christian Reformed Church. Higher education, including theological education, has been rightly or wrongly under the direct control of the instituted church. All the teachers are members of the Christian Reformed Church. And, of course, practically all of them are heads of families who send their children to Christian schools. Further, several of these educators serve on Christian school boards.

Now, if we are good Calvinists, we maintain that each of these spheres in God’s Kingdom has its own peculiar task, and, that these three spheres are basic in the Kingdom, claiming, therefore, a position of priority in the Kingdom life. Furthermore, we hold that they should work in concert with each other, buttressing each other in the execution of their specific responsibilities, appreciating what each is to do so that all of us may truly fulfill our Kingdom calling as subjects of Jesus Christ.

Anyone sphere is not to take over the distinct task of the other. Nor may the one usurp the other in the fulfilling of its task, thereby drawing the attention of that sphere away from its own duty find causing it to become remiss in its task For example, if it is the officially delegated responsibility of the instituted church to promulgate and preserve pure doctrine, to maintain adherence to the historic creeds of Christendom, or, in other words, to insure orthodoxy; then the instituted church may not call upon education to minimize its peculiar task by improperly concerning itself with orthodoxy. I have a feeling that much of this has been reflected in our thinking concerning education in our circles.

Our higher educational institutions and Christian day schools are not to be theological, or Bible, or catechism classes. On the other hand Christian educators may never undermine orthodoxy; rather it is their duty to enhance orthodoxy by the biblical or orthodox perspective out of which they execute their distinct calling and teach their subjects, and also by the godly, obedient spirit with which they approach their task.

The Real Problem – Precisely here we come to focus upon what I consider to be the real problem; a problem which cuts across the whole terrain of church, home, and school. It is a deeply spiritual, deeply personal matter relative to the individual and collective relationship of all of us to Jesus Christ. We are not attached to Him personally and consciously as we should be. Too many in the church today have not been gripped by and are not driven by His Spirit, through His Word, to serve Him obediently in a full-orbed Kingdom life. A this-worldly, secularistic, individualistic, humanistic philosophy, outlook, and spirit have eaten their way into the very fiber of our personal lives and threaten to dominate the life within the three basic Kingdom organizations church, home, and school. We fail to see that for which Christ laid hold of us. We have in large part lost the vision of the Kingdom. What is desperately needed is a basic reformation of our life-style. And unless the church, home, and school engage in and give leadership to reformation the future is indeed horribly dismal.

What is happening as a result of our spiritual dereliction? Our prayer life has lost its glow and fervency. We are too self-sufficient. The Scriptures are not approached as God’s love letter to His children in their need, shedding authoritative. reliable light in our darkness, offering an infallible, a sure guide in our problems. holding before us our calling and challenging us with its marching orders.

The vibrancy, urgency, and relevancy of that Word are not sensed in our preaching. That preaching does not confront us with the living God and His claims upon our lives. We think we can “go it alone.” We call in God’s help at our convenient time and only when it seems to us that He might be useful. Because we take a low view of His Word and a high view of man’s thinking, we get into all kinds of difficulty. We adopt the wrong policies, the wrong approaches, the wrong methods. We are wide open to the influence of strange ideas which harmonize with our own lusts and justify us in our unfaithfulness. There is no king in Israel, everyone does as is right in his own eyes.

Frightening Results in Education – In education we witness the frightening results of this spirit. We are losing our footing and sliding along with or being dragged along with the prevailing philosophy of secular universities. Charles H. Malik, speaking of the secular university in a lecture entitled “Education in Upheaval: The Christian’s Responsibility” defines this philosophy: “It is a community of scholars, teaching and learning, a center for creative research. In it an atmosphere of freedom must reign. It provides opportunities for free debate and free exchange of ideas. The search for truth must be unshackled, and adequate means for the articulation and transmission of truth must be furnished. I search in vain..for any reference to the fact that character, personal integrity, spiritual depth, the highest moral standards, the wonderful living values of the great tradition, have anything to do with the business of the university or with the world of learning.

…“The soul of the learned these days is quite empty—empty to the bare bones. The students will rebel, not knowing why they are rebelling or what they are rebelling against, although they’ think they do. For they have come to the great banquet of being, seeking food and fullness, and are turned away empty…

“Christ must come back to higher learning if higher learning, and therewith man and culture, is to be saved.”

Orthodoxy – a Bad Word -In most church-related colleges today, as a result of the spirit which prevails, orthodoxy is a bad word, representing a stumbling block to bona fide academic activity. There is no feeling for the idea that they are to enhance orthodoxy. Rather, the distinct service of the faculties of these institutions is to be found in questioning, testing, hopefully to find weakness and irrelevancy in the confessions of the church. There seems to be a sinister delight in shaking and shocking God’s people by shooting holes into the foundations of their faith. Everything is “up for grabs”—all that was ever held precious and foundational to the faith. This is the one big trend that explains so much that is going on among us in education.

Tn this same vein Harold O. J. Brown addresses himself to what is happening in the theological schools. In an article “Post-and Pre-Christianity” appearing in the latest issue of Christianity Today (September, 1970) he writes: “The Church of Christ, in the outgoing third of the twentieth century, has arrived at a situation in which the majority of candidates for the ministry are being trained at institutions and by individuals who represent at least the ‘post-Christian’ mentality, in the sense that they have definitely closed the door on any kind of straightforward biblical faith as far as they themselves are concerned, and would like to do it for others. In many places a certain aura—perhaps one should say pretense—of objective scholarship surrounds this post-Christian position, but often enough modem theologians see no need to preserve even a semblance of courtesy toward those whose theology is more conservative.”

What is to be done about the prevailing conditions? Somehow we must promote a calling apart, a coming out from among, a new beginning. It is not secession nor schism that will provide the answer as I see it (not as long as our confessions are still maintained). We need to form a body of concerned believers from all walks of life—parents, young people, ministers, educators, employers, employees—to find a new unity, a new strength, a new direction. We must seek a body through which the Holy Spirit will breathe again -a body upon which He will blow again, which He will rekindle, and which He will drive to carry on the program of sanctification in all of life. It must be a body gripped by His mighty Word and thereby made effective for the task which confronts all His people in our day.