Editorial Note: Impressed with the obvious sincerity and over-all excellence of this letter, the publishers of Torch and Trumpet felt unable to refuse publication even though there is reason to believe that it is not without sweeping generalization nor unguarded language. Our readers are asked to accept at face value our statement that we cannot assume responsibility for the entire contents of this letter. We trust, however, that the problems raised here will be clarified in articles to appear in forthcoming issues of Torch and Trumpet.
Houston, B.C., Canada,
February 18, 1952. To the Editors of TORCH AND TRUMPET,
63 Jefferson Ave., S.E.,
Grand Rapids 2, Michigan.
I want to renew my subscription to your paper, because I am enjoying your paper very much,
I was especially happy when I read in the last issue John Vriend’s article: “The Case for Canada,” I wish to express my thanks to you for the opportunity, given in your paper, to discuss the problems indicated in that article.
I am one of those immigrants who did the last of the four things “Liberated” (former members of the Gereformeerde Kerken onderhoudende artikel 31 D.K.O.) do: I joined the Christian Reformed Church in the hope of helping to improve it.
After my arrival in the Christian Reformed Church I became very disappointed because of the same deterioration in this denomination as in De Gereformeerde Kerken (the larger denomination in the Netherlands from which the “Liberated” came out in 19, eds.).
A couple of times I have tried to bring up my problems in certain papers, but I was given no chance to express my opinions, You will now understand why I am so happy about Vriend’s article.
When we joined the Christian Reformed Church some three years ago we knew we were becoming members of an imperfect church. It is known—is it not?—that the church will be imperfect till the last day. This unavoidable imperfection does not, however, preclude that we should follow after perfection. Every believer is called, in this connection, to exercise his three-fold office to the utmost of his abilities, in order that by his obedience the church may be built up.
The phenomenon of apostasy and subsequent return to God, which we observe so often under the Old Dispensation, recurs also in the church of the New Dispensation. And as in Israel only a small number returned to God in any given reformation, so also in the church of the New Dispensation there is an ever-growing number of people who still call themselves “the church” but who do not in fact recognize the Christ. This danger of failing to recognize and to obey the Christ is always present in the church—and woe to the church which imagines itself immune to this danger: its end is near! Because sin is still such a strong, uprooting power in the hearts of us all, the tendency to leave the Word and to be untrue to Christ exists in the church always.
This very thing is the cause of my concern about the Christian Reformed Church at large. I believe that I am witnessing in our church an estrangement from the Word of God—an estrangement of which people are perhaps not conscious, but.which is therefore that much more serious. I believe this estrangement is especially evident in the following two points:
I. The Unscriptural Nature of Current Preaching, and
II. A Departure from the Word of God and the Confession in the Doctrine of the Church.
I. The Unscriptural Nature of Current Preaching
As to the first point, it strikes me every Sunday that the salvation of men occupies the center of the sermonic stage. That message is indeed the great and good news of the Bible, but surely it may not be allowed to stand by itself. Christ is not in the first place our Savior and Redeemer, but he is the re-creator of all things, and part of his program is the redemption of man—a program which includes our resumption of the task which was given to Adam in Paradise, namely, that of dressing and keeping the garden,
If Adam had not sinned he would have attained blessedness also, but that blessedness was not the immediate purpose or goal of his life. The goal of his life was to develop this creation to perfection in order that God might see, as it were, his own reflection in the earth. Of course in the performance of this task Adam would have attained blessedness. But for Adam also the mandate was: Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things eternal bliss, among other things will be added unto you (Matt. 6:33). On the basis of this view of the Christian life it is required also to glorify God in the salvation of man, but let not man think that his salvation is God’s exclusive concern. The Scriptural objection which we have against the Lutherans who also place the salvation of man in the center of their religion applies as well to our mistakes in this connection.
The results are apparent in non-ecclesiastical affairs: in political matters, and in most other cultural areas. The church is in danger, if it has not already succumbed, of becoming a cozy but exclusive social circle. The church has become to many the means by which one may get to heaven instead of being the center at which we learn to know the mandates as well as the promises of God—the center at which the new humanity is again equipped to fulfill its original task.
Other results are the practices and misconceptions of believers in connection with the doctrine of common grace. Life in the church is the life which flows from special grace, while one’s occupational or professional life is consummated in the area of common grace—such is the idea of many people. Is there no difference between the farming of a believer and an unbeliever? Is there no difference between the one who, in his farming, seeks the kingdom of God and his righteousness and who thus works with a view to the return of Christ, and the other whose aim is merely a good harvest? Woe to the believing farmer if there is no difference. For then he is living conformably to the world even if he does not swear, or drink, or attend the theater or the dance.
The doctrine of common grace, as it is now understood by many people, blurs the line of demarcation between the church and the world. I am convinced that this obscuration of boundary lines is a result also of the unscriptural nature of current preaching. Not the Lord and his commandments, but man and his advantages tend to occupy the lime-light in the preaching that now prevails.
II. A Departure from the Word of God and the Confession in the Doctrine of the Church
The second issue on which I have serious misgivings is the departure from the Word of God and the Confessions with respect to the doctrine of the church.
The doctrine of the pluriformity of the church has, almost imperceptibly, become the prevailing view in our churches, with the result that people are not even aware of its being contradictory to the confessions. The Belgic Confession (articles 27 to 29) speaks of a true and a false church and says not a word about pluriformity. When Guido deBres composed this confession he was confronted by a situation similar, in essence, to that of today. In his day it was already evident, as it appears from the Confession itself, that the Reformation had unleashed several divisive forces. Besides, the Synod of Dordt, a hundred years after the Reformation, emphatically confirmed the Belgic Confession. At the expense of the church as institution with its offices and powers, people today speak of the church invisible as something which is supposed to exist in and among all denominations.
Christ, however, has very emphatically indicated the prerogatives and powers of the institutional church and never mentioned the so-called invisible church as something which would then exist apart from the institution as such. For the powers of the church I would refer to Matt. 16:19; 18:18 and John 20:23; further, see also articles 27–29 of the Belgic Confession. When Christ founded the New Testament church he conferred upon it the Word, the sacraments, and the keys of the Kingdom. The church has the authority to preach that Word in order that, through this work, it may bring forth and nourish believers. Woe to him who brings a gospel that is not according to the Scriptures, for, says Paul, he brings damnation upon himself. And woe to him who adds to or takes away one iota or tittle from the Word, for he is damned.
Hence the church is in possession of the keys of the Kingdom. It has the power to open and close the gates of heaven and hell—truly an enormous task! When we allow this fact to enter fully into our minds we will tremble at the awesome atmosphere existing in the church. For “what things soever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and what things soever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18). And “whose soever sins ye forgive, they are forgiven unto them; whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained” John 20:23).
These are frightening powers. No earthly ruler has power reaching into heaven, but such powers Christ has given to his church. Are the churches conscious of these heaven-reaching powers? I am seriously afraid that they are not. Instead of being obedient to what Christ has simply taught us in his Word, the church conceives elaborate schemes about “pluriformity” and the invisible church and thus does violence to the church as institution.
In the Netherlands I resigned from membership in the Gereformeerde Kerken—called the synodical churches—because I believed that their synods had made illegitimate use of the keys of the Kingdom. In the first place, Christ has never given the keys to any synod. In the second place, this synod has used them against brothers whom, I believe, Christ has not excluded. If I have erred in this respect I have broken up the body of Christ. Then I have broken that which may not be broken and the keys of the Kingdom have been rightly used against me. That is to say, the Church in the Netherlands has rightly excluded me from the communion of saints—a transaction recorded in heaven. When on the Judgment Day I appear before Christ, the church register of Enschede will be my condemnation and damnation. Christ will keep his Word! But if these things are so, how can the Christian Reformed Church accept me as a member?
Is it not clear as crystal that it is almost a profanity to say now: Yes, but the point on which in the Netherlands you were excluded from the kingdom of heaven is not up for discussion here?
When Christ himself records the actions of every church on earth, has a Canadian church the right to say: “The matter does not concern us? Therefore we refuse to act on it?” What would have happened if I had been a murderer or an adulterer? If a church had followed the same course with such a person everyone of you would say: “That church is a farce. There they are merely juggling with the Word of God.”
May I ask: Is the sin of causing a schism less serious than murder or adultery?
I come, therefore, to the painful conclusion that if the Christian Reformed Church does not soon repent of its sins she is, in virtue of a pervasive easygoingness with respect to holy prerogatives, asking that the candlestick be removed from her.
Until now I have, interrogatively, asserted the possibility that my act of liberation in the Netherlands was a sin. Should that be the case in fact, the Christian Reformed Church is called upon to deal with me according to the Church Order, for then the communion of the saints is disrupted.
But if I have not sinned, if my act of liberation was an act of faith and obedience, then the communion is till disrupted. No, not if I simply forget about the matter and live blithely on as if nothing has happened. But it will be disrupted the moment that I am conscious of the fact that at one communion table both the obedient and the disobedient receive and assume a place, one group condemning the other group as schismatics.
To celebrate communion in the Christian Reformed Church is becoming increasing harder for me as time goes on. And if the Christian Reformed Church does not repent of its error, I fear that we shall have to leave its bosom because, instead of bring life to its children, correcting them and helping them, it allows them to die of spiritual starvation and hence murders them.
In virtue of the preceding I urgently request you to bring these matters into discussion in your paper because the Christian Reformed Church and its members are in peril of life.
(Signed) S. WOLTERS